Lake Como, Italy

Lake Como, Italy

Holiday Diary 2009

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     Drove 1½ hours from Milan to Lake Como. Checked in to Grand Hotel, Menaggio, which we booked through Citalia.

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The hotel was lovely, with pretty communal areas and a balcony in our room over looking the lake and surrounding hills. Very pretty.

     Strolled around the town. Swam in hotel pool. Ate in hotel, nice meal. Friendly staff.Walked into town and played crazy golf. It was a cold evening.

Day 2: Got up early and went to gym. Then felt ill all day (so not used to exercise!)
We were late into breakfast so the buffet was rather depleted. Lazy day.

Day 3: Didn’t go to gym. (No need to over do it.)

     Hotel were having a Gala night so were putting up some (slightly naff) decorations. Had a very complicated conversation with the maid about getting a larger sheet for the bed as it only has a single sheet on the double bed. Way beyond my language ability level.
Ate lunch in a square in town. Strolled around but it was too hot to walk for long.
Dinner was nice but we had a grumpy waitress who threw down food, spilt drinks and scowled a lot. Probably does too much exercise.

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Sat on balcony and watched fireworks across the lake. They played classical musical and it was magical watching the reflections play across the water.

Day 4: Drove along side of lake and into Switzerland. Took about 2 hours. Beautiful scenery, even the kids thought it was good (“Looks like one of those posters which you know isn’t real. But it is!”) Went to St Moritz. Bit false, mainly hotels and designer shops. Had a lovely homemade soup and cheese sandwich lunch in a cafe.

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The family all went on a train and cable car up to the peak to look at the Alps. Becky got an altitude headache but they all said it was good.

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I got off the train at the first stop and tried to find Heidi’s house. No helpful signposts and I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for. The only possible contender I saw was pretty big. My image of Heidi’s grandfather was not multi millionaire. Maybe he extended it when her books became popular.
It was fairly chilly. I met other walkers, who were all wearing full hiking gear complete with boots and walking poles. Wondered if my silk skirt and sandals was inappropriate for mountain walking. Pretended I was local and looked at them like they were over dressed annoying tourists.
Walked down through pine forests, listening to cow bells. It was a mix of very lovely (as it grew warmer on the lower slopes) and a bit scary (because I was on a mountain all by myself without a clue as to where I was.)
When I got back to town my legs were shaking from walking downhill for so long! (Maybe I do need another gym visit.)
Went to co op and bought chocolate and cokes. Drove home after we managed to pay the car park ticket. The machine only took euro notes and we didn’t want swiss francs as change.

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On the way back we stopped at a lake. It was totally perfect. David and the boys stripped off and swam. Lots of squealing when they realised how cold the water was! Luckily no one had a heart attack and we made it back to hotel slightly damp, very hungry, but feeling we had had a good day.

Day 5: David went to the gym then restocked his protein with egg and cheese for breakfast.
Morning by pool, lunch in bar next door.
Spent the afternoon at Villa Carlotta. This is a villa, built in the seventeenth century for a Milanese marquis. It is now a museum and botanical garden.

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We were interested to see it as about fifty years previously, David’s grandparents had been and they had bought an ornament of the statue of Cupid and Psyche by Canova, which now belonged to us. They had the statue at the villa. (Not the original, in case you are wondering. One is in the Louvre in Paris, a second copy is in the Hermitage in St Petersburg and the plaster cast is in the Met in New York.)
We looked at the statue, took some photos (even though lots of signs told us not to) and bought another copy from the gift shop. It is not as well made as the model from fifty years ago, but only cost 16€ so seemed worth continuing the tradition.
The gardens surrounding the villa are very lovely and we spent some time wandering around. It would have been more enjoyable in a slightly cooler season.

Day 6: We took the ferry across the lake to Varrena. The ferries stop right next to the hotel and you constantly heard them announcing all their stops. It wasn’t particularly intrusive, they were only at certain times and not late at night, but whenever I now think about that hotel I hear the chant from the ferry information in my head. Shame they weren’t chanting something useful.

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Varrena is a little town on a hill, full of picturesque lanes and old fishermen cottages. We walked around and then bought slices of pizza which we ate on stone steps leading down to the water. We found a cafe next to the lake and had some very good pancakes before getting the ferry back to Menaggio.
After dinner we walked into town. There was extremely loud music in the car park next to the hotel until 2am. It was like trying to sleep in a night club. Gave up and danced on the balcony for a while.

Day 7: Woke tired and grumpy. David escaped to the gym (coward.)
Morning by the pool, boys did not emerge from their room.
Drove to a viewpoint overlooking Lake Lugano. It was a long drive and a very confusing map. Ate a not very nice ice cream when we got there.
After dinner, a pianist played next to the pool. We listened for a while and James swam (not sure if he was meant to. He didn’t have inflatable crocodile with him, so am hoping it didn’t detract from the music too much.)

Day 8: Packed and left. Drove back to Milan for the flight home. It was very difficult to find a petrol station to refill the hire car before we returned it. Finally bought extremely expensive petrol from a man selling ‘especially refined diesel’.
Flew home. A good holiday.

The Birthday Gift

The Birthday Gift

by Anne E Thompson

The days before your birthday,

Were spent meandering the towns of Italy.

Narrow cobbled streets giving shade,

From the dry heat of morning sun.

Watched by hawk-like black eyes,

That willed me to buy their crafts,

I wandered past carefully stacked offerings

Enticing me to buy for you.

Shiny leather slippers waited by the door,

Beckoning me to feel their supple smoothness.

The spicy smell of leather wallets,

Heaped in mounds on trays, and belts

Hung like skinned snakes, buckles glinting.

A sailing shop, with each nook

Stuffed with polished wood barometers,

Metallic bells with tan handles,

Nautical ornaments to clutter your study,

Telescopes that would never see.

I could imagine your smile of anticipation,

As your large hands carefully unfolded

Bright wrapping paper, your smile of delight.

The “Thank you Annie”, as you lean forwards,

For a kiss that smells of mints

And aftershave.

But I left Italy without a gift,

Bearing instead another empty space within.

For the last gift I was ever to buy you,

Were the flowers,

For your grave.

Puglia, Italy

Puglia, Italy


Family Diary 2012

Monday: Drove from Sorrento to Puglia.
Mammoth journey, took forever. Loads of traffic – most of it on the wrong side of the road whilst over taking at least one car and two scooters on a blind bend.
Also had a detour due to a forest fire.
Nice lunch at a service area – freshly cooked burgers and nice sandwiches.
Arrived in Torre Canne about 4:30.
Spent a long time looking for Hotel del Levante. (We booked this holiday through Citalia but I think they no longer use this hotel as it isn’t on their website. I don’t know why – it wasn’t the prettiest hotel we have stayed at but we liked it.)
We unpacked and looked around.
It all felt very foreign after the Sorrento Hotel Bristol and was much less luxurious. However, it was clean and the pool and beach were excellent.
Dinner was okay.
Slept well even though it was quite noisy.
The rest of the family stayed up.
There was a shared computer in the foyer which James had a dispute over with another guest (who felt that he was more important so told James to let him use it. Man was now on Mike and Mark’s hit list.)

Tuesday: Got up and walked along the beach to the lighthouse.
There were lots of men setting up stalls on the beach selling beachwear and toys. Hotels were setting up their chairs on the beach, ready for guests.

Big discussion about that evening. The hotel was holding a Gala Night which involved paying an extra €15 per person to ‘cover drinks’ (we had already paid for dinner in our ‘half board’ rate). Which was quite a lot for six of us and we had to pay even for those who wouldn’t drink.
Coffee at breakfast was nasty, but the hot chocolate was good.
There was a buffet breakfast with a good range of fruit, cakes, cheese, eggs etc.
Some people took food from breakfast to eat later (which I am not sure was ethical.)

Swam. We were invited to play volleyball. We lost, but not too embarrassingly.
Went in sea until David told me there might be jellyfish. (We did not see any jellyfish the entire holiday, so he may have been lying because he was bored with me swimming.)
Pizza lunch from pizzeria next door.


Went to Gala night.
It was brilliant so I am very pleased that we did!
They had set up a fountain in the pool, there were lights in the trees, ice sculptures, flowers and candles.
All very beautiful.
We sat at tables around the pool, listening to the sea.
There was a huge buffet, which we thought was the main meal but then they served dinner! Lots of food, lots of wine.
There was a band with a singer, then fireworks, then dancing.
They brought out a massive chinese lantern which they lit using a blow torch and set off to float above the sea (we were a little nervous at this point in case it set fire to the guests, but luckily no one got burned – would have rather spoiled event…)
Lots of people came onto the beach to watch the dancing – I am assuming they walked up from the town. Mark did one of his frenetic dances and they all cheered (proud mummy moment.)
Was great fun.

Wednesday: Very sleepy.
Late breakfast at 9.
I went back to bed, family went on beach.

Went into town just as everywhere was shutting. David bought a ball. Mike didn’t buy a tee-shirt. Becky didn’t buy a jumper (yes, a jumper. Why? It’s boiling hot!) Everyone hot and grumpy.

Drove back to hotel. David only went wrong once, family very restrained in their feedback.
Hotel man looked very depressed when we gave him another car to fit into his over crowded car park (maybe he drank too much last night too.)

Spent the afternoon in the sea and pool.
Boys took inflatable boat into sea. Didn’t float to Corsica (lucky, would have been inconvenient.)
Becky was presented with shells – was not especially keen on the crab claws or the bits that were still alive.
I swam with David for a while and did not get stung or eaten.
Read and had an ice cream and an espresso next to the pool. Felt very contented.

Dinner was slightly dysfunctional (the staff must have been tired from the previous night.)
The house next to the hotel had a party. Extremely loud music for much of the night. Not much sleep again.

Thursday: After breakfast went to Alberobello.


Saw lots of trullo.

These are little round white houses.

They were first built in the fourteenth century. The Count, who owned the land, told all his workers to build them because they could be quickly dismantled when the land was inspected and he could avoid paying taxes.

They were pretty, but it was too hot for them to be interesting for long.

I bought a cushion cover for my collection (more expensive than ones bought in Asia or the rest of Europe or US!)

Mike didn’t buy a tee-shirt. Becky didn’t buy a bikkini (but at least she was now looking at weather appropriate clothing.)

Friday: Breakfast at 9.
Every morning, David woke the boys by phoning their room with an annoying poem or song. Every morning James answered and put down the phone. It was a little ritual. Do hope he never phoned the wrong room.

Did nothing. Nice.
Last night, the boys watched a horror film where the main spectre was called Natasha. Today, when they were swimming, a small girl joined them. They asked her name. She said ,“Natasha.” They then both roared, “Na-ta-sha” back at her. Luckily she seemed completely unalarmed by this and continued to play pool volleyball with them. Must have had older brothers.

Saturday: I walked along the beach before breakfast.


I really liked that beach.

It was packed with whole families, mostly Italian, from grannies to babies.

Sellers walked up and down with swimwear and beach toys.

Everyone was relaxed and enjoying themselves.

After breakfast we drove to a zoo but it looked a bit naff and over priced.
Drove on to some caves.
I wandered around gift shops and had a coffee in the shade and read.
The family went into the caves and said they were excellent.
Had lunch there (not overly efficient service.)

Drove back to hotel. Got petrol – always an adventure in small town europe if you don’t speak the language. This time we had to pay in advance. Worked it out eventually.

Sunday: Day by sea and pool.
Boys played volleyball against various teams, including ‘marathon girl’ (who was a very pretty teenager who was also rather good at volleyball!)
The hotel staff wandered around, inviting people to join in various games. It was ideal for a family.

I stopped worrying about people ‘stealing’ from breakfast. Everyone seemed to do it and were very open about it. One old lady even took foil with her to cover her plateful!

Enjoyed the sea. Had big waves.
Nice dinner (they were sometimes a bit random.)

Chatted, then James took his holiday photos. All of them, for the entire holiday. In his room. Not going to be an artist I feel.

Monday: We packed.
We asked to keep one room until we left in the afternoon. Everyone moved their stuff in.
We swam and played on the beach.
Made sand animals on the beach and lots of people stopped to look at them. Clearly the Italian word for “Dragon” is “Crocodee” Showered, pizza, played Catan.
Flew home. Good holiday.


Verona, Italy

Verona, Italy

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Family Diary, August 2009

     Flew Gatwick to Verona. Taxi to Romeo and Guillietta Hotel, booked through Citalia.
Hotel was small, but a great location as it is in an alley right next to the opera arena. Our room was okay but tiny, there was not even room to open the suitcase! However, the air conditioning was good and the shower was excellent. (It should perhaps be noted that in 2014, when we wanted to return to Verona to see an opera, we decided to stay here again. For position and price it is fabulous.)

Lunch in an outside pizza place, Canteena del Arena. Pleasant.
Walked around. Had coffee and ice cream and a spritz (which cost €19 each. Hmm.)
Found a supermarket.

Had dinner in the main square, right next to the Roman amphitheatre (which is where they stage the opera.) It looks better preserved than the one in Rome but is smaller.

Spent the evening walking through pretty squares which the children complained were spooky.

Wednesday: A brilliant day!
I woke 6am and made David get up. The boys joined us and we borrowed bikes from the hotel and cycled round Verona. It was perfect. Lovely cool air, very few people or cars. We saw lots of pretty squares and ancient buildings.

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Back to hotel for breakfast.
Walked to Dante’s square and had coffee and ice cream.
Looked around a market. Some nice ‘touristy’ stuff.
Saw the balcony from ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

At 8pm, we went to the opera (we had pre booked our tickets when in England.) We were shown up to the stone steps, where everyone sat (apart from a few people who had paid extra for chairs in the main arena. I think our view was better, though probably not so comfortable. When we returned in 2014, we took garden chair cushions to sit on!)

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     They herded more and more people in and we kept squashing up until it was completely full. I liked it. It made you realise what it must have been like in Roman times, they sat on the same steps, looking at the same stage.
The two girls next to James (who we didn’t know) had a picnic. Somehow he managed to be invited to share it. He will go far in life.
The opera was brilliant. We had told the children that they had to stay at least until the first Act (it was Aida.) The boys left during the first interval and because the hotel was so near they could safely walk there on their own. A good first introduction to opera for boys.
Rebecca and David both stayed until the end. The Triumphant Entry scene was fantastic – there were 300 people on stage, including four white horses. (After that scene, everyone clapped and cheered and some people thought it was the end and left!)
It was probably not as good musically as The Royal Opera House in London, but without a doubt was the most impressive staging I have ever seen and was a brilliant introduction to opera for anyone who has never seen one. We sat on ancient stone steps and watched the moon rise in the warm sky while listening to the music. It was magical.

     It finished about 12:45. We collected the boys and had a pizza and red wine supper. Everywhere was open, it was as busy as daytime. Went to bed 2am. Great day.

Thursday: Got up 8:30.
Breakfast in hotel (it is an okay breakfast, pleasant buffet and good coffee.)

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Walked to a Roman theatre next to the river.
Woman giving out guide books at the entrance asked our nationality and David said, “German.” Why? We were then given all the information in German, which none of us can read.

Went back to hotel via market square and had iced drinks.

After dinner had hot chocolate in the square. It was very thick and dark, reminded me of blancmange, which my Mum used to make when I was young.

Went to bed early but had a bad night. Thin walls and the man in the next room had stomach upset. Most unpleasant.

Friday: Walked to cathedral. Rebecca had to wear a ghastly blue hooded cape over her shorts.
Drank lemonade on a terrace next to the river.
Lunch in square. Boys had buckets (literally) of lemonade.

Taxi to station, caught 4:30 to Milan. We discussed how noisy the Verona hotel had been. We all thought the sound proofing was very bad. Except for the boys. They said they had not heard a thing. But the lady next door had been very rude and kept banging on their wall. Oh dear.

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Sorrento, Italy



Excerpts from a family diary 2012

      Monday: Boys’ alarm failed. They woke at 4:45 in a panic (I’m not sure they had packed.)

        Left home 5am, one hour delay at Gatwick, then flew to Naples. Mike decided to check out the G-forces on plane by juggling with three tennis balls during take-off. Then checked out High Life magazine for drugs.
David sorted hire car while we collected cases.

      Drove to Sorrento. Managed to miss a ‘no entry’ sign and went the wrong way down a one-way street. Within seconds two policemen (who had been hiding?) hurried over and fined us 39€.

         Staying at Hotel Bristol, another Citalia hotel. All rooms have sea view and balcony.

P1040849         Had sandwiches at pool side bar. James mentioned that everything in his suitcase needs washing. Super.

        Evening meal lovely, though slightly rushed as the next course arrived the second we finished eating the last one! Friendly service. Delicious ice cream.

          Walked into town. Lots of little shops selling leather goods and lemon products.

           Tuesday: Breakfast really nice. Lots of fresh fruit, breads plus cooked stuff.
David tried to plan activities. Not sure we were helpful.
Views so beautiful, want to absorb them.
Went to pool on roof. Nice but very over looked. Issued one towel per day by pool attendant/nazi. Get told off if we leave pool via side rather than steps. Not allowed to take inflatables into pool. Not allowed to reserve loungers (which is mainly good, deters people from leaving a towel at dawn to reserve best chairs. But does mean you have to guard your towel when swimming or predatory pool man reclaims them!) Not allowed to do shoulder stands. Not allowed to jump in. Not sure my boys and the pool attendant are going to be friends…….

          Walked into town and bought calzones and stuff for lunch. Saved about 75€ on hotel price. Ate on balcony.
Read, snoozed, swam.
David started campaign to have inflatables allowed in pool. Am hoping it doesn’t last all week.
Boys seem to swim mainly under water – unsettling when they loom below me as I’m struggling to reach the side.

          Another nice dinner.
Mike admitted he ‘may’ have been seen naked whilst changing on his balcony. Why was he changing there? Luckily person doesn’t sound old enough to have heart attack.

          Played Catan in the lounge.
It’s a really nice lounge, lots of sofas and a piano for James to play.
Fernando won. Of course. Actually, we all nearly won at some point. It was an extremely long game.

          Wednesday: I got up early and went for a walk. Left David to wake the family. Returned to find David engrossed in a book. I woke family.

           Swam, read, swam. Lunch. Swam, read, swam.

           Dinner, then played cards in the bar. Musicians playing jazz.

            Thursday: 7am breakfast then David and I drove to Pompei.
(We went years ago when the children were small and unhappy in the heat and I promised myself that one day I would come back without them!) Everyone else had a late breakfast and lazed.
Pompei still interesting, still dusty, still incredibly hot.


              Went to huge supermarket on way back to Sorrento. My feet hurt, next time will wear proper shoes, not sandals.
Finished reading The Book Thief. Best book ever.

               Friday: Up early and went to exercise room.
It’s very hot in there, was nice to swim afterwards.
Went to breakfast. Everyone asked me why my face was so red.
Checked evening meal menu. Planned day (doing nothing.) Swam.

                Played catan on the roof lounge.

P1040867           There are comfy chairs and big umbrellas, but it was still too hot to be completely fun.

Wrote postcards to my chinese friends. Had to use dictionary for mandarin words for volcano, eruption, historical site. Bit nervous I may have written rubbish or something rude.

             Nice dinner then walked into town. Bought gifts, which was easy as there are so many shops selling soaps and trinkets. Bit cooler tonight, might rain.
Saw three german shepherd dogs, made me miss Kia.

              Saturday: Gym at 7:30 with David. Painful. Breakfast.
Becky ate slowly while Fernando sang “We’re not getting any younger”.
James dipped his sausages in the nutella. Then his elbow. Separate tables are tempting.

             Lazed, read, swam.
Males played cards (extremely noisily) in smoking room.

              Walked into town and collected pizzas. Ate on our balcony.
Becky put in charge of rubbish disposal. Was banned from throwing it onto neighbour’s balcony or flinging it off roof. Have horrid feeling I am going to find abandoned pizza boxes in unsuitable place.
Mike went in search of watch (left in smoking room.) Pizza boxes currently in corridor. Hmmm.

               Lazed, read, swam.
Family joined with Irish family to play games in pool. They used James’ rolled up tee shirt as a ball (well, it’s not an inflatable.) Mike cut his toe on pool vent, watch still lost.
James said ants had found some food he was saving. Ah. Pizza boxes still in corridor.

               Another nice dinner. Watched olympics – Bolt won relay.

               Sunday: Gym and swam.
Breakfast. I love the breakfasts here.
Swam, read, lazed.
Walked into town with David. Had a coffee. Was nasty. Drank it in a little square surrounded by typical Italian houses listening to olympics on a television in a bar.
Bought lunch. Had an espresso. Was perfect.
Lunch on balcony. Fernando had done a workout with Mike in gym. Seemed to have trouble lifting his arms.

                Monday: Left hotel, drove to Puglia.


            Name of some (one) persons changed to protect identity. (From what???)