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Posted on October 30, 2013 in Life, the Universe and Everything by Jay18 Comments »

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Autumn is a melancholy time of year in many ways. The summer has slipped away, almost without us noticing it going, and the leaves are falling. Mists rise in the early morning and settle again over the land in the evening to mark the watercourses and low-lying places.

I’ve decided to join in with the Photo Blogging Challenge hosted by A Li’l HooHaa. I take a lot of photos and a lot of the photos I take never see the light of day. I look through them from time to time, but I never seem to do very much with them. I’m actually planning to print a few of them off and maybe frame the better ones, but in the meantime, another photo challenge seems like a fun idea!

So here I am, in the last half of the last day of October’s challenge – this because they’ve decided that most people will be posting Halloween stuff tomorrow and won’t want to be bothered with anything else. Well, I don’t do Halloween stuff, but I’m abiding by the rules, this being my first time joining in and all.

And the theme for October is – or was – ‘Fall’. This, of course means ‘Autumn’ in England, or indeed in Italy, where all of these photos were taken.

Fall, or autumn, has its compensations. The mists can add a beautifully eerie dimension to a landscape and emphasise a mood, as in the photo of the poolside chairs. At other times, the sky can be dramatic and charged with energy, while the land begins to fall asleep. These rocks are crowded with sunbathers in the summer months, but now there is no-one but us.

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Leaves begin to be swept into corners by the wind, and provide a wonderful contrast to ancient stone and peeling paintwork. Small creatures begin to slow down and look for places to hide for the colder months.

This Mediterranean lizard is growing himself a new tail. I wonder how he lost it?

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He was hiding in some driftwood but I think we scared him, and he ran.

And of course there is the harvest. This is the time of year when nature is at its most fruitful, and crops of late produce are being gathered. The grapes were already gone from most of the vines when we arrived in Italy, but the olives were still waiting. Citrus fruits were at their peak, and soft fruits such as this juicy pear were also at their best.

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Lastly, I couldn’t resist including the iconic single leaf on the ground. I noticed this one while sitting outside under the loggia one day, with a cup of tea. It caught my eye with it’s lovely pale biscuit colour against the red terracotta tiling, and the crisp, light delicacy of its structure. I am reasonably certain that it’s a vine leaf, since that was what was scrambling over the loggia, right over our heads. The other trees around the garden were olives and palms.

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I’m going to try to keep up with this photo blogging challenge for a while. It’s less arduous than the last, involving just one post of five photos each month, rather than one photo every single day for a month, so it shouldn’t tax me too much, should it?

Pop on over to A Li’l HooHaa and see what other people have contributed. That’s always fun!

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Since we came back from Italy, I’ve been wondering deeply about one thing, and that thing is this:¬† why is it that while we were there, my acid reflux gave me hardly any trouble at all?¬†¬†

I began by being very careful what I ate, but soon realised that I could eat ribollita (plenty of onions in that) and fried potatoes, and food swimming in olive oil and small amounts of garlic. I could drink wine every day.  I could eat bread and pizza.   I have to admit that there were also biscotti and chocolate in sizeable amounts, too.  I drank orange juice!  I ate peaches and peach sorbet!  And I drank coffee all day.

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So what, I asked myself, was I doing so differently in Italy that could so drastically improve my acid reflux for the duration of the holiday?

I made a list.

1 – I thought perhaps I wasn’t sitting around so much in chairs… but on the other hand I was sitting around for long periods touring in the car, and in fact I was sitting for quite long periods in restaurants

2 – I was drinking coffee and very little tea

3 – My diet included hardly any unrefined carbs, like wholemeal bread or pasta or wholegrain rice

4 – I drank a lot of bottled water

5 – I was eating regularly, most days including breakfast

6 – Meals were taken slowly, due to restaurant service leaving gaps between courses.¬† However, there was a LOT of food, so these weren’t necessarily light meals.

7 – Didn’t eat or drink much after 9pm, though meals often lasted until 9pm!

Oh, and …

8 – I ate a LOT less in the way of vegetables.¬† But aren’t they supposed to be good for us?

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I thought about it.

Bread gives me a lot of trouble here in England.¬† Much of the time I cut it out altogether, especially if I can’t get the Alta Mura bread or the Cranks wholemeal, both of which I tolerate a lot better than Chorleywood* breads.¬† I’ve thought in the past that it was the yeast, and I still think that’s at least partly true.¬† Cranks bread does use yeast, but it uses a lot less yeast and a very long fermentation time so that the yeast in the bread is more ‘used up’ by the time it’s cooked.¬† I have no idea if that’s important, but it feels as if it is.¬† However, it Italy, I was eating white bread, much of it very fresh white bread – the sort I usually avoid like the plague.

We are told that unrefined carbohydrates are good for us, but this was certainly a big difference. If I¬† make a pasta meal for myself at home, it’s usually with wholemeal pasta, and I tend to buy wholemeal crackers, too.¬†¬†¬† Hmm…

This week I have cut tea out of my diet and added in more coffee, and if I drink water I’m using bottled water.¬† I’m also not eating too late in the evening and I haven’t eaten very much at all in the way of wholemeal goods, but I’m not back to where I was.¬† Why?¬† Somebody tell me why!!

I have to say I’m beginning to suspect the water supply.¬† After having done some research online, I see that flouride, chlorine and chloramine (a mixture of chlorine and ammonia) are all thought to cause acid reflux by many people.¬† Well, our water supply isn’t flouridated, but it is chloraminated and it would be nice to think the solution were that simple.

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Stress?¬† Well, we all know that we are supposed to be a lot less stressed and more relaxed on holiday, but for me this isn’t necessarily so. As an asthmatic with a feather allergy and many food allergies, I worry when I’m away. I worry about food, and whether the waiters have really understood what I’ve said to them and taken it seriously, and I worry when I change lodgings because 50% of the time someone will have left feather pillows on the bed. Or a feather duvet, or a feather mattress pad.¬† I was also worried this time because Sid was most unwell when we left and though he was improving and being cared for by the best possible person (his trainer) I hated to leave him and I wondered how he was doing often.

So.¬† I would LOVE to get off the PPIs**.¬† They are seriously not good for you long term, but then, neither is acid reflux.¬†¬† The trouble is, we are all subjected, every day, to quite a lot of things that are not good for you: exhaust fumes, chemicals in our water and food, antibiotic residues in our meat, heavy metals in our fish, pesticides on our vegetables.¬† Pollution of innumerable kinds in our air.¬† You may say ‘well, I’ve been consuming and inhaling all those things for decades and they haven’t hurt me yet’, but is that really true?¬† How do we know that all this crap in our lives isn’t the reason for the rise in autoimmune diseases like asthma and allergies?¬† For the huge rise in cancers?¬† For metabolic disorders like Hashimoto’s Disease, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, heart disease and the rest?

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I’m not really a conspiracy theorist.¬† When I’m doing my research online, I tend to avoid those sites that use heavy, lurid headlines and over use bold text within paragraphs with lots of repetition and offers of fancy (and expensive) devices or supplements to shield and protect and detoxify you from this or that menace.¬† However, the fact is that we do live in a sea of chemicals and radiation and contaminants these days, and it doesn’t seem right.

There’s also the problem that doctors seem to rely so very heavily on drugs for this and that.¬† ‘Oh, you have ‘X’ disorder, take these tablets’, they say.¬† And sometimes, bless them, they appear to forget that pharmaceuticals can cause problems too.¬† Is it any wonder that so many of us are looking for alternative therapies?

Anyway. To get back to the main point, I have not stopped taking my PPIs, but the fact remains that even with them, here in England, I suffer reflux a lot.  And in Italy, I suffered a whole lot less, despite going a bit nuts in the nutrition department.

So again, I have to ask: why is this?

Am I allergic to England?
 

 

* Chorleywood bread is bread made by a super-fast process which involves a lot more yeast and a lot less fermentation time.

** PPIs are Protein Pump Inhibitors, prescribed to reduce stomach acid and treat gastric reflux.

 

 

 

 

 

Well, here we are, nearly at the end of our wonderful Italian holiday, and soon we’ll be flying back to cold, damp England.¬† It was 24 degrees here in Rapallo yesterday and people were actually in the sea, bathing, along with assorted dogs.¬† It wasn’t exactly wall-to-wall blue, but it was a damn sight better than anything you’d have seen in the fens, what with the vast improvement on the scenery and all.

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Italy, even in October, is very beautiful.  There is so much to see and do here, but even a gentle walk along a seafront or in an old town centre will fill you with delight.  Today it is raining, but we have a sea view from the hotel here and it is beautiful just watching the light changing over the wide, wide sea, and the scooters buzzing past below us Рsome with umbrellas held aloft as they go!

It hasn’t been roses all the way, though, since four days ago I picked up some kind of bug and I’ve been spending quite a lot of time sitting on Italian toilets.¬† Now this isn’t too much of a problem if you stay in the hotel, but going out and about, it can be.¬† Public toilets are so variable‚Ķ¬† Just for fun, I’m going to show you one or two of the most interesting, but bear in mind that some fall far, far short of this standard and many don’t even have a toilet seat.¬† Now, I can squat with the best of them, but you know how it is, certain *ahem* stomach disorders (she says delicately) can leave your legs feeling a trifle weak and wobbly.

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This one, of course, was more than OK.¬† Although, why it needed quite such a large hole at the front I can’t imagine.¬†¬† To be fair, there were a good number of these excellently appointed and perfectly clean loos.¬† Here’s another:

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Why they thought that two chairs plus a footstool might be needed during your visit, I have no idea.  Perhaps it was for the queue?

Anyway.¬† A little before the bug raised its ugly little head, I tripped on an uneven bit of pavement in Porto Santo Stefano and twisted my ankle.¬† I fell smack onto the pavement, bruising both shoulders, one elbow and one knee.¬† It was just outside a tiny pizzeria, and the only consolation was that a young, tanned Italian guy came rushing out to help me up, along with OH.¬† It did make me feel like an old lady, being raised to my feet by two strong men, but if you have to feel like an old lady, it’s a good way to do it.¬† Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture, because the camera was on the ground with me and by the time I was hauled upright, the moment had passed.

It was opposite this view that it happened.¬† I must not have been looking where I was going, I can’t think why.

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Here in Rapallo, we have spend a wonderful three days with our good friends Paola and Umberto.¬† I know Paola through a site called ‘Conversation Exchange’ where you can meet people who are also learning a foreign language. It’s a wonderful way to practice speaking with a native of your chosen country, and of course, you are helping them in turn by speaking to them in your own tongue.¬† I have known Paola for about three years now, and she and Umberto have become very good friends.¬† We always look them up when we are here, and Umberto always insists on feeding us, every day, with the most delectable home cooking.¬† ‘Casa Umberto’ is far superior to any restaurant you could ever go to, and I am learning some great recipes, since he is generous enough to freely share everything he knows.¬† Today we ate a ‘light lunch’ of foccacia to begin, followed by lasagne, pollo cacciatore (hunter’s chicken), torta di carote e mandorle (carrot and almond cake), and sorbetto di pesca (peach sorbet) – all accompanied by an excellent Brunello di Montalcino, and with coffee to follow.¬† Aaah, bliss.

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Now we must think about packing to return home.¬† We do have one more fun thing to do, once we reach London – we have tickets for a concert by Agnes Obel, one of OH’s favourite singers.¬† She has a fascinating voice, and does a rather lovely range of material, so I shall enjoy it too.¬† This is only her second album, and I predict great things.¬† Also, it does put off the inevitable return to the usual rut.

I am looking forward to fetching the dogs home, though!

 

Posted on October 11, 2013 in Life, the Universe and Everything, Wildlife by Jay11 Comments »

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That’s the name of our rented villa.¬† In Italian that means ‘The Trap’.

We wondered why, until we got here.¬† Then we realised that if it were icy or snowy, or even if it rained much and made the gravel road into mud, that’s exactly what you’d be in: a trap.

The road down to the villa from what passes for the main road (‘Strada stretta, procedere con cautela’) is a winding, steep, part gravel, part tarmac, part concrete¬† and part packed earth single track with passing places, and liberally rutted with deep diagonal gullies and three to four inch high ridges, plus potholes and the odd patch of fallen rocks.¬† At times, there is only a couple of feet between you and a long drop, and nothing to stop you taking it.¬† The track down to the beach is not only even steeper and more winding, but only seems to lead to a few rocks and no other way out than by boat.¬† Which we don’t have.¬† I’m not even sure there’d be room for a helicopter to land on the property … although it might manage it on the roof, if it didn’t collapse under the weight.¬†¬† To be fair, there might well be a beach at low tide, but since this is the last part of the journey down …

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… and the path seems to completely disappear among a tangle of rocks, we stopped right here.

It is, however, completely peaceful and very beautiful, with a wide view of the ocean from the edge of the lawn and over the swimming pool, and absolutely no traffic noise at all, apart from the odd high, faint roar of a passing airliner on its way to Pisa or Rome, or … somewhere.¬† There is birdsong, and the somnolent hum of many insects.¬† At night, there is the chirping of crickets.

And the gentle grunts and snuffles of the wild boar, who, having managed to negotiate the electric fence which is meant to keep them out, are busy tearing up the lawn searching for fallen olives or figs and who knows what else. I begin to suspect there are truffles under them thar trees.

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Yes, that is our front door mat.

The villa … well, we splashed out for a ‘hand-picked luxury villa’ because we’re too old to rough it.¬† We looked at all the pictures and read the information and the glowing reviews and thought, yep, for the wonderful view and the security of knowing that everything would be pristine and well-cared for, the price tag would be worth it.¬† And basically yes, it is a great place, though far from pristine.¬† And there were a few surprises, not all of them pleasant.

First of all, we couldn’t get hold of the caretaker to let him know we were coming, as we were required to do, an hour before arrival.¬† In the end, having tried the back-up caretaker as well, we phoned Tuscany Now who were extremely courteous and helpful and got the job done so that when we did arrive the caretaker was there and waiting.

But the instructions on how to arrive were interesting.¬† ‘Take the road to the left, and then take the left fork at the reeds’?¬† It’s bloody bamboo, for heaven’s sake, and about twenty foot tall!

And I think, for the sake of non-Italians, it would have been kind to say ‘take the rough track’ and not ‘take the road’, because it looks like the entrance to a farm which is going to a) lead to a gate behind which are several irate dogs and maybe a shotgun, or b) simply peter out in a field.¬† It’s roughly (haha) one kilometre long, and steeply angled down towards the sea in many places, and let me tell you, by the time you get to the villa you are convinced you are going the wrong way and will have to somehow try to turn around and go back.

This is a frame taken from a bit of rough video I shot on the way down one evening.  It might give you some idea of the feeling this road gives someone used to tarmac, street lights and road signs:

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The wavy line you can see across the road in front of us is a solid ridge of uneven concrete, sprinkled with large stones.¬† The pink on the right is some kind of vegetation beyond which there is a drop.¬† This car has excellent headlights, by the way.¬† I’m planning to put a video up on You Tube and if I manage it, I’ll add the link here so you can follow a typical journey down.

So, anyway.  We arrived.

We arrived to find a smiling and helpful caretaker who showed us around the place and gave us towels and so on, and who explained that there was no phone, but there was a very good internet signal, and who invited us to call him any time if we needed anything.¬† He couldn’t, however, get the hot water working without several calls to the owner, and since it had been a dull, overcast couple of days, the solar panels weren’t cutting it.¬† He didn’t give up, though, and made sure we had hot water and heating if necessary before he left us for the night. Oh, and he explained about the electric fence so we didn’t walk into it, which was thoughtful.

A couple of nights later, it rained heavily.¬† Thunder and lightning – really blue lightning, the like of which I don’t remember seeing – and the caretaker, following instructions from the owner, turned off the power.¬† The gouged lawn shown above is what we woke up to, because since there was nothing to keep them out, the wild boar came in to dine.

Unfortunately, we also woke up to a sizeable puddle in the dining area, where the roof had been leaking all night, and continued to leak through the next day.

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Luckily I hadn’t left my computer on that corner of the table, because the table was wet, too.

Did I mention the wildlife?  We have plenty of insects and other arthropods, which as you know, I do love.  Luckily.  Millipedes grow large here, as do centipedes, which live in the house feeding on spiders, mosquitoes etc. There are huge black beetles Рgorgeous things! Рand dozens of wasps of various types, flies, bugs and snails, little jumping spiders and crickets, and praying mantises which feed on the crickets.

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This little guy – about two inches long without his ‘whiskers’ – was on the wall above the toilet cistern and gave OH a bit of a surprise one day.

I’ve posted a number of pictures on Facebook over the last few days, but I must admit that the praying mantis was a favourite find, even if he was eating his lunch at the time and pointedly turned his back on me after a couple of shots.

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There is no phone.¬† Did I mention that?¬† Not that I mind being incommunicado, not at all, but in view of the isolated nature of the place, and the aforementioned lack of accessibility by road, helicopter or boat, I felt it might have been useful, not to mention reassuring!¬† There is, however, an old hand-cranked ship’s radio telephone, though I have no idea if it actually works!

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There is a cooker, a kettle, a toaster and a fridge/freezer.  There is crockery and cutlery, and wineglasses (but no wine stopper).  There are full bathroom facilities including bidets.  There is a TV and DVD player and a hairdryer and a mosquito net for the bed.  There are candles and a lighter for the power cuts (yes, we had a couple during the week).  There are insect screens Рin excellent order Рat all the windows and most of the doors, and there are solidly bolting wooden shutters outside.  There is a washing machine here, which works just fine despite living outdoors.

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There no dryer here, because electricity is expensive.¬† There is no air conditioning for the same reason.¬† The water comes from a well, which means it’s safe for washing and cooking but not drinking, so you need to bring your own bottled water, and I wish they’d told us that, since we arrived in the evening, but there’s a supermarket just outside of Porto Santo Stefano which is open late.¬† It’s about fifteen minutes away, and it’s important to know that it’s not open on Sundays.

There are low-wattage lights which you can turn on at the top of the three flights of steps and must remember to turn off again at the bottom, but apart from that there is no lighting outside and on a moonless night it is pitch black.¬† Pitch.¬† Black.¬† Absolutely dark.¬† It’s kind of nice, in a way, but I’m not used to it.

So, the bottom line:  would I recommend this place to friends?

You may be surprised to hear that I would.¬† Even with the leaking roof and the faulty cistern and the cracks in the tiling.¬† Even with the lack of any kind of curtain up at the bathroom window with the steps to the villa right outside.¬† Even with the electric socket fallen off the wall in the dining area and the lack of a kitchen bin or laundry basket, or anywhere safe to store non-fridge food items (despite the instruction to ‘put food away or the ants will come in’).¬† No cupboard, no bread bin, no tupperware or even plastic food bags.¬† *Sigh*¬† But we managed, of course we did!

The bottom line is that it is incredibly beautiful, and just SO peaceful.  A place to unwind, do nothing, and let yourself relax completely Рa balm to the soul.

And look – on rainy days, there is a whole bookshelf full of entertainment!

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Quite a lot of these books are in Italian, German or French but there is a good selection in English, both fiction and non-fiction. The only things missing, to my mind were a couple of identification guides to Italian flora and fauna.  Those would have been useful.

So come along and have fun – but don’t do what we did and hire a nice comfortable saloon car to get you here.¬† Get something with four-wheel drive.

That poor Mercedes will never be the same again!