Monthly Archives: June 2015

Crazy walks, Italian “Holiday” analysis and stunning waterfalls…

Buongiorno a tutti!

How is everyone? I’ve had a great but busy week here.

I have, in no particular order…

1. …Been to see the lovely Cascate delle Marmore – the Marmore Waterfalls which are really impressive. It has the highest man-made waterfall in Europe (created in the 3rd century BC by the Romans). Its 9 Euros to go into the surrounding park area where you can do a number of walks around the waterfalls. It’s absolutely stunning and when there’s sun, I can imagine there being a perpetual rainbow because the air is always filled with a fine mist.  You have to be careful when you visit though as sometimes they turn the waterfall off (imagine!) because the water is needed for creating hydroelectricity and that’s done somewhere else. You can check a timetable online.

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2. …Been to see some cows! My neighbour and I popped over to a cow farm the other day to see the baby cows. (I’m sure there is a specific name for this but I can’t for the life of me think of it – answers on a postcard!) My neighbour is on a mission to get me educated in `country ways`. Last month she had me planting my own row of potatoes. Anyway, I was fortunate enough to see and learn about the ‘birds and the bees’ for cows (The vet rams his entire arm up the cows bottom, pokes around and then depending on what he finds up there, he gets a massive needle with er, well I’m sure you can work out the rest). The whole thing seemed rather indelicate and I felt a bit sorry for the poor cow. He didn’t even attempt to get her drunk first.

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This is a little 3 day old calf. She (I think she looks like a ‘she’ at least), has been separated from her mum whose milk is valuable and put in a small metal box and given a powdered milk solution instead. When she’s a bit older she’ll be transferred to a bigger and more overcrowded area. This, people, I think would be considered a 5 star resort in comparison to many other places. My visit to the cow farm has not made me rue my vegetarian lifestyle at all.

3. …Been celebrating Saint Giovanni (24 June) by bathing myself in water steeped in flowers (and alas, quite a few insects) so that I could be beautiful and free of disease (hmm).  Italy, and perhaps all Catholic countries, have quite a lot of saints that need celebrating and some unusual ways of doing it. In fact, I have an Italian calendar and I don’t think there’s even one day that isn’t dedicated to one saint or another.

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This was a ladle or two of flowery water prepared by my neighbour. I am devastated to report that is doesn’t seem to have affected my level of beauty and I feel about the same in terms of general health. Maybe next year?

4. …Been making bread. I think it all looks good here but those flat holey things are crispy and impossibly hard to eat for anyone that doesn’t have teeth made of diamonds. Thanks Mr Hollywood.

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5. Been playing with my neighbours kittens. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it. Unfortunately their fleas are almost as big as them poor little things (the kittens, not the fleas).

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6. Been on a stunning walk to Lago di Pilato which is nestled in the mountains under Mount Vettore, the highest mountain in the Sibillini’s. This walk beats the other crazy walk I did a few weeks ago that was over a river and up a near vertical slope. It was perhaps a tiny bit more of a gentle slope (89 degrees as opposed to 90 maybe) but went up for longer and  going down was more stressful than going up because the path was rocky and slippy. It’s the only walk I’ve ever been on where I’ve felt sorry for the “Old Sue”, my former self of a few hours before that had been walking up and who had been thinking the end of the path was nigh but actually having another 2 hours to go (my walking book helpfully doesn’t give you any details as to distance but it was just over 12km in total and with a 1km climb). Anyway for anyone interested in this walk: go to Foce and walk between the mountains. The path is clear and rather unusually marked out! If you’re like me (not a mountain goat) allow 3 or 3.5 hours or so to get up there and maybe 2.5 or 3 hours back the same way.

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The scenery in the mountains is always stunning but the flowers were amazing. At every different level there were different types of flowers. I’ve never seen wild pansy’s before but they were growing really quite high up.

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It’s not permitted to go too near or touch the lake. There’s some little red prawn type things in there you don’t find anywhere else. It was absolutely crystal clear.

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Beautiful!

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Quite a large portion of the walk was walking on glaciers! We walked along this one and then discovered it had a rather unsettling cave underneath.

6. …Been to Senigallia on a little vacation to stay with some Italian buddies. It was a lovely little break. Each time I go to the beach I realise how much I miss it. I think the need to search for sea glass is now an inherent part of my being. And this weekend I finally “got” the concept of Italian beach holidays. Let me explain. To my English eyes, this is a typical Italian holiday: Have one or two months off work and go to the same place you’ve always gone to stay in your “beach” house which is often only about 10 minutes from your “normal” house. Spend all day and every day lying on a sunbed, “taking the sun” as they say (or more accurately, burning themselves to a crisp), surrounded by millions (I jest not!) of other sunbeds and a beach so crammed with people it’s difficult to get anywhere. If they’re not at the beach, then they come to their “mountain” house and sit outside in big groups all day in a garden under a parasol and rarely venture out. For me, holidays have always been an opportunity to see new places; what a waste to do the same thing year in and year out when there’s so much to see and do in the world! How can they justify it?! As a result, I’ve secretly scoffed at this crazy Italian tradition and even pitied them a bit. But no, I had it all wrong…

What they’re doing is taking time out to spend quality time with their family and friends, the people they grew up with. They go to the same bunch of sunbeds (“stabilimento” – there are lots of little stabilimenti up and down the beach) where they know everyone. Every day is a reunion and opportunity to have a laugh and spend time with the people they love, care about and grew up with. Maybe because I’m out here on my own without my family and friends I hadn’t grasped the concept, but I can understand it now – it’s not where they are that’s important, it’s who they’re with. We miss this type of holiday in England to our detriment in my opinion.

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But honestly, do they really need THAT many sunbeds! It goes on like that for miles and miles!

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This was an empty day at the beach apparently! In July, you can’t move for people.

So I think that about sums up the last week or two. The next couple of weeks are going to be equally busy I think! Anyway, I hope you’re all having a good week. I’ll sign off with a pretty sunset pic taken from the terrace!

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My new favourite place, visitors and an ant infestation…

Buongiorno a tutti!

How is everyone? I’ve had a string of visits! My parents, Pane Caldo’s parents and my brother and sister-in-law all came over from the UK. It’s been lovely to have people from home here and it seems a bit quiet now they’ve gone, though the next set of visitors are out in July so not too much time to feel lonely! It’s been really good to do something other than house related activities too and see some local sights that I’d not been to before. Firstly though…

Happy 750th Birthday to Sarnano!

A couple of weeks ago marked the 750th anniversary of Sarnano being an independent comune so the Sarnanese celebrated in style over the weekend. Alas, I missed a few of the celebrations but I’m pleased to say that I made it to see our local celebrity band, La Racchia. Along with more traditional instruments, their party trick is to play various household items like colanders, drainpipes and toilet cisterns. And what band would be complete without the customary colourfully dressed band leader with a dummy in his mouth wielding a wooden spoon?

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Sightseeing!

In no particularly order, these are a few pics from the last two or three weeks of sightseeing around the area…

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Penna: Beautiful hill top town just a few minutes away with a little park at the top and amazing views across Le Marche.

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View from the top of Penna at sunset

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This was on the way back to Sarnano from Penna.

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View from Montefortino – another quaint little hill top town.

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Pretty little square in Montefortino

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Madonna dell’Ambro nestled in the mountains

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This is the Santuario di Macereto near Visso

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Crystal clear lake in Visso

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Castle in Visso – only the ruins remain but you can walk up to them for a good view. We went on a little round trip from the town. Mind the snakes!

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Visso

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There’s quite a few trout farms in the mountains it seems – at the base of this valley in Visso is one of them.

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Pretty little church in Visso

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This is near Casteluccio, my new favourite place.

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At Casteluccio there’s piano grande – a massive field of cultivated flowers. It’s not quite ready yet but the flowers should be out in the next month or so.

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The poppies were out though 🙂 That’s the town of Casteluccio up there on the hill

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They even had a little wood in the shape of Italy!

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Casteluccio closer up. As you can see, I like Casteluccio! This is the last picture, I promise.

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I also went to check out Treia – you guessed it, a hill top town! This is one of the churches.

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And this is taken from just by the main square where last weekend they were holding a ravioli festival!

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This is Lago di Fiastra. The ginestra (broom) is out at the moment so it’s looking very colourful.

San Ginesio

This is a little cloister in San Ginesio. San Ginesio is definitely worth a visit – it’s known as the “Balcony of the Sibillini Mountains” and for a good reason. There’s a nice restaurant called Terra Nostra in the piazza which looks fairly small from the outside but is larger when you get inside, is nicely decorated and has nice food. And we got a free limoncello so that’s always a bonus.

And this is the cloister at Tolentino outside the Basilica di San Nicola.

And this is the cloister at Tolentino outside the Basilica di San Nicola.

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Sarnano has been a bit thunderstormy lately and mid mountain visit we saw this one approaching!

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This was taken near me in Sarnano, looking very dramatic with the approaching storm.

I think the visits all pretty much went without a hitch apart from the last night with my brother and sister-in-law. When we first moved here myself and Pane Caldo tried a restaurant that was recommended to us by our old landlord. It’s called Scherzi a Parte. It’s brilliant – lovely food, great location, fab service. As a result, we’ve been going there ever since and taking all our visitors there. With any visitors that come back, they’ve been keen to go back to the same restaurant. But there are OTHER restaurants!!! What if we’ve all been missing an even better restaurant?!?!?! So, I thought I’d take the opportunity to go somewhere new with my brother and sister-in-law, a place recommended to me on a couple of occasions. It was a terrible mistake!!! The decor was like something straight out of the 1970’s. The pasta was dry and hard – not even al dente but like it was made the day before and heated up. Terrified of offending anyone we tried our best to eat our meals but the pasta didn’t diminish, only multiplied before our very eyes. We’d still got a large selection of anti-pasta to work our way through too. As typical English folk, it’s just inconceivable for an entire table to order starters and main courses and leave almost everything. Oh the embarrassment, the shame…….until I remembered I had two plastic bags in my handbag. Our moods shifted as we stuffed the bulk of our food into the bags. My sister-in-law refused to lower herself to that but she’d done a better job of eating her food than we had so fair enough. I did feel slightly guilty when the waitress came over later and chastised her for leaving more food than we had! Anyway. Scherzi a Parte next time it is.

Animal / Insect watch

It’s been a while since Animal Watch and goodness me, there’s been some unwelcome ones! My bedroom, bathroom and terrace have been somewhat overrun with ants. I’ve had to become a specialist in ant elimination which is really not something that I’m proud of being an animal-loving vegetarian! Anyway, I seem to have resolved the issue (bicarbonate of soda and sugar seems to do the trick. Poor ants).

The next intriguing development has been fireflies – I’ve never seen fireflies before but they’ve suddenly appeared at night. Apparently it marks the start of summer so that’s good! I managed to catch one in a jar for a closer look but it promptly stopped lighting up as if in protest. It was released shortly thereafter. They only live a day or so anyway poor things.

My favourite animal update though are the kittens. I’ve been trying not to get attached because last year’s litter all died apart from my Batfink. However, they’re all doing really well, although three of the five are still really tiny. Those ones belong to Batfink’s mum so I’m sort of encouraged that at least he did quite well! (The other two have a different Mum). I’ll put in a photo next time!

I think that about sums up the last few weeks. I’ve been doing a bit of DIY as usual but I’ll update on that in the next post.

Have good week’s all 🙂

xxx

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Whirlwind solo tour of the Gargano National Park…

Buongiorno!

I’ve been on holiday!!! It’s been ages since I went on holiday. If I’m not in Sarnano, then I’m in the UK and nice as that is, it doesn’t feel being on vacation. Anyway, this blog is dedicated to my trip. I apologise in advance for any rambling and the hundreds of photos but I was on my own and I feel the need to share!

I have two main ‘go-to ‘inspirational people that motivate me in different ways: Margaret Thatcher, who was said to have only had 4 hours of sleep a night and managed to run the country. And my most recent one is Pane Caldo who, after work, drove almost 3 hours on his own to watch his football team lose, and then 3 hours back mid week. For me, if a drive is more than an hour, I rule it out. It never occurred to me to just not care! So, with that in mind, I waited for a gap in the rain and I drove 5 hours down to the National Park of Gargano (Puglia), the spur of Italy’s boot and somewhere I had wanted to go for ages.

Puglia is like another country! All the fields are golden and dotted with lots of olive trees. There are goats wandering up winding country roads. The hills are terraced with old dry stone walls that must have taken years to do. There are pretty ‘Mediterranean-looking’ flowers. It has a completely different feel to it than where I am in Le Marche.

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Pretty pale pink and dark pink flowers…

I stayed in the Forte Hotel in Vieste. It’s nice and good value (though be aware that the “do not disturb” sign does not work it turns out). The surrounding area however, is an odd mix of other nice hotels, building sites, rubbish and a donkey. (I was considering mounting a donkey releasing campaign but I didn’t think I could hide him in my hotel room and he doesn’t fit in the car, so I settled with singing “Little Donkey” to him when I went past). So the immediate surrounding area around the hotel doesn’t look that impressive. There is a golden sandy beach but, seeing as though it was quite windy, a lot of the sand had spilled onto the pavements leaving not so enticing heavier rubbish behind on the actual beach.  I think it’ll perk up considerably in the summer though (the Italian Summer is strictly between 1st July and 31st August).

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View from my hotel room terrace

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The room

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The beach

The main town area of Vieste is nice. Everything is white with marble pavements (be prepared to slide across large sections if you have no grip on your shoes/flipflops. When it rains I imagine one could aquaplane their way down from one end of Vieste to the other without ever lifting a foot). My favourite part was the old town up on the hill. It’s full of winding cute little paths and places to eat. There’s a castle at the top which seems to be a military zone so you can’t go in but it has some spectacular viewpoints around it. There’s also a pretty church on the hill and a cathedral at the bottom of it.

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This is a weird fish collecting contraption – there’s quite a few around the coast – I assume they’re not used anymore.

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The south side of Vieste

Vieste Lighthouse

Taken from a nice little seafront piazza

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The Cathedral

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Cathedral and coastline

Vieste Viewpoint

Huh! I’ve just realised where this was taken. The weird thing about Vieste in the old town, is that you go for a walk in a straight line and end up where you started! Anyway, this is the view from the opposite side of one of the previous photo.

Vieste Cathedral

No matter where I go in the world, the main monuments have scaffolding! But I kept this one in because I thought it looked pretty with the blue and the sunlit bricks

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Across the harbour at sunset

From Vieste you can go on boat trips to the Isole Tremite (3 islands nearby known for their lovely blue waters. Mussolini put his political prisoners there. Not a bad place to be held prisoner really) and the Grotte Marine (there are a number of caves in the cliffs around Vieste).  If you wander around Vieste there are lots of tour companies offering these boat trips. I decided to ask one guy in a little rundown shack advertising the trips, my theory being that his company wasn’t having to subsidise a fancy shop so he might offer a better deal. My theory didn’t hold. The costs seemed to be largely similar. Anyway I turned up at 8am the following morning at the shack as agreed but nobody was there so I resolved to go to one of the other companies dotted around the port. I walked along the port and didn’t see any tourists; just a bunch of weathered looking men leering at me as I went past. As freeing and liberating as it should be to go on holiday by yourself, the idea of going on an all day boat trip with either one leery man or several didn’t appeal. I’ll just have to go again with reinforcements another time.

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This is the port where you would take the boat to the Tremite if you were going!

My Plan B was a drive to the Foresta Umbra (the Shadowy Forest). On reflection if I was after a safer alternative to the potential all-creepy-man boat trip, this wasn’t really it. It took a while to find, mainly because if you look online, there is no “address” for the forest; it just sprawls across several comune’s which isn’t really helpful when you’re trying to find it using GPS. The forest in fact, is reasonably well sign posted although as usual, there were several T-junctions signs missing  and inevitably I would always take the wrong turn. However, if you take a direct route it takes 30 minutes from Vieste and the open olive fields suddenly turn into leafy old forest.

It’s a beautiful road that takes you through the forest – albeit epileptic fit inducing with the sunlight flickering through the trees.   The forest itself is stunning and appeared to be very well maintained. I’ve never seen such lovely open paths. When I go for a walk in my local woods, I have to use my imagination to work out what is a path or not and at the end of it, I usually end up having to crawl through undergrowth to get out. It’s not like that here. Every few meters there was a picnic spot with several tables, chairs, parking spots and often a walking trail. Absolutely lovely.

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Look at the nice wide path with a lovely big sign!!!

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This is the laghetto – little lake.

However, after my friend and I had a scary encounter with a nutcase in a very similar forest years ago, my forest risk radar is heightened so I didn’t venture in too much. I did however find what seemed to be a well-trodden little walk around the “laghetto”– a cute little lake full to the brim with tadpoles (presumably frogs if anyone goes later in the year). Conscious of not wanting to be entirely on my own, I latched onto a nice looking couple that were going for their own walk around the lake keeping a healthy distance between us so as not to appear suspicious. Alas, I don’t believe I succeeded in being suspicion free. They kept stopping, presumably wanting me to pass but I would feign interest in my phone and stop too for the same amount of time. I wonder if in years to come they’ll write blogs about the Stalker Woman of the Foresta Umbra.

Then, deciding towns and cities were probably the way forward, I went to Monte Sant’Angelo. I’m not fussed about that place. I felt like the locals were trying to do ‘the hard sell’ – parking was expensive and didn’t really seem that official, and people came up asking me to go to their restaurants. I was actually hungry so found a little trattoria run by a man with a dark brown toupee with his white hair in what I thought was a very courageous non-blend style.  I had orecchiette (little ear shaped pasta) and tomato sauce. Meh – it was alright. There wasn’t much else to the place – there was a nice castle (which was closed) and lots of tourist shops but otherwise, it just felt a bit derelict and unloved. I do feel sorry for it though – there are no local businesses and tourism is all they have so no wonder they try and make as much out of the tourists as they can.

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The castle at Monte Sant’Angelo

But they had nice bread! It’s like I said earlier, Puglia is like another country! When I was making my first sourdough loaves a while back, they came out like hard flat disks but they actually sell that here as a sort of regional speciality. I’ve been missing a trick!

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My first bread attempts looked like this! It’s very difficult to get sourdough to stay in a recognisable shape so it squidges out and this is what you get. I hadn’t realised that was a valid bread form!

From Monte Sant’Angelo, I took the coastal road back to Vieste. It took ages to get back to the hotel because I kept stopping to take photos! It has a very pretty coastline with unbelievably blue sea and with the ginestre (“gorse” in English – I think we should adopt the nicer sounding Italian word) out and some other pretty purple flowers, it really did look spectacular.

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Beautiful coastline

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I know there’ll be a scientific explanation for this but it’s very odd to have such a perfect hole in a massive rock!

So all in all, it was lovely to visit a completely new region and a couple of nights was probably about right for me. It’s a shame I missed the boat ride but ultimately I got to see much more of the local region so I’m pleased with that. Definitely worth a visit if you ever have time to go 🙂

I think that’s about it on the holiday front. I hope you’re all having good weekends.

Ciao!

x

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