A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: happellfamily12

"They don't speak my language ..."

but you're still doing ok Nat!

rain 2 °C

When we arrived in Bologna we managed to find a local pre-school for Nat quite quickly. The location was good, the price reasonable, and hopefully she would learn some Italian.

I must admit I had my concerns when she started however - for example no medical history was required, and you didn't need to sign your child in or out each day. Perhaps this was just the Italian way I thought ... more relaxed than the nanny state of Australia. But my concerns were not alleviated when several times I saw one of the carers out walking the dog, and the other carer - according to Nat - was always on the 'cuter'. Although Nat seemed happy enough, and she was picking up the odd Italian word (and our American friends had their two kids there), a decision was made to send Nat to international school along with Gabi.

Nat is the only non-Italian in the class, and as she tells us "the other kids don't speak my language", although all lessons are taught in English. Pleasingly she has settled in quickly, and loves her new teachers Miss Mina and Miss Anita (so mind you does Dan as you can probably guess from the photos ... no wonder he is always happy to do the drop off and pick-up!). Nat has also attended her first birthday party, which Dan was most disappointed to miss, as the birthday girl's papa is Alessandro Diamanti (plays soccer for Italy and Bologna), and her mama is Silvia Hsieh, a super-glamorous TV host. There were of course a few other players and their WAGs there. I felt a bit like the hired help ... very unglamorous!

Miss Anita and Miss Mina



Class Mates


After three weeks Nat has also started to make some new friends (Aurora is her best mate, although little English is spoken, which is amusing to watch). She has sung 'I'm a little snowman' for the Christmas concert, and is the best pasta eater in the class! "The cookers love me mum", as Nat is inclined to say ...

Good Food



Gabi also continues to enjoy school, and loved taking part in her class' Beatles Concert. Also included are photos of her school buddies saying farewell to Zach, who is returning home to Connecticut with his family.

Beatles Concert


Gabi Class Mates


Posted by happellfamily12 06:35 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Sta Nevicando

It's actually snowing kids!!

snow -2 °C

All week the children have been hoping that it would snow. So you can imagine their excitement when I stepped out of the apartment for a night-out on Friday evening to find that the snow was falling. Calling the household to come and have a look, husband and kids hurried down, without shoes, to see the snow falling outside (what is it with our family and no shoes in -1 temps?).

The next morning the kids were up early and looking out the window ... and they were not to be disappointed. The snow was at least an inch thick in parts and the grey streets of Bologna had been transformed. Dressing up in their recently purchased snow suits they quickly went up to the top terrace to build a snowman complete with carrot nose. Of course a trip to the park was also in order, and we caught up with school friends Genevieve, Lucy, and their mother Olivia ... the children were in snow heaven. Rolling up big balls of (not the cleanest) snow to make snowmen, throwing snow balls, and sliding down snow covered slides.

Never have the kids experienced snow in a city where they live. Maybe the excitement will wear off, but for Gabi and Nat this has certainly been a highlight of Bologna.

Some Happy Snaps



Posted by happellfamily12 16:57 Archived in Italy Tagged snow in bologna Comments (1)

London's Calling

The Mother Country

overcast 8 °C

What a bonus it was to find out we could fly from Bologna to London for the price of 300 Euros return. EasyJet ... Priceless.

Setting off early on Wednesday morning we arrived at Gatwick around lunchtime. It was then straightforward to catch the Gatwick Express direct to Victoria Station and walk to our B&B in Belgravia (Luna Simone Hotel). Leaving our bag with the proprietor brothers Les, Pete and Bernard - real characters, and an improved version of Fawlty Towers we decided! We caught a double-decker bus to the Millennium Bridge ... a great way to see the city and experience London Transport. A brisk walk around the local area taking in fine views of St Paul's Cathedral, and then it was time to find a local pub to enjoy some traditional English fare. The Black Friar was our choice - a famous pub dating from 1905. Original Art Nouveau marble friezes of boozy monks and a highly decorated alcove complemented the fine English tucker : fish & chips, steak & guiness pie, and a few cold(ish) beers. A lovely change from our past three months of Italian food.

Millennium Bridge and St Paul's Cathedral


Thursday morning, and following our traditional hearty B&B breakfast of bacon, eggs and a good cup of tea, we made our way on foot to the River Thames. London was at its best ... the sun was shining, the streets were clean, transport was efficient, and the people were friendly. We passed many famous sights on our walk to the London Eye, including Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, and St James's Park. In the latter Gabi and Nat counted 300+ squirrels much to their delight. London Eye gave us a bird's eye view of the city and all the sights. The kids also played on the 'beach' by the river.

Famous London Sights


A treat was in store for the kids with their first ever musical - 'Shrek' in the famous Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.



Of course a trip to England would not be complete for Dan without a trip to the famous Newmarket where he could see, in the flesh, his four-legged workmates who make his day job possible. We caught the afternoon train to Cambridge after spending the morning in the Natural History Museum followed by a quick visit to Harrods. Our country friends (Emma and John) kindly put us up for the night. The kids - all three of them - were estactic that they were sleeping above the stables, and that the house had three dogs and several cats. Emma cooked a beautiful roast and we enjoyed much horsey conversation with our hosts.

The following morning John left early with a runner at Doncaster, and Emma kindly took us on a tour of Newmarket. We watched a few of their horses training on the famous Newmarket Heath, and were fortunate enough to rub shoulders with Luca Cumani - champion trainer who is still pursuing that elusive Melbourne Cup winner.

Back in London after our racing sojourn we enjoyed dinner at the funky 'Giraffe' restuarant near Victoria Station, which had excellent food and was well set-up for kids. Unlike most Italian restuarants this one caters for nursing home diners by opening at 6.30pm!


Who's the boss Gus?

Who's the boss Gus?

On the final day of our trip we caught the train to the lovely suburb of Richmond. A walk along the River Thames and then a stroll through beautiful Richmond Park followed. This park has over 2500 acres of grassland and woodland and it is Europe's largest city park. Although we didn't see any deer we did enjoy the expanse and the children loved running through the grass and revelling in the sun and open spaces.

A few underground trains later and we found ourselves back in the centre of town at The Tower of London, which the kids enjoyed. A final meal in London (Wimbledon) ensued thanks to the very kind hospitality of Virginia, Alister and Sophie. Unfortunately our time in London ended all too quickly, but we will definitely be back for more sights and experiences in 2013.

Richmond Park, London Bridge, and Sophie with the interlopers


Posted by happellfamily12 07:57 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london Comments (0)

Scuola di lingua Italiana

verbi, participio passato, aggettivi ... It's all Italian to us!

overcast 10 °C

One of the key reasons for spending a prolonged period of time in Bologna was to improve our Italian language skills. The city has a solid reputation for providing good language courses, in part because of the many hundreds (thousands?) of international university students needing to improve their 'understood' Italian to be able to complete their chosen field of study at the world's oldest university.

Lisa was already an intermediate level student when we arrived in Italy this time around, and has tallied another 130-odd hours at language school to improve her 'every day' spoken skills dramatically (she feels she may not have taken such a quantum leap on the grammatical side!). Mia moglie (my wife) commenced with six intensive weeks of 20 hours/week, but has now eased off to just two evenings a week for 3 hours at a time to keep things ticking over. An exam (voluntary, amazingly enough) looms large in December, causing some sleepless nights. Her dedication has been impressive ...

exam time : books ... check, wine ... check, now where are those 'no doze'??

exam time : books ... check, wine ... check, now where are those 'no doze'??

I undertook some valuable beginner studies in Sydney, but still classified myself squarely in the learner bracket for my recent reintroduction to this beautiful, and somewhat elusive language. Like Lisa, I have started at a place called ARCA (www.arca-bologna.com), which is a 20 minute walk, or 8 minute bike ride, on the other side of town. The cost for three weeks (4 hours/day x 5 days/week) is 550 euro - about AUD 680 on current exchange rates. Class sizes are between 4-8, depending on demand, and the format is 2 hours in the classroom (9am-11am), 1 hour at the local bar for a caffe, pastry and chat with all enrolled studenti (in Italian if skills allow!), and then another hour back in class (finishing around 1pm). Homework is given most nights, and takes around 30-40 minutes plus whatever time you want to spend relearning the day's lessons.

Doorway to Heaven? ARCA is in a pretty side-street close to lovely Piazza Santo Stefano

Doorway to Heaven? ARCA is in a pretty side-street close to lovely Piazza Santo Stefano

break and chat time for Lisa's group (when weather was warmer than now obviously ...)

break and chat time for Lisa's group (when weather was warmer than now obviously ...)

So how has it gone after a week? Plenty of plusses : a terrific teacher by the name of Ludovico - a nice Bolognese guy who is enthusiastic, patient, clear, and interested. For an Italian he is also very well travelled, with an Indonesian girlfriend, so makes for good company when we need a break from the verbi, and more verbi! Class size has also been a bonus - usually four of us - and five if Maizun (spelling?) from Palestine turns up. The other class members are from America - Lou from Vermont via New Jersey (my soccer buddy), Justin from California via Pennsylvania, and Anne from California via North Carolina (Other classes being held at ARCA at the moment are not so mono-cultural, with Russian, German, Dutch, English, Spanish, Brazilian, and even Mongolian representatives). All our class are pretty motivated, and the day goes quickly with quite a few laughs.

break and chat time for Dan's (extended) group ... nice bar, interesting people, brain fries after 15 minutes of solid parlo Italiano however ...

break and chat time for Dan's (extended) group ... nice bar, interesting people, brain fries after 15 minutes of solid parlo Italiano however ...

The teaching style I found brutal to start with - around 80% spoken in Italian (for what was meant to be a beginner class) - as Justin said, "submersion" not "immersion"! Ludovico has gone a bit easier on us since then (after a quiet word), but all in all I'd have to say it is beneficial to have to keep pushing yourself to comprehend what's being said, and then learn the lesson that flows from that.

Anne, Ludovico (Mr Patient), Justin, Lou ... with something to say, surprisingly enough!

Anne, Ludovico (Mr Patient), Justin, Lou ... with something to say, surprisingly enough!

I won't harp too much on the minuses, but some obvious areas to fix for ARCA are proper pre-commencement testing to correctly ascertain your level; more teachers made available so people with too wide a skill range are not lumped together; and finally more structure to the course including a decent course book, or at the least some notes!

Anyway, two more weeks to go which Lou and I are looking forward to (we're sort of mates-in-arms for this stint), and then I'll see about (the worth of) further studies post-Christmas.

Posted by happellfamily12 15:57 Archived in Italy Tagged language italian Comments (0)

Barefoot in Venice in the Winter

mmmmmm ... bit chilly ...

rain 9 °C

With the Nonnas in tow we decided to head up to Venice for a night. Dan had managed to secure an apartment that would sleep six and was close to all the main activities.

As the train snaked its way across the bridge we could see the twinkling lights over the Adriatic. Disembarking we made our way along the dimly lit streets following the signs for the Museo di Storia Naturale - no, we weren't going to put the Nonna's in the exhibits - the museo was our landmark to help locate our apartment. Once we arrived we were pleasantly surprised ... the bedrooms were big (mostly) and smartly decorated and the windows looked down onto the street.

Nonna's Closet

Our Palatial Room

Without much ado we quickly smartened ourselves up, as much as one can when sharing a suitcase with six, and we headed out to dinner to a little ristorante by the canal (twisting and turning over bridges and down dark streets). The place was rated highly on trip advisor but the food overall was disappointing. Perhaps we have been spoilt by all the wonderful places we have eaten in.

Finding the Restaurant



Returning to the apartment Dan and I decided we would explore Venice at night as it is not often we have two live-in babysitters. So with the young and the mature settled in their beds we started to wander the streets at night. It was an interesting experience as you would round a corner and find maybe a little piazza with a few bars ... generally however the streets were deserted and it felt quite eerie as the lights were also dim. I kept thinking "are we going to turn the next corner and find the tide sneaking in around our ankles?". The term used for this high tide is "Acqua Alta". These exceptional tides occur between autumn and spring and often cause partial flooding in Venice.

Eventually we settled in a bar by the canal (sitting outside) and enjoyed a few glasses of rough red that warmed us up and put our fear of the rising tide at ease.

Venice at Night

Rising Tide
A Rough Red

Returning to our apartment was not an easy feat and we did take a few wrong turns before we found ourselves stepping over the flood gate and into the warm of our beds. Under the safe assumption that at least if the tide peaked at night we would be safe in our warm beds.

The next day we bounded out of our beds keen to start the day and consume our all inclusive breakfast from the main part of the hotel in the next block.

However when we looked out the window we no longer had street views but water views.

Water Views


Smart Irish Guy

Carrying Nat

We decided we would have to brave it as it could be hours before the tide subsided. Gingerly we stepped barefoot over the flood gate into the freezing cold and murky water. We saw many Venetians smartly clad in new gumboots and thigh-high waders. Mum even commented to one guy "you can tell who the tourists are" and he responded in a strong Irish accent "Ai love that was me yesterday until I picked up this wee pair of wellies". Oh how we longed to mug a few locals or smart tourists for those wellies. We never made it to the hotel for the free breakfast as the water was too high but we did find a dry cafe for a coffee and pastry and we were ready to embrace the elements again. Back at the apartment Dan departed for his much loved game of soccer and the Nonnas and I managed to wade to the hotel to check out and enjoyed our breakfast (as brunch). The Museo di Storia Naturale fortunately was next door and we were able to spend a few hours there in the warmth as the tide subsided and the driving rain and wind howled outside.

A boat trip to Piazza St Marco was in order ... even though the temperature was nine degrees and it was raining. However at least the tide had subsided.
Boarding the ferry we huddled inside the cabin not seeing many of the beautiful buildings along the canal. Exiting from the ferry we saw the tail end of a half marathon - poor blighters looked absolutely freezing. Our tour of the Piazza was quick it was just too cold to hang around. Boarding the ferry we were happy to get onto the train and return home to Bologna. Venice had certainly been an adventure but next time thigh-high wellies are definitely in order.

Piazza St Marco


Bit Cold for Coffee


Mad Runners


Flood Platforms



Note: I have included a web to show some of the photos of Venice in flood. Lucky we didn't go at this time.


Posted by happellfamily12 12:20 Archived in Italy Tagged venice Comments (0)

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