Monday, November 15, 2010

We beat the budget!!!

Well as you all may know now that we have been home in Australia for a month now.
I just wanted to let you know that we did beat the budget.
We started with $20,000 (about $5,000 was the airfares to and from Italy). So we had $15,000 for the 3 months in Italy for accomodation, travel, food and other expenses.
We did extremely well and enjoyed everything we could do on a budget. All of our accomodation in apartments was at least 3 star by Australian standards. We treated ourselves to lunches out (when in Paris we ate out most of the time for a week). We also spent about $600 in one day at Paris Disneyland (big budget blowout).
But in saying all of this we came home and still had $500 in the bank.
If you have any questions for me about how we found budget accomodation and great travel deals please feel free to leave a comment or contact me by email to

Friday, October 29, 2010

Some Ideas when taking children to the Louvre

I am putting together a few ideas on how to get the kids interested in visiting the Louvre Museum in Paris. The Louvre is normally one of the highest things to do on an adults list but the kids probably haven't even heard of it. If you tell them it is an Art Gallery they definitely turn their noses up at it. But it is more than an Art Gallery it is a Museum with artefacts from all over the world on display.
If you go to the official Louvre Museum website you will find Dominic Vivan Denon . He takes children on an animated tour of the Louvre and gives them information for every part of the museum. My 7 year old Phoenix learned about a few pieces on display in the Egyptian exhibition. Phoenix was interested and well behaved through out the Egyptian exhibition. So if your children are around 10 years old like my eldest Levi, then they can probably sit and learn alot about the museum from Dominic. Then they will be telling you about the different exhibitions.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Send the kids off to pick some grapes at harvest time

We have the pleasure of staying in Albugnano in North Italy near Torino with our friend Paola and her partner Sergio. Their verandah looks out over the hills and valley's and has a vineyard right nextdoor. I asked Paola if we could go down and ask the workers if it was ok for us to help pick the grapes for harvest. So we went for a walk down to the vineyard and found the pickers. We told them that the children wanted to help pick the grapes. They said of course they could, just to be careful to not cut their fingers. They were cutting the grapes for the red wine they produce. This activity kept our children busy for hours and they learned something new. Our children also helped the workers with some english words.
The owner of the vineyard asked us if we would like to meet him at the cantina Alle Tre Colline in Albugnano Town to try some wines he produces. We accepted with pleasure, for more on this story please head over to

Saturday, September 25, 2010

One night in Pisa

13-14 September 2010

We arrived in Pisa after our flight from Paris at about 11.30pm so we hailed a cab at the airport and went to our hotel for the night. We decided to spend a night in Pisa because we thought it would be too difficult to catch a train at 1am and walk from Florence Santa Maria Novella Station at 2.30am to our apartment. So we booked a room at a hotel near Pisa Centrale. When we arrived at the hotel the concierge said he did not have a reservation for us and he was fully booked for the night. (Grrrrr) I was not happy and my computer would not load up quickly enough for me to show him the email I got saying we had a reservation. Anyway the concierge called another hotel nearby and got us the same deal with breakfast (apparently we were saving 30euros). So with 2 cranky and tired children we gathered up our luggage and walked (yes, walked) from the hotel at least 250m down the road, turn left at the piazza and look for the sign saying Minerva Hotel. The least the concierge could’ve done at that time of night (now midnight) was pay for a taxi to take us. I know 250m doesn’t sound like it far but at that time of night with 2 children and 3 suitcases and a backpack it is not fun. (GRRR).

Anyway the new hotel was very nice and spacious and we had a lovely breakfast when we woke. We walked to the train Station and bought tickets through the self service machine. It costs around 6euro each for adults and 3 euros each for children 4-11years old. So if you are staying in Florence and you want to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa (without paying 100euros each for a tour) you can visit Pisa in a day by train to Pisa Centrale and use the Red line bus to get to the Leaning Tower (this way will cost less than 100euros for the family). There are trains going to and from Pisa Centrale to Florence all the time.

After a 1 - 1.30 hour train ride we were back ‘home’ in our apartment in Florence. And happy to be back in familiar surroundings and the comfort of home. Although very sad to be out of Paris.

We spent a few days relaxing at home in Florence before packing our swimmers and bags for the Cinque Terre.

Architecture and History

Paris 12 September 2010

Well today we decided to go back to the café up the hill for breakfast again. This time Iain had the “vitality breakfast” with me of brioche, jam and a bowl of coffee. Phoenix decided to join Levi in Croque Monsieur and salad. It was all Yum!!!

We also went back to Sacre Cour to get a coin out of the machine for Phoenix (they have tourist coins with pictures of churches on them in machines 2 euros each, great for the kids to collect). Levi and I waited outside watching the lady with the piano accordion dance about under here umbrella and flowers. I have a photo of this that I will upload soon. She was very entertaining.

After Sacre Cour we headed back down the hill towards our apartment to catch a train to Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle, but Iain saw a dress in a shop window that he wanted me to try on. So of course as the obedient wife I am I went in and tried it on and came out with the dress and a leather jacket…I am very lucky my husband likes me to look good. (LOL) so we had to stop at the apartment to drop off my new purchases and the many souvenirs we purchased in Montmartre (who knew I was misspelling this?) as well.

Eventually we ended up eating lunch at the apartment then hopping on the train to Barbes Rochechouart to change lines to Cite the metro station on the island in the middle of the river. Cite station opens above ground to a pet market and the hop on drop off hire bicycles. We walked about 250m to find Notre Dame with a short stop to pick up a coffee and little something for my new niece Pepper.

Notre Dame is more beautiful in the flesh than it is on paper. The architecture of the building so intricate and wonderful. The interior is lovely with all the different saints statues like Joan of Arc and the centre piece shows the life of Jesus in carvings. You can probably use this as “story telling” time for the kids. Brush up on your bible stories first (although you should know these anyway). The church has free entry for everyone and you can spend all day in there if you like and take photos without the flash.

When we had our fill of Notre Dame we walked along the River Seine to the other end of the island to Sainte Chapelle. Sainte Chapelle is 8 euros each for adults, free entry for children. The chapel is located inside the Castle walls and is being renovated until 2013. They are renovating small parts at a time so you really don’t miss out on seeing its spectacular architecture and lead lighting. The chapel was built by King Henry IX for his wife. There is a statue inside dedicated to Saint Louis. The lead lighting here is the most amazing I have seen so far. It is wonderful sight, even the children were impressed, they also like climbing the stairs in the dome.

This was a good way to end our “paid “ sightseeing in Paris, we went back to the apartment for dinner and starting packing our bags for our flight the next night.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What a View...and some Vintage Shopping.

Paris 11 September 2010

The day started off with a few little hiccups. We walked down the street, around the corner, up the hill, across the road, up another hill, then realised we forgot to go to the ATM just outside the apartment. My fault of course? Well we found one back down the hill and came across a gorgeous café, we stopped and had breakfast there. I had a bowl of café au lait and a piece of brioche with the most amazing jam I have ever tasted. Iain had a big American breakfast, Levi had Croque Monsieur with salad and Phoenix had Quiche Lorraine with salad.

After our hearty meals we headed back up the hill towards Montmarte. What a beautiful part of the city, this is the Artist area and they have a market at the top of the hill with cafes and artists stalls. We kept moving through the crowds further up the hill to Sacre Coeur (sorry should have some funny symbol in Coeur). When we arrive at the very top of the hill (which really only took 10mins) we saw the most spectacular view over Paris. It truly is amazing, if you ever get to Paris you must walk up here and see it for yourself. I liked it better than the Eiffel Tower. The church is simply an amazing piece of architecture and extremely huge.

From the top of the hill we took many photos and went inside Sacre Coeur, then we headed back around the church to the souvenir shops and down the hill towards Clignancourt. We walked down streets and many stairs until we reached bottom and headed towards Les Puces (the flea markets).

When we reached the flea markets I was a little disappointed to see that it was full of the normal cheapie stuff from China, but I knew if I kept walking past it and under the bridge I would come to Rue de Rosiers where I would find the Vintage Market. This is so big and you kind of need a map for it or you get lost surrounded by strange old pieces of furniture and artwork. It is also a good idea to know what you want to find there, it is quite a confusing and overwhelming place with a few little scary alleys. I however braved it on my own, letting Iain take the boys to KFC for a while. I wandered around the markets for a few hours looking for fabric, buttons and something for my sister in law to put in her kitchen. Well the fabric was a lost cause (Sorry Yvonne) the only fabric I found that I purchased was an old curtain with prints of Paris life it cost me 40euros (ouch, but I just couldn’t let it go, it is also part of my giveaway on this website). I searched and searched for buttons in several stores and found many but not made in france and I really wanted them to be vintage and French, finally I found some (so be happy Kellie). Now the something to hang in the sister inlaws kitchen was a little difficult, but I saw it and bought it (not telling it is a surprise Ruvay). After finding what I set out to find, I came across a store I had missed and found these gorgeous vintage cotton and lace huge cushion covers for 15 euros (they will look fantastic on my bed, when I get it back).

I sent Iain a text message letting him know that I had finished shopping and to come and meet me at the place we agreed. He did not hear his phone or feel it vibrate so I hung around in this creepy part of town alone and a bit worried because I only had a little credit left and Iain had none at all. After waiting for half an hour I finally saw 2 little boys and a man heading down the street, boy was I glad. And a little frustrated. We headed back to the metro but not without first purchasing 2 new carry on suitcases for the boys (the backpacks had worn out and were now too small to fit our new souvenirs :-)).

We got back to the apartment and had a little rest. We then went out for dinner to a restaurant very like Lone Star (Texas Grill or something). We were craving “meat and fries” and that is exactly what we got as well as an American waiter. I had buffalo wings, chips and salad, Iain had 3 meats, chilli con carne and chips and the boys had nuggets and chips. The salads and bread were complementary.

After our meal we decided to go and line up at the Eiffel Tower. This ended up being a 2 hours queue at 7pm and the boys were already exhausted from a day out. We went up the first lift to the 2nd floor, then had to line up again to purchase tickets to the top then it was an hour wait for the lift to the top. So after 3 hours of queue we finally made it to the top with a child that was crying from fatigue and another child that was over tired and too excited. We did the mandatory views and photos from north, south, east and west, then headed back down the tower, this was much faster. Then we walked to the metro and arrived back at the apartment just after midnight.

It was a VERY LONG day for all. But worth it.

I will be posting tips on all of the things to do in Paris and how to hopefully avoid long queues.

Hello Mickey Mouse!

Paris 10 September 2010

Today was the day the boys were looking forward to after we finally decided to go to Disneyland Paris.

We got up early and went to the station to purchase return ticket to Disneyland with a change of train at Nation. We hopped on the wrong train at Nation because I did not notice which stations were lit up on the board. Oops! I asked a lady on the train which station to get off at and change trains for Disneyland, she was very helpful and gave me all the information I needed. We changed trains successfully and were on our way.

After 40 minutes on the train we came to Chessy station (Parc Disney). Of course there was a mad rush to get to the gates. (In Paris you line up and have your bags checked before entering most museums, galleries and theme parks, they confiscate food and drink and anything that is potentially dangerous). Yes don’t even bother packing lunch for Disneyland, the guards will end up eating it or throwing it in the bin.

Then we walked to the ticket office and spent about half and hour in line (Note. Buy tickets at any of the main metro stations, hotels or info boxes in Paris, it saves time). A girl came up to me and told me her friend was not coming so she sold me a childs ticket for 40euros (norm. 49euros). All up our entrance cost about 190euros.

You can get into Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios for a little extra it’s a 1 day/ 2 park pass. But seriously I do not think there is enough time to see 1 park in 1 day let alone 2.

Please take note and keep your map, this is seriously important for when you are looking for toilets and food.

Anyway we headed to Discoveryland first (buzz lightyear, star wars, Lilo & Stitch…) All rides here are great for everyone unless you want to go on Space Mountain and you are under 130cm. Poor Phoenix had to miss out. Phoenix and I ended up in Nautilus (from 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea) and I had to promise that Levi would miss out on seeing this. Because it was Levis’ fault that Phoenix is not tall enough for Space Mountain??? Phoenix and I then went to Star Wars store and purchased a small bucket of fairy floss and met Iain and Levi outside. Note also that rides that have a 45 minute queue normally only take 2 minutes to finish. :-(

To save time waiting in line there are FAST PASS stations in front of most rides. You simply swipe your entrance ticket and it spits out a ticket with a time for you to go on the ride. Note: do this first thing, the earlier the better, FAST PASS is 1 ride at a time, you ride then you can swipe the next one. It will save you time in queues, but don’t forget to swipe everyone elses tickets too, you must all have it swiped to skip the queue together.

So then we moved onto Frontierland and saw the Swiss Family Robinsons treehouse, Pirates of the Carribean and Mark Twains riverboat. We lunched at a Mexican restaurant and spent 40euros (you can’t avoid it unless you plan on starving and dying of thirst).

Fantasyland was next with Alice in Wonderlands maze, It’s a Small World Afterall, Dumbo and a bunch of pretty Princess things. I made the boys go on the Madhatter’s teacup ride with me, because I remembered going on it with my Mum at Disneyland California. :-)

At the end of the day we watched the Street Parade with the Lion King, Jungle Book, Princess Tiana, Mary Poppins, Little Mermaid, Aladdin & others.

We headed back to the Star Wars shop and let the boys spend 25euros each on souvenirs, they ended up with a stuffed Stitch and Leroy from Lilo and Stitch. I decided on a Disneyland Paris photo album for our many photo’s there and Iain picked a fridge magnet.

We stood on the train all the way back much to the boys disappointment.

It was a GREAT day for all of us!

Versailles Palace and Gardens...a beautiful day (with rain of course)

Paris 9 September

Ahhhh what can I say? The day started out fresh and cool and absolutely gorgeous. We caught the train to Invalides and hopped back on another train to Versailles. It was about a half hour trip out of Paris with very nice scenery on the train.
Versailles is so beautiful, especially the gardens, we could’ve spent another entire day in the gardens wandering around the many chalets and fountains and the Grande Canal.
But first we went through the Palace and saw all the wonderful architecture and the interior design and decoration. The Palace is decorated with gold leaf ceilings, flocked wallpaper, marble and timber flooring and of course priceless works of art and furniture.
As you walk through the first hall there are many rooms leading to the main staircase leading up to the apartments and ballrooms and long wide corridors. I think if you are planning a trip to Paris you really must take one day to visit Versailles and see how the royals lived in France many years ago.
The views from the windows to the gardens are spectacular.
The boys were very excited about heading out into the garden, so we did and it started to rain lightly. We had promised Phoenix that we would hire a boat in the Grande Canal, so we headed down the centre of the gardens past secret passageways and marble sculptures. We hired a boat for 11 euros an hour. Iain rowed the boat out for us and we relaxed in the sunshine for a little while. After floating around for 3o minutes the big scary grey clouds descended upon us and started dumping huge drops of water everywhere. I told Iain to pull over to the side of the lake for us (the boys and I) to hop out and get under the trees. Iain had to row the boat back to the dock. Well the trees did not help very much so I used Iains jumper as a raincoat, Iain got soaked of course…hehe. The boys wanted to run in the rain to their father so I let them, after a few minutes I went to meet them as well.
Soaked and feeling cold we went into a restaurant by the lake and had coffee and sandwiches 50 euros (ouch). Nice restaurant though and good coffee.
The rain stopped for a while and we went and hired some bicycles to ride in the park. This was a surprise to my boys because they have never seen me ride a bike (it has been 20 years). Luckily it is true you never forget how to ride a bike. I was glad I didn’t have to wear a helmet.
The bicycles were very well worn and the brakes were not as good as I would have liked, but the ride was very enjoyable and Phoenix loved seeing me ride a bike (so did Iain). We rode for an hour or so through the trees, along the street with sheep farms and down private roads (people live in the Versailles gardens) and along the lake. It was so beautiful and photogenic. I may even buy a bicycle when we get home.
After our bicycle ride we went back to Paris and had fried chicken takeaway for dinner (well after not having it for a few months it is very tempting). Did I mention we have been having pastries every night for dessert? Well we have in Paris, just can’t help myself they are so good.

The Louvre...what more can I say?

Paris 8 September 2010

First things first, I did not have a very good day with the children inside The Louvre. We did make it out alive and without breaking anything.

We left the apartment at about 10am and headed to the Louvre, down the streets, into Galleries Lafayette up the elevator to the top to see the view(children really enjoyed this), back down to the street and out along Rue del Opera. Most of the main streets are named after whatever is at the end of them. So the Palais Royal Opera building is on this street. Before reaching the Louvre we had breakfast/lunch in a café. We met an American couple that the kids chatted to about what they have been doing and how long they are out of school (most important to children).

My wonderful cousin Deborah told me to use the entrance under the red awning on Rue du Rivoli to skip the long queue at the Pyramid entrance. We went in the door, down the escalator and crossed the floor to the ticket machines, it cost 9.50 euros each and Free for children. We found the upside down pyramid in the centre of the mall and walked straight through with no queue at all, it was great.

First area we entered was the history of the Louvre, fascinating how it started as a castle with farm lands surrounding it. There are the old foundations on display that look like where a moat would have been in the past.

We wandered through the Egyptian exhibit with statues, tools and jewels on display.
Then we found the area with the famous Mona Lisa on display, we had been in the musee for hours so we were happy to view the most famous painting in the world and leave with a few Louvre souvenirs.

Ok we did have a problem with our 7 year old after about an hour in the Egyptian exhibit. He decided He wanted to take photos so we gave him the spare camera. He was calm for about 5 minutes then He went ballistic at a couple standing in front of the sphinx. He told them that they should learn English and that He will kick them if they don't get out of the way (it was a bit worse than this, but I didn't want to write everything). I was so embarrassed. But this is a travelling with kids site so these things happen.

We exited out of the Pyramid and into the plaza above into more rain.
As we are near the Arc di Triumph we pop down a hole to the metro and catch a train to a station near the Arc. What a sight! It is so beautiful even in the rain, this area is near Charles de Gaule-Etoile Metro station and is on Champs Elysee it is lined with stores such as Louis Vuiton, Guess, Gucci and Cartier (a real shoppers paradise).

Back down a hole to our apartment with children in tow of course.

* There is a cartoon on the The Louvre website that can help prepare children before your planned trip to The Louvre. I will add the link soon.

Jardin de Plantes- Menagerie (the zoo)

Paris 7 September 2010

Today we met with Massimo, Annalisa, Irini and Andreas (our neighbours in Florence) at the Menagerie. It was fun for our first time in Paris to work out how to use the Metro on the day of the strike. The trains were so crowded we were so squashed that I almost passed out. They were running less trains because of the strike.
Anyway back to our day with Massimo and family at the zoo. Jardin de Plantes is an amazing park in Paris, it is huge and very green with lovely crushed granite paths and overhanging canopies. It reminds me of photos I have seen of Central Park in New York. There are museums in the park and a menagerie (zoo). We found Massimo at the café just inside the zoo, we ate crepes with sugar and had coffee before exploring the zoo.
The first animals we saw were emus and jack rabbits together in an enclosure. We saw wallabies and other Australian animals, it was quite funny seeing those animals in the middle of Paris. We spent a few hours in the zoo then Massimo and family invited us back to their apartment in the Latin Quarter.
The Latin Quarter is a more upper class residential area than Blanche where we are staying and very quiet. After some tea and cake with Massimo and Annalisa we left to catch the metro back to our apartment. We walked to St Michel metro (oh before I forget, the metro is underground and most stations are located by finding Metropolitan written above a set of stairs, we called them a ‘hole”) so after finding the St Michel hole in the ground we hopped on a very crowded train, just fitting in the door, then changing at Stalingrad and hopping on another train to Blanche. Dinner tonight was kebab sandwiches, yummo!!!

Ooh La La...Paris is beautiful!

Paris 6 September 2010

We arrive in Beauvais Airport about 70 minutes out of Paris at about 930pm on Monday night, it was a late flight and then we had to get the baggage as well. Then we had to go and catch a bus to Paris (Porte Maillot) then find a taxi in the rain of all things with a whinging, crying, tired 7 year old. After waiting in the rain for 10 minutes a taxi finally stopped and we were on our way (easy with an English speaking taxi driver). We had stop at an ATM to get some money out for the owner of the apartment because we had forgot to at Pisa Airport.
When we arrived on our street it was a big surprise to see sex shop after sex shop, pole dancing places and girls girls girls signs everywhere. “Close your eyes boys!”. I was however trying not to giggle like a little girl for the whole drive. Suddenly we stopped right out front of a girlie show theatre and the taxi driver said “here it is”. Just 2 shops back was a dark blue door with the number 54 on it…cringe.
Oh well out we got and I sent a text message to the owner telling him we had arrived and to please come and open the door for us. Guillame met us at the door after we waited 5 minutes watching a lady try to entice men into the theatre, it is quite hilarious when the guys blush.
We went into the blue door and up a corridor to another door with another code, in that door and up 6 flights of stairs to the 3rd floor. To my surprise the apartment was very quiet thanks to the double glazed windows front and back. We got all the necessary information from Guillame for the metro, codes for doors and where the supermarket was. We went to bed to the quiet rumble of the metro every now and then.

Things to see and do with the kids in Paris

Kids in Paris

Most museums and galleries are free entry for children under 18, if you are between 18 and 26 and can prove that you are a student in your country you are also free. This is fantastic for parents, because most of the time it is only you who wants to see the museums and art and you really don’t want to waste money on children who are not interested in it. So bravo to Paris for having free entry for kids, Parents love this.

Tips for kids in Paris:

There are many large parks in Paris for the children to play in:

Bois de Boulogne for example has many playgrounds and lakes. You can hire bicycles for the whole family for 10euros each per day, best to do this in the morning to take advantage of the price and time. Please do not expect to get a top of the line bicycle here, you get one that has been used a bit, when hiring them take a bike for a little test run and check the gears and brakes before going any further. The pick up/ drop off bikes for the centre of Paris are free for the first half hour but then they sting you after this (you can not pick one up and drop it somewhere in half an hour and pick up another for free, you have to use a credit card to start so it knows if you have used your first half hour). While walking or cycling in Bois de Boulogne, keep an eye out for the animals wandering the forest: ducks, rabbits, squirrels, birds, lizards and horses on the horse paths (with rider of course). Try to stick to the main wide paths for cycling, it gets a bit narrow close to the lakes and very bumpy and dangerous when there are walkers and other cycles on the path.

There is Jardin di acclimation, this is in Bois de Boulogne and is a park with rides and water that you pay for (great for hotter months).

*To get to Bois de Boulogne take the Nation/Porte Dauphine Metro line all the way to the end to Porte Dauphine then follow the signs to Bois de Boulogne (hint: look for masses of trees, this is what I did).

Jardin de Plantes is on the other side of the city to Bois de Boulogne, in this park there is a Natural History Museum with dinosaur bones and there is the Menagerie (zoo) which is great for children of all ages. It was less than 30euros for a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 children under 12). There is a large range of animals from all over the world including wallabies from Australia, snakes from South America and Red Pandas from Asia. In the zoo you can purchase coffee and tea and food at reasonable prices. If you have the whole day to spend in Jardin de Plantes I recommend the Jardin museum pass to see everything there. Well worth it for the kids.

* To get to Jardin de Plantes take the(will fill in)Metro line and get off at Gare du Austerlitz. The park is across the road and runs along the River Seine.

Paris = fun + games!

In the begining of September we visited Paris for one week.
A great website to look for apartments in Paris is We got a small one bedroom apartment with sofa bed in the living/kitchen/dining area for less that 500euros a week in the Moulin Rouge area. They will send you an email letting you know if the apartment is available, then you will be required to get in contact with the owner and send them signed copies of the rental agreement and 100euros to half the cost of apartment for a deposit. Many of them accept Western Union (most expensive), Paypal (best) and Bank transfer (expensive). When you arrive you pay the owner the remaining amount + some will ask for the same amount again as a safety deposit that you will get back when you leave (this is to cover any damage that may occur). We have found that many look at our children and decide that they are old enough to not destroy anything and forgo asking us for this deposit.
The Moulin Rouge area is classed as "red light" so many of you are thinking - oh no I would never stay there with my children - Well trust me I thought the same thing when we arrived at the apartment and I could see all of the shops and "dance" halls lit up (we arrived at midnight). But the next morning I looked out of the window and it was like any other city, families out for walks, business people on the way to work, people walking their dogs and stores opening up for the day. The thing is when you are travelling with children you are not likely to go out a night except for dinner and normally with children that is quite early, so you don't really see anything that goes on at night. Also in Europe they quite often use double glazed windows for the apartments in built up areas, so when inside with the windows closed you don't hear a thing.
Back to our apartment, the owner met us at the door when we arrived and showed us in to a very secure apartment building. He showed us how to turn the key to enter and where all the household equipment was stored (extra blankets, iron etc...), how to use the washing machine and cooktop. He gave us a map of the city and showed us all the areas nearby that are "classic Parisien" and told us we must see this and that. He was very informative and extremely helpful.
If you are travelling with a pram/pushcar or buggy, please be aware that in Europe you will not find many apartments that have lifts, you will more than likely get an apartment that has between 3 to 7 flights of stairs to climb, so keep this in mind. Always ask if they are on the ground floor or 1st floor (you should be fine up to the 2nd floor).

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Free things to see & do in Italy by city…all sights are a photographers dream

Unless there is something or some work of art that you simply must see then you do not even have to pay to enter a gallery or museum in Italy. There are many copies of the original statues up around the cities that are just as important and just as good to photograph.

Here is a link to Free things to see & do in Italy by city…all sights are a photographers dream

Groceries in Italy

Our usual grocery list and costs in Florence and other Italian cities

Rice (long grain) 3.10 2kg bag
Chicken in parts 3.95/kg
Natural yogurt 0.55 500ml
Chocolate block 0.74
Potatoes (washed) 0.89c /kg
10 eggs (no dozen) 0.95
1lt milk 0.65
Tin tuna (160g) 0.51
Potato chips (big bag)0.82
1 lemon 0.37
Brie 200g 1.55
10 chuppachups 1.14
Bread(like ours) 1.90
Nescafe Gold 100g 3.14
Edam cheese 5.40 kg
Cucumbers 0.95 kg

These are just a few of the things we buy regularly.

Long grain rice is not popular here so it is more expensive than Arborio.
Also instant coffee is more expensive than machine coffee.
It is cheaper to buy pork products.
When you buy fish, you buy the whole fish to scale and fillet yourself, it is less expensive. We have stuck to tins of tuna for our omega 3s.
Vegetables are inexpensive as are fruits in season.

You will not find cheddar cheese in blocks here only (plastic cheese), it is cheaper to buy pecorino or edam, both taste good.

Shampoo/ soap/ moisturiser is the same here, you can buy big brand or homebrand.
Sunscreen is more expensive, but we have not used it much, don’t seem to get burned like at Australia.

Basically when it comes to grocery shopping in Italy, just try a few different things if you can’t find your favourites, you will find something you like. Also you pay per plastic bag here too, so better to purchase some shopping bags and a trolley to save money.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Budget tips for Rome

1. If you can handle the heat (33 degrees C) go to Rome in August when it is holiday time for Italians, there are less people and all of the sights are still open. Take it from me the heat is not that bad especially when you can go out in the morning, have siesta during the hottest part of the day, then go out again in the evening.
2. If you are staying more than 3 nights look for a central apartment. This way you can cook some of your meals and save on take out and restaurant meals.
3. Carry a bottle with you, you can fill it up with cold natural spring water at many fountains and taps around the city.
4. Don’t buy food / gelati / drinks from cafes, bars on the main streets or in front of places of interest, go one street back and find everything cheaper. Even better buy cold drinks at the supermarket, there are many SPARS scattered around the city.
5. If you see a church that is open go inside and take photo’s(if allowed) this is FREE. They are all amazing and ornate.
6. Buy bus tickets at the Tabaccheri , these look like newsagencies with a sign out front with a big T on it. They are everywhere.
7. Musei Vatican: line up before 830am, buy a ticket for entrance 15 euro, then go in and purchase an AUDIOGUIDE (map and headset) 7 euros. It will cost at least 40 euro for an English speaking guide and it will take at least 3.5 hours to go through with the guide. With the audio guide you can go at your own pace and when you see something that interests you press the number into the headset and it gives you the information. (more info on this in the blog). St Peter’s Basilica is FREE, the tombs below are also FREE. Do not be conned by people outside the Vatican walls selling inclusive tickets and skip the line tickets.
8. During Summer there are stalls and restaurants set up along the River Tevere between the Ponte Garibaldi and Ponte Palatino. I recommend going for a walk along the river at least once, its FREE too.
9. There are FREE walking tours around Rome, take advantage of this. They are ENGLISH only and take about 1.5 - 2 hours.
10. There are many FREE sights to see in Rome. For example you can see the outside of the Colosseum and walk all the way around it to take photo’s. Unless you really want to know the ins and outs of the Colosseum don’t worry about paying for the entrance. There are many ruins around the city for great photo’s too. (I will make a list of the FREE places of interest).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Venice budget blow out...nah it was alright

The budget for Venice was blown out a bit due to all the souvenirs we collected. But we have not done too badly up until this point and we haven’t really purchased souvenirs yet except for post cards here and there.

So here goes (don’t be too shocked)

The apartment cost us 255euros for 2 nights
The train 155euros (all 4 of us return)
48 hour boat/bus ticket 112euros
All sightseeing 60euros
Souvenirs 225euros (Venetian glass and masks and lace)
Food 100euros (this was indulgent pastries, coffee, gelati etc…)

So just over 900euros for the whole trip including transport there and back. I don’t think that was too bad for 4 people in a very popular city. It was definitely worth it. We all loved Venice and hope to go back some day.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Everyday living in Italy

So far we have worked out that we use about 500euros a week on food, transport, internet, dvds, postcards/stamps, tours/tickets to see things and the all important rent.
On a good week we only spend 300euros (after paying for our rent). A good week consists of:
  • Groceries
  • Transport (bus/train)
  • A visit to a church or 2 or 3 (some a free :-)
  • Postcards (11 for 3euro)
  • Stamps (1euro each postcard)
  • Gelati and Cafe visits twice a week

So a good week doesn't mean no FUN!!! Just taking advantage of all the free activities you can do around Italy.

If we go to another city during the week and spend 3-5 days there we generally try to get an apartment with a kitchen so that we can buy groceries there and cook dinner and have breakfast in the apartment. In saying that we then spend on pastries anc lunch, for instance today in Venice we went to Lido an island with beaches and had calamari and chips (it was gross :-( ) then we went to an art gallery (modern and a bit R rated for the kids):

  • lunch 11 euro
  • gallery 30euro (2 tickets) kids free
  • 3 cappuccino, a slice of yummy cake and a choc croissant 9.50euros (CHEAP) in the gallery
  • we pick up some very nice sandwiches with fluffy white (glue)bread 1.50euro each
  • Iain and I climbed the Bell Tower in St Marks Square 16euros

So today we spent 70euros, not too bad I think for a family of 4 in Venice.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Viareggio trip costs...

Just a quick and very messy run down on what things cost in Viareggio:

18euro a day for an umbrella and 2 deck chairs
10euro a day for a lie down chair
10 euro a day to drop your towel on the beach and lie on it.
There are free beaches on the other side of the canal. You walk between buildings to get to them and there are no lifeguards.
7.50 euro per kg of pizza in a pizzeria on the promenade
Gelato from 1.50 euro in a small cup or 1 scoop in a cone (this is plenty especially for the kids)
Beer from 2euro a bottle (you can walk the streets with it)
Shoes from 4.50 euros to 800euros (designer)
Clothes from 2 euros
Underwear from 1.50euro (like Bras & Things shop)
Bottle soft drink from 2 euro
1 L bottle of water from 1.50euro
Ask to use the toilet in the bars/cafes/restaurants sometimes they are free and sometimes they charge 50c or whatever change you want to give.
Fish and chips from a boat - 1 box of mixed fried fish (calamari, prawns, octopus) 7 euro, chips 1.50 euro. This was the best food, amazingly we loved the deep fried crumbed octopus (tasted just like calamari).
Pasta with tomatoes, salmon, cheese is from 4.50euros. Salad is huge and is from about 6 euros (I recommend getting a salad, a pizza or 2 and some French fries for family of 4 then there is something fresh in the mix).
Bring big beach towels to lie on the sand is too hot to be hanging off the ends.
Close your eyes and pretend to be sleeping when a “gypsy” comes past to sell you something or ask if you want a foot massage (they generally leave you alone then).
Be prepared to do a bit of walking along the promenade to check out what is available.
There is a cruise from Viareggio around the islands and to Cinque Terre from 30euros for adults and 15 euro for kids (I recommend this if you don’t have the time to travel to Cinque Terre any other time).
There is whale watching and dolphin watching cruises from here too.
Things to beware of at Viareggio:
The jellyfish in the water, they are big and you will see them but if you don’t they sting (like a bluebottle in Australia)
Gypsies- just say no and keep on saying no if you don’t want anything from them. If you do buy something from them and you need change from them make sure they give you the change first before you give them the money.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Some interesting facts about travelling on trains in Italy

On Tuesday we took our first train trip in Europe. We found tickets at the tabaccheri and found the platform to leave from.
We then worked out that 2nd class was in the carriages marked with a 2. 2nd class is normal train chairs and overhead storage rack, it is air conditioned too.
While on the train we read theback of our tickets... needed to be validated somewhere, where we didn't know. So we figured we would just wait for the ticket person to come around and we would explain our situation.
Well she did come around and our 22euro for 4 turned into 42euro, we got charged 5euro each for not having the tickets validated. It could have been worse, it could have been 40euros , but she understood that we had no idea where to validate our tickets.
She showed us a picture of one, it is a tiny yellow box hanging on columns in the station, well even if we had seen them we wouldn't have known what they were (literally they look like sharps boxes).
anyway need to get ready for the day out at the beach, will continue this fascinating story soon.
Continuing on...
Our return tickets from Viareggio to Florence ended up being 2euro cheaper and I validated it like a good little girl. :-)
The train was also a lot more comfortable.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

25 July 2010-Blew the budget just a little :-)

We went out looking for an english church to attend this morning and found a lovely cafe in the SS Anunziata Square and couldn't resist having our first macchiato in a cafe(can you believe that we held out?).
So we got 2 small gelati (equals sml in Aust), 2 macchiatos and a custard/choc filled croissant for 6.60 euros (AUD $9.50)
We walked around the expensive part of town near Ponte Vecchio and then headed back to the apartment. When Iain saw this camera shop we have passed many times and decided to go in and see what the camera he wanted cost. I thought "ok it is his birthday this week so we will let him get what he wants" (shock horror).
He went in and asked about the Olympus SP800UZ (blah blah blah) it was only 299euro (AUD $430) total bargain because it was $600 in Australia. We also get the duty tax back when we arrive back in Australia.
We also brought a little Ferrarri something for a cousins new baby (Iain could not resist). 15euros.
Almost back to the apartment and we decide to let the boys have pizza for lunch and a drink to share. The shop we stopped at was really close to the main train station and a slice of pizza ended up being big enough for 2 so for 2 slices all 4 of us had lunch and shared a bottle of red orange juice (succo arancia rosso). We also got to sit at one of the tables (you normally pay for this) All 4 of us had lunch for 10euro (AUD$14).
So today was a bit of a spending day, although apart from the camera we didn't do too bad. :-)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

One week in Florence

Today 22 July 2010 we went into the centre and purchased tickets for the Florence Open Top Tour bus 50euros (the children were free) It is valid for 48hours. This equates to about $73Aud. The tour was fantastic and we can hop on and hop off the bus for 2 days. This is a really good way to get an idea of where things are to see and do, write down the streets and search for them later.
The tickets also gave us 2 large cokes at MacDonalds for 1euro.
Some of the streets we went through however would quite easily blow your budget out of the water if you let them... shops like Salvatore Ferragamo, Prada, Tiffany, Gucci and Dior. I could use my whole 3 months budget on 1 handbag at Hermes... but of course I won't. :-)
So far our total spend this first week : 370euros ($535AUD) Includes everything except accomodation (187euros per week).
So far so good, our first week will be the most expensive I expect.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The first week of Florence so far...15/7 - 21/7

When we landed in Florence we realised we had forgotten to get some euros before leaving London so we searched the airport for an atm. We needed cash for the taxi (25euros) and for one months rent. The atm did not work ...Aaarrgghh. The only option we had was the exchange and this cost us dearly, we withdrew 1000 euros from our cash passport and were charged 179 euros commission...OUCH!!! Well you live and you learn and you try not to do it again.
When we arrived at the apartment we settled the account for rent 650euros for the month because we had sent 100euro deposit. The landlady took Iain around to the meters and they wrote down the amounts for gas, water and electricity (this will be paid at the end of our stay).

So far we have spent-
110euros on groceries (we expected to spend 150euros a week, so not bad so far).
37euros on sight seeing
60euros on miscellaneous (gelati, lunch out, mobile credit recharge)

Yesterday 19/7 when we went to the Giardino di Boboli we saw some foccacia sandwiches for 3 euros each and decided to get some and 4 x 500ml cokes. The cokes cost the same as the sandwiches - 26 euros.
Iain went to the Coop (grocery store) and spent the same amount of euros on a few days worth of food. So from now on we take our own coke and snacks in a cooler bag if we are spending the whole day out.

So far we have used 920 euros for the first week in Florence. $1340 Aud ($950 of this was 1 months rent). So we won't spend this amount in a week again until the rent is due mid August. Unless we do some serious damage in the Sales they have here....OMG!!!

Our budget so far... London

Ok so we had 740 Pounds for London for 3 nights.
196 Pounds came out of that for accomodation.
100 Pounds for the coach from Stansted to Gatwick airport + 8.20 for the shuttle bus to our Hotel (Copthorne Effingham Gatwick Hotel).
We purchased some Oyster cards (like Go cards) for 34 pounds (17 each kids free). We did not end up needing these, so if anyone wants to buy them off us let us know, they have 15 pounds credit on both of them and can be used on the tube, bus and ferry in the city.
We found that the little cafes at the airport and train stations were great for breakfast alot cheaper than getting it at the hotel. Sausage on a roll 1 pound and coffee 1 pound, so brekkie for 2 pounds is pretty good.
You can also get fruit and veg packs from Marks and Spencers for a great price from the stations as well. 2 for 1 fruit salads 5 pounds. 3 quiches 5 pounds.
BRING ADAPTORS!!! I suggest getting a worldwide one and packing a power board so that you can charge your phone, computer and the kids nintendos at the same time with only one adaptor. (Thanks Dad for that suggestion).
When we went into the city the train cost 22pounds for the day for the 4 of us from 930am(off peak) they don't really have afternoon off peak times just ask at the station when you purchase the tickets.
We also decided to purchase the 48 hour hop on hop off tour bus tickets 87 pounds for all 4 of us (these were great) you get an idea of where places are and you see all the tourist places. We used The Big Bus Company, you will see people at bus stops selling these tickets, buy your London Eye tickets through them too (trust me it will save you time).
London eye was 54pounds a family of 4.
A pub meal in the city will cost about 40pounds but I was told by a very nice taxi driver that you can get cheap pub meals at the Wetherspoon pubs (they are everywhere, just google).
So that is London done we ended up spending 720.50Pounds. $1250 AUD (remember we had to buy everything here, no self catering facilities).
Oh and buy Harrods bags from the airport they are around 30pounds for ones that look like nice handbags and 17pounds for the shopping totes.

Travel insurance

Get travel insurance no matter how long you are going for! and make sure everything is covered. If you are going to be renting cars while overseas make sure the excess insurance is covered on the travel insurance (and remember not to pay extra for it when renting the car).
We got insure4less travel insurance, the contact is in Scarborough Queensland and they are covered by Lloyds of London. It cost us $790 for 3 months.
You need to remember to defer your private health cover for the time of your travel (call them and ask them about it).

Air Asia

For anyone planning on flying Air Asia, please try to get some Malaysian dollars even if you are not spending any time in Malaysia. It is much cheaper to use Malaysian dollars on the plane for snacks etc... than to use Australian dollars. $100 will give you about 300Malaysian dollars.
Ok the plane was pretty normal and the food was good, the tvs are hand held and cost about 30 Malaysian dollars and you can watch for around 4 hours (or however long the batteries last). The food and drink is reasonably priced, however I do suggest booking your meals when you book your tickets (it is cheaper).
If you do spend the night in KL before flying off to the next destination I suggest just staying at one of the hotels near the airport like Tunes Hotels. We didn't and ended up having to pay $50 return in the taxi to the house we were staying in. Although it was a nice place to stay.
From KL to London again use Malaysian dollars and keep the left overs for your return trip.
Also when booking your flights only order the comfort kit once per person you can take it with you on the other flights (blanket, pillow and eye mask).
If you have travel insurance do not pay extra for the insurance on the flights.
I would fly with Air Asia again with no worries.

Friday, July 9, 2010

$900 = 500pounds :-(

So we went and exchanged $900 for 500pounds. At least I don't plan on shopping in London Town. Our plan is to see everything that is free ie. all churches that start with St. most of them have towers that you can climb and see views from or so I have been told, Buckingham Palace is free from the outside (however this is something I will be paying for), You can see the Tower of London and London Bridge and Big Ben and we will take a short walk along the Thames.
We will more than likely pay to go on the London Eye = 57pounds for a family of 4.
How much is fish and chips??? Hopefully not too expensive.
I will let you all know.
The bus from Stansted to Gatwick is 87.90pounds for family of 4 and 9 pounds for the shuttle to our hotel from there. It may have been a mistake to stay so far out of the city (we'll see).
Oh can anyone tell me how to use the british pounds sign??

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I guess I should tell you what our budget is...

Well to start off our budget for 3 months in Italy including all airfares, accomodation, passports, travel insurance, luggage, taxis, transport, souvenirs, food, utilities, international drivers licence and everything else needed for travelling overseas is $20,000.
Most couples spend $20,000 on a 2-4 week tour of Europe so we plan on stretching it to 3 months.
First things first you really need to be flexible on when you can go, so that when you find extremely cheap airfares you can book them. By buying Air Asia tickets when they were having a sale we saved thousands all up our tickets from the Gold Coast to London return were $1100 each including all taxes. From there we paid for cheap local flights with Meridiana, Ryanair and Easy Jet. If you do not want to go as cheap as Air Asia most of the time you can get a flight to London Return from Brisbane from about $1800 + taxes.
So our airfares have taken up a quarter of our budget ( I did freak out at this, but have done my sums over and over again and everything should work out alright).
Next post will be on the accomodation and also whether it was a good idea flying Air Asia :-).