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!

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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!

Note 16…Dog Names…

Jpeg in Dorset January 2017 – 8 years old this March (or thereabouts) 

‘What’s your dog’s name?’ asks a stranger.
‘Jpeg,’ I reply.
‘What? Like the file name?’
‘Yes,’ I say.
‘How did she come to be called that?’ they ask, with a laugh and sometimes a scoff.

If I have time I tell them…

In 2009, our second summer in Italy, we were preparing a float for the Festa Delle Cove – the festival of corn (like harvest festival) read more here. We were sitting, with friends on a load of straw and picnicking outside our uninhabited and unrestored farmhouse. Along the road, and in through the open gate came three dogs, a brown one, a black and white one and a little sandy coloured puppy. They hung around for a while, ate a few titbits (yes titbits, not tidbits, that’s American apparently, although equally correct). When full, they wandered off into the afternoon sun the same way they’d arrived. A few hours later, the puppy returned alone and was determined to stay. We think the other two dogs might have been her parents and recognised a couple of suckers so sent her back in the hope she would be adopted and no longer be their responsibility.

At the end of the day, we packed up and left to go back up to town and the puppy was still there. ‘If she’s still here tomorrow I’ll think about keeping her. She is so sweet.’ I said. I should add here that I had mentioned, several times over the previous couple of years that I would NEVER have another dog.
Next morning, she was gone, and I was relieved until I saw her sitting on the doorstep of the house at the top of the road. I spoke to our Italian neighbours, ‘Oh, she’s yours? I’m so pleased, I thought she was lost.’
‘No, she’s not ours, I’m taking her to the Comune later today. She’s a stray.’
‘Oh, what will they do with her?’
The neighbour indicated his answer by making a slicing movement with his hand across his throat.
‘No! That’s awful. Please don’t do that. Give me until tomorrow morning to think about it, I didn’t want another dog, but…let me think please…I just have to speak to my other half.’
The neighbour shrugged and agreed, but only for one day, he had to get rid of her the next day.

We went to the bar that night and sat around outside drinking wine and talking, as you do and I told one of our English friends about the little lost puppy.
‘You must keep her Ninette, there’s no question about it. What does she look like?’ This lady was a confirmed dog lover as were most of the people around the table but they weren’t rushing to offer the stray puppy a home you’ll note.
‘Wait a minute, I took some photos today, I’ll go and get one,’ I said and ran home, printed off a photo and scooted back down to the café. (I can’t believe that in 2009 I was still taking all my photos with a camera not a phone…?)

‘Here she is,’ I said and presented the paper to the table and they handed it round with ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’.
‘Oh look,’ says The Man, ‘It’s Jpeg, see? It says so at the bottom of the page.’
I took the print and yes, that’s what it said under her lovely photo.
JPEG1000236 (see below)

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We kept the puppy, obviously, and the name stuck, she suits it and we like it. I don’t like dogs with ‘people’ names although some are okay. Jpeg is perfect…well, her name is anyway! You can see from the photo her skin was in a terrible condition, she had tics, fleas and goodness know what else. She was very quiet and listless most of the time, really sweet, but she soon perked up and became a bundle of energy needing lots of running and attention! There are a few stories to tell about Jpeg, but I’ll save them for another time.

Tell us how your dog or cat got their name…

Italy September 2009 – skin looking better… Ahh, she was so cute…

Note Number 6…Movin’ and a Shakin’…

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Photo taken from http://earthsky.org

I’m not writing enough at the moment so I’m behind schedule with my 90 notes but I do have a couple of good excuses.  If you’ve seen the Italian news then you will know that last week we had a couple of earthquakes here in Le Marche, 5.5 and 6.1 on the Richter Scale according to some reports.  The first was around 7 in the evening and I was about to jump in the shower when the three-tier Ikea wooden shelf unit began to wobble, the windows shook and rattled and my legs felt the earth move.  It took a few seconds to register what was happening but then I grabbed a towel – to cover my nakedness – and ran down three flights of stairs to find The Man and others in the house on their feet and looking out of the front door and windows.  The Petritolese were out in the streets as quick as a flash. Apparently that’s the right thing to do – or get under a sturdy table.  The shaking passed and we exchanged expletives and other words of comfort before going back to what we were doing before the quake.  It was immediately reported on social media with wild guesses of where, what and when etc., The epicentre was around 40k distant from our town.  It was soon established that this time, unlike the recent earthquake in August, there was some property damage but no casualties. I sent a messages to our children to let them know we were okay and then we all decided to continue with our plans for the evening which was to dine out at the wonderful I Piceni restaurant in Ortezzano.

On the short drive to our dinner destination the rain was torrential, thunder and lightning shook the already nervous dispositions of our Southern Hemisphere visitors, ‘Jeez! What kind of  country are you living in here?’ (say that in an Aussie accent please). Once settled at our table and having acknowledged the recent seismic waves with other diners we tucked into our delicious food and wine and were beginning to completely relax when another quake took hold, this time bigger than the first – and whatsmore we were closer to the epicentre this time.  All the Italians rushed from their dinner tables, the chef came out of the kitchen, ‘Calma, calma, tutta posto…relax, everything will be okay…’ One British chap strolled quietly towards the exit, glass of red wine in his hand, totally unperturbed a true example of British reserve.  This time my legs felt very odd and at the end of the 110 second shake the room seemed to move in a circular motion, the ceiling lamps swaying like spinning plates.  After a while we all went back to our meals and carried on eating and apart from a slightly tense atmosphere we continued on as though this was an everyday occurence.  When home we hit the computers, iPads and mobile phone devices on wifi to find out what we could.  There was a report of only two deaths but some big buildings had collapsed.  The main centres hit were Visso and then Ussita up in the Sibilini mountains. Nobody slept well that night, the after shocks continued and the house shook gently every now and then reacting to the tremours.  It’s now a few days on and calm seems to have set in once more.  The Man looked at the website for earthquakes where he learnt that Italy has something like 27 a day but most are not felt as they are below 2.5. Not sure how I feel about that.

My second reason for not writing is that we are leaving Italy this week to go back to England,  so I have been busy sorting and packing.  Every time, throughout my life, when I make a move I do a big cull of things collected but still, I have a mountain of useless paraphernalia, some of which is impossible to dump – tiny baby shoes, first school blazers, christening outfits etc., I had the help of a friend and we were putting things into piles, keep, rubbish or ‘give it to the poor people!’ which sounded awful but in the town there are big yellow containers where you can place unwanted clothing, blankets, shoes, bags etc., that are too good to throw away.  There are no charity shops here, not that I’ve found anyway and was told I wouldn’t be allowed to transport stuff back to the UK simply to take it to the charity shop.

I began writing this post yesterday afternoon  and this morning we had another earthquake at 7.40am, 30th October.  It was reported at 6.6 or 7.1 depending on which website you looked on. It was pretty scary, we were  in bed at the time, drinking a cup of tea and as soon as the house began to shake we leapt up and legged it downstairs to the ground floor.
‘I’ve got no clothes on!’ shouted The Man.
‘No worries, I’ve got our dressing gowns, I grabbed them as we flew out of the bedroom.’ I called.
On reaching the sitting room the dog looked suitably shocked, probably more by our nakedness that the shaking of the house.  As before, neighbours were soon out in the square, half-dressed or with blankets over their night attire. Being British, we just looked through the window.  They are saying it was the strongest recorded shock in over 30 years and it lasted around 3 minutes.  Three minutes is a very long time to be standing in a house that’s rocking. the pictures skewed on the walls and the lamps hanging outside on our terrace were swinging as though a gale were blowing. My hands shook and I felt queasy and to be honest, for the rest of the day I have not felt 100%.  A friend of mine posted on Facebook that there is such a thing as an earthquake hangover so I guess that’s maybe what I’ve got.

 

 

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I’ll be leaving Italy with mixed feelings, it’s been a great few years and the weather has been very kind to us.  We love the people, the sea and the mountains, but the bureaucracy can get you down a bit…

Salento…sun…sea…

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Beach at Gallipoli

The Man, Jpeg and I took a trip to Puglia. It was a six hour drive down the A14, a piece of cake for hardy travellers like us. I packed sandwiches, drinks and fruit for us and water for the dog. As regular readers know, we like to listen to an audio book and the choice for this journey was Sons and Lovers, by D H Lawrence, read by Robert Powell. I loved it and now want to read the book as I think quite a lot of content may have been cut. Next choice was The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, part 1, by Edward Gibbon read by Bernard Mayes. I’m afraid I was less attentive to this one so drifted in and out, whilst The Man was soaking it all in so I can ask him questions on the subject should I need to…enough said.

We had a little trouble when we got close to our destination as the sat nav said one thing and the directions from the villa owner said another, neither of which, in retrospect, seemed to be that good, but we did eventually find the place and ‘Dave’ not the villa owner but the friendly, do-anything-for-you, man. He was the perfect meeter and greeter, he really couldn’t do enough for us, making sure everything was right for our holiday.

The villa was a typical Pugliese house, white, square building (bungalow I suppose you would say) with a flat roof. Generally, the buildings in Salento have a strong Arabic influence, painted white, some with arched windows and courtyards. Our place had a high wall round part of it and fencing with trees. We could shut Jpeg safely in the shaded garden area at the back of the house when we went out and let her roam pretty much everywhere in the grounds when were home, which was good. But, there wasn’t roof terrace or anywhere elevated from which to view the surrounding countryside. I guess even if there had been there wouldn’t have been that much to see, because Puglia is, for the most part very flat.

The area was very different from how I thought it would be. It was a lot like Spain and although I haven’t been there, I imagine, like Mexico. Maybe it was the ubiquitous huge cactus plants that encouraged my thinking.

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The roads are flat and straight, with extensive olive groves on each side and where the groves are absent then there are small houses or shacks with allotments, fields of crops and also a great deal of wasteland or perhaps it’s more uncared for land, as though at one time there was a lot going on and now it’s just abandoned.  I wasn’t sure what to make of it all that first day.

It was pretty hot, temperatures up in the late 20’s but also very windy. The very bottom of Puglia is called Salento and for the first week of our holiday we covered as much ground as we could, visiting major towns inland and on the coast. Very quickly we decided that for us the western coast, with the Ionian Sea was the most pleasant place to take a dip. Specifially, Pescoluse, where there was a sandy beach and warm clear sea to swim in, sunbeds, a café or two. The eastern coast between Gallipoli and Santa Maria Di Leuca has many sandy beaches and depending on what you want you can take your pick.

I liked the town of Santa Maria Di Leuca, on the very tip of Italy’s heel, land’s end, ‘Finibus Terrae’ . We had a seafood lunch on the seafront, huge grilled prawns and delicious fried mixed fish. After a walk along the lungomare (promenade), a quick and yummy ice-cream stop, we drove up to the point where the lighthouse stood and admired the view down over the town. Lovely place. We returned again the second week.

Otranto is on the east coast. Another lovely town and the town beach was clean enough but didn’t inspire me to swim or even paddle.

We went to Otranto to hire a bike because The Man did not think that the ‘shopping bikes’ available at our villa, were good enough for him. I told him he was a bike snob and he agreed but still wanted to go ahead and hire something better. He wasn’t able to rent a road bike so had to make do with a rather splendid mountain bike. I believe there is some distinction to those who know about these things. For me – I would rather use Shanks’s pony.  (just in case you don’t know the expression).Jpeg and I walked everyday, but it was a bit boring along the flat roads. I did venture into the massive olive groves and allow the dog to run through the trees but it was all too easy to get lost as the paths through the trees all looked the same.

Sadly, the olive trees and some of the fruit trees in the area have fallen victim to a bacterial infection. Many of them look dried up and dying. It seems there has to be a significant cull, which has in part been carried out. But, it is a disaster for the area economically and possibly ecologically. Of course it will change the landscape dramatically.

Lecce is a beautiful town architecturally, but you do have to get right into the old centre to appreciate it, because on the periphery of the city and even immediately outside the centro storico, there are several 1960 concrete monstrosities. Buildings that in my opinion should be razed to the ground. However, in the oldest part of town, walking through the old streets, with the travertine slabs underfoot, one can easily visualize the town hundreds of years ago. But The Man is the historian, not me, so I will just leave you with a few photos.

The second week of our holiday we were expecting my son Joe to arrive. He was flying from Stansted to Brindisi to spend a few days R&R with us, as he had been a bit poorly at the tail end of May and beginning of June. He should have gone to Thailand with his twin brother Wills to celebrate their 30th birthday but, unable to go, Puglia seemed like a good second choice. The flight was after all, only 2 hours 40 mins not fourteen hours – but was it? Here, I insert a warning….do not track your family or friends’ flights on any Internet app… just saying, because…

The trip from our villa to Brindisi airport was about an hour so I thought I would check to see if the flight had taken off on time. On the flightaware website I could see that it had taken off twenty minutes late and had risen to 37,000 feet and was cruising happily. I popped out quickly with the dog, had a bite to eat and then about an hour into the flight I checked again. Imagine my HORROR….when I saw the the plane had made a kind of loop on the graph and then appeared to make a rapid descent dropping quickly on the graph to 3,500 feet and then NOTHING!! Oh my God!… I was speechless.

Conversation,
Me. Err, look at this…do you think there’s something wrong with the app?
TM Well, it could be but I doubt it. There will be an explanation.
Me I’m going to the airport, leaving now. (I could see myself as one of those grief stricken relatives weeping and waiting for news.)
TM I’m coming with you.
Me No it’s fine, I’ll be fine.
TM I’m definitely coming – bring your passport. (this was, he told me later, in case we had to fly somewhere!

We both headed quickly out of the house, a heavy silence between us. Both having awful thoughts but not communicating them. I had already googled, ‘latest news of plane crash; Ryanair; plane lost over Europe; Terrorist on board flight…; etc., etc., But nothing had come up.

About quarter of an hour into our journey my mobile rang and The Man answered it.
‘Yes…okay…where are you now?…still on the plane…on the ground?…okay, don’t worry, we’re on our way to the airport so we’ll carry on and wait…two hours, right, bye.

‘He’s okay, he’s at Frankfurt, the plane was diverted because someone was taken ill on board. They’ll be delayed for a couple of hours…phew…!!!’
I will never track a plane again, too stressful.

Back to Puglia.

 

As mentioned earlier we drove around the whole peninsular of Salento and noticed that many of the towns were run down, particularly in the north-east, with businesses closed up and weeds growing along the pavements and in the gutters. Some were like ghost towns. We asked a few questions and were told that it wasn’t the holiday season yet. Italy goes on holiday in August and maybe the last week of July. But even this didn’t account for the garage closures and boarded up shops. We didn’t think they would ever open and Lecce’s closest beach San Cataldo where everyone is supposed to rush to for the weekend was just a huge empty car park, a closed down amusement centre and a vile looking restaurant. I would love to think that in the middle of August that all is pristine and buzzing…but.

 

Gallipoli is definitely worth a visit. Like many other Italian towns you have to fight your way through the outskirts of trading estates, bad roads and dreadful signage, but once in the old centre it’s a wonderful place. After parking in the massive port car park (free of charge!) we walked up to the town and around the sea wall. The beach was small and frequented by locals. There were many small restaurants to choose from, all serving great seafood so we picked one, sat in the sun (and wind) and enjoyed our lunch before walking around the rest of the town. We met an old local man who told us that he had worked on the cruise ships before retiring and had been all over the world but that Galipoli was his home town and it was the best place on earth to be. ‘Especially for the food!’ he added. I have to agree the food in Puglia was excellent.

 

Agriturismo Sombrino was close to our villa and recommended by Dave (remember him from a thousand words ago?) We visited the place on two occasions, once on a Thursday evening and once for Sunday lunch. The menu was typically Italian, antipasti, (starters) primo,(usually pasta) secondo,(main course) dolce (dessert). On the Thursday we just went for antipasti and primo plus a little fruit and it was all plentiful and excellent. On the Sunday, we decided to go in for the whole damn lot, which at 25 euro a head including wine, water and coffee had to be a winner. The antipasti consisted of 10 different dishes, (fish, cheese, tarts, stuffed mushrooms, peppers, salmon cakes, to name just six) we were already a little full after that but managed the primo, which was, olive leaf pasta with sausage meat and tomato sauce. The shape of the pasta had been invented by the Agriturismo padrona, who told us, ‘ we make this pasta and then the others all copied us, now you can buy it anywhere in Puglia.’ She was not happy about this, you could tell by the head slapping, shrugging of shoulders and the pained expression on her face.

The main course was pork, slow cooked and melt in the mouth, with just a few potatoes. It was the best pork I have ever eaten for tenderness and flavor, but I couldn’t quite finish it – I was stuffed. However, I thought I should make an effort for desert and had some fresh fruit. The Man chose pannacotta which was a mistake because the pannacotta in Puglia is much denser and heavier than in Le Marche. We were full to the brim but guess what?!? At our neighbouring table sat two young people, the bride and groom (gli sposi) from the previous day’s wedding…and,
‘we would be so pleased for you to share some of our wedding cake and a glass of Prosecco…’ Well, you can’t say no can you?

 

I was in a food coma for the rest of the afternoon and evening and swore never to eat anything again for at least four days. Of course that lasted about 24 hours, I mean when you’re on holiday you’ve got to indulge haven’t you?

A little bit of this…a little bit of that…

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I should have written this blog about Venice a while ago…in the middle of May in fact, but as so often happens life and other business gets in the way. My feet hardly touched the ground after our Venice trip as I only had one day at home in Petritoli before rushing back to England for the final show of the Hartley Williamson School of Dance. A North Devon Dancing school that I began over twenty-five years ago and which has been running ever since. When I left the wonderful Maralyn carried on without me and then Davina, a former pupil of ours worked first with Maralyn and carried on to run it on her own for a few years. It was an emotional day with lots of flowers, ballet shoes, tutus and of course tears. But all good things come to an end and we hope all the little ballerinas will find somewhere else to follow their dreams.

Before I go back to Venice I must mention something I forgot to tell you about on our road trip from England to Italy. We went to visit the Bayeux tapestry, a truly magnificent sight and well worth a detour if you’re in the vicinity. They have the whole tapestry behind glass and you follow the story via a recording on a personal handset. I remembered so well being taught in school about this famous tapestry and the killing of Harold with an arrow through the eye. It was amazing to see the REAL thing. Sadly, the weather was atrocious that day so we didn’t really get to see the town at it’s best but I can say the bit we did see made us want to go back one day. Sorry no photos…like I said it was raining, but I have put a link for the museum. Click here

Now to Venice! If you have never been to Venice then it should be on your list of places to go. I have now visited twice and will be happy to return again. You need to get out of the main tourist areas and into the back streets which twist and turn and weave their way over tiny bridges crossing the many small canals that network their way through the town. It’s a place where people live normal lives and go to work. So many tourists, it seems only go to St Marks Square, drink a coffee at one of the famous cafes and queue for ages to go up the Campanile, into the Doge’s Palace or the Basilica…all of these things are great to do but there is so much more to Venice. Also, eating or staying anywhere near this popular area will cost a whole lot more than off the beaten track. It’s the most wonderful city. We travelled this time by train and when you arrive at the station and walk out of the main entrance the first thing you see, apart from a mass of people, is the Grand Canal.

There are no cars, taxis or buses…but there are, of course, plenty of boats! Everything is done by boat so all the services, the police, the ambulances etc., and all the tradesmen travel by boat everywhere. It’s like nowhere else I have ever been. We took the water bus (Vaporetto), you can buy a weekly season ticket for 60 euro which is worth it because otherwise each trip costs €7.50. As the bus is the quickest way to get around then you soon get your money’s worth.The Grand Canal is also serviced by Traghetti, these just cross from one side to the other. They are the same shape as a gondola but have two boatmen on board. It costs around €2 per person.

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A Tragetto

I have never been on a gondola and really don’t wish to. There are so many of them now there are often gondola traffic jams. I think maybe, a hundred years ago it would have been a romantic and inexpensive thing to do but nowadays, it very much a tourist attraction, and I did see more than one gondolier on his smart phone…enough said.

We walked a lot in Venice, mostly around museums. I liked the museum of Modern Art (The Ca Pesaro) which housed some famous works, it gave me a bit of a buzz to see Rodin’s The Thinker and actually touch it, when I had seen it so many times in books and like the Bayeux Tapestry I had been taught about it at school. There were a few modern pieces I couldn’t ‘get’ at all, one that was deliberately unfinished and another which was just a slab of granite on the floor…I’m sure I should understand this stuff but it does nothing for me. I suppose at the very least I’m discussing these pieces!

We did do a couple of touristy things, we took a guided tour to Murano and Burano and I would recommend this to anyone thinking of visiting these two islands. For one thing, if you get a good guide, which we did, then you will learn a great deal about Venice on the boat trips and secondly you will get to visit the glass factory in Murano and watch the masters at work. It was fascinating to watch a ball of hot shapelessness turn into a delicate rearing pony. Most of the glass work on sale at the factory was out of our price range, one beautiful sculpture in the style of Picasso was €28,000 – hey ho…not for us I fear.

Burano is known it’s quaint multicoloured houses and  for it’s lace making which, is sadly now on the decline. There are only a couple of ladies still stitching, it seems the younger generation have no interest in carrying on the tradition. Shame.

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The gorgeous tablecloths and napkins were however, more in our price range so I bought a set plus a table runner. Very pretty. We were told by our guide that the houses were painted different colours so that when the fishermen came home on a friday night, went to the bars and got very drunk they would be able to find their way back to the right house by virtue of which colour it was painted!

 

We took a trip to The Lido and on the boat trip across The Lagoon, (La Laguna) we saw two ships that could not have been more different. One was a beautiful three masted, tall ship, an Italian training ship I believe. It was tied up alongside the Arsenale, it was a sight that draws one quickly back into history and nostalgic for times past. Just after we had passed it by, I turned to look on the other side of our boat and there, I saw it, an absolute monstrosity. A cruise ship looking like a block of flats on the water. It was so big and ugly I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was being guided in by two tugs boats, one pulling from the bow and the other tied to the stern, presumably to keep it on course. It passed us and headed in towards Venice and as I watched it turn the bulk of the ship dwarfed the buildings in St Mark’s Square, in fact the ship blocked our view. No wonder there have been many complaints from the residents of Venice about these cruise ships visiting.

 

The Man decided it would be a good idea to walk the length of the Lido…actually we managed about two thirds of it. I’ve been walking a great deal lately and keep my eye on the ‘steps app’ which told us at the end of the day that we had walked over 23,000 steps!

I LOVED a particular place on The Lido (even though it had cars, buses and trucks on it) We had walked through the main town and out through a bit of an industrial area along the footpath until the footpath no longer existed and then we were walking on the road. I was in the mood for turning around but then we arrived at Malamocco. A gem of a place, away from all the tourists, clean, pretty and a bit like a film set. We found a trattoria for lunch which was busy with local people and a few visitors like us. The waiter was a short older chap with a quick and friendly manner, ‘we got mussels, we got fried fish, we got pasta with fish sauce…’ he actually spoke in Italian though…It was a take it or leave it menu, which we love, so we took it, along with a quarter carafe of white wine for me and a litre of fizzy water for The Man.

At the end of our walk we came upon the Film Festival venue, an ugly looking place…why do the powers that be have to do that? Why could they not have built something classical and attractive instead of a concrete monster? Perhaps I’m a bad judge of architecture…but it wasn’t to my taste.

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The food in Venice was great but expensive even though we ate outside the main tourist areas. I think one can expect to pay between €30 and €50 a head for a decent meal. It was our wedding anniversary one evening, so we felt that splashing out was perfectly acceptable. We arrived at A La Vecia Cavana by accident and it turned out to be one of the best places to eat according to our guide book, (which was ten years old – sorry). I think the reason we liked the restaurant so much was not just the excellent food but the service, our waiter made us feel important and he did all the right things to make sure our meal was the best experience it could be. The walls of the restaurant were covered in photos, some famous people and some family and they had a great piano player which added the final romantic touch to the evening. My mother would have loved it, all the old familiar songs.

One of my sons has an Italian girlfriend and her sister works in a bar in the San Polo district of Venice and after many wrong turnings we eventually found it. It was packed with young local people, not a tourist in sight and we enjoyed a drink for a normal price, a glass of Prosecco and a glass of Crodino for only 5 euro. It was supposedly called La Poppa, but that was one of the problems we had when looking for it, the name was in the process of being changed either from or to La Poppa but no-one seemed very sure. Typically Italian.

I took hundreds of photos of Venice and I would love to upload them all but that could be boring so I’ll leave you with these…

 

We’re now in Puglia so I’ll let you know about this area of Italy in my next post which I hope won’t be too long away.

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.

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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?

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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.

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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! 🙂

 

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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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