Hiking around Mt Blanc with a newborn on your back

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It was never a question in our minds. As soon as our son was born, we were headed to the Alps. Perhaps it is the optimism of a new parent, but we didn’t consider whether we would have the energy, the practical knowhow, or even the willingness to carry a newborn baby to the top of mountain peaks. I remember looking up how much a baby would weigh at ten weeks, and being satisfied that it was only around 5 kilos, and that would be a breeze!

Our little River cub came along at a huge ten and a half pounds. It slightly threw the projected weight off, but C-section or not…we were headed to the Mount Blanc Massif. This time we chose the Italian side, hoping to learn a little more about how the Italians interact with the Alps. Our friends generously allowed us to stay in their apartment in La Thuille, a ski resort by winter, and perfectly situated for some hiking adventures at 1500m. Continue reading “Hiking around Mt Blanc with a newborn on your back”

Rome – The Eternal City pt 1

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I have dreamt of visiting the Eternal City since we were forced to take Italian in primary school. Monuments like the Colosseum, Sistine chapel and the Trevi Fountain sort of hold your fascination for so long that you half fear the moment you finally lock eyes on them being a letdown. Well I’ll let you in on a secret… absolutely nothing in Rome is a let down.

Upon learning we would be expecting a little bundle in 9 months, my first rational thought once the excitement had subsided was – “babe we need to get to Rome first”. Travel obsessed much? Guilty as charged. So regardless of the outrageous October half-term prices, we booked 4 days of ‘when in Rome’.

We chose a little apartment on the top floor of a residential area close by Campo di Fiore, a bustling market square which holds a fresh food market every morning. Despite being in my 15th week of pregnancy the morning sickness aka all day sickness was not relenting, and as it so happens Campo di Fiore was the perfect spot smack bang in the middle of everything. This made it easy for mid-day breaks which of course never materialised as there is far too much to see and do in Rome to afford breaks! Upon arrival in the evening we promptly navigated our way to our first Gelateria!

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The first day we were up early to knock one of the big boys off the list – the mighty Colosseum. There it was, rising from the ground in all it’s splendour, an ancient monument come to life. I always need to touch the walls of these ancient Roman Ruins to immerse myself in the wonder of standing in a place where so many thousands milled around in times past. We had booked a tour weeks ahead to allow us to access the ground floor of the Colosseum and it was well worth being organised to book this as we were regaled with tales of Gladiators and Emperors, Lions and Shields. Our imaginations went wild and Joel may or may not have let a few quotes from Gladiator slip, or even have claimed to be Maximus Decimus Meridius (I love you babe). Staring upon where the floor would have been, we marvelled once again at the ingenuity of the Romans and the way they went about ordering their society.

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The afternoon was spent as close as possible to how the locals go about their business. Joel and I love observing….and copying. We have learnt whilst travelling that a line should always be joined. So we picked a number in a packed little deli in the Jewish Quarter and hustled along with the Romans to acquire some Pizza Bianca. It doesn’t look like much as it is essentially pizza type focaccia with oil and salt. But omg wait until you put that baby in your mouth. Drool. My carb-hungry plain-food-searching baby seemed to leap in the womb. Joel was very pleased with himself for his performance in the deli even though he copped out at using the Italian numerals we had drummed in our brain at school.

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We were on a roll and next visit was to a nondescript unlabelled Pasticceria which sold 5 items (obviously successfully) and I acquired a ricotta cheesecake with cherry base. Even Joel who doesn’t jump at such things admitted genius. Then we were on to our staple – gelato. Ever tried rice flavoured gelato? You should.

Off we went on a merry stroll through the side alleys of Rome, soaking it all in, marvelling at the Europe we so love, and how tantalisingly different it is to the UK, and wondering how they live and adapt in the apparent chaos. It makes you realise how uptight we are in our day to day lives in England and Australia. Europeans seem to go with the flow, they seem to enjoy the every day, they are not in a rush, they do not look haggard and stressed (well, except for in Paris) and the folks in the cities seem be folded up in the culture of the place itself, like part of the furniture.

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We soaked in the ambiance of Campo Di Fiore’s bustling market place whilst I grinned good naturedly at the Italian men who seemed to feel compelled to make a comment as I walked past. In due course we found ourselves sunning our weary bodies in a corner of Piazza Navona underneath the last of the dying sun – shoes off and content as cats lapping up the last of their milk. As the sun made its final descent we meandered down Via dei Coronari, a lovely and quaint shopping street featuring many antique stores. Despite being waylaid by more gelato, we emerged at the Tevere (Rome’s river) and beheld the mighty Saint Paul’s Cathedral being illuminated by the final rays of light the day had to offer. It truly took our breath away, and I will remember that moment protectively in my mind, as no camera could have captured the radiant glow in all it’s spectacular fullness. The place could have ascended to heaven itself it was that beautiful.

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Morning sickness tends to rear its head and laugh at me most viciously in the evenings which posed a challenge, particularly when in Rome and surrounded by the most spectacular food known to mankind. I could not carry myself far so we opted for fresh pasta at a little restaurant nearby which had a mama making fresh pasta at the window. For those of you who adore Al Dente pasta, you will adore Rome. They have so many traditional pasta dishes which I decided then and there I would track down, or to put it more aggressively, hunt down, over the next few days. Oh how could I forget, we washed it down with more gelato. This time at the oldest gelateria in Rome which we stumbled upon purely by accident by the name of Giolitti, a family run establishment with a line out the door. For a reason! We consumed gelato from no other place our entire stay. The seasonal pomegranate was a highlight.

I’ll leave this post on a high note (or dolce note)… Join us for the next instalment in part 2!

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Herculaneum

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If you are in the region of Naples, you must visit Mt Vesuvius and learn about the infamous volcanic eruption. I must say that the towering outline of this still-active volcano does not fail to impress! It is apparently the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted in the last century. Not only this, but if it erupts again there are now 3 million people living in its vicinity, and it is known for violent and explosive eruptions! I’d be having my eye on that volcano!

We chose to visit Herculaneum rather than Pompeii, as it is better preserved, more compact and conveys a better sense of how people lived in 79AD. The Pompeii site you need to devote a lot of time to cover, whereas you can visit Herculaneum in a few hours. The excavations were truly remarkable. I take my hat off to the Italians for an 11 euro well spent. Continue reading “Herculaneum”

Amalfi Coast

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I have not yet become used to the fact that I can finish work in London, and fall asleep later than evening in Italy. On this occasion we landed in Rome and joyously sprouted out the little Italian we knew (courtesy Cromer Primary School) i.e. uno, due, tre and cosi cosi. It did the trick and we soon found ourselves cruising down the autostrade in our Fiat Panda. Our destination was the gorgeous Amalfi Coast which is a famous peninsula strutting out into the sea below Naples. The drive was breathtaking for two reasons 1. The exquisite views of villages perched and built into the cliffs 2. The fear of buses as we squeezed our Fiat around countless bends not made to accommodate two vehicles at once! Thankfully Joel was grinning ear to ear, probably imagining that he was a rally car driver, whilst I hyperventilated beside him.

In saying this, we drove the whole peninsula over the course of our visit, and by the end you have to admit that the roads are an attraction in and of themselves. The engineering is ingenious considering it wasn’t too long ago that the only way to reach the villages was by foot or sea. This poses a problem for parking and one downside of having a car is attributed to the impossibility of understanding the Italian parking system. It is a miracle of the Lord that we walked away without a single fine or scratch to our trusty Fiat. Continue reading “Amalfi Coast”

Chamonix

Lunch stop on the slopes

It was a French white Christmas, well, in 2011 that was. Yeah, we’re definitely playing catch-ups on the blog. Catch-ups or not, Chamonix is worth writing about.

We left an elephant-grey London behind and started our pursuit of ‘powder’. Now, both Lauren and I were wishing for ‘fresh powder’, but really, we had no idea what this actually was! It was just the thing to say when going skiing. Little did we know that our hopes of a ‘powder pursuit’ would very much come true.

On arrival, we jumped on a transfer bus and after gawking at the mountains for an hour or so, we arrived at our home for the next week; Chamonix (to save anyone the embarrassment now, it is a silent ‘x’, so now you can at least say it correctly in your head). We quickly dumped our bags in the most amazing chalet (I will come back to that later) and went exploring in the town as the sun began to set. What a privilege it was to stay right in the midst of the action in a ski-town. It was buzzing with the click-clack sound of hundreds of ski-boots as people were coming down from the last runs of the day. There were more headbands that you could poke a stick at, fresh baguettes under most peoples arms and the excitement was definitely building for Lauren and I to hit the slopes the next day.

Day One at Brévent/Flégère was Continue reading “Chamonix”