Posts Tagged With: Driving in Italy

Suspended armchairs, joining clubs and stormy skies…

Buonasera a tutti!

How is everyone? It’s been a busy couple of weeks here as ever it feels! The weather hasn’t been that great which has been good for the photography – stormy skies are definitely more dramatic than gorgeous blue cloudless ones! I apologise in advance for the abundance of photos in this week’s blog post 🙂

The ruin of UK roads…

I popped back to the UK for a whistle-stop tour. It was lovely to catch up with people that I managed to see, though this trip seemed shorter than ever. This visit included a journey up north to see my friend so there was also a fair bit of driving involved. I never thought I’d say this but I actually prefer driving in Italy. The number of variable average speed checks in the UK these days makes for very painful car journeys! Oh how times have changed from when I was so terrified of driving here that I used to message my parents to tell them that I was going to the shops in the car and, fearful I might not make it back alive, that I loved them.

IMPORTANT TIP FOR BIKE RIDERS!

I am also now fully equipped for bike riding! I have lights, a bag, a pump and a water bottle. I also discovered an interesting tip for bike riding: sometimes, one should pump up ones tires. Who knew?! (Yes yes, don’t be mean! For some reason it just never occurred to me). I have never pumped up my tires. Anyway, I’m pleased to confirm it goes like a dream now, though alas, I do not. It seems pumped up tires do improve things a bit but the whole experience is still unfortunately exhausting. I’m hoping to do my longest, highest ever bike ride in the next couple of weeks so I shall keep you posted on that. If I manage it, I might actually order myself some sort of medal.

Street Performers of Pennabilli

In the last few days there’s been a reasonably well-known festival called “Artisti in Piazza” in a little town called Pennabilli, in the Emilia-Romagna region. From Sarnano, where I live, it’s a bit of a trek but definitely worth a visit. The festival is very impressive – it runs for 5 days and street performers from around the world come to demonstrate their skills, whether that’s singing, acrobatics, comedy, magic, dance etc. It reminded me a bit of Covent Garden in London with the street performers – though these ones generally had a lot more apparatus. In London, you wouldn’t get an acrobatic performance complete with people doing handstands on suspended armchairs so there was definitely an extra dimension to the performances in Pennabilli. It was great to see performers from all over the world; it really was very international!

Unfortunately it rained for the first part of our visit but it didn’t spoil the atmosphere. People still stuck it out with their umbrellas!

Pennabilli and Sassotetto (5 of 35)

I think probably my favourite bit though was just Pennabilli itself – the town is lovely and set in the most beautiful countryside.  I could definitely live there!

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Club Alpino Italiano (CAI)  Membership!

I have joined a club! I like clubs! This one is a walking club. Club Alpino Italiano has lots of different offshoots across the country and I’ve joined the Sarnano one. They go walking every Sunday around the mountains. It’s great! Everyone seems really nice too.

About this time every year the mountains are covered in flowers and Sunday was a local “fioritura” (flowering) walk to learn more about them. Look at how pretty my local mountains are…Pennabilli and Sassotetto (27 of 35)Pennabilli and Sassotetto (28 of 35)

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We had a guide who told us about the flowers when we came across them and if they had any interesting features. One of my favourites can be set on fire and used as a torch whereas others you can use to poison people (beware those who cross me). Here are some of the flowers that are in the area at the moment…

In other news, I went to a concert a couple of weeks ago to see Niccolò Fabi perform in the theatre at Assisi. Niccolò is a local musician who’s made it reasonably big in Italy so the venue was completely packed out with almost everyone able to sing along to his songs. I think I stuck out like a sore thumb, I only knew the chorus of one of his songs! It’s a good one though with a nice sentiment. If you want to hear it, have a look here.

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I think that about sums up the last few days. I hope you’ve all had good weeks too 🙂

The next update will be about by upcoming blog tour! I’ve been invited along to Hotel San Salvador in Bellaria Igea Marina to spend a few days checking out the hotel and the local area. I can’t wait. Watch this space!

x

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Italy Driving Guide for Foreigners!

Ciao all,

The other day I was driving in the mountains and around one bend, I came head on to another car in my lane taking the racing line around a bend. The guy swerved back onto his side of the road, missing me by what must have been millimeters. When I moved here, that kind of thing would happen often and terrify me. In fact, I used to send messages to my nearest and dearest warning them that I was driving to the shops and that just in case anything happened, I loved them. These days, it’s like water off a duck’s back. In fact, mostly, driving here is amusing: Cars driving in the “fast lane” on a motorway and nothing else to be seen for miles etc. I realised the key to stress-free driving here is just knowing what to expect. So, I have created a “Foreigner’s Guide to Driving in Italy”! It’s tongue-in-cheek and not intended at all as an insult to my Italian buddies, all of whom are wonderful drivers (none of this is based on them I hasten to add!).

Italian Driving Guide v2

Italian Driving Guide pg v2

Happy driving 🙂

x

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Sticky Tape Car Windows, The Roadtrip of Searing Heat and Buying a House in Italy

Ciao a tutti,

Well I’ve been a bit quiet of late I know – I’m back in the UK for a little bit and have been manically doing up a property that I’m hoping to rent out so it hasn’t left much time for anything else!

We drove back to the UK a week or two back. Why drive I hear you ask? Because I have to get the car MOT’d back in the UK so that I can get it taxed and insured. It’s an expensive undertaking when you take into account petrol, road tax, hotels and eating out (or buying food which immediately melts, whatever it is, in the heat of the car). Having calculated it and I think I could have gone to the Maldives instead by the time I drive back to Italy too!

Having said that, to buy a car last year was too stressful and potentially too expensive because I didn’t have a “residenza” (Residency. In fact, I’m still not entirely sure I have it. I would have liked a medal as proof). So I think I did the right thing sticking with a UK car.  But I’m going to dedicate the next few months to trying to resolve the car buying/insuring in Italy issue as I’m going to need a four-wheel drive to get to and from my new house in the winter. Anyway, let me tell you about the roadtrip!

Roadtrip

The roadtrip prep commenced a couple of weeks ago when the passenger window slid down into the car door. It did this 2 days before the last roadtrip too. The car has a sixth sense. Without any time to fix it, the first part of the roadtrip was characterised by whoever was passenger having to hold the window in place.  The second half was considerably better following a sticky tape mission. This at least was slightly less embarrassing when it came to paying the road tolls – at least there was an obvious excuse for opening the door and not the window like normal people.

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Sticky tape – what every car window needs…

Despite my misgivings about the cost and the sauna like temperatures resulting from the lack of opening capability for the passenger window, it was good nonetheless.

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Melted dairy milk bar. The heat was overpowering but I must say, we discovered something AMAZING. What you do is buy a bag of Maltesers, leave it in a searing hot car for 3 days, put in a hotel minibar fridge and an hour later – voila, the best chocolate bar of all time.

And anyway, you don’t get to appreciate the countryside by flying over the top of it (apart from the alps always looking very majestic from the air). The route back took us past:

Genoa: We were actually outside of Genoa really so didn’t get a good feel for the main town. In fact, all we got a good feel for was the commercial centre. I didn’t even take any photos. Poor blogging effort I know.

Monaco: Wow! Very impressive sky-line and water. I was upset I didn’t bring my swimming costume. I’m not into the F1 particularly but it was interesting to see the road/race-track. I can imagine that would be good to watch (for 5 minutes).

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The stunning Monaco…

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And the sea front – this was taken from the race track

Cannes: The harbour was nice – full of flashy boats and it looked like it had a nice shopping area. Alas by this point we were hot, sticky and grumpy from a stressful drive out of Monaco (stupid sat-nav) and into Cannes (stupid road signs) so I think it might require a revisit at some point. 🙂

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Lots of jealous-making expensive yachts in Cannes…

Avignon: Historic town in France with a very grand cathedral with holes in the walls to shoot your enemies with arrows (in a churchly manner of course) and had some nice piazzas or whatever they’re called in France! It’s definitely worth a visit.

Avignon

Pretty cathedral in Avignon…

Nimes: We thought that it would be too expensive to stay around Avignon so I randomly selected a nearby town, Nimes, to stay in. Alas, Nimes had the most expensive hotel of the entire trip and thieves in the car park to boot! Two poor people had their cars broken into overnight. Little did the thieves know all they needed to do was to tap my passenger window to gain access. To think – they could have swiped my Malteser bar!

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The Forum in Nimes

Between Nimes and the Middle of Nowhere Near Limoges where we were staying, there was the Millau Bridge, designed by Norman Foster. A very impressive bridge indeed – I recommend a visit!

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The spectacular Millau Bridge

Middle of Nowhere Near Limoges: I booked a B&B in the middle of nowhere in Limoges. No matter what setting I put in my Sat Nav, if there is a small one lane road through the countryside, it will insist we take that road rather than the much more direct motorway. So instead of the 4.30 hours it was supposed to take, I think it took about 8. And then we didn’t have an en-suite. I should never be responsible for booking accommodation. Gorgeous countryside though.

Somewhere Near Le Mans: I knew Le Mans sounded familiar. It turns out it’s where they have an endurance race around a track for 24 hours. It was the same weekend we were there so very good timing. We’d booked a lovely random hotel – Hotel De France, in an area not even particularly near Le Mans and it became apparent that it was the hotel where the drivers/owners/other famous people stay (I wasn’t responsible for booking that one). The Nanmobile, with its sticky-taped-up window fitted in beautifully with the other cars in the car park (Lamborghinis / Ferraris).

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This is the hotel. You can see that outside the hotel there’s a very flash car which everyone is admiring. In the car park are other flash cars. In the corner of the photo is my sticky taped Fiat Panda. I’m a bit upset that it didn’t draw the same crowd that the other cars seemed to. Carist! Pfft.

 

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Pretty little village where Hotel De France is…

Caen: And then we finally got to Caen for an hour or two before the Ferry left.

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And back to the UK 🙂

Crazy Italian Driving

What was most noticeable about the trip was the almost immediate difference between driving in France and driving in Italy! The Italians all drive in the middle or the fast lane. If they see that you’ve left over a cars length of space between yourself and the car in front, they’ll do a risky overtaking manoeuvre to fill that spot, and give you a look / hand gestures for being too slow (and then they’ll drive at exactly the same speed just in front of you and seemingly attached to the bumper of the car in front). Italians don’t realise that the “slow” lane is for driving in when you’re not overtaking. I on the other hand will always drive in that lane unless overtaking. And not wanting to undertake, if I want to overtake one of the Middle Lane Drivers, I’ll then have to go across two lanes to overtake in the fast lane before going back across two lanes to where they were supposed to be driving in the first place. In Italy – they don’t get the hint. In France, not only do the majority all drive in the correct lane to start with but if you do the above “training manoeuvre” with them then they’ll soon get the hint and move to the slow lane. I wonder why the driving is so different in Italy to other places?!

House Progress?!

The house business in Italy is coming along really quickly! I’ve transferred my deposit to the owner and signed the first contract (Compromesso).  There’s no going back now (or not without a significant cost). Completion is set for 30th July. The whole thing just feels a bit odd though – the house plans still do not represent the house we’re buying. At the moment we’re still buying the  neighbour’s property according to these plans and there is still a rustic building represented which doesn’t exist. My solicitor ensures me that because of what she thinks is a comforting line in the contract: “the owner will ensure the plans represent the property when it comes to the final contract”, all is ok. So whether I’ll get a rustic building or whether the plans will be updated, and whether I’ll be getting the neighbours property or not – who knows?!

In response to my question “erm, the plans here show that the cantina is split into 3 completely separate bits – not that it’s open plan like it actually is – can we change that?” was met with “if you want, we can get the owner to stack some breeze blocks in these doorways”. Well yes, that’s EXACTLY what I was after. Loosely placed breeze blocks. Much better than up-to-date and accurate plans.  The whole process at the moment seems odd – and I’m half expecting the owner to run off with my money. Cross your fingers please everyone!

Right, that’s it for today. Hope you’re all having good weeks.

x

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Epic Journey of Boringness, Heavenly Bathing Area of Delight and the Walk of Treachery…

Well this week I bring you the Epic Car Journey of Boringness, an Ice Pool of Death update and I shall recount the Walk of Treachery. First up…

Epic Car Journey of Boringness to Piacenza

Some of you may remember the Saga of the Broken Clutch where the car broke down in Switzerland on the way back from the UK to Ancona. It meant that we (myself and my driving buddy, let’s call him Victorio) couldn’t make use of the hotel that we’d booked and paid for in Piacenza.  They wouldn’t give us our money back but as Victorio was back in Italy last week, we decided to get our money’s worth. I was to meet him there.

There were two methods of arrival – car or train (having already ruled out going by helicopter or skateboard). I weighed up both taking into account cost, effort and time. I decided to go by car – it would be long but would work out cheaper and I’m on a money saving spree.

Was it in fact cheaper? No, no it wasn’t. It was a lot more expensive. STUPID TOLL ROADS! 48 Euros it cost me just in tolls! I had completely forgotten to add that into my equation so not only did I have an exceptionally boring 4 hour journey each way, but it cost me more than the train. There, er, may be a slight chance I may have incurred additional unforeseen costs as well (STUPID SPEED CAMERAS!). Anyway, the hotel was lovely – very nice. I recommend Best Western in Piacenza.

Piacenza itself is nice too. There wasn’t much too it from what we saw – there’s a little shopping high street with some nice shops, a market and a piazza where the cathedral was. We spent a couple of hours looking around and then I started the 4 hour trek back.

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The main shopping street… There’s lots of people with bikes with baskets on in Piacenza. Cute.

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View from the shopping street into the piazza where the market was…. they’ve got their christmas decs up 🙂

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The market – lots of crafty stuff there! Also cute…. The cathedral’s in the background.

Driving

Driving is MUCH better now – I don’t feel the urge to write home to tell my family I love them every time I get in the car now.  I can’t imagine that it’s because the Italians have all started to drive like sensible people. In fact, I know that not to be true. I think I’ve just developed a Near Death Experience Filter which helps to regulate my heartbeat when someone pulls out in front of me at speed.

4 hours is the longest time I’ve spent driving in one go by myself so that felt like quite a feat of accomplishment given I’ve been so nervous of driving for such a long time. I still haven’t managed to amend my Sat Nav’s “if at all possible, go on roads suitable only for tanks” setting.

Car tires

I’ve still not changed them to “winter tires”. Il Polemico showed me his snow tires the other day. They look unimpressive. The difference is they have “snow and mud” written on the side and there’s some tiny, barely visible little slits in the tires. I know I have to get them but it just doesn’t feel satisfying enough to warrant the money. Admittedly I may feel more satisfied if they stop be slipping down hills in the rain but I would have preferred if they had large spikes and perhaps were a different colour. I did ask my local garage about getting them changed and he pointed me in the direction of a local “gommista” who will change my tires for me. I will do that soon. I will. I will I will I will.

Heating

I HAVE HEAT!!!!!!!!  And the Ice Pool of Death (the bath) is now The Heavenly Bathing Area of Delight! I can’t put into words how happy I am about being able just to turn the tap on and have hot water. The problem? The boiler pressure was too low. I should have moaned about it before. It took about 20 minutes to sort out. Annoying.

Christmas

I received my first Christmas present 🙂 A doll, a “pigotta”. It’s a doll that’s handmade and the money used to buy it goes to poor kids in Africa. I was very touched! And I got some other bits and pieces too. People are so lovely here.

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This is Barbara the Pigotta

Senigallia

I went to a lovely cake shop in Senigallia with a friend last week. I think I have the name wrong so I wont write it here, and then we ate out at a very quaint restaurant which didn’t have a name outside either. Here’s a photo of it so if you’re ever in Senigallia and you want to go, you can pace the streets until you find it 🙂

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Mmmm cup of tea, piece of cake…. Mmmmmm

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Lovely nameless restaurant in Senigallia…

The Walk of Treachery

I had my most exhausting walk for quite a long time with Il Polemico last weekend. The original plan was to go walking in the Sibilini Mountains. Alas, there’s snow there now and apparently a guy died there recently of cold when he got stuck there overnight, poor man. I’ve just bought a book with walks around this area in so we picked another safer walk around the hills in Macerata. It was a ring walk from Cingoli. It started off well but there’s been a lot of bad weather in Macerata the last week or two and so we found ourselves climbing over several landslides…..

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Landslide…

Then the guide book seemed to indicate that we should walk up a waterfall/river.

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I would not recommend the route we took. There was no path, only a foot or less of space at one or other side and that kept falling into the river every time we set foot on it.

Having slipped are way to the top, we followed the route down the other side of the mountain where we got lost. Il Polemico has a problem with seeing “tracks” where there aren’t any…

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This was not a “track”. Thanks to Il Polemico for the photo.

And then it was getting late and the sun was getting lower, we were in the middle of nowhere and there was no way of getting back apart from the Waterfall of Danger. Then we heard hunters in the woods shooting wild boar. Wild boar are apparently dangerous and so need to be shot. Personally, I would prefer to take my chances with wild boar than people randomly shooting into the woods where I’m walking…

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No photos of wild boar I’m afraid but here’s a picture of some mud with a boar footprint. Ray Mears would be proud…

Anyway, we found where we were supposed to have been going and headed in that direction at a speedy pace. And then, unbelievable I know, we got lost again. And then we trespassed into a sort of water reservoir place…

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The reservoir (grazie al Polemico)

A man came to inquire about our trespassing (we didn’t look very apologetic). The man let us out (otherwise I think we’d have just stayed put at the reservoir!) and then we found a road and decided to stick to that given the hour and our propensity for getting lost. We ended up doing 10 miles in the end and apparently we gained “608 metres” according to Il Polemico’s magic walking tracking device.

Anyway, it was a  lovely, spectacular but stressful walk…

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Look at how pretty it is here!!!!

Ok, have good weeks everybody! 🙂

x

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The Week of Terror, Teaching and Truffles…

Ciao a tutti!,

I need to vent!!!! This week has been traumatic.

Driving

I think this will be a regular feature. So – there I am, going at the speed limit which is already too fast for the little winding hilly road with poor visibility that I’m on and I start going up a bit of a hill. The cars behind are attached to my bumper so when my little Granmobile starts inevitably slowing down a bit because it’s a hill, I can’t even change gear because in the time that my foot needs to come off the accelerator to change gear, I will have created a pile-up behind me. As a result, I end up going up even slower up this hill than if they’d have just given me a modicum of space in the first place. There are hills EVERYWHERE so I suppose a way around it is to spend the entire time in 3rd gear but poor little Granmobile, it just wants an easy life.

The thing is – these crazies mean that I end up having to drive like a crazy myself. If I don’t, they’ll crash into me. I used to think “well, it’s their lookout if they’re driving too close to me” but I really don’t want someone to crash into me!!! I still have things I want to do in life! I’m not ready to die!!!!!!!!!!! So I end up going faster than I would like to be going just to try and escape the crazies. BUT THEY RACE AFTER ME. It’s harassment!!! Whatever dad says, I’m not Niki Lauda.

And the other day, I was going along a road, at the speed limit (it’s not like going through a town in the UK at 30mph which feels positively walking speed, the speed limits here are genuinely fast), and I was driving a reasonable distance from the car in front but keeping the same speed as them and some fruitcake behind me decided to overtake on a road where you’re not allowed to overtake, WITH CARS COMING THE OTHER WAY and AROUND A CORNER. Risking HIS life, MY life, and the people on the other side. CRAZIES!!!

AND AND AND, to get to Auchan, my favourite shop that is tantalisingly close but scary as hell to get to, requires joining a road at speed that has no more than a 3 meter slip way and you can’t see the cars coming because there’s a grassy verge. It’s like Russian Roulette but with a much higher chance of dying. I’ve found an alternative route – nobody else takes it. It’s pretty. I can switch the engine off and coast all the way down for 10 minutes to get down from Camerano. Anyway, face your fears and all – I will overcome this. I’m forcing myself to drive every day. If you don’t hear from me again, well, it’s been great. And just in case, I would like my body to be stuffed with potpourri and left sitting on my balcony looking out at the view (if it’s not completely mangled with my steering wheel that is).

I’ve bought my tea set back from the UK. I have a soothing cup of tea afterward my driving experiences and it makes it takes some of the nightmares away.

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Teaching

The next source of terror is that I have to teach a 4yr old. It didn’t happen Friday thank goodness. It’s happening Tuesday. The woman who’d organised it had told me that I should look up how to teach toddlers. So I did, and I have printed a WEALTH of material – flashcards, lesson plans, activities, games etc.

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Forearmed is forewarned (“Uomo avvisato mezzo salvato” – a man who is warned is half saved). I felt better after that. I’ve bought plastic wallets and folder dividers and everything. I look like a professional. And then when I told the woman I’d got some ideas, she said that the child’s mother wants her kid to learn English “naturally” and that I shouldn’t use any of them.  I have to just play with this child. FOR AN HOUR! A TODDLER! I can barely keep myself entertained, let alone another person. I’d have been alright with a lesson plan. I can’t ad-lib for an entire hour.  If I could swap back to an hour of my old job presenting NHS projects to 100’s of people, I would.

And continuing on the scary theme – I had to phone the toddler’s mother to organise the lesson. She speaks a bit of English but the conversation was in Italian. I wish phones could have subtitles. Someone should invent that. I think I only caught half of the conversation. Still, hopefully it’s the half that’s important. It would be a shame if it was “don’t feed the toddler nuts because he has a terrible life threatening nut allergy” and I come bearing nutty treats. I’d have to find another job.

Wine & Truffles

I went to the Lacrime and Tartufo festival a Morro D’alba on Saturday with Il Polemico.

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Lacrime is a type of grape used for wine – they use it a lot around that area. And Tartufo is truffles, not the nice chocolate ones, but the lumpy, nasty looking and overpowering smelling funghi. We saw truffles that were 400 Euros each. 400 EUROS!!! I’m going to be a truffle hunter when I grown up. Anyway, that was a good festival and I met some nice new people and there was a cool sort of open air club at the end of the evening.

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Morro D’alba is a cute little village with a walled walk that goes around it that has a sort of craft type market.

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It’s nice to wander around and we went into a museum as well – showed how things were done in the old days from an agricultural point of view and also from a weaving point of view. Interesting!

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Connecting to the world at large

I’ve still not had any luck with wifi. I’ve caned my mobile data on my phone. I have to loiter around the school (the school has wifi). Good job the students are all mature otherwise I’d feel like a paedophile.

Residency

So I know you’re all waiting with baited breath as to my residency. My codice fiscale is wrong. Let me tell you why – it’s because it’s just my first and last name and not my NEVER USED second name. The conversation went like this (imagine one half of the conversation being in pigeon Italian):

  • Comune Lady: “You have to change your codice fiscale – the code is not the same as the one that it should be because you should be Sue Maverick Windsor (name changed)” (The code is created by using some algorithm that involves my name and some other stuff).
  • Sue: “Nobody calls me Sue Maverick Windsor. Why don’t you just put Sue Windsor into your whatsitmijig and then the code will be the same” (whatsitmijig doesn’t translate well in Italian).
  • Comune Lady: “But it says here on this form that your name is Sue Maverick Windsor”
  • Sue: “But, you know, we wrote the form together remember? Let’s just cross it out eh?”.
  • Comune Lady: “But it says in your passport that you’re Sue Maverick Windsor”.
  • Sue: “But NOBODY USES IT. I’m still the same person. Don’t YOU have a middle name that you don’t use?”
  • Comune Lady: <empty stare>
  • Sue: “Do you have a middle name?”
  • Comune Lady: “Yes, but nobody uses it”
  • Sue: “WELL THERE YOU GO THEN”.
  • Comune Lady: “But it’s on your passport”.
  • Sue: <Knocks head against plastic barrier. Understands completely why they feel they need to have a barrier> “Ok. Fine. If I change my codice fiscal, you know it will take another year?”
  • Comune Lady: “That’s fine. Whenever”.
  • Sue: “Fine. FINE.”

Tomorrow, I intend to go to the Agenzia Entrata to correct this codice fiscal issue. I imagine it will be closed.

What’s a bit odd?

This week – dialects and accents. I’ve learnt a bit of dialect J Instead of “Andiamo a mangiare qualcosa” (let’s go and eat something) in Jesi (local town), you say something that sounds like “Anamo a manya qualco”. And I learnt some interesting gestures that did not appear in the gestures section of my “learn Italian” book (because they are a bit rude). It’s really a sign language in its own right! Napolitans (people from Naples) apparently have a dialect that even regular Italians can’t understand. And people don’t seem to like their accent. I haven’t been able to distinguish that they sound even remotely different from anyone else which goes to show how terrible my Italian still is! But what it is, is that I CAN tell that there’s a difference – I just thought the people I’d heard happened to have a weird lisp but that’s their accent apparently e.g. rather than saying ospedale (for hospital), they say oschpedale. So perhaps there’s hope for me yet.

Right, I’ve written too much but I feel better now. It’s very therapeutic this blog writing malarkey!

Hope you’re all well.

x

 

 

 

 

 

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Home, Roadtrips and Jobs…

Ciao all!

So I’m back in Italy! The last 3 weeks has been a bit full on with family and friend visits so I’ve had no time to write. Here’s a rundown of the last couple of weeks:

Return to the UK: Did it feel like coming “home”? Well it felt like coming back to somewhere I know and there’s a definite comfort in that. It was odd being able to eavesdrop on people’s conversations and understand them for a change! London doesn’t feel like home at all to me now – it moves at such a fast pace that unless you live and breathe it, you just get left behind. Back at the parents always feels like home so no change there.  It was really good to see friends and family again – it’s just a shame I didn’t get to see as many people as I’d hoped or spend much time with anyone.

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Proof that the UK has nice sunsets (sometimes I forget!) This was taken at Gunwharf in Portsmouth…

Job: I have two! Possibly three. A couple of people that I met at the Rosso Conero Wine Festival last month have said they’d like me to teach with them. The first one seems to be a language school at Ancona – I will be teaching kids aged 6 – 12 years (26 of them at a time) at 3 local state schools for a wage so small that I’ve decided to consider it voluntary work to maintain my self-respect. I might have to pay tax. In which case, I think it will be the opposite of having a salary. I don’t have any experience with children – it’s going to be interesting. That job starts in November. The second job is doing some private English lessons but through someone else that seems to be contracting me out – my first lesson will be with a 4 year old possibly tomorrow. Do they even speak at that age? The third job will hopefully be doing some teaching with the school here. That still needs to be finalised.

I’m dedicating today to brainstorming lesson plans – hopefully with a few lesson plans up my sleeve, I’ll feel marginally less terrified. So far it takes me about a day to prepare a 1 hour lesson and I’ll be doing 10 hours + a week so I’m slightly concerned. If I was a full time teacher, I’d most certainly have a nervous breakdown.

Car acquisition: I do like my little car. It makes me feel like a grown up. However, I feel like I could have brought a brand new Mercedes and it still work out cheaper 😉 For people doing the same thing as me – I would not advocate buying a UK car and driving it back – it’s a terrible faff with the insurance, and with breakdown cover etc and it’s reasonably expensive in petrol and hotels (though if you consider it a mini holiday, then it’s not so bad). I’ll be doing that every year to get MOT and tax sorted for it. Having said that, there is still no alternative in terms of being able to buy one here so despite Everything (see below), I would still have done it. As background to Everything – the trip was planned with…let’s call him Sergio (he is very anti-blog!) who’s my Italian friend who lives in London and who kindly agreed to help me get the car back. The trip was due to take 4 days in total and take us through France, Switzerland and Italy.  So that’s the background.

“Everything” can be summarised as follows:

–          The Granmobile smelt musty so in an effort to freshen it up before the Big Italy Trip, I drove around with the windows wide open. On closing the window after the first Freshen Up Mission, the window fell back into the door. It turns out Fiat Panda’s, my model at least, are known for windows that fall back into the car. I managed to get it back up but it stopped working from then on. Road tolls are rife in Europe and you pay them/collect tickets from the left hand side of the car. This is annoying if you’re driving on the right. With a working window there’s at least hope that you could reach through and get it. There was a day to spare before heading up to London so I got it booked into the local garage and they managed to do a quick fix on it. I’ve no doubt it will fall down again soon – it has an unnerving click.

–          Midway through Switzerland the car came to a spluttering halt half way up a hill on a motorway.  We stopped on the hard shoulder and we were overwhelmed with smoke. Poor Granmobile. I hoped that it might go away so we had lunch up on a nearby grassy bit and waited for the smoke to disperse. It did not go away and a few minutes later a very nice breakdown man stopped and confirmed the clutch (la frizione – my knowledge of Italian bits of cars that can go wrong has substantially increased) was gone. I phoned my breakdown insurance people who were going to send someone out to us but meanwhile, the Nice Breakdown Man towed us to a safer spot.

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Nice Breakdown Man towing us to a safer spot

He left us by a cafe and garage to await my breakdown insurance lot and then reappeared 1 minute later to say that it turns out that he’s the guy that is supposed to be helping us anyway. He towed us to the local Fiat garage (shut because it was Sunday) and took us to a local hotel (Sergio was stuffed in the boot with the tools because there wasn’t space. That was amusing).

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Reception at Hotel La Perla in San Antonio (Switzerland)

This breakdown cost: £240 in hotel bills, £650 in clutch replacement bills, £120 in getting-ripped-off-at-the-local-restaurant bills, £60 in not-being-able-to-get-to-the-next-hotel-that-we’d-booked-and-paid-for bills, £150 to buy-another-plane-ticket-for-Sergio-who-was-due-to-return-back-the-following-day-and-now-couldn’t-get-to-the-airport bills and then another £100 to buy-ANOTHER-plane-ticket-because-we-were-in-a-mad-panic-to-get-out-of-the-hotel-room-and-actually-rebooked-it-for-a-weeks-time-rather-than-the-following-day-by-mistake bills and £20 taxi-to-drive-2-minutes-up-the-road-bills. I’ve decided Switzerland is the worst place to breakdown in the world in terms of expense. I’ll be able to recover a bit of the hotel bill I think from the insurance folk hopefully. On the other hand, look at how incredibly pretty Switzerland is…

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Pretty pretty pretty….

–          Driving on the other side of the road with a steering wheel on the other side is a doddle. Nobody should worry about that. Toll booths will be annoying – I’ll have to get out of the car – I don’t think I’m going to be able to reach through without inelegantly getting stuck on the hand brake.  Having said that, I’m going to avoid them now that I’m here. Sometimes it’s difficult to overtake because you can’t see easily what’s coming in the other direction but to be honest, there’s no need to ever overtake anyone it Italy because they all drive like drunk, psychotic formula one drivers. If you’re a rational human being with a healthy respect for life and death, the opportunity to overtake here simply doesn’t arise. I shouldn’t make such blanket statements of course. I know there’s one or two of them that are safe. It’s actually been fascinating to see – in France, Germany and Switzerland the driving was very good – people keep at a reasonable distance from the cars in front and it’s all very ordered. Then about 1 mile from the Italian border, the roads are overtaken by maniacs (this doubles up as my  “What’s a bit odd” bit for this week). It’s a mystery to me how as a nation, they’ve managed to avoid becoming extinct. They drive up within a centimetre of your bumper at speed, they flash their lights, they yell (I should add, I’ve only had so far experienced the light flashing and yelling at a distance looking at some other poor person), they overtake when they’re not allowed, they drive like the speed of light regardless of whether it’s night, raining, foggy etc., they swerve in and out of cars and lanes apart from when there’s nobody else on the road and then they stay only in the middle and fast lane (poor slow lane). The roads are badly marked – in fact, sometimes there’s no marks at all. They’re pot-holed. Signage is poor. In summary, I really dislike driving in this country!

So that was the car trouble but in general it was a good trip back! Our route took us to:

–          Calais (France): The IBIS Budget Hotel is nigh impossible to get into at night. It’s like an Anneka Rice challenge. We went into Calais for a quick look around the next day – it’s got a nice park, a pretty cathedral, and some freaky public toilets that automatically wash down everything, including the walls and ceilings after you’ve gone to the loo. French people aren’t THAT bad eh?

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Cathedral in Calais. There wasn’t a lot to Calais – they did have a fabulous shop in the commercial center with loads of nice ornaments and things. I have a permanent wooden lizard on my wall now courtesy of that shop – I’ve called Maximus. I’ll have to take a picture of him for the next blog. Cute.

–          Saint Dizier (France): We stayed at a lovely hotel called Balledins which was alas, in the middle of an industrial estate. There was a good Italian restaurant opposite the hotel. We didn’t have time to look around unfortunately and left early the next day.

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Balledins – I think my favourite of the hotels although it would have been better with a bath tub. Why are hotels eradicating bath tubs these days?!

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Restaurant next to the hotel. We went to the restaurant with the bright sign. I can’t remember what it was but I recommend it! I don’t think I’m being unreasonable to say that French people as a general rule, have no concept of vegetarianism. It’s annoying. However, they had a lovely veggie pasta so I was happy.

–          Prattelm (Switzerland): We stayed in an IBIS Budget Hotel again – they look the same! It’s like a prison cell but with a double bed and a TV. Having said that – it’s perfectly fine and did the job. We got there in the afternoon and headed to a spa we’d heard good things about called Aquabasilia. My tips for Aquabasilia are:

  • Don’t spend an hour being disappointed that you have no swimming costume and can’t go into the water park with all the water flumes – if you go into the spa section there’s a large section of the complex that is both inside and outside and everyone’s naked and there’s LOADS to do in there.  Lots of saunas and steam rooms, weird rooms with hot stone seats, jacuzzis, swimming pools with various jets of water and a lot of it is outside with a lovely cedar wood fire making everything smell nice and alpine-y.
  • Don’t bother with the Hammam (Turkish steam room experience) – it was nice but they already have steam rooms in the spa bit of the complex.
  • Get the 4 hour ticket at least – 2 hours isn’t enough.

–          San Antonio / Breakdown Place (Switzerland): We stayed in Hotel La Perla. I have very mixed feelings about San Antonio! It’s expensive but nice. We went for dinner in a local restaurant – extortionate. In fact, we made 3 visits to the cashpoint just to be able to cover the cost of the dinner. They have the same set up that Italy have with a lot of their restaurants – no menu so you just ask what there is and they make it up and give it to you. In Italy it’s quite an endearingly flexible way of eating what you want and excellent value usually. In Switzerland, it’s a way of extorting money from innocent breakdown victims. When we walked in, the entire restaurant stopped their conversations and gave us a “you don’t come from ‘round here” stare. But by the end of the night, we were having “free” rounds with the owners and the local mayor and on mobile number exchanging terms with a couple of them so that was nice.

So we made it back eventually! The car is now parked outside the flat. I had never realised before but I think Camerano is the world’s centre for Fiat Pandas. There are hundreds of them. When I got in the car this morning and glanced back in the rear view mirror my heart stopped because I saw my car still in the parking space. It turns out that someone else has exactly the same model and had parked next to me. I had to reassure myself I hadn’t stolen someone else’s car.

Back to Italy – I do love Camerano so it’s really nice to be back here but it doesn’t feel like home yet. I still feel like I’m squatting. In fact, the Comune have come back to say something is wrong with my residency so I probably still am! Given the obscene amount of time I’ve spent in the Comune, that will probably feel more homely than “home” 😉  I remain obsessed with my view from my kitchen and have taken already dozens of balcony sunset shots.

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Even foggy, my view from the balcony is still beautiful…

I saw the neighbours today – they seemed to be happy to see me too and have invited me over for dinner at some point. And I’ve popped into the school to say hello. I’ve got a few things lined up with people as well in the next week. November is the month for visits – my parents are out and some friends from home are too.  I’ve brought a bit more of my stuff back now so it feels a bit more like “me” than before. I’ve swapped rooms back into the one I started with and my other room will be turned into a living room and I’ll have a decent TV (EXCITING!).

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My new old room.

I’m absolutely mortified to report that the wifi I’ve been er, borrowing appears to have disappeared so I’m left with 2gb mobile data on my phone which I could use up in a day given my usual internet usage levels. I imagine I’ll have hoops to jump through to get my own wifi and I imagine the contracts are all a year long which I don’t want. I am distraught. I’ll have to ask the neighbour if he’ll give me the password for his if I give him some money.

So, that’s been the last three weeks or so. I feel like I could do with a holiday now!

Back to regular blogging levels now I think!

xxx

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