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Pete Bellis

I’ve been talking a lot recently about my connection to Italy; an account of our day trip to Venice with the kids which was utterly amazing and memories of my time when I used to live in the country. Like running the clubhouse for the local golf club. I still think of that period of my life as my best years and the time when I ‘grew up’.

Having arrived in the country as a 19 going on 20-year-old and with just one year of work under my belt, I really was ‘wet behind the ears’ and trying so hard to be a grown-up. It was a difficult time having no family to turn to for guidance and all my choices and actions were completely down to me. It was like walking through life blindfolded.

However, as I understood more and more of the language and was able to make friends and converse with them, a whole new chapter opened for me and I entered into the fascinating world of fashion.

You cannot visit Italy and not notice the clothes. Everyone you come across will be dressed beautifully; it was one of the first things I learnt. My English student background had given me a baseline of charity shop clothes, make do and mend and the odd piece that had been a gift or I had saved up for. The suitcase that I arrived with was stuffed to the brim with trash. Although I’d never have admitted it back then.

I guess I started to understand my look wasn’t quite the ticket when my friends mentioned how ‘quirky’ I was. Or how I was ‘proprio inglese!’ Was that a compliment or not?

I started to take more notice of how the people around me dressed. I watched with intense curiosity as the shops displayed their new seasons and I started to pay more attention to how I put items together. That was the moment I fell in love with clothes and shoes and … boots.

Living in the mountains, boots become a necessity. With months and months of snow from October through to March, you must make sure you look after your feet. In fact, the montanari will remind you many times, ‘Keep your feet warm and you’ll be fine.’

Most of us had more than one or two pairs of boots. We had flat ankle boots, Moon Boots, snow boots, riding boots and for the more special occasions I’d recommend these Uppersole over the knee boots with lace up back  for those evenings spent dancing.

Coats were another important item and I remember, when I first returned to the UK, how I found it so odd that people here would go out with no coat or jacket on! I clearly remember a school group visiting the resort during a bitterly cold February half term and walking down the snowy high street in heels and skimpy dresses for their night out. I admit to cringing as I listened to the Italians murmur how foolish they were, ‘Why not take a coat and put it in the cloakroom?’ they asked me baffled at why the English would put their health at risk when it wasn’t necessary.

Different countries, different customs I would reply with a smile, shrugging my shoulders and hoping they weren’t including me in that bracket of fools.

I had a quick peek at my current boot collection and counted 4 pairs. How many pairs do you currently own?

Photo by Court Prather on Unsplash

Did I ever tell you that I used to run a restaurant in Italy with my brother? It was called Maso Spilzi and was the clubhouse for the local golf course in Folgaria. I could go on to say I am very knowledgeable about golf, but I’d be lying. However, I did get a great insight into the world of golf, in fact, many of my friends played the game and even tempted me up on to the driving range a few times.

It was during my ‘when I lived in Italy’ days and I know I’ve told you about that before. It’s funny as it all seems such a long time ago but my friend from Italy got in touch a while back to say her husband was now running the place. (I’ve told you about him too, he runs Malga Millegrobbe which is at the top of a mountain and one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been to.)

That tiny piece of information sent me right back to the year 2000 and I could see myself in the bar of the restaurant, serving drinks, taking lunch orders and doing tasks that restauranteurs do.

One of our weekly tasks for the golf club was to put on a ‘spaghettata‘ for the weekly competition. It was a fun occasion when the whole golf club would come together and play against one another. Some weeks there were some very prestigious prizes and others there were more humble offerings for the winner but no matter what was up for grabs, there was one thing every golfer who took part did, and that was to take great pride in dressing accordingly.

Golf fashion goes back decades and has always been a step aside from what may be considered ‘normal’ fashion. On the course, bright colours are the way forward, Rupert Bear checks are seen as immensely desirable items, the beautiful leather shoes are unique to the sport and the overall look must be one of refined elegance. A casual smart to be reckoned with.

This is a tradition that doesn’t seem to ever go out of fashion and golfers secretly are vying with one another for the best look. I have found some great golf t-shirts available at Function 18 to look the part

That same sense of presence exists here on the British golf courses and I frequently see my friends posting photos of themselves in the golf gear and being very proud of themselves. Sometimes I wonder if they are more interested in the look rather than the 18 holes?

I found their sense of fashion and care of attention to dressing on the golf course very endearing and noticed that everyone takes part from the top lawyers and doctors who arrived in the latest BMWs or Mercedes, to the local plumber who enjoys a round of golf with his friends at the weekend to enjoy the fresh air and company.

You couldn’t really tell who was the plumber and who the doctor in the sea of bright colours, but I can tell you, they all tucked into their plate of spaghetti after the prizegiving and enjoyed a glass of wine too.

Do you play golf, and do you own special clothes to wear on the course?

Roast dinner

I’d be lying to you if I said husband had put his barbecue away – of course he hasn’t; we’ll be barbecuing in the middle of winter, just you wait and see. However, I can declare Sunday Roast time of year is now in full swing in our house and it’s the one meal I look forward to every week.

Sunday is always that day in our house where we spend time together aware that as of the following morning, it’s going to be a long, mad rush to get through the week until Friday when we can all be together again. I start thinking about our Sunday roast midweek as that’s when I tend to do my online shop for the week. I like to alternate between beef, chicken, pork and gammon but my favourite roast of all is lamb, especially Welsh lamb.

Luckily for me, I have an enormous rosemary bush in the garden which works perfectly with lamb and there’s something very ‘Good Life’ about nipping into the garden to snip some fresh sprigs from the bush.

Of course, no roast can be called a roast in my book unless it is accompanied by all the trimmings and that includes roast potatoes and parsnips and then a couple of veg like carrots, beans, cauliflower of cabbage depending on what’s in the fridge.

Yorkshire puddings are a must and oodles of gravy poured over the meal too; I have to make a lot of gravy for my lot!

It’s really pointless me writing recipes to use for leftovers as there is very rarely anything left to use. The family devour the whole lot and if there are leftovers they normally want another roast dinner during the week to use them up. That’s when I might need to boost the meal with some sausages.

If we are in the town we will go into the local butcher and stock up on some of his finest products but one of husband’s favourite shopping experiences is looking at online meat suppliers. I kid you not. He can spend hours looking and deciding which hamper to go for. Graig Farm has been a recent find of his and he can spend hours trawling through the site, jotting down notes and making comparisons.

Of course, the excitement doesn’t end there. The minute that email lands in his inbox and he has a delivery date, he’s on the lookout. Sticking post-its up with instructions in case we are at work when they call by. Even going to ask our next-door neighbours if they will let the delivery man leave the box inside the front door for him.

Husband has been known to take photos of his purchase and post them on Facebook, proud of his choice and encouraging his friends to follow suit. We then have a lengthy discussion about what is to be eaten and what is to be frozen. I know, all the fun in our house but when it comes to sitting down for our Sunday roast, I can honestly say it was worth it.

Seeing as our barbecue won’t come back into regular use again until April at the earliest, I am looking forward to months of Sunday roasts again.

How about you? Do you enjoy a particular family meal together or is it just me?

venice in 1 day with kids

“Venice in 1 day with the kids?” you shriek in disbelief that it can be done.

“Yes.” is my knowledgeable reply as that is exactly what we did this summer whilst staying on Lake Garda.

We (Megan and I) decided that as a special treat for the girls (aged 9 – 10), we’d catch a train from Verona and spend one day in Venice.

Having lived in Italy for almost 20 years, I was well aware of the cost of a day trip to Venice and to keep our expenditure down our first decision was to take a packed lunch and drinks with us. We checked the train times and we booked a return ‘regionale’ online. (This saved us our first euros as tickets are slightly cheaper online and we found a great Family Deal).

venice in one day with kids

The girls were delighted to see that our ‘very reasonably priced train’ was a double-decker and insisted on sitting upstairs. It is incredibly comfortable and clean  – that’s until you visit the toilets – don’t go unless you really have to is my advice!

An inspector will be along to check your tickets but, if you’ve booked online, you’ll have an email with a QR code which they can scan. The journey from Verona to Venice takes about 1 1/2 hours and arrives slap bang in the centre. the perfect starting point.

Getting around Venice with kids

venice in one day with kids

Another decision we had made during the planning stage was to invest in a ticket for the vaporetto. At first glance, this might seem an outrageous expense but contrary to belief, Venice is enormous and the islands surrounding are quite a distance away. This is the part we hadn’t looked into booking online and my advice would be to do so if you can as it will save a lot of time. There are various options to choose from and we went for the 1-day inclusive pass. It cost about €20 each (there are no differences between children and adults) but it allowed us to travel anywhere at any time for 24 hours and you really will make the most of it.

The Grand Canal

Our first vaporetto experience was on the Grand Canal. We caught the water bus from the ticket office and we cruised leisurely down the Grand Canal stopping off at all of the stops along the way. As we were first on, we had great seats at the back of the boat in the open part and this allowed the girls to take in the unique beauty of Venice. We stared in awe as we passed the most beautiful buildings lining the canal. I didn’t even bother starting with the history or cultural information and just allowed the girls to enjoy everything they could take in around them.

Trust me, that’s not all of my photos but you get the idea!

Piazza San Marco

venice in one day with kids

Our decision was to stop off at Piazza San Marco and take a walk through the alleyways from the ferry stop to the main square. There is also a public toilet closeby which came in very handy. We walked through the bustling lanes taking in Valentino, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana shop fronts. We were mesmerised with the elite fashion around us. I looked up ahead and through an archway and took in my first glimpse that day of San Marco Square, it really does make your heart beat faster. We walked the girls towards the entrance, Megan was already bubbling with excitement and I took their reactions in as they walked onto one of the most beautiful and iconic squares in the world.

The girls were awestruck. The marvel of what they were taking in stamped on their tiny faces. Piazza San Marco is enormous, as we stepped through the archway onto the square which was relatively empty we walked over to the centre so to get a good view of the place.

There was an orchestra playing to filled tables outside one of the cafes, queues of people lining up to visit the iconic buildings around the edge and hundreds of tourists vying for the best Selfie spot. The girls got their phones out and joined in taking photos left right and centre. All I could hear was ‘Wow’ and ‘Look mum!’

We strolled through the square up to the cathedral and round to the Doge’s’s Palace. We didn’t want to lose any of our precious time queueing for visits but vowed to return with them one day and make time to visit the beautiful buildings and learn the history.

venice in one day with kids

We crossed a bridge and took a photo of the Bridge of Sighs and just a bit further along was the ferry point for the crossing to Murano and Burano.

Burano – the colourful island of Venice

venice in one day with kids

We knew that we wouldn’t be able to do a lot of walking as the little people could only handle so much and Venice is BIG. So on the advice of one of Megan’s friend’s who lives in Venice we had to choose between Murano – the island of the glass blowing or Burano – the colourful island adored on Instagram.

We jumped on the ferry (included in our 1-day Vaporetto ticket) and sat down to enjoy the 45-minute journey. It’s the perfect time to tuck into your picnic and the girls were able to roam the ferry safely and report back on their findings.

venice in one day with kids

Burano will catch your attention before landing as the Vaporetto makes its way along the coastline towards the doc. The island is a burst of colour in the middle of the blue lagoon. The individually painted houses are one brighter than the next all crying out for your attention. We docked quickly and without a map, we started walking to the centre.

Burano is the island of lace and there are plenty of shops to invest in local pieces costing form a €5 bookmark to €???? tablecloths, dresses and fine art.

venice in one day with kids

As you head towards the centre you quickly discover the island is crisscrossed with canals which in turn are adorned with brightly painted boats. Burano must be the birthplace of the rainbow there isn’t a surface on the island that hasn’t seen a paintbrush.

We treated ourselves to a drink/ice cream in one of the squares and then had to walk very quickly back to the dock so as not to miss our ferry. We were incredibly sad to leave and have vowed to book a room on the island next time.

venice in one day with kids

From the dock to the station

A word of advice is not to underestimate the walk from the dock where the boat deposits you back to the station. The beauty of the cheap ticket is the price but if you fail to catch your train, you will have to pay extra and on top of our super expenditure, that’s one thing we wanted to avoid.

It’s a half an hour walk and Megan, with Google maps on her phone, walked us through the alleys towards the station. She did such a great job we were able to enjoy an Aperol Spritz/coca cola before catching the train.

Saving money tips for a day in Venice

Book your train tickets online, there are some fantastic deals to be had.

Take a packed lunch and bottles of water – each of the girls carried their own small water bottle which we would fill at the water fountains.

Book any entrance tickets and times to popular tourist sights online, you’ll be able to walk right in and avoid the queues.

Verdict:

This experience is one that has stayed with the girls. They say it was the best part of their summer holiday this year and one of the best things they have ever done.

Read also: Paris in one day

christmas decorations

It may feel like autumn has only just arrived, but before we know it winter will be knocking at the door, bringing chilly nights, cosy coats, and – of course – Christmas. It’s never too early to start planning ahead on how to make the most of the festive season. Especially when you’ve got the little ones to think about. It’s a truly magical time of year for children, and there’s so much you can do to make it even more memorable for them.

Letters to Santa

This can get your kids beginning to think of what they would like from Santa. Though the chances are they’ll probably have a number of different drafts before November rolls around. If you have a fireplace, you could leave the letters in the grate and tell your kids they’ll magically be delivered to the North Pole overnight. It creates a little bit of spark, rather than getting them to write it down and saying you’ll put it in the postbox.

Festive Baking

festive baking

Getting the kids in the kitchen is a great chance to make some family festive memories. After all, Christmas is known as a time for carbs and indulgent eating. A fun activity, which is so easy to involve the children. You can keep it simple and bake biscuits, and leave plenty of time for decorating them. You could see who can make the best Santa in icing. Or make the biscuit in the shape of a tree and get silver ball bearings. You’ll probably end up enjoying yourself as much as the kids.

Lights

christmas lights

Christmas brings so much joy during dark and dreary winter. Homes across the country light up, and everything feels that little bit cosier. So why not get your own home involved with this? You can go beyond the fairy lights on the tree. Cox & Cox offer a fantastic range of both indoor and outdoor light decorations. They’re perfect for bringing a little extra sparkle into your home this festive season. Whether you want to go for strings of stars for the ceiling or a reindeer for the garden, you’ll find a perfect piece.

Homemade Decorations

There are some families who are meticulous when it comes to the tree. There are certain colour schemes, strategic ornament placing and tinsel is a no. It tends to sap the joy from it. You and the kids could spend an afternoon making your own Christmas tree decorations. It could be as simple making a cotton ball snowman or cutting felt into stars. These pieces will soon become treasured traditions – things you’ll hang up on the trees in many years to come and remember the afternoon you’ve spent making them. A Christmas tree should reflect the family of the home that’s it in.

Disclosure: Collaborative post