Sunday, 13 July 2014

Girls' trip to Abruzzo: Hold the Octopus

Those of you who read my blog before may remember that I had a long weekend last October, in Abruzzo with my best friend.  We had such a nice time, despite the rain (After all, tomorrow is another day) and carabinieri (Looking for pizza, found police) that we returned in April for a five day break.

We arrived late on a Thursday night and checked the forecast for the next few days.  The one day that looked good was the following day, the rest were forecast to have heavy showers.  We decided that on Friday we would visit Vasto and the Costa dei Trabocchi, as Laura had not visited this part of Abruzzo before.

On arriving at Vasto the following morning, bathed in glorious sunshine, we were very pleased with ourselves.  Laura because she drove there and me, because I navigated and we managed to avoid tolls and parking fees.

Vasto is in southern Abruzzo and is around one hour's drive from my house in the mountains.  What I love about Vasto and the coastline in this part of Abruzzo, is the feeling that you could be in Sicily.  It has the look of, what I think, is real southern Italy.  The water is the most stunning colour and the beaches and coastline dramatic.

Vasto's promenade was the busiest I have ever seen it.  We found out later that it was a National Holiday in Italy.  Everybody was out on their passeggiata, although normally this takes place in the evenings when the weather is cooler.

After a wander, it was already lunchtime, so we found a restaurant on the seafront where we grabbed the last available table.  If a restaurant is busy with locals then you know the food will be good, in general.  

Seafood restaurant at Vasto seafront

Now, I love seafood, but I ordered a frutti di mare misti (mixed seafood salad) and I got a plate of octopus.  The lollo rosso was there....but seriously, the octopus.....basta! (enough!).  Laura (whilst not so secretly relieved she didn't order this) had chosen carpaccio di pesce spada (swordfish carpaccio).  I tried it and it was divine!  Even with Laura having some of my octopus, there was still half a plate left when the waiter took it away.  Octopus is one of those things where I want a couple of bits and then I've had enough, even when cooked well, I find it chewy and I'm quickly over it.  

My scary salad, (at the top) Laura's lovely carpaccio

Thankfully, we had ordered the same main, calamari.  The calamari put the smile back on my face.  Cooked to perfection in a light as air, melt in the mouth batter.  We both agreed that we could have eaten another plate.  It was so nice that I gobbled it up and forgot to take a photo of it!  This lunch cost us €13 each.  I don't think I will ever order a mixed seafood salad again because I am quite frankly frightened that I will end up with a load of octopus.

We meandered back in the afternoon sun to our car and drove up the hill into the historical centre of Vasto.  After a stroll around the pretty town, we found a nice cafe overlooking the coastline and had a coffee (always served with a glass of water here), for €1 each.  The town was almost deserted as most people were on the seafront.

Beautiful town of Vasto, Abruzzo, Italy

On the way home, we followed the coastal route before turning back toward the mountains, so that Laura could see the trabocchi (fishing huts).

I took this photo from the car as were driving along the coast!

After a lovely first day, we headed back home to the mountains, where we chilled out with a bottle of Trebbiano d'Abruzzo, some fresh mozzarella and bread, and watched the Season 1 boxset of Nashville. Bliss!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Ciao Amici!

After an [almost] three month break from blogging at My Family & Abruzzo, I have decided to keep on blogging here.  I have been amazed that although I haven't posted since the beginning of April, my blog manages to get 3,000 hits every 4 weeks.  The emails, tweets and messages I received after my final post were so kind and made me re-evaluate my decision.  

I made a decision at the time based on my emotion at that time....not always a great idea.  Having learnt from other blogs, I realise I don't have to post weekly, or half-heartedly, but as and when I feel there is a post to be written.  In the meantime, thank you all for sticking with my blog!  

Tanti baci! xxxx

"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered" #Mandela

Fara Filorium Petri, Abruzzo

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!

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.

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...

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.