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.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

A meander in Lettomanoppello

Day 9 of our Summer holiday was spent pruning our olive trees.  Hard work, but I love that you can see what you have done and the olive grove looks great afterwards.

Day 10.
Went to the Sunday market in Lettomanoppello to buy ricotta, but the ricotta man wasn't there.  The market was half its usual size because of ferragosto, but it was nice in some ways because we could see the buildings that are normally covered by stalls.

We wandered the narrow streets and found a piazza in the centre, where many of the town's population seemed to be.  The piazza was charming, with a beautifully restored building that housed the police and town hall.  We settled at one of the two cafes and ordered limon sodas.  Lettomanoppello is a nice little place.

Gorgeous pink-hued houses in Lettomanoppello, Abruzzo

Piazza in Lettomanoppello

After the market, we decided to have lunch at Val's (Bar Ottavio).  We wanted to have one of her delicious omelettes with zucchini (courgette).  The boys just wanted to have her chips!  Val had made a trifle with fresh peaches and banana and was so pleased we wanted to eat it as the Italians don't really understand English trifles.  Squidge walked up to a complete stranger, grabbed his drink, had a sip, put it down and then walked off.  I don't know what I ate/drank when I was pregnant with Squidge, he is such a character.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Ferragosto: or everything is busy and crowded

Continuing on from my Summer holiday travel journal...

Day 7 of our holiday was a mooching about kind of day.  We stayed at home today and walked round to various neighbours' homes where we stopped for a coffee and chat.  On a holiday where it takes two days driving to reach your destination, days like this are vital, just to unwind and not rush about.  A sweet old lady gave Squidge a massive tomato to carry.  I knew this would not end well.  On the way back to the house he dropped it on our considerably steep road, where it picked up speed before I could grab it and rolled off down the hillside.

Day 8.
Today is a day for discovering somewhere new.  We always pull out our map of Abruzzo, before our Summer holiday, and look for a new place to visit.  We had decided on visiting Rocca Calascio aka 'Ladyhawke castle', from the film Ladyhawke.  We left the house at 8am and stopped for coffee at our favourite bar in Serramonacesca, where Squidge ate a pastry bigger than the size of his head.  He has now broken our friend Pete's rule of 'never eat anything bigger than your head'.  After this and the ensuing half hour of toddler with sugar rush, we departed for Northern Abruzzo.

Our trusty map of Abruzzo
On our way!
The landscape changes as we get nearer to the province of L'Aquila.  We have just left behind what we call our 'fluffy mountains' and we are driving into a large valley with fields of wild flowers and arable farmland enveloped in a vast wilderness of rugged, grey mountains, caves and boulders, which are worryingly close to the road from where they have fallen.  This is bear country.  This is where George Clooney filmed The American.  This is a place where stories are waiting to be told.......and Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer were wandering the stunning countryside accompanied by dodgy 80's keyboard music in Ladyhawke.

Beautiful province of L'Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy

We arrive at the town below the castle, which sits high up overlooking the valley below.  It looks as if there is a road which goes up to the castle, but this has been closed by the Polizia.  Everybody else has had the same idea as us.  It is extremely busy.  We manage to park and decide to walk as far as we can, as the police are letting pedestrians through.  We get halfway and it is too far for the boys to walk and Squidge is too heavy to carry.  

The approach to Rocca Calascio, province of L'Aquila, Abruzzo

We decide at this moment to return on a quieter day.  A little disappointing, but we like what we have seen.  More and more people are arriving as we leave.  Beautiful places like this cannot be appreciated in crowds.  It is exactly the same in the uk in places like Southwold in the holiday season.

1pm Back home, I cook one of my favourite comfort dishes of tuna, anchovy, lemon and white wine with spaghetti.  It is nice to be back in the quiet surroundings again.  We are visiting the Festa di San Rocco tonight, but are unclear as to what time the fireworks start.  Italian firework displays are always fantastic.  We have been told varying times of 8.30pm, 9pm, 10pm and midnight?  We decide we will all have a sleep after lunch and then the boys can stay up.

8pm We have to park just outside the village (it is too far and too dark to walk from ours, especially with young children).  We wind our way through the village park and up the many steps into the centre.  The festa was rammed.  It ran the whole length of the village.  There were so many people.  We had Squidge in his pushchair and Padawan had a band around his wrist that was attached to my wrist as I held his hand.  The boys took the large crowds in their stride, but I found it a bit much.  The festa lights looked incredibly pretty, however, and I loved the local craft and food stalls.  There were a lot of stalls selling what our friend Nick calls 'toot' and I didn't care much for the fairground either.  We bumped into our friend Anita and bought some delicious porchetta from her stand.

Roccamontepiano, Abruzzo
The Festa di San Rocco, Roccamontepiano, Abruzzo

After walking the entire length of the village and having acquired minion and spiderman helium balloons, we had seen enough.  We returned home for an hour before going back to watch the fireworks, which were (we found out from Anita) at midnight.  The fireworks were very loud and very beautiful....and Squidge slept through the whole thing!  We were glad we finally experienced the festa that has 30,000 visitors, however, we agreed that the small festas that are attended by only residents of Rocca and Serra are the best.

Sleepy-head. Missing the fireworks.

After a mixed day, let's face it, no country is perfect, but Italy always gets close in so many ways.  I love this quote below:

“First of all, let's get one thing straight. Your Italy and our Italia are not the same thing. Italy is a soft drug peddled in predictable packages, such as hills in the sunset, olive groves, lemon trees, white wine, and raven-haired girls. Italia, on the other hand, is a maze. It's alluring, but complicated. It's the kind of place that can have you fuming and then purring in the space of a hundred meters, or in the course of ten minutes. Italy is the only workshop in the world that can turn out both Botticellis and Berlusconis.” 
― Beppe SevergniniLa Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian 

Sunday, 4 January 2015

New Year, New Beginnings and not all arrosticini are equal

Happy New Year to you all!  We have finally settled in our new England.  We moved last month, hence the lack of blog posts over the last few weeks. This is the happiest and most relaxed I have been in ages, so I think it was a good move for our family. 

Anyway, moving on.  New year, new blog post.  Continuing on from Day 6 of our Summer holiday in Abruzzo.

Woke up at 6.30am.  Assumpta's (our neighbour) cockerel is going crazy.  I know we are in the country, but this is one of the noises that I don't appreciate being woken up by.  I wander out to the balcony.  The temperature is so pleasant at this time of day in the Summer, at 21 degrees.  I can hear a car winding its way along the mountain road at the top.  One of the farm cats (the particularly naughty one) is strutting proudly through the olive grove opposite with a mouse in it's mouth.  I can hear the distinctive sound of an eagle overhead.  The cat has dropped the mouse and is striding purposefully toward our house. She has disappeared under the balcony.  She appears again two minutes later with a lizard in her mouth.  The life of a rural Italian cat.

8.30am Having showered and dressed, we have driven into our village to buy some bread and we notice they have bombetti (a mini version of a donut filled with patisserie cream).  Squidge's (our youngest son) favourite Italian sweet treat.  He becomes very animated and shouts 'cake!', which makes the nice ladies in the queue laugh.  The baker gives us an extra couple for the boys to have immediately.  Typical Italian kindness.  We pop into the village homeware shop Tutti per la Casa, which our friend Maximillio owns.  We have just popped in for a chat with him.  

Roccamontepiano, Abruzzo, Italy
Lovely old Fiat 500, Rocca

Our village bakers, Rocca

1pm  We take a drive up to the Passo Lanciano where it is infinitely cooler.  We are extremely thirsty so we order lots of lemon soda.  The smell of arrosticini reaches us and it smells fantastic.  We take a chance and order some.  Now let me explain for newer readers.  Arrosticini are a big deal in Abruzzo.  They seem to be sold everywhere in the Summer (even petrol stations) and at every opportunity our neighbours will light up their barbeques to cook them.  We tried them at a restaurant back in 2008, when our friends Laura and Nick were staying with us.  Now, none of us understood the fuss, so we never ordered them again.  I have been proven wrong.  Not all arrosticini are equal.  These were delicious.  The location (near the ski lifts) was great and the atmosphere was friendly and buzzing.  We got chatting to an Italian-Anglo family and a Scandinavian family, both on holiday too.  I would definitely return here next Summer.

Cafe at Passo Lanciano

Arrostocini! [delicious ones]

We love walking so decided to take advantage of the fact we were already high up in the mountains and drove further up, to Blockhaus, parked and went for a wander.  The views here are amazing.  Whilst I don't want the boys to grow up too quickly, I am looking forward to hiking and mountain biking when they are bigger, something Will and I did a lot of, pre-children.  

Squidge and Peanut: He ain't heavy, he's my brother

One of my favourite mountain views at Blockhaus, Abruzzo, Italy
Peanut loves these mountains as much as I do

It is so peaceful up here.  Lots of people are around on walks/hiking, but it is such a vast space that you don't notice.  I could happily sit here and write/draw/paint/take photos, for hours.  Love this part of the world.