Czech Republic, check! We bailed on our Brno appartment in the ghetto, and stumbled upon a gem!

We arrived in Brno around 7pm after our lovely day at Devin Castle. We’d had notification from the accommodation that due to roadworks there was no car access to the hotel secure car park, but that we could find street parking nearby. I looked on my trusty google map and found street parking right next to the hotel on a side street. That’ll do, I thought.

On arriving to the street in Brno, we found that that while stretch up street was dug up, so there wasn’t even access to the side street – not from the direction, anyway. So we figured we’d make our way round the other side. Which looked straightforward… But wasn’t. A mix of one way roads and further road works took us quite a long way round to said side street. Which turned out to be the Brno ghetto! It was really quite scary driving through with yelling yobs and shady characters lurking around. I felt very uneasy about leaving the car there overnight with all our stuff in it. So decided to hop out to find out if there was any way to get to the parking. On opening my door I found we’d parked on broken glass – safety glass like from a car window. Gulp. 

To cut a long story short, I bartered with the receptionist who called her manager multiple times. They’d give us a €5 discount for not being able to use the parking. This really wasn’t satisfactory! So after discussing with Mike (who was sat in our car in the ghetto with our kids!), I went back and asked if they’d waive the cancellation fee. Although they had notified us the day before about not being able to park there, we weren’t to know until arriving what a rough area it was! My case was proven by the three drunks sat on a wall opposite the reception enterance! After more to-ing and fro-ing they agreed to waive the cancellation fee, and we drove off into the night! 

Both feeling quite energetic, for a change, we decided to head further north to cut down our traveling time to Wroclaw. We even considered driving all the way there! We felt free again for a little while, but arriving at 1:30am probably wouldn’t have been ideal!  So I found somewhere on booking.com that was literally on route, an Inn about 40 mins north or Brno. Unfortunately, once we got there it was all locked up and not a soul in sight. It said it opened until 10pm on the door, but it was only 9:40pm! Rude. So we continued on our way. I found somewhere else even further north and and it looked really nice, so I booked it and we arrived at 11pm. They were really helpful, which was great – they could have been looking at us like weirdos for booking at 10pm and turning up at 11pm with two small kiddies! But they couldn’t do enough to help. We all got to sleep nicely, Pip on the floor because their child ‘bed’ was a travel cot (they gave us a good discount!). 

It was a great hotel! We enjoyed a scrum my breakfast and there was a play park and some animals (an eagle owl and a South American coati!) out in the yard! All for less than the Brno ghetto appartment would have been. We enjoyed a mooch round the grounds and then headed off for the main event – Wroclaw, Poland, for my cousins wedding! 

Devin Castle day: Archery, History and Dragons! (Well, in our head it was Dragonstone!)

On our way to our next stop (Brno, Czech Rep.) we planned to pop into Devin Castle, not far from Bratislava and near the border with Austria. It’s mostly ruins sat on an outcrop and looks like a set directly out of A Game of Thrones. (DragonStone, perhaps?!). There is a fantastic set up there with a few restaurants and a play park at the bottom of the hill. So seeing as we arrived at lunchtime we took advantage of this. Om nom nom!


We then climbed the short hill to the Castle (€4 each adult entry), having a go at archery and checking out some Stone Age tools and medieval weapons on the way. 


There’s currently no access up the the top part of the castle, which was a shame. But it was still spectacular. The views were amazing and just being there transported you back in time (or to Westeros if that’s what’s in your imagination.) It’s my favourite castle. I’ve never had a favourite castle before! 


We spent much longer there than anticipated, but it was such a great place, we’re so glad we did. It did mean a late ETA for our next stop in Brno… Which is another story!!!

Bratislava, Slovakia – my new favourite city! Amazing Street Orchestra and a UFO!

Knowing we had very limited time in Bratislava, I’d managed to book an appartment right in the centre only a couple of minutes walk from the old town. This really paid off as we headed straight out as soon as we arrived in the evening. 


We wondered pretty aimlessly into the old town, which was a contrast to our time in Budapest where we were always on a mission! 



As we wound our way deeper into the old town we could hear music and a found a crowd gathered round a small orchestra in the middle of the street. We stayed ubtil the end of their set because they were AMAZING! They’re from the Netherlands and only exist one week a year, when they pick a place/area to go and perform on the streets! What a wonderful way to enjoy playing music and to travel! They absolutely blew us away. They finished with a version of Alanis Morrisette’s ‘Uninvited’, which has such powerful music, and it didn’t disappoint. They were just incredible, and really added to our Bratislava experience. We felt very fortunate to have stumbled upon them.

The relaxed yet lively atmosphere of the old town didn’t fade once they finished and we continued our meanderings down to the Danube.


There were some massive river cruise boats, one even had a swimming pool on top! That is definitely a holiday I would like to do in the future (minus children). The main bridge over the river has a rather oddly shaped restaurant perched atop the far support – a UFO/flying saucer! So cool for a sci fi geek like me! 

Knackered, we found our way back to the appartment and the kids slept on the sofa bed, while we took the proper bed! What a luxury! (Uninterrupted sleep, that is.)

Being poorly on holiday – thank you EU! And thank you lovely Hungarian relatives!

Eugh. Being ill on holiday is never nice. I came out on our road trip with a sinusy head cold that has never really shifted and came back full force this weekend with fever and chills etc. Not easy for Mike having do do more than his fair share of stuff. But, you know, we’re grown ups and we plough on. 

But poor Bee got rather poorly before the weekend and ended up with Croup (the one with the barking cough – see vid.. And call Drs immediately if your little one barks like a seal!). Croup can be quite serious and need hospitalisation in some cases.


Luckily this happened while we were staying in Budapest close to Hungarian relatives, so they kindly helped us out getting a appointment (on a Saturday, because these things always happen to us on weekends or bank holidays. No exaggeration). Plus escorting us to said appointment and translating. We were so lucky it happened when it did, as it wouldn’t have been quite as simple using google translate! And it was great that we were somewhere we had a base for a few nights and not on one of our ‘travelling legs’ of the trip. 

waiting in the paediatricians surger

waiting in the pharmacy

Bee was diagnosed with croup and prescribed some drops for the cough and also a steroid pessary (I think) to use that night to help her breathe. If she didn’t improve we’d have had a hospital trip… But luckily the drugs did their job and she bounced back in a couple of days. She still has a cough now, but is sooo much better and able to enjoy the holiday again. 

And for all of this we didn’t have to pay a penny, thanks to her EHIC – European Health Insurance Card. One of the many benefits of currently still being a member of the EU!

Very Nice, Venice. 24 hours, gelato, gondolas and people watching from our balcony.

After meeting a German family in our hotel at Lake Garda, and finding out they had pre booked their parking for Venice, we thought that might be a good idea for us too! So while Mike packed the car, I searched the web for the best parking option for us. You can park on the mainland before the causeway, or there are a few car parks as you arrive on the island. They varied in price from 10-30ish euros. But mainly looked to be multi-storey or underground… With a height clearance of less than our roof box height… D’oh! Fortunately I found a third option that suited us perfectly – parking south at Fusina and getting a ferry to Venice. I can’t quite remember now, but I think it cost us €38 for parking and 2 return tickets on the boat to Venice (as a package). 

Bee offered to carry the bag!

We dressed the kids in bright yellow so we could easily pick them ourt in the crowds


It was a really nice way to get over to Venice. The parking and port at Fusina was easy to find and there was no traffic at all getting there. It was like Venices best kept secret! The boat ride takes 25 minutes and brings you into Zattere in the Dorsoduro district. It was great standing on the deck as a place we’ve only read about unravelled in front of us.


 We did have to walk a little bit to get to the waterbus to the hotel. But it was well worth it. The walk was a great experience in itself, with the network of canals and alleys and interesting sights round every corner.


We’d treated ourselves (with the help of some birthday money – thanks Mum!) to a traditional Venetian style hotel, Hotel Marconi, with a balcony room overlooking the Grand Canal. It was just a few doors down from the Rialto Bridge, and perfect for a proper Venetian stay (Murano glass everywhere!)



We had a little trouble that evening trying to find gluten free food for Pip, but eventually found somewhere with gluten free pasta. But the menu was a bit confusing as the pasta/gnocchi dishes were actually appetisers… So I accidentally had a very small tea! Pip was delighted with his gluten free pasta though, so all was good 🙂



Given that the kids were up late anyway, we decided to do a bit of evening exploring. It’s much cooler and although still busy, it felt much more relaxed. A really nice atmosphere. We wound our way to Campo San Polo in (unsurprisingly) the San Polo district, where we had gelato and the kids played on what look to once have been fountains but now had metal lids.


Once we returned to the hotel the kids were shattered and went to bed pretty easily – phew! Which allowed us some adult time to sit on the balcony and watch the Venice night life below us. It was a great way to do it with the small kiddies. Left and right below our balcony there were people eating out on the street at restaurants as far as we could see. And directly below/in front of our hotel was a gondola station. We felt like we were in the thick of it and really enjoyed people watching! It was a great find (if I may say so myself) as it enabled us to really make the most of our limited time in Venice, and actually experience a little bit of romance in our shared passion for people watching. We saw a couple try to get away with not paying enough for their restaurant bill, the waiter chasing them down the street as they tried to skulk off. We saw a water ambulance go by! That was really cool! You should have seen the gondoliers panic gondoling to the side when they heard the siren! And all the restaurant goers getting splashed by the wake! The police turned up to the Rialto bridge and rattled some building site gates. And many many many tourists stood in front of the gondolers with the Rialto bridge in the background to take photos. The gondoliers would have probably preferred them to actually take a ride!


So, the next day after breakfast we ticked off an absolute must – a gondola ride! The location in front of our hotel made this extremely easy. We all thoroughly enjoyed it, and we got gondoled (?!) past Marco Polo’s house and Casanova’s. The only problem with it is that you pay for what you feel should be at least an hour (€80, ~£65), but get only 30 minutes which actually feels like 15 minutes! But it is a ‘must’, because VENICE!!! It really is the best way to experience the city (despite not going very far) as you really get a feel for the detail of the canals, the little hidden doorways, the mussels growing on the walls of buildings, the small bridges that the gondoliers have to duck under. It really is a place like no other.

“Queen wave, Queen wave”! Bee has watched the Minions movie so much, that she knows how to queen wave!

Ducking under bridges

Marco Polos house

Casanova’s house


After the gondola ride we collected our bag and then began our trip back to the ferry. But we took a very scenic route through Piazza San Marco, the largest ‘square’ in Venice. This involved more gelato and chasing pigeons. 


Lunch was another breakfast buffet raid that we are on a small quiet square not far from the ferry port (Campo Di Sant’Agnese), which involved more pigeons, but no gelato. We think that sugar may be turning Pip into a monster, somewhat akin to Jekyl and Hyde. Or perhaps it’s just the heat. 



Our return trip was equally as straight forward as the trip in, and we were on our way to our next stop (Ljubljana, Slovenia) in no time 🙂

An afternoon IN Lake Garda! Swim and kayak (Day 12 of Europe Road Trip)

A trip to Lake Garda wouldn’t be complete without a trip INTO Lake Garda. We’re a water loving family, so hoped to find a beach where we could paddle, splash about and maybe hire a pedallo or something. 

We first tried a beach that a lovely German family we met we’re going to that afternoon in the hope to meet up – but the car park was full so we decided to continue north and see what we found. We love all the tunnels through the rock that the lake roads wind in and out of and got quite excited that there were actually exits from the tunnels to get to places! So we took one to a place called Campione, that we knew nothing about. Well, it must have been fate, because said beach was a water sports beach! 

There were loads of people out windsurfing and kite surfing and on SUP’s (Stand Up Paddleboard) and sit on top kayaks that you could hire. I really want to try SUP’ing at some point, but thought this would be unfair on the kids because I don’t think I could have taken them as a passenger! I might not even be able to do it myself!

So firstly, we had a swim and a splash and Pip got very brave with his swimming, going well out of his depth! Bee wasn’t so keen, however, so I went and hired a sit on top kayak for €10 for an hour. I have a decent amount of kayaking experience from my uni days, so felt confident to take the kids out. And really happy to be sat with a double ended paddle again! (We only have canoes at work, not that I’ve been in one for ages!). We all had a great time, and Mike managed to not capsize (unlike on Derwent  water a few years ago…)! The kids loved it! Bee was very expressive of this during her first go, turning round to me and saying “I exited! I excited, mummy, to go in boat! I excited! Eeeeeeeee!”. So cute ☺️

Here’s some piccies. They get blurrier and blurrier as my ‘life proof’ phone case got some moisture in a couple of months ago (dropped it in swimming pool shower!) that I haven’t got round to sorting. But they make for a fancy filter, right? Instagram, eat your heart out! 

A fantastic afternoon 🙂

Queues for Views from Monte Baldo cable car, Lake Garda (Day 11 or Europe Riad Trip).

Kids love transport. So long as its powered by something other than their own legs! So we decided to take the cable car up to Monte Baldo where you can get panoramic views of Lake Garda. 

The cable car starts at Malcesine on the north east coast of the lake, so we drove to Limone on the north west coast and took a ferry from there. Limone was a beautiful place, and we had about an hour there to have lunch and play on the beach before the ferry departed.


We had decided to go as foot passengers and walk from the ferry to the cable car… Turns out we slightly miscalculated where the ferry docked and were 20 mins walk instead of 6! Which with the kids, and heat, took about 45 mins.

By the time we got there we were just desperate to get going in the cable car. Unfortunately, it would appear that ~3pm is a bad time to go on the cable car because we had to queue for an hour and a half! Yes, 90 minutes with two young children and my crap energy and dodgy feet/back/everything. I spent most of the time sat on the floor while the kids ran round in circles to and from me and Mike, or collapsed. 


By the time we actually got in a cable car I didn’t have the energy to stand in there either, so sat on the floor next to the kids :-/ Invisible illness can be very undignified. Good job I don’t give a monkeys about what people think!


It was kind of worth it though as the views at the top were incredible. 

They even had Alpacas up there, who looked quite at home in the mountains!


 After a break as an ice cream we got the cable car back down (a little bit of waiting but nowhere near as bad), then dragged ourselves back to the boat for the return journey. On the way back to the car Pip spotted some vehicles he liked so had some pictures taken!


Without the ridiculous queues this would have been a great afternoon out. I’d recommend going really early! 

Visiting Verona: Gladiators and Giuliettas. (Day 10 of Europe Road Trip)

The first time I heard of Verona was studying Romeo and Juliet at high school. At that time, to me it was a place that didn’t really exist. It was just in a book. At some point this must have corrected itself, because I knew full well Verona was real when we got the chance to visit. What I didn’t know is that the family’s (Capulets and Montegues) were possibly real and you can visit their house and stand on the balcony that inspired that famous scene. (At least that’s what I took from the tour commentary – any one fill me in?!)

We didn’t arrive until mid/late afternoon – it was chucking it down in the morning! Honest!

We took the ferry from Toscolano Maderno to the east of the lake, which the kids loved.


Then we drove to Verona via another restaurant recommended on the Schär ‘gluten free roads’ website. It didn’t let us down and they even did lactofree mozzerella! So Mike had his first ‘real’ pizza in a long long time!

I ordered my pizza based entirely on its name. (Much like choosing a racehorse, right?!). Was it something very Italian sounding like the the rest of the menu, such as Quattro Stagioni? Nope. Amongst the usual, and some specials, was a very different name. His name was…

KEVIN!

I sh*t you not. I can’t believe I forgot to take a picture of the menu. But the pizza below is called Kevin. I really enjoyed Kevin.


We arrived mid/late afternoon in Verona. It took a while to get parked, and was rather amusing. We had chosen a car park prior to arriving, but it was full when we arrived. So we had to wait at the barrier until someone left freeing up a space. We’d been waiting about 15 minutes at said barrier and in that time had noticed a man lingering round and then a car left, which is when I was frantically pressing the ticket button to try and get our ticket before the other car that was also waiting but at a second barrier at the other side of the car park. Mike realised we needed to pull the car back and reapproach to trigger the sensor – which we worked out before the other car! Woo! But on driving round to the recently vacated space, we found lingering Italian man stood in it trying to save it, and refusing to budge! So I hopped and gave him what for! The parking attendant came over and had to placate him and explain that we rightfully had the space (at least I presume this is what happened – they were obviously conversing in Italian). Lingering man was displeased to say the least, but eventually buggered off. I really enjoyed it 😂

So! After the success of the sightseeing bus in Innsbruck, we opted for this again in Verona. It left from the piazza where the Roman Ampitheatre is, so we got some initial sightseeing in there.


There were giant Egyptian and Roman ‘stuff’ outside too. A bit perculiar, but fun none the less. I guess there was a reason, but we missed it!


We stayed on the bus for the whole circuit given the time. It did the usual driving round round the streets and to a viewpoint. They really are a great way to get a taster of somewhere in a limited amount of time, especially when lugging two vehicle mad young children with you! 


You certainly he some interesting angles when taking photos from a tour bus!

After this, there were two more things to tick off our list in Verona. Firstly, eat some gelato! They even had ‘senza Lattosio’ for Mike!


Secondly, was to go and see Juliette’s balcony. It was €6 to go in ‘Casa Giulietta’. There was a lot more you could see and do than just go on the balcony, but I was happy to pay €6 just for that! So me and Bee headed up there to be Juliettes! (After battling through the busy courtyard that is! It was surprisingly quiet once inside the house.)


Bee really REALLY enjoyed her balcony scene – as soon as we went back in she started mincing around and posing! Sofa ter a couple more people had their turns, we went back out for an encore! Bee promptly started posing by turning her head to the side and fluffing her hair! I have no idea where she’s got that move from!

Ha! Little poser!

Balcony scene done and it was Mike and Pips turn to do their thing and rub Juliettes boob for good luck! Pip looks rather pleased! 


 

Typical tourist things done we headed back to the car for home, Bee enduring at least 3 individual people/groups laughing out loud at her chocolate gelato coverage! It’s just a normal day for me, stop laughing!


Verona – tick!

Agriturismo Cervano and Lake Garda – overview Days 9-14 :)

Lake Garda was stunning. Agriturismo Cervano was amazing.  So they get a blog of their own! (I’ll do a couple of blogs for the 0ther stuff we did while at Lake Garda)

Agriturismo Cervano is on the hillside above and slightly north of Toscolano Maderno, about half way down the West side of Lake Garda. It is a converted farm that has been in the owners family for ~200 years (I think this is what we were told!). On their advice we took the north side, via a golf course, to get there from the main lake road. It was mostly a single track with a few passing places… Apparently the other way in is worse! Despite us being used to driving on narrow Cumbrian roads, we’re glad we took their advice! Once through their gate there was still a few minutes of switchbacks through the olive groves before the view opened out to the charming rustic converted farm buildings. 


The outside of the buildings were not ‘polished’ like a posh hotel, but tidied enough to look authentic and keep their character, without being tatty.
We were met by the owner Gino who gave us a very warm welcome and tour of our appartment and some of the grounds. We later met his daughter, Silvia, who was the perfect host throughout or stay. Very helpful and attentive, without being interfering. Inside the appartment the decor was both modern and traditional, keeping the character of the buildings while still being clean, chic and stylish. We got an appartment with three bedrooms, with the dream of children going to sleep more easily and us having our own room… A couple of the nights we both slept the full night in our bed, but mostly one of us was in with the little princess! 

Bee’s and our rooms were on the bottom floor along with the lounge/kitchen/diner and main bathroom.

The third bedroom, which we gave to Pip, was on a mezzanine level in the loft space. Not perfect at Bee’s age, but Pip was very good about it. He even got his own bathroom, and there was a little cubby/walk in wardrobe bit which worked perfectly as a little play room/den for them both 🙂 

 

It was absolutely perfect for the ‘holiday’ part of our Europe road trip – luxury inside, rustic and natural outside. The buildings and grounds were superb to chill out in with the kids. They even had some little electric rode on vehicles in one of the courtyards – a wonderful surprise for our two speedy heads!

 The main buildings have a wildflower meadow to one side, just a few steps from the door and nestled below the mountain side. 



It was literally alive with wildlife! The cicadas were persistent in their song, which was both deafening and peaceful at the same time. Bees and butterflies busied theirselves around the flowers, and if you stepped through the meadow, dozens of grasshoppers and crickets leapt away from your feet with every step. It was all so magical and we loved catching (and releasing) anything we could. This lead to the kids leaping round the meadow in persuit of very evasive grasshoppers! Luckily I’m a bit more skilled at the acquisition of invertebrates, so Bee got to ‘hold’ a few things. Pip just looked closely, he’s a bit squirmish!



There is a lovely viewpoint which opens up into a panorama of the lake. There’s seating and a table and fairy lights in a dome created from the trees.


One of my favourite memories is calling Mike and the Kids in from the window of our appartment for their tea, when they were playing up at the viewpoint. I felt like I lived there! I could get used to that! 


Tea on that particular night was a sort of risotto type thing, with a bunch of amazing veg I got at the local supermarket… Which was an experience! You had to wear a plastic glove to choose them and then weigh and label it yourself – not at all what I’m used to in England where we have bare hands and the cashiers weigh and price it. 


I also bought a giant watermelon. Just because “I carried a watermelon”! (If you don’t know that quote, shame on you! And watch Dirty Dancing!). We never ate the watermelon, and had to leave it there. But I carried it. (See!)

Anyway, enough of my melon. Where were we… 

There’s so much to do around Lake Garda and so varied, there really is something for everyone. We got a good mix of stuff done, I think, with a visit to Verona, a trip across the lake and up the cable car to Monte Baldo and an afternoon of swimming and kayaking at Campione. (All of which I will blog about seperatly). I could have spent all my time at Cervano, either lounging around or exploring. We did a days worth of this at the start and end of our trip. It was so relaxing to chill out at one of the many tables and chairs scattered around.


 One time we played ‘Go Find It’ which is a treasure hunt game with pre made cards. I wasn’t best pleased with Bee’s choice for ‘smelly’. But she wasn’t wrong!


When we weren’t trying to be lazy by sending the kids running about while we lounged, we loved just mooching round the grounds and finding all the little ‘hidden gems’. 


I just want to live here. I love it!

18 hours in Innsbruck -Ski Jumps and Sightseeing busses! (Day 8 of Europe Road Trip)

To say that our stay in Innsbruck was brief, we managed to do quite a lot thanks to the sightseeing bus.    We arrived quite late the previous evening, and managed to get the kids to sleep pretty easily in our quadruple room. The next morning at breakfast we made a packed lunch for the evening, and Pip discovered he loves natural yoghurt and pretty much devoured the whole serving bowl! 
After that we packed up so we were ready to head straight off later, and ventured out to the sightseeing tour bus stop, a 5 (15!) minute walk down the road. On boarding the bus we learnt that they only take cash, and we didn’t have enough! Luckily the driver took pity on us and let us on anyway, phew! 


Our first ‘hop off’ was for the Olympic ski jump at Bergisel. It’s €9 entry for adults and our kids were free (I’m afraid I can’t remember the cut off age.). The gentleman as the desk was very kind and gave us ‘cash-back’ too after we asked if there was a cash machine – meaning we could actually pay for the sightseeing bus that we’d already done a third of the circuit on! 


What a sight it was! After getting the funicular/lifty thing to the top, and then heading to the top of the tower, the panoramas of Innsbruck and the mountains were stunning. And the ski jump was spectacular, belly turning just to imagine whizzing down there. 


We got more than just imagining though, as a local ski jumper (Andreas Zoller) was there practising (in between studying medicine!). He was a really nice guy and chatted with us, and I managed to get some cool footage of his jumps. Once from the restaurant and again from the middle stop of the lift, where I got the über cool ski-mo from! 

​​

After waiting for to see that, we were almost late for the next bus – but it was worth it! Innsbruck is a beautiful city with some really ornate buildings which we wouldn’t have seen on foot (because we wouldn’t have got very far!). I didn’t get any pics though. When Bee was with me she was a wiggly nightmare, and Pip fell asleep!

Our next ‘hop off’ was based around lunch. A few days prior I’d discovered the http://www.glutenfreeroads.com website by the gluten free brand Schär. It shows you the locations and info and reviews of recognised restaurants that cater for gluten free. We went to a well known chain called Vapiano who do Italian food. They were brilliant! I over explained Pip’s condition (they were well aware of coeliac/zöliakie disease!), and I was really pleasantly surprised to find they only used gluten free flour for all of their dusting etc – so the only gluten was in the previously prepped dough! And it was the best gluten free pizza we’d ever had! Pip polished off a full sized salami one (minus the crusts)!

Hbhyggerrep

After lunch we did the rest of the tour us to take us back to the car, and head south to Lake Garda. We stopped at the north of the lake and had our ‘packed lunch’ from Innsbruck on the promemade. A beautiful taster for the next few days 🙂




Paradise 🙂