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 12, Out With The Old – On With The New…

It was a great family Christmas…now it’s over and I’m missing them all already. It’s been fun, frustrating, full-on, flippant, fancy, fulfilling, fabulous, farty (well all those sprouts and stuffing don’t you know?), feel-good, fortified, fantastic…f*** that’s enough Fs for now!

qwirkle-grid2

A Game of Qwirkle in Progress

Haven’t made any resolutions but we did have a fab time with our neighbours and my sister-in-law and brother-in-law on New Year’s Eve.  We ate chilli followed by bread and butter pudding, then we played Qwirkle – a game I can highly recommend for most age groups. Try it if you haven’t already. Some of us drank a good dose of vino… Fun was had. At 11.45pm we went outside where The Man had previously lit the fire-pit so by then it was roaring beautifully.  To see out the ‘old year’, each of us secretly chose one or more emotions/habits, that we would like to ‘get rid of’ before 2017 came in.   We wrote them on scraps of paper and then threw them into the fire. It was something that we had done at my son’s wedding in Thailand two years ago and it seemed a good opportunity to repeat the experience.  It felt good, ‘letting go’.

fire-pit

Fire-Pit Burning Well – goodbye 2016 hello 2017

Good luck with 2017 all of you and we hope to see as much of our family and as many friends as possible during the year – The Man will insist on a maximum of three nights only if you have to stay. I’m sure he’ll make some comment below as to why that is.

Cricket, Coconuts, Pimms and Pasta…

The last month has been particularly busy for me. After a trip to the UK visiting friends and family we got back to Italy in time for the Festa De le Cove which I blogged about last year. (Festa 2013) It was a good weekend once again despite some bad weather but somehow the clouds dispersed and the sun came out just before the main parade of floats. There weren’t many this year but, one was spectacular and I’ve put up a photo.

Amazing Chicken Made from Straw and Corn

Amazing Chicken Made from Straw and Corn at Festa De Le Cove 2014

The following weekend I was responsible for organising a joint 60th birthday party for a couple of old friends, one from England and the other a resident in Sydney Australia. These two chaps had been at university with The Man (many years ago) and more friends joined us all for a fun packed weekend. For the main event on Saturday 19th we invited a few Italian friends to tag along and planned an English summer fete with cricket and coconut shy included.

flagsgarden

coconutshy

We hired the garden at the back of the Comune (Town Hall),a huge area of grass, a bandstand and a smaller area of with mature trees. The view from the gardens towards the mountain was pretty AWESOME! I use that word for our visitors from Texas! (Sorry I didn’t get a photo) The weather was scorching, far too hot to lob balls at either a coconut or a cricket bat until at least 8pm!

We managed to set out the tables and benches under the trees and fortunately for us a door had been left open to one of the ground floor rooms which was empty and cool so we set up the tables in there for food and alcohol. Naturally there was Pimms on offer. The Italian guests had never supped this delicious beverage and after a first cautious sip they guzzled away!

garden

The Man made sure everyone had a turn at bat and a chance to bowl in the cricket and that equal opportunity was given to bash a coconut down. He ran the events in his own inimitable fashion – in other words – no one quite understood the rules. It was a knockout kind of thing. Prizes were indeed won! Petritoli fridge magnets were awarded to first, second and third in both events. Is there no end to The Man’s generosity? There were some happy faces around.

 

On Sunday 20th I arranged for a bit of pasta making. It was again a very hot day but with tables under the trees, a few beers keeping us hydrated a jolly time was had by all at La Scentella with our friend Roberto Ferretti.

Roberto with Olivespastavino

Roberto with Olivespastavino

Roberto gave a demonstration of how to make fresh tagliatelle the way they do it in Marche…secret ingredient? A little vino cotto. This is ‘cooked wine’ and tastes a little like Madera, it’s traditionally given at the end of a meal with almond biscuits or cake which you dip into the liquid. Delicious.

kneading

Roberto allowed four people to give a hand. It was hard work ‘kneading’ the dough for a good fifteen minutes and luckily no one lost a finger when carefully cutting the prepared dough. Looked pretty dangerous though, I thought at least one pink painted fingernail might end up on our plates!

Our Four 'Demonstrators'

Our Four ‘Demonstrators’

Twenty-four people sat down to eat after the demonstration. Roberto prepared a feast for us, it was a completely vegetarian meal and even though the majority of the guests were carnivorous I never heard one complaint. In fact the opposite was the case. We had a small taste of the pasta prepared by our friends, followed by a massive plate a pasta that had been made earlier. The tomato sauce served with it was simple but delicious, wild celery was detected, I understood it to be a herb, quite distinctive. Roberto is a keen herb grower and can easily identify any wild herbs growing in the fields. I’ve often seen him out with his carrier bag searching and collecting. The next dish on the menu was a fabulous ratatouille with potatoes, peppers, aubergines, tomatoes and herbs. Roberto is a very good cook.

Lunch with Friends

Lunch with Friends

The food was amazing but what really made the meal perfect was firstly the company; close friends and family.  Secondly the ambience; we were eating outdoors, seated around a long table, everyone talking, laughing drinking and eating in the shade of a few trees, surrounded by lavender and rosemary bushes. Our guests from Australia, the UK and America were given the true Italian experience. The Man and I think we’re very lucky to be able to enjoy this lifestyle all the time.

I stupidly didn’t get the recipes for the sauce or ratatouille but I do remember the pasta. Basically, 100 grams of strong flour, an egg, some oil and about a teaspoon of vino cotto…and…a great deal of elbow grease. I’m going to try it soon, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Ratatouille

Ratatouille

Phew a long blog from me this week, but there was a lot to write about. Actually, this barely covers half what we all got up too but don’t want to get boring!

I fly through the air with the greatest of ease…NOT

aeroplane

I paid a short visit to the UK last week to see some friends and family. Before I left I got in a panic because the forecast in Italy was not good, there was much talk of Cyclone Penelope, she was bringing bad storms with high winds, rain, thunder and lightening. I’m not the best flyer and panicked that the take off would be dramatic with the plane trying to fight its way off the ground, battling 60 mile and hour winds, bump all over the place and people would scream and shout and I would silently try to control the rapid beating of my heart, the sweaty palms and jelly legs with Yoga breathing; count slowly to four and breathe in through the nose and count slowly to four and breathe out through the mouth, or is it the other way round? Either way it doesn’t seem to calm me or slow the heartbeat, believe me I try it for every take-off and landing.

Before I left for the airport I emailed all my children, just in case…well just in case. They replied with suitable encouragement, ‘you’ll be okay Mum’…’the flight will be fine’…I put on my lucky bracelet and underwear, (yes lucky underwear), I’m not superstitious at all!

I collected my car from the garage – it went like a dream having had the bearings in the gearbox replaced – still no idea of cost though. As soon as I do know I’ll post on here. The weather was pretty dire as I drove to Ancona, and I was intent on observing every little change in the sky, watching the tree tops for the slightest change in movement showing the wind had eased and I imagined myself walking from the car-park to the terminal building getting soaked, cold and with the umbrella being more of a hindrance than a help. I was going to have to dump the umbrella before check-in as obviously it’s considered a lethal weapon and Ryanair would definitely not allow me to take it on board, I expect for a price I could have put it in the hold though. However, I didn’t need it, Yay!

I arrived at the carpark and found complete stillness in the air, very little cloud and no rain. Penelope had obviously decided to stick to the west coast of the country and move south enveloping Tuscany and Umbria, avoiding Le Marche altogether. It’s a mistake a lot of people make, they stick to the ‘other side’ thinking it’s better because it’s been a popular destination with holiday makers and ex-pats for long time. Sadly many people still don’t take the decision to investigate Le Marche with its hilltop villages, beaches and mountains. We have it all.

I do love living here but then I like to go back to the UK to visit friends and to see family, which means I HAVE to fly quite a few times a year. We have only driven back once but it costs more money and takes more time. The advantage of driving of course is that you can fill your car with goodies from England and drive them back. But then there’s always a friend to help with that. Thank you Hugh and Helen for taking me to the shops, I’m looking forward to the delivery next week. Thanks also to Jean and Steve for my stay in Manchester and visit to Hebden Bridge, a blog about that is to follow folks.

I got just as panicky before the return flight as the forecast was again horrendous with high winds, storms, people in Norfolk evacuating their homes,  the full malarkey. I experienced torrential rain hammering on the window of my bedroom and the rattling of shutters which, disturbed my night’s sleep and I awoke in a sweaty state of fear, because of the weather not because it was a trip with Ryanair. Luckily for me it must have blown itself out as the flight was again smooth and incident free. I really must get over my dread of flying, but I think it will stay with me forever. It began after a bad experience about 30 years ago landing at Hong Kong airport (the old one). The plane rocketed around all over the place, I was frozen with fear, my head pushed into the back of the seat in front and two, yes two gin and tonics, one in each hand held high. I couldn’t drink them.  My husband asked the hostess if they could give me something which they kindly did, unfortunately it didn’t work until we’d landed and I then fell asleep in the taxi, missing all the sights on the way to the hotel.  It didn’t help being told afterwards that Hong Kong airport had been on number 1 alert and I think we were the last plane to land before they battened everything down and closed the airport!

I’m not so scared that I can’t fly at all, I know I have to if I want to travel, but when I look around at my fellow passengers they always look so casual and relaxed…but… are they?