Earthquakes, Traumatic Treks, Castrum Sarnani and Opera…

Buongiorno,

I wrote the blog below before the terrible earthquake struck central Italy yesterday morning.  I’ve experienced two or three earthquakes now in Italy and I thought the others were quite strong but nothing like this. The epicenter, where the most damage was done was only 24 miles away as the crow flies. I woke up at 3.36, like I think almost everyone else did in central Italy and it felt like I was in a washing machine. It’s very difficult to orientate yourself, or even get out of bed when everything is shaking so violently and things are falling from the walls and smashing around you. There wasn’t any warning – it doesn’t slowly warm up, it just hits. And it went on for such a long time, well over 2 minutes. Myself and the neighbours all convened outside. Each year in August, families from Rome come to stay in their holiday homes in the hamlet so there were about 10 of us outside in our night clothes on the road for 3 or 4 hours too scared to go back inside. We gradually began to get dribs and drabs of information about those that weren’t so lucky. Watching the terrible scenes unfolding from the worst hit places has just been heartbreaking. Over 240 people are dead and there are still lots missing.  Obviously terrible things like this happen all the time but rather unjustly, when it’s so close to home, it really puts things into perspective. My neighbours and I have all been very lucky.

There have been dozens of aftershocks, lots quite strong and each time everyone rushes outside again. The families from Rome have all gone back to their main homes and so there’s just the core of my little hamlet here now. It’s a lovely community spirit and everyone watches over everyone else though so I don’t ever feel too alone in that regard.

The house is full of cracks, a couple I’m a bit worried about but apart from a few glasses and a mirror broken, all is pretty much as it was. Someone will come today to check that all is ok and I hope it will be. There are 30 families in Sarnano who are not so lucky and have had to move out of their homes as they’ve been classed as too dangerous to stay in. AirBnB have a disaster relief scheme and I’ve offered my spare rooms on that, even though I’m a bit nervous to sleep in the house myself until the aftershocks calm down a bit. Last night I slept in my tent. Of course, life goes on and you can’t not sleep at home for fear of something that will probably (fingers crossed!) never happen, but at the moment it’s just not a very relaxing thought sleeping under concrete whilst there are still aftershocks (even one as I write!). In fact, there were at least another couple of tremors last night, one fairly large but under canvas (and putting aside the concerns about everyone else), it’s less scary and more awe-inducing!

Lots of friends and family have been in touch worried about me so thank you for your concerns and well wishes, it’s much appreciated🙂

So that’s the earthquake. My thoughts (and hopefully more practical things like blood and clothes in the not too distant future!) are with the people of the towns worst hit. On a lighter note (though admittedly not much the first part of the update!) here’s everything else I’ve been up to!

Last time I wrote was a month or so ago so there’s another mass of things to update on. Summer here in Le Marche just seems to be very busy with things to do and people to see which is nice of course. Anyway, first things first.

The walk in Gran Sasso I was about to embark on the last time I wrote…

It was absolute stunning. I need to go back there again under my own steam to take more photos. However, I feel like our “day out” could be made into a disaster film without using much imagination. It was not a 10 hour trek as planned; it was 16 hours and consisted of more climbing than hiking (a particular challenge given I’ve never climbed before!). The fixed ropes that should have already been in place were not there, ladders fixed to the side of the mountain were missing the majority of their screws and rocks the size of footballs fell on our heads (thankfully  only on the ones that had helmets). We got down to the bottom of the mountain on our return just before nightfall and then had to try and find our way in pitch black to the cars. Nobody had phone reception to call for help, nobody had enough water (mine fell out of my bag), angry horses chased us and the angry wolf-killing dogs protecting them chased us too for good measure. And to cap it all I broke my very expensive camera…. On the whole it wasn’t an enjoyable experience and I eventually got into bed 24 hours later; an exhausted, sunburnt, aching mess. I haven’t quite worked up the courage to go out for any more group excursions since!

The views were stunning though…

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Valle dei Tre Santi

However, I have been on more successful walks and Valle dei Tre Santi was one of them: to discover the Valley of the Three Saints. It was a local walk, about 12km long and included some lovely little waterfalls and a “gola” (basically where two large rocks/mountains meet and leave a gap).

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Monte Vettore

I also finally made it up to Monte Vettore, the highest mountain in the Sibillini range at 2,476 meters. It’s the highest place I’ve ever walked up to so I’m pleased about that! It’s been on my list of things to do for months🙂 Here are some photos…

Around Sarnano

I also had some visitors here so did some of my usual “tourist” route activities with them!

Montemonaco

We also went to Il Tiglio, a very plush Michelin starred restaurant in Montemonaco. We went for the “degustazione” menu – a tasting menu where you try a bit of everything on the menu. I had a vegetarian version which was very tasty. I think the best bit was just the sheer creativity… as a starter a branch came out with “berries” stuck on made of parmesan etc. Pudding was a sort of custard poured on the table with fruit and granola type stuff which sounds pretty normal but then the waiter poured liquid nitrogen over it to freeze it! It was a very interesting dining experience all around.  On the way back we stopped off in the town and took some photos…

Rocca Varano

We also made it to Rocca Varano, a castle on the outskirts of Camerino. I’ve often driven past and wanted to investigate. It looks particularly elegant at night, all lit up. So we headed there and predictably it was shut! We still had a wander around though. I’ll have to go back and explore the inside at some point.

Pescara

Pescara is another place that’s been on my list of things to do for months. It’s a city about 2 hours drive from here on the coast. I met a friend for lunch and a quick walk around the town so didn’t do too much exploring but it looks quite a nice town on first impressions.

Opera at the Sferisterio

I’ve also been to see the opera at the Sferisterio, a sort of ancient semi-circular Colosseum in Macerata. It was quite an experience. I was pleased to note that most of the Italians don’t understand what on earth is going on either. Even with the subtitles which were flashed up at the sides, it’s difficult to understand what’s happening because it’s all in ancient Italian that often doesn’t bare any resemblance to Italian nowadays. I think they could have been a little clearer as well in terms of the scenes and costumes (it took me a while to work out that there were two separate main women as they both looked the same, dressed the same and sounded the same…. note: I am reliably informed by my opera singing expert friend that they didn’t in fact sound the same).

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Castrum Sarnani and the Serafino

Finally, last week, we had Castrum Sarnani, a big medieval festival in Sarnano that happens every August. It’s a great event with things going on every day for a week or so. It kicks off with the Serafino, a competition between the four zones in Sarnano where they compete to win things like tug-of-war, tree-trunk cutting, tree climbing and a race with a jug of water on your head!

During the taking of these photos above, I got stung by a wasp. Over a week on, my finger has only just gone back down to normal size!

Once the Serafino has finished, the real party starts. Sarnano is filled with medieval demonstrations – candle making, flour milling, juggling, singing and falconry. There are 4 or 5 different “taverns” to eat at within town and you can pay for everything using special coins made by the resident blacksmith! It’s just a really lovely event – I highly recommend it!

I think that sums up the last few weeks. I hope you’re all having an excellent August🙂

x

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Sunbathing in Senigallia, Entertaining and Photography!

Buongiorno a tutti!!!

How is everyone? Well, I have a daunting amount of updating to do! It covers a bit before the Puglia trip at the beginning of the month and thereafter.  I shall aim to keep it short and sweet (I realise I’m not particularly adept at that!). On a separate note, if you’ve signed up to these posts by email (thank you!), I’m told it’s worth clicking on the link to read on the website as the layout is better. Anyway, between doing a bit of teaching, I have been…

Sunbathing in Senigallia

I spent a weekend with some good friends in their apartment in Senigallia at the end of June. The weather was amazingly hot and it was nice to have some time at the beach. We had an aperitivo at a lovely bar called Chalet Beach at Marina di Montemarciano and then finished up near the apartment in a great restaurant with candlelit tables on the beach. It was already busy back in June but later this week it’ll be even busier because they hold a Summer Jamboree – an international rock festival which I went to a couple of years ago and loved. We had some good sunsets whilst I was there, in particular one sunset that looked remarkably like the sky just before the aliens came down in the film ‘Independence Day’.

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Photographic Excursion

I also had a little photography excursion around the mountains near where I live with the friend who came to Puglia with me…

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Then a few days later some other friends with their 17 month old came out to stay for the weekend. I was slightly nervous because I wasn’t sure how ‘toddler-safe’ the house is. My stairs to get to the second floor, for example, are really something to behold – I’m considering attaching a mountaineering fixed line for people to attach themselves to as they go up and down. Anyway, I’m pleased to say that despite my concerns, the 17 month old left intact and happy and I think the parents did too!

Lounging in Lago di Bracciano

Then the a couple of days later I drove down to Lago di Bracciano with a friend. That was a bit of a long day – 9 hours of driving in one day. I think that’s about twice my personal record!

It was a good day though and it was nice to explore a new area. The lake has a swimming area and the sand is actually black (and really, REALLY hot!). It was a nice lake and I also visited Anguillara Sabazia, a little town jutting out into the lake which had a lovely ‘old town’ to wander around.

Watercolours!

I organised a little watercolour painting excursion too at Lago di Fiastra which I think went really well although there were only 4 of us. I think we were the talk of the beach! Everyone kept coming up to have a look. I felt like it could have been a comedy sketch – us four reasonably professional looking painters and then my painting at least, looked like a 2yr old could have done it. I can only imagine what people were thinking! Anyway, I’ve definitely got the bug, I’m hoping to organise another excursion in a couple of weeks, though to be honest, I haven’t entirely worked out the advantage of painting “live” as opposed from a photo! Our tutor said the other day that we should be ready to start painting something that we might want to put on our wall. I think I have vaguely managed that, or at least, my friend from the class wants one of my paintings to put on his wall! I’ll put some photos up of some paintings on the next update.

Colmurano “Artistrada” Festival

I’ve heard good things about the Colmurano “Artistrada” Festival for months. Colmurano is a little town in Le Marche, about half an hour from my house. The festa is one that celebrates all kinds of art forms – whether that’s painting, portrait drawing, music or street performances. I have to say, it was one of my favourite events that I’ve been to in Italy so far. Colmurano itself is pretty to just have a wander around but the events were all really good too. I even bought a CD by a guy called Geordie Little, a percussion guitarist (have a look at his videos on the link if you don’t know what percussion guitar is).

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Percussion Guitar is where you use all of the guitar – you might hit the sides to get effectively a drum beat and you might press the strings down on the neck like you’re playing a piano… it’s very interesting to watch!

Then we saw an excellent dance group who I unfortunately only saw through the phone of someone videoing it (thankfully,  otherwise I wouldn’t have seen a thing as it was so busy!) and then a brilliant fire-dancing group called Pyrodanza. I took some photos and they are going to put them in their online photo gallery🙂

Party!

I am always being told by the Italian’s how many English people there are in Le Marche and up until a week or two back, I’d met only about 5,  which doesn’t seem to tie up with the high numbers I’d been told about. Anyway, I was invited to a party (I was the ‘plus one’) and there were dozens of us! DOZENS! When I moved out I was quite wary of not mixing only with ex-pats as that seems like it’s cheating a bit, but then that seemed an impossibility anyway because I couldn’t find any! However, it was great having a chat about other people’s experiences here, particularly with the language learning and I met a lot of like minded people so I’m pleased about that. The party itself, a celebration of a recent marriage, was fabulous too. We were even treated to a couple of celebrity singers!

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Ricardo Foresi and Monica Trapaga. Apologies for the blurry photo – I blame the phone camera (and not the wine)

Macerata Language Exchange Group Outing!

I recently discovered a lovely group of people, part of the Macerata Language Exchange group, wanting to improve their English (and sometimes their Italian, as many of them come from all over the world!). We met for a special “Games / Chatting” night at Civitanova organised by a professional facilitator, Adriano. It worked out very well in fact as we were prompted to talk about things that probably wouldn’t come up in normal conversation – goals, life history, stories… Good for my Italian! And I can’t tell you how amazing the place was where we had the event, Casablanca – it was absolutely stunning, complete with swimming pool and restaurant. I’ll definitely be going back there again.

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Trekking & The Walking Boots of Hell

I also went on a fab trek a couple of weeks ago in the Sibillini Mountains with some new fellow ex-pat friends. It was a gorgeous day and we walked up along the ridge of the mountains. It was difficult walking – through long damp grass and on uneven slopes, but satisfying and definitely worth it when we got up to the ridge which had amazing views. Alas, I slipped onto a rock and still have quite a painful leg as a result! However, it made me think. I spend a good potion of my time in the mountains slipping down them. I had previously been blaming my general ineptness at maintaining any kind of balance but it suddenly occurred to me it might be my old, cheapish walking boots. It was also a revelation when I spoke to the others about the state of their feet / boots that apparently, it’s not normal to feel like you’re tottering on bloodied painful stumps towards the end of a walk. WHO KNEW?!?! So, I’ve invested in expensive new walking boots and walking sticks (sporty ones rather than the old people ones), and they’re amazing! I hardly slip at all now (touch wood, or touch iron as the Italian’s say!) and my feet are still entirely operational after a long walk. This weekend there’s a long trek with my walking group in Gran Sasso, an area of the highest of the Apennine mountains. I had worried about being able to keep up but after a local walk this Sunday, I got approval to go by our walking group president who said I was very “tosta” (tough)!

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This is the lovely Milly – she must have gone 20 times further than everyone else that day, bounding between the members of the group!

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Smerillo 

There’s been a festival in Smerillo, another very pretty little hill-top town with amazing panoramas of the area. It’s a yearly event called “Le Parole della Montagna” (the words of the mountain) and had some good mountain focused films and talks organised. Last Friday I saw Kurt Diemberger, one of only two survivors from the K2 Disaster in 1986, who gave a talk about his climbing experiences which was interesting. Nice chap. A bit short with people perhaps but in an amusing way!  I’ve since become obsessed with mountain disaster films. I will never feel daunted by a steep slope again.

Amandola Gelato Festival

This was one of those festa’s that was a bit of a let down. It started at 3pm apparently. Knowing that the Italian’s are somewhat of a ‘late’ nation,  my friend and I went at 5pm and they were still only just setting up. We had been expecting lots of different stalls selling unusual flavoured ice-creams but there was nothing. So we got a couple of drinks and watched them set up. By the time we left at about 6.30 all there was, was a guy explaining how to make ice-cream. So we had ice-cream from a normal gelataria (ice-cream shop) and left. There was a good band on later apparently and I wanted to go to the “Silent Disco” they had planned but it would have been a bit of a wait around for several hours so we headed back to check out the nightlife in Sarnano instead…

Checking out the old Italian classics

I haven’t really explored Sarnano at night – in fact, I could count on one hand the number of times I’d stayed in town after 10pm. It was actually busy with people milling around. We stopped at a bar called Decantautore to watch a band called Souvenir D’Italia play old Italian hits. It was great! It was very amusing, particularly when the singer got out a sort of manual loud-speaker.

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Almost at the end of the update.. well done if you’ve got this far…

Tessera Sanitaria (Health Card)

I’ve finally got health cover – the same as I would if I was an Italian citizen. I’ve so far been relying on being healthy and having no issues but I decided that approach was probably too optimistic long term. So I had to pay a very specific 387.34 euros in what was quite a faff going between “ASL” (the office where you get your Tessera) and the post office. I’ll still not believe I’ve actually managed to get one until I have it in my hand.

Sterilizing the cat!

I finally took the plunge and got Batfink neutered this week. He looks so sore, I’m feeling horribly guilty. But it was for the best. I think his raging hormones are responsible for a couple of missing kittens😦  Here he is in all his pre-neutered glory when he still loved me.

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Poor little adorable Batfink

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And this is his “I can’t believe you’d do this to me, you traitor” look😦

And finally!!!! MY OLIVE TREE HAS GROWN AN OLIVE! Three in fact. Isn’t it impressive?! Good little olive tree.

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Spot the olive! I did have high hopes for those other little balls but they don’t appear to be getting any more olive-like. Nevermind. Three is plenty to be getting on with. Perhaps I’ll make oil.

Ok, that’s enough excitement for this blog post. Apologies it’s been so long but you can rest assured that I’m up to date now!

Have good weeks!

x

 

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The Great Puglia Road Trip Part 3: Discovering Polignano a Mare, Gargano and the Tremiti Islands

Buongiorno a tutti,

For our third and final camping destination we headed to Pugnochiuso, a little area in the Gargano National Park. Heading from Monopoli, there are some lovely sites on the way… (For Part 1 and Part 2, click on these links)

Day 4: Go to Polignano a Mare. Polignano a Mare is only about 20 minutes from the campsite and it’s definitely a great place to visit. The old town is on a little promontory of rock. The sea around is just sooooo clear.  People were swimming around the town! The town itself is pretty with lots of poems and wise words written on the walls or staircases. We came across a couple of guys fishing from the town itself – the drop to the sea was probably 40 meters at least!

Then onto….. Bari. Bari is the capital of Puglia. I am somewhat biased against big cities; after living here in the mountains, I feel a bit claustrophobic when I’m hemmed in between cars and apartment blocks every which way. In fact, when we got there we couldn’t find a parking spot and I suggested we just give up on it and move on. I’m glad we didn’t in the end. We only had an hour there but it was nice enough. We found a castle to have a look at and did a bit of shopping and then decided to head further up the coast for a swim.

Next….Take a swim break somewhere along the coast where there are large swathes of empty sandy beach.

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See that land mass in the distance? Our destination was on the tip of that.

Drive along the coast in Gargano, stopping to take photos! Gargano is a National Park on the spur of Italy’s boot. It’s mountainous and seems mainly covered in trees.

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Reach the campsite, Baia a Cala Campi. This was the most professional looking campsite of the lot and there were lots of people there. However, it didn’t seem overcrowded and all in all it was a great campsite in a stunning location. It had a shop, bar and restaurant and a large stretch of private beach. It even had a couple of islands just off shore which we swam to. I still have many tiny little souvenirs from that island in the form of coral embedded in my toes!

Tip: Buy those sort of rubbery shoe things and/ or don’t stand on sharp coral. 

Head to Vieste for dinner. I really like Vieste, it’s busy and lively but not overbearing. There are lots of tourist shops selling typical stuff but also some other really interesting shops selling things that are a little bit more unusual. You’ll find some great restaurants high up in the old town overlooking the sea. Follow the signs for the panorama.

Before leaving Vieste, book a boat trip to the Tremiti Islands for the following day. They leave at about 8.30 in the morning. There aren’t many places that sell tickets. We walked towards the port and bought tickets there.

Tip. They’re a right cunning bunch! Ask exactly what you’re getting for your money. We paid for a tour of the Tremiti Islands (there are 3) which the following day turned out to be just a ferry to one island and didn’t include a tour, unless we wanted to pay an extra 16 euros each (on top of the 22 euros we’d already paid each). Anyway, despite my annoyance it worked out very well in the end as the boat trip there is about 2 hours and we felt a bit “boated” out when we arrived and there was plenty to see and do on the main island anyway.

Day 5: Head to Vieste to catch the boat (and argue with the ticket man).  Relax and chill in the boat for what seems like forever. 

When you arrive, head to the bar at the port in San Domino (where the boat lands, or at least ours did!) Try and capture kids jumping into the water with your camera.

Then explore the island! There’s the Grotta del Sale which is a couple of kilometers walk through a lovely pine forest and a couple of little residential spots. It’s lovely walking through the pine forest with the sounds of the cicadas – the quintessential sounds and smells of summer for me!

Tip: I thought that screeching insect noise were crickets… but they’re cicadas that look nothing like crickets. Did you know some of them live 17 years underground on their own before emerging and dying in a few weeks? And that they are one of the noisiest animals in the world? And that they can permanently damage your hearing if they start making a noise too close by? Fascinating! Read up about them here

Catch the boat back at around 16.30. Somehow the journey back home seems twice as long as the journey there! I like boat trips but this one seems quite long because there’s such a lot of time in the middle of the sea with nothing to see!

Finally, capture the sunset on the drive back to the campsite. There’s a tower on the way, park there and you’ll see this holey rock face!

So there we have it – that was my trip to Puglia! Next step…head home!

It really was an amazing holiday and I’d thoroughly recommend visiting those places to all of you- perhaps for a bit longer than I managed!

If you have any questions or want anymore tips about holidaying in the area, drop me a line!🙂

A presto,

x

 

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The Great Puglia Road Trip Part 2: Around Monopoli

Buongiorno a tutti!

Following on from Part 1 of the road trip….the next couple of nights of the trip were spent in Monopoli but we had a couple of ‘cool’ stops getting there and a great time the next day checking out a couple of well-known towns. So…

Day 2: Head to Lecce. Lecce is a large historic and important city in the region. It’s got an ‘old town’ with a lot of limestone baroque architecture and an old roman amphitheater. To get to the old town though there’s a regular city like any other – a bit chaotic. We found a good sized park with fountains which made for a good lunch spot. We also popped into a Papiermâché sculpture shop – in Lecce they have a tradition in making very delicate, ‘origami-like’ painted figurines. The woman in the shop told me how her family had been making the sculptures for generations and it seems to have originated out of a need to keep the statues used in processions light weight. Anyway, not my style but very impressive and you can see the craftsmanship involved. I didn’t take any photos unfortunately, but have a look at this great little website to see how they make them.

Tip: Parking in Italy is becoming quite a hassle if you don’t know your number plate. They really don’t like the idea that you could do a good deed and hand your ticket to someone else if you haven’t used up all your allotted time. No no, you must enter your number plate. Or some kind of variant of it. Even many Italians can’t work out how on earth to use these parking ticket machines. Anyway, make sure you make a note of your number plate otherwise you won’t stand a chance and you’ll waste an inordinate amount of time traipsing miles between your car and the ticket machine (ITALY: HAVE MORE WORKING PARKING MACHINES!!!!)

Next…..Look at naked men at the Riserva Naturale Torre Guaceto. After a while in the car leaving Lecce, we thought we’d have a quick walk and maybe a swim at this nature reserve. However it turned out to be an exhausting 3 hour walk in what must have been 40 degree heat! Head to the beach though and you can walk along it to the tower (amidst the occasional naked man!) and the most amazing hideaways made of driftwood. For fellow seaglass fanatics, there’s a lot here🙂 On the way back, I just don’t know what to suggest. If I were you I’d walk back along the beach. The alternative is to do what we did which was to walk along parallel to the superstrada (Super Road – isn’t that a lovely thing to call your road?) which I’m sure was a lot longer and less interesting than if we had returned along the beach!

Finally, drive to the Santo Stefano campsite in Monopoli. Camping Santo Stefano is a lovely campsite with its own private little secluded beach and I think a lido but we didn’t have time to explore that unfortunately. I understand there are some ruins near to the campsite too. I think you could spend a week in each of our campsites and not run out of things to do. It’s a shame we didn’t have more time! These are some photos taken at the campsite… We had a lovely morning swim there before heading off the next day.

Tip: At the campsite they will ask you how many hot showers you would like! It seems a bit surreal – you get a card with the number of your allotted showers! I think it was 50 cents for a shower. There are free “cold” showers which are actually reasonably warm because it was just so hot but they’re out in the open air so unless you’re a confident sort, I’d pay for the showers.

Day 3: Head to Alberobello. It takes about 30 minutes in the car. If you’ve seen documentaries about Alberobello, then forget them entirely as the drive in will be depressing. Alberobello looks like a completely bog-standard town.  Once you park up and start walking around you might see a ‘trulli’ or two but it’s still a bit of  a disappointment. Alberobello is known for it’s ‘trulli’, little white houses with conical roofs made of stone. After a few minutes of wandering around I was beginning to think I’d been a bit misled by the images I’ve seen! However, then we turned a corner and there were just hundreds of them – a little trulli community! Amazing…   A lot of the trulli have been turned into shops selling local produce, textiles and oddly, millions of whistles which turned out to be a symbol of good luck.

 

When you leave Alberobello, head to Matera, an hour or so away. This was another massive disappointment initially. The documentaries don’t ever give you the impression that you have to search around for a while first before you find these things! Anyway, as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by it’s cover: park up and head towards the old town.  Matera is an old city in Basilicata (not Puglia). It’s known as the ‘subterranean city’ and is famous for it’s ancient town called Sassi, which are houses carved out of the rock.  It’s very interesting and very beautiful!

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Tip: Do not wear flipflops. You’ll need shoes with grip. In fact, almost all the towns in Puglia are a bit treacherous with their shiny marble-like floors but in Matera I actually had to walk bare foot on the scorching pavement to avoid constantly falling over.

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Death trap!!!

Head back to the campsite armed with BBQ equipment and find a gap on the beach to chill out for the evening and look at the stars.

Next up, exploring Polignano a Mare and the Isole Tremiti…

x

 

 

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The Great Puglia Road Trip Part 1: Investigating the coast around Pescoluse

 

Buonasera!

I am thrilled to report I had an amazing holiday in Puglia – it has to be one of my favourite holidays. On the Monday I picked up my friend from the airport in Ancona and we headed seven and a half hours south towards Leuca, the very bottom of the boot of Italy’s heel in the beautiful region of Puglia. Puglia has been on my Bucket List for ages and we only had six nights to fit in everything I wanted to do. Truth be told, it was more of a frog march than a vacation but I did schedule in some relaxation time so that’s ok I think? Anyway, I liked our little trip so much I’m going to write it as an itinerary for anyone wishing to do a similar thing. We camped, which is not as popular in Italy as in the UK, but we stayed in some lovely campsites

Puglia has a completely different feel to it than the Italy I’ve come to know. The landscape is full of ancient olive trees, cacti and bright flowers growing out of red earth. It’s completely unlike my very hilly, mountainous green part just a few hours further north.

I won’t count the day spent driving down so the guide starts thusly…

Day 1: Explore the coast around Pescoluse

Stay in a campsite called Grotta Pescoluse. It’s a nice little campsite set a kilometer or so from the beach. You can camp among the trees and there’s a large swimming pool and bar/restaurant area which we didn’t get time to make use of. You can walk down to the beach in half an hour or so (the walk back is a bit more tiring because it’s uphill).

Tip: Beware of the ants. There are many of them. Some campers sprinkled talcum powder around their pitches because ants don’t cross lines of talc!  And always have toilet paper and soap. For some reason in Italy, they don’t feel like they can stretch to providing toilet paper or soap in any of the facilities. Though in this campsite, they did provide a suspicious looking hose attached to the toilet (some sort of personal irrigation system?)

Drive up the coast to Porto Trecase. Trecase is beautiful and has an interesting history.  Puglia has quite a rocky coastline. The water is so crystal clear that you can see down to the seabed. Trecase has a little beach. Follow the coast around to see some kind of old fortification and then you’ll see puddles of salt where the sea water has dried. The sea seems to be very salty in Puglia – it seems quite difficult to sink (which is great until you want to dive down with your snorkel!) Anyway, I recommend a dip here before heading to the next ‘cool’ swimming location.

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This was the view walking down to the little beach from where we parked the car.

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The beach.

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Looking back at the beach.

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They had this odd little fort type structure – this one looked like it might have had guys inside with guns (bows and arrows?!)  back in the day.

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And lots of salty puddles.

Snorkel at Grotto Verde.  I think this has to be one of my all time favourite places in the world. I was actually searching for another coastline grotto (cave) but we couldn’t find it, and because we were melting  in the heat, and had seen a bunch of people in swimming costumes hanging around a little rocky outcrop we decided to have a swimming break. Grotto Verde just looks like a bit of a sheltered little rocky bay. However, when you get into the water you’ll see that you can swim into the cave – it’s dark but you can just make out a gap on the right hand side where there’s a narrow passage that takes you into another cave. This next cave is AMAZING! At first we thought it had been artificially lit from underneath, in fact on further inspection with a snorkel, the light is coming from a couple of feet under the surface – an underwater link to the outside. Have a look at the link above and check out the photos on Trip Advisor!

Tip: Get a snorkel to enable you to see the submerged rocks and avoid nasty scrapes, and besides it’s so pretty under water, it’s like another world. I also suspect you can swim from the “lit” cave to the outside. However, much to my annoyance I chickened out – it was a bit difficult to tell how long the underwater tunnel was (2 metres?) and besides, I kept floating making any underwater swimming a challenge!

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Drive along the coast to Otranto… stop often to take photos. These are some of the photos I took on the way.

Have lunch and explore Otranto. Otranto is a lovely little village on the coast, complete with castle. Puglia seems relatively well fortified with a number of “torre” (towers) overlooking the coastline. To be honest, I would probably have invaded Puglia too, it’s just so pretty! In Otranto they do Ape tours (pronounced Ah-pay, it’s the Italian word for bee). Apes are cute little three wheeled motorised buzzy things. In my opinion the tours were expensive so we didn’t do it but you probably get to see lots.

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This dog seemed to be having a great time

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One of the large piazzas by the sea.

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Overlooking the port.

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The Car & Castle. I think that would be a good pub name.

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And the castle again. They are showing the Steve McCurry “Icons” exhibition there at the moment which I highly recommend (but I’d already seen it in Forli earlier in the year).

Tip: Go inside the church in Otranto and marvel at the really weird and epic mosaic on the floor. I particularly like the deer with a human face sprouting some sort of vegetable from his mouth.

Head further up the coast to Roca Vecchia and the Grotto della Poesia. There are no signs to it so best of luck trying to find it. Basically go up the coast until you see lots of people walking along the side of the road and stop there and follow them! Roca Vecchia is an archaeological site with old stone buildings from the bronze age. You can just about make out the ruins without going into the confines of the site (which was closed of course!).

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Grotto della Poesia is a couple of hundred meters south of Roca Vecchia. It’s another cave which you enter by jumping into about 3 meters or so of water (or walking down to it from the side – but that’s boring, eh?!). The only problem here was the audience! It certainly means you can’t faff around at the top debating your jump because there’s a queue behind you and dozens of people watching! It was quite exhilarating though and it gave me a buzz for the rest of the day🙂

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This was the jump and accompanying audience!!!

Tip: Don’t park your car at the side of the road where everyone else is parking their car. It’s a trap – you’ll get a fine!

Go back to the campsite in an exhausted heap and then walk to the beach with everything you need for a BBQ and a night swim!

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Here the beach is sandy and the water is warm. It’s like just walking into a warm bath! It’s just lovely!!!!

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So that was all in Day 1. If you have more time, you might want to space it out a little and spend a bit more time in each location!

Tune in for the next post covering off Day 2 and 3 in Monopoli, Lecce, Torre Guaceto, Alberobello and Matera.

x

 

 

 

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Painting attempts, Lost Temples and Cat Sagas

Buongiorno a tutti!

Well it’s been another busy week or so. On my way back from the blog tour a couple of weeks ago, I finally stopped at a few places that have been on my list to see for ages. Firstly there was….

Urbania

I’ve heard good things about Urbania. It’s near Urbino, in north  Le Marche, which is a beautiful town well worth a visit. Urbania is less quaint than Urbino. Still, I was glad I had the opportunity to go there and have a wander around. Here are some photos…

Gola di Furlo

Now, you’re probably reading this and pronouncing Furlo like, well, an English person would pronounce it. You’re wrong. There is no way of pronouncing this word that an Italian person will understand. You actually have to spell it out (and even that’s traumatic because I must have told you before how the Italian’s spell? They just say the word very slowly and consider that spelt! It clears up absolutely nothing.) Anyway, the Gola di Fuuuuurloooo, is a beautiful gorge between the mountains where a river runs through. It’s difficult to get a good photo – the gorge also has a road but that’s closed to cars so you need to either walk or cycle through. However the road is lined with trees making it impossible to get a good view of the river. In the end I had to jump over a fence to take a picture and even then it didn’t do it justice!

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Tempio del Valadier

The next stop was Tempio del Valadier in Genga, built in 1826. I’ve been seeing photo’s on the various tourism websites for this temple for ages and was curious to see it in real life. It was just as impressive as it seemed from the photos and I’m just awed that we have it in Le Marche. In fact, Le Marche really is in my opinion one of the best regions in Italy (the world?!?!?!) – it has such a mix of different things to see in terms of the landscape, towns and history. Really I don’t think you could ask for anything more!

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It looks like a model here but I assure you it’s not! It’s absolutely massive.

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Here it is from the other side.

But, beware the snakes…

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Genga

Then I popped over to the town of Genga. Genga is a pretty little hilltop town but seemed quite deserted when I was there. They do have a museum which looked like it might be quite interesting, talking about the history of the local area but I didn’t have time to go in. The buildings are interesting – they seem to be half carved out of rock strata. It’s very pretty. There was also a room open in what seemed like an old church that had a very impressive picture made of various seeds and grains. It seemed so much like a painting that I had to touch it to check  – I thought the seeds must be glued down. They weren’t. I made a big hole which I hastily tried to cover up.  If any of the artists are reading this – sorry guys!

The weather this year has been generally rubbish on the whole – we have a couple of days of glorious sunshine and then it’s followed by thunderstorms. I took this rather daunting looking picture on the way back from Genga. I did manage to miss the rain though so was pleased about that!

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Walking Group!

I had my third trip out with the CAI (Clup Alpino Italiano) walking group of Sarnano. We were supposed to be going to Monte Bove (still in the Sibillini’s but more central than where I live). It would have been an impressive walk but we had to cancel that because of the storm due that afternoon. Instead, we went out locally, walking from a part of Sarnano called Bisio and then up to a refuge called Citta di Amandola and then on a bit further to the lookout point over Santuario dell’Ambro, a church set in one of the valleys. Our little offshoot of CAI isn’t very well supported (a lot of areas have their own CAI that appear to have more active members). In fact this week, there were only 4 of us. The group don’t appear to have embraced technology to publicise the walks, so I might look into that on their behalf! The Club President is one of the more interesting characters I’ve met here – a sort of hairy naked dude that eats all the plants as he’s walking along but he’s a lovely guy and knows every single path in the area. One of our group was wearing head to toe expensive specialist walking gear…whereas the President was (periodically) wearing a holey vest and shorts and the sort of shoes used for protecting your feet when you’re doing DIY.

I was a bit taken aback hearing a story of some poor paraglider that made a simple mistake and ended up killing himself on that rock face in the pictures below (right hand side). Poor man, I think that was years ago but as an ex-paraglider pilot myself it put the wind up me a bit!

Cycling

On Saturday I decided I would try and make it up to Sassotetto on my bike. Sassotetto is one of my nearest mountains. I packed a sandwich and lots of water and set off at about early morning. Wanting to do a circular route, I went via San Liberato first, a beautiful monastery set in the woods about half way up the mountain. I mistakenly thought that it might be the easiest route. In fact, it was exhausting. I had to get out and push on a number of occasions. The road was empty other than every time I got off my bike, within seconds you could guarantee a troupe of cyclists would come along (all sporty looking men in sporty looking outfits – in fact, there are simply no cyclists that wear normal get fit stuff here, they all seem to have proper racing gear like they’re all doing the Tour de France – they take their cycling very seriously! I don’t think they were particularly impressed by me with my general keep fit gear, a big backpack and a cheap bike!). Anyway, 6 hours and 40 kilometers later and with legs that refused to work anymore, I was back home again. Guess how quickly one of my CAI walking companions does that same route? An hour and a half. I don’t think I shall ever ‘cut the mustard’ as a cyclist!

Cat update

It’s just been an awful year for our little community of cats. A few posts back I mentioned how one of them was at the vets apparently suffering from the same slug pellet poisoning as before. Unfortunately he didn’t make it which was terribly sad. He was less than a year old and had a lovely character, always wanting a chat, albeit the conversation was a bit ‘samey’ after a while: “Meow?” “Meow”, “Meow!”, “Meow?”. Then last week, the lovely Pellosina died. Pellosina was just the sweetest little cat and was about 4 years old. She was really quite shy and didn’t like to be stroked but had such a gentle character and she was a fabulous climber – always high up on some post or other. She had three kittens a couple of months ago and though she didn’t like to be stroked, she was so content with motherhood that if you approached her with her kittens she would roll over onto her back with the kittens still suckling as if to say “look at my little family” and she’d let you stroke her and the kittens. She was the girlfriend of Neve the Evil Cat (he’s constantly attacking my cat Batfink) and it was him that led us, Lassie style, to Pellosina when she was convulsing behind a shed. Slug pellet poisoning is absolutely awful; it’s an agonising way to go and poor little Pellosina died in my arms outside the vets office. That’s 3 cats that have died now and it feels like I’m on a countdown until Batfink is struck down again (he’s already survived one bout). So, I would like to urge everyone – please don’t put slug pellets down. Have a look here for alternatives. Here’s my little photographic tribute to them😦

And Sole, one of the survivors from the last batch of kittens has an awfully sore nose from something or other. Here he is having a cuddle from Batfink. It’s never a dull moment with the cats at the moment unfortunately!!!!!!

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Poor little nose!

Lion King!

On a less depressing note, Sarnano had a theatrical production of the Lion King the other week! It was an amateur production but still a lot more impressive than the amateur productions I used to be a part of. I was rather amazed to see that some of the costumes were akin to the ones used on the London stage!  The only problem was, it seemed to go on for a lifetime. The trouble in Italy is that everything is just too late. The show started at gone 10pm and there were little children in it! Why they don’t begin their entertainment events in the late afternoon or early evening, I will never understand. And yet, the Italians don’t appear to be perpetually tired so who knows, perhaps the country just doesn’t need to sleep?

Painting

I’ve been having fun with the watercolour class and painting. There’s a real technique to it. Watercolour is completely different to painting with any other medium. I can’t say as I’ve ever been particularly enamoured with watercolours as I have traditionally veered towards bolder paintings with quite a lot of texture: I discredited watercolours as “painting-lite” for those who just want to paint quaint, dreamy village scenes and flowers. That was until I started my watercolour course a couple of months back and in fact, I really like it. Far from it being a “quaint” form of painting there are some really amazing techniques and it needs a lot of practice even to do what seems to be the simplest of things. The course focuses on landscapes but I’m absolutely inept at those, though perhaps getting marginally better. Portraits seem a bit easier. There was talk about us students having an exhibition. I quite like the idea of that – something to work towards. I think I’ll dedicate July to producing a couple of reasonable landscape pictures. Anyway, specifically for my Uncle Richard who has pointed out on a few occasions that I never post photos up of my paintings, here are some of my least embarrassing efforts to date.  I’ve specifically embedded these pictures in small so don’t look too closely and don’t judge me, I’m still learning!!!!

And to help with the inspiration, I decided to create a little ‘studio’ where a bookcase used to be. I like being up there and it’s good for watercolours because I can pop them out to dry on the terrace. All in all, I’m quite pleased with it.

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I’m looking forward to the weekend – I’m going to be staying in Senigallia (coastal town) with my friends this weekend and then I’m straight off to Puglia (southern Italy) with another friend visiting from the UK. I can’t wait!!!!!!!!!

I shall leave you with my tagliatelle making efforts from yesterday. I hope you’re all having good weeks!

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x

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Part 3: Fried Green Sage at the San Salvador Hotel

Buongiorno a tutti,

Well this is the final part of my Bellaria Blog Tour Trilogy! If you haven’t seen the others yet have a look:

The Blog Tour was hosted by the San Salvador Hotel run by the lovely Poggi family. The hotel is practically on the seafront, just a minute’s walk from the beach, if that. The common areas of the hotel are bright, clean and well-maintained and the owners and staff are very friendly and welcoming (and speak English!).  There’s a lounging area outside with comfy seats and swinging chairs where you can relax with a drink from the bar.

The buffet style restaurant is on the first floor. I was really impressed with the quality and range of food and even more so by their vegetarian and vegan friendly dishes. The hotel takes great pride in their cuisine – most of it being freshly made at the hotel using their own produce. In fact, have a look at their own write-up here, their photos are better!

Now, I could turn my nose up at buffet style places – you never know how long the food has been out and it’s a bit exposed to the elements eh? But the food was always obviously fresh and the buffet style meant you could take whatever you fancied and go back for seconds.

These are a few snaps from the restaurant. I was particularly impressed by the juicer which clients could make use of. You can eat as healthily or as unhealthily as you want. They even have chia seeds to have on your breakfast.

Life as a vegetarian in Italy is sometimes a challenge for me – my options can sometimes be limited to just pasta with tomato sauce. At the hotel though they were serving stuff I didn’t think you could actually get over here: different dishes including tofu, soya and tempah.  See below for some of my meals.

The hotel offer cooking courses on occasion and on one rainy morning we learnt how to make biscuits called ‘Gialletti’ (the name coming from ‘giallo’ which means yellow, the yellow tinge coming from the polenta used to make them) and piadinas Emilia-Romagna style. For those that haven’t come across piadinas before, they’re a sort of flat bread – a fat tortilla. Italians heat them up in a frying pan and put tasty thing inside like rocket and squaquarone cheese (squaquarone is a very tasty soft cheese). Our piadinas contained lard so I didn’t get to taste the final result but it did encourage me to give it a go at home (using oil!).  The bottom right hand photo below shows our final efforts with the rocket, squaquarone and slices of meat.  I was particularly impressed with the biscuits – we got to keep them and my pack of 30 or so biscuits lasted for all of about 2 days.

I mentioned above that the food in the restaurant was made using local produce – well the bulk of it comes from the Poggi family’s own land a few minutes drive away from the hotel. On our final day we were given a tour of the estate and given the opportunity to harvest some of the food for that evening’s dinner. It was good to see how vegetables should be grown properly. I’m currently growing just salad which keeps getting eaten by slugs and herbs which are looking suspiciously brown. During our harvest, we collected marigold flowers, fennel fronds, courgette flowers and sage leaves to be fried in batter for our dinner later. In fact, it seems there’s nothing that they don’t fry in batter (I didn’t see mars bars admittedly).

And this is the end result of our harvest – fried things in batter (highly recommended – particularly the sage!) and vegetable pasta with some marigold leaves to garnish and some purple flowers (I can’t remember what they’re called).

The hotel rooms were bright, spacious and clean with comfy beds. My room had a large shower but other rooms had baths.  I had a balcony complete with clothes horse to dry clothes. All in all, a nice place to come back to after a day at the beach or touring around the local area.

The hotel also provided entertainment…. Outside the hotel there are various dance clubs and places running karaoke nights etc. Back at the hotel though, it was nice to chill out in the seating area downstairs. On one night I discovered just how stressful Connect 4 can be – who knew?! It’s very strategic and our ‘board’ was huge!

On our final night a local dance group came along and showed us their moves, and dragged us onto the dance floor with them! It was great fun. Some of the group dances reminded me of Zumba – in fact, it was the same music and almost the same moves! I really should start that up again.

So I think that about sums up my stay. I really enjoyed it and I’m so pleased to have been invited along. Thank you San Salvador Hotel!

If you want to see what some of my fellow bloggers had to say, check out their blogs here:

Forchetta e Valigia

Profumo di Follia

Giorni Rubati

Martinaway

I’ll b right back

21 Grammy

Petali di Margherita

Big Shade

Viagem na Italia

Non Solo Turisti

x

PS. I am available for all blog tours. I would particularly encourage luxury hotels in the Maldives to make use of my reviewing services.

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Part 1: Getting the beautiful air in Bellaria Igea Marina…

Buongiorno a tutti!

I had a wonderful few days in Bellaria Igea Marina on the Blog Tour last week. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a packed schedule. I stayed in the lovely “San Salvador Hotel”, a 3 star hotel just a minute’s walk from the beach.  The tour included tours of Rimini and Santarcangelo di Romagna, not to mention Bellaria Igea Marina itself. We had cooking lessons, we tried our hand at paddle-boarding, we harvested some vegetables (well, mainly flowers in fact!), we cycled and we danced… All in all, it was a busy week.  So as not to overload you with photos and blurb, I’ll split it into parts!

Firstly, the disclaimer: I do love Blog Tours – they’re like little all-expenses paid holidays where you’re fed and entertained for the duration. Their purpose is to promote the area. However, I’m not obliged by any means to write a good review. That being said, I do really like Bellaria Igea Marina and I think it’s definitely a worthwhile holiday destination. Yet, for us English folk and in fact, probably for many other nationalities, Italy as a beach destination offers a very different kind of holiday to that which we’re used to. Indeed, sadly, there aren’t many English people that visit. With that in mind, I don’t feel like I can properly sell the merits of Bellaria Igea Marina without explaining a bit about the Italian beach culture first.

Why choose Italy as a beach destination in the first place?

We English folk do like our beach destinations. What could be more relaxing that lying back in a little cove or bay, with golden sand and nothing and nobody around for miles? Bliss! The reality of course is that unless you fit within some very specific age ranges (or you’re me), there’s inevitably children or old people in tow that require 24/7 entertainment and relentless toilet trips. Nobody takes a beach umbrella on holiday (hardly worth buying one anyway in the UK is it?) so the true Brit will burn to a crisp within the first hour and spend the rest of the holiday bright red and in pain. There will always be an annoying and stubborn pebbly lump under our towels and if it’s a sandy beach; you, your towel and all your belongings will be covered in the stuff within a couple of minutes.

Italians love beaches too but they do them completely differently. On the face of it, they seem to ruin their beaches by piling them with back to back umbrellas and sunbeds. There are bars every couple of meters, volleyball courts, boules, ping pong tables and pop up market stalls on the beach selling everything from towels and sarongs to sunglasses. There are people that take your children away and entertain them (not in a sinister way I should add!). There are even people that take your bikini clad older people away and make them do “aerobics” (I use the term loosely –uncoordinated joint jiggling? Sadly I was unable to obtain photographic evidence without being obvious. You’ll just have to use your imaginations).

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One of the market stalls looking like it might get rained on soon. It was a wet few days on the whole so my photos all look a bit moody!

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On the right is what I think must be “boules”. This is where the elders seem to hang out!

Italy have commercialised their beaches like nowhere else I’ve ever been to. But the thing is, they’ve made it much more relaxing as a result! It takes a while to get used to and in fact, I was scathing for a long time until I realised that actually, it’s nice to spend time at the beach and drink water without fear of not finding a toilet later. It’s nice to be able to buy something to eat or drink. Or relax on a sunbed and not be burnt to a crisp or covered from head to toe with sand within two seconds of applying sun lotion. Or buy sunglasses because I’ve left mine at home. Women of all ages and shapes parade up and down the beach-front in their bikinis and men do the same in minuscule “slips” (“budgie-smugglers” for the rest of us) and nobody cares! To be honest, I think Italy is a worthwhile holiday destination for that alone! It’s a very liberating experience.  Visiting Italian beaches should be used in therapy. Deep seated paranoia about cellulite or batwings just falls away when you’re just one of a million other people who just seem to be content with what they’ve got, whether that be a “beach body” or a stomach that flops over your knees. In fact, covering up just draws more attention to yourself – you’re sort of forced into being body-confident.

Italians often visit the same “bagno” or “stabilimento” (little patch of sunbeds) every year for a life time. Their parents went, their children will go, and their children’s children will go. It’s a family tradition that seems to be passed down from generations and it brings not only the family together but all the people you’ve grown up with who have the same tradition. If I visit the same place more than once, I feel very guilty – I don’t want to miss out on the rest of the world but actually, what the Italians are gaining by having this tradition and culture is much more important in my opinion: friendship and family, and having a lot of fun whilst they’re at it.

And why come to Bellaria Igea Marina?

For a start, the clue is in the name – Bellaria means Beautiful Air! The beach is golden, sandy and clean. In fact, in the morning someone rakes the beach to clear it of debris. Rock barriers stretch along the coast a few dozen meters from the beach to protect it from large waves. The water is shallow for a long way out making it ideal for children. When I arrived on Wednesday morning it was brilliant sunshine and the water was almost at the temperature I might have a bath!

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See the rock barriers… it’s shallow pretty much all the way out!

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They put a lot of effort into their beach cleaning. Someone comes each morning to rake debris into piles and then this tractor and lorry combo come along to pick it up!

There are plenty of “bagni” to take advantage of – for a few euros you can take advantage of the sunbeds, umbrellas, toilets etc. Here are some photos of the beach…

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The advantage of such a busy beach is that there are lots of well-equipped lifeguards!

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Two ladies having a morning stroll along the beach front. Later on, the beach front becomes a positive super highway of people doing the same!

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As you can see, the beach is well used!

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And taken from the other side.

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This is what I think of as party pier! Boat trips go from the end of it. When I arrived they were on a loud speaker and sounding like they were having a great time!

For anyone liking seafood, Bellaria is THE place to come to for clam hunting. In the morning, the sea is filled with people wandering around knee deep searching for them.

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One clam picker

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This photo is admittedly not a fair representation of the sea being “filled” with clam collectors but I speak the truth, honestly!

And still on the beach theme, you can rent pedalos, canoes and my new personal favourite, paddleboards! They call it SUP here, pronounced “soup”  (apparently it’s an acronym of Stand Up Paddle). Paddleboarding is amazing fun – it was part of the tour so we all gave it a go. I’ve always considered it a sort of surfing for wimps. You have what looks like massive surfboard, and then you stand up on it and paddle your way out using a long oar like you’re a gondolier. It seemed a very ineffective and unstable means of transport and lacks the excitement of catching a wave like in surfing… Oh how wrong I was! It was hilarious! Trying to stand up on this thing is nigh on impossible. You have to make constant little adjustments to your balance in order to remain above water and it uses EVERY muscle! So, it’s actually an amazing workout and I can imagine it must be relaxing when you’ve mastered it and  you’re not in constant peril of falling in.

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Here’s one of our member having a go with Fabio, our instructor, providing moral support.

Bellaria Igea Marina is flat and with large tree-lined roads, it makes for ideal cycling. In fact, everyone seems to cycle everywhere! Our hotel, the San Salvador Hotel, offered the use of bikes and our first afternoon consisted of a cycle tour of the area.

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This was my bike. I loved it! THIS is how bikes should be. Baskets, a saddle bag area, comfortable sitting position, no complicated gear changing (there weren’t any to change!!!).  Alas, it’s a bit difficult to go up hills!

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Lovely tree lined streets pave the way for cycling.

One of our first stops was the La Torre Saracena, one of six towers built in the 17th century to defend the town from pirates and other ‘baddies’. Only two towers exist these days and one is now a private residence so it’s good this one is kept open to the public. Now it’s home to “Il Museo delle Conchiglie”, a shell museum where you can see shells from around the world.

Our next stop was “La Casa Rossa di Alfredo Panzini” (The Red House of Alfredo Panzini). Alfredo was a writer, born in 1863 and who died in 1939. He’s well-known in Italy, although I admit, I hadn’t heard of him before. He was a keen cyclist and once cycled from Milan to Bellaria (well over 300km), meeting people, stopping here and there and writing about his experiences. He bought the Red House in 1909 with his wife, Clelia Gabrielli who was an artist (all the paintings in the house are hers). The house has now been turned into a museum. You can see where Alfredo used to write, his desk, his bike, some of his notes and lots of photos.

On a less cultural note there are some good shopping streets selling all manner of things and wandering around makes for a pleasant evening stroll.

Just a few minutes walk from the hotel is Gelso Park which is a large green park with a lake, playgrounds, a dinosaur area (seriously) and large trees that grow blackberries (in fact, that’s where the park gets its name – Gelso is the name of the blackberry tree).

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These are some of my fellow bloggers taking a blackberry break! You might just be able to see one of our members up the tree.

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Beautiful lake at the park.

The area was affected quite heavily by the war – or at least Rimini was. Our 14 year old Bellaria Igea Marina enthusiast cycle guide showed us one of the last remaining reminders of the war – a bomb shelter hidden behind a fence and sunken into the sand.

So that’s Bellaria Igea Marina itself. The San Salvador Hotel provide a good description if you want to read it here. What makes it such a good location though in my opinion is its proximity to some of my other favourite places (click the links to check out my blog posts about them): San Marino, San Leo, Gradara, Forli, Urbino, Pennabilli to name just a few and then of course there’s Rimini and Santarcangelo di Romagna which I’ll tell you about in the next post.

Stay tuned!

x

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Part 2: Exploring the local area: Rimini and Santarcangelo di Romagna

Buongiorno a tutti,

As promised, here’s the second part of my latest Bellaria Igea Marina Blog Tour Trilogy. (When it’s made into a film I imagine it will be split into 4 films and I will be played by Angelina Jolie). If you haven’t seen Part 1 yet, have a look here.

Santarcangelo di Romagna

Our first out-of-Bellaria Igea Marina visit was to Santarcangelo di Romagna, just a few minutes drive from the hotel. It’s a very pretty town. In fact, they had only just had their “Balconi Fioriti” festa (Balconies in Flower) and all the balconies and houses had blossoms of all shapes and sizes outside. The cobbled streets reminded me of old villages back in the UK.

One balcony did make me laugh though…

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This would be like my attempt at producing a balcony flower display. I did find it strangely pretty though and definitely eye-catching from my perspective at least! I am slightly concerned for the owner’s welfare though. I hope it’s just a case of being a terrible gardener.

Our tour guide showed us around the town, taking us past the Tonino Guerra Museum. Tonino Guerra was a well-known writer, poet and screenwriter born in 1920 and died only recently in 2012. His work often featured butterflies as when he was held prisoner during the war, out of hunger he was forced to eat them. Afterwards they held a special significance to him, realising he no longer had to eat them made him happy.

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A mosaic fountain outside the Tonino Guerra museum. See the butterflies?

Just before the Tonino Guerra museum is the Button Museum. Yes, that’s right, buttons! There’s over 8500 of them in there! Sadly, we didn’t have time to visit.

In the main piazza, Piazza Ganganelli, there’s an archway called ‘l’Arco Trionfale’ or also ‘L’Arco Ganganelli‘. Legend has it that if you walk under the archway, the horns on the arch will move if someone has cheated on you. Ha!

Santarcangelo also has a sprawling man made cave network underneath it. The caves have been used for multiple purposes over the years. Nowadays many have been sectioned into private areas enabling the inhabitants living above to have more space: a sort of underground extension. They were also used as a bomb shelter during the war but their more long standing use seems to have been as a wine storage area as the temperature stays a pretty consistent 12 or 13 degrees. There are some curious parts in the cave system – for example, you’ll see in one of the photos below that some niches have been carved out of the rock. Experts have debated the purpose of the niched room – I think my favourite was a sort of meeting room where each person has their own niche (the explanation was more elaborate than that but that’s the gist!). Back when I used to have a proper job, I’d have enjoyed meetings a lot more if I could have had my own niche.

 

Cantina Tour

After Santarcangelo, we went to visit Collina Dei Poeti, an agriturismo (sort of B&B set in an agricultural setting of some sort) and cantina (wine producer in this instance!) set in some lovely countryside that produces Sangiovese wine, a wine typical of the Emilia-Romagna region. We were given a tour of the estate,  showed the vineyards, olive groves and a couple of rows of Gelso trees (you might remember from the last post that they produce a sort of blackberry). After the tour, we had an opportunity to taste the wine. Now, this is where it’s very noticeable going on a wine tour with Italians. I’m generalising here of course but, Italians are just awful drinkers despite their passion for wine. For example, the guide opened up a bottle of their fizzy Sangiovese wine – shared between 9 of us, the bottle remained half full and  people were questioning their ability to cope with a second, let alone a third glass. IMAGINE! Still, it was good wine and it was complimented with some of their own olive oil doused bread and some other aperitivo style treats. All in all, it was a lovely finish the day, even if I did feel like a raving alcoholic by the end of it!

Rimini

Our final trip was to Rimini. I’ve been to Rimini before and liked it a lot. This time though, we had a tour guide that gave us some insights. Rimini was heavily bombed during the war and many buildings needed to be reconstructed. In fact, some were never rebuilt and remain as ruins as reminders of what happened.

I hadn’t noticed the graffiti in Rimini last time I was there but it really is very good – in fact, calling it graffiti seems to be a bit disrespectful! Have a look at the photos below. I love the old lady in the smoke and if you click on the image of what seems to be an old stone relic next to the water, you might be able to see that it’s just painted like that and it’s not made of antique stone!

Rimini has some fascinating roman relics. In Piazza Ferrari lie the uncovered remains of “The Surgeon’s House“. They know a surgeon lived there because of the tools uncovered that are remarkably similar to the ones still used in the operating theatre today. Mosaics cover the floor. They dug down a couple of meters to discover these relics. It’s amazing to think that under Rimini there could be a lot more. It also struck me how similar it was to our own roman ruins – in fact, I remember visiting a very similar example in Fishbourne Roman Palace in Sussex years ago. The thought that at one point, our nations were so similar and inhabited by the same people, but are now so entirely different is quite mind boggling I think! I live so much in the present that it’s a struggle to imagine this surgeon going about his business in the 2nd century AD. They even know which room he used to meet clients in.

We also explored the “Tempio Malatestiano” which was commissioned by Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta around 1450.  The Malatesta Family (known as the House of Malatesta were an Italian family that ruled over Rimini from 1295 until 1500, as well as (in different periods) other lands and towns in Romagna. Sigismondo (what a great name) became Lord of Rimini at the age of 15 and the family has quite the story of deceit and  corruption (like all politicians then!!). The Tempio Malatestiano was originally known as San Francesco, a gothic church but Sigismondo decided it would make a nice personal mausoleum for him, his lover and later his wife. So he organised a sort of extreme makeover style regeneration and the external walls were covered by thick marble carved with Malatestian symbology. It certainly is a very grand church. You can see in the photo below the external marble arches that were built to cover the original stone windows. There’s some very elaborate stonework inside too. I was struck by a creepy looking cherub, photo evidence below. I can’t ever work out if they’re forces for good or evil! And finally, I took a picture of the inside of the church and I was surprised to see the rather ghostly looking white figure in it. I’m sure she wasn’t there when I took the picture… !

Walking around Rimini, our excellent tour guide gave us a very detailed and interesting account of the buildings and history of the city.   The lady with the bike in the photo below is riding through what used to be a fish market. The religious looking chap in the statue below is in Piazza Cavour and is of San Gaudenzo, the patron saint of the city… or is it? No, apparently it’s actually Pope Paul V but the dedication was changed when the anti-papal Napoleonic troops invaded with the hope they wouldn’t destroy (it worked). The arch there has been in the wars, literally. The top part needed to be reconstructed after the bombing and it looks a bit worse for wear these days. There used to be a bronze statue on top which has never been seen or heard of since it’s disappearance (I’m not entirely sure how they know there was one – there’s nothing in the books and no photographic evidence! Perhaps my house used to have a bronze statue on too). The bridge, has seen it’s fair share of history as well, once spanning across a river which has now been diverted. All in all, far from what many people regard as just a seaside resort, there’s actually a lot of history within Rimini’s town center and it’s well worth a visit.

I think that largely sums up the visits… Please tune in for Part 3: Fried Sage at the San Salvador Hotel.

x

 

 

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Suspended armchairs, joining clubs and stormy skies…

Buonasera a tutti!

How is everyone? It’s been a busy couple of weeks here as ever it feels! The weather hasn’t been that great which has been good for the photography – stormy skies are definitely more dramatic than gorgeous blue cloudless ones! I apologise in advance for the abundance of photos in this week’s blog post🙂

The ruin of UK roads…

I popped back to the UK for a whistle-stop tour. It was lovely to catch up with people that I managed to see, though this trip seemed shorter than ever. This visit included a journey up north to see my friend so there was also a fair bit of driving involved. I never thought I’d say this but I actually prefer driving in Italy. The number of variable average speed checks in the UK these days makes for very painful car journeys! Oh how times have changed from when I was so terrified of driving here that I used to message my parents to tell them that I was going to the shops in the car and, fearful I might not make it back alive, that I loved them.

IMPORTANT TIP FOR BIKE RIDERS!

I am also now fully equipped for bike riding! I have lights, a bag, a pump and a water bottle. I also discovered an interesting tip for bike riding: sometimes, one should pump up ones tires. Who knew?! (Yes yes, don’t be mean! For some reason it just never occurred to me). I have never pumped up my tires. Anyway, I’m pleased to confirm it goes like a dream now, though alas, I do not. It seems pumped up tires do improve things a bit but the whole experience is still unfortunately exhausting. I’m hoping to do my longest, highest ever bike ride in the next couple of weeks so I shall keep you posted on that. If I manage it, I might actually order myself some sort of medal.

Street Performers of Pennabilli

In the last few days there’s been a reasonably well-known festival called “Artisti in Piazza” in a little town called Pennabilli, in the Emilia-Romagna region. From Sarnano, where I live, it’s a bit of a trek but definitely worth a visit. The festival is very impressive – it runs for 5 days and street performers from around the world come to demonstrate their skills, whether that’s singing, acrobatics, comedy, magic, dance etc. It reminded me a bit of Covent Garden in London with the street performers – though these ones generally had a lot more apparatus. In London, you wouldn’t get an acrobatic performance complete with people doing handstands on suspended armchairs so there was definitely an extra dimension to the performances in Pennabilli. It was great to see performers from all over the world; it really was very international!

Unfortunately it rained for the first part of our visit but it didn’t spoil the atmosphere. People still stuck it out with their umbrellas!

Pennabilli and Sassotetto (5 of 35)

I think probably my favourite bit though was just Pennabilli itself – the town is lovely and set in the most beautiful countryside.  I could definitely live there!

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Club Alpino Italiano (CAI)  Membership!

I have joined a club! I like clubs! This one is a walking club. Club Alpino Italiano has lots of different offshoots across the country and I’ve joined the Sarnano one. They go walking every Sunday around the mountains. It’s great! Everyone seems really nice too.

About this time every year the mountains are covered in flowers and Sunday was a local “fioritura” (flowering) walk to learn more about them. Look at how pretty my local mountains are…Pennabilli and Sassotetto (27 of 35)Pennabilli and Sassotetto (28 of 35)

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We had a guide who told us about the flowers when we came across them and if they had any interesting features. One of my favourites can be set on fire and used as a torch whereas others you can use to poison people (beware those who cross me). Here are some of the flowers that are in the area at the moment…

In other news, I went to a concert a couple of weeks ago to see Niccolò Fabi perform in the theatre at Assisi. Niccolò is a local musician who’s made it reasonably big in Italy so the venue was completely packed out with almost everyone able to sing along to his songs. I think I stuck out like a sore thumb, I only knew the chorus of one of his songs! It’s a good one though with a nice sentiment. If you want to hear it, have a look here.

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I think that about sums up the last few days. I hope you’ve all had good weeks too🙂

The next update will be about by upcoming blog tour! I’ve been invited along to Hotel San Salvador in Bellaria Igea Marina to spend a few days checking out the hotel and the local area. I can’t wait. Watch this space!

x

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