Last day & Home

IMG_0877Yesterday was our last day in London. I left for work at 7:30am as I had a breakfast meeting (not sure why I agreed to that after 2 weeks on holiday). It was a typical English summers day – cool with a light drizzle. After the sweltering heat in Italy I found it quite pleasant but everyone else was moaning that it was cold. The family spend the day doing some more shopping and walking around. Michael and his bunch tried to take the tube to Oxford Street but someone had jumped in front of a train at Victoria Station and so that station was totally closed. Everyone seemed to have a good day.

We had a car to pick us up at 5pm to take us to the airport but since there were so many of us we couldn’t all fit. Daniel and Michael decided to take the tube instead and meet us there. There was surprisingly little traffic and so we got to Heathrow T5 in under an hour. While checking in the agent noticed Michael’s booking on the system and said we could not go through until they had seen Michael’s passport, full birth certificate and one of his parents had to be available. I said we would all wait and then the agent said then she couldn’t check any luggage through as you are meant to check in and then go straight through security. Seriously?! I pointed out that there were restaurants this side of security and did she honestly think that people didn’t use them after checking in. She nodded and said but unfortunately those are ‘the rules’. So we agreed Helen would stay and wait for Michael to arrive (and then shh don’t tell anyone), I waited with her and Chloe for them to come.  We then all headed through security and went to lounges to get some dinner.

We headed for the plane only to discover when we got there that there was a technical problem with one of the baggage doors and so they wouldn’t let us board until it was resolved. Fortunately they did resolve it and we boarded about 30 minutes late. That issue caused a delay in loading the baggage and so the people were all loaded before the baggage was loaded. And then the pilot announced that we had missed our slot and that air traffic control said it was very busy (10pm at this point) and so we were delayed another 15 minutes. A 15 minute taxi to the runway (yes I did time it) and we finally took off at 10:30pm. By this point some of us (aka Helen) were already asleep and continued to sleep for the next 9.5 hours until they turned the cabin lights on for breakfast. It was quite turbulent most of the night and of course when it was at its worst I needed the toilet. Always happens and I eventually just ignored the seatbelt light and went anyway otherwise the seat would have been damp.

We are all now home and I am sure the girlfriends parents are happy to have their daughters home. I am too – it will be a much cheaper week for me now that we are back to 6.

Until next time (which will be September) …

P, H, S, L, M, O, C & D

Last day of holiday for me, 2nd last for everyone else

IMG_0865Helen had found out (when we were back in SA) that there was 10km race happening today in London called the Great British 10km. The route takes you past numerous well-known London sites like Trafalgar Square, Downing Street, National Gallery etc. The route also goes right past our flat in London. Helen, Michael, Lara & Oli were registered to do it and they left just before 8am to get to the start (which was at the back of Buckingham Palace). Stephen, Chloe, Daniel and IIMG_0867 went down to see them run past us which was quite near the end of the race (around 8.5 km mark). The conditions for running were almost perfect as it was cool and overcast. They all seemed to do quite good times with Lara leading the way as the fastest runner from the group.

After they got and had showered, they all headed off to do some shopping in Oxford Street. I really did not need to do that so I stayed in the flat and cleared some emails (I love having decent internet access) and watched the cricket (SA v Bangladesh) on my iPad and then after lunch I watched the cricket on my iPad and the Wimbledon final on the TV. What could be better than watching two sports events simultaneously with no one interrupting me for any reason.

IMG_0873The rest of them got back mid to late afternoon (they returned in shifts) and just in time to watch Federer being beaten (unfortunately). As this was our last evening together, we went to a steakhouse in Covent Garden (Sophie’s) which we have eaten at previously (and enjoyed). The steaks were very good and Stephen and Daniel were convinced they were the best they had ever had. Helen and Chloe took a taxi back (it was relatively cool) but the rest of us walked back to the flat (around a 25 minute walk).

I need to get myself back into ‘work’ mode as tomorrow will be my first day back.

Until tomorrow …

P, H, M, L, O (because they all did 10 km), S, C & D

Estate to Milan to London

IMG_0846Everyone started leaving from 7:45am this morning. My brother and his family left first, followed by my oldest sister (and her husband and one child), my uncle & aunt and then us. We were in no rush as our flight was only in early evening but we decided to stop at the Ferrari Museum on the way back to Milan. Ferrari’s home base is near Modena and after much pleading from Chloe, Lara and Oli we decided to do the short detour.

IMG_0856Michael has been the navigator for most of the trip using his cellphone and he navigated us to the Ferrari museum through a very weird single lane route.  I am sure that it wasn’t the main way of finding the museum but we did get there.  The whole area is just ‘Ferrari’. The factory, the track, the restaurants – everything is Ferrari. The museum was slightly disappointing in that it has lots of Ferrari’s but you can only look (no touching) and some of the more iconic ones are missing. It has both the normal ‘road’ Ferrari’s as well as the F1 cars. All of their companionship winning cars are there. Some of the cars are 1-of-a-kind. Chloe could simply not contain her excitement and insisted we have a photo taken at one of the classic Ferrari’s.

IMG_0849After the museum we headed back onto the motorway again (by the strangest route thanks to Michael’s navigation) and immediately we pulled off at a services to have lunch. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea as there was a traffic jam getting off the motorway into the service area. The boys were very happy to find a Burger King inside the services when we did finally get in.

We still had about 2 hours of driving after lunch to get to the airport in Milan. We were fortunately leaving from Linate airport which is in the South of Milan versus Malpensa (which is in the North). There is almost an hour difference (and 10IMG_08500 km) between the two airports. Not sure why they have two airports as both seem to be quite old and neither particularly good. We got to the airport just after 4pm and after dropping off the cars and dragging our luggage to the departure terminal, we found that the BA check-in was not yet open. They did open a few minutes later fortunately and we were able to check-in our 10 bags from the 8 of us and then head into the BA lounge to kill the time before the flight. Daniel & I did that by watching the Springboks play World XV. Just as the game was finishing they called our flight.

The flight went smoothly and we landed on time and got through passport quickly and our luggage came off almost immediately as well. As there were now 8 of us, Stephen and Daniel took the tube and the other 6 of us and the luggage took the car we had booked. We just fitted all the luggage in the car. We are definitely not traveling light and it took us three trips to get all the luggage up into the flat.

Now that the blog is done, it is off to bed.

Until tomorrow P, H, M (for his navigation skills), O, S, L, C & D

 

Last day in Tuscany

IMG_0835Today was our full day in Tuscany. We decided that instead of just loafing around at the Estate for the whole day that we should at least go and see another Tuscan village and it was suggested we go the Akone which is the nearest village to where we are. It is only about 3 kms away. There really isn’t a lot to see at the village but it does amazes me that someone would think to build a village there – on the slope of the hill. Your wonder what anyone does for a living in the village. The views were quite nice and we walked through and up the village to get an even more impressive view. Daniel (my favourite nephew) and Michael then proceeded to run up a further hill to get an even more impressive view (or so they said). We then went back down into the valley into Rufina as we needed to replenish our drinks.  We also went and had a coffee at the local ‘bar’ and some people had gelato as well.

While we were doing that some of our group were getting a cooking lesson from an Italian chef at the estate. For us poor Safricans there was no way we could afford it but a significant number of the richer Americans participated (and my cousin from SA who runs a cooking school herself). They seemed to enjoy themselves and said that the Tiramisu recipe was the best they have ever tasted (and given I don’t eat it I will have to take their word for it).

This afternoon Michael, Oli, Daniel and I played a game of tennis. It was fortunately cooler today (just around or under 30) and so I didn’t entirely expire while playing. Michael and I played Oli and Daniel and it was pretty evenly matched but Michael and I did take the set 7-6 in the end. Michael was too tired to play another set (fitness issues it seems) so we called it quits at that point. I headed straight for the pool after that and then a cold shower and that just about brought my temperature back to normal.

This evening we had a Pizza evening. They have their own pizza oven and they had a ‘master’ pizza chef come and make the pizza. I don’t like pizza but this was the best pizza I have ever eaten. Maybe it was the setting and maybe it was the pizza and maybe it was the fact that I was hungry and maybe it was because it was so fresh. But it really was quite good. Add to that we finally found the Chianti Rufina Reserva that we bought on Monday and has gone missing since then (it seems my Dad had it hidden away), it was quite a good evening. We also had two quizzes (after the ones we had earlier in the week) and my team ended up winning the whole week – winners only get bragging rights. After dinner they served gelato which was also really good. Have I mentioned how good the food has been this week? We also took a group photo which was another whole process in itself. Who knows how those will come out trying to get 33 people to look at the camera and smile at the same time.

While I type this three of my nieces are sitting here and questioning my blogging ability.  Only one of them is actually subscribed to the blog so the other two are fair game. Now to only think of something to say about them … can’t think of anything interesting to say so will just move on.  It has been a great week of relaxing and catching up with family.  Well done to Lara & Oli for managing to survive the week (and my family) as well.

Until tomorrow

P, M (because we won the doubles), O (because my sister said I need to promote her but just can’t remember for what reason), H, S, L, C (& D because he almost qualifies as part of our group)

PS: sorry for lack of photos but internet connection is poor and my patience has now run out!

Another day of loafing

Today was just spent around the Villa. Some of the group (including a bunch of my family anIMG_0762d their girlfriends) were meant to go riding. But the heat and the difficult roads around here put them off. My hard-earned money down the drain. Helen and Lara did go for a 5km run though and this time Lara was complaining about how difficult it was. It was considerably cooler today so it couldn’t have been the heat. This evening you might even be tempted to say it was cool – at least the drop in temperature persuaded both Lara and Olivia to wear long pants to dinner tonight.

We really didn’t do much today. Michael and Oli played tennis (and Michael has the sunburn to show for it) and there was some TV watching, some swimming, some napping and some eating done. All in all a quite relaxing day. The Temple siblings and parents had a meeting at 5:30pm to discuss how we would pay for the 7-days and which of our party we should sell off to finance the trip. That information stays on a need to know basis until Saturday when we leave.

IMG_0827Dinner this evening was prosciutto and melon as the first course, pasta with tomato & olives for next course followed by chicken and roast vegetables. The desert was fruit salad and ice cream. All accompanied by Italian wines from the region (Chianti Rufina) and finished off with the last of the Port I brought over from Portugal. This was a last meal that the chefs werIMG_0823e cooking for us and so we called them in and gave them a standing ovation. The food has really been fantastic. No one could go away saying they were hungry because there has been tons of food every evening with loads of leftovers (generally enough for lunch the next day as well).

The only issue has been the lack of ability for the young men to be able to get open a bottle of wine. Tonight it took of three of them and they still didn’t seem to manage.  Tomorrow might be a day of explaining to them how to open a bottle of wine – they seem to need it.  There has been much messing around of the younger generation and as I type this I can hear shouts of ‘ah’ and ‘oohh’ coming from above. Chloe and her cousin Kirsten seem to have even forgotten their own names and so had to apply them to their foreheads.

Tomorrow is our last full day together. It is amazing how quickly the time has passed.

Until tomorrow

P, H, C (because she sat next to me at dinner), S, L, M & O

PS: I was told off this morning for saying that the statue of David was 7ft when it is actually 7 meters. So here is the correction!

Firenze

IMG_0799An early start for everyone today as we needed to be at the train station in Rufina at 9:20am to catch the train to Firenze (known to us as Florence). Probably the earliest some people have had to get up this week and especially after a 2am game of poker again for some last night (@Bryan – don’t worry it’s not strip poker).  Adding in the treacherous road, we needed to leave at 8:30am. We managed to figure out the ticket machine for the train and then got onto the 9:20am train into Firenze. Given there were 20 odd of us, the train had no seats and was standing room only for most of us. Daniel and I were leaning against the train door (not recommended) when he suddenly gave way – fortunately not too much but we both avoided doing that for the rest of ride.

IMG_0800We arrived into Florence around 10am. At that point the group split up. Some were going to the Academia to see the statue of David, some were only going to the Uffizi (famous art gallery in Florence) and some (Helen, Chloe, Kirsten – my niece and myself were doing none of them and just wandering around Florence and seeing the sights). We wandered down to the river and headed to see the Ponte Vecchio which is the most famous bridge in Florence. It was the only bridge that Hitler commanded not be destroyed by the Nazi troops on their withdrawal from Italy – he did it for sentimental IMG_0804reasons and it apparently cost the German’s significantly as it would have slowed the Allies down if he had destroyed it.  He did destroy all the other bridges. I am glad he decided not to destroy it because it probably is the most interesting bridge I have ever seen. As you can see from the photo it is a bridge of apartments – the bottom section being jewelery stores and above it are residences (I assume of the owners of the stores).

IMG_0805We had iced coffees and Affogato on the other side of the bridge and then headed back over the bridge and toward the Duomo which is the Cathedral in Florence. On the way there we passed some of group waiting to get entrance into the Uffizi (there tickets were for 12pm) and then we met up with the rest of the group that had finished at the Academia after seeing the (what I believe is) impressive 7ft statue of David. They all remarked on the size (and I am assuming that it wasn’t about his nether regions).

IMG_0817We went for lunch at a restaurant on one of the Piazza’s and everyone had the traditional Italian Pizza or Pasta. The group split up again and either headed for the Ponte Vecchio or the Duomo (depending on which one you hadn’t yet seen). The Duomo is pretty impressive from the outside and apparently is even more impressive inside (we didn’t go in). Some of it is being restored (as most things are in Europe of any significant age). It was would be even more impressive without the restoration.

We then headed back to the train station and as we were first back we bought tickets for everyone and sent a whatsapp to say which platform the train was leaving from and then hoped everyone would make it in time. Michael and Daniel wanted to go the Vodaphone store as their SIM cards weren’t working and they were eventually the last 2 to get on the train with a few minutes to spare.

IMG_0814The train only makes 3 stops before Rufina. Just before the 4th stop there was an announcement in Italian which we clearly didn’t understand and then we stopped. However, we looked outside and there was no platform so we assumed it was a forced stop before the station. And then I realised it was at the station and the carriage we were in just wasn’t near enough to the platform. So the 14 of us started running forward and trying to get doors open as we went and then the train pulled out. Station missed. So we waited the 6 minutes and got off at the next station which was in an industrial area. Thank goodness for Google which told us the next train back to Rufina would be about 12 minutes and so we waited and finally it came and we got on. I noticed this train had a conductor (of course it would because we didn’t have tickets for the reverse journey) and so we tried to get on a carriage not near her. But of course she came before we got off at the next station. There was much hilarity plotting how one person could distract her and the rest of us would get off, one person could burst into tears, one person could pretend to have a heart attack etc. Jeff (my brother-in-law) did his best to persuade her that we had missed the station and were just returning to the correct station and she seemed sufficiently satisfied. As Lara said to me, it is those experiences that make holidays.

The rest of the afternoon was spent cooling off in the pool or taking a siesta (given it was 37 degrees). Dinner this evening was risotto (zucchini & squash) and Pasta (pesto & tomato) followed by spare ribs and turkey breast with cauliflower and then creme caramel for desert.  All too good again not to stop eating too much. The food has been ridiculously good. The chef is a teacher who does this just for the summer when he obviously gets well paid. He really is pretty good for a teacher!

Until tomorrow.

P, H, S, L, M, O, C

Another day of doing very little

IMG_0790Today we had nothing planned and we just spent the day around the Estate. It seems Helen is the first one awake each morning and today was again no exception. She went for a morning swim and found Lara in the pool already and even more surprising was that Stephen arrived shortly afterwards. It is surprising because they have been up late most nights playing games or some sort or another and last night they were playing poker until well past 1am.

Some of the group had decided to go outlet shopping about 40 minutes from the Estate. We had looked at the type of shops and they were Gucci, Prada etc and decided even at ‘outlet’ prices we wouldn’t buy anything and so opted out. From the comments of those that went it seems that was exactly the right decision. One family went into Florence to do some initial sightseeing and then to do an ‘escape the room’ game. While I have done those in Cape Town (and enjoyed it), I didn’t see the attraction of doing one in Florence (especially since my Italian isn’t so good). They seemed to enjoy it and I believe they got out of the room in 36 minutes (which sounds way too easy because you’re meant to take an hour – I hope they got a discount).

IMG_0792The rest of spent the day in the pool, around the pool, catching up on emails (in my case because the WiFi was working again) and reading. It was pretty hot again today and got up to 37 degrees and is still probably around 26/27 degrees now at 10:30pm. There is not a breath of wind either which makes it feel hotter.

We did our own dinner tonight which was a braai of chicken and sosaties. Last time we had a family reunion I did the braai with my brother and this time I was off the hook in that my brother and brother-in-law did the work. I was quite pleased not to have to braai but my brother said it was much easier than the last time when we were using a wood braai (they did it on gas).

After dinner we had a quick game of 3 on 3 soccer and I am still trying to recover (still sweating despite sitting in front of the aircon for 20 minutes while I typed this). The good news is that we won 4-1 and put my 3 nephews to shame – they were shamed by Stephen, Jack (my youngest nephew aged 9) and me.

Until tomorrow (that photo on the left is of my youngest niece .. she’s about to turn 3 and has been getting the most attention of out of everyone here – good luck to her parents when she gets home)

P, S (for being a winner), H, L, M, O & C