Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Italian Summer, Part 3: Turning 2 and a Quick Trip to South Africa!

Our summer is nearing its end.  Paolo left 2 days ago with Enzo to drive back to Kyiv.  The children and I (and Pepperoni, of course!) will fly back on Friday.  I feel as if these are the last days that I can really breathe slowly and relax before the chaos of an international move begins.  Last week Gio and I traveled to South Africa so he could get a taste of his new school while I looked for our next house....
Gio and his Italian gang (Andrea & Matteo) have been busy building a house from our leftover driveway bricks.  Currently the house has a room for Pepperoni (complete with a sandpile for a bathroom), a snack area and a lot of graffiti thanks to some pilfering of Maria's chalk.

I do not claim to have any gardening skills, but I am quite happy with my window boxes this year!
One morning Gio woke a tad bit earlier than usual.  2 hours later I found him sound asleep on the trampoline.
Maria's love of fruit knows no end.  

And then all of a sudden someone turned 2!!
August 7th and proud to be 2 at last!
Okay, she was actually clueless about her birthday,
but seemed to like how excited everyone else was about it!
Trying to hold up two fingers.  Maybe next year....
Sort of....
Oh, forget it!

A fun evening at a wonderful agriturismo near our house. 

Such calm, well behaved children.
Well, maybe not.

Maria has no idea I am about to leave her with Paolo for a week.
 (I have never been away from her for more than a few hours!)
Enzo has endless patience. 
Last Sunday Gio and I flew through Frankfurt to Jo'burg.  
We were super excited to be on our very first A-380 plane (the double decker kind).  
It was very comfy and made the 10.5 hour flight that much easier. 
Gio even got to spend a bit of time in the cockpit. 
The morning we arrived we had an hour to clean ourselves up and then were immediately off to Gio's school orientation.  Love his new cafeteria (open air most days!).
Such a treat to be at a school with open spaces!

And two pools!  It is officially still "winter" here in SA, so the (heated) pool is closed but will be open soon for business.
Gio hopes to be the first to leap in!
"Winter" and flowers are blooming everywhere.
 I think I can handle living here after 5 Ukrainian winters!
The library.
Gio's classroom and his terrific teacher Mr. Nate. There are only 13 children in his class!
And the most exciting part about school?  A friend from Kyiv has also just arrived in Pretoria!
Nico and Gio get to reunite as 1st grade buddies!

A soccer pitch!

I got lots of updates from Paolo.  Maria was doing just fine without me!
Our first full day in Pretoria Gio and I began the house search.  We saw A LOT of places. 
and a LOT of pools.

This is the wonderful woman who helped me with the house search.  She is called a "relocation specialist" and it was a real treat to have her.  We were never offered this service in our other two international moves.   I have to say it made a real difference to have someone help me figure out how to do things like change money, get a SIM card (not always easy in SA) AND navigate the real estate search.
 The houses are big and after 5 years in a small 4th floor walk up apartment it was at times overwhelming.
Gio's priorities? He wants a house with a pool and a trampoline!  
This house was intriguing.  Over this fence is a small animal reserve with antelope, zebras and other creatures that regularly come right up to the fence.  A bit of a gimick for a gated community but Gio was certainly sold!
Things I liked about nearly all the houses we saw? Giant bathrooms with double sinks (a real marriage saver!)...
....lots and lots of storage....
And some rooms that are so huge I actually have no idea how we would fill them.
This house actually had 5 bedrooms this size or bigger!
After 20 houses in one day Gio definitely needed a break.  What an amazing find to discover red velvet cake right next to our hotel!  Gio was IMMEDIATELY sold on South Africa!
Despite quite a chilly temperature a dip in the hotel pool helped Gio recover from the long day of house searching.
Wednesday morning Gio began his first day at AISJ (American International School at Jo'burg- Pretoria Campus).  I attended an opening meeting and then Lisa picked me up for more house searching. This one was a definite no but I had fun seeing it. Not child friendly at all and much too full of fancy electronics that I am sure we would ruin.
But looking through the house was worth it for this find...check out this toilet.
Hilarious to me, the daughter of a retired toilet manufacturer!

And then, when I was getting quite discouraged, we stumbled upon this gem.  All of the houses we had seen so far were in gated communities.  The World Bank security team wants us to find a house in a gated community as the security is very high within them.  Crime is certainly a big issue in South Africa and with Paolo responsible for 7 countries he will be traveling a great deal leaving me alone with two small children and a not-so-great guard dog.  I am not feeling at all paranoid about living here but I do want to take the recommended precautions.  I would prefer, honestly, not to live in a house with bars on every window; I saw a few of those last week and they made me feel like I was in a prison.  So what did I love about this house?  First, it faces onto this large green space.  Further in the distance is a golf course- the entire estate is built around a golf course but surrounding it is this large free space with a path where residents can walk their dogs, play soccer, run, bike, etc.  Pretoria is a heavily developed place and so seeing this amount of green was a real surprise for me.  This fence divides the space and the house's garden giving us easy access.  The clubhouse is a 5 minute walk away along the path bringing extra security of being near the center of activity.
Gio loved this jungle gym.  The owners of the house raised their children here and it is evident that this is not an investment house (as were most that I saw last week) but a genuine family home. 
The pool, gazebo and yard. 
Best part? The upstairs playroom had an Asterix mural.  How perfect is that?  The cartoon Paolo grew up with as a child.
I left this house already madly in love but tried to tame down my emotions as we have never had good luck getting the house/apartment we want.  In India we lost a house at the very last moment that we loved and in Ukraine our budget was cut nearly in half a week before we went to find a place giving us very little choice.  
That day we picked up Gio from school and headed out of town a bit to meet with a pet importer.  He turned out to be a real gem and we feel confident we have found the right person to help is navigate the very complicated process of importing two pets to South Africa.  Unfortunately Enzo will likely have to be quarantined for up to two weeks but this man reassured us that things will be okay.  And his kennel was amazing.  Clearly South Africans LOVE their animals.  Check out his cat accommodations!  Each cat gets its own grassy area and two story house complete with a bed and couch!  Pepperoni will never want to leave.  The kennel also sells the brand of dog food we use for Enzo so we feel really lucky to have found him!
I have also discovered that South Africans are obsessed with grilling!  This huge place near our hotel sells only meat and other things to cook outside.  EVERY single house we toured last week featured at least one built in brai (outdoor grill).  Many had two- one wood burning and one gas one.
On Thursday the school bus picked Gio up right at our hotel (at the horribly early hour of 7AM!) and soon after Lisa picked me up for more house searching.  This time we looked in the non-gated areas (that is, free-standing houses), but I found nothing I liked.  I asked if we could go back to the Asterix house and Lisa arranged for us to go after we had picked up Gio at school.  Meanwhile we toured a school for Maria that was just what I was hoping to find.  Hard to imagine sending her off for a morning of preschool but I think she will love this one!
After the school pickup (Gio already loves his new school and especially his teacher Mr. Nate), I took him back to the Asterix house to see what he thought.  Here is the kitchen.  FABULOUS.  
This house even has a wine cellar!  Paolo might just live in it. 
A huge fireplace in the living room for the cold winter nights. (Most houses are not well heated)
A separate apartment that the owners used for their live-in nanny. Guest room potential! 
The side garden.
View of the back of the house from the green space.
Gio gave the house a thumbs up and so we decided to put in a bid. 
 We celebrated with a dinner out and a few rounds of UNO. 
Friday morning Gio was picked up again at the hotel and I got a chance to Skype with Maria and Paolo back home. 
Check out what passes for late winter temperatures in Pretoria.  Enzo will like the cool mornings at least! 
It only took Gio a few days to fully embrace South Africa's passion for rugby.  
If there was ever a boy whose body was built for rugby....
South African children are often out and about without shoes.  I know two Belli offspring who are going to fully embrace this habit!  Can you imagine if I allowed Gio to roam around MegaMarket like this!  ha ha.  
And then suddenly it was time to head back to Italy.  Our A-380 was eager to fly us home. 
Gio needed a day to recover from the journey....
....but he was quickly back to form and happily doing his homework for Mr. Nate (clad in a Springbok jersey, of course).
I probably only have a few more posts to write for this blog.  I will start a new one once we are officially in Africa.  Keep your fingers crossed that we end up getting the Asterix house.  If not, we will find another but I am still hoping......