Sunday, 30 August 2015

Wilderness Explorers

My darling Peanut,

You have been going to Abruzzo on your holidays since you were 8 weeks old.  You have always loved Italy and have a special affinity with the mountains.  When we are back in England, although you are happy to see family and friends, you always tell me how you miss the mountains.

For the first time this year, you got to share your adventures with one of your dearest friends, Molly.  You two have always shared a special bond from the moment she was born.  You are both like peas in a pod from your personalities, to your likes and dislikes.  You are probably unaware, but Molly looks up at you with adoration and hangs on your every word.  You also make her laugh an awful lot!

I wondered how you would both get on in a different environment.  I need not have worried.  You both thrived in the great outdoors and your sense of adventure and story-telling developed.  You are both quite cautious and sensible in daily life, almost to the point where I can see you both wearing a high-viz and hard hat whilst carrying a clipboard, yet you both strangely leap about on mildly dangerous mountain paths without a care in the world!

I loved listening to the two of you deep in serious discussions about your future wasp-killing business (wasps were a big issue on this holiday for the first time)....and laughed when you both ran as soon as a wasp got near you.

You loved discovering old towns, waterfalls and castles.  In fact, the waterfalls and forests were your favourite things.

Sometimes you just lay in the same hammock, in the quiet of the countryside, under the olive trees (pretending it was a boat) and talked at each other in unison.

Even on the ferry, on the way home, after hours in the car.  Neither of you complained, or got bored, you just decided to look out for pirates and sea monsters, along with seagulls bigger than France.  Apparently, they exist.

Every moment on this holiday was an adventure in your little minds.  In fact, you remind me of Carl and Ellie in Up!  I hope you will always be friends.

Love, Mummy xxx

Russell (Up!): "That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most."

Saturday, 11 July 2015

A Six Year Old's Thoughts on Abruzzo

My six year old son loves reading and writing.  He has always shown an interest in my blog and writes up his own thoughts and stories.  He asked me if he could write a post on Abruzzo, so I suggested he write what he thinks and feels about this lovely part of Italy.  I asked him some questions and here are his unedited replies.

Q: What is the first thought/feeling that pops into your head when you think of Abruzzo?

A: It's always sunny and blue skies.  Our Italian house is yellow and we have lots of space there. I feel happy.  People are nice.  I have adventures.


The Majella in the Winter. Abruzzo

Q:  What is your favourite food to eat in Italy?

A:  My favourite food is strawberry ice-cream.  I love tuna pizza and I love visiting Val [at Bar Ottavio, Pretoro] for her chips. Mummy is laughing at my answer!

Bar Ottavio, Pretoro.  Chips are available here.

Q:  One of your best friends, Molly, is coming on holiday with us this year.  What do you think she will like on this trip?

A:  I can't wait to show Molly my Italian house, the waterfalls in Switzerland, the mountains, the icecream and Ladyhawke's castle.  Oh and the pass at the top of Switzerland [the San Gottard pass], but it is cold sometimes when we are there.  I do like it though.

San Gottard Pass, Switzerland

Mountains, Abruzzo, Italy

'Ladyhawke Castle' Rocca Calascio, Abruzzo

Q:  What is your perfect day in Abruzzo?

A:  My perfect day is breakfast at Maria's [Bar della Poste, Pretoro] because she bakes lots of really good cakes and other stuff. She gives me bread.  Then, we can go to our house so Molly can look around.  We can go to Ladyhawke's castle because I like history and castles.  We will have ice-cream.  We can have lunch at Val's because we haven't seen her for ages and I like her chips.  In the afternoon, we would go to Guardiagrele to the park with Molly of course.  We can go to the park in our village too.  For dinner in our house, we can have risotto.  After dinner we could have a very small water fight because up the road is where the fountain is.

The ice-cream is good in Italy, apparently
The Gelateria in Guardiagrele

One of the parks in Guardiagrele

Q:  How does Abruzzo make you feel?

A:  I feel relaxable and excited about everything.  I love it.  The wildlife is nice.  We have a wild boar that lives in our garden.  Mummy calls him Bertie.  I miss our house when we leave.

Well there you have it folks.  From the thoughts of a 6 year old.  Food other than ice-cream and chips are also available.....

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Abruzzo: Friends, Memories....Old and New

This Summer, two of our oldest friends, Laura and Nick, will be joining us on our annual Abruzzen holiday.  The last time we were all out there together was in May 2009, for the Giro d'Italia.  The one where Lance Armstrong took part.  We cheered him on, happily oblivious to any wrongdoing.  Oh how different things are today!

Since then, other than our family holidays, my husband has gone away with Nick on gardening/cycling trips and I have gone with Laura on shopping/sightseeing trips.  This Summer we will all be together with our children.  It will be their daughter Molly's first trip to Abruzzo/Italy.  

How I love these hills and mountains. Abruzzo

We are all driving down together and have got walkie-talkies for the children to talk to each other on the journey.  My eldest son, who will be 7 soon, is incredibly excited to show Molly around.  Our soon-to-be 3 year old, is saying 'go Italy, go Mountains' two, or three times a day whilst running in circles.  

Hey, Figlio! That's my cappuccino!

Abruzzo is a pretty unique part of Italy and our friends have grown to love it too.

Pacentro, Abruzzo

We will visit places old, familiar and loved.

I love these trees in Serramonacesca, one of our favourite villages

Our eldest son, taking in one of his favourite views. Majella, Abruzzo

We will find something new.  Always something new to discover in Abruzzo.  This was our find, below, last Summer.

View from Rocca Calascio, L'Aquila, Abruzzo

One of the nicest things, however, will be sitting on the patio in the evening, whilst the children play, talking and laughing as we watch the sun set on the mountains.  

We have been through change of job, engagements, weddings, miscarriages, babies and house moves together, as the trials and tribulations of having a house built in Abruzzo played out.  Our friendship is just a little bit older than our relationship with this beautiful region!

 "Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down." - Oprah Winfrey

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Pause for Thought: Bocca di Valle

Taken from my 2014 travel journal:

We only have two days left of our summer holiday.  I don't know where the time has gone.  It's 8am and I'm drinking coffee on our balcony.  The valley is quiet, although I can hear our elderly neighbour having cross words with someone.  It could be her dog, her chickens, or her visiting grandson. It's usually one of those three.  One of her crazy cats is swinging from the branches of our biggest olive tree.  I smile to myself, thinking how I will miss this when I return to England.

10am.  We stopped at Bocca di Valle ('Mouth of the Valley') on our way to Guardiagrele.  We have driven through here many times, but this was the first time we had decided to have a proper look at the war memorial.  

As we exit the car, we notice what looks like a fantastic walking trail, following the ravine and we make a note to return here next summer, when Squidge will be older.

We hadn't realised when driving past before that underneath the words carved in the rock face, there is a cave that is open to the public.

Bocca di Valle, Abruzzo, Italy

Somebody had taken a lot of care over this memorial.  There were individually hand-painted tiles on the walls and floor of the cave.  Absolutely exquisite. 

Beautiful floor tiles, Bocca di Valle

Seeing names of soldiers, photos and messages, was sad and sobering.  Even the boys were silent.  There is something about this setting, so quiet, you really have time to reflect on the futility of war.  I had a lump in my throat.

We did visit Guardiagrele after Bocca di Valle, but it seems rather insignificant to write about this, after posting this.  I will save that visit for another post.  With all the stuff that is happening in the world right now, we need to remember why history should not be allowed to repeat itself.

Somber reminder - note the barbed wire on the gate

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Rocca Calascio: Ladyhawke Castle

Day 11 of my diary from our Summer Holiday

Breakfast at Val's (Bar Ottavio).  Off to try and walk up to Ladyhawke Castle again today, in the hopes that it is quieter.....

We made it!  Absolutely breathtaking.  We drove past the town in Rocca Calascio and parked as closely as we could because of the children.  It still meant a fair walk and a lot of ancient, steep stairs, rocky paths and rocks to climb up and over.

Rocca Calascio is in the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park in the province of L'Aquila.  The 'Ladyhawke castle' (called so affectionately because it features in the film Ladyhawke) is actually a fortress.  The fortress is the highest fortress in the Appenines at an elevation of 1,460 metres.

The abandoned medieval parts of the town that still remain above the newer part of the town are beautiful.  There is something to discover on every corner.

Squidge was carried on W's shoulders and I helped Padawan along the trickier paths.  I would say you definitely need proper hiking boots, or at least very good quality trainers for this trip. The boys were both very good, considering they had just turned 2 and 6 on this holiday.

Although it was fairly busy, no part was too crowded and we could take in the views and stop and admire the scenery when we wished.  It was lovely to see people of all ages out enjoying a walk.  

The Gran Sasso Park, Abruzzo, Italy

Almost there!  Padawan admires the fortress 

The building in the photo below is the 17th century octagonal church, Santa Maria della Pieta.

I think Ladyhawke Castle is one of the most photogenic places I have been to in Abruzzo (along with Pacentro and Caramanico Terme).  All of these photographs were taken on my iphone, so you can imagine the images you would get from a decent camera.  

As you reach the castle, on one side you look down from the mountains to the valley and it is quite agricultural, a sort of pretty patchwork quilt of fields of gold and green.  However, when you walk across to the other side there is a real bleakness to the beauty of the Gran Sasso park.  I imagine it to be absolutely stunning at twilight.

Rocca Calascio

Padawan thought the fortress was amazing and loved the mountains and park.  He took in a couple of photographs to school for 'show and tell' and still talks about Rocca Calascio and asks when we can return.

Rocca Calascio, Abruzzo, Italy

I can see why Hollywood wanted to capture this raw beauty in a fantasy film and I feel very lucky to have visited such a wonderful part of Italy.  We hope to return this Summer with our friends who are joining us on our holiday.