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London, How I Love ya!

5 wonderful, eclectic exhausting days were spent in the city that feels like home. Old friends from London and Melbourne, along with friends from Fairfield set us on a whirling course of late nights and conversation.
We arrived into the welcoming arms of the Moore family and were treated to a traditional roast pork, Yorkshire pudding and all of the other delicious trimmings that accompany this favourite fare. ( I hear you thinking that I have become slightly obsessed with food. You are quite right! In fact the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Robb and I are both slightly portly… Ooops.).
The nights were late and the mornings were early. Our fresh-faced tourist were not going to waste a minute of their potential sightseeing hours. With cameras swinging and oyster cards in hands, we braved the tube and the national rail to reach numerous destinations.
Of course no trip is complete without a ride up top on a double decker bus. We bought tickets for the tour bus and circumnavigated this surprisingly small city. The kids faces lit up when we passed such sights as the London Dungeon, the M and M mega store and Oxford st. Not the most cultured crew! I did manage to get them to alight at the Tate Modern. I thought having a first hand squiz at works by artists that they had examined at school may get them going a little. Not so! “This is sooooo booooooring” sighed Master 6!
“I’ve already seen it in a book ( in relation to a spectacular Jackson Pollock) exclaimed Master 9.
“What day are we going to the London Dungeon” drawled Master 12,standing slouched in front of a Picasso masterpiece.
Oh well!
The changing of the guard was a spectacular that they did enjoy. The marching, band playing, Beefeaters, walking with a huge and entirely regal, Irish wolfhound was a memory laden vision. Tom grinned and waved, aboard the best seat in the house. His 6 foot 4 daddy’s shoulders, were the envy of the rest of us, who stood on tippy toes, necks craned, trying to get a decent look.
I was so very grateful to the air force museum. It shone like a blazing torch on a dark night to my war craft obsessed, nerdy crew. A must on the itinerary for them and a leave pass for myself! I spent an afternoon in a heavenly retail stupor, shopping a little and finding places that I had haunted in my lost youth. I was saddened to see that the Covent Garden Brasserie, my place of summer employment, was no longer. The tables that had once faced the performers in the piazza,had been replaced by a giant Apple mega store.
I went straight from this afternoon delight, to meet an old friend from Melbourne, Andy Mulcahy, who has been living in London for the last 10 years. He took me to a very groovy Thai eatery in Soho and then to a bar for some wonderful drinks. I can’t remember their names but the port infused with creme de menthe was a stand out. I’m gonna be googling that recipe on my return. We talked and laughed until I remembered that I had to catch the tube home.
We finally caved to the cultured trio’s demand and queued for the London Dungeon. 90 minutes of non stop gore and terrible acting, ending with the climatic fake hanging. We were put in chairs,harnessed by a heavy duty, metal frame and in pitch black, elevated to a modestly scary height. A tremendous crack ensued and the chairs plummeted,leaving my innards suspended in mid air. After the hanging, we were shepherded out into the neon lights and large screens that depicted our hanging expressions. I very nearly paid the exorbitant photo price, due to henry’s priceless expression of sheer terror.
We also jumped on a train and headed to the ancient and fascinating town of York. Here, we went back in time to a Viking village. The poor sanitation and terrible quality of water meant that the Viking kids had to drink beer. Apparently, this is why people that trace their heritage to these not so gentle folk, have a better tolerance for alcohol, than those from other cultures.
We then went to the Castle Museum. This was a little gem. There were rooms that had been painstakingly recreated to reflect different eras in time within family homes. You could visit an 1850’s parlour, a 1970’s lounge and an 1900’s kitchen just to name a few. There was also an exhibit entirely devoted to the 60’s. The boys were memorized by the early Dr Who footage. There was a room that paid homage to war uniforms for men and women, along side an exhibit depicting swim wear from the centuries. I loved it particularly, as there were many artifacts from 70’s that I could relate to.
All good things do indeed come to an end. How we will miss Sime, Nicky, the gorgeous Ella and Merlot their silky eared dog. Thanks guys, for your generosity and great company. Until next time my dear friends London, M&S Food, Boots, the gap and sandwiches in the chemist.
It was luvly jubbly.
S
X

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Posted by on July 8, 2011 in Diary

 

Ciao Italy and Hiya London.

I mentioned in my previous blog that we were climbing the hills to eat in a little restaurant in the clouds. After winding and twisting around some hairpin turns and ascending 4 kms, we arrived at paradise. I gasped while alighting from the battered mini bus. The flowers were threaded amongst the trees, creating a canopy that framed an endless ocean vista. We entered the restaurant via stone stairs the weaved through enormous veggie patches( where our food was harvested)and sat at a trestle table, lit with candles. The kids spied the bread bowl and before I could shout “that is the first of 7 courses’ they had wolfed down several rolls. Veggies were first and we feasted on peas, eggplant, chickpeas and spinach. The boys did not leave a single pea on the plates. Pasta was presented on platters, laden with shining, fresh tomato sauce and generous spoonfuls of pesto. I knew I had to hold back in preparation for subsequent courses but it was virtually impossible. The meats arrived, sizzling and reminiscent of portions served in Bedrock. Huge, rare and perfectly seasoned. Our convex bellies won over in the end. The sweet cakes and tiramisu remained on the silver serving trays, barely touched.

We also squeezed in a trip to Capri. We jumped on a ferry and motored on over to this island that must have been spectacular in its time. we queued for tickets( I am so over queues, the travelers curse) and boarded cable cars that travelled vertically to the town’s heart. Hundreds of tourists, exclusive shops and overpriced restaurants awaited. It was good to see, however, I think Positano is superior.

We travelled back to Rome via ferry and train. Then queued with returning Brits to catch a flight to the UK. The children were bemused after several passengers asked us if we were speedy boarders. If you pay an extra 10 squid, you are able to board the plane first. So the speedy boarders muscled their way to front of the large snaking line. Tom loved asking people in his best cockney accent, “Are you a speedy border?”

After delays, seats that didn’t recline and countless games of eye spy, we touched down in the city that introduced Robb and I to each other.

Boots, WH Smith, Marks and Sparks…….. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed them. I was so looking forward to buying my sandwiches from the chemist and introducing my kids to the delights of BO on the tube. We awoke to glorious sunshine, the Wimbledon final and a fry up. Then, after a $50 aud, 15 minute trip on BR ( now called something else)we were greeted by our lovely friends from a most fantastic era in our lives.

Xxx

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2011 in Diary

 

Emigrating to Positano.

Pardonk (written by one of the offspring in his journal) for my lapse in diary writing. I have been slumming it in Positano. As a consequence, my bum resembles a ball of mozzarella and although Robb thinks my face is flushed from the sun, it is actually the copious amounts of tomatoes I have consumed.
From the hectic adventure of Rome to the glorious steep cliffs, black pebbled beaches and the aqua blue,soothing waters of the Med in Positano. I think I am in heaven.
We really are the van Tornado family. Several countries in quick succession. One minute les enfants are giving me the shits, the next it’s the bambinos. Actually, considering that we have pretty much shared all elements of living for the last month, we are holding up well. Tom asks for euros in return for good behaviour and the other two are paid in gelato.
Rome was a sweaty, visual feast of all things ancient, shared with our most wonderful friends, Sue and Gary. No wifi on the hop, hence my quiet blog. The colosseum, Trevi Fountain (Tom donated about thirty euros to it’s wishing pond)piazzas and fireworks. We wandered the cobbled streets, dining on fresh pasta and slurping local reds. Kids took advantage of the very relaxed state of the parents and went crazy on several desert menus. Budget well and truly blown in those few days.
Our apartment in Rome did not resemble the photos that appeared to be straight out of Vogue Home Living. The terrace that had been the clincher was actually nestled in amongst 50 apartments. We could see some stars from the table along with 1000 peering eyes. />
The second night will forever stay etched in our minds. Now I ask you, is it the responsibility of the last one out to take the keys? Robb thinks not!! After a fresh zucchini pasta, lemon gelato and a touch of vino, we were all ready to go home. During the 15 minute walk back to our apartment, my eyelids were drooping and my bed beckoned. Alas, alas…we (Robb). Had accidentally left the keys inside. We tried to get in but it was not possible. We then walked to several hotels that were all full. Everyone gave up and settled down on the soft concrete for a bit of kip. There was no way I was giving up that easily. I got hold of robbs phone, switched on the data roaming( it costs a million dollars a minute) And watched lock picking YouTube videos. I then found some wire and a bottle top to engage the lock ( impressive, I know) and spent the next few hours trying to align the lock pins. I wish I could say that eventually I heard the click and release of the lock but sadly the tale did not end this way. Instead, we spent a miserable night huddling together, dreaming of doonas. The next morning we went to the Vatican, as we were next door and tried to slip in an early morning service. Unfortunately, I was refused entry due to my inappropriate attire. Too much shoulder….
Anyway, we were happy to leave our Rome chapter behind and to catch a high speed train down south. I’m now in Positano, home of the bikini, no matter what your age or body shape. Our kids are the beach oddity, dressed in their sun smart suits. Ols is desperate for a tan and Tom and Henry entertain the beach bar dwellers with lady gaga dance routines, whilst passing around the bread basket asking for euros..(don’t ask!).
My calf muscles are singing (again) as I have climbed more steps than those going to the pearly gates. Our gorgeous,straight from a postcard, villa is precariously nestled amongst rocks and Bougainvillia. We have seen luxurious hotels on top of volcanos, with private lifts tunneled through the rock. It is all quite breathtaking. Tomorrow we say goodbye to italy and our entirely special and funny Gaz and Sue. For our last night, we intend to go further up into the mountains and try to find a local eatery, run by an Italian family. 3 pastas laden with seasonal produce to choose from and a view to remember for a lifetime.
Ciao.
Ps: please forgive poor punctuation etc. Written from iPad and hard to edit.
Xx

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2011 in Diary

 

Amsterdam, a Lycra Free Zone.

The land of the tulip, dyke and bike!   This is a stand out city, in my opinion.  It has a lot to teach us about making a city eco-friendly and lycra free.   Apparently, there are 4 bikes for every person in this canal decorated city.  Yet…….take note……………..I have not seen one rider clad in form-fitting, (budgie smuggling) wanna be tour de France,  over priced, cycling attire.   YAY!!!!!!!!  There are cycling lanes on all streets and although I am still having difficulty sharing the footpath and looking for cyclers from the wrong direction, I applaud the normality of the riding attire. When I am travelling around |Melbourne, particularly on Sunday mornings, weaving around the Ivanhoe boulevard, I often have an urge to open my car door as I overtake eight or so, lycra sprayed, cyclers, (clearly out of the bike lane) and to take them all down.   I feel a little sheepish about this admission, as I realise some cycling friends, (that 99% of the time wear normal clothes and walk single file) will be reading this. 

 

Ok, off topic now…………………We also spent two days in Doesburg, a medieval town in the Netherlands, with Robb’s aunt, uncle, cousins and Diva, the Saint Bernard dog. Oliver turned 12 and was presented with a giant cake, banners and a local town festival to assist with the celebrations.  The real gift was  to spend time with such warm, interesting people.  It was difficult to leave and in this instance we curse the tyranny of distance.

 

Tom Tom is still recovering from the Disney experience. He rates such things, as out trip to that Catacombes in Paris and  Anne Franks house as ‘great rides.” Oliver and Henry were very moved by their trip to Anne Frank’s house.  The idea of living with blacked out windows, in silence and fear for a few years, coupled with Anne’s death just one month prior to liberation, left much for them to ponder.

 

The boys have also loved the croquette vending machines.   For 1 euro, they open a little compartment and remove a piping hot crumbed roll, filled with a variety of gooey, savoury fillings.  Frittes and mayonnaise have also been another favourite, along with chocolate sprinkles on bread each morning.  I’m not sure if this fare fits with the recommended healthy eating plan!!!!

 

It is off to Italy tomorrow and I can hardly wait.   I’ll keep this brief as I have a fair bit of packing and organising to do.  How to reduce the size and weight of the suitcases, to fit the allowance I have on the budget airline that we are flying with.

 

xx

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2011 in Diary

 

French Chic (chicks)

From one extreme to another. In Florida I felt as though I could resurrect the bikini ( not seen in my wardrobe since 1997) and in France, I wanted to lobby the government to reintroduce the burqa. French chicks are impossibly chic, slim and sexy. They eat all things creamy, washed down with red wine and mopped up with several slices of baguette. Then they bounce down the street teetering on gorgeous high heels, complimented by a pair of size 8 jeans. Of course I returned to my room and madly googled this phenomenon. Apparently it is about quantity and no snacking…..blah blah. At least they have bad breath from all of those garlic snails and cigarettes. Hang on, they also have a low incidence of lung cancer.
Anyway, Paris was wonderful. Very smelly but absolutely stunning. Kind of like blue cheese. The buildings, monuments and eateries are certainly one of a kind. I loved perusing the patisseries, charcuteries and fromageries. I also snuck in a little Agnes B purchase…..
We left Paris this morning and drove to Brugge. Now this is a seriously gorgeous place. Picture postcard perfect but bloody expensive. We foolishly picked a cafe in the town square ( the heartland of the tourist) to have a little snack and a coffee. Robb ordered tap water for the kids and was told by Ernst the slightly aggressive waiter, that it was not possible. They only provided bottled water. The bill came and we were charged 18 euro for two 475 ml bottles of water. Out-bloody-rageous!
We strode out of tourist Mecca and took to the charming back streets. It was here that we were rewarded with our first smile. Henry bought some hand picked chocolates and we took them back to our room and sat and savoured every bite. Yes, I know, French chicks wouldn’t have snacked and gorged between meals.
Xx

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2011 in Diary

 

Le Nit

Ahhhh, no holiday could be complete without a mad dash to le pharmacie to buy a nit treatment for les enfants.( and potentially moi). Yesterday, sitting in the gentle sunshine, sipping a wonderful coffee, I noticed one of the off spring scratching. Not for a second imagining that it could possibly be nits, I had a casual examination of the child’s head. Happily nestled in between the strands were some beret clad hitchhikers! Now that is exactly what I felt like doing in Paris! Anyway, a treatment and a carafe of wine later, hopefully the situation of le nit is resolved.
Yesterday involved kms of trekking,in order to get around the major sites. We exited the metro at The Champs Élysées and remained on foot until our last port of call at Notre Dame Cathedral(c’est magnifique) Perhaps the highlight was the Eiffel Tower. It was a sight that the kids were familiar with and they loved viewing it from various angles and vantage points. They were particularly amazed that for many years it had been the worlds tallest structure, built specifically for the Paris world fair.
We also had the pleasure of falling victim to a scam. Whilst ambling down a rue, a gentlemen in front of us gleefully found a gold ring. He turned to us and tried it unsuccessfully on all fingers before shaking his head and saying “it does not fit me!” he then turned and gave it to me. Wow, what a nice man I thought, as he turned to walk off. Ha ha, next thing he was back asking for euros. This sequence was repeated in other places but by then we were on to it.
The boys decided that they should sample snails whilst in Paris. I was impressed by their desire to consume this Parisian delicacy. They came out on a little silver tray, oozing butter, garlic and parsley and Tom and Henry instantly decided that they looked a little to like the backyard cousins and declined. Ols, on the other hand licked his lips and sent the first one down the hatch. He loved them and his response was so infectious that it prompted Tom and Hens to taste them. Although not as enthused as the first born, they agreed that they were worth sampling.
Today, we plan to go explore the Catacombes. I’ll update on this soon.
Au revoir,
Moi
Xx

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2011 in Diary

 

A little bite of a big apple and a weeny exploration of the family tree.

What a weekend we have just had!    Before I elaborate, perhaps i should back track a little, to keep some chronological order happening. 

I love NYC, in fact, I nearly bought one of those t-shirts just to emphasise the point.  What a city…  We arrived and left during a heat wave, walked miles, ate well and shopped just a little bit. ( Just writing that in case Robb reads this)  we also met up with two Fairfield families and ate out with them on balmy evenings, drinking lovely, thirst quenching Coronas. (Saving the red wine for Italy) 

The boys were very stoic, they battled blisters and perspired continuously, yet kept in good humour and open-mouthed awe of the giant city.   We walked around a quarter of Central Park, (i think it is about a 20km circuit)  Mummy dearest had the idea of heading to Strawberry Fields.  Boys could not understand the logic behind this and were slightly disheartened on arrival, to discover that it was a quiet area, with a small mural.  ¨We walked a million km´s for this!¨    OOps.   However, my whingeing troops still posed with cajoled smiles, under the sign for me.

Tom Tom, is a ferocious diary writer.  He pops out the diary like a Japanese tourist whips out a camera.    He has a section in the diary, reserved for new foods tasted.   To date this includes matzoh soup ( Jewish speciality) club sandwiches, cheese from a bottle and Paella.   Have I got the next Jamie Oliver on my hands?  (I see you roll your eyes….. I agree the bright yellow cheese in the bottle is hardly a gourmet fare, however it is new and it is not Coon.)    Bless his little cotton sport socks, I love reading about his travels from a six-year-old perspective.   Entries include….. I met  Luis, he orders food for us in Spanish and has a weird laugh!       and…… My brothers suck.    Go Tom Tom.

So, after a break down of the car we hired to take us to the airport, we were duly transported by stretch limo to Newark.   We boarded a Lufthansa plane, that resembled one in the Lego collection at home and headed to Madrid.  From here we took a train to where it all started for the van Toledo family, Toledo, Spain.   We were also meeting a very dear friend that we had not seen for 16 years.    So with stomachs sucked in and some poly filler applied we staged our grand reunion.   It was so fabulous to see Luis after such a long time.   We ate, drank, walked and talked our way through the ancient, fortified city.  The boys loved Luis as much as we did and we all feel a little sad this evening to have waved good-bye to him and the town that housed the great, great, great, great, great rellies.  

Toledo is built on a hill that makes your calf muscles sing.   There are elaborate wooden doors, shutters, engraved buildings and other amazingly preserved constructions from the 15th century.   We were hooked on tapas and sampled so many of the offerings.   We were lucky enough to be there at the  time of its local festival.   The town was alive with colour, fireworks and dancing women in traditional costumes.   It really does not get any better.

So now I sit, in a hotel in Madrid, accessing a bit of free wi-fi.   Tomorrow it is an early flight to Paris.

Au revoir,

Moi xx

Love,

Moi.  xxx

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2011 in Diary