The Good, The Bad and The Stressful

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone? Well, I’ve written this blog about 5 times now. I start and then I don’t quite finish, and then more stuff happens and then I have to re-write it all! I’ll start with the good stuff.

I’ve moved in to my new temporary home fully now (I say fully, my bits and pieces still litter the globe in various places…One day I shall consolidate them!).

This is my new view…

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Ignore the telephone wire. I did take a lovely one from the valley but it’s disappeared (the photo, not the valley!)

It’s gone well and for the first time in a long time, I feel settled. I’ve actually joined the local gym and swimming pool. It even has a spa!

It’s such a lovely time of the year here – the flowers are all out in the mountains (I have another blog to write up following a trip up Monte Sibilla a couple of weeks ago) and the fields are all golden with hay that waves with the wind.

Batfink settled in really well. He’s never been in a house so big. The first day I let him out he kept circling the house, meowing through each window and door as if to say “and this… this is STILL our house?”. I also acquired the couple of kittens that I was looking after back in Ripatransone for a while after my friend went on holiday. I even bought a little house for them outside (they’d run havoc if let them loose inside I fear!). Batfink and the kittens greeted each other like long lost friends which was sweet and they really helped Batfink settle in too.

When I came back to Italy I was able to tag onto the end of a life drawing course in Porto San Giorgio, a coastal town not too far from me. It was a joint course with Italian college students and me and a few other English ex-pats. We even made the local news paper!

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This is Porto San Giorgio…

And the wildlife is exciting here! A couple of Redstarts had nested in the woodpile and were very upset about the snake that had slithered into it. The next day they stopped taking food in and I discovered their empty nest the following day. I feel bad for Mr & Mrs Redstart – even I had empty nest syndrome. I’d gotten used to them knocking on the windows (who knows why? Trying to catch bugs on the inside?) But they’ve gone now. Anyway, poor Snakey has to eat too I guess. He’s not a dangerous snake (for humans at least!) but I might be on my guard a bit more next time I get wood!

Snakey

Spot Snakey!

Fireflies

And there’s been fireflies…

My brother, sister -in-law and little nephew came out to visit for a few days too which was lovely. It’s always a good opportunity to see some new places and check out some festas. One of the highlights was Servigliano and their Corpus Domini ‘infioratura’ (‘in flower’) festival. I was really impressed by the amount of work and effort that goes into a number of similar festas around Le Marche. Intricate designs and patterns are laid out with the most vibrant petals and in Servigliano they’d laid out a carpet of flowers extending about 1km only to have everyone from the morning mass walk over them. I can’t get over how badly they’re all publicised – there was nothing on the internet at all!

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Servigliano is a really interesting town – it’s unlike any other I’ve come across. It’s in the valley and is formed as a square (well, not quite, it’s 144 x 137 meters). The entire town centre was built within the space of 6 years starting in 1773 in response to the ever-increasing risk of landslide on the original hill-top town (which is apparently very close to where I’m now staying). It was actually called Castel Clementino before, named after the pope at the time (Clemente XIV), and only changed the name to Servigliano in 1863. They have a market every Monday morning. One of the things that’s quite quaint is the curtains hanging over most of their doors – I get the feeling that they want a bit of a breeze in their house but without losing their privacy! Anyway, here’s some more pics…

So all in all, I feel settled here in a way I haven’t felt settled since pre-earthquake. I’ve struck it lucky to have such a lovely house to stay in with such magnificent views and I’m gradually getting to know a few locals who seems lovely. There are lots of festas, events and walks on at the moment. I could be out every night if I wanted.

However, life has also thrown a few curveballs my way since I’ve been back.

Batfink has been horribly ill for weeks now with bladder stones/crystals and subsequent complications. He flips between acute kidney failure because he can’t wee or he’s incontinent with a catheter (who knew that cat catheters don’t come with bags). It turns out that cats die very, very quickly if they can’t go to the toilet. It goes from “hmm, he seems like he’s struggling a bit” to “oh my god, he’s dying” in a matter of hours. He had another relapse last week resulting in a 2am emergency vet visit after which he was kept in for a few days to see if they could get him functioning again. In the end we’ve had to resort to what is basically a sex change op which has altered his male parts into female parts which will widen his urethra and help him go to the loo. So it should be a totally fixable issue but alas, so far, so bad. He’s having a horrible time of it, as am I, and I’m not sure what to do. I’ve never seen such a sad looking cat; he doesn’t eat, he’s stopped drinking, he stumbles around aimlessly and then collapses facing a wall. Anyway, hopefully it’s just a matter of time before he gets back to his old self. I really hope so. I can hardly remember that, it feels such a long time ago 😦

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My very ill Batfink after his first ‘procedure’. Poor poor Puss.

Meanwhile, one of the kittens died which has been just awful. I found him on my driveway this morning – I’m afraid I ran over him but I can’t believe I’d have done that and not noticed – particularly given I check they’re ok before bed. I was preoccupied with Batfink so perhaps I didn’t but it just seems so unlikely. Potentially something else might have got him and this afternoon there were a couple of massive dogs chasing the remaining kitten, ‘Carrot’ (renamed from ‘Doomed’ – the other was renamed Pumpkin from his original ‘Fated’ rather ironically) today.  So I don’t know. Poor Carrot doesn’t know quite what to do with himself now. He’s got pent up cuddles which he’s giving to me which are somewhat bittersweet.

In marginally less traumatic news, the downstairs toilet got blocked. I can’t even begin to describe the horror of that! Of course this all happened with my family staying – typical! Suffice to say, not only the toilet was a no-go area but also the floor, bidet and shower. The sewage cleaning guys had already been out to clear the cesspit a couple of weeks ago as the plumbing was being a bit slow. They came out again to resolve the block. They solemnly promised it wouldn’t block again. Two days later in was blocked again – luckily nowhere near to the same terrifying proportions. We managed to resolve it ourselves that time and again on a subsequent occasion but I am nervous about what the future holds! The owners have been so lovely to let me stay in their home whilst mine gets sorted (and I’m aware you’re probably reading this A&R!), I feel somewhat racked with guilt that these issues seem to have arisen just now! Still, I’ll keep my fingers (and legs?) crossed.

The car has needed a new injector. It took 4 visits to my old mechanic back in Sarnano to get that changed finally and I think all the faffing around during the visits (none of which was my fault!) has resulted in a somewhat inflated price. At least it fixed the problem or so I thought. The car was fine for a week or two but now has stopped being able to accelerate again leading to some stuck-in-the-middle-of-roundabouts-with-oncoming-traffic fun.

People often ask me what I do all day. Month’s back I started preparing a ‘day in the life of’ post – but I can safely say at the moment it’s just flitting between various crises’!

Anyway, that’s it for now. Hopefully my spell of the ‘malocchio‘ has finished for this year but one never knows!

x

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Discovering chillies at the San Salvador Hotel…

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone?

Well, I had a busy weekend up in Bellaria Igea Marina on the Emilia-Romagna coastline (on the calf of Italy’s boot) where the San Salvador Hotel had teamed up with Alba Peperoncino to introduce me and some wonderful fellow bloggers to the world of chillies.

Alba Peperoncino

Alba Peperoncino are a small agricultural company specialising in chilli plants, using dozens of different types to make oils, seeds, jams, condiments, dried peppers, chilli powder…and more recently and somewhat unrelated, hemp! (See here for the full product list). I was struck by their passion and knowledge of their industry. We went to visit their farm and greenhouses to see them in action.  You can see from their farm and talking to them that they’re a very ethical company; having a “bio” certificate to prove it, meaning their processes and products are all natural and organic. There’s an emphasis on sustainable, high quality produce and the majority of their products are suitable for vegans and are gluten-free.

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Chilli plants as far as the eye can see! The top right picture which you might think looks a bit suspicious is hemp. This is a new area for them and it’s become quite the top seller on Amazon. We actually tried the hemp in the form of tea one evening – it’s renowned for is relaxing properties. Despite being a bit bitter, I think it’s fair to say we all slept very well after!

If you’re in the area, I highly recommend going to visit them at their base and organise a tasting session. We tried many of their products over the course of the weekend and I have to say, all of them were absolutely delicious. I bought quite a bit: 3 jams (savoury and sweet with a mix of different peppers combined with figs, onions or strawberries), some diced chillies in oil and a massive jar of ginger and pepper jam. The chillies in oil go amazingly with cheese and pasta and the jams are great with bread or again, with cheese.

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My haul!

You can buy their products online through amazon.it.

A bit about Chilli Peppers

I have never before delved into the world of chillies. I was vaguely aware there were different sorts (long red ones, fat red ones, short red ones…) and varying heat levels (ow, ow-ow, ow-ow-ow) but I had never imagined there were thousands of them and the categorisation is a bit more advanced than the number of “ow’s”.

We had a talk from Claudio Dal Zovo from the Pepperfriends Association who’s literally written the book on chillies (or at least one of them!). The book is an 80 page delve into the world of chillies called Peperoncino: Dalla semina al consuma (loosely translated as “Chilli: from seed to plate”)! He was one of the first to discover some of the super-hot chillies. He gave an excellent introduction, focusing primarily on the chilli flowers which are as varied in terms of size, shape and colour as the chillies themselves.

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Claudio in action…

I learnt a lot this weekend! Here are ten things about chillies that you might not know:

  1. There are thousands of different types of chilli plant – the plants themselves can vary between 15cm and 7 meters and grow in all manner of climates.
  2. Chillies aren’t physically hot of course (unless you heat them!). They feel hot because they latch onto the pain receptors that are responsible for feeling heat. Odd that we would eat something that causes us pain isn’t it? But the brain’s reaction to this process is to send out endorphins, an internal pain-killer and a natural high. That’s presumably why we keep eating them!
  3. Chillies have an anti-bacterial quality, killing 75% of bacteria. In pre-refrigeration days adding chillies to your food was a way of keeping it relatively germ free.
  4. The general consensus is that chillies evolved their heat to protect them from getting eaten by animals. This seemed odd to me – surely it’s advantageous to have animals eat them and spread their seeds? Well only specific animals it turns out. Seeds ingested by mammals tend to be chewed up and damaged and thus not as fertile as a result. Seeds ingested by birds however are not damaged at all by their intestinal tracts. It’s emerged birds can’t detect capsaicin, the ‘hot’ chemical in chilli so the clever chilli plant, by protecting itself with capsaicin ensures mammals don’t ruin the seeds whilst maintaining a convenient seed flight-delivery system.
  5. They have the most beautiful flowers…

    chilliflower

    …Like this one from the Rocoto chilli plant taken by Claudio Dal Zovo

  6. It seems relatively easy to interbreed chilli plants – you can just have them next to each other and they seem to cross fertilize. I’m sure there must be something more to it than that but occasionally that’s how it works!
  7. A chilli’s heat can be measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) – that’s the degree of dilution required of the chilli extract before its heat becomes undetectable to a panel of tasters.  The higher the rating, the hotter the pepper. It’s not a precise science as people vary greatly in their perceptions of capsaicin.
  8. The “hottest” pepper is the Carolina Reaper from the US at 2,200,000 SHU. To put that into perspective, Tabasco sauce is about 5000 SHU. The Scotch Bonnet (which before this trip I thought was the hottest) is a measly 100,000 – 400,000 SHU! It made me wonder if eating enough hot chillies could kill you. It turns out it could, but you’d require so many of them that it would be nigh impossible. Our bodies have a way of rejecting things that are bad for them (here is an excellent example by some nutcases).
  9. There’s also a whole host of health benefits. Chillies are packed with vitamin c and other goodness. There’s a multitude of websites (this one is very complementary of the chilli) reporting how it can help with dieting, digestion, reduce the likelihood of heart-attacks, high blood pressure, strokes, cancer, migraines…  I’m not entirely sure all of these are backed up with scientific fact but certainly adding a bit of additional spice to your diet seems like it can only be a good thing.
  10. Having a passion for chilli peppers is an excellent hobby. You have an excuse to go all around the world in the search for rare chillies (trekking Bolivian forests in the search for rare or undiscovered chillies sounds like a very cool thing to do!). You can spend your free time growing them. You can experiment with lots of different recipes and preserves. You can hang out with other chilli aficionados at fairs and talk about them online in various forums. So all in all, it fulfills everything that a good hobby should! I’m going to start my budding chilli hobby career by buying a plant I think.

 

Cooking with Chilli Peppers

During the weekend we made all manner of things with chilli. We made biscuits with chilli, a cake with chilli and er, more chilli not to mention having various chilli sauces and spreads on piadinas and bread, chilli jams with cheese…  In summary, you can add it to basically anything. Why would you want to? Well despite the tasty kick, the health benefits I mentioned above seem to make it worthwhile.

The cooking extravaganza kicked off with biscuits. We made several different types with bloggers bringing their own favourite biscuit recipes to the table and adding a hint of chilli powder.

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All the biscuits were delicious and not overly “hot”. My favourite of the biscuits were these Spicy Ciambelline, courtesy of my friend Elisa…

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Ciambelline means donuts in English. The Italians have a very loose idea about what constitutes a donut. These are clearly not donuts at all – they’re knots! However, it’s an Italian recipe so I guess we should stick with the name!

Spicy Ciambelline

125g sugar + roughly 100g for coating the “ciambelline”
125g wine
100g sunflower oil
400g plain flour                                                                                                                                       8g of chilli powder (roughly half a teaspoon)
8g of baking powder (roughly half a teaspoon)

Mix it all together. To make the “ciambelline”, make little rolls, coat them with sugar and then make a knot with them. Put them on a baking tray, bake at 200°C for 15/20 minutes until they’re golden. Delicious!

Next up was a cooking demo with our fellow blogger, Bettina, who’s blog BettinaInCucina is a great success over here with tons of great recipes. She showed us how to make:

 

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Top: Pineapple and Artichoke Salad. Bottom left: Gazpacho soup. Bottom right: Houmous with peas and thyme. Of course all the recipes had a spicy twist and we used Alba Peperoncino’s chilli powder for all the recipes.

 

 

 

Naturopathy

We also had a talk from Naturopath, Francesca Rifici who spoke about how we can take care of our bodies naturally using some key principles of Chinese medicine. We just touched on the surface of this alternative medicine but essentially, we humans can be split up into 5 types (or we can consist of a couple of types): Wood, Earth, Fire, Metal and Water. Our characteristics respond to our type. We have different nutritional requirements depending on which type we are. This is further complicated by the time of year as each type corresponds to a season (with earth representing the beginning and end of each season). The theory is that illness comes from a disequilibrium within our systems and we need to make sure what we’re putting into our bodies is what it needs at the right time.

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I’m intrigued by the idea of naturopathy. I’m apparently a mix between wood and earth and I’d love to hear more about what that means in terms of what I should and shouldn’t be eating. The key aspects I took away from the session were that sugar is the root of all evil and I should occasionally try to fast. I’m factoring them into my diet as we speak!

The session finished with Francesca showing us a recipe for a cake using coconut sugar as a replacement to regular sugar. It’s inspired me to look at more nutritional and healthier alternative flours and sugar to use in my baking.

Hotel San Salavador & the blogging team!

We were hosted by San Salvador Hotel who I was fortunate enough to stay with last year on another blog tour. Read about it here. San Salvador is one of my favourite hotels and I’m not the only person to think that either – it’s got 5 stars on Tripadvisor with many rave reviews.  The hotel is run by the Poggi Family, specifically Federico and Stefano. Their father who started the hotel is still a familiar face in the building along with Sabrina on reception.

Apart from being made to feel so welcome, the hotel stands out for me because of their values – everything is carefully thought through in terms of the impact on the environment. They’ve got a whizzy little electric car, the produce for the breakfast, lunch and dinner is organic and picked from their own fields. The wheat is their own and ground in-house for use in bread making in the hotel. Though they provide meat dishes, they’re very vegetarian and vegan friendly, something close to my heart.

They are just a few meters from the beach and right next to a big park, which is great for children.

So all in all it was an excellent weekend shared with some great bloggers. Check out their blogs here to see what they’ve had to say about the weekend…

21Grammi: Alessandra who has a passion for all things Romagna focussing on art, culture, food and drink.

Forchetta & Valigia: Headed up by Tonia and Valeria both of whom have a love of food and travel. In particular thanks to Tonia who was our ringleader for this blog tour!

Bettina in Cucina: Bettina who shares her passion for food and travels on her blog.

Big Shade: Stefania who has a ton of great recipes on her website and enjoys discovering new recipes from around Italy too.

Finally a big thanks to Federico, Stefano and Sabrina at San Salvador Hotel; Roberta, Sara, Angelo and Marco at Alba Peperoncino; Claudio dal Zovo and Francesca Rifici for making my venture into the world of chilli’s not only interesting but great fun too 🙂

A presto…

Sue x

 

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Discovering Crete…

Buongiorno,

How is everyone? I’ve been to Crete! It was my first holiday to a non-Italian / non-English location for years. It turns out, as an ex-pat it’s quite easy to spend all your holidays going back to your country of origin rather than discovering other parts of the world, something I used to love doing. Deciding it was high time to change that, a friend and I decided we’d go abroad.

Now, I usually try to go somewhere off the beaten track; I’m not a package holiday sort of person. However, my holiday buddy doesn’t seem to appreciate my hour-by-hour holiday itineraries to ensure no potential area of interest is left un-turned and besides, it’s been a stressful few months so why not give ‘relaxing’ a go, I thought. Our criteria was thus: as relaxing, as sunny and as cheap as possible. After an hour or so of trawling websites, we found an all-inclusive deal to the Kalyves Beach Hotel in the north west of Crete. We arrived with me excited but still full of disdain for my own holiday choice and imagining Crete (completely unfairly and based upon no information at all) to be a tacky resort island with no charm at all. I imagined 7 days of lying by a pool, stuffing my face with food and drink until I had to be rolled back to the airport.

I was wrong! (Well, about the sitting by the pool bit at least – regarding the constant eating, well, my prediction was accurate and I’ve pretty much doubled in size). It wasn’t anywhere near as boring a holiday as I’d anticipated, far from it in fact! I’m now actually impressed with Crete as a holiday destination. It’s much bigger than I’d imagined – you need a car to get around it really (about 30 euro a day). There’s lots to see and we didn’t get to see half of the island. It’s got a lot of history with ruins and castles and forts. There are quaint little towns and some spectacular natural wonders to see too.

Kalyves Beach Hotel

The hotel was good – I’d recommend it. The staff were nice. It was clean, bright and well decorated with lots of sofa space inside and lots of sun-beds, tables and chairs outside. The bedrooms were simple and bright with a balcony. The beach is a stone’s throw away from the hotel. It’s a nice beach which you can walk along to a little harbour and have a drink in one of the bars on the beach and watch the sunset.

Crete with Ashley (32 of 68)Crete with Ashley (35 of 68)Crete with Ashley (33 of 68)Crete with Ashley (34 of 68)

The food at the hotel was really good. It had a buffet so you can pile your plates with all manner of things. The salads were many and varied and the hot food was good too.  As a vegetarian it was a bit of a challenge, not because there wasn’t any vegetarian food but because the food wasn’t labelled and meat was often snuck into seemingly safe looking food! There were always people around to ask though so it wasn’t a great hardship. The deserts were great. After having effectively a baklava intravenous drip for the whole week, I’m now having withdrawal symptoms.

Crete with Ashley (36 of 68)

This was the outside part of the restaurant – overlooking a river which fed into the sea a few meters further up.

The bad things were few and far between… I was a little disappointed by our ‘sea-view’ which we were charged quite a bit extra for but was more of a ‘other-side-of-the-hotel-and-pool-and-if-you-looked-carefully-to-the-right-you-might-see-a-bit-of-sea-view’.

The shower ended up being more of a wet-room which meant having constantly soggy feet whenever you went to the bathroom. The complementary body cream smelt like gone-off sewage. You had to pay 20 euros extra for the safe for a week. The bed sheet was just a little bit too small for the mattress and so had a habit of working itself off. I’m a wriggly sleeper and somehow one night I woke up under the undersheet and on top of the mattress itself. Ugh.

If you use the MTS transfer service – be prepared to not know when you’re being picked up to get to the airport until the last minute and be prepared to speak to a very annoyed woman whilst you’re trying to work it out!

Things to do

Samaria Gorge. This was my favourite bit of the holiday. Crete is quite mountainous. The closest mountain range to us were the “White Mountains” which were still snow-capped much to my amazement given it was about 28 degrees every day. In the midst of the White Mountains is the Samaria Gorge. These mountains are spectacular. The gorge is 18km long. To ‘do’ the gorge you really need to go on an organised excursion that takes you to the top of the mountain. We got picked up from the hotel in the middle of the night (well, 5.30am or so!), and then by about 8am we were dropped off at the start. You’re then left to your own devices to get to the other end of the gorge by late afternoon. It’s an easy route but possibly hard going for people that aren’t used to walking a lot. We just had our normal trainers but I’d have felt more comfortable with my walking boots – the path is quite slippy and rocky in places. Be prepared to ache the next couple of days!

I took a million snaps of the Gorge – these are a tiny selection, and still none of them do it justice…

People have passed their time in the gorge creating little rock piles and propping up boulders with small sticks!

And there were some unusual flowers and plants …

But in parts it felt quite dangerous with signs instructing people to ‘walk quickly’ in case of rock falls and there were a few ominous looking river crossings.

Tip: TAKE FOOD! Don’t listen to any crazy person in the excursion office telling you there are taverns. There are none, only at the very end of the walk. (And on that note – if you want to see the a waiter with the bluest eyes known to mankind – go to Taverna Rousios.) We also arrived back at the hotel a couple of hours later than advertised so missed dinner too.

Elafonisi Beach

Elafonisi beach is on the south west of the island. It’s a bit off the beaten track with nothing else much around it. The way to the beach is beautiful, through lots of twists and turns in the mountains and past quaint little towns and bars offering fresh orange juice. This beach has to rate as one of my favourite ever beaches (it only lost out on my top spot of Australia’s Byron Bay because the water was so icy cold!). The beach is wide and long with white and pink sand and cool rocks. The water is a beautiful turquoise and is absolutely crystal clear. Definitely worthy of a visit!

The Cave of the Wisdom of God in Katsomatado

If you’re going to Elafonisi beach, stop at this cave. It’s big, (100m wide, 100m deep) set reasonably high into the mountainside and it’s free to enter (though you have to walk through a taverna to get to the entrance so it requires a bit of courage if you’re not going to buy anything!). There’s lots of unusual stalactite and stalagmite formations and there’s legends going back to 1347AD. One describes how a couple of religious folk were voluntarily decapitated by their son (and nephew) who took their heads to the Venetian rulers at the time to get amnesty (who knows what for but it seems quite a high price to pay!). Their headless bodies were recently discovered in the cave. Back in the Neolithic period there’s evidence that humans used to live in the cave. All in all, very interesting.

Crete with Ashley (49 of 68)

Kournas Lake

This is a lake nestled between some low level mountains. We rented a pedalo (5 – 10 euros an hour depending on who you go to!) and went turtle spotting (they’re near the edges by the reeds). Apparently the turtles are completely native to the lake. On the shores there are tavernas and shops selling tourist paraphernalia. I must say, I was really impressed with the level of craftsmanship to their souvenirs – it wasn’t just the usual tourist ‘tat’. If Easyjet weren’t quite so harsh with their luggage requirements (honestly, Ryanair put them to shame – I never thought I’d utter those words!), I would have bought quite a few things.

Crete with Ashley (1 of 68)

I took this from the lake! I should have taken more pictures of the pedalo and the little town!

Chania

Chania is a town in the north east of the island. We didn’t get to explore the town much unfortunately, spending only a couple of hours there but it had a really nice vibe to it. There are lots of little backstreets to explore and lots of nice things to buy. Head to the lively harbour area where there are lots of bars to relax in and take in the scenery.

Rethymno

Reythymno is also in the north east but inland. It’s quite big and certainly the bit we saw lacked some of the charm of Chania, seeming less of a tourist area. It did have some quaint parts though and we had a look at one of the Greek orthodox churches which was interesting to look around.

However, its big selling point for us was the fortezza and that was definitely worth a visit (4 euro entry). It’s a Venetian fort built in the 16th century and which was captured by the Ottomans in 1649.  Crete has had quite a troubled past seemingly being taken over by people left, right and center.  The fort has a few buildings remaining inside – including a couple of chapels and a mosque, but my favourite part was just wondering around on the grounds. It offers great views of Rethymno and certainly at this time of year, the grounds are covered with wild flowers.

There were a couple of things about Crete that puzzled me. The first being that there is no consistency at all on how they spell any place. It adds a level of stress when trying to navigate as the place names on the maps don’t represent any of the names on road signs. Even the road signs themselves will spell places differently from one road sign to the next. Chania can be Hania, Xania or one or any of those with various accents placed over the letters and then of course there’s the Greek word. The graffiti artists of Crete have gone on a mission to cover over many of the road signs to make them illegible. They needn’t have bothered; bushes and tree’s cover most of them anyway. If you don’t have a sat-nav – be prepared to get stressed!

In towns, people seem to paint the bottoms of their trees white. We uncovered some theories as to why… Apparently some people do it in the belief that it acts as a pesticide (apparently it doesn’t actually work) and it also helps to reflect heat (I’m not entirely convinced about this theory. Whoever heard of a hot tree? And besides, they even paint the bottoms of telegraph poles, you can’t tell me they suffer from the heat!). I think the more likely explanation is that they think it looks nice. It doesn’t look bad, but it was certainly a talking point!

Crete with Ashley (9 of 68)

Anyway, all in all, Crete is a worthy holiday destination and has my seal of approval! Go forth with confidence… 🙂

A presto,

x

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Let the Games Begin…

Buongiorno,

Hello there! How have you been? I think this has been my longest blog holiday ever so apologies for that. I’ve been taking it easy the last couple of months and trying to recoup a little bit. It’s worked and I feel recharged and ready to restart ‘the dream’! 🙂

After the earthquake last year, I was fortunate enough to be offered a lovely apartment with space for my stuff and perfect for the cat (thank you H!).  However, that apartment becomes a B&B for the summer months and some other friends have now offered me the use of their beautiful holiday home for a while (thank you A&R!). It’ll be somewhere to settle for a bit and so with any luck, life can slowly recommence! It’s a whole new area to investigate (it’s near a couple of quaint little villages called Santa Vittoria and Servigliano) and it’s slightly closer to my home in Sarnano than where I have been staying so that’s good too.

The engineer has been working on plans for my house, both in terms of its current state to assess the damage and a future plan. I’m thrilled to say that it’s hopefully going to look similar to what I have now (there was talk of me losing the basement and terrace) so hopefully I’ll just have a new and improved but still quirky house. Once we have firm plans in place, we’ll submit them to the government. They’ll have 90 days to respond with their approval or otherwise. If they approve, technically we should receive a chunk of the money and be able to start work straight away. The work has to be completed within 2 years. These timescales seem too good to be true! It would mean I could be home within 3 years. Shall I start taking bets?!

So the new cunning plan is to just enjoy Italy for a bit, get to know the new area and continue on the quest to become a world famous and rich artist! I’m also hoping to finish a book I started a couple of years ago (and indeed wrote – it ‘just’ needs to be edited!).

I’ll keep this short and sweet as I’m writing this at the airport on my way back to Italy and want to post it whilst I still have wifi but stay tuned for a blog post on my recent holiday adventure to Crete!

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with some photos I took of the very beautiful Rocca Calascio that I trekked to with this lovely group just before I came back to the UK.

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Castle (13 of 14)May the Dream recommence!

x

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Ode to my old life…

Buongiorno,

How is everyone?

Well it’s been a while since I’ve given an earthquake update. For those new to the blog, my house was badly damaged by the series of earthquakes that hit Central Italy, the first of which struck in August 31st 2016 and killed 299 people.

From a practical point of view things are moving – but very slowly. Our little collective (that makes up the larger building of which my house is a part) has agreed on a Structural Engineer to complete the necessary forms and evaluate the damage. Depending upon that evaluation and Government legislation which we’re still awaiting, we’ll have an idea of how much money we’ll get for repairs/rebuild and our Engineer will devise a plan for the house accordingly. The upshot is that it will take years before I can move back to my home and who knows what form that will take – a patched up house or new one entirely.

From an emotional point of view, things are moving even more slowly. When things go wrong, I usually pick myself up, dust myself off and come up with a new plan. That’s not happened this time, something I’ve been immensely annoyed at myself for. A house is just a “thing” after all and I and my neighbours are all very lucky to be alive.  I know that of course.  I’m also very fortunate that I was offered somewhere to stay temporarily, an hour away from Sarnano. There’s room to put my things and it’s safe for the cat too.

I can easily list the reasons why I’m lucky and what I have to be grateful for which makes me feel even more guilty for not embracing this new lease of life I should now have!  I feel like I don’t have the right to feel sad at all. I only bought the house 3 and a half years ago. I haven’t lost a family home like my neighbours that had been passed down through generations and I was really fortunate to have had the opportunity to get some of my things out rather than losing everything like many others.

This feeling sad but guiltily so, has got me thinking that it’s probably quite a unique experience being an ex-pat earthquake victim. We may not have lost our family homes where we grew up but we’ve lost “the dream”. Moving to Italy was my plan for years before I finally achieved it. I didn’t buy a ‘house’, I bought an ‘experience’; knocking down walls, putting in the kitchen and bathroom, painting a massive blackboard in my kitchen and a mountain range on the wall in my bedroom. My house was not some lovely villa in the middle of nowhere; it was a cheap and oddly constructed somewhat ugly part of a larger ‘house’. But…it was the first place I’ve ever felt was ‘home’. It was like the house version of me – a bit peculiar and untidy but quirky with character.

I miss painting in my little studio upstairs. I miss trying to spot deer and wild boar on the hill that my terrace overlooked. I miss having a bath with a glass of wine and candles, watching a documentary from my laptop propped up on the Bidet/Laptop-and-Cosmetics-Shelf. I miss my neighbour yelling at me from the road to see if I wanted to go for a walk around the block, and I miss my other neighbour yelling… well, just yelling (the Italians are more boisterous and loud than we English are!).

Making myself a little ‘home from home’ was one thing but there’s so, so much else that’s part of the ex-pat experience. You have to build an entire new life for yourself when you move abroad. I threw myself into the community. I joined clubs and classes, I went to festas. Not a local hilltop town was left unvisited and I know Sarnano like the back of my hand. The Italians were so very welcoming to me and really made me feel part of the community. I was affectionately called ‘La Inglesina’ – The English Girl (admittedly not that imaginative as nicknames go but better than ‘Fatty’). When I went into town I recognised lots of people and I loved that. I loved chatting to the Nice Supermarket Checkout woman and trying to get the Unfriendly One to at least say hello. I miss that I can’t actually fulfill my long-standing promise to go swimming with Petrol Man. I miss asking the Stationary Dude for things that he never has in stock and having a laugh with him about it. I miss Fruit & Veg man wishing me a Happy Christmas regardless of the time of year. I miss beeping at my neighbours and saying hello as I go past them whilst they’re doing their gardening. Not only am I not there anymore but neither are they.

I feel lost without my house and my old life. When I moved to Sarnano, I did it with all the enthusiasm of building a new and exciting life for myself. I know I can do all that again of course somewhere new in a new house, but… I just don’t want to. There’s no alternative however and herein lies the problem! Having been plunged into this new situation, doing all this; moving into a new house and/or community, takes levels of enthusiasm that I just don’t have at the minute because well, I think losing your house is a grief of sorts. So, I’m going to let myself off the hook. I’m back in the UK for a bit. I’ll see friends and family and do some painting, travel around and try to replenish the enthusiasm reserves. So this update, though seeming to be a depressing one, isn’t at all – I think I’ve turned a corner and I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, albeit the tunnel is long and the light is a bit faint at the moment. I’ll meander towards it though and I’ll come up with a cunning plan along the way. So please bear with me and I’ll keep you updated as I go.

Meanwhile here’s a picture of the kittens back in Italy to offset the gloomy blog post…

 

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Fated and Doomed enjoying some tree time!

A presto,

x

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Naples Part 3 – Pompeii & Herculaneum

Buongiorno,

Here’s Part 3 of the Naples trilogy 🙂 Although this blog post isn’t about the city itself, rather the surrounding areas. Naples is a great base for seeing lots of things – you can climb Vesuvius and visit a number of archaeological sites. If I had more time, I’d have done all of that and then worked my way down the Amalfi coast but alas, that’ll have to keep for another occasion. So limited on time, I decided to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum. I did both of these in one day which is just about doable, but exhausting both physically and emotionally (I have a heightened sense of sympathy for those in natural disasters these days!)! As ever this is my personal opinion – there are obviously many more comprehensive guides to check out before you go.

Everybody has heard of Pompeii. Fewer have heard of Herculaneum though it’s arguably more preserved. Both were ‘frozen’ in time when Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. Those that have seen both tend to recommend Herculaneum if you had to chose one or the other. I’m undecided. I’ll tell you about both and you can make your mind up.

Firstly, I’d just like to say how much I like the Romans! Wandering around Pompeii, you really get the feeling that the Romans knew how to live. Admittedly slavery probably wasn’t their greatest idea but generally I think they had it nailed back then. The lives of the elite seemed to revolve around lounging about all day on their chaise lounges being fed all manner of foods before relaxing in their saunas and pool, marveling all the while at the intricate mosaics  and murals surrounding them – and then having orgies! Homosexuality was so acceptable they even depicted it in pictures on some of their walls. How did such a liberal hedonistic ‘anything-goes’ society end up so… well, catholic?!

These pictures were in the “suburban baths” in Pompeii.

I can’t get over how advanced they were.  Vesuvius erupted 1938 years ago which seems an awfully long time ago but really, their lives back then seem remarkably similar (I’m tempted to say, perhaps better!). They had aqueducts and sewers. They ate similar foods, they had similar jobs, they had bakeries with brick ovens that look like the ones the Italians still use today for pizza, they had surgeries, launderettes and they had fantastic artists, sculptors and builders. They had sports halls (well, amphitheatres – much more glamorous than anything we manage today), takeaway restaurants serving an array of heated food (people didn’t have their own kitchens generally, eating out everyday instead), theatres, and brothels. It’s not hard to identify with the people of those times at all. Apart from all the infrastructure, they left their mark in other ways like graffiti and even in terms of leaving grooves in the roads where their carts travelled.

Pompeii

Pompeii is absolutely vast and that’s only the parts that have been excavated! The parts that are still buried really give you an idea of how much work is involved digging up meters of hardened ash without damaging the ruins underneath. The archaeologists must have endless patience; including sieving the contents of their sewers to work out what they used to eat.

I love the design of the well-to-do houses. Most had a large central area, partly covered with a roof angling into a hole in the middle where rain water would drip into a central pool which must have seemed like you had your very own waterfall.

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Here’s an example…

I would definitely recommend going on a guided tour. Unfortunately, I didn’t!  I got an audio guide but in my opinion, it’s almost impossible to use. It required you looking at a giant map trying to figure out which place was which and then putting in the appropriate two-part code. Some codes didn’t work. Many other codes worked but the rooms were physically closed off for visitors. The map had road names but the actual site doesn’t so pinpointing where you are is difficult. All rooms are physically numbered on the site itself, but these numbers differ from the numbers you need to press on the audio guide to hear the recording. Very rarely did an area have an information board, and even rarer still did it have an actual audio guide number on it.  I was left with a lot of questions that I would like to have posed to someone (though there were some excellent staff in some of the ‘special’ rooms who were able to answer questions).

In the main larger areas there are a number of sculptures (of recent times I might add!) that given the surroundings are thought-provoking and poignant.

In some areas you can see plaster casts of the people that were buried by the ash. The ash hardened around them and the archaeologists were able to inject plaster into the cavities where the bodies had decomposed to create a cast. You can see their expressions when they died, even the creases in their clothes. There are lots of toddlers. Even dogs. It’s very sad.

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I felt a bit disrespectful taking these pictures  – I spent a few moments apologising for the intrusion first!

 

Herculaneum

Herculaneum is Pompeii’s less famous sister site.  I’ve heard a few people that say that Herculaneum is “better” than Pompeii. It’s not at all, they’re just a bit different. Both were destroyed by the 79 AD eruption  but whereas Pompeii was covered in ash, Herculaneum was covered in 16 meters of lava. This difference resulted in the preservation of wood, fabric, plants etc. and interestingly, the upper floors of houses which you don’t see in Pompeii.

 

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This is a good example of a takeaway restaurant! There used to be food in these vats and if I got the right idea from the recordings, they were kept hot by a fire below (somewhere by that pile of bricks perhaps?!)

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And that little cubicle on the right hand side was a toilet! They didn’t have indoor plumbing but they had a seat with a chamber pot they could take out to the sewers outside.

Instead of plaster casts of bodies, there are skeletons; over 300 of them all crammed together in awful poses in the boat warehouses where they were presumably trying to escape. These boat warehouses which back then would have been on the shoreline, are now 400 meters away from the shore as the expanse of lava extended it. The Herculaneans couldn’t have escaped anyway even if they had got out to sea – there was a subsequent tsunami.  I feel so sorry for them – it must have seemed like the world was coming to an end and I guess, it was for them.

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Poor people 😦

There are still parts of Herculaneum buried under the town that towers above it but it is much smaller than Pompeii. It’s a much more compact and manageable site to view in a couple of hours. However, with Pompeii, you get a feeling of grandeur than you don’t get in Herculaneum (there are fewer columns and no massive forums and amphitheatres) so I think it would be a shame to miss out on that too. There are tickets that include both sites and another 3 archaeological sites in the area. If you’re there for longer than I was it would be quite nice to see all of them.

Something I would love to have done would have been to visit the underwater roman ruins in the Phlegraean Fields but I didn’t have the time or the diving qualification! If you’ve been, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below.

To get to both Pompeii and Herculaneum from Naples, the quickest and probably cheapest way is to take the Circumvesuviana train from the station at Piazza Garibaldi and go to the Pompeii Scavi Villa Misteri station for Pompeii and the Ercolano Scavi for Herculaneum.

After a day of viewing the destruction caused by Vesuvius, I must say, I really worry about Naples and its neighbouring towns and villages. Vesuvius isn’t the only volcano to worry about, there’s also the Phlegraean Fields ‘super-volcano’  which lies to the west of Naples. Hopefully though, Italy has had its fill of natural-disasters for now but still, I think it’s worth visiting this lovely part of the country sooner rather than later just in case, eh?!

If you’ve got any questions on Naples and the surrounding areas, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them 🙂

Happy visiting!

 

x

 

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Naples Part 2: Top 10 Things to Do

Buongiorno!

There are so many other things in Naples that I would love to have seen had I had more time. I definitely want to go back. There’s a whole world below the streets of Naples that I would have liked to explore – catacombs and caves. I only touched the surface as it were! If you’ve been to Naples and got any thoughts on what to see next, please do drop me a line in the comments below. Meanwhile, my top 10 favourite things to do are:

1. Sunset walk from Castel dell’Ovo (Castle of the Egg! More on that below) to Mergellina  (a coastal suburb) along the sea-front. Naples has a very Mediterranean coastline with beige, orangey and pinky buildings that, from a distance, seem to grow out of the sea. From Mergellina you can see lots of Naples, Castel dell’Ova and Vesuvius all bathed in a warm glow. There are lots of cats roaming about the marina here – presumably the fisherman let them have a few fish when they come in. Someone had even built them a little house on the rocks.

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Look at this cat box in Mergellina 🙂

2. Check-out Castel dell’Ovo. Legend has it the great Roman poet Virgil put an egg into the foundations – if it breaks, disaster will strike. Now the castle is used as offices and exhibition halls but it still has it’s old charm.  It’s free and interesting to wander around. It’s set on a little islet, connected to the seafront by a bridge. At the base of the castle there’s a collection of nice looking  restaurants facing onto the harbour. There are some nice views when you get to the top. This month there is a contemporary art exhibition by Lello Bavenni – it wasn’t ‘my cup of tea’ but it’s free and it’s set in a cave which is always good!

3. Get lost in the area called Santa Lucia to the left of Via Toledo (one of the main shopping streets in Naples). It’s maze of streets are interesting to walk around during the day and you get the feeling this is the ‘real’ Naples. In the evening it’s positively bustling and full of places to have an aperitivo. If you keep walking up as high as you can go, you get to a nice panorama of the city alongside an old abandoned military barracks.

4. Explore the old town around ‘Spaccanapoli‘ (‘Divides Naples’) which is where the majority of shops are. Many are dedicated to selling tourist stuff like ‘portafortuna’ (good luck charms), primarily of the red “corna” or horn variety. If it’s not a shop selling those, then it’s selling models for “presepe” (nativity scenes) the making of which is a big tradition in Naples. They sometimes apply mechanics to the models so they move. I took pictures of my favourites less religious models (below): a dentist leaning repetitively into the mouth of this poor bloodied man and even George Michael and Prince (and someone else familiar I can’t put my finger on!).  There are lots of food and drink places here too and a heavy smattering of churches.

5. Watch people try and walk through the two horses in Piazza Plebiscito blind folded. Apparently it’s a tradition (to do it, rather than watch it).

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My favourite thing about Piazza Plebiscito are the sculptures of past Kings on the Royal Palace which borders the piazza, particularly this one…

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I imagine he was captured mid-conversation after someone asked him why he had a chicken on his head. “Who? Moi?”

5. Check out Galleria Umberto, near Piazza Plebiscito. It’s absolutely stunning with its glass ceilings. It’s a shopping mall so free to get in.

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6. Walk up to Certosa di San Martino. It’s a very elegant building on top of the hill. You can get a funicular train for only 1 euro but it was shut when I tried. Alternatively, you can walk up there from the main road using the ‘Pedantina’ (this word means basically ‘nice pretty little walkway’ but in my opinion it was a ‘Pedantaccio’ (‘horrible walkway’) which seemed to go on forever and was covered in broken glass which I can only assume is the result of the youth  launching bottles from the top piazza to the path below. The Certosa is 11 euros including an audio guide. Unless you’re an absolute art aficionado, the audio guide probably doesn’t add a lot. There’s impressive murals and veneered artwork and other interesting permanent exhibitions like the presepe (nativity scenes which Naples is known for), carts and boats which are all interesting to see. However, for me the views from the terraces and garden were well worth the price of the ticket.

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And just look at this ‘presepe’ complete with flying angels!!!

My favourite picture in the Certosa was:

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I think the artist has perfectly captured the  ‘exhausted mother expression’ showing us no parent is exempt: “No I don’t want to play ball, perhaps if you let me have a wink of sleep this last week I wouldn’t be quite so exhausted”.

7. Visit the Santa Chiara monastery. It’s 6 euros to get in. There’s a museum element to the building but it’s worth paying just to have a few minutes relaxing amidst the orange trees and sit in the shade of the cloister. The decor is vibrant in the square to say the least, a little bit like a tacky seaside resort but it actually rather works I think!

8. Marvel at photo’s of the renown Veiled Christ marble sculpture on your laptop comfortably in your hotel room. Alternatively, spend 7 euros at Cappella di Sansevero queuing to see it, have your view blocked by tourists (pesky tourists) and then leave 5 minutes later (because there’s nothing much else to do there) without even being allowed to even take a photo.  The statue is very impressive indeed, a real work of genius by Giuseppe Sanmartino in 1753, but in my opinion you can view it in more detail and get the same, indeed more of, a sense of awe from photos when you’re not surrounded by loads of other people. On the other hand, thousands of people on TripAdvisor have judged it the top thing to do out of hundreds of things to do in Naples so what do I know!

9. Have a sit down and relax in the Gesu’ Nuovo church. It’s pretty ugly on the outside but lovely, spacious and cool on the inside! There’s lots of other churches to see too and it’s worth popping into them to have a look when you go past one.

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10. Whilst you’re in Naples, it’s important to try some traditional Napoletano delicacies!

  • Margherita Pizza. I had mine at Acquolina on the coast at Castel dell’Ovo. Neapolitan pizza is doughy and soft; thin in the middle and bready and thick at the edges. Ask for Mozzarella di Buffalo which is the more superior mozzarella – you can really taste the difference. I’ve always preferred thin and crispy pizza’s but I could be converted by the one I had here. Great service too. I got two complimentary glasses of prosecco and a limoncello!
  • Espresso Naples style. Have this at the Gran Caffe’ Gambrinus on the corner of Piazza Plebiscito. The woman at the till was horridly grumpy (you have to pay at the till first and then take your receipt to the bar to get your drink) but the barmen more than made up for it. You have to ask for a “caffe” and try not to feel short-changed that you’re getting about 3 millimeters of coffee in a cup that will burn the skin off your lips. Apart from being scalding, it really was a good espresso – not bitter at all. AND it came with a refreshing glass of fizzy water (which I assumed was to take the taste away of the coffee but it seems to be used as a palate cleanser before it).
  • Sfogliatelle. These are traditional flakey pastry delights with a creamy centre. Mmmm.
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Not the best photo of a traditional margherita pizza but I was trying to be quick before I was seen!

On a slightly separate but related note; watch out for the waiters weaving in and out of traffic wielding cups of coffee. Good coffee seems such an important thing here people order it in rather than just making a cup in their office kitchen!

If you’ve seen Naples or have anything to add please do leave a comment…

Tune in for Part 3: Pompeii & Herculaneum.

x

 

 

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Naples Part 1: Seeing Naples and Dying

Buongiorno!

I’ve been to Naples! I had 3 days or so there this week and I can confirm, the city has my seal of approval 🙂  Its chaotic, vibrant, dirty, spectacular and fun all at the same time.  What it lacks in cleanliness it makes up for in atmosphere. It has hills, coast, amazing architecture and great food. I’ve written up my little trip in three parts. This, Part 1, is a general summary. Part 2 covers things to do in the city if you visit yourself. In Part 3 I’ll tell you about my visit to Pompeii and Herculaneum.

There is a really nice vibe about Naples. It has the most depressing apartment blocks I’ve ever seen (so ugly and unkempt they’re picturesque), just seconds away from swish hotels with doormen outside. Almost all of the apartment blocks look worse for wear sporting a ‘never been painted’ look with clumps of building missing. Rubbish litters the confetti sprinkled streets (confetti is used here for lots of celebrations, not just weddings so it’s literally everywhere!).

 

That said the Neapolitans, making the best of a bad job, do what they can to make their space as nice as they can by putting the occasional plant out on the balconies. And despite graffiti stretching up to head-height, it’s generally soppy rather than offensive; “I only want you”, “You are in my dreams” etc. (also “don’t park here on pain of death” but let’s gloss over that one!). There’s even a Banksy!

The city very clearly has a past and its character is etched into the fabric of every building. Washing is hung up and sprawled across cobbled streets (I can’t help but think that it’ll end up dirtier than when it started).

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The bottom part of each palazzo often seems to have been turned into a shop of some sort, particularly around ‘Spaccanapoli’ – a road running through the centre of Naples’ old town. Neapolitans are a very holy lot; there are churches everywhere and where there isn’t a church there’s a shrine embedded into the wall.

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One of the many, many shrines.

I can see why there’s such a need to feel like there’s some higher being looking down on you. Aside from the constant threat of volcanoes, to get anywhere by foot, one must step into speeding traffic and blindly hope you won’t be run over. I don’t think this is what is meant by the “see Naples and die” phrase though! However, you can manage to get around to see the main sites on foot. I wouldn’t recommend driving (car or vespa – it’s manic and once you park, someone will block you in) but other options are the metro which only costs a euro, trams and buses. Sightseeing buses are 22 euros but they can’t access many of the the narrow streets that make up much of Naples.

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I couldn’t get the hang of crossing the road at all. I often waited at the side of the road and then sidled across with someone that looked like they knew what they were doing. If I could have held their hands, I’d have felt better still. This photo is not representative of the sheer amount of traffic but I quite liked it anyway for some reason!

 

So yes, it’s certainly chaotic but charmingly so.  I found the people to be generally quite friendly.  There were people that seemed quite obviously fed up with tourists but nobody was rude, just direct. Even the grumpy ones seemed to warm up – one guy let me off paying extra to “eat in” because I was nice (he said this without once breaking out of his grimace). A guy at the train station gave me a cheap ticket because I only had a credit card and they didn’t take them (can you imagine someone in the UK doing that?!) A waiter at a fish restaurant gave me a note to give to the manager of the pizzeria up the road to give me a good service, despite me having complained to him for implying vegetarians eat fish (THEY DON’T! You can’t arbitrarily decide what animal is OK to eat. That just makes you a fussy meat-eater).

There’s none of this anonymity like you get in other cities where eye-contact is something that is avoided like the plague. People yell across at balconies to their mates, old ladies walk arm in arm, men fist-bump each other on their scooters, they beep at their friends and even the school kids seem to greet each other by hugging and kissing.

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You’re not held to dress-code rules here either – you can chose what you wear based on temperature rather than the month like you are in other parts of Italy.

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They’re so unlike ‘normal’ Italians – some guys actually stripped off and jumped into the water. I mean, it was a nice day but it’s February and the water is surely a little chilly?! An Italian in Le Marche wouldn’t be able to compute that at all assuming they were committing suicide!

Eavesdropping is difficult. Neapolitans speak in an accent and dialect so strong and odd that it could be a foreign language. They do speak “Italian” though too when needs must and lots speak English.

As with many cities, there are a lot of beggars and homeless folk (mostly all with fancier smart phones than I have curiously). Naples also has a terrible reputation for thieves. I almost didn’t bring my camera just in case it got stolen.  However, I think it’s pretty much like London. You just need to be careful – don’t leave your stuff unattended, maybe use a backpack rather than a handbag…  I didn’t feel too unsafe anywhere. I’m not sure whether it’s comforting or the opposite but there seem to be police riot vans and army vehicles around every corner.

If you’re a man coming to Naples and you want to fit in, you must leer at women as they walk past and tell them they’re beautiful. If you’re a woman, you must ignore them. How the men escape these daily interactions with their self-esteem intact, I’ll never know.

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This is a terrible photo (but one that makes me laugh) of a handsome chappy that has absolutely nailed his “leer”. He can be found in the Certosa di San Martino.

 

Staying in Naples

I stayed in a nice hotel called Hotel Rex. It’s on the seafront and therefore marginally out of the hustle and bustle of the main town, particularly at this time of year. However, after 5 minutes walking, you’re in Piazza Plebiscito which is a very grand open space surrounded by majestic buildings and then after a further few minutes walk and you’re in the ‘old town’. I really enjoyed escaping the chaos and coming back to the hotel at the end of the day. The staff were all very friendly and the breakfast offered a good range of food.

I think that about sums up Part 1 of the trilogy! Tune in for Part 2 to see what sights Naples has to offer…

I hope you’re all having a great weekend!

x

 

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Snow shoes, navigating the Italian health system and kitties

Buongiorno!

How is everyone? Well what a few weeks!

2017 hasn’t got off to the glowing start I had hoped! We have had unbelievable amounts of snow blocking people in their houses for up to two weeks, often without electricity. If that wasn’t bad enough, there were four strong quakes and where can you go when the roads are all closed and your car is buried under a couple of meters of snow?! And then the heartbreaking avalanche that buried Hotel Rigopiano killing 29 people, and a helicopter that was attempting to rescue a mountain climber crashed killing everyone on board. Central Italy just can’t get a break at the moment.

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My neighbour took his photo of our poor abandoned house in Sarnano when she eventually managed to get through the snow to reach it!

Thankfully the snow on the particular ridge and valley where I am temporarily living was only a foot deep and the snowplow came and dug us out that night even up the drive – but the ridges and valleys on either side of us had over a meter of snow and lots of power issues. The damage from the earthquakes this time seems to be minimal (surprising given the additional stress on the houses that the snow added) but the damage from the snow itself has been quite widespread mainly in terms of damaging barns and there doesn’t seem to be a tree in Le Marche that has been left unscathed!

Meanwhile, I’ve been suffering with awful headaches every night (any of my readers suffer from cluster headaches?) so it’s been an interesting week testing out the Italian health system.

Unfortunately if you don’t have a ‘proper’ job and you’re not registered as unemployed, you have to pay about 380 euros for a “tessera sanitaria” (a health card) to be able to access Italy’s national health service. Although if it’s an emergency they’ll see you anyway. You pay for a calendar year, running from January to December, regardless if you’ve paid the full amount in November the previous year. I had a very exasperating visit to ASUR (Azienda Sanitaria Unica Regionale), the administration side the health service to try and get my card renewed. Frustratingly the office workers didn’t seem to know they were responsible for providing this service. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I can confirm if you burst into tears of frustration, stuff gets done! When it seemed I would leave with nothing, I left with a health card, free drugs and an appointment with the neurologist 5 days later.

On a slightly related note, purchasing medicine in Italy is odd: prescription-only drugs in the UK can be purchased over the counter in Italy (albeit at an eye-watering price, unless they’re antibiotics in which case they’re really cheap and freely available!), and basic painkillers which cost a pittance in the UK cost a lot here. If the UK and Italy teamed up, I think we’d have quite a good health service and drug provision.

Meanwhile, it hasn’t all been bad. I went  for an organised ‘Ciaspolata’ (snow shoe walk) with a group called Con in faccia un po’ di Sole at the weekend in Bolognola (in the Sibillini’s). It was an absolutely stunning day for the walk and though I’ve walked in those mountains quite a bit now, it’s totally different when everything is so snowy! The guide was excellent too and was able to identify which animals had made the various tracks in the snow.

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This photo taken by our guides was our Ciaspolata group – a colourful lot!

In other good news, I have two kittens staying with me at the moment! Batfink has been distinctly unimpressed but yesterday marked a breakthrough – I came in to find them all in a tangled cuddly heap. Those who have followed this blog know that I don’t have much luck with kittens and cats – they pretty much all get run over, poisoned or die of flu. So in order to keep my expectations in check, I’ve dubbed the kittens Doomed and Fated. In fact, to illustrate my point, they did have a sweet little sister. I’ve retrospectively called her Mauled. You’ll never guess what happened to her 😦

This year, I decided I was going to try and become a ‘professional’ artist. I thought the easiest and most pleasant way to do this would be to get portrait commissions as I really like painting them. I have about 4 commissions and each one is driving me insane! I think a less stressful strategy  is to just paint stuff, and then if people like it they can buy it. So that shall be the plan going forward! Still, I bought some mounts in nice cellophane wrapping – it’s amazing how that kind of things gives everything a much more professional feel. Check out the latest pics here.

I think that’s about it from me. I hope you’re all having a good week.

A presto,

x

 

 

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Happy New Year!

Buonasera a tutti!

Happy New Year! How is everyone?! Well it’s been AGES since I’ve written. There’s not been a lot to update on to be honest!

At the end of November I went back to the UK to sort out a few bits and pieces and only came back to Italy a week ago.

I must say, I was thrilled to wave goodbye to 2016 which saw a pretty relentless stream of, let’s say ‘challenges’.  My usual ‘end of year summary’ (you can take the girl out of project management but not the project manager out of the girl!) wasn’t as life affirming as it usually is. The comparison of ‘What went well’ (e.g. June was quite sunny) against, ‘What could have gone better’ (e.g. earthquakes, deaths, illnesses, taxes, ‘Brexits’ and things broken & stolen) wasn’t too favourable if I’m being totally honest. So I would just like to take this opportunity to welcome 2017 and may it be less depressing than last year!

It’s been lovely to be back in Italy. My new temporary home in Ripatransone looked very pretty this week with a dusting of snow.

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One of the vineyards near the house

I had some (good?) news about my home in Sarnano. Although we’re still awaiting a second lot of engineers to come and assess the damage following the earthquakes it appears it is not likely to be knocked down and rebuilt but fixed up instead. Whether that’s ultimately good or not from a strategic or logical point of view, I don’t know. I suspect a shiny new anti-seismic block of concrete would have been the more sensible option if there was a choice in the matter. However, from an emotional perspective I miss my little pile of rubble with its odd quirks. Either way, I imagine it’ll be years until I can move back there so I’ve started looking at alternative options so watch this space!

I popped up to Jesi to see some friends at the weekend. We went to see a great exhibition in Palazzo Bisaccioni which was an ex-bank building. It’s well worth a visit – it’s free to get in. At the moment there’s an exhibition called “IL SOGNO LIQUIDO” by Andrea Crostelli which runs until the 29 January 2017. Crostelli works in oils and has a very diverse range of art but this exhibition had a very dream like feel to it – in fact, in English the exhibition is called “The Liquid Dream”. It was great talking to the artist too; he’s a really nice guy and very encouraging when I said how I’d love to have my own exhibition one day.

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Thanks to ‘Il Polemico’ for photo provision! Mine didn’t save!

On another floor there’s an exhibition dedicated to art from the 1500’s to the 1700’s – it’s nice to wander around and marvel at how bulgy eyed and horrible everyone looked (see my theory about this here).  On the ground floor there’s another exhibition dedicated to art from the first part of the 1900’s and a small exhibition dedicated to the lira. I’m glad they don’t have the lira here these days; I don’t think I could work with such high numbers! On the ground floor there’s still the safe for the bank which was fascinating to see. You’re free to wander around the building on your own but there are a couple of curators that are available to provide information and are really very knowledgeable.

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Italian’s always call each other “Tesoro” (Treasure) as an affectionate term. It made me double take seeing it above this vault!

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy doing some painting over the Christmas period. My objective for this year is to be able to call myself an artist without cringing  with embarrassment at having the audacity to declare myself so! For that, I think I need to sell artwork. With that in mind, I offered portraits for £15 (or 15 euro such is the current exchange rate – thanks a lot Brexit) on my Facebook account. I have had three commissions so far and let me tell you, painting a commission is an entirely different ball game! There’s a lot more pressure. Anyway, we’ll see how that develops. If you want to see the latest check out my other blog and/or follow me on Instagram (@apaintingocassionally).

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This is one of my paintings from last week’s local watercolour class. I wish I could take all the credit but it was a copy from my very talented teacher, Terry Banks!

On another note, my parents had my decent camera repaired as a Christmas present. It broke during the Walk of Doom last year. I like taking pictures for the blog and it’s been difficult to get enthused about my phone camera photos so I’m thrilled about my fixed camera. Here’s a “got my camera back” blackbird photo that I took in the back garden…

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Anyway, that’s about it from me. I hope you’re all well!

A presto,

x

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