Monday, 29 October 2018

Hot Springs, Wild Boar and Teenagers without Wifi....

In the words of our dear girls, we have returned to civilisation......we have WiFi...

High up in Valle di Ledro, above Lake Garda, we have returned to base camp. It is cold and wet, the fires have been lit and the wife has started to tackle the mountain of ironing. My 'offers' of help have been swatted away with the dismissive contempt that they deserve.

So, temporarily unemployed, I can review our epic journey since the trip to the island of Elba.

I believe it is sad that we seem to 'need' to be in contact with others whilst exploring new and interesting places. Not just contact, but to keep uptodate with the news back in England, I think you know what I mean... What we did need technology for was the ability to check the price of the ferry to Elba, when it ran and what the weather was like etc. 

Last week, we therefore rapidly increased our data allowances and collectively breathed a sigh of relief...

We had visited Montalcino, a lovely town with oceans of vineyards that stretch beyond the distant horizons. They also produce the famous Brunello wine, which is highly sought after if you tend to have a large wadge of cash burning a hole in your pocket. I was tempted to part with the equivalent of the sale of my wife's vital internal organs, however I was physically restrained by the newly arrived litter of kittens that she can produce at will..

So we moved on to more villages through an amazing road that wound its way around Monte Amiate, the trees jettisoning their colourful autumnal foliage all around us. We then found some more thermal springs at Saturnia which was apparently very popular. Unarmed as I was with bathing shorts, the decision to enter the springs with social shorts was a good one, in that, a) no-one cared (apart from my appalled daughters) b) the water was beyond lovely and warm c) it was free.

Last Thursday we met some friends in Grosseto for the morning and got an invite to dinner. On arrival, the host Samuele greeted us with the usual Italian generous hospitality. I noticed that he was sporting a shirt that had an emblem of the Brunello Vineyard. After I explained that we had visited the area, he announced that he works for them as a chef-teacher and if we visited again we would get a free tour and some discounted Brunello wine. Immediately my diary came out on to the table to rearrange all our plans. Very sadly the majority of my family, being 3.5 votes to 1 with half an abstention, the motion was not carried....

Friday we went north along the coast to Punta Ala where we could paddle a long way out in the beautiful Etruscan sea before returning to the villa for a farewell BBQ. We were very sad to leave our friends in Grosseto and we are sure to return again.

Our last week was based near Siena/Arezzo. The villa was superbly located with stunning views of the villages below us. (Sounds like an estate agent-but I speak with no sales pitch)
We visited Perugia to meet up with some English and American ex pats. There seem to be an increasing amount of them in this area of Tuscany...who knows...? Then onto Montepulciano where we were encouraged by Sue, Amanda and (I think) Mary, to try together the 'Nobile' local wine. We needed not much encouragement and thank you dear ladies for our chat, a very pleasant time indeed.

After a trip to Assisi we ventured again to Perugia to check out the chocolate festival. Some purchases took place, of course. Getting physically tired now after 150 km of walking over 2 and a
bit weeks, we thought we'd try and find a place to eat out locally. We noticed a recommendation in
the visitors book and went for it. There's an Italian description of eating "alla Buona", which basically  means that you eat very well, but "simple". The price is less, the restaurant is simple, the food made by family and homemade and cooked traditionally. Absolutely lovely. I love it. If you ever visit Lucignano, near Sinalunga, go to "Le Botti, meaning "The Barrels". Myself and the girls chose the "Pici" ( local variation of spaghetti) with Wild Boar Ragu sauce.

On the short drive back to the villa, along a forest road, we first encountered in our headlights, a very healthy looking fox, two minutes later a cat with two kittens that were playing with something like a frog, and to beat them all, we then almost collided with a Wild Boar that clearly wasn't obeying traffic regulations. All in all, a very eventful meal out. On reflection, I believe that our car would have regretted a collision and that would have been justice for our choice of dish at Le Botti....

The last few days were spent collecting photos for artistic scenery such as San Gimignano and Siena, wonderful places, but too touristy for me...

So we are now awaiting our first trip 'home' to England in a few days time. The mountain of ironing has been declassified to a "large pile", I have balanced the budget just in time for Mr Phil Hammond's speech today and Art by Three have already commenced the next set of pieces of work.

To be honest, although I am looking forward to meeting again with friends and family (and the cat) in England, my heart is definitely set on the next stage, Cinque Terre from mid-November.

Have a good day everyone and comments on the above would be welcomed!

Friday, 19 October 2018

It's just NOT cricket......

We are shattered, it has to be said.

Those kind of "breaks" where you end up driving, walking, planning, researching places so much more than your usual 9-5 or 24/7 etc, that you feel that you need a further break once home...

I can't believe that Ive not managed a post since last Saturday. Simply put, dear reader, we had an amazing time.....

Last week we discovered that wild boar and deer work hand in hand to forage in the 2,700 hectares of forest that we had apparently rented along with the "cottage". We actually said hello to the deer and nearly ran over several red squirrels, but not one sniff of a wild boar. (Maybe that is a good thing).

A beautiful home, super owners who helped us so much when the wifi broke down. Thank you, Sara, I know you are reading...!

The itinerary was well executed. I'll not bore (boar!) you with the minutiae, but last Sunday was a hot day on the coast at Livorno and coast road southwards. Girls drove most of way there and way back. The issue of my being in shorts since April still abates. The locals are still maintaining that this is the most amazing weather they've ever known, adding that their parents, grandparents and other family members who have passed away many years past, have also ever or even never known.

I have to say, it is glorious here. Monday, we ventured to Lucca. We have been there before, in Aug 2013, but it was just too hot. In October?, wow! My shorts were still welcomed, both by fellow tourists and admiring locals. Lots of photos taken for Art by Three for their next commission, or "stored work" for exhibition.
It was in this town, full of English and Americans, that my wife disturbs my distant thoughts by declaring " hey, in here they've got a marble cricket ball!". This excites me greatly, can such a glorified object that I have been great friends with for most of my life actually be "marbelled" into a form that would be on sale in an Italisn town?
No. Sadly no. I was led into the entrance of Dante's Inferno... I came face to face with a marble replica of, not a cricket ball, but a baseball.
After a sound verbal thrashing of my wife's lack of knowledge, lack of culture, lack of history, gamesmanship ((Australians excluded), the list went on and on; all potential customers had left the shop due to the shame and embarrassment imparted to the "summer game"...

Tuesday was a trip to firstly, San Miniato, an amazing hill-top promontory from the Medici clan period. We met a lovely group of American (one Canadian) ladies who are on a walking trip of, basically, Italy... One of the ladies has a daughter who is giving birth to quads ( I think that means four babies and not square things), so we had a great chat involving encouragement, support, laughter. Followed by anguish, pain and tears once we got onto the teenage years... (Sorry dear daughters, you know what I mean..)!!

Journey same day then went north to Art by Three's chosen locations of Prato and Pistoia. Art by Three requested a "bathroom stop" in Prato, which meant that I had to dutifully man up and go to a bar and order a beer so they could use the facilities. A sacrifice is not a sacrifice is a sacrifice. However, with the wonderful main square almost empty as the locals have disappeared after  their lunch and settling down for an hour's snooze, I have to say I felt really at peace with the world.

Three flushes later and we were off again..

Florence Wednesday. I have nothing to report here, as there were still so many visitors. A lovely warm day and we enjoyed lunch, (Girls legged it off to Hard Rock Cafe..) but I had to run back to car 1.5 miles each way to move it so we could stay for evening. An amazing city I agree, but too many people for a smallish centre).

Pisa Thursday.  More photos for girls artwork, really.
Volterra Friday. Spent a lot of time trying to decide on best present to take home. The weather again, hot....

Saturday, a new venue. We moved south to Grosseto for this week. We're near the coast but still it is very warm. The shorts have now travelled around 3,000km and I think they should enter into some fund-raising effort.. Met up again with some new friends and invites abound for dinner etc this week.
Sunday (yesterday), we almost rested. I tried to find the same place that I visited in Grosseto in 2002 for a meeting with the Italian Cricket Federation as to how to move forward the coaching of cricket to Italians. But to no joy. A) the Indian restaurant that we met in seems to have disappeared. B) The coaching of cricket to Italians has also gone into the doggy-bag of unfancied onion bahgees...

That “curry night out” consisted of one English (me); one Australian (semi-professional); the three Italians (one who had played international cricket against England A team, so one level above myself...aaaaggghhh), 3 Sri Lankans (one had played a test match game), and 4 Bangladeshis.. it was a hilarious evening and everyone agreed that the food was not a true Indian experience.... similar to Tolworth Broadway, near Surbiton.

An uplift today though! A very early start took us to a ferry across to the island of Elba, home to Napoleon for 9 months in exile in 1814 after he messed up at the Battle of Leipzig. A really superb visit, what an amazing island. Paddles in the sea, pizza and pasta for lunch, drive along the coast and it is still VERY warm..... I packed my jeans just in case, they are still in the case!!

Sorry for the lengthy journal this week. There's a lot going on!!

Stay cool everyone..

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Start of phase three. Tuscany.

Short note as it is past my bed time...

Girls have completed some more pieces of artwork and are now looking to phrase three of The Grand Tour.

We have arrived safely in Pontedera, near to Pisa. Easy journey and after meeting up with some friends, we finally unloaded an unbelievable amount of luggage from the Fiat. (I guess my family is 80% ladies)....

One of the young ladies took on the chaos of the Italian autostrade this morning and happily drove 80 miles playing guessing games with the lorries etc at 130 kmh. (Speed limit 130 kmh, well she's not going to drive any slower than that, is she?)..

Beautiful house here located on a private drive within a forest. As we arrived in the dark, we'll investigate the grounds tomorrow, but we were greeted very warmly by a bottle of prosecco and a lovely cake. Dead easy to make that, I said.....well it's a Pisa cake? Not funny, they said. And "don't ever laugh at your own jokes...". Ok. Fair enough....

Urgent meeting has been scheduled over breakfast tomorrow to discuss weather reports for art-photography as to best light, maritime conditions etc. So, we either are heading west to coastal locations, maybe Livorno, or possibly north to Lucca/Pisa. 

Any suggestions or recommendations for favourite Tuscan locations, let the girls know !

Night all.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Wood, electric bills and more kittens

1st day of October and the weather has changed at last. It has finally got colder....

I have been complaining of late to the locals that it has been too warm in London for most of the summer and they, in turn, have been complaining that I have worn the same pair of shorts since we arrived at the beginning of September. That is incorrect, I remind them, as we actually arrived on the 5th....

This last week, the huge event locally was the English family's intention to make a purchase of wood. This causes much debate as to which vendor to engage (and negotiate) with, which type of wood, the strength of calorific value for best burning and heat, the price and whether the wood gets delivered....

2 days later, we had agreed on a plan. My wife's uncle helped us out with the negotiations, and, in exchange for my offer of a small quantity of local wine, he kindly arranged for the dumping of a mountain-sized couple of pallets of "excellent" wood at the front of this property.

Much discussion then ensues as to how best to stack it, where to stack it, a plan for passing the wood to the person who will stack it, how long it will take to stack it, and of course, how much it cost to stack it...

It all got done in a couple of days, the teamwork between two of us worked very well, (Art by Three declined the request for help by burying themselves in the basement to continue their projects), and besides the pain, splinters, bruises etc, (and those were caused just by paying for it), we sat back and admired our work.

So we are safe for the winter, obviously, at this height in the mountains, the locals panic without a good supply of wood for heating and, obviously, for cooking.

Art by Three decided on driving their Fiat down to Riva del Garda for some shopping and buying their Grandad (il Nonno) a present. The drive is not an easy one for many reasons. I'll not explain in detail, but the basic fact that the road has Italians "driving" on it, could give you a clue.. So my wife had another litter of kittens. She also picked her fingers to the extent that she couldn't catch the wood that I was throwing at her and she even had to get me to check their progress on some kind of app on her iPad...

As a dad, you of course are concerned, but must never show it...I did once when I refused to take the (then) young girls up to a particularly dangerous mountain peak and I have been humiliated ever since..(in a sweet way you must understand...errrr.)

But yes, as you probably know them by now, they had no problem. All in their three strides, as it were.

We enjoyed the return visit of our friends that speak many languages. A wonderful 'late lunch' (1:30 which is a criminal offence in Italy) made by the girls and the wonderful visiting mother. Again, all conversation reverted to English, which meant when I volunteered to read something in Italian later, it was absolutely awful. I didn't even understand myself... The word "ispezione" (inspection) was attempted and subsequently failed three times...

Finally, I have decided to sign up to a degree-level course in interpreting Italian electricity bills. We believe it is a three year course and, as yet, no one has ever completed it. Apparently many of those who thought they could do it ended up as jibbering wrecks and changed careers to something much safer, such as parachuting without a parachute..Three days past I stupidly announced that I'd try and calculate (with my English calculator and excel spreadsheets) the actual costs of running this apartment so that our agreed rent would cover many times the cost.. (Don't worry, just an accounting fetish)...
Serious error..Last night, after another two hours comparing the average cost of the three different rates and the "standing charge", which seems to have a non-relative correlation of {¥%} to the power of #/€[~3.14], I was found hiding in a corner and apparently refused to come out. If anyone out there can provide pastoral care for someone who has dared even read one of these bills, then I'll pay for your electric 10 times over. Oh, and yes, free supply of wood...

Have a super day and stay warm everyone.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Financial Reports and Go Carting down mountain

Yes, they do have something in common, so please bear with me.

As I have mentioned before somewhere, my background is in Banking, Finance and Accounting.
That, in itself, is nothing to write about. You are correct. But I do have to remind myself that I will have some very complicated financial assessments to complete for a couple of clients soon, partly I can do in Italy but the signing off has to be done in England.

The problem with spending time poring over excel spreadsheets with lovely coloured cells (please don't ask, it helps even when this writer suffers from some kind of colour-blindness), is that Art By Three are convinced that I can somehow come up with a budget for "The Grand Tour" and stick to it!!

So, the first task they set me yesterday was to come up with all expenditure and a Trial Balance for the Switzerland and Austrian mountain campaign. They wouldn't take any of my excuses to avoid this challenge, in fact, they knew that I actually wouldn't be able to resist it...

So, buried under a (yet another) pile of receipts, login passwords and a friendly, trusted calculator that performs its duties faithfully in English and not Italian, whereby it would normally be missing a few "transactions",  shutting down for two hours after lunch etc.... (To all my Italian friends, you know that is A JOKE.......err)... I managed to reconcile.

I will admit we overspent a tad. Switzerland is very expensive indeed. One evening I had to decide whether to buy a small beer in the hotel or instead buy a villa in France.... But if you had the joy of hurling yourselves down a mountainside on three-wheeled go carts (I can't see ever doing that again!), would you have a pop at £xxx?

That day was just amazing, there are photos of such beauty, and I can include my dear daughters in that picture. From Grindelwald to First and then just keep walking up until you meet with a couple of lake-ettes. On the walk up, I always chat with any other fellow walker that fancies the same. 
I met a lovely Korean lady and we discussed the merits of hurting your legs in order to get an even better view...she said, thank goodness for the cable car!, to which I readily agreed. She then said that she had met a really old man at the top of the cable who had walked all the way up from the bottom!! I said, amazing but he was probably only 25 years old when he started...and she started to giggle, then laugh (in Korean, which is great). She said I'm really sorry, that is so funny, I have to tell my friends behind. Then, as I march ahead, all I can hear over the chuckling marmots is the chuckling and laughing of a group of Korean tourists. I was proud for just one moment, in that a most simple, inane,  innocuous comment to us English, translated so well into Korean..

Art by Three are off to the shops today in the local town of Riva del Garda. No doubt I'll be doing some further financial reports later.

I have been given the list of chores on the 'to-do' command, but only 12 days left before we head south as The Grand Tour winds its way to Lucca, Pisa, Grossetto, Siena with the final onslaught of Florence. Because Tuscany can also be expensive, and as I have sneakily already paid for the accommodation, I'll try and amend the budget upwards by £50 or so in order to have an ice-cream with three flavours and not just 2......

Have a lovely day all.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The Ogre, the Young Maiden and the Monk...

......or to you and me, the Eiger, the Jungfrau and the Munch. Three spectacular mountains in the Swiss Alps.

After a few days of discussions as to one of the girls' new bed and mattress, and the successful purchase thereof, a period of cleaning and polishing the apartment continued in our rented apartment in Italy. New bedside lamps, new mop, new kitchenware and a new cat appeared to investigate the goings on....

I have been trying to cycle a few miles everyday as the challenge to lose 10% of body weight by the end of the year (I never agreed as to which year) continues unabated. On top of that, we had a hot day on Saturday (31 degs) where we out in the sun for 3 hours in the morning, followed by a hefty luncheon with some friends whose young offspring can speak in four languages. After much discussion, we agreed on English as we thought it best we understood what we were saying ourselves....

A trip to Trento followed and we'll be going there regularly to meet up with them and other friends of ours.

Sudden flurry of activity in that we saw a window of opportunity in the Swiss Alps. Ever since I popped there for a wine tasting tour in June, my family have been nagging me to take them too, but without the wine. We decided on Grindelwald as a base, as I had been skiing here in 1987, I think. We are staying at the same hotel and the same waiter is now the owner.
Here I am all those years ago!

So we went for the Schilthorn trip (I will not say how much it was, but my wife has now produced yet another set of kittens). And there was cloud. Lots of cloud indeed. The kittens were thrown out the basket. My 007 brunch had kitten soup on the menu. Kittens everywhere. We had to retreat to a lower stage on the cable car to be able to get out of the cloud.

All, however, is now peaceful. We are staring in awe at the Eiger, the Jungfrau and the Munch. Tomorrow is going to be a hard-walking day as we are going to submerge ourselves into cheese and meat fondues tomorrow evening. Some 31 years ago, I did the same such thing....happy memories.

Good night all. A local owl is telling me to turn my lights out so I'd better retire soon. On Thursday, Art by Three have chosen for us to visit Werfen in Austria to visit the ice caves and castle. Keep you posted.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Made it back "home".

Strange how one enjoys the company of your outlaws much more when your betrothed is not around.... No intentional disrespect, but I enjoyed the meals and being strangled by my nieces (twins also same birthday as me, not that I care) so incredibly more when I don't get the "stop it, you're over exciting them!!". Well that's what uncles are made for...

I had an extremely easy journey back to Italy, slept 10 minutes in Bolzano at 05:30 Monday.

Made girls drive the mountain roads to Val Daone (pics attached), they are so confident in driving. I say to them that I didn't get to drive abroad until I was 28 and that scared the proverbial out of me, even then. They are still shy of 19 and they say, bring it on. Art by Three are fearless of heights too, which scares me something rotten. At nearly 6 ft 5, I get scared just standing up, but they can climb mountainous routes that make me squirm...


This morning, my wife disappeared (no bad thing), so I took the advantage to repair our heavy wooden blinds in our bedroom, go to the recycling centre, go shopping by bike, say goodbye to family here who are off to Mallorca for a week and cook tonight’s Chilli con Carne.

Also booked in is our trip to Switzerland, (Grindelwald for Jungfraujoch and Schiltorn) Austria (Werfen, for ice caves and castle). We're going next week. Art by Three have started painting today and are working on Prague etc.

I am now on our balcony and listening to the fauna that are declaring their territory and courtship rites. Let them have it, I say.

Good night all