Night of Madness, the Beams and Bluetit Serving Platters

Ciao a tutti,

How is everyone?! It’s been horrible weather this week – cloudy and always raining! I think it might have been my fault – in the heat of the week before I decided that I probably wouldn’t be using the stufa for the rest of the year and so I put the remnants of convenient stufa wood into the cantina. I should really move it back upstairs and release Italy from this non-stop rain.

I’ve got some visitors in the next few weeks: parents, my brother and sister-in-law (a special occasion indeed – it will mark I think the second visit in 15 years! ;-)) and then a group of friends in July. It’s spurred me back into the DIY. I have a big blackboard for my month goals in the kitchen and every single month, I tick off everything, but “finish the beams” is always ongoing to the following month. It’s such a life sapping task. However, this month I FINISHED THE BEAMS!!!!!!!!!! WOOOOHOOOO!!!!!! When I say finished, I mean “I am finished” rather than the beams are now finished per se. I spent an entire day up a ladder sanding them with a machine and by the end of it, I didn’t notice even a slight difference. So, I decided to oil and wax them anyway. Voila. Finished beams.

 

This is the beam closest to the stairs. Not that much paint eh?

This is the beam closest to the stairs. Not that much paint eh? Despite the blurry photo, you can see it’s not a bad beam.

And they then get progressively worse until you get to this beam! I've neatened up all the rough plaster and painted it so it looks a bit neater at least.

And they then get progressively worse until you get to this beam! I’ve neatened up all the rough plaster and painted it so it looks a bit better at least. My hope is that nobody ever looks at the ceiling.


The rest of that week was spent painting and decorating the living room. I had grand plans to put lots of photos on the main wall in the living room which, you might remember from previous blogs I had blocked off a door-sized niche with wood and plaster. It turns out I am not amazing at plastering. You can quite clearly see where I blocked it off. So I’ve reworked my plans and put some big canvasses there instead! The photo’s are now on the wall by the stufa. In all, I’m reasonably pleased with how it looks at the moment bar a few finishing touches though it certainly looks “unique” and “rustic” what with the half painted beams, random rough plaster patches and a weird zigzag in the floor where there are no tiles (after the wall was taken down) .

I’ve painted one of the bedrooms too and have managed to turn what would have been quite a nice bright room if I’d have just carried on with the white paint, into another “unique” and “quirky” room. I have great reservations about it and I’m considering painting over it, particularly because at some point I was considering renting the room out. Let me know what you think in the comments!

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The Blue Tits

In other exciting news, we have some Blue Tits that have been nesting in the roof. For several days Mr and Mrs Bluetit had been perching next to the terrace with great long worms in their beaks, eyeing me up suspiciously before flying off. I couldn’t understand why these birds weren’t obese. They seemed to be worm killing machines. And then eventually, when they disappeared under a roof tile a couple of times, I suddenly cottoned on that maybe they had a nest there and were feeding their young. The closer I got, I heard some tiny little chirps! Cute. My mother suggested I feed them…

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…..but she was not impressed with the initial blue tit serving platter saying it was perhaps too sparkly white.

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This is Blue tit Service Platter Mark 2. I can report that the Blue Tits of Sarnano do not eat raisins or coleslaw but they do like cheese. Or at least something on the roof does. Unfortunately the family have now gone. I’m worried something bad happened – a tile where their nest appeared to be had moved quite considerably. I’m hoping their house was under another tile because there’s no sign of them.

ID card

I got myself an Italian ID card the other day. As far as I can see as general life goes, there’s no point to this card – it has a picture of me on with a description (brown hair, green eyes etc) and my address and cost 5 euros and 49 cents (that 1 cent extra to make it easier for everyone would have pushed it over into the realms of too expensive). Passports and driving licenses seem to be just as effective. However, I decided to go ahead with it because I needed it to open a bank account (my English passport and driving license didn’t cut the mustard) so I braced myself for months of red tape and bureaucracy and multiple visits to the Comune to attain this ID card. It took 5 minutes! I walked in with 3 passport sized photos and it was done. I recommend the process to everyone! So I have a nice ID card now and it makes me feel very Italian so I’m glad I have it, though it ended up being entirely useless in my quest to open a bank account. It turns out banks are annoying in Italy too, not just in the UK.

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One of the oldest road races went through Sarnano the other day so I popped down and took lots of photos of old cars as they sped past. Here’s one…

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Visit to the beautiful Ambro fraction of Montefortino

May is a special month for the Madonna here in Italy, being a predominately Catholic country. Jesus’ mother is big news here. In fact, not being religious or particularly well read in the bible, I was somewhat confused up until very recently. Town’s often refer to their churches by “Madonna di <town name> “.  Not really thinking about it, I had assumed, that all of these towns had their own Madonnas and it was just a very common name (a bit like if you’re not sure of a man’s name here in Sarnano, you can call them Giuseppe and you’ll more than likely be correct!). The Sue of Portsmouth, is not the same Sue of Edinburgh for instance. However, I’ve been informed that there’s just the one Madonna and she does good works everywhere. Every year, a trip is organised for the Sarnanese (the people of Sarnano) to go and worship the Madonna at the Madonna dell’Ambro church in the fraction of Montefortino. The story goes that the Madonna appeared to a mute shepherd girl in the month of May just by the river and where the church is now, and was given the gift of words. It’s certainly a stunning place and it looks like there’s some nice walks there too. I’ll have to investigate.

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This was actually taken from Montefortino itself rather than Ambro.

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Birthday Celebrations

It was my birthday on Saturday so I decided to have a party. I don’t like the idea of having parties; if people show up then there’s all the pressure of having to make it fun with food everyone likes and if people don’t show up then it’s a bit depressing isn’t it? It’s a lose, lose situation! However, I wanted to do something just as a gesture to my neighbours to say thank you for being so welcoming to me in the last year or so, so I prepared an English-style buffet (sandwiches, coleslaw, potato salad, pastry nibbles etc.). In the end, not that many people came but it was really good! I must have them over again – they were positively overflowing with compliments about the house and food.

The celebrations continued with a virtual online Eurovision Song Contest party that evening with my friends and family back home which was very good. It could have been a bit of a miserable day being away from everyone but in fact, it turned out to be a good day all around!

My immediate neighbour gave me a ‘massage experience’ at the Sarnano Terme where she works. Terme means spa/thermal baths in English. It’s not like a beauty spa though – everything is geared towards health. There are three springs within the Terme – the waters are all used in various different treatments: Inhalation to treat allergies etc, hydromassages to treat aches/pains and water retention etc. and if you drink the water from one of the springs it has amazing diuretic properties (I didn’t even know this was a good thing but it apparently is). My experience started off with a hydromassage first with a lovely man who explained about the terme and was very patient whilst I laughed my way through the first 5 minutes. It’s an unusual experience! You walk up some little steps to a big metal bath filled with this special thermal water and then the masseuse uses a reasonably high powered hose to massage you under the water. Once the initial ‘surrealness’ had passed, it was actually very relaxing. Then I had a more conventional massage which was lovely. All in all, a great birthday present and a unique experience.  If you’re coming to Sarnano, it’s definitely worth checking the spa out. In fact, the grounds themselves are lovely and it’s free to go to them. Take an empty bottle with you and fill it up with the thermal water (and when you drink it, make sure you’re near a bathroom).

The Hunt for Wild Boar

Apparently the area is rife with wild boar. Rife. However, in almost a year, I’ve not seen a single one (apart from perhaps the bottom of one running into some trees being chased by dogs during the hunting season but I can’t be sure). I have seen evidence of them though (they sort of nose around in the soil looking for food and churn it up) so I’m sure they exist in the area. My neighbour has taken it upon herself to show me the local wild boar so we’ve been on a few wild boar searches of the local area. We’ve seen some from a distance which look strikingly similar to bushes so I still don’t feel I’ve really experienced seeing a wild boar. Still, the hunt continues so who knows, I might have some photos for the next blog.

Notte dei folli

A week or two back was Notte dei folli in Sarnano – Night of madness. People dressed up in costume and there were lots of people performing: lots of bands, singers, dancers. And I’ve never, ever seen so much alcohol available here, or so many people in Sarnano. The Italians are somewhat boring drinkers – most of them seem to have one glass of wine and call it a night (unless they’re driving in which case they’ll have a bottle or two). Even if they do drink, they hold it remarkably well and you wouldn’t particularly know. It’s not like in the UK where past 9pm all the pubs are full to the brim of people being loud and stupid and then later photographed sprawled across pavements. So I was shocked to discover at this festival there were actually DRUNK people, it was like being back in London :-) I’m definitely going next year. There was an absolutely brilliant performance from a group called DuMadet. I don’t think I’ve actually seen two such talented musicians before.  It was a guitarist and a violinist doing wonderful and quite elaborate versions of modern songs. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

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This was a band called “Cecco e Cipo”. The two main guys were in the Italian X-factor a few years back. Here’s their x-factor audition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpvngeQTlyA. Cipo, the beardless dude, is particularly mad /amusing. It could never be said that he gives a boring performance. For their final performance of the night, they just all came into the audience and starting singing, much to the displeasure of the sound and light people!

I think that about sums up the last few weeks. I hope you’re all having a great week.

xxx

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Long Walks of Achyness, Sightseeing in Emiglia-Romagna and Umbria and Megabugs…

Ciao all,

How is everyone? It seems it’s been a while since I’ve written so thought I’d give you a quick update…

The Long Walk of Achyness

Just after I wrote the last blog post, some friends came to visit me in Sarnano and I thought perhaps it might be the ideal opportunity to combine their desire to see the Lame Rosse (the cool rock formation I wrote about in the last blog installment) with something new I was keen to see, the Gole di Fiastrone (literally “throats of the Fiastrone” referring to the river and the formation of it). I dug out my map and found a route that would take in those two features but also another sight: the Grotto dei Frati.  I estimated it would probably take about 6 hours which isn’t bad really – we’re all fairly fit and enjoy walking.

It was indeed 6 hours but half of that was up a near vertical slope! I enjoy walking but I’m not cut out for climbing!!! So, it goes down as the hardest walk I’ve ever done but I’m very glad we did it. About midway through we came across a sign that said the trail was for “expert hikers”. I felt proud and stupid all at the same time!

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The cat helping me find the best route…

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The Fiastrone riverbed. To continue the walk to the Lame Rosse we needed to cross this river. I did attempt it – I took off my boots and waded into the river and about 2 feet in, I wimped out and came back. It’s cold and slippery. We sat looking mournfully across the other side of the river eating our lunch and were fortunate enough to come across some people coming from the other side of the river wanting to get to our side. We watched as they made their way precariously across the river on some broken tree branches and debris. None of them died so them having set a precedent, we followed shortly thereafter.  In fact, one of our members actually braved walking across the river wielding his dog.

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This was taken on the way down from to Lago di Fiastra. You can see the dam at the bottom of the river. That’s where one of our cars was parked, a depressingly long distance away and that was about 4.5 hours into the walk!

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This is part of the Grotto dei Frati, a little area cut into the rock face that still seems to be used for religious ceremonies.

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And from the Grotto dei Frati, you can see the Gole di Fiastrone (where the river meets the rock about the center of the photo). To get there I think we’d have had to have waded up the river. Definitely more of a summer activity!!!!

Forli and Giovanni Boldini

The following day I went to Forli with another friend to seen an exhibition of the wonderful Giovanni Boldini. He does some amazing portraits and it inspired me to get back into trying to get good at drawing portraits again.  The day ended up taking us on quite a road trip and we stopped off at Citta’ di Castello and then Gubbio in Umbria.

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One of the squares in Citta di Castello

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A sculpture with her breasts out in what seems to be a type of courtroom – an effective way to appease a jury no doubt.

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Little church dedicated to baking pizzas in Citta’ di Castello.

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Cutie pigeons taking in the scenery around Citta’ di Castello.

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Citta’ di Castello – it’s a walled town, as many of them are but this one seems much more intact.

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This is the beautiful town of Gubbio

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Gubbio again with the rains approaching!

The Science of Happiness

I finished my Science of Happiness Online Course last week which I started earlier this year. It’s free, online and you can do it in your own time.  It’s my first online course and I hadn’t realised there was such a wide variety to chose from. I went for this one because it appeals to my interest in psychological things and well, I think I’m pretty happy but there’s no harm in looking to see if there’s something else that could make me happier eh?

I think people always have a view of psychology as being a bit of a “fluffy” science, but this course wasn’t by any means. There were a range of topics covering the links between happiness and empathy, compassion, social connections, forgiveness, self compassion, goal setting, generosity and gratitude etc. Information was presented in conjunction with corresponding scientific studies including not just how feelings are affected but how our physiology is impacted too and why happiness-inducing behaviours might have evolved in the first place. My favourite titbits – did you know that rats can laugh?! And quite a heart-wrenching finding – “touch” is so important to us humans that until caregivers were instructed to hold and touch babies in orphanages, many of them died. Have a read here

In other news…

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I made pitta breads – they taste exactly like pitta breads! I’m reasonably impressed with myself! (They don’t have pitta breads in Italy as far as I can work out).

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And…. I came across this bug… It was almost exactly the same size as my car. I’ve decided to call him Megabug.

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And….I cleaned out the Snake Pit under the house – this photo was taken part way through. There were actually no snakes in it very much to my relief. I took a golf club down there just in case.

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And…. I went to a jazz concert at the local theatre with a friend which was a mix between really very good and very bad (this latter review is not an indictment on the musicians, who were brilliant, but instead, my ability to retain interest when listening to the more “unstructured” jazz pieces). I was definitely impressed by the good bits though and I have resolved to find some good jazz tracks to get into.

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And….. following on from my recent “Driving Guide”, this photo was taken in Forli and nicely demonstrates the appropriate distance between parked cars when parking in Italy.

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And…. finally on the photo front – we’ve got kittens in the neighbourhood! These belong to Batfink’s aunty and father (who are we to judge?). There are another three (true brothers and sisters to Batfink) too. I want them all.

I think that’s it for the photo journalism! I hope everyone is having a good week.

x

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Italy Driving Guide for Foreigners!

Ciao all,

The other day I was driving in the mountains and around one bend, I came head on to another car in my lane taking the racing line around a bend. The guy swerved back onto his side of the road, missing me by what must have been millimeters. When I moved here, that kind of thing would happen often and terrify me. In fact, I used to send messages to my nearest and dearest warning them that I was driving to the shops and that just in case anything happened, I loved them. These days, it’s like water off a duck’s back. In fact, mostly, driving here is amusing: Cars driving in the “fast lane” on a motorway and nothing else to be seen for miles etc. I realised the key to stress-free driving here is just knowing what to expect. So, I have created a “Foreigner’s Guide to Driving in Italy”! It’s tongue-in-cheek and not intended at all as an insult to my Italian buddies, all of whom are wonderful drivers (none of this is based on them I hasten to add!).

Italian Driving Guide v2

Italian Driving Guide pg v2

Happy driving :-)

x

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Bull balls, Scorpion Dens and Snake Pits…

Buongiorno!

How is everyone? It’s been lovely here! I had the first evening without the heating on yesterday. As much as I love the stufa (woodburner), it does get a bit tiresome lighting it and cleaning it out everyday so that was a nice break.

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This is near Macerata, isn’t it pretty? Now that the yellow flowers are out, I’ve established that the bitter veg that the neighbours have given me is actually oilseed rape.

I’ve been trying to make the most of the sunshine. Here’s a run down… If you’re interested in this week’s exciting “Property of the Week”, skip to the end!

Walks – Lame Rosse

I’ve been meaning to go to Lame Rosse for months after seeing some photos of some weird and wonderful rock formations online. Last weekend, I finally decided to do it and printed off some instructions for the walk. True to form, the walk instructions bared absolutely no resemblance to the actual walk, and in fact, were positively misleading. I had to ask directions from an old guy who kept on looking me up and down and said how I couldn’t, as a woman, go on my own and it was dangerous (he couldn’t be specific although I did ensure it wasn’t because the route was frequented by rapists and murderers). It’s not like I was wearing stiletto’s and an evening gown for goodness sake! In the end he gave me the directions but said that he wouldn’t be accountable for anything that happened to me because he didn’t approve of my going!!! So, the red rag had been waved and I decided to do it anyway. When I parked up, I joined a little group (two disabled guys and their girlfriends no less!) that were also doing the walk. The path is all up hill for an hour and a half but it’s not too steep and it’s a nice wide gravel path with limited options to make mistakes, unlike all of the other walks around here!

Anyway, Lame Rosse was spectacular and well worth the up hill journey. Don’t let any old guys put you off – apart from the incline, it was a breeze.

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My next “big” walk is going to be to locate the Gola di Fiastrone (the throat of the Fiastrone river) which is again, only a few minutes drive away and the photos I’ve seen online look amazing so I’m looking forward to that.

Sightseeing in Visso and Frontignano

My lovely neighbour and her sister took me to the heart of the Sibillini mountains on Sunday.  It was a spectacular drive and not too far away at all really. We had a wander around Frontignano which has ski slopes up Monte Bove – I definitely want to try out those slopes next year. On the way back we stopped in Visso, a beautiful and brightly coloured little town in a mountain valley.

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It has some ruins which I believe you can walk up to – I’ll do that next time I’m there.

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Visso taken from a very majestic war memorial on the hill side.

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Sunday in Visso is market day and there were lots of cute little crafty stalls.

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And this was taken by Frontignano.

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This delicacy, in a butchers in Visso, can literally be translated as “Balls of Bull”. I’m assured that it’s not the real thing but I’m not convinced.

DIY progress

DIY continues at a steady pace. There’s a door sized niche in the wall behind the sofa in the living room. We’d been wondering what purpose it served. Anyway, whatever it was, I didn’t want it there. I have grand plans for a ‘photo wall’ on which to display my pictures, so I dismantled the niche this week (it was blocked off with wood) and it turns out that it did indeed once be a door. Now it has a floor to ceiling waste pipe in the middle. I felt slightly less guilty about blocking it off having acquired this new knowledge. So, I put some wood up and have plastered over it. However, I doubt the resilience of my blocked off wall. It bends when you poke it. I’m hoping the top layer of plaster will harden it a bit and make it less of a flexible wall!

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First plastering attempt of my Flexiwall! I hasten to add, there will be a top coat of plaster!

I made some headway in the Scorpion Den / Cantina this week as well and cleared out several bin liners of stuff. There’s nothing in there now that I don’t know about (I inherited a mass of junk) so at least that’s a decent start. It does need a lot more work though. I need to clear out the Snake Pit too (this is a little room under the steps to get into the house which has the water stopcock. If any of you remember Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, it resembles the hidden passage that the leading lady finds in her room but hopefully without the booby trap skeletons). I do not want to clear out the Snake Pit even slightly. However, the neighbour has said that it needs to be done otherwise turning the water on and off will be even more traumatic than it already is.

I also painted the bathroom ceiling because it was all flaking off. After prodding the flaky bits, whole chunks of plaster came off too so I’ve had to do a bit of plastering there as well. As soon as I had finished painting, the paint started flaking again.  I think I have a special “anti-paint” ceiling.

And finally, I have constructed a garden masterpiece out of some old bricks, a sink and a Christmas tree.

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Just what every garden dreams of… The bricks are occasionally moved around the back garden because I don’t want to get rid of them in case we want to build something with them in the front garden. And the sink is impossible to move so I think it’ll be a permanent fixture!

Art

In other breaking news this week, I’ve made the heaviest object known to mankind. I found a round wooden table top downstairs in the cantina and have stuck a mirror onto it and used up most of my sea-glass as a mosaic around it. I think it looks quite good but I can’t take a picture of it that shows it at its best as I can’t actually move it from the floor so I’m going to leave that photo out until I can somehow get it hung. I think I’ll have to get a crane.

Property of the week – Church of the “Madonna di Loreto”

I walk past this church regularly on some of my favourite walks from Sarnano – it’s in a beautiful location and right next to a waterfall. Here’s a picture and some information, both taken from the Presitigious Building website which has more photos of a stunningly painted inside as well as other properties in the area.

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The church of the “Madonna di Loreto” was  constructed in the XV century by the “wool guild” constituted by craftsman of the textile, weaving texture and colouring cloth mill.

In 1619 the church was in part reconstructed and restored as it now appears, for the devotion of the Madonna, in relationship to the promenade from the south that where going on a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of the “Madonna di Loreto”, situated north and in the direction of Assisi in Umbria.

The building is constituted of a single central nave in a rectangular form of approx. 17.30 m x 7.30 metres and approx. 8.00 metres in height, orientated with its principal axis north – east,  south – west; the entrance is exposed south – west while on the opposite side is situated the sanctuary constructed in a heavy vaulted ceiling in spider – formation probably built in the XVI century.

On the side adjacent to the stream is positioned the priests residence home developed on a two – floor layout.
The church nave is covered with a barrel – shaped vault constructed of a cane and gypsum chamber supported to the wood truss – beam roof being the main constituted part of the supporting roof structure. The higher part of the walls and the vaulted ceilings are decorated of relative paintings of the Madonna di Loreto,  paintings that dates back to the XVII century and of valuable exquisite workmanship of its perspective.

In the centre of the vault is a configuration of the holy home of Nazareth of Loreto with the Madonna and the Angels, a glimpse partial view of the arcade open gallery is positioned in front of the “holy home”.

The paintings cover an area of approx. 175 sq.m. of  remarkable importance to emphasize the partitioning wall of which contains the altar painted an architectural structure in a canopy form with six red Verona marble pillars, giving a splendid perspective of the perfect elements of a remarkable architectural effect.

The entire building is constructed of masonry brick – work in red cotto externally left as it appears.

If you’re interested, please let me know!

Have good weekends all!

x

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Property of the week – Beautiful Castle in the Sibillini Mountains

Ciao a tutti,

I hope you’re all well! I am pleased to announce the addition of a new “Property of the week” section to the blog…

Funny story… I was talking to a friend of mine, Renzo, who helps people find houses locally. Every time we meet he gives me a run down of what seem to be absolute bargains around the area. We loosely discussed me putting some up on my blog as a way of reaching a different market so I sent the web address to my blog to give him an idea of my nonsense /quality output. Remember the photos of those beautiful ruins I put up on one of my last blog posts? It turns out they’re half his and I was trespassing! (Thinking back, I had wondered about the private property sign I had to step over to get to them)! Fortunately, Renzo will not be pressing charges ;-) However, we did think it would make an excellent first “Property of the Week”!

Aside from thinking a “Property of the Week” might be of general interest to people anyway, for anyone that is keen to “Escape the rat race” and buy a place in Italy like me then brilliant, but proceed with caution! It’s such a different experience to buying elsewhere (at least buying in the UK since that’s my only experience) that if you’re not prepared, it can take the edge off what should be a really exciting time (see my blog post from August last year when I bought my place). Renzo is English speaking so that already takes out one potential hurdle and as well as having a large selection of properties on his books, he’s got a team of good people and contacts from Notary’s to builders who can assist you with the whole buying process. And of course, I’ll be happy to assist where I can!

So, without further ado, I present you:

Il Castello di Roccacolonnalta – €429,000

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The castle is in the Comune of San Ginesio, Le Marche. At over 600 meters above sea level and set on the cusp of the Sibillini Mountains, it has beautiful views of the surrounding area. It’s absolutely unique with a wealth of fascinating history behind it. It was built in the 14th Century and is unusual because of it’s 12 towers. It has two floors which cover a total of 1600 sqm. It will need work, but is currently part owned by an architect who is keen to work with the new owners to see the castle meet it’s full potential.

Want to practice your Italian? Have a look at this website dedicated to the castle for more information, background and pictures.

If you’re interested in this property or finding anything else in the Sarnano / San Ginesio area, let me know in the comments and I’ll get in touch.

Buonasera :-)

x

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The Arrival of Spring, Easter Processions and Painting the Forth Bridge …

Ciao a tutti,

How is everyone? It’s been a lovely couple of weeks here. I’m pleased to say that Spring has finally arrived! Not only have the clocks sprung forward, I present you with other convincing evidence:

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Exhibit 1: Primrose or Primula in Italian

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Exhibit 2: Another spring flower but I don’t know what it is – any ideas? Very pretty though.

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Exhibit 3: Iced Coffee laced with Mistra the local aniseed spirit only to be enjoyed from the Spring onwards.

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Exhibit 4: The fridge magnet thermometer never lies… Hot hot hot :-)

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Exhibit 5: Klaus the Scorpion has made his first appearance. I think I’ve blocked off a potential scorpion entry way though so we’ll see how that goes.

As always in Spring, I struggle with clothing. Italians continue to wear coats, scarves, hats, gloves etc. regardless of the weather/temperature outside. They are quick to point out that if you’re not wearing any of these essential items of clothing, that you are likely to be immediately overcome with bronchitis. Oh the Italians and their oddities…  Anyway, the other day whilst out walking in brilliant sunshine and 28 degrees, I dared to take off my coat and jumper to the open-mouthed gawps of the occasional wrapped up passer-by. On a completely separate and unrelated note, I now seem to have something akin to bronchitis :-s

Walkies

I’ve been charged with looking after the neighbour’s dog whilst she’s at work. It’s quite a responsibility as the dog is an experienced escapologist, particularly at the moment whilst all the female dogs are on heat. Anyway, it’s been quite good because it means I’ve been on lots of walks and I also managed to re-find one of my favourite walks in the area.

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Could there by a more idyllic picnic spot? It’s right next to a treacherous looking footbridge so as long as you can make it across yourself, you can have your lunch and have hours of entertainment watching other people brave the crossing as well! Not that it’s a particularly busy picnic spot by any means.

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Beautiful scenery…

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….and friendly horses to feed.

San Benedetto

My neighbour also took me to see San Benedetto, a seaside town known for it’s prolific palm trees which make it look quite exotic and nothing like the other beach towns in the area.

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San Benedetto has a nice long shallow beach that goes on for miles…

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And cool fountains…

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And long straight sea front roads complete with flash cars and the occasional rollerblader.

Pasqua (Easter)

This week has been quite full on with the Easter festivities. I’m not religious at all and it’s been a long time since I was in a church to do anything other than look at the artwork so it was all quite fascinating to see. It’s going to be very easy for me to make a mistake in this section so apologies in advance for any incorrect terminology or information that’s wrong! On Thursday (“Giovedi Santo”) people honor Jesus by keeping him company (it’s the night of the Last Supper) until midnight. Almost all the churches are open all evening and my neighbour took me on a tour of what seemed like all of them.  The churches were all filled with flowers and grain (they seem to plant the grain in pots and then keep it in a dark humid place so that it’s clear and short…it must be representative of something but I’m not sure what!). In some churches there was a priest leading some kind of sermon and in others people were just sat in quiet contemplation. Others again, were doing a similar church tour to us so it was quite busy out and about.

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This is the church of Santa Maria in Sarnano.

On Friday, to acknowledge Jesus being crucified and finally dying at 3pm there was a procession in the evening starting from the main church in Sarnano and going around all the back streets before ending up in a church towards the bottom of the hill (Sarnano is a hill town). Again, it was really interesting to see (and to accidentally take part in!!!).

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This cross looked incredibly heavy! Some poor man had to carry it for a good half hour or so (in fact, I hope someone swapped with him part way down)

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There were a lot of men wearing brown all over, including hoods over their faces (with handy eye slits), and wearing no shoes and chains around their feet. The women were wearing black all over and didn’t even have the eye slits to help them work out where to go! My neighbour explained what these people represented but my Italian Religious Dialect knowledge let me down. Feel free to fill me in anyone that knows about these things…

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A statue of the dead Jesus was brought down during the procession.

On Easter Monday or “Pasquetta” as it’s known here (which means “Little Easter” as opposed to presumably the big Easter the day before), I saw some friends in Ancona and Jesi and learnt about some traditional Italian and Le Marche food. I can confirm that a Pizza Formaggio is not simply a pizza with cheese but a round loaf with cheese inside which they eat usually for breakfast – very nice! And I’m also thrilled to have discovered Colomba di Pasqua (Dove of Easter), a lovely light cake with chocolate goo in the middle in the shape of nothing at all like a dove. Combined with a wonderful Easter Care Package received through the post from one of my best friends and a rucksack full of chocolate from Pane Caldo following his flying Easter visit, I shall need to diet for the next two months.

So that about sums up my Easter… Pretty good really. An idea mix of culture and chocolate :-)

Theatre

Last time I wrote I was about to head to the theatre. I’m pleased to report that it was a good little amateur production of something similar to the Emperors’ New Clothes and thankfully it wasn’t in dialect so I understood a reasonable amount.. It was nice to see the theatre in Sarnano too – it was my first time there.

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DIY progress

DIY progress is progressing! I painted the kitchen and hung up some of my artwork around the house so it feels like it’s got a bit more personality now. I’ve been trying to finish off all the niggly bits of DIY that could easily end up being left. It does feel like painting the forth bridge though. In fact, one of my earlier DIY attempts needs another overhaul (note: do not use wood as beading around the bath tub – no matter how many layers of paint and varnish and sealant you use, it will always look rubbish).

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Kitchen progress…

Right, I think that about sums up my week. I’m hoping to introduce a new “Property of the Week” section of local houses shortly so look out for that. Have a good week all.

x

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Winter wonderland, attack dogs and cultural evenings…

Buongiorno!

How is everyone? It seems a while again since I’ve written so here’s a quick update.

I went back to the UK for a flying visit. Everytime I go back I never seem to be able to catch up with everyone I want to.  Anyway, before I get to UK stuff, let me tell you about my airport stresses! My weather app had been threatening snow the day before I was due to fly but I didn’t believe it. It had been far too sunny and lovely the proceeding days. And in fact, as I went to put the cat out at 3am (after he insisted that my neck was the only comfortable place to sleep in the entire house), there was no snow to be seen. Four hours later, there was a foot of snow which kept growing throughout the following day.

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Winter Wonderland… I cleared this road.

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And I cleared this road… and there’s another road….

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I did not have my coffee on the terrace that morning.

Now, apparently the snow clearing guys do clear the roads but the day came and went and there was no sign of them. My wonderful neighbour, phoned up everyone that she knew in the comune to get the snow clearers out the following morning so she could drive me to the airport. They did not come! In the end myself and my amazing neighbours cleared the snow from my house to the main road in a joint “get Sue to the airport” effort (hmm, that doesn’t sound like they like me but I think their intentions were good rather than wanting to get rid of me!). Just as we finished, the snow clearer came! Anyway, suffice to say I made it to the airport in the end.

The first couple of days of my visit were spent tirelessly teaching my parent’s new puppy to bite, bark and chase people. It was a slow and laborious job but someone had to do it. (I don’t think I’ll be invited back anytime soon).

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This is Molly the Attack Dog contemplating her next move.

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And this is Molly the Attack Dog in action. Who needs toes anyway?

Then I was in Leamington Spa (henceforth known as L’Spa) to check how Pane Caldo has been getting on in his new non-Italian habitat and how he’s coping with having to get up before 11am.  I’m going to have to review my stereotyped opinions of things north of London that aren’t the Lake District or Scotland. L’Spa is nice with lots of green spaces and shops. It has a large bowling green which makes me want to take up bowling. We popped up to Lincoln for the weekend and went to the beach too before heading to Warwick, a few minutes drive away from Leamington Spa.

 

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One of the many parks in L’Spa

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Erm, somewhere on the East Coast (I admit my geography is bad. However, did you know 85% of British people don’t know where Sheffield is?). Twas windy and cold but lovely!

 

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This is a pretty bit of Warwick. Warwick is an odd mix of absolutely beautiful, and brutally ugly.  I can’t remember what was surrounding it but it could very well have been a block of ugly unkempt flats.

Back in London my DIY mettle was tested when I had to re-hang a door and fit a bath panel in my flat there. I quite like DIY I’ve decided. It’s nice to feel a bit “handy” and all you need is a few YouTube videos and equipment. Having said that, I would not be remotely surprised if the door and bath panel have since fallen off. Luckily I have nice tenants that don’t like telling me if there’s problems. Result.

So now I’m back in Italy. The plan for the next couple of weeks is more DIY – painting the kitchen and finishing the beams (oh the beams).

I made a terrible mistake – I accepted the offer of “free wood” which was basically the remnants of a few small trees. I really like getting wood – it appeals to my hunter/gatherer instincts I think (less hunter, I’m a vegetarian). I even bought massive secateurs for the occasion and everything. However, after maybe 3 hours of chopping up branches, I now resemble Pop-Eye, only the bulging muscle is on my lower arm instead of my bicep.  And whereas Pop-Eye can lift trucks, I can’t even lift a pen without yelping. I ended up with just a wheelbarrow of wood. I could get a wheelbarrow of better and dryer wood without ruining my arm in about 10 minutes wandering up the road. Still, never look a gift horse in the mouth (Italians reading this – good luck trying to work out what that phrase means!).

I’ve been planting things too – the neighbour has given me a number of apparently difficult-to-kill plants so hopefully I can keep them alive. I’m attempting to grow peach and plum trees too – I don’t hold out a lot of hope!

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Yesterday my friend invited me to watch her perform some aria’s (opera songs to you and me) which was interesting. It’s not my kind of music but it was very impressive and I’m really proud of my friend, she was brilliant. After, we went to a restaurant here in Sarnano which I didn’t even know existed! So all in all, a good night.

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It was a good opportunity to see Castello della Rancia in Tolentino which is a bit of an unusual castle to be honest (it’s stuck in the middle of nowhere, not even on a hill)

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The castle is a museum and the upstairs was dedicated to theatre… this is a mask from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats”. You’d have to pay me a lot of money to wear that. I think I’d have to boil my face after.

 

My bread making continues… This time burger baps…

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With a bean burger – burgers are one of those things I miss from the UK. Italy still has some work to do on their veggie burgers so I made an ok attempt at bean burgers. I can’t wait until it’s BBQ weather!

 

Today, I’m going to be experiencing comedy at the local theatre.  Now, I don’t wish to do myself down but I’m not going to understand a thing – I think it’s all in dialect! I’ll report back.

Meanwhile, I’m off to get ready.

Buonasera a tutti and have wonderful weeks!

x

 

 

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Paying in forward, naming your wind and dissolving hands…

Ciao a tutti!

How is everyone?

I found a great blog recently of a fellow expat from New Zealand…KiwiGirlAttemptingItalian and I was inspired by her recent “Pay it Forward” post. It’s basically a scheme to get people doing more nice things for each other. Here’s the blurb, sneakily copied word for word from KiwiGirl!

“I’m participating in the “Pay it Forward” Initiative: The first five people to comment with “I’m in” will receive an absolutely brilliant surprise from me at some point during the calendar year of 2015  – anything from a book, a ticket, something homemade, a postcard, absolutely any surprise!

There will be no warning, and it will happen when the time is right and I will find something that I believe would suit you (after reading your blogs) and make you laugh (or smile).

But there is a catch – you must make the same offer to five other people. :)”

So is anyone in? Write “I’m in”  in the comment box below!

Visit

I had friends to stay this weekend – I had a lovely time with them and discovered a new walk and a little garage museum! We were just passing in the middle of nowhere (it’ll be interesting to see if I can locate this place ever again) and a guy invited us into his garage to see his Beetle and wow, this man collects everything. Not only was there a perfectly preserved Beetle, but farming equipment from decades ago, motorbikes, cameras, radios, clocks, gramophones… It was all perfectly laid out and he enthusiastically went through most of it!

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Some of the farming stuff…

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One can never have too many clocks and we even had a demonstration of the gramophone. It was great – and nothing like listening to a crystal clear and somewhat un-atmospheric CD!

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The Beetle looks in better condition than my Nanmobile.

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Beautiful landscapes

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And more beautiful landscapes….

 

Le Rocce

I think it’s called Le Rocce at least- who knows?! Nobody seems to know about it, but for ages I’ve been driving past the mountains wondering what the rocks are that are sticking up – it looked like an old ruin. So this week I went to investigate.

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It looked like they might be doing some work in there… I feel though it’s a bit of a challenging restoration project.

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It does look majestic though. I would love to have seen it back in its day.

 

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As pleased as I was to finally see these ruins, I was much more thrilled to see this little creature – a black squirrel! In fact, the woods here are devoid of squirrels in general –  contrary to UK woodland, so what a pleasant surprise!

 

It’s definitely moving towards Spring – the weather has been a bit warmer, and you can hear the scuttle of lizards now when you walk anywhere outside. Having said that, it’s due to snow tomorrow and Friday so perhaps the last week or so has been an anomaly!

Garbino Winds

I’ve been learning about wind this week. It’s been windy here before and the neighbours call it the “Tramontana wind” but a couple of days ago, it was a different league entirely. It was scarily strong. There’s been trees knocked down, landslides and avalanches.  They called this one the “Garbino wind” because it was warm. I thought it was a cute local thing; naming winds for goodness sake. But I’ve researched it and it’s a real thing! The Garbino wind comes from Africa which is why it’s so warm.  Anyway, it was an interesting, blustery and slightly nerve-wracking day as I waited inside to see if my roof would stay on! On the plus side, my washing dried in about 15 minutes as opposed to 4 days sitting on a clothes horse upstairs (Admittedly I had to go and collect the washing that had been dispersed within the surrounding area)!

DIY

I’ve been continuing on the DIY streak but have had to take a short break whilst my hands recover! The stuff you use to plaster with has some sort of skin-eating nastiness in it and I’d spent all day with it on my hands trying to build a corner to my wall and fill in some gaps above the beams.

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I’m quite pleased with it. It’s quite difficult to build a corner.

I think that about sums up the last few days! I hope you’re all having good weeks.

x

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Distractions, Opera and Carnivale…

Ciao a tutti!

Well what a difference a couple of weeks makes…Pane Caldo has gone back to the UK to work for a while :-(  I shan’t be too soppy, lest he read this, but it’s not the same. But I’ve had the following distractions:

Everybody needs good neighbours: I’ve hardly eaten at home since Pane Caldo left. I think I’m the local charity case and no matter how much I say “no, really, I’m fine”, my neighbours are insistent! So that’s been nice. I’ve not really felt too lonely, in fact, often its been far from it. The problem is the Italians cook lots of stuff – they have a prima piatti (pasta dish) and a secondo (meat usually), a contorno (veg) and then a dolce (desert). Which is of course not a problem in itself but it is when it’s my turn to return the favour and herein lies the problem: a) I can’t just double up on what I usually eat for lunch – crackers and cheese is hardly a fair swap for someone used to eating 4 courses at lunch, b) Even if I did go ‘all out’ and try and do multiple courses, I have a limited supply of electricity to the house so using the oven and hob at the same time can be a challenge and c), Most of what I cook is “Italian” but I can hardly serve my version of Italian food to a genuine Italian. Oh the shame!

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Look at these lovely home-made treats the neighbours brought us for Carnivale (Shrove Tuesday)

Stealth Cat: I thought the cat might be an ideal Pane Caldo replacement so I thought I’d let him stay in overnight (he usually sleeps in the barn with the other cats but he does whinge about it). But he’s a bit hormonally charged- all the cats here are at the moment, it’s like a feline soap opera. On top of that I think he’s just reached puberty. Anyway, he seems so overcome with glee about being allowed to stay in at night that he can’t contain his emotions and bites me. So I put him out. And then we do that again the next night. Although he’s started getting wise and starts off at the bottom of the bed like a good cat and as soon as I turn the light off he edges up to my head and starts biting my shoulder. As though I wouldn’t notice that! I think he thinks he’s being stealthy. He’s the only cat I know that meow’s to have a cuddle.

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Pretending to be an innocent non-biting cat

Opera: My favourite distraction has been going to see an opera – it was called Giannis Schicchi by Puccini and it was in a pretty little theatre in Amandola. It was a lovely evening and it was nice to do something a bit out of the ordinary, for me at least! I even understood it, though the explanation from my friend first helped I suspect!

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Look at the beautiful ceiling! And I was in a box!!! A BOX! I felt like the Queen.

DIY: My main source of distraction has been DIY though. I think ‘The Sanding of The Beams’ last year sapped all DIY motivation out of us. Anyway, I have managed to claw it back and have tiled the kitchen and have been doing a bit of plastering etc. I’ve certainly got a lot to be getting on with over the next few weeks.

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I’m not sure the tiles particularly go with the kitchen but they were in the Cantina when I bought the house so I thought might not. I have a million tiling tips for anyone interested. My first one is: Don’t bother tiling.

Out and about: I’ve also been out and about. I went to a Carnivale celebration in a pretty little hill top village called Castignano with my neighbour which was good fun.  In comparison to the very organised and impressive one I went to last year in Fano, this one was complete chaos. Nobody in the parade paid any attention to what they were supposed to be doing. It was mainly a collection of odd looking adults and children wandering down the road but it was a good atmosphere.

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Carnivale in Castignano

 

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This is the view from the church at the top of Castignano

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And on another little trip I went to San Ginesio which is just a few minutes away from where I live and finally went into the church …quite a pretty crypt

Bread making:  And of course there is always bread to be baked. These are yesterday’s efforts. I left out salt in one (unintentionally) and the “Popovers” stuck to the muffin tin and had to be levered out with a spoon. Not my biggest success to date.

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Dirty Dancing: My most confusing distraction has been getting propositioned by a 70 year old. I’m 34. I assumed he was being fatherly and looking out for me, but no, it turns out he wasn’t. Is that flattering or insulting?

I think that about sums up recent events. I hope you are all having a good week.

xxx

 

 

 

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Snowboarding, Gazelles and Dog-led tours…

Ciao a tutti!

How is everyone? It’s been fairly quiet and sedate here in the last couple of weeks. Here’s an update…

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snooooow!

We have snow! The weather has been so dull and dreary for ages but on Monday it finally snowed and whilst we were here (the last time was at Christmas when we weren’t) and it was an experience!

It turns out there’s a whole bunch of things you have to do when it properly snows: Leave your gate open lest you can’t open it the following day, get your snow shovel out and somewhere accessible, don’t put the handbrake on the car lest it freeze over and leave your car unlocked in case the lock freezes over (I assure you the last two pieces of advice did not come from a car thief, though it does seem like they could have). Then there’s a whole technique to snow shoveling. And then did you know icicles are quite nice to eat? We had an baptism of fire with the immediate neighbour giving us heaps of advice about what to do and not to do before we went off in force up the road in order to clear it with the other neighbour. It had quite a nice little community feel and if it had been feasibly possible for 4 people to snowshovel the same bit of road without getting in each others way and being told off, I would have quite enjoyed it! We had a mistra (lethal aniceed drink) laden espresso at the end to finish off – all’s well that ends well.

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This is our terrace – we should probably put the table and chairs away :-s

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And this is Sarnano at the moment taken from the front garden

Snowboarding

Then, because it was an absolutely stunning day and it had been snowing, we thought it might be an ideal time to go snowboarding, so up the mountain we went. Perhaps only in Italy would the ski-lifts be closed because of, well, snow. There was one horrible lift open though – not those nice chair lifts that you can sit on and admire the scenery as you go up, but button lifts where the lift guy shoves a bit of plastic between your legs and you’re dragged up one by one by your bottom (they should be called bottom lifts perhaps).  The next day was much more productive and all the lifts were open again so that made for a much more entertaining day. The slopes are fairly short and there’s a very limited number of them but it’s just brilliant having them only a twenty minute drive away. We got a cheap hire deal on snowboarding stuff – 10 euros a day and it was 11 euros for a day ski pass. What an absolutely bargain!

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The piste. As you can see, it’s absolutely packed. Full of people.

Woofer Guided Tours

I’m on a mission to track my walks and write up guides for tourists so on a day where it wasn’t so grim we went for a long walk around Sarnano. We were met by a random collarless dog (they all are to be honest) who led us for most of the walk. We decided he might make a reasonable tour guide – he could pick up tourists at 11am on Sundays. Alas, he was easily distracted and ran off after an hour so we didn’t get an opportunity to discuss the details.

Woofer the Tour Guide meeting us at the start of the walk

Woofer the Tour Guide meeting us at the start of the walk. We did worry a bit that perhaps he was trying to lead us to little Timmy who’d fallen down a well.

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We found some unstable looking hunting shacks during the walk

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Italy is dotted with old houses that have fallen into ruin. I want to rescue them all! It’s very sad. On the plus side, they do make for good photos.

Batfink the teenager

Batfink is going through a teenage phase. He’s not washing (well he does, but he still smells), eats all the time, sleeps all day and when he isn’t, he just acts up. He was quite funny in the snow the other day though so that made up for it. He doesn’t like people throwing snowballs at him.

 

The cat didn't walk through the snow but leapt like a gazelle.  Very elegant.

The cat didn’t walk through the snow but leapt like a gazelle. He was very elegant.

Bread experimentations

I’m still making bread though I’ve calmed down a little. I think I’ve nailed regular loaves of bread that taste ok and have a good texture and look so I’m focusing my efforts on sourdough bread.

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Latest sourdough bread attempt – I think it looks quite pretty. I can’t stop marvelling at bread – it’s just flour and water and salt. Amazing!

Sewing machine inventions

I bought a new sewing machine a week or so back so I’ve been experimenting with that. So far so good though I’ve recalled why I get fed up with sewing. It’s not the sewing per se, it’s the ironing which seems to be an integral part. The iron is surely the most futile invention known to mankind. However, it seems to be essential for trying to sew straight seams so I’ve managed to locate an iron for the purpose of that and my sewing project has thus been delayed by several days due to my lack of ironing motivation!

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I don’t really have much of a clue about sewing but I’m steadily learning! The prototype didn’t go too badly – hopefully I’ll finish another three in the next week.

I think that about sums up the last couple of weeks. Have good weeks the rest of you…

x

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