Thursday, March 28, 2013

Happy Easter!

And the last item of the collection is what in Swedish is called Påskkrans, Easter Wreath (for the ones that do not celebrate Easter, this is instead a Vårkrans, Spring Wreath.
Doors wreaths are actually popular the whole year and this is something that I have never seen in Italy (although historically we have the laurel wreath coming from the Romans).

With this on our door, it is time to wish Happy Easter!

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter decorations

Since I lived in Sweden, I have noticed how different is the concept of "decorations" respect to Italy.
We have only Christmas. That's basically it. But Sweden brings whatever festivity and occasion to be an opportunity for decorating your home.
And I know why: the weather sucks so much that one has to have a very very cosy home for surviving!
Hence, decorations are brought into another level by our Nordic friends!

Having the duty (but not the time) to fill up the house with few items, so that it doesn't necessarily feels like a trench, I have decided to embrace the so called "Påskpynt" activity, although I didn't have the energy to produce anything by myself.
I surfed few websites, got some ideas and especially, scanned Tradera and won a few auctions (and got few items from friends and from Isabella).

The result? Here it is!

Two chicken arrived today
And they were anticipated by two fat hens
Our Easter hunt starts from the doors
Also an egg ad found its way on the handle
A rabbit family is hiding from Pico and Romeo
Look who is hiding there! A small chicks nest!
My first Påskris
I decided to mix a bit traditions, starting from the concept of "Easter hunt" which I think is mainly an american concept. What I did was, instead of hiding eggs, to put small decorations in very odd places.
From the Nordic side I took instead the Påskris. This is something done for welcoming spring (not this year, clearly). Branches, typically from birch, are put together and decorated with feathers and, also, with eggs. This is the answer to the Christmas tree!
I am lucky that I could cut whatever plant I wanted in my garden (but not birch, of course), so I put together a nice "bouquet", then I decorated with feathers and put small wooden and handpainted eggs (at least, most of them) hanging from the tree.
Tradition wants that at home, one would put the branches in water, so that they would bloom for creating the "green" that there is not all year round.
My main problem is that I have to hide the Påskris, because the cats wants to play with it and that would be a broken vase and a big mess everywhere...

Our kitchen table, tablecloth, eggs, chick and flowers decorations bought on Tradera, hen from TGR, candles from Lagerhaus, vase and narcissus from Plantagen
I decided to put few items on our kitchen table to make it more colorful. Possibly, some stuff from the 70s (wild guess) are a bit a "fist in the eye" (as we would say in Italy), but I thought the general view was acceptable.
One of the nicest decorations are the narcissus flowers. In Swedish they are called Påskliljor (although there is also a variation for Pentecost, Pingstliljor, Pinkster Lily) since they bloom around Easter time. There are several variations, of course, and I bought few different tipes.

Narcissus Salome
Two little chicks hiding...
Hand embroidered table cloth from Tradera, pink egg from Åhlens, small egg and chick from Isabella,  candles from Lagerhaus, candle holder from Ystad Metall, "Lilja" from Mattias' mother
Differently than in Italy, in Sweden there are no enormous chocolate eggs with a surprise. The eggs that the kids have to track down are made of cardboard and are usually filled with candies or small chocolate. I must say though that, although the surprise is usually questionable, the Italian eggs are much more striking.

Hand embroidered table cloth, eggs and chicks basket from  Tradera/flea market, vase and narcissus are a present.
And for making all of this completed, at least for this year, there are few things missing, but they will appear tomorrow!

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

A ski vacation

This winter we did for the first time one thing that we have wished to do for many years!
We went on holiday with some friends. For us it was great, not only because we really enjoy their company (and I hope they could stand ours) but also because we went to the Alps - which I love - and had the opportunity to experience some "winter sports".
Unfortunately, time flew and the logistic of having three kids with us didn't allow us to do all the things that we wished for, but maybe there will be other occasions?

We went to where I have always gone, in the Great St. Bernard's Valley, in the most north-west corner of Italy.
Our intentions were to pay a visit to the ski resort, Crevacol that is nearby and we managed to do it.
I didn't ski, I mainly took care of Isabella, while Mattias and our friends did ski in different extents.

The first day we went tough to the nordic ski tracks, where there is a "snow park", which was mainly designed for the kids. Despite that, we had also quite some fun since it was possible to do some sledding and other similar activities.
The place was equipped with some soft sleddings shaped like animals, more serious sleddings and bobsleigh as well as some rubber dinghy that one could use over a quite fast track.
Going up the hill

And down again

View of the valley
Looking up from the snowpark

This though was our warm up activity.
The other two days we went instead to the downhill tracks.
The place is divided in such a way that there is a "baby track" quite low in the valley and then there are the more serious tracks up on the mountain. We, the mothers, and the kids were down in the "baby track", while the two husbands had the chance to run down the hill a couple of times.
The baby track
From an Alp-top

The restaurant in the ski resort

What a view!

The lift
They both stated that they enjoyed the tracks, although not too many and not too fancy: but there was not too much people, the sun was shining and still, the view was great, according to them and the pictures.

Of course, we can't go anywhere without enjoying some nice meals out and here we didn't manage to fulfill all our plans. On the saturday, I had thought we could have dinner in Aosta, however all the restaurants were opening too late (19:30) for our nordic kids and with that in mind we went to one of the restaurants I have often visited when there: La Croix Blanche, in Etroubles.
The place has the same rustique atmosphere as always, but despite this it doesn't feel outdated.
The menu presents typical dishes from the area and also some more classical italian dishes, and in general, everything is very tasty and the portions good. Unfortunately, there is a lack of vegetarian dishes (as in most of Italy) as well as fish dishes, which is partially justifiable by the fact that of course, meat is a main ingredient in the alpin food.
If the Crespelle alla Valdostana is my favourite primo, one must enjoy the mixed grilled on the stone that is the specialty of this restaurant. Meat and vegetables (and fruit) are grilled on a big stone in the middle of the restaurant, then, a small "plate" of stone with the ordered quantity is brought to the table. The stone is still hot so one can still "cook" his own meat.
It is a very simple way of cooking, but still very tasty and it is somehow surprising to know how nice a grilled apple taste ;-)
That evening, me and Mattias ate whatever was possible to ate (we were indeed very hungry) compensating our daughter which was instead overtired (and hence didn't eat anything). We hope that despite the long evening (thanks also to the fact that we ordered 700 dishes) our friends enjoyed the dinner (also despite the lack of a nice fish dish!).

We left for Gallarate/Sweden possibly too soon to experience everything: we didn't even manage to buy some speciality of the area. But hopefully, I will manage to bring to our friends all the things I have mentioned and blabbed about (e.g. some nice piece of toma or a bottle of genepy, a liquor made with juniper). And even better, I hope there will be some other occasion in the future to repeat some similar experience :)

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Hime-Chan no Ribbon Colourful, by Shiho Komiyuno

Hime-Chan No Ribbon Colourful vol.4Hime-Chan No Ribbon Colourful vol.4 by Shiho Komiyuno
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Making a remake of an incredible popular comic is surely a mission impossible. I really wonder where the idea for doing this, in this case, came from.
Not that this manga per se' is horrible, but making a comparison with the original is just natural.
Unfortunately, this remake lacks much of the charm that made Hime-Chan No Ribbon almost a masterpiece.
The story is set in "modern times" and the plot has slightly changed, but also the characters, although the main points are the same between the two stories.
The drawings are very modern and they are not too bad, but the characters result to be a bit too similar too each other. It is clear from how everything is placed in the pages that the story has a quite high tempo, thing that I didn't perceive in the original.
I must confess though that despite this I didn't mind reading the manga, but I didn't find it anyting special. If I try to disconnect from the comparison, I think the story is also quite entertaining, but I still think it lacks some verve that would make it at least a very pleasant one.
If you are much devoted to Hime-Chan no Ribbon it is possibly best to avoid reading this remake.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Hime-chan No Ribbon, by Megumi Mizusawa

Hime-Chan No Ribbon, 6 di 6: Un fiocco per sognare, un fiocco per cambiareHime-Chan No Ribbon, 6 di 6: Un fiocco per sognare, un fiocco per cambiare by Megumi Mizusawa
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had watched a bit of the anime when I was younger but I didn't know what to expect from the manga.
I thought it would be a quite trivial story, where we would see the same pattern for each episode, but I was very happy to have something completely different in front of me.
I simply loved the story and the characters and, although the starting point is nothing extraordinary (a young girl that doesn't like herself too much) the development of her and everything around her is depicted in an incredible way.
Everything in this manga is simply "kawai" and I like that Hime-chan and Erika are two protagonists full of imperfections and they will work on them.
Hime-chan is a great character. She knows her limits and grows with the story, maturing and changing. Despite this, she is always incredibly full of energy and she overcomes obstacles showing both how weak and how strong she is at the same time. When reading the manga, I just wish to be more like her (despite the fact that I am definitely not 12 anymore...).
She will also realize what does it mean having feelings for somebody and how to cultivate those properly.
A lot of side stories are also added to the beautiful edition that I have been having the opportunity to read and they are a great completive material to the main story.

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Zelda's manga

In the past months I managed to read all the manga published about the Legend of Zelda. This is my opinion about the ones I haven't yet reviewed here:
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - Part 2 (Zelda, #2)The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - Part 2 by Akira Himekawa
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have never played any Zelda related game so I didn't know what I was going to dig into, however, I enjoyed the story (even though there are clear "borrowed" references to the arthurian cycle) and could easily see how it could be the plot of some videogame. I enjoyed even more the drawings, actually: this story was definitely well done and pleasant to read.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (Zelda, #3)The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask by Akira Himekawa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Since it past some time from the last time I read the other volumes, I didn't remember every detail that was mentioned in this book. However, the plot was quite nice and interesting, but I would have been personally enjoyed that some aspects would be deepened (e.g. the role of the four giants).
Altogether a pleasant reading, but not impressive despite the quite ok drawings.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons (Zelda, #4)The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons by Akira Himekawa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Classical drawings and classical plot. Link leaves home searching for his destiny and of course, he finds it and he becomes an hero.
For reaching this, he meets several friends and several enemies, that he defeats.
Nothing so strange, nothing so revolutionary. The story is pleasant to read, however, the second part of the story, when he is almost reaching his target, is told too quickly. Characters appear and we don't know why they are here or what is their role and it is obvious that it is just a "manuscript" for a videogame.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages (Zelda, #5)The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages by Akira Himekawa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story is slightly better than the one of the Oracle of the Seasons, however, it is still a bit too "superficial" for my taste.
I think there are too many characters that are introduced too quickly and I think it'd be better for the story to have less ambitions.
Said this, I believe though that this specific story is the one that is the less "videogame" oriented of the ones I have been reading so far.

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords - Part 2 (Zelda, #7)The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords - Part 2 by Akira Himekawa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't get impressed by this two volume story, although some parts of the story were pleasant to read.
What I missed was a bit less stereotyped characters and more unexpected events.
Sometimes, there is too much triviality in these plots, considering especially that they are representing more and less always the same pattern.
And, by the way, what's up with characters like Tingle? They are completely meaningless!!!!

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (Zelda, #8)The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap by Akira Himekawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is of course a quite classical plot for what concerns the Legend of Zelda's comics, however, I found this story more of my taste. Maybe because finally it was not the version number 200 of the same plot, maybe because there was some element of unpredictability, maybe because there and then it was also quite funny.
But Link is the hero, something evil appears and make Zelda becomes a stone statue, what shall he do if not just trying to save her, somehow?
He will have to go around the realm in order to collect elements that will help him forge a weapon to defeat the monster.
And in all of this he will need to find the help of the Picori, some small creatures that "invisibly" help the humans.
I can clearly see the plot for a video game when reading this story, but I still enjoyed it and think it is the first volume that has entertained me of the 8 read before that.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (Zelda, #10)The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass by Akira Himekawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet another adventure of Link, yet another story based on some videogame (and that is quite obvious from how the plot develops, although I haven't played the games).
This as well as the Minish cap story are the ones that I think were more enjoyable among the different volumes related to the Legend of Zelda, probably because of some new elements and because of some characters not having a clear personality.
For example, captain Lineback is surprising us and developing through the story (which is a quite strange element in these mangas).
There are though some strange elements, although this is a quite pleasant story, like the connection between Tetra and Zelda, which are unclear and unexplained as well as the final resolution of the story, but I guess that these are details that can be remained "unnoticed" by the ones that are very fond of Link.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cape Verde

This winter has been incredibly long, too long, especially for us (or mainly for some of us) that had to stay closed in, looking at some carpenter fixing a bathroom.
We decided to reward ourselves with a trip, to a warm place, and since we didn't want to be too jetlagged or spend too much time on a plane, we ended up going to Capo Verde, which seemed to be a good compromised for all our parameters (including money).
On our way to Cape Verde
We went to Boa Vista in the end of January and we were happy to find a very lovely climate, warm during the day and fresh during the night.
The days were though a bit "short": already at five, when the sun was setting, it was getting a bit chilly. The wind was not a problem at all, despite reading on the reviews tons of complaint about it. But we are definitely used to Skåne and Sicily :-)

 The hotel (Club Hotel Riu Karamboa) seemed like an Arabic palace in the middle of the desert: it was huge and very beautiful. Despite the amount of people, the place was quite clean and never crowded (maybe the only crowded place was the bar next to te big pool). 
One Thousands and one Nights
Rising from the desert
Map of the hotel
An impressive palace
The big pool was great, also quite child friendly and despite the presence of a child pool, we enjoyed to spend most of our time there or on the beach.

 The beach (Praia de Chave and the sea were amazing, although the water was a bit chilly.
The beach at sunset
The sunset
Praia de Chave, an incredible beach
There were plenty of possibilities to be active, we played a bit of beach volley and football, among the several activities that were offered.
Beachvolley with young and capable guys.
All day long one could get food, but the thing is, for us that we are quite picky with it, not everything was great.
1) The main restaurant, Santiago, offered breakfast, lunch and dinner.
 Breakfast was huge, with a large variety of food to satisfy everyone's habits and taste. The fruit, bread and pastries were great. The warm food could have definitely been better and we were very disappointed by the lack of fresh juices. For example, the french toast was a bit soggy.
Lunch and dinner offered always a lot of choice and we always managed to taste a lot of different things, some very good, some a bit less impressive. One of the best things we ate was the Gazpacho, while the pasta and the pizza didn't give us a good memory (I think the pizza was frozen...) The desserts were also great! There was a lot to choose from and everything was delicious.
 The choice of cheese was a bit reduced to dutch products, instead.
Still, in all meals, a bit more food from Cape Verde would have been great.
The staff, especially at this restaurant, was great and very kind. The restaurant was also very clean.
Restaurant "Santiago"
2) Las Dunas, near the pool, offered snacks during the whole day (more and less), lunch and dinner as African restaurant.
 The snacks and the lunch were quite disappointing. The quality of the food was far from the one of restaurant Santiago and it seems it was mainly targetting "fat food" with the results that we tried to avoid to eat there.
The African thematic restaurant was a disappointment as well. Although the offer was wide and the quality was great, the main focus was on grilled meat. We didn't find anything "particular" that we could think it was African, it was very much like a big barbecue. Another disturbing thing of that particular restaurant was that we found (more than once) insects nearby the food and birds eating from the bread lying around.
3) Asiatico restaurant, a thematic restaurant which ambitiously tries to cover a lot of asiatic food  but fails miserably. I didn't even try the sushi because Mattias said it was no good, but everything was mild, not well cooked and far from any original asiatic kitchen. I don't think we could have been eating faster that evening! 4) Barlovento, the capverdian restaurant was just great instead. Of course, they were best in their own food! Fantastic grilled shrimps, amazing chicken and some other amazing dishes were offered there. We really recommend to focus on this restaurant rather than the other two!

All the thematic restaurants needed to be booked in advance and they were quite popular, so one had to do that early in the morning. Strange enough, we never saw any of them full when we were there (just putting pressure on customers!?)
Different bars were available in different points of the hotel, but the choice of analcoholic beverage/cocktail was limited and not very good. We didn't try any alcoholic things.

Our room was quite ok, we liked the style, but we were a bit annoyed by the fact that the bathroom didn't have a door to the room: having Isabella sleeping in the same room, and quite early, gave us some discomfort when we had to wash our hands (the toilet did have a door, thankfully).
We ended up having some problems with the cleaning of our room, since our princess was sleeping during the cleaning round and after that noone came and clean our room when we left it and said it was available. We got some cleaned towels when asking them at the reception, tough (of course, we asked them...) During the cleaning round (and during our sensitive creature's sleep) the noise was quite loud and it was not always easy to rest. I suppose it is hard to combine cleaning and people resting, but maybe if you see that the room next to the one that you are cleaning has a "do not disturb" sign you don't got and knock with violence? :)
A room (ours) with a view
The hotel from the beach
We went to visit Sal Rei as only excursion, we took a taxi and went there thinking of having lunch, but that never happened.
The town was very small and didn't offer anything special to see or visit, although it had a beautiful view over the ocean, with small boats placed everywhere. It seemed like a very poor town and for us, it was quite annoying, that the locals were trying to grab us in their businesses and making us buying stuff.
There were restaurants, but we didn't really see any that was opened or inviting. Maybe we didn't want to take risks since we had an hungry small girl, but we thought the place had definitely to improve from a touristic perspective.
 We also took a walk outside the hotel, but we basically reached the airport and nothing else was around. We were like in the middle of nowhere :-)
In general, one should go there and do excursions, visiting also the other islands or doing some quad excursion. It seems that the possibilities are wide and exciting. But that was not easy to do with a 2 years old child. Plus, everything seemed quite expensive.
A little bird 
The hotel had also some shops and services. Free internet access at the reception area for scandinavians (!), spa and hairdresser at reasonable price, shops of souvenirs.
 The reception stuff was always very kind and helpful but we got into some troubles the day we arrived: on the bus to the hotel, we were informed that we were supposed to "leave our bags out and check in directly", so we did that.
Unfortunately, our room was not yet ready, and the person we met at the reception told us to go and have lunch. When we were back, after one hour, he gave us some stickers but he never told us what they were for. We went directly to our room thinking our bags would be there soon. But that never happened and after we called the reception, and one bag finally arrived. After few hours of waiting we went there wondering what happened to the others, and they told us that we should have put the stickers on the bag. That we had no idea we were supposed to do! Eventually, our bags appeared (since I nagged ;D), but I thought it was a bit rude that we ended up being accused of doing wrong (how shall we know the right process especially if noone tells us?) and I would have expected a better apology for wasting our afternoon in this way.

 In general, our staying at the hotel ended up being what we expected. Very relaxing. With the fact that we were also following Isabella's rythm we didn't do too much, but if one wanted to be more active there was plenty to do.

 We chose this trip via Fritidsresor (the swedish version of Tui Travel) and we were very disappointed at their service.
 Ok, it is a charter flight and it can't be at a comfortable time (waking up at 3 in the night was not that funny at all), but why having a flight of 9 hours with a stop in Tenerife for fueling up? Please, plan the trip with a bigger plane, also because, especially with a child on your lap, 9 hours in a compact plane is far from being funny. And not only for us!
 Let's not talk of the kindness of the flight attendants! Only one of the 4 groups of hostesses showed some sign of understanding. The rest were rude and sharp!
Typical Fritidsresor kid entertainment with Bamse and a Swedish queue system
The girls at the bus to/from the airport and at the hotel were quite unexperienced.
The one on the bus gave us wrong information (see above), while one at the hotel was very confused by our requests on how to plan our daughter lunch before the flight back home. She gave us wrong information about what was available at the airport and suggested us to buy some snack from a vending machine. Brilliant, I'd say :)

1) Food on the plane. Your own food is not authorized to be on the plane, but food for kids smaller than 2 years old is not served. The food costed about 150kr per person and it consisted of a warm meal (classical plane food) and a sandwhich, which I thought was kinda ridiculous (it was just a small baguette with a slice of cheese).
 We had to plan for Isabella's food which was not easy since it was very hard to prepare a warm meal for her that would last 9 hours on a plane, including also milk, fruit, etc.etc....In reality, people had a lot of snacks and stuff. I wished at that point, for what we ate, that we wouldn't have paid that money.
2) Insurance. We avoided to pay since we read that our credit card (with which we did the payment) had insurance as well.
3) Child equipment: travel bed, stroller and high chair. We took of course the travel bed, also because it was for free, but we were in doubt for the stroller and the high chair. We ended up paying for the high chair, which was completely meaningless, since high chairs were available at any time and noone asked us if we had paid for them.
For the stroller instead, we luckily took ours with, since we read some reviews stating that the one that one would rent would have not been always very comfortable for the kid (e.g. no sun protection) and anyway, with the possibility to take your own stroller it was quite silly to get another one.

So, big no no from our side for Fritidsresor. They were not really helpful, nor service minded and it seemed that everything was rotating about them making money out of anything...

We will though remember this trip since, despite all the small imperfections, we had a good time and we achieved our goal (not do anything) and Isabella was waving and kissing everyone, almost like a showgirl. I was almost tempted to ask for money for every kiss she was sending...
 And still today, we can say "Olaaaaa, Isabellina, Olaaa" as Maria and Andreia, two of her favorite waitress at the restaurants were telling her, making her smile :) post signature
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