Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fun stuff - kids

Italy is famous for its boot-shaped peninsula. The country is surrounded by four seas: the Adriatic Sea, the Ionian Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The Italian flag is has three equal bands of vertical stripes in green, white and red.

The currency used is the Euro. Prior to becoming a member of the European Union and adopting the euro, the lira was used.

The Italian alphabet has 21 letters. To learn how to pronounce them go here. Also have fun with colours and numbers and learn some Italian songs !


Visit the website

Sirmione is located on the tip of a long peninsula which protrudes from the lake shore between Densenzano del Garda and Peschiera, and was my favourite lake town. It is very pretty with little shops, winding, cobbled streets and vibrant colours. Famous for it's thermal springs, this was a spa destination even in Roman times.

The photo above is of the thirteenth-century castle, the Rocca Scaligera that dominates the town. Al and the kids climbed to the top and got great views of the area.

It is advisable to visit out of season like we did as in summer it tends to be swamped with tourists. The day we visited was busy enough.

More Sirmione photos here

Monday, January 28, 2008


Italian food is YUM! The deserts in the supermarkets would be my ruination if I lived
here. Not usually a big fan of ice cream, this was delicious. One shop boasted all 90 flavours of the stuff. Apparently in Sirmione where we visited, they have competitions to see who can pile the ice cream the highest.

This we found curious and had to buy. Black spaghetti which cooked up a dark grey colour! It was creamier than the stuff we buy back home and therefore felt worm-like to the palate ... almost a slimy consistency despite being cooked a la dente. But the kids thought it a great novelty so we cooked it up two nights in a row. The red things here are pickled peppers. Lidl's here is way more adventurous than back home!

I found an international cooking site which looks fascinating. There are 217 Italian recipes to browse here!

Italy - Peschiera

Lake Garda is a lovely place to stay and very child friendly. During our visit we stayed in Peschiera del Garda, a walled Roman town at the South eastern side of the Lake. The fortress there played a prominent part in most of the military campaigns conducted in northern Italy after 1400, but especially so during the Napoleonic wars.

The campsite was on the edge of the lake and within walking distance to the town.

Italy photo album here


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These were taken on the drive through Switzerland. If anyone is interested in viewing the Landy build, click here. I will blog about it in more detail at some point.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Alps and Jura

We broke the drive south with a couple of nights in Lac de Chalaine. It was a beautiful tranquil spot and the following day the kids and their cousins had a great time out on the lake with canoes and pedalos. Keycamp have their own canoe that the kids could use FOC. It was such a beautiful spot with the tent on the lakefront, we could have spent a week there.

The drive through the Alps and Switzerland was pretty but as the blue beast was going at 50mph tops, we weren't able to make the customary stops. After a long, long drive, we arrived at Lake Garda, northern Italy.

CJ at Mont Blanc

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Travel friends

Last week we received a lovely package from Dorothe and Werner in Germany which was full of wonderful German treats. Along with these items below, was a wooden Christmas star, Kinder chocolate for the children and a beautiful hand embroidered card.

This Schinken Wurst (schinken = ham, wurst = sausage) is made in their butcher's shop which you can see on the label. The shop has been in the family since Jakob Hinderer opened in 1780. I have a book that they gave us which shows photographs of the shop during the last century. It was very interesting to see the changes - living history.

You can see it as it stands today on their website here. This meat is delicious. On our departure from Germany, the family called round to say goodbye and gave us some goodies for the road which included two tins of schinken wurst. Eating this for tea the other night brought back fond memories!

As well as being butchers, Dorothe and Werner also undertake outside catering. We sampled some at a BBQ at their home. See some amazing of their amazing creations here! Warning - viewing will make you hungry lol.

We really enjoyed this Stollen. I found this on the web which will explain ~

'Stollen is a bread-like cake traditionally made in Germany, usually eaten during the Christmas season as Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen. Stollen (originally Striezel) was created in Dresden in around 1450 and the most famous Stollen is still the Dresdner Stollen, sold, among other places, at the local Striezelmarkt Christmas market.
Stollen is a fruitcake made with yeast, water and flour, and usually dried citrus peel (called "Zitronad(e)"), dried fruit, almonds, and spices such as
cardamom and cinnamon; the dough is quite low in sugar. The finished cake is sprinkled with icing sugar. The traditional weight is 2 kg, but smaller sizes are now available'.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Fun stuff - kids

Fun facts

The Eiffel Tower is named after architect Gustave Eiffel. In 1889 it was the tallest building in the world.

A lot of Parisians did not like the design and a petition was presented to the city government protesting its construction. It read, "We, the writers, painters, sculptors, architects and lovers of the beauty of Paris, do protest with all our vigour and all our indignation, in the name of French taste and endangered French art and history, against the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower."

In 1885, Gustave Eiffel started a new project - the Statue of Liberty, which was given to the United States as a sign of international friendship.

Consumption of frogs' legs in France totals 3000 to 4000 tons per year which is 60 to 80 million frogs. Although that sounds like a lot, contrary to common belief, many French people do not eat frogs legs.

As frogs are a protected species in France, most frogs legs are imported from Indonesia.

To eat, dip them into flour then fry in a non-stick pan with olive oil and crushed garlic for 5 to 10 minutes.

France is also the biggest snail consumer in the world with 40,000 tons consumed per year. Most of the snails production is artisanal - gathering in the wild. The most popular way to eat them is "à la Bourguignone" with butter, parsley, garlic and spices. Here in the UK people are also eating their garden snails! Visit the BBC cooking page for a snail porridge recipe!

Fun activities

Learn a song!

We have just discovered Mama Lisa's website French children's songs . It looks great! She has songs for kids in all different languages with the English equivalent which you can listen to. We aim to learn one from every country listed (will let you know our progress lol.)

Do a JigZone puzzle!

L'Arc de Triomphe

The French Flag

Paris at night

Stained glass window Notre Dame

Around Paris city center

Added ~ photo album

First view of the Eiffel Tower

After a sleep we bravely hit the underground (all these stairs) and hopped on and off umpteen trains complete with 7 kids and 2 buggies.
Scotland must have been half empty that day as Paris was full of men in kilts over for a football match that evening.

Hubby and the others did the Eiffle Tower up to the top which took a good couple of hours but was worth it for the views. My vertigo dictated that my feet stay firmly on terra firma. I burned at least a million calories down below, keeping an eye on TG and junior and slept amazingly well in the tent that night, considering the bed was on a slope where the ground was subsiding!

Check out the Official Eiffle Tower website and the kids section!

Notre Dame

We also paid Notre Dame a visit which was interesting for the kids after having constructed a cardboard model of the building. The gothic architecture and sheer scale of the place was interesting. Inside was a bit conflicting as on one hand you have a priest doing mass ... why is that dude singing Mum ... and to the left of the congregation you have a souvenier racket going on, complete with squashed penny machine.

I've always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower in person and it was a fantastic experience for the kids, however after all that city stuff, we were really looking forward to breaking our journey south in forests of the Alps and Jura.
Travel tip ... avoid the school holidays and book early! Three nights in a supertent in Paris cost £40 all up!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Around Paris - Versailles

After a night in a F1 hotel midway (budget chain in Europe) we made it to Charles de Gaulle airport in time for my husband's sister's flight touching down. Rather than sleep off the jet lag, it was unanimously decided that we make the most of the time and visit the palace of Versailles - pro versaj in french.

The palace is located southwest of Paris and was created by French King Louis XIII. The massive residence which contains the famous Hall of Mirrors was the last palace to be inhabited by a French King. Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette resided here before the uprising during the French Revolution.
Although now a wealthy Parisian suburb,
'Versailles was the unofficial capital city of the kingdom of France from May 1682 (when King Louis XIV moved the court and government permanently to Versailles) until September 1715 (death of Louis XIV and regency, with the regent Philippe d'Orléans returning to Paris), and then again from June 1722 (when Louis XV returned to Versailles permanently) to October 1789 (when Louis XVI was forced to move back to Paris by the people of Paris). During the entire period, Paris remained the official capital city of France, and the official royal palace was the Palace of the Louvre, but in practice government affairs were conducted from Versailles, and Versailles was regarded as the real capital city'.

Taken from the web

More can be read here (official website) or here for palace information (Wilkopaedia).

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Mont St Michel - France

I've always wanted to see the Mont de St Michel in Normandy. Even though I've viewed it in many books, like the rock of Gibralter, nothing really prepares you for the moment you happen upon it. It really is a spectacular sight - one large cone of rock jutting out of the sea topped by a great Gothic church. Most of the present building dates from the Gothic period being built between the 13th and 16th centuries. As this was a time of great conflict, much of the site is fortified. It was well worth the long detour to see.

As we didn't have much time to spare, we walked up through The Grande Rue which is the main thoroughfare and took a look at the little shops and buildings on the way up the hill. We didn't visit the great church and abbey at the top as it wasn't buggy-wheelchair-big pregnant lady friendly, but did see the parish church which dates back to the 11th century before letting the kids fly a kite and let off steam on the beach. The sand was grey and of mudlike consistency and EJ had a great time in the water covering himself in the stuff. It was a total strip job before we took off again and headed toward Paris ...

Read more here or view our album

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Vive la France

In January of last year when we found out that we'd be meeting relatives in France that September, we set about learning as much as we could with great gusto! We went looking for some French recipes and AJ and I flew round Tesco with a list. The objective was to create a three course authentic French meal which we found at Cecile's place. While the boys were out swinging from the trees and banging caps, B and I slaved over a hot stove. B made the starter by herself, prepared the potatoes for the main and helped make the batter for the crepes.

The Menu
Tomatoe Mozzarella - entree which is very popular in France but Italian in origin.
Volaille et Roquefort - Chicken cooked in a Roquefort/sour cream sauce (very easy and extremely yummy) with sauteed potatoes.

This was such good fun and educational too! We plan to work our way around the world in the kitchen. Recently I was in Lidl's (cheap European grocery store) with CJ and they had some Greek food in. He bought some tinned Octopus! Watch this space lol.

We also did some fun crafts before and after the visit.

Cork and toothpick Eiffel Tower and cardboard Notre Dame courtesy of the Opitec company.

Now we just need to plod on with the language!


When we set of to Germany, we had no idea what to expect having never been before. I don't believe in stereotypes and like to experience places and people for myself. What a wonderful experience! The countryside is beautiful and like the buildings, full of contrasts. From the flat, flat fields of Saarland to the lush, rolling Swabian forests - and the wonderful old timber buildings, to the modern police station as seen below - there is always something to interest and surprise.

The people we met here were warm, welcoming, genuinely interested and great with the kids. This is AJ and CJ with some grapes from an elderly neighbour in R'berg. We also had another lady present us with plums and two children came one evening with a courgette from their garden. They were leaving the following day to holiday in Austria and wanted us to have it which was lovely. One day God willing, we will go back. I urge anyone looking for a great holiday to travel to Baden-Württemberg. It has been our best vacation to date!

Another thing that impressed me was that here a 'family ticket' means just that. None of the 2 adults 2 kids and extra cash for any additional children thing going on here. If they are all your own children, they are included. Also, they don't over charge. We paid 9 Euros all up for admission to the Beuren Open Air Museum and didn't have to pass through a shop on the way out. Prices are far more affordable than here in the UK.
I have omitted to write about a lot of the family stuff, just highlighting some places we visited that may be of interest. Likewise with photographs. If anyone would like access to family albums, please email. Now, on to France!