Leaf and Stone Sintra Portugal

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For the children these small towers were castles and keeps with high walls and prwling Orcs. They became knights and princesses. Attackers and besiegers. A place for them to run in full imaginative flow and playful fun. Better than any amusement park as they gave vent to their imaginations. Wonderful.

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Sleepy Beautiful Tropea, Italy

Half and hour by inexpensive train brought us to Tropea with its castle, monastery, cathedral and sleepy narrow streets.

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The view up from the beach. Flip flops are not the most practical footwear  for the descent nor for the tired ascent. The beach wasn’t overcrowded and plenty of places abounded for the essential tasty Italian ice-cream. The town has a little snooze in the afternoon so it is a good idea to have viands tucked away in a bag for the children who can become hungry anytime. Also remember to take that large fold up map. Good for directions, better for keeping off the sun when lying on the beach as a makeshift awning!

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The castle is small but is worth visiting as a museum gives an idea of hour people must have fared under the Italian sun. At its feet is a roundel which has now become an open air restaurant. Splendid views out across the Tyrrhenian Sea as the sunset set, was as stunning a backdrop as could be desired. Be careful about feeding one cute kitty that may well come your way though, as a few more will quickly note your largesse!

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View from our table,  without the cats . Sit back and soak in the atmosphere which is Tropea:-)

 

Lisbon

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We arrived rather late at the airport just outside Lisbon. From there we took a relatively inexpensive super quick taxi. The kids loved the ride as the taxi took on the gravitational characteristics of a Star Wars air-speeder. Fun. Deposited centrally it was up to us to negotiate across a couple of squares to get to our hotel. Be careful, but for some reason the lovely looking stone pavements seemed inordinately, pardon the phrase, slippery when wet. And never did the phrase, ‘’don’t judge a book by its cover’’ seem so pertinent, when it came to the hotel.

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Our exedra shaped hotel was located on Praca Dos Restauradores. The VIP Eden Aparthotel looks like an Art-Deco cinema, and the front of the façade sported a group of people who had drunk a lot and weren’t featured in the promotional material! The hotel looked closed and it was not until walking across the front of the building that we discovered the front door, tucked away almost on the side. We were welcomed by a receptionist who spoke excellent English, seeing as he hailed from the Midlands! The under-lit corridor ended with our apartment which was laid out like a number 3, bedrooms at the end, bath and toilet in the middle. It had seen better days, but the rooms were clean and gave straight out onto the square.  Even more importantly it had free wi-fi for the kids.

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Lisbon for the children was great. Of course our ambling around the centre, taking in the atmosphere was dull for them. For us the alleys, the ochre roofed aging buildings and thoroughfares were fascinating. But then we headed out to the Lisbon Expo Park. This included an Oceanarium, the Vasci de Gama Tower, a cable car ride, a great waterfall and the kids loved all of these attractions. There was also a great indoor attraction that mixed science and hitting bouncy rubber things. Great for  kids of all ages J Another trip out was to Sintra Park. This didn’t have the fast rides and gleaming technology of other parks, but they loved the place. They could run into grottoes, climb stone steps and disappear into foliage, climb small towers and give full rein to their imaginations.  All without wi-fi and sitting! We also went to check out Belem Tower, got caught in the rain waited and hour then decided to buy an umbrella for 5 Euros, and yes, then the rain stopped. The zoo was also included on the kids wish list. Always a sad place for me, full of listless creatures, but with reassuringly expensive ice-cream when feeling too hot.  As always heights have to be included in our perambulations. The Castle of the Moors, built circa 8-9th century,  is set on a  rocky hill  high above the plain, which it dominates. The combination of heights, strong winds and lack of hand holds added since it was first built made it a joy to visit.

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View from the Hotel rooftop, which had a  swimming pool, but sadly to nippy for a dip.

Back in Lisbon, we ventured out at night for some Fado. We had been warned not to pick at the seemingly free food that would be placed on our table in warm and cosy bars/cafes. This was because it would actually be included in our bill. The area was interesting and the people friendly. Strangely enough there were not too many shops to buy fresh fruit and odds and ends for kids to munch on in central Lisbon. All in all a great city to visit with plenty to keep the children happy, too.

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Road Trip to Castle Neuschwanstein

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On to a slice of 19th century romanticism on what can be only termed, the grand style, courtesy of Ludwig II in beautiful Bavaria. Our faithful car laboured up the twisting, narrow switchbacks roads (get the picture?) until we finally swept into Hohenschwangau.

After some nifty maneuvering the driver got us parked behind a small restaurant for a nominal fee. Well done driver.Safely leaving and forgetting our bottles of water in the car, so that they would be at boiling temperature on our return, we set off on foot in earnest.  Hold onto the hands of young children as motorbikes cars and tour buses  pound up the stretch of road to the shops, restaurants and ticket offices serving the castle’s visiting public.

The  town was packed and temperatures had risen to 40 degrees. Everything was rather expensive and remember to have plenty of small change for the toilets. Which in an un-German like manner were not very clean. Having decide to visit the castle we joined a long twisting queue for tickets. Being English, queuing is kind of in the genes. However no cover had been provided and it was hot and tiring on everybody, especially people with young children. The lady who sold us the tickets spoke English well and told us that our tickets were for 4.30pm so we had time to eat.

A comment about language. We had to stop a couple of times earlier in Bavaria. On both occassions I spoke to a man over 50 in his front garden, and a woman over 60 at a small provincial hotel. On both occassions they were not only helpful but spoke pretty good English, too. Much appreciated when lost with wife children in the car:-)

Back to food. We went through the town until we came to a restaurant opposite a lake and a small beach for the children to paddle and play in. For ardent sun worshippers there is a larger beach area a little further on.

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Restaurant.The menu was in German and everything had a fancy name, and an even fancier price. What turned up on the plate was basically a burger, for the price of a steak!  Having secured a second mortgage and settled the bill we left to take a bus to the castle. We had been told by our helpful ticket seller that it would take about 40 minutes to walk. In the stifling heat the bus was the sensible option. We got on in an orderly fashion thanks to barriers that formed a snake like queue. A word on the return. The bus drops you in a small clearing and you continue up to the castle. At the top there are no barriers and people pushed and shoved almost in desperation to get back on the bus for the downward trip. Why? It wasn’t the last bus! Your status as an older person, child, or babe in arms was ignored and the tourists behaviour was atrocious! We stood apart and waited for the next bus.Cattle prod, please. Barriers would be a good idea.

Then we walked up to the castle itself which was an imposing and wonderful view.

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We took a minor detour to go onto a bridge that hangs precipitously over a gorge nearby. Oh, how I laughed when a group of people decided to show how it could be made to move a bit. Great!

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And finally the castle itself. Good, solid, well made castle. It stands majestically and shone almost white-like in the sun drenched Bavarian vista. The visits were well controlled and we waited patiently for our group to gain admittance.

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Inside the castle itself it pays homage to one man’s Wagnerian obsession along with folklore inspired murals and decor. Strangely enough one of the most interesting places was the cookhouse and its ‘state of the art’ equipment. Wonderful to look at, but in the back of the mind was the nagging thought that it is really all a bit of one man’s folly. Great to visit, wonderful to see but not exactly an inexpensive day all in all. Take small change for the toilets, a friends credit card for the restaurants and don’t leave the water in the car on such a hot day, unless you want to make tea. Oh yes,  and mind peoples behaviour getting on a bus in a a semi-remote area!!!

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Next would be an amusement park for the children and a place for me to enjoy more heights.

 

 

Roadtrip Lake Garda and Bruised Shins

 

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Carefully shoveling everything back into the car we headed off to the rocky shores of Lake Garda. A lake along the banks of which Emperor Claudius defeated Germanic tribes and where Napoleon gave the Austrian army a bad away day. To follow were the battles of the ‘I’m not walking that far’ and ‘what are we doing?’. The route took in Innsbruck and the increasingly mountainous scenery as we ploughed on southwards. The children were fascinated by the mountains and stopped looking at their ipads and tablet etc., for…oh, about 2 seconds!  400km of a beautiful route to drive. The Brenner bridge over the Brenner pass. At 180 meters I declined to look to much at the stunning views, being the pilot, even when invited by the navigator. Although it was late June we did not encounter an real traffic jams or marmalades or other confiture.

For Italy we did not have to purchase a vignette, which was pleasing. Less pleasing was the way the road tolls racked up in Italy. Eventually making the  vignettes look good value! At Trento we left the motorway for the sake of our pockets and to better get a feel of the place on lesser roads.And there it was, diamond lights sparking on the surface of Lake Garda. We took the quite road down by the lake to Bardolino which snuggled on the east coast of Garda. Ah…Vacansoleil and our accommodation beckoned. The SR249 is not Russian spy plane, but the funky designation for the road which bisects this camp. I had a choice, pull in on the right and check in. Off course wrong, two receptions, back in the car back on the road and into the left-hand reception. A strange set up as the SR249 (or on alternating Tuesdays, the BR696) was a tad busy and there were many, many families with young children. Later after traversing the road we found out that there is a tunnel connecting the landlocked camp and the shore side area. The tunnel is a cycle and Llama free zone, but cars can go there, too. Super!

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The shins explained and our accommodation. After being read the rules we were led to our chalet. Small timber built chalets packed close together amongst very large mature trees.After coating the car in vaseline I just about managed to slip it in next to our chalet, up to the back of the neighbour’s chalet and a big knobbly tree. With children fleeing the car technology in hand we unpacked suitcases and the staggering volumes of blankets and divans. A timber sitting area is traversed and we’re in. Having once visited Chatham naval dockyard on a family visit, and having been aboard an Oberon class diesel-electric submarine , I wasn’t unduly shocked. It was tight. A tiny kitchenette was passed to get to the children’s room which was snugly snug and stifling in the heat. As for the bathroom, well just don’t turn round. If you drop the soap, leave the bathroom and come back in on your knees. Our room was an emaciated double bed with steel legs. Hardly enough room was left to go alongside the bed or get to the tiny wardrobe. Hence the oft repeated, ‘Oh gosh I seem to have hurt my shin again darling, what a clumsy soul I am”.

The camp was packed, noisy and the pool was old fashioned and undersized. An onsite camp shop was not the cheapest, but the supermarkets 10 minutes drive away were very good value.The entertainment reminded me of camps in England as a boy.Noooo! But our  submarine sized hut was merely a staging post for amusement parks, sightseeing Sirmione and Verona.