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Sicily and other exciting updates!

Buongiorno!

I hope you’re all hunky-dory. I have lots of news! I’ll start with my trip to Sicily…

I travelled with my fellow blogger friend, Gina who organises trips to Italy – check her out on Facebook and Instagram. We only had a week and didn’t want to spread ourselves too thin so we concentrated on investigated the east and south coast. It definitely warrants a return trip to see all the areas that we missed. It was good to go in the winter when there were fewer tourists (I realise I’m a tourist but it doesn’t quell my dislike of mass invasions of other tourists!). The obvious downside of going in winter is the weather which generally treated us well for the first 4 or 5 days but was pretty grim the last couple of days. Another downside of winter travelling was I had a ghastly cold for the entire duration of the trip which impacted my energy levels somewhat! We still managed to get quite a bit done though starting off in…

Catania.  I was pleasantly surprised by Catania. It’s a nice lively city with massive markets (in particular the fish market is worth a look for those that like seafood). Gina said the seafood in Sicily was amazing – it was certainly fresh. In fact, most of the stuff we saw was still trying to crawl back to the sea.

… and lots of open spaces and a nice park….

 

…and the duomo (cathedral) and surrounding area was very impressive…

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… and lastly it’s worth popping over to see the Monastery if you get time. The staircases  look like they’re straight out of an Escher picture.

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The next day we went to Taormina which is north of Catania. We went by train which took about 45 minutes and then from the station took a bus to the town of Taormina itself which is perched on the top of a hill.

Taormina is a pretty little town with some great views over the coast. It’s full of expensive designer brand shops, not your usual tourist tat at all.

One of my favourite things to see in Taormina was the ‘Teatro Antico’, the ancient theatre, which has to surely be the best positioned theatre in the entire world.

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You can get the Funivia (cable car) from Taormina back down to the coast where you can walk to Isola Bella which is a very cute little ‘island’ that you can walk to/swim to depending on the tide. When we were there the water was just a bit too high so we didn’t brave it!

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This is my friend Gina standing by the “crossing”

The following day we hired a car from Catania airport to travel to our next location via Syracuse. We drove around Syracuse for a while trying to work out where we were supposed to go – we’d both heard it’s very pretty but when you enter the town, to all intents and purposes it just seems to be apartment blocks and shops. After a while we came to the realisation that it was only a particular part of Syracuse that people spoke about, the island of Ortygia. Well…… Ortygia really is very pretty.

 

That evening we arrived in Ragusa. I like Ragusa. Our hotel was in the old part of the town, Ragusa Inferiore (as opposed to Ragusa Superiore – related only to its height as opposed to the people in the latter being particularly snobbish!). The new part was built following a huge earthquake (7.4 magnitude – the strongest in Italian recorded history) that destroyed the old part in 1693 that killed 5000 residents.  The earthquake had a massive impact everywhere in the south / west of the island with almost two thirds of the residents in Catania killed. A total of 60,000 people were killed in total. It’s difficult to imagine the devastation to all the towns and villages there. As a result buildings were rebuilt in the style of the time so there’s a lot of Baroque style buildings in Ragusa. My photos are somewhat lacking in Ragusa because it was mostly torrential rain whilst we were there. We made the most of the rain though by visiting the local spa, Spatium which I thoroughly recommend if like us, you’re somewhat rained in!

In the morning we drove to Noto. Noto reminds me a bit of Bath in Somerset, England as the buildings here were a similar pinky/yellow shade of sandstone. It had some very grand buildings for what felt like quite a small little town.

On the way back to our hotel in Ragusa we made a flying visit to Modica only really to stop at the viewpoint.dsc095084346325876548002200.jpg

The next morning we drove to Agrigento. Agrigento is known for it’s Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples). It really was very impressive and makes you wonder what it was like living back in those days. We stayed in a lovely apartment where the owner gave us some good tips of where to go and what to see. One of the tips was to go to the Valley of the Temples in the evening so you can get some good photos at sunset and when it gets dark the ruins are all spectacularly lit up.

 

The next day we drove to the Scala dei Turchi (the stair of the Turks) so called apparently because the rock resembles a staircase and they used to get frequently raided by the Moors. The ‘stairs’ were actually cordoned off but, you know, it’s Italy and rules are regarded as more of a guidance so the fence had been destroyed in parts to allow for the influx of tourists. To be fair, I can imagine the ‘stairs’ becoming more like a ‘sliding death trap’ so I can see the authority’s point of view.

On our last day we headed back to Catania via Piazza Armerina. We’d heard this was a good place to visit but hadn’t done much research into it. We should have! We went straight to the town but we should have gone to the Villa Romana del Casale which is nearby and home to some impressively preserved roman mosaics. Alas by the time we’d been stuck in traffic for ages, been led by my evil sat nav into roads just big enough to squeeze the car into if you put the mirrors in, got completely sodden by torrential rain and a near-death experience coughing fit on my part (I think I actually had man-flu), we decided to just head back to Catania early for the flight.  We found an outlet shopping mall on the way with brands so designer that I didn’t even know who most of them were.  I think Sicilians like to keep up their image!

I was quite impressed at just how much the landscape varied across the areas where we visited. Sicily is a lot greener and lush than I imagined it would be, perhaps that’s because of the time of year.  Around Syracuse and Noto you might be forgiven for thinking you’re in England’s Lake District with all the dry stone walls and livestock (cows instead of sheep though). Further towards the coast the countryside is much dryer looking, covered in ‘Fichi d’india’ (prickly pear cacti) and there are greenhouses as far as the eye can see. Further inland again, around Piazza Armerina and towards Catania the landscape reminded me of Scotland. Unfortunately though, I’ve never seen so much rubbish at the sides of the road. It really was a bit shocking and a big shame as it really did take the edge off the landscape.

Driving in Sicily is much like driving in Naples but with marginally fewer people launching themselves into the path of your moving car. Like Naples, there are practically no road markings, very confusing and it’s impossible to know who has right of way, at any point, ever. I’ve decided that one should approach driving in these places like walking across a busy piazza (albeit with a potentially lethal one), there’s no right or wrong way of doing it and you just need to stick to your guns and be decisive about it (and have some hand gestures up your sleeves in the event of emergencies).

So that’s Sicily. My other big news is that I’ve finally been allocated my very own apartment in Sarnano until my house is rebuilt after the 2016 earthquake. It’s exciting. It’ll be nice to have my own place and I really do miss Sarnano and the things I did there but likewise, I’ve built a life around this area now and I do love the house that my friends have been so kind to let me stay in for the last couple of years. It does feel a bit like I’m having to constantly go back to square one! Anyway, as Winnie the Pooh once said, “how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”!

I’ll update on progress! I hope you all have a good week or two 🙂

x

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Happy 2019!

Buon anno nuovo a tutti / Happy new year everyone!

I hope you’ve all had a good few weeks.

I’m back in Italy after spending a week over Christmas with my family and friends back in the UK. Last year was a bit of a mixed bag with good things and bad things so I’ve had a few days taking stock and now I’m busy planning this year’s activities!

My last post was back in September (time flies!) so to get you up to date on the remainder of last year….

…I had a couple of days at the natural hot springs in Saturnia in Tuscany….

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I loved these springs – it’s like walking into a warm bath! The best thing is that it’s completely free. My only slight concern being that the water was full of tiny little red worm things which it turns out are the larvae of a mosquito type insect. I suspect that’s not the case all year around but I’d recommend not looking too closely at the water. 

…followed by a visit to Pitigliano (Tuscany) …

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Pitigliano is a spectacular little town built straight out of some rock. It’s difficult to see where the rock finishes and the buildings begin.

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It’s known as “Little Jerusalem” due to its historical presence of Jews there – its got a very interesting past and it’s well worth a visit.

…Then a girls weekend away in Venice where we experienced the flooding first hand (Venice had the highest flooding in 20 years the week before we arrived) and got a private demonstration of how to make a glass horse (alas we didn’t get to have a go!) over on the beautiful island of Murano….

And finally a day trip with my pottery class to see Castelli, a beautiful little town in Abruzzo famous for its maiolica ceramics.

On the subject of art, I’ve had a few commissions in the last few weeks which has been good and I was reasonably productive in my ceramics class.

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These are some of attempts (I’ve recently got interested in succulent plants, mainly because they’re slightly harder to kill off) so there’s a distinct theme to my work this year!

I’ve just got some alcohol inks for Christmas so I’ve been having fun with those too…

Who knows, maybe this year I’ll try and exhibit again…

I’ll be going to Sicily for a week later in the month which I’m thrilled about. It’s been on my list of places to go to for ages. Then really hoping to get to Israel and I’ve booked a trip to Copenhagen in April and possibly Thailand or Bali later in the year. This year will be the year of travel! I tend to just go back and forth to the UK which doesn’t feel quite so adventurous.

I’ve got plans for the new house (for those new to the blog, my house was badly damaged in the earthquakes in 2016 so it’s been knocked down and I’m waiting for it to be rebuild) which is a step in the right direction. Hopefully things can start moving along but I don’t imagine any work will be starting within the next year or two at the very earliest. I was told I would be getting an apartment in Sarnano instead of the money the government pay out monthly which goes towards rent, however, there’s alas no movement on that at all.

In other news I’ve signed up for a sort of cross-country skiing course. I can ski, I just can’t stop, so I’m looking forward to that. The local pistes were open just before I came back for Christmas so I went snowboarding for the first time in a couple of years and had a great time! There should be more snow this week so hopefully it bodes well for the skiing course. I shall report back (hopefully in more of a timely manner this time!).

Meanwhile, have a fabulous start to 2019!

x

 

 

 

 

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Exploring Liguria, Pisa and Sardinia…

Buongiorno a tutti,

I hope you’re all well. Following on from my post earlier in the week recounting Leg 1 of my Italian Tour, here’s what we did in Leg 2…

After a week or two at home following the Naples/Amalfi trip, I drove to Santa Margherita in Liguria (near the knee of Italy’s boot!) to meet up with the same friend I holidayed with for Leg 1.

Santa Margherita is a lovely town on the Ligurian coastline. Despite having two nights in an apartment not far from the center we didn’t spend too much time there. Our first evening, we went out for an aperitivo and dinner followed by a refreshing night swim. This kind of behaviour is frowned upon by almost all Italians because a) they believe you will die if you swim after eating and b) it was night and so therefore ‘cold’ (it wasn’t really) and consequently you will get some terrible illness as a result. I’m pleased to say though that it was fabulous and neither of us died or contracted a terrible illness.

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Just after swimming!

The next day we had an unexpected stop in Sestri Levante as our train was delayed on the way to the Cinque Terre. It’s a nice little town with a cute shopping street but the thing that sticks out for me most in that town were the trompe l’oeil effect paintwork on almost all of the buildings. It was so realistic that in order to work out whether the shutters were real or painted or the walls were bricks or flat concrete, you had to change your angle or get up close enough to touch it. Of the pictures below, only the windows and shutters are real. I was very impressed and would love to give it a go when my house eventually gets rebuilt!

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The thing we really wanted to explore was the Cinque Terre. I’d been there once before a few years ago (read about it here). Cinque Terre literally means “five lands” which refer to the five colourful little towns dotted along the lush green coastline. There are several ways to explore it. They’re not easily reached by car so the best ways are by train, walking or boat.

The trains run reasonably often between all the towns and are cheap. There’s a walking route which joins all the towns but unfortunately due to a landslide a few years back there’s a couple of sections that now you can’t walk. They are planning to repair them though and rumour has it that it will be ready for 2020.

We were limited on time and we both love the sea so we decided to go on a boat trip. We were slightly disappointed by the masses of people on the trip we did in Amalfi so this time we decided on a smaller boat tour from one of the towns, Riomaggiore, by a company called Cinqueterre dal Mare.  We were glad we did. The beauty of the smaller boat tour was that with only 6 of us in total it was a lot more personal,  we stopped off and went for a swim a couple of times, used their phone chargers and put our drinks in their fridge. It was a great way to see the towns too. We stopped off in Vernazza for an ice-cream and finished the tour in Manarola followed by an amazing aperitivo overlooking the town in a lovely bar/restaurant called Nessun Dorma. We could have stayed there all evening but there was quite the queue to get in!

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Riomaggiore

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Taken from Manarola’s harbour

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I thoroughly recommend stopping for something to eat and drink here at Nessun Dorma because then you can relax and look out over…

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This at Manarola.

The following day we drove to Portofino just 20 minutes up the coast from Santa Margherita.

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It has to be the nicest stretch of coastline I’ve ever seen and is home to some of the nicest boats I’ve ever seen too. The road snakes around numerous bays and the water is so clear you can almost see the fish swimming by as you’re driving. We wanted to stop off at the public beach / bay in Paraggi but there was unfortunately no parking and we were limited on time. On reflection we should have walked to it in the early morning from Santa Margherita or taken the bus. It looked absolutely idyllic (not the private beach mind, which was filled to the brim with sunbeds and umbrellas).

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Look at this water! It was at least 2 meters deep here.

From there we headed to Pisa to catch a flight to Cagliari in Sardinia. We got there in plenty of time for the flight so as a good tourist, I made sure to prop up the tower.  Pisa is tiny! I imagined it was a big city like Florence or Siena but it’s not like that at all.

 

We got to Cagliari in the evening and headed to our apartment at Poetto beach, a very long stretch of wide sandy beach dotted with beach bars and restaurants.

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It was a bit stormy on the first day when I took this picture.

I didn’t warm to Cagliari as a city, though admittedly we only had one evening wandering around the streets and old town. The locals are very proud of their city so I can’t help but think I was missing something!

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I did discover a great new pasta dish though which is impossible to pronounce, Culurgiones. In my attempts to pronounce it, I come out with ‘coglioni’ which means testicles. Not wanting to order testicles (I’m vegetarian!), I usually settled for doing the typical tourist thing of pointing to the item on the menu. They’re like ravioli but filled with cheesy potato goodness.

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Food photography is not something that interests me so apologies for the blur, I was more interested in eating it than taking pictures of it. One of the great mysteries of Italy: If you order tagliatelle, they give you such a large portion you can barely finish yet if you order ravioli you need to have another 3 courses just to take the edge off your hunger after.

The other thing to try is a ‘dolce’ called Seadas (pronounced say-ah-das). It’s a fried pastry filled with cheese and then covered in honey.

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Filled cheesy pastry. This one was a bit dry, you need to have it with lots of honey!

To continue with our boat theme, the following day we had a trip around the coastline on a sailing yacht. There’s something special about sailing and it was nice to finish our trip on a high like that. We sailed to a bay an hour or two down the coast and then dropped anchor for lunch, a swim (or 5) and a sunbathe on the boat.  All in all it was a great experience but by then I was spoilt by the Ligurian coastline and in my opinion the Sardinian coastline (around Cagliari at least) is dry and characterless in comparison!  If we were staying for longer, we’d have hired a car and perhaps explored the Emerald Coast which is supposed to be more impressive.

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I did like a couple of pictures of the coastline but I’m having problems uploading them. Here’s a picture of a jellyfish and one of his team of fish that we captured and photographed instead! Strangely beautiful I think!

That about sums up Leg 2 of our trip. If you’ve been to any of the places I’ve mentioned and/or got any thoughts about them I’d be interested to hear!

In other news, on the weekend of the 13th/14th October, I’ll be selling my artwork at the Sapore D’Autunno (Taste of Autumn) festa in Montefalcone if anyone is local and fancies popping by!

A presto,

x

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Exploring Naples and the Amalfi Coast

Buongiorno a tutti!

I’ve been on holiday 🙂 A good friend of mine who used to live here for several years came for a long visit to Italy. We both have long lists of places that we’ve been wanting to visit and so we tried to incorporate them all. We had two “legs” to our holiday. We started off in Naples and headed down the Amalfi coast and then our second leg, a couple of weeks later, took us to the Ligurian coastline and Sardinia. In this post I’ll tell you about Leg 1!
Naples

I do love Naples. It was my second visit. You can read about my first one here. It’s so full of life and atmosphere. I drove from my house. It was about 4.5 hours to get to our apartment by the port, skirting around Naples as opposed to driving through the heart of it. That was stressful enough but then I made the mistake of listening to the sat nav to get to the airport to pick up my friend. I think I had more near death experiences in those 20 minutes than in my entire 38 years. People and motorbikes were coming at me from all angles like they were actively trying to get run over. It was like playing a real life game of Space Invaders, continuously having to take evasive action to avoid killing the suicidal Napolitanos that were trying to do death slides under the car. There were entire families balancing on scooters like they were involved in motorcycle circus events and all without helmets. I’ve decided that’s why there are so many churches in Naples (almost every other building!): it must be to cope with the excessive number of road deaths! My advice: Never, ever drive in central Naples.

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Naples is ‘unkemptly’ colourful

We discovered the underground world beneath the church San Lorenzo Maggiore entirely by accident really because we had wanted, and indeed thought, we were going to Naples Sotterranea (Naples Underground) which is another big tourist attraction. It wasn’t until I was writing this post that I realised we’d made a mistake! Anyway, it was an interesting tour all the same. Basically, Naples gets higher as the centuries pass! Archaeologists have dug down a few meters to reveal Greek ruins from the 5th Century BC. These were at some point covered in earth due to a mudslide/flooding and the next population (the Romans) built a market on top using them as a sort of foundation and nicking a bit of the original Greek stonework. After the next covering of mud, the Christians came to the party and built on top of that. I can’t help but think that if I dug down to discover several levels of ancient buildings which had been catastrophically covered in mud, I would reconsider the position of the thing I was building. Between that and the supervolcano all around Naples, I don’t know how they get house insurance.

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The tour also included things above ground including the chapels. One of the things that intrigues me about churches and religious buildings in Italy is how they ask people to cover their shoulders in order to go inside when the inside is often painted with scantily clad women with their breasts out and nude children. Clearly nobody mentioned the “no shoulder” policy to them.

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She doesn’t have a bag… Perhaps that’s where she keeps her keys.

Breasts covered but what about the shoulders!

We also tried a Napolitan delicacy which I’d never heard of before (though my mum has and has apparently made them!): the Rum Baba. Italian’s do a number of things very well, but in my opinion, cakes are not one of them. The cakes are generally dry and bland but oh no, not the Rum Baba! The Rum Baba drips with so much sugary rum that I think you could probably get drunk from eating a couple. It’s so unlike every other Italian cake and biscuit that you can even swallow it without having to dip it in your drink like the others. If you go to Naples, I thoroughly recommend giving one a go.

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This one must be a chocolate one – the traditional Baba’s are made with rum!

From Naples we drove to Sorrento to experience the Amalfi Coast. This will be controversial, but my lasting impression of the towns and landscape here is: dry and arid coastline dotted with the occasional town (not as colourful as one imagines) that are extortionate to park in (25 euros a day) with an unbearable number of tourists and where everything costs 5 times as much as it does everywhere else in Italy. I realise that I am perhaps the only person in the world that isn’t that impressed with the Amalfi coast so take my summary with a pinch of salt if you’re considering visiting!

There are good bits of course. If you ignore all of the above, Sorrento is lovely. There’s one main street with lots of little alleys off it with interesting shops.

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The views over the sea from Sorrento are gorgeous and overlook Vesuvius and Naples.

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We walked down to the harbour and had a nice meal on the seafront. Look at the amazing boat in the middle!

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I think the Cloister of San Francesco was my favourite thing in Sorrento, I even went back to paint there before we left.

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Perspective all wrong and it’s blurry but you get the gist!

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This was taken our first evening when the heavens opened just before a concert was due to start…

The other thing in Sorrento that I thought was quite interesting was this building which I guess must have been an old mill?

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The following day we took a tourist boat along the coast, stopping at Amalfi and Positano.

Amalfi was pretty, but even more bustling with tourists than Sorrento. If you’re thinking of having a swim there, don’t… Not unless you want to pay for a sunbed and umbrella as there are no “free” beaches apart from a thin sliver of pebbly beach and slipway between boats.

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I preferred Positano which seemed cleaner somehow and they had a slightly larger bit of beach, though it was so busy that you could touch your neighbouring beach-goers if you stretched your arms out. Alas, by the time I got to Positano I was too hot and bothered to take any pictures so here is a much nicer one than I could ever take from Pixabay…

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I think that about sums up Leg 1. I’ll report back on Leg 2 shortly.

Meanwhile, in other news, one of my walk reviews got published by Cicerone, you can read it here.

I hope you’re all well.

x

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Uncovering Italy’s lakes, my time on the big stage and fun in A&E…

Buongiorno a tutti,

Greetings all! How are you? Where has the summer gone?! There’s definitely a chill in the air here at night these days. I’m hoping it’s an anomaly and it’ll go back to being warm again tomorrow. I’ve had an eventful few weeks – highlights include lakes, opera and A&E! I’ll start off with the good bits…

Lago di Scanno

I went to Lago di Scanno back in April/May and had a great time. I wrote up a blog about it which I never got around to posting but I’ll do that in a week or two as it’s a lovely place to visit. Meanwhile these are a couple of my favourite photos from that trip…

 

Lago di Trasimeno

Next up on the tour of local lakes, myself and my family who were over for a couple of weeks went to Lago di Trasimeno, Umbria. I’m used to sleepy towns and villages but Lago di Trasimeno was busy, particularly in the evenings with lots of nightlife. There are ferries which take you to the islands in the middle of the lake: we went to the only inhabited island in the lake called ‘Isola Maggiore’ for a wander around and some lunch. It’s very pretty. The lake wasn’t very enticing for swimming which was a shame but there are lots of little villages around the lake to visit. Castiglione del Lago was particularly nice with a castle to investigate too and even an open-air cinema if you’re there in the evenings.

 

Lago di Piediluco

Lago di Piediluco has been my final new lake this year. That was much more pleasant to swim in, though it seems to be relatively frowned upon by the lifeguards that kept whistling at me to come back every time I got more than 3 meters out from the shore. Italians are very anti lake swimming and I haven’t really established why; the most valid concern seems to be the presence of eddies that can suck you down into the lake. I haven’t actually seen or read of any evidence of this in the local lakes to back this up but one poor  23yr old died a week or two back swimming in Lake Fiastra which has somewhat dented my argument that they’re perfectly safe. There’s been no explanation as to what happened so the mystery continues. Anyway, apart from swimming in the lake, there are lots of lovely places around Piediluco to visit. We went to Narni (CS Lewis based the name of Narnia on this town, though it has no other similaries!),  Leonessa (very quaint but a bit too patriotic for my liking – Italian flags were plastered everywhere and I felt a bit like an intruder!) and if it’s definitely worth seeing the Marmore Waterfalls, Cascate delle Marmore (the highest of which is the biggest man-made waterfall in the world at 165 meters). Unfortunately I couldn’t visit the waterfalls this time but have a look at an earlier post about them here for photos.

Walks

I’ve been on some lovely walks this year too using Cicerone’s Sibillini National Park Guidebook. I’m hoping to write up some of the walks for their blog. It’s been a bit of a challenge going for walks here this year to be honest. Many of the walks, refuges or routes are still damaged from the earthquakes in 2016. However, things are getting repaired, albeit at a snail’s pace. There’s still plenty of walks to go on and even where paths have been closed, there are sometimes other routes. Here are some photos from some of the walks…

Castelluccio

Monte Priore

Cascate dell’Acquasanta

Cascate dell’Acquasanta – just before this the several meters of path had fallen away due to the earthquake so the path is closed. I *may* have bypassed the fallen path.

Towards Forca di Presta and Monte Vettore…

 

Opera

This year I have been performing in the opera on the very big Sferisterio stage at an amphitheater in Macerata. The production was “The Magic Flute” directed by Graham Vick, an English director. It’s been quite a roller-coaster this opera experience, I must say. I’m still not sure what I think of it all!

It’s worth noting, that I don’t like opera. What other form of entertainment requires you to have subtitles to follow what’s going on and even then, half the time it’s still a mystery?! I’ve seen a handful of opera’s now and apart from one or two ‘arias’ in some of the well-known operas, as far as I can tell, there’s no discernible melody to hardly any of them. Contrast that with a good musical like Les Miserable where all the songs are immediately catchy, you can hear the words clearly and you don’t have to stop and ask your Opera-buddy what’s going on all the time… for me there’s no contest! Anyway, I do really appreciate the skill of the singers but all in all, opera is not my cup of tea. Having said all that, I go to the opera most years regardless because a) our local city, Macerata, hosts one of the biggest opera festivals in Europe every year b) I love dressing up and c) just to double check that I still don’t like it.

So what was I actually doing in the opera? My friend heard they were looking for extras and wanted to be in it and wanted me to do it with her. It’s rare I say no to something that seems like it could possibly be fun so I signed up. There were 80 or so extras and our mission was to do various things on stage to build on the storyline.

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This is the Sferisterio – isn’t it spectacular?!

All in all, I’m glad I did it. Being up on the stage at the Sferisterio is something to behold and it’s not something I’ll forget in a hurry. I met some lovely people that have become friends and who I’d never have met otherwise. It was also great being part of such a big production. The director and his team are well-known in the world of opera and it was interesting to see how they work and see the opera develop. I really liked the production itself – it’s a shame I haven’t actually seen it myself but from the outskirts and behind the scenes it had all the components of a good show – funny, sexy, there were goodies, baddies, bombs, fireworks. As opera’s go, I think I might have enjoyed our one. It certainly got some attention, even in the English newspapers. It turns out our version of the Magic Flute is like marmite – you either love it or hate it.

However, it did have it’s challenging side! In total it was 150 hours of time over a period of 2 months, 45 hours in the car (half of which was down lonely windy roads well past midnight), £££’s petrol and meals out in-between breaks. I’ve driven 30,000 km since the beginning of May. My mechanic thought I was some sort of agent travelling across country for business.  I missed out on every festa and almost every gathering of friends and family this year and I’ve been riddled with colds and bad backs which I think can probably be put down to the lack of sleep and lack of recovery time!  Which leads me onto…

Accident & Emergency Fun

So on the bad back front, I had my first experience of Italian A&E last week. In January, I sneezed whilst carrying some wood and I hurt my back. It never got better; it just goes through phases of being bad and bearable but it never stopped me doing anything so I largely ignored it apart from moaning to friends and family. A month or two ago I went for a walk up our second highest mountain, Monte Priore and since then it got a lot worse. An x-ray confirmed it was arthritis and a reduced gap between some of my bones. I needed an MRI to get a diagnosis but before I could get one done, I woke up with agonising shooting pains down my leg and couldn’t get out of bed without collapsing in a screaming heap. In the end I was whisked to hospital in an ambulance. Anyway to cut a long story short, I probably have a herniated disc. I’m awaiting some MRI results. I’m not in any pain anymore but then again, I can’t really feel my leg much! Much to my frustration I walk like a very slow robot and teeter on slopes. I do very much hope to be back walking in the mountains soon.

On the plus side of all this, it’s been really heart-warming to see how many people care 🙂 Without my family here and an inability to move, things could have been a lot more challenging but all my friends have really rallied around to make sure I’m alright and have everything I need. If any of you are reading this, I can’t thank you enough!

Painting

I’ve not been doing anywhere near the amount of painting that I’d like to be doing! I had grand plans to produce a calendar, gift certificates, postcards etc. I exhibited some of my paintings earlier in the year at a festival in Sant’Angelo in Pontano and sold a few paintings to some friends recently so in that sense it’s been successful! I was hoping to do a workshop in conjunction with a lovely local B&B called Il Picchio Verde in Sant’Angelo in Pontano, however I think that might need to be next year now following a rather busy summer! I might have an opportunity to sell some paintings at the Montefalcone Sapori d’Autunno festival in October though so fingers crossed!

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This was at Cupra Marittima a few weeks back during a weekly art group excursion.

There’s not much other news to report. I’ve moved out of ‘home’ for a couple of weeks (nothing is happening on my home in terms of rebuilding work or an alternative flat which I was told would be available back in Spring!) or so whilst they’re doing some work so I’m staying nearer the coast. It’s another new area so new places to visit! I’m down to the Amalfi coast in a couple of days too for a week so I’ll report back on that soon. Meanwhile, I hope you are all well!

x

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Making paper, earthquake update and flower power…

Buongiorno,

How is everyone? I’m thrilled to report that in this blog post there are no deaths to report or indeed bad news of any kind 🙂 I knew this day would come!

There’s not too much to report on since the last post. It’s been glorious weather so I’ve been out and about in the sun. The flowers are out and it’s lovely to see.

The cats are enjoying the sunshine too and bringing in the world’s supply of ticks (thankfully they’re not biting them but hitching lifts – neither me or the cats are enjoying the tick eradication sessions when they come in of an evening).

The main thing of interest this week has been a workshop with the lovely Natan and Catharina of Nightcloud Studio in the hills around Amandola for an all-day paper-making workshop. Like many of us, they were unfortunately hit quite badly by the earthquake in 2016 but their studio has remained in full working order!

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Natan and Catharina make paper out of almost everything – it’s a great way of recycling and when things don’t get made into paper, they get used in other ways! This was their blue bottle fence surrounding the veggie patch.

It was a great day out – they started off giving us an overview of the history of paper and showing us some examples of papers made from different materials. It turns out you can make paper from almost anything: nettles, grass, jeans, t-shirts, wheat. I’d always had in mind, probably like most people, that paper is something that you write, draw or paint on but the papers we were leafing through there were pieces of art in their own right.

Since the workshop I’ve been seeing the world in a different way – everything I come across I’ve been wondering whether I could turn into paper! It’s a wonderful way of recycling things. Natan and Catharina have clearly experimented loads with lots of different techniques and their workshop is full to the brim with artwork and papers. They have an exhibition in Amandola in May.

In other exciting news I saw the apartment in Sarnano that I will be moving into at some point courtesy of the government following the earthquake. It’s not finished yet – there aren’t any doors and the electrical points and plumbing all need to be finished but it’s good to finally see it. It’s a reasonable size with a couple of good-sized bedrooms, a terrace and an open plan living room and kitchen. In Sarnano we’re lucky that we’ve been offered the possibility of these apartments – other areas aren’t quite so lucky.

That’s about it from me. Until next time!

x

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Artwork, weeds and travels…

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone? It’s been a busy month or so here and yet another mixed bag.

To get the bad news over and done with first, there’s been yet another loss in my family, another Uncle. He used to read all my blog posts and keep tabs on me from afar and I shall miss him greatly. I think one of the biggest challenges to being an ex-pat is when things like this happen. Living in another country away from your family is difficult – grieving is better done together so I’ve been back over in the UK for a bit.

On a positive note, the weather has really started to pick up in Italy and it’s been lovely to spend a bit of time in the garden again. I’ve even been attempting to hone my (entirely non-existent) gardening skills. I’ve discovered that weeding is surprisingly relaxing (even though my current level of expertise leaves me unsure of what is and isn’t a weed). Somewhat linked to that, I went to a fabulous event in Urbisaglia hosted by Il Salto which showed us how to identify wild plants primarily for the purposes of eating or even medicinal use. It was one of the first nice days of the year and it was a really good group so we had a lot of fun and learnt a lot. They run a few similar events and I’d thoroughly recommend it for anyone in the area interested in that kind of thing.

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We collected our wild plants, then had a lovely buffet lunch which everyone had contributed to and then went to the local library to identify our plants and learn more about them. Alas, at that point, they were a little dead looking.

I’ve also been out and about on a few trips…

Rome

I do love Rome. It’s one of my favourite cities. There’s just so much to see and there’s such an eclectic mix between old, really really old and new. It’s an artist’s paradise – one could never be bored and certainly I wasn’t when I was there and managed to squeeze in a few sketches. I’ve discovered it has my favourite shop in the world too – an art shop near the Pantheon. I could probably have spent the entire 3 days just in there! Here are a few of my quick sketches to make a change from showing you photos…

Venice

I also went to Venice to meet up with a friend. It was just a short trip – less than a day really but I got to see a new part of Venice for me (near the Biennale Gardens). It feels like we uncovered the “real” Venice rather than just the tourist area. Venice is such a stunning city that it sort of overwhelms the senses. We stayed in a gorgeous hotel called Liassidi Palace in the centre overlooking one of the canals so it really was a special trip all in all.

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View from our hotel window!

Art Update

I have some paintings up at the gym on display – I’m feeling quite famous every time I head to the changing rooms. I might put some portraits up there too in the next month if they’ll let me to see if I can get any commissions. I’m quite keen to do pet portraits but I’ve lost a bit of momentum on that in the last few months with one thing or the other. I have entered a couple of painting competitions but haven’t had a great deal of success so far but fingers crossed for a future one.  I painted this one below for the SAA Alive & Kicking competition (here’s a link if you want to browse my competition!)…

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A life drawing class has just started as well which I’m enjoying. It’s a combined class with younger Italian students and English ex-pats. This was a quick watercolour sketch done in the last class.

Life Drawing

I had some success this month on the photography front and won a prize for being one of the winners in a Touring Club Italia photographic competition – have a look here to see my photo. I’ve won a weekend away for two somewhere yet to be confirmed! I’ll keep you posted.

Finally, I’m thrilled to announce I’m a gold medalist swimmer! GOLD! (Yes, admittedly there were only two people in my category for that particular race but still, that’s just  a petty detail). I did quite badly really – my nose clip came off after the first length and I spent the following three lengths drowning. I did manage to beat my personal best in a competitive race though (it being my second gala ever that wasn’t particularly difficult either). Technically, all I need to do is not drown quite so much in the next race and I should beat my latest personal best too.

I think that’s it from my side. I wish you all a good week or two.

x

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The start of the beginning…

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone? I can’t believe it’s mid February already! I started this post at the beginning of January and never got around to posting it so I’ve had to keep re-writing it with the latest several times! I’ve got quite a mixed bag of good and bad news in this post. I’ll get the bad out of the way with…

I had sad news at the start of the year with my nan, my only remaining grandparent passing away. It was expected but of course it was still very sad and particularly difficult given I was back in Italy at the time. However, I’m pleased I spent quite a bit of time with her over Christmas and have lots of good memories to look back on. She has always been quite a feature of my visits when I’m back in the UK so it’ll be a bit odd without her.

One of my neighbours in Sarnano also died last month. He and his wife made me feel really welcome when I moved there. I used to have coffee with them. He would greet me with a call of “Amore mio” (“My love!”) if he was outside and I passed the house. Their house was heavily damaged in the earthquake too. It’s been difficult for all of us with damaged houses but particularly for them – moving from their lovely country house with their extensive veggie patch, fruit trees and animals, to a second floor flat in the centre of town was not how they envisaged spending their last few years. My heart goes out to his wife.

A day or so after I came back from the UK, the Italian army arrived to knock my house down. It’s technically great news, despite it feeling like bad news! The army knocked it down for free meaning the money we get from the State should go 100% towards the rebuild rather than having to include demolition costs too. So really, it’s the start of the beginning rather than the end of the end! I hardly got any notice of the demolition so I had a somewhat stressful week or two beforehand trying to clear the house which was still full to the brim with furniture. I had lots of offers of help though and managed to get an empty garage to put things in.

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And then half an hour later there was nothing still standing! It was horribly sad of course but I was there with the neighbours and there was something nice about being sad together – stuff like that brings people closer doesn’t it?!

On a less depressing note, I did manage to get out for a couple of trips:

Sentina Nature Reserve                                                                                                                 

This is a nature reserve near San Benedetto del Tronto. I get the feeling it was supposed to have been wetlands but they weren’t very wet. I think there should have been a few lakes/ponds but I wasn’t able to see any evidence of them! However, it’s on the coast so you can do a circuit with the first and last bits through the ‘wetlands’ and the middle bit on the coast. It’s really nice to see some wild coastline in Italy. So much of the Marche coast has a road right next to it and bars. This stretch of coast was excellent for seaglass and had some very atmospheric falling down buildings on the shoreline!

Carnevale

Carnevale is the day before lent starts, though events usually take place the weekend before as well. It’s a time for celebration, fun and for eating “frappe” (fried things that they cover with some kind of syrup usually – here’s a recipe).  In many towns, they have a procession and floats with children and adults dancing or playing music and generally having a good time. Each region has their own style of costume: Harlequin’s are from Bergamo, Pulcinella (horrible black masks with long beaky noses) are from Naples to name just a couple.  It’s a celebration full of history and tradition.

A friend and I went to Ascoli Piceno this year to see Carnevale there. It was great fun. Rather than the typical procession, you wander around the main piazzas seeing little ‘scenes’ – often with some political message behind them but sometimes just absolutely silly.  I think it’s fair to say that all regions of Italy are proud of their local dialects and Ascoli Piceno is no different. It was quite amusing trying to work out what their signs said and I was pleased to note that even my Italian friend struggled to understand some of it!

So, after a fairly unsettled month or two with one thing or another, I’m really looking forward to getting back to a routine. I’ve got a swimming gala to train for towards the end of March and I’ve just given some paintings to be exhibited in the gym – the manager wasn’t there when I left them so who knows whether he’ll actually accept them… Fingers crossed! I’ve got a number of arty projects to be getting on with now so I’ll keep you posted on those. In other good news, despite seeing the snow creeping down on the mountains, the weather has been absolutely stunning this week so I feel like Spring is almost in the air (I even have a daffodil in the garden to prove it!).

I hope you have all had a good start to the year so far. A presto,

x

 

 

 

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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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5 bedroom house for sale (circa 360 sqm) with 8000 sqm of land – 300,000 Euros ono

Buongiorno a tutti,

This is a bit different from my normal post but I was curious to see if anyone was interested in investing in a house. It belongs to some good friends of mine so I thought I’d see if I could help sell it.

It’s in the beautiful area of Penna San Giovanni, Le Marche which is a town I often take my visitors to because it’s so quaint, with panoramic views across the Sibillini mountain range. Situated 5 minutes outside of the town heading towards Gualdo the house is on a main road with access to public transport and is particularly good for getting out and about in the winter when it snows!

Marisa (2 of 19)

It’s not a villa in the middle of nowhere like we English folk usually like but I think it offers something more. It’s a fabulous investment opportunity as the house contains three large self contained apartments with separate entrances on each of the three floors and an attic in the roof. Someone could live in one of the apartments and easily rent out the other two.

It’s not lacking in outside space with 8000 sqm of land stretching behind the property, plenty of car parking space and a 100 sqm workshop and pigsty (that could be turned into a swimming pool!!!).

 

The upper two floors have terraces, with the larger one on the top floor overlooking the mountains.

Marisa (9 of 19)The house is well decorated throughout. All the rooms are bright and spacious. The bottom floor contains a kitchenette, dining room, bathroom and currently contains storage areas which could easily be turned into more living space.

 

Here are the floor plans – apologies they’re a bit scrappy but you can get the idea!

Marisa (18 of 19)

First Floor / Ground Floor – lots of scope to turn the garage and cantina (basement) into living space.

Marisa (1 of 19)

Second Floor (Camera means bedroom)

Marisa (19 of 19)

Third Floor

I really do think it offers a great investment opportunity. If you’re interested, please get in touch!

x

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