Archive for July, 2010


Anna likes Amsterdam!  It’s green, there’s bikes everywhere, including lots of fun ones with big kid carriers in front, no one drives, it’s not too hot, there’s second hand shops everywhere!

Swimming, Amsterdam July 2010

We camped at Uitdam right on the lake front and all dove in for a swim, caught a bus into Amsterdam and enjoyed Anne Frank House – had to queue for an hour, but since Emmett now compares everything to the endless wait for the Eiffel tower he commented that it was a short wait!

Anne Frank House was just the right place to introduce the kids to the holocaust and second world war.  Having a child’s perspective was really good.  They got some good comics that went further into the history and Bede is keen to read Anne’s diary now.  I think I found it much more heartbreaking as an adult and a parent than I did reading Anne’s diary as a child.  We were all able to think on Otto Frank’s quotes about prejudice and persecution continuing in the world and talk a bit about the way that in many countries lesbians and gay men are still persecuted, including some of the countries we’ve traveled in.

I just loved the 3 level bike parking buildings in the city centre!  And that the only central carparks were for people with disabilities – the culture was just so non-car!  But so much more pleasant to cycle in a country with such good bike paths, as opposed to NZ where it always feels a bit like Russian roulette.

Multi-level bike park, Amsterdam July 2010

Today we had a big day, waking up in Amsterdam and driving through Belgium to Calais to head back through the Chunnel.  Tomorrow it’s Legoland!

Funny quote of the month by the way:  Florence recapping on her day in Florence “And Mummy, tomorrow we go to Anna?”


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I was saying that Vesuvius was up there on Bede’s list of “things to do on a round the world trip” when we were planning this adventure.  The other place the boys really wanted to see was Venice.  When we first got out the atlas back in NZ they spent several days playing gondoliers on the lawn with sticks (sticks feature in pretty well every game our kids ever play…).

Venice did not disappoint them, even when we ended up choosing to use the public transport boats rather than a gondola which was prohibitively expensive.  Emmett was really excited to see all the types of boats and Bede was intrigued by the challenge that building Venice must have been.  Here’s Emmett’s diary entry:

“Yesterday was Leah’s birthday.  We went to Venice.  We went around Venice in a boat.  We saw a taxi boat and a police boat and an ambulance boat and a courier boat.  At night in Venice it was boiling hot and I slept on a hot blanket inside the camper, my blanket was shaped like a bird’s nest.”

On the downside, Venice was HOT and we didn’t have a campsite pool, the little camper is stifling with 5 of us in it on a 35 degree night even with all the doors open!  We were so ready to leave sticky crowded Italy after our two hot nights in Venice!

Last night we had an idyllic night high in an Austrian mountain pass, in pouring rain and even cold!  It was very much like NZ, with even steeper mountains and a fresh clean mountain stream.  Who knew I could be so pleased to be camping in the rain!  Especially a LOOONG walk from the toilet block!  Tonight we have moved on to the west of Germany.  We had initially had Germany on our itinerary but we’ve rearranged things a bit this week to go to Amsterdam for a few days then head for the British Isles and on to Scotland.  The kids are done with old buildings and history for now and I think will enjoy Anne Frank House in Amsterdam but then we plan to really go for a combination of rural exploring and a few must do activities we’ve not managed to get to yet in England (Roald Dahl’s house, Legoland…)

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The exhausted Skinner-Vennells headed north from Pompeii and found ourselves at Norcenni-Girasole Holiday Camp having allowed the children the opportunity to read the camping ground guide.  The kids were in heaven!  Water slides, two pool complexes, mini golf.  Probably the thing they liked best though was FRIENDS!  The camp was full of Irish families and the boys soon made friends with Darragh and his family who happen to be from just near where Norah’s family is from in Galway!  As a result the only part of Tuscany we saw for most of the 5 days was the rolling hills and beautiful farmhouses evident from the chairs by the pool.

Florence and I did make it into Florence one day and had a lovely day, enjoying the stunning architecture – Florence liked finding all the baby Jesus pictures and statues in the churches.  We also had fun shopping for a new dress for her and some birthday treats for Mama Leah.

It was hard to convince the boys it was time to leave Tuscany but we were all more rested and ready to head on to Venice for our final Italian stop after our wee holiday.

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Pompeii and Vesuvius

When we began planning this world trip two years ago, Bede was obsessed by volcanoes and immediately said “Vesuvius” when asked if there was anywhere in the world he particularly wanted to go.  Two years is a long time and I have to say his enthusiasm for seeing Vesuvius had dissipated a bit by the time we got here, however Emmett is now pretty keen on volcanoes and has an excellent teacher in his older brother…

We drove from Rome to Pompeii and told the GPS to take us to the closest camping ground, which turned out to be literally right at the entrance to the archeological village.  Italian drivers deserve all the bad press they get by the way, the autostrada are great but full of people driving straddling the lane dividers and gesticulating so wildly I have no idea how they steer.  We were very warmly welcomed to the camping ground by another NZ family from none other than Marton, who conveniently had a kid Emmett’s age so he was thrilled!  Emmett quickly built a tree house out of blankets and they had a great time!  Other than the occupants and proximity to Pompeii I wouldn’t recommend Zeus as a camping ground though, filthy, stinky toilets, brown water in the taps… generally icky.

After a rest we headed over to Pompeii, the audioguides here even come with a kid version which had the boys giggling so it must be pretty good!  It was baking hot which did make it hard to really enjoy the experience.  This was one place we’d read lots about before coming to Italy and that really paid off, as the kids knew the stepping stones were to avoid excrement in the roads – they hopped across giggling more about the thought of the deep gutters being full of slops (apparently hysterically funny if you are a child) – and understood the typical layout of a Roman household here.  Bede was able to make all kinds of connections about the various temples that I can’t because I don’t know as much mythology.  He was rather shocked by the paintings on the brothel walls, which Emmett, Flo and I missed by lucky chance!  The public baths were amazing with mosaic floors.  The city must have been amazing prior to the eruption.

Being pretty fed up with the camping ground we headed away fairly early the next morning (read 10am – the earliest we’ve managed to all be dressed in weeks)  and drove up a very NZ like road up Vesuvius.  The area was very run down, with derelict hotels and cafes and a bit nerve wracking as the road was not busy and felt a bit unsafe.  Eventually though we got to a carpark full of hawkers and found the path to the crater.  It was a hot walk up but a fantastic view both of the crater and back over the Bay of Naples.  Everyone has scoria souvenirs now (Emmett has a whole Pringles tin full of scoria that I’m hoping not to carry back to NZ…).  Florence ran most of the way back down the path, having been more than happy to be carried all the way up on my back!  She was very surprised to find a crater, not a temple, at the top of the path – her life has been rather full of temples in the last few months!

After several busy sightseeing days we are now holed up in a packed Tuscan campsite that the kids are loving because it is full of other kids, waterslides and fun things to do.  It also has a children’s programme so Leah and I are planning to send big kids off to do art tomorrow, and get Flo’s whole sleep to lie in the heat and read.  Who wants to bet she won’t have a sleep tomorrow?

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Our Rome camping ground takes the illustrious award for the most mosquitoes of anywhere we’ve stayed so far!  Great big ones with black and whites striped legs.  Emmett had 22 bites before we realised they existed, poor kid. There were more memorable things about Rome than mosquitoes however!  We were able to make an experienced assessment of the subway system, having now used public transport in many countries (we don’t generally need it to navigate round our small city in NZ and in Ceduna in Australia, where we lived last year it took 30 mins to walk from one end of town to the other).  Anyway, Italian subways are the most graffiti-ed and least maintained we’ve met so far, with extremely confusing maps that didn’t correspond to our route at all!  Luckily the locals were happy to tell us where we were and set us straight on how to get to our destination!  After only a minor detour of 90 mins to return to the camping ground to retrieve the camera we’d left behind we eventually made it to the Colosseum.  Unlike taking the subway to the Eiffel tower where we couldn’t find the monument on exiting the subway, here there was no mistaking where we were!  (Would insert a photo here but the wifi sucks – costs 6 euros a day on top of the exorbitant camp fees too, but keeps me sane!)

We gave audioguides a trial run at the Colosseum with great success, the boys somehow found it much easier listening to someone other than me describing the history of the place.  One funny moment, after standing staring at a very boring archway that was supposed to be very special and listening to all this stuff about it, we turned around and found the substantially more interesting archway we’d been supposed to be examining!  We were too exhausted to find the house purported to have been Romulus’ after our tour, but really enjoyed ourselves.

Our second day in Rome we headed for the Vatican, only to find the Sistine Chapel was closed till 7pm after once again navigating the tricky subway.  We settled for lunch in St Peter’s square, returning in the evening after Bede had had the best Margherita pizza ever to see the Vatican museum.  It would be easy to spend a month there, although I suspect that if we did that with our kids we’d be arrested.  The boys again used audioguides and were fascinated by the animal statues.  They also spent a great deal of time in the Egyptian room, comparing mummies with those seen in Egypt.  The Sistine Chapel was amazing, although I was resoundingly told off by a guard for sitting on a step to look up at the ceiling “Madam, this is a church”  Luckily a slightly kinder guard then led us into the roped off area of the altar to sit on a bench there – Possibly I looked somewhat exhausted at the end of a long, hot day with 12 kilos of Florence in the sling on my front.  Decided after being told off for sitting down that public breastfeeding was probably pushing it.  We all did find the artwork inspiring though and Emmett was also very interested in the story of the crucifixion.  Luckily they haven’t tried reenacting that one yet, sticking with the wooden swords that led to Emmett having a gash below the eye…

Bede was most unimpressed by the hawkers and sidewalk stalls in Rome, finding it very much like Egypt.  Emmett is happily collecting small models of all the inspirational buildings we’ve seen from said hawkers and has finally learned not to act too interested, which was making haggling a bit difficult.  You can’t feign walking away with a 6 year old hanging off your leg saying “But I will pay 5 euros mum”

Aside from the mosquitoes Camping Tiber in Rome was great with big grassy shady sites and a lovely pool, we just love the way Italian camping round shops sell food you’d be hard pressed to find in a deli in NZ, yummy cheeses, produce, freshly baked bread…  We are living well!

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This is a very cool camping ground it has a pool a gym a park a mini golf course an amphitheater and a lot of shops.  We met an Irish kid called Darragh and he is eight Emmett and I played with him all day.  He is from Galway where my great grandfather comes from.  We went on the waterslides and I caught Florence at the bottom.  We were at the playground and the amphitheatre after dinner till really late.  Tomorrow we are playing minigolf with Darragh

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I got a new game called farm frenzy and I played it all day. It was really cool you earn money by selling milk wool and eggs.  We saw the leaning tower of Pisa. I took a photo of me holding it up.  I am going to make my person on adventure quest an X-Guardian which is the best thing you can be.  I made him yesterday and he is a level 5 mage.

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