Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Throat of Hell, unique ways of procrastinating and what to do with an abundance of chestnuts…

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone? It’s been a lovely here the last few days which has been a nice change from what has felt like constant rain lately! It was beginning to feel like I was still in the UK ūüėČ

So things to update here are as follows…

Teaching & Procrastinating

I’ve been doing a bit of teaching again which has been good. Teaching adults is far less traumatic! I’ve also got a new local “language exchange” buddy which I’m pleased about.

I have not been editing my book. I have been procrastinating. Instead of editing, I have learnt how to do the Cups song from the film Pitch Perfect and I decided I should learn¬†a new song on the guitar (which I have not played for years).¬†Soon my art course will start so I’ll have less editing time. I’m very annoyed with¬†myself!

Chestnutting

I’m still trying to do some thing with the mountain of chestnuts I collected. I have made: Chestnut Butter (it’s impossibly¬†rich), Chestnutella (chocolatey chestnut spread which turned¬†out alright only I use the term “spread” very loosely, because it basically doesn’t) and Marron Glac√©¬† (which are candied chestnuts. These are nice¬†but I think just one is equivalent to my¬†recommended calorie intake for the week).

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This is my version of “Maron Glace”. I don’t think they will win any awards for their presentation.

Festa-ing

I have been ‘festa-ing’! I am usually cursed when it comes to festa’s. They’re often cancelled, I’ve just missed them by seconds, or they just don’t exist. I tried to go to one in Sarnano last weekend but that one had been cancelled without any apparent word. I don’t understand why I was the only person wandering around wondering where it was. It appears key festa information is beamed directly into the heads of the locals. The following day I tried to go to another festa and the car broke down, however I did manage to make that one in the end.

At this time of year there are lots of these festas¬†focused on¬†chestnuts, truffles, wine, or polenta. This one was in¬†Morrovalle, a little village towards the coast, and¬†was a general autumnal festa. It was rather small as festa’s go but cute none the less.

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The main piazza in Morrovalle

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This was a group called La Raganella from Belvedere Ostrense… Very good folk style music! http://www.laraganella.com/

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And this was another band in the main square, also very good with some very specific dance steps involving red scarves!

Then this weekend there was a lovely festa in Montemonaco in honour of chestnuts.

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The views from Montemonaco are spectacular.

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And the owner of this quaint little house was lovely! In fact, it seems quaint and small at the front but actually goes back quite far!

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Beautiful little street in Montemonaco

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They had 5 or so of these tin barrels roasting chestnuts… It was a great smell!

The thing that’s so nice about these events is that¬†everyone is so friendly, it’s always a very good atmosphere and the stall owners are always eager to chat. We must have been talking¬†for half an hour to a local about the state of politics and Italy in the war!

Walking into the Throat of Hell!

I had some friends staying this weekend and we went to the Gola dell’Infernaccio, the Throat of Hell. It’s a misleading name, it’s an absolutely stunning walk, particularly at this time of year. It’s a walk I’ve been meaning to do for ages. ¬†Once parked¬†you¬†walk along a river through a canyon and then up to an “Eremo” (Hermitage) to San Leonardo. It was rebuilt almost¬†single-handedly by a guy who lived there for several years. It’s very impressive. He sadly died earlier this year. From the hermitage you can walk to “La Cascata Nascosta” ¬†(the hidden waterfall) which was a bit hazardous towards the end, I won’t lie! Too much rain has made the path into a rocky/muddy landslide. You basically have to swing from tree root to tree root like Tarzan (perhaps not quite like Tarzan because he swang from vines and wasn’t dressed for autumn temperatures). Anyway, here are some photos. I was quite taken with it!!!

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If anyone is interested in several other million autumnal tree pictures, let me know ūüôā

Have a good week all,

x

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The Nine Circles of Hell, Sightseeing in Ravenna and Photo Expeditions!

Buongiorno a tutti!

How’s everyone? I’ve had a very good, though largely unproductive, few days!

I shall tell you what I’m supposed to be doing – I’m supposed to be editing my book. And yet it seems I’ve spent most of my time doing more interesting/inspiring¬†things instead. I’ve only managed two editing days in the last fortnight. I must, must, must finish!!!

The¬†weekend before last I went to see “Dante’s Inferno” in the caves in¬†Camerano where I used to live (to be clear, I used to live in Camerano, not the caves!). It was probably one of the most unusual plays I’ve seen – rather than sitting in one place it was a sort of group walking tour of the 9 “circles” of hell. As a quick summary, Dante and Virgil (of Roman poetry fame), take a tour of hell which is divided into 9 circles with increasing levels of torment in line with the increasing seriousness of the sins committed. In each larger cave (they’re all connected by small candlelit passageways), there were two or three actors that would recount what was going on in that specific circle of hell.¬†Anyway, it was very good, though in a very difficult form of¬†Italian (passato remoto – it’s not very common and more often used in the written form!) so I had to fill in the gaps with trusty Wikipedia after the performance.

I was also invited to Ravenna last¬†weekend by my lovely neighbour to stay with her just as lovely family. I think it’s probably my most ‘full-on’ Italian language experience to date. I think I have a sort of weekly brain usage quota and as a result, I feel pretty brain dead – I’m unable to string more than a couple of words together now. Ravenna is absolutely spectacular though. I didn’t know anything about it before I went but it’s in Emigia-Romagna, the region north of Le Marche (the region where I am), and on the coast. It’s well-known because it has an extraordinary number of mosaics, some of the oldest in the world and most of them are in the churches. Ravenna is basically built upon a massive lagoon. If they hadn’t filled it all in over the years and sucked out all the water, it would have been like Venice. As it is they’ve had to keep building Ravenna up because it seems the entire city is suffering from subsidence! As a result, when you go around the old historic¬†sites, you kind of walk down to them. It’s got a fascinating history; all recounted by my neighbour, her niece and niece’s partner.¬†This sort of knowledge and patriotism about the area you live in and its history and artwork is something I love about Italy. Alas¬†I have a terrible “in one ear, out the other” tendency for all things of historic importance, which is un-reflective of my level of interest so apologies for my lack of educational¬†information on this blog but have a look here¬†if you want to look into it!¬†If you visit Ravenna yourself¬†it’s well worth buying a sightseeing ticket which will get you into the main sights (tombs and churches mainly!) for just under 10 euros.

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Mosaic somewhere in Ravenna – I should have made a note! Perhaps we can call it an interactive, “guess where this mosaic is?” sort of competition. The winner gets credited in the caption.

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Now…. this is in the tomb of Galla Placidea. I was thinking about having my tomb decorated¬†similarly. There is solid gold in all of these mosaics. SOLID GOLD!

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SEE THE GOLD!!!!!! GOLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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This is the Mausoleum of Theoderic. He was a big deal in Ravenna. He was worried about getting captured so there’s rumours of a secret tunnel that goes from one of the churches in Ravenna to this mausoleum (they liked to build their mausoleum’s whilst they were still alive – I guess if you want to make sure something is done right, do it yourself!) and at that point, it was right on the seafront so he could have made a quick get away. ¬†It’s very difficult to imagine how Ravenna must have looked a few hundred years back!

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And here there were a collection of mosaics dug up from around the area…

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And, you guessed it, more mosaics – this mosaic covered a massive area in a large church… all telling the history of Jesus.

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And this is in the crypt of another church. I said how Ravenna was built on a lagoon – well you can see here how it’s been quite difficult to keep the water out!!! There’s actually fish swimming around in it!!! It makes me feel better about the¬†damp problem in my¬†house at least.

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And there’s a little ferry that takes you across the river to get to the harbour…

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And this is the harbour…

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And this church is still in Ravenna but further out. It was my favourite – nice setting (you have to pay 5 euros to go in. The churches in Ravenna must make a fortune). The mosaic around the altar was amazing. Still with solid gold – the churches in Ravenna it seems are wealthy!

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This is a close up of above the altar. All these mosaics must have taken decades!!!!

On a different note I was up in the mountains taking pictures of the stars last week. It’s a lovely idea in theory – it’s absolutely stunning up there at night. But there is NOBODY around and the problem with star pictures is that you have to leave your camera out taking photos for half an hour (because it’s so dark you need to have a long exposure so that you can get enough light in). So I ventured into the pitch blackness, set up the camera, waited in the car and then started worrying that there might¬†be¬†an axe-murderer on the loose. Next time I’m going to take a photography buddy with me!

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I also got up at the crack of dawn the other week to take photos at the beach in¬†Civitanova. It feels like I’m always awake¬†at the crack of dawn but I usually stay in bed willing myself to go back to sleep. But the sunrise was so lovely it inspired me to actually get up early again (for all of about half an hour).

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Yesterday I was very cultured and went to a Schubert and Chopin piano concert in Macerata. Very good indeed.

Finally, it’s chestnut season!!!! I’ve been having a great time harvesting stuff this month. My friend who has a house nearby has been visiting¬†for the last week or so and we found a great spot a couple of days ago¬†for¬†chestnut picking. So, inspired by none other than Frank Sinatra, I have been roasting my chestnuts on my (non)open fire. They’re EXCELLENT!!!! I still have to perfect the timings but the recipe largely goes: 1. Score the chestnuts, 2. Put them in a tinfoil little parcel with a spoonful of water, 3. Chuck it¬†in the stufa/wood burner for 20 minutes, 4. Peel and eat them. I think Mr Sinatra would have been impressed. Mmmmmmmm.

I think that about sums it up.

I hope you’re all having an excellent week. Buona giornata da Sarnano!

xxx

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Methane Cars, Zumbing and the Free Time University!

Buonasera a tutti!

How is everyone? I’m pleased to report that I’m doing well! I’m finally feeling settled.

I have bought a car! It’s a little nippy Fiat Panda like my old Nanmobile. It’s called Nanmobile 2. It runs off methane! METHANE!!!! Imagine!!!! My experience of methane comes from scientists years ago worried about the effects of global warming caused by the release of methane from cows. However, in Italy they run cars off the stuff (I was half expecting the methane filling station to be overrun with cows but not so). And it’s great! Rather than spend 50 euros on petrol, I spent 10 euros for the same miles per gallon. Bargain.

The car buying process in Italy is an exemplary demonstration of Italian bureaucracy ¬†– at its worst though. It’s also¬†not easy to find a decent car, or certainly not in the area where I live.¬†I have ‘brain dumped’ my¬†lessons learnt here¬†for anyone interested in buying a car in Italy! On¬†a less specific¬†car purchasing experience front, my nerves are only now getting back to normal after what has to be the most stressful car buying experience ever.¬†Alas, my mother/editor has warned me about ‘ranting’ on this blog on more than one occasion so I shall leave it there ūüôā

I have enrolled in a zumba class! I’m on a mission to try and be svelte and fit at the moment. I’m exercising lots and eating healthily(ish). However, since my mission started a fortnight ago, I have put on weight. It really is very annoying. Anyway, Zumba is amusing. Generally I seem to sort of chuckle my way through getting all of the moves wrong whilst everyone else seems to do it all with serious looks (which usually¬†makes me chuckle even more!).

I have also signed up to do some teaching. As many of you will know, I dislike teaching. However, I’m actually excited about it this time around. I’m going to be teaching adults as part of a set of courses for “l’universita’ del tempo libero”. But¬†because they pay a pittance, I get to go on as many of the other courses as I want free of charge. I LOVE COURSES! I’m going to do them all!!! Well maybe not ALL of them but I’ll try. I’ve also signed up for an online drawing course and of course there’s still my nude person drawing class starting at who-knows-when in November to look forward to.

It’s absolutely freezing here at the moment. The house needs a bit of warming up so today¬†is going to be this years “stufa” (wood burner) inauguration day. I’m really¬†looking forward to it but unfortunately I only have about two weeks worth of wood left at the moment to last me for the next few months.

In other news:

  • I have finally checked out the local swimming pool ¬†(I love it, it’s absolutely empty!). It was embarrassing though – the lifeguard asked me if I had a helmet. I laughed thinking he was joking of course. I mean, who wears a helmet swimming? Who wears helmets indeed… what he actually asked is if I had a swimming cap.
  • I’ve been to a couple of lovely new restaurants and investigated another cinema nearby.
  • I’ve been making bread.
  • I’ve been scavenging for nuts and fruit.
  • I’ve been going for walks.
  • I’ve been commissioned to make an old damaged mirror look marginally better!
  • And taking pictures of the stars.

Here is the evidence…

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So I have discovered several walnut trees and a hazelnut tree near me and a sort of abandoned apple and plum tree. And the green stuff is called mentuccia (a sort of minty oregano). It took me hours to shell the walnuts. I was just getting to the end when my neighbour gave me a million more. I made a hearty apple & plum crumble with the rest. There’s something cockle warming about foraging I think.

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This is Lago di Fiastra taken from a new angle for me – I’d never been to this side of the lake before a week or two back.

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This is the Lame Rosse. I went on a great organised little hike to it with a group from Jesi ūüôā

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And I found a new walk from the house with some great views of Sarnano and the mountains.

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And THIS little church was built on top of this rock in Roccaporena where Santa Rita used to go regularly to pray. From what I can tell, Santa Rita is famous for such miracles as having spineless roses that never die and a slow-aging corpse.

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And this is the church in Cascia where Santa Rita lays in a glass box. Not wishing to cast doubt on the slow-agingness of the corpse, but I would have found it useful to have a regular corpse aside her for comparison purposes.

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And look at this little goat from Cascia! Cutie. Though I do worry about the ethics of a chained up goat gimmick.

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And this is the main piazza in Cascia. It was a cute little town all in all.

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And there some fabulous views in Cascia too.

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Including this one…

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Sourdough mission complete.

And this was the commissioned pimped up mirror to cover some damage at the bottom of it.

And this was the commissioned pimped up mirror to cover some damage at the bottom of it.

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My first attempt at trying to get star trails! Since that night it’s been cloudy very frustratingly!

I think that about sums up my last couple of weeks. I shall leave you with this picture of my cat looking sweet.

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Batfink is not allowed in my bed. He knows this. We’ve been through it. Generally he’s an obedient sort but after a mystery disappearance following a bath last week, I managed to locate him. He wasn’t told off on this occasion because he’s been having a bad time of it with his dad, poor puss.

Hope you all have a good week!

x

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Buying a car in Italy

Before you can buy a car you’ll need to be “residente” in Italy. My proof of residency was an Identity Card but I guess you could use your Driving License as long as it has your Italian address on. You’ll also need a “codice fiscale” which is basically a¬†social security ID number. It’s very easy to get that ‚Äď just go to your local Agenzia delle Entrata with your passport.

Below I shall share my experience of purchasing a car (as of September 2015)…

Where to get your car

  • You can buy cars from “concessionari” or buy privately. Most concessionari¬†are for specific makes of cars and ¬†mainly sell new cars. However if you go to a Fiat showroom for instance, they might have other makes of car that they’ve taken in part-exchange so it’s worth trying all the showrooms to see what they have available. Very, very rarely (in Le Marche at least) there will be a concessionaria that sells just used cars where¬†there is more choice. To find out where these are, talk to the locals because there is often no information on the internet! If you do a search for a concessionaria online, phone them before you go to check they actually sell cars, because they very well might just sell jeeps, or buses <sigh>.
  • Officina’s (garage‚Äôs) and Gommista’s (tyre dealers) also sell cars sometimes so it’s worth trying there.
  • As with all things in Italy, I find it’s advisable to go somewhere and to someone that has been recommended. Naturally all businesses want to make money and in my experience if they think they can sell you a car with a broken clutch and brake light, they will (I‚Äôm sure this is the case everywhere in the world though)! If you go somewhere without personal recommendation, be incredibly switched on!
  • You might think that it’s worth buying a used car from a concessionaria because they’ll give a guarantee but look at the small print; the guarantees that I were shown covered¬† virtually nothing at all so don’t rule out private on that basis.
  • There are two useful websites worth looking at: http://www.autoscuola24.it and http://www.subito.it ¬†both of which advertise private sales. Sometimes the concessionari advertise their cars there¬†too and often this is the only way of knowing that they exist.
  • Used cars are very expensive ¬†in Italy in comparison to the UK. However, cars come with a variety of types of fuel which takes the edge off a tiny bit! There’s benzina (petrol), diesel (er, diesel), GPL (liquid petroleum gas) and metano (methane). Methane is amazing value, much, much better than the price of petrol. You’ll spend ¬£10 to go the same distance that ¬£50 petrol will take you. However, because of this, methane cars are sought after and expensive. On the plus side, they also keep their value – after 10 years, they’re still well over half the price a brand new car would cost. If you buy a methane car, you need to get the “Bombola” (metal methane holding contraption) changed/checked¬†every 4 years.
  • ‚ÄėClocking‚Äô the kilometers on the car is absolutely rife here. There is apparently a way of checking whether someone has fiddled with the Km’s but it’s only the concessionari that seem to be able to do this check so make friends with someone there!

Insuring your car

  • Before you can get in your new car and drive it away, it needs to be insured. If this is your first attempt at insuring your car in Italy, it’s worth speaking to friends and neighbours to see if they can suggest¬† an “assicuratore”, an insurance man. My insurance man was recommended. He’s very nice, comes to my house with croissants and buys me phone credit. It’s useful to have an insurance man (rather than go online)¬† because they can help to get your No Claims Bonus transferred from¬† your home country over here. There are 14 insurance categories – if you’re in category 14 you’re probably a 17yr old boy racer with a Ferrari and if you are in category 1, you’re a middle aged careful driving soul with lots of years of incident free experience! Your goal is obviously to get as close to category 1¬†as possible!
  • After the first¬†year I expect ¬†it could be done¬†cheaper ¬†online. From my perspective, I’d be down on croissants and have to buy my own phone credit, so I’ll review that next year!
  • You can get an optional “scatola nera” or a black box fitted ¬†to your car. This is a ‚Äėbig brother‚Äô style implement to check whether you’re a good driver doing the number of miles you said you would (you have to predict your annual mileage for the insurance). If you have an accident, they check your black box. No-one likes to be snooped on, it really doesn’t sound like an attractive option but you do get cheaper insurance (the first year at least if you have one fitted). If it turns out you drive like a maniac, your insurance will be more expensive the following year (unsurprisingly the Italian’s are very anti the black box!).¬†You can fit the box yourself or go to the¬†mechanic. I went to the mechanic as there seemed to be some drilling involved and I wouldn’t put it past me to drill into the petrol tank. My lovely mechanic did it for 5 euros.

Paying for your car

  • If you’re doing this legitimately, you can’t pay with cash (there‚Äôs a 900 euro maximum). It needs to be done with a “bonifico” or bank transfer which can take up to a couple of days to process ¬†or you can pay with an “assegno circolare” or bank draft. After an awful lot of research about whether bank drafts were like the UK bank drafts which are pretty much guaranteed, I went down that route to pay for my car. ¬†I felt this was less risky than transferring money directly a couple of days before and possibly not ending up with¬†a car. To obtain a bank draft you just go to the bank and give them the name of the person and the amount of money it’s for. Then just hand it over to the seller to get your car.

Registering your car

  • You need to get the car registered in your name – “il passaggio”. In fact, make sure you include this within your budget because it’s not an insignificant cost (mine was around 350 Euros but it depends on the car’s horse power or KW). Some car dealers will tell you that the car is “passaggio compresa”, which includes the registration costs. ¬†Registration is not as simple as sending off a form like in the UK. You need to go to an agency in person, and although there is a choice ¬†they all seemingly charge different rates. The cheapest place to go to seems to be ACI, the Automobile Club d’Italia. Here, there is a never-ending queue to register your car (at least when I went). You’ll need to bring your ID, the “libretto” which is the car ownership record and, as with all things in Italy, your codice fiscale (your social security ID¬†code). Both you and the previous owner need to be present as far as I can tell because it requires you both to sign a million different documents.

Maintaining your car

  • You’ll need to get your “revisione” (MOT if you’re English – this is just a regular car check up) done every 2 years (unless it’s a new car and then you don’t need ¬†one ¬†for the first 4 years.
  • You’ll need to get your “bombola” checked, if you’ve got a methane car, every 4 years.
  • You need to make sure that you’re taxed. I say “make sure” but in my experience the Italians don‚Äôt seem very bothered about tax. (In the UK until very recently we had to prove we’d paid our tax by putting a tax disc as evidence of payment in the window. Here though, you put evidence that you’re insured in the window).

Things to remember with your new Italian Car

  • You are always right! That is, you should always drive on the right. After years of driving my English car here, for some reason I found it very difficult to adjust to finally being on the “correct” side of the car.
  • Your Italian car will not have miles per hour on it like English cars do, just kilometers per hour. Kilometers mean nothing to me! Thankfully my new car beeps at me when I’m going too fast.
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