Category Archives: Travel

Italia, one of my favourite places in the world

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Ok, I haven’t been to many countries and maybe this is why Italy is always in my Top 5. Or maybe it is because it’s a fantastic place. The food, the climate, the lamdscape, the language, the History… It is all so familiar, it’s like being at home, but in a new place.

We went to Naples this time, the cheapest option for a last minute trip. We stayed in Hotel Marad in Torre del Greco. The hotel had a lovely terrace with views to the Vesuvio and the sea. 

It was warm, sunny and lovely. Here are some photos we took on the terrace at the end of a lovely day.

And we’re back!

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It’s been almost a week since we returned from holidays, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I managed to unpack our last luggage and wash the last holidays clothes.

The holidays were great and intense, we got back exhausted and suffering from mild jet-lag and the girls are nearly fully recovered. Going back to the routine was (is being) a bit harder than anticipated, because we had a few changes just after the holidays. To start with, Laura doesn’t go to breakfast club or after school club anymore, so we are getting used to different things in the morning and afternoon. Anyway, we will get there soon.

I am in the process of going through all the photos and sorting what to publish or not, so soon a bunch of Disney/Florida related posts. In the meantime, this is just to leave main details of our trip, even if for my future reference (I tend to forget where I went, what I did, where I stayed…).

We had a quick stop as our flight was to and from Miami. Orlando was way too expensive!! We booked the flight via an agency called Omegaflightstore.com, after a good research. It was expensive but the cheapest option for the dates we wanted. Note to self: Easter break is a very expensive time to fly around Europe and USA because it’s spring break and everyone is on holidays.

Our flight was British Airways, flown by American Airlines. With all due respect to the Americans and all the great things they have, airlines are not one of them. American Airlines suck big time and I don’t think it will ever change. Three days before flying, the agency contacted us saying that the airline (BA) had cancelled our flight and we – passengers – had to contact them to sort it out. So we booked with an agency, the airline kicks us out of the flight and it is our problem. Good. Mr. C was on one line with BA and I was on another with the agency. BA saying it was the agency’s fault (for not reissuing another eticket, when the flight time was changed in December), the agency saying that it was BA’s fault, because they did everything they had to. The agency had indeed sent us a new etickets, which we told BA and of course, BA realised that somebody their end screwed up. And this is where AA comes to play. American Airlines simply cancelled the flight and didn’t tell anybody or tried to sort the problem. An hour later, lots of panic, several private messages with BA on Twitter, hubby on hold on the phone, BA finally put us on another flight, two hours later. At least we were going. The agency told us that we could ask for compensation at the airport, but at the time we didn’t understand what they meant. At the airport, finally the penny dropped. American had “cancelled” several flights (overbooked them and had to kick passengers out of the flights) and was giving $800 for those who volunteered to go on a different flight. The thing is: they didn’t tell us that – they acted like it was all normal and let’s move on. When we asked them about the $800 compensation (there was a paper on the check in desk), the lady then told us to go to customer service and ask about it. We were tired, late to go through security but we decided not to go until this was sorted. So now we are the “happy” owners of $800 voucher to spend on a trip flying American Airlines. Yay…

In Miami, we stayed in a one bedroom flat in Mare Azur by Grand Bay as we arrived late and didn’t want to drive to Orlando on the same day. The apartment was really good, spacious (now this is something I am so jealous of the Americans: space), well equipped, great view, free wifi and, although not by the beach, it was 20 min drive to one. Parking is available at $15/day.

Speaking of parking, the car we rented had to be upgraded due to the amount of luggages (and people) we had. We rented via easycars.com but the provider was Alamo. The car was really good (it was almost like climbing a hill to get to it, but I’m short, my bad) but consumed a lot of petrol. Luckily, big cars are common in the US and it was easy to park it everywhere. Something like that in the UK wouldn’t even get through some roads.

I need one of those! Washing machine and tumble dryer occupying minimum space.

 

Swimming pool at Mare Azur. We didn’t use it, but the water was nice and warm.

 

The “little” kitchen that had it all. The microwave is huge compare to ours. The fridge/freezer too.

 

The view of our flat in Miami (Mare Azur)

The view… I could get used to that every morning.

 

Flat in Mare Azur (living room)

There was a king size bed in the bedroom and a sofa-bed in the living room.

 

Car in Florida

Our car during our holidays

 

She was very comfy at the back (3rd row)

Our accommodation in Kissimmee was great too. We rented a four-bedroom house with private swimming pool that we only used one day. The house was just next door to Medieval Times, but we didn’t go to this one. The house was arranged by a friend Luciana Misura, who is a Disney travel agent in the US (she is Brazilian, but fluent in English) and sorted out most of our trip. She didn’t charge anything to suggest an itinerary, book the tickets and the house, and it was really good to go via her as her suggestions about busiest park days, etc, were spot on. She also booked the character lunches at Hollywood Studios and Epcot Centre for us, but we were late to decide what to do and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique was full for the days we were there.

We had a minor incident with the house and the emergency numbers – one of the bedrooms door was locked from the inside and the couple that was sleeping there couldn’t get in. All their things, money, Disney passes, clothes, etc, were in there, so it wasn’t like they could leave it to the next day. We called the emergency number but they didn’t show up at all – we saw a missed called at 11am and we guess it was from them. In the end, we had to go to Walmart to get some tools to open the room. This was in the evening and we had a late night because of that. All sorted though and the agency was actually good at sorting other things for us, like getting a toaster and a frying pan that we didn’t have, and – oh dear, I see a pattern here – unlock the main door that we managed to lock from the inside. The later was easier to sort, because we were ready to go to the parks and had all our stuff (except for the other family’s Disney card) with us. When we returned home, it was all sorted for us. So, despite the issue we had, I do recommend the place (Bella Vida Resort) and would stay there again. I must say that we didn’t use any of their facilities, like common swimming pool, gym, etc.

Our private pool, protected by net. Now this was something that surprised me – all the houses that we saw had this net at the back. I though it was to keep alligators away, but it’s just for insects. 🙂

 

By night

 

The kitchen-living area. Did I mention that I could easily live here?

 

From the kitchen…. 

Don’t forget:

Travel insurance – this is a must. The prices will depend on what you choose and the cover. We mainly took for medical costs. We used Insure and go, but I can’t really recommend it or not.

ESTA visa if you are British – British citizen don’t need to apply for visas to enter in the US, but they need to have a valid ESTA. It costs $14 per person (including kids) and you will need to apply at least 72 hours before your trip. Once you have it, it’s valid for a couple of years.

Planning holidays and trips

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I love going on holidays, but don’t like planning the trips at all. I don’t mind to research bit, read about places and choose the destination, but find it all very complicated to check logistics, compare prices, check offers, select accommodation. Especially because these days there are so many options that we can just spend several days looking and checking and looking again. Then you read the reviews and some are useful, some add even more confusion to our heads.

Holidays with kids can be pretty simple in a way: select a beach destination, find a accommodation with a swimming pool and that’s it. In theory, at least. This year we decided to change the strategy – but not much – and go to Disneyworld in Florida. We honestly thought it was just a matter of booking flights, finding accommodation, getting the tickets to the parks and that was it. I went to Disneyworld more than 25 years ago, in January, way before this climate change thing messed up the whole holiday planning. January was nice and warm, fresh I would say. There were queues, but nothing bizarre. We could see, do and go to most of the things we wanted, without too much hassle.

Now it seems like we are going to war, with so many strategies behind every move. You need to plan the days you should go to each park, as some are less busy than others, plan all the activities beforehand, so you don’t waste time in unnecessary queues, plan the meals, restaurantes, meet and greets. There is an app to help you with it. There are billions of blogs giving detailed information and planning tips. You have to book things in advance – sometimes 6 months ahead!, you need to have an idea of what attractions you want to go to. Of course, no one forces you, but without this careful planning, your trip can be ruined.

We are actually using the service of a travel agent to organize the trip. We booked the flights, the car and the insurance and she has sorted the accommodation and the itinerary + park tickets for us. She also has a very comprehensive blog (in Portuguese) about travel, including lots and lots of information on Disney, and has been several times to Orlando, with and without kids. So we are kind of taking her lead. Even small things like “this particular attraction might not be great for young kids”, despite me really wanting to go, is taking into account. The trip is for the kids and adults have a way around it (using single rider and child swap queue schemes, for example, that I only got to know about this week, reading her blog).

I will confess that after this whole experience, I would like to go again, another time, when it is less busy, for shorter period and maybe to stay in the park resorts. Or maybe not, maybe Disney will be ticked from our list for a few years, until they are old enough to go to every single ride and be able to walk for 10-12 hours without wanting us to carry them.

More to come on this trip soon.

Bagnoles de l’Orne, France

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Last October, we took the half term off and drove to France. Hubby found this little place in Normandy called Bagnoles, know for its hydrotherapic baths. It wasn’t too bad to get there, despite the fact that we got a bit lost in France, with the GPS not recognising some of the roads. From Calais to Bagnoles it is about 4-5 hours driving southeast.

We had loads of plans, including visiting Mt Saint Michel, but you know how it is with family trips and plans, eh? Not a perfect combination. Beatrice got ill as soon as we got there, high fever, sleepy, not eating, you know the drill. For three days, I stayed in with her, until she finally got super good and could enjoy the place.

The town is so cute and we walked there every day. Our room was self catering, but we ate out a few times. We ended up at Le Lido, once to try, and a couple of others as the only option. It’s ok. The staff was super friendly and I think this was the main reason why we went back. We also ate once, at the end of the trip, at La Terrasse, which was really good. The place was next to the Patisserie Lebaron Jean-Claude that we went a few times for coffee and treats.

The weather was nice, I think it rained once or twice and the sun was very warm. We loved the resort we stayed (and at a very decent price, compared to holidays in the UK), we could have gone to the pool and sauna every day, but the town also has some lovely woods to go on walks (including one just behind the resort).

It was a lovely week, the right amount of time, and the right place to go with the girls. Highly recommended. People would generally speak some English (not at the Lido, but it was ok), and even if they didn’t we could communicate a bit, but Laura struggled to play with other kids. The vast majority of tourists were French.

Some photos:

View of hour hotel B’O Resort and Spa from the pool

 

The main swimming pool of the hotel (there is a kids’ one, very shallow and with some toys)

Note to self: sort the damn swimming classes asap

Those things at the back are massage/jacuzzi things. The pool is VERY nice

 

The way from our hotel to the spa, where I had a massage. The place is huge and so tempting to just spend the whole day (holidays) there…

 

The park in the centre of the town

Kids’ area at the hotel. You can drop over 3’s there and have some me-time. Of course having an under 3 meant that we had to stay with them…

 

Part of the park in the town centre

The lake and a hotel in the background

The lake and the Casino in the background

 

Laura and her fake smile showing the piece of croissant she saved to give to a squirrel – but she ended up eating it as she saw no little creatures.

Walk in the woods – there are a few of these around and so very pleasant to explore.

Holidays mode on

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Last post was April, one month before Laura’s birthday and two before mine. We celebrated the girls’ birthday on a sunny Saturday of May, with lots of kids and adults, and as usual I was too busy making sure the food was out and warm and everyone was ok to enjoy the party myself. Elsa (from Frozen) came over, everyone had an amazing time, and this is what matters.

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My mum has been around since early May, helping out with the house and other stuff. I’m not sure how the garden will survive when she lives, how the clothes will be as clean as they are (she is better than Vanish), how the house will keep itself tidy during the week, and how the dinner will get made. Four months of help and comfort life, one can easily get used to it.

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Work… never mind work. I’m working and I’m grateful for it. No plans to move on just yet. Lots going on, the usual frustrations, the usual great things too. Unlike the previous job, I’m in this one for four year and it feels like 14. It just means that there are changes on a monthly basis, which is both exciting and unsettling.

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Holidays… now we are talking. Counting down for our two weeks in Italy, one of my favourite places in the world. I.cannot.wait. Is it too bad that all I can think of is pizza, spaghetti and ice cream? Well, this is a lie. I am actually looking forward to see the girls reaction to this trip. All Laura can talk about is… America. She wants to go to the US to… buy toys. We are trying to keep her excited about Italy with the prospect of eating ice cream every day. And going to the pool and beach too, but she is not so excited about these two. I am also hoping that we will be able to go on a gondola in Venice. We didn’t go the first time, but it’s one of those things that I really need to tick off the list.

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School holidays are flying. Another three weeks and it’s back to school. I dread it more than Laura.

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Both Laura and Beatrice are doing really well. I can’t believe they are 5 years (and 2 months) and 2 years (and 3 months) old already. This year is flying, and although I don’t want them to grow up too quickly (neither I want to get old), I just want this year to end. Such a weird one.

Christmas came and has gone in pictures

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It was warm
The views are always stunning
I had a week off work; more work then usual at home
We went to the dentist
We went to Romania
It was warm
But then it got cold
Not enough to build up snow
But enough to ice skate. Twice
Frozen is still a home favourite. Let it go!
Santa showed up in Romania
We ate like pigs and brought lots of food in the luggage
Santa stopped at home too, but mummy forgot to take pictures
Santa stopped at mummy’s work and decided that mummy is not overweight enough and can have lots of chocolate

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One week down, one more to go

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Hello from Croatia, from the A1 motorway to be more precise. We left Brela behind and we are heading to Krk (or at least it’s where I think we are heading to). From south-ish to north-ish.

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The week in Brela was interesting. Beautiful place, beautiful beaches, small, quiet. Steep stairs, pebble beaches, cold water, no waves, lots of water sports, islands nearby. We haven’t done much though and it wasn’t out of interest and will. After 2-3 days, my mother in law and Laura fell a bit ill (I think in Laura’s case , it was her bronquitis/asthma attacking) and her father being slightly paranoid, didn’t allow her to go in the water. Now how great it is to be in a beach place and cannot go in the sea? I guess we should be grateful (never understood the spelling, shouldn’t it be greatful? Apparently dictionary says no) for the couple of rainy days.

We went to Split, Trogir and walked on the promenade of Brela on the days “we” weren’t allowed to swim. Nice places but I have to confess that I am yet to get used to: being married, having kids, living with the father of the kids. Because the difference of opinion and interest and energy is so so so different that sometimes it seems like a punishment, not a holiday.

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I admire those happy family that ignore the needs of their kids whose kids are so adapted to their parents pace and pose no obstacles to the trip. An example: we love road trips and we are a bit isolated in Brela so have to drive at least 1 hour to get to places. Beatrice hates car seat more than cat hates water. She screams, has a fit, every time she spends more than 10 minutes in her seat. How are you supposed to go on a road trip if the child doesn’t want to be in the car seat? I tell you how… by risking her life and holding her in your arms. Totally not cool, not safe and not allowed.

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Our city tours can be summarised as:

* trips to restaurants
* stops for ice cream and coffee
* long searches for toilets
* play time in children’s parks
* quick photos (using the mobile because a camera is too hard to use with one hand only) of historic buildings, but just the façades. Never mind learning about the actual building, we can always look on wikipedia later; or just forget about it.

No wonder, the most popular attractions in our trips are the beach (when they don’t get ill) and lunch time.

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Croatian, the language, sounds so familiar. I barely understand a thing (although there are loads of latin words and other slavic (?) ones) but it doesn’t sound alien to my ears. In fact it almost sounds Romanian…

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Here are some photos of Brela (we were in Stomarica, but went to other beaches there).

Watching the Brazilian match; painful in every sense
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At the bottom of the stairs in Stomarica
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Our window view
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A boat selling fruits and veggies. Talk about delivery service…
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With the mountains in the background
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Best shoes eva. A must have in Croatia (and it costs about €8, but it will probably last the length of your holidays)
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If you have space in your luggage, pack it up with inflatables and tents. Not every beach has umbrellas and chairs to rent (only the ones towards the end of the promenade, bigger and busier, after the Punta Rata restaurant). Probably only Europeans traveling to Croatia by car can afford such luxury of bringing double inflatable mattress and tent and lots of kids inflatable toys, but it is worth a try if you are traveling by plane.20140712-114159-42119285.jpg

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This nook is a changing booth and there are several along the beaches. And fresh water showers as well, but don’t bother bringing soap and shampoo; they are not allowed.20140712-114828-42508038.jpg

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