Friday 24 July 2015

Paris to Venice with Kids Part 2: Things we Loved in Venice

Basically, we fell in love with Venice.

We arrived on the overnight train from Paris at about nine in the morning. The train crosses the water on the tiniest strip of land and you are so surrounded by water that you feel you must really be on a boat after all. We'd hit our holiday stride by the time we time we got to Venice and were all feeling pretty relaxed and excited, but I still think we were surprised but how much we all loved the city.

Here are a few things that made it for us...

Our Apartment

We loved our apartment for its view of the canal and its quiet street but most of all we loved the location. It was tucked away in the Dorsoduro district in an area that you probably wouldn't spend much time in unless you were staying there. We loved the little bakery on our road, the bar around the corner opposite one of the fruit and veg boat sellers, the square where we could sit in the sun and have breakfast and once we got our bearings we found it pretty easy to get everywhere we wanted to go.
My tip would be stay somewhere quieter and get to know it. Venice is surprisingly small so it's easy to reach most areas but you don't want to be staying on any of the main drags. (This is where we stayed.)

 Our little street - Calle Lunga St Barnaba

Breakfast in our local square... which brings me on to...

The Food
Venice gets a bad press for food which I think is why we did lots of research of places we wanted to go before we left the UK. We used the list of bars at the back of the Polpo Restaurant cookbook and Skye McAlpine's blog as our main sources of information and when we ate out we ate very very well.
I've already touched on our spritz habit in a previous post - but in a nutshell we ate in bars a lot. We ended up choosing cicheti from the counters at bars at least once a day, either as specific destination for one of our meals or just to fuel us on our sightseeing. The ones we loved most were Cantina do Mori at the Rialto market (a challenge to locate but worth it), our great local bar Osteria ai Pugni, Caffe Rosso on Campo Sta Margherita for huge sandwiches and great coffee and the two places within 10 yards of each other, opposite a gondola workshop in Zattere - Cantinone–giĆ  Schiavi and Osteria al Squero.
Other places we loved were:
40 Ladroni - we had lunch here on Easter Sunday, we booked (or at least we thought we'd booked), the place was packed when we arrived and they didn't seem to know about our booking - they slightly grumpily fitted us in but the experience went up hill from there. For about €60 all-in we had a fantastic family meal including a bottle of prosecco! Pasta, shrimps and polenta - all delicious. Kind of wish we'd gone there again.
Ca D'Oro all Vedova - another lunch spot. We had the meatballs here (as they were an inspiration to Polpo founder Russell Norman we had to try them) and to be honest they really were as good as the hype.

Birraria la Corte - for children pleasing pizza at a very good price - I also loved their cheese ball thingys (pictured) it's more expensive to sit outside but the upside is the kids get to run around in the huge square.

And of course Gelato - gelato everyday. It's compulsory on an Italian holiday isn't it!? We tried to keep an audit of our favourites but really they were all good.

Meandering by foot

We didn't really attempt to DO much with the children - we just enjoyed exploring.
When we were on foot we generally had a destination in mind (normally a lunch or supper spot) but we tried not to hurry and we also did our fair amount of bribing with gelato stops to keep the children going when they were flagging.
We played various games too - starting out with counting how many bridges we crossed... we lost count after about day 3.

This was bridge number 13 on day two I think. 

We also found spotting animals everywhere was quite good...

I made a googlemap before we went which had a couple of playground locations on along with restaurants and other things on so that we could wander aimlessly but also find places near to where we found ourselves if you know what I mean. It sort-of worked (saved maps on google aren't brilliant on phone unfortunately) and it meant we found playgrounds when we needed them...

...and we looked out for all the different types of boats we could find; ambulance, police, refuse, fire brigade etc. I think we ticked off every kind, even the DHL one.

And of course we stopped on nearly every bridge, just to hang out...

Exploring by boat

Probably our biggest expense after our accommodation & food was on boats. We had to have a gondola ride, it was the one thing that the children were really dying to do. We chose to hire a gondola from very near our apartment and we got to see our digs from the canal. It was perfect and peaceful and we all loved it. Unless you are desperate to see the underside of the Bridge of Sighs then I'd highly recommend doing a gondola trip away from St Marks Square.
We also bought Vaporetto (water bus) tickets which although they are crazily expensive (We got 48 hour passes which were 30€ each - including for Coco) were worth it. You can cover a lot more ground - both within Venice and getting out to the other islands, we went to Burano and to the Lido. They are a lot of fun too once you get used to the crowds and the bossy boat conductors. Being able to hop on a boat even for one stop often saved tired little legs.
The one thing that we meant to do but didn't get around to was taking the gondola ferry - it only costs 2€ and there are a few around - the one we were intending to try was from the Rilato market but time got the better of us.

Coco spotting our apartment from the gondola...

Views from the vaporetto...

Macaco Tours

I'm not sure how I found this little kids tour company called Macaco Tour but we had a brilliant morning exploring Venice with a lovely young guide who created a treasure hunt for the children. For 35€ we all got to see another area of the city at our children's pace and to find some wonderful hidden treasures. I would highly recommend this company - they were great and I think I'll always try to look for this kind of thing in other cities now too.
Coco loved it (and got quite competitive towards the other little boy who was doing the tour with us) and it really opened her eyes to some of Venice's history in a much more exciting way than just reading it from a book...

Quirky Books

...Which brings me onto the two books that we bought in the bookshop at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Both these guide books for children helped us to engage Coco and Henry - Venice is so much about its history and uniqueness and yet the children really have very little context within which they can appreciate either of those things. Both of the books helped us in finding little spots that were of more interest to them.
A kids guide to Venice by Alberta Garini
Venice for Kids - a guide with Pimpa

The Lido & Burano

Doing day trips from Venice was great - the children really loved our day at the Lido in particular. We took a picnic and just sat on the beach pretty much all day. After a few days of lots of walking and city stuff we all appreciated having a low key day. I think we were quite ambitious to have such a city based holiday - it worked, but only because we didn't rush and we had calm quite days where we really didn't do much at all.

And the best part of not rushing around 'doing' everything is that we'll definitely have to go back.

For Part 1 of our trip to Paris and Venice by train from London - click here. I had great intentions of blogging more about our holiday, of course I haven't written half the posts I hoped to - but as my lovely friend Flora is heading off to Venice over the holidays I thought it was better late than never to do this round up...! Have a great trip Flora!

Thursday 23 July 2015

Last Summer

I love summer and as I sit here, up early with my cup of tea while everyone else sleeps, I'm feeling so in love with the school holidays that are stretching out ahead of us, full of plans.

It's taken me a while to get to this point. My first long six week summer with both children was ok - when Henry was still a baby he just came along with us wherever we wanted to go. Coco got to call the shots a lot more and I was still on maternity leave... The following year was hard. The days had to be filled with activities but Henry and Coco were in completely different places and wouldn't do much together... I remember some very long days (which I had a rant about here).

But as the years have slipped by each holiday has got a little more fun. Hanging out at home has become easier (meaning I get to do my stuff sometimes too) and leaving the house is less of a logistical nightmare when the children pack their own bags and organise their own snacks, even if that does backfire sometimes.

In leui of much real time blogging over the summer holidays - that's still a little too ambitious for me to hope for I think - I've done a round up of some of the best of last summer. I didn't get around to blogging about it at the time - see previous sentence.

At the beginning of the holidays I made a list of things we wanted to do. It went like this -
Sea swimming // Scrap book making // Camp fire cooking // Seeing the Matisse exhibition // Farm vegetable picking // visiting the Llanffylin Annual Show // Olympic park cycling // Sitting outside under the stars - with friends & wine // Outdoor cinema visits // Meeting Hugh at work for lunch  // Evening picnics // Sleeping under canvas // Running through city fountains (it looked like fun, so I want a go too this time) // Honesty box shopping 

Here's how we got on -

With a holiday to the Med sea swimming was easily ticked off the list... this year we are staying in the UK but we've already managed some sea swimming. I might try to get Coco and Henry to try some outdoor wild(ish) swimming in London - Hampstead ponds or the Serpentine maybe?

I loved putting together materials for Coco's scrap booking last year - and I ended up doing some bits in my sketchbook too thanks to a hashtag on instagram started by Jennie Maizels. This year she is launching her Sketchbook Club online so I'm definitely going to join in with that and I'm hopeful that I can encourage Coco to do a bit of sketching/scrap booking everyday... or maybe every other day (keep it realistic)?

Ah - we had some good camps last year - but lots more planned for this summer too, in fact pretty much our whole holiday is going to be under canvas, starting with tonight as we're off to Starry Skies in Wales.

We did this - it was good but quite hard with Coco and Henry having completely different attention spans and frames of referance. This year I would quite like to take Coco to some things on her own... I'm sure we'll join the masses by going to the Carsten Holler which looks fantastic and we always love a trip to the Hayward and the Southbank.

We didn't mange this one last year... but maybe this year!?

Great success at the show when we visited my sister last summer. The sheep shearing was still a hit with Coco and Henry (as with the previous year) but the highlight for Henry was the daredevils on motorbikes doing loop-the-loops and for Coco she was pretty pleased to win £2 for her garden in a seed tray.

Didn't manage to get to the Oympic park but we did do a lot of cycling including a couple of trips to Richmond - going to try to have a day at the Olympic park this summer.

Hugh and I managed this - not the with the kids though - which isn't a bad thing.

We didn't manage to do this but we did make our own honesty shop - which I think should count!? Coco loved setting up her little shop, as we live on a cul-du-sac I felt a little guilty that our 'customers' were only really our neighbours and I'm sure they would have been able to get much bigger courgettes for 20p in Sainsburys - Coco was insistent about pricing things - I guess that is half the fun of a shop though.

Nope - didn't manage this. I think I'm permanently lusting after a lunch in the courtyard at Rochelle Canteen which is near Hugh's work so might try to make that happen this summer. It's one of my favourite restaurants in London (if you are also into the St. John ethos of nose-to-tail eating and cooking that really lets the ingredients sing then I would highly recommend Lyles - Hugh and I had the most inspiring meal we've had in a long while there the other night).

We didn't do this either! However if I do add it to the list for this year I could cheat a little and tick it off as a couple of weeks ago I took Coco to see Peter Pan at Regents Park Open Air Theatre and we had a picnic in the park with Hugh and Henry before hand. It was lovely although I did spend almost the whole afternoon prepping the food...

Coco and Henry did more of this but not me... if the hot weather hits though I'll be there this year. Summer is a good time to discover London's parks though and go a bit further afield - it's great finding new playgrounds. Oh I wish I was little sometimes.

Hope you all have a good summer whatever you are doing.

Friday 3 July 2015

Styling the Seasons: July - Faffing with Sweetpeas

I'm so fickle when it comes to the flowers in my garden. In January I'm loving hellebores and they are DEFINITELY my favourite... but then come the tulips, then the alliums and the huge bearded iris and I cannot choose which is my favourite between them. But currently I'm in love with the sweetpeas. They are just beautiful in their abundance, their delicacy and their scent. I'm not totally happy with the colours I planted this year, the pink is a little too coral and the purple a little too light, but still, right now they are my favourites (just until the agapanthus come out)!

As they are busy doing their thing I'm dutifully cutting a bunch of them everyday (the more you cut the more they flower).... and I can't help snapping a picture every time. My camera roll is full of sweetpeas.

For this months styling the seasons post I decided it was about time my kitchen mantlepiece had a little comeback so I filled it with flowers from the garden.
Yes, it's totally over the top... but I can only do this once a year... or maybe twice if my dahlia's start to get a move on!


I made a stop motion video while I was faffing. I'm kind of having a love affair with video right now and have always loved a bit of stop motion/time lapse or whatever the proper name for it is.Enjoy!

Mantlepiece - Faffing with Sweetpeas from Alexis Allan on Vimeo.

Styling The Seasons is a monthly challenge run by Katy and Charlotte - anyone can join in - just show an area in your home styled to show what the season/month means to you.

Thursday 2 July 2015

30 Days Wild in June

I like to fool people and pretend we live in the country... well not really but I do occasionally look over my photos (or glance at my instagram feed) and think who am I kidding? My photos carefully crop out the hustle and bustle of London - and probably most notably the tube line that runs behind our house. But we do spend a lot of time outdoors - we may not have the silence/birdsong of the country, or the rolling views or quiet lanes but in our pocket of London we do have a lot of great outdoor spaces to explore and of course we still have wildlife, plenty of it to discover right on our doorstep in fact.
So when I heard about the Wildlife Trust's 30 Day Wild project I thought we'd give it a go... the idea was to try to do something involving nature everyday.**

Here's a few of the things we got up to.

We set up an area at the back of the garden with buckets and water shoots (old drain pipes) as a designated mud-kitchen. The kids LOVED it and spent many a happy hour there. We often see a frog or two in this area too so happy for it to get a bit of a soaking.

I encouraged lots of bug finding... and we did attempt some identification too. Now everytime they find a bug/spider/bee/caterpillar/worm they want to come and show me...

We spent a lovely afternoon on the Thames path just the other side of the river from us with some friends - they showed us a den they'd found and the children added some new sticks to it.

 River watch....

Picking elderflowers for cordial making...

About five minutes walk from our house there is a small Wild Life Trust nature reserve, we don't visit often enough but we got there a couple of times over the month - the first time we found the duck egg shell in the top picture.

Coco climbed trees... although I'm not sure she was really meant too.

Amazing how much you see going on in a pond when you really take the time to look...

Eating food straight from the garden... the first of the peas. Henry and I also made a really good batch of strawberry ice lollies from our very own strawberries. If we make another load I'll have to take some photos but they were basically puree strawberries with some condensed milk and a some real milk - delicious.

I tried to get the children to do a leaf audit in the garden but we didn't get very far...

Taking time to smell the roses...

Finally - finding hidden beauty in London is such a treat - this was taken in Regents Park where we had our blognic picnic last Sunday. If you're feeling adventurous go and search for the Garden of St John's Lodge, it's a proper secret garden, so beautiful. The perfect location for a picnic. Also, due to the rain my kids ended up eating in a little woodland den - I just failed to get a share-worthy photo. sorry internet!

So, we wished farewell to June - but with the summer holidays about to start I'm definitely going to try to keep joining in the new tag from the Wild Life Trust which is #staywild - I'm booking a couple of sessions at the Holland Park Ecology Centre in the holidays and we are looking forward to some UK adventures in the next few weeks in the proper countryside. 

 * If any of these photos look familiar it's because I shared a few of of them on my new fledgling instagram account that I'm running for Cotton Twist (have I mentioned my new venture to you yet...!?)

** I should probably confess here that I'm not a true naturalist. I love our garden and have got quite into flowers and food growing over the last few years,  but I always wear my gardening gloves. That kind of sums it up I think, I like it but not enough to really get mud under my nails. I'm no good at recognising wild flowers - I definitely don't know the names of half the bugs we find in the garden and I'm no fan of snails and slugs. However; having children means you sometimes just have to get over yourself, so that's what I try to do. And sometimes in pretending it's really fine to hold a spider it suddenly is actually fine. So that's pretty good too.