Monday, October 24, 2011

Post Card 3:

Our first stop in Italy was Venice. It is an amazing place. Our apartment was well located and on the ground floor, but then I think it is pretty easy to get to most places on the island. It is the lane ways that cause tourists to get lost.

It was still quite busy so I dread to think what it would be like in the high season. It was lovely to walk about cars or scooters etc. The canal is clearly where all the traffic is. We decided to go on a gondola ride. We had the only female gondolier in Venice. It was worth the Euros. Hannah in particular loved it and laughed every time we went under a bridge and the poor gondolier had to duck, and there are lots of bridges there.

There were even more masks so Kit and Hannah chose one each and spent an afternoon preparing a performance for us. It was a lovely relaxing way to spend an afternoon. As was waking to the smell of croissants and bread rolls being warmed up in the kitchenette just outside our apartment.

From Venice we caught a train to Florence. By now our luggage had expanded somewhat so wrangling the children and the bags in an unfamiliar place was a bit of a challenge. Our fellow travelers were patient and a couple lent a helping hand too which was great.

Florence is such a pretty place. Where we stayed (near the Ponte del Vecchio) was more shopping than I have ever seen. The kids were starting to miss home by now but they enjoyed their birthday. Mine was the day after theirs so Phil bought us a cake and candles to celebrate. Kit sang 'happy birthday' in Italian which I loved. 

We found a local trattoria which was friendly and flexible. We ate there twice because the kids really liked eating somewhere familiar. On Sunday we went to the Uffizi Museum. I did not know what to expect there but it was fabulous. Room upon room of luscious paintings and rows upon rows of sculptures.

The wait to enter was about an hour so I decided to ask if it was possible for Hannah to skip the queue. One of the museum guards helped us. He was efficient and friendly. Not only did he take us straight in but we all got complimentary tickets. Avoiding the hour wait was a big help because it meant Hannah could conserve her energy for the zillion stairs inside. Inside we each found things we liked. Kit liked an interactive screen of maps and pictures, Hannah the models of the magnificent building. So far Hannah has claimed Florence as her favorite although I think she'd say Paris as well and Kit generally chooses Oxford as his favorite place. 

We are now on the home stretch of our 'big holiday' and I have to say much as we have loved it, we will all be glad to get home again. The twins in particular have found Rome very hard. It is a fantastic city with so much to see, perhaps we should have started our Italian leg here instead of in Venice. Oh well, we did manage to visit Vatican City which I loved. It did involve a lot of walking though which was made a little tricky by two weary kids but I still got to savor lots of the Vatican Museum, including the Sistine Chapel as well as squeeze in a fast paced walk through the magnificent St Peters Basilica (we bribed the kids with promises of yet more gelato).

On our last day in Roma we woke up to thunder and lightening so it was lucky that we had planned a lazy day on the hop on hop off bus, still reasonably manageable in the wet. The skies cleared briefly so we also stopped by the Trevi Fountain. Phil took a couple of photos there, I have included the one where I am coaxing a smile out of Hannah, as opposed to the one where she is clearly signing her home address!


Post Card 2:

Our second postcard from Hannah and Kit's family on their European Grand Tour - if you missed it, the first one is here.

We are having a great time in Paris. It is such a beautiful city even on a rainy day like today. So far the twins favorite spots have been the Tour Eiffel (Hannah) and the Musee D'Orsay (Kit).

The Eiffel Tower staff were very helpful when we asked about accessibility for Hannah, in allowing us straight through - no queuing up - which was great. Little brat loved it as well as the icecream she had afterwards. She still points it out excitedly when we see it in the distance.

The Louvre is an impressive building but not so helpful and with the crowds all ignoring the 'no camera' signs I was a bit put out when we were chipped twice for silly things such as Hannah sitting down (her legs are quite short) with one foot crossed - no shoes on the chairs.

The Musee D'Orsay was much better for us and the art was fabulous. As we had children we were immediately sent to the shorter queue, the one that did not stretch out into the rain.

We have found the French to be tolerant and more often than not, generous with our fumbling and poor French. There are some wonderful green areas but we have not really had the chance to take the kids to a playground, lucky they love coloring in. Which Mona Lisa do you prefer?

My favorite place was the afternoon trip to Giverny. It was good to see some of the lush French countryside and we all loved roaming through the absolutely enchanting garden at Monet's house. A beautiful and relaxing outing.

The sleeping patterns of the kids has just gone downhill in the last day or so so I am not sure if it is a delayed form of jet lag but I can say it isn't very pretty. Hopefully they will settle back into routine soon.

Soon we will fly to Venice. I am sure my carbPrincess will love Italy, the place of pasta, pizza and gelato. How could a little girl not love it? Kit has been learning Italian at school and is keen to put some of his skills to use.
I am sad that we will miss the Buddy Walk this year. I hope the sun shines on a great day for you all.

Au revoir

PS With less child focussed things to do we have been watching Ratatouille in our apartment (which does not offer views of the tower but is near the Arc de Triomphe). The ambience of the drawn curtains of our living area are fantastic, so Phil and I get to enjoy the atmosphere and the kids get to wind down.

Our first Post Card published by NSW Down Syndrome Association - blog Keeping Up With DS

If you are a regular reader of our journal, Voice, you will recall twins Kit and Hannah from the cover of the March 2010 issue - they were about to embark on the adventure of big school. 

Now they are on another adventure - a holiday to Europe, during which they will turn seven. Their intrepid parents, Shelley and Phil have agreed to keep in touch with an occasional postcard to let us know how travelling with young twins (one of whom has Down syndrome) is going.  Here is the first instalment ... 
We are all having a blast on our holiday.  We are now in sunny Oxford.

London was great, something for everyone. Hannah loved Lady Diana's Memorial Playground the best, it was a great way to start our holiday as we were staying close to it.
It wasn't until we were well and truly in the air en route from Singapore to Heathrow that I began to panic about how two sleep deprived adults were going to cope with 2 six year olds who, while rested (at least they had a reasonable sleep on the plane) would no doubt be jet lagged at nine am when we couldn't access our apartment until two pm! The Kensington Gardens were a lifesaver.
I had been dreading the long flight, it really is a long way from home. It went very well though.
Getting around London (none of us have been before) was remarkably easy. I can see why people love the tube. I didn't realize just how many stairs this place involved nor how fast the locals move but Hannah has been a trooper and coped very well. Such good transport has meant we have been able to keep walking to and from places to a minimum for her and luckily her Dad's shoulders are at the ready.

It has been quite easy to factor in some down time for the kids. At the British Museum they saw school students sketching artifacts and both wanted to do that too. So that meant they could relax in one spot while Phil and I got to explore the whole space more.

The Tower of London was my favorite and while the stairs were a shocker for Hannah she kept going and even had enough energy for some races on the grassy moat.
A couple of days we have made sure that at least one of us could stay in the apartment with the kids for a couple of hours in the afternoon while they do some craft or watch CBeebies which they have fallen in love with.
I was a little worried with moving her on to new accommodation in Oxford but again the adjustment has been relatively smooth. The next shift is in a couple of days when we go to Paris on the Eurostar.


I'm Back

Well G'day as they say! We returned from an absolutely wonderful time O/S on Sat pm (Sydney time) and it is now 3.45 am (Sydney time - so clearly the jet lag is hanging around). So far everyone else is still asleep which is great. Yesterday I was making toast and hot chocolate for Kit in the wee small hours as he adapted to no longer being on Roma time. Hannah seems to have fared a bit better - I think because she has been sleeping more periodically anyway.... we flew direct from Roma to Sydney via Singapore so about 20 hours in the air plus another 5 including lining up at Roma airport, a brief wait at Singapore and then clearing customs at home. Hannah slept a bit on both flights whereas Kit basically stayed awake for the whole Roma to SIngapore leg and then slept all the way on the second flight (which meant he slept totally on O/S time and none when it was night in Aus). It felt wonderful to be home but we are all still so excited about our time away. We were met by both of the twins grandfathers at the airport - a real treat for us all - it was nice to see the old fellows! Hannah pretty much raced straight to her dress up box when we got in the door after enthusiastically greeting her Nan. After we had eaten a light supper she put on a concert for everyone. Then yesterday I took her to dance practice (there is a concert coming up soon!) and for much of the rest of the day she played as she usually does at home - except her dolls and any adult she could rope into were now seated on an airplane! Kit too spent the day playing with his remote control helicopter that he got for his birthday as well as doing some craft (from kits that we got in London - we all had a go of that activity) and of course the dreaded DSi. I started on the miles of washing - and am hoping that that will be over soon. The kids room is back to normal with the few souvenirs they bought having found appropriate places. My room is a total disaster because I was too tired to finish putting everything away - plus there are the small gifts we brought back for family and the kids school friends lying about... maybe later today.... The Tower of London was my very favourite tourist attraction....I'd go every weekend if I could! Europe was wonderful. I loved it so much! It was great getting around with just the four of us. In fact I might even miss Phil who goes back to work today. We have not really travelled much - Greece about 20 years ago and Malaysia and NZ before the twins... WOW! I wished we had done it sooner - just so we could have seen even more of it - not because I want to change what we did this time around. I knew I'd love it but I didn't really expect that I would learn so much or gain some of the perspective about my own home country that I did. We are keen to go again but it is going to take some time and determination - it is so very far and so very expensive.
Hannah's Hamleys Loot
Kit and the Kaboom from Hamleys in Kensington Gardens Paris was my absolute favourite. I don't know why. I wanted to go but didn't really have much of an idea about the reality of the city before I left. Oh the lifestyle, the shopping, the fromageries, markets, butchers, boulangers! It had something very special to offer that I can't quite put my finger on. If I could learn the language and return - I would in an instant. I was saying to Phil last night that from now on I am going to be buying tickets in any raffle I see with an O/S trip as the prize. Everywhere else was brilliant too with perhaps Roma being our least favourite but I am not holding that against the city - I think it was more the fact that we went there last and although where we stayed was good - it was right in the middle of the tourist drag and lacked the 'personality' of our other digs... not at all Roma's fault!
Hannah's French look
What Hannah wore to visit Buckingham Palace. This is in St James gardens. I think Hannah's favourite touristy things were climbing (in the elevator) the Eiffel Tower and the gondola ride in Venezia. Food wise there is NO WAY that girl would go past Italy - pizza, pasta and loads of limone gelato. I can still see her blissful face as at one trattoria in Florence (which we returned to to eat at again) she tucked into a bowl of spaghetti and cheese - her true comfort food. She was almost falling asleep in her plate with the relaxation of it. She later moved on to demanding 'pasta and prawns' at almost every other meal! Kit loved our stay in Oxford where we caught up with friends from home a few times so he got to play with their little girl a bit plus Blenheim Castle was magnificant with fantastic play areas including a hedge maze. He also liked Hamleys in London (of course) and the gondola ride and our time in Florence - the food was superb. Oxford Photos:
The view from our Paris apartment - the best place to watch ratatouille over and over Kit and I have been wanting to visit Giverny since he was about 3 - we were not disappointed...
As anticipated the twins turned 7 in Florence - and I think Kit will remember it for a long time as the birthday where he got to eat gelato four times! Yes party Dad was well and truly out to make sure that the kids (and I - given that my b'day is the day after theirs) had a great and memorable birthday. Now I have about 2 000 photos to wade through to try and put into some sort of order so we can torture our friends and ourselves with them for years to come...lucky I don't return to work for another week.
I am hoping the link at the top works - the wonderful Jill from NSW DSA - who looks after their great blog Keeping Up With DS - posted up 3 of my 'postcards' sent via Hannah's ipad on our journey - so if you are interested in how we managed to gad about three countries in four weeks with two six/seven year olds - one of whom has DS - please go and have a look at the blog posts you'll find there.... you can use the link - if it works - otherwise it may require the dedication to Dr google....
So did Hannah having DS change our holiday at all? Hmm - that is actually a hard question because in essence no it didn't - we live our lives accommodating Hannah ( and some of that obviously means adjusting for some of her needs which result from the fact she has DS - like using sign to communicate or watching her safety at activities where gross motor skills are required more closely due to her low tone) ... and in other ways of course it impacted upon our holiday schedule just as the fact that Kit is 6/7 did also. The main thing was just trying to tune into how much she understood of where we were going, what we were doing and when we'd be home - because like most of us feel more tired by new situations - so does Hannah, but it can be more obvious and perhaps have a greater impact if she has to 'cope' with unknown changes quickly because we didn't explain it clearly beforehand. For example - she was so excited to be returning home (as we all were) but did she get that it was an incredibly loooooong flight involving lots of queues and changing planes etc? The other area where her having DS was obvious was in gross motor activities. There are stairs, stairs, stairs and more stairs and then some more stairs and steep slippery marble stairs and still more narrow windy middle ages kind of stairs than we have ever seen in our lives in ALL of the places we went! And Hannah coped liked the trooper she is - but as the holiday progressed - her 'I'm tired' became more frequent and it also meant that after a couple of weeks Dad's shoulders alone were not enough - so Phil and I also took turns at carrying her part of the way as we went around galleries and walked about towns.
Each day - when planning what to do we always had to consider how far things were. Kit also got quite tired sometimes but by far this was an issue for Hannah. Usually we dealt with it in a very pleasant way - we (or one of us) stayed with the kids and did craft or watched them prepare a 'concert' or did some drawing with them... all very pleasant and relaxing activities. It also meant that I had to be more forthcoming than I'd naturally want to be. I would walk up to the staff at each gallery or tourist place where there was a long queue clasping Hannah's hand and asking if they had any facilities for disabled children. It always made me feel a bit uncomfortable and I never did work out exactly the phrasing I was comfortable with but the only place where they were quite indifferent was at the Louvre (so not my favourite gallery to visit - and not only for that reason). Every other place was incredibly helpful and understanding - at the Musee D'Orsay (my very favourite gallery) I didn't have to even go up cap in hand looking for a favour - the guard noticed I had 2 children and simply told me to get Phil (who was in the long queue) and go line up at the shorter queue - to the Palais Del Vecchio where as soon as I asked if we could use the lift to go up - the guard escorted us over with a big smile - or the Uffizi (another fave) where I did the asking - and the guard/officer not only lead us straight in (avoiding an hour wait) but gave us complimentary tickets as well. We didn't see as much as we might have without the kids but we did see more than we thought we would with them. And ultimately what made it a spectacular holiday - one we'll talk about for years to come was not only what we saw - but that we went and we went together and we spent our time as a family in some very special places in the world. SO I have to say it wasn't easy but it was easier than I expected and I also need to add that it was even better than I had expected - and I'd had high expectations before we left!
Ok - jet lag moment passing - so might have to post more pics later on...