A Travellerspoint blog

Under the Tuscan sun

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We completely felt at one with George and other celebrity A-listers stopping in Lugano, Switzerland on the way to Italy. It didn't matter that we were only stopping to send post cards to Bodhi's school friends (that were supposed to be sent in Germany). It was all about the vibe...'Versace' and 'Dolce & Gabbana' and all the expensive stuff that we generally consider OTT! It was glamourous and gorgeous and at least we could afford an ice cream for Bodhi, which was enough to keep him happy for another couple of hours on the road.

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Passing in to Italy was strange. Suddenly we were on the autostrade trying to manage toll ticketing machines, new speed signs and the Italian total disregard for road laws, whilst maneuvering around the outskirts of Milan and its heavy industry factories that seem to go on forever. Our first experience with Italian hospitality was on the autostrade at an 'Autogrill' and this did not go particularly well. The service staff bordered on crazy; answering requests with snarls and throwing change back at customers. Meeting up with Renee and Joel, we found that their situation at another service center was much the same, so we were all a bit worried about what was in store. What I can happily state is that it is only the service center staff and supermarket cashiers who hate their jobs and are so angry. Everyone else in Italy is a delight.

Verona was also a delight.  Called 'Little Rome', it is fittingly the romantic setting of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and even has its own colosseum. We lucked in with campsites on a hill overlooking the ancient centre and watched the sun set over the city - a terracotta masterpiece! It was exactly how we imagined Italy to be and opted to stay another night to spend the next day exploring further and eating the first gelato of many. Gelato was to become our Italian "curry wurst". No drama to the waistline though, as long as you choose fruit flavours, right? ;)

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Following Verona was a visit to the Ferrari museum. Despite being an Italian public holiday, when the rest of the country was closed for the day and every other tourist place was also shut, the Ferrari museum was buzzing  and people were zipping around the area in test drive Ferraris for the astronomical price of €200 for 15 minutes. The museum was very modern with all types of bells and whistles, however the older passenger cars were my favorite part of the collection.

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Our plan after the museum was to head to Manarola on the Cinque Terre but as there were no available campsites, we settled for Lerici. The campsite terraced down to the Mediterranean with a spectacular bay view. The sinks were made of marble however the toilets were squats. Where were the bidets? The next day we walked down the rocky steps to have a morning swim in the warm Mediterranean sea. It was such a European scene, with not a skerrick of sand to be seen and bronzed, lean Italians smoking and sunning themselves across the rocks. 

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The next day we headed to Pisa to see a very famous tower. You can actually see it from the outskirts, as the town and its surrounds is particularly flat. Once we got in to the town centre, you walked three minutes and there it was! In fact, that seems to be pretty much all there was! Three majestic marble buildings in a rectangular square along with hordes of tourists and souvenir stands. After doing similar tours in Vietnam, Dave and I felt for the poor souls spilling out of the tour busses and being herded out to view the leaning tower after a 2 hour drive. In Italy, I began to view the tour bus scene as a particular version of Catholic purgatory. That aside, it is always amazing to see something in real life that you have learnt about or seen in pictures since you were a child. 

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Our final stop before hitting Rome was Saturnia. Tuscany is alive with thermal springs and Saturnia is a spring in the middle of the south reached by traveling through kilometers of winding, hilly roads lined with acres and acres of olive groves. Once there you find multiple pools of sulfur springs flowing in to a river. The pools are free and are a popular destination with Italian families touring in camper vans. It was heaps of fun and all of us, except Bodhi, covered ourselves with the rich black mud before rinsing it off underneath a warm waterfall. Something different to do and all our skin felt lovely, albeit still rather smelly, over the next couple of days.

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Posted by TenniLanefamily 00:34 Archived in Italy Comments (3)

 'Follow your Heart' to Switzerland

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Zurich, Switzerland is reported to be the most expensive city in the world, and also, the most livable. It is situated on a crystal blue lake with lush green rolling hills that are dotted with bell-adorned cows. It has all the mod cons for a city of only 350,000 people, with first rate public transport and many housing options, but livable? Hmmm, only if you are earning a Swiss salary!

Anyway, first up Dave...
Four Countries in Forty Minutes
After 12 days of tranquility and blissful 'no-need-to-worry-about-anything' security at the Diamond Way Buddhism Summer Course, we stepped out of our self imposed 'cocoon' and back into the real world. Getting back into the driver's seat was a challenge in itself as the realization dawned upon us that it was now time to aim the Peugeot down the highway towards Zurich. Before long however we were rapidly jolted back into real-world problem solving mode as Penny, our SatNav, spat the dummy. Only minutes out from Immenstadt heading over the alps towards the Austrian border, we found ourselves navigating by what little google maps coverage we could get towards the nearest Peugeot dealership - which we were to subsequently discover was closed for the week. A few more calls to the French roadside assistance number, followed by a lot of guessing and gut feel navigation as we crossed into Austria and lost all 3G data coverage, we finally found a second Peugeot dealer in a town called Hard (no pun intended). We felt less than confident as the manager, who couldn't speak or read English, fiddled with the SatNav controls:- open bonnet, pull fuse, reset SatNav, change SatNav to German, fiddle some more, hand back keys. With hand signals and the few words we could mutually understand, the manager explained that he had simply reinserted the SD memory card that had popped itself out - right underneath the SatNav buttons. Doh!

Back on the road again we cut straight across the corner of Austria, skipped down just inside the Swiss border and then crossed the river into Liechtenstein - four countries in about 40 minutes. Stopping in Vaduz, the capital, just long enough to get the obligatory Liechtenstien stamp in our passports and grab a quick $28 Macca's lunch, we were back in  Switzerland with the feeling that Vaduz was possibly the most expensive city on the planet - but we were yet to experience Zurich prices. 

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Back to me...
It was not part of our initial itinerary to visit Switzerland however we discovered that Zurich hosts the largest street parade in Europe with over a half million people so what could we do but go!  Renee and Joel were immediately convinced and our plan was set to meet up following the summer course and their own adventures in Munich and the Black Forrest.

Switzerland scenery did not disappoint. The huge granite peaks and never ending mountain ranges were dotted with barn houses. The lush green valleys were filled with crystal clear lakes and it was so much fun to travel through seemingly never ending tunnels. The longest was 16km long! 

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In Zurich we stayed in the only hotel we could afford, which was out of the historic center and above a pub. On our first night we considered washing our clothes at a laundromat but found this a challenge. The Swiss do not use laundromats and instead share a washing machine on a rotational roster in their apartment buildings. After finally locating one we decided that the price of $20 per load was too high for us 'tight-arse' Australians. It was time to turn the undies inside out :)

The street parade themed "Follow your Heart" was mammoth. For the first time on our shared journey with the big kids we made drinks by 11:12am and then hit the streets by around 2pm. We laughed, danced and made friends with many random people throughout the rest of the day. The photos really speak for themselves and there are more in the gallery.

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The next day was a quieter affair as we left to a camping ground outside Zurich to a farm with lots of old school play equipment, a flying fox and cuddly animals.  It was just the rest we needed before heading south to Verona, Italy.

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Posted by TenniLanefamily 05:07 Archived in Switzerland Comments (4)

Summer course at the Diamond Way Buddhism Europe Center

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I sit writing this entry one day after leaving the Diamond Way Buddhist summer course. Yesterday morning we packed up our tent and belongings, leaving behind over 4000 people from all parts of eastern and western Europe, the America's and Australia. 

What an experience! The Europe Center sits on 65 hectares of gorgeous Bavarian countryside in the deep southern region of Germany overlooking the Austrian alps. It is a showcase of German efficiency as the two week course, including the set up of two massive tents is constructed and maintained by the German sangha (Buddhist community) and  approximately 400 daily volunteers. This includes providing meals for all the participants three times per day, managing two stores, one cafe as well as six hours of childcare daily for kids aged from birth to 16 years! Plus a laundry service!

However, I digress from the most impressive part of the course and this was the opportunity for Dave and myself to meditate regularly, reconnect with our local sangha friends, spend time with the international sangha, gain teachings from our teacher, Lama Ole, and H.H the 17th Karmapa who heads our Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. 

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Meditation and teachings were provided in sessions three times per day and although there was no set rules of attendance, Dave and I found the opportunity to spend time doing this together inspirational, and basically ran up the hill for the start of each session. We would drop Bodhi off at Pirate Bay (childcare) where he happily played with kids from all over the world. His closest buddies were two boys from Russia and Belgium who couldn't speak a word of English. What they could speak was "5 year old boy" and it is hard to describe the uplifting feeling we felt watching them happily play and communicate with one another. We were pretty blissed out :)

I may sound a bit gushy but this is honestly the way it affected the both of us. We completed the Phowa course on Conscious Dying - me for the first time. Liberating! Of course, we now must harness our enthusiasm and energy for regular practice back home as it is a whole lot easier to meditate in the beautiful, stress-free haven of the Europe Center than during the business of our usual daily lives. But we will do it!

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Posted by TenniLanefamily 02:25 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

One month later...

recollections of our Dutch and German travels.

all seasons in one day

So, here we are in Italy. It has been more than a month since we've written anything about our trip so I'm spending this time looking through the photos and reminiscing with the family about our recent experiences and favourite times. I can happily state that the reason we have not posted anything is that we have been having too much fun visiting wonderful places and hanging out with Renee and Joel. Spending time as a family, sitting around a camper van, chatting about life, dreams and the world has been far more interesting than trying to find wifi. Sorry about the delay and we hope this does not bore you! Now bring on the memories…
 

Amsterdam

Renee’s birthday equaled pancakes, sunflowers, playing cards and eating cake - the good stuff! Shame that Renee still never got to experience the ‘summer birthday’ but we all had a really good time regardless of the weather. We did really try to enjoy a few cultural experiences such as Anne Frank's house and the Van Gough museum however the queues were enormous and we were thoroughly enjoying just being there and wandering around the canals whilst dodging bicycles and the exceptionally quiet trams. The obligatory (and cultural) walk through the red light district was difficult given that we were sheltering the scene from our little man. We figured we were stealth until the next day when Bodhi bought Renee a wind chime gift and told her that he liked the chosen house more than the "chime with one of those naked ladies from last night". Whoops - add it to the list! 

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 Obviously staying on the boat was a different experience for us all. We fed a family of swans through the bathroom porthole and slept below the water line falling asleep to the gentle swishing motion of the bay. Amsterdam was quirky and fun to experience with both our eldest and youngest child (and boyfriend in law). However, after paying a hefty parking fine, having an expensive haircut and not at all enjoying an overpriced massage by unqualified Chinese hookers (truly, in our naivety we thought you could find a legit massage in Amsterdam – error), we realised that it was time to move on from Amsterdam and head to Germany.

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Germany

We started our travels through Germany by racing along the autobahn at speeds up to 160km/hr, making sure that we moved out of the fast lane as  an amazing number of BMW, Saab and Mercedes cars made us look like we were standing still. Dave found it a quiet thrill however, to pass a police car doing 135 km. 

Germany is very green. Not only because of its thick forests that line the edge of the road side but also because of the amount of green technology in use. There was literally hundreds of wind turbines across the different regions. Entire roofs of houses and industry buildings were blanketed in solar panels and there were was a large number of solar farms. Bodhi was memorized.

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Our first stop was Hamburg. Chosen for its half way location to Berlin and given a good write up by the Lonely Planet, we decided it sounded ideal. It certainly was for Dave and Joel who fell instantly in love with the price of beer. Cheaper than water, soft drink and basically every other possible beverage, beer featured heavily throughout the rest of Germany in each day's itinerary.

Unfortunately it seemed that beer also featured heavily in many other Germans lives and the amount of damaged people drinking on the street, especially around the entrances to train stations, was disturbing. On one occasion we exited the Central Hamburg station on the 'wrong' side and literally came across people comatose in doorways and maniacal screaming. It was challenging to keep these images from Bodhi who notices everything. It was even more of a challenge to do this in the laundromat one early morning, where a man was stripped to his shorts, washing his shirt and socks while drinking a bottle of red. 

Our one and only child free date was to the (in)famous Reeperbahn, where the Beatles, in the words of John Lennon "grew up". Imagine a mix of Northbridge and Kings Cross, then put the whole lot on steroids and you have it covered. We actually didn't even last for a drink but now at least have an idea of it all.

From Hamburg we travelled on to Berlin via Luneburg, described as "wobbly town". It was picturesque however we believe that York in England maintains the European title for 'wobbly'. In Berlin we stayed in an apartment in the area of Mitte and it was on our first morning in Berlin that Dave and Joel discovered their second love; currywurst. Currywurst are pork sausages deep fried in oil, sliced and served with a generous helping of curry flavored tomato sauce. A side of fries is optional and even more fattening. This became our morning, lunch and often afternoon snack of choice. Our arteries were thickening day by day!

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Berlin was historically amazing and we visited many sites including Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Unter den Linden and the gorgeous Tiergarten (gardens). The Berlin Wall Documentation  Center at Checkpoint Charlie was especially interesting as it detailed the history of the wall with exciting tales of successful and attempted escapes from East Germany. The East Side Gallery is 1.3km of the remaining original  wall and was a visual feast. Check out our extra uploaded pics.

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More emotionally harrowing were those sites accounting Nazi horrors including the Topographie des Terrors, the Holocaust Memorial and a visit to the Sachsenhausen  Concentration Camp 35km north of Berlin. It is not easy to explain to a five year old the terror of the Nazi regime. Bodhi could not understand why and in the end simplified it himself to Hitler being an evil baddy who forced others to do terrible things as well.  At the concentration camp, he wanted to respond in writing as others were doing.  His poignant message written by himself stated "It makes me sad and lonely because Hitler did bad things." It made us all sad and we were ready to move on.

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The Romantic Road

The Romantic Road is a tourist route roughly 200km long that travels along Southern Germany's B roads between Wurzburg and Fussen. Renee and Joel believe B stands for 'beautiful' and they are happy to travel these roads as their van, Jasper, is straining at 100km/hr plus it helps them avoid road tolls. Dave disagrees as he goes for speed and argues that the A (autobahn) roads stands for "awesome". For this leg of the journey however, it was all B roads and we would not have had it any other way.

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In the end even Dave had to admit that driving at a leisurely pace through the Bavarian country side was indeed beautiful. Postcard scenery, fairy tale castles and great fun camping out with Renee and Joel made for a sensational couple of days. All this was topped off when the hotel we had booked last minute, and because it was cheap, turned out to be an absolutely sensational Bavarian building sitting literally at the foot of the Neuschwanstein Castle. A truly unbelievable place to have stayed! 

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Posted by TenniLanefamily 08:30 Archived in Netherlands Comments (6)

Chocolate and beer makes for happy travelers

in Brugge, Belgium.

semi-overcast

Belgium rocks. All we actually got to experience was a whirlwind two nights in Brugge (the Venice of the north), but it was superb. The people were friendly, the scenery was straight from a fairy tale and the food was delicious. We walked into the piazza on a balmy evening and found the square filled with locals dancing Argentinian tango whilst crowds sat around drinking Belgian brews and politely cheering them on. The weather was just a glimpse once again however, as the morning teemed with rain. We were chatting with an Indian immigrant who was feeling very frustrated at the months being taken to install a fountain in front of his Subway franchise. In his own words "What for we want this artificial water? Only 60 days in one year we see blue sky...normal people can not to be living this way!" All we could do was agree.

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Another favorite aspect of Brugge was our brand new budget hotel where the rooms were like mini pods. Everything fitted and had its purpose. For those people who fantasize about living in an IKEA showroom - we were living the dream!  

We completely lost all sense of healthy living and tucked in to meaty Flemish stews, all you can eat ribs smothered in beer and chocolate sauce, cherry beer, chocolate waffles, chocolate mousse and hot chocolates. Spot the theme?

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Next stop is Amsterdam where we are meeting Renee and Joel later tonight at our houseboat on the Amstel river. It is exciting to catch up with them after 8 months! We have decided to spoil ourselves and Renee for her birthday with this different type of home for the next four nights. We have also decided it is best that we updated the blog before the memories become too hazy :) Just joking, this does not need to be added as Number 5 on our Bad Parenting 101 list!

Posted by TenniLanefamily 23:43 Archived in Belgium Comments (0)

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