Learn from my mistakes – how to visit overseas museums with kids without them claiming they are about to die.

Our castle in Silvi is in the Province of Teramo in the Abruzzo region in central Italy.  The morning started with a huge sleep in by everyone.  

We had no plan for the day and despite me telling Ben to come up with a plan (so that the kids could not hold me responsible if they found the plan boring or not to their satisfaction) he had been unable to do so.  The problem is, there is just too much on offer in the Teramo region and trying to decide what to do sends you down a rabbit hole of amazing places/sights/museums and it is impossible to choose.  

I was quite keen just to stay in the castle and enjoy my medieval surrounds and sensational views for the full day.   Stretching out on the antique lounge with my kindle and staying in my pyjamas sounded perfect.  I encouraged Ben to take the kids to the beach so that I could at least spend part of my day pottering around my castle pretending that I was queen and not surrounded by a gaggle of whinging.  

Ben obliged and the kids all happily went off to the beach leaving me to enjoy my surrounds.  Apparently the Adriatic Sea was beautiful and as Salty as the sea on the other side of Italy, which Google leads me to believe is called the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Ben’s quote to me on his return was “kids and I all floated like corks in a bathtub”.  This led to an in-depth discussion with certain offspring about what that term means, what a cork is and went on for so long forgot to ask about other aspects of their beach swim.  See, overseas travel is educational is so many ways!!!  I am also a little bit ashamed that more than 50% of my children didn’t know what a cork was.  I am obviously not trying hard enough to achieve number six on my list of “40 things to do before I’m 40” which is – LEARN TO LIKE WINE AND DRINK ONE GLASS A NIGHT.  

The Adriatic Sea is stunningly beautiful.  From the comfort of the car I have been able to view the amazing rainbow of shades of aqua and turquoise.  Ben, having to supervise 3 children bobbing around in the sea like corks in a bathtub, did not take any pictures.  Kylah, not wanting to swim and not impressed that she was being ‘forced’ to join Ben and the others on their Adriatic Sea adventure, sat on the beach as the stuff minder and was too hot and grumpy to bother capturing the beauty and elation of my little corks in their turquoise bath.  

I revelled in my 2 hours of silence and started to read through some books on the local area thoughtfully left on the table on things to do in the Province of Teramo by our hosts.  One of the things to do was to visit a national park where there are brown bears, wolves and some kind of deer with a weird name which currently evades me habit.  Whilst I knew this activity (Bear hunting) would excite Rohan beyond belief, I know from experience how these animal hunting adventures turn out.  You can read all about Rohan’s attempt to spot a Cassowary in the wild here:  http://frankieandthetramp.com/2017/07/24/cape-tribulation/  .  I did not want to go through that experience again.  

There were so many museums, ancient sites, beautiful caves and grottos to go to that it was impossible for me to choose.  In the end I threw a dart in the book and chose to visit an ancient fortress, Civitella Del Tronto.  It appeared from the photos that you could clamber all over the ruins (which the kids had had heaps of fun doing at the ruins of Castello di Canossa).  It also looked spectacular and I was keen for any opportunity to fine tune my new found hobby – photography, which I know little to nothing about other than point and press a button.  I bought a new digital camera for the trip and need to pointedly use it A LOT and produce better images than my iPhone so that Ben doesn’t claim it was an unnecessary and pointless waste of money. 

The fortress did not disappoint.  It was perched on a mountain, 600m above sea level, and the surrounding hill is filled ancient villa’s that create the most stunning photo.  Unfortunately, I was only able to take a picture of this hill out of the window of the car while we were speeding by as there was no where for Ben to pull over.  Consequently it is not the best example of my photography.  

 

The fort itself is easily accessible and fairly cheap to visit.  For a family of 6 it only cost €19 and that included €3 for a guide that told you all about the history and what were viewing.  We began walking around with me reading from the guide to Ben and the children “this fortress is one of the largest and most important works of military engineering in Europe” I began.  That was as far as I got before most children disappeared except for Isabelle who was scouting around for a toilet.  The guide didn’t give an exact age of the fortress and kind of detailed battles and sieges, that it was a part of instead (including one with Napoleon).  I couldn’t figure out if it was always occupied by Italians of at some stages occupied by the French.  A quick Wikipedia search told me that yes it at some points had been occupied by the French and that the exact age of the fort is unknown.  There is evidence of human occupation in the area as early as the Neolithic and Palaeolithic ages.   The fortress itself first emerges in texts and is described as a “walled town” in the 10th and 11th centuries.  

Over time (centuries) it had been extended and improved and hosted a church, bakery, huge cisterns for holding rainwater for the soldiers and medieval toilets (which I did take photos of but have refrained from posting as they aren’t examples of my best photography).  The fortress is being continually maintained and hosts a number of museums.  The workmanship in building this massive (25,000 square metres) fortress out of stone 600m above sea level is testament to the fact that humans weren’t always the lazy lounge-sitting, beach lazing people that have a host of tools that take the back ache out of most jobs of a fort-building-calibre that we (well, mainly me can’t speak for all of you but I have my reservations) have now become. 

My initial suspicions were correct.  Children did briefly love scrambling all over the fort, investigating various rooms and tunnels and shrieking about things they found.  However, the walk to the fort was uphill and running all over 25,000 square metres in scorching heat was thirsty work.  Unfortunately water bottles had been left in the car so within 15 minutes of our entry the complaints of thirst began.  What started out as one or two children enquiring about the whereabouts of their water bottle to which we responded with“well, did you bring it with you???” quickly turned in to dehydrated children struggling to refrain from loudly whinging about how they were about to die of thirst and wanting to go.  

Ben and I, having invested €19 in this adventure continued on exploring in a methodical manner trying hard to ignore the misery of our children.  We also did not have water and were able to withhold announcing our thirst to the everyone within a 10 kilometre radius so had no sympathy for them.  At various times I offered them a mentos lollie (which I had in my handbag) and said that if they didn’t whinge for another 10 minutes I’d give them another.  No one was able to obtain a second mentos and Isabelle didn’t even last a minute.  Lesson learned.  ALWAYS make sure your children bring their water bottles whenever setting off on an exploration.  To be fair, had they had water I suspect the moaning may have been about lack of food.  

We explored for about an hour until I could no longer stand the misery of my offspring.  Rohan by this stage was lying on the concrete acting like he was minutes from death by dehydration.  I told Ben to keep investigating the fortress and museums and I would take the kids back to the car for water bottles and then meet him there when he was finished.  

I marched the kids back down the hill, straight past the gelato shop without so much as a glance in it’s direction.  This would have shown the kids just how unhappy I was.  Passing a gelato shop without purchasing an ice-cream has been a rarity this trip!!  

We sat in the car until Ben came back and announced that about 30 metres from where we were when we turned to exit and return to the car, there was a bubbler!!  He also said that the museum part of the fort, that I was unable to see due to dehydrating children, was fascinating and that we will have to return again one day – sans children.

On the ride home we gave them a serve about whinging about things that cannot be changed.  I said “I’m sorry that I didn’t remind you to bring your water bottles but at the time I could not do anything about it.  You can whinge and whinge and whinge but it is not going to change the fact that the water was left in the car.   All that was accomplished by that was you have now missed out on a gelato and you ruined something I thought would be really special for you to see and experience.”  Kids apologised profusely and now, newly re-hydrated, raved about how much they enjoyed it.  

Because of their behaviour we decided to cook dinner in the castle instead of buying dinner out.  I think this is more of a punishment for me than the kids.  It is so bloody stressful trying to figure out something to buy in a grocery store where everything is labelled in Italian.  I quickly located tortellini in the fridge section of the store but could not find a sauce to accompany it.  I spent a good 10 minutes hunting for an employee before getting a ticket to the deli counter and waiting there for a further 5 minutes.  Whilst waiting I put “I am looking for a fresh sauce that I can put on tortellini.  Can you help me please?” Into Google translate.  When my number was finally called I handed the attendant my phone and he said in perfect English “No problem.  I’ll get Mario to help you!!” 

Mario was of little help.  He took me to a section of the supermarket which looked like a UHT milk section.  You know those long life milk cartons that look like a giant popper?  He handed me one and I recognised the name for cheese on it.  It appears that the Italians sell cheese sauce in the long life popper containers.  Probably no-one needs to buy them as they all make their own so easily and deliciously.  Cheese sauce was of no use to me, who has the worlds greatest hater-of-cheese (Rohan) in my family.  I said to Mario “No fromage”. He then handed me a container which looked to be a white sauce with mushrooms – which would have pleased no one.  I thanked Mario and went on another hunt – determined to find something.  Surely if you can buy fresh tortellini there MUST be somewhere where you can get a tomato based sauce to go on it.  

By this stage I was getting SOS messages from Ben and the kids (who were still in the car) who could not understand what was taking me so damn long.  I finally grabbed whatever I could and hoped for the best. In the queue at the register people kept saying something in Italian to me then pushing in front of me.   I was so over it.  

Dinner ended up being quite nice and everyone had an early night except for Ben, who had to stay up and do the washing up (castles don’t have dishwashers).  

I sniffed back a few tears as we left our castle this morning.  I could have spent a few months there, exploring the Abruzzo area.  

Currently we are journeying to our next destination which is simply just a quick stop over as we make our way back to Paris.  I have bought Vacuum seal bags and am hoping this next destination has a vacuum as our last two haven’t had one.  If I can vacuum seal most of our clothes then I will have heaps of space to go sick shopping up a storm at Marks and Spencer when we return to England in a few days.  

I have some interesting information to report on item number five on my “40 things to do before I’m 40” which is:  LEARN TO DRINK COFFEE.  I stumbled across an interesting article on advertising whilst in a rabbit hole of information on Quora.  I came across a story that detailed how Nestle managed to get the Japanese hooked on Coffee.  Apparently they called in an advertising guru (who was a psychiatrist and behavioural psychologist or something) after many Japanese focus groups who tasted coffee declared to be “Oiishi!!” (delicious) but coffee shops failed to attract customers.  This particular advertising guru said that the Japanese are a culture of traditions so in order to get them to drink coffee, they needed to introduce coffee flavoured lollies/chocolates to children.  Apparently it worked!!  Within a decade the Japanese were hooked on caffeine.  

I’ve decided to employ the same strategy on myself and have stumbled across a product in Italy called “Ferrero Espresso to Go”.  I purchased some and am pleased to announce that they are delightful and I LOVE them.  It is a little capsule that you poke a tiny straw in and it is a shot of coffee in liquid dark chocolate.  I am so excited!!! Hopefully I can find some more on this trip to bring home.  If I get used to the coffee flavour in them then I might be able to ween myself off the dark chocolate part.  For those of you who are thinking “why doesn’t she just drink Mochachino’s?” the answer is simple.  I’m not a fan of milk or milky things although I am not opposed to milk products such as cheese, chocolate and ice-cream.   

Anyway I’d better sign off now. Not sure we’ll have much to report on tomorrow as today is mostly travelling.  But you never know!!  

Thanks for reading!!

B xx

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