Friday, 1 August 2014

Travelling to Abruzzo

This will be my last blog post for the next three weeks or so.  We are going on our annual Abruzzen Summer holiday and quite frankly, I need some time to get organised and my little boys are keeping me busy!

I thought I would write a post about how we travel to Abruzzo because people are often asking me whether we fly, or drive.  Indeed, we do both.

Flying to Abruzzo

Ryanair are probably the easiest airline for us to use.  They are the only airline that fly into Pescara, which is our nearest airport. Sometimes, it has been cheaper to fly to Rome Ciampino (still with Ryanair), or Rome Fiumicino with Easyjet and then drive the extra hour to our house. There are bargains occasionally with tickets, but only if you have flexibility with dates and this is often out of school holidays, which is no good to us.  

Sometimes travelling by plane with bikes then assembling them!

Pescara's airport is small, modern and clean.  It does lack in shops and only has one small bar, but we often wander over the road (after check-in) to Auchan, which has several places to eat, which are very good value and shops.

After we factor in air tickets, parking (uk end), car hire and child seats for the hire car, it costs between £1,500-£1,800 for the four of us.

Taking the Train

Our friends Bo and Paul did this when they came out for our wedding in 2006.  They enjoyed it, although they did say it was quite tiring.  They got the train from London and then had to change at Bologna, where they then got a train into Pescara.  Italian trains are pretty cheap and, from our experience, are clean and always on time.  Bo used the website The Man in Seat Sixty-One to sort this all out and it worked wonderfully for them.  I would say taking the train from the uk would be a great experience, but I wouldn't want to do it with young children.

I don't know how much Bo and Paul paid for their tickets, but I can tell you that when Will travelled from Pescara to Turin last month, it cost him around £40.  That is cheap compared to uk train prices.  He has travelled on the Freccia Rossa, which is the high speed train and said it was amazing.  The year before we got married in Abruzzo, Will and I flew into Milan, then took the train directly to Pescara and it was a brilliant journey, particularly when the train runs parallel along the coastline.  You can almost reach out and touch the adriatic.

Driving to Italy

If we decide to spend 2-3 weeks on holiday in Abruzzo, we almost always drive.  We worked out that it costs £800 compared to the quote above for flying!  This includes the ferry, fuel, tolls and hotel stops.  We always take the Dover-Calais crossing.  This costs between £100-£130, either with P&O Ferries, or My Ferry

Waiting for the ferry to leave the harbour

Over the last ten years of driving to Italy, we have taken various routes to see what works and, as much as anything, for the adventure of it.  We decided last year that the best routes we have ever taken were via the Rhone-Alpes, or Alsace regions of France, then through Switzerland and we always take the San Gottard pass (except in the Winter).  The pass doesn't take much longer than the tunnel, maybe ten minutes, but it is stunning and we want the boys to see and learn as much as possible when they travel with us.  

San Gottard Pass / Passo San Gottardo

Glorious views from the San Gottard Pass

The Splugen Pass.  Another wonderful route we've experienced

The queue last Summer for the San Gottard Tunnel - we wanted the Pass!

Switzerland. From our Xmas 2013 trip

The French toll roads are worth every penny.  They are kept immaculate, as are the French roadside services.  The baby changing facilities and young children's toilets in the family rest-rooms are brilliant.

The roads do get a little crazier/busier when you hit Italy.  Milan and Bologna are the hotspots.  If you can avoid them, or avoid being near these cities in rush hour, then you can hopefully avoid any delays in your journey.

It feels a bit surreal sometimes when early in the morning you're on a ferry crossing the English Channel, then that evening, you're eating a tarte tatin in France, in a fairytale village.....then the next morning you're driving through dramatic mountains in Switzerland, stopping for a Toblerone (yep!) and hot chocolate, and then that night you're on your balcony in Italy.  I won't lie, it is pretty tiring and that's why you need to be staying for 2 weeks at least to make it worthwhile, but it is so much fun.  You can also pack you car with whatever you want.  No restrictions.

I am hoping to visit some new places such as Rocca Calascio (the castle in Ladyhawke) and I cannot wait to share our adventures with you all when I return.  We should also be attending the biggest festa of the year, the Festa di San Rocco, which is attended by over 30,000 people in our tiny little village.  Can you believe it?  

I hope you all have a wonderful Summer.  Allo fino prossima volta! xx

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The grass isn't always greener....

With the unusually warm weather in the uk, I have been rather lax on the blogging front.  I thought it apt I write a weather-related post.

If I had a pound for every time somebody said, 'oh, I bet it's hot and sunny in Italy every time you go', I'd be a wealthy woman.  Yes, for the most part we do have some glorious weather when we holiday, but we have also experienced the not so nice weather.

Take our Christmas trip, when we drove to Italy with our boys, all fine on the way down and for the stay at our house, but we encountered this on our way home after we had spent a couple of days in Turin....

Queue for the Frejus Tunnel

View from passenger window.  Near the Frejus Tunnel.
Scary.  A lorry was abandoned as it had got stuck.  The queue for the Frejus Tunnel was getting longer.  We were trying not to panic with the boys sitting in the back, but the snow was falling faster and we didn't have our winter tyres on.  Big mistake.  Huge.  In most European countries, having winter tyres on your car from October to March (I think) is a legal requirement, but not so in the United Kingdom.  

Almost there. (Frejus Tunnel)

I had mentioned to Mr Abruzzo that we may need winter tyres and he laughed and said we'd be fine.  He admitted in the car that day that I had been right.  Happily enough, we made it to the Frejus Tunnel and we met clear roads and zero snow on the French side.  Phew!  Lesson learned: Winter tyres when driving abroad in the winter

On my trip to Abruzzo with my best friend in April, we wanted to drive to the top of the Passo Lanciano.  It was a little bit foggy, but we thought it would clear.  After a cioccolata calda at the ski cafe, we thought it was a great idea.

See, not too bad here. We were wrong. (Passo Lanciano)

It wasn't.  It looks very pretty in this photo below, but we turned the corner and it was literally a whiteout.  I have no photo of that because Laura was gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles and I was clutching my seat with equally whitened hands.

Pretty.  Foggy, but visibility alright. (Passo Lanciano)

I know the road well enough to know where (eventually after a scary ten minutes driving further) there is a wide expanse where the skiing car park is so we could turn around.  We made it back down the mountain.  Worse thing is it happened again the following day when we tried to drive along the Passo Leonardo, except it had only been a bit drizzly so we didn't expect fog to come rolling in.  Lesson learned: fog can get worse and doesn't clear quickly.  

During the same holiday, Laura and I set off from the house and the sky looked a little threatening, but we figured we would be ok if it just rained.  We got to the village and this happened....

Rain storm with hail. (Roccamontepiano)
Roads turned to rivers....

We managed to pull over and off the road, which had turned into a river.  My photo does not do it justice.  As the rain started to slow, we turned round and went home.  This is what the weather had looked like that morning.

See.  Nice weather.  (Roccamontepiano)

Lesson learned: Italian weather can be just as unpredictable as British weather.  Also, when holidaying with best friends, adventures always occur.

So there you go.  I have been told by several of my readers that they appreciate the honesty of my blogging and that I don't write with rose-tinted glasses on.  Italy is beautiful and indeed wonderful, but it doesn't guarantee the weather matches every time!

Check out Sunday Traveler, hosted by my travel blogging buddy SJ at Chasing the Donkey  I have discovered how beautiful Croatia is via SJ's blog. Hope you enjoy reading about it too. xx

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!