Fa la la la la

Oh Christmas Tree, oh Christmas Tree, deck the halls with bows of holly, fa la la la la, la la la la, we wish you a merry Christmas, and a partridge in a pear tree.

It’s that time of year again. For the last few weeks people have been playing Christmas songs and everybody’s been groaning at how early it is. But now it’s December, now nobody has any excuses.

For the last few years I’ve put the average Christmas carol to one side, ignored the top 40 of Christmas, and found a bit of Christmas cheer in the unlikeliest of places: Australia.

I recently spent a month in Australia, it’s a country where my heart has belonged long before I’d ever set foot there. So much so that ever since I discovered a little thing called Australian Christmas carols, my life (and my Christmas) has never been the same.

Now, I’m sure you’ll agree Australia and Christmas don’t really go together. As a British born human, Christmas is a time when we place bets on whether there’ll be snow, and we always, always have a full roast dinner.

Australia, unfortunately, get all of the hype of a white Christmas, with none of the reward. Some places hit 40 degrees on Christmas Day, and some are threatened with bush fires.

So, what exactly does an Australian Christmas carol entail? Everything Aussie, of course.

There is no song that quite explains an Australian Christmas quite like Jingle Bells. (I know, I know…dashing through the snow hardly sounds Australian, but take a few minutes to listen anyway!)

On the first day of Blogmas…

blogmas-day-1Your three year old doesn’t want an iPad for Christmas, nor does he also want a PlayStation, a computer and a phone. He probably doesn’t even want Paw Patrol, or Peppa Pig. He’s three. Give him some brightly coloured stacking cups and he’ll probably be happy enough.

This November/December I’ve been working as a helper for Father Christmas. It’s a fun job. I’ve been opening his letters and helping him to respond (there’s so many, after all).

I can split the letters up into two different piles – those who ask Father C for the world, and those who ask for very little.

The letters are funny – little Evie wants a pork pie…for her uncle. I’m not sure how he’d feel about that?

There’s been at least one pony.

Dozens and dozens of iPads, iPhones, laptops, computers, and PlayStations – many of requests for which have come from small children. Some wanting all of the above. As I said, your three year old doesn’t need an iPad for Christmas. They also don’t need a NEW iPad for Christmas (suggesting they already have one that is unlikely to be older than their few years on this Earth…)!

Aside from the over the top, bulging lists, from families who probably have more money than I’ve made in my entire working life, there have also been some heartwarming ones.

One girl also wrote a letter for her two year old sister, she didn’t want much; some toys, but it’s the thought that counts. Father Christmas appreciates the thought of a nine year old considering their younger sibling.

What Father Christmas does not appreciate is children who do not know how to say please and thank you.

Maybe fifty per cent of letters actually showed good manners. Maybe less. Those that did were praised for it. Sometimes I think it’s a shame Father C doesn’t suggest children use their manners, or else they won’t be getting anything this year.

Alas, I would probably not be allowed to continue helping Father C if I was to suggest such a thing.

Many, many children also didn’t seem to understand the concept of a letter. The letters come on already printed sheets, so ‘Dear Father Christmas’ already exists. Unfortunately, what follows for many is merely a list.

Dear Father Christmas,

iPad
Peppa Pig
Frozen whatsit
All the Shopkins
Laptop
Motorised scooter
Electric propellered flying bicycle
Three computers and a PlayStation 4, slim, even though we already have a PS4 and an X Box
The World

And so few signed it off nicely. So few thanked Father Christmas.

Though, if the children are to be believed, he’s going to be putting on some more weight this year. Perhaps he’ll save some of the treats for me, since I’ve helped him out with his letters.

This blog was brought to you on day one of Blogmas, a bit of random festive-related blogging up until Christmas. Think of it as my advent calendar to you. What will you get tomorrow? We’ll see! (Ideas for future days are most welcome, though cannot be guaranteed to be used.)

Thanks to Charlie for doing Blogmas, without whom I would not be inspired.

Pegs vs Netflix

Netflix Cameron
Hi, this is Cameron; your Netflix nexus. With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?
You
Hi my name is Pegs
Netflix Cameron
Hello Pegs, how can I help you today?
You
Well, I’m trying to decide whether to get a Netflix account, but it all depends on Queen Dame Julie Andrews. How many Julie Andrews films do you have on your service?
Netflix Cameron
Haha Great question!
Netflix Cameron
One moment and I’ll check that for you.
Netflix Cameron
So I actually unable to find that information, but you can always try our month long free trial and find out firsthand how many Julie Andrews movies we have. And there are no contracts so you can quit anytime.
You
Well that’s disappointing. Do you know if you have the old classics like Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, as well as the Princess Diaries 1 & 2? Those are a few of my favourite things
Netflix Cameron
I do not at this time. We do not have a set list of which titles we have available because they are always changing and are different from region to region.
You
That’s a shame, I’m not sure Queen Dame Julie would approve of that, what do you think? Do you think Queen Dame Julie would go for the free trial to see what’s available or just try Amazon Prime to see if they have a clearer answer?
Netflix Cameron
I think she would absolutely approve of a free month trial to see what we have to offer.
Netflix Cameron
And if you don’t like it, you can always quit before the trial ends and you wouldn’t be charged at all.
You
I suppose that would be practically perfect in every way, I will have to sign up! Thank you for your time.
Netflix Cameron
You are very welcome! Have a great day! And one more thing, if you wouldn’t mind, please stay online for a one question survey.

Italy Day Five: Waterfall Showers, Lake Swimming and Mountain Walks

I feel like my legs are about to fall off. Today has been very busy, and exceptionally enjoyable. I think it’s safe to say it’s been the best day yet.

In the morning we did our usual breakfast/lunch making routine, then set off to Varone where there’s a waterfall. We had to pay to get in, which was quite disappointing as it wasn’t a very big place for the amount we paid. However, it was a wonderful thing to see. From higher up and down the bottom, seeing the water splashing through the gorge it had created was just brilliant. We got quite wet from the spray, and though we didn’t expect to, it was really refreshing. (See the picture below! That was taken on my second trip in to take a photo on my phone so I could blog it!)

After the waterfall shower we went to another lake not far from Lake Garda. Lago di Ledro was definitely my favourite place we have been so far. The lake was big enough that you could see across it and it feel large, but actually it’s quite small. Especially when compared on a map to it’s “big brother” Lake Garda. As Google had informed us, it’s a great place to go if you’re not really bothered by the tourism of Lake Garda. After the disappointing town the day before, it was great to go somewhere that was ‘off the beaten track’. It was busy enough that there were people around and cafes, but it was really quite quiet.

There were a number of rude people, unfortunately, who took over picnic tables yet were lying on towels on the floor! We only wanted one for half an hour to eat our lunch. People’s selfishness astounds me sometimes.

Once I got over the frustrations of human beings, we went swimming. The first swim we’ve been able to do this holiday and I am so glad I didn’t leave my swimming costume at home.

I’ve always disliked swimming in the sea. The mixture of salt water drying on your skin, salt water in your eyes, and the water/sand mix coming out of the sea makes me loathe doing much more than paddling. Even that I tend to avoid. I much prefer to swim in fresh water. It was brilliant. The water was quite cold when you first got in, but it was actually very refreshing. We swam quite a distance, just splashing about in the still water. It reminded me how much I do like water, in so many ways. We have a love/hate relationship. Flooding frightens me a lot. But I love to swim in lakes and I love to go out on a row boat.

The day was topped off by a walk down the side of the mountain. We had an hour before it was due to go dark, so we set off down the hill. It’s a few kilometres to the town, so we didn’t expect we’d get that far – and we didn’t – but we did see how far we can get. The steepest, and most strenuous, part was right before we turned around. When we got back to the top we visited a hotel (which we weren’t sure we could go to, but turns out we could) to get a drink. Then walked the rest of the way in the twilight. It was dark by the time we got ‘home’ but that felt okay. Once we got past the bit straight after the hotel it was one long road uphill.

What a day. Walking, swimming, and more walking, it’s been exhausting, but it’s been worth it.

(I’m a day behind; should get to post todays tomorrow at some point, hopefully.)

Here are some photos from the day:



(I do love a good translation, this was at the entrance to a camping site we walked through.)



(The waterfall! My phone, and myself, were getting very wet at the moment it was taken.)

Italy Day Four: Cable Cars, Long walks and Little Internet

Once upon a time, having constant access to the internet didn’t matter. In 2009 I went to the USA for three months. I took with me a cheap phone and a cheap SIM card that allowed me to make calls and send messages. I couldn’t receive them, or vice versa, I can’t remember which. I didn’t even consider having internet. Our last few holidays have been to France, where even if we didn’t have internet in the house we stayed, we always found a McDonalds nearby to go to. Staying in Italy, in a house where Internet on your phone is patchy and there’s no WiFi is more challenging this time around than I thought it would be. It helps that I have a deal on my phone, £3 a day to get my UK tarriff. But having that little access only makes me want to have more. It’s hard to remember a time before, a world where Tweeting frequently and staying in touch was a given. It’s been four days of patchy internet and I’m already missing my stable connection.

Today we took a ride up Monte Baldo, right to the very top, all 1760 feet in the cable car. It was crowded and unless you fought for your place by a window, you got to see the backs of people’s heads. The view from the top was nice, but you couldn’t see everything the way you could on the journey. It’s like the people who set up the cable car decided that the destination was more important, when we didn’t stay long, the thing we paid for was the journey. As in life, it matters more than what’s at the end.

What we did see, however, was interesting. We spotted a flock of sheep running down a hill like it wasn’t the top of a mountainside. We saw paragliders running off the edge of the mountain. We also saw a small herd of alpacas living up top. It was a bizarre little world. Our car struggled to get less than halfway and yet there were vehicles, restaurants, and even a beaten up old property for sale. I wonder what life is like up there, for the people who have to drive, and anyone who would ever consider buying property there.

It is a shame we didn’t know more about the world above, because if we had we might have come more prepared. We let our sandwiches in the car at the bottom of the hill, and we came down early. For many, they made a day of the top of the mountain. They walked, they ate, they drank, and then they came back down.

But, the journey was worth it, no matter how short a time you spent at the top.

After the cable car, and our lunch, we went for a ride to another town. It was small and charged more for parking, and it was far inferior to the towns we have already been. We walked along the lake side hoping to find somewhere to go and have an ice cream. The walk was long and we saw little more than hotels and people sunbathing. We’re not sit by the pool sunbathing all day holidayers, so that was not an ideal location to be. Then we had to walk back again. Even less enthralling as we walked along the road.

I was glad to finally get some ice cream, however. They don’t do strawberry ice cream in the UK, not really. They do strawberry flavoured ice cream. It is not the same as ice cream made with strawberries. It’s such a refreshing taste, and I have not regretted one mouthful.

Here are some photos from the day:



(The view from the halfway point of the cable car route; our apartment is somewhere behind the trees behind the cable car. See how far we are from the town?!)

(Paragliders taking off from the top of Monte Baldo.)



(Another random translation – they mean machine to pay for parking!)

Italy Day Three: Pizza, Supermarkets and Translations

Today we set out with the intention of visiting Rive Del Garda. We wanted to go because it sounded nice, but then we found out about an event being held there with street food, so we didn’t make up our usual sandwich lunch, and we set off.

Unfortunately, as with a lot of signs for places, they don’t always make complete sense and we didn’t actually make it to the event. So, no street food. Luckily, we carried on driving (after having a wander around the town/a drink) and we found a quieter, lovely little place a few kilometres out. There we ate a slice of pizza for lunch that was the size of my face.

Anyone in the UK who has ever been to Greggs bakers know they do slices of pizza. It’s not square and it’s not that great. What I love about Italy is that you can pick up a slice of pizza anywhere you go, and it’s about the same price as buying one from Greggs. But this pizza is infinitely better!!!

We also made a trip to the supermarket, which may not sound very interesting, but I do like a good supermarket visit. Supermarkets are different in each country. Whilst the overall concept is the same, they all have baskets and trolleys, they all sell food from the country, and they all have (probably low paid) people sat behind tills serving customers.

What I’ve especially found different about supermarkets in this part of Italy is a) how few and far between them are, and b) how small they are. We’ve visited just two tiny ones, the size of a small shop (Tesco Express, Londis, etc.) in the UK. Today we managed to go to a regular sized supermarket (by regular I mean a larger Aldi/small Asda size).

As with lots of supermarkets, we had to weigh the fruit we bought – which we tried to do. Only to realise we needed the number assigned to the product. A little confusing. Then, after weighing the fruit and getting the labels for them, we realised we should have been wearing a plastic glove for picking the fruit up! We used our hands. Oops.

Other than products, it was a pretty average supermarket. It surprises me that Spar is a chain of supermarkets here, whereas in the UK it’s a chain of small shops you usually find are petrol stations.

I do miss the huge stores of the Carrefour in France (where we usually go). I always enjoy the bigger supermarket shopping experience.

I’ve been taking a lot of photographs over the last few days. I tend to get quite snap happy on holiday. I make sure I experience things too, but if it’s worth taking a photo of, chances are I will do it. I can take quite good photos, not necessarily through skill of using my fancy camera (I only know how to change the aperture, I want to do more, please), and tonight the light on the lake was perfect. It’s a pity I didn’t have my camera with me because I had to rely on my phone, and as great as the phone picture quality is (for a phone) nothing beats my DSLR.

One of my favourite things to take photos of, aside from scenery, is random signs and bad tanslations. When I say bad, I mean incorrect, because some of them are anything but terrible. They’re incredibly funny and somewhat beautiful.

A little late from yesterday as we didn’t go anywhere with decent WiFi. Here’s some photos:



(The view of the lake as the sun was going down.)

(Amazing translation!)

(Pizza the size of my face!)

Italy Day Two: Boats, Lemons and a Very High Mountain

It’s amazing how slowly twenty-four hours can pass when you’re in another country. It’s like time has stood still, and yet in some ways it has sped along faster than ever. The fears of the mountainside I had yesterday have already dropped off and I can feel my whole body is exhausted in a way only holidays can make it. Stopping. Just taking time away from every day life, can really make you feel so tired. I thought working was exhausting, but nothing really prepares me for that moment I want to sleep at the end of a busy day out of the house.

This morning we walked up the mountain. It was a road, so it wasn’t like we were climbing, but still we went further up the mountainside, up a steep hill. We walked for about a kilometre, where we reached what we thought was the top of the cable car. It wasn’t. We were extremely high up, the views were fantastic, and yet there was further we could have gone. We’re planning on taking a trip up the cable car, but I’m not sure how any of us will feel about going that high up.

We had to make a quick dash to the supermarket because, like in France, they close early on a Sunday. Or at least some of them do (we found a couple of others that don’t later on). I’m amazed at how lacking in large supermarkets this whole area is. Perhaps we’re not going to the right places, or maybe Italy just doesn’t have as many. I honestly don’t know. What I did find, however, was penis shaped pasta. I don’t really understand why they would sell such a thing, it’s quite random, and something many Brits would chuckle about.

In the afternoon we got the boat from Malcesine (where we are staying) to Limone, which is full of lemons, and lemon products. One shop had massive lemons bigger than both of my hands clasped together. Other shops were selling various limoncello and lemon-related products. Mostly, we just wandered the streets, ate our sandwiches, and had an ice cream. I had Frutti di Bosco, which I think is probably mixed berry.

I really enjoy going out on boats. I’m not a sea person, I don’t have sea legs and in so many ways I dislike the sea. But I do like sitting on, or rowing, a boat out into the middle of a lake. There’s something very different in lake and river air than sea air. If we could have been out on the lake all day, I would.

I am so grateful that we are here, in this beautiful place, enjoying wonderful food and I am so relaxed. Even if walking everywhere and the warmth in the air is making me feel extra-tired.

Some photos from the day:



(Limone from the boat.)

(Gelato!)

(Penis shaped pasta.)