Sunday, 23 November 2014

We heart Serramonacesca

Day 4 of our Abruzzen Summer holiday:

Will got up early to do half an hour of strimming before it gets too hot, whilst the boys and I potter about the house.  We then headed to breakfast in Serramonacesca.

There are a couple of bars in Serra.  We love the bar on the corner where you can properly people watch.  The bar owner and his wife were so pleased to see us.  There is a real sense of community in Serra.  I think it is because the village has pretty much remained the same since it was built and time stands still there.  The patrons in this bar are usually smiley and having a good laugh about something.  It is a very warm and friendly place to visit.  The cornetti and pasti available in Serra's bar are much better than the bar in our village (hark at us the experts).  There is more variety and they are always freshly made each day.  We indulge in a second cappuccino as we know we won't get another one past 11.00am.  The owners fuss over the boys and virtually every person, male or female, that enters the cafe also fuss over them too.  Son number 2 loves this attention, particularly when a very pretty young girl of around eighteen walks in and smiles and fusses over him.

After our breakfast we have a quick walk around the village then head to the Alimentari (grocers) opposite the bar and buy some provisions.  Again, the lady remembers us and is really pleased to see us.  She gives the boys some sweets to take away.

Serramonacesca, village centre

Serramonacesca.  I love these trees and how 'regimented' they look

Serramonacesca.  Small piazza as you enter the village from Pescara direction
Serramonacesca, as seen from the road towards Pescara (taken from the car!)

We leave Serramonacesca and drive to Manoppello Scalo.  Last Summer we planted a couple of lavender plants in the old stone 'sink' outside our house.  They have flourished and we decide we need a couple more to put in the other half as we want them to completely overrun.  There are three or four garden centres on this route to Pescara.  We choose one that looks open and like it has a lot of choice.

The lavender plants are very healthy and a fair size already at €3.50 each.  We buy three.  Again, we get chatting to the owner.  She makes us an espresso and gives the boys some water.  She tells us about her business and that she has three sons.  She likes the boys and gives them a plant each with pretty flowers on.

We return to the house to plant our garden purchases.  I have been wanting to introduce colour to our Italian garden for a while now.  The Italians love more 'formal' green gardens, which I do love, but being a Brit I love colour in the garden.

My new lavender plants in the Italian garden

Son number 1 is desperate to visit Rocca's playground, so we take the boys there for an hour.  The village is all under preparation for the coming Festa di San Rocco, which begins tomorrow night and ends on Sunday night.  It is one of the, if not the, biggest festa in the region.  It attracts around 30,000 plus visitors.  We have never been before so are looking forward to seeing what it's like.

The upper level of the village playground, Roccamontepiano

Festa lights up in preparation for the Festa di San Rocco, Roccamontepiano

After dinner, Will takes the boys to the fountain at the top of our road where all the children play to cool down.  I am sitting on the balcony writing in my travel journal, with a glass of local montepulciano.  On our Summer vacations, first thing in the morning and early evening are my favourite time of the day.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A relaxing day in the Abruzzen countryside

Continuation of my 2014 Summer holiday, from my travel journal. 

Day 3 - Sunday

I wake up to the sounds of the Abruzzen countryside at 7am.  I wander on to the balcony.  It is 28 degrees already.  There are people strimming their land (in the distance) because it will be too hot to do later on, the tractor is whirring in the field at the farm opposite our house, an eagle cries as it circles over our house, our neighbour's dog barks, a herd of sheep are on top of one of the hills.  I love these sounds because they are all part of the Abruzzen landscape.

My Abruzzo

After we've all showered and dressed, we go and visit Maria's cafe in Pretoro.  She is thrilled to see us and gives us all a hug and kiss.  Maria is making a fresh batch of cannoli con ricotta.  She is desperate for me to try one and I don't have the heart to tell her that I am not over keen on the ricotta ones.  I pretend my Italian hasn't quite kicked in yet and motion towards the cannoli con crema, which I do like.  Maria's husband (whose name we still do not know) appears and is happy to see us, particularly the boys.  We love Maria's husband too.  He looks like Mr Frederickson from Up!  I promise I will take a photo of him one day to show you.

Pastries in Maria's cafe, Pretoro

We go and sit outside and watch the world go by.  This cafe is a constant.  Whenever we visit, nothing changes, but the seasons.  It is an old, familiar friend and a great place to watch Abruzzen people carrying on with their daily lives.  Maria's cafe is popular with people who live in Pretoro, but many patrons are cyclists who are venturing up (or down) the Passo Lanciano to Blockhaus and people from Pescara who spend their weekends hiking/skiing/mountain biking in the Majella National Park.

Bar della Posta, Pretoro

Maria appears with a ricotta cannolo.  I pretend to be really excited to try it and I have to take a first bite in front of her.  I do a really good job of pretending I love it (Academy Awards calling) and when she returns inside and the coast is clear, I pass it to Will and get him to eat it.  Will feels quite sick afterwards.  I feel bad for a couple of minutes.

After the cafe stop, which cost €14 for four capuccini (Will and I needed the coffee), 1 bottle of water for the boys, two cannoli, 1 pizza slice (Will) and two small pastries for the boys, we drive back to our village shop and buy prosciutto, apples, drinks and pecorino cheese.

At lunchtime we eat pasta with prosciutto and tomato and mascarpone sauce.  We always have bags of pasta in our cupboard ready for when we arrive.  It is quick and easy and the boys love it, thankfully.

It is 36 degrees.  Will has strimmed the land around the house and wants to strim the olive grove tomorrow.  I am starting to wind down after our fraught journey yesterday.  The boys are settled.  They know and love this house too.  In the distance, the sound of fireworks mildly interrupts the quiet.  Our 6 year old wants to know why Italians let off fireworks in the daytime.  Other than explaining to him that is always during times of celebration, I cannot tell him why they let them off the daytime because I do not know (if anyone could tell me that would be great).

Early evening and we have all had a siesta and wake up refreshed.  Everyone stays out of the sun from 1-4pm, generally.  That evening, we visit our friend Val at Bar Ottavio for one of her delicious frittata's and a catch-up.  We watch the MotoGP too whilst we are there so the boys are doubly pleased.

Bar Ottavio, Pretoro, Abruzzo

What is left of Val's courgette frittata (before being completely demolished), Bar Ottavio, Pretoro

I've really enjoyed our first day back in Abruzzo.  We all unwind so quickly whenever we return here.  Not sure what we will do yet tomorrow....

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Another long day, the San Gottard Pass and molti incidenti

Day 2 - Mulhouse to Abruzzo, via Switzerland

I am writing in my travel journal in the car as we have just left our hotel in Mulhouse.  It is 7.01am.  It is drizzly and grey.  We decided we would get straight on the road, rather than stay for breakfast.  We have enough provisions in the car to feed the boys for a couple of hours.  We decide that when we stop, we want to stop on the St Gotthard Pass.  We reach the Swiss border 40 minutes later.  There are no tolls in Switzerland, but you have to purchase a motorway pass at the border.  This costs just under €40, but it lasts for a year.

8.15am  The boys are asleep.  It is raining heavily now.  This does not detract from the stunning scenery.  However, I badly need a coffee now and so does Will.  Will is excited because we just passed a huge sign advertising the European Tractor Pulling Championships.  Why this is exciting I don't know.  I didn't even know it was a thing.  Will tried to explain why it is exciting, but I still don't know.

A very wet day on the Swiss motorway
Switzerland, beautiful even in the rain

9.25am  There is a massive queue for the St Gotthard Tunnel.  Like last year, but not quite as bad, we want the pass though.  We are going to attempt to turn off before and hope if we go through one of the little villages we can link up to the Pass.  We take the turn off at Wassen and join the pass from there, avoiding sitting in the queue for an hour or more.  Hooray!

Queue for the St Gotthard Tunnel
Turning off at Wassen so we can get to the St Gotthard Pass

10.00-11.00am  We stopped for an hour at the top of the pass for a much needed coffee and we were all rather excited to see there was a selection of delicious looking cakes.  We bought a slice of black forest gateau and what looked like a light, moussey lemon affair, to share.  Both were delicious, although Squidge stole a lot of my favourite black forest gateau.  I loved the building we visited.  It houses a small museum on the history of the pass, along with a gift shop, clean toilets (hallelujah!) and a cafe.  The cafe had old photographs and paintings of the pass as it was, which looked rather terrifying in it's original state.  Padawan wanted to buy his 'girlfriend and future wife' a swiss mountain goat, as in cuddly toy, not real, although knowing the recipient she would have loved a real goat.  As we head out of the building and into the crisp, clean air, Squidge spots a huge puddle and decides to jump up and down in it.  We let him have his moment of fun as we will be driving again for several hours.

At the top of the Passo San Gottardo.  Atmospheric beauty in the rain.

Yum! Coffee and cake at the St Gotthard Museum cafe

11.45am We are passing Lago di Lugano.  It looks very nice from what we can see, although there are lots of barriers at the side of the road which annoyingly obscure the view.  The sun is breaking through the clouds and we are happy we are in the Italian speaking side of Switzerland.  

12.15pm We drive through the Italian border.  Padawan says 'I am excited now as we will be home soon.'  We reach our first toll five minutes later.  It costs €2.20.  We reach another toll, again five minutes later, costing €2.90.

1.20pm  We always have the Italian radio on when we reach Italy.  We keep hearing 'molti incidenti', which is not good.  The traffic is heavy.  There have been two incidents near Piacenza.  Not surprising from the driving we have witnessed so far.  Lots of Range Rovers and trucks who are too impatient with the Ferragosto traffic taking silly chances that don't pay off.  The temperature gauge on the car says it is 33 degrees.

3.30pm  It is now 37 degrees.  We are sitting in a traffic jam very near to Bologna.  Thank goodness for air-con.

8.00pm  After a very long time stuck in traffic, which we have never experienced like that before (except in Northern Italy), and a final toll of €41.50 we finally reach our home.  We have just unpacked what we need tonight and tomorrow morning and are going to head straight to bed.

The boys' faces lit up when we walked into the house and it made the long day worthwhile
We decided there and then we would not travel at Ferragosto again

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Journey: Day 1, Dover to Mulhouse

I am trying something a little different for my blog posts from my Summer outing to Abruzzo.  I will be, literally, giving you my pages from my holiday journal.  A sort of 'dear Abruzzo'.  I think it's good to show the reality of a holiday with young children.  My first post is pretty short because it's the first day and fantastic as the French toll roads are to drive on, it's very boring too.  Here goes....

Day 1: Dover to Mulhouse

Early start. Left at 3am. Two very excited little boys bundled in the back of the car.  Squidge (our 2 year old) falls asleep after 10 minutes.  Padawan (our Star Wars mad 6 year old) talks non-stop for about an hour, then falls asleep.  

Arrived at Dover at 5.30am.  The boys have commenced lightsaber battles in the back of the car.  Will is walking around the car, in the wind and drizzle, stretching his legs whilst we wait for the ferry.  I need a coffee.

Sailing.  It's 7am.  We got on the ferry very quickly and easily, so headed straight up to the restaurant.  We find a table by the window, at the back of the boat so the boys can see us sail away from the White Cliffs of Dover.  I have my coffee and croissant.  I'm feeling more awake.  We venture into the shop where I find my perfume with £20 off the normal price.  Yay!  Will finds Toblerone on offer and buys three huge bars.  Even though we will be driving through Switzerland tomorrow.  

It is a calm crossing, but as we approach Calais, our eldest son is crying, with a sprained wrist.  Some nine year old with a pretentious name has been wrestling smaller kids in the soft play area, whilst his mother is round the corner in the cafe reading a newspaper.  We told him to stay away from this boy. Well, unfortunately our eldest learned a lesson from this, the hard way.  Mummy is [usually] right.  The boy's mother is still oblivious/uninterested in the fuss, although his Grandfather walks in as we leave, to tell him off.  I wonder who the boy's next victim will be on the return ferry.  Probably some unsuspecting toddler.  

10am.  After exiting the ferry, we drive for an hour until we find a place we can pull over to bandage our son's wrist.  We stop, I massage some arnica cream into his hand/wrist, bandage it and give him some medicine.  The boys fall asleep again, 10 minutes after leaving.

12.30pm.  It costs €22.20 for the first toll (Reims).  I realise I've forgotten to bring Mr Mouse and Professor Trunky for Squidge.  We dare not speak their names and hope he will not notice.

2pm Second toll (Batilly), €15.  We stop so the boys can have a run around, kick their ball and eat.  We all eat one of the rolls I've made and the boys demolish their Pombears.  French picnic areas are so clean.  We leave after a good break, ready to hit the road again.

5.45pm After stopping earlier on, the last leg of our first day has seemed to take forever, so we are extremely pleased to reach the hotel (Novotel Mulhouse).  We have a family room, which the boys think is wonderful.  Thankfully the room is large with one double bed and two single beds for the boys.  Squidge instantly throws himself on the nearest single bed and jumps up and down, giggling.  Will takes our eldest son for a quick swim to see if the cold water will help his arm.  It does improve a little.

6.30pm  We are all exhausted so room service beckons.  Will and I order a burger and fries to share.  We are asked how we want the burger and Will says rare.  It was the best burger we have ever eaten!  I meant to take a photo before we ate it, but we were so hungry we demolished it.  The boys had fries and room service sent up some bread rolls and a bowl of rice for them too.  

7.30pm  Sleep beckons for us all as we have a long day ahead of us.

I wouldn't hesitate to use this hotel again.  The staff were so kind to the boys and the rooms were clean and comfortable.  
It's been a long day, but the boys have both behaved so well in the car and the hotel.  Thank goodness.
Alsace is beautiful.
Even with roadworks, the French toll roads are amazing.  We've just driven through France in 9 hours.
Squidge, our toddler, kept saying 'wee' really loudly because he heard us speaking French and saying 'oui'.  Slightly embarrassing, like Mr Bean in Mr Bean's Holiday.
Avoid soft play area on ferries and children named after male Wuthering Heights characters

Next post: Day 2, Mulhouse to Abruzzo, via Switzerland

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Where is home?

Firstly, let me apologise for going Awol on my blog for the last three months.  I have had rather a lot going on in my life lately and I struggle to write if my thoughts are elsewhere.  I do write very honestly about my life, or try to, but I did not want to write any blog posts half-heartedly.  Once again, I am amazed at the number of hits and followers my blog has been receiving without any new posts for three months, so thank you very much to all my new readers and followers, I appreciate it.

Finally, after years of moving around and feeling half my heart is in Italy and half in England, we are buying a home in England again (fingers crossed - the English property buying process is a nightmare).  I think regular readers will not be surprised after reading a post I had written a few months ago saying that with our children to consider and the state of the Italian economy, we would not be moving to Italy permanently.  I did struggle a little with accepting this because I thought that people were hoping we would live the dream and we were letting them down in some way.

Our Italian house.  Taken from the garden.  Abruzzo, Winter 2013

Things have changed....I have changed so much, Will and I both have, since our house in Abruzzo was first built.  We have finally settled in a little market town in England.  It has enough here to occupy us and we are near to the coast and the city, when we need them.  I decided pretty quickly after the birth of our eldest son that living in rural isolation is not for me.  I don't want to have to drive just to get a pint of milk, or have to drive to school.  I enjoy walking and I like to have things nearby.  That said, living rurally on holiday is pretty idyllic.

Back to the English home, I cannot wait to own a period house again and use my interior design creativity.  More importantly, I want to create a home that our little boys love and feel safe in, and know that it is theirs.

With the potential move looming, I realise how amazing our friends are and why I would not want to leave them.  We have had friends offering to help us paint the house we have been renting, help with the move, help with fact, yesterday, our friends Pete and Lorraine came to us and brought a home-made cake, knowing how busy we have been.  After varnishing doors, painting and clearing rubbish, it was such a welcome respite and so kind.  We value these friends.  Friends who think of you selflessly are not ten a penny. 

We still love our home in Roccamontepiano and Abruzzo, when we are out there, but it is now purely a holiday home and I feel I will appreciate it a lot more now, as such.  It is as though a weight has been lifted off my shoulders at last.  I cannot wait to return to Abruzzo and just enjoy it for the beautiful place it is.

My eldest son admiring Rocca Calascio, Abruzzo.  Summer 2014

My next blog post will be about our Summer holiday in Abruzzo!