Montepulciano for Families

The first time we visited Montepulciano was with our two daughters, then aged four and ten. It was a long time ago in the days of cars with no air-con or satnavs. We didn’t even have mobile phones or the Internet.   We have never actually stayed in Montepulciano preferring the less commercialised and quieter hilltop towns of Umbria near to Lago Trasimeno. But now, living  just a forty minute drive away in Castel Rigone, we love to visit the town just for an afternoon or for  a meal in the evening. 

Our daughters are now mothers themselves and recently we took our little granddaughter (then aged two) to Montepulciano for the first time.  


Although busy it’s usually easy to find car parking space on the roads or there is a good car park near to the Information Centre, above. Since everybody is always in need of toilets and a drink we always go to this bar before starting into the town. We have always found it to be a  very friendly bar with a good choice of cakes and sandwiches and normal prices. (Now that would be €1.20/€1.50 for a Cappucino and €1.10 for a basic cake in our regular bars. )


We prefer to arrive around 3 0’Clock or 4 O’Clock, late afternoon from June to October when the sun is  lower in the sky and the streets shaded. We have never tried pushing a pram or a pushchair but it is not a difficult place to navigate, the Main Street climbs gently uphill but, if you want to explore the side streets then there are lots of steps and cobbles to cope with.  It’s my experience that tiny children just love climbing steps and this was definitely the case with our Granddaughter last year. She found the little cobbled streets with their many steps and archways as compelling and addictive as swings and roundabouts would be at a fairground!!

Half way up the Main Street is the Torre di Pulcinella (newly painted) with a clown who strikes a bell on the hour and half hour. An obvious attraction!  Near to this is a bar so you can sit and have a drink while waiting for this very brief but magical moment to happen. 

Kids love animals and plants and so another attraction would be the Palazzo Bucelli in Via Gracciamo where they will find a selection of medieval plaques and some Etruscan urns carved with lots of creatures. 
For a two year old the underground Etruscan city with its maturing barrels of wine didn’t hold any attraction except for all the steps!  But older children of four upwards are usually entranced by these meandering caves and really enjoy tasting the cheeses and honey and bread and oil. 

We always played games with our kids when sightseeing. It kept them interested and motivated plus they learned a lot which was a bonus! The eldest loved to keep a Travel Journal. In it was stuck reminders of our days out like sugar packets and bills from bars and restaurants and postcards. She would record how long it took us to get there and what she liked and favourite buildings etc. We played I Spy kind of games and Montepulciano is good for this.  Try asking them to look for animal or plant carvings.  There are lots! 


Why not have a competition to see who can  find the next Water Tap or the next blocked n archway or window or the next Ape Van! 

Take chubby crayons and paper along. There are lots of interesting inscriptions and patterns on the walls and floor for rubbing,,

They can also be given puzzles dependent on age. 

For example, ‘What do they notice about the number of stones round a window or door?  Is there a common number pattern? Why?! Of course they will realise that the number of stones is always odd because each arch has a central stone at the top. 

Once you have meandered up to the top piazza they will want to go up this tower. 

Children cant try wines but they can try honey and salami and cheese and bread soaked in delicious oil! AND older ones will  definitely enjoy a trip down into the subterranean city which can be accessed here: 

Enjoy your visit to Montepulciano! 

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The Second in the Series, ‘Walks from Castel Rigone’. 

Love walking? Love photography? Love sketching? 

This second walk is just perfect! 

It’s one of the shortest, easiest and prettiest whatever the season. 

It’s also a fun walks with kids because they will have fun watching butterflies, collecting fir cones, looking for figs and blackberries and there are usually lots of lizards skittering about in the undergrowth. 

For more on Castel Rigone and the other towns and villages around the lake plus fun sightseeing videos for kids, look at the Playlist, I SPY TRASIMENO WITH LIZZIE WITCH on my channel: The Jumble Fun Channel

Look out for this booklet at Information Centres, bars and hotels. 


48 hours in Catania 


48 Hours in Catania. Sicily.We have just returned after a wonderful couple of days in Catania, the largest city after Palermo in Sicily. 
            Click on this link to watch the video


We thought we would take advantage of the great low fares offered by Ryanair from our local airport, Perugia. 
Our flight from Perugia cost around €70 return for the two of us. It took just over one hour. 
I like flying but I am NOT a lover of airports ! The exception being Perugia!!  
To me the airport experience is usually tedious, stressful, expensive and pretty boring. Long queues. Expensive refreshments. Expensive parking. Stressful check-ins. Long distances to walk (or offen run!) ) Often not-very-helpful staff, Etc etc etc.
Flying from Perugia is GREAT! The airport is small and cosy. It’s like going home! Everyone remembers you. The staff, including the bar, customs, police, car hire, everyone …are friendly, helpful, accommodating. The appropriate word probably is HUMAN! I’ve yet to find an airport like this anywhere else ! Arent we lucky to live just thirty minutes away!!

  Above: We loved the area around Piazza Duomo. It was so full of life and character and culture. 

The flight to Catania took just over one hour and yet the Ryanair staff somehow managed to deliver their usual drinks and food and duty-free and scratch cards looking their usual smiley and stress free selves despite passengers finding it difficult to get organised! It was a late flight arriving in Catania about 9pm.

We had booked (with Ryanair) the bus … Alibus …to Piazza Stesicoro and that worked very smoothly. The driver was great and told us when our stop was coming up. It was a twenty minute transfer.

                   Above …our GREAT B&B

Getting off the bus, was, I must admit a bit of a culture shock! Coming from quiet, clean and peaceful Umbria to Sicily is well, WOW! Especially when arriving after dark. Maybe arriving from Liverpool or London or Milan would be kinder! It’s the noise and cars and litter and people and a feeling of ‘…are we safe here!’ But our concerns soon vanished . We were safe and everyone was very friendly and helpful and only too eager to help us find our B&B. In fact the people of Catania are really adorable ! It was difficult to tear ourselves away from bars and restaurants and the B&B because we just wanted to stay and chat!  

We chose B&B Stesicoro because it had such good reviews and because it was so central. We were NOT disappointed! 

Don’t be put off by the entrance down a short dark alleyway. It’s fine. The actual B&B fronts onto the piazza and it’s great fun before breakfast watching the marketeers set up every morning. 


        Above: Piazza Stesicoro. Right outside our B&B 

View of B&B Stesicoro Via Etnea is one of the busiest and most popular streets in the city, cluttered with shops and restaurants and bars. It leads to the Duomo and castle and market plus you can always see Etna! Unfortunately, because of the clouds I never got to take a good photo of this majestic volcano which towers over Catania and, according to locals remains active, erupting every summer for a week or so.  

Right outside the B&B is the Piazza Stesicoro complete with the ruins of an amphitheatre and some of the most magnificent examples of Baroque architecture you will see anywhere. Just five minutes away is a lovely green park . An oasis. Somewhere for people like me who really NEED a green break every day!

The Rooms and the location and the people are just amazing. We will definitely go again to Catania and we will definitely stay at this same B&B. The family are so lovely and do everything possible to make your stay a happy one. The rooms are large and very tastefully decorated and furnished. Everywhere is spotless. English is spoken. The air-con and WiFi works well. Breakfast is your typical Italian Prima Colazione with delicious fresh and hot pastries, boiled eggs, ham, cheese, yoghurt, fresh fruits,bread and freshly made coffee. 


    Above:  San Nicolò 

On our first day we had a good wander around the Piazza and the small roads leading from it taking in a few churches ( there are hundreds!) the university and ending up at the church of San Nicolo and the adjoining monestry. San Nicolò (above) is a very strange looking church. The bul dung began in 1702 but was never completed. It is possible to go up the tower where a wonderful clear view of Mount Etna awaits but unfortunately we arrived at the church when it was closed for the afternoon siesta and so missed this attraction. But the adjoining monetary was well worth a visit. 

       Above:  the Castle 

The Duomo On our second day we turned right onto Via Etnae and walked for ten minutes past shops and restaurants to the Piazza Duomo. This piazza is spectacular and so are the multitude of little streets leading off it. This area is so interesting and became our favourite. We really loved the huge street market which spreads out from the piazza and is open every day except Sunday. The sights, sounds and smells are incredible!  

The market From here it’s only a quick walk to the castle and to the Teatro Romano and the docks and so we were able to enjoy all of these in just one afternoon!  

We really enjoyed our two days in Catania but it was not enough! There’s so much more to see not just in the city but in the surrounding area including, of course a visit to Mount Etna. We will definitely go again and, next time, for longer! 

This is a very short account of our visit. For more I hope you will enjoy the video.
Click on this link to watch the video

Perugia and the Mini Metro with Georgie and Alfie. 


Perugia is famous for its amazing panoramic views, colourful history, its international universities, the many beautiful buildings and monuments and, of course, chocolate!  

But for visiting children the initial big attraction will probably be the mini metro! 


A ride on this mono rail is an experience not to be missed by anyone but especially if you are traveling with kids. 

The mini metro runs between the parking areas and the Fontivegge train station to the Centro Storico or the centre of the old town. Tickets are just a couple of euros. Keep your entrance ticket as you need it to exit at the other end on the station. The trams run every few minutes. The most popular and largest parking spot is at the stadium and the mini metro is well sign posted. But you can choose to take an ordinary train from your nearest station and then hop onto the mini metro at Fontivegge. 

I never take the car into Perugia. I can’t see the point. Parking is difficult and the streets are congested and you really do need to know exactly where you are going! Why get stressed out when it’s so easy to hop on to a train. 

In under thirty minutes from the stations around the lake (Passignano, Castiglione, Magione ) you arrive at the outskirts of the city from where you can take a thrilling short journey on the mini metro followed by a series of escalators through the foundations of the old  medieval fortress (La Rocca Paolis) up into the centre.  

My advice would also be to take the kids down the escalators as well as up,because it is something that they will probably not experience anywhere else and great fun! 

“La Rocca Paolis is the underground remains of an old fortress built by papal decree in the mid 1500s.

It offers an alternative route into Perugia is via escalators that takes you from parking at the city’s base, up through the foundations of this medieval fortress. During the Christmas season, this underground area is transformed into an arts-and-crafts market with music and entertainers. The kids will love it! 

Click on this link to watch the video: 

      An afternoon with Georgie and Alfie in Perugia

The video below gives a snapshot of the journey and a quick look at Perugia through the eyes of a child. It is only a snapshot! There is so much to see and do in Perugia! The museums, the art galleries, the shops, the Saturday market and last but certainly not least the amazing walk around the city walls. The views will astound you! 

If you happen to be here now then you should also visit the Chocolate Festival! 

Eurochocolate Festival 2016, at its 23rd edition, is from 14 until 23 October 2016.

Eurochocolate is the International Chocolate Exhibition. The largest of all the chocolate festivals in Europe. The event allows individuals to discover the different flavors of chocolate from cultures around the world.

For ten days every October about one million visitors will visit this event. The festival offers experimental tasting, cooking classes, performances, sculpting and art displays. 

The main attractions are: the Chocolate Show, Eurochocolate World and the incredible life size Chocolate Sculptures. 
A Chococard can be bought at the festival offering guests discounts, contests, prizes and free tastings. 

Apologies. ..if there are any mistakes on this post!  For some reason the WordPress app went crazy and it’s taken me absolutely ages to write and rewrite. Too exhausted to check any more ! Just want to publish before I lose the whole lot again! 

Assisi for kids 

Let’s face it, Assisi attracts so many tourists because it IS so magnificent and there are so many incredible monuments, works of art, views and attractions that you would be plain stupid not to experience them!
Even though I long ago ceased being a ‘tourist’ here and Assisi has become just another place to meet friends or shop or go out for a meal, I nearly always walk to the Basilica della San Francesco because it continues to fill me with awe and wonder and I still marvel at the amazing architecture and murals.
Assisi is the most magical of towns and one which needs to be lingered over. To be explored. To be experienced in the cool of the morning before the crowds and in the evening when a magnificent sunset bathes the basilica in a golden light. To wander through its mellow streets late on a summer evening with soft music and delicious aromas permeating from hidden trattorias. I would even suggest that one simply wanders on a first visit to capture the atmosphere before engaging in any serious sight-seeing.

But what about the kids???

I first visited the city as an eighteen year old so not exactly a kid! Although, since it was my first trip outside the UK I certainly felt like one! 

In stark contrast our eldest daughter was just five!  Although she has now lived and worked in four countries and visited so many others that I’ve lost count, Assisi is the first  place she insists on visiting everytime she sets foot in Italy!  

So, yes!  Assisi can be a magical place for children too but I think it does depend on how one approaches the visit.  

If you arrive around lunch on a stinking hot day and trail the kids around crowded streets and through every church then definitely NO !  They will not think that Assisi is magical. Just the opposite! 

Assisi is the hottest place on earth in the summer with sunlight reflecting off every facet of its pinky white buildings. It is also blessed with lots of steps and hills!  I have to admit that our daughter number two did once (aged 4) sit down  at the bottom of some steps and refuse to go up!  We learnt our lesson! 
So. What do you do if you can really only spare one day and it’s during the summer school holidays and HOT? 

First prepare the kids. Read them stories about St Francis and Santa Chiara and make them aware of the earthquake. People who say they don’t want their kids to learn anything about religion, are, in my opinion extremely shortsighted!  Let’s  face it without religion  there wouldn’t be any culture and very little art or beautiful buildings! Take away religion and places like Assisi wouldn’t exist! Granted religious battles wouldn’t have happened but  wars and terrorism would still have occurred because unfortunately that is human nature not faith!  St.Francis is everywhere in Umbria and you will miss so much if you don’t know a little of the background. 

Get up early. Pack a picnic. Get out early. Arrive in Assisi by ten. Stop on the way to marvel as the breathtaking apparition as this city appears on the horizon.  Park on the outskirts of the town and wander around the magnificent church of Saint Maria and the Angels. It has a tiny church inside the larger church which looks no bigger than a dolls house and is sure to captivate the  hearts of children.  They will also enjoy deciding if the doves on the huge statue of Saint Francis in the Rise Garden are real. You may have to wait a while to catch one of them blinking! 


Enjoy a coffee in one of the local bars and then drive right up to the Rocca Maggiore and enjoy your picnic before exploring the ruins.  The walk up to the Rocca is beautiful in the spring and autumn. In the summer it will finish you off! 


The afternoon can be spent quietly reading and taking photographs or playing games. The Rocca is a great place for hide and seek with its stone towers and ramparts and a spooky dark tunnel!  There’s also a lovely grassy courtyard which is great for letting off steam.


When it approaches 4 O’clock drive down and park. Then you can wander up into the main town and have a quick wander around the church of  Santa Chiara. There is a Carousel outside the church which the children can enjoy after the visit. On the way to the Basilica della San Francesco you will pass an enchanting toy shop with lots of wooden toys, Pinocchio being the main attraction.  A good break between churches and the toys are very unusual and very beautiful.  

Franchi. The address is Via Portica 15/A

Another ship they will enjoy is the Laboratorio Artistico Alice. This shop is full of hand painted items. Gifts and T shirts and all sorts. An Aladdin’  Cave! 

Address: Piazza Chiesa Nuova 
The next stop is the Basilica della San Francesco which is out of this world. It is also wonderfully cool. The crypt is a ‘must’. Even the youngest will be totally in awe of the glittering decorations and atmosphere. 

The evenings in Assisi are beautiful so enjoy an early meal. We like the little ristorante near the fountain. After dining you  can  wander around the  backstreets  basking in the golden light that bathes the town after dark. 


Some tips.

Ice cream. Children love ice cream. There are a couple of very elaborate and beautiful ice cream parlours but  my advice is to go to one of the small bars where you will pay less and be served with a smile! 

The same goes for drinks and snacks. 


Cakes!  Giant meringues and brightly coloured and nutted slabs of cakes tempt you from many windows!  Just be aware that you pay by weight and that can be staggering! 

Local produce. There are many shops selling local foods. It’s always a good idea to pay a visit to a supermarket before buying from this type of shop. Then you can distinguish between the real local produce and the overpriced items you can pick up at half the price in an alimentare.  Packets of Torta al Testo being a common one! 

The Largest Pan in the World! 


Yes!  It is a real frying pan and it is used just once every year for the FESTA DELLA PADELLA in Passignano sul Trasimeno. 

Festa della Padella. (The feast of the Pan) this year is from the 24th to the 28th of August. 

This, the largest frying pan in the world can fry 2 tons of fish an hour! 

Eighteen burners powered by 6 gas cylinders heat 5.8 tons of oil.  

At this festa you can enjoy a great menu of fish from Lake Trasimeno plus music and a lively street market. There are also concerts on both nights from 22.00.


This is the scene during the day with hundreds of tables set out along the the perimeter of the lake. 

The feasting however only starts as dusk approaches and continues in candlelight when the scene becomes magical. 

On the menu is a wide variety of fish some of which is cooked in the pan. 

Beacons to unite the planet

 

Like everything in Singapore the Art Exhibits are enormous, colourful and striking . They have to be to avoid being lost amongst the huge and spectacular skyscrapers!

I was really upset when the friendly and colourful 'Hippo' pieces disappeared. They were fun and I really liked them!

They have been replaced by incredibly beautiful and equally colourful 'flower' exhibits in fibreglass by world renowned artist Ana Tzarev.

The collection is named 'Spring in the City' and the objective behind the pieces is to unite the world. Ana believes that art acts like a bridge by which to connect the world. She hopes that the flowers will act like beacons across the planet to bring people together and I think this is such a lovely idea.

PEACE. ( Water lily )

LOVE. (Poppy )

 

(lGRACE). Bird of Paradise

 

 

 

 

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