Note Number 39…Home and Away…

Jpeg in the shade of an olive tree

Jpeg back in her home country…I actually think she prefers England…but who knows? 

We returned to the place in Italy where we lived for eight years and it was a strange experience. Full of mixed emotions and a short journey of discovery about the impossibility of turning back the clock. We had a wonderful time when we lived there. We loved the weather and made good friends, but folks move on and things change. For four weeks, we stayed in a lovely house in Montevidon Combatte, about 4 kilometres away from Petritoli, our Italian ‘home town’. We were meant to be on holiday but it never felt like that to me. It was as if I still lived there. The consequence of which meant that I couln’t be bothered to go sightseeing – in fact I couldn’t be bothered to do anything which is not only silly it was a waste of time. I must admit I did enjoy lazing in the sun by the pool

We had a fabulous pool and the surrounding Marche countryside was as lovely as ever. 

I tried, unsuccessfully, to write. I managed to produce four poems whilst staying near Lucca in the apartment on my own with the dog. The Man cycled from Rimini to Pisa with his mates from More Adventure … but after that short period of time, the muse disappeared – stage left.

Now, we are home in Dorset, the weather on Thursday was beautiful and welcoming after our long drive back. We stayed in two different places this time on our return journey. The first stop was Asti where we had a brilliant apartment, close to the centre, with secure parking and it was seriously dog friendly. Fabio (the owner) was most welcoming and couldn’t do enough for us and Jpeg, which went over her head of course. She travels quite well but after six hours in the back of the car she’s had enough. We do stop every now and then for short breaks, not just for the dog to stretch her legs but for us too – and to change drivers.

Our excellent accommodation in Asti

Asti did not grab me, there was no ‘wow’ factor to it, except for the enormous car-park in the centre, the biggest town centre car park I have ever seen. It is used for the annual Palio (horse race). I didn’t realise they had one so something I must read up on. I’m not sure the photo does the size of the car-park justice…but it was a whopper!

Asti Central Car Park

An average meal was taken at the Tartufo D’Oro and the man overcharged us… we paid for someone else’s pizza and bottle of water as well as our own food. Should have checked the bill more carefully GB! We paid cash so no chance of a refund. Anyway, I think I’m at the end of the line with Italian food. I love it, but the menu does not vary from place to place…I don’t care if I never see another slice of prociutto crudo (Parma ham perhaps to you), accompanied by formaggio (cheese) and melon…for at least ten years.

Next stop was Bourges, (which I kept calling Bruges, much to The Man’s amusement)…
I am in love…

i love bourges

We arrived somewhat harassed as the trip from Asti took much longer that we expected with traffic hold-ups etc., fortunately we had started early in the morning (09.45) so got to our accommodation before dark. I had chosen the hotel Chatueau De Lazenay because the room had a little kitchenette which would allow me to cook. Sadly, it was lacking in utensils of any kind and although Eric, at reception said we could ring down for anything we wanted and they would bring it up. I couldn’t be bothered. My enthusiasm for cooking up a delicious meal flew out of the window to join the aforementioned muse.

The best thing about the hotel was the situation. It was beside a beautiful lake with a path surrounding it for walking, running and cycling of 6k. (Actually, I’m not sure about the cycling). I took the dog out as the light began to fade and she had a wonderful walk, as did I. Following her supper, she gave a big sigh as she finally got into her bed and realised she was out of the car…at least for the time being.  She is so good and always relaxes fully in any B&B, hotel room or apartment that we rent, allowing us to go out and eat without any fuss.

The lake and the pathway and Jpeg (she’s not too keen on the water but was fascinated by the birdlife) 

We took a taxi into town for an extortionate €20 to the restaurant Gargouille….  A great meal was had, French cuisine is always excellent and it was a welcome change from Italian. I had decided to embark on #soberoctober so no wine or champagne for me on this trip but I did have a delicious glass of lemonade. The Man had vegetable soup, steak, and lemon meringue pie. I had fish and chips followed by pannacotta with bourbon biscuits and forest fruits, served in a kilner jar. No photos I’m afraid. I became irrationally embarrassed at the thought of photographing my food with my Iphone…but I did photograph the drinks!

soberoctober

I cannot wait to go back to Bourges next year when we plan a longer trip around France. I want to explore this beautiful town and all it has to offer. We are in fact, going to take lessons to improve our French beyond O’ level standard…at the moment, whenever I open my mouth to speak French, Italian comes out!

A little taste of Bourges…

Note Number 38…We’re on the Road Again…

We’ve been travelling for a few days. Up at 5a.m last Monday morning to catch the Poole to Cherbourg ferry at 08.30 with the dog of course. This time we had the bike on the back of the car too.

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Waiting to go on the Ferry with the BIKE sitting high above the car…hmm

Destination…Montevidone (eventually, it’s close to Petritoli where we used to live) but we’re taking our time. First night stop was Amboise, we’ve stayed here before but it took us a little longer to get here this time. No worries, dog walked, fed and emptied and we were off out to dinner to Hippeau (our third visit, we are creatures of habit). I had a delicious glass of champagne and 1/2 carafe of gorgeous rosé wine. The food was excellent too…tin of sardines, followed by tender pork loin and then, dessert…Pain perdu… toast, caramel sauce and vanilla ice-cream, scrumilicious. I remember my mother used to make us toast with strawberry jam and ice-cream, we called it Thunder and Lightening. 

Champagne, Rosé wine, sardines in a tin, pudding! 

 

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Early morning walk along the Loire…

Next day we travelled down to Bussoleno, a favourite stop-off because we really like the B&B which is actually an apartment, we also love the local restaurant, Osteria La Credenza, where we’ve eaten twice before. This time they were only serving pizza whereas we normally take advantage of the full Italian osteria type meal, antipasti, primo, secondo and dolci. Couldn’t complain about the pizza though.

Great Shot (not) of Half-eaten Pizzas! (I am not a food critic or photographer)

The only problem with Bussoleno is that for a small town it has many barking dogs. Every other house has at least one dog, sometimes four! They are mostly shut behind iron gates which they charge at, barking and snarling like cartoon guard dogs. Unfortunately for Jpeg and I, this time two of four black things actually escaped! One over the wall and one through the gate which had not quite closed behind a visitor.  I screamed, ‘Get away, get away,’ in an overdramatic manner and waved my arms from side to side like a demented chicken flapping her wings. Jpeg barked a bit which made it worse, but we legged it up the road to safety.  I decided not to take the same road back but took an alternative route,  when, lo and behold (I’m writing Christmas poems at the moment hence the language) ANOTHER gate was open and a ferocious husky kind of dog came charging at us. Fortunately the owners were standing there and after a bit of a tussle managed to control the animal and get it back behind bars! Needless to say, we were barked at all the way round and I have to congratulate Jpeg on only responding a couple of times, (I think they were mostly bigger and fiercer than her). I was too worried to stop and take any photos, so here’s something I prepared later.

Next stop was Ravenna…arrived here in good time for an afternoon nap and cup of tea before supper. We weren’t going to have time to ‘do the mosaics’ which was a shame because Ravenna itself didn’t grab us. The apartment that we stayed in was spacious and clean but there it ended. The Internet didn’t work, there were limited utensils and it had those horrible soap dispensers in the bathroom. The location was pretty awful, very busy road junction but at least there was a park – if you could call it that, more of a bit of wasteland, where I could take the dog.

We walked into town over some lovely cobbled streets and admired the churches and old buildings and headed for the restaurant, Passatelli, which was advertised on the back of our map. The food was excellent which was just as well because I had asked if we could sit at a particular table, outside and close to the street. It was set up so that neither of us would have our backs to the rest the other restaurant guests. I hate that when one person can see everything and everyone, and the other person can only see their dining partner…if you get what I mean. Anyway, he said no, because it was a table for four. I thought he could split it quite easily, but no, we had to sit at the back. However…when a couple of American ladies came in, the staff split the table and made up two separate ones.  I was a bit upset to say the least but then, when I asked them,  they moved us to where we had wanted to sit and behaved as though nothing had happened. Ah well.

A beautiful Square in Ravenna and some great graffiti by the railway track

Ravenna done, I dropped The Man in Rimini so that he could cycle from Rimini to Pisa and I then took myself and the dog, back up the A14 motorway, across to Florence to a delightful holiday apartment in a complex with pool…Vacanza Orchidea in Ghivizzano, close to Bagni di Lucca.  It took the dog and I hours to get here because of a massive hold up on the A14 after an accident. We were in slow-moving and stationary traffic for over one and a half hours. But we did get here eventually and we’re now enjoying a few days R&R with a little walking and writing thrown in. The apartment is lovely, and the swimming pool a treat and the owners of the complex delightful. A good choice.

After a quick check that all was okay, Jpeg fell into a deep sleep. No more car for a few days. 

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Views taken during my morning dog walk in Tuscany 

If anyone is interested The Man is now on his second day of cycling and it’s a hard one, Bagno di Romagna to Florence (62 miles – 6000ft ascent). Tomorrow, the last day is Florence to Pisa (65 miles – 2000ft ascent) so an easier finish…so I believe, but who am I to say? I think it’s marvelous that he does so much…it keeps him out of my hair anyway! Good luck and well done GB!

Back to Le Marche…

If I’m honest, I wasn’t ready to return to Italy and our townhouse in Petritoli, not quite – I was still in honeymoon mode with Dorset and Bridport. But, once in the car and heading towards Poole to get the ferry to Cherbourg I became preoccupied with the ‘road trip’ and excited about travelling. I love a good road trip with the dog and The Man – we are all good travelling companions… something that The Man’s daughters could never quite understand… ‘you mean you’re going to spend five days in the car with…HIM? How could you do that?’ But, we rub along fine and always have plenty to talk about and when not talking we listen to audio books.

The ferry left Poole at 8.30 a.m. and we had to be there by 7.30 because of the dog, we decided to leave our little Dorset hamlet on Wednesday evening and stay the night at the Thistle Hotel, only a few minutes from the port. The weather was atrocious…rain falling in biblical proportions – very unpleasant. It was difficult to appreciate the close proximity of the hotel to the water until, also biblically, the sky cleared and sailing boats came into view… however, it only lasted long enough to walk the dog before bedtime.

Jpeg is a star traveller. She never complains and as long as she has her own bed, food and a chance to smell the local area, pee accordingly, then she will settle down anywhere, as long as we are there too. We have only been on Le Shuttle with her previously and the ferry was going to take 5 hours (should have been 4 but the French dock workers at Cherbourg were on strike so…). She was so good in the car. I gave her a herbal tablet to calm her down, (should have taken one myself) and thank goodness, they didn’t enforce the use of the muzzle…all that effort getting her used to it and then we didn’t need it. You’re allowed to visit your dog half way across the channel, which I did and taking advice from other experienced ferrying dog owners, I only crept up to look into the car without her seeing me. She was fine, sitting up looking out of the back window of the car across the blue, flat calm sea to the horizon. We were the last car parked, facing aft (get the nautical term?) and there was a wide opening through which she could see. I think she had a better view than we did.

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Leaving the ferry behind us for it’s return trip to England we headed for St Vaast La Hoogue – twinned with Bridport, which is of course our hometown in the UK at the moment. It was a pretty little place with plenty of still busy fishing boats, the main catch being oysters. We wandered around the town in the French sunshine and from one lookout point it was possible to see the age old fortifications of Vauban along the coast, erected in the 1690s.

TheManon the Beach

Utah Beach

The Man wanted to visit the Normandy Beaches, I was interested but knew little about D-day except for scant history lessons many *coughs loudly* years ago.

There are many D-day attractions (that doesn’t seem quite the right word) to visit but for The Man it was a must to go the Pegasus Bridge the sight of the first landings by glider and parachute. The museum was full of original artifacts, photographs and so much information I couldn’t take it all in. A film was shown in English which made things clearer for me. I came away at the end of two days knowing so much more about the occupation and the liberation of France. It was of course both moving and upsetting. All those young lives lost and what for?

cemetary

It broke my heart to read the headstones at the cemetery in Ranville just a few miles from the Pegasus Bridge. English, French, German, Irish, Canadians and more, the majority of them under twenty-five.

Because we had taken the early ferry we had plenty of time to wander down the coast before arriving at our first night’s accommodation in Courseulle Sur Mer where we stayed for two nights. A fabulous spacious apartment, all brand new it seemed. We had to get there before 8pm because everything was locked up at eight…unusual for a hotel/accommodation until you realise it was actually an old people’s home. Well, an establishment for the retired, Domitys La Plage de Nacre – check it out. Great food taken in the town square at La Pecherie – so good we ate there two nights running. We love French food.

Next stop was Cahors a 770 kilometre drive – we listened to one of our audio books, The Elephant to Hollywood, written and read by Michael Caine. We can recommend it – loved his voice and his manner of speaking, he even laughed at some of the stuff he’d written. We felt, after several hundred kilometres, that he had been travelling in the car with us in the back seat. He’s now my best friend.

http://amzn.to/1ry95lR

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We arrived just after six and as it had been a long drive in dreadful weather, we thought we would eat in the restaurant attached to the hotel Terminus. It is a wonderful art deco building with furnishings and décor to suit. We should have guessed that it was not going to be an average meal when the barman turned out to be a sommelier, who’d written a book, with his son, (a chef) about local wines.

It was one of the best meals I have ever eaten, but the bill for food was twice that of the hotel room! I had a half bottle of Sancere with the meal and The Man had the best quality sparkling water, (he doesn’t drink alcohol you see).

We slept well that night which was just as well because the next hotel room in Carcassonne was not quite what we expected…

Approaching the medieval city of Carcassonne is the most amazing sight… from a distance that is. It appears in the midst of the green valley rising up above the trees, a Disneylike castle with turrets, arrow slits, high walls and well…really quite magical.

The satnav took us down some very narrow streets to the door of our ‘hotel’. It was outside the old city walls, but only a short distance for us to walk and discover the enchanted city, the situation was the best and only good thing about this accommodation.
First we had to unpack, take the dog for a quick look around and settle her down while we had lunch. We parked and carried our bags up the four flights of winding dark stairs into a garret apartment which smelled of drains – dirty ones at that. Not a good start.

Lunch was wonderful though, in a busy French Taverna serving Cassoulet – excellent. Fully satisfied we began our walk into the fairy-tale town and anticipate the best – always a mistake. The wind was blowing like a giant’s parp in a drainpipe, we could barely stand up, but we made it up the hill and in through the main gate, to discover that the outside of the castle is most definitely the best thing about it. Once inside the streets are full of swag shops, restaurants and little else. There was a torture museum which I cannot comment on because we didn’t go in. Street after street looking exactly the same. We searched for a tea shop selling fancy French pastries but couldn’t find anything so ended up in a restaurant having a cup of tea and apple tart with ice-cream (a dessert). There are only fifty permanent residents inside this town, according to the man in the only shop we entered where we bought a teapot…we like teapots.

 

The accommodation, Residence Saint Simon, in Carcassonne was truly dreadful and The Man has entered a review on Booking.com accordingly, but it’s still in moderation a week after writing it so I suspect it has been blocked by the owner.

The apartment was advertised with ‘toiletries supplied’ above is the sum total of those toiletries. Not even a bar of soap. Oh and the fridge had a welcome pack of stuff that were leftovers from the last visitors! 🙂

 

carmaguehorses

Next stop, San Remo and we drove there via the Camargue. I tried to photograph the famous white horses but whenever there were plenty of them grazing I didn’t have my camera at the ready so you’ll have to make do with a couple in the distance. We only saw a few black bulls, also famous in the area, but we did see what looked like several rice fields and on investigation, discovered that they do indeed grow rice in the Camargue. We took a detour through Arles hoping to get a glimpse of the famous bridge painted by, among others, Van Gough, but we hated the town, the traffic and gave up looking for the bridge pretty quickly and drove on to Aigues Mortes where we picked up a coffee in the pretty square. A medieval walled town that we would definitely visit again when we have more time.

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Square in Aigues Mortes

San Remo was fantastic! We loved the place and it was 27degrees, sunny and friendly. Our apartment was superb, central, clean, modern and equipped with everything we could need for a one- night stay. The owner, Alessandro, could not have been more helpful and welcoming. He certainly knew how to treat a paying guest. We can recommend Colombo Apartments in Piazza Colombo, San Remo.

As usual the dog behaved impeccably, as mentioned before, she is the perfect traveller. Her only problem is little white poodles which, when she sees them, turn her from the placid fun loving dog into a teeth bared, growling monster (I exaggerate of course). I leave you to imagine what our evening stroll by the port in San Remo was like as every other dog was a white ball of fluff either tucked under the arm, in a handbag or prancing along the pavement in a taunting fashion…

We said goodbye to San Remo and Alessandro and set about getting back to Petritoli on the last leg of our journey. We only stopped to empty ourselves and the dog and take on more water, coffee and fuel – it was another 700k drive.

Happy to be back on her own turf, Jpeg rushed immediately out of the back door to chase the local cats as though she had never been away.

I hope you enjoy reading my blog – I certainly enjoy writing it.  You may like to know that I have published a collection of short stories, The Cherry Tree and Other Stories, available here from Amazon.co.uk

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