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Trip Report Ozziez’ trip report – adventures in parts of Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Italy, France, and England in December 2008 and January 2009

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We are a family of 5 from Brisbane, Australia, consisting of me the Mum, my dear husband (DH), our 17 year old daughter (DD17), our 12 year old daughter (DD12), and our 10 year old son (DS10).

For those whose reading time is limited, here is the executive summary of our trip. I planned the holiday in detail, with the help of many Fodorites who were very generous with their time. The research undertaken really paid off as we managed to maximise the time available to us and were able to quickly adopt an alternative course when little hiccups (such as rescheduled flights from Dresden, a strike in Rome, and unexpected closures occurred). We spent 6 weeks in Europe and England, from 2nd December 2008 to 15th January 2009. In this time we took 9 flights, hired 2 cars, went on 4 long train journeys in Italy, became very well acquainted with the Roman buses, the Venetian vaporettos, the Paris metro, and the London underground, and walked 283.54kms. We spent 2 nights in Salzburg, 1 night in Cesky Krumlov, 3 nights in Prague, 1 night in Dresden, 5 nights in Rome, 3 nights in Florence, 3 nights in Venice, 7 nights in Paris, 4 nights in Berlin, 4 nights in Salisbury, 2 nights in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and 6 nights in London. The weather was cold but mostly fine, our luggage never got lost, we were never mugged or robbed, we didn’t have any car accidents or attract any fines, the only time we felt we were in danger was late in Berlin on New Year’s eve, Australian customs let us bring all our purchases back into the country, we were still all really good friends after spending 6 weeks together 24 hours a day, and we had an absolutely marvellous time. Although we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves every single day, our trip highlights were:
DH – Florence and Venice
DD17 – Salzburg, Paris, attending the Don Giovanni opera in Prague, and seeing Les Miserables, Lion King, and Wicked in London
DD12 – Venice
DS10 – Salzburg, visiting the cat sanctuary in Rome, the walking tour of Paris, the walking tour of Berlin, the Tower of London, Mary Arden’s farm in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and flying in an A380 from London to Singapore.
Me – Salzburg, Pompeii, Florence, and Venice

For those who would like to know more, the detailed version of our trip continues from here. In January 2008 we decided to plan a 6 week holiday to Europe and England to coincide with my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday which would take place in England on 2nd January 2009. DS10 had never been overseas, and DD12 and DD17 were last overseas when they were 18 months and 5 years old respectively. DH and I have travelled extensively, but we had last been in Europe in 1989. DS10 and DD12 had never seen snow.

Each family member was asked where they would most like to go. DH wanted to go to Prague and Berlin, DD17 wanted to go to Paris and Salzburg, DD12 wanted to go to Venice and to see snow, DS10 wanted to see snow and to go to Disneyland Paris, and I wanted to go to Cesky Krumlov, Prague, Florence, Rome, Pompeii, and Stratford-Upon-Avon. We knew we would be spending a few days in the south of England around my mother-in-law’s birthday, and that we would stay in London for a week at the end of our holiday. Thankfully at the time we had no inkling of the 5 major challenges that would beset us during the year, or this holiday would never have happened.

DH and I were working very hard in January 2008, with no hope of finding the time to carefully research a trip, so we put ourselves at the mercy of a travel agent. He booked us on Royal Brunei flights that involved a 5 hour wait in Brunei for the connecting flight for the Dubai-London leg (this was fine because we were also told that we would have to clear customs in Brunei before being allowed onto the connecting flight) and a 10-day Trafalgar tour of Rome, Florence and Venice. We paid for the air tickets and tour in full, decided to look at tours for the other parts of Europe we wanted to visit later in the year, and carried on with our hectic lives.

At the end of March 2008 major challenge #1 arrived. Our travel agent informed us that Royal Brunei had changed their schedule and that we would only be in Brunei for 45 minutes before the one-and-only connecting flight for the day took off. Everyone (travel agent, friends, acquaintances who had travelled with Royal Brunei sometime during the preceding 4 weeks and had fallen victim to the new scheduling, and online reports) except Royal Brunei, told us we'd never make the connecting flight in time. We did not want to risk missing our flight and definitely did not want to be stranded in Brunei for 24 hours while we waited for the next flight, so we had to cancel our tickets, rebook with another airline (Singapore/Lufthansa) at a higher fare, and wait 6 weeks for Royal Brunei to refund us our money less admin fees. Having dealt with this little hiccup, we dived back into our hectic lives.

May 2008 was the time for major challenge #2 to rear its ugly head. I became ill and it turned out that I had a serious medical problem. By August it became evident that I would have to take leave-of-absence from University, and I had medical procedures involving 5 general anaesthetics and stays in hospital from July to November. However, I was determined that our trip would go ahead and the silver lining to this challenge was that I had time to carefully research our holiday and plan it in detail.

This was a good thing because major challenge #3 was waiting in the wings and made its grand entrance in mid-October. By this time I had booked flights and accommodation for the entire 6 weeks, working around the 10-day Trafalgar tour. I phoned the travel agent to query something about the tour and was horrified when I was told that the tour had been cancelled. I was just about to go back into hospital and was very worried that I wouldn’t be able to book suitable accommodation in time, but many helpful Fodorites came to my aid, gave me lots of advice, and accommodation was found and booked.

By the time major challenge #4 arrived in the form of the down-turn in the economy and the ever-weakening Australian dollar, we just gave it a few minutes’ consideration and then dismissed it with a stern warming that it was not going to stop us having a good time.

At the end of November 2008 major challenge #5 turned up. The worst storms in decades hit Brisbane and a considerable section of our garden disappeared in a landslide, down a cliff face, taking the garden fence with it. At the same time we developed an indoor waterfall as water came pouring through our dining room ceiling. I rang the insurance company just before I rushed back into hospital, DH put copious amounts of silicone on the balcony join above the dining room, we rescued what we could of the fence, asked our next door neighbour to keep an eye on the house for us while we were away as more severe storms had been forecast, and decided to escape as quickly as we could before any other challenges presented themselves!

Finally, at 7.30pm on 2nd December the taxi arrived to take us to the airport and we were off! Our Singapore airlines flight to Singapore left at 11.45pm. My in-flight entertainment system didn’t work but I was so tired I didn’t really mind. I don’t sleep on planes but it was great to just be able to put my brain into neutral and relax after such a busy year. We arrived in Singapore after 7 hours 45 minutes flying time. As we had a 3 and a half hour wait until our Lufthansa flight to Munich took off, DD17, DD12 and DS10 took full advantage of the Changi airport video gaming lounge, DH and I caught up on our e-mails, and we all changed into our winter clothes. The Lufthansa flight was during daylight. It was incredible to see how vast and completely empty the desert that comprises the Arabian Peninsula is – we flew over it for hours and hours. Eventually the desert scenery became mountainous as we flew over Armenia and Turkey. The mountains were covered in snow and looked as though they were made of gingerbread dusted with copious amounts of icing sugar. Beautiful! After 13 hours 25 minutes flying time we arrived in Munich. It was 4pm local time, and 6º Celsius which was a huge contrast to the 32º Celsius we had left behind in Brisbane. The airport was almost empty so baggage collection and passport control was a breeze.

We used Autoeurope (who used Avis) to hire a 7 seater people mover because they provided the best quote for our car hire in Europe and England. I had been involved in multiple communications with Autoeurope as I was insisting that the car come with a fluoro vest, first aid kit and warning triangle. At first Autoeurope had told me that we would have to supply these items ourselves as it was not law to have these in the car when driving in Germany and Austria. I did not want to waste precious luggage space on these items. Thanks to Fodorites who had discussed this topic at length, I knew that it was law and managed to find the German road rules for Autoeurope and e-mail them to them. Finally they agreed to get Avis to supply these items in the car we hired. Nevertheless, I was a little nervous as we approached the Avis desk. The Avis representative said “Aaaah” when he saw my name (could it be that my reputation for insisting on safety items preceded me?). To my relief all was in order, we managed to hire snow chains as well, and we were upgraded to an enormous Opel 9 seater people mover. I looked at its considerable girth and crossed my fingers that it would fit down narrow streets in Salzburg and the Czech Republic. The children leapt into the car and spread themselves and their belongings around with gay abandon, DH climbed into the driver’s seat and took a deep breath, I pulled out the map and my Viamichelin and Mappy navigation instructions to Salzburg, and we were off!

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    This is great - can't wait to read about all your adventures. You certainly had more than your share of adventures before taking off. I admire your determination with so many challenges. I'll be waiting to read more! Hope your health was good during the trip.

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    Congratulations for getting through all of those roadblocks and carrying on with your trip.

    Looking forward to hearing more of it.

    Reports like yours are getting some of us through this New England winter.

    Many thanks.

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    Hi, loved reading about your trip...so far. As a fellow Australian, I'm intrigued to know what warm clothing a family from Brisbane would have to take with them on a winter European holiday! Did you buy coats, hats, scarves, etc just for the trip?

    Kay

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    Ozziez, I love your trip report so far. It's very inspiring to read that despite all the obstacles prior to your travel, you still made it to Europe and everything went so smoothly there. I'm impressed by the thoroughness of your planning. Traveling with a family of 5 -- wow that is quite an amazing feat.

    Looking forward to reading about your adventures in each city.

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    Thanks for the words of encouragement everyone. Yes, luckily our house and garden were still standing when we got home, and I was very relieved that I managed to get through the trip with only one bout of ill-health.

    Kay, you are so right that we didn't have any suitable clothes in our wardrobes for the cold weather we faced in Europe. So that I wouldn't buy the wrong things, I did a lot of research on this board (see my thread http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=35153089) and followed the great advice I was given by many Fodorites, to the letter. I managed to kit out the family without breaking the bank by shopping at the winter sales, borrowing a few items from friends, and using some items we already had (e.g. jeans and long-sleeved t-shirts). We invested in very good walking shoes(e.g. Keens) as we knew we would be walking a lot and also wanted to be able to keep our feet dry if it rained. These shoes can also be worn in hot weather when hiking. We also bought very good rainjackets, which we can use when it rains in Brisbane too. Instead of buying expensive thermal underwear we all wore black tights under our jeans and white, tight-fitting long-sleeved t-shirts under our top layers. We each took enough clothes for 5 days. The only items I couldn't buy in Australia were face warmers and I eventually bought these at a sports shop in Dresden.

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    And so to continue. Please tell me if I am being too detailed and I'll summarise the rest of our trip for you.

    5.30pm onwards on Wednesday 3rd December, 2008

    After driving around the roundabout a few times at Munich airport while we tried to work out how to exit, we made a decision and sped off in the direction of Salzburg. We were impressed with the excellent condition of the Autobahn and made good time. DH and I were very tired so we stopped at a service station to stock up on caffeine (the coffee machine was broken so we had icy cold cokes – brrrr!) and also bought a Vignette for Austria (€7.70). The caffeine did its job and we reached Salzburg at 8pm. There our luck ran out. No matter how hard we tried, we could not find a way to drive to our hotel. We could see it, but we couldn’t get to it, and the road that Viamichelin and Mappy insisted we drive up was a pedestrian walk-way. After driving around for 90 minutes we gave up and parked in the Alstadt Mitte B car park in the Monksburg (at €14 per day) and walked, with our suitcases rattling over the cobblestones, to our hotel, the Goldene Ente. On the way we asked a lady for directions. She turned out to be English and was very helpful. The keys for our rooms were waiting for us at the restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel. We sent 2 people up at a time in the lift, got everyone ready for bed, and hit the hay.

    Thursday 4th December, 2008

    After a hearty breakfast we donned our many layers of winter woollies, and set off to explore Salzburg. The blue sky was cloudless, the air smelt fresh, and Salzburg really sparkled. Although we had come to Salzburg for DD17 who is a keen musician and an avid fan of Mozart, we were all smitten with this beautiful city. We were very lucky because the city wasn’t crowded and our accommodation was very central so we were able to cover a great deal during our time there. We were struck by how very clean and well-maintained Salzburg is and how friendly and helpful the residents are.

    We didn’t buy Salzburg cards as they would have cost us about €26 each, and our entire costs for all entrances in Salzburg came to €22 for all 5 of us because we were given family rates. We started off doing a self-guided tour around the old town. There were Christmas markets in nearly every square, with the fattest pigeons waddling around that we have ever seen – they are obviously well fed! We covered Mozartplatz which had an outdoor icerink alongside Mozart’s statue, the Residenz Platz where the fountain was surrounded by scaffolding as it was being restored, walked past the Residenz, heard the Glockenspiel in the bell tower playing well-known hymns, and went into the Salzburg Cathedral after explaining to DD12 and DS10 that they had to be very quiet and remove their hats.

    Although none of the lights were on, the main altar and side altars were illuminated from the sunlight pouring through the dome. Mozart was baptised here and later played at least two of the four organs. We were just contemplating this when there was a loud crash. DS10, still unused to his sturdy Blundstone boots, had tripped over one of the portable pews in the middle of the floor space and the resulting noise echoed for what seemed like an awfully long time. We pretended we didn’t know him and scuttled off to admire some of the side altars. Before long, DS10 was at my side whispering loudly, “Is there such a place as hell?” After doing my best to answer what seemed like a very tricky question in my jet-lagged, sleep-deprived state, he asked, “So what happens to your soul if you blow out a candle in church?” Let me explain that we are not Catholics. I quickly discovered that he had blown out a candle because he thought someone had left it burning by mistake – we were the only people in the cathedral. DD12 had seen him and had told him that his soul was going to go to hell – thanks DD12! I asked DS10 to show me where the candle was, in the hopes that we could make a donation and light another one. No such luck. My son had extinguished the one and only candle in the entire cathedral. Not having a lighter or matches, there was nothing I could do to remedy the situation, so I put some money in the collection box, apologised to God, and implored DS10 not to blow out anything else he saw during the holiday.

    Outside the cathedral we saw the statue of Mary encased in plexiglass, and entered a large square with a huge, ornate pond that had been a horse bath. It has a clever inscription above it which means “Leopold the prince built me” and contains the letters “LLDVICMXVXI”. Adding up these Roman numerals gives 1732 which is the date that the horse bath was built. The water was covered with a thin layer of ice and DD12 and DS10 managed to find some rather old, unmelted snow lying in a corner of the square. The artwork behind the horse bath was also covered with plexiglass, as were most other outdoor statues and frescoes that we saw in Salzburg. Although this detracts from their beauty somewhat, In light of the graffiti and weathering we saw on many priceless works of art later on in our trip, this is probably a good idea.

    We left the square through St Peter’s gate and came upon a waterfall powering a large mill wheel attached to a bakery. Delicious smells emanated from within but we were still full from breakfast so we continued to St Peter’s Cemetery. This well-tended, tiny cemetery is enclosed by three churches and is filled with very interesting graves. The rocky Monksburg cliffs rise up from the cemetery and contain carved-out cells where hermit monks are said to have lived – they must have been freezing! We went inside one of the three churches, St Peter’s church, to admire its beautiful interior. Once again, no lights were on so was quite dark. The lovely golden handles on the doors were fashioned to look like Archbishop Wolf Dietrich.

    Outside we walked past St Rupert’s statue and a 20th century crucifix, into the Toscanini Hof square. We were able to see the carpenters in the backstage area of the Festival Hall theatre constructing lots of trees for an upcoming production. Walking through Max Reinhardt Platz we came to Universitatsplatz which housed a large open-air market with, besides other produce, huge wheels of cheese on display and more very fat pigeons. Beyond the square we came upon many medieval covered arcades that led to Getreidegasse and enjoyed ducking down each one to see the lovely shops contained within. At the end of the street we found we were across the road from the ornate horse troughs and the paintings of Prince-archbishop Wolf Dietrich’s many horses, protected by the obligatory plexiglass.

    Wandering down Getreidegasse was a special treat. Its beautiful suspended wrought-iron signs helped me to block out the modern-day shops and imagine what this street was like 300 years ago. DH was desperate for a cup of coffee by this stage. Here we encountered the one and only thing we didn’t like about Salzburg – smoke-filled cafes and restaurants! As we opened the door to each establishment we were engulfed in clouds of smoke. At last we found “Die Teekanne”, a café that didn’t allow smoking, the adults had coffee, the kids had hot chocolate, and everyone had some Sacher Torte.

    Refreshed, it was time to visit Mozart’s Geburtshaus (birthplace). It seems as though the only bad-tempered person in Salzburg works here as the ticket-seller! I had been reading the price list from behind another couple when suddenly it was my turn. She told me to hurry up and give her the money for a family pass. However, a family pass only covered 2 adults and 2 children, so I asked her for a ticket for an additional adult (for DD17). She impatiently told me that what I needed was the family ticket and that this would cover us for Mozart’s Wohnhaus too. I again tried to buy an additional adult ticket and she told me to shut up and get a move on. I was trying not to laugh because we were the only people in her queue. We saw her at various stages during our visit to the museum and she glared at me each time just to reinforce her point. Then we realised we had missed out the final exhibit and doubled back so we could get to it. That really upset her and we were all thoroughly scolded.

    Chastened, we went to the Bosna sausage stand for a very tasty lunch, found a Billa supermarket near the river where we bought a healthy supply of Mozart balls, and then admired Salzburg from the Makartsteg pedestrian bridge that spans the Salzach river. It was a short walk from there to Mozart’s Wohnhaus, where we were greeted by very friendly staff who smiled at us and gave us audio guides. We spent 2 hours here and found it far more informative than the Geburtshaus. Jet-lagged DS10 fell asleep watching the video about Mozart’s life, but woke up at the end in good spirits. It was dark when we exited. We walked along Steingasse, a beautiful, quiet street dating from the Middle Ages and saw an age-old brothel (it is at #24 and very discreet - only DH and I knew it was a brothel because of the red light outside, so it didn’t matter that we had the children with us), an old door at #19 that exhibited beggars’ carvings from hundreds of years ago that signified to other beggars how successful they would be if they knocked on the door to beg, and the house at #9 where the lyricist for Silent Night, Joseph Mohr, was born in 1792.

    We crossed back over the river and went in search of dinner in the Old Town. We eventually gave up trying to find a non-smoking restaurant and had take-aways from the Christmas markets while we watched people skating on the ice-rink next to Mozart’s statue. After a while we got too cold, and it was getting very late so we went back to the hotel, chatted about the wonderful day we had had, and then called it a night.

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    Ozziez,

    I'm really enjoying your trip report, and I admire your positive attitude about still going on your trip despite the obstacles.

    I think it's amazing that you endured a 21 hour flight, and then you and your husband were able to drive and navigate in a foreign country! Where we are from, it takes us 16 hours to get to London - I would go crazy having to travel a total of 21 hours!!

    I found the story about your son in the church amusing - ahhh siblings. Salzburg always seemed like it would be a much more beautiful place to visit in winter than any other season.'

    Can't wait for more, and don't even think about cutting out any more details!

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    Friday 5th December, 2008.

    It was overcast and misty when we woke up. After breakfast we packed up, went for a walk around Salzburg's old town once again, did some last minute souvenir shopping, and then checked out. We enjoyed our stay at the Goldene Ente. Its central location meant that we didn’t have to use pubic transport at all during our stay, and we were able to see everything we had wanted to. Our rooms were clean, very comfortable, dark and quiet. Breakfast was delicious. Ulriche Koller, the manager, was very friendly and efficient. It was a lovely hotel – expensive for what we got, but lovely all the same.

    We rattled our way with our suitcases over the cobblestones back to the car park, and set off for Cesky Krumlov at 11am. We found the drive through Salzburg and onto the Czech Republic, via Linz, very easy going. DH really scored 10 out of 10 for his driving skills. Not only was he jet-lagged and driving a very large vehicle that took up every inch of its lane, he had to drive on the opposite side of the road (we drive on the left in Australia).

    The Austrian countryside was beautiful and had patches of snow in places. Linz is an industrial city so it was far from beautiful, but the roads were still excellent so we passed through it very quickly.

    Suddenly we emerged from the smog of Linz into another world. DH wondered where his beautiful road and English road signs had gone. DD12 wanted to know why there were so many ladies hitch-hiking, and suggested we give four of them a lift as we had four spare seats. DS10 wanted to know why these ladies were wearing such very short skirts in such cold weather, and boots with such very high heels in the middle of the country side. Hmmm. I counted 39 of these ladies within 4 kms and was saddened to see that most of them were no older than DD17 (who was fast asleep in the back of the car).

    We were looking for a service station and soon found a Shell garage in the middle of the countryside, next to one other building – a strip joint. We bought our 7 day Dalnicni Znamka road tax sticker for 440KN (about $55 Australian). As I was the GPS, I also bought myself detailed maps of Cesky Krumlov and Prague. DD17 woke up and needed to use the rest room and had to walk past a floor to ceiling display of pornographic magazines, but she was so tired she didn’t even notice.

    As we drove through the Czech countryside towards Cesky Krumlov we marvelled at how beautiful it was, but were also saddened to see how poor it was, in contrast to Austria. Houses had broken walls, peeling plaster, missing roof tiles and shattered windows. Fences were sagging or badly damaged. Farm equipment was rusting apathetically on the side of the road or in puddles in farm yards. Horses and cows were very thin.

    The drive to Cesky Krumlov was easy and we arrived at 3pm. As we drove down the cobbled streets and through the main archway that formed part of the castle walls, we felt as though we had been transported back in time 600 years. Here was a medieval village in all its glory. We fell in love with it instantly. We stayed in an apartment in the castle walls and reception was at the Castle Information Centre.

    On arrival, we saw an unfortunate having his car wheel unclamped by two policemen, so I was given the job of talking to one of the policemen to find out where we could park. Although he couldn’t speak much English, and I cannot speak any Czech, he was very helpful and explained we could park for 5 minutes outside reception. Reception was expecting us and gave us a one hour parking voucher so we could unload our luggage before parking the car at the Eggenberg Brewery a short distance away.

    Our apartment was huge, spotless, very charming, and was above an apothecary that had been in business for hundreds of years. There was a welcome jar of Czech honey on the table, beautiful views from all the windows, lots of hot water, fluffy towels, and very comfortable beds.

    We dumped our suitcases and ran down the stairs, out into the twilight to explore Cesky Krumlov. What a magical place! We seemed to be the only tourists in town and were surrounded by happy Czech families who had come to join in the Saint Nicholas Night celebrations. The town square sported a huge Christmas tree decorated with blue lights, a Christmas market, a stage on which Czech singers dressed as devils and angels sang boisterous Czech songs to crowds of delighted Czech children and their families, and hosted numerous games that involved proving one’s heavenliness to the devil.

    The Czech children had put a lot of effort into their costumes. Ghosts moaned eerily and dragged chains, devils sported coal-blackened faces and wielded pitch forks, and angels pranced around in white dresses and gossamer wings. They all eagerly took part in the games, throwing hoops over poles, dashing around the square putting coal in barrels, carefully balancing while walking along see-saws, and lobbing potatoes into buckets.

    We found the entrance to the Pivni Katakomby restaurant and walked down is steep spiral staircase, but the children’s jet-lagged stomachs were no longer hungry so we walked up to the castle instead. Although the castle itself is closed in winter, the grounds and tower are open. We were able to walk across the draw bridge, through the castle courtyards, across the statue-lined bridge, and up to the gardens. The whole area was flood-lit and we loved spending time, all on our own, admiring the beautiful frescoes, statues, and architecture. It started to rain lightly and the view across Cesky Krumlov from the castle was like something out of a fairytale. Bed time seemed to come too soon. We fell asleep to the sounds of happy revellers making their way home, and vowed to get up early the next morning so we could soak up as much of Cesky Krumlov as possible before our departure for Prague.

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    Saturday 6th December, 2008

    We were up and out by 8am. Although it was a cloudy day, this did not spoil our enjoyment as we walked around the whole of Cesky Krumlov, soaking up the sights and ambience. For the first hour we were the only people outside which was very, very special. I had prepared some notes for a self-guided walk and DS10 was our guide. He did a very good job. When we reached the Castle Information Centre we took a break for breakfast which was served at the back of the building.

    After a decent continental breakfast we paid for our accommodation and then walked up to the castle so we could explore once again, this time in daylight. We knew there were bears in the moat and were very keen to see them. The moat was empty when we arrived so we paid to climb the tower and spent some time admiring the view of Cesky Krumlov and the surrounding countryside from the top. Still no sign of the bears.

    We then wandered through the castle complex, and just like the previous night, we were all on our own. Fantastic! On our way out DD17 found the bears – a huge male and a beautiful female. Evidently they are locked up on 24th December so they can hibernate undisturbed. Their quarters are under the bridge that leads to the castle and they were only out for a few minutes, so we were very lucky to see them.

    Sadly the time had come to leave as we wanted to reach Prague in daylight. We collected the car from the brewery parking, bought a picnic lunch from the co-op opposite our apartment, and left Cesky Krumlov at 11.45am.

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    Did you buy one of those t-shirts that say "No Kangaroos in Austria"? I bought one and loved wearing it in Australia. I got some strange looks because people were reading the last word as "Australia".

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    Hi Lauren

    No we didn't buy one but we saw lots of them and had a good laugh. I have seen a few people wearing them here and you're right - heaps of people misread the text and are then very confused!

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    My favorite t-shirt from OZ was "Toowoomba: Where the hell is it?" In the US they would have cleaned it up and said "Where the heck is it?

    By the way I loved Brisbane. It will eventually be the largest city in Australia. Growth is moving your way due to the nice weather. By the way, the first thing that happened to me there in July was 3 days straight of torrential down pours. Since I was down under for 9 weeks, I took the time to do some reading and enjoy the many channels on my home exchangers fancy TV system. By the way, I just put one of those systems in over here but do not have any of those huge TV's.

    Australia and NZ were just great, but, alas, so far to go.

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    Hi Gregeva1 - thanks for the postive response. No, no floating happening in Brisbane at the moment. The floods are in Northern Queensland, far, far away from here. There were terrible bushfires in South Australia over the weekend and over 150 people have already been found dead. I feel lucky to be where I am right now.

    Hi Lauren. So pleased to hear you liked Brisbane. We love living here. Yes, it is very far away from the rest of the world so we have to put up with long, expensive flights to get to Europe, the UK and USA. We think it is a small price to pay for living in such a beautiful place.

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    Sorry, please excuse the typo - the fires are in Southern Australia, in Victoria, not South Australia. I am meant to be working on my thesis, not posting on Fodors, so my fingers are playing tricks on me!

    Also meant to thank Aussiefive, Andeesue and Football for the positive feedback on my report so far. I'll try to add the rest as soon as possible - when life and my thesis allows me some time off! By the way Aussiefive, how was your trip - I'd love to know.

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    Ozziez - this is fantastic! I'm thinking about a family trip next Christmas to Munich/Salzburg/Vienna so really enjoy reading about your trip.

    My husband and I went to Czech in 1996 and drove in from Bavaria. We had the exact same reaction. (Well except there were no hookers at that border crossing. We saw them when we went back in from Poland, very sad.)

    I'd been longing to go to Czech for a decade but after leaving Bavaria for Czech we drove in silence for 30 minutes looking at the peeling paint, broken cars in the driveways, neglected looking farms thinking uh oh, this isn't what we'd hoped. Then DH perked up and said 'you know, this looks just like our county!'

    And I laughed for about an hour because it did! Broken cars in rural driveways? Check! Peeling paint on the leaning over barns? Check! It's just that Bavaria was so tidy it threw us for a loop. Once we got over that, we felt quite at home.

    We liked Czesky Krumlov a lot - it seemed like a perfectly preserved medieval treasure. We also loved the bears. When we saw them they were having a great time with an empty beer keg - throwing it around.

    Keep writing!

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    Okay Irishface, I'll do my best (LOL!)

    Yes rosetravels, you've hit the nail on the head. The only reason we were surprised by our introduction to the Czech Republic was because Austria had been so amazingly neat, clean and well-maintained. It was such a contrast, but as you say, no different to what one finds elsewhere, even at home.

    And so to continue ....

    The drive to Prague was easy and we reached the outskirts at 2pm. We had rented the Spruce apartment which is part of the Castle Steps apartments near the Castle because we wanted to stay in an authentic old Czech building rather than a western hotel. Dealing with reception via e-mails had been a breeze and they had been really efficient and pleasant, so I did not expect to encounter any problems with our accommodation in Prague. Reception booked parking for us which they said would be at a nearby hotel (at 25 euros per night), and asked me to phone them when we were an hour away so we stopped at a garage, used DH’s cell phone to ring reception who said they would be waiting for us at their office, and bought 2 cups of coffee. We later noticed that we had been charged for three. Oh well. The weather was a lot colder than it had been in Cesky Krumlov and the clouds were thick and dark.

    Anyway, after a few missed turns (because I was having trouble pronouncing the Czech street names and DH was having even greater trouble understanding me), and a grand tour of the one-way system, we reached reception’s office at Nerudova 7 at 3pm. I rang the bell for reception and was told that someone would be right down. Prague was packed with tourists and I was standing on the pavement in the cold, and in the way of lots of people trying to walk up and down the very steep hill, while DH was parked in what really didn’t look like a parking space. 10 minutes later no-one had appeared so I rang the bell again and was told that someone was on their way. 5 minutes later a young American woman opened the door, hopped into our car and directed us up the street to our apartment at Uvoz 26. When we arrived she said we weren’t allowed to stop outside so we must quickly jump out and grab our suitcases. DH asked her where he should go to park the car and she told him to go to the Savoy hotel. When asked where the Savoy hotel was, she replied that she didn’t know but that she had been told it was just up the street. We watched DH and our enormous car disappear up the street and then followed her into the foyer of the apartments.

    She very kindly helped us carry our suitcases up lots and lots and lots of stairs until we reached the top floor. The apartment was beautiful – large, nicely furnished, clean, in a lovely area and with stunning views of Petrin Hill. She asked me to pay her and produced her credit card machine. The payment went through because we both saw the “approved” message on the screen, but there was no paper in the machine so she asked me to pop into their office later on to collect a receipt. She then asked me if there was anything she could help me with. I asked her how to use the washing machine which only had Czech labels on it. She smiled at me beautifully, said she didn’t know, and that I should look it up on the internet. I received the same reply when I asked her how to use the TV, the trams, the metro, what the nearest tram stop was called, and where the nearest metro station was……

    She departed and I began to wonder where DH was. I experimented with the washing machine, managed to get a load of washing on, and started to settle the children into their rooms. DD17 and DD12 had a large room with two single beds, DS10 had a bed in the living room, and DH and I had a room under the eaves on the second level of the apartment. I must mention that this bedroom would not suit tall people as I am 170cms tall and had to contort myself to get in and out of bed. In addition there were no curtains in either of the bedrooms and there was no air-conditioning. Neither of these factors were a problem for us, but they probably would be during summer. There was only one bathroom with a very small bath and no shower, but there were two toilets, decent towels, and a pleasant kitchen.

    An hour later DH still hadn’t appeared and I was getting worried. I tried to call him on my cell phone, only to find that it had stopped working. He arrived 5 minutes later looking decidedly the worse for wear. It turned out that saying that the Savoy hotel was just up the street was more than a trifle inaccurate, and that to get to it from our apartment was far from simple. He had found himself going in the wrong direction in the one-way system without a navigator and drove round and round quite a few times before he could get there. He was then in such a rush to get back to us that he left his camera in the car.

    So off we all went to the Savoy hotel – on foot this time. While DH retrieved his camera and paid for the parking, the Savoy’s receptionist gave the children apples and chatted happily to us. She asked what we wanted to do while we were in Prague and I mentioned that one thing I really wanted to do was to take DD17 (just the two of us) to the Don Giovanni Opera the following night but that I had no idea how to use the public transport system and wasn’t sure how we’d get home afterwards. She waved her magic wand and the concierge appeared, directed me to her desk, and proceeded to call up the online booking system for Don Giovanni on her laptop. There were only 5 seats left, and they were in the 5th row from the front, the most expensive section. I muttered about not knowing how to get home afterwards and she told me that her driver would fetch us and bring us home afterwards. Knowing that such luxury would not come cheap, I asked the price and then swallowed hard. The two tickets came to 3589 CK and the driver was 900 CK. I knew that DD17 really wanted to go to this opera and, as mentioned previously, she’s a huge Mozart fan, so I conferred with DH who told me to go ahead, make the bookings and enjoy. What a sweetie. The concierge was extremely efficient, had everything arranged within 5 minutes, gave me our tickets, introduced me to the driver who would fetch us, and wished us a good evening.

    I left with mixed feelings because although I knew this was the only way DD17 would get to go to the opera, I also knew that we had paid a huge premium for the tickets and the driver, and was pretty certain that we had paid “tourist prices” Anyway, we made our way downhill to reception to get our receipt. The door opened when we buzzed and we found ourselves in what looked like the entrance to a shabby college residence. We followed the noise which took us upstairs and through a few rooms cluttered with office equipment, linen, old furniture, office furniture, etc and emerged into the “office”. This looked exactly like a university commons room, equipped with American students in jeans and t-shirts, overflowing desks, pizza boxes, numerous computers, and general chaos. One woman came forward and told me that my credit card payment hadn’t gone through and that I must pay her again. It didn’t matter how many times I told her that the “approved” message had come up on the credit card machine, she insisted that the payment hadn’t gone through. I also queried how she knew this as most banks only update their systems overnight, but she continued to insist that I pay her or leave my passport with her. There was no way I was going to leave my passport with anyone, so in the interests of moving things along I paid for our accommodation again.

    Finally, at 6pm, we were free to enjoy the sights of Prague. We walked down the souvenir-shop lined street, past throngs of tourists, and at last reached Charles Bridge. The bridge looked beautiful at night and we strolled along it, admiring the river as we walked. On the other side of the bridge we found ourselves in a huge human traffic jam and forced our way through tourists, beggars, hawkers, spruikers, tatty souvenir shops, smokers galore, and horse carriages with squeaky bicycle horns, to the main square. It was really too crowded to wander around because we kept being separated from one or more of the children, so we found a restaurant (U Minutey) that had an outdoor section heated with braziers so we could avoid the smoke-filled interiors of all the nearby restaurants. We definitely paid “tourist prices” at this restaurant but our pizzas were delicious, and the square was so crowded that we really had very little choice.

    We then held tightly onto our children, navigated through the crowds once again, and worked off our pizza dinner on the steep climb back to our apartment.

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    Thanks for continuing! I love your descriptions of your lodgings and the tales of your adventures as a family. Your kids sound like wonderful traveling companions and you and your husband must have a strong marriage to withstand some of the events without killing each other. Some of the situations sound funny in the telling but must have been very trying at the time (the sort of trials which, as my brother would say, can bring out the donkey in anyone).

    Thanks for sharing!

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    Ozziez, I also remember your panic and planning. I'm glad it all worked out for you and looking forward to the rest of your report. I really enjoy your writing style so please keep with all the details. Thanks.
    bfrac

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    Thanks Vernejules and Bfrac. Here's some more:

    Sunday 7th December, 2008

    I stood on our bed and peered through the skylight to see the view of Petrin Hill. The sky was covered in ominous grey clouds and it was pouring with rain. We had an early breakfast in the cellar of our apartment building. The apartment owner is a strict vegan – so strict that no animal products are served on the premises. Very solid bagels with cherry jam certainly form a lump in your stomach that stop you feeling hungry for at least 12 hours! There were 6 computers with internet connection in the breakfast room (perhaps to accommodate all the guests who are told to look things up on the internet?) so I quickly checked my e-mails. This was just as well because there was an e-mail from EasyJet predicting dire consequences such as not being allowed to fly if we didn’t pay an additional fee for each of us on our Rome to Venice flight because of new Italian taxes that had been introduced for travellers flying out of Italian cities. Sneaky!

    It was still early when we put on our rain jackets and walked down very steep Nerudova street to Charles Bridge so we could admire it in daylight. We quickly discovered that it was very, very cold as well as wet. On the bridge we joined masses of tourists from Russia and other Eastern European countries (Russian was the only language we recognised, but many other languages were being spoken as well). DS10 thought that many of the women we saw must be friends with the ladies we had seen when we entered the Czech Republic because they were wearing similar clothes. White ski jackets and very short skirts must be all the fashion in Eastern Europe for ladies this winter! He also admired the purple, red, orange and chicken-yellow streaks in their hair and wondered aloud what DD17 would look like if her beautiful, thick, waist-length chestnut brown hair was coloured in a similar fashion. DD17 gave him a withering look but I don’t think he noticed. Sadly the Eastern European men were dressed conservatively in black and grey, had all their limbs concealed in winter woollies, and had not joined the women in their hair colouring experiments.

    DD12 was assigned the task of explaining to us (from my notes) what each statue was and what it represented. We successfully managed to dodge our fellow tourists, as well as the renovations in progress, while we marvelled at each statue. I was surprised to see that each statue was festooned in spiders’ webs. DS10 suggested I dust them but I pointedly ignored him. Every single tourist on the bridge, including us, took it in turns to touch the statue of St John of Nepomuk for good luck. No wonder it is so shiny! I was pleased that we were able to see the Old Town bridge tower at the end of the bridge in daylight and with slightly reduced crowds, because it really is magnificent.

    Then it was time to brave the maze that is Karlova street once more on our way to the Old Town Square. Although it was very busy, it wasn’t as crowded as it had been the night before which was a relief. There was a huge Christmas Tree in the middle of the Town Square, festooned with lights that looked like icicles – very effective. Nearby was the Jan Hus Memorial, festooned with real icicles. Gosh it was cold! The temperature seemed to be dropping by the hour.

    We bought some Trdlo (pretzel dough shaped around a cyclinder and cooked rotisserie-style on a spit) and roasted chestnuts to warm ourselves up while we looked at the beautiful buildings surrounding the square. DH ate his share of the chestnuts and I just held mine to warm myself up. I was particularly moved by the sight of the 27 white crosses on the ground that commemorate the 27 protestants who were beheaded for rebelling against the Catholic Hapsburgs in 1621.

    At 11.45am we made our way to the Astronomical Clock and braved the cold while we waited, with every single tourist we had encountered on the bridge, for it to chime at midday. We thought it was an amazing creation and were very pleased that we managed to see it in action. Our next stop was the Tyn Church where we spent quite some time admiring its interior, especially the John the Baptist altar. We then walked past the statue of St Mary, and into Ungelt courtyard where we found a toyshop that sold wooden toys and puppets and had a huge Pinocchio in the window. We wanted to see St James church so we didn’t tarry, but it was closed when we got there and only reopened at 2pm.

    The rain was bucketing down by this stage and we were incredibly cold, so we made a bee-line for a restaurant called U Radnickych in Havelska 508/9. In this haven of warmth we had the most delicious goulash soup served in a bread bowl which can be eaten (if you’re still hungry) once the soup has been consumed. It was very hard to force ourselves to venture out into the cold and wet afterwards, but we soldiered on. We returned to St James church but were disappointed to find that, except for the blue light over the altar that lights the Madonna Pietatis, the church was dark. DD12 eventually found the desiccated arm that is meant to have belonged to a thief who had tried to steal the Madonna. It looked like a piece of black wood hanging near the ceiling at the back of the church.

    We had seen a Christmas Market near U Radnickych so we retraced our steps and did some browsing at speed – it was too cold to stroll! Walking briskly through the surrounding area we came upon an outdoor icerink, some brave Czech children singing carols, and then, to our surprise, we were outside the Theatre of the Estates, the very place where DD17 and I were going to see Don Giovanni. DD12 was in good form today and jokingly commented that the Il Commendatore statue by Anna Chromy that is outside the theatre was obviously feeling the cold too and had fled inside leaving its cloak behind. In case you don’t have a clue what this joke means, the statue takes the form of a seated cloaked figure, but there is nothing inside the cloak. It represents the ghost of Il Commendatore who, in the form of a cemetery statue, drags Don Giovanni down into hell. It stands outside the Theatre of the Estates because Don Giovanni premiered in this theatre on 29th October, 1787.

    My cell phone rang and it was our apartment reception to tell me that they had charged me twice for our accommodation. What a surprise! I asked them to reverse the second payment, so they reversed the first one instead. This was unfortunate for me as the exchange rate had changed between the first and second payments and our accommodation ended up costing us 5% more.....

    We set out for the Jewish Quarter in the incessant rain. Many of the buildings were very striking in this area and, despite being cold and wet, we managed to get a glimpse of many designer shops in this up-market neighbourhood. By the time we got to the museum to buy our tickets it was 3.30pm and, as its buildings closed at 4.30pm, we decided it wasn’t worth pursuing. We did manage to get a very good view of the very crowded cemetery from a grilled gate in the old cemetery wall though.

    We walked wistfully past the Rudolfinum (we had missed a marvellous concert because we got to Prague the day after it had taken place) and DD17 vowed to return one day. Crossing Manesuv Most we stopped to admire all the swans, black and white, that were swimming on the river, totally oblivious to the cold.

    Walking back up to our apartment, the children had fun popping into the various souvenir shops to buy presents for some of their friends back home. I enjoyed popping into the shops because they were warm.

    I hoped that our pathetically thin Brisbane blood would thicken quickly so that we could brave the cold with just as much bravado as the scantily clad female tourists we had encountered during the day. Not that we had any intention of being scantily clad you understand - that would be far too much to ask of us Ozzie wimps!

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    Thanks for the details. I was in Paris early December last year and it was freezing there too, so it wasn't just Prague.

    I appreciate all the details, especially the info about the crowds in Prague. I thought it was impossibly crowded when I went in August '04, and thought maybe if I went back out of season it would be better. Seems not - I guess I'll stick to Budapest and Vienna instead.

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    Hi Thursdaysd

    Yes, I also thought Prague would be quiet because it was winter, so I was most surprised to find it bulging at the seams. I wonder if there is any time of the year when it is less crowded?

    The crowds definitely reduced my enjoyment. A few places weren't crowded at all e.g. the Strahov Monastery, which I'll write about in my next installment, but they were in the minority.

    We spent the week of Christmas in Paris and it was still jolly cold, but I think we were a little more used to the sub-zero temperatures by then and it didn't rain at all which helped a lot.

    Enjoy planning your next trip!

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    ozziez, i am enjoying your trip report very much. I am a fellow Brisbanite (I think they are rare on fodors!). I am glad you had such a wonderful holiday after your anus horribilis (and the Gapocolypse!).

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    Great report. You did it all. Particularly enjoyed the part about Cesky Krumlov, one of our favorites. Sad that even in winter Prague tends to be overrun. It's beautiful but you really have to wade through so many others to see it. We loved the Stahov Monastery. Hope you had it mostly to yourselves. Enjoying the report.

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    Hi

    I had been trying to keep an eye out for your report, after your rocky beginnings! What a wonderful experience for you and your family! I'm keen to read the Italian segment, and I do hope you had an equally good time there. Keep writing quickly, I leave for Rome on Saturday, and NEED to hear your reactions to Italy before I go. Cheers from Sunny, Downtown Atherton.

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    Thank you everyone for your encouraging feedback. I'll write some more soon - perhaps even tonight - promise!

    Cookiescompanion, great to hear that you're from Brisbane too. What a fantantastic storm we've just had. Thankfully we haven't had another landslide - yet!

    I envy you, YvonneT - wish I was goimg to Rome on Saturday. I'll do my best to hurry up!

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    Hi Ozziez, Cathie from Sydney here, I remember your posts when you were planning your trip. I'm glad your health was mostly good while you were away; getting used to such cold weather must have been a challenge! We've been to Europe twice, both time in May/June when it's pretty hot, but that doesn't bother us too much at all thank goodness. Loved the story about your son blowing out the candle - v funny!!

    Hope to see another installment soon, it's a really good report!

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    Monday 8th December, 2008

    We awoke to grey skies but no rain. As we had been so cold the day before, we put on far more layers of clothes and trudged up the hill to the Prague Castle. We were grateful for our extra layers as it was -2ºC. Although we were early and the castle hadn’t yet opened, the tour groups were gathering. We admired the fighting giants above the castle gates and DS10 provided us with our daily amusement by asking why the one giant was hitting the other giant with a rolled-up newspaper.

    As soon as the ticket office opened we bought a 300 CK family ticket for entrance into the Old Royal Palace, St George’s Basilica, Golden Lane, the Powder Tower, and St Wenceslas’ Vineyard. Entry into St Vitus’s Cathedral was free. It turned out that St George’s Basilica was closed because it was Monday, and St Vitus Cathedral Spire and crypt were closed for technical reasons – goodness knows what these technical reasons could be, but there wasn’t a ticket option that excluded them. As we had heard that the Cathedral fills up pretty quickly, we headed there first. Although a few tour groups rushed in with us, we were able to spend time examining it in detail and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We especially liked the stained-glass windows, including the Art Nouveau one by Mucha, the wooden carved relief of Prague that shows the Hapsburgs advancing while King Frederic runs away across the Charles Bridge, St John of Nepomuk’s huge silver tomb, and the very ornate St Wenceslas Chapel.

    In contrast, we were disappointed by the Old Royal Palace. The main hall was filled with workmen who were ripping up the wooden floor, and what little furniture had been in it had been crammed into the little side-chapel so it looked like a store room. We did like the staircase that was designed to enable men on horseback to gallop into the hall – what a sight that must have been. DS12 found the defenestration story very funny and fantasised about what would happen in Australia if we threw politicians we didn’t like out of windows! There were two rooms that contained paintings of coats of arms, and a small but interesting exhibition that showed how textiles are restored.

    We noticed that we weren’t the only people who thought it was cold. The guards standing to attention in the castle courtyards had wooden “bathmats” to stand on to afford them some relief from the freezing ground. After quick cups of coffee/hot chocolate to thaw ourselves out, we ventured into Golden Lane. There was a very good exhibition of armoury and weapons on the upper floor of three of the buildings in the lane. The arrow slits were ingenious – they are lined with a revolving wooden casing that can be turned to either close-off the slit or angle it to the archer’s convenience. The Powder Tower was filled with gruesome torture instruments, one of which filled DS10 with horror when he realised which part of the male anatomy the heavy weights on display could be attached to!

    The Vineyard was dreary because the vines had been cut back for the winter, but the view over Prague was spectacular. Even though it was a cloudy day we could see right out over the old part of Prague.

    We made our way to the front of the castle to see the changing of the guard. When we got there we were the only people waiting. Just as the ceremony started, three women pushed their way to the front and blocked our view. We shifted ourselves so we could peer under their elbows and past their ears, but the man next to us was furious with them. A full-blown verbal battle in Spanish ensued and was far more entertaining than the changing of the guard. The women won and didn’t budge an inch.

    Leaving the Spanish to do battle we walked up the hill to the Strahov Monastery. It appeared that none of our fellow tourists had been told about the Monastery’s existence, as we had the place to ourselves. Bliss! We were the only patrons in one of the Monastery restaurants for lunch. The one we ate in didn’t have a name displayed, but it was in a cave under the hill. After lunch we explored the Strahov Library. What a fascinating place! The illuminated manuscripts, the amazing Theological Hall, the beautiful Philosophical Library, and the shelves and shelves of thousands of priceless, ancient books just blew us away. As we were the only people there, two ladies who work in the library very kindly explained the history of all the engravings, books, art work and museum pieces to us. We ended up spending two hours inside as there was so much to see. Some of the items really looked as though they had come from Cabinets of Curiosities – a dessicated dodo, an alligator, shells, African bows and arrows, birds’ eggs to name but a few. As the church was closed we then walked down the hill along Vlasska street and watched the guards outside the American Embassy searching every car driving past. We explored Mala Strana and DD12 wrote on the Grafitti wall to prove we’d been to Prague.

    As DD17 and I were going to the opera, we headed back to the apartment and donned our finery. The Savoy’s driver was waiting for us outside the apartment as arranged and drove us in his beautiful brand new, warm (thank goodness because we were both wearing dresses and high-heels), black Mercedes to the Theatre of the Estates. As he had to negotiate the same one-way system that DH had had to negotiate two days earlier, and because he was driving in the rush-hour traffic, the trip took over 20 minutes but only took 7 minutes when we came home. He dropped us right outside the theatre and DD17’s highlight of her entire holiday began. The Theatre of the Estates is the oldest theatre in Prague and was built in the Classic style in 1783. Don Giovanni premiered here in on 29th October, 1787 and was conducted by Mozart himself. Our seats were fantastic, the opera was fantastic, the orchestra was fantastic, the enchanted look on DD17’s face was fantastic, and the fact that our driver was waiting outside for us at 10pm when the opera ended was fantastic. The theatre was sold out so it was just as well I had bought the tickets when I did. All my reservations about having spent so much on the tickets and the driver vanished when I saw how over-the-moon DD17 was. She still to this day raves about the night she went to see Don Giovanni and even her unmusical friends are entranced when she glowingly describes it to them. What a wonderful way to spend our last night in Prague. DD12 and DS10 were asleep when we got back to the apartment but DH had waited up for us to hear all about it. Needless to say, it was very late by the time he got to bed!

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    Hi Cathie

    Great to hear from you, and thank you for your lovely message.

    Yes, the cold weather was a bit of a shock for us but we had lots of layers to wear, thanks to all the advice I got from fellow Fodorites, and it did warm up quite a bit when we got to Italy so we had a little respite before we got to Paris and Berlin which were both very cold, but we had aclimatised a lot by then.

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    Hi Ozziez,

    I am still loving your report. Sorry I hadn't replied before - I have been busy at work. Now I am not so busy (well I am but this is my inspiration to help me write my reports).

    I just love being cold in winter in Europe. Its great to actually get to wear coats gloves and hats. So unnecessary for most of the Sydney winter.

    We are going on our trip in July this year. Visiting my daughter who has moved to Spain. I will definitely report back after it happens.

    Can't wait to hear more about your trip.

    Aussiefive

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    Asking for recommendations on hotel or gasthof for the Saltzkammergut area...pleasant, bright, cheery places for family visits. Thanks!

    Also...similar features in a hotel or gasthof in Frankfurt, Germany area... Thanks
    JLOWELL

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    JLOWELL - I see your new to the forums. You should start a new thread of your own to get the most advice. Be sure to put the city in the title and what you are seeking such as "Seeking Saltzkammergut and Frankfort hotels or gasthofs" and in the body list your budget, how many are traveling, number of days and time of year.

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    Hi aussiefive

    I hope your DH is well and that you aren't missing your daughter too much. Yes, we enjoyed being cold as well - it was the first time DD12 and DS10 had encountered such cold weather so it was a real novelty for them. It was so strange to get back to hot, humid Brisbane and just wear t-shirts and shorts - it felt as though we were naked!

    I'll try to write the next instalment tonight.

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    Hi Aussiefive. So pleased to hear that DH is well. I am sure you're missing your daughter - you must be really looking forward to seeing her in July. As promised, the my next instalment follows.

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    Tuesday 9th December, 2008 – Prague to Dresden

    We jumped up early, had breakfast, and then tried to drag/push/pull our suitcases up very steep Uvoz street towards the Savoy hotel. This turned out to be quite hilarious. The street is cobbled, has very narrow pavements and there had been a heavy frost during the night so it was like trying to drag a heavy load uphill on an ice rink. Before long, DH, DD17 and I were dragging 5 suitcases between us while DD12 and DS10 made encouraging remarks every now and then, not failing to remind us that we were backsliding far too often! Eventually we reached a point where DH could reach us with the car without having to do the one-way half-hour tour of the old part of Prague, so the rest of us waited with the suitcases while he and DD17 collected the car and came back to pick us up.

    Getting out of Prague was great fun – Mappy and Viamichelin were determined to take us down one-way streets the wrong way, into shopping centre car parks, and across bridges that were closed. I ditched their wise words, pulled out my new map of Prague, and things improved dramatically. Suddenly we were out of Prague, into the countryside, and heading in the direction of Dresden. The countryside was quite poor once again, just as it had been south of Prague, and was blanketed in heavy smog.

    We had arranged to meet up with Ingo once we got to Dresden and thought we’d be there by noon. Ha ha. We got stuck in a serious traffic jam about 40km from the Czech border so this short distance took us 2 and a half hours to travel. It turned out that road resurfacing was being done in Borislav and all of us just had to wait. Thank goodness for cell phones. I managed to let Ingo know we’d be late and we got to know the Czech countryside and its truck drivers a bit better.

    As soon as we drove through the border tunnels into Germany it was as if we were in a different world – neat, green fields dotted with snow here and there; clean air with no trace of smog; immaculate buildings. What a contrast. The children were very excited to see the snow but after a few kilometres it was all gone.

    The drive into Dresden was a breeze and the Hilton hotel, where we were staying, was beautifully signposted. They even had my name over a parking space in their garage. It was a challenge getting our monster vehicle into this parking place which was designed for a car of far more modest proportions, but the sign was beautiful none-the-less. It was 3pm by the time we checked in but Ingo hurried over and the best whistle-stop tour of Dresden began.

    Ingo really made our stay in Dresden a 5 star experience. Not only was it lovely to meet him, which we all really enjoyed, he went out of his way to show us the highlights of Dresden in a very short time. He did such a good job that all of us would love to go back to Dresden one day and spend much longer there. There is absolutely no way we would have been able to see and learn as much as we did without him.

    We started in the Christmas markets in the Stallhof, the location of the old stables of the Wettin Palace. Jousts were held in this beautiful medieval spot in days of yore. We bought a very yummy 2kg Stollen which accompanied us around Europe and was consumed with relish daily by us all. Yum! DH and the children took advantage of the fact that they were in a Christmas market to have a late lunch, and then we moved on.

    Ingo took us to see the equestrian statue of King John outside Semper Oper, Semper Oper from the outside as there weren’t any tours operating, the Zwinger – once again we didn’t go inside anything because there wasn’t time, but Ingo pointed out the orangery, the Mathematics-Physics Salon, the Crown Gate, the Glockenspeilpavillon, the Semper Gallery, the Old Masters Gallery and the Royal Armoury.

    We walked through the luxurious Kempinski Hotel, and saw the ice rink in the middle which was being put to good use by people who skate far better than we do. Moving on, Ingo pointed out the Historic Green Vault to us, and took us into the Hofkirche. We especially enjoyed looking at the baroque pulpit and 3000 pipe organ, and found the Memorial Chapel, which is dedicated to the people who died on the night that Dresden was firebombed (13th February, 1945), very moving. As we left the cathedral we got a glimpse of the Furstenzug which is a huge mural depicting Saxon nobles over 700 years.

    Our next stop was Frauenkirche. Up to this point we had been extremely impressed by how meticulously Dresden had been restored, but seeing the Frauenkirche and learning how ingeniously it had been restored really brought home to us the herculean effort that has gone into, and continues to go into rebuilding Dresden. The cross that was on top of the church when it was bombed is now displayed inside the church. It acts as a fitting reminder of the destructive power of war. This is a beautiful church and it is wonderful that people from all around the world have contributed to its rebuilding.

    As we walked towards the Striezelmarkt in the Altmarkt, Ingo told me that I could see the pyramid from where I was standing. I looked and looked but couldn’t see one anywhere. Not wanting to be rude, I just muttered “mmmm” and didn’t say anything more. When we reached the Striezelmarkt which was established in 1434 and is known as Europe’s oldest Christmas market, Ingo asked me what I thought of the pyramid. Now I had to confess that I couldn’t see it. Ingo looked stunned. He then realised that I didn’t know what a pyramid was. After much hilarity, it turned out that the 3-sided Egyptian structure I was looking for was actually the huge, 14 meter-high wooden Christmas decoration right in front of me! I had to agree that it was truly magnificent. Of course, now that we knew what a pyramid was, we saw them everywhere for the rest of our holiday, but the Erzgebirge-style one in the Striezelmarkt was definitely the best.

    Ingo was concerned that the market would be to busy for us, but compared to the crowds we had encountered in Prague, it was only mildly populated. We loved this market, mainly because it had a wonderful atmosphere and many of the stalls were selling local arts and crafts such as carved wooden Christmas decorations hailing from the Erzgebirge mountains, Pulsnitz gingerbread, Lusatia pottery, Hermhut star decorations, and local cakes and sweets.

    Sadly Ingo had to leave us to catch his bus home, so we said our goodbyes and then explored the market in more detail. For dinner we had the biggest Bratwurst in rolls with mustard I’ve ever seen, followed by decadent waffles filled with melted Nutella for desert. DS10 was delighted to find fairyfloss and then discovered the challenges of eating fairyfloss wearing gloves. Finding this nearly impossible, he took his gloves off. It was 7.30pm and Dresden was getting very cold. He persevered, ate all his fairyfloss, and then wanted to put his leather, furry-lined thermal gloves back on his very, very sticky hands.

    Dilemma! There was no-where to wash his hands, and knowing that I would never get his gloves washed and dry in time for our very early departure the next day, I was not eager for this to happen. Luckily DH came to the rescue as he decided he needed new gloves and bought a lovely pair from a market stall and gave DS10 his old ones to wear.

    I had been avidly searching every market stall in Salzburg, Prague and Dresden for face warmers, but had not been able to find a single one. DH had grown a beard and moustache for our holiday so he was fine, but the rest of us had freezing faces and bright red noses. On our way back to the hotel I spotted a sports shop that was still open. We found a large display of face warmers on the first floor and quickly bought 4 for those of us without furry faces. What bliss!

    We had adjoining rooms at the Hilton hotel that were very comfortable and very quiet. The staff were incredibly helpful and efficient, and we found the location to be perfect for our short stay. Before we went to bed we settled our account as we were leaving at 5.30am the next morning for an early flight to Rome – or so we thought …….

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    Hi ozziez,

    only just found this, and I'm enjoying it very much - just the right combination of places I've been to, so can reminis [sorry - speling not my strong piint] about them and new ones to find out about through your eyes.

    your tale about being charged twice for the Prague apartment was priceless, ditto the "helpful" girl who took you there - i thought it was only me those sorts of things happen to - how reassuring to discover that isn't true.

    looking forward to more,

    regards, ann

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    Hi Ann

    Lovely to hear from you! Thanks for your lovely comments. It's also good to hear that I'm not the only one who has exciting little challenges sent my way (such as the fun and games we had in Prague!)

    Your input helped me so much on this holiday, especially in Venice. I'll get to that bit soon I hope...

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    Ozziez,
    Great trip report. Would love to know how the Paris apartment rental worked out (noticed from a different post that you used Paris Vacation Apartments). I am looking for a small apartment in Paris for a week this September and would love to know how the company fared and where you stayed.

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    Hi everyone

    Sorry I haven't posted anything for a while - I've been ill again. I'll try to post some more really soon.

    In the meantime, here's some info for cbctraveler. We rented the two Sacre Coeur apartments in Montmartre while we were in Paris. The smaller one, a studio, is on the top floor of the building and the larger one, 2 bedrooms, is on the 6th floor. We stayed in some pretty nice places during our 6 week holiday but these were the best. The agents were a pleasure to deal with, the apartments were beautifully furnished and were spotlessly clean, the view of Sacre Coeur was magnificent, and the location was fine - just 5 minutes' walk to the metro station and we never had to wait for a train because they arrive every few minutes.

    Feel free to ask any more questions.

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    Thanks, Ozziez. We are looking to stay in the 6th; but I am glad to hear positive remarks regarding the agents. Thanks for sharing your experience. Hope you feel better soon!

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    Hi everyone

    Sorry this trip report ground to a halt. I had to stop when life became too hectic this end - I had a big thesis to finish, a major operation to have and recover from, and Grandpa died.

    I am just wondering if Fodorites would find it useful if I finish this trip report. Perhaps what we got up to will be too out of date now to be of interest? On the other hand, if people are still interested in reading about what we got up to, I will undertake to tell you all about it.

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    If you feel up to it, I'm sure it would be read and valued to fellow travellers. Hope you are feeling much better now.

    Best wishes from a fellow Australian living in London (the winter is starting to set in, not looking forward to the cold).

    Kay

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    hi ozziez,

    no pressure, but I'd love it if you finished they report as i was really enjoying reading it.

    sorry about grandpa, and i hope that you are fully recovered from your op.

    regards, ann

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    "...first aid kit and warning triangle. At first Autoeurope had told me that we would have to supply these items ourselves as it was not law to have these in the car when driving in Germany and Austria..."

    This is not so: I live in Germany and Switzerland: the law stipulates you must have a first aid kit (in fact, you must have surgical glove apparently, an anti-HIV measure) and the warning triangle.... Fluorovest is just a good precaution in a country where people drive like maniacs...

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    Great trip report ozziez!

    I am supposed to be finishing my thesis at the moment - and have made a quick diversion to read this - so if you are up to it would love to read some more :)

    When I finish then we can plan some more travel - so helps as motivation to read a little every so often.

    Do hope you are recovering from your illness and from your grandpa's loss.

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    Hi everyone

    Thank you for your enthusiasm. I'm much better - still get very tired, so finishing this report will take a while, but here goes with the next instalment.

    To recap, we were in Dresden on Tuesday 9th December and thought we were leaving at 5.30am the next morning for an early flight to Rome …….

    Wednesday 10th December, 2008 – Dresden to Rome

    Amazingly, I was only unwell once on our entire holiday. Sadly I felt dreadful during the night we spent in Dresden and didn’t get any sleep, so it was a challenge to get up at 5am. Anyway, we all leapt out of bed on schedule, left the Hilton hotel at 5.45am and headed for the airport. We filled the car up with petrol before we reached the airport, handed the car back to Avis on arrival at the airport, and proceeded to the Germanwings section to check-in for our flight to Rome. We smiled happily because things seemed to be looking up.

    Not for long! The Germanwings clerk couldn’t find any record of our booking, even though I had given her the printout of our online ticket. She tried to tell me that our booking didn’t exist but, after a night of no sleep I just wasn’t in the mood to play silly games. I pointed out that I wouldn’t have an online ticket if my booking didn’t exist and that it would be great if she could find out what was going on. After many phone calls she discovered that we were no longer flying to Rome via Cologne, leaving at 8.15am and arriving in Rome at 12.20pm. Instead, Germanwings had changed our booking without notifying us. Now we were scheduled to fly to Stuttgart at 8.30am, with a connecting flight to Rome at 2.25pm which arrived in Rome at 3.50pm. We explained that we had booked Rome Limousines to fetch us from the airport in Rome and had arranged with Sleep in Italy to meet the owner of our Rome apartment at 2pm. The Germanwings clerk didn’t care. We explained that Germanwings had not failed to send us numerous advertising e-mails, but had never informed us of the change in plans. The Germanwings clerk still didn’t care. She informed us that people who fly with cheap airlines get what they pay for, that we were very lucky that she had managed to find our booking, and that we should be thankful that we were on a flight at all !!!!! Having been so eloquently appraised of Germanwings’ customer service policy, we silently vowed to never use them again and proceeded to phone Rome Limousines and Sleep in Italy to change our plans.

    Our plane to Stuttgart had to be de-iced so we finally took off at 9.40am. We landed in Stuttgart at 10.30am and it was snowing! As we had to wait in Stuttgart for 4 hours, we let DD17, DD12 and DS10 play in the car park in the snow. They had a marvellous time - it turned out that this was the only snow they saw during our entire 6 week holiday, so our unplanned visit to Stuttgart was not all bad. This was obviously our silver lining for the day.

    When we arrived in Rome we were delighted to see Rome Limousines waiting for us. The driver whisked us into Rome through terrible traffic so we were delighted that we didn’t have to do the driving. The owner was waiting for us in the apartment in Piazza del Fico, helped us carry our suitcases up the stairs, and made us feel very welcome. After we had settled in we went for a walk around the Piazza Navona area. The Four Rivers fountain had been cleaned and looked wonderful, the Pantheon was magnificent, and the Trevi fountain looked magical in the dark. DD17, DD12 and DS10 threw their coins into the Trevi fountain and wished to return to Rome one day. We skipped the Christmas markets in Piazza Navona, stopped at a little grocers to buy breakfast supplies, and had a very enjoyable dinner at Da Francesco in Piazza Fico, just opposite our apartment. During the night there was a terrific storm with thunder so loud that it sounded as though Rome was falling down. We felt very fortunate to be warm and cosy in bed and slept like logs.

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    PS. Thank you so much Kybourbon, Kay, Ann, KN2011, love_travel_Aus, and aussiefive for sending good wishes for my recovery. Also, thank you Ann and love_travel_Aus for your condolences regarding the death of grandpa. All very much appreciated.

    Kay, I hope the weather in London isn't getting you down. It is sunny and warm, but very dry, in most parts of Australia at the moment.

    Yes, Seraphina, as you say, Autoeurope was incorrect in telling me that the warning triangle and first aid kit were not required by law. Thankfully, because of the advice I'd obtained from fellow Fodorites, I knew that these items were required by law and was able to persuade Autoeurope/Avis to included these items, as well as the flurovest, in our rental car. I think they were pleased to see the back of me!

    Good luck with finishing your thesis love_travel_Aus. You'll feel great when it's done.

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    Hi Ozziez, enjoying your report. Your story about Germanwings made us laugh. We have flown with a few of the cheap European/UK airlines and if you manage to get there at all, that's about all you can expect. We were on one Ryanair flight where the pilot clipped the terminal building with the wing of the plane as he was taxi-ing and brought down the downpipe. The poor sods waiting to board our plane, for their return flight, had to wait over 12 hours while the plane was checked for damage.

    And yes, the weather in London is getting us down. It's turned very cold, quite suddenly. Not looking forward to at least 6 months of horrible winter weather. Good thing that London has its compensations!

    Take care
    Kay

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    My condolences on the loss of your Grandpa. :( I hope you're still recovering well from your operation.

    Thank you for writing this trip report, and no, it's definitely not too late for it! I'm headed for London in December and am looking forward to that section of your report.

    Take care of yourself! :)

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    Thanks John, Kay and Iowa_Redhead. Here's the next bit....

    Thursday 11th December, 2008 - Rome

    We leapt out of bed at 7am because we were on a mission. I have wanted to go to Pompeii since I was a tiny tot. I nearly got there when I was 14 years old, but a strike prevailed and we went to Ostia instead. After much research we had decided to visit Pompeii on Friday 12th December. We could have bought our train tickets once we got to Rome on 10th December but we wanted to leave Rome very early and come home to Rome late, and we didn’t want to run the risk of the trains we wanted to travel on being full by the time we arrived in Rome on 10th December. Therefore we wanted to book our tickets in advance.

    Like many others, I had tried to book the train tickets from Rome to Naples return using the Trenitalia website, and like many others, I had failed miserably. After many days of fiddling and tearing out my hair I found out that Australian banks block credit card transactions with Trenitalia, so I contacted American Express in Rome and asked them to book the tickets for us. This worked beautifully and American Express told me I could collect the tickets on the afternoon of 10th December.

    As our arrival in Rome on 10th December had been delayed, we had to postpone collecting the tickets until this morning. We had also booked and paid for tickets for the Vatican museums for today, so we had to hurry up.

    It was pouring with rain and still dark when we left our apartment at 8am. We walked briskly and with purpose to the American Express office at the foot of the Spanish Steps, and then took photos of each other on the Spanish Steps, in the rain, with a crane and some workmen in the background while we waited for American Express to open at 8.30am. By 8.45am we were joined by an Italian man and we both looked at the very closed American Express offices. He knocked on the door and attracted the security guard’s attention who imparted the jolly news that American Express was closed until further notice because the rain had affected their computer connections! I begged and pleaded to be allowed in to collect my train tickets and was eventually allowed to do so because I had already paid for them. Mission accomplished - or so we thought …….

    We hot tailed it to the Vatican, arriving at 9.45am. We were amazed that there wasn’t a queue, went through security, and up to the second floor to exchange our pre-booked voucher for 2 adult tickets, and bought 3 children’s tickets. We proceeded to the 3rd floor where we rented 5 audio guides and left our back pack in the cloakroom. It was warm, dry and virtually deserted inside and we spent 5 very enjoyable hours in the Vatican museums. We covered the Egyptian museum, the Pio Clementino museum, the Cortile della Pigna, the Galleria Chiaramanti, the Braccio Nuove, and the Etruscan museum in detail. After lunch in the self-service restaurant we moved fairly quickly through the Galleria del Candelabri, the Galleria degli Arazzi, the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche, and the Galleria Pio V. We then encountered crowds for the first time and examined the Raffael rooms in detail and moved through to the Sistine Chapel. We spent an hour in the Sistine Chapel and were blown away by how beautifully it has been restored. The technique of leaving a few areas unrestored to highlight the difference between the before and after restoration is highly effective.

    We tried to exit through the door on the right hand side at the back of the Sistine Chapel so that we could bypass the security line into St Peters, but it was locked. No problem. We exited through the door to the left at the back of the chapel, returned the audio guides, collected our bag, and walked around the “block” to St Peters.

    There was a very long line of people snaking through St Peter’s square. We obediently joined the end of the queue and made friends with four Spanish clerics in front of us. I took lots of photos of them and we played charades in an attempt to communicate with one another - they couldn’t speak English and we can’t speak Spanish! I then noticed that we appeared to be the only people in the line who weren’t wearing habits or dog collars. Funnily enough, my Spanish friends had also noticed that we didn’t look as though we were members of the clergy. Charades continued, and as all players improved, it became evident that visitors weren’t allowed into St Peters because a special service was being held for religious students from all over the world. Our new friends dug around in their pockets and, with a flourish, produced two spare tickets which they offered to us. Sadly we had to decline as there were five of us.

    After waving goodbye to our new friends, we wandered off aimlessly in the direction of the Tiber, in search of an information centre, never found one, and eventually found ourselves back at St Peters. This time the queue was much shorter and security were letting some non-clerics in, so we were snuck in too. Although most of the inside of St Peters was cordoned off for the special service, and we weren’t allowed to climb the dome, we were still able to see the Pieta. After a quick look around we decided to return on another day.

    We walked back to Piazza Navonna and popped into the tourist office there to buy three-day Roma Passes. The man selling us the passes mentioned in passing that we might like to delay starting the passes for a day because of “the strike”. “What strike?” we asked. “The strike,” was the reply. The two men in the tourist office explained that a nationwide strike was planned for the next day, that most people (including them) didn’t know what the strike was for, but that it was the last time they were allowed to strike before Christmas. Striking was voluntary so they had no idea which services would be affected. When they heard about our plans to go to Pompeii, they threw their hands up in horror and strongly advised us not to go. As they explained, although the buses and trains in Rome would still be running, no-one knew whether the Circumvesuviana line from Naples to Pompeii would be running and whether Pompeii would be open or closed. This meant that we were going to have to change the train tickets I had worked so hard to get! This was the second time in my life that a strike had intervened in my plans to see Pompeii… We bought our Roma Passes and four bus tickets (the tourist information men were adamant that DS10 could travel free on the buses) and walked up to Torre Argentina to get the #40 bus to Termini.

    Termini was absolutely popping at the seams. Everyone was trying to rearrange their plans that had been affected by the impending strike. We spent about 45 minutes trying to find out how to change our tickets because every time we got to the front of a queue at an information booth we were told to go to another booth further down the station. Eventually, at the fourth information booth we found out that we had to join a mammoth queue, right next to the first information booth we had used. So we were back to where we had started. It quickly became evident that we had no hope of reaching the front of the queue before the ticket office closed at 8pm if we queued politely because people kept pushing in around the sides of the queue. In desperation, the five of us stood next to each other, across the entire width of queue, which ensured we maintained our place. Finally, at 7pm, we got to the front of the queue and got a refund for the Rome-Naples, Naples-Rome tickets that were booked for 12/12/08, and bought tickets for Rome-Naples, Naples-Rome for Sunday 14/12/08. We also bought the tickets we needed for Rome-Florence and Florence-Venice for the following week.

    We took advantage of the fact that there is a supermarket in the bowels of Termini and stocked up on breakfast and dinner supplies. We then bought 5 bus tickets from the Tabacchi (the Tabacchi man was adamant that DS10 could not travel free on the buses)and caught the #64 bus back to Piazza Navonna. Although we were very tired by this stage, and it was still raining, it was not very cold and we needed cheering up. We strolled around the Christmas Market in Piazza Navonna, and even though this market is nothing like the ones we had seen in Salzburg and Dresden, we had a bit of fun and the kids enjoyed buying nougat and chocolate from one of the stalls.

    By the time we got back to our apartment we were pretty exhausted so we did chores, had dinner followed by the yummy Stollen we had bought in Dresden, had a laugh about the hurdles we had encountered and overcome during the day, and fell into bed. The past two days had taught us that, no matter how much you plan, things in Italy proceed at their own pace and the unexpected readily rears its mischievous head!

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    Hi Ozziez Thanks so much for your great report. I am loving reading it. So sorry about all your illnesses and condolences on your Grandpa. Please continue as you are able, and don't leave anything out. I'm sure I speak for many when I say this.

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    hi ozziez,

    what an incredible day. not only did you grapple with italian bureacracy [and win!] but you spent 5 hours in the Vatican museums and walked round st. peters, and did some shopping, and lived to tell the tale. my feet took a week to recover from a similar experience.

    I'm longing to find out if you actually got to Pompeii.

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    Ozziez,

    I am loving yout trip report! I had to giggle at "had tripped over one of the portable pews in the middle of the floor space and the resulting noise echoed for what seemed like an awfully long time." My younger brother did the exact same thing in St. Peters in Rome. He had never been out of the country (the US) before and was enthralled with everything. We visited Rome in early December and were in St. Peters in the morning before most visitors arrived. He was ooing and aahing at everything and ran right into a wooden pew. Security guards came running over. We still laugh about it!

    Can't wait for the rest!
    Tracy

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    Friday 12th December, 2008 - Rome during a strike

    We awoke to a cold and rainy day and stayed in bed a while as we were all very tired. It was 10am by the time we left our apartment and the stairwell was really dark. Half way down the stairs (we were on the 3rd floor) I heard DD12 apologising profusely to someone. It turned out that DS10 had mistaken someone’s doorbell for a light switch and had nearly jumped out of his skin when a door immediately opened and a large man appeared in the doorway. As DS10 was seemingly at a loss for words (and of course in danger of his soul going to hell because of his mishap in Salzburg), DD12 stepped in, smoothed troubled waters, and marched DS10 out into the street. By the time I reached DS10 he was running around Piazza del Fico trying to find a refuse bin for the bag of rubbish he had brought down from the apartment. The apartment owner had explained to me that Rome was experiencing problems with their rubbish collection and that we should just leave the rubbish on the corner outside the apartment. This is exactly what he meant. Not a refuse bin in sight, just lots of bags, boxes, cartons and other receptacles of overflowing rubbish, with dogs and cats digging in them to their hearts’ content. Although we did see a few small refuse bins during our stay in Rome, it was not unusual to see piles of rubbish on the streets.

    We caught the bus to the Colosseum, confirming once and for all that DS10 was free on the buses. The Forum and Palatine Hill were closed because of the strike, but the Colosseum was open so we used our Roma Passes to gain entry. We also rented 5 audio guides but they kept breaking down, probably due to the rain, which was really pouring down by this stage. After swapping them at the main desk 4 times we gave up and asked for, and eventually got, a refund. It was actually very pleasant wandering around the Colosseum on our own because hardly anyone was there. I had last seen the Colosseum in 1977 and had remembered it filled with hawkers and cats. Perhaps it was the rain and the strike, but there was not a cat or a hawker in sight. I had some notes with me so I could explain what was going on to our family which kept everyone happy.

    From the top level of the Colosseum we had a wonderful view of the strike, which really was a spectacle for us. We had spoken to quite a few Romans about the strike and no-one knew why it was taking place and seemed surprised that we wanted to know its purpose. It was strike because the unions said it was a strike - why else? I eventually found out (after we had left Italy) that the strike was a protest against the global economic crisis. All strikes we have ever seen in person, or on TV, have been accompanied by a heavy police presence, a threatening atmosphere and violence. Well, if we hadn’t been told this was a strike we would have thought it was a festival. Thousands of people poured down the road next to the Arch of Constantine, accompanied by an equal number of helium-filled balloons and loud, funky music. They danced, sang, clapped, ate, drank and had a wonderful time. There was a truck with a lady on the back who was shouting something into a loud-hailer but no-one took any notice of her and just had a big party. Not a policeman was in sight. The crowds dispersed after half an hour and that was that.

    We caught the bus to St Peters and had lunch at the only restaurant that was open - Universal Bar. I would not recommend it as the prices were high and the quality was poor, but we were cold and hungry. After lunch it was still raining as we queued to get through security at St Peters - this only took 10 minutes - and paid to climb the dome. We climbed the 500+ steps to the top and, as we emerged into the open, the rain stopped. How lucky was that! The view was breathtaking. We had no idea that Rome was so vast. We spent ages looking at the view from all angles and were so pleased we had persevered and returned to St Peters after our failure to see it the day before. After descending the dome we spent 2 hours inside St Peters because it wasn’t crowded and we were really able to take our time whilst admiring its treasures.

    After walking back to Piazza Navonna and finding out where the bus stop was for our visit to the Borghese Gallery the next day, we visited yet another of the tiny grocery stores that appear unexpectedly all around Rome. Although this one had a small entrance, it was actually quite big inside. There was a cat sitting on top of the apples, alongside a sign requesting that patrons don the disposable gloves before handling the fruit - very funny!

    After icecreams all round at Galeteria della Palma we visited the Pantheon again - but at length this time, took lots of photos of the elephant bearing the obelisk, and went into the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva - what a beautiful starlit ceiling. DS10 asked me if there were any candles he could light - sadly there weren’t. Next time I looked at him he was kneeling down, praying for his endangered soul. DD12's comments to him in Salzburg had obviously had a profound effect! Hopefully we'd find a church with candles soon so that he could appease his guilty conscience .....

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    I've just found your report, Ozziez. Makes for great reading. I'm still trying to get my plans together to revisit Italy, especially Florence, so am reading with interest.

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    It turned out that DS10 had mistaken someone’s doorbell for a light switch and had nearly jumped out of his skin when a door immediately opened and a large man appeared in the doorway.>>

    we risked having the same problem when we were in Rome and DS, then 15, took it upon himself to go out every morning to get the breakfast croissants from the little bar/bakery opposite our apartment building. having an appalling sense of direction, it was always hit or miss whether he found the right door again, or woke up the neighbours. how we avoided an international incident I'll never know. but he managed it every morning, with no italian whatsoever!

    great report, BTW.

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    Saturday 13th December, 2008

    We woke up at 5.45am because we had an appointment with the Borghese Gallery! Leaving our apartment at 6.45am we were delighted to see that the sun was shining and Rome looked so different when it wasn’t raining. We took the little #116 bus at 7am to the Borghese Gallery, arriving at 7.25am. The parklands that surround the gallery were steaming after the rain so the Borghese emerged through the mist and looked quite ethereal. We walked around, watched the joggers and dog walkers, and had coffee and hot chocolate at Caffé del Parco at the entrance to the zoo.

    At 8.30am we redeemed our booking at the Borghese Gallery and used our Roma Passes in exchange for the entrance fee. We spent a wonderful 2 hours wandering around the gallery and all agreed that it really is a treasure house.

    At 11am our time at the gallery was up so we walked down Via Veneto to the Cappucin Crypt. The delightfully macabre element of this display was heightened by our immediately preceding visit to the Borghese. We then walked further down Via Veneto to wait for a bus to the Forum. It was at this bus stop that we had our only personal encounter with a pick pocket on our entire trip. I was looking at a shop’s shoe display and a woman with a newspaper tented over her arm bumped into me and felt me up! I had nothing in my pockets and all my valuables were in a money wallet around my waist, buried beneath layers and layers of clothes, so she wasn’t in luck. I made a point of telling everyone at the bus stop what she was up to and she ran off down the street. Hah!

    We used our Roma Passes and DS10's Friday Colosseum ticket to gain entry to the Forum. The Forum was very busy and, in hindsight, this was a site where we could have benefitted from having a guide. I had lots of notes about the Forum, including Walter’s (paradiselost) excellent commentary, so we managed fine but it would have been easier to understand what was going on while keeping DS10 and DD12 engaged if someone else had been pointing everything out to us.

    At 2.30pm we left the Forum and walked to San Clemente Church. Most of the restaurants in the area, including Hostaria Isidora on via di San Giovanni, were closed but we had lunch at Caffé San Clemente, across the road from the church, which was very reasonable and absolutely fine. After lunch we went into the church. We loved the excavations. It really hit home how Rome is built in layers when we explored the levels where the 9th century church, 4th century church, and Mithraeum and Roman houses are situated. DD17 loves art and history so she is a pleasure to have as a companion at any gallery, museum or historical site, but DD12 and DS10 can get bored after a while. Well, all three were really enthralled by this church and were totally engaged the entire time we were there, so it was hard to leave.

    It was raining again when we left San Clemente so we walked briskly to St Peters in Chains to see Michaelangelo’s Moses statue and then caught a bus to Largo Argentina. Then began the highlight of the day for DD17, DD12 and DS10 - we visited the cat sanctuary at Torre Argentina. Although we love cats, I am very allergic to them so we don’t have any as pets. We could smell the cats from a block away and, because it was raining, all the cats were inside the sanctuary. There were cats everywhere – in cages, walking around, sitting on tables and cupboards, and scattered amongst the merchandise. Cats that are very ill are in the intensive care section and we fell in love with a beautiful black cat with Parkinsons disease. The kittens were gorgeous too and I thanked Australia’s strict pet importation laws because otherwise we would have been taking a feline companion home with us! Instead we bought t-shirts, earrings, and other souvenirs and were happy to do so because all the proceeds go towards the cats’ upkeep and care. After a while my cat allergies got the better of me so I walked around outside and pondered the place where Caesar was assassinated. Finally, after much cajoling, DH and I managed to persuade the kids to bid adieu to the cats. We all agree that the cat sanctuary was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.

    We popped into the Church of San Ignazio di Loyola and were blown away by the effectiveness of the trompe l’oeil dome. Wow! DD17 just couldn’t believe at first that it was painted on a flat ceiling. After revisiting the Trevi fountain, we visited a grocery store, carefully checked the bus times for Sunday morning because we were going to catch the bus early the next day, and then returned to our apartment to prepare for our upcoming adventure – our trip to Pompeii the next day. Yahoo!

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    At 8.30am we redeemed our booking at the Borghese Gallery and used our Roma Passes in exchange for the entrance fee>>

    hi ozziez,

    how does this work, exactly? I ask because the galleria borghese was one of the sights we didn't make it to the first time we viited Rome so it's top of the list [joint with the Scavi tour] for the next one in Feb. I'm trying to work out whether we should buy a week's transport pass, [we've got 6 whole days] and pay as we go for the borghese for example, or buy a Roma pass for the first 3 days, and use it to hit as many sights as possible, starting with the borghese. which brings me back to my question - how does it work with the galleria borghese in particular? if you have booked [and paid] on line, when you turn up with your Roma pass with the borghese as the first or second and therefore free sight, do they give you your money back?

    great report, BTW. how difficult it must to keep 3 children entertained; i only had to manage two who were quite close in age [and DH of course] and that was bad enough.

    looking forward to pompeii,

    regards, ann

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    Hi annhig
    I have been following my dear friend Ozziez trip report carefully too as we are too going to Rome at Christmas this year. Your question about the Borghese Gallery and Roma Pas was one I had. I found this great link this morning - just scroll down and it deals with the Roma Pass and Borghese specifically.
    http://www.roninrome.com/2009/04/27/should-i-buy-a-roma-pass/
    Hope this helps.

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    annhig - You can't book the Borghese online if you are using the Roma Pass. You have to either call or e-mail (not sure the e-mail is still listed on their website, but someone posted it on Fodor's once) to make your reservation and tell them you will be using the pass. Right now, I think they have a special exhibit and tickets are 13.50€ which would be a good deal using the pass. The Colosseum/Forum/Palantine was also has an exhibition (11€) so you would get the value of the pass with just those two entrances. AFAIK you don't have to pay the exhibit fees when using the free entrance, but it will be included when using the 1/2 discount.

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    Hi Ann

    Yes, as kybourbon says, you mustn't book the Borghese online if you want to use a Roma Pass to get in. I phoned the Borghese and they gave me a booking code. It was very easy and I didn't have to pay anything at the time. I think this is an advantage in itself because if you decide prior to your visit that you don't want to visit the Borghese anymore, you haven't wasted any money.

    30 minutes before our appointed time (i.e. our time to visit the Borghese was 9am - 11am, so I went to the entrance desk at 8.30am) all I had to do was tell the cashier my booking code number and show him the Roma Passes. We were then issued with tickets and didn't have to pay anything for them. PRLCH's site is a very good one - it answers all the questions I had about the Roma Pass.

    I know you don't have children 10 or under, but for those people who do, the following info might be useful. We bought our Roma Passes a the TI kiosk in Piazza Navonna. I was about to buy a pass for DS10 but the people manning the kiosk advised me not to because they said he would be free on the buses and his entry into the sites covered by the Roma Pass would be greatly discounted. They turned out to be correct and we saved quite a bit by just paying entrance fees for DS10 as and when we needed to. However, bear in mind that we were in Rome in winter and the queues were negligible. In summer it may be worth buying a Roma Pass for children 10 and under so that you don't have to waste time standing in the general admissions queue.

    I'm sure you'll love the Borghese. We certainly did.

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    PRLCH, ozziez and kybourbon,

    thanks for all of that help. it really is one of the strengths of this board that we can swap such useful info, so easily.

    I had read RIR but obviously not well enough. my query would be where we would use our other free entry as we "did" the colosseum etc. on our last visit. there's plenty of time though so I'll go back to have a look where else appeals.

    thanks again,

    regards, ann

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    On the Roma Pass website there is a list of admission prices (doesn't include special exhibit fees) if you are wanting to maximize your free admissions. Most special exhibits run for several months so fees may change the closer you are to your trip. Currently, Castel Sant'Angelo is 10€ (because of an exhibit) so that would be good option also.

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    Addendum to Saturday 13th December, 2008 - the salvation of DS10's immortal soul

    How could I forget such an important event in DS10's life? When we visited the Church of San Ignazio di Loyola, DS10 finally found candles that he could light, in return for a donation. He lit a candle and said his prayers and felt like a new chap. We were all amazed by how seriously he had taken DD12's comment about his soul in Salzburg because we are not a religious family and DS10 really had no idea what the candles in the church in Salzburg were for. He is a happy-go-lucky, sporty, academic boy who normally takes everything in life in his stride, so this was a side of him we had never seen before. Amazing!

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    Enjoying your trip report, even these many months later.

    I suspect you remember the Colosseum differently because in 1977 there was no admission, no gates. You could jsut walk into the place--thus the cats and hawkers.

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    Sunday 14th December – Pompeii

    At last we were going to Pompeii! We leapt up at 5am, left the apartment at 5.40am, and got the #64 bus at 5.50am from Chiesa Nuova to Termini. It had stopped raining so we were hopeful that weather would be fine in Pompeii too. As we had prebooked tickets, all we had to do was find our train, get on, and find our prebooked seats. It left on time at 6.45am, bound for Naples. About 20 minutes outside Rome it started to rain heavily. Our windows leaked so there was water all over our armrests and the floor but we were too excited to care!

    Our train arrived in Naples at 8.39am and it was still raining. We quickly looked for, and found the Circumvesuviana platform. This was easy as it was well sign posted. We bought return tickets from Naples to Pompeii to Naples. While waiting for the next Circumvesuviana train we were able to watch five young male pickpockets trying hard to rob someone, but failing miserably. The platform wasn’t very crowded and everyone was watching them like hawks.

    We caught the 9.09am train to Pompeii, and the pickpockets joined us. They moved from carriage to carriage, always in pairs, and some jumped off at one station while others jumped on. Because we didn’t feel threatened it was actually quite entertaining to watch them. Most of the people on the train were locals and were wise to what they were up to.

    We arrived in Pompeii at 9.47am and walked to the entrance of the excavations. As we paid for our tickets and audioguides, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Perfect. Even better was that we only saw four other people the entire time we were exploring the excavations, so we really felt as though we had Pompeii to ourselves. It was everything I had hoped it would be, and more - so much more. About four of the buildings e.g. the House of the Vetti, were closed, but we still managed to peer through the windows and saw a great deal. We thought the audioguides were very good, but DS10 didn’t enjoy his because it was the children’s version. I let him listen to mine a lot of the time because I have read widely about Pompeii so I knew more or less what I was looking at. DS10 was happy.

    We were all amazed by how well preserved the buildings, statues and frescos were. We had seen photos of Pompeii but actually seeing everything ourselves really made an impact on us. We walked and explored and talked and laughed and oohed and aahed. Not having to queue for anything, and being able to set our own pace, meant that we were able to see everything that was open in Pompeii in far less time than we had expected. We even had time to go back and see some things twice. It was great that a lot of the items recovered from Pompeii were displayed in cases or in cages around the excavations because we were able to see and study them close up.

    I had known that this day would be a definite highlight for me, but I was so very, very pleased that the rest of the family really enjoyed it too. The kids learnt so much in just one day and they still talk about it often.

    We had read about the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples and had decided to visit it on our way back to Rome. Because of this, we left Pompeii at 1.30pm and caught the 2pm Circumvesuviana to Naples. At Naples station we bought metro tickets and took the metro one stop to Cavour and then walked to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale.

    The museum was a disappointment and in hindsight, we should have stayed in Pompeii for the rest of the day. The museum had run out of maps, there were no guides in English, and very few of the labels on the exhibits were in English. I can understand a little Italian and I noticed that quite a few of the exhibits were mislabelled. None of the people working in the museum could speak English, and we cannot speak Italian, so we wandered around searching for all the Pompeii treasures we had been told were housed here. It turned out that only two rooms of artifacts from Pompeii were open. However, we were pleased that we visited the museum because we would have wondered what we were missing had we not. Having said all that, our visit to the museum was not bad at all. Perhaps we were just expecting too much. It was wonderful that we had been able to see so many of the items recovered from the excavations while we were in Pompeii. I definitely want to go back to Pompeii one day, and next time I’ll spend the entire day there, and give the museum in Naples a miss.

    The museum closed at 5pm so we got the metro back to Naples Centrale. Our train from Naples to Rome left at 6.16pm and we arrived back in Rome at 7.39pm. What a wonderful day we had had. Feeling exhilarated, we caught the bus home to the apartment, showered, had dinner, and did our packing because we had to leave for Florence the next day.

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    Monday 15th December, 2008 – Rome to Florence

    We left our Rome apartment at 9.45am, wheeling our suitcases with us. We successfully caught the #64 bus from Chiesa Nuova to Termini and found the #9470 train to Florence. A man dressed like a train inspector rushed up to us and insisted that he had to load our luggage on the train. We explained that we could do it ourselves but he grabbed our cases and rushed onto the train with them, and then insisted on a tip! We realised that he wasn’t employed by the railways, but paid him to get rid of him. The train left Rome at 10.50am and arrived in Florence at 12.27pm, without stopping at any stations along the way. Easy!

    We walked to Residenza Il Villino in Via della Pergola, a bed and breakfast that we had booked into for three nights. This was easy to do because Florence wasn’t crowded, but as we trundled along, each of us taking up the entire width of the very narrow pavements, I realised that this would not be so easy in summer. We arrived at our destination 15 minutes later and were warmly greeted by the owner Sergio, and his son. We had a suite consisting of two very spacious and comfortable rooms, and a bathroom, on the ground floor. It was overcast, but not raining, and we were very excited to be in Florence!

    We rushed out to explore, stopping along the way at Pugi’s in Piazza San Marco to order yummy pizza which we ate sitting on a bench in the Piazza. Resuming our walk, we suddenly realised we had come upon Ospedale degli Innocenti unintentionally so we stopped to have a good look at it. DD12 was so sad when we she read the plaque about the revolving wheel. In case the reader doesn’t know, Ospedale degli Innocenti was an orphanage designed by Brunelleschi. Mothers who couldn’t keep a baby placed the baby on a wheel that works like a lazy Susan, and turned the wheel so that their baby disappeared into the orphanage.

    As an aside, I knew that our trip to Europe was going to be a wonderful educational experience for our children, and I knew that that they saw would challenge their minds and broaden their horizons, but I am still surprised by how many serious discussions were generated by questions they asked. DH and I always answer our children’s questions frankly, and as we had the time and opportunity to fully discuss some heavy issues, we all learnt a great deal on our trip, not only about the topics we covered, but about each other as well.

    DS10 had asked me what a brothel was when we visited Pompeii the day before. I was deeply touched by the compassion he showed when I explained to him what prostitution was, and he immediately asked what happened to these exploited women if they fell pregnant, and then what happened to their babies. I think he’s going to be a great champion of human rights when he grows up.

    Back to DD12 and the orphanage. Obviously she knew what orphans were, and had read about orphanages, but actually seeing evidence of where a mother had to make the enormous sacrifice of parting with her baby really got to her. We talked a lot about orphans now days and in the past while we walked the Duomo.

    Ah, the Duomo. Wow! How beautiful and stunning. We climbed the 463 steps to the top of the dome and spent ages admiring Florence from this wonderful viewpoint. An American family thought I was Italian and asked me to take their photo. That was fun!

    Eventually we tore ourselves away from the beautiful views, descended the dome, and spent time looking around the inside of the Duomo. The organist was practising and the music sounded amazing. DD17, our musician, was very impressed, as were we all.

    Leaving the Duomo, we went to the Museo dell’Opera. What a treasure house! Donatello’s Mary Magdalene was so wonderfully moving, and Michelangelo’s unfinished Pieta was truly beautiful. It was a great treat to be able to see the original panels from the Gates of Paradise on the Baptistery inside and close up, each one at eye level.

    Feeling totally spoilt by this stage, we walked around the outside of the Baptistery after leaving the Museo dell’Opera and admired the three sets of doors. We were so lucky that Florence wasn’t crowded. We were able to take our time and savour every moment.

    We walked across the Carraia bridge as the plan was to go to Gelateria La Carraia to buy gelato, but it was closed. Instead, we walked over the Ponte Vecchio, admired all the jewellery shops, saw the padlocks, and made sure we looked at Celini’s bust and the Vasari Corridor. The majority of the family wanted dinner by this stage, so we headed back across the Ponte Vecchio to Trattoria La Mangiatoria, but it was closed too. A problem no doubt caused by it being Monday! We did manage to buy gelatis from Galateria Pitti in Piazza Pitti which turned out to be homemade and very delicious. Sustained, but still wanting dinner, we walked back over the Ponte Vecchio in search of an open restaurant. We ended up having a very ordinary meal at Ristorante Antico Barile on Via dei Cerchi. The portions were small and the prices were steep, but at least the restaurant was open.

    What a great start to our time in Florence. We were all very taken by this beautiful city and were looking forward to exploring it further the next day.

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    So pleased you got to Pompeii and that everything turned out well. Sounds like you had the place to yourselves - miraculous. REading your report is like being right there. Please continue.

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    Hi Vernejules

    Thanks - pleased you are enjoying the report. Yes, it was as though we had a private viewing of Pompeii. We couldn't have wished for more. Got some very tight deadlines at the moment, but I'll write some more as soon as I can.

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    Hi Ozziez,

    I'm also looking forward to the next chapter. My son and daughter-in-law-to-be are planning either a driving trip in the UK, city stay in Paris or London, or some combination of those for their honeymoon in January. Paris and London are great anytime of year - I think? I spent some time in Paris in November and although it was cold, that didn't interfere with anything we did and there was plenty to do. As for Italy, It seems that December is the time to go. I haven't been wiling to stand in the long spring or summer lines to visit the inside of the Duomo in Florence. I know I've missed out. Thanks for such an interesting and detailed report.

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    Hi Jahlie

    So pleased you are enjoying my report. I have to be disciplined and finish the work I'm doing at the moment, so it might be a few days before I can write the next chapter, but in the meantime, here are a few brief impressions of mine in response to your comments.

    Visiting Italy and the UK in winter was definitely a good idea from the point of view that there were far fewer tourists so we managed to maximise what we saw each day and didn't have to contend with crowds. Paris was very crowded when we were there, which was the Xmas week, but I have heard that it is far quieter in January.

    Although the daylight hours are shorter in winter, this did not impact us in Italy as most places we visited still had quite decent opening hours. In the UK, quite a few places opened for less time than they would in summer (e.g. 10am to 4pm) but with careful planning this did not affect us. Shops and museums tended to be open after 4pm so we scheduled our time accordingly.

    I think the only queuing we did in Italy was on one occasion to get into St Peters (we even just walked into the Vatican museums!) and the only time we had to wait for anything in the UK was to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

    Honestly, having Pompeii to ourselves was a dream come true.

    Paris and the UK were cold, but Italy was quite mild. It rained for a few of the days we were in Rome but that didn't hold us back.

    I wish your son and daughter-in-law-to-be lots of fun planning their honeymoon.

    Hope to write some more soon!

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    Thanks and looking forward to hearing from you. I'm thinking about Italy in winter for MYSELF. That sounds wonderful. Alone in Pompeii - OMG. I'll pass along the UK/Paris information to the soon-to-be-newlyweds, which I know they'll appreciate. Take care.

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