36 hours in Austria - Fifteen Seconds Conference

What a whirlwind trip to Austria for two nights and one day!

I went over to Graz to speak at Fifteen Seconds one of the best conferences I have ever had the chance of speaking at as well as attending. No expense was spared pulling together 200 interesting speakers from all over the world, incredible interactive exhibition spaces, a market of local unique Austrian brands to go shopping between sessions, amazing local food and fantastic Spring weather.

Fifteen Seconds had areas dedicated to science, mobility, technology, culture, growth and start up world and had a mission to inspire and engage every curious mind.

To be honest I had never heard of Graz when asked to talk at the conference. It’s 2.5 drive from Vienna, a really gorgeous place with a historic town centre, river and a Schlossberg Mountain right in the centre of the old town. Apparently the conference is the biggest thing happening in Graz all year so it was a very big deal to have 200 speakers and 6,000 delegates in town. 

The organisers had enlisted many of the local Uni students to volunteer which was a fantastic experience for them and also as a speaker for us to learn about the area, ask local information and discover a little more about the young people of Graz.

It was a long travel day heading from Siena to Florence airport, (thanks Ben for driving me there). Then a flight from Florence to Vienna and was met at the airport by one of the volunteers and a few other speakers. They organised gorgeous new self driving BMWs filled with water, red bull and lots of local sweets and we heading down the highway to Graz for the 2.5 hour journey. I had a ball getting to know my fellow speakers and Christof, our volunteer.

On arrival we were late for the opening speaker party so a quick change and Christof was waiting to drive us to the venue which was on a rooftop overlooking Graz, lots of very good local wines and food as well as a local DJ. A fun night mingling with other speakers and sponsors. 

The conference was at  Stadthalle Graz and the opening was 1030am, nice and civilised. I met my volunteer who drove me to the venue where I was greeted by my ‘speaker handler’ for the day who organised my check in, drinks and meals, photography session and anything else I needed. I could get used to this! 

I could feel the excitement in the packed main stage area as the conference was about to open, standing room only, lots of people seated on the floor and standing on the bars around the room. The countdown began, light, smoke, fireworks and strobe lit up the stage which was backed with 30 shipping containers for projection. 

Lots of young delegates, casually dressed and quite a lot with no shoes, Austrians seem to be very casual! This made me feel overdressed in my dress and leopard heels so I decided to head back to the hotel to put on a maxi dress and converse for my talk. This gave me a chance to walk back to the hotel through the old town and enjoy a tiny bit of the surrounding neighbourhood. It’s a spectacular city, very Sound of Music and would be stunning in Winter too. I of course stopped for a strudel.

I heard some terrific speakers all day and for the first time also experienced a ‘silent conference’. In order to have four stages in one of the halls, two stages were silent which had the audience wearing headphones to hear the speaker. You did not even need to be in the room to hear, you could listen on a channel even if you had to leave the room or go to another area of the conference, so people all over all venues were wearing headphones. Thankfully I did not have a silent stage for my session as I’d find it really hard to engage with an audience wearing headphone with some of the people listening from other areas.

My session on ‘How to build a digital community’ went well and I filled the room even though it was a 6pm session and I was competing with drinks and networking. 

The Speaker party started at 9pm, and I headed over there to meet some more fellow speakers and ended up spending most the night chatting to one of the nicest guys I have ever met, Bobak Ferdowsi. I had no idea who he was when I sat down next to him until someone else referred to him as NASA Mowhowk Guy and I googled him from the other side of the bar. Amazing who you meet at conferences…

Reflecting on the last few days as I travel back to Italy. It is so unbelievably inspiring to attend events such as these. I always pick up some new hints and tips, get inspired to start new businesses and change the world. And of course meet some amazing people, some of who stay in my life long term. 

And....I CAN SKI!

After only starting school 7 weeks ago, last week was ‘White Week’ which is a week of school holidays where everyone seems to go skiing. We thought we would join in this tradition.

Ben and I have NEVER been skiing and the girls first tried skiing for one day at Xmas when we were in The Dolomites and they fell in love with it, and we got FOMO watching them from the sidelines. Coincidentally we met a gorgeous Australian family at Xmas though a mutual friend, and although they are based in Germany, they had booked a skit trip to The Dolomites for ski week and invited us to come along, which we decided to do and I’m so glad we did.

I went to physio twice last week for a neck injury and wanted to get it better enough for the ski trip, assuring the physio I would be back with much more severe injuries after my week i the snow, and she was trying to tell me not to ski and tell me horror stories from patients she treated after skiing…

Friday 22 February, Audrey had a big dress up parade, concert and parent party for Carnivale and the last day of school. It involved lots of snacks for kids, champagne for parents, DJ, lots of confetti (which for some reason I love)

We headed off from our house in Siena early Saturday 23 February and arrived in San Vigilio 5 hours later, to a gorgeous gingerbread looking fairytale village where we checked into our apartment which was ‘ski in ski out’ and I finally understand what that now means!

We spent to afternoon renting gear, buying ski passes and organising ski school for the kids and private lessons for Ben & I. The girls were all able to join the same ski school class with our other friends as they were all put together as the ‘English speaking’ group, not understanding German or Italian instructors. They were booked into classes for 3 hours each day and on the 6th day would be a race with trophies and prizes. All very exciting! Ben and I opted for a private class with Guido to see how we would go first time on skis.

Sunday morning the girls eagerly skied down from our front door over to their 10am ski class, while Ben and I had to drive the car over as we could not ski down the slopes but we were both excited, and I think equally nervous about our afternoon lessons. We walked up one of the slopes and found a gorgeous bar where we sat for 3 hours watching the kids ski and trying not to drink too much before our afternoon lessons. I was introduced to Bombardino which is 1/2 eggnog and 1/2 brandy with whipped cream on top…mmmm and of course a few aperol spritz throughout the day.

Ben and I headed over to our afternoon private ski class with Guido (an older instructor  in his 60s with a very serious moustache and not a lot of English). We learnt how to put on skis, go from ski to ski on one leg at a time and after 20 minutes he announced we’d now go down the 2.5km slope….uuummmm what? I think I panicked a little and could not get the hang of it at all, sliding all over the place, skis crossing over, falling down and just not enjoying it at all thinking at any moment I would fall, twist my knee and end up in a cast. Meanwhile Ben was doing great, speeding past me and really enjoying it.

I left the lesson feeling very defeated and decided I would just not be a skier and sit in the bar, reading a book while the girls and Ben could ski all week. Ben, the kids and our friends were telling me I’d pick it up if I kept going but I was not convinced and cancelled further lessons with Guido.

Waking up Monday morning and a new day, I decided to take the morning off and try lessons with another instructor later in the day to see iff I could progress. The next 2 days I had private lessons with Huebert, a much younger Italian man in his 30s and quite gorgeous too which helped! He taught me the ropes and by Wednesday I was skiing with Ben and the girls and getting used to it a lot more, still going very slowly but not falling over so much.

Thursday and Friday were my big ski days where I loved it, could vaguely keep up with Ben and the girls and ski together, go to steeper slopes, head all over the mountain and to the toboggan area with the girls where we stayed for a whole afternoon racing toboggans.

Thursday afternoon was our only incident as we headed quite far away from our apartment which took an hour to reach on skis. It was stunning as it was the top of the mountain Kronplatz and I had one of our German friends helped me get there which involved a few gondolas, a few steeps 500 meter runs, a chairlift (which I fell off spectacularly) and some more skiing.

Anyway Ben and the kids got there earlier than me and when I arrived we decided to stay, have lunch and look around. Our friends all headed back but we stayed up here and the kids skied for a few more hours. After vaguely working out the best way back, we left at 3pm knowing the chair lifts stopped at 5pm and it gave us 2 hours top navigate back over the mountain and get home before dark.

We skied down the steepest first part of the mountain but when we got half way down towards the first gondola ride, Audrey was hysterical in tears, very exhausted and decided she could not ski at all anymore and lay down on the snow refusing to keep going, and I was also feeling exhausted and out of my league.

Hayley and Polly were pretty far ahead at this stage and Ben made a call that we all stop, walk back up the mountain with our skies, which was quite far but closer than the gondola which looked miles away. Hayley was not happy and protesting that she would go alone and meet us at home but of course we decided to all stay together. We were all very grumpy and tired and I think I might have poked my ski pole at Hayley’s eye at one point as she was being so annoying! It took 30-40 min to walk up the mountain again and then work out how to get back to our apartment.

We found a gondola from the top of Kronplatz that would take us all the way down to a town called Bruneck where we could get a shuttle that could drive us the 20km back to our apartment. We finally made it home in the shuttle, tired but safe and sound. A really good call to turn around and walk back rather than all get stuck on the mountain overnight and freeze to death.

We had the best week in the snow, with amazing views, drinking lots of hot chocolates, eating apple strudel and friend apple fritters with ice cream, schnitzels with potatoes and even a BBQ with our Australian friends.

We can’t wait to go to the snow again, hopefully at Xmas for a week back to The Dolomites before we head back to Australia end of January.

I came home with 16 bruises in total although Audrey won the bruise competition with 19!

I CANNOT BELIEVE I CAN SKI, I LOVE IT!!!!

Birthday celebrations Italian Style

On Friday was Hayley 13th Birthday and the first of all our birthdays over here in Italy. 

Hayley really did not want to leave Sydney, her school, friends, family or her lifestyle and could not understand why we were doing this trip and what could Europe offer that Sydney could not? A few weeks before we left she finally came around to the idea it was happening whether she wanted to come or not, she finally told friends and I was allowed to tell her school and teachers.

She has had such an amazing attitude to the trip since arriving, taking on anything offered to her and even sourcing out new opportunities, joining the local band, taking private trombone and trumpet classes each week, making friends, going to parties, joining the school spring show and so much more. 

I have such incredible respect for her and how she has taken on this new challenge that I might have gone slightly overboard with her birthday this year, but boy is she worth it!

I spent weeks shopping for gifts and cards from all our family back home so she has presents and messages from family and friends in Sydney. 

Friday she woke up at 4am super excited the day was finally here and managed to let us all sleep until 6am when she came bounding in announcing ‘its my birthday’ and going to wake Polly & Audrey shortly after with dance party music. 

We opened presents and had Italian pastries for breakfast and then it was off to school. She was so appreciative of all her gifts from everyone back home as from Polly & Audrey. This year we decided to give her an experience so I booked a private Italian baking class for her and I to do for 3 hours over the weekend. 

She had a great day at school with her friends where Grade 8 sang happy birthday in 5 languages (not bad for 13 kids), she took in cakes and drinks to celebrate. At night we all went out for Sushi which was such a treat after 2 months of only Italian food. We then went to Nannini on the way home to pick up a cake and have it for dessert as Audrey and Polly were already asleep in the car. 

Saturday Hayley and I went for manicures and pedicures, which is not very common in this area at all, so took me a while to find somewhere we could both go. I thought we’d be an hour or so and be home in time to prep for her party. Turns out the same person does all the manicures and pedicures so it’s one booking at a time in the salon, although other staff members were there, surfing the web on their phones or drinking coffee. Turns out we were gone for almost three hours for my manicure and Hayley’s pedicure, but we enjoyed our catch up time together!

Then was her birthday party which she only decided to have 2 days earlier, inviting all the girls in her class into Siena to go shopping and for gelato/cakes/hot chocolates. Then she decided this was not really a party so we turned it into a scavenger hunt split into groups and most the girls had never done anything like it before. It was a lot of fun running around Siena taking photos of various landmarks, dressing up, finding dogs etc. 

The party was 3-6pm but by 530pm Hayley and her friends asked if they could all stay in town for dinner and parents pick them up at 9pm, they already all worked out where to eat and had made a reservation. So I went home leaving Hayley with her 6 friends in the dark in Siena on a Saturday night and we picked her up at 9pm. Turned out to be an epic day but she loved it.

Sunday we had the Tuscan Baking class with Marta at her home overlooking the tuscan region. Marta and her husband were gorgeous and we baked in their home kitchen for 3 hours. They designed a menu just for Hayley, printed menus and all recipes and we made 4 cakes and desserts - cantucci, tiramisu, torta di riso & chocolate salami. We bought home the cake, tiramisu, over 100 cookies and 2 chocolate salamis. Cannot wait to take Polly and then Audrey there for birthday cooking classes, it was such a memorable activity and I enjoyed it as much as Hayley.

And that’s how we celebrated turning 13 in Siena! 

Adrenaline adventure outing

With the girls at school and Ben off rock climbing with a new Canadian friend for the day with the car, rather than being house bound I thought I’d head off on my own adrenaline adventure on such a glorious day!

I have decided to walk to the hairdresser which from our house is 2.5km and along the freeway with no footpath. I have documented the journey, partly to remember how bloody scary the walk has been and also incase I DIE, Ben can worked out how I got here and where they found my body…

I have always been too scared to walk the area around our house, or really anywhere in Siena as there appear to be no footpaths, cars go 110km/hr, pedestrian crossings exist but cars get right of way so you just need to wait for a gap and run, cars tend to drive on pedestrian only streets as well. 

Just finished at the hairdresser where I had my hair dyed, cut and straightened (for 60 euros - bargain), AND had 2 (or maybe3) glasses of chianti wine and some pannaforte. The walk home should be a lot more bearable! 

Snow, Florence and more…

On Monday we unsuccessfully tried to run errands in Siena Monday after drop off. I tried to buy clothes for the girls, I could not find. We went to the Tribunale to get documents translated, our officer she was not in so we went from one courthouse to the next looking for translations, no one could help us. So we went for lunch at the local Salumeria at the end of our street. Pasta and wine fixes everything on a cold day! Picked up the girls in heavy rain, tried to look at a villa 20 min from school, we got lost so it was almost an hour but the time we found it and then hated it anyway. Fun times!

After looking at over 20 houses in the last 3 weeks, we have finally booked our next housing options. In May & June we are stay at a huge 4 bedroom villa in a gorgeous area with a large pool, about 30 min from school so quite a commute for us considering we always walked to school in Sydney and right now we are 8 min drive to school from our house in Costafabbri. Then we plan to be nomads and travel July and August. When we are back we are staying on a very traditional farm (agritourismo) in Siena countryside where they have horses, chickens, 5 dogs (Audrey is petrified), pool, spa, crochet, table tennis and of course make their own wine, grappa, olive oil and more. I’ve offered the girls to help with the harvest and the animals. November - Jan not sure where we will live yet but still ages away. 

Monday night it started to snow very lightly so there was much excitement at our house about the potential snow day on Tuesday. I really wanted school to be cancelled so we canid all stay home, go for a walk in the snow, bake, watch movies and chill out. It was not meant to be, the snow was not heavy enough to stick to the roads so school was open. I took the girls to school and by the time I got back it was heavier so Ben and I went for a snow walk to the local Salumeria, no one was out and about. By the time we got the girls in the afternoon it was snowing a lot harder and starting to look like a winter wonderland. 

Tuesday night the girls went to bed praying for a Wednesday snow day and we woke up to grooves, trees, fields and everything covered in gorgeous snow but not the roads so school was open once again. I even offered to keep them all home and tried to sweeten the deal with baking and board games but they ALL wanted to go to school to hang out with friends instead, they are all really enjoying school which is fantastic! We had a huge snow fight in the field and carpark before school which was really fun until people got snow in their ears and down their school clothes so after some tears and screaming at each other, we decided to head off to school.  We dropped them at school and decided to drive up to Castellino in Chanti and it was a stunning drive, 20 min away. All the empty vineyards, trees, fields and houses covered in think snow, just gorgeous. We parked safely although would not have gone further as we started skidding on the roads that had not been plowed in our tiny rental ford focus (Ben picking up our new car in Rome today, yippee!) 

We decided last minute to book at hotel and go to Florence for the weekend. We only live an hour from Florence but we wanted to do so much there we thought a weekend away would be really fun. We headed off Saturday morning and I finally feel comfortable enough to drive long distances on the freeway now, though still not small narrow roads out to the country. I offered to be our driver for the weekend giving Ben a break for a change. I promised to pay attention to the GPS and try and not take wrong turns and he promised not to comment on my driving, react if he thought I was too close to the curb and to listen to podcasts while I drove so he was distracted. This worked well most of the time!

We had a lovely weekend and Saturday we walked for miles through all the piazzas, leather markets, food markets, shopped in the Winter sales, of course had  gelato, went to the rooftop bar at the Westin for sunset drinks, had an amazing dinner and we all crashed back at the hotel 12 hours after we headed out. 

Sunday started with bike riding at Parco delle Cascine in Florence, an enormous park (130ha) that runs parallel to the river. We all rented bikes and then Audrey pointed out to us she has never ridden a bike without training wheels. I know it was on my to do list before we left home as I know we’d be riding over here. Poor life of a third child that we had completely forgotten. We taught her to ride yesterday and she was SO brave! The 70 year old Italian man at the bike rental came out to push her and say ‘look straight ahead and don’t touch the brake’…in Italian’. Within about 20 minutes she was stable enough to ride 200 meter at a time. So we went riding for an hour along the river and then she was exhausted. Ben, Polly and Audrey went back and Hayley and I rode for another hour over bridges and all through the park. We then headed to Piazza Michaelangelo to check out the views and eat lunch in San Niccolo, a gorgeous arty area close to the piazza. Pretty epic weekend but a lot of fun. Home in time for unpacking, baths, dinner, homework and preparing for the week. 

LOVING Tuscany in Winter, it’s so empty and quiet this time of year. All the Xmas tourists have gone home and it’s really just locals around. Parking is easy, no lines for anything and we can get onto tours or decide what to do on the day rather than pre-plan weeks in advance.

We have booked a few more trips over the next few weeks so will start travelling more in February and March. London next week by myself to visit friends, then we are off to Lucca & Viareggio in 2 weeks for  Carnivale. Skiing for a week back in The Dolomites end of February for a week  and then back to London and Manchester with the whole family for 2 weeks in April for Easter and school holidays. 

Observations this week - 

  • Coffee and a pastry EVERY morning at my favourite Nannini Cafe is 2.50 euro ($4) and better than anything in Sydney (and since being here I have lost weight…not sure how that works???)

  • It’s been 7 weeks and I still get into the passenger side of the car at lease once a week. Quiet embarrassing when someone is waiting for your spot and I have to get out and go around. 

  • There is a pharmacy in Italy on every block with a bright green flashing cross so they cant be missed. They are often open 24 hours which is good to know. So far so good but am sure we’ll be needing them in the next year.

  • Loving the lack of mobile phons and laptops over here. I sit on my laptop each morning at the cafe and am the only one, they must think I am a famous journalist of writer. No one has iPads or laptops out and about. Often people are alone in cafes or even restaurants for a 2 course lunch and they read the paper, look out the windows or chat to the staff. No one scrolls through their phone or has it out on a table at a cafe, it’s very refreshing!

  • Just nailed grocery shopping at Coop for the first time - no wrong turns on the way there after school drop off - fist time I had a coin so could actually get a trolley - remembered to get trolley in the car park as there are none in the store - took 1.5 hours translating all items into Italian and then finding them - brought my own bags for groceries - credit card worked - WINNING!

January in Siena

The last week or so we’ve really settled into a routine with school, after school activities, grocery shopping and still heading to new villages and locations for adventures. 

The girls are pretty shattered after a full week at school so Saturday mornings seem to be PJ time, watching TV, making pancakes, baking, playing games and getting on top of homework for the week. Loving this change of pace as our Saturdays for most the year are driven by team sports.

Week two of school is still going well. Ben and I met with the head of Middle School to get on top of Hayley and Polly’s curriculum and just have a general catch up. Hayley started trumpet and trombone lessons after school on Thursdays while Polly goes to Drama Club and Audrey to mixed games at the same time. We are planning no other after school activities while over here to give the girls lots of time to just explore after school, go into town, hang out at parks and relax. 

Audrey was handed a necklace on day six of school from her friend and said she is now part of the gang as the other girls had matching necklaces, this made me cry a little! Just so welcoming and a lovely place for the girls to be over the next year. Hayley is off to a party tonight which is 2:30-10pm and sounds pretty epic, her whole year is invited (14 kids) and everyone going so will be a fun afternoon for her. Polly is going to a friend’s house and sleepover next weekend. So happy the girls are all making friends and seem so happy over here. 

I’ve met the most gorgeous parents already in the last two weeks. So far I have met families from Canada, USA, Amsterdam, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, NZ, Cuba, Switzerland and Italy, and it’s only been a week. We really are in an International School and with such small years everyone knows everyone and kids from Year 7 hang out with kids from Year 10 which gives the kids opportunities to make friends who are younger and older than them. 

So with the girls at school and me not working for the first time in my life I’m completely loving it the change of pace! I’ve finished knitting a scarf I’ve been working on for six months, cooking local tuscan meals, spending a lot of time looking for a villa for us to live in from April to July (we drove to 18 villas this week!), exploring new areas, going for walks, binging on TV (This is Us), and enjoying time lunching and exploring with Ben while the girls are at school. 

Wednesday Ben and I took the day to hang out in Florence, still cant believe I can go to Florence just for lunch! We walked through the city from Piazza Michaelangelo, had Aperol spritz at the rooftop bar at The Westin, did some shopping and had lunch of amazing sandwiches and wine before heading to collect the girls from school. 

Last night we went to dinner in Siena with new friends from Canada/USA and their 2 gorgeous girls. They have been here for 3 years so know a lot more about life in Siena than us and were so helpful with so many of my questions such as what to buy a 13 year old boy for his birthday and where to find something??? 

This week it might snow in Siena which is very rare so we will get a snow day as school will be closed. We are hoping this happens as it would be an amazing experience to walk around in the snow here and have a snowball fight! Here’s hoping!!!

I have included some photos of our house below which we love. We extended our booking so are here for 4 months until April. We are hoping to come back again next winter from November to January.

One month into our adventure

So today is one month since we left sunny Sydney for icy Italy and I couldn’t be happier. In some ways it feels like we just arrived yesterday and in others it feels like we have been here a lifetime already. I said to Ben I am already getting sad about leaving Italy…he was not impressed!

Life feels so normal here in so many ways already. Today I woke the girls up, got them ready for school, made breakfast and dropped them off. It’s now 9am and I am having a morning pastry and coffee at my favourite local caffe…yes apparently I drink coffee now after avoiding it for 42 years! I was asking for tea at the caffes and they thought I was mad so have switched to coffee for now. Ben orders Caffe Corretto and I’m not there yet (that’s espresso with a shot of grappa or sambuca). 

My accent is terrible, by far the worst of our entire family. Even Audrey has a better accent than me! Am working on improving my pronunciation so I can talk to locals without using the word ‘allora’ so much….which is a filler word when you are thinking of what to say next (so, then, well).

I had a major Mum moment earlier this week when I realised if I had a heart attack, the kids broke a bone, Ben was attacked by a wild boar or shot by hunters while out running in hunting season (yes he is!) I had no idea how to contact an ambulance, where the local hospital was or how to call a doctor. So now I’ve programmed this into all our phone and devises and I feel much better. 

School life in Siena:

  • So the girls are on day 4 of school and could not be happier. Day one they were all super nervous as to be expected. New school, new country, new language and more. Polly had a bit or a cry when we dropped them off, which of course made me cry. 

  • They all came bouncing out of school so happy with new friends they have made already and the teachers they met. Each of their year groups only have 12-14 children so its a tiny school with amazing views over Tuscany and could not be more different to what we are all used to, which was part of our plan. 

  • My all time favourite thing about school in Siena…NO LUNCHES! They get lunch, morning and afternoon tea every day. This gives us a good hour in the mornings without the daily lunch drama of what to take each day. Fruit and vegetables are for morning tea, lunch is a 2 course hot meal starting with a pasta course, bread and then protein and vegetables. Afternoon tea is pizza, focaccia or biscuits. This also means a light meal for dinner, so I really feel like I have so much more time without really making lunches or dinners. Did I mention I LOVE ITALY!

  • We said to the girls after day one how proud we were of them all and how resilient this process is going to make them as not many experiences in life will be this tough again. To work out coping mechanisms at such a young age will just make them tougher in the long run. 

  • Hayley has made a friend who is from China and her English is not great so Hayley talks to her in Mandarin as neither of them speak much Italian. She translates Italian and English to Mandarin to follow along in class, while Hayley is translating Italian and Spanish into English. I love this experience for the girls. She has booked into trumpet and trombone lessons so is very happy about that and I am trying to sign her up to play with Siena Jazz which is a well known group or bands in the region. 

  • Polly’s new friend is a local Italian girl who is a golfing champion and they have the same birthday so are apparently bonded for life. Her year seems very welcoming and a lovely group of kids.

  • Audrey has of course made friends with the whole class and uses the term ‘hashtag popular’ a lot at home so I need to keep an eye on her! She has her first field trip coming up in 2 weeks and I volunteered to be a class parent on the trip, and I cant wait. We are off to a Crystal and Glass Factory in Colle Val d’elsa for the morning.

  • When I go to school pick up there are only 30-35 parents there and then I remember the school only has 100 kids and a lot of siblings so that’s most the parents. Will take a while to get used to the small school, but so far really feels like a family and everyone is so friendly. 

It’s only week one with the kids at school but I am loving the slow pace of life. I came home and baked muffins yesterday and today Ben and I are off to explore Montalcino, wonder around and have lunch before getting the girls at 345pm. We have done a lot of baking in the last 3 weeks and all I ask is they chose Italian recipes so we have made ricotta cheesecake, nutella scrolls, biscotti, tiramisu, Italian fried doughnuts and more. Must start looking at cooking as well as baking so we don’t just eat sweets all the time. 

Polly and Audrey have the record for 9 meals in a row being pasta and Hayley following them with 7 pizza meals in a row. Lucky we all like pizza and pasta, and I’m trying not to obsess about the lack of protein we are all having. It’s very much a carb centric culture. 

Italy is very much centred around food, cooking and coffee! There are so many supermarket chains in Siena which only has a population of 30,000 people. So far we have been to Pam, Coop, Conad, Penny, Simply, Supermart and it’s only been 4 weeks, I am sure there are many more.  I’m trying to decide if I just go to my favourite supermarket to get everything (Coop) or if I do the various farmers markets on certain days of the week, go to the local butcher, visit the fish monger van that comes to our town on a Tuesday (we are in Costafabbri). Have not decided yet, we have been doing a mixture and I love the farmers market produce but in sub zero degrees it’s nice to get everything under one roof too. We discovered the local pig farm when on a walk from our house and while playing with the piglets who were 6 weeks old., the farmer said they are made into prosciutto at 6 months. 

The amount of alcohol consumed in our area has surprised me as people start with coffee/liquor early in the morning, have wine or spritz with lunch, through the afternoon and again at dinner time. We already have 14 bottles of various liquor and wine at home which is pretty good in a month, and we keep buying more. At 3 euro for a bottle of wine, 10 euro for most spirits and only 5 euro for a bottle of Aperol how can we not buy bottles every time we go supermarket shopping. Ben and I normally order 1/2 litre of wine with lunch and most people who dine alone are consuming that without a second thought. 

Walking in this area is a little terrifying as there are no pavements, no shoulder on the road and cars drive at 90 in our area so I feel like we might all die if we head out for a walk. We can go through the field but they are often icy and frosty so we (or I) tend to slip! When it gets warmer I might attempt to walk the fields to the local caffe but for now the car is my friend. We just ordered our car which Ben is off to Rome to collect end of Jan and I cant wait, its a brand new Peugeot 3008 and will be perfect to drive back to the snow when we head back to The Dolomites in February for ski week break from school. 

What I am missing from home right now (apart from people)…my bed and pillow. Might have the pillow sent over as I bought one here and it’s not the same! 

Must go and meet Ben and leave the warm caffe for -2 degrees outside, and leave time to scrape ice off the car window, so excited I bought an ice scraper yesterday after ruining all my credit cards using them one morning. So excited I get to scrape ice and frost from the windows, it’s all still so different! 

Ciao xo

Italian Xmas holiday to The Dolomites 15 - 27 December

After arriving in Italy 11 Dec, we spent 4 days in Siena at our new home, at school orientation and the end of year school movies night and bake sale. We then packed up again and hit the road Saturday 15 December for a 12 day driving holiday adventure that went something like this:

Siena - Bologna - Modena (overnight)

Modena - Verona - Bolzano (5 night base for the Dolomites) Daily trips to various towns - Brixen, Vipiteno, Merano 

Bolzano - Bormio (3 nights)

Bormio - Como - Porto Ceresio (Lake Lugano) - Switzerland - Xmas Eve and Xmas Day

Porto Ceresio  - Varese - Parma (overnight)

Parma - Siena 

For those of you not thinking I was able to switch off, I have not written at all until now as I’ve been staring out of windows, checking out the view, knitting and even reading (yes I remember how to read a book!)

Saturday 15 December -

We are finally getting over jet lag which I have realised is really just kids melting down about nothing at all and parents having so much less patience to deal with it! 

It was 2 degrees and we packed the frosty car and hit the road, stopping 5 minutes into the journey for delicious, giant cannoli travel snacks. Back in the car and we headed to Bologna for our first stop of the day. We walked around the city, went shopping and found a huge food market with a food hall where we had pasta, pizza, cheese and salami and wine for lunch. I’m getting used the varieties of these foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We got back in the car and headed for Modena where we arrived at 4pm and it was already pitch black, the sun is only up this time of year from 830 - 4pm, so the days are quite short but hoping it helps the girls sleep in! We were all ready for dinner by 5 but nothing inItaly even opens before 730pm so we kept everyone awake by finding a game shop and buying a new board game, Sushi Dice - highly recommended! Now a family favourite of ours. Finally the restaurant opposite our AirBNB opened at 730pm and we went for a lovely dinner, still getting used the the fact that wine is 2 euros a glass so water is generally more than wine on our bills. 

Sunday 16 December -

We started the day with pastries from the local bakery and hit to road to head for the Ferrari Museum in Modena which opened 930am. We spent a good hour looking at all the cars through the years while Audrey directed us through the exhibition in charge of the iPad app and English translations. Ben enjoyed this stop much more than all of us but we figured we were heading into a week of Xmas markets to it’s only fair to give him some Ferrari time. 

We arrived in Verona at lunchtime and hit our first Xmas markets so were all VERY excited by the many stalls with snow globes, soaps, toys, woollen items, xmas ornaments and so much more. Food stalls included pretzels, hot chocolates, gluwein, doughnuts, strudel, olives, focaccia, cookies, chocolates, eggnog and we managed to try pretty much everything we saw (I’ve gone through an entire bottle of eggnog in 4 days, but at 7 euros its a bargain!)

Ben was getting pretty overwhelmed so I had to round up the girls who could have spent hours buying bits and pieces and we hit the road to Bolzano and our base for 5 days to explore the Dolomites. 

Monday 17 December -

Had a lovely day in Bolzano at the Xmas markets, the girls bought new very warm jackets with fur hoods from H&M, drank lots of gluwein to stay warm and went out for a delicious German dinner. This region is heavily influenced by Austrian/Switzerland so everyone speaks German and Italian, all signs are in both languages and the food is very German. Was a nice break from pizza and pasta! 

Tuesday 18 December -

Today was pretty epic as it was the first time the girls went to the snow. We drove to Merano, 40 minutes from Bolzano to a gorgeous town up in the mountains, stopping for an authentic Austrian apple strudel o the way. We headed to Merano 2000 ski resort and spent most the day up there on our new 3 euro toboggans playing in the snow. Ben, Audrey and Hayley went down a huge toboggan run that took them 40 minutes while Polly and I found the gondola and accidentally rode it for free until we were told to get off and buy a ticket. We then headed to Merano Xmas Markets which were on the river and had local delicacies for dinner, a quick merry go round ride and home, feeling exhausted. 

Wednesday 18 December - 

We opted for a low key day to catch our breath and went to thee local shopping mall for supplies. Decathalon for more warm ski gear, a new big red toboggan, xmas gifts, supermarket supplies and more. The afternoon was spent back in the apartment snuggling and watching the new Kurt Russell Xmas Movie.

Dinner at a lovely Austrian restaurant where the girls got delicious wiener schnitzel, I had goulash and Ben pork knuckle. On the way home from dinner it started snowing so we all got out at home and played in the snow for a while, first falling snow for the girls so pretty special. 

Thursday 20 December - 

It snowed a lot overnight so we woke up the the cars, pavements, roofs and everything covered in snow and looking like a fairytale.

We headed to the Otzi museum as Hayley had just studies Otzi (iceman) in history this year and we discovered he was found here in Bolzano to went to the museum to check it out which was surprisingly good. We then stopped into the Bolzano Xmas markets on the way back to the car for food. We then spent the rest of the day driving to gorgeous little fairytale villages - Brixen and Vipiteno. We found parks all along the way including an amazing playground with a huge hill so we could try out the new toboggan. We stayed there until it got dark, it was also zero degrees and we were frozen to after a very long day, headed home to Bolzano.  

Friday 21 December - 

We drove from Bolzano to Bormio which was almost 4 hours, we arrived for a late lunch at Bar Crystal at 3pm after a few stops as Audrey felt car sick on all the windy roads and switch backs, which Ben likes to drive like he’s in a race car. We walked around Bormio and worked through ski rental, ski school and Bormio 2000 and 3000, getting supermarket supplies for dinner and getting an early night for skiing the next day. 

We booked an amazing new ski chalet called Chalet Heidi which was superb and I could have stayed here forever. It was right next to the gondola up to the slopes and cut into the mountain, only opened 9 months ago, gorgeous fireplace, 2 designer bathrooms, think doonas, full kitchen, and just the most stunning furnishes I have seen. Reminded me of a snowy version of Wolgan Valley. I got very used to sitting by the fire, staring out onto the slopes and sitting on eggnog. 

Saturday 22 December - 

FIRST TIME SKIING….we headed up to Bormio 2000 at 9am bright and early. Rented all the girls ski gear and bought Audrey new gloves to keep her hands warmer. Then headed over to our 2 hour ski lesson with Ninja at the International Ski School. When the lesson ended at midday we wanted to have lunch but the girls did not want to get off the slopes, they were loving it! They ended up skiing and hanging on the slopes until it was dark ant 430pm. Not bad on the first day to do 7 hours of skiing!  We had a dinner booked but Audrey fell into a deep sleep by 6pm and the other girls were not far behind so we stayed in as dinner only starts at 8pm ay most restaurants. Ben and I spent the whole day watching the girls, chilling at the bar, and drinking warm alcohol as aperol spritz. We really want to ski now after watching the girls so have booked a one week ski trip back to The Dolomites in February when they are on school break. 

Sunday 23 December - 

EPIC DAY staring with a visit to the park and buying snacks for the girls so we could leave them at the chalet with supplies while we headed out. 

Ben and I had our first outing without the girls to Terme Vecchi which was mind blowing. Ben and I spent 2 very relaxing hours moving through the old Roman baths, outdoor thermal baths overlooking the mountains, infinity jet pool, salt rooms, saunas, cold baths and relaxation rooms. 

We arrived back to the chalet with an hour to spare for lunch (lasagne!) and then off to the Husky Village for sled rides. Adults have their own sled and kids go  with an instructor in the wagon. Hayley was desperate for her own but was legally too young. Loving the Italian way, they were shot of instructors so she ended up with her own sled after we all had a 3 minute briefing (the words to have the dogs speed up, slow down or stop!) With no paperwork signed and nothing else to do, we were off at high speeds along the edge of a mountain. I fell over once and had to run and chase my sled as the dogs kept going, it really was an adventure! Polly told me afterwards, if she died it would be doing something she loved. We had time to learn about the dogs and play with them afterwards, there were 64 huskies in total and we fell in love with them. 

Monday 24 December - 

Reluctantly we checked out of the gorgeous Chalet Heidi, vowing to be back in summer or next winter. We had Xmas eve dinner so did not want to get to our new AirBNB too late. We were aiming for Como to have lunch and a break but turned off the freeway early and ended up in a gorgeous little town by Lake Como where we had lunch, various panini, focaccia and a salami platter. We then aimed for Como where we came across Xmas markets and a lovely Xmas Eve vibe, and I knew there was a Santa event happening at 4pm so we stayed around the Duomo in the centre of the Piazza and then the ‘acrobatic’ Santa and his elves climbed down the Duomo handing out lollies tool the kids. We were not driving in pitch black to find our AirBNB in the town of Porto Ceresio on small windy streets with very patchy Italian directions of how to find the apartment. After getting terribly lost, by accident heading into SWITZERLAND and back to Italy, the AirBNB lady who spoke NO English came to find us and direct us to the house and we only had 20 minutes to get changed and ready for Xmas Eve dinner.

Xmas Eve was better than I could have ever imagined. We had the full Italian Xmas experience surrounded by beautiful family, friends and new friends, more food and alcohol than you could imagine, presents, games, and the most divine setting I’ve ever seen. We were invited to friends who we have not seen for over 10 years since they worked in Australia with Ben. We were there with all their extended family and their friends who are a lovely family from Australia (who have been living in Shanghai and Germany for the past 6 years) and of course Bardot the Italian sausage dog. 

The food went on for hours and included caviar, risotto, hare lasagne, pigeon with truffles, rabbit, veal and tuna sauce, tiramisu, panettone  and so much more. Extended family (aunts, Uncles, cousins) came over after dinner and we all did presents, more food and stayed until after midnight Xmas Eve. It was an epic night which I will always remember.

Tuesday 25 December - 

Xmas morning we were all shattered so stayed in PJs and played all our new board games and headed back to our friends around midday and somehow managed to stay until 10pm after such a lovely Xmas day, which included a very long lunch, board games, a walk with the sausage dog for the girls while the boys played Italian pool at the local bar, and then we stayed for dinner, desserts and has all the extended family come over again at night. We were all exhausted, full, tired but so content from our amazing Xmas day with so many gorgeous people, old and new friends. 

Wednesday 26 December - 

Ben went on a hike with friends while the girls and I went to Lake Lugano for a walk by the lake and some breakfast. We all met up at 11am again and started our drive from Lake Lugano to Parma for an overnight stop. Parma was SO foggy we could not see more than 10 meters in front of us, so driving was slightly harrowing! We arrived at our very foggy B&B, Locanda Abbazia which was in an old converted Monastery where the Monk cells were converted into accomodation. The fog made it so eerie and gorgeous at the same time. Audrey and Polly were starving so I offered to head out into the super thick fog and look for a supermarket in the pitch black, super narrow, one lane roads….nothing like baptism by fire on the roads! Well through the fog we happened to find a huge outlet mall and walked around for a few hours before heading back to the others and to dinner at the B&B.

Thursday 27 December -

Parma is the home of parmesan Reggiano, parma ham, balsamic and so much more. It is knows for tours of the cheese factories and ham making facilities but all tours need to be pre-booked and are 2-3 hours. Ben and I will come back another time but the girls were not up to it, still exhausted from Xmas and late night, they just wanted to head home to Siena. We did a few cheese shops on the way into Parma town and then a hugely famous little sandwich shop Pepen with a line out the door where we got lunch. Ben ordered the house favourite, raw horse meat sandwich and we were all game enough to try it (except Polly). We arrived home just in time for a Tuscan sunset at 4pm and were happy to be back in Siena.

International School of Siena Orientation

Just 27 hours after we landed from 25 hours of flying we arrived at the International School of Siena for what we thought was a pop in to see the school, meet the principal and have a tour. 

We were at school for 4 hours in total and while it was such a good morning for the girls and for us to understand more, we were all looking like zombies by the time we left.

The school itself is brand new and they only moved to the new campus 3 weeks ago as the school is growing, there are now almost 100 children from kindergarten to Grade 10. The school opened in 2008 with 7 children in kindergarten and they add on a new grade eery year, so are very proud that their first kindergarten graduates will be graduating Grade 12 in a few years.

While it’s amazing to have a brand new school building and our timing with this is impeccable, it was chaotic the day we visited…professional photographers there shooting kids and the building for the new website, handymen hanging pictures, bathrooms being completed, book fair in the lobby, concert practise and more. 

So while nerves were high and tiredness was huge, we were trying to break the ice with the older girls and tell them they could go to class and make up anything about who they were and who they wanted to be and how fun it is to be in an environment when no one knows a thing about you and has no expectations. We were all practising accents, Aussie slang, and even pretending that Polly may have had  Tourettes and shouted obscenities out of no where (again not PC but did I mention EXTEME exhaustion) so we were all in crazy fits of laughter with tears rolling down our faces when the Principal walked in again to collect the girls…not a good look!

The school years are slightly complicated as we will be attending over 2 European calendar years so we needed to make some decisions. I loved that Mrs Watson the lovely Principal from the UK who has been at the school since it was founded, asked the girls what they were comfortable with, which peer groups they felt aligned with and what would work best for them:

Hayley has always been young for her year (Feb birthday) so is perfect to be going into Year 8 from January. She has 11 kids in her year group and most of them are Native Italian speakers. She went to classes for 2 periods (Tech and Art) and bonded with lots of the girls, who hugged her when she left. She noticed there is no where to  hide in such a small year group and often the class is split for music, languages, maths etc so it might only be 3-4 kids in the class. I see this as almost private tutoring and a positive but of course she is not so sure it’s a good thing. They also just put on an English speaking trumpet teacher so we signed her up on the spot for private classes and she’s over the moon!

Polly (Sept birthday) has always been on the older side of her age group so after being in class, meeting with her year group and discussing it with us and Mrs Watson, she will go from Year 5 in Australia into Year 7 from January and is excited about this decision. This is huge for Polly as it’s learning the high school system with various teachers, a home room, languages and so much more. Great way to prepare her for high school back in Australia as she can get used to it all here in a class of 14 kids and many from other countries - she met girls from Switzerland, New Caledonia and Norway. She attended music class (where she and 2 girls had to perform their percussion in front of the class) and Spanish (where the teacher did not speak English).

Audrey (Aug birthday) is also older for her year in Australia so will be going from Kindergarten into Year 2. She has the largest grade in the school with 15 kids so they had to squeeze her in! Mrs Watson took Audrey by the hand and they went to meet her class while we all stayed in the office. She was so brave! Aud attended gym class, art and went to lunch with her grade, before getting a little teary, overwhelmed (and tired) so her teacher asked if she’d like to come back to us a little early. Her whole class just kept asking her if she was an English or Italian speaker and they were all so excited to meet her. 

School orientation highlights:

  • The older girls feel like it’s very much a scene from High School Musical - lunch room, lunch ladies with the nursing caps, green hallways with floor lighting, lockers for everyone. 

  • Mrs Watson is amazing, we love her and she has a daughter who has been at the school for 9 years and it currently in Year 9, one grade above Hayley. She spent 2 hours with us talking about the curriculum, asking the girls lots of questions, taking us on a tour of every classroom and of course I gave her a few packets of tim tams!

  • When authority talks, kids listen. The Principal said to Hayley and Polly (after delivering Audrey to her classroom) ok girls, time to go meet your year group and although Polly looked petrified, they both went off to classes and actually had a great time. Really helped break the ice and help with anxiety about a new school, new people and new environment. 

  • The view is STUNNING! I would sit and stare out a window all day if I went to the school, its overlooking the Tuscan hills and with Winter right now its gorgeous and frosty.

  • Hayley was not impressed (and is my most judgey) that one of her teachers said ‘oh you are from Australia, we have another child in your class who is from Vanuatu, that’s close to you’. Hayley now thinks she is completely incompetent! We explained to Europeans Asia Pacific/Oceania is all the same area so while it’s not the same, it’s close enough.

  • I am personally most excited about only sending them to school with a water bottle. They get ALL food at school - fruit in the morning, 2 course hot lunch (pasta and then fish/meat and veggies) and biscuits in the afternoon. The admin lady seemed shocked when I said we send fruit and sandwiches to school for lunch, she said that was more of a snack. 

This afternoon is the annual Xmas movie night and bake sale so we will head back to school so the girls can see their new ‘friends’ again and we can meet some parents. 

Off to order text books for the older girls now, uniforms and head to decathlon for sport gear. Can’t wait until they start 7 Jan!

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24 hours until take off

Well it’s been 10 days since our entire lives were packed into a moving truck and shipped off to Brookvale for a year.

Thank goodness for the generosity of our good friends Erin, Keith & Felix who have let us camp out in their stunning 4 bedroom home just down the road from our house which has been invaluable to stay close to school, our routine and everything we know.

We’ve been living out of our suitcases, sleeping on air mattresses, borrowed linen and towels from family and minimal kitchen supplies. We ended up with only 2 forks between us and while I could have gone to borrow more or buy plastic it’s been fun for everyone to pitch why they need a fork at dinner depending on their meal. Ok you are having tuna so you get a fork, nup you with tomato salad use your fingers! The simplicity of it all is very refreshing. Going to the laundromat to do a bag wash has been such fun! A few days ago I had an hour of two in the middle of the day and coming home to no cooking, cleaning, tidying or washing meant I lay on the air mattress and watched Netflix (This is Us is what I’m watching right now), hoping this is a sign of the year to come.

Ben and I have had a HUGE amount of tasks to get through over the last 10 days but we did it, and only have 12 things to achieve in the morning before going to the airport. It’s been pretty crazy but we have mostly kept it together and stayed calm. I even had to take the girls to Westfield for 3 hours today (Sunday 2 weeks before Xmas) and remained mostly calm! I did however go to gym this week and not once but twice came out of the gym to find the car door and boot open…not sure how I managed that and did not notice but lucky it’s a safe area and the car was still there on my return.

We have had so many amazing family and friend farewells for both Ben and I and also the girls. It makes me so happy to realise how many amazing people we have in all our lives and can’t wait to share the next year with you all and see those who make it over to Europe in 2019. Thank you all for making our Sydney departure so special.

So the final luggage count at this stage is 140kg and we are not shipping anything! We have 6 suitcases between us, three carry on backpacks for the girls, Ben’s backpack (with 20kg of tech gear), my handbag/laptop, a trombone and a trumpet (yep 2 instruments for Hayley!) This all includes 2 laptops, 3 iPads, 4 iPhones, 2 kindles, 2 cameras, a drone and a gazillion chargers…yes our travel insurance is through the roof!

So all was going very smoothly and according to plan when today went a little pear shaped, as to be expected! Ben had just come back from the car wash with a sparkling car ready to put it into storage for the year tomorrow and we were off to our final farewell breakfast. We were almost there when Audrey said she had a tummy ache and the next thing out of nowhere she vomited which went all over her clothes and the car. She was hysterical as were the other girls who were trying to avoid the overflow. We pulled over, found a convenience store to get wipes, clean her up as well as the car and cancelled everything planned for the day. She slept most the day, saw a doctor who gave her something for if she is sick on the plane and fingers crossed she is bright as a button tomorrow. This is my sick chick below on her bed in an empty house, she’s pretty happy with her set up!

Can’t wait to get through the to do list tomorrow and get to the airport for a well deserved glass of bubbles.

Bon Voyage Sydney xo

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