Travel Bug

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The Travel Bug had always dreamed of adventure. But he lived most of his life tucked under a bed in an AirBnB.

Until the day a little hand reached under, and extracted him from his safe burrow.

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Unsure at first, the Travel Bug ventured out.

His first taste of fresh air blasted his lungs. But he soon got used to it. He found himself on bridges in Venice, in barred windows, in busy piazzas and between selfie sticks.

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The Travel Bug had lived a safe life under a bed, but his taste of Venetian life left him wanting more.

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‘I am not going back,’ he decided.

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So the bug spent the rest of his bug life in Venice.

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Beware the Travel Bug, who photo bombs your selfie photos, and takes his espresso black, with no sugar. The Travel Bug, with big dreams, who finally found his place in the world.

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Sunshine Gypsies :: Istria, Croatia

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A little Venetian-style town, on the Mediterranean coast.

Friendly locals, who speak three, four, or five languages fluently.

Warm sea, perfect for swimming.

Bright skies.

Deep sunsets.

A swarm of sparrows every night, clustering in trees by the sea, not before swarming into the pink sky in formation.

A little mountain medieval village, with two city walls, and lots of cats.

One of the oldest, intact basilicas. Golden medieval mosaics.

Ancient Roman architecture, among coloured Venetian buildings, and 1960s Soviet apartment blocks.

A four year-old celebrates her birthday by the coast. Balloons hang between trees, and we eat cake for breakfast.

Ice cream every day.

Friends, good friends, to eat ice cream with, share meals with, and watch sunsets with.

As the sun sets on our last holiday destination in Europe, the sea suddenly cools. It rains the day we leave, and all the ‘summer’ shops are now shut. It seems like an ending. And in a way it is…

Home soon, to the little sunshine house.

Children’s Book Tuesday :: The Wonder Years

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It’s 9.30pm. I’m working. Husband is reading. Our youngest is fast asleep. From the next room, come the fast and furious mutters of a child not yet asleep. The intonation rises and falls. There are accents and a range of voices. There is possibly accompanying actions. Soon, the noises will cease.

Tomorrow, when I wake at 7.30am, I will hear them again. The mutters. The voices. The dramatic intonation.

This is my six-year-old ‘Talking Harry’. And no, it isn’t illness. Though possibly it could be leaning towards obsessive. Talking Harry begins early, and carries on through the day. Harry was talked all through Venice. He’s talked while dressing. She disappears into her room, or to the end of the play park to Talk Harry many many times a day.

Thankfully, she isn’t in formal school yet. She has extra months to dream and talk her stories in fast and furious whispers.

Reading Harry Potter each night to her, I too am drawn into the intricate and incredibly believable world J.K. Rowling has created. But like most, I know it’s not real.

For my daughter though, wizards exist, and she is definitely going to Hogwarts when she is eleven {sorry, Mum}. She is Scarlett Webb, one of Harry’s best friends, and her characteristics and actions alternate slightly as we read various passages and come across new characters.

She’s at the magical and wonderful point where real is fantasy and fantasy is real and you can so convincingly become lost in the middle.

At her age, I was also lost in my magical {real} world, at the end of our paddock in Inverell. I’d sit in the old olive tree, talking to my friends – the fairy, the family of bears, the magpie. We’d talk about the mean old king who controlled village finances, who lived one tree up. Why do I remember this so clearly? Because it was so real. And I spent so much time there.

I recently listened to this wonderful podcast from children’s author Mac Barnett, about how a good book will open a secret door to another world. He talks about the wonderful crossover between reality and fiction, and about how much humans love that space. We know it’s not real, yet we like going there, over and over. Children get to that space so much easier and faster than adults.

He mentions lots of scenarios. But I had to keep listening to Neko’s phone messages for his pet whale.

When kids buy a copy of Mac’s book, Billy Twitters and the Blue Whale Problem, they get a coupon to order their own whale. Heaps of kids write in, with various degrees of skepticism. In reply, they get a letter from a legal firm in Norway, explaining that unfortunately, due to issues with customs, their whale has been held up, but they can leave a message for their whale if they call a particular phone number. Many of these children, who are either curious or have completely bought into the fiction {or both}, call the number and leave a message.

Neko leaves message after message for his blue whale. His messages are so delightful and genuine, it makes me completely certain writing for children is what I need to be doing. Neko believes in his whale. For years. In the same way that Elka believes in Scarlett Webb and Harry.

In our family, we talk a lot about science, maths, philosophy, religion. My kids ask all sorts of questions, and we seek to answer them as honestly as possible. But the credibility of the wizard world is never put to question. It is sacred, and no further explanation is necessary.

Like Neko, I held onto my fantasy world for many years. Although I still believe in some things, to some extent, those truly magical wonder years had a definite point of demise, when I finally accepted that Santa wasn’t real. I had been holding onto my hope for months, long after I’d realised it was Mum’s handwriting on Santa’s cards; long after I wrote to Santa, asking for an elf as proof of existence, and received a little teddy instead.

At last, logic and credibility won out. I asked Dad in the car on the way to school, ‘Dad, tell me straight. Is Santa real or not real?’

‘He’s as real as you want him to be,’ he’d said.

And I cried into my school bag, as my attachment to all things fictional started to ebb away. {Dad had to follow me into class, because I’d forgotten my lunch money in my despair.}

It’s possible my six-year-old will only have one vivid memory of living in Europe for a year, and that is Harry Potter. But gee, will she remember that. She’ll remember the way she imagines Hogwarts. She’ll smell the corridors. She’ll remember how she feels as she intercepts Voldemort to protect Harry.

Because these are the wonder years.

Link your children’s book posts below for Children’s Book Tuesday! I will leave this link open, so feel free to link up later if you don’t have anything ready right now. Any and all posts about children’s books are welcome.

Sunshine Gypsies :: A Day in Venice

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What to do when you find yourself two hours drive from Venice? It’s half way to your next stop, in Croatia. Do you miss it? You’ll have to train in. Or catch a boat. It might be expensive. It’ll certainly be expensive. Forget it?

We haven’t splurged a lot on this trip. But Venice felt necessary.

We found a AirBnB on the mainland, close by, so had a taste of suburban Italy for one night. The next morning, we caught a train over the water to Venice. Turns out that rushing to buy tickets before getting on the train is pointless unless you read the ridiculously small fine print which says you also have to get them stamped on the platform. One relatively modest fine later…

We were in Venice.

Thankfully, my husband has an excellent nose for direction. Armed with a fold out map, and a bit of luck, we chose to cross the first bridge, and amble towards San Marco. What a good decision. The crowds from the ferry and the station ambled the other direction.

With a passage almost tourist free {except for us of course}, amble we did, through colourful lane ways, over bridges, and into a glorious little wine/coffee/local food stop, La Bottiglia.

We spent almost an hour in just one piazza, drinking, eating gelato, and buying a particularly small and wonderful person in our family a present for her birthday next week.

After popping by a few churches, so Elka could pray, and take photos of the artwork with my phone, we found ourselves in the grandiose square of San Marco.

A million tourists with selfie sticks. A million smelly pigeons. A line as long as Venice waiting to see the ancient horses. A couple of kids completely overwhelmed with the stimulation.

We took ourselves to the harbour, hung our legs over the edge, and ate apples in the sunshine.

The littlest sunshine human took a nap on Husband’s back, while we ambled back, getting as far from the hustly bustle as we could get.

The one with the nose for direction, and a map and some luck found us a perfect piazza to spend the afternoon. Children played around us. Adults flew kites. Everyone spoke Italian. This was Venice, enjoying its sunny afternoon.

And later, we found an even more atmospheric piazza, where children did handstands, and rollerbladed together holding a rope. Kids threw balls and danced. There was a food co op. And of course plenty of places for locals to sip afternoon beverages while the kids played in the wonderful carless, sun-filled square.

Our girls joined in with the handstands and the dancing.

It was getting dark, as we took a train back to mainland. We were careful to ensure our tickets were stamped by the conductor. The girls chatted merrily on the trip back, entertaining the friendly commuters with their banter.

Two small girls and ten hours in Venice could have gone horribly wrong. But it turned out to be one of our favourite days this year…

Sunshine Gypsies :: Lake Iseo, Italy

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It turns out, September is the perfect time to travel in Italy. The crowds have dwindled, and it’s still warm and delicious.

Ten days ago, we left our beloved Granny Annie in Semriach, and headed south to Italy. We spent a night in Udine, then dropped by Verona on our way to Lake Iseo.

Verona was spectacularly busy, and beautiful. It was our first proper taste of Italy, and we trawled the old streets and piazzas, looking for coffee, pizza and toilets.

We’d pre-booked a campsite at Lake Iseo, at Camping Vela. Being off season, we scored the most incredible spot directly next to the lake {and the WiFi}. And to Franca!

Franca is the most wonderful elderly Italian woman who ever lived in a bright pink house, with canaries by a lake. She’s lived in her glorious abode for thirty years. We couldn’t speak much Italian, and she couldn’t speak any English, and yet we communicated through food and gifts. Almost every day, she brought us a home cooked meal and / or espresso coffee, and chocolates for the children. And she insisted we sit at her little yellow table setting directly by the lake. How did she know I love yellow? It’s funny how little things like getting a spot next to Franca can completely change your experience of Italy.

Also fortunate about our spot, other than being shaded by an olive tree, was the outlook. We were directly across from Monte Isola, said to be one of the most beautiful islands in Europe. Close by, was a tiny castle on a tiny island, blocking our view of the mine on the opposite side of the lake.

We spent days exploring the neighbouring villages. Our own village, Merano, had a patisserie bar, run by Joanna, whose sing-song intonation became more sing-song the longer our stay, and the more her affection for us grew. The number of lollies she gave the children also increased throughout the week. Oh, and the homemade gelato! Pistachio… We may or may not have eaten gelato every day of our stay.

We ate several times at the local pizzeria. The equivalent joint in Australia would be the local snack bar. But in Italy, everything seems better, and the pizza certainly tastes better than anything you’ve ever had. With kids, we liked eating surrounded by the bustle of comers and goers, rather than in a big restaurant.

Across the road was the local grocer. Again, the seller insisted on giving us gifts. Her store was lined with local produce – prosciutto, salami, cheese, fresh bread, marinated goodness… need I continue? I could live in that shop.

Lake Iseo feels like stumbling into a secret. The villages are so unassuming and quaint, away from busy roads. It’s only when you walk through them that you discover the cobbled streets, by the water, and see the detailed frescoes on the coloured buildings.

We ferried over to Monte Isola a couple of times, and fell in love with the villages rolling up the terraced hill. Over the course of a couple of days, we walked over fifteen kilometres through olive and chestnut orchards, overlooking the lake.

Elka meandered, telling stories much of the way. We entered the decadent churches, where they were open, and we stunned by the opulence, nestled within such small villages. Overcome by their beauty, Elka took to praying everywhere we went. She also collected flowers on the way, to leave offerings to her new God.

When at the campsite, the storytelling continued. I’d write a little, or read, while the girls sat on the pebbles below us, ‘telling Harry’.

Telling Harry began when I started reading Harry Potter to Elka a few months ago. Elka’s own place in the story is told in furious mutters, which last literally hours. ‘Elka, please put your shoes on.’ No answer. ‘Elka, please!’ ‘I can’t! I’m Telling Harry!’

Now Rosie’s Telling Harry too.

I suppose I did this too at some point, but I cannot get over their ability to spend hours literally kicking around, telling stories to themselves.

We said our farewells yesterday. Joanna gave the girls boxes of sweeties. The local grocer gave us jars of mint yoghurt. Franca wiped away tears. Bruno, the kind campsite director and Franca came to see us off.

I love how this little holiday unravelled so perfectly…

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