Thursday 27 September 2007

Driving the Alps

So out of Munich we made our way to Neuschwanstein to see the famous fairytale castle of King Ludwig II. It was still pouring with rain when we got there so we voted not to visit and just take a couple of photo`s from the road. It is surrounded by autumn colours and would have be beautiful if there had been sunshine.

We stayed the night in Lindau. We arrived late and left early so we didn't see anything. I'm sure its a nice place in the summer.

Next day, the kids were curious about the tiny country of Leichenstein which was nearby so we visited there. It was a quick visit as there really isn't much too see. At least it wasn't raining.

We're now in Malters in a small family friendly hotel just outside of Lucerne. Today, we managed to drive in four countries: Germany, Austria, Leichenstein and Switzerland.

Overall, we've been driving too much and it hasn't been too fun for the kids. If the weather was better, we might have squeezed in more stops to enjoy some of beautiful scenery we've been passing through. We still have another day before we have to return the car back in Milan.


So we did make it back to Oktoberfest in the evening and saw the lights from the top of the ferris wheel. However, it was raining quite heavy.

And it was still raining the next morning. We left Munich and dropped by the Dachau memorial on the way out. Dachau was the first concentration camp created by the Nazi's and was used for the whole 12 years the Nazi's were in power. It wasn't an extermination camp but rather a camp for political prisoners but it was horrendous nonetheless.

The museum is excellent and most text is in German and English. It was a grey and miserable day which set the mood appropriately. I think its good to expose the kids to how barbaric man can be to each other even in the modern age.

Tuesday 25 September 2007


We've been in Munich two days now. The first day was warm and sunny so I couldn't resist going to the Oktoberfest right away. The kids loved the funfair and R* even tried a serious rollercoaster (Olympia Looping) and loved it. We managed to have lunch in a beer tent and soak in the atmosphere.

Late in the afternoon we wandered around the old centre of Munich and Jenny got in some shopping. It really is a pleasant city.

Today the weather has turned. It's our first day of rain and it's much colder. We spent the morning catching up with laundry and schoolwork and this afternoon we explored the massive Deutche Museum which claims to be one of the largest Science Museums there is. We only explored a fraction of it before it closed. I did manage to get my picture with a UNIVAC.

Hoping to get back to Oktoberfest tonight if the weather doesn't drown that ambition.


On the way up to Munich, we drove through Obersalzburg. Well, the satnav took me to the new Hotel Turkin which used to be next door to Hitler's Bergenhoff. We soon found our way to the car park and bus station from where you get tickets to visit Hitler's Eagles Nest.

This whole area is where members of the Third Reich had their homes. Their homes no longer exist but the network of bunkers are still there to be visited. We went into the Obersalzburg Museum but unfortunately, the displays were all in German. I tried explaining some of the imagery to the kids instead.

The mountain road up to the Eagles Nest is fantastic and the Eagles Nest itself doesn't disappoint in terms of the views. K* even found some snow to play with. We had lunch with cheeky black birds and a fantastic panorama. Its a good side trip from Salzberg but we made the mistake of going there on a Sunday near lunch time so it was very busy.

Saturday 22 September 2007


It took four hours to drive up to Salzburg from Venice yesterday. The trip went quickly listening to some stories, practising math and playing some games. The flat plains around Venice quickly erupt into the alps. It's a very pleasant drive on good motorways. My only complaint is that the tolls are not cheap.

As soon as we got into Austria, I bought a vignette (tax disc) so we could drive on the Austrian roads. It's only about 8 euros for a month.

Before reaching Salzburg, we made a detour to visit the salt mine at Bad Durrenburg. Salt has been mined here starting with the Celts a couple of thousand years ago. It was mined up until 1989 when it became uneconomical to compete against cheap imports.

It's a fun visit as you have to put on white overalls and ride a small train into the mine. Inside, you also use slides and a underground boat to get about the mine. At different points, you watch parts of a film which explains all about the salt mine. The tour guide gives the tour in both Deutsche and English. It's all very well done and I'm sure the kids will remember it.

We then checked into our guest haus a few miles up the road, the Hotel Sallerhof. Nice place! Excellent rooms and good service. The only drawback is that the breakfast is typically German - cold meats and bread.

Today we spent the day in Salzburg and celebrated Jenny's birthday.

First, we did the Sound of Music Tour (four hours) as Jenny is a big fan of the movie - saw various places the movie was filmed as well as places that played a role in the real lives of the Baron and Maria. Toured around the nearby scenery all to a backdrop of Sound of Music songs. And I wasn't cynical once!

We then got back to Salzburg and soon discovered the city was having a beer festival with tons and tons of stalls and a beer tent. Great timing for a visit! So we walked all over the places, visited the fortress on the hill and dined in a beer tent. Afterwards, we wandered about the fun fair too. Even the weather has been good - not as warm as Italy but blue skies and comfortable.

Tomorrow we head to Munich.

Friday 21 September 2007

Verona and Venice

On the way to Venice, we stopped by Verona to check out the Roman arena where those famous opera´s are held. Not as big as we expected but still, it looks great for a place that's a couple of thousand years old!

We had a difficult time finding a place to stay near Venice. Don't bother going down to Fusina even though you can catch a ferry from there. However, the area along the river Brenta around Dolo and Mira turned out to be quite nice and we eventually stumbed upon a gem of a place called Villa Ducale.

It the past, many wealthy Venetians built elaborate villa's along the Brenta. Villa Ducale is a modest villa that's been converted into a three star hotel. Our bedroom was very atmospheric and even had two chandeliers made from murano glass. Dinner was very good and the help we received from Elisa was exceptional. I would highly recommend the place. Our family room was only 120 euros.

From Villa Ducale, we caught the bus in to Plaza Roma at the top of the Grand Canal. Another option is to take a ferry from Fusina. Then we caught the No 1 waterbus down the Grand Canal to San Marco Square. The kids were more impressed with feeding the pigeons than the elegance of Venice! Arrghh. We did a guided tour walking around Venice which gave us a bunch of information but wasn't very engaging. We went through the basillica too quickly. The kids held up well and became much more animated when they had a chance to shop after the tour. Venice overflows with interesting things to buy. R* loved the masks and K* loved all the glass. So as far as I can tell, pigeons and shopping were the highlight of the day.

We're now in Salzburg and luckily, our hotel has a computer on the Internet we can use. We're also thankful for the change in cuisine as Italian food was getting rather repetitive. It's very hard to find other ethnic cuisines in Northern Italy.

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Tuesday 18 September 2007

Italian Lakes

I'm in a dreaded Eurocamp late at night in an Internet kiosk. It's not easy to find Internet access. Wish I had brought a laptop now as wifi access is everywhere.

The Italian lakes live up to my expectations. Very beautiful. We stayed in Benova which is north of Stresa on Lake Maggiore. We visited Isola Bella which is an island with a fabulous villa and garden on it. Next we wound our way over to Lake Como which is even better. Much more dramatic landscape with very steep hills all around it. The lakes are supremely picturesque but rather boring for kids. They're not really a great place for activities. It's best for cafes, promenades, grand villas and gardens. Perfect for the shuffling silver hair set.

In contrast, Lake Garda is much more activity and child oriented. It's still quite picturesque up at the north end. So we're spending a day at a camp ground so the kids can play and we can get our laundry done.

The trip is going well although we need to spend more time doing home schooling. Its tricky when you're on the move so much.

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Thursday 13 September 2007

Milan Day 2

No, I definitely wouldn't want to live in Milan. The Science and Technology Museum was very good. We went there to see models of Leonardo da Vinci's inventions. The man was brilliant and we've been talking about him quite a bit with the kids. That was the highlight of the day for me. Well, maybe it was the ice cream. Jenny and R* are at La Scala seeing Don Quixote so I'm sure that will be their highlight. Neither K* or I wanted to see it. We just spent some time in the park instead.

 Looking forward to getting our rental car tomorrow.

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It's the morning of our second day in Milan. I'm sitting at an ancient Windows 98 computer in the hotel lobby. I'm really not sure this post will work as I'm getting lots of errors popping up. A friend who lived in Milan for a couple of years described it as a sh*thole. I wouldn't condemn it that badly but I'm not that impressed after one day of wandering around.

The Duomo and glass covered gallery are amazing of course. We also went and saw Leonardo's "The Last Supper" at the Santa Maria del Grazie (or however you spell it). That was great and not as badly eroded as I expected. The streets are noisy and dirty. There's a mish mash of brutally ugly buildings and beautiful old ones. Walls are covered with graffiti. Our hotel is in a rather unpleasant neighbourhood. That's one of the risks of booking a cheap room on the Internet!

On the plus side, eating out seems a bit cheaper here. Coffee at a cafe is better and cheaper. And ice cream is better too. The metro is cheap. While sitting in restaurants, we're practising phrases from the Italian phrasebook we bought yesterday. Neither of us know Italian. We have another day of exploring before we rent a car and drive out to the lakes. I'm optimistic that there are more pleasant areas of Milan that we haven't discovered yet.

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Monday 10 September 2007


We've been in Paris for almost a week and I finally got access to the Internet. I'm sitting at a small Internet cafe is St Germain while K* plays on his Nintendo DS. The meter is ticking.

We have a great apartment. Small but clean, comfortable and well kitted out. It's only one block from the St. Germain metro so it's easy to get about. Even the shower is good! Definitely a luxury.

We've done most of the classic sights around Paris: Notre Dame, Sacre Couer, d'Orsay, Pompidou, Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower. The top of the Arc de Triomphe at night was spectacular and we made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower in the evening too. Held the attention of the kids long enough to show them many of the Impressionist paintings at the d'Orsay as well as the modern art at the Pompidou.

Paris is becoming very bicycle friendly. There's a new velo velib (sp?) system which has made 10,000 bicycles available around the city and there's many bike lanes. We rented bikes for a day and did a cycle about. K* was quite a worry but he's still alive.

We've done a couple of guided walks too which are almost always very interesting as you learn lots of little details and stories you otherwise would never know. We did one walk around Les Halles (the old market area) and another around the Isle de Citi.

We did all of Disneyland in one day. The queues were very short so it was easy to get about. The one disappointment was that Space Mountain was closed. No need to go back.

We haven't gone to Versaille. The train there was closed this last weekend and detour seemed too awkward. So we abandoned that visit. I was hoping to get there on the weekend to see the fountain displays. We probably won't visit the Louvre either as it's a bit dry and overwhelming for the kids.

Jenny and R* are now off enjoying some Paris shopping. And that's all from me until I find the next Internet cafe.

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