Italy

Posts about Italy and moving to Italy

Exhibitions, physical exertion and singing…

Buongiorno a tutti,

Apologies it’s been such a long time between posts again! I hope you’ve all been well.

It’s been a bit of a sparse year on the blog post front, I know. I struggled at the beginning of the year. It was all a bit of an upheaval after the earthquakes which were still going on and then with headaches and my cats dying, I lost the will to write! Things have certainly picked up again now and I’m back into a routine. In fact there are so many bits and pieces to update on it’s difficult to know where to start which is the other reason for the delay! I do miss writing though and I  particularly miss the photography side as it’s become apparent that the blog is the main reason why I’m motivated to try and take good photos. So this post will be a relatively brief one to catch you up with the latest and then I hope to get back to being a bit more frequent after Christmas.

So here goes…

The House

There’s good news and bad news on this front. The bad news is that nothing at all is happening in the reconstruction of my house. The good news is that I shall be getting a flat in Sarnano courtesy of the government until my house is rebuilt (in 2089?).  It’s a new-build and won’t be ready until Spring 2018 (but this is Italy so add on a few months/years/millennia). I’ve had a lovely summer staying in the house of my friends near Servigliano and they’ve very kindly said that they’re happy for me to stay on there for a bit longer (thank you A&R!). From going from no house to two house possibilities is an excellent dilemma to have. I do miss Sarnano – it still feels like going back “home” when I visit. However, the flat there is on the 3rd floor in a block surrounded by lots of other blocks which isn’t really an ideal living situation for me or the cats! I’ll see how things go in the new year. However, it’s such a big relief that I’ll at least have somewhere I can  put furniture and things that are still in my old/falling down house and somewhere that’s “mine” again on a more permanent-temporary basis!

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The view from the house isn’t too bad!

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And now there’s quite a bit of snow…

In other news I’ve been….

Swimming

I’ve joined a swimming club at my local gym/swimming pool. My fellow swimming buddies are a lovely bunch and we had a good time at my first swimming meet (why are they called ‘meets’ when it’s a race? It was so chaotic, I barely met my own team, let alone anyone else!). I was initially very nervous about racing. I swim fast compared to the average swimmer in the pool but I certainly don’t ‘race’. Physical exertion has never particularly appealed to me and all of the sports I’ve done to date I’ve always been able to do at my own pace really.  I imagined my races (50m and 100m backstroke) would be quite humiliating not even really knowing what time I could do them in, let alone what a respectable time is.  However, I held my own and came 3rd in both of my races (out of 4 but who’s counting!) and actually nobody was watching (even my instructor!) so there wasn’t the slightest bit of pressure.

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Osimo, the location of my first swimming meet!

The only time anyone pays any attention is for the really speedy swimmers so really, I’m quite happy with my distinctly average speed. It’s nice to have a personal best to beat. The next race is in February. I’ve been practicing the physical exertion thing and I can almost do 100m without needing to be resuscitated. Almost.

And then….

Choir

I’ve joined a choir! I saw this particular choir in the summer and I thought they were great.

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This is them!

A couple of my aunties and friends are in choirs and they’ve inspired me to give it a go. I didn’t think they’d want me – my Italian accent is poor (it sounds authentic to another English person but the Italian’s take the micky out of me saying I sound like Laurel and Hardy. It turns out the Laurel  and Hardy films are quite popular here. They’ve dubbed them into Italian but given them ridiculous English accents. That’s apparently what I sound like). However, they were pleased to have me as they’ve been singing English Christmas songs. It’s nice to get back at the Italians by constantly correcting their pronunciation of “the” (it’s not “duh”) and “virgin” (it’s not “veergin”) and “thou” (it’s not “dow”)! We had our first concert this week at a church and apparently we sounded alright! The next one is on Saturday.

The only downside with the choir (and it seems all choirs everywhere in Italy) is that rehearsals start at 9.30pm and by the time we’ve finished singing and I’ve got home, I’m completely wired and unable to get any of the songs out of my head! I find myself having to turn the radio on at 3am just to listen to something that’s not about ‘duh veergin Mary’.

And then perhaps in my most exciting news…

Exhibitions!

I’m thrilled to say I think I can legitimately call myself at “artist”. My self-imposed definition for artist is to have sold paintings to random people and I have! There was no coercion, nobody was obligated to buy my paintings or say they were good so I’m chuffed to bits really.  It’s been very satisfying. The first exhibition was earlier in the year which was in conjunction with a few other local artists, mainly Italian. My art group booked the same space for a couple of weeks this December. We’ve had quite a few visitors and we’ve sold some paintings. I’ve also agreed with my gym that after the exhibition I can put up some paintings there too which will be a great opportunity to show some of my paintings. I’ve been focusing more on pet portraits lately and I’ve been trying to get a website together with a view to selling things on a wider scale. If you’re in the area, then we’re still open until the 17th December 2017 so come and see us.

 

So all in all, it’s been a busy few months but they’re the main things to report back on!

I’ll write more in the new year but meanwhile, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all! 🙂

x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Verona, Verona and more Verona…

Buongiorno!

Well it’s about time to update on my trip to Verona last weekend – the girls and myself had a great time. In true, not very “blog” like fashion, I’ve rambled below so apologies – at some point I’ll work out the best way of updating on my Italian adventures that doesn’t require my blog followers to allocate an afternoon to it.

Getting there

Verona airport is fairly small so it’s quick to get out. There’s a bus that leaves from just outside the airport exit (there’s a ticket machine by the bus – tickets are €6) and takes you to Porta Nouva bus/railway station in Verona. From there it’s only a 10 minute walk to the centre. To get to the centre, have the bus station so that it’s behind you – cross over the road (there’s no footpath on the other side) and turn right past the petrol station for 5 minutes or so down that road. You need to cross over a busy-ish road and go straight ahead until you get to a largish roundabout/junction past some ruins on the left hand side. Turn left up Corso Porta Nuova for another 5 minutes or so.  When you get to a large amphitheatre, you’re in the centre!

Staying there

We stayed at Hotel Mastino – if you follow the above route, you’ll walk past it on the way – it’s a minute from the Amphitheatre so very well positioned.  And particular well positioned if you’re into fast food as it’s next to (and above) a McDonalds. The Hotel was very nice – quite plush inside, marble floors and things. There were 4 of us so we booked a family room which was very cosy/compact!

Hotel Mastino

There’s a spa attached to the main hotel but it’s expensive – the cheapest treatment was €45 for a head, back and leg massage for 30 minutes. Lisa actually had one of these and can confirm that they also do glutes. I think the general feeling was that the massage was very professional, but if you don’t speak much Italian, there’s a risk it can come across as a hostage experience as you’re taken away in a mystery vehicle to what turns out to be the sister hotel, given some paper pants and left to it for a bit. However, the massage should help with any hostage-related tenseness and you should have confidence that you will be delivered back. Your family need never know.

Sites:

Amphitheatre, otherwise known as “The Arena” in Piazza Bra: It’s a fabulous building – very grand. Lovely smooth rose coloured marble on the inside, crumbly on the outside (armadillo!). It costs €6 to get in. They still have concerts and operas here in the summer. I can imagine that being quite a spectacle. It’s quite crumbly in places but on the whole, very well preserved. You can go right to the top and get a good view of Piazza Bra. If you’re going when it’s icy, then be prepared to break a limb or two.

Arena

Piazza Bra (it does have a number of lingerie shops just off it up Vicola Tre Marchetti and Via Mazzini but er, otherwise there’s no connection): It’s packed with sweet stalls that open early and close late selling every sweet imaginable. Crepes with nutella are quite the rage here but they also had Fritellas – a sort of bubbly thicker crepe. Alas, because they make it with some kind of rose water it tastes disappointingly like old lady. Carla liked them.

View over Piazza Bra

Piazza Erbe: Has a little market in the middle selling clothes and fruit (and in particular, a mysterious orange fruit / vegetable I really wish I’d bought called Cacchi – or Cachio perhaps in the singular). I think there’s a tower here that you can pay to go up for a good view point but we didn’t, we found a free “view point” (keep reading for that).

Il Duomo: The cathedral was only €2.50 to get in. There’s lots of fresco’s inside – very impressive.

Il Duomo

Castelvecchio: We didn’t explore in here but the city art museum is inside. We walked through it and across Ponte Scaligero (Ponte is bridge) which is a footbridge across Fiume Adige (Fiume is river) to the northern part of the city.  It’s quite a nice building and if we had more time, it might have been good to take a look inside.

Castelvecchio and Ponte Scaligero

Castel San Pietro: This isn’t much of a castle from what I could see but it does have a fabulous viewpoint. It’s just across from Ponte Pietra on the Northern side of the river. I think this might have been my favourite place in Verona – there are spectacular views of the city and the river up here and it’s quiet and relaxing. Go up as far as you can up the steps close to the bridge, they’re a bit hidden away.

View over the city from Castel San Pietro

Casa di Guiletta (Juliet’s house – of Romeo & Juliet fame): It’s a bit of a mystery this house – Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet was made up so this is not Juliet’s house. It has been randomly selected. The balcony was put in a few decades ago. However, if you want to be crushed by the crowds in a chewing gum encrusted alleyway, then this is your place.

Casa di Guiletta

Casa di Romeo – is simply nowhere to be seen. It exists. It’s on the map. But the writing was so big on the map and the roads are so small I think it could have been anywhere within a 100 metre radius and there’s only a small plaque to mark it. I think it’s the Italian real life equivalent of “where’s Wally?” ; “Where’s Romeo?”. Indeed.

Pam Supermarket (on Via Adigetto I think, very close to Piazza Bra): I’ve added this to “sites” because a) I think it might be the only supermarket in Verona and under the auspices of rarity, I think it qualifies as a site for that reason alone and b) I do like a good foreign supermarket. Ours are so mundane in comparison with not nearly as much variety in teeth-rotting sweets and cakes.

Restaurants & Cafes

Firstly, a word of warning on food in Verona:  One can never have too much horse/donkey meat here. There are not a lot of places that don’t serve it so if you’re not at one with eating donkeys, then go to the pizzerias.

Loacker Moccaria off Cso. S. Anastasia: On the first morning we found this little cafe for lunch and had some toasties/Paninis and a drink. Not that impressed with the paninis but this was our first experience of the Italian hot chocolate. Unfortunately, indirectly through staring at the hot chocolate of the girl next to us. It’s so thick – you could almost stand your spoon up in it. The general consensus from the group over the couple of days is that the teas were nice too (though I didn’t have any). Having said that, I’m not sure they DO tea in Italy, not the way the English do at least. They generally bring out a little pot of hot milk to put in your tea. Perhaps that’s what makes the tea nice. You get a little biscuit thing with your drinks too – Fondante Dark-Noir. Delicious. By the way, “latte” in Italian is “milk” so if you want an actual latte, ask for “cafe latte” otherwise you’ll just get milk.

Cafe Al’duomo – Via Duomo: Having been consumed with hot chocolate envy at the last cafe, we had hot chocolate here with cream (“panna”, not the squirty bottle kind but the genuine article) and cakes. The hot chocolate was everything we’d hoped and dreamed for (though not for Lucy – I think for her, there is such a thing as too much chocolate). The cakes were lovely and there was a nice young man who spoke Italian to me – woohoo! Admittedly I understood only every 10th word (he was describing the cakes and well, it turns out my lexical knowledge of cake ingredients in Italian requires work) but still, success!

Ristorante Pizzeria in Piazza Dei Signori (Piazza of the people): Is a very good value place to eat. It’s always a bit more comforting going to a restaurant where the Italians themselves go to eat and there were lots of them here. There are 3 floors – if you go to the top – you might get a window seat overlooking the piazza and at Christmas time, the Christmas Market is there. We had a lovely meal watching the snow fall down over the stalls.  For 4 pizzas, a litre of Valpolicella wine (Veronese wine) and a bottle of water it came to €61. The wine, well, don’t get me wrong, it was very nice (my wine descriptions are poor I’m afraid – the most I can do is “winey”, “grapey” and “red”) but, it was curiously and unexpectedly a little fizzy. Nice, but if you’re not expecting fizzy red wine, then er, a tad off-putting. I suspect this isn’t the case with all Valpolicella (though a swift look around the other tables at the restaurant confirmed a fizzyish top to their carafes as well).

Cafe Ebrius on Via Ponte Pietra: This was a cute little bar/cafe. The guy behind the bar spoke excellent English (annoying ;-)) and was very friendly. He served a couple of guys there some very interesting whiskey drink with whipped cream on top of it. Alas, the cafe’s/bars don’t really open late in Italy and they were going to be closed at the point where we might have actually wanted to drink whiskey with whipped cream.

Expensive place in Piazza Erbe:  Don’t go here. Admittedly you’d find it easier to follow these instructions if I gave you the name but I’m afraid I didn’t make a note of it. There’s a friendly enticing woman outside but don’t be allured in; it’s a trap. The cheapest thing is soup at €9.50 and the food isn’t great.

Bosari, C.SO Cavour: This was a lovely restaurant. However, we selected it based on its tasty looking, donkeyless menu. It turns out this was the lunch menu. The dinner menu was not as tasty looking and could well have been donkeyfull if we’d looked closely. In fact, for a vegetarian like myself, they seemed only to have some kind of olive potato starter. However, the waiter said they’d make some pasta for me and Lucy (claiming fraudulently she was a vegetarian too – meat eaters – do they have ANY morals? ) which was good of them – points to them for that. Those points were subsequently knocked back off as he kept replying to my Italian in English. I added some again because they gave us a little starter as an extra which was nice of them. And then took them away because it was fish eggs… It’s fair to say, we have mixed feelings of the Bosari restaurant.

For anyone visiting Italy and wondering what the mysterious ”Coperto” is, it’s cover charge. They don’t often charge it for drinks/cake but they do with food.

Miscellaneous

The Italians will never, under any circumstances, hand you your change. Ever.  I think this is the sole reason for queues in Italy. You hold out your hand for the change, and then they drop it onto a flat surface right next to your still waiting hand so that you have to push your change to an edge somewhere. Perhaps there’s a niche in the market for change collecting magnets in Italy.

Verona does have a slight sewage smell in parts. I wonder whether it gets worse in the summer? It wasn’t overwhelming, just in some places.

There are no “pubs”! It’s odd – people clearly want to have a sociable drink– the mulled wine stalls at the Christmas market were by far the busiest.

Dogs. Well, let me tell you… I had heard that Italians didn’t do pets, that my cunning money making kennels/cattery plan would fall flat because of it. Oh my word – dogs are everywhere in Verona. They’re allowed in shops, they stay in hotel rooms (with people… it’s not THAT extravagant). I’ve never seen so many pampered pooches. They don’t do medium sized dogs either – in Verona, your dog must either be the size of a large rat, or a small horse. And not your general mongrel either – it must be pedigree. And it must be adorned in only the most fashionable of garments.  So, I’m definitely still considering the kennel ideal though I’m thinking now to rebrand it as a Hooch Hotel.

On Sunday, women wear fur. Fur coats, fur collars, fur hats. Fur is the thing to do on a Sunday. I think it’s a religious “Sunday best” thing. And what better way to showing your appreciation to God than by wearing the skin of his creations? 🙂 And there are so many people in Verona on a Sunday, or at least, the Sunday we were there. We were walking around easily enough on Friday and Saturday and then on Sunday, it was like trying to wade through an overpopulated mink farm.

So in summary, Verona’s great. It’s not as grand as Rome, and not as romantic as Venice, but it’s got a charm of it’s own – there’s lots to see and do and well worth a visit!

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Are you sitting comfortably?

Ciao!

I’ve got around to editing-ish, the blog for the Italy trip. It’s mammoth I’m afraid. I’ve not quite worked out how to best put it up so you’re just going to get all of it and then I might see about turning some bits into actual pages. So, are you sitting comfortably?

Il Casale

Myself and Lee stayed in il Casale di Mario (http://www.ilcasaledimario.com/ilcasaledimario.aspx) – an agriturismo (an agriturismo, for people that haven’t come across them yet, are places to stay out in the countryside often on a “working farm” of some sorts) on the outskirts of a little village in the Umbrian hills called Montecchio about an hour and a half drive from Rome. We booked it a couple of months back – I was enticed by one of the cheap deal websites (KGB).

We left home at stupid o’clock on Thursday morning to head to Gatwick. As an aside, Gatwick have added massively to the number of bag scanners so they can process people a lot quicker. And then, these masses of people they’ve now processed are squeezed through the World Duty Free shop which is more of a hold up than the scanners ever were!

We got to Fiumicino airport in Rome at about 8am and picked up our hire car. It was incredibly hot – 37 degrees and wonderfully sunny. So far so good. Until we actually tried to locate our agriturismo! The address on the voucher takes you to a little terrace house in the middle of Montecchio village. Not quite the spacious detached villa type that we’d seen on the website – hardly an “agriturismo” – they had just about enough space for a pot plant outside of the front door. We’d arrived at “siesta” time – the door was wide open, but there was no sign of anyone. Just at the point where I was about to wander in, Lee suggested we continue looking for a sign (an actual sign, not a godly sign. I assume anyway). Still not finding anything, Lee checked the address on the actual website on his phone, which it emerged was actually 5 minutes down the road by car. Off we went and, despite a very odd numbering system, we eventually found the place.

And it was lovely! The house looked reasonably sized on the outside but felt positively vast on the inside with a couple of dining areas complete with humungous fireplace, an industrial looking kitchen and I think 5 guest rooms over the top two floors. Our room was large, with some dark wooden sturdy furniture, a couple of chairs, the proper double bed (rather than these hotels that seem to like to push two singles together and which gradually come apart during the night) and a couple of windows overlooking some spectacular scenery. The house has an olive grove and a sort of terraced garden overlooking it where a chicken casually pecks around the tables and chairs that are there.

On a couple of the evenings, the landlady lit fires there – it was positively roasting the entire duration of our stay so it couldn’t have been for heat. It was a very fragrant fire, so I thought perhaps the Italian version of incense or scented candles but then the last time, we saw that she’d been cooking something in there. Very authentic!

The place was very quiet, just the soundtrack of crickets and chimes tinkling somewhere in the light breeze. I like Il Casale di Mario a lot.

Speaking Italian

Our landlady was very sweet – she didn’t speak any English and I think was just generally pleased that we’d made an effort to speak Italian, albeit, not obviously as fluent as it could be! It was a good opportunity to practice. In fact, when we got there, I must have given such a good impression of being Italian, that she seemed genuinely miffed when I asked her to repeat what I imagine must have been a really simple question! Usually when we’ve been to places in Italy, my attempts at Italian are instantly responded to in perfect English, nice of them but frustrating. Her husband was amusing – a real grump. The only time he said something to me, I didn’t hear it properly and asked him to repeat it, to which he then responded with “inglese?” in a very scornful tone and then on my reply “si, ma mio italiano e non c’e bene” – yes, but my Italian isn’t that good – he promptly frowned, turned on his heel and left without saying anything else! From then on, we didn’t even get a hello!

On the subject of speaking Italian though, having landed Lee in it by saying that his dad was Italian and that he understands a lot more than I do, though speaks less/never, she started talking to him directly and woohoo – they managed a whole conversation. I glowed with pride 🙂

 

The Saga of the Language Barrier, the Viewpoint and the Many Dinners

When we arrived here, eager to test my Italian, I asked such questions as “what time is breakfast?” “Is it included in the price?” (it should have been – but you never know with these deal websites), “What time is dinner”, “We get one free don’t we?”. I was molto impressed with my fluency. Alas, she didn’t understand what I was saying ;-). With all three of us thoroughly baffled by the entire conversation, we resolved that we should probably just get dinner out.

So off in search of food we went, heading to a little village called Todi (or Hot Todi as we came to call it. It was indeed hot after all), a very picturesque hill top town about 25 minutes drive from Montecchio.  After ignoring TomTom’s advice about turning into fenced off fields and up footpaths, we found a small supermarket and purchased a few bits and pieces for a picnic – something called Lingue Croccanti alle olive (which is a thin, crispy, buttery and delicious bread which sadly hasn’t made it over here yet), cheese, grilled peppers, tomatoes and a large tub of mint choc chip ice-cream. Resolving to go back to Todi to actually look around, but being far too hungry to do it there and then (besides, there was a steadily melting large tub of ice-cream to deal with), we decided to head back and find somewhere to sit and eat.

Heading back to Montecchio, we spotted a sign for a viewpoint – great! Viewpoints always come with places to sit eh? So in our little hire car, we trundled up a road that was something more suited to tractors, or possibly tanks, than hire cars. Lee was beside himself with terror about what the car would look like by the time we got to the top, which never seemed to come. Every bump incurred a gasp and sign from Lee. He felt that car’s pain every step of the way.

On the way up we glimpsed a spectacular view through the trees. Montecchio itself is very pretty, perched atop a hill and surrounded by those tall thin evergreens you only seem to get in Mediterranean countries. There are larger hills around covered in dense forest, there’s field after field of vineyards and olive groves with trees dotted along the landscape in lines with their silvery grey/green leaves and gnarled ancient looking trunks. The whole countryside is bathed in a bright sunshine but as though it’s beating down through a soft focus filter. So that was the vista we were looking forward to at the top, and these enticing snippets of scenery drove us on (not to mention the impossibility of doing a 3 point turn or reversing all the way down).

And then we got to the top.

Well let me tell you. The top was a glade of trees, sectioned off from anywhere approaching a viewpoint. There was no view at all! Pah! Still, it was nice enough and it was too traumatic to go down immediately, so we had our picnic amongst the trees and instead of the panorama, we watched some very diligent ants move leaves more than 20 times their size from one tree to the next.  We ate. A lot. And we almost made it through our giant tub of now melted ice-cream. Pleasantly full, we headed back to our Casale for a relaxing evening drinking our carton of wine (yes, a carton – a bargain at €1 and lovely! It’s like Ribena with a kick. I should write wine labels) and trying to figure out what the Italians on TV were talking about.

Lounging on the bed, completely stuffed from our picnic, there’s a knock on the door. It’s our landlady. And… and…. <insert drum roll here> She tells us that dinner is ready! Nooo!

After a terse “what on earth do we do now?!” conversation once she’d gone downstairs again, we followed her down and set next to another couple who were from Manchester (KGB deals again!), and we had our second dinner of the evening. And let me tell you, the Italians don’t scrimp on dinner – it was 4 courses. I have never been as full as that evening. I hadn’t even had a chance to tell her that I was a vegetarian! I broke the news to her when she bought us out some wine. She seemed thoroughly puzzled. Obviously if I’d have known that she was cooking us dinner, or that it wasn’t a selecting from a menu affair, I would have mentioned it earlier – I felt awful!

The anti pasti dish came out first – some bread with some kind of truffle paste on (the Umbrian’s are big on truffles), some melon, some cold meats (for Lee – it was a sharing platter), followed by a massive bowl of pasta each, then pork and salad (I had salad) and then a sort of melon peachy desert with cream.

We had a lovely evening in the end. The couple from Manchester were chatty and gave us some advice (good), and some of their wine (really good). And we had 3 gorgeous little kittens for company when our landlady wasn’t half-heartedly shoo-ing them away. The two tiny ones loitered outside the open doorway opening out onto the terrace, looking hungry but too scared to come in. The slightly older one was really friendly and spent dinner cosying up to our legs in an attempt to get some food (I wont kid myself!). He was my favourite and I think the landlady’s too (she called him Oriest, or at least now I do – though it doesn’t appear to be a valid name on further reflection/search on baby name sites). Oriest was my saving grace, he ate more of my pasta than I did. I kept furtively hurling out bits of pasta through the door when the landlady wasn’t looking. Oriest would go and eat it and then come back for more. I needn’t have been quite so sneaky about it. When she came back, she looked a bit offended that I hadn’t been able to finish it all but she took the plate outside and gave the rest to the kittens! After all I’ve heard about how the Italian’s treat their animals I was touched. And let me tell you – kittens adore zucchini pasta.

The woman from the table next to us didn’t eat pork (because the story goes, she saw a pig when she was younger rolling around in mud. Hmm) and when the meat course came out, wouldn’t you know, it was pork. She was horrified at seeming rude and couldn’t leave it untouched. I suggested my kitten distribution technique but she wasn’t up for it. She ended up wrapping it in a napkin and taking it upstairs. When the landlady came back to collect the plates, she was very impressed by her clear plate (bone and all), and offered her more. I haven’t laughed that much in a long time.

I must have drunk about a litre of wine by the end of the evening and I was amazed at my lack of hangover of any sort the following day, particularly given my usual light-weight status. I think that must mean that the wine is good (or is perhaps just Ribena). It did however, mean that I spent much of the night awake listening to church bells in the distance go off every 15 minutes. And throughout the full 5 days, I still wasn’t able to establish a pattern as to the number of bell tolls in relation to the time.

Prostitutes!

On the drive through the winding mountainous roads towards Todi, there were discreet little lay bys and in a couple of them were women dressed up to the nines. When we went past the first one, Lee claimed she was a prostitute. I thought that she was on her way to a party when her car had broken down and that she was simply trying to flag down cars with a view to getting a lift back to town. Then we went past another girl who appeared to be in the same unfortunate predicament. This one appeared to have someone with her. I don’t think they were discussing where she would like to be dropped off. I conceded that Lee might be right (there’s got to be a first for everything I suppose).

I’ve been worried for these girls ever since. Do they have murderers in Italy?! It doesn’t seem at all safe. And curiously what pops up in my thoughts most is “where do they shower?” It’s been so hot that you sweat even with the air conditioning on full in the car, and you’d get all icky from the men, wouldn’t you? So, in the interests of giving advice on life in Italy – men, if you’re going to go, get up at the crack of dawn and go to these girls first thing.

Breakfasts

Breakfast in the mornings was nice. Coffee, little crisp squares of French toast with home-made apricot jam (made from the produce of the tree about 5 metres away), yoghurt, some home-made lemon/orange cake and then some kind of tart. On the last day, she even brought out a panacotta dessert for us. I assume this is traditional Italian breakfast fare. Unless they assume it’s traditional British breakfast fare. Perhaps it’s all a total misunderstanding and we both cultures just eat cereal for breakfast. Either way, anywhere that serves cake at any time of the day is ok by me.

Mosquitoes

From the first day, Lee had been nursing a number of mosquito bites. They affect him quite badly – not only does he often get lots but they’re large, swollen, sore looking things that itch incessantly and stay red for weeks. I’ve told him to look on the plus side. Whilst he’s around, I don’t get any.

The Locals and The Quest for Food

On another dinner quest one evening, we headed into Montecchio at about 7pm. In London, youths form gangs and stand outside of shops being noisy and threatening looking whilst the adults remain inside watching TV. In Montecchio, and perhaps a lot of Italian villages, it’s reversed – it’s the old folk that form gangs and loiter on the street, looking threatening. They hang out at bus stops when I’m pretty sure the busses have stopped running for the day. They hang out in town squares, next to cathedrals, in bars (ok, that one isn’t quite so unusual). The locals take their chairs and plonk themselves down in presumably the only outside space they have – the road – which is only marginally wider than a car, so household after household line their chairs with their backs to the wall facing the road in order to let any traffic past. As we’d walk past, the conversation would stop and their gaze would follow us until we were out of sight. Either this is a demonstration of how wonderfully sociable the Italian’s are amongst themselves or a demonstration of how dire Italian TV is that in order to entertain themselves they need to sit in the roads staring at tourists.

Our criteria was to basically find any restaurant at all that didn’t look threatening. There were 4 restaurants in Montecchio, alas, none met our criteria. The chefs sat outside, sparsely dressed and sweaty looking, glaring at people who walked past.

Hungry now, we decided to head to Todi again (no sign of prostitutes this time, I hoped they were at home having a hot, disinfecting bath). We got there at about 8pm.

Todi was a ghost town! The main piazza was lovely; very large and there were restaurants around but there was nobody in them. And still the chefs glared. By then, we’d decided we’d have to relax our criteria and just go anywhere with food. I mean, deep down, they must want to make money? Perhaps they don’t realise that glaring at people walking past scares people off. Perhaps that’s actually the hard sell for Italians.

We headed to the doorway of a pizzeria – randomly selected by Lee. You couldn’t see inside – it was a nerve racking moment. The waiter suggested we walk to the garden terrace where upon there were HORDES of people – Italians and tourists alike. The terrace was beautiful – tables under a large wooden lattice type structure covered in flowers and it had an amazing view of the surrounding countryside. Success! The pizza’s were fabulous – large, thin, crispy and the house wine was beautifully fizzy (legitimately – it was frizzante). So my recommendation to anyone that goes to Todi wanting dinner is to head to Pizzeria Cavour. It only cost us €24 for both of us.

And let me tell you. The Italians, eat more food that I imagined was ever possible. They had these antipasti dishes, which I had always thought was basically a starter but the plates are massive and simply couldn’t have been – they were twice the size of plates we have in the UK and it was piled high with food. We decided that in these parts antipasti must be a meal in its own right. The couple next to us had one of these each, and also had a large salad with it which did seem a bit excessive but each to their own. Half an hour later, having cleared their plates, their waitress brings out a giant pizza each too. The Italians or at least, the young ones, are all tiny and toned, WHERE DO THEY PUT IT ALL?!

Driving Around

Driving through Umbria, we’ve seen a few places that look particularly impressive. There are field after field of sunflowers and in the midst of the fields on a hill, will be an old stone castle, newly  renovated, with a long drive lined and tall thin ever green trees leading up to it. Jealous, jealous, jealous. 

Cats & Dogs

I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of cats and dogs everywhere we’d been. A lot of houses seem to have cats curled up looking adorable outside and the landlady where we were was really nice to the ones there. I had a bit of a bonding session with the dog which could really do with a wash and a brush. Anyway, I think that my cattery/kennels idea (see The Grand Plan) is still on basically – I think there’s a need for it.

At night you could hear the barking of lots of dogs – I don’t think as a general rule the Italian’s let them in their houses. It reminds me of the Tim Park book I just read – it would definitely be annoying if you lived next door to that but as it was, it was quite far off in the distance and really only detectable at night so the distant barking only added to the atmosphere rather than being genuinely annoying.

Perugia

Our first trip of the holiday was Perugia (of Meredith Kercher and Foxy Knoxy fame). It was about an hour or so from Montecchio. Perugia seems to be a good area for language schools. Alas, I’m afraid I found it quite disappointing. It wasn’t as pretty as some of the hill top villages we’d driven past, the architecture didn’t seem quite as spectacular and the buildings were a bit more run down.

The shopping area contained I think only one affordable shop, and the rest were expensive lingerie shops (which in fact featured in every location we went to – the Italians must be kitted out in the most glorious lacy numbers), expensive clothes shops, expensive makeup shops… do you see where I’m heading? It was a lot smaller than I’d imagined as well. There was quite a cool (literally), underground tunnel thing going on – if you park at the bottom of the hill, there’s a series of escalators that take you to the top with the final one coming out underground in what looks a bit like the Mines of Moria from Lord of the Rings – large caverns with other large cavern off-shoots. Very interesting and I think my favourite bit of Perugia. I’ll have to research the history of those.

Orvieto & Bolsena

On our general tour around the area the following day, we visited Orvieto and Bolsena. Orvieto is lovely. It’s quite a large village and again, on top of a hill where the houses seem to grow out of the rocks beneath them. The village has a surely unnecessarily huge cathedral (il duomo) – the inhabitants of the entire village could fit in twice over I’m certain. The shops around the cathedral sell pottery – terracotta ornaments that you can put outside the house on the walls and glazed plates that you’d put inside.

There were a couple of olive wood shops selling anything and everything made out of the very smooth, multi-coloured olive wood. Very nice. I’m often disappointed that I’m not the kind of person that has a house full of nick-knacks and memorabilia.

The rest of the shops sold expensive lingerie again, expensive ornaments or were giving the locals expensive haircuts. The shops were mostly empty. It’s pretty much the height of tourist season. I’m not sure how they make a living. Perhaps that’s why things are so expensive. Perhaps they only need to sell a couple of things in a day to make ends meet. Having said that, if all their shops are so expensive, then how on earth can they afford anything? They must have to get a mortgage out just for their lingerie alone.

I do like the shops in general though. They’re generally tiny and in England, or anywhere else, I’d be uncomfortable going in because of the often in your face pressure to buy something. In Italy though, they simply wish you a good day and leave you to get on with it, resulting in my going in a lot more shops than I would have otherwise. Though I’ve decided that seeming non bothered-ness about whether you buy something or not could probably be reigned in for the restaurants where such is the lack of pressure, you’re not actually sure if they’re open or not.

After wandering around in Orvieto we resolved it would be a good place to come back to for dinner. And then we headed out to Bolsena where apparently the lake has healing powers. By the time we got there, it was all shut up for siesta so we wandered around for a bit looking mournfully in shop windows (or at least, I did. I suspect Lee’s look was one of glee). It looked pretty. We had our lunch overlooking the very pretty lake. In general, I had a good vibe about Bolsena, it’s just a shame everything was shut!

Terni and Narni

On our last day, we decided to head to Terni after a breakfast watching Oriest The Cat, the chicken and a giant beetle (it was like something that could have been in Jason and the Argonauts) fight to the death (well, not quite, or at all really but it was entertaining nonetheless). The chicken terrorised Oriest The Cat. The beetle terrorised the chicken. But Oriest, if only he’d been able to maintain interest, would have gotten the better of the beetle…

Terni is average. Compared with the other places we’ve seen, it wasn’t particularly pretty and the buildings were unkempt. We resolved to find the cathedral and some green space before making up our minds. We found them and then promptly made up our minds. Terni on the surface of it, does not appear to be all that.

Though it did have perhaps one of the best supermarkets I’ve ever been to. The lemons were the size of melons. The melons where the size of footballs. The footballs…. well….

I was struck again at how expensive things were. Lee finally succeeded in passing me his cold and I spent €13 on 20 paracetamol and a nasal spray rather than, say £5 here. Some things are cheap. Alcohol being one of those things; so much so we bought some cartons of wine to take home, some Prosecco and some grappa. They had a wonderful array of cheap unhealthy pastries and biscuits – croissants filled with chocolate, apricot jam and anything else tasty sounding. When I move here, rather than being self sufficient and having my own business, I think I should seriously consider starring in documentaries such as: The woman whose stomach is made of cake.

We went onto Narni next because it was mentioned in the things to do on our agriturismo’s website. Twenty minutes later we arrived at the “town centre” according to TomTom but it was just somebody’s house. I suspect if we had been less hot and bothered by that point, we could have got out of the car and found an actual town centre but instead we decided to drive back.

Er, Bidet

Our supermarket visit cleared up a matter of confusion for us. I don’t want to be too personal but we’d run out of toilet paper on the 3rd day and our landlady hadn’t given us any more. I have visions of her thinking we English are excessive with our toilet paper. Well. I can’t blame her. I used almost an entire roll in an attempt to mop up the remains of our tub of melted ice cream from the first day, which I had knocked over in a dazed state in the middle of the night. Just what you need at 3am. Well I hadn’t realised how expensive it was until the supermarket visit. €5 for a pack of 4! Pah! No wonder!

Anyway it forced us to be truly continental and experiment with the bidet which I have to say, are not as disgusting and creepy as they look. Of course, we had to google to find out how to use the thing but after that, well, it wasn’t so bad.

Driving

Italians are psychotic when it comes to driving. I know this, yet it never fails to shock me. Italians – do you realise your nation drive like maniacs?

This person parked in the middle of the road. The middle. There were actual parking spaces moments away. But no, no, best to park in the MIDDLE of a road.

Swerving this way and that; the lines on the road don’t give them an indication of where to stay between, but where to drive along. And even then, they still swerve erratically. All of them take racing lines around corners, regardless of whether it’s impossible to see if something’s coming in the other direction or worse, even when they can see there’s something coming. Having said that, we only had one near death experience so we weren’t doing too badly.

There. I think that about sums up the trip. I’ve got photo’s – I’m going to work out a way of showing them! Meanwhile, sogni d’oro!

x

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Book recommendation and bureaucracy…

Ciao!

Well a slow week on the Italy front I’m afraid (though feels like a busy week in relation to everything else!).

I’ve been reading “Buying a House in Italy” by Gordon Neale (thanks Mum & Dad :-)). It’s the “best-selling and most comprehensive guide to buying property in Italy”. It’s very informative!

It tells you about the regions in Italy (there are 20 regions – 95 provinces), financial stuff, renting, types of property, how to buy, what to expect from the culture and I think one of the most helpful bits for me at the moment is just in terms of telling you what you need to do when you go over. Italy is known for its bureaucracy so it’s useful just to get an idea of what paperwork needs to be done and when. Just in terms of moving over (if you’re from the UK), it looks like there are 3 “things” needed:

  • Codice Fiscale. This is a tax identity number and needs to be obtained at the local tax office (ufficio della imposte dirette). It seems to be essential for getting an Autocertificazione (see below).
  • Autocertificazione (di residenza) – proof of residency appears to be important for the Italians. The bureaucracy surrounding getting this proof seems to have reduced so apparently this is all that’s required.
  • Carta d’Identita – which you need to get from your local “comune”. All Italians need to have one of these (and other permanent residents).

There are other things you need if you’re a non EU citizen. And in fact, that list might not be right anymore – the book was written in 2007. I’m going to get some information from the Italian Embassy over here to double check on what I would need to do in terms of moving out there.

The book says it’s a good idea to:

  • Register with your embassy/consulate just in terms of advice and information on diplomatic or passport issues or in emergencies.
  • Look into currency exchange so you don’t get stung with paying high exchange rates on every purchase. Apparently there’s a company www.currenciesdirect.com that deals with that kind of thing. I have yet to really understand the implications of not going through a company like this. I’m intending to check out the website in a bit of detail and email them.
  • Get an Italian bank account (but generally only transfer what you need over).
  • Tell Inland Revenue that you’re moving (apparently they’ll do something tax wise so that you don’t get taxed twice).
  • Get an offshore bank account (apparently you can do this if you’re not resident in the UK) which means that you don’t have to pay tax on your savings.

Otherwise – I’m afraid there’s been no progress. Off camping this weekend so I suspect it’ll be another quiet week too but endeavouring to follow up on things like contacting the Italian embassy over here, getting my bathroom sorted for renting and getting an estate agent around to talk to me about renting my flat out.

Please send me good weather vibes and I’ll be back soon 🙂

Sogni d’oro

x

Categories: Italy | 2 Comments

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