Tuesday, 30 June 2015

May and June in England

Springtime in England.  The lush rolling hillsides are covered in every shade of green you can imagine and colorful wildflowers are everywhere.  This is how I've always pictured England to be and now I can verify that it's true - that is exactly what it looks like here in Spring.

Ellie and Leah are still in school which is strange.  They won't be done until July 10.  

I've been missing their company at home the past few weeks.  I think it's because they are usually by my side for all of June.  We go berry picking in June, and we head to the park now and then to pass away a lazy afternoon.   We sit out on the front porch eating lunch together everyday and watching the bees and butterflies flitting around the flowers we've planted together.  We'll watch the cherry tomato that's planted out front closely as the plump little circles get larger and larger and then one day, one of them will come running into the house to show the first ripe fruit to me before they plop it into their mouth.  

But not this year.  This year is different because they are still in school and we are living in England.  We are still doing homework and getting up early each day.  We are still packing lunches and making sure the swimming suit and towel are clean and packed every Thursday for PE.  I'm enjoying it here in England, but at the same time, I'm missing our usual lazy days of June back in Indiana.  

I can't complain too much though because it's places like this (see photo above) where we get to spend our weekends.  The pictures I’m sharing today are from a place in the Peak District in Derbyshire called Chatsworth.  Chatsworth is a beautiful estate home surrounded by acres upon acres of beautiful gardens and land.  Saturday was a gorgeous day here in England so we packed a picnic and headed to Chatsworth to spend a wonderful day wandering the gardens.   

Do you see a new face in the crowd?  That's Taylor, my niece from Minnesota.  Isn't she cute?

She's staying with us for awhile and we LOVE having her here.  It's like the girls suddenly have a big sister and they are eating it up.  I enjoy having her company around the house during the day as well.  And of course we are all having fun showing her life here in merry old England, an amazing experience for an 18 soon to be 19 year old to have. 

Taylor arrived here with my sister Jodi a couple weeks back.  They visited Paris for a week and then flew here to England to stay with us.  Jodi has returned to her normal life back in Minnesota now while Taylor stayed on with us.  One of the very best things about this experience is that is also offers the chance for my family to come and visit Europe.  Would they have done this on their own otherwise - maybe.  But it certainly helps to have someone you know already there to nudge you along.  The week Jodi was here flew by quickly, but we all so enjoyed her company and getting the chance to show her some of England.  

We had our first visitors from the US back in May - my sister Sheryl and her husband Bob.  That's why I missed the May in England post, but that’s okay because May and June here in England have been very similar.  The weather is nice – not too cool (most days anyway) and not to hot.  We’ve been enjoying the lack of spring storms here, well the severe ones anyway.  I wouldn’t mind to hear some good old roof shaking claps of thunder now and again, but looks like we’ll have to wait another year until we get back to Indiana for that. 

We had a wonderful visit with Sheryl and Bob.  It was so good to have familiar faces here with us after 8 months and we enjoyed showing them around where we live.  They stayed with us for several days, and then ventured off to London on their own for a couple of days.  We all joined up again at the airport in London and flew off to Norway for a week.  I’ll be sharing the Norway pictures soon.

And that is about it - May and June in England.  Flowers, green, family, and trips.  That about sums it up.  I leave you today with a few more pictures from Chatsworth because it is B E A U T I F U L there.

A champagne bar truck that was parked by the lawn awaiting the crowd that would be attending an outdoor concert at Chatsworth that evening.  Is this adorable or what!!!  I want to take it home and park it in my driveway.

There was a maze.  From the outside, it didn't look that big, or that hard.  

Then we entered it... and got lost.  

Seriously, we walked around and around and around for a long time (it was probably about 10 minutes, but it sure felt longer than that).  

Triumphant at last!  And a good thing too because we weren't leaving that darn maze until we solved it.

There's Ellie.  A benefit of having your older cousin staying with you - really cute hair braiding!  

And there she is again, on her bum.  She and Leah have been going cartwheel crazy lately and the humongous lawn at Chatsworth beckoned them.  

And there is Leah.  She wants to do her own hair - little miss independent!

She's also an aspiring rock climber.  Let's step back from the edge now Leah.

And the rest of the photos are just Chatsworth. Hope you enjoy!

Monday, 29 June 2015

Italy - A Birthday in Cinque Terre

The day we arrived in Cinque Terre Ellie turned 10.  We were met at the train station by a man named Sergio.  He owned the guest cottage we were renting for the next four nights and didn’t mind taking time out of his day to pick us up at the station, bring us to the grocery store and help us select what we needed to eat for the next few days, and then drive us the 25 minutes it would take to get to the guest cottage on some pretty crazy hilly and windy roads that offered some spectacular views of the Mediterranean.  But before we jumped into his car, he said he had something for Ellie – a birthday cake!  A huge smile spread across her face as he reached into the back seat of his car and pulled out a round package wrapped in green paper and tied with ribbons.  She smiled from ear to ear all the way to the cottage with the birthday cake on her lap. 

Along the drive, Sergio stopped the car now and then and we would all pile out to take photos of the views.  This was our first glimpse of Vernazza, the little village we would be staying near.  It looked as if it was spilling out of the lush green valley into the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean.

And about the drive – you’ve heard of expression “white knuckled” before, right?  Well this was a classic white knuckled drive – hilly, curvy, made you dizzy when you looked out the right window because of the precarious drop off type of drive.  The Mediterranean was below us to our right the entire way.  On the curves (and there were many), the valley wall would rise straight up on one side, and drop straight down on the other side of the road, leaving no room for error.  The road was so narrow in places that Sergio would beep the car horn as he neared a curve just in case another vehicle was coming from the other direction.  I hoped they were listening.  

After what seemed like much longer than 25 minutes, Sergio turned off the main road by a wine barrel and headed up a driveway lined with these beautiful discarded green jugs.   

For olive oil maybe?  Or wine?  I never found out but I sure wanted to take one home with me.  

Sergio brought us right up to the front of the cottage and parked the car before showing us around.  He didn’t have far to go to get home because he lives in the house on the terrace directly below this lovely little cottage.  In fact, he built the cottage himself, board by board and stone by stone.   

What an amazing job he did.  Besides being cozy 

and ridiculous adorable,  

it had everything we needed for our four night stay,

including a lovely olive tree right out front that was the perfect size for two little girls to play under and climb in.

It was perfect!  And out in front was a patio area with a grill, outdoor sink, a huge table, and a spectacular view.  

Which brings me back to Ellie’s birthday.  We arrived at the guest cottage midafternoon.  We put all our luggage away and were itching to make the 40 minute walk down the valley to the village of Vernazza, but first we had to see Ellie’s birthday cake… and maybe try some too.  It had come from a local bakery and the flaky crust held creamy layers of custard and chocolate.  And on top – “Happy Birthday Ellie!”

We sat in front of our wonderful little cottage looking down at the sparkling blue Mediterranean and savored every bite of that delicious cake, or tart, or whatever it was called.  

After a late lunch, the cake and a couple of glasses of wine, it was hard to pull ourselves away from that table and the view, but we wanted to venture down the steep hill to visit the little village of Vernazza before the sun set.  

Cute, colorful with the Mediterranean Sea lapping at it's feet - I think that is a fair description of this little town.  The walkway that juts out into the water forms a quiet little bay right next to the village where the girls spent time scrambling on the rocks and peering into the crystal clear water searching for sea creatures.   

We could have sat there for hours peering out at the sparkling waters of the Sea.  Even the camera man was lulled by the charm and beauty of this place.  

This wasn’t exactly the typical birthday celebration for Ellie, in fact this really wasn’t anything like any birthday she’s had before.  She was celebrating her tenth birthday in Italy.  She got a surprise birthday cake.  She played in the Sea.  There were lots of smiles.  I hope she remembers it well.


Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Italy - Welcome to Cinque Terre: A Little Slice of Heaven

Day 10 of our two week trip to Italy:  We boarded a train in the morning and headed towards the coast and more specifically, an area called Cinque Terre.   


While I honestly cannot say there is one thing I liked the most in Italy because it was all so very good, I can say that this part of the trip to Cinque Terre was the part I was the most excited about.  You see, the Mediterranean and I had met many, many years ago when I was in high school and I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Spain with a group from school.  It was love at first sight.  Well, to be honest, I fall in love with every large body of water I meet, but at that point in my young life, the Mediterranean was the first large body of salt water that I ever saw and I was instantly head over heels in love.  On the last day, I remember standing on the beach as a seventeen year old, my pockets full of shells and rocks I couldn’t resist but to take home, just watching the waves crashing into the beach as the sun sank in the sky and thinking, “I wonder if I’ll ever see the Mediterranean again?”  Honestly, I thought there was a good chance I wouldn’t.  But now here I was (let’s just skip the however many years later part ;) on Day 10 of our trip to Italy on a train with my husband and two daughters heading towards the Mediterranean Sea once again. 
Ah, Cinque Terre - I think I can sum it up by simply saying that it is utterly impossible to not love this place. 

The views – my gosh!  And we didn't even have to leave our cozy little guest cottage to enjoy the views.  We could simply sit out front enjoying a glass of wine with this as our backdrop.

And the five colorful little villages, some hugging the steep hillsides and others snuggled deep down in the valley right on the waters edge – just look at the pictures!  

Cinque Terre means “the five lands” and represents the five villages that sit along the rugged coast in this small section of the Italian Riviera.  The villages, coastline and surrounding hills are part of Cinque Terre National Park and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

It was springtime, citrus season.  There were huge bright yellow lemons hanging heavy on the branches of the little trees.  They were everywhere – in groves on the hillsides, tucked behind cute little houses where the owners could enjoy them as part of their landscape, and as we hiked we would even stumble upon an occasional lone lemon tree high up on a hill or holding on tightly to a steep slope.  We stayed just outside of the little village of Vernazza and at the tiny little grocery store in town, we spied a basket full of these beautiful, juicy lemons with a sign saying they were in fact from this very village.  How could we resist?  Into our shopping basket went several.  Later on that day, I cooked up some simple syrup on the stove, Eric squeezed as much juice out of the lemons as he could, we mixed them together, added water and voila – fresh squeezed lemonade!  What a delicious treat after our long days of hiking the steep hills between the villages.

Oh, and about those hikes - BREATHTAKING!  That is the best word I can think of that even comes close to describe them.  

The sunlight glittering on the deep blue water mixed with the fact that one misstep on the trail at the wrong time would have been a serious problem.  It literally could take your breath away.   

These trails were narrow, rocky, steep and often one side plunging hundreds of feet straight down to the water below.    

Ellie and Leah – they are great hikers.  Some of the climbs up those trails were hard, very hard, but they carried on like troopers, only complaining about being hungry or thirsty now and again but my gosh, they deserved a snack and drink after some of those precarious yet stunning hikes. 

They were cute to watch and listen to as we trekked along because the two of them were making up some story for much of the time we spent hiking in Cinque Terre.  Some fantasy story with dragons and fairies and centaurs among other creatures.  We would hike and hike and hike with those two deep in conversation adding detail after detail to their little fantasy world, rarely an argument or disagreement occurring.   

They hiked side by side the entire time.  Eric and I had to keep reminding them to pay attention to the terrain.  We didn’t need anyone tripping over a tree root or slipping on a loose rock on those steep trails.   

But they just carried on, day after day, adding to their story.  We would make it to the top of one steep hill, 

and after a short break we would start down again on the other side - and their story just kept flowing and growing.  

It was lovely to watch this sisterly bonding.  They're close friends as well as sisters but they don't always get along as well as they did in Cinque Terre.  The magic of that beautiful place seemed to bring out the best in them.   

More tomorrow.  We have so many beautiful pictures and memories from Cinque Terre that I don’t want to rush it, but savor it instead, like a glass of good Italian wine – it should be drunk slowly and enjoyed.