Saturday, 31 August 2013

Daddy-kiddy day (working title)

I have daddy-daughter days and dad and lad days, but haven't really found a name for me with both children.

Today wasn't really one of those anyway.  We all went swimming this morning, which was unusually quiet and lots of fun.  And this afternoon Marisca and I watched Toy Story 3 while Tom slept, and then the three of us went down to Roberts park for playing, bubbles, cuddles, watching cricket, and enjoying ice cream, cake and tea.

Photos below.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Camping, again, in Teesdale, again

Reference last September.  Having enjoyed the little campsite in Teesdale so much last summer, we went again this summer.  At the end of our trip, with one more camping weekend to go, Elspeth and I reflected on what a good camping year it's been, and what did I see when I looked up last year's Teesdale post?  The same thing.  What lucky people we are to enjoy camping and to have children who enjoy camping too.

It was a little different this year of course.  The weather was never quite as glorious, the children were two rather than one, and our tent was a year older and leakier.  Still, we had a great time. 

It didn't seem that we spent as much time at the campsite this weekend.  Enough though for Thomas to confirm he likes camping pudding, and for Marisca to learn a new funny game.  And trust me, that is even harder than it looks.

With unspectacular weather we spent Saturday at a train museum in Shildon followed by a farm park up the road.  The trains were fun - particularly for Marisca to enjoy, and utterly show off at, the shunting game.

The farm park was probably more fun, with a 3 day old calf and 3 week old piglets, lots of feeding (goats, donkeys, "reindeers", lambs from the bottle, sheep, and llamas) and even a stroke with a couple of bunnies.  The first was big, white and jumpy; Risky preferred the smaller cuddlier calmer black one.

Sunday was cold and showery, which put paid to our plan for a walk, until we decided not to be so silly and went anyway.  And then the clouds cleared and it was a lovely day.  We walked out of Stanhope on a c. 7 mile trip around the heathery moors.  While up there I followed a couple of grouse to see if I could get a good photo; as I did so I disturbed this lot and swung around in time for a reasonable shot of classic moorland walking.

It would be true that pictures paint a thousand words.  It would also be true that they can mislead entirely.  From the two photos below you'd imagine that Marisca spent at least some time walking.  Not really, this was literally 10 seconds after lunch, and the last 5 minutes of the walk once we'd told her there was a playground at the end.  Still, nice pictures of our girl out and about.

Back at the campsite then and sunny enough to play outside :-)

Finally, on the way home we stopped off at Fountains Abbey for a break and some lunch.  Tom and Marisca both had fun travelling around the cloisters at their individual preferred speeds.

And that was that.  Four successful camping weekends out of four, and we're looking forward to a last one of the year in the Lakes in September.  Let's hope it's five out of five!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Nine months

We have a crawling boy! From slow but determined dragging along using his arms, Tom now shows a mean turn of speed using his legs to push and his arms to pull. He isn't up on his knees yet, but I am sure that will come soon. Now he is on the move no small, chewable object or choking hazard is safe from our mobile boy.

To help with the chewing, Thomas now has six teeth - two on the bottom and four on the top. The top four have come through in rapid succession over the last few weeks. As with the bottom ones, he hasn't really been grumpy or out of sorts, but there has been a lot of dribble. I can't see any more lurking under the gumline at the moment, so perhaps we are on a break before the next lot come through.  He is putting his teeth to good use and packing away the food these days: Tom eats pretty much anything you put in front of him and often demands more. Mind you, he has also recently discovered the delights of gravity, so is very keen on dropping food off his highchair then looking over to see where it has gone. When a loving parent retrieves it, he repeats the process...

The other momentous change this month has been moving Tom out of our room and in to share with his sister. We were cautious about doing this as he struggled to settle at night and was often up two or three times overnight: we didn't want him disturbing Marisca's sleep. But after camping trips and the Italy holiday when we all shared one room we were pretty confident that Marisca would sleep through any crying and that has proved to be the case. The unexpected thing is how much better Tom settles to sleep now: generally we put him in his cot and he drifts off to sleep with no complaining. We think it is because he can see Marisca settling to sleep in her bed, so doesn't feel alone. Long may this continue!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Did I mention that the children had a nice time?

Some photos didn't particularly fit anywhere but I couldn't not share them.  Is there any surprise that we were beset by both Italians and Japanese tourists for our children to be fawned over (and photographed of course, for the tourists)?  They're beautiful, and they're manifestly having a lot of fun.  I hope that Marisca remembers some of this holiday because they really had a special time.

And so that's our holiday.  I love being able to review the time we had through this blog and my photos, and this holiday will remain long in the memory.  Thank you to Giovanni and Shanti for the invite that prompted us to take the children overseas.  I came back with the languour of Tuscany in my limbs and it's not yet entirely dissipated.  It was great, but I'm still so much looking forward to a long weekend camping next week up in Teesdale.  The British summer in our green green rolling hills and open moors, sitting on nice British grass with a proper beer and a bacon sandwich (not at the same time, probably).  Holidays are great, Italy was great, but this is home.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

My fountains

We expected Marisca to love the ice cream and the pizza, but weren't prepared for the joy of fountains.  Rome is full of them - large architectural things and roadside water dispensers - and all of the towns in the country had them too.  She'd happily run around them, reach into the cool water, and fill and refill her bottles.  I hope to not forget the joyful squeals when we rounded a corner to see a fountain.

So here's a tribute to fountains-I-photographed, in Piazza Navona, St Peter's Square, Manciano, and Pitigliano, and to others fountains-we-might-forget.  You all have a new fan.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Pizza, pasta, but mostly ice cream

The food, the food, the food.  Great pizzas, great pasta, great sauces, great cheese, great bread, great fruit, great tomatoes, great great ice cream.  The Italians don't really do very good crisps though.  Marisca's unprompted highlights of the holiday were ice cream, pizza, and aeroplanes.  We went without ice cream one day, but the day when we had two will go down in Risky's memory for ever, I'm sure.  And Tom got in on the act too.

I can't really pinpoint favourites: some of the pizzas were just superb, the pasta and sauces we had in Pitigliano were brilliant, breakfasts at Montarlese were lovely, and the chocolate and pistachio ice creams in both Rome and Manciano blew me away.  I've somehow failed to photograph any of the food except for some of the ice cream, but I'm sure you'll enjoy these photos anyway.

The swimming pool and the beach

On Sunday we went off to the beach as the last of the wedding festivities.  I didn't take my camera, so you'll have to believe me that it was beautiful, with a gentle breeze and baking sun, cool shallow shelving water, and more-than-reasonable pizza at lunch.  After initial nervousness Marisca quickly got into the swing of running about in the sea, although wasn't particularly accomplished at playing Flintstones.  The beach wasn't quite right for large waterworks either: that'll have to wait for a different place (and a slightly cooler season, I think).

As well as the trip to the beach we had the pleasure of a sculpted pool at the 'country hotel' (Marisca's term).  With a shallow paddling end, enough space for a few lazy strokes for me while Marisca runs around admiring her footprints and Tom dibbles at the edge, and loungers in the shade, it was a great spot, utilised every day we were there.  Both children enjoyed it, and Tom is so great at sitting now that he was really happy splashing about in the paddling bit.  I note that the photo below is mid-splash, rather than the start of a dive into the pool.

Marisca enjoyed swimming with either Elspeth or me, and on the last day got enough confidence to swim most of the length of the deep part of the pool without parental support.  What an adventurous girl she's becoming.

And the best bit?  Marisca and Tom entertaining each other.  I love how much fun Marisca is having here and how happy Tom is to enjoy her enjoyment.  What a pair.

Saturday, 10 August 2013


As the wedding was at Shanti's home near Manciano in southern Tuscany, we made the second half of the holiday the country half.  We stayed a few kilometres further down the road from Manciano, at an agriturismo called Montarlese.  What a fabulous place to relax it was.  A breezy hilltop, surrounded by the colours of Tuscany, with hammocks in the trees and a swimming pool, Carlo providing a breakfast of homemade bread, jams and yoghurt, and other produce barely less local, with the offer of sampling his olive oil and wine (although stocks had sadly run dry of the wine).  I'll happily enthuse about the place at length, we managed to find it relaxing even with a Thomas and a Marisca, and can only imagine how peacful it would have been had we not been there!

Sunday evening, after a day at the beach, and we went to see Manciano.  One of the many hilltop towns and villages that populate that part of the country, I'm sure it'd not the most beautiful yet we loved winding our way up and up and up to the church and castle at the very top of the hill.  And then wandering down to find dinner (yes, pizza) at a place so crowded with locals we knew it'd be good.  And then an ice cream, where the proprietor was so disappointed for Tom that we weren't buying him one that he got a teeny tiny one for free.

On Monday we had a relaxing morning and then drove up further into the mountains to a sculpture park.  Not dissimilar to our own Yorkshire Sculpture Park but with a much higher concentration of exhibits.  We love seeing this kind of art in a natural environment.  The eagle eyed will spot the grey sky - it was the hottest day of the summer in much of Italy, which made for thunder storms up in the hills.  Elspeth and I welcomed the cooler day, but Marisca didn't much enjoy the thunder.  That was all forgotten when we made our way to the sound sculpture where Risky gave the thunder a good run for its decibels.  She had so much fun with that one - see below.

We drove back by the less wiggly roads to save my sanity from the constant left-right-left-right of the 2 hour mountain drive over there.  This meant we had a choice of places to stop for tea, and ended up in Magliano In Toscana, another beautiful town.  Magliano has a great feel and is more touristy than Manciano, making good use of the charms of its fortified walls and town square.  We ate dinner (pasta!) and Marsica made friends with a couple of Italians pre-schoolers, running round and round the square like idiots.  We eventually drew her away by offering ice cream.  

On our last day we visited Pitigliano, billed as the prettiest town thereabouts.  And well billed - in a region of amazing towns perched on hilltops, Pitigliano outshines all the others we say with the way in which it seems to cling to the rocks.  We enjoyed wandering through the windy streets and actually-quite-nice tourist shops, visiting the synagogue and the church, having a really really great pasta lunch, enjoying the cool nooks, the ancient caves, the views over the valleys and the tiny stepped alleyways that seemed to plunge over the cliff edges.  

We finished the day with an early bed time for the children (when did I start regarding 8pm as early?  Perhaps when they were still up at midnight on the wedding night, or the usual 10pm on other days...), after one last trip for ice cream to Manciano.  They both fell asleep early and Elspeth and I shared a bottle of wine outside as the sun went down, enjoying the last gasps of the holiday before planning for the trip to the airport the next day.

Everyone said we'd love Tuscany and we didn't particularly believe them.  But yes, we did.  I'd have happily stayed another week and still not got as far as Siena, let alone Florence or Pisa, there's just so much to slow down and enjoy about the Maremma region. Elspeth talks about how Italians would just stop us on the street to express their joy at seeing our children.  And I just loved the colours.  Childhood trips to Greece are remembered as brown and dusty, but this part of the Mediterranean is all greens, yellows, browns, blue skies and red roofs.  If we come back here I'm negotiating time with just me and my camera: this time around, I'm content with a few grabbed images to remind me of the place.