Poor Poisoned Pusses, Ankle Biters and Events!

Buonasera a tutti!

How is everyone? It’s been a little on the stressful side here! I shall start with the most stressful and work my way in a random fashion to the least stressful…

The Terrible Incident of the Poisoned Cats

For a short time last week I was left in charge of the neighbour’s collection of animals. My neighbour has countless chickens, rabbits and about 9 cats.  The morning after she left, I found one of the cats, Batfink’s girlfriend (Batfink is my cat), in an awful state – frothing at the mouth, meowing a very mournful little meow and convulsing. Poor little thing. I phoned the vet who asked me to take her to see him, which I was just about to do until I then noticed Batfink frothing at the mouth as well. Suspicious, I checked up on the others and they all seemed well although Storm, a sweet little black cat, was missing. Eventually I located him unable to move in a field, he was frothing at the mouth as well. Three ill cats! The vet took pity on me and came out and took them all to his practice. It turns out they had eaten slug pellets. Generally cats don’t eat them but it emerges there are some types of slug pellet that are very appealing and yet very poisonous to cats. Poor Batfink’s girlfriend didn’t make it, which I’m really sad about. I do miss her. Batfink and Storm thankfully pulled through. By the time the slug pellet theory materialized, another of the cats had been poisoned. Luckily he pulled through as well. Shortly after I managed to locate and resolve what I thought was the source of the pellets (a delicate situation in itself – I fear it may have been another cat loving neighbour who had been unwittingly using the pellets and I didn’t want to upset him). All has been well for a few days and then, Storm showed up in an awful state frothing at the mouth again. He’s currently having an overnighter with the vet so fingers crossed! Perhaps I should train to be a vet?!  I think it would be a less expensive situation overall with the way things are going!

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This is one of the new kittens, thankfully unaffected by the Slug Pellet Saga this week. I think I’m going to call her Cindy for her little mole on her lip. In fact, she might be a he. I’ll have a re-think if so,  I don’t want to give him a complex.

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Awwwwwwwwwww…

Italian Funerals

Sadly, I had to go to a funeral this week here in Italy. It’s only the second funeral that I’ve attended and my first in Italy so I didn’t know quite what to expect. They have a quick turnaround time here, with funerals taking place only one or two days following the person’s death. When someone dies, they ring the local church bells and then a poster goes up on several memorial notice boards in town which tell you who has died and when the funeral is. The funeral I went to was closed casket, I think they often are but there does seem to be an opportunity to see the person before the funeral at their home or at the hospital. The Italians are ‘gobsmacked’ by the length of time it takes us in the UK to bury people – their main confusion is around where the people are put between the time of death and burial. I’m no expert. I told them we have special buildings with large fridges. That’s what it seems like in the serial killer documentaries at least.

The church service itself was probably much like a church service in the UK. They do not have an Order of Service but they do have a sort of memento you can take away. It’s usually got a photos of the person and a comforting quote. People wear whatever they usually wear to the funeral. I wore a rather plain dress and felt positively glamorous in comparison to almost everyone else. They go to the cemetery after the church. People aren’t often buried in the ground here – they’re slotted into a wall. If you’re well off, you’ll have a family tomb, otherwise you’re slotted into a large generic wall. There doesn’t seem to be much said at the cemetery itself and it’s all quite a practical affair. They have a bricklayer in situ who actually seals the coffin in the wall there and then. They don’t seem to have the concept of a wake and there’s not generally a gathering after the event. It was obviously a very sad occasion of course but quite interesting at the same time to see how different it is to the way things are done in the UK.

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This is a bit of a blurry example that I took years ago at the cemetery in Camerano

Walks not to do in Elcito…

Elcito is a tiny little village atop Monte San Vicino or at least atop a sort of mountainous outcrop of it. I found it very evocative. It seems totally abandoned apart from a garden and a little cafe/bar. It’s lovely to just sit in what must have been a little meeting spot and look out at the scenery.

It’s set in a lovely area of Le Marche which I haven’t really explored. There are some good walks around Elcito. Alas, we didn’t do one of them. Instead we walked downhill 2 or 3 km, realised that we weren’t even close to doing one of the recognised walks and that there wasn’t really an adequate way of getting back unless we went back the way we came so we had to walk back up again. All in all, it was an unsatisfactory walk but there was gorgeous scenery which more than made up for it. I’m hoping to go back soon and do a decent walk!

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There’s some beautiful flowers out at the moment. Anyone know what tree this blossom belongs to? On a separate note, the blossom from the Acacia (seems to be called Black Locust in English) with its white blossom is so prevalent here that it seems like it’s snowing on a windy day!

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Sitting in the little grassed over meeting point, I spent ages photographing the very busy bees!

Tagliatelle making

In this week’s successful news is a new found appreciation for pasta making. I really like tagliatelle but it’s more expensive than other types of pasta and being the miser that I am, I find it difficult to justify buying it. Now that I know how cheap it is to make, it’s even more difficult to justify buying it! To make tagliatelle for 2, you just need 200g of flour and two eggs. My eggs come from the next door neighbour and the wheat is bought from a mill in Gualdo so it’s all quite nice and fresh with organic ingredients. I’m not a pasta aficionado but it doesn’t taste bad either. The only issue is that it requires more time than getting it out of a packet! I don’t buy bread these days either – I make a big batch every now and then, cut it into slices and then freeze them so I can just take out a slice as and when I want it. I think I might start doing that with pasta as well (not slices)!

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Watercolour class

I’m having a great time at the watercolour class on Friday’s. It’s a really difficult  medium – it’s definitely something, I think anyway, that requires a bit of guidance and tuition first. It doesn’t necessarily come naturally. I’ve done a couple of portraits and some landscapes. You’d think landscapes would be easier but I’ve struggled more with them than anything else! I’ve also found a good group for artists in Le Marche too and so I’m hoping to get out in the field with them to get some more practice in. It’s a very relaxed medium as you just can’t rush otherwise you’ll ruin your painting. You paint a bit, and when you can’t do anymore you can just sit and admire the scenery in the sunshine and wait for your painting to dry a bit before you do the  next thing. Lovely!

Antiques fair in Recanati

Now that summer is coming there’s an increasing number of events out and about. One of my expat friends was over a couple of weeks ago and what we always seem to do together is to find events to go to that are either cancelled or just perhaps don’t even exist in the first place! We decided this time we’d attempt to go to an antiques fair in Recanati, a town in Le Marche towards the coast. However, during the drive, the heavens opened and it seemed even more improbable that there would be a fair. I lowered my expectations of a successful antiques fair visit from an already low 10% to 0%. However, we were surprised to find that the fair was on and people (albeit not many) were there! We finished off in an English pub stunning the barmen with our darts playing prowess (they probably hadn’t seen anyone so consistently miss the dartboard before).

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My friend found some crystal glasses for an absolute bargain. I, however, wander around all antiques markets in a state of amazement at the sheer number of ghastly things brought together in one place. I’m so busy concentrating on nightmarish ornaments that alas, I suspect I miss out on genuine bargains.

Scarfiotti Race in Sarnano

A couple of weeks ago the 26th Scarfiotti Sarnano to Sassotetto car race was held. Once a year, Sarnano is full to the brim with fancy cars, be they formula one or ancient antique style cars. They have a time trial up the mountain. Sarnano has about 3300 inhabitants. I wouldn’t class it as a totally sleepy little village but it’s approaching that description. I am quite frankly stunned that once a year, apparently reasonably well-known people come with their reasonably well-known cars to compete in what is apparently a reasonably well-known competition. Isn’t that lovely?! I’m quite proud of my little town! It’s just a shame that it rained almost the whole time and on the main race day, there was just so much water that it would be difficult to have distinguished road from waterfall. Anyway, perhaps next year I can see if they’ll let me compete with the Fiat Panda.It’s a good little car, I think I could take on the cars below…

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This car clearly has nothing on my Fiat Panda.

Abbadia di Fiastra

There’s a series of 3 concerts set in the woods at Abbadia di Fiastra (Le Marche) which have taken place over the last couple of Sundays with the last one this coming Sunday. Abbadia di Fiastra is a lovely setting. There’s an abbey and two or three restaurants and lots of countryside to explore. The concert was good and quite atmospheric set in the woods.

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There were a lot of people at the event… Here’s a photo. I was testing out my “dreamy” setting on the camera!

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The first of the three concerts was a flute quartet

Festa dell’Europa in Macerata

Every year in Macerata there’s a festa to celebrate European food of all different types. The UK was represented. This place below (alas blurry) was serving fish and chips and burgers! (I feel like we were cheated a little in terms of quality, probably understandably given the lack of equipment). It was a good and lively event with lots of stalls and lots of people. We ended up eating in another English style place. They served coleslaw (or “coldslow” as they called it), chips, onion rings and some sort of chicken quiche affair for meat eaters.

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The highs and lows of bike riding

The bike riding is going reasonably well. I say only ‘reasonably well’ because it’s not serving its primary purpose which was to get fitter and lose weight. I shall be leaving my body to medical science. The more exercise I do and the healthier I eat, the fatter I become and the worse my general fitness becomes (thought I am getting better on the bike). However, I have accepted my fate and have discovered other unforeseen advantages to going out on the bike: I’m often awestruck by the scenery and this way, I get to see more than if I’m walking and have a bit more flexibility than going with a car where I can’t stop and admire the scenery or take photos quite so easily. If it was just exercise (that seems to yield no/negative results) I probably would have given up by now, but it’s nice to see the countryside in a different way. A couple of days ago I came across a porcupine happily running towards me (I was less happy about it running towards me but it was great to see nonetheless! I’ve only ever seen dead ones at the side of the road). And look at the countryside below…. this was taken the other day from a ride to Gualdo, one of the closest towns. Isn’t it just beautiful?!

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In addition to trying to get up hills and mountains, I’ve discovered the most pressing challenge is how to avoid getting bitten by dogs. They all seem to be trained from an early age to attack cyclists. Going up hills with large rabid looking dogs biting at my ankles certainly adds a level of excitement and gives me that all important motivational push when I’m flagging. Perhaps as well as padded cycle shorts I could get padded ankle protectors. Anyway, so far my record is 23km which will seem like nothing to proper cyclists but half of that was up an entirely vertical incline.

I think that about sums up the last couple of weeks! I hope you’re all having a good Monday:-)

Ciao a tutti,

x

 

 

 

 

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The horrors of learning a new language…

Buongiorno a tutti!

How is everyone?! Today’s discussion will be dedicated to language learning, a subject close to my heart!

It’s been a while since I’ve moaned about how impossible learning Italian is. My lack of moaning is not because I’ve improved so much as because I’ve grown accustomed to my abilities (or lack thereof!). I will add a disclaimer here – to all those that don’t speak Italian, I will sound, without a shadow of a doubt, absolutely fluent. And I will also add, that it’s not often that I can’t make myself understood or that I can’t understand what someone else is saying. If “ability to communicate” is the goal of language learning, then yes, I probably have that nailed. And that is a fine goal if you don’t live here. However, that is absolutely not my goal. I am not content to just communicate,  I want to do it well! I want to come across as the same person when I’m speaking in English as when I’m speaking in Italian. That’s what being fluent is to me.

Our opinions, thoughts and beliefs are what make us who we are. Yet when you’re learning a new language, you’re taught how to order food, book hotel rooms, provide some basic personal information. Quite rightly too. And of course for holidays etc., that’s more than ok. But imagine you’ve moved to your new country and you want to integrate with your new community: try making friends with that rather limited vocabularic repertoire! Expressing yourself well requires a reasonably good understanding of how to string sentences together.  You can get away with pigeon English in English speaking countries – people will know what you’re talking about but it’s not quite the same in the Italy.  In Italian there are 90+ different ways of saying “run” depending upon who by and when it is being done. It’s the same for every verb. You can’t just use one of them in a sentence and expect people to know what you’re talking about. With every single noun, not only do you have to learn how to say it in Italian, but also whether it’s female or masculine  (my little mental dictionary has images of chairs wearing skirts etc.) because that effects all the other words in the sentence. My point is, you may hear me ordering food and think I’m fluent, but I would find it a challenge to discuss the intricacies and potential impact of the upcoming Brexit referendum.  It requires a vocabulary that I still don’t have and a mastery of the congiuntivo verb tense that I don’t have. I could get by but until I can do that comfortably, I feel like the person that I am here is still just a shadow of who I actually am.

However, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I enjoy speaking Italian. Thinking in a new language is not only interesting, it gives a new perspective on everything. Nobody becomes fluent overnight and I give it a good go and, well, life continues.  Sometimes though, something will bring my inadequacy with the language to the forefront: a silly mistake or a comment from someone.And with any other subject matter, that would be like water off a duck’s back. I can take criticism or mickey-taking on every subject without taking great offence. But my Italian, that’s different. Language learning requires such a lot of time, dedication and in fact, courage that it can be a very touchy subject for a lot of people, an Achilles heel. I’ve known people that, despite understanding the language, refuse to speak it because people have been unknowingly insensitive in the past. To put yourself out there and speak to people when you know you’re going to make mistakes, particularly at the beginning, can be an incredibly daunting prospect. Yet, there is no other way of improving other than to speak the lingo and to have someone correct you. Making mistakes really is the only way you can get better.

I must be getting marginally better because comments are generally rare these days. But last week, I received my biggest insult yet! I was in a shop, asking if they had any digital pianos. Alas, that shop didn’t but the owner recommended a shop in the next town that did. Then he added “is there someone that could go with you that speaks Italian?”. I was mortified! It’s not that I was speaking in English to him! So, in need of reassurance, I spoke to a couple of Italian friends who confirmed that “technically” I can speak Italian but that my accent “fa fatica” (is a struggle) for anyone that hasn’t known me for ages. I am a struggle to listen to!!!!!  I mean, I was not expecting to be accent-free but I hadn’t ever imagined that people would find it tiring to listen to me!

After a few days of giving myself a hard time, on further discussion with others, I think in fact the shop owner might have had ulterior motives. I have thus reviewed my decision to no longer speak Italian lest I make people’s ears bleed as they struggle to understand me.

However, my ability to communicate as a result of that experience, has been stunted by the appearance of ‘Evil Sue’, my nasty, judgemental imaginary sidekick. ‘We’re our own worst enemy’ as the saying goes and`Evil Sue` only crops up when I’m feeling “Italianly vulnerable”. During conversations she gives the increasingly `Flustered Sue`, such helpful feedback such as: “why did you SAY that? You KNOW that chairs are girls, you KNOW that you go and FIND someone in Italy and not SEE them (it makes me think the entire country is playing an eternal game of hide and seek). What are you, an amateur?! You’ve been here 3 years!!!”. Meanwhile the conversation with the real person understandably gets increasingly nonsensical whilst I am being harshly remonstrated by ‘Evil Sue’. It’s a terrible vicious circle and ‘Evil Sue’ ends up with an exhaustive supply of ammunition.

Improving requires correction and so I like to be corrected. I have a friend who tries to help with my accent. Apparently I mispronounce my ‘t’s in some words. She’ll say a word with ‘t’  in it, I’ll copy it exactly, she’ll tell me it’s nothing like what she just said and repeat it, I again copy it exactly and so it goes on. On one occasion another English speaker was listening in and he found the whole conversation amusing as he couldn’t tell the difference either. It would make for a good comedy sketch show I think. By the end of these sessions, myself and my friend are both about ready to kill each other. I’m comforted by the fact that my English learning Italian friends also struggle with the English accent. They find it difficult to differentiate between the sound of “bed” and “bad” and “growing” and “groaning”. On moaning to my mother about it, she found this interesting article about how adult brains just don’t differentiate certain sounds.  I’m marginally more comforted that it’s not me being inadequate so much as it being difficult for everyone when they’re older!

So the point of this blog? Firstly to try and explain to people that think I’m fluent, why  I don’t feel remotely fluent and why it’s important to me to be a lot better at Italian than I am! Secondly, to explain to my Italian friends why during some conversations it must seem like I’m having a stroke (please don’t frown and look bemused, try not to let on that you’ve noticed and then it might improve!). Thirdly, to provide a bit of solidarity to the other language learners out there that are struggling with the same internal ‘Evil’ sidekick. I shall certainly be trying to speak to myself in a more constructive, less scathing tone in future! Fourthly, to warn people of the dangers innocent comments can have. It’s a very fine line indeed and I have absolutely no doubt I must be guilty of hurting people’s feelings too (apologies to those if I have)! I mean, some of the mistakes people make are so hilarious one can’t  help but laugh and in general that’s ok. Everyone has war stories of the time when they asked someone if there were “preservativi” in the jam for instance (“preservativi” does not mean preservatives in Italian, it means condoms)!!! If you’d learnt a new language without embarrassing yourself on at least several occasions I don’t think you’d be human. In summary, it’s a minefield but what I think I’ll do personally is to be more flowing with the positive feedback with my language learning buddies in the hope it tames their ‘Evil’ sidekicks and I think that really is half the battle!

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Italian learning might be a challenge but when you wake up to such beautiful scenery every day, it’s all worth it

 

 

 

 

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Monster mice, uncouth statues and cuteness!

Buongiorno a tutti,

Well it’s been a mixed bag these last couple of weeks. My friend came out to see me which was lovely! We met in Bologna and had a day there wandering around the city. I like Bologna. It’s young and vibrant because it has quite a big university there. It feels very much alive compared to the sleepy little town in my area. However, the weather left much to be desired. The thing that Italy really excels in is it’s ability to enable its patrons to relax in glorious sunshine in piazzas with glasses of prosecco and nibbles. It’s not as  entertaining when it’s overcast and raining. Half in an attempt to get out of the rain and/or warm up, and half in an attempt to appease my church-adoring neighbour, we went into the churches and so I saw a new side to the Bologna that I’d seen before.

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This was a memorial dedicated I think to just the pilots of one of the world wars.

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And we discovered this sort of library / museum which I’d never been into before. The building was nice in itself but they also had a lovely collection of illustrations and prints which was quite inspiring.

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This  was taken in the Basilica of Santo Stefano. The Basilica looks relatively small from the outside but it’s well worth going into as it goes a lot further back and contains a little museum and erboristeria (like a chemists with just natural stuff). This was taken inside one of the connecting rooms. I think it looks rather majestic! I shall have this in my palace when I get one.

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This delicate little lady forms part of the Neptune sculpture in the main piazza. Even the pigeon looks shocked.

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What is the consensus on this building?  It’s the main cathedral. There were at least a couple of other churches in the same style. I’m not sure I like the tatty, unkept brickwork design!

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And these are some terrapins in the Giardino della Montagnola. The lake there was absolutely full to the brim with them! Very cute.

Then we went back to Sarnano. The previous week, sitting on my terrace in beautiful sunshine, I’d imagined all the things I could show her. And then there was just torrential rain, and it was cold and there was fog. We did do a bit of sight-seeing but not very inspiring. By the end of the trip I felt like I should give her a refund on her flight! And the SECOND she left, the sun came out.

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The moment my friend got on the train, the blustery cold overcast weather turned miraculously into this… This was taken on Monte Conero overlooking the lovely towns and beaches of Sirolo and Numana.

Later that day, I went to the fishing lakes in Montecosaro which I’d heard about a while back but were always closed when I wanted to go. This time they were open and they were lovely to  have a wander around. Not only that, just before we were about to head home we came across a group of nutria. Nutria are basically big mice that like to swim and hang out near the water. Really very cute.

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This was one of the fishing lakes. Each lake has a different selection of fish (victims!). The fish need to be thrown back in when they’ve been caught. I was wondering if they become increasingly difficult to catch. If I’d been merrily eating away and then had my mouth pierced before being hauled out of the water, I simply wouldn’t go back near the edges of the lake again. I imagine there’s a survivors group in the middle.

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Look at this nutria’s little hands!!!!

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Isn’t he adorable?!

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They don’t make the most elegant swimmers but they go like the clappers! I want a nutria!!!!!

My other ex-pat friend is here for a couple of weeks and on Thursday we went to watch a man playing blues in San Ginesio. It was a nice evening, great food. Not as atmospheric as some of the other similar events I’ve been to but then I think that was mainly because we needed to see our food!

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This is Pierluigi Petricca, a very talented guitarist!

In terms of events, I did go to one in Sarnano’s theatre a couple of weeks ago to hear about how the local spa waters were discovered. It was good, though perhaps a bit technically challenged with the lighting and sound! I was keen to take lots of photos but my abilities weren’t up to it with the lighting. Anyway, in summary, the guy that discovered our special thermal waters was a very talented and interesting man, and the water itself  is full of minerals and drinking them will cure almost everything. This year, I shall get some!

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In other exciting news this week I’ve had my first watercolour painting lesson. It was great – lovely setting and with lovely people. I felt like I’ve already learnt a fair bit after just two hours and can’t wait to get started properly. A while back my strategy was to do a “painting a day” which just never happened. It’s remarkable how life just seems to get in the way and I don’t even have a job as an excuse! I’m still keen to do something along those lines though so I hope this will give me a bit of a kick start.

It’s all go in my little hamlet this week! We’ve had 3 kittens and lots of little rabbits born and we had 7 little chicks born a week or two before. In summary, it’s all very cute here at the moment.

I think that’s about it from me for now. I hope you all have splendid weeks.

x

 

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Barns, bags of spiders and lake dolphins…

Buongiorno a tutti!

How is everyone? All good here. Various bits and pieces going on but I still feel like I’m missing a life plan! Anyway, updates below but I’ll start off with a bit of real estate…

Who would like to buy this lovely barn?!

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I don’t know if the sweetcorn comes with it but I think it makes for a lovely rustic room divider/fly screen!

As you can see it’s a bit rustic and requires a bit of work but it would make a lovely home once renovated and it has an amazing view of Sarnano and the mountains. It’s in a peaceful, rural little area called Colleciccangelo just on the outskirts of Sarnano. There’s actually two buildings and an adjoining courtyard included in the price (40,000 euros, negotiable). There’s lots of potential and if anyone is interested, there’s even a proposed plan for the property. Great investment potential. For anyone wishing to see more photos and/or to test their Italian, have a look at the advert here!

In other news, SPRING IS HERE!!!!! It’s been lovely. I’m so pleased! I’ve been a bit more inspired to go out and take some photos too. I have attached proof of “Spring” below…

 

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I’ve discovered a lovely little restaurant called Il Sigillo in Camporotondo with a newly discovered ex-pat too. It was a really nice little restaurant in a quaint little town and it was surprisingly empty. They do a vegetarian tasting menu so I’m hoping to try that one day. Interestingly, the word the Italian’s use for “tasting” in their menus is degustazione which to me, sounds too similar to disgust to make it an attractive option. In a similar way, I find it very difficult to buy a packet of arachidi which means peanuts, but sounds like you’re buying a bag of spiders. Still, I’m glad I’ve found a new restaurant to supplement my tried and tested “Scherzi a Parte” which  all my guests get taken to at one time or another.

I’ve been cycling almost every day and at the weekend I cycled 16km! SIXTEEN! Which I know many of you will probably be thinking is absolutely nothing but it’s akin to a marathon for me! And it’s very hilly where I live. This whole exercise debacle means I’m permanently aching from head to toe but I think I’m getting better.

In other successful news, I also discovered that you can walk all the way around Lago di Fiastra (the biggest reservoir in Le Marche), a feat I’d previously thought was impossible because of lack of pathways. Despite going off the beaten track a couple of times, it’s not impossible by any means. The lake is beautiful. It’s crystal clear and I used to enjoy swimming in it up until earlier in the week when my friend told me that it’s dangerous, full of whirlpools and there are nameless things the size of dolphins in there. I have googled and I can’t find any evidence of these claims. Nevertheless, it seems less of an inviting prospect now!!! I did take some photos though.

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I would just like to say how annoying I find power lines in this country. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world, and they stick power lines everywhere.

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Another highlight of the week was “Occhi negli occhi”, a piano and string quartet concert that was held in San Ginesio’s theatre (San Ginesio is one of the nearest towns to Sarnano where I live). The pianist and composer was Fabio Capponi. The music was brilliant, as were all of the musicians. Click here for one of the songs that I think was recorded whilst I was there. I was inspired enough to buy the CD and now I’m annoyed that I can’t find the sheet music anywhere to be able to play it myself! I’m hoping he’ll be famous soon so it will be downloadable. San Ginesio’s theatre was beautiful too – a lovely venue. As a “Sarnanese” (someone from Sarnano), I’m supposed to hate San Ginesio, a tradition going back to when all little towns in Italy seemed to be at war against all the other little towns, but I must say, their theatre definitely wins the “Dinky and cute and nicely decorated” award!

I think that about sums things up here. I hope everyone else had a good week:-)

A presto,

x

 

 

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Hibernation, Wholewheat and Action Planning…

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone? I’ve been quiet, I know!

I’ve been suffering from a lack of inspiration and general loss of motivation. The weather in Italy for the first half of March was unbearable, in fact, reminiscent of the UK😉 I think I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder although that doesn’t seem quite accurate. It’s more Dreariness Affective Disorder. I can cope with weather if it’s “proper” weather – rain is fine if it’s raining properly, but if it’s grey outside and there’s a general life-sapping drizzle, then I would rather just stay in bed until the sun comes out.

So I hibernated for at least a couple of weeks but it wasn’t a complete write-off. My lovely Italian friends came to visit one weekend which cheered me up.  They’re big walkers so we went on a couple of nice long walks and the weather for that weekend was positively beautiful!

I even managed to have lunch on my terrace for the first time this year just before I left so I think my hibernation phase can finish as Summer is coming (in direct contrast to the situation in Game of Thrones for anyone that watches that).

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Exhibit A: Proof that I had lunch outside.

In other successful news, I managed to locate wholewheat flour; somewhat of a difficult substance to find in the shops here (or at least, at a reasonable price). Instead the shops are stocked with thousands of different brands of white flour. There’s a mulino (mill) in Gualdo, the town up the road, which sells wholewheat flour and semi-wholewheat and it makes for tasty bread so I’m pleased about that. The shopkeeper seemed equally pleased to have a “beautiful” new client!!!  I conducted many bread making experiments and now the freezer is full.

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I also made some hot cross buns:-)

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And this was the wholewheat loaf…

Just before I left to come back to the UK for Easter, my poor cat got an infected leg. I entirely blame his father who chases him every time he leaves the house. If he’s been inside, I have to give him a lift to a secret location before I put him down otherwise he’s set upon immediately. It appears traditional local methods of curing an infected cat’s leg involve smothering him with a towel and poking his leg with a sharp implement whilst he screams in agony (who knew cats could scream?!). This methodology didn’t prove to be effective (hmm) and I ended up almost as traumatised as my poor cat. He was issued with antibiotics in the end but as I’ve been back in the UK, I’m slightly concerned the antibiotic regime has taken a knock. Anyway, I’m very much hoping that I return to a full operational four-legged cat.

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This is Batfink the cat feeling sorry for himself on an upturned box I was trying to air.

I always look forward to coming back to the UK to see everyone and it refreshes the batteries a bit. I return to Italy each time with a list as long as my arm of things I want to get on with. Here’s a cut-down sneak preview for the next couple of months:

  • Join Cai – the local walking association. They go out every Sunday in the mountains but I think it’s probably still a bit too early in the year. I did get invited to a local cycling club meet as well, I came across them at the top of a mountain. I think they overestimated my abilities. Before I left, I could just about make it to Sarnano and back without having to get off and push the bike like I have been!
  • Join a watercolour painting class – my new ex-pat local friend has introduced me to a teacher and I’m hoping to start lessons later this month.
  • Start swimming lessons or join the aqua gym class.
  • I’ve also been inspired to make more effort with my cooking following a stay at my friend’s house. I feel a bit stunted on ingredients in Italy. Italians do Italian food excellently of course but if you’re trying to make anything else then it’s more of a challenge.

    Dinner

    Lovely dinner!

 

  • I started a “Human Origins” free online course a couple of weeks ago. It’s actually very interesting and I think I’ll be able to impress everyone with my extensive knowledge of fossil dating and paleoanthropology. I would like to finish that but it is a bit heavy going, I must say! It’s only a 6 week course. There are loads of other courses on http://www.edx.org if anyone is interested.
  • Take more pics! Now the weather has improved I’m hoping to get out a bit more to take some photos. There’s a few big touristy places in Le Marche I’ve not been to yet and I’m keen to go soon!
  • I’m also hoping to become a bit more green-fingered. I want to turn the front bit of my garden into a drive and get a few flowers for the terrace. The problem is, my gardening efforts will be very much on public display. I imagine the neighbours will set up chairs outside to watch and provide helpful instruction (“Why don’t you get a man in to do this?”.

Now let’s see if I actually do any of it! I’ll report back of course.

Meanwhile, I hope you all have an excellent week.

x

 

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Successes, disasters and pasta making!

Buongiorno a tutti!

It’s an absolutely cracking day here. The weather has been changeable in the last week – it was t-shirt weather for a couple of days (not that you could actually wear a t-shirt in the t-shirt weather in Italy because it’s not officially Summer where the wearing of t-shirts is acceptable behaviour) and then there’s been a bit of snow. Anyway, I’m hoping it will start to warm up in earnest now because I’ve pretty much run out of wood for the stuffa. This year’s goal will be to get central heating!

I’ve had a productive week here…

One of my friends is an opera singer in her spare time. She’s absolutely brilliant, I’m very proud. She was in a production of “Suor Angelica” where she was playing a nun in the town of Fermo last week. I brought my camera along to take pictures of the town because it’s been an age since I was there. However, whilst taking a few snaps during the rehearsals, one of the actresses asked if I could take photos of the play so I ended up doing that instead. I loved it! It’s quite a satisfying area of photography which I would quite like to continue with and it was a success so hopefully I’ll get invited to do more. My pictures ended up in the Fermo newspaper:-)

 

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The following day, was far, far, far less successful. The same friend was also starring (and directing) in an opera called “Gianni Schicci”. I’ve seen the opera before. It’s a great little introduction to anyone that hasn’t really experienced the opera before because it’s short and sweet. Less than an hour long, and it’s a comedy, and reasonably easy to follow (perhaps have a quick look at the story line first!). I was asked to do a video of it. I’ve never filmed anything. My camera is apparently good at taking videos so I agreed on the understanding it could be awful because of my lack of experience. And my word, was it awful… The opera builds up to a critical point in the play towards the end – the punchline. But during the punchline, the camera just stopped filming. No warning. I didn’t realise. The way to tell it’s filming is a little red light flashes. When I looked back at the camera, having enjoyed the crux of the opera myself, and noticed that there was no longer a flashing red light, I almost had a heart attack. It was a one-off production! I decided against recreating the missing part of the opera with my neighbour and our little cat colony and published it on YouTube with the missing part in the hope nobody will notice. If you’d like to see it and you promise not to notice, check it out here.

To continue on the creative streak, I went up into the mountains a couple of days ago to take star photos. I’m not going to do that again until it’s summer. Two days later and I can just about feel my fingers again not to mention that I give myself the ‘heebie jeebies’ each time I’m up there on my own (Have I mentioned on the blog that a couple of women went missing many years ago now in the mountains on a snowy night and turned up dead a few weeks later miles away?). Anyway, because of the long exposure times and the fact that camera takes a while to process the picture as well, I only managed one photo. Star photography is a challenge because it’s dark and you can’t see what you’re shooting. The picture that you end up with a few minutes later is a complete surprise!

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In other news, I’ve been progressing on the bike front. I’ve cycled to Sarnano twice now. I do a round trip. It’s about 8km and I manage it in about 50 minutes with a bit of walking up the steep bits. I can’t tell you how much the seat hurts! I’ve ordered special padded cycling shorts (I thought I had enough natural padding, but apparently not).

I also went on a long walk with a friend yesterday around Sarnano. It’s looking quite pretty here at the moment with the snow in the mountains.

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You can just about make out Sarnano – it was a rare “atmospheric” day yesterday – shame I didn’t take out the decent camera!

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Sometimes my cat and the neighbour’s dog come with me on the walks:-)

My plan is to go cycling most days. I also go to a Zumba class a couple of days a week and I’m going to sign up for swimming lessons after Easter. I shall be super fit for the summer even if it kills me!

Yesterday I went on a pasta making course. I really enjoyed it! Pasta making might be my next thing. Last year my thing was bread. I feel somewhat limited on the bread making front because basically here in Sarnano I can use white flour, or I can use white flour. Then there’s white flour and if I’m feeling adventurous, I can use white flour. There are aisles dedicated to white flour in the supermarkets. I can buy 5kg bag of white flour for 75 cents. If I make an hour and a half round trip I might be able to get 500g of brown flour for 370 Euros (I jest, it’s a bit less, but still shockingly expensive given you’d think it requires less processing!). Anyway, I’m going to try to make more pasta. I’ve also heard rumours of a shop nearby that sells other types of flour so I’m going to head there this week.

 

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My beetroot ravioli making efforts

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And the green spinach blobs are my attempts at tortellone

I think that about sums up my week! I hope you all had good weeks too:-)

xxx

 

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Why not to get a bike, being Indiana Jones and chocolate festivals…

Buongiorno a tutti!

How is everyone?

I hope you’re all well. I’m somewhat light on the photo front this week you might be pleased to know!

I had a flying visit to the UK last week. As usual it’s not ever quite enough time to get around everyone I’d like to but it was still lovely to see people. It wasn’t quite so persistently gloomy on the weather front either which was a nice change! In fact, when I left London it was gorgeous sunshine and when I arrived here it was raining… That never, ever happens! It’s always the opposite way around!

My cat Batfink (so named after the cartoon cat that had large ears… but he’s grown into his ears now and he’s a very handsome feline) seemed reasonably pleased to have me back. He’s hormonally active at the moment – I was told he was only supposed to have 3 weeks worth of err, hormones, but he seems to have fallen for his sister and they’re constantly hanging out together now. It would be quite cute if I wasn’t worried for the health of their future children. I was in charge of the neighbour’s dog today and we went for a walk up the road. Batfink came too, weaving in and out of my legs. I think I must look like a crazy cat lady to the locals.

I found an English language speaking group in Civitanova which I met up with on Friday. There was a good turnout with the majority being Italians wanting to practice their English and there was one other English girl. I’ll definitely go again, it’s just a shame it’s not a bit closer to Sarnano (it’s about a 50 minute drive).

Just before I left for the UK I bought a bike. It’s probably 20 years since I rode a bike (apart from one outing in Richmond Park). Anyway, let me tell you!!….. Buying a bike, when you live in the mountains and you live in a country known for the crazy drivers, is the silliest idea ever. I don’t know what possessed me. I have ridden up and down the road a few times on it which is absolutely exhausting and alas far less than a kilometer. Not to be defeated though, on Saturday I went to Abbadia di Fiastra, a lovely, large, flat (woohoo!) park and cycled for about 8km. It’s a great place to go to cycle because it’s all off-road so there’s no imminent danger of being hit by a car. However, I’m not used to cycling and by Saturday night, I felt like I’d been hit by a car anyway! Why do they make the seats so horribly uncomfortable?! I definitely bought the wrong bike – I want to be upright, with a basket on the front (and perhaps with a motor)! Still the deed is done so I better try and get a bit more in shape for it over the next few weeks.

On Saturday evening, I went to see my first play here in Italy. It was Madame Bovary at Civitanova Alta. I didn’t know quite what to expect. All the towns here have dinky little theatres. Having lived in London with the massive professional productions that often carry on for decades, I was expecting, well, less to be honest. However, it was anything but. It was very well performed, with excellent actors and a really creepy and original way of portraying Madame Bovary’s daughter. All-in-all, it was very impressive and I’m a bit sad that it was only being performed for one night, particularly after it must have taken months and months of hard work for them to prepare.

Sunday, rather than not get out of bed (everything ached!), I went for a walk around San Severino with a friend. San Severino is a lovely little town and it’s surrounded by hills (or rather mountains the size of Mount Everest for someone that is already aching everywhere). Walks in Italy are never straightforward. I had a book with me which described the walk, and we had downloaded a GPS map and there was also the occasional sign and yet still it wasn’t clear where we were supposed to be going! Still we made it back. The whole walk took about 5 hours. It was 19km with a climb of about 1km. As exhausting as it was, it was a really nice walk and it was good to see the Eremo di Sant’Eustachio, a monastery built in the 11th century that was partly carved out of the mountain. I felt a bit like Indiana Jones wandering around there. There’s also a lot of caves dotted around and the ruins of a mysterious round looking tower. On the whole, it was very interesting.

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See what I mean about feeling a bit like Indiana Jones discovering some secret lost temple?!

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This was the inside. There’s more rooms underneath and to the side of the Eremo, a cave that looks as if something interesting used to go on inside!

I think I must have burned off a reasonable number of calories over the weekend but after the walk, we discovered a chocolate festival in San Severino so the diet all went to pot. Still, I can highly recommend you all try white chocolate ice-cream and chocolate orange ice-cream:-)

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Mmmmmmmm chocolate…

 

In other exciting news, I’ve been invited along on another Blog Tour so I’m excited about that:-) More details to come as and when I get them but it’ll be in June. I’ve also got a few friends lined up to visit me later in the year which is going to be good.

And I’m famous! I’ve had an interview published on http://www.expatfinder.com – I wrote it probably over a year ago so it’s somewhat out of date but still, I’m famous! Click here for the interview.

Anyway, I hope you all have an excellent week.

Buonaserata!

x

 

 

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Alpe di Sue-si (Siusi really but I’ve renamed them after myself)

Buongiorno all,

How is everyone? I had a lovely few days in Trentino. I took about a million photos. We stayed in a lovely hotel called Hotel Pinei which is in Castelrotto (not the town itself, the hotel was in the middle of nowhere but in the Castelrotto vicinity). It was a great setting with views across one of the valley towns called Ortisei. We stayed full board-ish (I say “ish” because although lunch wasn’t included, a merenda/snack large enough to be lunch was).

We spent the first couple of days skiing/snowboarding in Val Gardena and Alpe di Suisi. I haven’t snowboarded that much in my life in one go. I think there might actually be a tiny bit of definition to my stomach as a result just of those two days! I also make a new discovery: “bombardino”, a sort of alcoholic hot sickly yellow drink with whipped cream on top. Delicious!

The third day we went walking on the same slopes we’d been skiing on the previous two days. It was a much more relaxed way of seeing the mountains and a good opportunity for me to practice my photography without worrying about falling on my camera :-) I thought we’d have needed snow shoes but in fact there were lots of well trodden paths which were good to walk on. If any of you go and fancy doing something a bit different, they also have horse drawn carts to take you around and bikes with snow tires! In fact, we even saw some llamas being walked down the mountain. Perhaps llama walking is a thing there too.

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The scenery was spectacular

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Tracks in the snow

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I think this is a refuge – it just wasn’t open. There are lots of refuges (rifugi) dotted around though where you can have a drink and get something to eat

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The mountains are sprinkled with these adorable little wooden huts. I wonder how much they cost!

The other place we went to was Laghetto (little lake) di Fiè which, despite the lack of snow in the surrounding area, was completely iced over. Apparently you can ice-skate on it. I did not take my chances and nor was anyone else. The lake is well worth a visit as it’s set high up in some woods and there’s lots of walks that start from there.

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Laghetto di Fie’

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This was taken just around the corner from the lake

I think that about sums up the holiday. I’ll leave you with a photo from Filotrano taken a week or so back. It’s all so pretty everywhere at the moment, it looks like all the fields have been combed!

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Pretty pretty pretty…

Hope you all have an excellent week!

x

 

 

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Photos, photos and more photos…

Buonasera!

How is everyone? I feel like I have been thoroughly unproductive these last couple of weeks so I don’t have a vast amount to update on.  I have been taking lots of photos though so this update will be more photographically orientated than normal! Apologies for the sheer number of them but I’ve had fun taking them and wanted to share!:-)

We had snow! I went with Pablos to Sassotetto, our local piste (in fact, Maddalena) for some snowboarding which was great fun. It was absolutely heaving with people as it was one of the first days the pistes were open this season.

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This was taken from the field just down the road from my house.

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The same field also offers lovely views of Sarnano

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One can never have too many pictures of snowy fields at sunrise eh?

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This was taken near to Penna, 20 minutes drive from me.

And I went to Lago di Caccamo to try out a new filter which I’m not sure I got the most out of (it’s a 10 stop NDR filter for anyone that would like to offer advice and tips on how to use it!!!) and then popped along to a little hill-top town I’ve been meaning to go to for ages called Pievefavera. I do not recommend Lago di Caccamo as a photographic location – I had to scale a wall and traipse across a bog to get anywhere near to the water.

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These swans came a bit too close for my liking!

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Lago di Caccamo

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This is Pievefavera taken from the lake. Can you see why I’ve been wanting to go there? To me it looks like it’s taken directly from a fairy tale.

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And this was the church in Pievefavera

Today I went to Castelluccio. You might remember I went there quite a lot in the summer because around the end of June/ beginning of July, they have the most amazing display of flowers. It’s a massive plain amidst the mountains. I wanted to see what sunrise would be like there so myself and my next door neighbour got up insanely early to check it out. It was stunning, absolutely stunning. Totally worth the early start. And as demonstrated below, I’ve finally worked out how to use the panoramic photo setting on my camera!

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And then we went for a walk to a look out point by Forca di Presta. I wanted to go to the Pantani lakes but there were, of course, no signs and I think we went the wrong way.

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My neighbour and her dog

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And another lovely panorama taken from our walk

 

So I think that’s probably enough photos to be getting on with! Oh no, there’s one more. The cats are all feeling amorous at the moment. Pelosina, the neighbour’s female cat is getting a bit fed up with all the attention and I thought had quite a good way of dealing with it…

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“Leave. Me. Alone”

Ok, hope you’re all well. I shall give an update on my upcoming holiday in Trentino the next time:-)

xxx

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Dog attacks, the abandoned village and gigs!

Buongiorno a tutti!

Well it’s been a very mixed couple of weeks here.

Generally I thoroughly recommend being an ex-pat. Living abroad and learning a different language and about a different culture is eye-opening. Every day is exciting because there’s always something new, something weird on the TV, a strange festival you’ve never heard of or a new phrase to learn. I don’t know whether that lets up at some point after years in the country, but at the moment I find it just as refreshing for the soul as ever almost three years on. However, being an ex-pat does come with its down sides. The most difficult thing by far is being away from friends and family and rather than it getting easier with time, it gets harder as everyone, including me rather depressingly gets older and frailer. It’s only a 2 hour flight to get back to the UK from where I live in Italy but it takes a full day by the time you take into account getting to and from airports etc. Then of course it’s difficult to drop everything in your new country because you’ve built a life there – work commitments etc. And herein lies the heart of the matter, deciding to live away from family and friends because the weather is nicer and it’s just more exciting, seems an inherently selfish choice! It becomes increasingly difficult to reconcile that choice when something bad happens at “home”. Last week, my grandmother died. So, it’s been a sad few days but I feel somewhat cheered that she fully supported my life over here. Despite being almost ninety she used to always read by blog and when I came home was full of questions.

On a far less depressing note…. I finally got to go to a place I’ve been meaning to for the last few months, Laturo. Laturo is a little village in the middle of the Abruzzi Mountains. In the 1950’s there were 50 families consisting of about 200 people living there. By the end of the 1970’s the last family had left and the village was left to go to ruin. It really is in the middle of nowhere, there are no roads to get there. I had attempted to come here with a group a couple of months back but I mistook directions. Now some of the houses have been bought, vegetable patches have been planted, a new church has been built and other aspects are all slowly being restored with the help of a group called Amici di Laturo (Friends of Laturo). We met a few other walkers/explorers whilst we were there and were offered a beer with them! I hate beer. I know that people’s tastes change over time and I’ve actually grown to like olives and coffee when before I would have thought I was being poisoned. So every so often, I try beer. Usually I’m left wondering why beer manufacturers go to such lengths to make the stuff when the dregs of my washing up water probably taste the same. Anyway, in Laturo, drinking with some random men, I discovered a beer I actually like. But it was a local artisan beer that the guy had bought with him that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find it again! Anyway, what nice people you can meet out and about:-)

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Overlooking the  mountains…

I also went to see an Italian / Irish music band last week at a pub in Civitanova. You might remember a few weeks ago I went to see an Italian / American Country music band and was gobsmacked at how authentic the music and accents were. This time was the same – authentic even to the point of not understanding half of the words.  Anyway, that was a lovely night and I discovered that the pub does a good veggie burger meal!

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The Green Mussels:-)

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And my doodle of them on a place mat!

Weather wise it’s been a very interesting week! At the beginning of the week there was so much wind I’m surprised it wasn’t called a hurricane! One tree blew over by the house blocking one road and a big branch fell down blocking another. It’s been good for wood collecting though to top up my supplies which I’m a bit worried about to be honest! Yesterday we had our first snowfall and today it continues! Hopefully I’ll be able to get out and do some snowboarding this week.

In other news, I’m just in the process of getting house insurance. Buying insurance here isn’t a simple case of going online to one of the comparison sites. I can only think of one here and it gives you about 3 very expensive options.  You can go to specific companies and they might be able to give you a quote but even that’s rare. It seems an absolutely archaic way of going about things, actually having to SPEAK to someone! Still, I braced myself and contacted my Insurance Man who sold me the car insurance. I told him how much I paid last year and what the policy covered (that was an online thing but for stupid reasons, I couldn’t renew it this year) and he came back with a much cheaper and better policy. So perhaps this archaic way of going about things isn’t really all that bad.

I’m on a “making bread stocks” mission at the moment. I’ve just made several sourdough loaves and next up is pita bread, hamburger buns and pizza bases. I’ve also resolved to make a new recipe every week so working my way through my new Christmas recipe book as we speak (thank you Mum & Dad!).

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And this morning I narrowly escaped (in my opinion!) being mauled to death by four angry dogs. There’s a breed here local to this part of Italy, Pastore Maremmano. They protect sheep flocks from wolves so they’re pretty vicious when they need to be. And very, very protective. I went for a walk this morning nearby. I could hear the gentle jingling of sheep bells but didn’t think much of it. When I turned a corner, two of these large dogs came running at me, teeth bared.  I thought that was the end of me! They slowed down and followed me up the road and then another one came running behind me barking. Then there was another one up ahead that had thankfully just veered off the road so I could at least head back home and then another one joined in at the side to ensure I was properly scared away (I was, I was!!). I shall not be walking here on my own for a while.

I think that about sums up the last couple of weeks here. I hope you’ve all had good weekends! I’ll leave you with a photo I took on the mountain above the Garulla Rifugio last week…

Laturo (9 of 9)

xxx

 

 

 

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