Monday, July 18, 2011

Trip up the mountain.

So with a week in London that meant only two more weeks of my mothers vacation in Italy. We couldn't waste anytime showing her all the beautiful parts of Italy that we could. Even though we have lived here a year now and the mountain is only 30 minutes from the base we had never been up there. So we had an afternoon free and decided to take the nice drive up to Piancavallo. It is a ski resort in the Dolomite mountains that surround Aviano Air Base. It is situated at 1267 meters above sea level at the foot of Monte Cavallo.

Since Piancavallo is mainly a ski resort the summer months are their down months. There wasn't much going on this day and there were not really any people out and about. It was very quiet and peaceful (until my kids got out of the car! :0) They do have a metal roller coaster that goes down the mountain that looks like fun, but it is only open on Saturdays thru the summer months. So we will have to plan another day trip and take the boys on the coaster. For now they were thrilled with playing at the park.

Definitely a beautiful place we live.....being surrounded by gorgeous mountains and wonderful scenery. I could really see myself packing a lunch and book and taking it up to Piancavallo for the afternoon and just taking it all in. Although we probably will never take advantage of the ski aspect of the mountains we will have to make a trip up there this winter and let the boys get in some good sledding! :)

"Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled."
~ Mohammed

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cheerio London!

Okay so I have officially given Clark the title of "Tour Guide" but he has a warning label with something along the lines of "hire me for your vacation sighteeing but beware I will wear you out." We only had a good full 3 days to see all that there was to see in London, and we did in fact have a jammed packed 3 days in downtown London. We were certainly one wore out bunch by the time we made it back to Italy. Mom had it worse as she just flew in on Thursday and we flew out on Friday for London so she was still trying to get over her jetlag! Our first adventure was before we even left Italy....and we have been warned about flying Ryan Air and in all honesty it is just in Italy where it is nothing but complete chaos. Why is it that the Italians refuse to have lines for anything. Trying to keep my three kids with me through a crowd of a few hundred people pushing and shoving to get to the bus to be taken to the plane. Then being crammed onto a bus.....and then more pushing and shoving to get onto the plane. Holy cow....they sure could use a lesson in how to form lines and how to tame the chaos. We made it through the cattle call and flew out at 10:30pm on Friday and landed in London at 1:00am....finally made it through the airport/customs at 2:00am. Still had to make it to the car and an hour drive to the house we were staying at. Finally at 3:30am we were ready for bed.

Our first day in London we took it easy....trying to get out of bed before noon! We toured Lakenheath Royal Air Force Base, and had some Pizza Hut for lunch. Later the boys stayed with the couple who we were staying with and then Clark, my Mom, and I went and did a little sight seeing near by. Our first stop was a place called the Audley End House, which is an early 17th century counrty house. It was once a palace and is now only 1/3 of its original size. This place was the perfect peaceful spot to capture some beautiful pictures. The gardens were amazing and the weather was perfect!

Our next stop was in historic Lavenham. which is England's best preserved medieval town. Most of the buildings in Lavenham date from the 15th century. They call them the crooked houses and were filmed in some of the Harry Potter movies. We also passed by the historical and very rich St.Peter and St. Paul's church.

We ended this day trying out a British eatery. All their food joints are pretty much all pubs. Sadly the British don't do food well, and the best food we ate while in England was at the American eateries on base! :(

DAY 2: Was started off bright and early! When I say bright and early I am not exaggerating, the sun starts coming up at 3:30 in the morning and doesn't go down until after 10:00pm! I would love all the daytime hours in the summer but it sure was hard getting used to the sun being up at 4:00am. So we started our hour and 45 minute drive into London, and the people we stayed with were so gracious this first day to drive us into town and show us around. London by the way is the LARGEST city in Europe and is home to 7 YES SEVEN million people. Even though they speak English their accent was so strong most of the time, that it was hard to understand them. Anyway our first stops were to see the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. We were warned that there was no round about in front of Big Ben and indeed there was not even a road. So bummed that we couldn't recreate that scene from European Vacation. We did however pass by it several times so our line of the day was of course "look kids Big Ben!"

Across the street from The Houses of Parliament is Westminster Abbey ~ London's oldest and most important church. This is also where the recent Kate and William tied the knot! :)

Our journey continues through the streets of downtown London, passing many famous spots such as Trafalgar square, the homes of Benjamin Franklin, Heinrich Heine and Herman Melville. We finally made it to the London Eye by mid morning. The London Eye was installed to mark the milliennium, but has been such a huge tourist attraction that they have kept it. The eye reaches to a height of 443 ft above the Thames River, and is the world's highest observation wheel. There are a total of 32 capsules, weighing 10 tons each and holds up to 25 people. The thirty minute ride allows you to see an unforgettable view of London's most famous land marks. The line for the eye was extremely long but well worth it in the end. Funny how London had the two record breaking heat days while we were there. The weather is usually mild and highs only into the mid to upper 70's. Sunday it was in the 80's lower 90's and on Monday it reached up to 100+!

The walkway leading up to The Eye was filled with people putting on skits. We stopped to watch one, and Mason got called up to do the limbo but ended up spinning a big bowl on a stick.
Our next stop was at St. Paul's Cathedral. This church was completed in 1710 and is where the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill  in 1965, and wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981 were held. At 360ft high, the dome is the second largest in the world, after that of St. Peter's in Rome. Really do have to give credit to the Europeans and their churches.....they certainly are breathtaking.

After another juant of several blocks we made our way to the "Tower of London." Soon after William the Conqueror became king in 1066, he built a fortress to guard the entrance to London from the Thames Estuary. The Tower has served as a royal residence, armory, treasury, and most famously as a prison for enemies of the Crown. Some were tortured and among those who met their death here were the "Princes in the Tower," the sons and heirs of Edward IV. These days the Tower is a popular attraction housing Crown Jewels and other fine exhibits. 37 Yeoman Warders, known as "Beefeaters," guard the complex and live there also.

From the Tower of London we captured some great shots of the Tower Bridge. We didn't walk up to or across the bridge because it was starting to get late and our legs were all walked out. We still had to walk back to the tube and then to the car. The Tower Bridge is one of the most famous London attractions and just over 100 years old. It has two drawbridges each weighing about 1000 tons and have been raised more than half a million times since being built. It only takes 40 seconds for the drawbridges to raise and lower.

We ended this day at the Buckingham Palace. This is the Queen's official London home. Conversion of the 18th century Buckinham House was begun for George IV in 1826, but the first monarch to occupy the palace was Queen Victoria in 1837.

DAY 3: This was the day that the real fun began. The wonderful couple that we were staying with handed over the keys to their minivan and we were on our own! Mind you Britians drive on the opposite side of their cars and roads. I have to give Clark HUGE KUDOS because he did awesome at driving around London. It is no easy task driving on the opposite side of the road, nor is being a passenger in a car thinking you are on the wrong side of the road. :) Clark only had to be reminded twice to get on the left side, we are all still alive and there was no damage done to the mini van! So on this day instead of driving all the way into the city we decided to drive half way in and then try our luck at London's subway system, called the TUBE. After three days of the tube we have to say we became tube professionals! Getting on and off and going up and down at all our stops just like the Londoners. After riding into London, we made our way to Shakespeare's Globe. This was my mom's only request, and a must see while we were in London. What a fun experiance especially for the boys, as learning Shakespeare is in their future. The Globe is a detailed reproduction of an Elizabethan theater.

After our visit to the Globe we made our way to the Tube and hopped on and off a couple of times to walk our way to Hard Rock for lunch.
After lunch we headed to the Science Museum. This place was gigantic and a full five floors of scientific and technological development. The boys had a blast there and we could have spent all day there in order to see everything.

Next door to the science museum was the Natural History Museum, which first opened in 1881. The museum was house to things such as ecology and evolution of the planet, the origins of species, and the development of human beings. The boys loved the dinosaur section which had real dinosaur skeletons and life-like animatronics. They also liked the "Creepy Crawlies" section which was all about insects and spiders.

After a few more hops on and off the Tube and a short train ride, we were in the car and our 2 hour commute turned into almost 4. So our third day in London came to a close.....only one more day to sight see in the UK.

DAY 4: Today is our last day in England, so what better way to finish off than to visit the Windsor Castle. The weather this day was a little chilly and rainy but didn't stop us from going to see the Royal castle. The Windsor Castle is the oldest continously occupied royal residence in Britian. It was originally made of wood and was built by William the Conqueror in 1080. The castle is an official residence of the present queen, who often stays there on the weekends.

So ends our wonderful UK adventure. It was a fabulous week full of wonderful memories. It was so great getting to share this experiance with my mom.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." Mark Twain.