Posts Tagged With: Italy

Exploring Naples and the Amalfi Coast

Buongiorno a tutti!

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

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

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Naples is ‘unkemptly’ colourful

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

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

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

Breasts covered but what about the shoulders!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

I hope you’re all well.

x

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

Buongiorno a tutti,

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

Lago di Scanno

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

 

Lago di Trasimeno

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

 

Lago di Piediluco

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

Walks

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

Castelluccio

Monte Priore

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

Towards Forca di Presta and Monte Vettore…

 

Opera

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accident & Emergency Fun

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

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

Painting

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

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

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

x

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Making paper, earthquake update and flower power…

Buongiorno,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

x

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Artwork, weeds and travels…

Buongiorno a tutti,

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

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

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

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

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

Rome

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

Venice

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

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View from our hotel window!

Art Update

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

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

Life Drawing

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

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

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

x

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

Buongiorno a tutti,

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

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

Marisa (2 of 19)

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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Second Floor (Camera means bedroom)

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Third Floor

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

x

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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 £15 (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 – Forlì

… 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 Forlì, 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 décor 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 – Forlì

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 Forlì and it focuses on health, culture, well-being and the environment. To that end there are: art exhibitions, concerts, shows, workshops, seminars… you name it, the list goes on!

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

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

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

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

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Exploring Emilia-Romagna

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

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

B&B Calicanto

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

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A home from home!

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

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

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

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

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Ca’ Bevilacqua

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

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

A presto,

x

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