Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Hi all, hope you had a good weekend. Today I've got some photos of Verona, Italy, where we spent an afternoon on our way from Tuscany to Munich.


Verona is such a charismatic town, I would definitely recommend a trip. We visited in winter 2004 and found the place so lovely we wanted to see it again, even with the spring crowds.


The town holds a ton of Roman history (Verona is a World Heritage listed site) including an amphitheatre known as the Arena.


The Town Hall stands nearby:


There are plenty of Piazzas to wander through (and sit down in for a meal):


You can stroll along the Adige River which runs through the centre of the town:


And there were plenty of gorgeous windows to photograph:



Verona is the setting for the play Romeo and Juliet. You can stop outside Juliet's supposed house, where there is of course a balcony. If you can withstand the crowds you can visit the inner courtyard to see the bronze statue of Juliet, with its shiny right breast (A rub of her breast is said to bring luck in love. Not sure what tweaking her nipple brings you.)


It was so crowed that we didn't stop to visit this time (plus I wasn't ready to put up with 6 yr old boobie jokes for the rest of the day) so sadly, no photo.


Roses will have to do instead. I'm sure Juliet would have preferred this anyway.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Our Trip to Tuscany: Florence

The great holiday recap continues.


After our day in Siena it was time to explore Florence. How I wish we'd had more time in this city which I'm sure contains more history than my whole country. We barely had time to scratch the surface.


The highlight of the day was meeting the lovely Blandina, who blogs over at la griccia. We were a lot later into Florence than expected but Blandina showed endless patience before we finally met up at one of Florence's best known monuments, her Duomo.



It really was like meeting an old friend - Blandina is exactly the warm, gracious and fun-spirited woman I'd imagined her to be while reading her blog. We had several hours together and I don't think there was a five minute stretch when one of us wasn't talking.

She led us through the crowded city, taking us to a few nearby sites. The Piazza della Repubblica - hard to believe this was once a ghetto area before being reclaimed to commemorate the unification of Italy in the 1800s.


The Fontana del Porcellino - rub his snout for good luck and drop a coin through his mouth to ensure you will return to Florence. The original was cast in 1612, this one which Blandina is holding my daughter up to accost is a copy.


Wikipedia tells me there are 13 replica boars located all around the world - including Sydney, Australia and Aix-en-Provence (10 minutes away from me)! Might have to go and see if I can find it. Anyone else have one nearby?

We then moved on to the Piazza della Signoria, where amongst many things we got to see the Palazzo Vecchio (left) and the Loggia dei Lanzi (right).


Then it was on to the Ponte Vecchio. Here is the famous medieval stone bridge as seen from above the city:


Once the domain of butchers who used the river to carry away their slaughtering slops, the bridge is now home to souvenir sellers and some very nice jewellery stores.

It was super busy when we were there:


The view out from the midway point:


There's nothing like having someone guide you around a city they know well. Blandina was a walking Lonely Planet book - she had something to tell us about nearly every building or square we passed - the mister and I had a great time.

After the Ponte Vecchio, Blandina took us to a fantastic sorbet shop so we could reward the kids for their lack of whinging (we run a fair few blackmailing rackets around here) and then it was time for us to part ways.

We headed back past the Duomo, enjoying one last look at that gorgeous facade:



We drove back via the Boboli Gardens and stopped to take some panoramic shots over the city.


Had to take a photo of these lamp posts on the terrace overlooking the city. The Marzocco, or Heraldic Lion, is a symbol of Florence. I think it's a great idea to incorporate a theme into your lamp posts, but I've got to say, these are a little weird. Three legs? No body? And what exactly is going on under there?


You could spend weeks exploring Florence, drinking in the history, culture and beauty. I'm sure one day I'll come back and do just that - after all, boars don't lie.

And many, many thanks to Blandina for making a great day close to perfect.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Our Trip to Tuscany: Siena

Seeing as we're all still here, unraptured, I thought I'd carry on with the holiday travel posts. After our day in Cinque Terre we battled some ferocious Italian traffic to arrive rather late at our accommodation just out of the small village of Figline Valdarno.


I haven't recommended any of our accommodation thus far not because it was bad, more it was all rather run-of-the-mill. But I would recommend where we stayed in Tuscany.


I found the Residenza San Leo through www.booking.com - this renovated farmhouse in the Tuscan countryside was a large part of why we so enjoyed our brief stay in Italy.


The farmhouse is hundreds of years old and has been very nicely divided and renovated, preserving it's charm. We hired an apartment which was very roomy - ours had two bedrooms, a bathroom, a little alcove where we stashed the baby, a lounge/sitting room and a kitchen.


The property is located in the countryside - there's no internet, you will need a car and it will take you time to drive to the major attractions in the area (Florence, Siena, Piza, etc). However we found San Leo to be a reason to visit in itself. The grounds are gorgeous and beautifully maintained. The property is still an operating farm with olives (they press and bottle their own oils) and the famous Tuscan Cinta Senes pig.


We had the continental breakfast each morning (delicious and great price), eating in the dining room next to the old olive presses. Most nights the hostess and her staff will make a three course meal which you can join in (we did this one night and had a great meal). Their own produce (olive oil, sausages and cured meats and homemade lemon sorbet) is used as well as other regional fare.

Swallow's nests under construction, under the eaves. 

The hostess keeps chickens and geese on the property and she kindly allowed the two big kids to accompany her on an egg collecting mission. The kids declared it the best thing to have happened on the holiday thus far. Fickle kids.


The pictures on the booking.com website come across as a bit grandmotherish (apologies to all you grandmas out there); our apartment didn't have that feel. It was much more a comfortable 'country living' kind of style. I reckon they should get their photos redone.


Our first day in Tuscany we spent the morning enjoying the grounds and letting the little fellow catch up on his sleep after the big day in Cinque Terre. Then we headed off to explore Siena.

We arrived in time for lunch and ate in one of the many restaurants around the Piazza del Campo. Although a little touristy, the food was good and the location was perfect for us - the kids could run around the square while we finished our meals. We enjoyed watching a female police officer telling off all the folks lying down in the square (must be a no-no) - she was fighting a losing battle.


The building on the left there is the Palazzo Pubblico with its bell tower Torre del Mangia (built in the early 1300s it was the tallest structure in Europe at that time).

Twice a year a horse race, the Palio di Siena, is held around the Piazza.

For those who don't mind a bit of Daniel Craig, the race was filmed in some of Quantum of Solace's early scenes.

The Fonte Gaia or Fountain of Joy is also found in the Piazza:


We then headed towards the Duomo, which really is beautiful.


We just sat down and looked at it for a bit, ignoring heartfelt pleas for gelato (they got some with dinner instead).


We headed home after this, although I was upset I didn't get to see the Basilica of San Domenico.

They keep a relic of Saint Catherine of Siena there. Cute little word that one: relic. Makes you think of some nice little trinket that was important to the person, preserved to keep the memory of a good Catholic alive.

Wanna know what Saint Catherine's relic is?  Her SEVERED HEAD.

Sometimes it is very confusing to be a Catholic. Is her head supposed to inspire me? All it does is inspire me to be a mediocre Catholic so no one will violate my corpse in the name of the good Lord. Fortunately, it appears my chances of sainthood are pretty slim.

But please, don't let that stop you from coming back here in a few days, once I have my Florence photos sorted. A bientôt! 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Just hanging at home, waiting for the Rapture.

Any of you guys gone up to heaven yet?

We're still waiting. Although if the business doesn't commence until 6pm then we've got a bit of time to kill.

I should be finishing off this:


But instead I've been sewing some simple blocks:


Others are trying to make some last minute scientific breakthroughs:


You know, it's well past 6pm in all parts of Australia right now, and no one has experienced the Rapture.

Just goes to show what a bunch of unholy reprobates we really are.

I almost forgot to say that I guest posted over on Charley's blog 365 Things That I Love About France on Thursday. If you'd like know what French kids are eating at their school canteen, pop over for a quick read. I promise, you will be jealous.

Have a fab weekend!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Photography Bits and Bobs

Seeing as folks were interested, here is a collection of comments on what has worked for me.

Firstly - I am a newbie, please take all this information with that in mind. I still have so much to learn. That said, I know I have improved greatly from the frankly horrible shots I used to take.

I had a cute little Fujifilm FinePix point-and-shoot which I bought in 2003. We took some very average photos together but that was my fault, not his.


When we arrived in France I already had photography on the mind. I loved blogs and recognised that my photos looked nothing like those on my favourite websites. I also really wanted to document this once-in-a-lifetime stay in Europe and the lives of the three rug-rats in the house.

Then the Fujifilm seized up - it was time to buy a new camera. As I investigated buying an SLR I realised I knew so little about photography I couldn't even make an educated decision about buying a camera. So firstly, I did a lot of online reading. I basically read until I knew enough to understand the descriptions of the cameras I was investigating.

My two favourite free sources:
The Pioneer Woman - the photography articles on her blog
The Digital Photography School - great articles on how to choose a camera (and the rest) and you can  sign up for their free e-newsletter. I also found some interesting photography blogs by clicking on the author links at the bottom of the articles.  

Camera. So I finally bought a Canon EOS 500d SLR, which I'm very happy with. Not too complicated, not as expensive as some and it's a fairly small size for an SLR which makes it easier to hold and stash in a handbag. I bought the camera body without the kit lenses, as I personally think the lenses are super important and where you need to spend more money if you can afford it (just my opinion).

A tip with your camera - it's boring, but read the manual. And I mean literally go through every page and try the things they are explaining. You will be amazed what you learn. Just skimming won't cut it - you must DO it. I did this before my course and really learned a lot. 

Lenses. Holy crap but they are expensive! I had to give up my heroin habit. I bought a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 fixed lens when I got the camera - its a great piece of kit. It isn't very expensive (for a lens) and it takes great photos - I use it for all my patchwork close ups and some portrait work on the kids.


Then after a ridiculous amount of research I bought a Canon EF 24-105mm 4L IS USM lens. It's a zoom and is such a great lens. I use it for sewing (full quilt pics), the kids and especially travel. It is the one that spends the most time on my camera.


I also bought a new lens just before our recent holiday - a wide angle lens - a Canon EFS 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5. I had a great deal of fun with it on our trip and find it great for architecture. However, I still have a lot to learn about using this guy.


A tip on buying a new lens - go to flickr and put the lens name in the search function and tick 'groups'. There is a flickr group for pretty much every lens and you can see a huge variety of photos taken with that lens. Does it do what you want it to do? You can even ask a question if you want some help. 

Photo courses. I did an online one. I googled online photography courses (find one with an associated blog so you can read it, see their photos and get a feel for whether they are a good fit for you.) I would have preferred a 'real' class (in a classroom), but being a complete newbie teamed with the language issue, it would've been too much. 

Camera bag. I have to share this because I really love my camera bag. It's an Epiphanie bag, which I ordered from the US and my ever-so-helpful little sister brought over when she visited last year.  My bag is a 'Ginger', and it holds everything I need for trip out with family - the camera, my three lenses, purse, phone, snacks, French dictionary, hand wipes, you get the drift. It wasn't as cheap as some, but I believe it is good value. 

Post processing. You can't avoid it - everyone edits their photos. By everyone I mean anyone who has a site with photos that make you go 'wow'. Some cameras come with a basic editor program (my SLR did), give it a try. Otherwise Picnik is a great free program, you can find plenty of tutorials on it via google.

My photography course recommended we use Photoshop as it's the industry standard. Yes, it's the best, but I knew I wasn't going to be a professional photographer, so did I really need it? Adobe has a free 30 day trial period, which I used during my course, and sadly after that I was hooked. The problem with this is the program is bloody expensive. The software costs US$700, but they charge AUS$1300 and EUR 1100 if you are Australian/European and I have no idea how they get away with such a rort. If you have a friend in the US I would wait until you visit them (or they visit you). Order it on Amazon.com and have it sent to their house (they won't deliver to a non-US address). There is no end of books and online tutorials for Photoshop - just google or YouTube the topic.

Photoshop CS5. I use Photoshop on all of my photos *gasp*. No, I don't airbrush my stitches or perform any other edits that I would term deceptive - for the most part I correct exposure. That's right, I still don't take perfectly exposed photos. Plus, most of our travel take place smack-bang in the middle of the day, when the sun is high in the sky making shadows and providing too much light. Not much I can do to avoid this, with a young family the golden hours of early morning and early evening are not available to me. So instead I use Photoshop to brighten shadows, put back detail on areas that have been over-exposed, that sort of thing. Although I did once photoshop a bollard out of the way. It was very liberating.

I don't find Photoshop a very intuitive program, and I really had to stick to it when learning. I probably only use about 20% of what it can do - it's a seriously powerful program. The things I love most about it are content-aware spot healing (this video is no longer a Sneak Peak as version CS5 was released in 2010), using actions and using layers.

Knowledge trumps equipment. I think that's about it. But I will say even though a spiffy camera helps, it's not the most important thing. You can still achieve very good photos with a point and shoot - the important thing is to read up about composition (the rule of thirds changed my life) and to know your camera. The camera is just a computer that follows the algorithms it's been programmed with. If you understand those, you'll understand why it does what it does and how to make the most of it (or circumnavigate it when it's being a pain). No way around it, you have to read your manual.

 I hope some of this is helpful to those looking to do more with their photography. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments and I'll do my best to answer if they're within my realm!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

This weekend, Part 2: Sewing and Ramblings

Got a bit of sewing done this weekend as well, given Sunday was disgustingly windy and not suitable for anything out-of-doors.


I have quilted the spring 9 patch baby quilt I was working on and should have finished hand binding it.


Instead I spent some hours cutting out a new baby quilt inspired by some lovely fabric sent to me by the darling Diana. Focus, Kirsty, focus.


Thank you for your comments on the last post, glad to hear you are still enjoying the armchair travel. It's been great motivation for me to get the photos sorted and to document the trip before my memory fails me.


We do quite a bit of travel - we push ourselves to, really. As we're only here for two years (three years at the most) we are making it a priority. We try to make things easy for ourselves - researching before we go (internet and the Lonely Planet guides) and not overfilling our days (which stresses the kids unnecessarily) This keeps it fun for everyone which is important, otherwise it becomes a chore.


There's not much Supermum-ing going on (but thank you so much for the compliment Maaike!) - I let quite a few things slide to make time for sewing and blogging. The only thing that gets ironed regularly around here is quilting fabric, and I'm afraid I lost the battle with the cobwebs, windows and garden a while ago. But I do my best to stay organised with lists and anything that makes life easier (i.e. ordering my groceries online and having them delivered). It's probably apparent I was a civil engineer in the time before motherhood? Even so, I often feel like one of those cartoon characters you see running over a bridge while it crumbles behind them - I make it to the other side, but just in the nick of time.

It also helps that the mister is super supportive of me - he's really happy I'm documenting our stay here (and that he doesn't have to do it!) If he didn't like me sewing or spending time blogging it'd be hard to justify the time it takes. It would also be hard for me not to use his toothbrush to clean the toilet.

Lauren asked if I would share what camera I use - I thought I would go one further and do a little photography post if folks are interested. Not to teach anyone anything (I'm not qualified to do that) but rather to outline what I use and what works for me. I know when I first looked at buying an SLR I loved reading what other bloggers were using. Anyone interested?


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