A Winter Jaunt in Europe: Day 1 From Abruzzo to Parabiago, Milan

Day 1: 668 km – 8h30

We picked the boys up from school at midday and amazingly left on time! The car was jam packed with our clothes, christmas presents, gifts for our hosts, scooters, school bags, food…the list goes on. Note to self: on the trip round the world take less stuff.

The plan had us heading to Parabiago, just outside Milan, simply because Courgevaux was just a bit too ambitious in an afternoon, so we’d factored in an overnight stop. 15km down the road and we hit our first hurdle – the car tyre pressure warning lights came on…it’s ok, we only had another 652km to go. Panic!! We didn’t know if we had a slow puncture, pulling over didn’t reveal anything, but we knew that if there was all the Italian tyre shops would be shut for lunch until at least 3.00 p.m.. – when ‘La Dolce Vita’ works against you. So, we’d only just got going when we were forced back off the motorway looking for a garage/service station to check the air in the tyres. Aghhhhh!!

Luckily, it turned out that we just needed a bit of air. In preparation for our trip – and because it is a legal requirement for driving in Germany in winter – we’d had winter tyres fitted the week before and it seems that the tyre pressures had not been properly balanced. Phew!!

So back on the motorway we went, eating on the go, stopping briefly to change drivers and the inevitable toilet breaks – I can’t blame the kids on this one, I’m worse than them! And we steadily made our way up the beautiful Adriatic coastline and then veered off to Milan. No traffic problems, we were amazed at how clear the roads were…until we hit Milan at evening rush hour. Mmm, that plan wasn’t well thought through was it!

Through booking.com we booked a family room at Hotel Domus Expo for a great price (€62 euros including breakfast for all 4 of us). The hotel was easy to find, clean, the shower was good, the staff were friendly, the breakfast was more than ample and all in all it was a great experience! If you need a stopover  on your way through the north of Italy, or you are visiting Milan and don’t mind being a bit outside the public transport links to the centre are good and you’re not paying Milan prices. I would definitely recommend it

It wasn’t exactly the high life! We ate sandwiches in the room that we’d brought with us, Josh amused himself by lying upside down in the wardrobe and taking photos (if this was what 8 hours in a car did to the poor boy it wasn’t a good sign for the rest of the trip!), we slept, then ate breakfast and headed off early in the morning for Courgevaux to see our good friends Tim and Carola. The story continues…

Day 1 budget:

Meals and Snacks: €21.12

Motorway Tolls and Fuel: €46.90

Hotel: €61.92

Total: €129.94

A winter jaunt in Europe…the Intro!

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A trial run at family travel – planning vs reality!

Many of you that know us also know that we are planning a big round the world trip. We thought it might be a good idea to have a little trial run at sticking to our budget, combined with visiting some friends we haven’t seen in a while and places in Europe that we have wanted to visit for some time.

We started our trip on December 21st and planned to spend 3 weeks travelling, including a 5 day stop off in England for Christmas to see family, getting back to Abruzzo on January 10th.

idij1209Where we hoped to go

The original plan had us visiting…

  • Courgevaux, Switzerland
  • Crowborough, England
  • Middelburg, Holland
  • Amsterdam, Holland
  • Eindhoven, Holland
  • Leipzig, Germany
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Vienna, Austria
  • Salzburg, Austria
  • Neuschwanstein, Germany
  • Verona, Italy

Ok, I admit it, it was a bit ambitious for the timeframe! I spent several hours pouring over the paper maps and google maps looking at the days we had available, the distances we would need to travel each day to get to each stop off, the time we wanted in each place to make sure we did what we wanted to do, the plans soon got scaled down. Before we even got past planning stage Amsterdam was dropped (just being there on New Year’s eve would have blown the whole budget anyway!),as was Vienna. But, with a bit of jiggery pokery everything else seemed doable, so on the list it went.

Where we actually went

For logistical reasons only (i.e. the boys not being able to leave school before lunchtime) an overnight stop in Milan also got thrown into the mix. We saw nothing there except the inside of the hotel room and we did nothing as we arrived late and left early in the morning, but it would have been rude not to mention it!

The first half of the trip went swimmingly, despite the blanket of fog that descended on northern Europe. According to plan we managed Milan, Courgevaux, Crowborough, Middleburg, Eindhoven, Leipzig and Prague with relatively few hitches. We even discovered Colditz was not far off route, so we took a little detour to pay a visit.

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Scuppered by the weather!

And then, on our stopover in Prague the super winter weather front arrived. Temperatures dropping to -19C and unusually severe blizzards were forecast for the time we were supposed to be crossing the Brenner pass, through the Alps back to Italy – oh joy!

Although we’re quite used to cold and snow here in our Abruzzo winter, and we knew travelling through the Alps in winter meant we would face some snowy weather, driving in the forecast unusually severe, unstable conditions would just have been a crazy idea. It was a risk we weren’t prepared to take – getting stuck half way across the Alps didn’t appeal and staying North of the Alps wasn’t an option – nor was it in the budget, so the plan had to change!

Salzburg got pushed aside, as did Neuschwanstein to my complete dismay!! It was to be my trip highlight, the crescendo after several thousand miles on the road (no offense intended friends that we went to see). Instead we scoured the map for a more direct route to Italy and spent a night in Munich (which I loved!) and headed straight across the pass to Verona during a brief, clear weather window.

Did we stick to ‘The budget’?

Ok, so the budget was tight! From our research following various families that are off on their round the world adventures we plucked a reasonably informed figure of 100 euros a day for food, accommodation and travel costs. And to my amazement, with the much appreciated help of free accommodation, and very good food too, from friends here and there, we actually made it work until the final day. Rightly or wrongly, my thinking is if we can do this in northern Europe – undoubtedly one of the most expensive continents to travel round – we must be able to do it for a year around the world! Fingers crossed…

What did we learn?

Apart from all the cultural aspects and discovering of new places, we also learnt about travelling as a family, which is probably one of the most important things given our future plans. My biggest lesson, I think, was actually to build in a bit of down time for us – the temptation is to fill every day with either travelling and sightseeing or doing something, but after a couple of weeks we were ready for just a day of hanging out and not doing much. So, I guess this is a lesson that will be built into planning the big one!

I will be posting more about each individual place we visited, what we did, how we managed the budget and what we thought in the next few blogs…Happy Reading!

Potatoes taste better home grown.

 

We harvested these beauties in November, that should keep us going for a few months. Now we just have to convince the boys that, despite their protestations, they really do like potatoes! Baked, roasted, mashed, chipped we love them all ways.

 

Cantina Pietrantonj, Vittorito

Christmas is over, but with winter well under way here in Abruzzo, snow all around us and freezing temperatures, there is nothing better in the evening than snuggling up in front of the fire with a good glass of Montepulciano and a good book. With this in mind, I thought I’d introduce you to our favourite Valle Peligna vineyard and the superb wine they have to offer.

Pietrantonj. We love this place. Discreetly tucked away in the small hilltop village of Vittorito you really have to search this cantina out, even though it is right in the centre, but believe me it’s worth it. Eight generations of the Pietrantonj family have been making classic Abruzzo wines here – Montepulciano, Cerasuolo and Trebbiano in particular (red, rosé and white respectively) – with records dating as far back as 1791. But there is nothing old and stale about it.

As the eighth generation, Sisters Alice and Roberta Pietrantonj have taken on the family business with zeal and are producing some spectacular, award winning wines. But you know it’s not just the wine that makes this place special, it’s the people and its spirit.

What do we think?

We love a morning/afternoon out to Pietrantonj. You are always sure to be greeted with smiles and an incredible, genuine hospitality…even if you turn up on the hoof (as we often annoyingly do). It makes this Cantina stand out from the bigger Cantinas of Abruzzo. There is no snobbery (good job otherwise they probably wouldn’t let me past the front door!), just a real passion for their work and enthusiasm for the wines they produce, that you cannot help but be consumed by.

What do the kids think?

Luckily for us the kids love it too – a trip down to the Cantina cellar to see the big antique wooden barrels that tower above us, followed by exploring the small Renaissance style (I think!) garden, looking for the fish in the pond and a quick game of hide and seek is the pay off for mum and dad boringly wanting to try and buy wine!

Our favourite wine?

It’s a tough one! The Pecorino (white) is really good at any time of year, but on these dark, cold winter nights it is most definitely the Cerano Riserva that brings a glow to our cheeks. Cheers everyone, Happy New Year!

Festa del Letargo, Anversa degli Abruzzi (It’s hibernation time!)

Abruzzo is known for its festas. Often more than one a week just in our valley from the end of May to the middle of September celebrating everything from cherries, to pigs, to artichokes.

Abruzzo is also known for its bears. One of the only locations left in western europe where you still find bears in the wild. What better way to close the season in late November than to combine both? The ‘Festa del Letargo’ a.k.a. the Hibernation Festival.

What was on offer?

In Anversa degli Abruzzi, the village square was buzzing with stands touting local produce – oils, cheeses, meats and more; information from the WWF, the Majella national park and  an array of the nature reserves that scatter our area; companies that offer activities such as nature watching in a glass cube – a true window to the outside world – trekking, biking and, in addition, an array of artisan goods made from natural, sustainable products including the beautiful woollen blankets that i love from the Porta dei Parchi agriturismo.

The activities on offer included a trek into the mountains – one suitable for children, another more difficult one for the more experienced trekker, activities for children to let them discover nature and a book presentation for a new book about the bear.

The restaurants of the town all worked together to provide a festa menu for 15 euros all from locally produced food and later in the day there was singing, roasted chestnuts, polenta.

Although the village of Anversa is only small and maybe the number of visitors was not as high as the organisers had hoped, certainly at the time that we were there anyway,  it was a lovely way to spend a morning / afternoon. Stunning scenery combined with good food and a real sense that the people of Abruzzo are realising the importance of the mountains around them.

Loving unexpected days off school

An unexpected ‘ordinanza’ from the mayor closing the school due to heating problems means an unexpected day off school for us! For a lot of mums this means a lot of organising for last minute childcare – luckily for us, it just means stolen moments of fun and family time. And who says we’re not learning?…

Our activity today included craft, nature, maths and biology. It was to make bird feeders for our garden. I obviously, liking all things chic, wanted something nice. What I got were two plastic bottles with twigs poking out of them and filled with bird seed…plus two happy faces!

Welcome to the new look blog

Although the old blog was functional, it never did look as pretty as I wanted it to, so here I am moving to WordPress in the hope that I can make the blog look and feel as good as it does in my head. The past four years of our adventures in Abruzzo are on here too or can still be found on metheboysandouradventures.blogspot.it for the time being.

As ever there will be ramblings on our daily life as British immigrants here in Italy, sharing our experiences bad and good, talking about our mini adventures and all the lead up to the big year long RTW trip with our ‘bimbi’, scheduled to begin in September 2018. I’d love to hear your comments on what you think!