15 December 2017

Travel Post: Italy - Day 7 (Venice, Rome)

Day 7 - Friday

Our last day in Venice started out cloudy but the clouds soon started clearing and it starting getting warmer and warmer. We could also see that there were more tourists than the previous two days - a sign that we should get out. Venice is really small and I can't imagine what it looks like with a big influx of tourists! We had to catch a train back to Rome at lunch time so we didn't have much time to walk around.

After having breakfast at the hotel and checking out (but leaving our bags there) we set out for a final wander around Venice. We went to a Kiehl's shop and I enjoyed looking at all the holiday-themed packaging, so beautiful! I ended up not buying anything, as we could get pretty much everything in SA as well (except they have different sizes of the same product which we don't get here).

We wanted to take a water taxi to a nearby church but there was a problem: the water taxi drivers were striking. A strike in Italy, however, does not mean the same as in SA: in Italy they will strike, but only on some routes, and only until 17:00. This meant that we couldn't take a water taxi from the stop closest to our hotel, we had to walk halfway around the island. This meant that our time to wander around was now also cut short. We thus went back to the hotel, got our bags, and set off on the walk around the island to the other water taxi stop. Luckily they weren't striking and we got to the train station in good time.

We ate very overpriced McDonald's meals and hopped on the train. We got to ride Premium class as the limited number of "low cost" tickets was the same price as the normal second class tickets... It took about four hours to get to Rome but the train trip went by quite quickly.

When we got to Rome it was a traffic nightmare: it was Friday afternoon in a big city and everyone was trying to recover from the bus driver strike that day. Apparently they only strike until 17:00, but after that everything is late. Also, everyone seem to flock to Rome over weekends so that also contributed to the hustle and bustle. It took us hours to take the right busses to get to our guesthouse which was 200m south of the Vatican. From our last bus stop to the guesthouse was quite a walk and we weren't sure if we were going in the right direction. We approached a tall unassuming building and a friendly man walked towards us, introducing himself as the guesthouse owner. I was so relieved I wanted to hug him! He took our suitcases and showed us inside. He was so sweet and friendly and he immediately made us feel at home.

The guesthouse itself was beautifully decorated and we had an entire suite to ourselves: a lovely bedroom, a bathroom with a toilet, teeny tiny bath with a shower head, and a washbasin, and another bathroom with a large jacuzzi bath.

After checking in we asked our host if there are any nice places to go to dinner. It was our fifth wedding anniversary, after all! Our host told us to go to Giggetto as it served proper Roman cuisine, not Italian cuisine. We weren't sure what the difference was, but we were up for something different!

I read online that grilled artichoke is a Roman speciality so I knew to look out for that on the menu. We ordered grilled artichokes and baby marrow flower stuffed with cheese as a starter. For mains the husband ordered carbonara which looked incredible and I ordered saltimbocca, which I also read was a speciality. It's supposed to be veal wrapped or lined with prosciutto and sage that is marinated in either wine or saltwater (depending on the region). My veal didn't have prosciutto but it was floating in a bath of saltwater. It wasn't a very nice meal (I didn't even feel like photographing it) and I had a bit of order envy about my husband's plate of food.

For dessert the husband had tiramisu and I had a cheesecake type thing: a yoghurt and berry torte. It was delicious and all but made up for the disappointing main course.

After dinner we went back to the guesthouse and made use of the jacuzzi bath. I wouldn't mind having one at home!

This was the end of day seven in Italy. There is one more post left in this travel series, please check back in soon to read it.

Until next time!


13 December 2017

Pregnancy Update: Weeks 17-24

As I'm typing this I am currently six months pregnant. Six months! I feel like time is moving slowly and incredibly quickly all at the same time. It feels like a lifetime ago that I found out I was pregnant, but the past couple of months have also flown past. Obviously I'm excited to meet our baby, but I feel like I want to be pregnant for a bit longer still, just so I can finish all the tasks and project that I'm busy with (or haven't started with!) and fully get to grips with that lies ahead (are you ever prepared?).

As you would have seen in the blog posts from the past couple of weeks, we went to Italy for our fifth wedding anniversary/baby moon. It was an incredible experience and I felt great for most of the trip. All the walking (and the fast walking, might I add) made me tire quickly, but the husband was very supportive and constantly asked me if I was ok and stopped so that I could catch my breath. The airplane trips also went fine: I had compression socks that I had to wear on all the airplane trips as well as the long train rides. I also had to get anti-clotting injections before each major flight (and 24 hours afterwards) administered by the husband.

In Venice we decided to open our note from the doctor (she insisted on writing the baby's gender on a piece of paper) and was elated to find out that we are expecting a baby girl. We had already started on the nursery and painted the walls two-tone: white on the top two thirds and dark grey on the bottom third. Now that we know it's a girl we can put pink accent pieces in the room to balance out all the white and grey. We also decided to replace the carpet with laminate flooring, but that's something for the new year (and the new year's budget!). I don't want to be cleaning carpets with a baby, and tiles are also very hard and cold, thus laminate flooring sounded like the better option.

We've also started buying a few things for Olive (that's what we've been calling "him/her" for the past few months - Olive could be Oliver or Olivia, see?). Apart from the cot that we bought in October already we bought a cute dress, a winter onesie, a bath tub, burp cloths (thanks, Granny!), a sheep teddy, a mosquito net for the cot, and the most beautiful woven laundry basket. My friend gave us the most beautiful white crochet blanket that she asked her grandmother to make, so special!

We also went to the Baby Expo early in December, and boy, was it an expensive and overwhelming day! I asked one of my friends who already has two small children for tips and she sent me a list of must-have items that are very well-priced at the Baby Expo. With this list on hand I made a spreadsheet of everything that we need as well as the corresponding prices at different stores. That way I could compare these prices to the Baby Expo prices to see if it was really a good deal (it mostly was) and then I could refine my shopping list. Nerdy, right? I live for stuff like this! On the day of the Expo we went in armed with our shopping list. About seven hours later we left there with a car full of stuff, empty wallets, and sore feet. We now have enough diapers and wipes to last us a good six months. We also bought a baby carrier, a baby wrap, a microwave steriliser, a nappy bin, nappy bin refill cassettes, a breast pump (so expensive, but such a good deal), Sudo creme, Bio-Oil, and a travel system. The travel system we settled on was a Maxi-Cosi carseat in a Double Trouble stroller frame plus a carry cot which will double up as Olive's bassinet in our room for the first few weeks/months. The travel system was delivered to my work a week later, for which I was very thankful, as it would not have fitted into our car on the day of the Expo!

I decided to not buy anything clothing-wise unless it is an absolutely super cute onesie as I want to give family and friends the opportunity to also spoil Olive (as I know they will!). I did, however, see an adorable onesie on the Woolworths website that says "The snuggle is real". I have to get that!

As far as symptoms go I am still extremely lucky in that I don't feel sick at all. I'm "supposed" to get backaches now as well, but I've maybe had two days with backaches and that's all. I am, however, struggling with heartburn that is sometimes so bad that I fear I'm going to throw up. I keep a bottle of Gaviscon chew tablets in my handbag and I found that chewing one immediately relieves my heartburn. When we got back from Italy both my feet swelled up even though I wore my compression socks. My left ankle continued to stay swollen for a few days after that, but I had hurt my foot in Italy so I assume the swelling was due to that. Luckily it went away after about four days. Now when I feel that my feet are feeling "heavy" or that my legs hurt (I can't stand for too long at a time) I sit on the couch with my feet up, which really helps. Bending down (and getting up again) has also become more difficult, especially when I'm already tired. Some days are much better than others and I try to get my housework done on the good days!

My appetite has also increased and I'm enjoying eating even more than usual! I try to eat healthily but since I'm not picking up a lot of weight I often pig out and eat whatever the heck I want. My bump has also expanded a lot since Italy and I am now very clearly pregnant. Those colleagues at work who I didn't tell personally are also figuring out my secret one after the other.

Very little of my pre-pregnancy clothes seem to fit me anymore, it's only the maxi dresses that still fit. Two weeks ago I wore a pair of work pants and decided that that was the last time I would wear them before the birth. I have to button my pants below my belly and now they either start wiggling their way down, or they pinch my belly, which is very uncomfortable. I can still wear my one pair of boyfriend jeans and apart from that I'm living in leggings (black ones from H&M and Woolies) and black flower-printed pants from H&M's maternity range. Another big problem (pun intended) now is tops: all my pre-pregnancy tops are sitting very...taut on top of my belly and it's making me feel self-conscious. I've since been shopping, but it's difficult because I know it's only for a little and I don't want to do a wardrobe overhaul for only a few months. I did pick up a few dresses (two dresses from Mr Price and a dress from Due South of all places, as well as a maternity top from H&M). As for underwear I had to buy two maternity bras, so sexy (not)! The Carriwell one I got at the Baby Expo and is a drop-cup breastfeeding bra. It's very comfortable to wear but it's a gigantic piece of material... The other bra is also from Carriwell but is a lace breastfeeding bra: you pull it on over your head like a crop top; it doesn't have clasps or anything. It's very comfortable and I've even slept in it.

I've also almost used up an entire large bottle of Bio-Oil, definitely a first for me! The more my skin is stretching to accommodate the growing baby, the more it itches. Applying lotion helps, but only somewhat. Another life saver is, sorry for the TMI, panty liners. I've been needing them much more frequently lately and I'm investing in big boxes - I'm buying them in bulk now...

I've also started feeling Olive kick these past two weeks or so and it's really an amazing feeling. The husband has also felt her kick and it's so great to be able to share this with him. He gets so excited when he feels the gentle kicks!

That's all I can think of in terms of updates, please let me know if you have any comments or questions.

Until next time!


11 December 2017

Travel Post: Italy - Day 6 (Venice)

Day 6 - Thursday

Our first morning in Venice didn't start off too well: the room was incredibly warm but the geyser didn't produce any hot water, the water was lukewarm at best. The room already cost a lot (and it was the cheapest I could find that looked decent online) and our breakfast was a further 7 euros extra per person. Granted, we didn't have to eat there, but we figured that we wouldn't be able to eat a hotel-style breakfast AND have coffee someplace else for that price. So all in all we weren't vey happy campers at that stage.

The breakfast itself was nice. Not the best we've had by then, but not bad. There was a selection of cold meats and a strong white cheese (those with the holes in it) that I don't really like. They also had yogurt, breakfast cereal (nope), small stale buns, hot breakfast options, juice, and a variety of croissants. Their coffee option was from a Douw Egberts machine which didn't exactly blow my socks off.

After breakfast I complained about the lack of hot water in the room and within 10 minutes the handyman was there to fix it. He fiddled with the shower taps and tried to talk to me, but with him only speaking Italian and me only speaking English, it didn't go so well. The husband asked him to do something about the central heating (the lady at reception said they couldn't do anything about the heat) but the handyman said he'd switch off ours. 

After breakfast we set off for St Mark's square. And by "set off" I mean, basically walk 80 m, because that's how close the hotel is to St Mark's square. The options were: walk around on St Mark's square (it's just a square with shops and restaurants around the edges), go to St Mark's Basilica, or go to St Mark's Campanile (clock tower). By then we were a bit tired and wanted to take things slow. We decided to go to St Mark's Basilica, but we had to wait around as it only opened at 9:30. We went inside but weren't allowed to take photos. It is really beautiful inside and all the artwork on the walls,  the ceilings, and the floors, were made from teeny tiny mosaic tiles. Every single artwork! It's incredible to see. We could also go up to the almost-top of the basilica (next to the four horse statues) which had a stunning view over St Mark's square and, in the distance, the ocean.

After this we thought about going up the clock tower, but we decided against it. We ended up drinking coffee with a view of the ocean and the "harbour" and deciding what to do next. We decided to take things slow and to walk around instead of chasing monuments. Venice is a very expensive city and we decided against going to Doge's Palace (photo fourth from the bottom), for instance, as it was a whopping 20 euros per person to go in. 

We settled on taking a water taxi and going "overseas" to a small island called San Giorgio Maggiore. Saint George's Major is both the name of the island and the church built on the island. We initially missed our stop and got off on the adjacent island (the two islands are about 50 m from each other but there is no bridge) and had to wait for the taxi to come back on its route so that we could take it to where we were supposed to go.

The church itself is beautiful and the ticket gives you access to the clock tower from which you can see the entire Venice in all its glory. The sun also decided to make an appearance and the blue skies offset the beautiful old buildings beautifully. It was also at the top of this clock tower that we finally opened the note from my doctor telling us that we are expecting a baby girl.

After this we still had some time left over on our water taxi pass, so we took a water taxi basically right around Venice. We saw lots of cool buildings and I also saw the famous hands "holding up" on eof the buildings on the edge of the canal, so cool!

By coincidence we got off at the stop closest to the Rialto Bridge and it was at sunset, so we got the chance to photograph it. Venice sunsets really make for gorgeous photos and I'm contemplating printing and enlarging at least one of the photos I took to hang in our house.

 Oddly enough we also met a couple from Cape Town on the bridge which was very cool! They were also there taking photos of the sunset and heard us speaking Afrikaans. After walking around some more we went to a restaurant for dinner. I can't remember the price, but I know it was quite a good price for a four-course meal and they served Venetian specialities, so that was another plus point.

We started off with a Venetian speciality: Sarde in saor (sweet and sour sardines). Now this might sound a bit weird, but they basically pickle sardines in a sweet and sour brine. This particular dish was served with pickled onions (I think they pickle the sardines with the onions) and grilled polenta. I would have liked a bit more sardines and a little less onion, but it was still very, very tasty.

For our second course we had the most delicious seafood pasta. I've found that usually if your order any seafood-related dish in a restaurant (I'm talking about SA specifically), they skimp on the seafood. You'll get one or two mussels and a few crab sticks. But not here: the portion was big and the seafood plenty. I could have happily stopped here and just had my dessert, but there was a third course on the way...

For the third course we had another Venetian speciality: Nero di seppia (loosely translated to squid ink). It was as disgusting as it sounds and looks. I just tried to Google the correct name (still not sure this is it) and I saw someone comparing it to wet tar. That is pretty accurate. And imagine further that it tastes like Bovril. Now look, I'm a big fan of Bovril but I would prefer to not eat a big, warm, chunky plate of it. Normally the Italians use the squid ink to colour the spaghetti, but sometimes you get a pile of squid pieces with the ink. I ate about a quarter of it and then sent it back saying that I was too full. I was full, but it was also disgusting.

Our fourth and last course was dessert: tiramisu. You can't go wrong with a bowl (or in this case, a plate) of creamy tiramisu!

When we got the bill it was, of course, much higher than just what we ate: the restaurant was kind enough to add a "tourist charge" to our bill. How lovely! This is something that really annoys me of a lot of restaurants in Italy. If you're going to charge me extra, at least tell me so from the beginning.

Anyway, we set off for the hotel for our last night in Venice. The room wasn't as hot as when we left and although not steaming hot, the geyser water was at least warm enough to wash and rinse my hair with.

And that was our sixth day in Italy! There are two more posts coming your way, please check in soon so you won't miss anything.

Until next time!