Things that look different

… in Germany compared to how they look in New Zealand. I’ve just picked two completely at random and for no reason other than these were the only two that I had photos of honest and if you’re giggling at something I have no idea what that would be and I certainly have never, ever giggled at these myself. Ahem.

So: tow-bars and asparagus. Check it out:

Towbar WeissSpargel

White asparagus is a big deal around here, it’s a short season and will probably be over soon. It actually tastes a lot like green asparagus (if that’s what you’re used to), you need to peel it which is a bit tiresome and the stalks are much thicker than the green ones so it takes longer to cook. Traditionally it’s served with real mayonnaise – I liked it with a lemon and honey salad dressing and a thin slice of Parma ham on top.

Meanwhile there’s no special story about the tow-bars.

Advertisements

Life in Germany 5 – High School

So earlier I posted how Molly is finding primary school in Germany, it’s about time I added some reflections about Jack at high school.

Four types of high school

When you are 10 or 11 years old, it’s time to choose which type of high school you will go to until you’re 17-18. There are three traditional types, in order of most academic to least: GymnasiumRealschule and Hauptschule. A few years ago you could only get the qualification you needed for university from Gymnasium. Nowadays, strictly speaking, you can get it from any of the three types.

OK, I haven’t conducted long interviews with German parents about their take on it, but it doesn’t feel like there’s any particular stigma if you go to Realschule or Hauptschule. Let’s be honest: most large New Zealand high schools do the same thing, just in the same school. So if there are seven Year 9 classes, they will be streamed either top to bottom, or maybe a top two or three, and it’s those kids that will eventually go on and do Scol. Amiright?

The fourth type of high school is called Gemeinschaftschule (Gemeinschaft = community) and it’s basically all three types of high school combined. “Like a New Zealand high school then?” Yes, pretty much.

School day

Our village isn’t big enough to have a high school, so Jack catches the bus 5km into Eppingen. Eppingen has three high schools (Gymnasium, Real and Haupt) but they are all together on one campus, just in separate buildings. Jack is at Gymnasium, mainly because that’s where we thought there would be more teachers who spoke English, and the principal was very, very accommodating so I guess (again) we got lucky there.

School starts at 7:45am, so Jack leaves the house around 7:15. Your class has a different timetable for each day of the week – not just with whether you start with maths or geography, but whether you will have any classes in the afternoon or not. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Jack finishes at 12:30, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays he finishes at 4:15. L next door, who is in the same year as Jack but a different class, has a different timetable.

The only benefit of afternoon school is Jack doesn’t get any homework those days.

Subjects

The subjects are school are pretty normal, compared to New Zealand schools, maybe just a few more of them. Jack does English, maths, German, French, physics, biology, sport, geography and history. See what I mean? Pretty normal.

No uniform

Pretty much the only schools in Germany that have uniforms are private, preppy and probably slightly international schools, you know, the ones selling a sort of “British boarding school” product to parents.

Mensa

On a long day, Jack buys lunch at the school canteen – the Mensa. And they have a faaancy website where you order your lunch on the morning before school, flash your student ID and collect your schnitzel and chips, meatloaf with roast potatoes, etc. There’s a vegetarian option every day, but it cracks me up because some days it’s basically a dessert – check out the screenshot below.

Field trip to… France?

Monday Jack’s class did a casual field trip – to France. They basically got a bus from Eppingen to Strasbourg at 7:45, went inside the cathedral, had a sort of treasure hunt around the streets and back home by 6pm. Now that is something you don’t get to do in NZ.

IMAG0707
Jack and Molly celebrating their first day at school (back in September) with schnitzel with chips in Eppingen. And while we’re talking about food …

 

Here's a screenshot of Jack's school cafeteria (Mensa) order page for this week. I translated it using Chrome. When we first got here, I had to do a Google Images search for some of the items on the menu. "What's for lunch today?" "Um, Pfannkuchen". "What's that?" "Hold on... oh, ok, they're pancakes".
Here’s a screenshot of Jack’s school cafeteria (Mensa) order page for this week – and check out the vegetarian option for Tuesday! Dampfnudel* are soft white bready dumplings which are steamed but then fried just a little bit, and served with vanilla custard. Yes, it’s normally in German, I translated it for you using Chrome’s Google Translate. It does OK – clearly it can’t cope with “Sahnetomatensoße” (cream tomato sauce) and it thinks the Lentils will be served with string, but you get the idea. When we first got here, the only way Jack and I knew what he would be eating was to do a Google Images search for some of the items on the menu. “What’s for lunch today?” “Um, something called Pfannkuchen”. “What’s that?” “Hold on… oh, ok, they’re pancakes. Should be fine.”

 

* Dampfnudel is so far the ONLY German food I haven’t liked.

Pompeii – who knew it was so big?

During our Italian trip in February, we spent three nights in a town called Minori on the Amalfi coast. For me, a big attraction of heading this far south in Italy was to see Pompeii.

Our first full day in Minori the weather was a bit crap, but the second day was brighter so we headed off to Pompeii, which was only about 40 minutes away. We had planned to spend a couple of hours there, and then head off to Herculaneum/Ercolano, another Roman site destroyed in the Vesuvius eruption of 79 AD.

So here’s what I thought Pompeii would look like – in my head. You’d drive well away from the city, head towards some sort of forest, down a long dusty road, park your car and then stroll into “Pompeii”, which itself would be mostly a flat dusty field but with a few scattered Roman ruins here and there. There’d be a museum with some “ha, you didn’t get me” unbroken amphorae, a bunch of broken ones, a few posters about the eruption, and the centrepiece would be those macabre mouldings taken from the victims who died covered by ash, but whose bodies left “moulds” as the ash cooled, and as their bodies decomposed. Awesome.

So, when we actually got there, what I found was quite a surprise:

“You’d drive well away from the city”

You don’t really leave Naples to get here, and there’s a motorway offramp right beside Pompeii, plus another main road running past with shops and usual Italian city stuff.

“A flat, dusty field with a few scattered ruins”

It’s an enormous, sprawling Roman city – and apart from roofs, almost completely intact. It has an enormous wall all around the outside, and once you’re in, it perches just slightly above the rest of the city. Inside are hundreds and hundreds of buildings – public buildings, baths, temples, workshops, giant amphitheatre, posh houses, modest houses, bars and cafes, political graffiti… 11,000 people used to live here.

“We had planned to spend a couple of hours there”

You need ALL day to cover Pompeii – forget about doing Herculaneum the same day.

“There’d be a museum”

There’s no museum here – although in the forum (the main city square, which is also enormous) there is a sort of big garage with wire fencing so you can look in, and here are the amphorae, other artefacts, and yes, a couple of ash mould bodies. It’s best to bring or buy a guide book so, as you’re going around, you know what you’re looking at – but there are signs inside each building as well.

So what are we really looking at?

Yeah, so before I went, I thought the focus of Pompeii would be Vesuvius – that it would really be “about the volcano”, about the eruption, you know, and looking at how it destroyed the town. But it’s not at all. It’s more that because the volcano preserved the town, what Pompeii is really about is being able to visit a place where you get to rewind 2,000 years and see almost exactly what a large Roman city looked like.

Many, many buildings still have their original mosaic floors or wall paintings. Of course, the houses were built and decorated at various different periods, and art history scholars have defined four distinct Pompeian Styles of mural painting, eg the First Style was fashionable from 200BC to around 100BC, then they noticed a change which they describe as the Second Style from 100BC to around 20BC, etc. The influences, designs and colour palettes change through each of the styles.

The roads – made of giant flagstones – still have grooves in them where they were rutted by cart wheels. At various points there are large stepping stones which allowed people with log hems to cross the road in heavy rain without soaking their togas.

A day at Pompeii is a long one – and although there’s no museum there is a cafe and plenty of toilets, etc. A few sections of the city were closed for restoration work – and that was frankly a blessing, because we really wanted to see as much as possible but the kids (and us) only had so much gas in the tank.

But it’s an amazing, fascinating day – taking in everything from the enormous scale of the city as a whole … down to a tiny portrait painted on a wall in a small bedroom 2,000 years ago.

Check out some of our pictures:

IMG_2028
Panorama over Pompeii
WP_001828
Another view over the ancient rooftops
WP_001841
One of many long, long streets
IMG_2018
The stepping stones and the ruts carved by cart traffic (the carts just go over the top of the stepping stones – clever huh?)

WP_001830

IMG_2015
Jack on the street
IMG_2026
The Forum
WP_001840
This is a plaster mould of one of the victims of Pompeii – apparently a young boy. The ash encased his body completely. Over time his body decomposed and the “mould” left behind was recovered, and used to recreate his final moments. Very moving.
WP_001835
A kind of “takeaway bar” – the holes held large pots of food and workers used to walk past and order lunch.
IMG_2027
An oven at one of the bakeries
IMG_2006
The walls inside one of the villas
WP_001831
Portrait painted on a wall
WP_001842
Mosaic at an entrance to a house – one of several and I wanted to photograph them all
IMG_2024
One of the very impressive bath houses
WP_001834
Kids near the large tub
WP_001833
Wall decoration inside the public bath house
WP_001844
And after a hard day walking the streets of Pompeii, relax at a show at the amphitheatre (it’s a show if Molly’s around)

Say some things in German properly

I’m not going to teach you German for the same reason I’m not going to teach you to knit, or to juggle. I’m not even going to bore you with a week by week pronunciation guide. I would just like to teach you one thing, so if you ever travel to one of the six countries where German is an official language, you can pronounce some placenames without sounding like a dick.

EI  and  IE

Most English speakers get these mixed up. So let’s sort that out right now:

  • IE  =  “ee”
  • EI  =  “eye”

Is there a trick I can learn to remember that?

There are two tricks: my trick and Jack’s trick.

My trick:   DIESEL  and   HEIGHT

  • Every time I see a word with “ie” in it, I think of “diesel”.
  • Every time I see a word with “ei” in it, I think of “height”.

Diesel, height, diesel, height, diesel, height, etc.

Jack’s trick: what’s the sound of the SECOND letter?

  • Eg, the word has “ie” in it – the second letter is “e” – make that sound.
  • The word has “ei” in it – the second letter is “i” – make that sound.

Now let’s put it into practice

To be fair, most English speakers do get the “ei” words right, it’s the “ie” ones they struggle with. We’ll start easy:

I write Bier, you say …?  That’s right, “beer”, and that’s what it means in English!

Next… I write Bienen. Take your time. Did you say “beenen”? Well done! And that’s German for “bees”, so it even sounds similar. You are nailing this.

Alright this one’s tricky: Friedhof. Yep, it looks like the English word for what you did to your bacon and eggs, doesn’t it? So be careful: remember, “diesel/height”, or “the sound of the second letter” and … Did you get “Freedhof”? Fantastic! Um, that means “cemetary” by the way, but Germans are totally into burial, and I swear, you drive 5 metres into any German town and THERE IT IS, the sign for the Friedhof.

Would you like some “ei” words? OK, these should be straightforward:

Meister – yep, that’s pronounced “MY-ster”. It means master or champion.

Freitag – “FRY-tag” which means Friday, so again, it even sounds like the English word.

Ok, are you ready for the placenames quiz? Try and pronounce these town names, then scroll down to see the answers below:

Lienz

Lienz

Leingarten

Leingarten

Weiler

Weil der Stadt

Wunsiedel

Wunsiedel

Frielingsdorf

Frielingsdorf

Herscheid

Herscheid

The Answers

  • “Leentz”     The “z” is spoken as if there is a “t” before it.
  • “Linegarten”    Too easy.
  • “Vy-ler”     Yep, the “w” is pronounced like a “v”.
  • “Voon-zeedel”     That “oon” is not pronounced like “soon”, it’s more like the double-o of “book” or “look”. Think of “wunderbar”! Also, the “s” gets a slight “z” slide on it.
  • “Freelingsdorf”    Again, easy, huh?
  • “Hair-shide”     The “er” is said more like “air” than just “er”.

How did you get on? Let me know in the comments.

Ooh la la – Paris

As an adult, when you plan a trip to Europe, you have a list of the Stuff You Want To See And Do, but kids usually don’t have that sort list and it’s frustrating when you want to involve them. “Come ON Francesca, what do YOU want to do when we’re in Maastricht? Hmmm?  Hmmm?”

Luckily when it came to Molly and Paris we didn’t have this problem: “I want to go up the Eiffel Tower”.

Of course I’ve been to Paris before, a few times during my last OE, but I’ve never been up the Eiffel Tower. Mainly because there’s lots of other things to do that don’t need you to queue for two hours. But when your kid actually comes up and says “While we’re in Town X, this is a thing I want to do”, you do it.

We went to France in the October school holidays and had four nights in Paris in a good apartment we found on AirBnB.

In terms of getting up the Eiffel Tower and avoiding the queues, I was happy to volunteer to leave the apartment at 7am, start queuing and then others could join me an hour later and by then we should be near the front. The problem was, on that first morning in Paris the weather was so hazy that from the Sacré Coeur you could hardly see the Eiffel Tower itself. With weather like that there would be no point going up there at all. So we walked around Montmartre, down towards the Louvre and Tuileries and bought tickets to go to the Louvre the next day. Yep, you can do that (there’s a gift shop near the Louvre that sells them) and that also saves you a bunch of queuing. Did I drag my kids to the Louvre? No way, I was dreading it! But when we got to the Palais du Louvre – with the intention of giving the kids a runaround in the courtyard – they looked through the glass panels near the side exits where you can see into the gallery and insisted they wanted to go. In saying that, they did also enjoy running around the fountains in the courtyard.

As an aside, I love that damn pyramid. For us in the 20th and 21st centuries, when it comes to most old and historical buildings, we’re reluctant to add anything new that might look “out of character”. But for many of these buildings, that’s exactly what happened throughout their histories. “You can barely see the medieval bit because in the Tudor period two new wings were added. Then it got a Georgian makeover in 1780 during which all the beautiful baroque ceilings were painted over – there’s only two left now…” You see where I’m going? So yeah, I love it that some Chinese guy walked into the middle of this 18th century Parisian palace and went, “You know what this really needs? A giant glass pyramid, right here.” And I love it even more that the French went, “You’re damn right. Let’s do it.”

The haze also cleared up that afternoon, so we thought we’d see what the weather was like the next day after we’d been to the Louvre, and maybe give the Tower a shot.

The following day was hazy again, but the forecast said it would clear up. We went to the Louvre and I managed to keep Molly’s attention span up long enough to catch The Big Two (Mona Lisa & Venus de Milo), plus quite a few others. We particularly liked looking at the style of the paintings of Napoleon, and how Christ-like he appears when visiting the plague-stricken in Jaffa or the battlefield in Eylau on his white pony. We also enjoyed looking at the enormous Wedding Feast at Cana, and how Veronese, like many Renaissance painters, painted himself and a selection of his Renaissancy mates in there, supposedly in cameo roles, but still front and centre and the most brightly dressed. Cheeky bugger.

After the kids ran out of steam at the Louvre, we went outside and the haze had cleared up. Time to take a deep breath, head to the Eiffel Tower and start queuing.

We queued for two and a half hours before we got into the elevator. The queues run from each of the tower’s four legs (if you like) into the middle area right underneath the tower. Molly and I left Joe and Jack in the queue to do a sandwich run, we were gone about half an hour, and when we got back for some reason the queue – like, the whole queue – had moved! We had no idea where Joe and Jack were and walked up and down for another nerve-wracking 15 minutes hoping they hadn’t somehow gone up the tower already!

The view from the tower was pretty amazing. Obviously it was late afternoon by the time we got there and we watched the sun setting over that unique Parisian skyline. We knew the tower’s lights came on at 6pm and we thought it would be cool to get down in time to watch them come on. But just as we had no power of how long we would queue to get up, it was the same to get down. In fact what happened was we were actually in the lift going down on the stroke of 6pm – so in effect we were right amongst the lights as they went on. The whole lift carriage went, “OOooooh!” it was pretty cool!

The next day started hazy and stayed that way, so we were lucky we went up when we did. We went past Notre Dame, met some friends for a lovely cozy lunch and the next day set off for Le Quesnoy and Belgium.

Us outside Sacré Coeur at Montmartre
Us outside Sacré Coeur at Montmartre
Three things I love: Jack, Molly and that pyramid
Three things I love: Jack, Molly and that pyramid
IMG_1589
View from the Eiffel Tower
IMG_1596
View of us having a view from the Eiffel Tower
Lit up in the early evening
Lit up in the early evening
Place de la Concorde, with one of those "how did they get that here" obelisks from Egypt
Place de la Concorde, with one of those “how did they get that here” obelisks from Egypt
IMG_1614
The four of us on a bridge over the Seine, near Ile de la Cite.
Looking down Champs Elysees at the Arc de Triomphe
Looking down Champs Elysees at the Arc de Triomphe


How to plan a trip away 2 – Accommodation

So from the previous post hopefully you’ll understand why, for a trip like our two weeks in Italy, I wasn’t really a fan of “oh, we’ll just show up and find somewhere to stay”.

That’s a bit personal

When it comes to “What are you looking for in your accommodation?” everyone is different! So this post is very much written from my perspective and what works for me and my family. As usual, if you’ve got views, there’s a Comments section below so do wade in! Anyway…

Accommodation Booking Websites

I’ve tried a few accommodation booking websites but I keep coming back to Booking.com. We used Air BnB very successfully in Paris. But other times I’ve found places on Air BnB that look like they really, really are available, even some so-called “Instant Book” ones, but then you get an email back saying, “Oh sorry, it’s not available that day.” And unfortunately Booking.com has set my expectations that I should be able to browse, pick something and book it right then and there, job done.

Self-catering, parking and WiFi, please

A great thing about Booking.com is you can put in everything you’re looking for in your choice of accommodation, so those are the main three things I’m after:

WiFi – save your phone’s data; double-check opening hours for museums, etc; do a bit of reading up on Stuff We Saw Today, eg what exactly is Trajan’s column?

Parking – because we show up some of Europe’s biggest cities with our car, and if you have to pay to put your vehicle in a carpark, you need to factor that into the price of a room that otherwise looks cheap. For example, in Rome we found rooms for €80 a night, but then parking might be €30 a day. So… that’s really a €110 a night room! And yes, we managed to find a place in Rome that had free parking. I will write a separate blog post about our accommodation in Rome because I think it was possibly (for us) the most perfect accommodation experience I have ever had.

Self-catering – the cheapest rooms you can get are usually in some sort of hotel chain like Ibis, on the outskirts of town. We stayed in one of these for one night in Metz and it was fine. As well as WiFi and parking, in your room you get a bed, a TV, maybe tea and coffee making, a shower and a toilet.

Finding somewhere with a small kitchenette costs more than these type of places BUT let me paint you a picture: you and your spouse, and your two teen/tween children, in the same small room, for two weeks. You can make a cup of tea, but there’s no bowls or spoons if you just want cereal for breakfast. For dinner, you don’t choose to eat out, you have to eat out, even if you feel like just throwing on a packet of pasta and heating up a ready-made sauce*.

For me it really boils down to being able to just cook or eat like I’m at home – not all the time, but when I want to, that makes me try and look for self-catering accommodation. I love going out for breakfast, but I actually don’t want to eat croissant every day for two weeks. OK, rephrase: I would love to be able to eat croissant every day of my life without any impact on my waistline, but … So there you go.

Self catering = bigger room = no-one gets killed

If you are looking for somewhere that is self-catering, that also sets the bar in terms of the size of the room. At a minimum, it’s likely to have a separate bedroom. This means you and your spouse can physically separate yourselves from the children and whatever crap they’re watching on TV and close the door. By all means have a smutty giggle here, but after a day trudging around museums and historical sights, when everyone is just a teensy bit tired, a separate room can help you survive the trip with your mental health intact, and help your children survive the trip with … well, help them survive the trip. A separate room also means you don’t have to turn your lights out at 9pm or whatever your family watershed is.

Minimum two nights

You usually can’t check into your accommodation until 2pm. But the day we go from Town A to Town B, we’re driving (obviously), stopping along the drive, getting lunch somewhere different, so we aren’t likely to arrive at our accommodation until more like 5pm or 6pm.

If you’re only staying one night, you’ve got to be out of there by 10am the next day: bags packed, room cleaned, goodbye. That’s why a one-night stand at a hotel is only good if you didn’t want to be in that town in the first place – if it’s just a way of breaking up a 10 hour drive to Town C, which is where you really want to be. And if that’s the case, forget self-catering and just go with the outskirts of town, Ibis-chain type option.

This is exactly what we did when we drove from here to Paris not on the motorways (8 hours), and we stopped one night in Metz which was exactly half-way. The hotel was on the outskirts but luckily near a main bus station. That night we took the bus into town, had dinner and a walk around Metz. In the morning we packed our bags but we went back into town to look around the food market before heading off to Paris around midday.

If you read the previous two paragraphs together, it won’t take you long to wonder, “So, you really didn’t want to go to Metz, did you?” Correct. And I felt bad about that! Poor Metz! A lovely historic city in Lorraine**, and I’m just having a one-night stand? Using it like a hotel? That’s why we made the effort to go into town, eat out, wander around, and go back in again in the morning. Now I can say that I’ve seen a bit of Metz and yes, it’s pretty cool.

Why don’t we finish off with a photo from Metz, then? This is not a great photo, and I had taken some pretty good photos of the old town, but unfortunately Metz is also the place where my phone got stolen just before we left for Paris, so this is all I’ve got, sorry. Place St Louis in Metz by night:

IMG_1570

* If you know me, you’ll know it wasn’t a ready-made sauce but I wanted it to sound easy and inviting…

** Yep, I bought a quiche from a bakery in the market. YUM.

How to plan a trip away 1 – Itinerary

While we’ve been in Germany, our pattern has been to have a trip away somewhere every few weeks or so. Seeing other places in Europe was very much a reason for coming here in the first place. This blog post is about what we do to plan and book stuff for such trips. It was getting a bit long, so I’ve split it into how we do general/itinerary type planning, and then tomorrow you can get the one about how we find accommodation.

Where

Within a couple of weeks of getting settled in Germany (so, October), Joe and I made a list of where we wanted to go in our year, and we have stuck to this list. This is the list of anywhere that’s more than 4 hours to drive to. Less than that, you could just rattle off in a weekend with maybe one night away, so no great planning required there.

Near the top of the list was Italy, where I have family in the north and, apparently, there’s a few things to see further down as well. So I’ll use that Italian trip as the case study for this blog post.

Sometimes we’ll just go with, “OK, I am NOT leaving Europe without seeing the Colosseum”. So that adds Rome to our itinerary and of course, while we’re there, we might find other things to see as well.

When

Joe and I are both self-employed, so we can just up and go anytime. Joe just needs to make sure he keeps an eye on his emails so while he’s away he can accept bookings for when he’s back. Otherwise he has an unpaid holiday followed by a very lean patch for two weeks.

With the kids, because they don’t have big exams, their schools are happy enough for us to take them out during term time – provided we do obvious stuff like ask in advance, and don’t take the piss. So far we have only taken them out for an extra week in February – the school holiday was one week, and we went to Italy for two. Plus I took Jack out the one day we went to Ruhpolding. We are very lucky in this regard – I believe this is not the case for locals!

Molly is the hardest to persuade that a visit to the Colosseum might be at least as rewarding as a day chatting with her school friends and making sure she attends football practice.

For Italy we chose February because we planned to have a few days in Alto Adige with our German friends, and that’s when they were going skiing.

Itinerary

So once we pick the country, we plan an itinerary that is about 4/10 on the “ambitious” scale. We like to spend at least two nights somewhere, if not three. More about why a “one-night stand” doesn’t work a little later. We like to focus on, as I said further up, the sort of towns or places are on our list of “I am NOT leaving Europe without seeing [ xx ]”. There’s always a longer list of “What about here? How about there?”. And if we make it to even one of these places, we are doing very, very well. We can’t see it all, so instead we ensure that we go to the one that most important to us.

We use Google Maps to work out how long it will take us to drive somewhere, and whether we want to save a few euro and not go on the motorway (there’s an “avoid tolls” option in Google maps). An 8-hour drive would be the absolute maximum for a day’s travel, and we would only do this right at the start and right at the end of our trip, ie, to put some good distance between us and home.

For Italy we did:

  • 7 plus hour drive to Friuli, then 4 nights there.
  • 4.5 hours to Alto Adige, 3 nights.
  • 6 hours to Rome, 2 nights.
  • 3 hours to Amalfi, 3 nights.
  • 4.5 hours to Tuscany, 3 nights.
  • 4 hours back to Friuli, 2 nights.
  • 7 plus hour drive back home.

So you get the picture.

For Italy, that itinerary seemed to work really, really well. In hindsight I would have loved another day in Rome but I guess that means I will just have to go back one day!

Motorways or backroads?

Motorways in Germany are free, but in most other countries you have to pay either a toll or buy a windscreen sticker called a Vignette for a certain number of days. And going the backroads is prettier right?

Well, we decided to pay the money and take the motorway. It wasn’t that expensive in Italy and it just means that you can get to your destination so much quicker, because it’s about spending time in Rome, not spending time in the car, right? Yes, there is an argument that it’s nice to meander through the backroads, but that’s an argument that loses weight in winter, and frankly the children aren’t that interested in gazing out the car window at the nice hill, or the nice tree, or the nice stone.

The one time we didn’t get the motorway was the drive from Friuli to Alto Adige where there wasn’t really a motorway except for the last hour (and we used it then). And that drive was spectacular. The mountains were AMAZING and yes, I will do another blog post with photos of that amazing region of the world.

“Itinerary? Why didn’t you just jump in the car and play it by ear?”

I totally hear you, so please let me defend my planning if it all sounds a bit obsessive. The main reasons were we were going to Italy in a German school holiday week. There are 80 million Germans, and they are nothing if not a nation of travellers. Also I believe it was a French and British school holiday week.

We stayed with family in Friuli so it’s good to let them know what your dates are so they can roll out the airbed and plan things to do with you. Finally, it’s cheaper if you book your accommodation beforehand, particularly when there are four of you, particularly if you are going to Rome in a school holiday, and particularly if you are after the sort of accommodation we look for. Which will segue nicely into my next blog post tomorrow.

And as you’ve been so good, let me throw in a couple of pictures from Italy. I will do separate blog entries for each of these destinations, with proper pictures, but for now you can have one from Rome, and one from Alto Adige:

Lunch at the Spanish Steps
Lunch at the Spanish Steps
Molly on her "sled" - basically a giant plastic spoon.
Molly on her “sled” – basically a giant plastic spoon.