One year on…

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We embarked on this move with a one year time frame in mind.    To take a break, connect with family and do something different.

The kids signed up for ‘just a year’ and have seized every moment based on just that.

So now what?  We have had an amazing 12 months.  We’ve done a lot and the kids have grown in so many ways.   Daily we point out their achievements, big or small, and even tomorrow we will attend an awards ceremony where our oldest will be honored by her school…bearing in mind she has only been there for a year she has so much to be proud of.

Its been a gut wrenching decision but we will be leaving the UK and moving back to the USA.  Its complicated so its the easiest path at this time….but every single one of us has a heavy heart….:-(

Seven one way flights are booked (5 people, 2 furbabies), we are beginning to pack up the cottage and have begun to say our goodbyes.

We have a few more weeks left on the island so we will surely be making the most of it.   Look out for final UK posts and then more about our life back in the USA!

What we do know – we are ‘Always Home’ on either continent.

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Maine Botanical Gardens 2014

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Corfu June 2016

London – Sky Garden

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So we’ve spent the last few weekends in London so I have a few more posts to write.  In particular order, I will just cover a little of what we have done as we’ve had some enjoyable experiences.

Yesterday, we went to 20 Fenchurch Street, the official name of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building.

We’ve admired this building all year and I think I can say its my favorite modern building in the city.  Growing in popularity is the 3 story Sky garden at the top of the building – floor 35.   I have tried to get tickets in the past but they go quickly.  This time, luck was on my side.  With friends visiting from America, I checked in at Sky Garden website (here) 3 weeks prior to their trip to see tickets available.   The website has a 3 week leadtime for booking so sometimes can be tricky to plan.   I managed to snag the tickets we needed so I was thrilled.  It has been on my London ‘must do’ list for some time.

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View up 20 Fenchurch Street

It’s easy to find and easy to access.  Security was swift and efficient and in no time, we were on the 35th floor looking out over London.  Note – the views are great!  And when you compare to the London Eye (£25) and the Shard (££), considering this is FREE, its probably all you need.  In fact, I would even argue it was better than the Eye.

I loved the view of the Tower of London….a favorite place of mine and new vantage point.

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Tower of London

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St Pauls, BT Tower, City of London

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West London

The gardens are mostly green but lush and nice to wander around.

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View from Garden overlooking main cafe/ vista

 

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The Tower boasts a couple of cafes and a restaurant.  We sat in the window with afternoon tea jut taking in the view.  It was perfect.  And because they limit the numbers up there, its not crowded and has a lovely spacious feel.

If you’ve not done it already, plan ahead and visit the Walkie Talkie!

Corfu – Agios Georgios

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Agios Georgios, Corfu

 

Its been quite a while since I last posted.  Not due to nothing to write about but mostly due to being very busy and on the move.  I have a lot to catch up on so starting with a post about our recent trip to Corfu.  I’ll write a couple of posts about the trip but not in any particular order of how we spent our time, more to share a few of our experiences.

We headed out to Corfu for half term holidays.   We booked a last minute deal (2 weeks prior), really only using the long term weather forecast as our guide on where to go. Seems odd but we were desperate for guaranteed sun and hot enough to use a swimming pool.  i.e we wanted a proper ‘holiday’.

You don’t really get the typical last minute discounts anymore but we still felt like we got a good deal.

We flew from Gatwick to Corfu direct with Germania.  We had never heard of the airline but were pleasantly surprised with the service.  They are a German owned airline and my guess is do mostly charter holiday flights.  They were on-time, clean and efficient.  The flight is short (under 3 hours) yet they still served drinks and food at no extra charge.  While it wont win any awards on Masterchef, its a welcome break from paying for drinks and snacks on flights now.

Arriving in Corfu, we headed straight to our car rental pick up (included in the package deal).  Car rental for us and location of the villa was a must.  Plenty of folks seem to be piling onto buses to get to more populated resorts but we were a little off the beaten track.

I apologise but i just don’t recall the name of the car rental place….just a short distance form the airport.  They had lots of nice looking cars in the lot…..except for one absolute junker….yep – that was ours.   It was shocking – a clapped out Megane.   Scraped up, dinged, rattly, A/C barely working, fuel gauge faulty…and final days, the boot wouldn’t close…  We asked for a replacement but they stressed they had no other so we were stuck with it.   Not ideal but we were to make do!

We were quick to learn that perhaps it was for the best (to have a junk car).  The roads in Corfu are one of the 3 statues:

  1. Crap
  2. Really Crap
  3. Need to have the passenger get out of the car to guide around potholes crap

By day 3, the car rental company had called us and said they had a brand new car for us.  They were happy to make the hour long journey to deliver it to us.   We declined.  We opted to stick with the junker and boy were we glad we did.  We drove on some pretty bad roads for the rest of our time there and there is no way a new car would have come out clean!

So our resort area was Agios St Georgios (north).  There is a place of the same name further down the South West coast.  We were North west.

Its a small resort and being early June, not 100% open for the season yet.  However, when fully open, its not a place with lots of bars and nightclubs so it would suit us just fine regardless.   Corfu doesn’t have great beaches either.  Either rocky/ shales, small etc.  Water is clear and ‘pretty’ as the kids say but beaches on the whole are not great.  Agios Georgios though has the best beaches in Corfu.  A very long stretch of nice sandy beach.   Despite this being on our doorstep, we only visited the beach once.  Mostly because the water here was cooler than others….

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Beach at Agios Georgios

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Beach at Agios Georgios

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First steps on the beach!

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Playing on Agios Georgios beach

Our villa was the biggest hit of our deal.  Not sure how we were lucky enough to land it but we did.  Villa name was Hellyhunter.  An unusual name but it was named after someones father (British family).  The villa was large and immaculate.  Almost a shame we weren’t sharing it with others as it begged to have more people and a party!   The villa sleeps 7/8, 3.5 bathrooms, fully equipped kitchen including dishwasher and washing machine, 2 large BBQ’s, large pool, amazing views and the owners made sure that no detail was left unnoticed.

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Hellyhunter Villa

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Hellyhunter Villa

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View from one of the terraces at the villa

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View from Bedroom window

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enjoying the pool

The house had a decent proximity to the town/ ocean but we opted to walk only once.  We also debated whether the villa was the best on the island…possibly!  With that said, the restaurants in town all offered the same type of fare and for us, not always enticing so not actually leaving the villa some days was easy and welcome.

A quick note on the weather – early June proved to be perfect for us.  The weather was sunny most day, a comfortable temperature but also enjoyable to swim in the pool.  Mosquitos can be bad there but this early in the season, there are very few so we had no need for repellent or plug in repellents (plenty at the villa).  If you’re looking for a time to visit the island, then June it should be!

Next post – some more about surrounding areas and our exploring!

 

 

Italy, Capri

During our stay in Sorrento we ventured out on a day trip to the island of Capri.

As we were late in the season (mid October), we were really lucky with our booked tour.   As a reference, Sorrento (and all Italian tourist areas) are loaded with independent tour offices.   They all offer pretty much the same trips and tours and prices are comparable.  Feel free to shop around but there isn’t much in it!   We booked a day trip to Capri.  Boat travel, exploring the coastline and Blue Grotto and then onto Capri for a few hours.   We were lucky for a couple of reasons:

  1. Despite being October, the day we traveled, the weather was gorgeous!  So nice, the kids swam from the boat!
  2. We were the only family booked onto the tour = private boat with skipper!

There are alternate ways to get to Capri – public ferry leaving from Sorrento being one of them.  The cost of this itself is not that cheap so what turned out to be a private boat, lunch included was a great deal for a family of 5!

The cruise left from a small port north of Sorrento and included in the tour price was transfers to and from our hotel!  Great value and easy.  The cruise over to the island was pretty and relaxing.  Kids had the opportunity to ‘drive’ the boat and everyone took to the bow of the boat for a little sunbathing.   Skipper stopped off at some waterfalls along the way.

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Driving!

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Trying to be chic Italian on board

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enjoying the sunny weather

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Waterfalls en route

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Relaxing on deck

The skipper hugged the coastline of the island allowing us to see splendid rock formations, Blue Mediterranean waters and villages.

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As we had the boat to ourselves, we were able to pull over when we wanted and for as long as we wanted.   This allowed for a little swimming – allowing the kids to say they’ve swum in the Med!  Also, for extra fun, my husband and eldest child were jumping form the boat and swimming through some of the arches.  Only OK when other tour boats were not around and I woudl caution around jellyfish doing this!  Fun nonetheless.

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The skipper took us to the Blue Grottos. There is an extra fee to enter here.  We opted not to do it.  Mainly because the seas were getting choppy and the grotto rowers were calling time.  We felt it would have been rushed and stressful so opted not to fold it into our day.  We had had the luxury of swimming in alternate blue waters and that was enough for us.

The boat took us to the port of Capri.   We had a few hours here.  Enough for exploring on foot.  We followed the crowds out and set off, off the beaten track again.  We explored many streets and afforded great views of Mount Vesuvius and the coastline.   We found a path to a stunning outlook of rocks we had sailed through earlier.

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lookout to where we had sailed through earlier

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View from lookout

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views from lookout

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There is a funicular railway on the island also should you want to avoid some of the hills.  The walking was quite a workout!

To round out our day, we headed back to a main square in Capri, settled in a cafe and treated ourselves to drinks and snacks   Not cheap so be warned for Capri prices but it was a great way to end such a great day.

Knowing skipper was waiting, we headed back to the boat and sped directly back to port!

Don’t forget to check out our other Italy posts on Sorrento, Vesuvius and Pompeii!

 

 

Sorrento, Italy

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View of Mt Vesuvius from Sorrento

This post is a little overdue as we actually took a trip to Sorrento Italy back in October!  Now that I’ve got the hang of this blogging lark, I am now playing catch up!

On this adventure we are on, each child has a ‘to-do’ on their list.  My eldest wanted to go to Italy, so we did!   Now I have been to Sorrento in the past.  For a business trip, so I was somewhat familiar with it and after chatting with a friend who was explaining her family trip there – warmth, history, culture, food – we felt if could be a good balanced trip for all.

So we embarked on the trip over half term break in October.  In fact went a day early  so to avoid soul destroying travel prices so managed to save £500 by taking the twins out of school for one day (sshhh!).

We flew direct from Luton to Naples.  Easy and straightforward.  After research, we knew there was a bus to pick up outside of the airport that will take you to Sorrento.  Again, easy.  The journey lasts around an hour and of course affording lovely views of the coastline along the way.

Our hotel we booked on line was Settimo Cielo.  Nothing fancy but adequate.  If the weather had been warmer, it would have been great with a nice little pool overlooking Mount Vesuvius.   Alas, the air had a chill in it despite it reaching 20° most days.

The hotel is a short walk from Sorrento center itself.  About 5-10 minutes.  I thought this would be no problem and for the most part it was fine BUT in hindsight, I probably would book ‘in town’ for a future trip.  Mostly because we were on our feet all day every day.  To walk into town again for dinner (and back) was proving to get a little ‘old’ by the end of the trip.  Nevertheless, we were comfortable enough in the hotel and never grew tired of the view from our room.

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Sorrento is steeped in history and there is a lot to see and do.  We spent probably 2.5 days touring around Sorrento itself.  We tend to like going off the beaten path when we can and we explored around lots of the side streets often.

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Exploring an art exhibit

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Statues in Sorrento

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Sorrento center

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Exploring side streets

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Fountains in Sorrento

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Statues in Sorrento

There is a little ‘train’ (motorized vehicle pulling cars) that tours around the town.  Not expensive and we a bit of fun.  We hopped on that to get a quick view of what we might want to go back and take a look at.

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Exploring the waterfront

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Views from the waterfront

Dining options were plentiful and all fairly similar.  Our favorite spot was in the middle of the central square – Bar Fauno.  Naturally, our favorite was one of the more expensive spots but the place felt like  a little treat each time we visited.  They offer probably the best hot chocolate we have ever tasted and initial visits they will bring samplers out to you for no charge.   We went often enough that we became ‘regulars’ and known by the staff…not sure if this is a good or bad thing 🙂  For other meals out, we would wander the backstreets and would find somewhere that would take out fancy.  Nothing too remarkable to name here.  My husband is Gluten intolerant which made for interesting lack of choices in a gluten heavy culture.  However, we did find a couple of places offering gluten free pizza so it can be found…especially in the restaurants more central in the town.

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At Bar Fauno

One dining experience we missed out on was at a farm in the hills above Sorrento.   In the town square there is a charming organic food store…beautiful inside ad out.  They own a farm in the hills and offer tours, meals and cooking lessons.  Availability to go is limited and we just missed out on timing to get there (they will pick you up form your hotel).  I recommend that if you like to ‘get out of town’, seek them out and see what they have to offer.

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Seek this store out…they offer cooking classes and meals at their farm in the hills over looking Sorrento

Sorrento is naturally full of history and beautiful monuments and buildings to tour around.  From the coastline to the town, views are splendid.   Other places not to miss in the town include the Orange and Lemon groves and cafes in the old port.

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Orange Groves

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Around the old port

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The Old Port

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The Old Port