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The Good Life in Emilia-Romagna: Ravenna and Cesena

Buongiorno a tutti!

How are you all? It feels like ages since the blog tour- I feel like I should go back for a refresher! So, I’ve talked about places to stay, places to eat and food/wine production, and the city of Forlì, but we also managed to add in a few other activities and cities to our agenda that were totally ‘up my alley’: art, exhibitions, sculptures, nature and a million and one photography and drawing opportunities!

See flamingos at the Parco del Delta del Po

Did you know there were wild flamingos living in Italy?! I didn’t! I wouldn’t have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes. They fly up from Africa and ‘hang out’ in the Parco del Delta del Po as a stop-over to other climes but they have been known to stay for much of the year. We had a lovely boat trip  up the river for a spot of bird watching. As soon as we started off in the boat a massive heron swooped over the river in front of us above a cormorant who was demonstrating his wing drying technique to us.

Our very knowledgeable English-speaking guide, Andrea, provided us with binoculars, pointed us in the direction of the local wildlife and gave us a commentary of the birds and plants that can be found there as well as the history of the park.

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FLAMINGOS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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I could just spend all day on this river. If I lived in the area, I’d be permanently out there on a canoe with my camera. What makes it so interesting to photograph were these weird little houses on stilts with fishing nets. They’re called “casoni” in the park, but elsewhere in Italy they’re known as trabucchi. It’s the lazy mans way of catching fish. You basically sit on the deck with a beer looking at flamingos, lower the net into the water and wait for a few minutes, raise the net and voila, you have fish (sometimes).

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I’m trying to get as much sketching done as possible at the moment – my theory is that if I’m painting or drawing something every day, I’m going to improve quickly… we’ll see! Anyway, this was my very quick 10 minute watercolour sketch of the casoni.

The park office itself is very geared towards education, particularly children, where you can learn about how ox-bows are created and how the local water pumps work (the water pumps are essential to the area as a lot of the land in the area is actually lower than sea level). They also have ‘The Magic Box’ – a sort of virtual reality room which makes you feel like you’re in a lift and where you can navigate through the different strata of the Earth’s crust and learn about them as you go. It’s very clever; it really does make you feel like you’re in a lift!

Ravenna Street Art by bike

One of my other favourite activities of our blog tour was a bike trip to see Ravenna’s Street Art led by our guide Marco Miccoli who organises a Street Art Festival which takes place every September. I’ve never seen such an array of impressive murals before. There are a lot to see and you can find guides and hire bikes at the tourist information office in Piazza San Francesco. The locals have a healthy respect for the art and we didn’t see any of them painted over. It’s a beautiful way of giving a new lease of life to boring old buildings though I think there’s been some mixed reviews from the residents! This was one of my favourites…

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There is such an array of styles and techniques – not just the more typical ‘spray paint’ variety. It’s certainly worth a look at  and it’s all free!

Learn how to make a mosaic 

Ravenna is famous for its mosaics. It has an incredibly high percentage of the world’s mosaics and they are everywhere. Have a look at one of my previous posts on Ravenna to check some of them out. Our bike tour took us past Koko Mosaico  where we saw some mosaic artists in action. I really fancy doing some mosaics – they run courses one a month for a week. I’d love to give it a go! These are some of the mosaics that were on show at Koko Mosaico…

 

Visit the ID Dante exhibition

There’s not much time left to see this exhibition – it’s in the Biblioteca di Storia Contemporanea “Alfredo Oriani” and it closes on the 23rd October so if you’re in the area, get a move on! The exhibition shows the works of 33 artists all with a common theme: Dante, the author of the Divine Comedy. The classic image of Dante (check out the Wiki link above to see it) is one where he seems to be wearing a red night shirt with matching nightcap adorned with a sort of leafy halo (as you may be able to tell, I haven’t studied Dante or the Divine Comedy but from a novice perspective, that’s his image and it’s a well known one across Italy!). This exhibition had artists interpreting Dante’s portrait in their own style and using their own techniques. What a great idea – providing a common theme and seeing how different people interpret it. Seeing and hearing about the artwork was fascinating. I quite fancy having a go at Dante’s portrait myself now!

And why Dante? Dante is more associated with Florence but in fact, he had a big presence in Ravenna. Ravenna is where he died, his tomb is there (though I think there’s some question mark as to whether his body is?!). This project was designed to bring his presence in Ravenna more to the forefront. Here are my favourites from the exhibition. Guess which one of them gives me the creeps and makes my eyes hurt?

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Cesena

Our final destination for the Blog Tour was Cesena. It was the first time I’d been to Cesena and I have to say, it’s my favourite of the cities we visited, mainly because it seems to be able to combine a ‘hip and happening’ vibe with quaint cobble-stoned streets! Cesena is characterised by the imposing ‘Rocca Malatestiana’ a fortress built by the Malatesta family (the governing family of the region between 1295 and 1500).

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This is the Rocca Malatestiana. I still laugh when I think of the name of this family. “Malatesta”, the name of the family, sounds a lot like “mal di testa” when said quickly. “Mal di testa” means headache. During one tour of a castle years ago in Gradara, also inhabited by this family, I was struggling for ages to understand how headaches had such a prominent part to play in the history of the castle…

The city was surrounded by a wall, much of which still exists today and was designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. I was struck by how unimpressive the wall was – I mean, even I could have scaled it I think! However, it emerged that it was once surrounded by a moat and it rose further in my esteem when I learnt it was in the shape of a scorpion. Cesena is also the home to the Biblioteca Malatestiana which was the first municipal library in Italy and has been granted “Memory of the World” status by UNESCO for the building itself and for the books it contains. The old part of the library hasn’t changed from when it was built almost 600 hundred years ago and it’s still possible to visit. To best explore Cesena, it’s a good idea to do it by bike. Everything is flat so it’s a good way to discover the city. There is an amazing free online audio guide that you can listen do on your way around.

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Our first stop on our bike tour was the studio of  Leonardo Lucchi in Piazza del Popolo where there is also a permanent exhibition of his sculptures. His sculptures are brilliant – the work is mainly females in bronze with a sort of characteristic ‘balancing’ component which makes you wonder how on earth the sculpture is staying upright. All of them have a real delicacy about them.  Here are some of my favourites. The exhibition is free so pop in if you’re in Cesena…

Then we went outside of the city walls to follow the river

But my favourite part of the Cesena tour was inside the city walls. Cesena has all these quaint pretty painted houses and cobbled walkways. It really is a lovely city.

We planned our trip to Cesena perfectly in time for their International Street Food Festival which has been going for 9 years or so. I was so thrilled! In Italy, you get a choice of Italian restaurants or Italian restaurants, or sometimes Italian restaurants!  I mean, I love Italian food so it’s not a problem, but sometimes I just hanker after food that’s not Italian. So I was ecstatic to be able to eat a burrito (Mexican food for the Italian’s reading this!). I haven’t had one for over 3 years! And there was curry… mmmm curry! It’s definitely worth coming to Cesena just for this festival to be honest. The chefs are from all around the world and cook their own traditional food. Brilliant!

I could sit and have a drink in Piazza del Popolo, the main square in Cesena, for hours. In fact, we did. I managed to fit a drawing in too!

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So that about sums up my Blog Tour week. I had the best time with some lovely fellow bloggers who were incredibly patient with my Italian (I become monosyllabic after about 9pm) and I’m so pleased I had this opportunity to explore the area “off the beaten track” and meet some wonderful characters in the process.

Have a look at what my fellow bloggers had to say too:

Meanwhile, as ever, I am always available to be wined and dined on a blog tour in any hot, sunny country, perhaps by a beach (Maldives: You need me!). For any questions about what we did or for any corrections, drop me a line in the comments 🙂

A presto,

x

 

 

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The Good Life in Emilia-Romagna: Forlì

Buongiorno a tutti!

I hope you’re all well and have been waiting with baited breath for the fourth part in the Settimana del Buon Vivere Pentalogy! We went far and wide during our week away in the search to discover why the region of Emilia-Romagna has come to be known as the region of “good-living”. We went on bike rides, boat trips, art tours and explored Forli, Ravenna and Cesena so all in all, it was a packed schedule! In this post I’ll write about some of the hidden gems we discovered in Forlì.

Waterworks of Forli

Forli is a comune and city in Emilia-Romagna and is the capital of the province of Forlì-Cesena. It comes from the Latin name for the town “Forum Livii”. I suspect in the UK, not many of you will have heard of Forlì but it played an important role in Italy’s history and has been the home to some of their more famous and forward-thinking people. In fact, the squares and roads are dedicated to one of the citizens they’re most proud of, Aurelio Saffi, a Politian active during the unification of Italy in the 19th century. More on him later…

The theme of the Settimana del Buon Vivere this year was ‘Water’ so with that in mind we had an ‘urban trek’ organised in partnership with the Municipality of Forlì to discover ‘Forlì, the city of water`. Now to be honest, when you walk around Forlì the first thing you think is not “wow, look at all this water” so I was intrigued. However, it really is a city of water; it’s just that you can hardly see any of it!

We started off at the Rocca di Ravaldino (also known as Rocca di Caterina Sforza) where our excellent tour guide, Gabriele Zelli, gave us an insight into how important water was for Forlì in the past.

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Rocca means ‘stronghold’. Here’s the Rocca…

Gabriele told us about the past lives of the castle which was a defensive home of Caterina Sforza (the Countess of Forlì – have a look at her Wiki page, she was quite a character!) and its subsequent takeover by Ravaldino and then eventually its use as a prison. A moat ran around the castle which is now filled in and canals ran very close to it, and in fact still do, underneath roads and houses.

The canals were essential for farming and industry. A number of mills and tanning factories were set up along the canals.  Forlì also has a long history of making sugar from a type of beetroot (sugar beet) which needs a lot of water which was why the canals were so important to the city. Along the canals there were also public wash-houses (lavatoio) where people washed their clothes. However it wasn’t always an easy relationship Forlì had with water; poor quality drinking water led to thousands falling ill each year from typhoid and dysentery etc.

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Today, after further development of the city the canals are almost totally covered, apart from this part in the main city. They are still in use though by the farming industry.

Forlì has a diverse range of architecture, demonstrated perfectly in Piazza Saffi, the main piazza. Here you can see buildings from both the renaissance period, the fascist period and the 1960’s (what were those architects thinking?!)

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A romantic scene snapped under the arches of the Post Office, in Piazza Saffi, constructed during the Fascist era!

This is Piazza Saffi with its eclectic architecture…

And these were some snaps taken during our tour. I loved this beautiful image painted on the side of a building near the San Giacomo church.

 

The Risorgimento at Villa Saffi

Villa Saffi is on the outskirts of the main town of Forlì and was the home of Aurelio Saffi, the Italian Politician that the Forlivese (residents of Forlì) are very proud of. He was an active protagonist in Forlì’s ‘Risorgimento’ (the fight for the liberation and unification of Italy between 1750–1870) and was a good friend of Giuseppe Mazzini. Mazzini led the movement. The Risorgimento was unsuccessful and they were exiled to the UK where Aurelio met his wife, Giorgina Craufurd (the least sounding English name ever – I assume she got fed up of Italian’s trying to pronounce Georgina Crawford and changed it!)  Years later they moved back to Forlì and lived there until their deaths. It is possible to take a tour around their house and see where secret political meetings were conducted, the ice-house, a lovely wall mural in the “table tennis room” and some of the niftiest furniture I’ve ever seen. In fact, there’s barely an item of furniture in the house it seems that doesn’t have some secret compartment, trick to using it or can turn into something else entirely.

Look at these signatures below. My photos are a bit blurred unfortunately but aren’t they beautiful?! There is a remembrance book full of them for those that came to the funeral of Giorgina. It’s made me realise just how awful my signature and general handwriting is. Even the recipe below, an original from the kitchen, looks elegant!

 

Restoring books at the Laboratorio del Restauro Libri

We also went to the Laboratorio del restauro libri in Forli to see how books are restored. This isn’t a tour open to the general public but for those interested in how the process works, tours can be arranged (see contacts in the link above). This was definitely one of the most fascinating parts of our week. I am just absolutely gobsmacked by the work they do here. If you saw the state of the books they restore, it’s amazing the team aren’t rocking back and forth in the corner of the room having gone completely mad! I don’t know of any other job where you would need as much patience.

They carefully number the pages which is a challenge in itself because often the pages are all stuck together. Then they wash each page in a large sink and carefully dab away any mould in the corner and then they reassemble it using traditional bookbinding techniques. When parts of the pages become separated and they don’t know where they’re from, they collect the pieces together and it becomes like a sort of mammoth jigsaw puzzle to work out which one of the hundreds of pages the missing part came from!

The amount of work and dedication involved is enough to make your eyes water. The restoration work for one book can take weeks, if not months. Books come in from private collectors or libraries around Italy and the team provide a quote for the clean-up operation. (Forlì is lucky that I’m not managing this team – I like books and I think it’s great to preserve our history but my patience is such that I would have written back to the library or private collector to suggest they just preserve it in its current state as a hunk of mould!) So, in summary, I’m full of admiration for this team and if you fancy doing something a bit ‘off the beaten track’, an organised tour here is absolutely fascinating.

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Check out the Biblioteca Saffi

Continuing with the book theme, Biblioteca Saffi is also definitely worth a visit (visits should be organised in advance – contact details in the link). Biblioteca means library (confusingly “Libreria” means bookshop!) and this one is located a short walk from Piazza Saffi. It houses the most amazing collection of books, paintings and other objects donated by Carlo Piancastelli, a collector with a passion for……..well, everything! The collection includes old letters, books, score music, maps, portraits and sculptures and spreads across a number of rooms. To me a “collector” implies someone that collects for a hobby but I think it was akin to a full-time job for Carlo. It’s certainly an impressive legacy to leave.

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If you want to read more about Forli, have a look at my previous blog post Touring Forlì and tune in for the next blog post about other things you can do in the area!

A presto,

x

 

 

 

 

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The Good Life in Emilia-Romagna: Part 3 – Cantinas and Ciambellas!

Buongiorno a tutti!

Part 3 of the Settimana del Buon Vivere Pentalogy covers the preparation side of food and wine in Emilia-Romagna. The thing that struck me most about our tour around the region’s cities and countryside is just how passionate everybody we met was about their area of expertise. Italians love good food and they love their wine. There’s a growing trend for eating locally sourced, organic foods that have been farmed using traditional methods where possible to produce top quality ingredients. The Settimana del Buon Vivere really focused on that during their programme of activities for the week and we saw it in practice out in the field…

San Biagio Vecchio Cantina

Lucia, our host for one morning and early afternoon, owns the San Biagio Vecchio Cantina with her husband Andrea. The cantina is in the most perfect of perfect settings: resting on a hill, surrounded by miles of vineyards in all directions and across the next valley is an old church and tower perched on a neighbouring hill. There’s a restaurant on the property where you sit overlooking the vineyard and ponder just how many vines they have. They even have a couple of geese!

We sat down at a table at about 11.00 and started sipping wine with a delicious array of accompanying nibbles from the restaurant. Very decadent!

I won’t describe the wine too much. My level of expertise only enables me to answer the following questions: What colour is it? Do I like it? All I can tell you is that we had two wines (SabbiaGialla and MammaMia) which were both white and I liked them both. I was endeared by the story of their Mamma Mia wine which has a cute picture that their young daughter had drawn of Lucia on the label. The wine is made from the Albana grapes.

In addition to grapes they also harvest grain and I do love a good discussion about bread, particularly sourdough bread which is made using a sort of “home-made” yeast  – not these little sachets of dried yeast like I used in the UK! Sourdough bread is a bit more of an art form in my opinion and requires a bit more love and attention. I started making bread almost two years ago and never buy it now. I learnt on my own so it was really lovely to have a discussion with Lucia, a fellow bread maker about how she maintains her “starter” (that’s the name for the sourdough yeast mix which can sometimes be years old – in fact hers was originally given to her and is about 28 years old! It’s much less disgusting than it sounds, I promise!). Not only is it satisfying to make a loaf of light spongy bread out of just flour and water but what an amazing thing to be able to use your own grain in the production too. The grain they cultivate at San Biagio Vecchio is an old variety of grain, little used these days, called “Gentilrosso” which grows to well over a meter high.

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Here’s the bread with the flour, sourdough “starter” and grains…

Lucia and Andrea have not selected the easy route to success. Lucia described how they harvest their grapes- this particular type is harvested up to 3 times a year as opposed to many others. (I had the good fortune to be involved in a grape harvest this year -I’ll write about that in a future blog post – but it’s exhausting work). Their wine is also biological – the vines aren’t treated and they don’t use weed killer. It’s basically very hard work! And it took them a few trial attempts to get the old grain right too.  These people are not out to ‘make a quick buck’. They have a passion for what they do and they want to do it properly.  It really is very inspiring!

Il Piccolo Forno Marziali

Later that day we went to see how some of the traditional Romagnolo baked goods are made at the quaint “Piccolo Forno Marziali”.  Daniele, the owner, is a well known “Fornaio” – he makes sweet things using the oven – a baker (not to be confused with a Pasticcere, someone that makes sweet things in more of a general sense). Daniele is easy to like – he’s a passionate whirlwind of creativity – flitting from one end of the kitchen to the other, gesturing wildly whilst talking about how making a cake is like making love to a beautiful woman. He makes a couple of traditional “romagnolo” (Romagna) recipes from the region but everything else is basically of his own creation. His passion for the local Sangiovese wine which features in some of his “wine dipper biscuits” (as I’ve dubbed them  – they’re not like our tea-dipping biscuits!) results in some interesting tastes!

Daniele showed us how to make a ciambella in the traditional Romagnolo way (a bit too Romagnolo in my opinion as traditionally it is made with lard! I’m determined to make a ciambella with a lard substitute instead!). I was disappointed to note how he mixed up the ingredients on the table rather than in a bowl, and then scraped it all onto metal trays for cooking… where’s the fun in that?! This technique means there’s no bowl to lick! Far too efficient for my liking!!!

He told us how in the past when mothers wanted to check the suitability of a woman for their sons, they’d watch them make a ciambella or something similar so they could check their movement from behind, and from that apparently you can tell whether they’d make a good wife or not. One’s bottom must sway apparently.

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One’s bottom should move like this…

Once they were cooked, we tried our efforts with some pre-prepared ‘Wine Dippers’ (I hope this name catches on!) which certainly hit the spot: light, crispy and flavour-some!

All in all, it was a lovely day and I was absolutely stuffed by the end of it.

Watch this space for Part 4 where I’ll talk about some of the things you can do in Emilia-Romagna….

A presto,

x

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The Malocchio (Evil Eye)!

Buongiorno a tutti!

How is everyone? I have (as have many of the locals) had a challenging few weeks! The aftermath of the quake has been terrible. There are so many people without homes and who have lost love ones. The last count was 295 people dead. The damage here in Sarnano was obviously on a completely different scale but still substantial. There are 250 people here alone who have had to move out of their homes as they’ve been classed as “inagibile”, basically unsafe to live in.

Alas this list includes my neighbour. I don’t live in a sort of abode that any English person has probably ever come across! It’s a very odd set up. Perhaps the nearest description would be a “terrace”. Basically it’s a large house divided into 4 separate abodes, one of them being mine. My house covers 3 floors and is over and under other bits of the other people’s houses. It’s certainly not a neat divide. In fact, to give you an example, one of my bedrooms was acquired years ago by a previous owner who bought it from my neighbour. Any of you thought of selling your bedroom to your neighbour?!! Anyway, a dividing wall between my upstairs bedroom and my neighbour’s is now in danger of collapse – and no matter which way it falls, it makes it too dangerous for her to live there so she’s moved out. Apparently to fix the damage it isn’t enough to rebuild the wall and the neighbour’s ceiling which has always been rather weak. The amendments will need to be made in an anti-seismic fashion. Alas, it turns out this is actually a lot of work and is likely to take months and cost thousands – during which time I won’t be able to live here. Hopefully the government will pay for the repairs but it could take years for that money to come through.

After a week of aftershocks and not really sleeping very well, I decided to get away from it all and spend a couple of days at the beach up north in Rimini with a friend. Alas whilst there, someone stole my bag with my wallet, telephone and everything else in it so it wasn’t as relaxing as I would have liked! The hotel, Hotel Luigi deserves a medal – they were so kind, helpful and generous. If anyone goes to Rimini, I would highly recommend them, not only for their lovely rooms and excellent location but for their sheer niceness! I would also recommend that you never leave your things unattended anywhere in Rimini not even for a second. It seems dozens of bags are stolen every day.

I had to buy a new mobile phone to replace the one that was stolen. I use the term ‘phone’ loosely as it turned out that once I got home it couldn’t receive or make calls or messages apart from within the bounds of the shop where I bought it from. The shop owner was incredulous and thinks I’m insane. Anyway, we agreed he’d send it off to be repaired and he gave me a totally different replacement phone. Such was my luck, it had exactly the same problem!!!

……And the bad things continued: The car passenger window has broken, the car steering wheel freezes randomly, the spark plugs have been a problem even though I’ve just replaced them, and the tax man (well I don’t know where to begin with that but suffice to say it’s a good job I’m not a suicidal sort of person) health issues (that are all resolved but I can confirm that the Italian Health Service seems to be about a million times more efficient than the English health system on the face of it) etc etc etc…

It was also a horrible few weeks on the cat front. Two of Pelosina’s kittens went mysteriously missing. Pelosina died during the local ‘Slug Pellet Cat Massacre of Spring 2016’. She left behind 3 adorable little kittens. Two of them went mysteriously missing and a few days later I discovered a cat shaped body floating in a water butt. I put two and two together and decided they must have fallen in. Meanwhile, the remaining kitten, Pepper, wouldn’t leave my side. I missed her brothers and I think she did too and we snuggled up each night watching TV with her kneading my stomach and giving contented little meows. Then a week or two back, I woke up and found her dead outside where she’d been hit by a car. I shouldn’t get attached to these cats, bad things always happens but she was such a character and was so affectionate that she really wheedled her way into my heart. I do miss her.

So all in all, there has been an unwieldy amount of misfortune. I’m not remotely superstitious but in the event that it was due to the mirror I broke a month or so back, I set about researching methods of how to resolve a curse, just to cover my bases! And there is nowhere better to resolve a curse! The Italians, it turns out, are quite a superstitious nation. I bought a keyring with a four leaf clover and a red squiggley horn thing which they call a “cornetto rosso” which fends off bad things (although not that well in my case unfortunately). And the other week my friend doused me in oily water to fend off the “malocchio” (the evil eye!) and muttered something under her breathe. Apparently she can’t tell me of her mutterings until Christmas Day which is the only day where the tradition can be passed on. I can’t wait!

Anyway, perhaps because my friend actually managed to lift the “Malocchio” (!) or simply because life has temporarily run out of ways to be spiteful, things are on the up again now and I don’t feel quite as blighted with bad fortune!!! In fact, the turning point was when I discovered that our two missing kittens were alive and not in the water butt after all, albeit 3km away having found another English couple to take care of them. Alas, my neighbour didn’t want them back so they’ve been relocated to another home which is sad for me but great news for them, so I’m really pleased about that.

So good things have started trickling through again 🙂

  • I went away for a couple of days to Passo Corese. Nobody will have heard of this place but it’s not that far from Rome. I went with a friend who was studying for an exam and whilst she prepared for it, I painted. It was a lovely couple of days really and I feel I’m gradually developing my own “watercolour” style. And to say thank you for keeping her company, as if she needed to thank me, my friend gave me a lovely replacement purse to replace the one that was stolen (I think she got fed up of me fishing around in the bottom of my backpack for loose coins!). However it wasn’t all good – I’ve just received a massive speeding fine and three points taken off my license (I don’t know quite how that works in conjunction with the English system where you gain points if you’re bad rather than the Italian system where you start off with points and they take them away. Perhaps I’ll end up in a better situation!!!).
  • I’ve bought a digital piano which is just excellent – I’m trying to learn the song from The Piano which is a bit tricky but very absorbing!
  • My parents have been here which has been nice so we’ve been doing some sight seeing. We have been to, Civita Bagnoregio which is a very attractive little town, perilously perched on a large hilltop and can only be reached by a footbridge.img_20160917_150728096_hdr-effects And Assisi

 

And then, given that Dad is very interested in photography, we did some photography sessions around Sarnano. These are my attempts but my father’s will be significantly better!

  • And my painting is going alright! I’m just on the cusp of starting a new blog called “A Painting Occasionally”. When it’s ready / I build up the courage, I’ll add the link! I’m still procrastinating at the moment 🙂

Next week I’m on a Blog Tour “Buonvivere 2016” to the wonderful town of Forli so stay tuned for that. Meanwhile, here’s a picture of a cinghiale – a wild boar, my first ever close up and I thought he was rather sweet!

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x

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