Pizzas galore in The Eternal City

The advantage of taking children to the stunning city of Rome is that there is always something available that they will actually eat. Whilst we have loved exotic trips to far-flung destinations, in part for the culinary delights on offer, trying to find fare to satisfy a fussy child doesn’t tend to enhance the experience! However, the abundance of pizza in Rome is like manna from heaven to both kids and parents alike.  With pasta and gelato completing the gastronomic Trinity, we could stop worrying about what to eat and could focus on the sights and sounds of the Eternal City.

We began our adventure when we picked up our keys for our rental apartment – a stunning 3 bed apartment in the vibrant bohemian area of Monti, just a stone’s throw from the Colosseum. A typical and atmospheric Italian home with shutters and sunlight, nuns chanting outside in the morning and vespas roaring past till the small hours, it was simply perfect.

 

Armed with the invaluable Lonely Planet “Not For Parents: Rome” city guide, our intrepid gladiators-in-training set off for the Colosseum, incredibly located only a few minutes from our apartment. The boys were thrilled by the sight of the ancient amphitheatre: we were thrilled that on the first Sunday of the month, which it happened to be, entry was free! My top tip is to get your tickets from the small ticket office for the Palatino, a few metres across the Piazza del Colosseo, which has almost no queue and enables you to then join the ticket holders’ queue. Be prepared to wait either way – at the Colosseum, there’s ALWAYS a queue! The ticket is valid for entry to not only the Colosseum, but also the Palatino and Forum.

Having had our fill of fighting imaginary lions and dreaming of rising through the earth to the roars of the crowd by way of trap doors, we returned to Monti for a well-deserved gelato break, before venturing on to the top of the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum. The views are breathtaking, the history awe-inspiring and the crowds dispiriting, but by the end of the afternoon we had two very tired boys with a new-found passion for Roman history, and they’d even learned some Latin and were spotting the famous SPQR engraving at every turn. It was time for a pizza!

There is so much to do in Rome, you could spend weeks there and never see it all. We only had three days, so tried to cover as much ground as we could. It wasn’t all history and ruins; the boys loved riding a bus through the city to the Bocca della Verita, navigating the metro, and visiting the AS Roma shop for football souvenirs.

 

 

Family highlights included: the gardens at Villa Borghese, which had a small land train, lots of green spaces and playgrounds where children, tired of museums, can let off steam, and a zoo; people-watching in Piazza Navona; strolling through small piazzas with bubbling fountains and cafes at each corner; eating spaghetti on the Via delle Paste; taking in the grandeur of St Peter’s Basilica; and marveling at the construction of the dome of the Pantheon. All provided stealth learning opportunities, and you are never too far from a gelateria.  The promise sealed by our coins in the Trevi Fountain is not the only reason we will return one day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in the saddle!

Apologies for the outrageous length of time since my last post, but that pesky little thing called life kept getting in the way and, as time passed, more life took over and the distance between my fingers and the keyboard grew exponentially. However, the good news is that I never let anything get in the way of my family adventures and over the last year have racked up the miles and have lots to share with you. I’m excited to be back and have suitably admonished myself for my absence. Grab a slice of pizza, and I’ll see you under the palm trees.

Tragedy for Nepal

How can those who have nothing lose everything?

The news of the devastating earthquake which hit Nepal on Saturday gets increasingly worse as communications are restored and eye-witnesses and reporters are slowly revealing the damage and destruction to the rest of the world. The unfolding humanitarian crisis would be truly terrible in any country, following any natural disaster, but the severity of the earthquake and its impact on this beautiful country which depends on tourism is uniquely cruel.

As I write this, the death toll from the Nepal earthquake stands at 1,900, including at least 17 people killed at Everest Base Camp by the avalanche triggered by the earthquake, and there has just been an after-shock measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale.  However, the vacuum of information from the villages in the Kathmandu Valley and from Pokhara is ominous, as it is certain that the number of casualties is far greater than that yet reported.

We spent several days walking in the villages around Pokhara last year, and met the kindest, most generous, wonderful people we have encountered anywhere in the world. The most populated village we visited was Kaulikot, but around 2000 people live in the hills around the village centre in small hamlets and individual houses that are no more than shacks.DSC_0256 Many villagers have their own chickens, goats and maybe a small buffalo for milk, and are subsistence farmers.

We spent a lot of time with Harry, a gentle, kind, deeply knowledgeable local guide, who shared his expertise with our children and made nature walks exciting.DSC_0273 His beautiful, graceful wife made simple jewellery which she sold by the roadside to passing tourists, and his children walked for up to an hour to and from school each day. We met countless village children, whose fathers are working away in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to try to provide for their families, and the boys enjoyed an impromptu football match with a group of children on a hillside overlooking Lake Begnas.  We have no news yet from this part of Nepal.

Yet beyond the immediate human tragedy, the impact of this earthquake for Nepal is devastating. As one of the poorest countries in the world, Nepal is dependent upon its growing tourist industry. Following years of political unrest and civil war, Nepal has seen an increase in visitors year-on-year since the monarchy was abolished and the federal republic established at the end of 2007, such that tourism is now the country’s main industry.  The poverty in Nepal is obvious and can be shocking at times. One of my abiding memories is of children playing barefoot in the street in Bhaktapur – reports yesterday estimated that 50% of the houses in Bhaktapur had been destroyed.

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Durbar Square, Kathmandu

Most of the pictures filling our tv screens are of the destruction of temples and monuments, such as Durbar Square and the Dharahara Tower, and the consequences of this for Nepal are immense.  It is this cultural heritage which brings the tourists to the country to spend their money: without the attractions, will visitors still come?

The other main draw in Nepal is, of course, the mountains, and the trekking industry is vital to the economy. But the avalanche has destroyed part of Everest Base Camp, and there is no news yet from the Annapurna range.  The trekking industry was still recovering from the deadly Mt Everest avalanche last year, in which 16 Nepalese guides were killed, and the snowstorms and avalanches in October in the mountains of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri, which saw at least 43 people lose their lives in Nepal’s worst trekking disaster.  The events on Mt Everest from this earthquake are still unfolding, but this vital part of the Nepalese economy will be severely hit.

The emergency in Nepal is ongoing, and the relief effort will be extensive, but the future for this unbelievably beautiful country is also of grave concern.

Step Back In Time

Dubai is not often recognised for its historical or cultural depth: it’s popularly seen as eschewing the old in favour of the newest, biggest and best – of everything.  But whilst there is a nugget of truth in this perception, those who level such an accusation at the city simply haven’t learned where to look. So, after our mandatory weekend pizza (you will spot a theme with our family as our travels unfold) in Al Safa, we set off to explore part of old Dubai in search of history, and we were not disappointed.

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The Shindagha Heritage Area in Bur Dubai is an historical gem, dating back to the 1860s, though the importance of the area increased in the late 19th Century when the ruling family took up residence there. There are several attractions along the waterfront, including the Heritage Village and Diving Village, unabashedly aimed at tourists, which both entertain and educate. However, our destination for the afternoon, amidst the initial reluctant groans of the children, was the Sheikh Saeed Al-Maktoum House, which was built in 1896 under Sheikh Maktoum bin Hasher Al-Maktoum for Sheikh Saeed, the grandfather or Dubai’s current ruler, Sheikh Mohammed. The ruling family lived there until the death of Sheikh Saeed in 1958.

The courtyard house is not only a beautiful building, but is a museum celebrating Dubai before the boom, and boasts collections of photographs of the creek area in the 1940s and ’50s, photos in the souqs and in the desert, of fishermen and pearl divers, and a lovely collection of photos of the ruling family. There are also rooms dedicated to coins, maps, stamps and historical documents, which cleverly reveal the development and modernisation of Dubai. The boys loved it – excitedly pushing though each heavy, small wooden door to discover what treasures lay within, and running up staircases in the labyrinthine building, eager to be the first to see what was at the top. This creekside treasure, only a few minutes’ drive from Jumeirah, is definitely worth a visit [3 dirhams/adult and 1 dirham/child].

Outside the Sheikh Saeed House, the lovely, paved waterfront in the Shindagha Area is dotted with cafes and restaurants and so provided a perfect creekside position to relax with an ice-cold pineapple juice after our step back in time, to watch the sun set and the world go by.

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Oh, The Places You’ll Go…

“You have brains in your head, You have feet in your shoes, You can steer yourself any direction you choose” Dr Seuss

The scariest part of moving abroad is the decision to leap into the relative unknown and go for it. Once you step off that precipice, there is no going back – not, having taken that first step, that you’d ever want to. Having grown up as an expat, I knew that I wanted the same adventures and experiences for my own children, so when the opportunity for a move came our way, uprooting the family from South West London to Dubai, we teetered on the edge of the cliff, and leaped.

And we spread our wings, caught a thermal and soared.

As a third culture kid myself, I have always loved to travel, discovering new countries, cultures and cuisines, and now I am bringing up my children as expat adventurers. We are discovering the beautiful, big, wide world together, and they are teaching me just as much as I can show them.

My three passions in life are family, travel and writing; it’s time to bring them together.  I am looking forward to sharing some of our travel and Dubai adventures in this blog, and will show you that you and your family, as Dr Suess said, really can go any direction you choose.