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.

coffeeinsquare

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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Olive Harvest…

olives

This year has seen a bumper olive harvest. The trees were laden with so many olives that sometimes they looked like bunches of grapes. To those of you who have never picked olives and imagine it’s living the dream – it’s not. But having said that, the first two weeks, with help from friends, the sun shining and the trees of a reasonable height then yes, it is magical. But it’s not so great by the time you get into week four.  The friends have gone home and you’re left with a hardened core of pickers. The weather has cooled as much as the enthusiasm, only the big trees are left to pick and each one taking up to two and a half hours with four people picking. One tree yielded 140 kilos…Amazing. Not as much as this one though – largest olive tree in Italy . The Man thought there was a bigger one in Sicily, but I can’t find that. If you know about it please tell us.

14boxes

14 ten kilo boxes from one tree!

Don’t ever ask The Man to cut your hair – if the way he prunes an olive tree is anything to go by then you would be lucky to be left with a strand or two.

From the lips of the local farmers, there’s a great deal of advice about planting, pruning, picking and pressing olives. It’s always contradictory advice too, one man telling you one thing and his friend/wife disagreeing. We’ve listened to it all, The Man and I. We’ve read books and researched the Internet, basically you end up doing your own thing and for us that can’t have been bad because – friends and family, we’ve picked tons of olives (3 tons in fact) and consequently many litres of oil this year. It is certainly worth the hard work.  I have never tasted any oil so delicious as the freshly pressed virgin oil from the newly picked organic olives. We’re not registered organic but the trees are not treated in anyway. They grow and flourish, only by drawing nourishment from the rain and sun… and a bit of love of course.

Before I came to Italy I had no idea that olive oil could be so good. It’s labour intensive to harvest and as The Man always points out, when you buy olive oil from the supermarkets for under €10 a litre then it cannot be good stuff.  There has been much controversy in the press about big oil companies cheating and mixing the oil but I don’t know enough to go into all that here.  All I know for certain is that our olive oil is wonderful.

oliveoil

Fresh green beautiful oil….

Olivespastavino will be going to England in the New Year so if you’re good to me and I bump into you, then maybe you’ll get a drop or two.

coffeetime

Coffee time in le Marche sunshine in November !

By the way, there’s a great deal of talking goes on around each tree during picking and I’m tempted to make notes or record the conversations because they are so diverse. Subjects range from basic recipes, shopping, best and worst restaurants, expats you love or hate, religion, politics, healthcare in Italy v other countries, tax systems… I could go on forever and so did some of the discussions. I’ve taken to sitting on a box while I lovingly strip the olives from the branches either with a rake or my gloved hands listening with interest to those declaiming and joining in as and when I can – I’m not so good in the sport category but streets ahead in the useless bits of information section.

 

olivespastavinopicking

Stripping the cut branches of their olives. I’m standing up, but only for the photo.

Crikey! It’s Cricket…

There’s something strange happening in Monte Giberto, a little town close to Petritoli, on the occasional Sunday morning. Men running about shouting ‘howzat’ and ‘LBW!!’

One of the teams...

One of the teams…featuring the youngest and the oldest..

A young (ish) enthusiastic Englishman with a place here in Italy has decided it’s time to get the Italians into…pads, boxes and leather balls.

It's not meant to protect your nose from the sun Luigi!

It’s not meant to protect your nose from the sun Luigi!

I’m not really au fait with cricket terminology, ‘silly mid-off’, ‘flipper’, ‘maiden over,’ etc., and these are just smattering of what is indeed another language and I’ve got enough trouble learning Italian!

I Piceni is the name of the ancient people who lived in the area of Le Marche before being pushed out by the Romans.  It’s also the name of a restaurant and a few other local places no doubt but now the name is being associated with the latest craze…Cricket… it’s not a game the Italians are familiar with but they are putting their energies into team training, turning up on a Sunday morning to learn batting, bowling and fielding skills. It’s a lot of fun and at the end of the session there’s Pimm’s and cake…(homemade of course!)

Home Made Cake...

Home Made Cake…

There are, among the players a few experts, but the team changes every practice, some join some leave. But Dario, Ian and Francesco and a couple of others whose names escape me, are there every time.

Action Bowling from Dario

Action Bowling from Dario

The Man did attend, once and showed great wrist action and a true skill in ‘spin bowling’ but sadly his shoulder was painful; and I heard ALL about that; for at least a month afterwards. Will he give it another try? I think he’ll probably stick to cycling…We’ll have to wait and see…

The Man...

The Man…

At the moment the team is still in its infancy but watch this space to follow their progress and perhaps before long I’ll be blogging about their first match. I did notice that The Vatican had a cricket team but I think perhaps Rome will be a little too far for I Piceni to travel at the moment – sponsorship could be a problem. Perhaps the Vatican could travel over this way? Except the team don’t have a home pitch…yet…apart from Luigi’s tennis courts.

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Enthusiastic Founder of I Piceni (at least I think it is but it's hard to tell under the regalia)

Enthusiastic Founder of I Piceni Cricket (at least I think it is but it’s hard to tell under the regalia)

Walking…is good for you and for the dog but the cat will give it a miss thank you very much…

shadow of my former self

All this walking…will I ever be a shadow of my former self?

As you may know I tried to keep fit by using the gym for a few weeks but sadly (and you told me so) I didn’t keep it up. I found the, getting in the car, driving to the gym, working out etc., all a bit too much. It also made my elbows and knees really ache and I felt 103 instead of 36 (I know the numbers might be the wrong way round!!) We live in such a beautiful area and on the whole the weather is clement so the ideal exercise is to walk. The Man prefers a bike and he has got me into cycling, just a little bit, but I don’t like the hills, more about bike riding next post.

We invited Mickey to join us but he preferred to stay at home.

We invited Mickey to join us but he preferred to stay at home.

I try to do a good walk at least three times a week and this morning I set off for Montevidon Combate and back which is about 7k in total. I know this because I use an App on my phone which gives me all the  information. walkingwell Jpeg trots along just in front of me stopping every now and then for well…you know…the things dogs do when they go for a walk…but her meandering on the verges makes us a bit slow – so the App tells me. Of course I stride out as much as possible in between intermittent pauses. When we get to Montevidon we take a break and if the café is open I have a cappuccino con orzo, (its made from barley but don’t ask me how)  I’m not too keen on coffee. I actually took a croissant this morning too, in sympathy with another blogger Here’s to Appetite who would definitely encourage the taking of food during breaks. capcornetto

Jpeg behaving well

What an incredibly well-behaved dog!

It’s a lovely walk and this morning was no exception. Above my head the sky was blue and in the distance it was just a little hazy over the mountains. I tried to be more observant of my surroundings as I walked, appreciate the views and just…enjoy.

Blue Skies

Blue Skies

flowershop

Ikebana – The Flower Shop

The route out of town takes me past the flower shop and the Venetian house which is being renovated, it’s close to the theatre. Then I pass the Petritoli cemetery, which is on the outskirts, a tradition that dates back to the Roman times, I believe. They always took the dead outside the city walls to bury them. venetianbuilding and theatre

Petritoli Cemetery

Petritoli Cemetery

Mountain Views

Mountain Views

The walk out, is all uphill but only a slight gradient – total elevation 80m – according the App. The higher I get the further I can see. Although not crystal clear this morning the Sibillini to the west, or is it the north? They seem to move as I walk…Conero and the sea to the east…yeah I’m pretty sure that’s right.

meeting the combine and tractor

I saw a combine harvester that was off to cut sunflowers, I met some horses, I could see the sea in the distance. Along the way I glimpsed lizards darting for cover, birds in the hedgerows and on the wing.  All very back to nature….

myfriends the horses

Horses enjoying the morning sun

The best thing of all?  As people drove past several of them tooted their motor horns, waved and shouted, ‘Buongiono!’ or ‘Ciao Ninette!’ or even ‘Ciao Jpeg!’ How lucky to be walking on a warm October morning, stunning views and with so many people making me feel safe and at home.

montevidonbytree

Love you Le Marche… only thing is, miss my family and wish they could visit more often. Not too often mind!

Here's looking at you...Jpeg is still not great at the selfies but better...

Here’s looking at you…Jpeg is still not great at the selfies but getting better…

Petritoli - my home town.

Petritoli – my home town.

Fabulous Food From Near and Far….

The Bowling Alley ready for action. Photo courtesy Francesa Amurri

The Bowling Alley ready for action. Photo courtesy Francesa Amurri

26th July 2014 was the date for the annual International Supper in Petritoli when all the stranieri (foreigners) living in the town, make a dish from their own country and bring it for others to share. There are over twenty different nationalities her in Petritoli which has a little over 2500 residents. (Correct me if I’m wrong please).
This year chose to make Coronation Chicken, but first I had to Google the recipe as I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. I discovered that the dish was invented by Constance Spry and that It was a long and quite complicated recipe starting with braising the chicken in a well seasoned and herb/spice filled stock, allowing to cool, removing the flesh then covering it in a sauce made from curry spices, apricot and cream…no hint of mayonnaise, raisons or almonds! Well, blow that for a laugh. I decided just to buy a cooked chicken and use mayonnaise with curry powder and my homemade apricot chutney. The result was delicious and the dish was gobbled up in no time at all. (I did feel a bit of a cheat though).

Coronation Chicken (my version)

Coronation Chicken (my version)

We had some Swedish guests staying, Stina and Thomas, and I invited them to join us and to make a contribution to the supper. Of course, they made meatballs and brought herrings in a mustard sauce and soused herrings together with redcurrant sauce. They also brought a packet of Swedish biscuits that were a bit like Rivita but very much tastier and not at all like cardboard. I marvelled at how they managed to prepare everything and then they let me in on their secret, ‘We went to Ikea,’ said Stina conspiratorially and laughed. Who could blame her, why go to too much trouble when you’re on your hols?

Usually the event is held in the open air in the BorgoTrento a pleasant level road leading to the park, but this year the weather was a bit suspect to so we transferred to the local bowling alley. That is a large covered building where people play bowls, as opposed an American bowling alley. To be honest I’m not sure exactly what kind of bowls they play there.

John Healy

John Healy – photo courtesy Francesa Murri

The rain did come down, thunder roared and the lightening flashed. What a good job we were all inside. They had hired the services of one John Healy to sing for us. He did a sterling job giving us renditions of some great songs including a couple of Irish ballads. The problem for the poor guy was that every time he got into the swing of his act a bouncy Italian woman who was the compèrie for the evening, interrupted him to make some announcement or other…I think he began to despair and wonder why on earth they had hired him!

The evening ended with the compulsory raffle but this year, thank goodness, only three hampers up for grabs. Last year there were about 50 prizes and the raffle went on for an hour and a half!

The Man had a very hard task, I felt so sorry for him. He was asked to sit on the judging panel and rate the desserts. I don’t know how he managed it, twelve samples of delicious puddings from different countries. He wasn’t too impressed with the jelly, but his vote went to the baklava from Albania. I THINK that might have been the overall winner but these things are always so confusing at an Italian event!

Dessert Judging

Dessert Judging

Gym…Grimace…Go for Gold!

I chose these because they went with my outfit!

I chose these because they went with my outfit!

Rejected these because they didn't match my outfit.

Rejected these because they didn’t match my outfit.

I bought the new shoes! I have all the gear including the water bottle and I am now a keen member of the gym or palestra as it’s called in Italian; well I’m a member anyway.

I told my daughter I was going to the gym…’but you hate the gym’ she quipped. I still hate it but needs must. I managed to cajole a friend into going with me – or was it the other way round? We decided that if we committed together we’d be less likely to pull out. She does have about 20 years on me so I’m trying very hard not to be competitive because obviously she’s going to be able to do more than me, more quickly than me and will be fitter than me in a shorter time. Maybe I should stick to being artistic? Too late now…I’ve signed on the dotted.

My Friend's arms, she didn't want her photo taken

My Friend’s arms, she didn’t want her photo taken..you can see she’s younger than me though!

It’s not a bad little set up in Valmir, Petritoli’s valley town and the closest gym to home. Payment was attractive, €25 registration and a special offer of €140 for five months.

Matteo (photo to follow if he allows it) helped us with the registration form, or should I say we helped him interpret the English and Scottish names and places of birth. In Italy it is a standard question to ask not just for your date of birth but also place of birth and they don’t just want England they want the place, ‘Ux-bri-dge’ I repeat for the fifth time, they’ve never heard of it, can’t pronounce it and I cannot imagine why it is so important. You often have to include your Codice Fiscale in any form filling. It’s like your National Insurance number, how many people in England carry that information around with them I wonder? You must carry documents with you in Italy, your ID card and your Tessara Sanitaria (health card with your CF on it). If you don’t have a card then you have to have on your person the tatty piece of paper with your number on it given to you by the local council office. It’s tatty because bits of paper do get tatty when carried constantly in a wallet or handbag.

Anyway, back to the gym. Matteo (photo to follow) showed us around all the equipment, which looked to me a bit like medieval torture apparatus or sci-fi dentist chairs or even birthing beds. I think he felt sorry for us because he took us under his wing and gave us the personal trainer bit for the first two sessions making sure we didn’t hurt ourselves on the machines or kindly giving us some horrendously horrible floor exercises for toning up parts of me that frankly I had forgotten I had!

Thighs and Bums....

Thighs and Bums….

There are only two running machines and these are very popular. We discovered after only one session that there is a rush to grab one of theses as soon as the doors of the gym are open for business. It’s bit like the sun beds on the beach; you notice there is a towel thrown over the handle, bagging the machine while the owner pops off to do something else.

Dentist Chair...

Dentist or Birthing Chair…

Having shown us the ropes, Matteo (photo to follow) is there to guide us and keep an eye on what we’re doing, I’ve manage to watch him prowling the gym and when I think he’s coming close to me I quickly switch up the resistance on what ever machine I’m working on so he thinks I’m being good. I know, I know….only cheating myself but this WAS just the first week after all!

Weights...obviously

Weights…obviously..oh and my foot.just to prove I’m there. 

Top Coat, Top Designer and Top Tailors….

Been a while since I blogged. I don’t like January but it’ll soon be over, tomorrow in fact.

I am quite busy with my writing at the moment doing a memoir writing course with Fish Publishing…watch out friends and family, you’d better be nice to me or else! I’m also trying to keep up with the Writers Bureau course that I won last November, there’s tons of it and it may take me the whole of 2014 to finish!

A little story about a coat…

In Petritoli there is a euro shop, we call it that because most clothing sold in there costs a euro. The shop is housed in the old cinema, a massive building and the place is crammed upstairs with clothing and downstairs, in the stalls where the seating used to be, is crammed with items of furniture, costing a little more than a euro but not much more.  We have taken advantage of both departments. I’m not sure where the money taken goes, I don’t think it’s a charity shop. There are very few if any   charity shops in this part of Italy. Correct me please if I’m wrong but I’ve never found any.

A couple of years ago I entered the shop to look for a winter coat and found a lovely brown hairy thing for which I duly paid my one euro.

I wore it to travel to our friend’s house near Cortona and when I took my newly acquired coat off she (Linda, sorry, she doesn’t like being called she) exclaimed,

‘Oh you have a MaxMara!’

MaxMara Euro Coat

MaxMara Euro Coat

I was unimpressed, because I didn’t know who that was. I’ve never really been interested in designer labels so haven’t kept up with who’s who. I know about Chanel, D&G and a few others but that’s about it. However, I took great delight in telling her – sorry not her but Linda – that I’d bought the coat for only a euro!

The lining was a bit worn and this year I thought I’d do something about it. Now, here’s the thing, in this little town of Petritoli we have a pair of tailors, husband and wife. So, I went to Fermo to buy new lining material, which cost 6 euros and then took the coat to the shop and asked them to please make a new lining, making sure not to lose the MaxMara label, because now I proudly show everyone my MaxMara one euro coat…not to labour the point.

They did a fantastic job.

Perfect Stitching

Perfect Stitching

When I went to collect it they said…

‘Mama mia! Molto difficile, maniche, tasche, tutti difficili da cucire e tagliare, molte ore di lavoro necessarie.’ which roughly translated means it took ages and we’re going have to charge you a LOT of money.

‘How much?’ I asked.

‘Venticinque’ she shrugged her shoulders and looked apologetic.

Only twenty-five euro! Brilliant. I went back the next day with the money.

‘Trentacinque’ they said, upping the price by 10 euros, I must have looked too pleased the day before.

I think thirty-five euro or should I say thirty-six is a great price for a MaxMara. I’ve googled it and the winter coats retail upwards of £400 each! RESULT!

New Lining…sorry no photo of old one!

New Lining…sorry no photo of old one!

Label still in place

Label still in place