Wednesday, September 28, 2011

After our visitors left…Venice

Taking children to Venice is very interesting.  Children don’t really understand that there are no roads or cars in Venice until they see it for themselves.  Levi was so amazed that the only transport in Venice was “really, truly” only boats that it was quite comical.  Phoenix was really happy and loved that the only way to get around was via boat, his happiness soon ended when he realised we would be walking more than travelling on boats.

The water buses are quite expensive, It cost around $200 AUD for 3 days of water bus tickets for the 4 of us.  We did buy the tickets but probably did not take enough advantage of the water buses.  They were very crowded whenever we hopped on one and we felt like we were missing out on seeing parts of Venice you could easily do on foot.

P8100082 P8100150

Another thing that happens to you (as a parent) is that while walking along the canals you are constantly telling your children to move away from the edge of the footpath.  I have 2 very curious boys and have found them in fountains before so I was very conscious of keeping them out of the canal water.


Just an example of what the footpaths are like and how there are no railings along the edge, so please be wary of this when taking the kids to Venice.


We found out that there was a beach the boys could swim at a short boat ride away.  Lido is an island with free and private beaches on it, you can also hire bicycles to ride on the island (another great thing to enjoy with the kids).

 P8110270The boys in the water at the beach, just before they got stung by a jellyfish.  It was not a very bad sting, there was not screaming or crying.  I don’t even think it left much of a mark, and the boys got back into the water after without fear.

So there are many activities you can enjoy in Venice with your children depending on the season.  Children are free most of the time to enter galleries and museums, but the Italians do not sensor anything so please do not be surprised if you walk into something you need to explain to your children (let’s just say we had a lot of explaining to do one day).

One more photo, this one is from the St Marks Bell Tower at night of the cars coming and going from Venice.  That road over the water is the only way to get to Venice via car or train.


babies and weddings…

wow, it has been a long time between posts.  Sorry about that everyone.

Actually this post comes at a very exciting time.  In my last post I mentioned Mark and Rachel had visited us in Florence.  Well this weekend Mark and Rachel are getting married and recently they welcomed little Hunter Daniel into their beautiful family.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Some unexpected visitors… Italy part 5

While we were in Viareggio we got a phone call from Iain’s cousin Mark saying that He and his fiancée were standing in front of our Florence apartment.  After a little confusion and a short drive we discovered it hadn’t been our apartment but another across town.  Mark and Rachel decided to join us in Viareggio then head back to Florence with our keys to the apartment to wash some clothes. They were travelling Europe in a large van.
Camping in Europe can save you money.  You can stay in camping grounds just outside of the major cities and use the trains and buses nearby, this is good if you are driving around Europe.  Many campgrounds also have cabins and caravans for rent.
We decided to show Mark and Rachel our favourite spots in Florence.  Iain was excited to have someone to share a beer with and I was glad to have another female to talk to.  Iain and Mark tried about 20 different beers together because beer is about $1.50 AUD in Florence.  We really enjoyed having some familiar faces and accents with us for a few days.
When travelling around Europe don’t be afraid to talk to other tourists, quite often you may find you are from the same country perhaps even the same city. And if they have children with them the kids can play and have fun together.  We often met British travellers with children on our outings and spent time comparing notes and letting the kids play football or Nintendo ds games.  It is great if you get to have time with others doing the same as you and sharing places you may not have been to yet.
More tips and tricks for travelling in Europe with kids coming soon…

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Part 4 Italy…Our 1st holiday away from our “home” in Florence

After spending a few days in Florence we decided we might take advantage of the hot weather and head to a very popular beach town Viareggio. 

Viareggio is a Tuscan town on the Mediterranean Sea.   Easily reached by car on the motorway or by train from anywhere in Italy or Europe. The following Tuscany towns are near a convenient distance: Florence (80 km), Siena (130 Km), Lucca and Pisa (20 Km) with an international Airport. Easily reachable are also the islands of the Tuscany Archipelago, and sights as the Apuan Alps, Le 5 Terre (5 completely secluded villages beautifully situated at the coast), lakes etc.

The reason we picked Viareggio was for the simple fact that it was accessible by train and had plenty of hotels available.  Our landlady thought it was a bad idea to go to Viareggio in July because it is the time many Italians go to the beach for their annual summer holiday. But we were very lucky because it didn’t seem any busier than the beaches at home (ie. The Gold Coast, Australia).

As mentioned above Florence is only 80km from Viareggio (1hr 20mins on the train). The train cost about €20 from Florence SMN – Viareggio. We walked from Viareggio to our hotel (30mins) it cost  €10 in the taxi.  I would suggest either booking a hotel within 10mins walk of the train station  or getting a taxi to your hotel.  The beach is a 10 minute walk from the train station straight down narrow streets with beautiful terrace housing all sporting gorgeous balconies and wooden shutters to keep the heat out.

Viareggio has a big carnival once a year called Il Carnevale from mid February to mid March every year.  After quite a bit of research I believe it is a wonderful time to head to Viareggio if in the area at that time of year.

Eating in Viareggio

We found that the main restaurants were quite expensive (main meal of pasta €15+).

The places that were busy were the pizza cafes and the gelaterias (gelato/ice cream). We found a great little pizza shop that had slices of pizza from €3 and bottles of coke €1.50 fantastic for lunches.  Beware of the shops selling “cooked” food at the beaches (cafes on the beach where you pay for your spot on the beach), you will be served a microwaved meal. yuk.  Our favourite meal at Viareggio came straight off a boat down near the main jetty. It was a tray of mixed deep fried and battered seafood (calamari, fish, octopus, prawns) with hot chips all cooked on the boat.  We paid €20 for enough mixed seafood for the 4 of us (it ended up being too much, we ate it anyway because it tasted so good).

Coffee can range from 80c to €3 we found that you could enjoy a cappuccino for €1.

Beach or beaches

In Australia the beach is free everywhere.  Things are different in Italy there is a strip of beach with several beaches on it each owned by a different hotel, this is how it is in Viareggio anyway. If you stay in a hotel with a beach you can use it at no extra cost, however if you stay in a hotel that doesn’t own a beach you have to pay a daily rate to sit on the beach. It costs approx. €20 for a spot on the sand with an umbrella and 2 beach chairs. €10 per day for a beach chair. 

  • You CANNOT put your towel down and sit on the beach without paying a fee.
  • You CANNOT stand on the beach in one spot to watch your children swim without paying a fee.
  • You CAN walk on a 2-3 metre wide stretch of beach where the water comes in for FREE but you must keep moving

There is a free beach in Viareggio down next to the jetty with big rocks in the water and cigarette butts and rubbish in the sand (the private pay beaches are cleaned every afternoon).

If you pay for an umbrella spot you get to use it from 10am to 10pm just leave a towel there when you go to get lunch, this is what the locals do.


You will notice people walking on the beach trying to sell things and massages on the beach.  Do NOT buy anything, just say no thank you (most of them speak english) or close your eyes and pretend you are asleep they normally go right on by (but hold on to your bag).

Note: I do not want any of the “warnings” I have posted to deter you from visiting these places with your family. Viareggio is really beautiful and safe there are just little things that you should know about to make your trip easier and have no “surprises”.


Apuan Mountains

The mountains are just minutes from the beach. There are amazing bicycle tracks that you can take through the national parklands. There are a few places that you can hire bicycles at the entrance to the parklands.

Viareggio was a favourite place for the boys as they love the water and the sand.

We stayed at Hotel Lukas in Viareggio in the family room.  It is self rated at 3 stars.  The family room was clean and had an en suite bathroom, 4 single beds, a wardrobe, small tv and small fridge. At €120 per night with breakfast and an English speaking owner it was good.

If you have stayed in Viareggio please leave a comment with your thoughts.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sorry it’s been a while… managing the budget in Italy part 3

Well I have been a bit busier at my part time day job so have neglected my blogging a little.

Where did I finish off last time?  That’s right we were in Florence … eating Smile

So I have covered:

* where to find cheaper eats in Florence

* the cost of climbing the Duomo

* Street signs (for if you are looking for something/where)

* supermarkets (supermercato: essalunga and coop)

* day trips on the train

Now the next part of our journey was the big tour bus for Florence to get an idea of what to do and where to go in Florence during our 3 month stay.

We did a “hop on hop off” bus tour with Florence Open Tour buses.

* At the moment they are having a fantastic deal from 15 July-30 July 2011, you can buy a 24 hour ticket for $16.21 AUD (normally $27). So if you happen to be reading this blog and are heading to or are in Florence now for a few weeks book your tour NOW.

Our tour began across the road from Stazione Firenze SMN (Santa Maria Novella) We hopped on the bus and travelled through the city.  For our first trip we decided to stay on the bus until we returned to the same place and decided where to get off on the next round.  This way we saw everything and it only took about 1 hour for the bus to do the whole trip. This was the idea, although when we saw Piazzale Michelangelo we hopped off to see the wonderous view of the city we were making home for 3 months. And what a view that was.


The view of the Duomo


Ponte Vecchio

more to come…. soon I promise.

Please feel free to leave comments and let me know what you think of my posts.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Managing the Budget in Italy part 2

The Pasta alla Norma I cooked:


It may not look that great but it tasted great!  Yum i love eggplant (aubergine).

Back in Florence:

A normal touristi day out in Florence might include a walk to the Duomo to climb up the stairs to the top of the dome.  You and the kids will love it.  To find your way to the Duomo is not too hard, it is in the centre of the city and you can normally see the dome or the bell tower.  But there are street signs everywhere with directional arrows like this:


These signs are everywhere in Florence, the best ones point you to the Public Toilets. Smile

When you find the Duomo do not enter from the front of the church (you will no doubt find many people lined up to go in this way) They are lined up to see inside the church (chiesa) not to climb the dome.  The dome entrance is to the left of the main entrance where the church joins the dome.  It costs €8 , the climb is not easy if you are in a rush, so get there when it opens at 8.30am Monday to Friday.  I only say this because you climb narrow stairs one way and you cannot stop as people cannot pass you.  You want to get there early and take it easy so that you don’t tire too much.  My sons were 10 and 8 when they did it, they got to the top before me so it wasn’t as hard for them as it was for me.  At the very top there is a set of stairs that is more like a ladder that you have to climb to get out onto the top of the Duomo. I recommend wearing pants or shorts (I wore a dress, this was not such a great idea especially at the top of the ladder Smile).  The burning calves and slight breathlessness is all worth it when you get to the top and see the amazing views of Florence from the dome. Then if you are game you can climb the bell tower as well.



Really if you get in the door at 8.30am you will be well and truly back down on the ground by 11am, then you can stretch out your sore legs and look for somewhere to eat lunch. 

Buying lunch in Florence

Do not be tempted to buy something from the restaurants near the Duomo (this is the most expensive area and you probably won’t be happy with the food) In fact wonder down the back streets and alleyways for better food.  Try a trattoria for traditional Italian food like pasta, bistecca fiorentina (famous dish) and pizza.  However a place we found that sold really tasty pizza was near the Santa Maria Novella on Via Panzani called Franco Express (or it was the place next door with Moka Efti above the door) There is an EXTYN Italia near by on the same side of the street.  I am telling you this because the pizza tasted good, it was hot and they had a toilet in the back.

If you must buy takeaway, find a small local grocer or supermarket , even a 99c shop for you drinks because for the price of one bottle of soft drink at a takeaway you can get 4 at a supermarket.  The 99c shops are great because everything inside is literally 99c even the cold drinks.

Back in Australia

We are off to a 25th Anniversary tonight, so Italy is to be continued…

Ciao for now


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Managing the budget in Italy part 1

Our first problem with money arose as soon as we landed in Florence (firenze).  We put 3000EU on a “cash passport card” before we left Australia so that we would be able to use it in an ATM when we landed in Italy.  Iain went to the ATM and it would not let him withdraw money so we had a slight panic attack in the airport because we had to have Euros to get a taxi to our apartment. (freak).

In a desperate bid to get Euros we found the exchange in the airport and it cost us $300 to exchange money.  A mistake we hope not to repeat in the future. 

*Lesson learned is that when going to a different country have some currency available in cash on you before leaving home.  Otherwise you could end up using a weeks worth of food money to exchange a small amount of cash.

Always ask the taxi driver what the fare will be before entering the car.  This way you know how much you will pay.  The taxi drivers normally only charge you what they estimated in Italy or they will turn the meter off and just charge you what they estimated.  In most cities of Italy we found that taxi’s were 25Euros from the airport/train station to hotels.  It is easier to budget for this the first time you land in a city then work out the public transport for you return trip (you will save about 20Euros).  Our taxi from Rome Termini (train station) to our apartment in Campo Dei Fiori cost 25 Euros and the bus ride cost 4Euros (the 4 of us).  Then because the ticket machine on the bus was broken we gave our bus tickets to someone waiting at the train station (they had 4 free rides on the bus).

Back to Florence (firenze)…

Once we had met our land lady at our apartment, she showed us how to get to the nearest supermarket (supermercato) Coop (Italy’s Coles equivalent) pronounce co-op.

Coop is great value, our weekly grocery bill in Australia is between $150-200 for 2 adults and 2 boys aged 11 and 8.  In Italy we averaged 90-150 Euros, I included take out food in this budget.  For instance if we spent only 90 Euros at Coop we could then (if needed) use 60Euros during the week while we were sight seeing to buy coffee (cafe), cold drinks, pastries, pizza etc.…

I did do a lot of cooking in the apartment to save on eating out. 

* Budge tip- Head out for sight seeing early before 9am (eat breakfast before leaving accommodation).  Most Italians are at work before then and most tourists will not be out of bed before 10am.  If you spend the morning sight seeing then get hungry at lunch time you can head back to you accommodation to eat some of the fresh food you bought at the supermarket.

* Carry a bottle of water with you, you can fill it up at taps on the streets (most of these are fresh spring water) It will have a sign saying not to drink it if it is no good.

* Get accommodation that is central to where you will be spending most of your time, that way it is not a chore to walk back for lunch, dinner etc.…Also you can walk everywhere and not worry about using public transport except when you are exhausted.

Just a little tip on the public transport in Italy, buy your tickets at the self service machines you can use English.  It gets easier to use the self service machines at the train stations the more you use them… for example a day trip from Florence to Pisa:

  • find the self service machine (one that works)
  • press the British flag (touch screen)
  • press the station you are at e.g. Florence SMN
  • press the station you want to go to e.g. Pisa Centrale
  • it will then ask what time you want to leave and what class you want to be in (1st or 2nd) I recommend sticking to 2nd unless you really need a table
  • Choose your tickets (2 adults, 2 children)
  • Then it will ask if you have any discounts (just pick BASE fare)
  • Then pay with cash or credit card and the tickets will pop out the bottom of the machine
  • If you would like return tickets, do the same again but with the stations the other way around.
  • Last but most important before getting on the train VALIDATE YOUR TICKET if you do not you will get a hefty fine.  (the validation box is yellow and is normally on the platform as you enter it).
  • It should be less than 30Euros for 2 adults and 2 children return.


You can then catch a bus from Pisa Centrale to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  There are many places to walk around in this area of Pisa and some well priced restaurants (look for lunch deals Pizza and drink 5Euros).  You don’t need to worry about getting lost, just ask someone to point you back in the direction of the Leaning Tower and you can find your bus stop from there. We wandered streets and alleyways in Pisa and saw what you normally wouldn’t see as a tourist, don’t worry about the time in Pisa because you are only an hour away from your accommodation in Florence and your return tickets can be used on most 2nd class carriages back (just ask if in doubt).

Back in Australia tonight I am going to cook a Sicilian dish I saw on the television last night… Pasta alla norma : It is a tomato based sauce with fried eggplant and rigatoni pasta.  I will let you know how it turned out in my next post.

Ciao for now…

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

more on the budget…

now where did I leave off with the last post???  :-)

Ok still in London…

We took a ride on the Big Bus Tour for 2 days, I believe we purchased a ticket for 48 hours that was less than 120GBP .  We thought it well worth it to get around London with a guide and to hop on and off the buses whenever and wherever we wanted to.  The boys loved being on the double decker buses (except when it rained…it is London after all).

London 029

From the bus we saw Buckingham Palace, Covent Garden, Marble Arch, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and St Paul’s Cathedral and of course many other historical buildings…oh I mustn’t forget the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.

The boys wanted to go on the London Eye, we got a discount with the Big Bus ticket and lined up in an extremely long line but it didn’t take as long as we thought it would, luckily the Bus Tour provided us with rain ponchos.  The view from the Eye was great and would’ve have been even better on a clear day.


I am not sure if I mentioned this in the last post but we often had breakfast at the train station before starting our day.  Cumberland sausage on a muffin and coffee is 2GBP or you can get a Bacon and Egg sub and coffee from Subway for 2GBP also.  Great way to start the day on a budget.

Next post will feature budgets for;

  • flights to Florence from London
  • accommodation in Italy
  • food in Italy
  • transport in Italy

Ciao for now…

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The total budget for our 3 month holiday in Europe

It has been 6 months since we arrived back home from our 3 month holiday in Europe.

Our first money saver was using Air Asia to get from Australia to the UK.  You may think “Oh no! I am not using a budget airline to travel to Europe”.  But really, I have used QANTAS and Singapore Airlines the only difference was that we paid for extra meals and drinks that we had not pre ordered when booking.  Also because the flight was not Non Stop we spent 1 night in Kuala Lumpur (you can get a room at the airport from $29).  1 night stop over is a small price to pay when you are saving $$$’s on airfares. 

You may even ask about space on Air Asia? I am 176cm tall/ 5ft9in when I sat in the seats I had about 5cm/2in in front of my knees.  And on our trip over I ended up with the window seat, an empty seat next to me and 1 of my children in the aisle seat.

Now I know you are wondering what our airfares cost from the Gold Coast to London.

2 Adults and 2 Children

Gold Coast to Kuala Lumpur $679.60

Kuala Lumpur to London $757.25

So less than $360 each to get to London from the Gold Coast.

It cost the same to return from London.

$2873.70 return for 2 Adults and 2 Children.  Hint: go to the Air Asia website and sign up for email alerts and sales.

Malaysia 013

Tune Hotels is a great place to start when looking for your 1 night accommodation in Kuala Lumpur (hint; stay near the LCCT).

When we landed in London (Stansted Airport) we caught the bus to our hotel.  It cost about 15pounds each which is a little steep when there is 4 of you.  I had made the mistake of booking a hotel 45 minutes from the centre of London, so our bus ride ended at Gatwick Airport where we then had to find our hotel shuttle bus (we waited an hour with 2 very tired children, 4 large suitcases and 4 carry on bags).  What I learned from this mistake was that it is better to pay a little bit more (not much) for a central B&B / hotel / apartment and try somewhere close to Victoria Station so that when you get off the bus from the airport you can walk to your accommodation. (hint: the bus from Stansted to Victoria Station is 9pounds).  You can get a room for 4 in a B&B for about 90pounds a night.

If you are trying to budget your holiday the way we did you must remember that not all accommodation is going to be great- if you can live with a small space for sleeping and showering you will do well. You will only be sleeping there.  Also, if you get a place that has breakfast included you are saving about 10pounds a day in London.

Pick up an Oyster Card for the tube and buses in the city, 30pounds each and you get 15 pounds credit (Only Adults need this, children are free).

Places to eat in London for families:

STEER clear of MacDonalds and KFC: we had KFC once in London it cost us almost $50AUD.


As you will be out and about find Marks & Spencers (M&S) you can get deals like : gourmet sandwiches, choc or chips & a soft drink for 3pounds.  If you are lucky and your B&B lets you use the fridge and microwave you can buy soups, frozen meals etc… from Marks & Spencers.


A really great taxi driver told us to eat at Wetherspoon Pubs.  The trick is to eat there after 2pm you can get a fish and chips meal for 2.95pounds.  Before 2pm is not that bad the fish and chips will cost 6.95pounds.


A cafe we found to be quite reasonable was Pret A Manger.  Remember to carry a bottle of water around with you.  We refilled our bottles everywhere from the tap (it tastes just like water at home and none of us got sick).



FREE!!! Fantastic for you and the kids (you can tell them to behave and they can have something for 5 pounds in the Museum shop).



FREE!!! Head to the parks after a couple of hours walking in the city.  The kids can run free and chase squirrels.  If you head to Kensington Park there is a huge playground with a ship and teepees and musical fun, whats better is it is fully fenced and there is a cafe.

Stay tuned for more…

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mmm... Croque Monsieur was my best friend in Paris

I say this because the kids were absolutely over the moon when we would stop for a break at a cafe that served Croque Monsieur (ham and cheese toasted sandwich only better).

Croque Monsieur
I was first introduced to these delectible sandwiches in Australia at a french inspired cafe (in a foodcourt no less).  I love that there is a beschamel on the top and it goos out when you eat the sandwich.  Not so good if you are watching your weight (stay away from this one).   But for the kids it is great and cheap from the fast food cafes in Paris.  There is also Croque Madame which is basically the same but with a fried egg included.

Yummy!  My 2 sons had one everyday for breakfast and were hardly ever complaining of hunger for lunch, they cost about 3-5 Euros with juice at a cafe.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Kensington Palace with the kids

Let me just say I am a total fan of the Royal family and am looking forward to watching the William & Kate wedding on 29 April 2011. The last Royal wedding I watched on television was the Andrew & Sarah wedding and we all know how that marriage turned out. But I have faith that William and Kate will work on having a successful marriage together.

I am extremely devastated that I cannot be in London for the wedding to see all the preparations and be part of the very crowded street for the procession. The wedding will be held in Westminster Abbey where Prince Charles and Diana were married.

London is one of the cities I visited in 2010, unfortunately in the short time I was there with my family we were unable to visit Westminster Abbey. It will be one of my first ports of call when I visit London again. I must add that when I arrived in London city I fell in love with all of the architecture, fashion, large parks and even the traffic and crowds.

I spent a lot of time in the parks with my husband and sons climbing trees and chasing squirrels. Our favorite park was Kensington Park with the playground and Princess Diana Memorial. We spent several hours at the playground with the kids, it has so many activities for children of all ages. There is a large ship with a mast to climb, Indian tepees to hide in and musical toys to play with. We used the playground as a “bribe” at the end of a sight seeing day. It worked well especially when I wanted to visit Harrods and Kensington Palace.

We were very lucky that while we were in London, Kensington Palace had a fantastic exhibition that the kids could participate in. Now I must admit is was more suited to little girls but my sons did have fun looking for clues and working out which princess had which bedroom. My boys and I also learned a lot about the lives of the royal children. There was a display of the prince’s toy soldiers that the kids could actually play with.

Kensington Palace has been home to many Royal family members including Princess Victoria. The Palace in undergoing a transformation this year and hopefully be finished in 2012. The Palace gardens are being cleaned up and replanted (this was happening while we visited in Oct 2010). With the help of donations the Palace will be cleaned and refurbished too.

A family ticket for Kensington Palace cost £34.00 (2010) AUD$55.00

How to find Kensington Park and Palace:

Get the tube to Kensington South station and simply follow the signs to Kensington Palace, the Palace is in the park, there are many signs for the playground and the memorial.

London Tube prices:

Adult fares for city: £4

Children up to 11years: Free with an adult.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Paris on a budget...part 1

We all know that when you go to Paris on vacation all you want to do is go shopping and enjoy a little romance, but what do you do when you go with your children?

Bois de Boulogne
Well there are so many fun exciting adventures you can have with your children in Paris that are Free or low cost.

For example there are a lot of very large beautiful parks and gardens in Paris. Here is a list of parks and the activities available:
Bois De Boulogne
Area: 845 hectares

Lakes, waterfalls, Chateaus, playgrounds, sports centres, bicycle tracks, horse tracks, walking tracks, restaurants, fairgrounds...

The park is free entry, the playgrounds are free and fun, the walking tracks are great and the kids will love chasing the wildlife down the dirt tracks (dress your kids for having fun, let them enjoy themselves at the park without worrying about their clothes).

Bike rentals: at the entrance to Jardin d' Acclimatation approx. 11euros each for the day (2010 price) You can easily spend a whole day cycling in this park. Even if you have not ridden a bike in years you will love this (I hadn't ridden a bike in over 20 years). The bicycles are not the best but they work, you can choose your own bike so test the height of the seat and the brakes before you ride away. Tip for handbags: always carry a scarf in your handbag and when you hire a bike with a basket put the handbag straps over the handlebars and cover the bag with your scarf for security.

Jardin d'Acclimatation

stayed tuned for part 2...