It is 31 steps from the sofa in the sitting room to the bathroom upstairs in our cottage. It’s 82 steps from my desk, down the stairs and out to the shed and back to my desk — we have a small garden. How do I know this? Because I have treated myself to a band I wear on my wrist which logs every single step I take. I am trying not to be obsessed but…
The fact is that being a writer necessitates sitting at my desk for a good part of everyday. I do get out for a walk with the dog but I’m apt to cut it short when I’m stuck into a WIP which at the moment is a novel I have been working on for several years and which I am determined to finish editing (for the tenth time) by Christmas.
I am in danger of becoming obsessed with the grey band and black face that sits on my wrist. My 10,000 steps a day goal eats away at me. Whereas before I could tell myself I’d done enough walking for the day, I now find myself running up and downstairs in the evening just to get the steps up to the point where the dear little gadget vibrates in order to congratulate me for reaching the desired walking distance for the day. It flashes at me, and I smile. Happy. It is almost — but not quite — the same feeling as writing The End.
I know it’s doing me good and I’m hoping that the novelty doesn’t wear off too soon because I must confess to being one of those people who can be enthusiastic in phases, but this time I’m going to try and keep it up. I want to lose some weight and ‘walk’ through my seventies with ease. The dog of course, is delighted with the new gadget as I am less likely to cut her walks short to get back to my WIP. Walking in the country lanes and across the fields is much more pleasant than running up and down the stairs in the evenings — at least it is for the moment. I might not feel the same when the weather is less clement.
Now, I’d better get on with that editing if I’m to hit the deadline of completing that novel. Scrivener tells me I’m at 11,022 words edited so far, only another 68,978 to go! I do have the 80,000 words written, I’m just bringing them over from another manuscript and massively editing as I do.
You can just read the title of the book in the screenshot…look out for it in 2022…
Apologies in advance for embarrassing any members of my family with this little post and if you don’t like discussing anything of a delicate nature then don’t read on.
Generally the roads around here are lined with impassable hedges…hmmm
I don’t wish to stir up the gender equality debate, but I’m sorry, it’s a FACT — no fake news on this blog — a man can take a pee in several other places rather than a loo, far more easily than a woman can — and what’s more, it’s accepted.
The pee debate for me began when a male friend of mine (who shall be nameless but lives in Burton Bradstock) posted on Facebook about seeing two woman on a country road squatting down, baring their backsides, to pee on the side of the road. They were, I told him, obviously desperate and he had no idea how difficult it can be sometimes, for a woman to find anywhere to ‘go’. I told him that, when I was out walking the dog, I often found it impossible to find a place where I could hide away and not to be spotted, where there would be enough room etc. If I were a man it would be so much easier. No, stinging nettles to worry about, no panic about snakes, rodents or other small wildlife, that might be lurking in the long undergrowth etc., etc., His sister was with us at the time of this discussion (she shall also be nameless, but lives in North Devon) joined in the conversation and with great gusto said, ‘Oh but you must get a Shewee!’
‘It’s a gadget that you can use to have a wee like a man.’
Well, I thought, I must get one of those. So duly got on to Amazon and ordered one with a carrying box. The first time I used it, it wasn’t too bad, but it did feel very weird and there was some leakage. Also it was quite bulky to carry in my bum bag. I discussed this whole thing with another friend, (who will also be nameless but comes from Bristol). She thought it a brilliant idea for camping, walking the dog and using some unsavoury public lavatories. She of course, because she’s like that, bought a more superior one called a Whizz Freedom. It was pliable and small and comes with a discreet carrying bag rather like a pencil-case.
‘I must have one of those!’ I declared. Quickly ordered on and then I took it out on my next long dog walk.
DISASTER!! I should have practiced with it first as I found it so pliable it wasn’t effective enough and I ended up with wet knickers and wet trousers and I was only half way round my walk! I might as well have just wet my pants! Lesson learnt, I went back to the Shewee so that I could practice with the Whizz Freedom at home.
Alas and alack…today, whilst out on my 6k walk, I inevitably needed to pee after 3k, so I went into my usual hidey-hole, which is through a gate and round the corner a little bit. I stuck my walking stick through the handle of the dog lead, so she was ‘tethered’ so to speak and prepared to pee. A few feet away on the road I had just stepped away from, a woman walked past with a dog that barked at Jpeg, who duly barked back and pulled on her lead threatening to escape! I was interrupted at the most awkward time and yet again had to walk home with my dog walking trousers soggy. I think I’m going to give up and just squat in the corner of the field and hope that the man from Burton Bradstock isn’t lurking somewhere close or out in his car disguised as a driving school instructor!
Jpeg, patiently waiting whilst tethered, it didn’t last…
Lining up the non-alcoholic wines…they’re not bad. Not too sweet. The two on the right I bought from Waitrose and the one on the left from the Co-op (yet to be tested)
I spent from the end of September until Saturday 4th November without a drop of alcohol. When you tell people this the first thing they ask is, ‘do you feel any better for it?’ The honest answer is that I’m not sure, because I think the autumn weather (wet and windy), and preparing myself for the clock change at the end of October…do not bode well for me. I like warm sunshine and dry fields and whilst I love sitting by the fire in the dark evenings, reading a book and watching a film on the telly I find myself feeling ‘wintry’ as in not inspired to do very much but hibernate. Is that a good way to feel? I think not. Something has to be done about it.
I love the wood burning stove…a necessity for hibernating.
Get out and about, visit Bridport, attend some writing workshops, go to the library, walk the dog and don’t succumb to the winter blues. So that’s what I’m planning and have already implemented as far as I can.
First workshop attended was at Waterstones, in Dorchester. Organised by the Dorset Writers’ Network and led by Rosanna Ley. A group of twelve writers of varying experience, spent two hours listening, creating and having fun on the subject of ‘Sense of Place’. Making sure that your writing gets a true picture of where your story is set and bringing reality to the internal and external scenes that you write. I came away feeling inspired and keen to get on with at least one of my half-written novels, so that has to be good. I began reading through a manuscript this morning…or should I say trudging…think I need to make some drastic changes!
We are members of the Bridport Film Society (in fact I’m on the committee, not wanting to boast or anything) so every other Tuesday from now until March we can go and see an International film at the Bridport Arts Centre. This week is is Julietta ‘an exquisite study of a mother-daughter relationship tested though trying times…’ Sounds interesting eh? It’s a Spanish film with subtitles. I know some people hate subtitles but I love them because I love watching foreign films and I hate it when they’re dubbed.
Walking the dog has become something of a difficulty because of the muddy fields when it’s necessary to wear Wellington boots. These are hard to step out in and generally I end up with back ache at the end of even a half-hour walk. My decision is to put on the Wellies in the morning, take the dog to the nearest field, let her run for 5k while I walk for 1.5k then bring her home. In the afternoon I will put on an ordinary pair of lightweight walking shoes, take to the roads and do another 3k. This is my plan but we all know about my plans and how they can change depending on my mood and the weather.
My daughter striding out in the muddy fields last Saturday, complete with baby on her back! Oh to be young again….(she did get wet feet though)
Going back to the alcohol thing, when I did drink that half glass of red wine on Saturday 4th November, it was Ciu Ciu Gotico (if you’re interested) which, usually I adore…I didn’t really enjoy it on this occasion so the other 5 bottles that I brought back from Italy will probably sit on the rack for some time to come. I have found a couple of reasonable alcohol free or de-alcoholised wines and I’m going to stick to them for a while. Although a gin and tonic does sound rather tempting at around 6pm in front of the wood burning stove while I contemplate my next day’s writing challenge.
Watch this space for some Christmas poetry come December or I might record them on my other blog www.shortstorypods.com
Nearly every day I walk with the dog at least 1.5k and today I decided to go a bit further so got The Man to drop me in Symondsbury Village so that I could pick up the Monarch’s Way and walk back to Wooth. I tried measuring it on the map and it seemed to be 8k. It was in fact 7k but felt like 10k. This is because it was cross-country, up and down hills, muddy footpaths and really a bit of a ‘hike’. Nevertheless I enjoyed it and so did the dog.
Centre of Symondsbury Village Where Our Walk Began
I wasn’t sure of where we were going so I did not let the dog off the lead until we were nearly home and in a field that we knew well and no possibility of sheep. Also, I could see no other dogs at all. I have to be a little bit careful with her because she’s a bit unpredictable and although she’s not out to kill another dog, she does like to show them who is boss. A bit like most women I guess. But, it can be a tad embarrassing when she ‘goes’ for them even though it’s all noise and not much else. I tend to warn people who appear with their dear little doggies off the lead and charging all over the place. As I may have said before, at least I can say I’ve got control over my dog (to a degree) whereas they haven’t.
Well Cleared and Signed Bridleway/Footpath (I think this must be a cross-country course too).
This brings me to a little bug bear I have about other owners. We are so lucky to have a multitude of public footpaths in this area and most of them go through farmland. They are often clearly signed with, ‘please keep your dog on the lead’ and I am staggered how many people don’t bother.
This Sign is at Pymore Airport
Unless your dog is highly trained, which is quite rare I think, there is always a risk they will run off through a load of sheep. They also run over newly sown fields and generally run amok. A relation of mine in Buckinghamshire has a farm with public footpaths and he’s forever moaning about the ‘bloody walkers with their dogs off the lead and running all over the place.’ I can understand now exactly how he feels.
View Towards the Sea (left) and View Towards Home (right)
When a loose dog comes hurtling towards me I usually call to the owner and ask them to get them back before my dog decides whether she’s friendly or not. But dogs generally ignore their owners it seems. Secondly I’m fed up with reading signs in villages about ‘clean up’ after your dog, when there is no bin in which to put it when you have collected it. I ALWAYS pickup after my dog even when we’re in the middle of the countryside, if she decides to empty herself in the centre of a public footpath then I don’t leave it for someone to tread in. I have bio-degradable bags which I then bury or make sure I put deep in the centre of a very big hedge. If necessary I will walk with it until I find the right place. Sometimes it’s easy to ‘stick and flick’ to get rid of it. But why? Oh WHY, do people bag it and hang it in a tree?? What is that all about?
Looking Back To Colmer’s Hill – Which was Close to Where Our Walk Began
By the way…on today’s walk I didn’t see any litter, rubbish in the hedgerows, not one bit and I never saw any ominous black bags hanging in trees. So a good morning all round!
I have been trying to walk further with the dog, Jpeg (note number 16 will tell you why she’s called that) and The Man introduced me to Strava. It’s an App you can get on your phone and it’s really for people who run, cycle or swim but, he kept on at me, (as men do) because he uses it for cycling and he was convinced it would get me walking more. So I downloaded it to my smart phone. Strava logs your activity for you, making a little map, it gives you information such as the time you take to cover a kilometre or mile, how far you’ve travelled, etc., etc., Then you load it from your phone onto the Strava website and everyone can see what you’ve done. You get a little ‘personal best’ cup if you walk the same bit of road in a faster time and you can follow people and they can follow you, it’s a kind of Facebook for athletes. I feel a bit stupid on it really because I’m just walking the dog and others are swimming the channel, running 10k and cycling a 100k – sometimes all three in the same day! BUT, it has worked to a certain extent as I now think about how far I’m walking each week and trying out different places to go. So thumbs up to Strava…oh and other people can give you kudos so you feel good about yourself, which is always good for the self-esteem.
Please note the Running shoe on the Icon…I am invariably in wellies or walking boots. See below.
I don’t think Jpeg cares about targets except how many birds she can chase
One of the many, muddy hills I struggle up, fighting against the strava clock ….phew!
I have also been trying to lose weight and get fit after Christmas, along with The Man, who is wanting to do lots of long cycle rides in 2017, some of which will take him over the Alps so he has to be ‘superfit’. Making a note of how much you lose every other day, and writing down what you eat is so helpful. Checking calories – it’s amazing how they add up, 50 here 50 there, soon become 200 or 300. I haven’t got an App for this but I know there are plenty around. But, the diet is going well, I’m 6 pounds down and The Man is 11 pounds down, going on a stone…so happy bunnies all round.
Things we’re not eating right now…
Things we are eating right now…note, no grapes The Man says, “They are sugar bombs!”
My other aim is to finish this novel ‘Oh, we’ve heard all that before!’ I hear you cry. But, honestly, I am getting down to it, aided by a programme that I have for writing called Scrivener. I love it and I can set my word target for the whole novel and a word count for each session that I type and watch it going up. I have it set for 2000 words a day, and when I’ve completed that number a message pings up on the screen – You have reached your target – which is a great feeling. Of course, half of what I’ve written is probably rubbish but, nevertheless I’m writing!
Whoops! Look at that…not a singe word yet today…and my deadline for 85,000 words is the end of March. Now you ALL know about it, I will have to get on with it!
My sister-in-law came to stay for a few days over New Year and I took her out walking with me and the dog. She comes from Carrickfergus NI and she walks more in the town than the countryside. She bombarded me with excited comments on all the flora and fauna we saw whilst we were ambling through the lanes and over the fields. Actually she was ambling I was trying to keep up a good walking pace.
On our little outing she noticed every blade of grass, each leaf, all the ferns, the wildlife and the pièce de résistance…the mole hills. She had never seen one before. apparently they don’t have moles in Northern Ireland. That did surprise me. More information if you have it please?
The point is, it made me think about how lucky I am each day when I walk out with the dog and that I must never take for granted the things I see. This last week I have seen, two rabbits, a fawn, several pheasants, squirrels, a heron, many, many birds that I should be able to identify but cannot, a hare and of course sea-gulls. I also saw a dead fox and a dead badger. If you add to this the domestic animals I see, that would include, dogs, sheep, cows, cattle…all different breeds of course, and today I saw geese, beautiful and noisy they were, even Jpeg decided not to get too close!
The lovely geese we met on our Sunday morning walk today (8th January 2017)
If you look really closely you can see the deer, probably better in the top picture. I wish I could take better photographs but t I only ever have my phone on me and I’m never quick enough!
Even though I keep Jpeg on a long lead for most of her walk she has a wonderful time, there are so many smells, noises and things to see on our walk she’s never bored and we always go for at least 3k Today we did 8k a record!
While we were in Italy there was a definite lack of wildlife as the hunters shoot practically everything that moves between September and February but we did see porcupine and once I saw a fox in our field, but generally, there was little, but I would be pleased to hear differently.
Sadly I can’t take the credit for this photo but it is cute…
In October last year (2015) I bought a fab pair of Joules wellies in Mole Valley Farmers in South Molton. I loved them, all purple pink and flowery and they were fun to wear. Sadly, less than a year later they leaked, I couldn’t believe it and they’d hardly had any use.
I tweeted to Mole Valley and to Joules and was impressed by the speed with which they replied and I was offered a full refund on said wellies and managed to replace them with another pair which were twice the price but did the job properly. The power of the Tweet eh?
I don’t like walking the dog in wellies I prefer walking boots as it’s much easier to stride out around the countryside, but, of course one needs waterproof walking boots in this climate so I bought a pair of Hi-Tec Borah Peak Waterproof, Women’s Hiking Boots.
The important word here is WATERPROOF… which they were for about three walks. I sprayed them with a waterproof spray but that didn’t work so I phoned Amazon and was told to send them back for a refund. Fortunately we’d kept the box. This was back in March 2016 and we were about to head off to Italy – where the sun shines most of the time incidentally – so I didn’t bother to replace them immediately.
But, wet shoes were only a part of this November. After a weekend away we returned to a cottage with a completely flooded ground floor. Apparently the rain had come down persistently and then in bucket loads of biblical proportion, the road looking like a river, and being the first house after the corner and at the end of a slight downhill segement of road, the water had nowhere else to go but in through the side gate, filling up the garden like a lake and found its way into the cottage under the door…
Lefthand photo…carpet with muddy water partly sucked out…the dark bit was what the whole carpet looked like before any removal of water. Righthand photo…rolled up carpet ready to be dragged out and thrown into the garden. (it was very heavy!) It’s hard to see how wet it all was from these pictures. This was with about 2 inches of water, I cannot imagine what it must be like when houses are flooded half way up the walls…horrible.
Ah well, at least I could wear me wonderful wellies to paddle about in the house.
In case you’re worried, it’s all dry now and we await a new carpet which should be down by Christmas. Thank goodness for good neighbours who came to the rescue with hot meals and comforting words. The dog had to stay in the kennels for an extra night, but I don’t think she realised this…she doesn’t seem to know the days of the week very well.
So far in 2016 we’ve suffered from earthquakes in Italy and flooding in England…what next I wonder?
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.