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Posted on October 20, 2010 in Life, the Universe and Everything by Jay24 Comments »

Oh crikey.

Here we are once more on ABC Wednesday and not only am I feeling none-too-well with this noxious bug we brought back from Italy, but I don’t have a post prepared and ‘N‘ a difficult letter when it comes to shops.

Hmm.

Well, I could show you the naked man I found in Venice, but he wasn’t all that exciting …

What?  You want to see him, nonetheless?  Tut, tut.  I am surprised at you all!  Oh, alright then.  Here he is –

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Yep, nothing but a nude mannequin, after all, but – with this post in mind, I snapped him anyway!  You see, I have next to nothing in my folders beginning with ‘N‘ – not to do with shops anyway – although, maybe you don’t know this, but the Italian word for ‘shop’ is ‘negozio‘.  So I suppose in that sense, I have no end of them!

Seriously though, apart from the naked guy, all I have for you are these two snaps.  Both were taken in the eNchaNtiNg town of Lucca, Italy (so they are both negozi), which was just so picturesque and pretty, that for me it was a noteworthy number one in the ‘best town’ category.

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So there you are. You will have to be content with a ‘PaNe & ViNo’ shop sign, which means, of course, ‘Bread and Wine’, and a fragment of ‘PucchiNi Memories’.  And – while I can’t vouch for any Pucchini being played at the time, I hope you noticed the ‘vino e pane’ on that table, right there under your very nose.

Oh, and did you see the little statuette on the wall above, in its niche?  Italy is just chock full of those little details.

And here, bizarrely, is ‘Anny’s Shop’.

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Now, why ‘Pucchini Memories’ and ‘Anny’s Shop’ are in English rather than the native Italiano, I cannot tell you, though I might hazard a guess.  You see, this is a huge tourist trap, right here, and I’m guessing these shops are trying to cash in on those who do not speak a word of Italian.  However … I don’t know about Pucchini, but Anny’s shop looks nothing special to me.   Do you suppose some of those clothes are nylon?  Maybe, but it’s natural to want to buy cheap souvenirs, so let’s not be negative – they seem to sell well, anyway.

These particular negozi are in the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, one of the most delightful and entrancing spots we visited during the whole holiday.   We stopped at noon for nourishment here, and ate panini and cannelloni while watching the world go by.   I believe I drank San Pellegrino natural mineral water, too.

Oh, by the way, when I said ‘tourist trap’, I wasn’t actually referring to the horses and carriage, although that is exactly what it is!

But more of that later!

Posted on October 18, 2010 in Life, the Universe and Everything by Jay9 Comments »

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You remember the agriturismo ‘Locanda del Papa’, with the big hornet and all? Well, that farmhouse, at La Foce, was very close to La Spezia – which unknown to us is actually a city, a port, and home to a large Italian naval base. You can’t call it particularly pretty. However, the Cinque Terre are five small towns strung along the Italian coast north of La Spezia, and they are very, very pretty indeed.

When we decided to visit the Cinque Terre, we took advice and were told that the best way to do it was to drive down into La Spezia, park at the station, and take a train. Because the towns of the Cinque Terre are historical, with very narrow streets and extremely limited parking, this sounded like a great idea, so we packed up what we thought we’d need and set out.

We found the station – no problem at all – but could we find the car park for the station? No, we could not! Take a look at this picture.

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We were pretty sure the station was up those steps, and we must have driven past it four times before we gave up and decided to take our chances on parking at Riomaggiore, the first of the Cinque Terre, and take the train from there.

Off we drove, up around the northern edge of La Spezia with its string of pretty villages, and got sidetracked very quickly by a restaurant which was serving coffee. It’s very easy to get sidetracked by coffee in Italy, and it happened to us often. After a while I learned how to ask for ‘poco caffè, più latte’ and stopped getting a cup half-full of espresso, or full of warm milk, and that helped me to get my coffee a little less strong and prevented a lot of confusion with the locals.

And so it was that we sat sipping a lovely caffè latte overlooking the harbour of La Spezia. I don’t seem to have a picture from that morning but this is the view taken later, at dusk.

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Trust me, La Spezia is a lot prettier at a distance. And in the dark. A fact which is certainly not true of Riomaggiore – where we did manage to park, after queueing for only twenty minutes.

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Just look at that. What a gorgeous, gorgeous place, and so very Italian, if a trifle touristy. I must say though, that we took one look at that main street and groaned. It seemed to go straight down, and at a very steep angle. In fact, at one point, the road seemed to just disappear off a cliff-like edge – you can see it in that photo as a hard line just beyond where those girls are standing – and as we all know, what goes down must come up again, if it ever wants to see home again.

So, the first thing we did was check the time and decide to have lunch. Wandering down a little way (handing onto handrails where necessary) we found a charming little pizzeria, where I did, in fact, order pizza. I ate a lot of bread in Italy, though I shouldn’t, and it was delicious, because the Italians Know How To Make Bread. Yum! French bread? You can keep it. Give me focaccia or that wonderful Tuscan salt-free bread any day, because both extremes of saltiness are delicious, and so is everything in between.

Down, down, down … eventually we came to the sea.

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There was a tiny harbour, with boats and everything. And more cafes, so guess what? Yep, more coffee. Also near the bottom was the train station, so after the coffee, OH pushed me forward and told me to go and buy tickets, and after a while the train came and off we went.

And we went, and we went, and we went. And OH said he feared we would soon end up in Pisa and was I sure we’d got on the right train? And I said ‘Surely there IS only one train??’ And the second Cinque Terre town flashed by, and the third, and the fourth, and Pisa was looking more like a real possibility when the train finally halted at the very last of the Cinque Terre, Monterosso al Mare, and we scrambled to get off before it started going again with us still on board, and we really did end up in Pisa.

I have to say, Monterosso was nothing much. It reminded us of an Italianate English seaside town, only less interesting than Portmeirion*, so after a gentle stroll along the seafront, we hopped back on a train (after checking that it would, if fact, stop at the next town) and got off at Vernazza.

Vernazza is incredibly pretty!

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But it also has vertiginous streets as you can see by the angle of that pavement, and we began to wonder if one or both of us would end up in hospital with a heart attack. Our legs hadn’t worked so hard in years!! Luckily, we survived the ‘stroll’ down to the harbour and back again, though OH couldn’t help reminding me at frequent intervals how steep it was, as if I wasn’t already discovering this for myself.

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Before we got the train onwards, we had (yet another) coffee by the dinky little harbour among the boats and seagulls (just where those yellow umbrellas are, in fact), and I popped inside the little church for a look around. It was beautiful; simple, graceful, elegantly proportioned and with a terrace looking out onto the sea! We ignored the signposts inviting us to walk up behind it, to some exciting spot or other, and checking the time once more discovered that if we were to get home at all, we’d need to catch the next train to Riomaggiore because it was the last one. Needless to say, once we’d got up to the station (yes, it was at the top of this town) there was an announcement to say that the train was running twenty minutes late.

After twenty minutes, there was another announcement to the same effect, so all in all we spent quite a while on that platform, but it wasn’t without entertainment value.

There was this guy, for instance, pegging out his washing.

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And as the road we’d climbed up went underneath the station, we could watch the tourists and locals going about their business. Dogs, children, the old and the young, and the occasional little three wheeled truck full of newly harvested grapes.

Sadly I didn’t get a picture of that one – I’ll have to leave it to your imagination!

*Portmeirion is a fantasy of a village in north Wales. It was conceived and built by Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis and was used as the setting for the 60s TV series ‘The Prisoner’. The still have conventions there, as far as I know, but even if you aren’t a ‘Prisoner’ fan, it’s a lovely and otherworldly place to visit.

Posted on October 17, 2010 in Life, the Universe and Everything, Oddities by Jay23 Comments »

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And here we are again!! Macro Monday – and this time I’m home so you are NOT getting the answer in this post. Ha!

It’s an easy one, though, isn’t it? I mean, really … Even though I’ve been mean and given you a black and white picture to puzzle over? You can probably tell that it belongs outside, and to be honest, I can’t think of a good reason to have one of these indoors, though I have seen it done.

Well, it takes all sorts, doesn’t it?

It is pretty close to 1:1, but you’ll need to click on the picture and then again on the picture on the next page to get the true size. Perhaps most of these things are a little bigger, but they do vary. A lot.

Answers below in the comments, please, and do remember to pop back tomorrow evening, UK time, to check to see if you were right. I’ll pop back then too, to answer any comments that need it and perhaps to tell you a little bit more about the picture.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out Lisa’s blog for the other entries, which will most likely be much more restful for you!

* Having looked at it again this morning, I’m not entirely sure that it isn’t a tad smaller than it should be. I tested it by putting my hand over the picture in the screen, because I did pick one up and it looks about right, but bear in mind that if you see one in real life it might well be bigger.

Oh dear. Not a single one of you got this one, and I really did think that if I posted it in its true colour you’d all know exactly what it was in 10 seconds flat.  So, I’m going to give points to Pip and Caroline (frogmum) for guessing its true colour (red/orange) and to David for guessing ‘concrete’ which is somewhere in the general neighbourhood of the ball park.

Go here to find out what this is. You’ll be amazed and you’ll kick yourselves .. and possibly you’ll want to kick me, which is why my address is a closely guarded secret! Ha!

No worries. I’ll find you all a nice easy peasy puzzle for next week, one that even your dog could do with one paw behind his back, so please do come back and try again!

And thanks for playing – and for being good sports!

Posted on October 14, 2010 in Life, the Universe and Everything, Wildlife by Jay9 Comments »

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As some of you will know, OH and I have been away from home for a fortnight – so first of all, apologies for not getting around the blogosphere and answering comments, visiting your blogs, etc. When you are travelling, you might have a connection, but it might not actually work very well, and to be frank, I wasn’t about to waste too much time in front of a computer when I could have been out practising my atrocious Italian on the local population.

So (I hear you cry), ‘Where have you been?

Well, I’ll tell you, although that ‘practising my Italian’ bit up there is a bit of a clue! Yes, we’ve been to Italy! Starting with a wonderful little agriturismo high in the hills above La Spezia. And this little track is the road to Locanda del Papa, a family home guest house run by Davide, his wife Roberta, and his father, Guiliano.

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We arrived at dusk, having driven up from Pisa airport, and it’s just as well we had Susan* with us, I can tell you. Even then, we had to stop and ask directions from two lovely local ladies who did their best to overcome the language barrier caused by one Englishwoman with a little Italian, and two Italians with just about enough English to argue with each other and me … but they did point us in the right direction, and eventually Susan found the village of La Foce, and the sign that said ‘Locanda del Papa’.

Imagine pointing the nose of your car up a steep, muddy track, just wide enough for the car, and with just enough light to see the precipitous drop on one side disappearing into the fog – or was it low cloud? Later, we were to see this –

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– which wasn’t at all comforting. Ah well. Holidays are all about adventure, aren’t they? What – you know another kind?

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Talking of adventure, while having breakfast on our first morning we were startled to hear a loud droning coming from the chimney, about a foot behind me. Davide saw me looking and said cheerfully ‘Oh, it’s just the hornets. They get sleepy at this time of year and fall down the chimney’. Later we found one of these things crawling across the patio.

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I tell you, it was over an inch long – in other words, huge! Just compare the tile size with the previous picture, also taken on the patio area. But they didn’t seem at all aggressive, which was just as well, since I’ve heard that their sting has been likened to a snake bite.

Don’t let this put you off staying at the Locanda del Papa though. It really is a great place, and Davide and his family are wonderful hosts. We thoroughly recommend it, and if we were going to the same area again, we’d definitely go back. The rooms are spotless, and beautifully decorated in the Italian farmhouse style, the food was perfect, and the extremely good wine which we were offered was made by Davide’s family from their own grapes. They really are excellent hosts.

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The local La Foce restaurants were excellent, and the people very kind and patient with my limited Italian, and my multiple allergies, and though we weren’t at all struck with the city of La Spezia, the Cinque Terre were just up the road a bit, as were Lerici and Portovenere … and I’ll tell you about those another time.

 

* Susan is our faithful TomTom GPS unit.