Posts Tagged With: sarnano

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 start of the beginning…

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone? I can’t believe it’s mid February already! I started this post at the beginning of January and never got around to posting it so I’ve had to keep re-writing it with the latest several times! I’ve got quite a mixed bag of good and bad news in this post. I’ll get the bad out of the way with…

I had sad news at the start of the year with my nan, my only remaining grandparent passing away. It was expected but of course it was still very sad and particularly difficult given I was back in Italy at the time. However, I’m pleased I spent quite a bit of time with her over Christmas and have lots of good memories to look back on. She has always been quite a feature of my visits when I’m back in the UK so it’ll be a bit odd without her.

One of my neighbours in Sarnano also died last month. He and his wife made me feel really welcome when I moved there. I used to have coffee with them. He would greet me with a call of “Amore mio” (“My love!”) if he was outside and I passed the house. Their house was heavily damaged in the earthquake too. It’s been difficult for all of us with damaged houses but particularly for them – moving from their lovely country house with their extensive veggie patch, fruit trees and animals, to a second floor flat in the centre of town was not how they envisaged spending their last few years. My heart goes out to his wife.

A day or so after I came back from the UK, the Italian army arrived to knock my house down. It’s technically great news, despite it feeling like bad news! The army knocked it down for free meaning the money we get from the State should go 100% towards the rebuild rather than having to include demolition costs too. So really, it’s the start of the beginning rather than the end of the end! I hardly got any notice of the demolition so I had a somewhat stressful week or two beforehand trying to clear the house which was still full to the brim with furniture. I had lots of offers of help though and managed to get an empty garage to put things in.

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And then half an hour later there was nothing still standing! It was horribly sad of course but I was there with the neighbours and there was something nice about being sad together – stuff like that brings people closer doesn’t it?!

On a less depressing note, I did manage to get out for a couple of trips:

Sentina Nature Reserve                                                                                                                 

This is a nature reserve near San Benedetto del Tronto. I get the feeling it was supposed to have been wetlands but they weren’t very wet. I think there should have been a few lakes/ponds but I wasn’t able to see any evidence of them! However, it’s on the coast so you can do a circuit with the first and last bits through the ‘wetlands’ and the middle bit on the coast. It’s really nice to see some wild coastline in Italy. So much of the Marche coast has a road right next to it and bars. This stretch of coast was excellent for seaglass and had some very atmospheric falling down buildings on the shoreline!

Carnevale

Carnevale is the day before lent starts, though events usually take place the weekend before as well. It’s a time for celebration, fun and for eating “frappe” (fried things that they cover with some kind of syrup usually – here’s a recipe).  In many towns, they have a procession and floats with children and adults dancing or playing music and generally having a good time. Each region has their own style of costume: Harlequin’s are from Bergamo, Pulcinella (horrible black masks with long beaky noses) are from Naples to name just a couple.  It’s a celebration full of history and tradition.

A friend and I went to Ascoli Piceno this year to see Carnevale there. It was great fun. Rather than the typical procession, you wander around the main piazzas seeing little ‘scenes’ – often with some political message behind them but sometimes just absolutely silly.  I think it’s fair to say that all regions of Italy are proud of their local dialects and Ascoli Piceno is no different. It was quite amusing trying to work out what their signs said and I was pleased to note that even my Italian friend struggled to understand some of it!

So, after a fairly unsettled month or two with one thing or another, I’m really looking forward to getting back to a routine. I’ve got a swimming gala to train for towards the end of March and I’ve just given some paintings to be exhibited in the gym – the manager wasn’t there when I left them so who knows whether he’ll actually accept them… Fingers crossed! I’ve got a number of arty projects to be getting on with now so I’ll keep you posted on those. In other good news, despite seeing the snow creeping down on the mountains, the weather has been absolutely stunning this week so I feel like Spring is almost in the air (I even have a daffodil in the garden to prove it!).

I hope you have all had a good start to the year so far. A presto,

x

 

 

 

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Exhibitions, physical exertion and singing…

Buongiorno a tutti,

Apologies it’s been such a long time between posts again! I hope you’ve all been well.

It’s been a bit of a sparse year on the blog post front, I know. I struggled at the beginning of the year. It was all a bit of an upheaval after the earthquakes which were still going on and then with headaches and my cats dying, I lost the will to write! Things have certainly picked up again now and I’m back into a routine. In fact there are so many bits and pieces to update on it’s difficult to know where to start which is the other reason for the delay! I do miss writing though and I  particularly miss the photography side as it’s become apparent that the blog is the main reason why I’m motivated to try and take good photos. So this post will be a relatively brief one to catch you up with the latest and then I hope to get back to being a bit more frequent after Christmas.

So here goes…

The House

There’s good news and bad news on this front. The bad news is that nothing at all is happening in the reconstruction of my house. The good news is that I shall be getting a flat in Sarnano courtesy of the government until my house is rebuilt (in 2089?).  It’s a new-build and won’t be ready until Spring 2018 (but this is Italy so add on a few months/years/millennia). I’ve had a lovely summer staying in the house of my friends near Servigliano and they’ve very kindly said that they’re happy for me to stay on there for a bit longer (thank you A&R!). From going from no house to two house possibilities is an excellent dilemma to have. I do miss Sarnano – it still feels like going back “home” when I visit. However, the flat there is on the 3rd floor in a block surrounded by lots of other blocks which isn’t really an ideal living situation for me or the cats! I’ll see how things go in the new year. However, it’s such a big relief that I’ll at least have somewhere I can  put furniture and things that are still in my old/falling down house and somewhere that’s “mine” again on a more permanent-temporary basis!

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The view from the house isn’t too bad!

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And now there’s quite a bit of snow…

In other news I’ve been….

Swimming

I’ve joined a swimming club at my local gym/swimming pool. My fellow swimming buddies are a lovely bunch and we had a good time at my first swimming meet (why are they called ‘meets’ when it’s a race? It was so chaotic, I barely met my own team, let alone anyone else!). I was initially very nervous about racing. I swim fast compared to the average swimmer in the pool but I certainly don’t ‘race’. Physical exertion has never particularly appealed to me and all of the sports I’ve done to date I’ve always been able to do at my own pace really.  I imagined my races (50m and 100m backstroke) would be quite humiliating not even really knowing what time I could do them in, let alone what a respectable time is.  However, I held my own and came 3rd in both of my races (out of 4 but who’s counting!) and actually nobody was watching (even my instructor!) so there wasn’t the slightest bit of pressure.

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Osimo, the location of my first swimming meet!

The only time anyone pays any attention is for the really speedy swimmers so really, I’m quite happy with my distinctly average speed. It’s nice to have a personal best to beat. The next race is in February. I’ve been practicing the physical exertion thing and I can almost do 100m without needing to be resuscitated. Almost.

And then….

Choir

I’ve joined a choir! I saw this particular choir in the summer and I thought they were great.

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This is them!

A couple of my aunties and friends are in choirs and they’ve inspired me to give it a go. I didn’t think they’d want me – my Italian accent is poor (it sounds authentic to another English person but the Italian’s take the micky out of me saying I sound like Laurel and Hardy. It turns out the Laurel  and Hardy films are quite popular here. They’ve dubbed them into Italian but given them ridiculous English accents. That’s apparently what I sound like). However, they were pleased to have me as they’ve been singing English Christmas songs. It’s nice to get back at the Italians by constantly correcting their pronunciation of “the” (it’s not “duh”) and “virgin” (it’s not “veergin”) and “thou” (it’s not “dow”)! We had our first concert this week at a church and apparently we sounded alright! The next one is on Saturday.

The only downside with the choir (and it seems all choirs everywhere in Italy) is that rehearsals start at 9.30pm and by the time we’ve finished singing and I’ve got home, I’m completely wired and unable to get any of the songs out of my head! I find myself having to turn the radio on at 3am just to listen to something that’s not about ‘duh veergin Mary’.

And then perhaps in my most exciting news…

Exhibitions!

I’m thrilled to say I think I can legitimately call myself at “artist”. My self-imposed definition for artist is to have sold paintings to random people and I have! There was no coercion, nobody was obligated to buy my paintings or say they were good so I’m chuffed to bits really.  It’s been very satisfying. The first exhibition was earlier in the year which was in conjunction with a few other local artists, mainly Italian. My art group booked the same space for a couple of weeks this December. We’ve had quite a few visitors and we’ve sold some paintings. I’ve also agreed with my gym that after the exhibition I can put up some paintings there too which will be a great opportunity to show some of my paintings. I’ve been focusing more on pet portraits lately and I’ve been trying to get a website together with a view to selling things on a wider scale. If you’re in the area, then we’re still open until the 17th December 2017 so come and see us.

 

So all in all, it’s been a busy few months but they’re the main things to report back on!

I’ll write more in the new year but meanwhile, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all! 🙂

x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ode to my old life…

Buongiorno,

How is everyone?

Well it’s been a while since I’ve given an earthquake update. For those new to the blog, my house was badly damaged by the series of earthquakes that hit Central Italy, the first of which struck in August 31st 2016 and killed 299 people.

From a practical point of view things are moving – but very slowly. Our little collective (that makes up the larger building of which my house is a part) has agreed on a Structural Engineer to complete the necessary forms and evaluate the damage. Depending upon that evaluation and Government legislation which we’re still awaiting, we’ll have an idea of how much money we’ll get for repairs/rebuild and our Engineer will devise a plan for the house accordingly. The upshot is that it will take years before I can move back to my home and who knows what form that will take – a patched up house or new one entirely.

From an emotional point of view, things are moving even more slowly. When things go wrong, I usually pick myself up, dust myself off and come up with a new plan. That’s not happened this time, something I’ve been immensely annoyed at myself for. A house is just a “thing” after all and I and my neighbours are all very lucky to be alive.  I know that of course.  I’m also very fortunate that I was offered somewhere to stay temporarily, an hour away from Sarnano. There’s room to put my things and it’s safe for the cat too.

I can easily list the reasons why I’m lucky and what I have to be grateful for which makes me feel even more guilty for not embracing this new lease of life I should now have!  I feel like I don’t have the right to feel sad at all. I only bought the house 3 and a half years ago. I haven’t lost a family home like my neighbours that had been passed down through generations and I was really fortunate to have had the opportunity to get some of my things out rather than losing everything like many others.

This feeling sad but guiltily so, has got me thinking that it’s probably quite a unique experience being an ex-pat earthquake victim. We may not have lost our family homes where we grew up but we’ve lost “the dream”. Moving to Italy was my plan for years before I finally achieved it. I didn’t buy a ‘house’, I bought an ‘experience’; knocking down walls, putting in the kitchen and bathroom, painting a massive blackboard in my kitchen and a mountain range on the wall in my bedroom. My house was not some lovely villa in the middle of nowhere; it was a cheap and oddly constructed somewhat ugly part of a larger ‘house’. But…it was the first place I’ve ever felt was ‘home’. It was like the house version of me – a bit peculiar and untidy but quirky with character.

I miss painting in my little studio upstairs. I miss trying to spot deer and wild boar on the hill that my terrace overlooked. I miss having a bath with a glass of wine and candles, watching a documentary from my laptop propped up on the Bidet/Laptop-and-Cosmetics-Shelf. I miss my neighbour yelling at me from the road to see if I wanted to go for a walk around the block, and I miss my other neighbour yelling… well, just yelling (the Italians are more boisterous and loud than we English are!).

Making myself a little ‘home from home’ was one thing but there’s so, so much else that’s part of the ex-pat experience. You have to build an entire new life for yourself when you move abroad. I threw myself into the community. I joined clubs and classes, I went to festas. Not a local hilltop town was left unvisited and I know Sarnano like the back of my hand. The Italians were so very welcoming to me and really made me feel part of the community. I was affectionately called ‘La Inglesina’ – The English Girl (admittedly not that imaginative as nicknames go but better than ‘Fatty’). When I went into town I recognised lots of people and I loved that. I loved chatting to the Nice Supermarket Checkout woman and trying to get the Unfriendly One to at least say hello. I miss that I can’t actually fulfill my long-standing promise to go swimming with Petrol Man. I miss asking the Stationary Dude for things that he never has in stock and having a laugh with him about it. I miss Fruit & Veg man wishing me a Happy Christmas regardless of the time of year. I miss beeping at my neighbours and saying hello as I go past them whilst they’re doing their gardening. Not only am I not there anymore but neither are they.

I feel lost without my house and my old life. When I moved to Sarnano, I did it with all the enthusiasm of building a new and exciting life for myself. I know I can do all that again of course somewhere new in a new house, but… I just don’t want to. There’s no alternative however and herein lies the problem! Having been plunged into this new situation, doing all this; moving into a new house and/or community, takes levels of enthusiasm that I just don’t have at the minute because well, I think losing your house is a grief of sorts. So, I’m going to let myself off the hook. I’m back in the UK for a bit. I’ll see friends and family and do some painting, travel around and try to replenish the enthusiasm reserves. So this update, though seeming to be a depressing one, isn’t at all – I think I’ve turned a corner and I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, albeit the tunnel is long and the light is a bit faint at the moment. I’ll meander towards it though and I’ll come up with a cunning plan along the way. So please bear with me and I’ll keep you updated as I go.

Meanwhile here’s a picture of the kittens back in Italy to offset the gloomy blog post…

 

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Fated and Doomed enjoying some tree time!

A presto,

x

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Snow shoes, navigating the Italian health system and kitties

Buongiorno!

How is everyone? Well what a few weeks!

2017 hasn’t got off to the glowing start I had hoped! We have had unbelievable amounts of snow blocking people in their houses for up to two weeks, often without electricity. If that wasn’t bad enough, there were four strong quakes and where can you go when the roads are all closed and your car is buried under a couple of meters of snow?! And then the heartbreaking avalanche that buried Hotel Rigopiano killing 29 people, and a helicopter that was attempting to rescue a mountain climber crashed killing everyone on board. Central Italy just can’t get a break at the moment.

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My neighbour took his photo of our poor abandoned house in Sarnano when she eventually managed to get through the snow to reach it!

Thankfully the snow on the particular ridge and valley where I am temporarily living was only a foot deep and the snowplow came and dug us out that night even up the drive – but the ridges and valleys on either side of us had over a meter of snow and lots of power issues. The damage from the earthquakes this time seems to be minimal (surprising given the additional stress on the houses that the snow added) but the damage from the snow itself has been quite widespread mainly in terms of damaging barns and there doesn’t seem to be a tree in Le Marche that has been left unscathed!

Meanwhile, I’ve been suffering with awful headaches every night (any of my readers suffer from cluster headaches?) so it’s been an interesting week testing out the Italian health system.

Unfortunately if you don’t have a ‘proper’ job and you’re not registered as unemployed, you have to pay about 380 euros for a “tessera sanitaria” (a health card) to be able to access Italy’s national health service. Although if it’s an emergency they’ll see you anyway. You pay for a calendar year, running from January to December, regardless if you’ve paid the full amount in November the previous year. I had a very exasperating visit to ASUR (Azienda Sanitaria Unica Regionale), the administration side the health service to try and get my card renewed. Frustratingly the office workers didn’t seem to know they were responsible for providing this service. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I can confirm if you burst into tears of frustration, stuff gets done! When it seemed I would leave with nothing, I left with a health card, free drugs and an appointment with the neurologist 5 days later.

On a slightly related note, purchasing medicine in Italy is odd: prescription-only drugs in the UK can be purchased over the counter in Italy (albeit at an eye-watering price, unless they’re antibiotics in which case they’re really cheap and freely available!), and basic painkillers which cost a pittance in the UK cost a lot here. If the UK and Italy teamed up, I think we’d have quite a good health service and drug provision.

Meanwhile, it hasn’t all been bad. I went  for an organised ‘Ciaspolata’ (snow shoe walk) with a group called Con in faccia un po’ di Sole at the weekend in Bolognola (in the Sibillini’s). It was an absolutely stunning day for the walk and though I’ve walked in those mountains quite a bit now, it’s totally different when everything is so snowy! The guide was excellent too and was able to identify which animals had made the various tracks in the snow.

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This photo taken by our guides was our Ciaspolata group – a colourful lot!

In other good news, I have two kittens staying with me at the moment! Batfink has been distinctly unimpressed but yesterday marked a breakthrough – I came in to find them all in a tangled cuddly heap. Those who have followed this blog know that I don’t have much luck with kittens and cats – they pretty much all get run over, poisoned or die of flu. So in order to keep my expectations in check, I’ve dubbed the kittens Doomed and Fated. In fact, to illustrate my point, they did have a sweet little sister. I’ve retrospectively called her Mauled. You’ll never guess what happened to her 😦

This year, I decided I was going to try and become a ‘professional’ artist. I thought the easiest and most pleasant way to do this would be to get portrait commissions as I really like painting them. I have about 4 commissions and each one is driving me insane! I think a less stressful strategy  is to just paint stuff, and then if people like it they can buy it. So that shall be the plan going forward! Still, I bought some mounts in nice cellophane wrapping – it’s amazing how that kind of things gives everything a much more professional feel. Check out the latest pics here.

I think that’s about it from me. I hope you’re all having a good week.

A presto,

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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Earthquakes, prisons for cats & explorations…

Buonasera,

I hope you’re all well.

Things are moving along here. On the earthquake front, we’re still getting quite a lot of tremors, still magnitudes 3 and 4 which aren’t insignificant. I guess it will take a while for the earth to settle down. I had never realised before just quite how long it takes for the aftershocks to stop after a big quake. It could be a year or more.

Storms and high winds (Sirocco winds from North Africa that can get to 100km an hour) have not aided progress. On my first day back from my UK visit I’d set up a tent in my neighbour’s garden as a place to hang out when I was ‘back home’, and hypothetically speaking, to store stuff rescued from my house (not that I would ever, of course, consider entering it as once it’s been declared dangerous, it’s illegal to  enter and you can be fined heavily). Anyway, imagine my frustration when I discovered the following day that the tent had been ripped up and destroyed by the wind in the night with all of the stuff I had managed to rescue from my house.

Just down my little road of a kilometer or less there were about five trees ripped up, blocking the road and lots more on the way back to ‘Home Two’ in Ripatransone.

They call our emergency centre in Sarnano ‘Base Camp’ – it makes me feel like I’m  about to climb Everest each time I go in! It’s a lot quieter there now with people having been moved out to hotels and apartments closer to the sea. The town centre is still closed and will remain that way for a while – there are very precarious tiles and chimneys that have come down that are balancing on  roofs and that will all need to be sorted before people will be allowed back.

Next week the structural engineers will start doing property checks around the area. I really don’t know what they’ll say with regard to my place – whether it will need to be knocked down and rebuilt or whether there’s a chance it can be restored somehow. I’ve had promising chats with a Structural Engineer who says that perhaps my main concern – ‘the Bulgy Wall’ can be replaced and other measures put in place to make it more structurally sound. However, it’s never going to be great – basically in the event of another earthquake the amendments would just give me more time to get out before it crumbles! On the other hand if they do knock it down, I should be entitled to a new home, but what if I don’t like it?! I don’t imagine I get much of a choice of design and with the building being shared by three others it will be difficult to agree a solution we’re all happy with. On the plus side, hopefully it wouldn’t crumble around me in my sleep so there are swings and roundabouts!

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The Bulgy Wall

Meanwhile, single displaced residents like I am get 300 euros towards accommodation and there’s talk of container houses being available before Christmas and wooden huts in the Spring. It’s difficult to piece together what’s rumour and what’s reality at the moment and I suspect the powers that be don’t have all the answers yet either.

Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying my new home in the hills surrounding a little town called Ripatransone. The cat has settled in really well, I think he’s probably happier here away from ‘Evil Cat’ who used to attack him every time he left our old house. Now he has a very naughty little puppy to contend with, a 3yr old ‘mouse catching champion’ dog and two other cats.

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This is Batfink relaxed in his new home – he likes his head being stroked! I’m not throttling him, honest.

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Despite looking innocent, this is a very naughty puppy. We aren’t talking at the moment. He pooed on my carpet and then I unwittingly trod in it with bare feet (just after I’d done my nails which further rubbed salt into the wound).

The apartment is lovely and even has central heating – a complete novelty to me – so much so that I just can’t work out how it works!

The countryside around the house is really interesting and different from further north in Le Marche where my house is. I don’t have my decent camera at the moment but you get the idea…

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Those sort of protrusions of oddly shaped rock are called Calanchi. There’s lots of them in this area. I was quite pleased to capture this lovely rainbow!

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And the vineyards are spectacular at the moment.

I’ve finally done some exploring of some of the local towns which has been great. I’ve been to…

Offida

Offida is known for its yearly carnival which is apparently something to behold. Maybe this year I’ll have the opportunity to go. It’s also known for its tradition of bobbin lace making. My friend and I saw one woman who was demonstrating ‘lace’ jewellery in action – I thought I might get an idea of how it was done but she was impossibly fast! Even Offida has been impacted by the earthquake. The main square was full of firemen and vehicles and many of the buildings are cordoned off.

The people of Offida are very strict though; imprisoning cats for their wrong doings. Who knows how long this one has yet to serve…

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Cossignano

Cossignano is in an even worse state than Offida with a lot of the streets cordoned off. The damage to the buildings was perhaps a bit more obvious in parts too. From the bits we could see, it looks very quaint. It’s a lot smaller than Offida. We found a lovely, empty restaurant called Elvira serving really nice cremini (bread-crumbed deep fried squares of custard… mmmm), giant portions of delicious pasta and some absolutely foul home-made alcoholic distillation of something (old socks?).

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Cupra Marittima

Cupra is a seaside town. I’m not endeared by many of the Italian seaside towns and this was no exception! They’re just a bit plain and uniform and well, I prefer quaint! HOWEVER, there IS Cupra Marittima Alta (‘alta’ means high) which is on the overlooking hill and that is absolutely lovely. It’s a very cute little village where it feels like all you do is walk upwards. We didn’t see anyone else wandering around. We did find the only bar / restaurant though, Pensione Castello, and had a nice meal there. It’s rated number one in the area on Trip Advisor and specialises in fish. They did a good job at providing something for me though as a vegetarian. I would definitely go back in the summer, if only for the views which are spectacular and overlook the sea.

Grottammare

Grottammare is similar to Cupra. It’s a seaside town which is pretty plain as far as I can establish but again has an absolutely lovely ‘alta’ part which I’ve been to earlier in the year and thought was great. I did take photos then though I can’t track them down for the moment. They had a food festa on last week where the streets were lined with stalls selling everything from chocolate to all manner of repulsive looking meats (there was one man stirring some stomachs and intestines around in a saucepan – deeeelicious).

Petritoli

Petritoli is another cute hill top town that’s worth a visit. I got lost on the way to the supermarket and ended up here so it was a rather quick visit but I’ll certainly go back.

Ripatransone

And lastly Ripatransone which is now my nearest town – it has the smallest street in Italy (the world? Universe?). I can confirm it’s very small. Next time I’ll take a picture. I almost had to shimmy down it. It’s also got an amphitheatre where they have operas in the summer. We had a chat with an old lady for about half an hour whilst she gave us a bit of history of the town. I like it when that happens – it really is nice when people are so friendly and I think she liked sharing her knowledge too. The photo’s below are from the old wash-house where women used to wash their clothes with water that was piped down from a spring on the local hill. There were some tops hanging up – perhaps the tradition is still on-going!

 

Well I think that about sums up the last couple of weeks. I’ve been busy sketching and painting this week which has been a nice change from packing and unpacking! If you want to receive painting updates as and when they happen, follow me on A Painting Occasionally  (click the three lines on the right hand side for the “Follow” option!

A presto,

xxx

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Life after earthquakes…

Buonasera……..

Well I don’t know where to begin.

Two more earthquakes struck central Italy last week, the last one on the 30th October was much stronger than the first one that struck in August.  Thankfully nobody died directly as a result of that earthquake, but hundreds if not thousands of homes were shaken so much they’re ‘inagibile’ – uninhabitable, leaving thousands without homes. The majority are in the zone of Macerata where I live. The epicentres were only 13 and 20 miles away from Sarnano (my town). The last estimate I read was 30,000 people homeless. Hundreds of those are in Sarnano, sleeping in the sports centre and in their cars surrounding it, away from any buildings that could topple.

I’m very proud of how Sarnano is coping. Despite everything, they’re a strong and resilient lot. We have a massive sports complex just outside of the town centre which is now full of beds and where people can get food. It’s our emergency area now – the base for the fire brigade and the Red Cross and even our ‘comune’ (local government) who are coordinating the salvage efforts. Check out this article and video to see for yourselves (scroll down for pictures).

If I think of the number of people without homes, then it really is quite overwhelming but in fact, if you don’t look too closely, outside of the emergency area everything could seem like it was before. In the town centre, bars are open, the market still ran, the shops are open and life continues, though the conversations are somewhat different (“Is your house still standing then?” “Did you hear about x’s place?”). The ‘old town’ has been evacuated not because buildings have collapsed but because the chimneys were falling down and tiles were falling off, bouncing on the guttering and falling onto the streets below.

So to be honest, from an outsider’s perspective it might not seem the disaster that it actually is for our little town. It’s not really until you look closer that you see the extent of the damage and you become aware of other impacts. Driving along the streets, yes, houses are still upright but one in every 5 will have a wall leaning perilously towards the street, no longer attached to the other ones, or a corner of the building which is coming away, or a roof that’s caved in.

My home is one of those. Although still standing the walls are cracked all the way through so it looks like a road map. Walls are bulging and in one place, just sort of bent out of shape entirely. All the ceilings and walls seem to be coming apart from everything else. On a more superficial level, glass and ceramic tiles cover the floors and there’s barely a thing still on the walls. A lot of my art projects completed over the years have smashed. I don’t think the house is in danger of imminent collapse however, as long as there’s not another large tremor. But alas, there are tremors all day everyday and it seems like there will need to be at least one other large quake in order to reduce the stress built up on the fault line from what I understand from the people that know about these things.

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My poor house…

The rest of my hamlet is badly damaged too. The roof caved in on the house opposite and it’s covered in serious cracks. Hopefully it can be reinforced but meanwhile, the owner is devastated – her granddad was born in that house. The house next to it has a corner that is balancing in place, no longer attached to the rest of the house. The other three houses in my building are uninhabitable too. Although my next door neighbours place is fine he doesn’t feel comfortable coming to visit his house (a holiday home) given that mine will fall onto his if it goes down. Another neighbour’s place is also uninhabitable with serious cracks running through it. There are 9 houses in my hamlet in total and six are currently uninhabitable.

I was in England when the last two quakes struck so in one sense, I’m thankful I didn’t have to go through the terror of the quake but equally sad that everyone else did.  The tremors never really stopped after the first quake in August, though they did calm down a lot. I always slept with shoes by my bed and a torch, just in case, with my usual cluttered house messy apart from a clear exit route. Even in the UK, my heart would miss a beat when large lorries would go past, rattling the house a bit. In fact, this ‘earthquake readiness’ is considered one of the factors that saved people’s lives – at the first sign of danger, you’re ready to get out but the constant ‘readiness’ takes its toll. Not wishing to sound too dramatic but people are literally broken-hearted; one Sarnanese woman died of a heart attack after enduring a night of constant tremors in her car outside the sports centre and that sadly wasn’t a one off.

But it’s not just people’s homes that have been impacted, or their spirits, there’s lots of other hidden issues that you’d never even think about. For instance, Italian’s often keep their elderly parents in their homes looked after by a carer. The carers are almost entirely foreign. Dozens of carers in Sarnano have gone back to their own country understandably but it’s left the town’s elderly high and dry. Homes for the elderly are all full to the brim.

The next step is for the structural engineers to come around and officially declare houses habitable or uninhabitable. Mine will be uninhabitable. Who knows whether it can be fixed or rather whether it’s worth spending the money to fix it? Some say that it’ll need to be knocked down; others think that it could be reinforced. Whatever the case, as it’s my primary residence the government should pay for the work but it’ll undoubtedly take years.

Meanwhile, I’ve been overwhelmed by the support of friends and family through all this and even people I barely know who have offered to help. The cat and I are now staying in a friend’s apartment in Ripatransone, a town not too far from the coast, still in Le Marche but further away from the danger zone. I’ve landed on my feet. The apartment is lovely and in a very pretty part of Le Marche that I’ve not really explored yet. I might be able to stay here for a while, though everything is still so up in the air. But it’s not my home and it’s heart-breaking to think I may never chill out on my terrace trying to spot wild boar or deer again or spend my evenings experimenting with what I can cook on my stufa.

So, in summary, it’s been horrible for everyone and continues to be a struggle but “ce la faremmo”, we’ll make it.

x

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The Malocchio (Evil Eye)!

Buongiorno a tutti!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So good things have started trickling through again 🙂

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

 

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

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

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

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x

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Earthquakes, Traumatic Treks, Castrum Sarnani and Opera…

Buongiorno,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The views were stunning though…

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Valle dei Tre Santi

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

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Monte Vettore

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

Around Sarnano

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

Montemonaco

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

Rocca Varano

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

Pescara

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

Opera at the Sferisterio

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

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Castrum Sarnani and the Serafino

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

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

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

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

x

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