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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Counting Our Blessings.

Throughout this awesome trip we did in Europe, our 3 year old was safely in the care of my husband's parents. We all went to Austria together for a week and then we parted ways in Munich, where we saw them off at the airport to come back to Muscat on their own. Hubby's parents were looking after our son in our house while we were away galavanting through Europe. Here I say I am truly blessed to have them in my life. Not many grandparents can do that for their kids so we're very lucky. So to avoid them going stir crazy in Muscat, hubby arranged that they go to Kathmandu, Nepal for 3 days for a tour around there with our three year old in tow! Mind you this will be 3 Year Old's second time there.
A friend couldn't believe that this was happening, and pointed out that we were sending our son with his grandparents on their own to Oman in the Middle East and then on to Nepal, both "third world countries", were we crazy? Well that's looking at it in a way we'd never considered...because 1. We live in the Middle East and Oman is one of the safest countries we'd lived in. 2. Kathmandu is not a poverty stricken place that you see on TV. It's a fairly developed city with hotels and good transport system and shops with food and water everywhere. We happened to have a good friend there too who was arranging a tour for the family and looking out for them.
It hit me that others of course would really think we were crazy for doing that because they just don't know. After all we are from a Least Developed Nation called Samoa, where rule of law still does apply.
Tau on his papa's shoulders again while his nana looks on in Kuala Lumpur.
Anyway the gist of this post is my son has amazing grandparents and am thankful for their devotion and time for their grandchild and for enabling us do what we did. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Venezia - Last and Sad day

We slept in. We got ready, checked out of the hotel and dragged our bags through the street to the boat. We decided to go to the train station to check the train times, leave our bags in the baggage storage and make our way to a Salvador Dali exhibition and see the museum of costumes before catching a later train to Milan for our flight in the evening. As we stood on the boat enjoying the sights of Venice I reached for my phone to take some last photos, when I did I noticed I had messages. One of them was from my dear friend who has been like a sister to me since we met four years ago. In the text she tells me that her test results came back and that she had breast cancer and she will have a mastectomy this week-end. I looked up to find my husband for support and it's as if Venice had gone black, had lost it's glamour in that one moment. All I wanted was to get home to hug my son and then go see my friend and hold her hand and just be there for her through this terrible journey that she's about to embark on. Life is good generally, but then it has it's ways of shattering that fragile glass that it seems to be at times.
I lost interest in seeing anything any more after the text so we just bought our train tickets for Milan for our flight in the evening and sat in a cafe in gloom. 
I would have liked to have seen a Salvador Dali exhibition that was on and the Gugenheim museum. Maybe next time if there is one.
We're sitting on the train to Malpensa Milan airport. What an amazing time we've had but it almost tastes sour due to the news we received, I can't wait to get home to our little boy.
Freezing cold day in Venice with keen buskers

Tourists galore, hubby trying to cross the over-crowded bridge

Venice on a Sunday (yikes)

San Marco magnificent

Monday, May 28, 2012

Venezia: Day 2 Morano Glass

Venice day 2
We took up the free ride offer from the hotel to go see how glass is made on the island of Morano. It was a very cold day and windy over the water. They took us and four others in a water taxi which was quite comfortable. We saw the glass master heat the particles in extreme heat and mould it into a vase then another into an horse. His skill was fascinating to watch and they are apprentices for many years before they can be masters. Afterwards we were shown through to their immense shop with the hope that we'd buy some products. As much as I wanted one I was just imagining arriving home to Muscat and finding a shattered expensive ornament in our backpacks! So no grazie to the pricey glassware. 



Venezia through a Venetian mask


Taken from a bridge in the evening

Morano Glass maker at work

moulding a vase

Colonna






We walked through the small island to the town centre Colonna, had coffee and jumped on the boat to San Marco square to make the most of the day. It was a bright cold day but we arrived to hordes of tourists all over the place. There was a long queue into the Doges palace which we had luckily seen the day before without standing in any lines. We worked our way through the square to the Correr Museum with Venezian artifacts, sculptures and paintings from over the centuries. There were some interesting sculptures that depicted Venetians out of the ordinary sexuality. However the attention to detail on the bodies and facial expressions of the people were just exquisite. We strolled around went back to Lido to the hotel and had a good sleep. In the evening we went out into the town again and had a nice evening of walking, food and wine tasting. We found in one bar the gondola drivers drinking taking turns dancing on the bar stools. We settled there and chatted with a nice Welsh couple who were in Venice for the week-end as well.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Venezia

Venice day 1
We took a train from Verona to Venezia/Venice that took one hour with beautiful views. We pulled into the Venice train station and outside the main entrance we bought public transport tickets for 48 hours 28euro each plus Venezia Tourist Cards(highly recommended) that get us into many attractions with minimum payment or no extra fee, meaning you avoid the long queues too. We caught the boat to Lido Island where our hotel was located. The boat took about 40 mins but the views were just beautiful. We learned later that you can take a boat that makes fewer stops which cuts travelling time. 
My personal travel agent at the Venice Train Station(travelling light)
The Main Canal

The sun peeks through on the way to Lido Is

Our hotel was an old beautiful building and was not far from the dock so after check in we made our way to San Marco Piazza. What a sight. It was just breathe-taking and I was so humbled to be standing there in San Marco Square that I've read about and seen in movies so many times. And to stand on the same pavements that older civilization, culture and rich history existed was just magnificent. We went straight into the Doge palace using our Venezia cards and oohed and aahed at the amazing paintings on the walls and ceiling in different rooms. This used to house the Venetian Parliament. We strolled around the piazza and just kept walking around the island. We watched the gondolas and water taxis maneuver their way around the corners in the narrow canals marveling at their skill. We found a nice eatery and had some yummy pizza. There are many places to eat and if you keep going you come across some cheaper than others. We've learned to walk away from the busy Street areas and find where the locals are, where we end up having more fun and paying cheaper prices. We walked some more and came across a piazza full of locals spilling out into the streets chatting and enjoying their drinks. We settled on a lively little joint and had a few drinks and enjoyed the atmosphere in the street before we made our way back to a dock to catch the ferry to our hotel. Beautiful day in a magical place.
The infamous Bridge of Sighs
The Doge Palace at San Marco
This happy traveler is overwhelmed

Saturday, May 12, 2012

"O Romeo, where art thou?" Verona

Verona
We arrived on Wizz Air from Budapest to Bergamo near Milan. We caught the train with one change in Brescia for Verona. It took about 2 hours all up to travel by train. Our hotel thanks to hubby's great skill on hotel finding (again) found us one halfway between the train station and the Arena or town center. We checked in and made our way into town. The Arena was closed to the public so we couldn't go inside but we walked around it and walked the streets of Verona until we came across Juliet's house of Romeo and Juliet. The courtyard with walls were filled with graffiti of love letters from people for Juliet! In the courtyard was a statue of Juliet of which her right breast is exposed and the left one had her hand over her heart. There's a myth that if unlucky one can rub Juliet's heart for good luck. While we were looking around in the courtyard we witnessed with amusement some tourists holding on to Juliet's right breast and having their photo taken! We walked on to the little square with the souvenir markets in the middle and I must say I'm a little disappointed when I see non locals in these stalls! They take the authenticity out of the experience if you ask me!
But Verona is a lovely and cozy little city. We came across the old city walls that remained after centuries. Just beautiful. We spotted a local place with no tourists and settled ourselves in there. The two Italian ladies behind the bar were abrupt at first but after two drinks each they realized we weren't leaving they became very friendly and offered up tapas and got us  some mortadella that was just Yummy. We were there till 11pm. We made our way home and had pizza in some side street joint that was yummy like everywhere else here! 
The main gates into Verona

The mighty Arena

Close up of the Arena

Letters to Juliet

In the entrance to Juliet's courtyard


The shy bar ladies

Cute Fiat on the street
After a big breakfast the next morning we went back to the Arena to find very long queues of tourists lining up to go in. We gave that a miss walked around the town once more before we picked up our bags and headed for the train station for our train to Venezia. 

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

How did we get here?


In two days time, one of my closest friends will start undergoing chemo-therapy, to be rid of any remaining cancer cells in her system after undergoing a mastectomy last month! I never thought I'd say that, ever, but here we are, just another group of people affected by this terrible disease called cancer. I guess you think you know what it's like but you don't until it hits people you're close to. When I got the bad news, we were floating along the canals in Venice, one of the most spectacular cities in the world but at that moment it felt like someone had sucked the life and magic out of Venice in one breathe and we were left in darkness with terrible sadness and shock. 
Hana is one of the strongest women I've met and know. And this dreadful cancer as another friend put it, has met it's match. She is fighting this thing and living life like nothing awful has happened. With a healing scar on her chest she is going through each day like any other day. Taking her children to school, to the beach, to play dates, entertaining friends and just enjoying life as she always had. She's an inspiration to us all that have come to know and love her and lots of people could take a leaf out of her power book of life. A lot of the time She is being strong for all of us around her, and if she is ready to face this like that of a gladiator, with her sword wielded and shield thrust forward, then I can only be that wing-man that will fight alongside her as she forges forward to conquer this unfair battle that we must all help her fight.   

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Budapest Day 6

The next morning we bought tickets on the Hop On Hop Off bus. It took us on a tour around town past the memorial square and past the theater, the Red light district and we got off at the foot of the hill where Buda Castle was located. We walked up the steep steps and garden which had beautiful views of the city. The Castle was a series of buildings on the top of the sprawling hill. Buda was more hilly than the Pest flat side but just beautiful. We walked around the streets near the castle. We went to go into the beautiful Matthias church there, then we noticed a small poster on the ticket office window that warned that there was renovation in progress so you could only view one quarter of the cathedral for the same price...well no  thanks to that. We then continued on and enjoyed the sites until the next bus came to our stop. We took the bus up to the highest point the Citadel. From there we could see past the castle across the Danube river at the Pest side of the city where the beautiful parliament house stood on the river bank. It was a lovely day too so we could see for miles. We had an amazing day of enjoying what Budapest had to offer. We had lunch at a lovely place near Mathias Church.
At 5pm we were meeting our friend David whom we knew from Muscat and had moved on to Egypt and now Budapest. We met in front of the Basilica at a lovely restaurant in the corner there and it was lovely to catch up with David again. We had a really good laugh and his stories of being stuck in Egypt during the revolution were scary and hilarious at the same time. I could just picture him telling his grand-kids that one... queue old man voice " I survived the Egyptian Revolution, you know you kids have no idea...." It was so good to see him again and that he seems happy and Budapest City has something to do with that. We all agreed that Budapest is probably Europe's best kept secret! Everyone knows about Prague but not many would make the trek to Budapest but IT IS worth it.

The Old Theatre

Beautiful Streets of Pest

Overlooking the Parliament house on Pest side from Buda Castle.

The Chain Bridge from Buda Castle

St Mathias Church

Hubby's work: Through the arches on Buda Castle

From Buda Castle overlooking the Danube River and Parliament house

Budapest Day 5

Hungary
We left Prague in the afternoon to catch our flight on Wizz Air to Budapest. Hubby was hard on the iPad and got us good fares on Wizz air to omit the long train ride. We landed and caught the minibus which wasn't too expensive that dropped us to the door of our rented apartment which hubby found on agoda To our surprise it was a cosy apartment with 3 bedrooms and slept 6 people with everything in it. Two bathrooms one with a bathtub and a fully-fitted kitchen. It was fantastic and if that wasn't enough, it was right in the city centre on Nador Utca(Streer) that leads into the St Stephen Basilica Street. It was a great find. Classic Samoan style we hadn't made concrete plans before this trip, but armed with the iPad and 4 years outdated Lonely Planet on Europe we managed to get around and find killer deals all over the place! The boxes that needed ticking in our accommodation range were the obvious ones but must be near tram/train station and must have Wireless Internet(WiFi) as we needed it to plan the next leg of the journey! And yep it must be noted a lot of places offer WiFi in the room rate.
St Stephen Basilica
Budapest was a lovely surprise though. What a beautiful city it is. It had very spacious streets and clean and just rather classy!...if you can describe a city as so. After dropping our bags we set off for a stroll and came across a nice sports cafe/restaurant where we ordered this yummy paprika chicken. It was delicious. We noticed that both Prague and Budapest were not big on vegetables. I ordered a side of wok style cooked veges and got mushrooms and can't remember what other unusual vegetable came in it. Just not what I was expecting. The friendly waiter asked if I was from Australia...yikes...I said no and he said I had a hint of an Australian accent. I was a little peeved heh but I laughed and said that's really close to where I'm from so not bad. He was grinning from ear to ear at that!
On our walk back to our apartment we walked from the rear of the Basilica on the right and it was after 11 pm at night, the moon was high and the sight of the moon above the Basilica was just surreal. The Basilica gleamed in the moonlight it was just breathtaking. The square in front of the Basilica is vast with a few cafes and restaurants set off it but still it's fairly quiet in the area. With that image in mind I had a good sleep looking forward to the next day. 


Wednesday, May 02, 2012

What to feed your kids


Ok so I am a pretty relaxed mum. I like to think so but I also like to make sure what my child consumes at this point in his life is healthy but balanced out with the junk that is available to this age.                                                                                                                    

My son is a chocoholic...and I mean this child will say no thanks to candy but YES to ANY type of chocolate in sight he would ask for chocolate any time of the day and if he has a whiff that there's any in the fridge well good luck to us as he won't rest until he either eats it or knows for sure there isn't any!
                                           
That doesn't mean we make sure there's chocolate in the house at all times...no sirree we only buy it now and again and give it to him at certain times! However I also am not going to say no to pizza once in a while. Having said that a lot of my friends are on the same boat as I, but then, you come across the odd one that just tries everything she can for her kid not to eat bad food. Well tonight, for a break I ordered some pizza for the kids to eat and this mom allowed the kid to eat it and boy the kid would have eaten half the large pizza if given the chance; on top of that he ate the corn chips we had out and didn't stop till the mum told him to stop. Oh and the juice boxes, he started drinking the other boys fruit juice after drinking his own! It was just so interesting to watch. I guess the reverse psychology was in progress here as the kid wanted more of what he wasn't allowed to have. Of course after 5 pm we all disallow juice but just water or milk and by then, even I wanted to help the lady stop her son from going crazy! The question is how much of a gag should you put on your kids and certain types of food? The truth is, it is available at friends' houses. I guess one can hope that the child will learn to make the right choices but should we expect that of a 4 year old? 

photos from http://www.fotosearch.com