Abruzzo: a road less travelled

I make no apologies for stealing the title for this post from Morgan Scott Peck’s best seller, The Road Less Travelled, as it was perfect for a post about how I discovered the region of Abruzzo. Most blogs and websites about the region say that Abruzzo is Italy’s best kept secret; I’ve even used that phrase myself in the past, but as more people discover the region it’s becoming an obsolete expression.

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I first discovered the region nine years ago. We were in Italy again, looking for a location in which to buy a holiday home and we were having a mid-week break in Rome. One day we hired a car and just drove across the country and ended up in Abruzzo. We liked what we found and the following year we made the effort to come here. We stayed in L’Aquila and explored the surrounding towns and villages. Our property search then took us south to Calabria and Basilicata and when we returned to the UK we re-evaluated our situation and decided to concentrate on Abruzzo. Another trip over was booked and this time we fell in love with the small village of Fossa about 14 km from L’Aquila.

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The 2009 earthquake brought the region to the attention of the world and people started to question where this secret part of Italy was. We then booked a stay at the fabulous Villa Collina just to be sure that our heart was in Abruzzo and that the earthquake hadn’t put us off. Our hosts Bryan and Cilla invited a hoard of ex-pats over for a party and in between drinks and nibbles people told us their stories about how they discovered the region.

Television shows like A Place in the Sun and travel shows have been drawing attention to the region for the past few years and this has increased the tourist footfall. And now more people now know of the region that measures just 10,794 sqm and yet boasts the largest green space in Europe and three national parks and, in my opinion some of the nicest medieval villages in Italy.

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One of the benefits of being a road less travelled is that property prices here are quite low compared to the national average, wildlife flourishes in the many undisturbed corners of the region and the towns and villages retain much of their historical culture and identity. As more people visit the region there are subtle changes occurring, the younger generation are following global trends, local people are now travelling further afield to discover more about their country and local trattoria’s are filled with English speaking diners.

My search to find my personal piece of Italy has led me here to Abruzzo and would I change any of it?

Yes – I’d have discovered it sooner rather than later.

Christmas Past and Present

A few days ago I re-blogged a post by Misha Herwin about Christmas and the memories of her Polish family’s Christmas traditions that she still practices today. For those that don’t know Misha, she’s a very talented author and writer of the Dragonfire trilogy, the new, Clear Gold trilogy that’s had the first volume published this year and the haunting, House of Shadows; a novel that chills you in places that chills shouldn’t occur. (I’ll post links at the end of this post so you can check out Misha and her books).

As a child I remember Christmas as a day of getting up with the first light and with my sister and rushing downstairs and shivering in the front room; as back then we had no central heating and the previous evening’s coal fire would have died. We’d be allowed to open only one present before breakfast and would grumble and whine as we went to get washed and changed for the day. How unfair grown ups are when children just want to sit and tear off wrapping paper from boxes from under the tree.

After breakfast it’s be more present unwrapping and the obligatory Cadbury’s Selection Box would be opened followed by Mother’s stern warning that we were only allowed to eat one thing. (I always used to give away the finger of Fudge or at best try to swap it, but my sister was clever she knew I didn’t like it and didn’t need to swap as she’d get it anyway).

Dinner would be at my paternal grandparent’s where I’d be allowed to go into the garage and get myself a bottle of American Ginger Ale from my grandfather’s stock of mixers and guzzle it and stand outside belching as the bubbles exploded inside my stomach. (How simple things amuse small boys).

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Dick Whittington. Trinity Arts Centre. Gainsborough. 1998

As I grew up Christmas ceased to be a celebration and became a busy work period. I started young in pantomime and proceeded to have the next 30 plus years working every festive season. So I was always away and staying in digs from late November to mid January and the tinsel and decorations gave way to costume changes and song and dance routines. Christmas day was usually the only day off and was spent mostly resting the voice and having a break from a face full of stage make-up. So for years I didn’t bother with a tree or Christmas lights.

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A Christmas Carol 2000

Christmas here in Italy has been varied. Our first was during the house restoration so we didn’t dress the house as it seemed pointless as no amount of baubles and lights can make cement bags attractive. But we did have an amazing 6.5 hour marathon Christmas dinner at a local hotel. Another was with friends up in Roccascalegna entertaining ourselves as the broadband went down. Another was sat outside in the sunshine eating our festive lunch with 5 dogs running amok. However this year we’ve decided that as we’re spending the day having a traditional English Christmas with friends in Atessa, we’d get in the festive mood and have a tree. Which means I can bring out a bauble I remember from my childhood.

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This ball was from a set purchased around 1964 and always referred to as the ugly ball . I remember it being hidden at the back of our family Christmas trees, and I took pity on it many years ago and now 50 years on it has a prominent spot on on our 2015 tree.

As promised I’ll post the links, and wish you all a splendid Christmas as the iPod shuffles in its dock and Opshop (a New Zealand band I discovered whilst working there) play, Monsters Under the Bed.

Misha’s blog where you find information about all of her books.

Penkhull Press where you’ll find information about House of Shadows and other great books.

 

Bad Influence from Stevenage

My friend who has a house nearby is over at the moment from the UK to enjoy some early Italian sunshine and get her neglected garden back in order. We met a few years back and spent a riotous summer together in Italy in 2011 as both of our partners were in England at the time. I have to admit that we both have the same irreverent sense of humour and also occasionally have no internal volume switch. So a couple of weeks back she tips up at the airport. I pick her up and from that moment on my routine begins to unravel.

We’ve had assorted trips into different towns when I’d be sat at my desk normally doing research. We’ve enjoyed meals at lunchtime when I’d normally grab a sandwich as I proof read. There’s been many visits to the local bar when usually after a day writing, I’d be cossetted on the sofa with a glass of wine  watching Emmerdale.

So last week, when another friend pointed out that I was having a very busy social life of late, I pointed out the reason why; my errant friend from Stevenage. The friend comments that my recent status updates have featured less about my work and more about my procrastination, and I have to admit to being one story behind on my monthly schedule. I then jokingly lay the blame for this firmly at my visiting friend’s door, saying she’s a bad influence.100_9239

Several minutes later said bad influence sends me a message saying, ‘fancy trying the new bar in town?’ Am I strong enough to resist the temptation to indulge in jovial behaviour while partaking of grain based beverages?

No. So where does the blame lie?

Who really cares when a good time is being had by all, I can get back to the mundane 9 to 5 routine later in the month. Life is too short to put work before friendship.

The Cost of Rudeness

They say that good manners cost nothing, so how much does bad manners, or specifically rudeness cost?

Well today I discovered that rudeness actually costs just 37 cents or in English money, 30 pence.

I was in my local supermarket this afternoon and stood behind an English family who had a trolley bulging with provisions; you can tell the people who have just arrived for a self-catering break just by looking at the volume of shopping they buy including all those store cupboard things like boxes of salt, pepper, ketchup and the multi-packs of bottled beer and wine – you can spot them a mile off.

Anyway, they had their shopping scanned and the English woman handed the girl on the till a €100 note. The husband was packing the shopping when the Italian girl asked the customer if she had thirty-seven cents, confusion spread over the woman’s face and she said, “What?”

“Do you have thirty-seven cents, please?” the girl on the till asked.

“What did she say?” the woman asked her husband, who just shrugged his shoulders. The girl on till asked again if she had the correct change and the English woman replied saying, “I don’t know what you are saying, can you speak English. Don’t you speak any English?”

“No, she doesn’t speak English,” I said interrupting, “they have very little small change so she’s asking if you have the thirty-seven cents.” As she asked her husband for the small change I said to the girl on till, “I’m sorry, she’s a very rude English woman.” I was surprised to hear the woman say to her husband; referring to me, “I think he’s explaining that we don’t understand the language.”

I nod and smile as she hands the girl the thirty-seven cents, she then says to me, “We’re here on holiday, for ten days.”

I respond, saying, “With your attitude, thank goodness it’s just a short stay.”

Exit one red-faced harridan.

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I don’t have a rudeness photo so here’s a snap of my dogs Olive and Alf finding the gravel outside very interesting.

Being Local

With the iPod shuffling I drove to the bank ahead of tomorrow’s closure due to it being All Saints day, Spandau Ballet play Chant No1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On) 12” Mix, as I park up and join the queue at the cash machine. It seems like everyone in Selva  Piana needs to get cash out. I’m standing behind an elderly lady who’s humming a discordant tune to herself, when a man asks me if I want the bank or the ATM. I explain I want the cash machine and the whole queue that’s lined up in front of it moves, they’re all waiting to go into the bank and the cashiers are operating a two people, out, two people, in, system.

After withdrawing some cash I head off up the hill that leads to Vizzarri, Somebody Told Me, by Eurythmics plays as I pull into the car park at Scriz, a family-run independent supermarket. I’m picking up a packet of De Cecco pasta when the doors open and there’s a commotion by the fresh fruit. I hear a lot of excited English voices as a group that have arrived in a mini bus enter the store. A man at the front is talking to the group and a couple of excited ladies pick a packet of biscuits up and examine the wrapper.

I’m down at the sliced meats section talking to my friend behind the counter when the group arrive and stand behind me. I order some cooked ham and my friend is cutting me four slices when I hear one of the biscuit women exclaim, “Isn’t it lovely when you hear them speak Italian.” I am slightly tempted to ask what she’d expect to hear, Cantonese, but my friend asks me if I want anything else. I’m ordering six slices of prosciutto nostrano (traditional dry-cured ham) when the group leader addresses them saying, “Here you can see the locals buying their sliced meat and cheeses in much the same way they have been doing for years.

Although it’s only a tourist group, it’s a nice feeling to be considered a local; although the people who originate from here would never consider me that, to them I’ll always be that crazy foreigner (quello straniero pazzo).

Talking about being crazy, as you know I have a few OCD issues, one of which is related to my job as a writer. I only use Staedtler pencils, it’s irrational I know but I genuinely find it difficult to take notes using any other brand of pencil. Most ex-pats get sent HP sauce, Cheddar and other food goodies from back home, but imagine how happy I was to be sent over these beauties:

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Cocktails and House Guests

Saturday, we had a pleasant afternoon on the beach at Casalbordino, there was a small group of us and we sipped prosecco and ate our picnic as the warm September sun shone down.  No matter what time of the year it is, I cannot go near the sea without wanting to swim in it, so we also took a dip. Being blokes we naturally couldn’t resist the urge to pee in the sea which was disguised as swimming. We were chatting when the subject of house guests came up, those friends and family wanting to come out to stay. As some of our party have self-catering accommodation, they have to explain to those friends that want to come for a ‘free’ holiday, that they must come out of season. The point that was raised, was that when visitors do come, they expect their hosts to show them the  sights, take them to the best restaurants and spend days lazing on the beach. Is this unreasonable, was the question asked of our group and we all said, although we’d expect to indulge our house guests, they on reflection never consider that. 1. You have to do this for every new guest, and 2. you’re not on holiday and have to continue with your daily routine.

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Early evening at Casalbordino

The biggest issue apart from the disruption to daily life is the added expense. Is it appropriate to ask house guests to contribute towards their stay, especially if you have to take time off to look after them? In my case, days out with guests would eat into my writing time and eventually would cost me my income, so I guess it would be acceptable to ask for a contribution. Most people said that their house guests would often take them out for a nice meal to say thank you. But when you add up the cost of petrol, utilities and lost revenue, is a meal really compensation? I had friends come over to stay for a week and they were the perfect house guests. I collected them from the airport and the first thing they said was, “We don’t want to disrupt your routine, we’ll fit in with you.” Throughout the week they insisted in paying for the petrol used to take them out, they contributed 50% to the weekly shopping and during the day when I was working they did their own thing, either around the local area or by borrowing the car to explore further afield. When I wasn’t working we enjoyed local sights, the beach and pizza at the local pizzeria. At the end of the week as I dropped them off at the airport they slipped me an extra €100. saying “Put this towards our stay,”

One of our party said after she noticed how much it was costing her in time and money when guests came out; fired up in holiday mode, she set a fixed price per person per day, and that has worked for them. One thing guests don’t realise is, that the previous week another set of guests had been staying and you have to repeat the previous week’s activities for them.

After packing up, we strolled over to a new cocktail bar that had opened and after perusing the (IMO far too extensive) menu, we all sat and enjoyed our drinks as the light faded over Casalbordino and the only sound to be heard was the laughter of chatting Brits and the soft lapping of the waves.

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Swanky sofas overlooking the sea