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 home.....in 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.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

We heart Serramonacesca

Day 4 of our Abruzzen Summer holiday:

Will got up early to do half an hour of strimming before it gets too hot, whilst the boys and I potter about the house.  We then headed to breakfast in Serramonacesca.

There are a couple of bars in Serra.  We love the bar on the corner where you can properly people watch.  The bar owner and his wife were so pleased to see us.  There is a real sense of community in Serra.  I think it is because the village has pretty much remained the same since it was built and time stands still there.  The patrons in this bar are usually smiley and having a good laugh about something.  It is a very warm and friendly place to visit.  The cornetti and pasti available in Serra's bar are much better than the bar in our village (hark at us the experts).  There is more variety and they are always freshly made each day.  We indulge in a second cappuccino as we know we won't get another one past 11.00am.  The owners fuss over the boys and virtually every person, male or female, that enters the cafe also fuss over them too.  Son number 2 loves this attention, particularly when a very pretty young girl of around eighteen walks in and smiles and fusses over him.

After our breakfast we have a quick walk around the village then head to the Alimentari (grocers) opposite the bar and buy some provisions.  Again, the lady remembers us and is really pleased to see us.  She gives the boys some sweets to take away.

Serramonacesca, village centre

Serramonacesca.  I love these trees and how 'regimented' they look

Serramonacesca.  Small piazza as you enter the village from Pescara direction
Serramonacesca, as seen from the road towards Pescara (taken from the car!)

We leave Serramonacesca and drive to Manoppello Scalo.  Last Summer we planted a couple of lavender plants in the old stone 'sink' outside our house.  They have flourished and we decide we need a couple more to put in the other half as we want them to completely overrun.  There are three or four garden centres on this route to Pescara.  We choose one that looks open and like it has a lot of choice.

The lavender plants are very healthy and a fair size already at €3.50 each.  We buy three.  Again, we get chatting to the owner.  She makes us an espresso and gives the boys some water.  She tells us about her business and that she has three sons.  She likes the boys and gives them a plant each with pretty flowers on.

We return to the house to plant our garden purchases.  I have been wanting to introduce colour to our Italian garden for a while now.  The Italians love more 'formal' green gardens, which I do love, but being a Brit I love colour in the garden.

My new lavender plants in the Italian garden

Son number 1 is desperate to visit Rocca's playground, so we take the boys there for an hour.  The village is all under preparation for the coming Festa di San Rocco, which begins tomorrow night and ends on Sunday night.  It is one of the, if not the, biggest festa in the region.  It attracts around 30,000 plus visitors.  We have never been before so are looking forward to seeing what it's like.

The upper level of the village playground, Roccamontepiano

Festa lights up in preparation for the Festa di San Rocco, Roccamontepiano

After dinner, Will takes the boys to the fountain at the top of our road where all the children play to cool down.  I am sitting on the balcony writing in my travel journal, with a glass of local montepulciano.  On our Summer vacations, first thing in the morning and early evening are my favourite time of the day.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A relaxing day in the Abruzzen countryside

Continuation of my 2014 Summer holiday, from my travel journal. 

Day 3 - Sunday

I wake up to the sounds of the Abruzzen countryside at 7am.  I wander on to the balcony.  It is 28 degrees already.  There are people strimming their land (in the distance) because it will be too hot to do later on, the tractor is whirring in the field at the farm opposite our house, an eagle cries as it circles over our house, our neighbour's dog barks, a herd of sheep are on top of one of the hills.  I love these sounds because they are all part of the Abruzzen landscape.


My Abruzzo

After we've all showered and dressed, we go and visit Maria's cafe in Pretoro.  She is thrilled to see us and gives us all a hug and kiss.  Maria is making a fresh batch of cannoli con ricotta.  She is desperate for me to try one and I don't have the heart to tell her that I am not over keen on the ricotta ones.  I pretend my Italian hasn't quite kicked in yet and motion towards the cannoli con crema, which I do like.  Maria's husband (whose name we still do not know) appears and is happy to see us, particularly the boys.  We love Maria's husband too.  He looks like Mr Frederickson from Up!  I promise I will take a photo of him one day to show you.


Pastries in Maria's cafe, Pretoro


We go and sit outside and watch the world go by.  This cafe is a constant.  Whenever we visit, nothing changes, but the seasons.  It is an old, familiar friend and a great place to watch Abruzzen people carrying on with their daily lives.  Maria's cafe is popular with people who live in Pretoro, but many patrons are cyclists who are venturing up (or down) the Passo Lanciano to Blockhaus and people from Pescara who spend their weekends hiking/skiing/mountain biking in the Majella National Park.


Bar della Posta, Pretoro

Maria appears with a ricotta cannolo.  I pretend to be really excited to try it and I have to take a first bite in front of her.  I do a really good job of pretending I love it (Academy Awards calling) and when she returns inside and the coast is clear, I pass it to Will and get him to eat it.  Will feels quite sick afterwards.  I feel bad for a couple of minutes.

After the cafe stop, which cost €14 for four capuccini (Will and I needed the coffee), 1 bottle of water for the boys, two cannoli, 1 pizza slice (Will) and two small pastries for the boys, we drive back to our village shop and buy prosciutto, apples, drinks and pecorino cheese.

At lunchtime we eat pasta with prosciutto and tomato and mascarpone sauce.  We always have bags of pasta in our cupboard ready for when we arrive.  It is quick and easy and the boys love it, thankfully.

It is 36 degrees.  Will has strimmed the land around the house and wants to strim the olive grove tomorrow.  I am starting to wind down after our fraught journey yesterday.  The boys are settled.  They know and love this house too.  In the distance, the sound of fireworks mildly interrupts the quiet.  Our 6 year old wants to know why Italians let off fireworks in the daytime.  Other than explaining to him that is always during times of celebration, I cannot tell him why they let them off the daytime because I do not know (if anyone could tell me that would be great).

Early evening and we have all had a siesta and wake up refreshed.  Everyone stays out of the sun from 1-4pm, generally.  That evening, we visit our friend Val at Bar Ottavio for one of her delicious frittata's and a catch-up.  We watch the MotoGP too whilst we are there so the boys are doubly pleased.


Bar Ottavio, Pretoro, Abruzzo



What is left of Val's courgette frittata (before being completely demolished), Bar Ottavio, Pretoro

I've really enjoyed our first day back in Abruzzo.  We all unwind so quickly whenever we return here.  Not sure what we will do yet tomorrow....