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Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Sri Lanka - elephants, wild peacocks, baby monkeys at play, incredible food, even more incredible beaches, and a ghetto surfboard!

We only had 8 days in Sri Lanka but it seemed so much longer, in a good way! We stayed in Sigiriya in the centre of the island for 4 nights. This was the only element of the trip which I had planned in advance. It was a homestay I found on airbnb - Lal's homestay - and I had arranged with Lal by email that his brother would meet us at the airport so that our arrival would be simple. Everything worked like clockwork (which was good as the journey there was exhausting, with a 5am departure from Jordan, 2 flights, and a three hour drive at the end arriving at 1am). The homestay turned out to be just what we were after - simple clean rooms with a friendly family with the added bonus of delicious home-cooked food every day  - the only problem was our inability to eat all that they provided us with. As well as this Lal's garden was a treasure trove of delights - from a chameleon we spotted one day, to the many monkeys who came to play several times a day.

Sigiriya itself was a tiny town with few shops to distract us but plenty of cafes with free wifi for doing beach school in with the kids each day. And there there is the thing that Sigiriya is famous for - The Sigiriya Rock, which was cool ! But crazy, and with a crazy history.

Its history is that a mad king a whole bunch of years ago (about 700) fell out with his father -  now, we've all done that... but this dude took the thing to extremes. The father began it all by bestowing the crown on the elder brother, Moggallana, so the Ed Miliband of this family, Kassapa, went to his father and demanded redress. Specifically he said to him "I'll kill you if you don't tell me where your treasure is so that I can at least have that." OK, I think it's fair to say the Miliband clan comparison has broken down now, I'm pleased to say. The father responded to this by saying, "Let me gaze one last time upon my famous irrigation system and I will tell you." (Already makes no sense, btw, if he were to tell him it wouldn't have to be the last time, would it?) So Kassapa agreed, and they went to the waterworks whereupon said father gathered the water in his hands and let the droplets fall through and said "This is my treasure. There is no other."

So Kassapa was understandably pissed off at being led up the garden path by this load of baloney, but, as I mentioned earlier, kind of overreacted. The guidebooks say he walled his father up in a room and left him to die. But I bet he didn't actually wall him up himself, I bet he got someone else to do it for him.

Having done this he then tried to kill his brother (the David Miliband of the family, OK I'll stop this analogy now, I promise) who upon escaping the assassination attempt (you see, he didn't even try to kill his brother himself, he got someone else to do it for him) fled to India. Meanwhile, Kassapa, concluded that hanging round his old dad's palace trying to get things done was looking at bit dicey what with having created so many enemies, and so high-tailed it off to the very middle of Sri Lanka, and found a great big rock to climb up in a place called Sigiriya. And then he built a palace on top of this rock - it is an astonishing achievement, and an astonishing sight to see, even though the remains of the palace are only ruins. The rock stands almost alone in the flat landscape and it is in fact a bunch of massive boulders shoved together by geological events in the distant past, and it is a long very breezy exposed climb, even with stairs built upon it. It is impossibly situated, atop 600 foot high boulders which would be hard enough to scale without ropes and pietons, let alone to climb with a bunch of bricks on your back and build a palace on top. As you climb you can see the original footsteps cut into the rock by the climbers of so many hundreds of years ago who must have carried vast quantities of bricks up to the top to build the palace. So, as the guidebooks say, Kassapa built his palace on top of the wildly inaccessible Sigiriya rock - but I bet he didn't built it himself..

So the story of how the palace was built is pretty insane, and the story of how this King then lost his power and his life, is also pretty mental.

The older brother, Moggellan, ie David Miliband (sorry, I promised to stop doing that), spent the 7 years that Kassapa had spent getting people to build him a palace on top of a rock, in India gathering an army of mercenaries to come and wage war with this nutter of a brother and reclaim his title. Word reached Kassapa that Moggellana was on his way determined to defeat him and so Kassapa gathered his troops together to set about defending his palace, which was by now handily placed on top of a high rock. Should be easy, huh? Well, here's a great way to lose an unassailable position - come down from it even before the enemy makes you.

Yup, Kassapa decided that the thing that would most put the fear of God into his brother would be the sight of him riding out to wage battle with him on top of an elephant. Because this was exactly analagous to the time of Hannibal and his brother would never have seen anyone riding an elephant before, what with being from Sri Lanka and everything.. Apparently, Kassapa's aides tried to remonstrate with him with arguments such as  "But, almighty and crazed one, wouldn't it be better if we defended the rock from, er, the top of the rock?" and "If you ride out on the elephant and the elephant runs away in fear at the sight of the army then what's going to happen to me and the rest of us? Death or slavery, that's what." But Kassapa wouldn't listen, and instead rode boldly out on his elephant, who instantly took fright at the sight of Moggellana's army and ran the other way. Kassappa was captured and killed himself, and the aides did about as well as you, and they, might expect.

Mogellana decided he didn't fancy spending his days on top of his brother's bonkers rock and the palace was abandoned. Not before time, it seems to me.

Talking of elephants, in Sigiriya we went on safari one day - I had been warned of this by a friend who had said that the only disappointment for her in a visit to Sri Lanka many years ago was the safari which was so bad it became a running joke. The only elephant they saw was one visibly chained to a tree, to which their guide pointed and said "wild elephant". They replied, "No, it's not, it's chained to that tree - and there are leaves over the chain to try to hide it." "Wild elephant" came back the indefatigable stern reply. But it seems that times have changed. Sri Lanka now makes a big deal of its wildlife parks and they are very well run and regulated. We saw lots of lovely ellies roaming around in herds with two or three tiny little ellies who our guide thought were only a month or so old. There were a lot of us tourists watching them, some international, some local, but why wouldn't there be; they were a beautiful sight. We also saw several wild peacocks, and an amazing water monitor about 3 feet long.

I have heard that Sri Lanka is the jewel of the Indian Ocean, and having been there I can see it is well-named - it is so fertile, green and lush. It made the most striking change from the desert, and the hot sticky heat was a welcome alternative to the bone dry life-sapping heat of the Middle East. And the wildlife is everywhere - just everywhere! In the Middle East you feel that everything that lives is just about clinging to some kind of almost impossible life, whereas here there is sun, there is rain, there is such lush life, and it is good.

From Sigiriya we hadn't planned where we would go next, although I had been thinking of perhaps Kandy, another cultural centre, for a few nights, but I made the mistake of mentioning to Danny that another friend had recommended various places in Sri Lanka to me including Tranquility Coral Cottages at Vakairi and so Danny of course went all weak at the knees at the prospect of the sea! So I phoned them with our local SIM card (such a good, and cheap, investment) and they had availability - 2 bungalows for us and the kids, and I booked for 2 nights. We thought we would see how it went and we could go on to Kandy for 2 nights, or we could stay for 3 nights at the sea and go to Kandy for one night.

Well, in the end Tranquility Coral Cottages proved to be so wonderful that we stayed for all 4 nights, entirely missing out Kandy, but seeing both Polonnawura on the way there, and Dambulla caves on the way back. So what with Sigiriya rock and the safari park too, I felt we had seen a lot of the sights of Sri Lanka while also having a lovely relaxed time there and not rushing about too much.

But, yes, Tranquility Cottages was wonderful. A very simple one-room hut for me and Danny, and another larger one about 30 yards away for the kids. It turned out there only were 2 more huts in total, as well as the reception and eating area and, astonishing to say it, there was no other tourist, or any other kind of development, on the entire sweep of the huge bay of the beach. Danny said he saw a sign at the road junction wanting to buy land on the beach, so this may not be the situation for long. The nearest shop was 4km away.

And what an incredible beach - golden sand, swimmable and surfable waves, a big beautiful blue ocean, foaming onto the golden sand fringed with palm trees. The only other people we saw on the beach were the occasional fishermen taking their boats out in the morning, and returning in the evening. They waved cheerily at us and we to them. There was no coral or tropical fish in this Indian Ocean but there were a proliferation of lovely shells - the best ones were picked up in toes while swimming, a relatively easy operation unless you got blindsided by a wave at the time!

I got up two mornings to watch the sun rise over the Indian ocean - entirely alone in the scene, save for a fisherman who took his boat out at exactly the right moment to make my photo perfect, it was a beautiful sight ...

Joe also woke up the other two mornings to see the sunrise - just about the only time he has ever got himself up in his life.

The swimming in the sea was exquisite - the first two days the waves were big and crashing, but the beach is so gently shelving that it was easy to stay safe around them. We had fun swimming them, and jumping them, and occasionally getting totalled by them. The only thing we lacked was a body board for surfing this foam. Luckily the guys working there had a great plan - they cut for us a box made from polystyrene and Joe, Poppy and I used two bootlaces Danny had been carrying in his pocket for just such an emergency as well as, of course, some of the black duct tape that no traveller should ever leave home without, it seems, and created what we called our ghetto surfboard. It was wonderful! The first two days the surf was big enough that Rosie just splashed in the shallows while we surfed in the sea, catching big waves and zooming into the shallow surf on the sand. On the third and fourth day the sea was very calm so for us it was just beautiful swimming weather, while I said to Joe that I thought it was perfect conditions to teach Rosie to surf for her first time. She loved it! She took to it instantly and within a few waves was no longer needing our help but launching herself into the little waves and into the white surf. Fabulous!

And on top of this the food cooked up by the two guys there was absolutely terrific - genuinely the best food we had in Sri Lanka, against some pretty stiff competition. Our days were so simple there - breakfast was at 8.30. Then it was serious beach school time with Danny and I taking one or two kids each, then frolicking in the waves time. Then lunch at 1pm. Then second beach school session, followed by second frollicking in the waves session. Then the sun set at 6pm, and from then until dinner at 7.30 it was diary writing time plus, as a treat, one episode of Father Ted from our DVD collection!, then dinner and bed. To repeat the next day. Bliss. And all of this for £60 a night for both bungalows and for all our meals.

To say we were sad to leave Sri Lanka is certainly an understatement.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Jordan: Petra Wow! Camel riding - yey! Being groped in the Red Sea - urgh! Swimming in the Dead Sea - coooool!

We were in Jordan for a week - just one week but it was so action-packed that it felt like much longer. Our highlights:

Petra with kids - absolutely yes!

Petra - it really is as astonishing as everyone says, and totally doable with kids. My advice is to get there early - we arrived at 7.30am - and do hire donkeys for the ride up to the monastery. It's great fun and then there's no whining from kids having to climb steps in the incredibly boiling temperatures of the day. What ever you do, don't just stop at the Treasury, there is so so much more to see further on including the wonderful amphitheatre, the Roman road, and, above, all, the miraculous Monastery. Make certain sure you make it up there to see it. The Monastery is bigger and even better than the Treasury, and is surrounded by a stunning vista of high rocks, and seems to grow so completely out of the stone that it's just astonishing. The way we did Petra was to learn with the kids all about this ancient city and its inhabitants the day before we went - that way we all looked at the site with informed eyes, and made it a real living breathing museum.

The desert - do stay at least one night overnight

The desert - we stayed for a night in the desert courtesy of a company offering Wadi Rum tours. It was a fabulous experience where we climbed in amongst the spectacular desert scenery, watched the sun set over the red desert rocks, and then stayed in a bedouin camp where we ate food all together cooked over a fire in a large tent fully bedecked with bedouin rugs hung for the walls and covering cushions for seating. It was a sensational experience. The camp was set below an orange red cliff, with other cliffs all around, making for the most spectacular desert scenery. The sounds of the desert were small, and the silence was immense. As the sun began to sink, I climbed in bare feet to the top of the rock above us and watched the desert cliffs, passive and immutable in the sinking sun, as the colours changed from red to terracotta and to deepest ochre orange. I gathered everyone to walk to the rocks opposite to watch the sunset, and we saw the desert shift from pink to red. It was very very beautiful.

In the morning a group of camels arrived to be our transport back to the village and we each rode one back, including the youngest in our party, only 5 years old, who wasn't sure at all that she would be able to handle a camel all by herself. She did and was delighted to be bobbing up and down on these great creatures riding past the mighty desert cliffs and this landscape of orange and red.

Aqaba - it didn't do it for us.

The Red Sea was rather disappointing on the day we went -  it was almost nothing like the Red Sea of Eilat that I remembered - the waters were choppy, the sea was very overcrowded, there were no brightly coloured fish or coral that I could see, instead there were frequent large boulders which bashed your legs at no warning, plus the water was very shallow for a very long way out, and a teenager groped me on the bottom while I was swimming! It was not exactly the crime of the century- he was the only person near me and was swimming right next to me so I didn't have to doubt who it was, and so immediately twisted his arm, shouted at him and tried to kick him up the bum. He stood up and looked rather startled. I hope he won't try that to a western woman again.

But if you don't fancy the Red Sea, there's the Dead Sea!

There had been quite a lot of build up to our arrival at the Dead Sea - we had taught the children all about it, how it is the lowest place on earth, how it came to be formed, why it is called Dead, because nothing can live in it. We were looking forward to it, they were looking forward to it. What would they make of it??

Well, the kids all hated it without exception. And the reason - I guess it isn't that much fun if you have a bunch of open insect bites which seriously hurt if salt gets into them. So, we left the kids to enjoy the hotel and its attractions and enjoyed the Dead Sea ourselves, and it was mighty enjoyable! It is just so liberating to be in the water and not to have to constantly swim or face drowning. It is such a weird sensation though! Just sitting and lying in the water. And it is very weird that you just can't do breaststroke, you can try to swim on your front but it just doesn't work and your face almost goes in the water, so you have to turn onto your back. You have to experience it to believe it!

So all in all Jordan was a spectacular success. What a great destination for a family adventure. I thoroughly recommend it for all but the very faint-hearted.

How will Sri Lanka shape up?

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Corinthian Spirit!

From Corinth to the stunning Acropolis at Athens, then out of Europe and into Jordan for a white-knuckle ride to remember..

We journeyed from Corinth to Athens on a clean and half empty train - perfect for a travelling family. Beautiful views out to sea for much of the journey, and we got the kids all doing different kinds of school work, mostly happily, mostly successfully. Now that's what I call round the world schooling.

In Athens there was only one thing on our minds: 

Wow! The Acropolis is really high above Athens, and the walls out from which all the buildings are impressive. And the whole site is really big. Wonderful to wander over, with all the slippy marble underfoot from thousands of feet over thousands of years. There were plenty of other people there but it wasn't too crowded, there was plenty of room for everyone, and it was no longer too hot to be in the sun.The views over Athens, white and glistening in the lowering sun, were wonderful. But the Parthenon and the Erecthion were the best - the Parthenon is still truly fabulous to look at, even if it has lost its marbles. It does make you wonder, though, how incredible it would have looked at the time - complete, covered with friezes, and decorated with brightly coloured pigments all over it. I wish someone would build a full size replica, that would really be something. The stone ladies holding up the Erecthion were a beautiful sight, and the sight just got better as the sun began to set - the Parthenon and Erecthion were lit up in the pinkest of pink hues while the setting sun gave us a perfect sunset over Athens. We all agreed it was the most perfect visit to the Acropolis.

Now on to Jordan and out of Europe!

We hire a car and, of course, I am driving it again. But it's only a couple of hundred km down the big motorway that runs the length of the country, so it'll be a breeze - maybe an hour and a half, two hours max. Right?

With the sun setting big wide well-lit roads lead away from the airport. And then pretty suddenly, the situation changes. I had it in mind that Jordan was a rich Gulf oil state and that the roads would be new and shiny. Not so much! We didn't help ourselves by going the wrong way for at least half an hour, because we assumed that the sign saying turn back on yourself to get to Aqaba, meant that we would follow a laid out clover leaf road pattern. Errr no. It meant do a U turn on the motorway from the fast lane!

Having failed to do that and finding ourselves going the wrong way on a rapidly disintegrating road in the now pitch black and with the petrol making an alarmingly quick descent to zero I spotted a petrol station on the other side. A quick U turn from the fast lane later, now I'm getting into the swing of it!, and we were in the company of not only life-saving petrol, but also a chap who understood enough English to get us in the right direction. Not the petrol pump attendant who understood nothing but the colour of the money we held out to be converted into petrol, ie knew as much English as we know Arabic, but a random fellow buyer of petrol. So we are seriously out of our comfort zone here - we are now far enough away from the tourist trail that we cannot rely on people to speak English, and it is frightening how disturbing it is to be confronted by road signs almost all of which are not in a language which you can understand a single word or letter of, or even recognise the shapes to know whether or not you have seen the same sign before.

I thought the drive would be a 2 hour cruise along fast newly tarmacced well lit roads. It turned out to be a 3 hour white knuckle ride, the like of which it has never before been my misfortune to drive, on a road which alternated rapidly between being a motorway with central reservation and speeding trucks, to being the main drag through a collection of fruit stalls and incredibly brightly lit cafes, with the same speeding trucks crashing through the potholes, and taking off over the speedbumps. Yes speedbumps! On the motorway! I didn't see the first one, or the second, in fact I think it was only by about the 11th or 12th that I was able to spot them and adjust driving accordingly. There was a particularly exciting moment when we saw the first sign to Petra, which we had been losing hope of ever seeing, let alone actually finding the "lost" city, coupled with a van suddenly appearing from my right ready to drive me into the oncoming traffic, when at the same time there was a sudden speedbump. Dear God! And on top of all of this our headlights were the weediest I have ever seen, and with the lack of any sort of lights, even catseyes, for most of the journey, I spent a great deal of it very concerned indeed that I really could hardly see a thing. Good job I didn't have a severe headache and dizziness... We took to shouting yee-haa! as we jumped unexpectedly over a sudden speedbump. Turns out the road we were on is literally called The Desert Highway. 

But, we made it. We arrived at Wadi Mousa and in the first outskirts of town Danny suddenly shouted out that here was the Petra Sella Hotel - thank God!!! The hotel looked very nice, the staff very friendly, I remembered that we weren't all sharing one room, as I had feared, but we had two rooms next door - one for kids and one for adults I said. Surprisingly they all went for it. The rooms are great - kids' eyes opening very wide at the shiny marble floors and the crisp white linen. And the staff then offered us the dinner buffet - chicken, rice, potatoes, everyone found something. 

And so to bed. A new country; so far, so good.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Italian lakes - Hurray for Mormons! and other delights

A visit to the island of Monte Isola on Lake Iseo.

We had some good beach school in the morning, with Poppy learning about Georgian fashion as part of an extended fashion timeline project plan. Then we set off to catch the boat from the town just down the way, Tavernolo. It's always such fun catching boats! And this was no different. We sped quickly across the beautiful lake and enjoyed really not having a clue where we were going to land. Met some nice young American lads on the boat, who turned out to be mormons living in Bergamo! "Spreading the word of the Latter Day Saints" as it were. I nearly said that I had watched the Book of Mormon so I understood where they were coming from, but I didn't.

We got off at the Pescaeira stop on the island because we had heard that was where we caught a bus from to go up to the church. Well, we got off and overheard that the mormons were also planning to catch the bus so we followed them. Hooray for mormons! - we made it on to the bus, but it only went halfway. Boo for mormons.

To be fair, they had advertised that fact to us, but even so.

So we got off halfway and found that it was swelteringly hot and we had to climb to the top - about 600 feet. My it was hot! Everyone made it OK, but I'd be lying if I said it was fun. So finally we were there, and no one had to complain about being desperately tired/hungry/thirsty etc etc because we stopped for a picnic lunch just before the church. Then at last we reached the church and anticipated the delightful 360 degree views of the lake we had been promised. Two problems - the haze, and the trees. We didn't even try to go in the church, because nobody was interested. It almost makes you wonder why we had gone to such efforts to get here, huh? But this had been nothing compared with going back down again.

There was clearly marked on our map a path which would lead all the way down to Pescaeira (spelling?), but it really was nowhere to be seen. There were no more buses which would take us down, unless we waited an hour. The boat left in 40 mins, at 4.20, so we had said goodbye to that one, and planned to catch the 6.07pm. So instead of walking down a nice mountain path we set of down the road in the boiling boiling heat reflected and magnified by the tarmac and in vain still tried to find a path. We found one! It lasted for about 50 metres, then we were back on the road - argghh!

We carried on down with not only Poppy complaining about the boiling heat, but now Rosie started up, she had far more vim and vehemence in her complaints though - her hip hurt. First one, then the other. They really hurt so very much that she could hardly put another foot forwards, she said. It hurt so much it was arghh, and then very quickly it became waaaaahhhhhh. The walking waah, perfectly charming. I was holding her hand, while walking down, and making soothing noises, and we were all despairing of ever making it back down with any degree of sanity intact when suddenly behind me I saw the bright orange of.. a bus!! "A bus!" I cried, "A bus! Joe, Poppy, quick! Run! Say to the driver, Pescaira?' (spelling?!) They ran, we ran, it was the same driver!! and yes! He was going to Pesceira!! Thank the blinking lord!

We arrived back in Pescaira, in about 8 minutes, well in time to catch the 4.20! And have an ice cream first. Phew. From the jaws of disaster and all that.

Happily on the 4.20, we discovered that it stopped on the other side of the lake, and then back at several different stops on Monte Isola before finally heading back to Tavernola. At the last stop on Monte Isola the mormons got back on again! They had clearly had some cunning route down from the church and then over the island to the other side via the path thing, which we had not thought of. No ice cream shop there, though, so in many ways we were the victors - oh yes. When we pulled into Tavernola though, when they got off the boat a bus started to arrive, and they started utterly pegging it to catch the bus. Go mormons go! But the bus wasn't stopping, and it wasn't stopping! Where would it stop? Far down along the prom. Go mormons! They went, and they caught it. Hooray. Two human dramas happily resolved in one day. Presumably god's influence, or possibly Joseph Whatshisname's.

Back to Tavernola, and the only bother was that it was really too late in the day to go swimming. It had become a little cloudy, and not quite so clement. And it had been so boiling on the island!

Back to the house for diary and learning time, and then dinner for kids and Bea, but not for us, because.. major excitment... we were going to Restaurant Panoramica for dinner a deux - yey! Almost three weeks into the journey and this is the first moment we have had for just the two of us. The restaurant was one recommended to us by Cristina and only a few minutes drive away, we passed it every day on our route to the lake.

I wanted to walk there so I didn't need to worry about drinking. So we set off walking arm in arm down the road, dressed up in our best clothes, which are not very best, and he and I wearing trainers and sandals respectively, as these are our best shoes. We arrived, after a surprisingly long walk - you would have thought if we hadn't known already that today would certainly have taught us how far distances can seem when you walk them, compared to when you drive them. Well, we finally got there - perhaps 20 minutes - along the road, and I commented that it would be dark by the time we came back. D said that if we didn't get a move on it would be dark by the time we got there. It was a large open restaurant, designed to be open to the elements, but of course it wasn't tonight - there had been a little rain before we had set off. But that was nothing to the rain we had when the main course arrived..

The food was completely delicious - I had courgette flowers stuffed with minced crab for starters, mmm, and catch of the day for main course. And it was about then that arrived that the storm came - and wow! what a storm! It began to rain, and then it began to absolutely and utterly tip it down. Then came the odd flash of lightning and the occasional clap of thunder. And then came massive lightning streaks turning the whole sky a luminous lilac again and again, accompanied by the incredible constant rat a tat tat of very loud rain on very thin roof, and sudden extravagant immense drums of thunder. It was all very exciting and great fun. Of course there was the small matter of getting home to consider..

Let it be remembered that I had noticed it was also a hotel, and I suggested to D that we should stay for the night, I even went to the extent of mentioning to the owner/waitress that we had come on foot and so we wondered if perhaps they had a room and we should stay for the night. But she came back, very kindly, with the rejoinder that they would of course take us back to Fonteno when we were ready to go. Damn!

So, we enjoyed deserts and desert wine in delightful peace and harmony. Reflecting how time has flown since our adventure began.
Back to the house with a frightening lift in the brother's car - and everyone here says that I drive like an Italian? I think not! And found everyone happy and well, of course. Read a bunch of Anne of Green Gables to Poppy - such a delight to have rediscovered it, and to get the chance to do an assortment of Canadian accents! And so to bed.

Fonteno, the view from the house of Lake Iseo. Wow!

What fun to have a hammock in the garden

The view of the lake from Riva di Solto

The swans love it here too

Happy Poppy

Happy Rosie

Happy Joe

Happy me

Happy Danny

And then my Mum arrived

And she was happy too

It's always such fun taking a boat across a lake!

The Italian lakes are sooooo beautiful

Here's the island, our target

Walking our way up to the monastery on the top of Monte Isola

We've made it to the top! The relief is palpable.

Walking down through the archway

Beautiful views from the boat - look at this amazing Pirate Castle Island

The scene from the car park in Fonteno - a car park with a view indeed!

More fun messing about with boats, even if they are ferries

Poppy doing a presentation to us on her chosen subject of Georgian fashion while we waited for the ferry. Beach school in action!

Beautiful Riva di Solto - we love you! Fabulous swimming with swans and ducks, and nobody else

Yes it's lovely being on a boat

Especially when the view is so lovely

And someone even took a photo of me to celebrate (it was Joe, he's a good boy)

Amazing trompe l'oeil in the tiny town of Pisogne which had the ferry stop, and a train station too! A throbbing metropolis no less.

Gorgous views

Kids. Amazing how well they get on with there are no other friends around!

See what I mean?

The pretty central squre in sleepy Fonteno

Yes we had a wonderful time at the Italian lakes. I didn't see George Clooney, but Joe was there, which is almost as good

I sure found plenty to smile about

Happy days