Posts Tagged With: italia

Making paper, earthquake update and flower power…

Buongiorno,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

x

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Artwork, weeds and travels…

Buongiorno a tutti,

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

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

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

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

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

Rome

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

Venice

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

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View from our hotel window!

Art Update

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

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

Life Drawing

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

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

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

x

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The Good, The Bad and The Stressful

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone? Well, I’ve written this blog about 5 times now. I start and then I don’t quite finish, and then more stuff happens and then I have to re-write it all! I’ll start with the good stuff.

I’ve moved in to my new temporary home fully now (I say fully, my bits and pieces still litter the globe in various places…One day I shall consolidate them!).

This is my new view…

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Ignore the telephone wire. I did take a lovely one from the valley but it’s disappeared (the photo, not the valley!)

It’s gone well and for the first time in a long time, I feel settled. I’ve actually joined the local gym and swimming pool. It even has a spa!

It’s such a lovely time of the year here – the flowers are all out in the mountains (I have another blog to write up following a trip up Monte Sibilla a couple of weeks ago) and the fields are all golden with hay that waves with the wind.

Batfink settled in really well. He’s never been in a house so big. The first day I let him out he kept circling the house, meowing through each window and door as if to say “and this… this is STILL our house?”. I also acquired the couple of kittens that I was looking after back in Ripatransone for a while after my friend went on holiday. I even bought a little house for them outside (they’d run havoc if let them loose inside I fear!). Batfink and the kittens greeted each other like long lost friends which was sweet and they really helped Batfink settle in too.

When I came back to Italy I was able to tag onto the end of a life drawing course in Porto San Giorgio, a coastal town not too far from me. It was a joint course with Italian college students and me and a few other English ex-pats. We even made the local news paper!

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This is Porto San Giorgio…

And the wildlife is exciting here! A couple of Redstarts had nested in the woodpile and were very upset about the snake that had slithered into it. The next day they stopped taking food in and I discovered their empty nest the following day. I feel bad for Mr & Mrs Redstart – even I had empty nest syndrome. I’d gotten used to them knocking on the windows (who knows why? Trying to catch bugs on the inside?) But they’ve gone now. Anyway, poor Snakey has to eat too I guess. He’s not a dangerous snake (for humans at least!) but I might be on my guard a bit more next time I get wood!

Snakey

Spot Snakey!

Fireflies

And there’s been fireflies…

My brother, sister -in-law and little nephew came out to visit for a few days too which was lovely. It’s always a good opportunity to see some new places and check out some festas. One of the highlights was Servigliano and their Corpus Domini ‘infioratura’ (‘in flower’) festival. I was really impressed by the amount of work and effort that goes into a number of similar festas around Le Marche. Intricate designs and patterns are laid out with the most vibrant petals and in Servigliano they’d laid out a carpet of flowers extending about 1km only to have everyone from the morning mass walk over them. I can’t get over how badly they’re all publicised – there was nothing on the internet at all!

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Servigliano is a really interesting town – it’s unlike any other I’ve come across. It’s in the valley and is formed as a square (well, not quite, it’s 144 x 137 meters). The entire town centre was built within the space of 6 years starting in 1773 in response to the ever-increasing risk of landslide on the original hill-top town (which is apparently very close to where I’m now staying). It was actually called Castel Clementino before, named after the pope at the time (Clemente XIV), and only changed the name to Servigliano in 1863. They have a market every Monday morning. One of the things that’s quite quaint is the curtains hanging over most of their doors – I get the feeling that they want a bit of a breeze in their house but without losing their privacy! Anyway, here’s some more pics…

So all in all, I feel settled here in a way I haven’t felt settled since pre-earthquake. I’ve struck it lucky to have such a lovely house to stay in with such magnificent views and I’m gradually getting to know a few locals who seems lovely. There are lots of festas, events and walks on at the moment. I could be out every night if I wanted.

However, life has also thrown a few curveballs my way since I’ve been back.

Batfink has been horribly ill for weeks now with bladder stones/crystals and subsequent complications. He flips between acute kidney failure because he can’t wee or he’s incontinent with a catheter (who knew that cat catheters don’t come with bags). It turns out that cats die very, very quickly if they can’t go to the toilet. It goes from “hmm, he seems like he’s struggling a bit” to “oh my god, he’s dying” in a matter of hours. He had another relapse last week resulting in a 2am emergency vet visit after which he was kept in for a few days to see if they could get him functioning again. In the end we’ve had to resort to what is basically a sex change op which has altered his male parts into female parts which will widen his urethra and help him go to the loo. So it should be a totally fixable issue but alas, so far, so bad. He’s having a horrible time of it, as am I, and I’m not sure what to do. I’ve never seen such a sad looking cat; he doesn’t eat, he’s stopped drinking, he stumbles around aimlessly and then collapses facing a wall. Anyway, hopefully it’s just a matter of time before he gets back to his old self. I really hope so. I can hardly remember that, it feels such a long time ago 😩

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My very ill Batfink after his first ‘procedure’. Poor poor Puss.

Meanwhile, one of the kittens died which has been just awful. I found him on my driveway this morning – I’m afraid I ran over him but I can’t believe I’d have done that and not noticed – particularly given I check they’re ok before bed. I was preoccupied with Batfink so perhaps I didn’t but it just seems so unlikely. Potentially something else might have got him and this afternoon there were a couple of massive dogs chasing the remaining kitten, ‘Carrot’ (renamed from ‘Doomed’ – the other was renamed Pumpkin from his original ‘Fated’ rather ironically) today.  So I don’t know. Poor Carrot doesn’t know quite what to do with himself now. He’s got pent up cuddles which he’s giving to me which are somewhat bittersweet.

In marginally less traumatic news, the downstairs toilet got blocked. I can’t even begin to describe the horror of that! Of course this all happened with my family staying – typical! Suffice to say, not only the toilet was a no-go area but also the floor, bidet and shower. The sewage cleaning guys had already been out to clear the cesspit a couple of weeks ago as the plumbing was being a bit slow. They came out again to resolve the block. They solemnly promised it wouldn’t block again. Two days later in was blocked again – luckily nowhere near to the same terrifying proportions. We managed to resolve it ourselves that time and again on a subsequent occasion but I am nervous about what the future holds! The owners have been so lovely to let me stay in their home whilst mine gets sorted (and I’m aware you’re probably reading this A&R!), I feel somewhat racked with guilt that these issues seem to have arisen just now! Still, I’ll keep my fingers (and legs?) crossed.

The car has needed a new injector. It took 4 visits to my old mechanic back in Sarnano to get that changed finally and I think all the faffing around during the visits (none of which was my fault!) has resulted in a somewhat inflated price. At least it fixed the problem or so I thought. The car was fine for a week or two but now has stopped being able to accelerate again leading to some stuck-in-the-middle-of-roundabouts-with-oncoming-traffic fun.

People often ask me what I do all day. Month’s back I started preparing a ‘day in the life of’ post – but I can safely say at the moment it’s just flitting between various crises’!

Anyway, that’s it for now. Hopefully my spell of the ‘malocchio‘ has finished for this year but one never knows!

x

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Let the Games Begin…

Buongiorno,

Hello there! How have you been? I think this has been my longest blog holiday ever so apologies for that. I’ve been taking it easy the last couple of months and trying to recoup a little bit. It’s worked and I feel recharged and ready to restart ‘the dream’! 🙂

After the earthquake last year, I was fortunate enough to be offered a lovely apartment with space for my stuff and perfect for the cat (thank you H!).  However, that apartment becomes a B&B for the summer months and some other friends have now offered me the use of their beautiful holiday home for a while (thank you A&R!). It’ll be somewhere to settle for a bit and so with any luck, life can slowly recommence! It’s a whole new area to investigate (it’s near a couple of quaint little villages called Santa Vittoria and Servigliano) and it’s slightly closer to my home in Sarnano than where I have been staying so that’s good too.

The engineer has been working on plans for my house, both in terms of its current state to assess the damage and a future plan. I’m thrilled to say that it’s hopefully going to look similar to what I have now (there was talk of me losing the basement and terrace) so hopefully I’ll just have a new and improved but still quirky house. Once we have firm plans in place, we’ll submit them to the government. They’ll have 90 days to respond with their approval or otherwise. If they approve, technically we should receive a chunk of the money and be able to start work straight away. The work has to be completed within 2 years. These timescales seem too good to be true! It would mean I could be home within 3 years. Shall I start taking bets?!

So the new cunning plan is to just enjoy Italy for a bit, get to know the new area and continue on the quest to become a world famous and rich artist! I’m also hoping to finish a book I started a couple of years ago (and indeed wrote – it ‘just’ needs to be edited!).

I’ll keep this short and sweet as I’m writing this at the airport on my way back to Italy and want to post it whilst I still have wifi but stay tuned for a blog post on my recent holiday adventure to Crete!

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with some photos I took of the very beautiful Rocca Calascio that I trekked to with this lovely group just before I came back to the UK.

Castle (3 of 14)

Castle (7 of 14)Castle (10 of 14)

Castle (13 of 14)May the Dream recommence!

x

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Happy New Year!

Buonasera a tutti!

Happy New Year! How is everyone?! Well it’s been AGES since I’ve written. There’s not been a lot to update on to be honest!

At the end of November I went back to the UK to sort out a few bits and pieces and only came back to Italy a week ago.

I must say, I was thrilled to wave goodbye to 2016 which saw a pretty relentless stream of, let’s say ‘challenges’.  My usual ‘end of year summary’ (you can take the girl out of project management but not the project manager out of the girl!) wasn’t as life affirming as it usually is. The comparison of ‘What went well’ (e.g. June was quite sunny) against, ‘What could have gone better’ (e.g. earthquakes, deaths, illnesses, taxes, ‘Brexits’ and things broken & stolen) wasn’t too favourable if I’m being totally honest. So I would just like to take this opportunity to welcome 2017 and may it be less depressing than last year!

It’s been lovely to be back in Italy. My new temporary home in Ripatransone looked very pretty this week with a dusting of snow.

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One of the vineyards near the house

I had some (good?) news about my home in Sarnano. Although we’re still awaiting a second lot of engineers to come and assess the damage following the earthquakes it appears it is not likely to be knocked down and rebuilt but fixed up instead. Whether that’s ultimately good or not from a strategic or logical point of view, I don’t know. I suspect a shiny new anti-seismic block of concrete would have been the more sensible option if there was a choice in the matter. However, from an emotional perspective I miss my little pile of rubble with its odd quirks. Either way, I imagine it’ll be years until I can move back there so I’ve started looking at alternative options so watch this space!

I popped up to Jesi to see some friends at the weekend. We went to see a great exhibition in Palazzo Bisaccioni which was an ex-bank building. It’s well worth a visit – it’s free to get in. At the moment there’s an exhibition called “IL SOGNO LIQUIDO” by Andrea Crostelli which runs until the 29 January 2017. Crostelli works in oils and has a very diverse range of art but this exhibition had a very dream like feel to it – in fact, in English the exhibition is called “The Liquid Dream”. It was great talking to the artist too; he’s a really nice guy and very encouraging when I said how I’d love to have my own exhibition one day.

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Thanks to ‘Il Polemico’ for photo provision! Mine didn’t save!

On another floor there’s an exhibition dedicated to art from the 1500’s to the 1700’s – it’s nice to wander around and marvel at how bulgy eyed and horrible everyone looked (see my theory about this here).  On the ground floor there’s another exhibition dedicated to art from the first part of the 1900’s and a small exhibition dedicated to the lira. I’m glad they don’t have the lira here these days; I don’t think I could work with such high numbers! On the ground floor there’s still the safe for the bank which was fascinating to see. You’re free to wander around the building on your own but there are a couple of curators that are available to provide information and are really very knowledgeable.

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Italian’s always call each other “Tesoro” (Treasure) as an affectionate term. It made me double take seeing it above this vault!

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy doing some painting over the Christmas period. My objective for this year is to be able to call myself an artist without cringing  with embarrassment at having the audacity to declare myself so! For that, I think I need to sell artwork. With that in mind, I offered portraits for ÂŁ15 (or 15 euro such is the current exchange rate – thanks a lot Brexit) on my Facebook account. I have had three commissions so far and let me tell you, painting a commission is an entirely different ball game! There’s a lot more pressure. Anyway, we’ll see how that develops. If you want to see the latest check out my other blog and/or follow me on Instagram (@apaintingocassionally).

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This is one of my paintings from last week’s local watercolour class. I wish I could take all the credit but it was a copy from my very talented teacher, Terry Banks!

On another note, my parents had my decent camera repaired as a Christmas present. It broke during the Walk of Doom last year. I like taking pictures for the blog and it’s been difficult to get enthused about my phone camera photos so I’m thrilled about my fixed camera. Here’s a “got my camera back” blackbird photo that I took in the back garden…

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Anyway, that’s about it from me. I hope you’re all well!

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 Good Life in Emilia-Romagna: Part 2 -Restaurants

Buongiorno a tutti,

I’ve decided to split up part 2 of my Blog Tour having two food and drink sections, one dealing with place to eat and the other dealing with the manufacturing side of it. I acknowledge this is quite a bad trilogy strategy, given Part 3 is yet to come and may also be broken down into a couple of manageable chunks! My Trilogy is fast becoming a Pentalogy…

Now as a precursor to this section – I will mention that we got all of our food free for this blog tour and whilst there was absolutely no mandate saying we should only write nice things about the restaurants, it’s difficult not to feel obliged in some sense. However, I have not sold myself to the devil… I feel like I can honestly say that all the food we had over the course of the blog tour was excellent whilst maintaining my honour and integrity! I mention this because…

CambioLogico – ForlĂŹ

… is probably the best restaurant I’ve ever been to. And I’m going to say something now, but you must promise not to skip this review out of some ill-informed and misguided stereotype…  It’s a vegan restaurant. I’m vegetarian. It’s not actually too difficult to find vegetarian food in Italy – there will always be a pizza or a pasta with tomato sauce that I can eat.   The same goes for restaurants in the UK – there’s always something to eat but it’s never very imaginative. To be honest, in my opinion, the “meat” options aren’t either so I never feel any great loss.

But this restaurant is ALL imagination. We had a taste of some of their most successful dishes and each one was incredibly impressive. Being vegan forces a creativity that the meat eating community can usually only ever dream of. In fact, I was recently at a Michelin star restaurant and as interesting as it was, I don’t think it had anything on this restaurant, even the meat courses from what I could see. Given the amount of thought and effort that went into the preparation of each dish, well, I’m quite frankly stunned that the prices are no higher than any other restaurant you can find in town.

The menu changes regularly and includes raw food dishes as well, but they were so well prepared you wouldn’t even notice.  These chefs are more like chemists of nature, mixing organic and locally sourced ingredients together in a way to produce something which seems completely unrelated to the original elements! We had courgette spaghetti with a lemon and ginger cream, tartlets, the nicest burger I’ve ever had made with beetroot and rice of all things, crackers and “cheese”, ice-cream, “cheese”cake and about a million more things. We were all completely stuffed by the end of the meal and even my slightly more carnivorous fellow bloggers were thoroughly impressed. I only had my camera phone so I haven’t done the meal the justice it deserves but here’s a peak…

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The music was great (in fact, it’s as though they hacked into my personal playlist!), there was a great ambiance, and I’m really pleased to say that it was incredibly popular too with most tables booked out.  We met the chef who, together with our waiter,  were incredibly passionate and enthusiastic about their work.

So in summary, if you’re ever in ForlĂŹ, go to this restaurant!

Casa Spadoni – Faenza

One evening we had a “cena di solidarieta”, a dinner of solidarity as part of the Settinama del Buon Vivere where there must have been well over a hundred guests, all in formal evening wear (I had to ‘acquire’ formal evening wear the previous day! There is limited scope for going to balls, living in the middle of nowhere, so my gala dresses were somewhat non existent).

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These are some snaps from the night with myself and fellow bloggers!

Casa Spadoni itself is a great venue – very elegant, nicely decorated and quite frankly, massive. The food was also good, particularly considering just how many people they had to serve at the same time. The dish in the bottom right hand corner of the photo below was cheese, cheese and more cheese. I love cheese, I hadn’t thought it would ever be possible to have enough cheese – but in fact, I found my limit!

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Osteria Nascosto –  Forlì

An “Osteria” is a place to eat where they serve simple, home-cooked traditional meals. “Nascosto” means hidden and I can confirm, it really was hidden but well worth finding. The dĂ©cor was rather basic with tiled walls and bright lights – certainly not a romantic setting, but I really liked it. There clientele are locals and when that’s the case, you know you’ve hit upon a good place. It felt a bit like we had been let it on a secret!  The food is very much traditional from the Romagna region.  I ate passatelli – a type of very short fat spaghetti made with eggs, bread crumbs and parmesan. You don’t find it anywhere else in Italy and so it was my first taste. Once you get over the fact it looks a bit like worms, it really is very tasty. I might have a go at making some myself!

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I loved this cup, saucer and jug “objet d’art”.  I might have a go at doing that too!

Amburgheria Creativa – ForlĂŹ

I have been known to complain about the lack of international food in Italy. I miss curry, chinese and mexican… and I miss burgers! I think it’s probably different in a city, but certainly where I am, you can’t get a burger. So I was pleased when I heard we were going to check out a new burger place in Forli that opened recently.

These are burgers with a twist – using ingredients sourced locally, cooked in-house and with a ‘Romagnolo’ feel – in fact, that was even the title of one of the burgers! The staff here are proud about their heritage and their ethics and it comes together really well in the form of a selection of, I must say, very tasty burgers. I think it’s fair to say that in Italy vegetarians are often an afterthought but here the first part of the menu was dedicated to vegans and vegetarians. Their attention to detail was excellent – for each burger there was even a recommended beer. Burgers to me have a bit of a junk food reputation – the kind of meal you have when you’re tired and just don’t care whether you’re going to be eating a million calories. However, this burger was so light that I left feeling healthier than when I went in.

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The decor is young and hip – I loved their rope light. The only downside, but also it’s upside I guess, is that it caters more for takeaway (takeaways are few and far between in Italy! Particularly ones that deliver and don’t just do pizza!). There isn’t a lot of space to eat inside and although there are tables and chairs outside, winter is coming!

So all in all, I’ve eaten so much good food that I will need to diet until Christmas in order to lose the weight I think.

Watch this space for part 3 of the Pentalogy!

A presto,

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 ForlÏ 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 ForlĂŹ.

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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The Great Puglia Road Trip Part 1: Investigating the coast around Pescoluse

 

Buonasera!

I am thrilled to report I had an amazing holiday in Puglia – it has to be one of my favourite holidays. On the Monday I picked up my friend from the airport in Ancona and we headed seven and a half hours south towards Leuca, the very bottom of the boot of Italy’s heel in the beautiful region of Puglia. Puglia has been on my Bucket List for ages and we only had six nights to fit in everything I wanted to do. Truth be told, it was more of a frog march than a vacation but I did schedule in some relaxation time so that’s ok I think? Anyway, I liked our little trip so much I’m going to write it as an itinerary for anyone wishing to do a similar thing. We camped, which is not as popular in Italy as in the UK, but we stayed in some lovely campsites

Puglia has a completely different feel to it than the Italy I’ve come to know. The landscape is full of ancient olive trees, cacti and bright flowers growing out of red earth. It’s completely unlike my very hilly, mountainous green part just a few hours further north.

I won’t count the day spent driving down so the guide starts thusly…

Day 1: Explore the coast around Pescoluse

Stay in a campsite called Grotta Pescoluse. It’s a nice little campsite set a kilometer or so from the beach. You can camp among the trees and there’s a large swimming pool and bar/restaurant area which we didn’t get time to make use of. You can walk down to the beach in half an hour or so (the walk back is a bit more tiring because it’s uphill).

Tip: Beware of the ants. There are many of them. Some campers sprinkled talcum powder around their pitches because ants don’t cross lines of talc!  And always have toilet paper and soap. For some reason in Italy, they don’t feel like they can stretch to providing toilet paper or soap in any of the facilities. Though in this campsite, they did provide a suspicious looking hose attached to the toilet (some sort of personal irrigation system?)

Drive up the coast to Porto Trecase. Trecase is beautiful and has an interesting history.  Puglia has quite a rocky coastline. The water is so crystal clear that you can see down to the seabed. Trecase has a little beach. Follow the coast around to see some kind of old fortification and then you’ll see puddles of salt where the sea water has dried. The sea seems to be very salty in Puglia – it seems quite difficult to sink (which is great until you want to dive down with your snorkel!) Anyway, I recommend a dip here before heading to the next ‘cool’ swimming location.

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This was the view walking down to the little beach from where we parked the car.

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The beach.

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Looking back at the beach.

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They had this odd little fort type structure – this one looked like it might have had guys inside with guns (bows and arrows?!)  back in the day.

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And lots of salty puddles.

Snorkel at Grotto Verde.  I think this has to be one of my all time favourite places in the world. I was actually searching for another coastline grotto (cave) but we couldn’t find it, and because we were melting  in the heat, and had seen a bunch of people in swimming costumes hanging around a little rocky outcrop we decided to have a swimming break. Grotto Verde just looks like a bit of a sheltered little rocky bay. However, when you get into the water you’ll see that you can swim into the cave – it’s dark but you can just make out a gap on the right hand side where there’s a narrow passage that takes you into another cave. This next cave is AMAZING! At first we thought it had been artificially lit from underneath, in fact on further inspection with a snorkel, the light is coming from a couple of feet under the surface – an underwater link to the outside. Have a look at the link above and check out the photos on Trip Advisor!

Tip: Get a snorkel to enable you to see the submerged rocks and avoid nasty scrapes, and besides it’s so pretty under water, it’s like another world. I also suspect you can swim from the “lit” cave to the outside. However, much to my annoyance I chickened out – it was a bit difficult to tell how long the underwater tunnel was (2 metres?) and besides, I kept floating making any underwater swimming a challenge!

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Drive along the coast to Otranto… stop often to take photos. These are some of the photos I took on the way.

Have lunch and explore Otranto. Otranto is a lovely little village on the coast, complete with castle. Puglia seems relatively well fortified with a number of “torre” (towers) overlooking the coastline. To be honest, I would probably have invaded Puglia too, it’s just so pretty! In Otranto they do Ape tours (pronounced Ah-pay, it’s the Italian word for bee). Apes are cute little three wheeled motorised buzzy things. In my opinion the tours were expensive so we didn’t do it but you probably get to see lots.

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This dog seemed to be having a great time

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One of the large piazzas by the sea.

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Overlooking the port.

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The Car & Castle. I think that would be a good pub name.

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And the castle again. They are showing the Steve McCurry “Icons” exhibition there at the moment which I highly recommend (but I’d already seen it in Forli earlier in the year).

Tip: Go inside the church in Otranto and marvel at the really weird and epic mosaic on the floor. I particularly like the deer with a human face sprouting some sort of vegetable from his mouth.

Head further up the coast to Roca Vecchia and the Grotto della Poesia. There are no signs to it so best of luck trying to find it. Basically go up the coast until you see lots of people walking along the side of the road and stop there and follow them! Roca Vecchia is an archaeological site with old stone buildings from the bronze age. You can just about make out the ruins without going into the confines of the site (which was closed of course!).

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Grotto della Poesia is a couple of hundred meters south of Roca Vecchia. It’s another cave which you enter by jumping into about 3 meters or so of water (or walking down to it from the side – but that’s boring, eh?!). The only problem here was the audience! It certainly means you can’t faff around at the top debating your jump because there’s a queue behind you and dozens of people watching! It was quite exhilarating though and it gave me a buzz for the rest of the day 🙂

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This was the jump and accompanying audience!!!

Tip: Don’t park your car at the side of the road where everyone else is parking their car. It’s a trap – you’ll get a fine!

Go back to the campsite in an exhausted heap and then walk to the beach with everything you need for a BBQ and a night swim!

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Here the beach is sandy and the water is warm. It’s like just walking into a warm bath! It’s just lovely!!!!

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So that was all in Day 1. If you have more time, you might want to space it out a little and spend a bit more time in each location!

Tune in for the next post covering off Day 2 and 3 in Monopoli, Lecce, Torre Guaceto, Alberobello and Matera.

x

 

 

 

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Painting attempts, Lost Temples and Cat Sagas

Buongiorno a tutti!

Well it’s been another busy week or so. On my way back from the blog tour a couple of weeks ago, I finally stopped at a few places that have been on my list to see for ages. Firstly there was….

Urbania

I’ve heard good things about Urbania. It’s near Urbino, in north  Le Marche, which is a beautiful town well worth a visit. Urbania is less quaint than Urbino. Still, I was glad I had the opportunity to go there and have a wander around. Here are some photos…

Gola di Furlo

Now, you’re probably reading this and pronouncing Furlo like, well, an English person would pronounce it. You’re wrong. There is no way of pronouncing this word that an Italian person will understand. You actually have to spell it out (and even that’s traumatic because I must have told you before how the Italian’s spell? They just say the word very slowly and consider that spelt! It clears up absolutely nothing.) Anyway, the Gola di Fuuuuurloooo, is a beautiful gorge between the mountains where a river runs through. It’s difficult to get a good photo – the gorge also has a road but that’s closed to cars so you need to either walk or cycle through. However the road is lined with trees making it impossible to get a good view of the river. In the end I had to jump over a fence to take a picture and even then it didn’t do it justice!

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Tempio del Valadier

The next stop was Tempio del Valadier in Genga, built in 1826. I’ve been seeing photo’s on the various tourism websites for this temple for ages and was curious to see it in real life. It was just as impressive as it seemed from the photos and I’m just awed that we have it in Le Marche. In fact, Le Marche really is in my opinion one of the best regions in Italy (the world?!?!?!) – it has such a mix of different things to see in terms of the landscape, towns and history. Really I don’t think you could ask for anything more!

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It looks like a model here but I assure you it’s not! It’s absolutely massive.

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Here it is from the other side.

But, beware the snakes…

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Genga

Then I popped over to the town of Genga. Genga is a pretty little hilltop town but seemed quite deserted when I was there. They do have a museum which looked like it might be quite interesting, talking about the history of the local area but I didn’t have time to go in. The buildings are interesting – they seem to be half carved out of rock strata. It’s very pretty. There was also a room open in what seemed like an old church that had a very impressive picture made of various seeds and grains. It seemed so much like a painting that I had to touch it to check  – I thought the seeds must be glued down. They weren’t. I made a big hole which I hastily tried to cover up.  If any of the artists are reading this – sorry guys!

The weather this year has been generally rubbish on the whole – we have a couple of days of glorious sunshine and then it’s followed by thunderstorms. I took this rather daunting looking picture on the way back from Genga. I did manage to miss the rain though so was pleased about that!

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Walking Group!

I had my third trip out with the CAI (Clup Alpino Italiano) walking group of Sarnano. We were supposed to be going to Monte Bove (still in the Sibillini’s but more central than where I live). It would have been an impressive walk but we had to cancel that because of the storm due that afternoon. Instead, we went out locally, walking from a part of Sarnano called Bisio and then up to a refuge called Citta di Amandola and then on a bit further to the lookout point over Santuario dell’Ambro, a church set in one of the valleys. Our little offshoot of CAI isn’t very well supported (a lot of areas have their own CAI that appear to have more active members). In fact this week, there were only 4 of us. The group don’t appear to have embraced technology to publicise the walks, so I might look into that on their behalf! The Club President is one of the more interesting characters I’ve met here – a sort of hairy naked dude that eats all the plants as he’s walking along but he’s a lovely guy and knows every single path in the area. One of our group was wearing head to toe expensive specialist walking gear…whereas the President was (periodically) wearing a holey vest and shorts and the sort of shoes used for protecting your feet when you’re doing DIY.

I was a bit taken aback hearing a story of some poor paraglider that made a simple mistake and ended up killing himself on that rock face in the pictures below (right hand side). Poor man, I think that was years ago but as an ex-paraglider pilot myself it put the wind up me a bit!

Cycling

On Saturday I decided I would try and make it up to Sassotetto on my bike. Sassotetto is one of my nearest mountains. I packed a sandwich and lots of water and set off at about early morning. Wanting to do a circular route, I went via San Liberato first, a beautiful monastery set in the woods about half way up the mountain. I mistakenly thought that it might be the easiest route. In fact, it was exhausting. I had to get out and push on a number of occasions. The road was empty other than every time I got off my bike, within seconds you could guarantee a troupe of cyclists would come along (all sporty looking men in sporty looking outfits – in fact, there are simply no cyclists that wear normal get fit stuff here, they all seem to have proper racing gear like they’re all doing the Tour de France – they take their cycling very seriously! I don’t think they were particularly impressed by me with my general keep fit gear, a big backpack and a cheap bike!). Anyway, 6 hours and 40 kilometers later and with legs that refused to work anymore, I was back home again. Guess how quickly one of my CAI walking companions does that same route? An hour and a half. I don’t think I shall ever ‘cut the mustard’ as a cyclist!

Cat update

It’s just been an awful year for our little community of cats. A few posts back I mentioned how one of them was at the vets apparently suffering from the same slug pellet poisoning as before. Unfortunately he didn’t make it which was terribly sad. He was less than a year old and had a lovely character, always wanting a chat, albeit the conversation was a bit ‘samey’ after a while: “Meow?” “Meow”, “Meow!”, “Meow?”. Then last week, the lovely Pellosina died. Pellosina was just the sweetest little cat and was about 4 years old. She was really quite shy and didn’t like to be stroked but had such a gentle character and she was a fabulous climber – always high up on some post or other. She had three kittens a couple of months ago and though she didn’t like to be stroked, she was so content with motherhood that if you approached her with her kittens she would roll over onto her back with the kittens still suckling as if to say “look at my little family” and she’d let you stroke her and the kittens. She was the girlfriend of Neve the Evil Cat (he’s constantly attacking my cat Batfink) and it was him that led us, Lassie style, to Pellosina when she was convulsing behind a shed. Slug pellet poisoning is absolutely awful; it’s an agonising way to go and poor little Pellosina died in my arms outside the vets office. That’s 3 cats that have died now and it feels like I’m on a countdown until Batfink is struck down again (he’s already survived one bout). So, I would like to urge everyone – please don’t put slug pellets down. Have a look here for alternatives. Here’s my little photographic tribute to them 😩

And Sole, one of the survivors from the last batch of kittens has an awfully sore nose from something or other. Here he is having a cuddle from Batfink. It’s never a dull moment with the cats at the moment unfortunately!!!!!!

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Poor little nose!

Lion King!

On a less depressing note, Sarnano had a theatrical production of the Lion King the other week! It was an amateur production but still a lot more impressive than the amateur productions I used to be a part of. I was rather amazed to see that some of the costumes were akin to the ones used on the London stage!  The only problem was, it seemed to go on for a lifetime. The trouble in Italy is that everything is just too late. The show started at gone 10pm and there were little children in it! Why they don’t begin their entertainment events in the late afternoon or early evening, I will never understand. And yet, the Italians don’t appear to be perpetually tired so who knows, perhaps the country just doesn’t need to sleep?

Painting

I’ve been having fun with the watercolour class and painting. There’s a real technique to it. Watercolour is completely different to painting with any other medium. I can’t say as I’ve ever been particularly enamoured with watercolours as I have traditionally veered towards bolder paintings with quite a lot of texture: I discredited watercolours as “painting-lite” for those who just want to paint quaint, dreamy village scenes and flowers. That was until I started my watercolour course a couple of months back and in fact, I really like it. Far from it being a “quaint” form of painting there are some really amazing techniques and it needs a lot of practice even to do what seems to be the simplest of things. The course focuses on landscapes but I’m absolutely inept at those, though perhaps getting marginally better. Portraits seem a bit easier. There was talk about us students having an exhibition. I quite like the idea of that – something to work towards. I think I’ll dedicate July to producing a couple of reasonable landscape pictures. Anyway, specifically for my Uncle Richard who has pointed out on a few occasions that I never post photos up of my paintings, here are some of my least embarrassing efforts to date.  I’ve specifically embedded these pictures in small so don’t look too closely and don’t judge me, I’m still learning!!!!

And to help with the inspiration, I decided to create a little ‘studio’ where a bookcase used to be. I like being up there and it’s good for watercolours because I can pop them out to dry on the terrace. All in all, I’m quite pleased with it.

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I’m looking forward to the weekend – I’m going to be staying in Senigallia (coastal town) with my friends this weekend and then I’m straight off to Puglia (southern Italy) with another friend visiting from the UK. I can’t wait!!!!!!!!!

I shall leave you with my tagliatelle making efforts from yesterday. I hope you’re all having good weeks!

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x

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