On Friday 4th February 2022 I had my last glass of wine. I had answered a sort of quiz on an internet website Drinkaware — you can see it HERE if you fancy assessing your own consumption — and for the first time, I didn’t cheat with my answers. Sadly, I wasn’t at all happy with the result. You know the sort of thing they ask like, how many units of alcohol do you drink a night, or how many glasses in a week, and a few other questions too. My answers revealed the truth to me, it was a bit of a shock but, I thought that I might be a little alcohol dependent as I reached for the bottle every evening or I was having that extra glass of wine at the end of the night — that I didn’t need etc., — and this was happening all too often.
So I just decided to stop.
It’s been fine, I honestly haven’t missed the alcohol at all. I haven’t missed having a fuzzy head some mornings and I can definitely feel the benefits of living a sober life. It might be sober but it’s definitely not dull. So many people think that if you don’t drink at all then you’re boring. I’d like to think that I would never be considered boring.
We travelled to France for April, May and June, staying in the wine region of Provence for several weeks where in the past I enjoyed many glasses of their wonderful Rosé. But I didn’t even think about it this year.
What I did miss was having a grown-up drink before dinner, or sometimes when I sat down in the evening. However, during the last year, more and more alcohol free drinks have come onto the market. I find I can enjoy a ‘gin’ and tonic or a ‘martini’ and tonic. Gordons, Tanqueray and others are now producing alcohol free gin. Another of my favourite drinks is Atopia spiced citrus. All these I drink with tonic, ice and lemon or cucumber, of course.
This will be my first Christmas without alcohol. I’m not bothered. The Man hasn’t had a drink for over thirty years and it never bothers him. Also one of my sons gave up several years ago, they both drink alcohol free beer – Lucky Saint they say is a good one, but I’m not keen on beer so I’ve been testing out the wines. Nozeco is popular, cheap, about £3.50 a bottle and it’s okay. Noughty sparkling Chardonnay is good, but not cheap, averaging around £9. I’ve not seen any sherry yet…but I keep looking.
I like a drop of mulled wine at this time of year so I bought myself a bottle of low alcohol red wine (0.05%) opened a jar with bags of mulled wine spices in it. I heated the wine with water, an orange, a small spoonful of sugar, and the spice bag, let the whole thing sit on a very low heat for an hour or so and bingo — it was bloody good! When I looked at the spice jar afterwards it said on it, best before October 2011 Horrors! It was sealed, it’s spices, I’ve lived to tell the tale. We went visiting this weekend and I told them about my mulled wine experience, whereupon they produced a bottle of Vintersaga mulled fruit drink from Ikea at £2.95 a bottle, and I have to say that was pretty good too. Only thing is it cannot be bought online so a trip to Ikea looks likely. (See centre photo above).
Have a wonderful Christmas and if you, like me, have given up the alcohol, there is a lot out there to choose from . . .
I arrived at St Pancras from Paris, met up with The Man and we headed to Gatwick for an early flight to Palermo. We stayed at an airport hotel, the Hampton by Hilton. It was an average hotel for bed and board, and the best thing was the short walk from hotel to airport terminal, without having to go outside. We were able to check our bags in from 8pm the night before which allowed us to get up at the last minute and stroll to the departure gate in time for a 7am flight.
Sicily was hot, 30 degrees plus, but a dry heat and very pleasurable on arrival. Collecting the hire car was, – as usual, in Italy – a mission, and then driving it out of its parking space took the skill of a car-contortionist – or just a very good driver (me) with the unnecessary input of a back-seat-driver, (The Man).
We made it to our holiday rental home without mishap, only a slight disagreement with the sat nav we’d taken with us from England, so we resorted to google maps, which I have to say, took us around, for the rest of the trip, without a hitch.
I would like to take you on a tour of ancient ruins and wonderful cities, but, actually, despite good intentions to visit Agrigento, Palermo and possibly Ragusa (of Montalbano fame), we actually ended up staying within the confines of our local area, Scopello. We did manage trips to, San Vito Lo Capo, a beautiful seaside resort, with beaches and port; Trapani, a lovely old town once you find the old town; and, finally Castellmare del Golfo – our closest big town, with a port area, restaurants and shops.
Our house was situated in Scopello, near to a nature reserve, beach and the village of itself, which although touristy, had many local visitors and offered a choice of bars and restaurants. We favoured a bar on the road from our house to Scopello, which had good coffee, great pastries and delicious arancini; a rice ball filled with cheese and ham, or ragu, or anything you like really. Going to try and make them at home sometime.
The pool at the house was amazing…no other word for it…or perhaps ‘painful’ might fit. It was ‘bio natural’ if you just walked in and swam around it was heaven, but it had a sand base, (sandpaper more like) and although it wasn’t deep, some side areas sloped steeply into the pool and it was easy to scrape your toe on the side. (I’m still wearing the plaster). Delightfully, because I didn’t mind them, we were joined by some little frogs — shared pool took on another meaning. We bought appropriate foot wear to deal with the problem. Not sharing a photo!
The Pool, daytime, night-time and one of the dear little frogs.
Our experience of Sicily left me with mixed feelings. In the area where we were, the northwest of the island, its hills and mountains are very dry and obvious fire-burnt. Hardly any green vegetation at all, except on private land where watering night and morning was in evidence. We saw lots of little bush fires, either started deliberately or more likely by a cigarette thrown from a car. The fire engines were constantly on the go. Very close to the house there were blackened tree carcasses and singed olive trees. It must have been scary to be there when it was actually burning. We are used to Italy having lived there for several years, but Sicily was something else when it came to rubbish and drainage. The sides of the roads were littered with plastic bags, mattresses and bin bags full of goodness knows what. The collecting bins overflowing with detritus. There didn’t seem much of an effort for recycling. ‘They’re putting the glass and other recycling bins, out on the 1st October,’ we were told. Not a great deal of civic pride in evidence here.
On the first Tuesday we were there the rain came down – it was heavy when we were driving back from Trapani. The drains were unable to take the deluge, but they weren’t just overflowing they were ‘pumping’ the water out onto the roads…gallons of it. Instead of driving back down the main A187 we were driving down a river. Very scary. It appeared the drains were really only a couple of feet deep and covered with flimsy gratings. I wonder who was in charge of the original job?
For a few days, we were joined by a couple of friends from Le Marche, Italy (where we used to live), John and Tiziana – John cooked a couple of meals for us (Take note The Man!) and Tiziana was an inspiration to me – to take more exercise. I was a tad lazy in Sicily. We both walked down to our local coffee shop, and the men drove down to join us, for The Man to eat proper Sicilian Canolli – but hats off to her…Tiziana walked back up the 2k steep road, and almost beat us home! What a gal! It must be all the crisps she ate. I tried that but it didn’t work.
John and Tiziana
Tiziana Walking (sounds like a song title)
The Man and I in favourite coffee shop
Canolli! – John and Tiziana…Tiziana walking…The Man and I in our favourite coffee shop.
The Local Grocers…wine 2 euro a bottle…it was good too!
I’ll leave you with this…don’t know who won and sorry about the bad language at the very end.
Despite the few niggles, Sicily is a beautiful rugged country and I would definitely go back for a second visit. Next time, instead of lying by the pool all day, taking an occasional dip and reading three books. I will honestly get out and visit the ruins and see more of the country. In the meantime, I start my MA at Exeter, tomorrow, 23rd September. I’ve attended induction day already and I am very excited!
The poor dog has been in and out of the kennels over the last few weeks because The Man and I have been busy, busy busy. He went off cycling in the Pyrenees (I think I told you that) and I went to meet him in Barcelona. I should, of course, have posted about this before now but, life got in the way, as it does.
Barcelona. . . I loved it and cannot wait to go back. Apart from all the beautiful architecture — Gaudi — and the fantastic food — tapas. I loved our hotel which had a roof terrace with a swimming pool — well more of a plunge pool really, but it was fandabulous!
Hotel Roof Terrace and View of Cathedral
We visited Gaudi’s house, and it was much smaller than I’d imagined and internally quite understated, which is surprising considering the decorative nature of most of his work. The furniture was ergonomic and modern. What a man! The gardens were beautiful but swarming with tourists — Yes, I know we were tourists too! We took a taxi to the house, which was just as well because it was all uphill and several kilometres. But, we walked back to the Sagrada Famiglia.
One of several Viaducts in the grounds
Some of the furniture
Click on Picture to see Caption
It was a hot, long walk and I needed a drink and something to eat. I ordered a Sangria as I thought I should try one but, I didn’t specify the size. Big mistake.
I assumed it would be a wine glass full. How wrong I was. I did my best but gave some away to the chap on the next table and left a quarter in the bottom. It cost 18euro as well!
I previously booked tickets, for the Sagrada Famiglia, which was a good idea — the place was packed with tourists, but that didn’t detract from the splendour of the building. I have visited many churches and cathedrals, and often it’s pretty much, same old, same old, but the Sagrada was a new experience. The light entering the nave through the stained glass windows was breathtaking. The shape of the roof, the sheer individuality of the architecture — unbelievable.
On one day, we took the tourist bus — what a good idea. Sitting on the top of a bus, with our earphones plugged in, able to relax and take in all the sights. By far the best way to see a city. Past La Pedrera Apartment block. World-famous, need I say more, except that apparently, it’s impossible to have bookshelves in them because of the ‘wobbly’ walls.
La Pedrera (from the bus)
The bus tour took a couple of hours and went out of the city to the Olympic Village from 1992. Around the Port and through the main city areas. I didn’t take many photos because I was too busy looking.
Bus Trip Views (I’ll try harder next time)
We visited the Boqueria Market, which was impressive by size, the vast amount and the diversity of food, but we weren’t impressed with the restaurants and bars there. However, we discovered the Santa Caterina market quite close to the Cathedral. It wasn’t as big as Boqueria but on the side of it was a great tapas bar, Cuines. Can’t wait to go back!
More Market Food
Cuines at Santa Caterina Market
We did visit the famous old Els Qatre Gats where Picasso, Gaudi, Hemmingway and probably many other artists, writers and musicians took their refreshment in their day. It is easy to imagine them all meeting and discussing various art fomrs, from the décor and arty atmosphere of the place. But the food? The service? Not impressed. Expensive and the meat was tough. The piano player was little better than Less Dawson and he wasn’t trying to be funny! We won’t go there again but we can tick the box.
Els Quatro Gats…sadly no photo of the piano player.
Our favourite eating place was Alcoba Azul – we went twice. (I knew it was going to be good because my daugher recommended it and honestly she it very particular about restaurants. Thanks Emily.) A fantastic, crowded, buzzy atmosphere with locals and tourists together. Excellent service even though the place was busy. The tapas food delicious — we couldn’t decide what to eat so ordered far too much. The waitress from Italy couldn’t do enough for us…Sara. You could also eat out in the small square. It’s a tucked away place, not easy to find but worth it.
Alcoba Azul and Sara (We’ll be Back)
Next blog post — RNA Conference… watch this space.
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…
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!
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!
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.
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, Roséwine, sardines in a tin, pudding!
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.
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!
The Bunny Cake in Dorset before Transportation and a Few Final Additions..
The Bunny Birthday Cake
I said I’d make the birthday cake, how foolhardy am I?
‘A number one or a bunny?’ I had to give it a try.
I chose the bunny and forged ahead, feeling quite inspired…
Number one, would’ve been, a piece of cake…’scuse the pun, I’m tired.
Four sponges I made altogether, two chocolate, and two quite plain
The sizes seemed to be slightly off, though the baking tins were the same
I cut them down and shaped them, being careful as I went
And fixed them together with icing and jam, hoping that would act as cement
It sat in the fridge ‘til morning, when the next phase could begin
I needed a layer of icing, should it be think or should it be thin?
The shop bought fondant was perfect, it was quite therapeutic to play
Rolling and shaping, cutting and making – the highlight of my day
I wanted to make some carrots for the dear little bunny to nibble
But no orange colouring could be found…not even a tiny dribble
I mixed the pink and yellow, but that was awfully pale
Perhaps this bunny could be eating a healthy piece of kale
The bunny’s hind feet didn’t look right – fat and rather heavy
They could belong to a monster, or a mini sized, white-haired yeti…
An attempt to shape the lop ears, was an impossible task I found
Except for his tail, I should have put, the whole bunny, right under the ground!
In the end the cake was presentable, you could say a bit of a winner
The one-year old really loved it – and the four-year-old ate it for dinner
From the front he looked delightful, with two orange carrots to boot
From behind, he was giving two fingers up…so perhaps not quite so cute!
The Hotel Taken from the pool and Reid’s Tea Terrace
We have just returned from an amazing ten-day holiday at Reid’s Hotel in Funchal Madeira. It was a holiday of a lifetime, (apologies for the cliché).
We should have been travelling to Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, but after a busy 2016 I just couldn’t face the lengthy flights, but, we wanted a little bit of winter sun so ended up in Madeira, spending about the same money as a two-month vacation in the Southern Hemisphere! However, I’m not sorry.
The hotel did not disappoint and the room with a promised view of the sea, was spacious, with a desk and two armchairs as well as an enormous bed. A luxury marble bathroom and separate WC. I loved it! Reid’s has been around for 125 years and the atmosphere is unique. Photographs of rich and famous people who have visited in the past are kept in glass cases in a large walk-through lounge which joins the old hotel to the new bit (you can’t tell the difference between the two).
Room with a View…and early morning sun…
The gardens at Reid’s are tropical and lush with paths and seating areas throughout. I cannot emphasise the beauty of the place enough. The staff at the hotel were friendly and rushed about attending to our every need and appeared to enjoy their job. I don’t generally like being waited on, but they made me feel as though it was no trouble at all and that they genuinely wanted to help make our holiday the best it could be. On the tables by the pool there were little buzzers that you could use to call a waiter.
The Buzzer or Call Button…
It took me about half an hour to pluck up the courage to ring it one morning, as it seemed such a decadent thing to do, but when the smiley waitress arrived, happy to serve me with a cocktail and a sandwich all my concerns vanished. Other guests were similar to us. I had expected a lot of stuck up toffs but on the whole they were ordinary people enjoying spending their well-earned money. There were of course a few whose opinions and demands could be heard above all others. But, as one waiter told us, ‘We learn to be just friendly enough and we respond to how we are treated, if the person doesn’t smile or speak well to us, then we serve them but we don’t make good conversation. We leave them alone and give them the bare minimum.’ Most of the older staff have been with Reid’s for many years, over twenty at least, which has to be a good sign. Although the hotel was originally family owned, it is now in the hands of Belmond (new branding for Orient Express) but, essentially, the atmosphere remains that of a family run business. That is probably the secret of its success. A grand hotel which feels like home from home.
A little slide show for you….
We didn’t manage to take a basket sledge because by the time we had reached the top of the hill on the cable car it was too late…another time perhaps.
The breakfast was the best spread I have ever seen in a hotel, there was literally everything you can imagine, the choice was unlimited…fresh fruit, cereals, bread, croissants, pastries, cheese, ham, smoked salmon and other fish, plus bacon, eggs, vodka and champagne, etc., there was literally everything you could wish for.
Amazing Tea on Reid’s Tea Terrace… (oh and we also had scones). By the way, the little round brown cake at the back with an almond on the top I believe is a Madeira Cake…they don’t have anything like the pale lemon flavoured cake that we know as Madeira…how about that?
I have been thoroughly spoilt and The Man was responsible. We did attend the fitness centre (him everyday and me for seven out of the ten) and tried only to eat breakfast and lunch or breakfast and dinner never the three. On two occasions we ate breakfast and then a Reid’s tea. We walked from the hotel to Câmara De Lobos, about 7.5k…we got a taxi back then I went swimming and The Man went to the gym. Câmara De Lobos, was a place often visited by Churchill where he sat and painted the little fishing village. He also stayed regularly at Reid’s with Clementine, I believe.
Câmara De Lobos – Churchill’s Favourite Village on Madeira (so we’re led to believe…)
Random Snippets about Madeira…
It’s an island in the Atlantic approximately 1000k South of Portugal and close to 600k from the North African coast.
Over the Sea and Far Away…Madeira sits in the Atlantic…
It has several micro climates so you cannot easily predict the weather but it is warm most of the time. We experienced between 13 and 23 degrees for our ten-day stay. Rain in the morning and sun in the afternoon or vice versa. Five of our days were sunshine all the way.
Bananas grow everywhere.
Bananas – taken through the mini bus window…hence the reflection
Sugar Cane also grows in Madeira
Espada (pronounced ESHPAADA)is the local fish and it is not pretty . Apparently it looks a bit like an ugly eel. We were told that it is line fished from more than 2000 metres deep in the sea around Madeira and that when it is pulled up the pressure causes the fish to burst so that all the innards come out negating the requirement to gut and clean the thing…sounds disgusting doesn’t it? You eat it pan-fried with banana, if you want to have it in the traditional way.
Limpet Rice served with Espada and Banana…
The poncha drink is local rum, honey and lemon… (It tasted a bit medicinal I think)
Tea at Reid’s hotel is a must for any tourist.
Poncha…as drunk by me…
Madeira has the highest cliff in Europe and you can stand at the top of it and look down through a glass platform.
It’s a Long Way Down…
There are Levada (irrigation channnels) walks that can be taken but we didn’t go on this occasion, but if you want to see more look here
Somewhere in this photo is a Levada Walk…I know because our guide Christina said so…
A replica of Christopher Columbus’s ship the Santa Maria is moored in Funchal and does daily trips out to sea…not sure it’s entirely propelled by sails now though….
Painted Doors in Old Funchal Town….
There was so much to see and do in Madeira, we merely covered a few of them. A day trip out took us to the North side of the island and the weather was very changeable from wild, windy, misty and wet…to sunny and bright, although the sea remained monstrous.
Changeable on the North Coast…these photos were taken less than ten minutes apart.
One of very few places on the list for a return visit…Have you been?
There’s nowhere better than the English countryside in the summer when the weather is good and in Dorset, at the moment, the sun is shining and the breeze is warm. My friend Jan from Bristol, came to stay for a night while The Man was away visiting London including a quick visit to Brand’s Hatch with FMS racing.
We decided to visit Forde Abbey near Chard, which I’ve been itching to visit since we first arrived in Dorset. Originally a Cistercian monastery and dissolved by order of Henry VIII in 1539, the estate has changed hands many times over the years. The first private owners were the Prideux family in 1649 and the design of the house and gardens have been added to and altered over the years. We took a walk around the impressive gardens commenting on what a pleasure it was to be able to walk on the well groomed grass and appreciate the fantastic herbaceous borders. They were full of multitudinous colours, scents and a variety of flowers too numerous to mention (actually I hadn’t a clue what many of them were, but let’s not go there). I have only recently become interested in plants and flowers as we do have a small but attractive cottage garden with lawn and flower beds. This year has been a bit of a discovery waiting to see what came up but I did plant half a dozen roses, some of which are turning out to be wonderful and a couple that have been drowned out by some enormous perennial dahlias … at least I think that’s what they are. Any gardening tips would be most welcome.
Hard to tell the difference between my garden and Forde Abbey really…(NOT)
There is something about water that is mesmerising and I love rivers, streams, the sea, in fact water in any form. Strange, because I’m not good in boats and I’m not a great swimmer, I suppose I just love being nearby this basic element. At Forde Abbey we sat for a while by the Long Pond and watched the magnificent Centenary Fountain on Mermaid Lake close by. The fountain was installed in 2005 to celebrate 100 years of ownership by the Roper family. It is the tallest powered fountain in England reaching 150 ft. They don’t have it running permanently but for about fifteen minutes several times a day.
The Centenary Fountain
The Long Pond
After our tour of the garden we entered the house via the Grand Hall. There was an overwhelming smell of beeswax and carpets, not unpleasant at all but evoking memories of my childhood when I took ballet lessons in an old mansion in Eastcote Middlesex. Forde Abbey is not an enormous house and not at all museum-like, but it does have some great pieces of old furniture and several bedrooms with four poster beds and grand soft furnishings. Jan and I decided we could easily live in the place – for a couple of weeks anyway, but after that it might be a bit difficult just sitting and sewing samplers and not doing the odd job around the house or cooking the meals. Actually Jan said she would be quite happy not having to think of what to cook for dinner every day, but I pointed out that she’d probably still have to think of meal plans but then leave it to someone else to prepare, which would suit me!
Front of the House
It wasn’t hard to imagine life for the women in the families who had lived in the house in the past. We could visualise them strolling across the lawns with lace parasols keeping their delicate fair skin from burning in the mid afternoon sun. From one smaller bedroom at the back of the house, I could picture a young seventeen-year old girl in the 19th century, sitting on the deep wooden window sill gazing down to the kitchen garden below and eyeing the muscular, tanned figure of a young gardener, possibly stripped to the waist…Mills and Boon here I come!
The Kitchen Garden and Back of the House
Forde Abbey has a ‘pick your own’ farm about a mile or so from the main house and grounds so we jumped in our cars and headed off to gather some fruit for jam. Sadly, the strawberries had come to an end but there were plenty of raspberries, if you looked for them.
‘Lots of people don’t bother but if you lift up the branches you’ll find loads underneath’ suggested the girl at the farm shop and she was right. ‘Walk right down to the last two rows’, she added.
It was a fair way to walk but not for hardened pickers like Jan and I who have, for the last few seasons, spent our time in October picking olives. Raspberries are a bit easier and obviously we could just harvest what we wanted with the added bonus of being able to eat them as we went. Definitely something you cannot do with an olive!
Oops…forgot to mention that we had a lovely lunch in the cafe, at Forde Abbey, jacket potato for me and quiche for Jan with salad…all from kitchen garden. We looked but sadly we never saw any young, muscular gardeners…I think they keep them hidden from visitors. 🙁
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.
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.
View over Santa Maria Di Leuca
view over Di Leuca
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.
One of the many large olive groves
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.
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.
Santa Maria Al Bagno
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?
The Bride and Groom
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?
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.
The famous Bridge of Sighs…
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.
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.
Gondolier checking smart phone
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.
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!
Small canal on The Lido
View from The Lido towards Venice
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.
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.