Seven Year Itch

Yes finally the last of the Italian photos are online – over 300 in total in six albums with a 100 or so more in the England album.

Speaking of England… how’s the cricket? How embarrassing eh? Rory is cringing and hoping desperately that all his mates have suddenly lost contact with the sporting world! First Somerset, then Bangladesh and then England herself… is this some bizarre strategy to lull the English into a false sense of bravado?

Kids went back to school today. Our strategy of forcing them to stay awake all yesterday – despite little or no sleep the night before – seemed to work and though I had to wake them up they seemed awake enough to handle school for a full day. Groover and I got to work sorting out bills and getting stuff organised. Things like claims for Hugamuga’s glasses lost in Vincenza and getting my boots reheeled. We also have plans to de-clutter this house and to “schnook” it up a bit. After all we’ve been here seven years without touching a thing and shall we say it is starting to look a bit shabby – just call it our seven year itch.

I’ve heard from Mum and Mike who have enjoyed Milan (I’m so jealous) and are now in Lake Como – oh dear – the life of the rich and famous eh… Dad is in Copenhagen and due back soon – in time to go to the Kimberley and walk off all that pasta… as for me – well I think I need more than a walk in the Kimberley sun my friends…

Home Sweet Home

Well they say nothing beats your own bed but the one at Villa Dei Sogna sure went close. We arrived home this morning – getting through our front door at about 1.45am. We woke up at about 3PM! It was so cold when we got home we couldn’t believe it. Put all the heaters on, found all our spare blankets and doonas and dressed in our best flannelette with bedsocks. What a change from Umbria. I had to cuddle Dippity to sleep she was so distressed “I want to live in Italy!” she cried until eventually falling asleep.

We caught the slow train from Orte at 1.14 and only the fact that my brother was there to help us get the luggage on board and dad was there to park the car enabled us to catch the train on time. We of course, left it to the last minute to discover that Hugamuga’s sandles had gone AWOL. Drama. We couldn’t bear to leave. We had a fantastic lunch drenched in Italian sunshine and our family gathered near – a lunch that for me was a highlight of a brilliant holiday.

Earlier we gathered for a family photo in our team tee-shirts which was fun, the dogs even making an appearance. The night before we went to Orvieto which is known for it’s Cathedral – and deservedly so. It is amazing. I especially liked the Pieta which is (and I know I’m going to be controversial here) I think better than either of the Michelangelos that I saw. You can see the veins in Jesus’s arm, and the worried frown in the Mary, Mary Magdalene looks in despair. It is very moving to see it.

The shopping was okay but I was expecting more of Orvieto – perhaps we didn’t go to the right spot for shopping. It is another hilltop town and full of character, drenched in sunlight it was a beautiful sight.

The night before that we spent at home and Mike made chocolate pudding – a journey back to our childhood and totally yummy. We watched the second part of Cleopatra and my sister’s flowerpot statue went up in flames! Oh maybe I didn’t tell you about it – I don’t think I even took a photo of it – sigh. She made it with the kids the day we caught up with our friends from Perth. Dippity put a candle in it and unfortunately the plastic flower pot proved flammable. Sigh.

That day Groover took Mum, Dad and I out to a Michelin 2 Star restaurant for a completely over the top culinary experience. Oh my God it was amazing. For one thing, we were the only people in the restaurant. There were 18 chefs in the kitchen and two waiters – for four people!! It was extraordinary. I took photos of the food. I never take photos of food. That’s how amazing it was. The bread sticks were great and I took some home for the kids – I thought I was taking three home – they gave us about 20!! Delicious!

And then before that on the Monday we went to Perugia and Assisi. Perugia I could leave but Assisi – what a beautiful place. The church was the best I went to in Italy – yes including St Peters. I actually felt welcomed instead of overwhelmed. And that’s not to say it is not overwhelming – it’s just human. The town is so picturesque to be unbelievable and while I think I prefer Todi as a place to set up my pensione, I did love Assisi, the views, the streetscapes… go there.

We were hoping to meet up with our friends and go to Voltarra but unfortunately things didn’t work out. They had come to see us the day before and the kids enjoyed the time out playing with each other. Their youngest certainly won some hearts – she complemented and ate Groover’s risotto, volunteered to help my sister take the excess flower pots back and told my brother how much she liked his painting (they bought one at his last exhibition). That girl will go far!! It was lovely and surreal to see the Boyles in Italy and we were jealous that they were at the start of their holiday as we neared the end!

I’m nearly up to date. We did go back to Spoletto to that bar with the 300 beers. Spoletto was gorgeous by nightlight (do check out the photos when I get a chance to put them up) and the pub was empty!! We were the first there on opening and Rory made a friend of the publican with his first breath when he asked for Trappist Westvleteren 12 (Yellow Cap) – rated no 1 by beeradvocate.com – he had one in supply! So Groover spent a happy couple of hours talking beer with Antonio who had to drive to Belgian and wait in a queue with friends to get just 6 bottles of this beer before returning to the back of the queue to get some more. Groover was in heaven! My brother and I enjoyed a big bottle of Chimay Red (not as good as Blue but you make do) and my sister had a dubious Italian cocktail. We were also offered some pretty average cake on the house.

Anyway now we’re home. The weather is COLD. We can’t quite believe we left Italy voluntarily. Come and see us – promise not to subject you to an endless slideshow! (you can view that before you come!!!)

Todi

Pronounced Toddi. Oh what a beautiful town. I want to live there. Seriously Rory and I could manage a pensione I’m sure. Even though we have never run a hotel before, are not morning people and have few handyman skills – we would be perfect and I would adore it! We would all learn lovely Italian and become as fat and rolling as the Umbrian hills. Can’t you see it?

Neither could Rory… but I COULD! Especially the fat bit.

I bought a gypsy top in Todi for E6 today. And saw some very interesting jewellry but was caught by the siesta break which is a very annoying three hour closing of shops between 1-4 in the afternoons. Very frustrating. Anyway I suppose I’ll have plenty of time to buy jewellry when I come to live there.

Yesterday we noticed that the dogs that live in this house are covered in ticks. Very gross. Actually I had noticed this some weeks before but was “in a happy place” ignoring them. This is hard to do when your daughter and niece bring one to the dining table. We had a tickathon and removed 24 from one dog alone. Well Mum and Cath did. I was still “in my happy place” helped along by a glass of fresh white pinot grigio.

We had tick inspections on the humans in the household last night and all were pronounced tick free. Cath and Georges of course are used to ticks as they live in Wilton, Conneticut which has the worst reputation for Limes disease in the world. Carried by ticks of course.

Tonight we plan to head back to Spoletto to try a few beers at this pub Rory has found that serves 500 beers… I know a little jewellry shop there too that might get a visit…

Back to Venice

When in Venice...

There is a dog making snuffling noises nearby – I shudder to think what it is snuffling. Sounds unsavory to say the least.

The weather has turned cold. I’m wearing long sleeves for the first time in weeks and even put on my new jacket – but that was mainly because it was new – it is a bit too warm.

Anyway back to Venice. The next day – My brother and I couldn’t bear not to go back to Venice. The rain of the night before had disappeared and it was sunny. He wanted to see the Gug – the Peggy Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art and I just wanted to go back. Groover and Hugamuga were keen to see the Ferrari Museum in Maranello and Mum and Dad just wanted to go home!

Anyway we split up. Bro and I spending some sibling time together on the train back to Venice and the others off to see fast cars.

The train trip was a breeze and we landing in Venice at about 11 o’clock and raced through the twisty turny streets to the Gug. The museum had every painter you’ve heard of from the 20s to the 60s (except for some reason Matisse) and included a poignant gallery of Pegeen – Peggy’s daughter’s works. It was simple, almost childlike painting -with beautiful colours but I found it unbearably sad. In just about every frame there was a figure with bare breasts – when others were clothed – her neck long and vulnerable. In one painting she sits with a baby on the floor crying.

To me they were self portraits of an exposed, vulnerable girl/woman, struggling to live up to her mother’s huge expectations for her. No wonder she died young.

But we spent too much time at the Gug and there was no time for anything else. We raced for the train, catching the Vaporetto – that was fun!!!, and missed the train by three minutes. This would not have been a drama but Dad had organised Carla to cook a meal for us and we were now going to be late.

I loved Venice. I want to go back. Did I mention that I saw Tina Turner?

This photo was taken in Sorrento on Mum’s camera but I love it so much I’m putting it online here.

In Sorrento

Meanwhile at the Ferrari Museum…

Groover and the kids had a great time drooling over Enzos, watching the formula ones being test driven, Hugamuga even found a Ferrari Monopoly set. Groover said it was amusing watching all these couples, some obviously on honeymoon, with the women attempting to be very interested in transmission boxes and gear sticks! He was in heaven.

And the food, when we finally got back to the Villa was awesome.

So… Firenze, Vincenza, Venisia

We started on our trek to Firenze or Florence on Sunday. Our hotel – Pensione Persua was right near the Duomo. The manager was from New Zealand so we felt right at home. After dumping our bags we wandered over to the Uffizi gallery where there was a long queue to get in. You can book ahead to get in faster but we had failed to do that in time.

We waited in the queue for about 1.5 hours. The Uffizi has many of the Renaissance masterpieces Florence has produced. Bottecelli, Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Ghirlandio and a few others as well, Rubens, Rembrandt, the names so familiar it feels like visiting old friends. But the theme is for the most part very similar.

Afterwards I discovered that many non-religious paintings had been burned during the early part of Michelangelo’s life when a fellow called Savronola (or something like that) was about. He encouraged artists and patrons to “sacrifice” art which was not of a spiritual theme and a great many drawings, sculptures and paintings were lost. None of Michelangelos though…

You do get a bit overwhelmed with seeing the Madonna and Jesus but it is worth seeing them “in the flesh” so to speak. It is ironic that you are forced to cover yourself modestly to enter some of the grand cathedrals in Italy only to look at nude statues by the bucketload.

Unfortunately some of the museums we wanted to see were closed on the Monday and so I missed out on seeing the original David but fortunately the city has compensated with two copies. I saw both of them. They are impressive but I wished I’d seen his marble. I did see his later Pieta which is not complete in the Duomo museum and it is fantastic to see – partly because of its unfinished state but also to compare with the Pieta he did when he was in his early 20s at St Peters in Rome.

In the evening we walked up to Michelangelo park which overlooks Florence (where another David is) and enjoyed the stunning views.

The next day I confess I basically just went shopping! I bought a leather jacket and some jewellry and Dippity bought a Pashmina. The markets were great fun. After, Groover lent me his ticket on the sightseeing bus and that was quite interesting although a recorded tour guide is not as entertaining as a live person such as we had in Bath. Dippity fell asleep which gives you some indication. Did you know that Elizabeth Barratt Browning spent her last days in Florence? No, neither did I.

On Monday afternoon we left for Vincenza. Vincenza is about 70k from Venice (Venisia) and is a wealthy town full of computer chip manufacturers and a huge US base. They have a delightful little town centre though mostly built by a fellow called Palladio and we went there for dinner before collapsing in our hotel – just outside the town centre – the Hotel Continental. We chose to stay here because the cost was about 2/5 of the cost of staying in Venice!

So next morning bright and early we drove to Venice. Venice. How can I describe her? I loved every minute. The buildings, the canals, the twisty turny roads, the shops glittering with Murano glassware and jewellry. Fantastic. I even saw Tina Turner!!! True!

The first stop was to buy some fantastically overpriced fruit. The lady in charge was very protective and refused to allow dad to buy an apple because he picked it up himself! Non toccare!! He went off in a huff.

Then San Marco square. An immense square teeming with tourists and pigeons. This was regarded by the kids as the highlight of the day. Bag after bag of birdseed was bought and the kids were covered with pigeon feet scratches and no doubt a range of nasty bacteria – it didn’t bear thinking about so I went and had a look at the Cathedral – said to house the remains of St Mark himself. Are Catholics really that gullible? Honestly the relics they collect. Bits of The Cross, chains St Peter supposedly wore, jawbones, bits of fingers. Gruesome and probably some dead leper!

Anyway inside there is also this alter cloth which is dripping in gold and gems – they chare 1.50E to view that – pay inside and to go up to the loggia or balcony is another 3E. Don’t they read the bible??? I thought Jesus was a little bit against people selling stuff in a church or did I get the temple story all wrong. Anyway upstairs is a little museum and four gilt horses said to be from the 4C AD after the Venesians sacked Constantinople (or is that Istanbul)… beautiful statues – copies are on the outside of the Cathedral and inside it is a Byzantine feast. The ceiling entirely covered by gold mozaics.

We went for a bit of a tour of the shops in the afternoon and saw some of the most beautiful and expensive glassware. A set of champagne glasses caught Groover and my eyes – E1200 if you don’t mind… and Groover liked this Pauly vase, a cool E3000. I bought at E10 pendant instead.

Dad took us for a gondala ride next. What a treat! The last time I was in Venice I was about 10 months old and I can remember a photo of Mum and Dad and I in a gondala so it was very special to do it again with my kids. It’s expensive but what can you do? You have to do it!

Then the heavens opened and I longed for my new leather jacket which I’d left back in the hotel room – sigh. We had dinner in Venice and then headed back for Vincenza where we gratefully fell into bed.

Next day the party split up. Hugamuga lost his glasses again. No we haven’t found them yet.

My brother and I went back to Venice to see the Peggy Guggenheim collection and Groover, Mum, Dad and the kids went to Monterello to see the Ferrari museum. I’ll describe my visit to the Gug soon but my sister and her family have just arrived so I have to go! 🙂

Roma

Hello again. Today a welcome break from being a tourist. Just existing in this haven is enough. Plus of course I need to get you up to date. 🙂

So yesterday, Mum, Dad, the kids and I took a train to Rome to see a few sights. We caught the Eurostar into Rome which wasn’t in fact quicker than the regular train but left earlier. And we got these tickets (E9 each) which worked all day on all trains, metro and buses.

When we got to Rome we took the metro to the Vatican and walked to St Peter’s. It’s the big church with the dome. When you get there you realise what an understatement that is. You can fit 60,000 people inside AT THE SAME TIME. Mind you, I reckon it would be a bit of a squash. It took 10 architects to complete the building as they all kept dying and the design changed as they succeeded each other. A bit of controversy too. Some wanted the Christian cross shape while others including Michelangelo wanted the equal armed cross. (Da Vinci Code readers will recognise this as a symbol of balance between masculine and feminine) I don’t think Michelangelo was trying to invoke the sacred feminine power over the Vatican – he just wanted people to appreciate his dome – which he never saw completed. By the time the project was finished it was back to the long cross and I think the church were happy with the extra space.

While we were faffing around taking photos, we came across a free tour of St Peters run by an American girl. She takes free tours and then you can book her for specific tours of the museums. If you go to Rome you can meet up with Jennifer at the taxi-stand in front of St Peter’s Square at 9.30am Mon, Tues, Thurs and Friday. It is through her that the info I’ve been spouting as if I have done my research!

Anyway then we went into the cathedral. It is on a scale that has to be seen to be appreciate it. Extraordinary. Over the top. Wow. If you were in any doubt of the Catholic Church’s power this would change your mind – as I suspect it is supposed to.

There are waxworks of dead popes all around the walls. Michelangelo’s Pietro is behind glass. The paintings have all been replaced by mozaic replicas which look amazing. No piece of glass bigger than a bitten down little finger fingernail.

I could go on but suffice to say there will be photos online eventually. We even saw a church service with some VERY OLD ALMOST DEAD cardinals. Impressive but we didn’t stay for it – just the procession. There was a long line to view the dead Papi.

But we needed lunch. So we left the Vatican and headed back to Rome where we ate a mediocre and vastly overpriced lunch.

Then it was on to the Pantheon. At first we travelled along the main streets. And busy, dirty, hot streets they were to. Then we worked out that we could get to the Pantheon by taking the smaller side streets. Recommended. What a difference! Around a corner and wham. There is the Pantheon. More than 2000 years old it still stands majestically in the piazza. The columns are huge. And inside the cupola – bigger than that at St Peter’s is open at the top. The rain comes in apparently and there are five drainage holes to take the rain away.

The Pantheon was converted into a church and I can’t help but feel it has been desecrated through that action. The churchy bits look too small, too insignificant, too out-of-place. It is a great pity and I think Roma should give some thought to restoring the Pantheon to what it might have looked like when it was built. With Jupitar, Neptune, Minerva and all the other gods looking down.

It is actually a giant astronomical device telling the time of the year. The solstices and all that jazz. Stonehenge with style perhaps?

Anyway after the Pantheon and a gelati which is very good here by the way, we wandered off to find Dippity’s one request – the Trevy Fountain. She wanted to throw some coins in the fountain. Well after a while we found it. Once again it was tucked away, Rome has grown up around it. But what a joy. It was hot yeah, like around 30-32 degrees so seeing the aqua blue waters despite the crowds was heavenly. We went down right to the edge and tested the water. Cold. Obviously heavily chlorinated it was so clean. Dippity threw in her coins and made her wish and we all had a welcome break.

We’ve decided we don’t make very good tourists because we were completely tired out by then and looking forward to the trip home.

The metro was packed. Completely packed. We couldn’t even get on the train the first time. You thought Tokyo was busy – this was busier. And the trains were grotty. Covered in graffiti and hot. All in all not a pleasant experience. And we’re not talking peak hour. The main station was a joy after that and we rested while we waited for the train to Orte… and bought European Monopoli. Just for fun.

So that was Rome. This is the house we are staying in:

Some other news before I close. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law, are expecting another baby in October. Congratulations!! And thanks for all your comments – I love to read them! Sis – don’t worry about sending the skirt… I can wait til you get here… 🙂

Ensconsed

Ah Italy! Bella bella bella! It is gorgeous here. Firstly the house we are staying in is amazing. Views looking over a valley, beautifully appointed and not too far from anywhere it seems. It has taken us a few days to get organised on the computer front but thanks to the connections of the landscape gardener come tourism adviser, Michael, we have finally got connected. After everyone has had their fix I’ll get back on and sort out some photos – so come back soon.

Simply speaking – I want to live here.

We had a great meal in Ealing with Richard, Jane, Max and Nuala. Max and Nuala visited us on their honeymoon and now have two little girls, Kiera (6) and Sasha (3) who are very sweet. Jane somehow magicked up an Indian feast and we loved catching up with all the news.

In the early hours of the morning we stole away to the airport to catch our flight to Rome. Rory warned me that I would be responsible for organising train tickets when we arrived so I spent some of the flight searching through the phrase book for some helpful words. We arrived and I managed to get us tickets to Rome – I also didn’t count my change and got shorted E10 which was a pain but I learned my lesson! Then in Rome we caught a train to Orte. A bit trickier this time but we got there! It is so much fun speaking Italian! Understanding the replies is a bit of a challenge but I love it.

We got to Orte and had some fun trying to work out how to dial international to dad’s mobile. For the record just put 00 then the country code ie 61. That required a conversation in Italian with the guard – very amusing but eventually successful – and dad picked us up in the people mover he hired.

When we arrived at the house we were overwhelmed. I had seen the house in photos but the reality is much more impressive. Our little family pod has an entire wing! Mum and Dad are upstairs and when Cath and Georges arrive they will be in the other wing. Some holiday home. And beautifully appointed. I am sitting in the study looking out over the valley with a huge Voigt painting opposite. Stunning.

The first day we stayed close to home. Enjoying the ambience and the food – unbelievable!! Rory and I took a brief trip to Verni to try and sort out the internet – I did manage eventually to find an internet laundrette (brilliant idea eh) but not the information I needed. We also had fun in an enormous iperstore – big supermarket – where I asked someone in Italian if I could by some cream…. so exciting when they understand you! In Italy you need to wear a little plastic glove (provided) to choose your vegetables and fruit. Then you weigh it and get a little sticker with a bar code on it to take up to the front till. Yes – we had to go back and do it! Fun though.

Rory had to drive in peak hour traffic which was interesting. Road rules in Italy appear to be a concept. The gardener Michael advises “Just look straight ahead and do whatever you need to with a firm expression – never look back!” Whatever… red lights don’t seem to be very effective and if you stop sometimes you get beeped at by the other drivers. We always stop though just in case.

Yesterday we went to Siena. The buildings in old Siena are all about 4-5 stories tall and quite oppressive. The only green space seems to be through the gaps of the buildings where, if you sneak through you find vistas of green Tuscan countryside rolling away below you. Most towns seem to be built on the tops of hills which I understand was to get away from the swampy ground full of disease and mosquitos. They are so picturesque.

I will write more of the places we visit as captions under the photos when I eventually put them up but I must write of the Duomo or Cathedral in Siena. The outside was amazing – so ornate – but inside was incredible. Completely over the top. Every surface be it wall floor or ceiling was decorated – and decorated lavishly. I got in trouble for having a singlet top on (so warm here) but my brother Mike lent me his jumper and I avoided the little paper capes that they have as emergency garments.

Today we went for a walk to the little town we are staying near – Penna in Teverina. Not the prettiest of towns I must admit but it was fun having coffee in the main square and buying bread in Italian. I think I would be good at Italian if I stayed here for a few months… Then Michael (the gardener – not the brother) took us into Amelia to get the computer sorted.

Amelia is amazing. Older than Rome there are gates to the old city more than 2000 years old. We found a little cheese shop with a great range of cheese and stepped inside a little chapel – well it had a lot of ornate statues on the wall – where the mothers of the town were displaying some children’s artwork. We had an animated conversation with them in which neither of us understood too much and they now think that dad is a farmer. Well I guess he is of a sort.

Anyway I’ll get back on soon to upload some photos but I must get off and allow the rest of the family their fix. Ciao tutte.