Sunday, 13 April 2014

Arrivederci dalle My Family and Abruzzo

I started this blog in mid-June last year without realising how many people from all over the world would end up reading it.  People from the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, China, Israel, all over Europe, India...


Fara Filorium Petri, Abruzzo

When I got married in Abruzzo, I had intended to start a blog, or write a book, but life got in the way.  I am a little sad to end my blog, but I have found of late, that it has been harder to write.  I mentioned this briefly in a previous post.


Pennapiedimonte, Abruzzo

When I started writing, we still had not ruled out moving to Italy full time and hence my blog would have progressed to an ex-pat blog, warts and all life in Italy.  It saddens me to say that we have decided for sure that we will not be migrating.  


My father, my husband and my sons.  Pretoro, Abruzzo

The whole world is aware of Italy's economic problems.  With two small children, how can we move them somewhere, where at present, there is not a lot of hope for youngsters?  When our eldest son says he wishes he was in Italy and why can't we live there....I'd be lying if I didn't say my heart isn't breaking a little right now.


Pretoro, Abruzzo

On a brighter note, I have received some wonderful emails, tweets and comments on my blog from all over the world.  I hope I have done a good job of introducing you all to this beautiful part of Italy.  I have added some of my favourite photos that I have taken in Abruzzo in this post.


Agriturismo in Abruzzo

Fiat 500 in Manoppello, Abruzzo

We are also very fortunate that we have this wonderful holiday home that we can use every year and that we can leave to our sons to enjoy with their families one day.


Caramanico Terme, Abruzzo
Fittingly, my highest rated blog posts were The Forgotten Region and Ciao! Me and Italy.


Pacentro, Abruzzo
Pennapiedimonte, Abruzzo
Vasto, Abruzzo
Thank you to all my regular readers, who always commented and supported my blog, in particular; Tiffany, Bonnie, Deb, Rosey, Jessica (Independent Travel Cats), Jessica (Italian Bunny Report) Glenda, Vanisha, Diana at Browsing Italy, along with my dear friends, Pete and Lorraine, Ali and Laura.


Fara Filorium Petri, Abruzzo

Passo Lanciano, Abruzzo

I hope many of you travel to Abruzzo in the future and understand why I love it so much.

Thank you all for reading.  Baci!



Sunday, 6 April 2014

I dream of Sicily...

I'm lucky to have visited the places I have.  Aside from slight niggles with Venice, I have loved every part of Italy that I have been to.  However, I have a yearning to visit Sicily, which is as yet unfulfilled.

So why Sicily?    

I fell in love with the rugged, rustic countryside shown in The Godfather films.  When I first visited Abruzzo, it reminded me of this.

Bar Vitelli, featured in The Godfather films.  Beautiful image by:  Wallace Immen

Giuseppe Tornatore's stunning cinematography in Malena and Cinema Paradiso has me imagining walking through Siracusa and Messina.

Malena's Sicily, Siracusa.  Image: museyon

I would also like to walk in Inspector Montalbano's Sicily in Punta Secca, Ragusa and Val di Noto.  In fact, there are tours and websites such as http://inspector-montalbano-location.blogspot.co.uk/p/film-locations-in-ragusa.html should you wish to visit.  Inspector Montalbano is hugely popular.

Montalbano's house in Punto Secco - you can stay here in real life, it's a B&B!
Montalbano World, Ragusa.  Image: Inspector Montalbano Locations
Crystal aquamarine waters and pretty coastal villages.

Image: www.conservativetours.com
The majestic city of Palermo.....

Palermo  image: en.wikipedia

....and have I mentioned the food?  Besides all the divine fresh seafood (my favourite) and the Sicilians have a real sweet tooth and I want to try cassata and cannoli.

Cassata - a traditional Sicilian cake

Sicily is an island that appears full of rich history, colour, food and people.  It is little wonder that my favourite designers, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana are so inspired and constantly draw from their sicilian heritage.  It is so apparent in their exquisite designs.  I had the privilege of seeing some of their stunning creations at the Glamour of Italian Fashion exhibition at the Victoria & Albert museum in London yesterday.  

Typically stunning Dolce & Gabbana advertisement
I will get to Sicily one day, but I am waiting for our sons to be old enough to appreciate it.  In the meantime....sogni d'oro (sweet dreams)

Friday, 4 April 2014

Cycling and Abruzzo

Firstly, let me say, sorry to my readers.  I have been somewhat absent of late in the blogging world.  

I am thinking about ending my Abruzzo blog.  Sometimes I love it, but over the last month I haven't been getting as much back from this blog as I have been putting in.  I have a few reasons;

Firstly, my youngest son is 20 months and needing a lot more attention!  

I am finding my film blog easier to write and less hassle.  I have nearly 70 readers after only three weeks and this is without constant link-ups etc.

When I first started this blog, we were still unsure as a family if, or indeed, when, we would be moving to Abruzzo.  I think I can say with certainty now, that this will not be happening.  To move our children with no secure jobs, or a large amount of savings, is not something we want to do.  On our last visit at Christmas, our friends who own bars were saying how bad the economic situation in Italy is.  So many youngsters are out of work and disillusioned.  For youngsters who have families with money, generally in Northern Italy, they are studying abroad and have more opportunities, but for ordinary Italians, things look bleak.  I will keep you posted, should I decide to not carry on with this blog.  Thank you to all my regular readers.



Cycling has played a part in our holidays to Abruzzo, in one way or another, since Will and I first visited in 2002.

That year, we discovered the Giro d'Italia had cycled past the road where our future house would be.  The Giro is the second most prestigious cycling tour, after the Tour de France, but although second, it is the favourite of many commentators and cyclists. The winners jersey is pink rather than yellow.  Another race, the Tirreno-Adriatico has often passed through parts of Abruzzo we know and love.


Giro d'Italia 2009: Fans arriving early morning to get a place to watch
On a solo trip, Will took his bike with him, followed the markings on the road, many saying 'Pantani' in honour of much-loved Marco Pantani, and completed his first mountain climb.  Will was hooked on a new sport, having previously been into motocross and supamoto.


Will, raring to go!

Between 2002, with the house build, and our wedding in 2006, we realised just how popular cycling was outside of the uk.  This has changed dramatically in the last two years thanks to super-sprinter Mark 'Cav' Cavendish and Bradley 'Wiggo' Wiggins.  


Wiggo and Cav at the 2013 Giro d'Italia - Image: The Guardian

In May 2007 our friends, Paul and Rachel, joined us on holiday when we went to our first Giro stage, in 
Teramo.  We should have left the house earlier that day and got a good spot on the mountain pass.  We arrived late and although we could see everything, the cyclists flew past in a riot of colour.  However, many cyclists smiled, or gave a slight nod when they saw our Union flag.  An unusual sight in a non-tourist destination.  Will and Paul had taken their bikes along on the holiday and went off cycling up the Passo Lanciano four or five days out of the ten we were there.   


May 2007. Me, on the right, with my friend Rach.  Waiting for the pelaton, in Teramo
The riders whooshing past in a riot of colour
In 2008, I was pregnant with our first son and not very well so I didn't fancy travelling.  Will had a long weekend cycling with his friend Neil.  They rode their bikes to a Giro mountain stage in Pescoconstanzo.


Cyclists taking a rest at the  Bar dello Ski on the Passo Lanciano

In 2009 we took our eldest son, who was nearly ten months, along with our friends Laura and Nick, on holiday.  The Giro was going right near our house on Passo Lanciano (see post A Heatwave).  We had an amazing day.  It felt like an all day party, but it was safe for families and children.  Both Nick and Laura have taken up cycling (Laura since last year).  Laura being my best friend, the one who always used to hate sport!  The way she is headed, I think she will be cycling up the Passo Lanciano in the future.



We returned in May 2010 and watched a mountain 
stage near Sulmona.  However, the heavens 
opened and the rain came out in full force, just as the peloton arrived.  It was still a brilliant spectacle.


Will and Nick on the pedestrian and cycle bridge in Pescara

Will and Nick took their bikes on a combined gardening and cycling trip, in Spring last year.  Nick had never done a mountain climb before.  Passo Lanciano is a tough climb, even for pro-cyclists, so this is no mean feat.  He did it and  felt justifiably proud of this.  They also cycled from our house in the mountains down to Pescara at the coast.


Ponte sul Mare, Pescara, Abruzzo

Since then, we have had our other little boy and our eldest started full time school in September 2012, so we haven't been to a Giro stage.  When our youngest is three, if the Giro goes up the Passo Lanciano again, then we want to take the boys to see it.  Actually being there and seeing the effort the cyclists have to put in, is pretty special and inspiring.

For road cycling enthusiasts and mountain biking enthusiasts, Abruzzo is fantastic.  The car drivers in Europe treat cyclists as equals so there are not the same concerns for would-be cyclists as in the uk.  There are mountain biking trails in abundance in woodlands, forests, open plains, hills and mountains.

http://www.bikeandparks.com/en/

http://www.italybikehotels.it/en/abruzzo-en


Nick, cycling up the Passo Lanciano, Abruzzo

Our eldest had a balance bike and moved straight to a bike without stabilisers.  He says he is going to be faster than Mark Cavendish when he is a pro-cyclist, along with his duties as a Film Director(!).  Essentially, lightspeed then.  I like the way he is thinking though and who knows, in the future, we could be in Abruzzo, watching the Giro, cheering one of our boys on.


2010: Our eldest son just before going to watch his second Giro 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Venice - City of Sighs!

I'm not sure if I love or hate Venice.  I know I always rave about Italy and it may seem that I have rose-tinted glasses on, but I assure you that I have not and this post will prove it. The following photos were taken on my old (non) digital camera in 1996!

I first visited Venice on a day trip from Austria, when I was 21 years old.  It was early Summer so it was hot, but not unpleasantly so.  However, the sheer numbers of tourists blew my mind.  


Piazza San Marco, Venezia
The minute you wander away from Piazza San Marco and keep going for a good half an hour, things start to improve and it gets quieter and you start to see actual Italians rather than tourists.

Venice is stunning, don't get me wrong, but it is very hard to appreciate when you are being jostled and the noise.....put it this way, I couldn't get off the Rialto Bridge quick enough!



The Bridge of Sighs
Some people may not notice any of the above, but I am somebody who doesn't like the thought of a cruise holiday, or organised trips.  I like to be with whom I want, stop when I want or move on when I want.  You could argue that I love Rome and that is a tourist destination.  Very true, however, Rome is large enough for tourists and Romans with plenty of quiet areas and green spaces if you need them.




I know Venetians get extremely fed up with tourists and this does come across in some of their attitudes, not that many tourists notice.  I understand how the Venetians must feel, being on an island there is little escape, although at the same time, one could argue that tourists are their bread and butter.



Bridge of Sighs

In 2003, I returned to Venice with Will.  This time we stayed on the island of Murano.  Murano was beautiful.  It was like staying on the main island, but without the hordes of people and noise.  You could watch the boats on the canals and fishermen, whilst sitting outside in the sun with a bellini and a bowl of squid ink spaghetti (Will's choice!) and not be overcharged for it.  



The Grand Canal, Venice

We got up early the next day and took a water bus to Piazza San Marco.  It was eerie....and quiet.  Nobody was there, except a few locals.  This was what we wanted to see.  We could take in the majestic sights and truly appreciate them.  Seen in this way, in this early morning light, Venice looked hauntingly beautiful.  We had a coffee and then wandered for two hours in bliss.  




At 11 o'clock the peace was shattered as, I kid you not, boatload by boatload of tourists, packed in like sardines, started arriving at the jetties.  We were meeting our friends who were staying on the Venice Lido.

After fighting our way through the crowds in the piazza, not enjoyable for my friend who is scared of pigeons, we went for a walk with them and at lunchtime found a restaurant near the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal and sat outside.  Sounds nice, but we got harassed by a tramp until the waiter eventually moved him on where he moved to the next restaurant and started alarming other female tourists.  The food was also shocking and over-priced.  

Then the water buses....if you are sitting on the wrong side in the summer when the boats dock...well, let's just say the windows are open and you will get drenched when the water sloshes in.  We were very lucky to always be on the right side when this happened.  Our friend Pete said they may be expensive, but water taxi's are the way to go.



The Rialto Bridge

Perhaps it is because I have had such a great time in all the other parts of Italy where it has felt more civilised, that I have a bit of a downer on where Venice is concerned.  However, I don't like ending on a negative so let's look at the positives.  Venice is great if you go to the main part very early in the morning before the masses arrive and I definitely give Murano a big thumbs up.  One thing's for sure, whatever your experience in Venice, you will never forget it!


Spotlight on Sponsors:

Vanessa's blog, below, is exactly the type of blog that I love and I am looking forward to reading about her adventures, particularly in Scandinavia, which is an area of Europe I have yet to visit.

Blog:  On the Road again...
www.travel-vanberry.blogspot.com

Hey everyone!  My name is Vanessa and I'm a 22 year old German on gap year travels.  After graduating University I needed a change so I packed my stuff and went to the Arctic.  I spent one month working and travelling in Northern Norway and it was the best experience of my life so far!  Recent travels led me to Scotland, Latvia and Sweden and I plan on going to Scandinavia again for the summer to explore the cities of Malmö, Copenhagen, Gothenburg and Oslo.  Yes, I just love the North!!  I applied for a Masters program in Northern Norway and if I'm lucky, I'll be going back to the Arctic in autumn this year.  If you're interested in my travels or my upcoming life as an expat, I'd be happy to welcome you on my blog!



Follow Vanessa's adventures on Instagram, Facebook and Bloglovin.



Friday, 21 March 2014

Sempre Roma!

In 1998, I dragged my friend Steph off to Rome for a four day visit.  I had always wanted to visit Rome.  Of all the wonderful places in Italy, it was at the top of my list.  Roman Holiday was, and is, one of my favourite films (see why on my next blog post at Lulu Loves Films).

From the moment we stepped out of the plane into the warm Italian sun, I felt like I was home.  In my early 20's, I was wearing my Gucci sunglasses, a black shirt dress, black strappy sandals and red lipstick.  I know.  Practical right.


View from the Spanish Steps, Rome

We stayed in a charming little hotel, Hotel City, (www.hotelcityroma.it) because of it's proximity to the Spanish Steps.  The hotel was safe, clean and lovely with an old-fashioned charm.  I enjoyed throwing open the shutters of our bedroom window and leaning out, people-watching and taking in the noise and bustle of the city.  My old photos on this post are all pre-digital by the way, hence they don't look so good.



I loved seeing chic Italian girls accessorizing their clothing to match their Vespa's.  Some had little dogs in their top box and others were riding their scooters with heels on.

Rome is a fantastic city to walk around, if you are a walker.  I love that it is easy to navigate.  We didn't use public transport once, we did it all on foot, apart from the one exception below.


View of Via Condotti from the Spanish Steps


One evening, we took a horse and carriage ride through Rome (it cost around €40 each) because we wanted to experience Rome at night and we never would have walked round the whole city on foot at night.  The fountains and historical buildings are all lit up beautifully and it looks so romantic and pretty.


St Peter's, Vatican City, Rome

There is a permanent buzz, or undercurrent of excitement in Rome.  People live here.  Everywhere you walk there is a historical wonder of some kind and the food..........  

The variety of gelato for example, is astonishing, although some places are better than others.  We went to a gelateria around the back of the Vatican, where all the locals went.  Everyone was adding fresh cream and nuts on top too.  It was amusing to see polished businessmen in their beautifully tailored suits, arriving for three scoops of ice-cream and not spilling a drop.  If you go to the right cafes, a mozzarella toastie is on the menu for breakfast and let me tell you, that is a must-have with a coffee.  I ate gnocchi alla romana in Piazza Navona and fresh scampi with a rocket salad, at a restaurant near the Trevi Fountain.




I returned in May 2001 with Steph and her sister, Ali, who is also my friend.  So the three coins I threw in the fountain in 1998 did their job!!



We sat outside in Piazza della Rotunda, where the Pantheon is, in the warm evening sun, drinking bellinis and watching beautiful people on their passeggiata.  Our hearts (or mine and Ali's hearts at least) fluttered when stunningly handsome Italian men smiled and said buona sera signorina.  Such tourists! 




The Colosseum is my favourite historical landmark in Rome.  There is an aura about the place.  When you enter and climb those steps, the steps walked on by Roman emperors and their citizens and look out over the landscape with it's cypress trees....it is quite something to take in if you are a lover of history.  Many Italian couples have their wedding photographs taken with the Colosseum as a backdrop and who could blame them?





If I hadn't of met Will in the uk, two weeks after returning from this trip, I had seriously considered training to be a tour guide, or at least a holiday rep so I could live and work in Rome.  Of course, my path took a different direction, just on the opposite side of the coast to Rome.




I have returned to Rome twice again since 2001.  We have yet to take our sons.  We are considering visiting next year, or the year after, when they will both be old enough to remember it.


I think I will always return to Rome, the Eternal City and it holds a very special place in my heart.  As Robert de Niro said:  "Italy has changed, but Rome is Rome."

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Places to stay in Abruzzo

I have had so many emails from readers asking me for recommendations for places to stay in Abruzzo, so I thought it high time I write a blog post on this subject.

These are all places that I have come across in our Abruzzen travels or are in our 'neighbourhood'.  I have listed brief details for a few places to stay below.

Kokopelli Camping


Kokopelli Camping is based in Serramonacesca.



At Kokopelli you can bring your own tent, hire a canvas bell tent, hire Kokopelli's camper van, stay in a family room in their converted barn, or stay in a room in their house.

Facilities include; luxury showers, hair dryers, toilets, dishwashing and laundry.  A common barn with cooker, fridge freezer, dining, lounging, games and books.  Free wi-fi and device charging.  Large sun terrace overlooking the mountains with bbqs, parasols, pergolas and sun loungers.  Stunning views.  Maps, guidance, hiking routes, itineraries and crag guides.  Airport collection if needed.  The website has comprehensive details: www.kokopellicamping.co.uk 

Il Marchese del Grillo B&B



This charming bed and breakfast is in the centre of the historical town of Sulmona, where The American with George Clooney was filmed.

Rooms have television, air conditioning, fridge/bar, hairdryer, safe deposit box, kettle, toiletries and private bathroom.


The Marchese has a lovely roof terrace and breakfast room.  The owners can organise bikes, guided tours, horse-riding and mountain excursions.

Prices start at €90 for one night in a double, or €110 for a triple room.

Full details at: www.bebilmarchesedelgrillo.it

Casale Centurione



Casale Centurione is a stunningly restored 1800's farmhouse.  Located in Manoppello, it is perched atop a hill overlooking the wonderful landscape.

Rooms have large bathrooms, television, air conditioning, heating and complimentary toiletries.  All rooms are with a view!

Prices start from €30 per person, per night, in the low season and from €35 per person in the high season.

There is a fantastic restaurant and cooking classes also held regularly here.

Full details at: www.casalecenturione.it

B&B Mila




Traditional building in the centre of historical Pretoro.  The ski resort of Passo Lanciano is close by and towns such as Guardiagrele are nearby.  The b&b has its own restaurant with local produce and typical Abruzzen cuisine.  All rooms with bathrooms and televisions.  Prices from €36 in high season.  Full details at:

www.bebmila.it

Hotel Cercone




I know the Cercone very well.  It is the first place Will and I stayed in Abruzzo, where we got engaged, where I stayed on the eve of our wedding and danced with friends at the second part of our wedding reception.

Located in the beautiful town of Caramanico Terme in the heart of the Majella National Park (see post Caramanico, Ti Amo), there is a small car park at the rear of the hotel and as the hotel is in the town centre, you can step out and explore the towns cafe/bars and shops without needing a car.

All rooms are comfortable with a private bathroom and television.  The Cercone has an outdoor swimming pool and sun terrace.  There is a wellness centre with solarium, sauna, jacuzzi and treatments.

The Cercone provide a delicious continental breakfast and make a fantastic cappuccino.  There are no prices on the website at the moment, but if you email, the staff do speak a little English so you will be fine to enquire.  Website: www.hotelcercone.it

Best Western Plaza Pescara



In the centre of Pescara, right near all the best bars, cafes, the seafront, restaurants and shops, the Best Western is in a prime spot for city and beach lovers.

A classic double room (includes a buffet breakfast) has a television, bathroom with shower, hairdryer, mini-bar, trouser press, air-con, desk, wi-fi, safety deposit box and tea and coffee-making facilities.  

The hotel has a bar and restaurant and provides free bike hire.  Full details at: www.plazapescara.it 


I hope that gives you some ideas and it would be lovely if you would visit beautiful Abruzzo soon!