Posts Tagged With: festa

Discovering the local volcano and other things…

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone? Apologies for being a bit quiet for a while! I’ve been having issues with WordPress who host my blog. Anyway, it’s all sorted now (at least for the time being!) and I’ve got quite a bit of updating to do from the last month or two. I’ll try and summarise!

The first update is that my poor Batfink lost his fight a day or two after the last blog post. It’s been horrible. We were a good little team. It’s always heart wrenching losing a pet; they’re like members of your family aren’t they? But I think we had quite a special bond, us two in particular given everything that we’d been through together in the last year or so. I miss him.

A few days after Batfink passed away, I heard meowing coming from a hedge by the gym. I eventually located it to a tiny black kitten. To cut a long story short, I ended up adopting her, despite my better judgement. She’s not got a name yet – I’m a bit nervous to give her one lest I get too attached and something happens to her. In fact, she went missing for 4 days a week or two back and I was convinced she’d died too but I was thrilled to be proven wrong.  Anyway, I’m pleased to report that her and Rusty Carrot (he’s gained a name) have finally bonded after an initial settling in period which involved a great deal of hissing (Kitten isn’t much attuned of social cues and so didn’t let it upset her).

So that’s the cat update. I’m very much hoping further cat updates will be less traumatic, at least for a bit!

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Rusty Carrot and Kitten

Meanwhile I’ve been out and about as ever. There’s a continuous string of festas here during the summer and it’s difficult to justify being at home when I could be seeing jazz, or blues, or dancing or seeing medieval games, or going on walking excursions or painting excursions or eating cheap pizzas etc. I used to think London was hectic with things going on all the time but I don’t think it’s a patch on Le Marche in the summer months.

The weather has been absolutely roasting too and the countryside has been spectacular with sunflowers and hay bales stretching across landscapes as far as the eye can see.

 

In other news…

  • I had a lovely evening with the Dezi family who are a big name locally in the wine industry. They are only a couple of minutes up the road from me. It was lovely to meet some of the locals, and their wine was great! If anyone is interested trying the wine, they run some good value tasting events.

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  • I went on a long walk in the mountains with a friend that’s not from the area. I’d been meaning to do this walk for a long time and I was quite chuffed I managed to get us where we were supposed to be going within the timescales I was supposed to! There’s lots of scope for error and there are hardly any sign posts but I’m beginning to know the local mountains quite well so it’s not the daunting prospect it once was!
  • There’s an organic farm, Indaco Foods in a town very close to me called Monsampietro Morico. They run what they call a “Dining club / Social Event Organisation” offshoot called La Bibioteca. Some friends of mine have been keen to go for a long time, as have I. I thought the food was great with some very original recipes. They run a variety of courses too in things like Sourdough breadmaking and I’m determined to do their beekeeping course.
  • I’ve been on a few painting excursions to Torre di Palme (Towers of Palms),  Lago di Gerosa (Lake Gerosa), Lago di San Ruffino (San Ruffino Lake) and Montefalcone Appenino. All are worthy trips with or without painting equipment! I’d certainly recommend Torre di Palma, a hill top town overlooking the coast. It’s very quaint with lots of little restaurants and nooks and crannies to explore.
  • I saw the Frecce Tricolori, the Italian equivalent of the Red Arrows. I was really pleased as I seem to always miss airshows so I’m glad I didn’t miss this one.
  • I went to a concert to see Paola Turci in the  mountains organised by RisorgiMarche, a set of concerts dotted around the Sibillini’s to show solidarity to the people of the area and help breathe life into some of the villages hit by the recent earthquakes. There’s a lovely vibe at the concerts. Paola Turci is a big name in Italy and is often in the charts. It was just her and her guitar, singing a few meters in front of us with us sitting on our picnic blankets and singing along to all the songs. It really had a great atmosphere and it felt quite special to be a part of it.
  • I went to see one of my favourite festa’s of the year, “Artistrada” at Colmurano. It was sad to see some of the town blocked off presumably after the earthquakes but we still had a great time.
  • Then there was the Opera ‘Turandot‘ at the Sferisterio in Macerata. The Sferisterio is a spectacular building so it’s always special seeing something there. It was the first time I’d seen Turandot. I wasn’t bored stiff like in my first attempt at opera last year. I think what helped was just how very odd it was – the princess was writhing around in a glass box filled with ‘blood’ after getting off her polar bear (I told you it was weird!!)  It did have the song Nessun Dorma in too which helped.  Alas, now I understand the context,  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to that song again without getting annoyed at how pathetic the character who sung it was.

I finally went to see the Roman Theater in Piane di Falerone. It’s just 10 minutes down the road from me so it’s been on my list a while. It’s difficult to get to see it – it’s open Sunday’s between 4pm and 6pm (sometimes) and costs 3.50 euros.  You can organise a private appointment to see it by asking a woman in the local newsagents who knows a man who knows how to get someone there to open it. There are events there occasionally and so I’d recommend trying to tie in your visit with that so you get more out of it and there’s slightly more chance it’ll be open!

  • Then there was the Sibillini Swing Festival a week or so back. Riccardo Foresi and his band were playing the night that I was there. They were great and played for two or three hours solid! Sadly none of the Italians are big on dancing to swing so the dancefloor was taken over by about 15 English people. I suspect they thought we were nuts!
  • I’ve been to 3 plays in the last month or so in various places. A couple were in dialect resulting in a rather challenging hour or two trying to understand exactly what’s going on! Thankfully my previous neighbour has given me a good grounding in dialect words so I wasn’t as lost as I could have been!
  • In other news, near the house there is a volcano. I’ve been meaning to go and see it for ages and finally a couple of weeks ago I went with a friend. I warned him it might be a bit of a walk – I’d seen the trail outlined in a tourist map at the parking area. So we put on our walking shoes and were done about two minutes later! The volcano is less of a volcano and more of a muddy patch and there were no trails! If you would like to attempt to find a trail yourself and learn more about the patches of mud, visit this site for more information.
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The Volcano (admittedly I’ve since discovered it’s called Vulcanelli di Fango – little volcanoes of mud, but still I think even that’s a bit of an overstatement)

So that sums up the last couple of months. Sorry it’s been such a long update, hopefully the blog issues have now been resolved and I shall be able to write a bit more frequently!

x

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The Good Life in Emilia-Romagna: Part 1 – Places to stay

Buongiorno a tutti!!!!

How is everyone?

I’ve been on a blog tour in honour of the “Settimana del Buon Vivere” (the Week of Good Living) in Emilia-Romagna, a region of Northern Italy. I’m going to write it up as another Blog Tour Trilogy. In this post, I’ll give you a bit of background and focus on places to stay, Part 2 will cover food and drink and in Part 3 I’ll talk about things to do and  see in the area. There is a small chance that like all good trilogy’s I might split the final Part into two sections as there’s so much to talk about!

The Settimana del Buon Vivere is a yearly event at the end of September (this year’s event ran from the 25th September to the 2nd October) based primarily in Forlì and it focuses on health, culture, well-being and the environment. To that end there are: art exhibitions, concerts, shows, workshops, seminars… you name it, the list goes on!

There is a 43 page programme / newspaper listing the events for the week so all in all, an impressive programme and although there was a general theme in relation to “Water” this year, the festival covered a vast range of topics. To give you an idea of the events: There were free lessons in yoga, talks on mindfulness, seminars on how to use water responsibly (including how to grow plants with as little water as possible – this seminar is perfect for me!), mobile theatre events that took place in a truck and bus and discussions about sourdough bread… I picked out my personal favourites for these examples but to check out the full range, have a look here.

However, our particular blog tour only touched briefly on the official activities of the Settimana del Buon Vivere as our primary aim was to explore Emilia-Romagna as a whole: uncover some of the cities, learn about their traditions and culture, their food and wine and see for ourselves why the region is Italy’s capital for “good living”. We did, however, attend one of the official events – an Instagram Academy held in what used to be a church, San Giacomo in the city of Forlì.

The talk was interesting, covering how Instagram has come to be, how it can be used, particularly as an aid to tourism and it’s benefits. I have to admit, I do not utilise Instagram to the max, in fact, even to the minimum. I hadn’t quite worked out what point it serves over and above all the other social media which I already struggle to update! I know, I know… what kind of blogger am I?!! Anyway, I left the presentation relatively sold on its benefits. I shall aim to post regularly. If you want to follow me, I’m “lemarchescape” and as an aside, on Twitter I’m @suzzec (long story!).

During the presentation I drew the Instagram Academy team, and posted that up on Instagram there and then –  the two guys presenting “liked it” shortly after – oh the power of social media!

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Exploring Emilia-Romagna

Emilia-Romagna covers a large area – it’s one of Italy’s 20 regions (just north of Le Marche where I live), and has a population of almost 4.5 million people. It is over 14 times bigger than Greater London to give you an idea of its size, with mountains, plains, lagoons, sea and one of my favourite cities, Bologna, which is the region’s capital.

You can appreciate that it would be a challenge to experience and write about everything there is to see and do in the entire area during the course of the week we were there. However, we did our best! We had a whirlwind tour of some of the region’s cities, seeing them in a new light, learning about the traditions and culture in Emilia-Romagna and discovering the Delta del Po park. We went on a water-based tour of Forli, a street art tour of Ravenna and a tour of Cesena by bike. We went wine tasting, ciambella making (a traditional cake of Emilia-Romagna), bird watching, art and sculpture exhibition visiting, not to mention eating vast amounts of the local delicacies in an array of restaurants. I know, I know… it’s a hard life this blog tour business! I felt like quite the celebrity. In fact, I was even interviewed by the local radio station! To check out the interview click here. I can’t bring myself to listen to it. My Italian is just awful!

B&B Calicanto

We stayed at the Calicanto Bed and Breakfast run by Andrea and Anna and their family. Like it says in their kitchen, it’s a home from home (which is not totally true in my case, the rooms here are much more luxurious!

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A home from home!

The bedrooms are well decorated – a good mix between modern and traditional. Breakfast was served in a little dedicated kitchen area and amazing breakfasts they were too. Anna is a brilliant cook – she really should be running cake baking courses! There’s something different to look forward to everyday.

They have a large outside space, complete with sun loungers at the guests disposal where we spent most of our first day ‘chilling out ‘ before the blog tour commenced in earnest. If we hadn’t been jetting around the region for the tour, I could happily have spent the entire week relaxing at the B&B!

I think my favourite aspect of the B&B though was the ever faithful Mutley, the excellent and affectionate guard dog!

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I’m trying to get in as much drawing and watercolour practice as I can at the moment so with that in mind, I spent our first afternoon with the sketchpad…

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Ca’ Bevilacqua

To have a look at other options available to tourists coming into the area, we also visited Ca’ Bevilacqua in the evening for a buffet meal. Ca’ Bevilacqua is a B&B with three guest rooms and an area for events such as birthdays or weddings. The property is surrounded by a large hedge and a rather sturdy gate and in consequence you feel totally secluded – a real haven for relaxation. They have been featured in Country House magazine. We ate in the very atmospheric event area, a large almost open “barn” area with vines intertwined amongst the beams and falling down in cascades. Quite a romantic room that makes you feel like you’ve just come across it in the middle of a forest. This is where they host events – holding a wedding recently in what I think is an idyllic setting! Our hosts, Loretta, Vidmer and their daughter provided us with a lovely buffet meal and great company after a long and tiring day of exploring. These are some snaps from the evening but check out their website to see the B&B in all its daylight glory!

Ok, that’s it for this post. Tune in for Part 2. If you want to check out what my fellow blog tour buddies thought about our tour, have a look here:

A presto,

x

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Earthquakes, Traumatic Treks, Castrum Sarnani and Opera…

Buongiorno,

I wrote the blog below before the terrible earthquake struck central Italy yesterday morning.  I’ve experienced two or three earthquakes now in Italy and I thought the others were quite strong but nothing like this. The epicenter, where the most damage was done was only 24 miles away as the crow flies. I woke up at 3.36, like I think almost everyone else did in central Italy and it felt like I was in a washing machine. It’s very difficult to orientate yourself, or even get out of bed when everything is shaking so violently and things are falling from the walls and smashing around you. There wasn’t any warning – it doesn’t slowly warm up, it just hits. And it went on for such a long time, well over 2 minutes. Myself and the neighbours all convened outside. Each year in August, families from Rome come to stay in their holiday homes in the hamlet so there were about 10 of us outside in our night clothes on the road for 3 or 4 hours too scared to go back inside. We gradually began to get dribs and drabs of information about those that weren’t so lucky. Watching the terrible scenes unfolding from the worst hit places has just been heartbreaking. Over 240 people are dead and there are still lots missing.  Obviously terrible things like this happen all the time but rather unjustly, when it’s so close to home, it really puts things into perspective. My neighbours and I have all been very lucky.

There have been dozens of aftershocks, lots quite strong and each time everyone rushes outside again. The families from Rome have all gone back to their main homes and so there’s just the core of my little hamlet here now. It’s a lovely community spirit and everyone watches over everyone else though so I don’t ever feel too alone in that regard.

The house is full of cracks, a couple I’m a bit worried about but apart from a few glasses and a mirror broken, all is pretty much as it was. Someone will come today to check that all is ok and I hope it will be. There are 30 families in Sarnano who are not so lucky and have had to move out of their homes as they’ve been classed as too dangerous to stay in. AirBnB have a disaster relief scheme and I’ve offered my spare rooms on that, even though I’m a bit nervous to sleep in the house myself until the aftershocks calm down a bit. Last night I slept in my tent. Of course, life goes on and you can’t not sleep at home for fear of something that will probably (fingers crossed!) never happen, but at the moment it’s just not a very relaxing thought sleeping under concrete whilst there are still aftershocks (even one as I write!). In fact, there were at least another couple of tremors last night, one fairly large but under canvas (and putting aside the concerns about everyone else), it’s less scary and more awe-inducing!

Lots of friends and family have been in touch worried about me so thank you for your concerns and well wishes, it’s much appreciated 🙂

So that’s the earthquake. My thoughts (and hopefully more practical things like blood and clothes in the not too distant future!) are with the people of the towns worst hit. On a lighter note (though admittedly not much the first part of the update!) here’s everything else I’ve been up to!

Last time I wrote was a month or so ago so there’s another mass of things to update on. Summer here in Le Marche just seems to be very busy with things to do and people to see which is nice of course. Anyway, first things first.

The walk in Gran Sasso I was about to embark on the last time I wrote…

It was absolute stunning. I need to go back there again under my own steam to take more photos. However, I feel like our “day out” could be made into a disaster film without using much imagination. It was not a 10 hour trek as planned; it was 16 hours and consisted of more climbing than hiking (a particular challenge given I’ve never climbed before!). The fixed ropes that should have already been in place were not there, ladders fixed to the side of the mountain were missing the majority of their screws and rocks the size of footballs fell on our heads (thankfully  only on the ones that had helmets). We got down to the bottom of the mountain on our return just before nightfall and then had to try and find our way in pitch black to the cars. Nobody had phone reception to call for help, nobody had enough water (mine fell out of my bag), angry horses chased us and the angry wolf-killing dogs protecting them chased us too for good measure. And to cap it all I broke my very expensive camera…. On the whole it wasn’t an enjoyable experience and I eventually got into bed 24 hours later; an exhausted, sunburnt, aching mess. I haven’t quite worked up the courage to go out for any more group excursions since!

The views were stunning though…

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Valle dei Tre Santi

However, I have been on more successful walks and Valle dei Tre Santi was one of them: to discover the Valley of the Three Saints. It was a local walk, about 12km long and included some lovely little waterfalls and a “gola” (basically where two large rocks/mountains meet and leave a gap).

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Monte Vettore

I also finally made it up to Monte Vettore, the highest mountain in the Sibillini range at 2,476 meters. It’s the highest place I’ve ever walked up to so I’m pleased about that! It’s been on my list of things to do for months 🙂 Here are some photos…

Around Sarnano

I also had some visitors here so did some of my usual “tourist” route activities with them!

Montemonaco

We also went to Il Tiglio, a very plush Michelin starred restaurant in Montemonaco. We went for the “degustazione” menu – a tasting menu where you try a bit of everything on the menu. I had a vegetarian version which was very tasty. I think the best bit was just the sheer creativity… as a starter a branch came out with “berries” stuck on made of parmesan etc. Pudding was a sort of custard poured on the table with fruit and granola type stuff which sounds pretty normal but then the waiter poured liquid nitrogen over it to freeze it! It was a very interesting dining experience all around.  On the way back we stopped off in the town and took some photos…

Rocca Varano

We also made it to Rocca Varano, a castle on the outskirts of Camerino. I’ve often driven past and wanted to investigate. It looks particularly elegant at night, all lit up. So we headed there and predictably it was shut! We still had a wander around though. I’ll have to go back and explore the inside at some point.

Pescara

Pescara is another place that’s been on my list of things to do for months. It’s a city about 2 hours drive from here on the coast. I met a friend for lunch and a quick walk around the town so didn’t do too much exploring but it looks quite a nice town on first impressions.

Opera at the Sferisterio

I’ve also been to see the opera at the Sferisterio, a sort of ancient semi-circular Colosseum in Macerata. It was quite an experience. I was pleased to note that most of the Italians don’t understand what on earth is going on either. Even with the subtitles which were flashed up at the sides, it’s difficult to understand what’s happening because it’s all in ancient Italian that often doesn’t bare any resemblance to Italian nowadays. I think they could have been a little clearer as well in terms of the scenes and costumes (it took me a while to work out that there were two separate main women as they both looked the same, dressed the same and sounded the same…. note: I am reliably informed by my opera singing expert friend that they didn’t in fact sound the same).

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Castrum Sarnani and the Serafino

Finally, last week, we had Castrum Sarnani, a big medieval festival in Sarnano that happens every August. It’s a great event with things going on every day for a week or so. It kicks off with the Serafino, a competition between the four zones in Sarnano where they compete to win things like tug-of-war, tree-trunk cutting, tree climbing and a race with a jug of water on your head!

During the taking of these photos above, I got stung by a wasp. Over a week on, my finger has only just gone back down to normal size!

Once the Serafino has finished, the real party starts. Sarnano is filled with medieval demonstrations – candle making, flour milling, juggling, singing and falconry. There are 4 or 5 different “taverns” to eat at within town and you can pay for everything using special coins made by the resident blacksmith! It’s just a really lovely event – I highly recommend it!

I think that sums up the last few weeks. I hope you’re all having an excellent August 🙂

x

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Poor Poisoned Pusses, Ankle Biters and Events!

Buonasera a tutti!

How is everyone? It’s been a little on the stressful side here! I shall start with the most stressful and work my way in a random fashion to the least stressful…

The Terrible Incident of the Poisoned Cats

For a short time last week I was left in charge of the neighbour’s collection of animals. My neighbour has countless chickens, rabbits and about 9 cats.  The morning after she left, I found one of the cats, Batfink’s girlfriend (Batfink is my cat), in an awful state – frothing at the mouth, meowing a very mournful little meow and convulsing. Poor little thing. I phoned the vet who asked me to take her to see him, which I was just about to do until I then noticed Batfink frothing at the mouth as well. Suspicious, I checked up on the others and they all seemed well although Storm, a sweet little black cat, was missing. Eventually I located him unable to move in a field, he was frothing at the mouth as well. Three ill cats! The vet took pity on me and came out and took them all to his practice. It turns out they had eaten slug pellets. Generally cats don’t eat them but it emerges there are some types of slug pellet that are very appealing and yet very poisonous to cats. Poor Batfink’s girlfriend didn’t make it, which I’m really sad about. I do miss her. Batfink and Storm thankfully pulled through. By the time the slug pellet theory materialized, another of the cats had been poisoned. Luckily he pulled through as well. Shortly after I managed to locate and resolve what I thought was the source of the pellets (a delicate situation in itself – I fear it may have been another cat loving neighbour who had been unwittingly using the pellets and I didn’t want to upset him). All has been well for a few days and then, Storm showed up in an awful state frothing at the mouth again. He’s currently having an overnighter with the vet so fingers crossed! Perhaps I should train to be a vet?!  I think it would be a less expensive situation overall with the way things are going!

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This is one of the new kittens, thankfully unaffected by the Slug Pellet Saga this week. I think I’m going to call her Cindy for her little mole on her lip. In fact, she might be a he. I’ll have a re-think if so,  I don’t want to give him a complex.

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Awwwwwwwwwww…

Italian Funerals

Sadly, I had to go to a funeral this week here in Italy. It’s only the second funeral that I’ve attended and my first in Italy so I didn’t know quite what to expect. They have a quick turnaround time here, with funerals taking place only one or two days following the person’s death. When someone dies, they ring the local church bells and then a poster goes up on several memorial notice boards in town which tell you who has died and when the funeral is. The funeral I went to was closed casket, I think they often are but there does seem to be an opportunity to see the person before the funeral at their home or at the hospital. The Italians are ‘gobsmacked’ by the length of time it takes us in the UK to bury people – their main confusion is around where the people are put between the time of death and burial. I’m no expert. I told them we have special buildings with large fridges. That’s what it seems like in the serial killer documentaries at least.

The church service itself was probably much like a church service in the UK. They do not have an Order of Service but they do have a sort of memento you can take away. It’s usually got a photos of the person and a comforting quote. People wear whatever they usually wear to the funeral. I wore a rather plain dress and felt positively glamorous in comparison to almost everyone else. They go to the cemetery after the church. People aren’t often buried in the ground here – they’re slotted into a wall. If you’re well off, you’ll have a family tomb, otherwise you’re slotted into a large generic wall. There doesn’t seem to be much said at the cemetery itself and it’s all quite a practical affair. They have a bricklayer in situ who actually seals the coffin in the wall there and then. They don’t seem to have the concept of a wake and there’s not generally a gathering after the event. It was obviously a very sad occasion of course but quite interesting at the same time to see how different it is to the way things are done in the UK.

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This is a bit of a blurry example that I took years ago at the cemetery in Camerano

Walks not to do in Elcito…

Elcito is a tiny little village atop Monte San Vicino or at least atop a sort of mountainous outcrop of it. I found it very evocative. It seems totally abandoned apart from a garden and a little cafe/bar. It’s lovely to just sit in what must have been a little meeting spot and look out at the scenery.

It’s set in a lovely area of Le Marche which I haven’t really explored. There are some good walks around Elcito. Alas, we didn’t do one of them. Instead we walked downhill 2 or 3 km, realised that we weren’t even close to doing one of the recognised walks and that there wasn’t really an adequate way of getting back unless we went back the way we came so we had to walk back up again. All in all, it was an unsatisfactory walk but there was gorgeous scenery which more than made up for it. I’m hoping to go back soon and do a decent walk!

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There’s some beautiful flowers out at the moment. Anyone know what tree this blossom belongs to? On a separate note, the blossom from the Acacia (seems to be called Black Locust in English) with its white blossom is so prevalent here that it seems like it’s snowing on a windy day!

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Sitting in the little grassed over meeting point, I spent ages photographing the very busy bees!

Tagliatelle making

In this week’s successful news is a new found appreciation for pasta making. I really like tagliatelle but it’s more expensive than other types of pasta and being the miser that I am, I find it difficult to justify buying it. Now that I know how cheap it is to make, it’s even more difficult to justify buying it! To make tagliatelle for 2, you just need 200g of flour and two eggs. My eggs come from the next door neighbour and the wheat is bought from a mill in Gualdo so it’s all quite nice and fresh with organic ingredients. I’m not a pasta aficionado but it doesn’t taste bad either. The only issue is that it requires more time than getting it out of a packet! I don’t buy bread these days either – I make a big batch every now and then, cut it into slices and then freeze them so I can just take out a slice as and when I want it. I think I might start doing that with pasta as well (not slices)!

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Watercolour class

I’m having a great time at the watercolour class on Friday’s. It’s a really difficult  medium – it’s definitely something, I think anyway, that requires a bit of guidance and tuition first. It doesn’t necessarily come naturally. I’ve done a couple of portraits and some landscapes. You’d think landscapes would be easier but I’ve struggled more with them than anything else! I’ve also found a good group for artists in Le Marche too and so I’m hoping to get out in the field with them to get some more practice in. It’s a very relaxed medium as you just can’t rush otherwise you’ll ruin your painting. You paint a bit, and when you can’t do anymore you can just sit and admire the scenery in the sunshine and wait for your painting to dry a bit before you do the  next thing. Lovely!

Antiques fair in Recanati

Now that summer is coming there’s an increasing number of events out and about. One of my expat friends was over a couple of weeks ago and what we always seem to do together is to find events to go to that are either cancelled or just perhaps don’t even exist in the first place! We decided this time we’d attempt to go to an antiques fair in Recanati, a town in Le Marche towards the coast. However, during the drive, the heavens opened and it seemed even more improbable that there would be a fair. I lowered my expectations of a successful antiques fair visit from an already low 10% to 0%. However, we were surprised to find that the fair was on and people (albeit not many) were there! We finished off in an English pub stunning the barmen with our darts playing prowess (they probably hadn’t seen anyone so consistently miss the dartboard before).

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My friend found some crystal glasses for an absolute bargain. I, however, wander around all antiques markets in a state of amazement at the sheer number of ghastly things brought together in one place. I’m so busy concentrating on nightmarish ornaments that alas, I suspect I miss out on genuine bargains.

Scarfiotti Race in Sarnano

A couple of weeks ago the 26th Scarfiotti Sarnano to Sassotetto car race was held. Once a year, Sarnano is full to the brim with fancy cars, be they formula one or ancient antique style cars. They have a time trial up the mountain. Sarnano has about 3300 inhabitants. I wouldn’t class it as a totally sleepy little village but it’s approaching that description. I am quite frankly stunned that once a year, apparently reasonably well-known people come with their reasonably well-known cars to compete in what is apparently a reasonably well-known competition. Isn’t that lovely?! I’m quite proud of my little town! It’s just a shame that it rained almost the whole time and on the main race day, there was just so much water that it would be difficult to have distinguished road from waterfall. Anyway, perhaps next year I can see if they’ll let me compete with the Fiat Panda.It’s a good little car, I think I could take on the cars below…

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This car clearly has nothing on my Fiat Panda.

Abbadia di Fiastra

There’s a series of 3 concerts set in the woods at Abbadia di Fiastra (Le Marche) which have taken place over the last couple of Sundays with the last one this coming Sunday. Abbadia di Fiastra is a lovely setting. There’s an abbey and two or three restaurants and lots of countryside to explore. The concert was good and quite atmospheric set in the woods.

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There were a lot of people at the event… Here’s a photo. I was testing out my “dreamy” setting on the camera!

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The first of the three concerts was a flute quartet

Festa dell’Europa in Macerata

Every year in Macerata there’s a festa to celebrate European food of all different types. The UK was represented. This place below (alas blurry) was serving fish and chips and burgers! (I feel like we were cheated a little in terms of quality, probably understandably given the lack of equipment). It was a good and lively event with lots of stalls and lots of people. We ended up eating in another English style place. They served coleslaw (or “coldslow” as they called it), chips, onion rings and some sort of chicken quiche affair for meat eaters.

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The highs and lows of bike riding

The bike riding is going reasonably well. I say only ‘reasonably well’ because it’s not serving its primary purpose which was to get fitter and lose weight. I shall be leaving my body to medical science. The more exercise I do and the healthier I eat, the fatter I become and the worse my general fitness becomes (thought I am getting better on the bike). However, I have accepted my fate and have discovered other unforeseen advantages to going out on the bike: I’m often awestruck by the scenery and this way, I get to see more than if I’m walking and have a bit more flexibility than going with a car where I can’t stop and admire the scenery or take photos quite so easily. If it was just exercise (that seems to yield no/negative results) I probably would have given up by now, but it’s nice to see the countryside in a different way. A couple of days ago I came across a porcupine happily running towards me (I was less happy about it running towards me but it was great to see nonetheless! I’ve only ever seen dead ones at the side of the road). And look at the countryside below…. this was taken the other day from a ride to Gualdo, one of the closest towns. Isn’t it just beautiful?!

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In addition to trying to get up hills and mountains, I’ve discovered the most pressing challenge is how to avoid getting bitten by dogs. They all seem to be trained from an early age to attack cyclists. Going up hills with large rabid looking dogs biting at my ankles certainly adds a level of excitement and gives me that all important motivational push when I’m flagging. Perhaps as well as padded cycle shorts I could get padded ankle protectors. Anyway, so far my record is 23km which will seem like nothing to proper cyclists but half of that was up an entirely vertical incline.

I think that about sums up the last couple of weeks! I hope you’re all having a good Monday 🙂

Ciao a tutti,

x

 

 

 

 

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Italification, how to defeat curses and painting with oils…

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone? Good few days here. Here’s the update…

Italification

Today, I took one more step towards driving like an Italian. I’m not proud of it. It’ll tell you what happened. I was waiting at temporary traffic lights at some roadworks. The lights went green and cars went through. Then came the amber light, as is customary with traffic lights, and the car in front of me sped through. Fair enough. Nothing illegal technically there really. And then they turned to red. Quick as a flash I weighed up the options. Did I have time to stop? I could see the road was clear and, although not proud of going through on red, I decided squeezing through was the safer option. I looked back. Would the man in the car behind me judge me for going through when they had turned red? I gave a snort of derision when I saw he’d also gone through. And then I laughed all the way home when I saw another 6 cars also go though after him! Rules are there to be broken is most definitely the motto here.

Painting

I’ve been doing a bit of painting in the last week or so – experimenting with oil paints which I’ve not done before. My nude-y drawing course is just getting going – it’s one afternoon a week. We have a male and a female model that will pose alternate weeks. It’s quite good having a model that is paid to stay in one position rather than asking a mate to begrudingly stay still! Anyway, my plan is to do many more oil paintings and be good enough to sell them online. However, I can’t bring myself to post up my first oil painting attempts so I think I’ll have to overcome that for my strategy to be effective!

How to defeat a Festa / Outing Curse

Last week I was invited on an organised walk by my friend, Il Polemico. Every time I go somewhere with him something tends to go wrong – I take the train to a station 2 hours in the opposite direction, I don’t bring lunch on an all day walk, I take us to a “festa” that consists of about 2 stalls… This time though, I read the walk instructions and I was well prepared. It was to start at 8.30 at the little church in Olmeto which was about two hours away. Fine I thought. I’ll wake up early and give myself plenty of time. I packed my bag and made a packed lunch the night before and headed off at ‘insane o’clock’ the following morning. Nobody was there but I was early. And then it was 8.30 and still nobody was there but that was still OK because I’m in Italy and everyone is always late. And then Il Polemico phoned to ask where I was as he was supposedly phoning from the same little church parking lot that I was in. I looked around and it was still empty. I knew then it was the wrong Olmeto – and indeed it was. There are two in Le Marche apparently – the one I wanted was 3 hours in the other direction.

Anyway, not wishing to waste the day, I went on a personalised tour of the region…

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This was taking from near Olmeto where the walk was not taking place!

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And then I headed to Asissi which was close-by. I really like Asissi but I didn’t do much looking around as I’d already been and there were other places on my tour that I hadn’t been to before.

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And then there was Spello which is a lovely little hill top town.

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Another view of Spello.

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And this was taken in Foligno. Foligno has been on my list of places to go to for a long time so I was glad I went. It’s a bit more of a main town and less quaint than I was thinking it would be. And it’s not on a hill which is my favourite kind of town! But it did have small waterways running through it, a river running outside of it and a beautiful park so all in all, still a nice town.

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Evidence of the river running outside Foligno.

Last year I went to a festa called Diamonte del Tavola in Amandola. It was very good – there were hundreds of people and the streets were packed with stalls selling truffles and wine and various local specialities. The thing is, I was with other people and my festa / outing hit rate is more successful when it’s not just me. Anyway, this year I went by myself. And it was not bustling. There was basically only a book stall and the streets were deserted. Tumbleweed blew across the town (it didn’t but it might as well have!) I think what had happened is that I had mentioned out loud that I was planning to go to the festival, and subsequently the stall owners and visitors subsequently disappeared. I imagine it’s like a surprise party where all the guests hide behind the sofas and in wardrobes but in this instance they just don’t come out until I’ve gone. Anyway, I bought some books so that’s good. And I assume it livened up a bit closer to lunch and dinner time.

And yesterday I went to Appassimenti Aperti in Serrapetrona with Pablo (and I also didn’t mention it out loud so people weren’t informed in advance to scarper). Appassimenti means “withering” in reference to the way they make their wine, known as Vernaccia. Aperti means “open” – a lot of the Cantinas where the wine is made in that immediate area are open to the public. It’s definitely worth a visit – the countryside is spectacular and the wine is good. They have an unusual production method  – they string up the grapes they’ve harvested and then leave them to well, wither, for a few months before they even start wine production. For the festa itself, you pay 4 euros for an empty  glass and a handy little carrier for it that goes around your neck. You are given 5 tokens which you can use at the various Cantina’s or at the stalls in the main town, to try whatever wine you’d like. There are free minibuses that take you to the Cantina’s from the main town. We only made it to one Cantina which has one of the best reputations, Alberto Quacquarini.

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They hang up the grapes for a few months before making the wine. Interestingly, they didn’t seem completely riddled with flies. I wonder how they do that?

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There were dozens of rows of these grapes…

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And they had a pretty idyllic terrace as well…

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…with amazing views.

I think that about sums up the last week or two here. I hope you all have good weeks wherever you are.

x

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

Buongiorno a tutti,

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

So things to update here are as follows…

Teaching & Procrastinating

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

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

Chestnutting

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

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

Festa-ing

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

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

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The main piazza in Morrovalle

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

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

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

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The views from Montemonaco are spectacular.

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

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Beautiful little street in Montemonaco

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

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

Walking into the Throat of Hell!

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

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

Have a good week all,

x

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Blasted beams, feng shui and sucking Italy dry…

Ciao a tutti,

I’ve just realised this is my 100th post! It feels like I must have written loads more than that! It’s like when parents can’t remember their lives before their children, I feel a bit like that with the blog. Without it, and a way of sharing my experiences, photos and rants there’s a good chance I’d be a gibbering wreck by now. But more than that, it means so much more that there are people out there reading it! Thank you all so much for following my little journey and taking the time out to write comments. It’s always appreciated.

Anyway, enough of that! How is everyone? For me, these last couple of weeks have been of mixed success…

Beams, beams, beams

The main focus of last week was beam sanding. I can’t put into words how much dust the sander makes so it was all hands on deck to try and get the house clean, tidy and dust free before the sofa was to arrive last Wednesday.

What an utter failure! By Tuesday night and after countless er, debates, about the best method of sanding beams, they were still nowhere near paint free. Pane Caldo treats the beams as though he’s restoring a Da Vinci. His approach is to caress the beam with the finest possible sandpaper. To give him his dues, it does work (eventually).  My preferred tools consists of the coursest sandpaper on the electric sander and a mallet and chisel. Admittedly, if left to my own devices the beams would probably resemble dowels right now. Anyway, the crux of the matter is that the beams are still not done. They’ll need another couple of days of work but neither of us can face it so we’re having a break from it.

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Beam close up – those annoying little paint-y divots are a nightmare.

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Beams from a distance. They need to be finished, tidied up where the plaster meets them and then waxed.

Stupid sofa colour? 

The sofa arrived as planned on Wednesday after organising to meet the delivery folk in the town centre to bring them here (does anyone else have this issue to get their post or anything delivered?). I’m generally really pleased with the sofa. The best thing about it, is that it fit through our hobbit-sized front door (albeit with the door taken off). The shop make it up in whatever fabric and colour you want so it was quite exciting to see the finished article, not least because we bought the thing well over a month ago.

We selected a sensible dark colour. Or that’s what I thought. Dark colours are not remotely sensible in this house it turns out. The dust is still settling from the sanding and so I think the sofa is already several shades lighter than it was and now has dusty highlights. I should have gone with a patchy off white colour.

The new sofa

The new sofa.

Feng shui-ing the house

Meanwhile we’ve been playing around with the sofa and the vast expanse of furniture we now have (the previous owner left us quite a bit). It’s gone well and I think the biggest success has been “writers corner”. We stuck the two (disgusting) old armchairs by the fire under the stair nook and the unused space is now lovely and cosy and used all the time.

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Please excuse the odd angle (the panoramic setting on my camera isn’t great for close-ups!), and the mess, the revolting chairs, the ladder, the duvet cover hanging up over the stairs (see below!)…The thing I wanted to show you was Writer’s Corner, below the painting. You have to imagine it in the evenings with the lights off and the glow of the fire. Cosy, cosy, cosy.

Heat retention and free cooking!

I’ve put up some temporary curtains to block off the stairway as otherwise all the heat just goes upstairs. The experiment has proved successful so I might see about making the curtains more permanent rather than stringing up old duvet covers.

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Duvet Door number two between the kitchen and living room. Number one was by the stairs in the above picture. We need to tidy up the wall where it was knocked down! That’s going to be a weekend task.

The stufa (woodburner), has been used in earnest and let me tell you, what a success! For a little thing, it does knock out a bit of heat. Our fire lighting techniques have improved. From an average of about 80 matches and several firelighters to get it going, we’re down to 2 or 3 matches and no firelighters. This week’s goal will be to get down to one match.

And then….

AND there's more!

AND there’s more!

It's now filling up a good chunk of our cantina! And I only came across 2 scorpions :-s

It’s now filling up a good chunk of our cantina! And I only came across 2 scorpions :-s

Look at all my wood!!!!! And it was only 70 euros. 70 EUROS! Bargain (I think anyway!). That amount of wood will surely see us through for the next century. There’s something nice about being able to see and control how much you’re spending on your heating. No nasty “quarterly” bill surprises. But it’s a bit disturbing to be burning so much wood – I know it’s not quite like single-handedly chopping down the Amazon but it does feel morally questionable. I’ll have to get over that of course otherwise we’ll freeze to death.

I was a bit worried that we wouldn’t cope for any extended length of time if the power went out (as it sounds like it’s likely to do during storms) as the oven and hob are both electric. However, as long as we can get the stufa going then we’re good to go.  So far, we’ve made soup, heated up curry, made eggy bread (mmm), stewed plums and made custard. Jacket potatoes will be tonight’s experiment.

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Stewing plums and making custard…

Using the stufa has worked out quite well because we can only have 3kw of power to the house at any one time and the hob uses pretty much all of that. If you want to turn the cooker hood on, then you have to compensate by turning off all the lights. I did phone the electricity company about it but the conversation was odd. It went a bit like:

Sue: My electricity meter keeps putting up threatening messages on it about disconnecting my electricity. It says we’re always x% over our allotted amount and it’s going to disconnect us.

Electric Company (EC): Yeah. Don’t worry about it.

Sue:  Really? You’re not going to charge me extra for going over my limit? You’re not going to disconnect me?

EC: Nah. Your electricity might trip but then just turn it back on again eh?

Sue: Uh huh. Could I just legitimately have more electricity please?

EC: Yeah, you could do that. You’d have to pay £££’s to upgrade and then an extra ££ for every unit of power you use on top of that every month.

Sue: Huh. That sounds expensive.

EC: Yeah. Up to you.

Sue: Well I might just continue to use more than my allotted amount and just turn the electricity back on when you disconnect me then?

EC: Yeah, good call.

Magical Water Removal Device

We’ve been sucking out all of the water from Italy with our recent dehumidifier purchase. I know the house is damp, but I can’t believe it’s as damp as the dehumidifier is making out. We have been putting it on every night for the whole night for a couple of weeks and every night it sucks out 3 litres of water. Pane Caldo believes that it’s sucking water out of the walls. I, however, believe it’s sucking water out from the surrounding countryside and through the walls. Does anyone else have a dehumidifier? Any thoughts on acceptable amounts appreciated!

The Curse of the Festas

Last weekend it was the Festa dei Morti (`Celebration of the dead`. I think festa literally means party but I think celebration is a better translation in this instance!). The Italian’s have this every year at the beginning of November to remember and celebrate the lives of their loved ones who have passed away. Last year in Camerano I  had taken my parents to the cemetery for a visit (as you do), and was overwhelmed by the number of people there not realising why at the time. Later that week there was a candle-lit procession around the town. This year, I resolved to pay a bit more attention and so planned to go on the procession. I was thrilled my fellow expat friend from Israel wanted to come with me (let’s face it, it’s an odd thing to want to do on a Saturday evening), and so we arranged to meet up early that evening and try and find out where it was and when (as usual, there was nothing online or in the paper about it – Italians appear to be born with an innate ability to sense upcoming festas). I had warned her about my curse – the fact that any festa that I want to go to is non-existent or not at the time or place I think it is (or where or when it was advertised as being I should say!). As anticipated, we were an hour late for it and had just missed it! Maybe next year…

We did have a wander around the cemetery though... I'm always really impressed with them here. They 'bury' their dead above ground as opposed to under ground like we English people do.

We did have a wander around the cemetery though… I’m always really impressed with them here. They ‘bury’ their dead above ground as opposed to under ground like we English people do.

Writing

I’m still managing to keep up with the novel writing. The goal is to do 10,000 words a week. I’m hoping to finish the first draft by mid December. Getting all the intricacies of a plot that’s big enough to carry a whole novel is a challenge. I can’t believe there are so many people out there who have managed it!

Batfink

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Batfink struggling to get comfy…

Batfink remains a cutie. You may be able to hear his meows from wherever you are in the world every morning when it’s breakfast time here. It sounds like he’s being beaten with a stick rather than him being hungry. When there’s a dog nearby, he scrambles up on my shoulders and sits there like a parrot staring the dog out and refusing to come down. But bad news, I have discovered he has worms (ugh!). Batfink doesn’t really seem entirely like my cat. For instance, he shares illicit nights with the neighbour occasionally and spends most of his time in her barn. And there was never a “here, he’s yours” conversation, only a “aw, he loves you, in the winter he’ll want to stay over night”.  I think he’s basically of shared ownership as much as anyone can own a cat. So, I’m perfectly happy to go to the vet and speak to them about his worms. But if I have a conversation with her I fear that she’ll be stunned that I would consider worms were a problem (all the cats must have them) and I don’t want her to feel under pressure to do something about it. Yet, if I just go to the vets with him without discussing it with her first, then I’ll feel like I’ve kidnapped her cat. Difficult!

Walks

I’ve been going on lots of nice long walks from the house. We’re lucky enough to live in an area that has lots of signed designated walks around wooded areas and hills. Unluckily though, it’s impossible to follow any of the designated walks. If they exist at all, many of the signs have fallen over, are confusing or point in opposing directions. I’m going to complain and offer my services to put up some decent signs.

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A picture from one of my recent walks…

Ok, I think that about does me for now. I hope everyone has splendid rest of weeks!

x

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