Discovering Crete…

Buongiorno,

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

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

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

Kalyves Beach Hotel

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

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

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

Crete with Ashley (36 of 68)

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

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

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

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

Things to do

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

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

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

And there were some unusual flowers and plants …

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

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

Elafonisi Beach

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

The Cave of the Wisdom of God in Katsomatado

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

Crete with Ashley (49 of 68)

Kournas Lake

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

Crete with Ashley (1 of 68)

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

Chania

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

Rethymno

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

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

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

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

Crete with Ashley (9 of 68)

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

A presto,

x

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Let the Games Begin…

Buongiorno,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Castle (3 of 14)

Castle (7 of 14)Castle (10 of 14)

Castle (13 of 14)May the Dream recommence!

x

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Ode to my old life…

Buongiorno,

How is everyone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Fated and Doomed enjoying some tree time!

A presto,

x

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Naples Part 3 – Pompeii & Herculaneum

Buongiorno,

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

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

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

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

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

Pompeii

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

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

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Here’s an example…

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

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

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

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

 

Herculaneum

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

 

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

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

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

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Poor people 😦

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

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

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

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

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

Happy visiting!

 

x

 

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Naples Part 2: Top 10 Things to Do

Buongiorno!

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

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

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Look at this cat box in Mergellina 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My favourite picture in the Certosa was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tune in for Part 3: Pompeii & Herculaneum.

x

 

 

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Naples Part 1: Seeing Naples and Dying

Buongiorno!

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

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

 

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

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

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

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One of the many, many shrines.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Staying in Naples

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

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

I hope you’re all having a great weekend!

x

 

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Snow shoes, navigating the Italian health system and kitties

Buongiorno!

How is everyone? Well what a few weeks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A presto,

x

 

 

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Happy New Year!

Buonasera a tutti!

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

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

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

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

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One of the vineyards near the house

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A presto,

x

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Mantova and the Mystery of the Monstrous Muses

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone? I’ve had a good few days. I’ll start with an earthquake update, as is the tradition of late!

Earthquake update

We’re still waiting for engineers to come around to ‘officially officially’ declare the house uninhabitable. It’s already been ‘officially’ declared uninhabitable but well, I guess they want to be thorough about it. After that, apparently the more expert structural engineers will be around, which could still be weeks away, to tell us what they think needs to be done to the house: knocked down or renovated somehow.

It’s very odd being without a plan. From about the age of 5 I probably had cunning plans of some sort, whether it was to be a chiropodist (I was an odd child) or tattoo artist or whatever. I’ve always had a pretty clear idea of where I’d be living and what I’d be doing. It’s odd suddenly being thrown into a life of uncertainty for a planning sort like me. However, friends have told me that I should be more spontaneous (I do schedule time into be spontaneous but apparently that’s missing the point), so perhaps this is a good, albeit enforced, opportunity!

So, in an effort to improve my spontaneity, my friend and I planned decided impromptu to go to Mantova last weekend. My friend used to live in the area and has fond memories of it. It’s in the region of Lombardia, about 4 or 5 hours drive up north from where I live.

In the past, running towns in Italy was very much a family business and in Mantova it was no different, run by the very influential Gonzaga family for many years. The town centre is a World Heritage Site. Mantova was one of Italy’s hubs for the Renaissance. Artists and musicians from all over Europe were invited here to entertain the ‘powers that be’ and to design and decorate the lavish palaces there. The fictional Romeo, of Romeo & Juliet fame, was supposedly extradited here. Virgil, the great Italian poet, was born here and Monteverdi premiered his great Opera L’Orfeo here.

Travelling to Mantova is very atmospheric as the city seems to rise out of nowhere as you cross a bridge over the artificial lakes that surround it. It has lots of porticoes (covered walkways) supported by columns that usually have apartments above. These porticoes seem quite an ‘Italian’ feature to me, though in my patch I don’t think we have any to my knowledge. There are lots of shops – some chain stores but mostly little boutiques. People have their own style here. My friend calls it “bonbon” whatever that is. I think it basically means simple but chic.

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These are porticoes, under the arches…

We also went to visit the Basilica Concattedrale di S. Andrea which is absolutely spectacular inside. It’s all been expertly painted to seem completely  3D, with the walls that are entirely flat seeming to be great looming intricate marble columns.

We also went to see the theatre, Teatro Bibiena which is one of the nicest theatres I’ve ever been to.  You have to pay 2 euros to visit and it was well worth it because a group of musicians were practicing for a performance there later that evening. I recommend that strategy – you can get front row seats for something that would usually cost lots more!

It’s also nice to have a wander around the lake which had a very atmospheric layer of mist covering it when we visited…

On our last day we spent a few hours inside the Palazzo Ducale where the Duke and his family lived. The palace is interesting in itself – the ceilings are all either wooden, or painted with frescoes and my personal favourite, a maze (bottom left hand corner below).

The Duke had a reproduction of a palace that is in Rome (alas I can’t remember which one!) built inside his own palace but to fit it in everything was done in miniature. Unfortunately we weren’t able to go in during our visit. A legend developed about it being an apartment for dwarfs and in fact in one of the palace’s frescoes there is a picture of a dwarf.

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This is the Gonzaga family.

And this is my favourite fresco in the palace, it was actually on the ceiling of a very impressive room.

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The Palace is also the home to lots of portraits among other treasures. At the risk of sounding like a terrible art aficionado and angering those passionate about art, I would like to pose a question that I have been pondering for months.

Portraits of Italians (and maybe other nations for all I know – this question has only really arisen for me in Italy during my attempts to be more cultured) that lived a few dozen / hundred years ago look like:

 

I challenge anyone to go into any Italian gallery where old paintings are shown and find anyone that doesn’t look utterly horrendous. If anyone had painted me like this….

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…I would have had them put to death (I say this in jest of course because as an aspiring portrait artist myself, I have an unfortunate knack of making everyone look terrible. If I was any good at oils, I probably would have done quite nicely back in the day.) My other personal favourites….

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Creepy cherub on steroids (apologies to the artist – please don’t roll in your grave – I really do like the painting)

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World’s first Renaissance Drag Queen?

I find it all very puzzling. I’ve come up with 4 theories for this anomaly:

  1. Italians in those days had bulgy, un-expressive eyes, chubby cheeks, bulbous lips and a completely missing jaw line. The artist’s representation was accurate. I’m not at all convinced of this theory because I have never seen an Italian or indeed anyone else (that doesn’t have an illness), look like this. I think it would take a while for genetics to change to the point where Italians look like they do today, particularly given the evidence seems to point to them all looking equally horrific at that time, leading to presumably similar offspring.
  2. The artists were terrible portraitists. I don’t believe this for one minute. All of the paintings are technically brilliant: the way the light is reflected off clothes, the luminescence of the skin, the detail… Some of the paintings we saw were painted by the renaissance’s greats. It feels almost blasphemous to suggest they weren’t any good at capturing a likeness (apologies Greats, I take this theory back).
  3. The artists have basically edited their portraits to make the subject more ‘attractive’ (where attractive in this instance, is ‘nightmarishly’ ugly). In the same way that in these days with the marvels of photo editing software, one can make jaw lines and cheekbones more pronounced, give people healthy glowing tans, make them skinnier, smooth their skin, perhaps back in those days, they ‘edited’ their paintings to make everyone’s eyes bulge. It’s already widely established that in the past being on the pale chubby side was considered beautiful (because it showed you were rich enough that you didn’t have to go out to work in the field and you had enough money to eat lots of lovely food) so perhaps that extended to their faces too. I just find it difficult to believe.
  4. Keeping on the editing theme, the artists were instructed to deliberate paint their subjects to be a bit scary and odd looking for the purposes of intimidating the peasants. Personally, I can’t imagine that. If it were me and this had been my goal, I’d still insist the artist make me look attractive but maybe add in an evil cape, trident and/or some rabid dogs.
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This is Montefeltro. His painting is displayed at the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino. Who knows whether he looked like this in reality but I think as the artist, I might have left the country immediately after the unveiling just to be on the safe side.

Does anyone else have any better ideas because I really am absolutely flummoxed!

On that note, have a good ‘rest of week’.

x

 

 

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Earthquakes, prisons for cats & explorations…

Buonasera,

I hope you’re all well.

Things are moving along here. On the earthquake front, we’re still getting quite a lot of tremors, still magnitudes 3 and 4 which aren’t insignificant. I guess it will take a while for the earth to settle down. I had never realised before just quite how long it takes for the aftershocks to stop after a big quake. It could be a year or more.

Storms and high winds (Sirocco winds from North Africa that can get to 100km an hour) have not aided progress. On my first day back from my UK visit I’d set up a tent in my neighbour’s garden as a place to hang out when I was ‘back home’, and hypothetically speaking, to store stuff rescued from my house (not that I would ever, of course, consider entering it as once it’s been declared dangerous, it’s illegal to  enter and you can be fined heavily). Anyway, imagine my frustration when I discovered the following day that the tent had been ripped up and destroyed by the wind in the night with all of the stuff I had managed to rescue from my house.

Just down my little road of a kilometer or less there were about five trees ripped up, blocking the road and lots more on the way back to ‘Home Two’ in Ripatransone.

They call our emergency centre in Sarnano ‘Base Camp’ – it makes me feel like I’m  about to climb Everest each time I go in! It’s a lot quieter there now with people having been moved out to hotels and apartments closer to the sea. The town centre is still closed and will remain that way for a while – there are very precarious tiles and chimneys that have come down that are balancing on  roofs and that will all need to be sorted before people will be allowed back.

Next week the structural engineers will start doing property checks around the area. I really don’t know what they’ll say with regard to my place – whether it will need to be knocked down and rebuilt or whether there’s a chance it can be restored somehow. I’ve had promising chats with a Structural Engineer who says that perhaps my main concern – ‘the Bulgy Wall’ can be replaced and other measures put in place to make it more structurally sound. However, it’s never going to be great – basically in the event of another earthquake the amendments would just give me more time to get out before it crumbles! On the other hand if they do knock it down, I should be entitled to a new home, but what if I don’t like it?! I don’t imagine I get much of a choice of design and with the building being shared by three others it will be difficult to agree a solution we’re all happy with. On the plus side, hopefully it wouldn’t crumble around me in my sleep so there are swings and roundabouts!

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The Bulgy Wall

Meanwhile, single displaced residents like I am get 300 euros towards accommodation and there’s talk of container houses being available before Christmas and wooden huts in the Spring. It’s difficult to piece together what’s rumour and what’s reality at the moment and I suspect the powers that be don’t have all the answers yet either.

Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying my new home in the hills surrounding a little town called Ripatransone. The cat has settled in really well, I think he’s probably happier here away from ‘Evil Cat’ who used to attack him every time he left our old house. Now he has a very naughty little puppy to contend with, a 3yr old ‘mouse catching champion’ dog and two other cats.

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This is Batfink relaxed in his new home – he likes his head being stroked! I’m not throttling him, honest.

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Despite looking innocent, this is a very naughty puppy. We aren’t talking at the moment. He pooed on my carpet and then I unwittingly trod in it with bare feet (just after I’d done my nails which further rubbed salt into the wound).

The apartment is lovely and even has central heating – a complete novelty to me – so much so that I just can’t work out how it works!

The countryside around the house is really interesting and different from further north in Le Marche where my house is. I don’t have my decent camera at the moment but you get the idea…

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Those sort of protrusions of oddly shaped rock are called Calanchi. There’s lots of them in this area. I was quite pleased to capture this lovely rainbow!

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And the vineyards are spectacular at the moment.

I’ve finally done some exploring of some of the local towns which has been great. I’ve been to…

Offida

Offida is known for its yearly carnival which is apparently something to behold. Maybe this year I’ll have the opportunity to go. It’s also known for its tradition of bobbin lace making. My friend and I saw one woman who was demonstrating ‘lace’ jewellery in action – I thought I might get an idea of how it was done but she was impossibly fast! Even Offida has been impacted by the earthquake. The main square was full of firemen and vehicles and many of the buildings are cordoned off.

The people of Offida are very strict though; imprisoning cats for their wrong doings. Who knows how long this one has yet to serve…

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Cossignano

Cossignano is in an even worse state than Offida with a lot of the streets cordoned off. The damage to the buildings was perhaps a bit more obvious in parts too. From the bits we could see, it looks very quaint. It’s a lot smaller than Offida. We found a lovely, empty restaurant called Elvira serving really nice cremini (bread-crumbed deep fried squares of custard… mmmm), giant portions of delicious pasta and some absolutely foul home-made alcoholic distillation of something (old socks?).

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Cupra Marittima

Cupra is a seaside town. I’m not endeared by many of the Italian seaside towns and this was no exception! They’re just a bit plain and uniform and well, I prefer quaint! HOWEVER, there IS Cupra Marittima Alta (‘alta’ means high) which is on the overlooking hill and that is absolutely lovely. It’s a very cute little village where it feels like all you do is walk upwards. We didn’t see anyone else wandering around. We did find the only bar / restaurant though, Pensione Castello, and had a nice meal there. It’s rated number one in the area on Trip Advisor and specialises in fish. They did a good job at providing something for me though as a vegetarian. I would definitely go back in the summer, if only for the views which are spectacular and overlook the sea.

Grottammare

Grottammare is similar to Cupra. It’s a seaside town which is pretty plain as far as I can establish but again has an absolutely lovely ‘alta’ part which I’ve been to earlier in the year and thought was great. I did take photos then though I can’t track them down for the moment. They had a food festa on last week where the streets were lined with stalls selling everything from chocolate to all manner of repulsive looking meats (there was one man stirring some stomachs and intestines around in a saucepan – deeeelicious).

Petritoli

Petritoli is another cute hill top town that’s worth a visit. I got lost on the way to the supermarket and ended up here so it was a rather quick visit but I’ll certainly go back.

Ripatransone

And lastly Ripatransone which is now my nearest town – it has the smallest street in Italy (the world? Universe?). I can confirm it’s very small. Next time I’ll take a picture. I almost had to shimmy down it. It’s also got an amphitheatre where they have operas in the summer. We had a chat with an old lady for about half an hour whilst she gave us a bit of history of the town. I like it when that happens – it really is nice when people are so friendly and I think she liked sharing her knowledge too. The photo’s below are from the old wash-house where women used to wash their clothes with water that was piped down from a spring on the local hill. There were some tops hanging up – perhaps the tradition is still on-going!

 

Well I think that about sums up the last couple of weeks. I’ve been busy sketching and painting this week which has been a nice change from packing and unpacking! If you want to receive painting updates as and when they happen, follow me on A Painting Occasionally  (click the three lines on the right hand side for the “Follow” option!

A presto,

xxx

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