Sunday, July 07, 2024

Life is back to normal. The Euro Cup continues, France, Spain, England and Holland through to the semi finals. A new fridge, greengages from the garden, farewell dinner for Mohammad and Sarang, Kier Starmer wins landslide victory for Labour, time with our grandchildren and other stories of the week.

Sunday 7th July, 2024

With my boys Mohammad and Sarang after the farewell dinner on Thursday night. Will miss them so. 

Good morning again. How are you all? 

My week has been full of tasks and we are  still adjusting to being home after our 8 week road trip across Europe and Turkey. Life is back to normal, a life I cannot complain about except for my constant worries about our eldest daughter Suzy. But that's another story. I have to get on with life despite everything. 

Last Sunday was quiet. 4 of our guests left, the rest were out and we had the house to ourselves. We had been back for three days and it was high time we resumed our daily walks. So off we went with Pippa who was more than happy to join us. The temperature was perfect - not too hot and not too cold - and the walk did us the world of good. We walked an awful lot during our road trips but did not go on walks as such. That actually was the only walk of the week; it got too hot and we got too lazy. 

I came home to make a delicious lunch of roast shoulder of baby lamb with jacket potatoes and roast red peppers which we ate in peace in the kitchen. 

We watched the news - mainly about the French elections and I fell asleep. I woke up 3 hours later feeling groggy but I had caught up on some lost sleep. We weren't hungry for dinner for obvious reasons but sat at the table in the patio drinking a little French wine and eating almonds - had run out of pistachios. Mohammad and Sarang were making chicken curry. It smelled divine but I wasn't hungry so would try it the next day. They were joined by Maria, an ex guest with whom they had made great friends and the three of them watched Spain play  Georgia in the Quarter Finals of the Euro Cup. 

Eladio watched the match from the comfort of our bed while I watched the final episode of Our Girl on the BBC iPlayer but with an eye on the match. When Georgia scored an early goal, I thought that was the end of Spain but I was wrong. We went on to beat them 4-1 but would now face the almighty Germany who were playing on their own turf. Spain played just after England who beat Slovakia 2-1, also after an early goal from their opponents. 

It's funny but this week there are three big sporting occasions which are coinciding, The Euro Cup, Wimbledon and the Tour of France. My hopes for Wimbledon lie with Carlitos but he has big competition. On Friday he won the third round and got through to the last sixteen. His great rivals, I suppose, are Djokovic and Sinner. Our Indian guest, Sarang who used to be a professional tennis player but had to quit because of injuries knew Sinner when they were both very young and he played and lost against him in the French Open. That is some claim to fame isn't it? I heard another tennis story this week which struck a cord. Pat Cash mentioned he was to play against Boris Becker in an exhibition match except that the German had pulled out. So Pat was told he would play against a 14 year old. The Australian thought he would give the youngster some run for his money but then went on to lose 0-2. Who was the 14 year old? None other than Rafa Nadal. A nice bit of tennis trivia for you. 

Monday came and we were more or less guest free until Friday which is very unusual but I suppose that maybe due to the local University closing for the summer - most of my guests are University related. 

We went out again on pleasant errands. One was to Jardilandia to get a hydrangea as one of them had died due to the wrong soil. So we got soil too. It's difficult to go to this garden centre without being tempted by so many beautiful things on display. What caught my eye were a table and two chairs, perfect for our bedroom balcony. On the spur of the moment we bought them. They are wrought iron with mosaics; beautiful. Ours was the only balcony in the house without furniture so I was very pleased with our purchase.

We then had coffee at Manacor, followed by a visit to the opticians to get Eladio's glasses mended and then the proverbial shop at Mercadona to get a few things. One of them was new dog food. Pippa hasn't been eating her dry food for weeks now or certainly not enough of it. She would just take one look at it and turn her head away. However, she was still eating table scraps so I bought her some more appetising and expensive dog food in the hope she would eat properly.

Dear Pippa who had gone off her food.

She loved it, thank goodness for that.

We came home on time for Eladio to plant the hydrangea - here he is. He is my own personal gardener.

Eladio planting a new hydrangea
There was also time to put the new furniture on our balcony. I had to try it out immediately. 
A table and chairs for our bedroom balcony - finally
This is how it looks now. Eladio calls it my smoking corner. He is right. 
A table and chairs for our bedroom balcony - about time
We had lunch made by Tana which Eladio loved it as both courses were spoon eating food - his favourite but not necessarily mine. He is enjoying Spanish home cooking again. That day he had pumpkin and carrot soup followed by lentil soup.

I had a very important appointment that afternoon. I was going to my hairdresser, Conchi, for the first time since before our road trip. I was looking a bit like a witch with so much white hair. She soon got rid of that by dying my roots and I came out looking a lot better and a lot younger or so I liked to think. It only cost me 16 euros. Amazing, eh? That's Spain for you. I doubt it would cost less even in Kosovo and certainly not Greece where Eladio had his cut this year. Conchi and I don't really talk while she is doing my hair. I am not one for long dialogue with my hairdresser so I couldn't dream of asking her to take a photo. 

We shouldn't have been hungry for dinner but we were and had a small dinner on the kitchen patio. I had bought some thick black cherries which I put in a beautiful bowl we had bought in San Gimignano. On most of our travels we buy a bowl to add to our collection. They always remind us of our trips. This is our main road trip souvenir where we bought very little. 
Our new bowl from San Gimignano with Spanish cherries in it. It is a bowl which will always remind us of our road trip.

Our dinners outside these days are wonderful because at this time of the year it is light until 10.30. People always talk about that being unique to the Nordic countries but it is not. Mohammad, my lovely student from Iraq who left us this week, finds it amazing as where he comes from it generally gets dark at around 6 pm. I remember that in Aqaba in Jordan by the red sea and in Israel. I so love our long days of light and sunshine. 

That night Eladio watched Portugal play Slovenia - a long drawn out match which saw Ronaldo crying after he missed a penalty. The Portuguese later won   in a penalty shootout where Cristiano didn't miss the net this time. Meanwhile, having finished Our Girl, I turned to a new series, also on the iPlayer, called "Thirteen". 

Tuesday came. We had no new guests coming till Friday so Tana spent days spring cleaning the rooms, including the curtains for which she needed Eladio's help. We also got ready for new guests by going out and buying two more television sets for the Green Room and Andy's room. Both had very old TVs which won't work on new frequencies and nor could I fit an Amazon Firestick on them. So, off we went to El Corte Inglés once again. We both argued that this was an investment and in order to earn we have to invest - something I learned years ago as a young executive with Motorola. I have now lost count of the obscene number of television sets we have in our 4 houses. I remember a time when most households just had one and when  I was a child we only had a black and white "telly".  As a family we would all sit together in the lounge at Heaton Grove, mostly watching the the 9 0'clock news followed by News at Ten with a mug of cocoa in between. How things have changed. 

I watched more TV that afternoon using my Express VPN to access the BBC iPlayer for which I don't have a licence. But God dammit, I am British and have a need for"Auntie Beeb". Besides, there are great British series I can't see on Netflix and I far prefer them.  Possibly it's because of nostalgia for my British roots. I finished "Thirteen" - amazing -  while Eladio finished watching Turkey beat Austria. He later admitted that after all our time in Turkey, his feeling were with their national team. The Quarter Finals were now all set up. Spain was to play Germany, Portugal France, England Switzerland (much easier) and Holland Turkey. May the best team win I thought but I referred to Spain and England. I would have a problem if the two countries were to meet in the final.

Wednesday came, the day they were bringing the new intelligent Samsung fridge. That is news because it is the first new big family fridge in over 24 years. So it has to go into this blog, however mundane the topic. I remember a very hot topic in our house in Ruskington when I must have been about 4 or 5, around the time we got our first telly. My mother wanted to "invest" in a washing up machine which were very new on the market. My father being against most change, was completely against it and threatened her with divorce. End of story was that she got the washing up machine (I refuse to use the term dishwasher) but divorce was never mentioned. My father got used to the new gadget and there you have it.  I also remember my mother using an old fashioned washing machine with a mangle and then getting a proper one; another milestone in our family life as a child; not that I realised the benefits of it at the time. No way could my parents ever have envisaged that their daughter would one day have an "intelligent fridge" which she could control from her "mobile phone". If you are my age you will remember probably only having one bakelite black phone like this one.
We had two phones like this in Bradford in the 70s. 
We actually had two, one in my father's study and one on his bedside table.  Calls were not cheap and I often got into trouble if I was found on the phone. I used to come home from my school, St. Joseph's College (Catholic Grammar school in Bradford) and the first thing I did was go up to my parents' room and ring my best friend Amanda who I had just seen an hour before. I remember speaking for hours to her and other friends too, especially when I had come back from a foreign holiday. I would do so from my father's study in private with the door shut and put the phone down as soon as he walked in.  Again, how times change. I suppose, at my age, I notice these changes a lot more than the changes experienced by younger people today. 

For breakfast that morning, I picked three ripe plums from our greengage tree. I always find that so bucolic and romantic. They tasted delicious. 
Greengages from our tree
We didn't go out that morning as we were waiting eagerly for the new fridge. It came at around noon. Meanwhile, Tana and I had emptied the old one and I had removed all the fridge magnets I have collected over the years. They needed a good clean. Those that have survived are now gracing the two small guest fridges. Juliet and Elliot will miss them. They are the culprits why so many got broken hahahaha.

And voilà, this is it. It may seem like bragging - not my intention - but it was quite an event in our lives hahahaha.
Setting up the new fridge

The new American style refrigerator
The men took the old one down to the garage where it may be used sporadically for large parties or whatever. Eladio is reluctant to see it go.  For the water and ice dispenser to work a technician has to come to get them going. It's a nice feature which we had with the other fridge but it often caused problems. I then tried out connecting the fridge to my phone which I did without much difficulty using an app called "smart things". I was a bit disappointed to see that all I can do with it is control the temperature which is a bit redundant as you can do that too from inside the fridge. I had hoped for something more sophisticated such as knowing how much food you have in your fridge or to be able to see inside it but I'm afraid this fridge, at least, doesn't do that. 

I then got on with making lunch. I had two pieces of steak for three people so turned it into a sort of ragout which we all liked. It was easy peasy to make. The afternoon was spent lazing around. It was rather hot that day so I took my first bathe in the pool. There was no one there to record the moment but I can tell you it was wonderful to cool off and have it to myself.

The day ended with us picking more plums from the tree. They are rather high up and camouflaged because they are green like the leaves. Eladio got out a huge ladder and had me worried stiff he might fall but he didn't. He picked more and they were delicious. 
Greengages from our tree in the new bowl from San Gimignano

They went into our new bowl from San Gimignano and I had them again for my breakfast on Thursday morning. 

The real big news that day was about the elections in the UK which I was too late to vote in and of course the second round of the general elections in France. My news was that once again, for the 6th consecutive year,  I was Super Host on Airbnb. For every full year of being a super host, the company gives you a hundred dollar voucher to spend on the platform. 
Super host again for the 6th consecutive year
It's no doddle to be a super host, I can tell you. We work very hard at it. However, things don't look too good for short term lets on Airbnb and Booking with governments cracking down on them because of a lack of housing for locals or that is what they say. I have my own views of course and really think that the use of private property should be decided by the owner not the government. Should the worst come to the worst and we can no longer continue our tiny rental business, we shall just have to sell our huge house, move somewhere smaller. Keeping  this house going without extra income is not an option.  Again, only time will tell.

Thursday was Mohammad and Sarang's last day with us. Mohammad from Iraq came in October so has been here the longest and is like a son. Sarang, from India, joined him some months later. They have been amazing guests and I will miss them sorely.  They have just finished their masters degrees in sport nutrition and I know they will go far professionally. Their graduation took place at the Bernabeu Stadium which must have been thrilling. I offered to prepare a goodbye dinner before they left on Friday. That was the least I could do. 

I couldn't vote in the UK elections, yet again, but this time because I was too late to post my ballot paper. Olivia had to do a video profile about Kier Starmer for TVE and asked me for some ideas. I didn't have many as for me he is a bit of an unknown quantity. What I did tell her was that the public were rather lukewarm to him and that if he won it was because no one wanted the Conservatives to win. I also told her he positioned himself as from a working class background even though he is a Sir and did his master degree at Oxford.  Polling stations didn't close until 10 pm that night so we wouldn't know the result until Friday morning but everyone predicted a landslide victory and that is what he got. Am I pleased? Well I'm happy to see the Tories go even though my family always voted Conservative but they have made such a mess of things, anyone could do a better job. I really hope that Starmer can live up to the job and he has a hell of a lot to sort out, the economy and the NHS to start with. What made me so cross is that the elephant in the room was Brexit  - for me the cause of many of the UK's woes, but no one was mentioning it. I suppose that's because the country is divided and no one wanted to lose votes by declaring Brexit should be reversed or was bad for the country. For the moment I wish him lots of luck because he will need it. His first wrong move and the press will murder him. 

But I wasn't thinking  about the elections as I got on with my day.  That morning I went to inspect two small fig trees at the end of the garden hoping they may have produced some fruit. In recent years they had never produced more than two or three green figs. But oh my, this year there are loads of them. The problem is reaching them because the trunks are far too slim to hold a big ladder. No doubt my husband will think of a way and I hope we beat the birds to it. 

I had the special dinner to prepare for so out we went to get more provisions. Eladio says we have been spending a lot lately on food shopping. We also had coffee at Alverán which brightened up the morning. I came home to finish the potato salad, always a festive meal in our household. The recipe was my Russian Grandfather's who got it from a Swiss cookery book or so my mother always told me. The ingredients are: boiled potatoes, carrots and peas, spring onion, prawns (lots of them), hard boiled eggs (at least 6) and homemade mayonnaise. Everything has to be cooked and chopped and then mixed in with the mayonnaise. The only seasoning is a bit of salt. You can decorate it how you wish. I do it with prawns and eggs. And voilà here was my main dish for the dinner
My festive potato salad - the main dish for the farewell dinner that night
I also made my staple tuna fish salad (my own recipe) which most people love. 
My staple tuna fish salad 

Dessert which had to be made at the last minute would be an ice cream creation suggested to me by a friend Anders. The base was crushed Biscoff biscuits, then two scoops of vanilla ice cream topped with a dash of sherry and 4 wonderful  Fabbri Amarena cherries with their amazing syrup. Best ice cream ever I must say. This was it. Thanks Mohammad for the photo.
A new dessert. Crushed Biscoff biscuits, vanilla ice cream laced with sherry and topped with Fabbri Amarena cherries. Delicious.

I wanted to get everything done before the Oli and the kids descended on us in the afternoon. It was such a hot day we all went in the pool except for my husband Eladio, who, a bit like Pippa, has a sort of aversion to water hahahahah.  But at least he took a photo of us to remember the moment. 
In our pool with the babies this week
What a great time we had and thank God for the pool as it was in the mid 30's that day.

By 7pm I was back in the kitchen with Tana adding the final touches to the dinner and by about 8 pm we were all sitting down. Tana took a photo to remember the night. 
Goodbye dinner for Mohammad and Sarang on Thursday night.
I could only hope that these two boys enjoyed the cold summer food as they seem to have only been eating either pasta or curry all year round  - despite studying nutrition hahaha. We drank Prosecco from Italy and at the end of the dinner I remembered to get out the wonderful Limoncello liquer I had bought in Puglia which I was dying to taste. Oli and the kids left early and it was just me and the boys finishing off the Limencello until late. Oh how I am going to miss them. But hopefully we shall see them again as they are only going to Alicante. They will be doing their sports nutrition internship at the David Ferrer Tennis Academy in La Nucia. La Nucia is a largish village not far from Callosa in inland Alicante where my parents bought a ramshackle house in the early 70's so it's an area very close to my heart. I wish them all the luck in the world. What marvellous boys they are.  Before we parted we had to have a photo shoot. I have chosen one with them for this week's feature photo and here is one of Eladio and I with dear Mohammad.
Another farewell photo with Mohammad. 

I slept so-so that night, perhaps because of too much wine and was up at 6.45 on Friday morning. By then the boys had left and we had to prepare for the arrival of 7 new guests. There is no rest for the wicked is there? After the boys left Tana discovered a leak in the shower. That meant calling the insurance people and it still has to be sorted. I spent the morning waiting for the El Corte Inglés people coming to install the new TVs. They came and and they did install them but the wall supports we were sold weren't suitable. That meant another trip to El Corte Inglés to change them.

The whole day was hectic and my phone constantly pinged with guest related matters. I missed greeting our new guests - the 5 young people from Galicia and the Sylvie and her husband from Paris. Tana did my job instead while we went over to Oli's to give her a helping hand with the kids. Miguel was out shooting on the street in Madrid, it being Gay Pride week. It must have been boiling for him. 

We arrived shortly before the all important Spain Germany quarter final was beginning. Unbelievably, Spain had never won a match against a host country. Not only that;  no host country has won on their home turf for 40 years (France 1984), so the stakes were huge. No wonder this match was described as the match of the championship. It certainly was but Oli and I didn't see it as we took the kids down to their pool where we cooled off and kept them entertained so Eladio could watch the match in peace. We returned at 8 pm when Spain had scored a goal. Then just before the end Germany scored another one so they went into extra time. It was just as we were sitting down to eat Oli's homemade pizza that Spain scored again in the very last minute, which meant no awful penalty shootout. We all roared for Spain and Elliot and Juliet were quite amused. Spain had finally broken its spell of losses to host nations and Germany had continued the tradition of a host country not winning.  One man was very upset, Tony Kroos. The German ex Real Madrid player was retiring and it was a not a good way to leave. Very sportingly, the huge crowd of Spanish fans paid him homage as he left the pitch. 

We left just as France was playing Portugal - Spain would meet the winner of that match in the semi finals on Saturday. The five guys were preparing a barbecue and Sylvie, her husband Lolo and her son Roman  where rooting for France in our TV lounge. They had brought their dog, June, a miniature dachshund like Pippa but with long hair. I normally don't allow other pets but made an exception with Sylvie who has become more like a friend. She came bearing gifts from Paris; Olympic game pens, an Eiffel Tower shaped toy for Pippa which she ignored and some gorgeous La Durée luxury macarons. I had never tried them so looked forward to tasting one of France's best macarons. They were featured in the film Marie Antoinette which probably made them even more famous.

Eladio watched the match in our room while I turned to a new series on the BBC iPlayer - The Cops. It went to a penalty shootout which France won so now Spain will play its other neighbour next Tuesday. Who will win? That's a tough one. 

Saturday was hectic too and a bit tiring.  We left our guests to it while we went once again to El Corte Inglés - to get the right wall support for the new televisions. It then turned out we had to get special screws for them to fit the Samsung TVs - very rare ones too which were difficult to find. We found them at Leroy Merlin thankfully - what a stress. We were going home when Oli rang to arrange for us to give her support with the kids from lunchtime onward as Miguel was out shooting for TVE again. We decided it was better to go to her place, rather than bring the kids to our house, full of young people barbecuing and using the pool. It was very hot again so later in the afternoon we took the kids to their pool; much safer than ours which has no shallow end. We left at around 7.30 and went straight up to our air conditioned room, just as the England Switzerland match was ending. That also went to penalties which thankfully my home country won. It was no sooner ended when the last Quarter Final started - Holland against Turkey. We had hopes for Turkey but they didn't win. So now Holland will play England. I remember Spain playing Holland in the World Cup final in 2010 in South Africa and the latter played really dirty football. Anyway, there will now be no more Euro Cup football until Tuesday. So enough about that.

Today is Sunday and we are grandchildren free. That's a pity as most of the guests are leaving and none coming till tonight so we could have enjoyed the pool together but they have other plans. No doubt I will enjoy it though this afternoon or at least that is my intention.

Tomorrow we are off again, this time to El Cuetu in Asturias to set up the house  for all the summer guests. I look forward to some quiet time there and a respite from the heat too. You will hear all about it in next Sunday's blog post.

Meanwhile, cheers to you all until next time,

Masha










Sunday, June 30, 2024

The end of our road trip, Bologna: the red, fat and learned city and the stomach of Italy. Finding Fabbri Amarena cherries. The journey home through Diano Marina on the Italian Riviera, Nîmes – the French Rome - and back to Spain. Home again, reunion with Pippa and our grandchildren.

Home again, Madrid, Sunday, 30th June, 2024

Finding Fabbri's Amarena black cherries in Bologna

Good morning everyone.

It’s hard to believe I’m writing this week’s blog post from home and not from some wonderful or not so wonderful, town, village or city in Southern Europe or Asia Minor where we have spent the last two months or so.

It’s hard to believe our road trip is over. Did we really drive over 10.500 kilometres and visit France, Italy, Albania, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Greece and Turkey without forgetting little San Marino in 55 days?  When we set off on 4th May the route we would take wasn’t completely worked out. We did things slowly and went where our whim took us or nearly always. The only thing we had clear was that we wanted to see the ancient cities of Troy, Ephesus, Miletus, Priene  as well as the Travertines of Pamukakale and two other ancient cities, Hierapolis and Laodicea near Pamukkale.  It was also clear we were not going to venture further and that we would spend much more time in Italy.   Out of the 55 days, 28 were spent in Italy which we absolutely adored. Maybe we were there too long but it didn’t feel like that to me. We got to know it quite well and saw a lot of the country. Of course, there is still lots to see so I’m sure we will be back. Sicily and the Lakes, for example, await us.

Last Sunday found us still in Italy. Our last stop before beginning the journey home   was  in Bologna, in Italy of course. We chose to stay there because it was on route  from the Rimini area when I looked it up on Google Maps. In the end it was a good choice.

Bologna is home to Europe’s oldest University founded in 1088 and the second oldest in the world after the University of Al Quaraouiyine in Fez which was founded in 859. That got me interested to see which are the others in the list of the 15th oldest in the world and they are, in this order: Oxford,  Salamanca (Spain), Paris, Cambridge, Al-Azhar (Cairo), Padua, Montpellier, Naples Federico II, Siena, Coimbra (Portugal), Naples L’Orientale, Macereta and Valladolid (Spain). Bit of interesting trivia for you. I love trivia don’t you? Eladio told me Copernincus was one of the most famous alumni from Bologna University. He would know wouldn't he?

We left our lovely Airbnb apartment, later than usual and believe it or not it was raining and the temperature had plummeted to around 20ºc which felt very refreshing. But the rain did not spoil our day as it only rained on and off. 

We headed for the main square, the Piazza Maggiore and oh my goodness there was more to see in that square alone than in the rest of the city or so it looked, that is if you count the square next to it, Piazza Nettuno,  which is really just a continuation of the main square. I had told Eladio I was on tourist guide strike, that I didn’t want to see another duomo or palazzo and that I didn’t want to walk around with my phone in my hand and Google Maps on. But I quit the strike as soon as I entered these two very impressive squares. Bologna is called the red city because of its red rooftops. For you to get an idea, here are a few shots of just some of the major buildings in these two squares. Once again, we were impressed. Italy is amazing.



The amazing palaces in the Piazza Maggiore and Piazza Neptuno in Bologna

We only went into the Cathedral, made of brick which is apparently unfinished and one of the largest in the world. Mass was going on with very few worshippers I should add.

The Cathedral of Bologna in the Piazza Maggiore

Bologna is also the food capital of Italy, often referred to as La Pancia (the stomach) or "la grassa" (the fat one).  It’s also called “la dotta” (the learned one) because of its university. .Being very interested in my stomach, I was keen  to find the main food street called Via degli Orefici  which is part of a food area referred to as the Quadrilatero. This is where I came across a shop called Fabbri selling the famous Amarena cherries in syrup. I had last tasted them when in Turin in the summer after Sixth Form. All the gelati I had in Italy were Amarena flavoured and I had looked for these delicious cherries  all over Italy and it was in a shop called Fabbri in the food quarter of Bologna where I found them. There I was told they are from  Bologna. I was so happy to find them.

Fabbri Amarena cherries in syrup. They are divine.

Funnily enough, I had found them on Amazon.es a while back and they cost the same, around 12 euros per jar. But it was far more fun to buy them from the original shop.  I got two, one for us and one for Olivia and family. This week's feature photo is of me coming out with my treasured produce.

Eladio wasn’t too interested in the cherries that I had always remembered from my trip to Turin all those years ago.  He was  keener to see two famous towers – one of them slightly leaning, a bit like the ones we had seen in San Gimignano. We were in luck as they were right next to the Fabbri shop. These are them.

Leaning towers in Bologna too

He was also very  keen on seeing the famous “portici” (porticoes)of Bologna – he had done some homework that day.  So with Google Maps in the palm of his hand (again), we walked to them. They are a Unesco World Heritage Site and we saw plenty of them that day. They were built in the Middle Ages as a projection of private houses to increase living space. There are 40km of them in the city alone and some of them  are very beautiful. They are also an excellent way to walk without getting wet in the rain.


Posing under one of the beautiful porticoes in Bologna last Sunday

Just as we got to the main ones – the ones with frescoes, it began to rain. Also, it was coffee time so we stopped at  Caffè Zanarini under one of the porticoes in the Piazza Galvani. That’s where we had  one of our last cappuccinos and latte macchiatos in Italy which were of the highest standing. Here I am enjoying my cappuccino with extra froth from Eladio’s latte as he doesn’t like froth in his coffee, hahaha.


One of my last cappuccinos was in Bologna last Sunday

We sat and enjoyed our coffees and whiled the time away until the rain ceased. We both agreed that Bologna had surprised us with what it has to offer. We still had the canals to see but decided against them as they were far away and our stomachs were already rumbling in anticipation of lunch.

Lunch was at home – lamb chops from that marvellous supermarket Essalunga – the best in Italy. We then spent a quiet and lazy afternoon; our last on this slow paced road trip.

Monday came and we started our journey home. We headed for the Italian Riviera past Genova where I had booked a room at Sasso Hotel in a small beach town called Diano Marina. We had stopped there on our way home last year and found it charming. The drive across Italy was about 400km.

We had an uneventful journey with Eladio at the wheel the whole way. It also rained the whole way and was a pity to arrive on the beautiful Italian Riviera in such weather. Diano Marina is near San Remo and Imperia on the part of the Riviera referred to as the Riviera dei fiori (Riviera of flowers). 

It took us a while to find our new home for one night, an apartment at the Sasso Hotel in the centre, near the main streets and beach. 

I had work to do when I arrived; deal with my HP PC not connecting to Internet. HP were hopeless. The whole process was Kafkian. Thankfully, I solved it myself in the end. It was the Express VPN app that was blocking internet. Easy if you know, not easy if you don't. Finally I was back in the connected world and didn't have to rely on Eladio's PC to write my blog and do other things.

Later the sun came out and we went out to explore the town. We were right next to the main street which is parallel to the seaside. We remembered it well from last year and enjoyed a walk on the promenade. Once again I found it funny just how built up the beach is with huts and sun beds. There was hardly a free spot to put a towel on.


The beach in Diano Marina is full of private beaches
I still find that funny. We had walked past a bar on the beachfront with people drinking Aperol Spritz, that very Italian cocktail which is so popular in the UK and I wanted one. I wanted one on our last night in Italy. And I got one which I nursed for at least an hour while enjoying the company of my husband and our surroundings. It felt like we were still on holiday and we were, albeit, at the very end of it.
Enjoying an Apero Spritz on our last night in Italy
I had been very good in Italy and had only had one twice; once in Cinque Terre and then on my last night. While drinking it, I toasted my friend Geraldine who introduced me to this drink. She was having one at the same time in Spain while enjoying the bonfires on the beach as it was the night of St. John there.

We then walked back and  on the way bought some expensive but exquisite fruit, including some delicious and fat medjool dates from Israel sold to us by a Moroccan. Our final stop was a not-too-bad supermarket called Pam where I got lots of ready to make risotto packets to take home, as well as something for dinner. However, after the cocktail which I had with crisps and peanuts, I was not hungry. But I still had something on our very pleasant terrace.

Soon it was time for the Spain Albania knockout match which Eladio watched on my PC that was working by then. I was glad that my adopted country won 1-0 but surely they should have scored more goals? Eladio said Spain didn't play that well. However, in the standings of the knockout phase it is the country with most points (9), so far. Let's see how they progress. They play Georgia tonight who stunned Portugal beating Ronaldo's team 2-0. Amazing. So it won't be a walk in the park. The Georgians will be very hungry to win. 

On Tuesday morning I was up at 6 am. That day we had breakfast at the hotel as it was included in the price - something quite unusual these days, and it was excellent.  We were continuing our journey home and would sleep in Nîmes that night; another long drive.  We were leaving Italy and that morning crossed the border into France, except that these days, in the EU, there are no borders; just sign posts. Even so, I had to have a photo of us entering France on the Côte d'Azur.
Entering France from Italy on Tuesday morning
It was ciao Italia and bonjour la France. It was motorways all the way to Nîmes, a medium sized town with a lot of Roman heritage, I had heard. We had booked an Airbnb very near the centre historique, just a stone's throw from the famous Arene (Amphitheatre). I liked it  - no grout, modern, sleek and lovely decor. I mean the apartment haha. Eladio never worries about the grout or decor so didn't get why I liked it, hahahha. Check in time was not until 3 pm but Thierry and Pascal let us check in early which was much appreciated. The Mini was happy to be in a private garage too.

Olivia, my daughter who once did a travel programme there, told me it was in Nîmes that denim cloth was invented - "de Nîmes". I told her it was famous for its Roman Empire heritage which she knew of course. Apparently, its nickname; the French Rome, comes from the many Roman remains we would see later in the day. The good thing this time is that we weren't going to see ruins but buildings that have remained almost intact.

First we tended to our stomachs and made lunch with what we had and ate it on the huge terrace which was nearly as big as the apartment. Later in the evening, we wandered out to see the main sights which are the amazing Arene or Amphitheatre, practically intact since 100AD, the Maison Carre; a Roman Temple also built in 100AD as well as the Jardins de La Fontaine. I'm sure there was more to see but it was enough for us.

We were very impressed with the Amphitheatre which is now used for bull fighting and music events. I suppose bull fighting is not that far away from gladiator fighting - honestly! Here is a partial view.
The Arene or Colesseum in Nimes built shortly after the one in Rome in 100AD
It was built around 100 AD shortly after the Colosseum of Rome. We went inside and were equally impressed at the enormity of it. If I shut my eyes I could imagine the scene of Roman subjects watching gladiators or animals fighting and the lives they lived thousands of years ago. 
Inside the enormous Amphitheatre in Nîmes

I wonder if those who built it ever thought that in the year 2000 it would still be standing and tourists would visit it, like us on Tuesday. 

From there we walked to the next most important Roman building, the Maison Carrée (Square house in French).  On our way we passed numerous cafes with lots of people watching the France Poland match in the street. Eladio was most interested in the football; I was most interested in the spectacle before my eyes. 
Everybody was watching the France Poland match in the street on giant screens in Nîmes on Tuesday. 

I took a video as the moment was quite special. 

Football in the street in Nîmes

The match must have been boring as it ended in a 1-1 draw. We continued our sightseeing and walked towards the Roman Temple. That was impressive, I must say.
The Maison Carrée in Nîmes an ancient Roman Temple
It is apparently one of the best preserved Roman temples of the Roman Empire. It was dedicated to Galus and Lucius Caeser, grandsons and adopted heirs of Augustus who both died young. 

From there we walked alongside the canal on a pretty tree lined boulevard which led to the famous gardens. I read later that they are considered to be among the first public gardens in Europe. We didn't spend long there, but enough to appreciate their beauty and significance.
Les Jardins de La Fontaine in Nîmes
We then walked slowly back to our apartment stopping at a Carrefour Express to get something for dinner. I had hoped to find a Monoprix but it was not to be.

Dinner was on the terrace and then it was blog writing time, photo sharing time and leisure time. My leisure time on this road trip has been watching Our Girl on the BBC iPlayer or reading a novel by Freida McFadden who is very entertaining. 

Wednesday dawned, the day we were returning to Spain. It was the last but one morning when we had to pack to leave for another location. We know the routine but it was so funny to see Eladio trying to close our large and broken suitcase by applying the pressure of his whole body on it. I had to have a photo of this behind the scene's moment which I'm sure will make you laugh.
Leaving Nîmes on Wednesday morning - a behind the scenes moment of our road trip.

We only had to drive 298km which took us about 3.5h. It was funny to see signs to Barcelona on the A9 and to think that we were near home. I was driving as we passed the sign post border so there is no picture to record the moment. We soon arrived at our hotel, Hotel Sausa, where we had stayed last year. It's a bit of a Spanish Fawlty Towers place but is conveniently located next to the A2 motorway to Madrid. Last year we got a dreadful room but this year the room was super; much larger, refurbished and with a view to the pool. 

It's Fawlty Towers in a Catalan way. The hotel is in Gerona, the most pro Catalan province. The lady who runs it is slow, unsmiling,  unwelcoming and is reluctant to speak Spanish. All the signs around the hotel are first in Catalan, then in English or French and then in German - not one word in Spanish. That doesn't make you feel welcome. However, and unlike the British comedy series, the food is good and we remembered that. As soon as we had checked into our new room, we went down for lunch. I had to google translate the photo of the menu in Catalan. Some of it was untranslatable but we got the gist. Eladio had soup and some sort of beef ragout. I had gazpacho (finally) and a local sausage called butifarra. It was  a simple menu of the day for 15 euros but my husband declared it the best meal of the trip. Again he said there is no food like in Spain. He has a point. It was all delicious and not at all expensive. 

One of the main pulls for visiting Spain, in my opinion, is the food, not just the beaches - the best in Europe (I can assure you). This week I read an article from Conde Nast Traveller which predicts that Spain, the second most visited country in the world  will overtake the top spot from France, with an expected 110 million visitors per year by 2040. Having visited many of the most popular countries in the world, I can see that happening. It was great to be back in my adopted country, even if we were in Catalonia at a quirky hotel. 

We were not the only people going home that day. Julian Assange, of Wikileaks fame, was on his way to Australia after a deal was struck with the US. Of the 18 charges which would have given him a life sentence, they dropped all but 1 and his 5 or so years at Belmarsh in the UK, served to release him. I think it was about time. I am all for freedom of expression and although he broke some laws it was a good thing. What wasn't good was that he was subjected to solitary confinement 24h a day in one of the harshest prisons in the UK. Now he can finally enjoy freedom in his home country and get on with life. That was good news. 

During our road trip we did not watch the news as such, although, of course, we followed the main events in the world. That afternoon we chilled out, sleeping a short siesta and then going down to the excellent swimming pool that belongs to the hotel and which we had to ourselves. 
The pool at Hotel Sausa in Gerona where we spent most of the afternoon on Wednesday

It made me think of the wonderful pools at Blue Bay and Villa Coppitella in Greece and Italy and  their incredible infinity pools. But we still enjoyed the hotel pool and stayed  until it was nearly time for dinner. 

Then it was pistachio and wine time and downstairs again for a funny dinner. I say funny because all the guests made their way to the beautiful terrace dining room only to be told by the short tempered owner that we should go to another dining room; a small and dingy one. Then there was only one menu for everyone and in Catalán again. Each table had a different nationality and I had to help out a family of Norwegians who took a photo of my Spanish menu to translate. The dinner menu was the same as the lunch menu but we were not complaining. It was a funny end to our road trip but part of the adventure.

Thursday came, the day we were going home after nearly 2 months away. We would have the longest drive, over 700km but we gave it our all to get home in one day and one piece. It was the last time we had to load the car and the last day of our wonderful road trip. It seemed to take forever until we were in front of the gates of our enormous house. All I wanted to do was rush out of the car and run to Pippa, our miniature chocolate dachshsund who I had missed so much. Soon she was in my arms and she went from mine to Eladio's and back. I could tell she had been well looked after by Tana. However, for the first week of our absence, she went on hunger strike and spent most of the day sitting at the top of the drive waiting for us. After that, she got used to her new reality and befriended many of the guests, especially Leticia.  I asked Tana to take a photo of Pippa and me to remember the moment which was so, so special. I couldn't stop hugging, holding, stroking and kissing my dear, sweet and very loyal dog.
 
Shortly after I was reunited with Pippa
I came home to find my ballot papers for voting by post in the UK elections but it's too late to send my vote.  It would never get there in time. In any case, the choice I had was not very inspiring. Just look at it.
An uninspiring list of candidates for Bradford West

There was so much to unpack that  it took me until dinner time. Dinner was alfresco on the patio outside the kitchen, everyone's favourite place in the summer. I had made a huge online order from Carrefour so we had the luxury of  enjoying gazpacho for dinner which we had with a Spanish tortilla made by Tana, followed by thick black cherries and melon - the latter bought in Italy. 

It was good to see Mohammad and Sarang who will be leaving next week for Alicante where they will be doing an internship at the David Ferrer tennis academy. I will really miss Mohammad. I met two other guests, Jess and Paco - nice people and 4 more came the next day. It was full house this weekend.

It was also good to sleep in our own bed and have the luxury of space in our quarters with no problem of sockets and plugs like in Italy. We were soon watching the news, a first since we left on 4th May but there was nothing really interesting. It's the same old woes. So I turned to Our Girl on the BBC iPlayer. It was warm in our room and we needed the air con. Only then could I sleep. And I slept relatively well until 6.30 on Friday morning.

We had so much to do that day; lot of errands that included coffee at Alverán. I had missed that part of our routine. I had to have a photo to remember the moment. As I wrote on social media; "you know life is back to normal when you have a coffee at Alverán". 

Life was back to normal on Friday - coffee at Alverán
A big task we had that morning was to buy a new fridge. Our huge General Electric double door fridge we had brought from our other house and which is at least 22 years old is on its last legs. We found a very modern Samsung branded fridge which looked great. I just hope it will also last another 22 years. They are coming to install it on Wednesday so let's see. I am looking forward to the techie part, if all the Samsung blurb about their intelligent fridges is real. We'll see.

Our afternoon was quiet although the house was full of guests - 9 in all. The evening was not quiet but was a delight. Oli and family came for dinner which was  wonderful as we hadn't seen them since we left. It was especially sweet to be reunited with Elliot and Juliet who have grown so much in our absence. I made a an Italian dinner for all including some Prosecco but forget to get out the Limoncello liqueur. The kids were happy they were having pizza. You can't go wrong when you serve children pizza or spaghetti bolognese can you? Here is a photo I took during dinner.
Reunion family dinner on Friday night
They came bearing an orchid plant in full bloom which Elliot handed to me. Thank you sweetie. I love it. We had so much to tell each other and not enough time but no doubt over the coming weeks we can catch up properly. I want to hear more about Oli's experience in "Vegas" and in Bordeaux and we have lots to tell them about our road trip.

The memories of our road trip are still fresh but will fade over time. But no worries, it's all here in my blog and in a file I created. The overall memories are good; what an amazing time we had. But it's also good to be back home. There is no place like home is there?

Saturday was quiet and we spent it practically alone. Once again we went out on errands and had coffee at Alverán. Tana had the weekend off so I did the cooking and Eladio did the washing up, just as we did on the road trip. I still feel as if we had just landed as it's taking a while acclimatising to normal life but oh what an adventure we have had; one we shall never forget.

Today is Sunday and will be quiet too with not much to tell. Well there is the football, of course which will entertain my husband but not me so much. I must stop now and get on with the day. Thank you all for following our travels and for all your comments and likes. They mean a lot as otherwise who I am writing for?

Cheers then till next Sunday.
Masha


 

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Week 7 of this year's road trip. Discovering Syvota and Parga. midnight ferry from Igoumenitsa, Greece, to Bari, Italy. Challenging drive to Vieste on the Adriatic Coast, discovering Peschici and Vasto and on to Rimini, San Marino, Ravenna and Bologna.

Bologna, Sunday, 23rd June 2024

In Syvota last Saturday on the Epirus coast on the Ionian Sea in Greece. What a beautiful place

Ciao from Bologna.

We are now at the end of week 7 of this year's road trip which will soon  be over. By next Sunday we should be home. Our touring and sightseeing finishes here in Bologna, the food capital of Italy. From here we shall cross the country towards Genova and probably stay a night on the Italian Riviera before heading over to France. The idea is to spend one night probably in Nimes and then drive to Gerona, Spain and from there, home, sweet home.  We've had an amazing time but all good things come to an end, as they usually do.  To quote Eladio this has been a road trip with a special emphasis on Italy. We love Italy but I must say I wish we had stayed just a bit longer in Greece where we only really touched its surface. In order to remember our trip better, I created a map on the My Maps app and this is what it looks like on Google Earth. Pretty cool I think, don't you? Ah, and here is the link

Map of our road trip as far as Bologna, from May 4th to Sunday 23rd June. 
I still haven't worked out the number of kilometres this amounts to but it's definitely around 9.000, less than last year (over 13.000) as we didn't go so far. 

I left off last Saturday on our last day there before sailing back to Italy. We were going to spend the whole day at our marvelous accommodation at the Blue Bay Apartments, but decided we should really use the morning to explore the area and  see the famed coastal villages of Syvota and Parga.  I had no idea of their existence until I looked for accommodation near the ferry port in Igoumenitsa. It was Helen, our Airbnb owner in Thessalonika who told me we must visit them. Later I fell in love with the area and only wished we could have stayed longer and gone to some of the Ionian islands, including Corfu. But that couldn't be as I had already bought our ferry tickets to Bari. But one day we shall come back to the Epirus coastline, being compared to the Amalfi Coast in Italy. There are similarities but honestly the Greek counterpart is far less crowded and more laid back. 

We saw enough of this area to want to come back.  As we stepped out of our apartment in a beautiful Greek style villa, I needed two more photos, one of the villa and one of me with the view of the blue bay which is a bit like a fjord on this beautiful peninsula.

Our pad at Blue Bay Apartments near Syvota last Saturday

Worth staying there just for the views
It was a short drive to Syvota which has 900 inhabitants and is a quiet harbour village. There were tourists and locals around but nothing like in Italy. Before exploring the village, we went to a chemist to get more seasickness tablets for the ferry. Somehow we lost the ones we bought for the crossing to Durres. From there we walked towards the port and felt good vibes immediately. I told Eladio no one could be unhappy there it's just so pretty and special. It is clean and stylish in a very Greek way with enticing taverns we wouldn't eat at but loved. This is where a very kind young waiter from Plataria took this week's feature photo. Epharisto. When my dear friend Sandra saw it on social media she made me laugh when she wrote: "You guys look quite the Onassis couple! Jet set life suits you! You both look fabulous especially the lady in red". Oh, Sandy, Onassis was ugly and Eladio is handsome and Onassis was rich and Eladio isn't. And as to the jet set life, that is not ours. We are on a low to medium budget road trip not staying anywhere luxurious.  Even my red dress is low budget as I got it at a street market in Ostune. My friend did make me laugh though. I suppose we are quite a handsome couple for our age, in our 60's and 70's even if I say so myself. That, my friends is on the outside. 

But back to pretty Syvota (also spelled Sivota)  here is a photo of the bay.
Pretty and quiet Syvota
We bought some provisions at a small supermarket and Eladio was delighted to find Weetabix. I wondered who buys them there. But that's what he likes most for breakfast. Years ago my parents used to bring them to Madrid from Bradford for him and once my Father wrote to Weetabix to encourage them to sell their cereals in Spain. I remember that as if it were yesterday. 

We were walking back to our car when we saw the typical touristy sign with the name of the village and had to have more photos. Here is one. We shall not forget Syvota.
Doing the touristy thing in Sivota last Saturday
From Syvota we drove up the mountains along the peninsula to Parga about 25km away. It was a beautiful road and we enjoyed the drive. Parga is better known and larger with over 3000 inhabitants. It has a town beach supposed to be one of the best in Greece but I was not impressed. I was more impressed with the promenade and views of the castle and island of the Virgin Mary. There is lots going for Parga and again I wished we had stayed longer. Here are some pictures for you to get an idea if you haven't been there before. I can really recommend it.

Parga is stunning
We had an expensive coffee on the seafront, double what it would cost in Spain which surprised me as Greece is supposed to be cheaper. Maybe it is for some things but not others. We then went to check out the pretty narrow streets with enticing shops which I should add sell wares at a much cheaper price than in Italy. We bought two lovely summer outfits for Juliet and Elliot. As we  continued our walk along the main street we heard singing. We stopped to listen and were offered a veritable concert. Honestly it was the highlight of the week. I'm afraid I deleted the video I took (boohoo) but what a moment.  A Greek lady sat down with me on the kerb, listening and watching because they danced too. She told me they were the choir singers of a local Orthodox monastery and insisted on introducing me to their priest. I was wearing my gold cross so they assumed I was Christian and wanted to know if I was Orthodox. I am, of course, with my heritage and was baptised at the Russian Orthodox church in Paris. I had to tell the long bearded priest my grandfather was also an Orthodox priest and we immediately connected. I asked him to bless me and it was a wonderful moment. I then joined in the dancing in the middle of the street. I never dance but I just had to that day. It was a very special and emotional moment. As I told the singers and dancers, "only in Greece" which they loved. 

We walked back to our car by the beach feeling energised and happy and delighted with the morning we had spent exploring Syvota and Parga. 

We came "home" to our apartment to have lunch - Friday's leftovers from the Kokosis restaurant in Plataria. Then we had free time until it was time to leave and drive to Igoumenitsa to catch the midnight ferry to Bari. I had to pack 2 bags with all the stuff we would need on board, including our breakfast so as not to carry heavy luggage onto the ferry. 

I spent my free time writing this blog and as soon as I was finished, I donned my swimming costume and was soon sitting by the amazing infinity pool that blended with the sea. It's one of the best pools I have ever been in and reminded me of our time at the Dead Sea in  Jordan where there was a similar one, not that the Dead Sea can be compared to the Ionian Sea.  Eladio joined me later and totally agreed. The wonderful thing is that we had the place to ourselves. What luxury.

While we were enjoying the last few hours of our stay at Blue Bay apartments, Olivia, our youngest daughter was enjoying freedom in Bordeaux. She had gone with her French class for a long weekend. Her French classes which she attended last year at the Official School of Languages is one of the joys of her life and she finished this year's studies with flying colours. She had been looking forward to the class trip, to being in France which she loves, but also for some freedom from motherhood, something I completely understand. Here is a photo with her class and teacher.
Olivia (at the front) in Bordeaux last week
Her kids, meanwhile didn't seem to be missing her or if they did they were too busy to think about it. Our daughter sent us some photos of them having their faces painted at school for some event or other. Aren't they lovely? - when they behave; I should add, hahaha. They seem to have grown since we left in May.

Juliet and Elliot last week having their faces painted at school. 
They were also at a pool on Saturday 15th, the opening day of all community or public pools in Spain. Here they are kitted out, ready to take the plunge in the pool belonging to their group of apartments. 
Our grandchildren, Elliot and Juliet about to take the plunge in their community pool which opened on Saturday 15th June
Our pool time ended at around 6pm and we sadly walked up the hill to our lovely villa to get ready to go. The most boring part of a road trip is packing to leave. We travel like gypsies and have so much luggage, a lot of it in supermarket bags from different supermarkets in Europe. When I use them in Spain I shall remember this tripm 

We drove to Igoumenitsa which seems to be just a port city. Our ferry to Bari was leaving at 11.45 and we had to be there 3 hours before. The whole place was chaos, compared to when we crossed from Bari to Durres (Albania) a few weeks ago. There were no signs or any indication as to what we had to do after check in. To top that, they separated the drivers from the passengers which we were not happy about. We finally ended up in a queue of traffic with vehicles from all over the world. We would have a very long wait as the ferry, coming from Patras, did not arrive until 12.45. Here is the Mini waiting.
Waiting patiently for the ferry to arrive on Saturday
While we were waiting, Spain was playing Croatia in their opening match of the Euro Cup. In their group they have Italy and Croatia which is not an easy group. But they beat them 3-0 which was a great start. In the queue of cars, ours was the only one with a Spanish registration plate so no one else was in the least interested. Most vehicles came from Turkey but also Greece, Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland and a few other countries. We got talking to a young Turk, Fatih, from Istanbul who was travelling with his father to Rome. Fatih spoke good English, unlike most Turks. When I told him that a young Turkish teacher of English told me that's because Erdogan invests more in religion than he does in education or language learning, he sadly agreed with me. We are now friends on Instagram. One of the things we love about our travels is meeting people from other countries. The funny thing is that they are equally interested in meeting us. 

Back to the supposed Super Fast ferry whose name I never knew. It finally arrived and took quite a while to fill up all the vehicles. We were in our berth by 1 am which was acceptable. I have to say the ferry and our berth were much better than on the crossing to Durres. I was pleasantly surprised to find a big cabin with 2 single beds and a full bathroom with a shower, as well as sockets that worked.  However, I only slept 4.5h. 

On Sunday morning I was awake at 6.30 which was 7.30 in Greece. Soon I was on deck with my coffee and happy to find TIM (Italian operator) had coverage an hour away from land. We had breakfast in our berth, washed and packed and were soon on deck again watching the ferry arrive in Bari, a huge port in Puglia. But OMG, our wait was long. The arrival was around 10 am but we didn't get out of Bari until at least 11.30 - what a boring wait.  Before leaving, I took a photo of Eladio outside our very nice berth. This is it. 

Our berth on the ferry to Bari - really good
Eladio also took a photo of me just before the ferry arrived at the port. You can see how windy it is judging by my hair, hahahah
Just before we arrived in Bari 

Our destination in Puglia was towards the north this time and on the Adriatic Coast. We were driving to Vieste on the supposedly pretty Gargano National Park (a peninsula on the knob of the heel of Italy). Leaving Bari, we spied a huge Lidl. We made a beeline for it and got lots of provisions to last us a few days including my favourite; porchetta.

The distance to Vieste was only about 168km but would take nearly 3h as there isn't a motorway. We took turns driving as we were both absolutely bushed, exhausted from the ferry experience and lack of sleep. The drive was long and difficult on very narrow and mountainous roads. Our GPS seemed to take us off piste at times which was stressful. 

As we were driving I remembered it was Olivia and Miguel's first anniversary. They got married on 16th June 2023 and what a wonderful day that was. We sent them both hearty congratulations. So happy for you darling and for Miguel. 

We probably got to our accommodation, Villa Cappitella,  just above Vieste, at around 3pm. We liked the place but all we wanted to do was to settle in, have some lunch and rest. However, the receptionist insisted on explaining all the things to do and see in Vieste, a pretty town with a centro storico in the heart of the Gargano area. Finally we were in our new villa and we liked it. Thankfully, it wasn't too hot with the temperature being about 26c, a lot better than in Turkey. Here are some photos of the views and the apartment, a place I think we will definitely remember. 


Villa Cappitella, Vieste, Puglia, Adriatic Coast - Italy

We had lunch on the terrace and then went straight to bed. Normally I am unable to sleep a siesta but on Sunday I slept from about 4pm to 8.30pm - 4.5 hours. I woke up feeling like a zombie. Eladio was on the terrace looking at possibilities for our next move but my mental faculties were just not up to it. I couldn't even make dinner I was exhausted both mentally and physically. In the end we had wine (Prosecco) with pistachios and some fruit and that was it. I was soon in bed again, making up for so much lost sleep.

I woke up at 6.30 Italian time on Monday morning with my mental and physical faculties totally restored. I felt so much better. Here I am ready to go
With my batteries fully charged and ready to go
Vieste is mainly a beach town  but its origins are medieval. The old town,  "Vieste Vecchia" has a dramatic location on coastal cliffs overlooking the Adriatic Sea and we were keen to see it. We parked in the centre and walked all the way up to the Duomo, passing through the main gate. Here is Eladio posing for me.
Entrance to the centro storico in Vieste
On our way up we came across the Scala dell'amore - stairway of love. A young waitress told us that walking along it with a loved one will ensure being united and in love forever, something we didn't need to do (haha). There is a long story behind this legend but suffice it to say the locals think their city is the city of love. 
Vieste the City of Love
We were more interested in reaching the top of the city to see the famed views, the view of the town on a rock, a picture my friend Sandra had sent me when she recommended visiting Vieste. Our morning was complete when we saw the views.  We were happy to see there were hardly any tourists. It seems Vieste has not been affected by "over tourism",  unlike many famous Italian towns and villages. That, for example is one of the reasons we have not included Rome on our itinerary. Florence, Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast  were bad enough. 



Vieste the City on a rock - so beautiful

On the other side, the view was of the small beach in the town where I posed for another photo. 
The view of the new city from Vieste Vecchia

Notice I am wearing my lovely blue and white Turkish frock I got for 10 euros near Pamukkale. I love both this frock and the red and white one I bought at a market in Ostuni. I have been wearing the blue and white one nearly every day since I bought it but don't dare wash it as the colours may run. I noticed that when I tried to take a food stain out. Once home, it will be washed by hand and in cold water. 

We then walked down to the modern part of the rather white town - nearly all the buildings are white which makes for a pretty contrast with the sea. After a much needed cappuccino and latte macchiato we visited another market where plenty of locals were buying fruit and veg. We spied some huge black and juicy cherries and bought half a kilo. I then noticed they were from Murcia, Spain. Really? There was lots of olive oil on sale and it looked good but, like everywhere else we have been, it is more expensive than in Spain. In any case buying oil in Italy to take home would be like taking coals to Newcastle. So no, we didn't buy any.

We were back at our magnificent accommodation at about 12.30 with plenty of time to spend by the pool which that morning I had almost to myself. It was a marvellous infinity pool which seemed to blend in with the view of Vieste from a mountain top. Like the pool at Blue Bay Apartments in Greece, it is one I shall always remember. 

The infinity pool at Villa Cappitella 
It felt very luxurious to be there. I could have stayed all day but lunch was beckoning and I had to make it. But after a short siesta I was back again and spent the whole afternoon there. Eladio joined me towards the end of the afternoon and we bathed together marveling at the view of Vieste. Thanks Sandra for the tip as otherwise we would never have come.

Dinner was on our beautiful and spacious balcony, also with views of Vieste.  I sat nursing my glass of Prosecco after the sun had gone down feeling happy and at peace with the world.
Vieste by night - view from our balcony
We were in bed early as usual and I was up at 5.45 after nearly 7 hours sleep on Tuesday morning. Tuesday was the end of our stay in Vieste and in Puglia which we will always remember. Our next destination was just 150km north on the Adriatic Coast to another interesting town; Vasto in Abruzzo.  We didn't have a long drive and wanted to stop in Peschici on the way as it looked charming and has a lot of history. 

We did the right thing. It is absolutely stunning, prettier than Vieste and smaller. It's another typical Italian medieval village perched on a cliff and being on the Adriatic, overlooking the sea. What could be prettier? It is located at  the northernmost point of the region and is of Slavic origins. Legend has it a group of Slavs were sent by monks from the Tremiti islands to set up an abbey but the opposite happened. The people of Pescia gave their church and castle to the island abbey in exchange for protection from Saracen (Moorish) pirates. 
Peschici, what a find on the Adriatic Sea in the Gargano Peninsula
We parked our car right next to the centro storico and walked through one of the main stone gates into a maze of cobbled streets where it would be easy to get lost. We loved every street we saw and could spy the sea from many corners.  From the 10th century castle there is a great viewing point of the sea.  And I just loved the old houses, most of them white and some white and blue in a sort of oriental style. Here are some pictures of this delightful village, a jewel on the Adriatic Coast and in Gargano. 





Beautiful Peschici (pronounced Péskichi)
Before we left for Vasto we had our customary cappuccino and latte macchiato at a very friendly bar - Celestino, outside the city walls. We didn't have a long drive to Vasto but oh my God the roads are frightening on the Gargano Peninsula and it took ages until we were on the Bari to Bologna autostrada. Driving in the Gargano region is not for the weak hearted. Distances look small on the map but the roads are so narrow and steep it's very challenging. That's why we didn't go further afield from Vieste to lots of recommended places nearby. Just a 20km drive could take up to nearly an hour!

Finally we were on the motorway and arrived in Vasto at around 2pm. Vasto is not on the tourist map but it has a lot going for it - a nice beach and another medieval town on a cliff - we have seen so many. We chose it because its on our route and because it has a bit of history. Researching the place I came across an article from The Telegraph singing its praises. One good thing going for it is that it does not suffer from "over tourism" like so many parts of Italy. 

 Before checking into our new accommodation (not my favourite) we went to have lunch at Trattoria Toscana which was a bit disappointing although it came recommended by our host and on Trip Advisor.


My okayish lunch at Trattoria Toscana

Our new new accommodation was the top floor of a whole house - very large but rather dated. 
Our "house" in Vasto - not the best place we have stayed at - missing an infinity pool (hahaha)

It was like stepping into a 60's home. I reckon it is the former house of the owner's grandmother. I could  tell by the bathroom fixtures and tiles.  I honestly wondered why it had a 9.8 out of 10 on Booking. Goes to show people's opinions differ. The location was so-so, about 900 metres to the beach (Marina di Vasto) and 2km from the old town. But it was large and had everything we needed. We soon settled in and spent the rest of the afternoon doing bits and bobs, including putting on a washing machine. My main job was to find accommodation for our next destination, San Marino  I have always been curious about this country which is basically a small city on a rock in Italy. I didn't find anything  in the city within our budget so went for the seaside Marina Centro next to Rimini from where San Marino is very near. 

As always, we were up early on Wednesday morning and keen to visit the historic centre of Vasto. It lies on a hill, like so many Italian towns for defense against invaders who eventually captured them anyway. We had seen it from the Marina di Vasto - the beach part of the town and it looked enticing.

Vasto old town skyline
We were in the beautiful Piazza Rossetti by 9 am where one of the main landmarks is located, the Bassano Tower.  I later read that the old town's layout was mostly built in the 15th century but partially destroyed by the Turks in 1566. Later it was under Spanish rule and it thrived which was good to hear, until the Unification of Italy. Its favourite son was the poet Gabriele Rossetti whose name is everywhere.

Piazza Rossetti in the heart of the old town of Vasto
From there we walked to the Caldoresque Castle built in the 1490's. Unfortunately it wasn't open to visitors but looked stunning from the outside. 
The castle in old town Vasto
We stopped at St. Joseph's Cathedral and my husband remarked it was the first cathedral dedicated to St. Joseph that he has ever heard of. Me too. Poor St. Joseph. From there we went in search of one of the main landmarks, the Palazzo d'Avalos which unfortunately was being renovated. However, we later saw it from behind as we walked to the Belvedere San Michele where we were met by breathtaking views of the Marina di Vasto. Wow. This is leading up to it,
The path leading to the Belvedere San Michele in Vasto
And this is the view from the Belvedere (viewing point). Pretty wow I thought. I loved this spot in old town Vasto. 
The view from old town Vasto of the new town and beach below
It's right next to the Palazzo d'Abalos and for me was the most beautiful part of Vastos which surprised me with what it had to offer in terms of monuments and history. 
Palazzo d'Abalos as seen from the viewing point of St. Michele
As we walked down we came across another important monument, the Church of St. Mary Maggiore- or Chiesa de Santa Maria Maggiore with its very high tower. 
Church of St. Mary Maggiore in old town Vasto
And that is where our tour of the old town of Vasto ended. We loved it and were surprised and not surprised to see there were very few tourists; just the odd Italian couple and ourselves. We both concluded that Vasto had been a good choice to include in our road trip. 

It was only 11 am when we had finished our walking tour and I was determined that the next item on that morning's agenda would be time on the beach. Eladio wasn't so keen but went along with me. Marina di Vasto beach is enormous but what I liked best was the view of old town Vasto from below. Just look. This is a photo I took from our beach chairs which have travelled in the Mini with us all the way from Madrid.
The Marina di Vasto beach below the old town 
We both bathed, our first time in the Adriatic. The water was a bit green compared to "our beach" near Santa Pola, but it seemed clean enough. We had a coffee on the beach too, sitting in the shade. We are both very brown or rather I am tanned and Eladio is as dark as an Indian and looking gorgeous. 

We spent about 2h on the beach including coffee time.  We then went in search of a supermarket but got lost in the process and ended up driving 10km to a local Lidl -not my favourite supermarket. We came home to shower and make lunch and then spend a lazy afternoon in the flat.

Thursday came and that day we drove to Rimini, also famous for its history and beach. That's the good thing about the Adriatic coast - there is both history and culture as well as sunny beaches; the best of two worlds (for some). 

The drive was all motorway which cost a bomb but was worth it. We were staying at a hotel with apartments a couple of blocks from the enormous Marina Centro Beach which we would see later. We had an argument with the manager about paying for parking our car on the premises which they had told me in advance was free so we did not get off to a good start. The place was good enough but a bit jaded. Eladio never criticises any of the places we stay at. He doesn't care about the decor and never sees the grout but I do. It ticked all the boxes though and we were quite happy there for 2 nights. 

Thursday 20th June was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. In Rimini the sunset was at 9.30, whereas in Spain it was at 10.30. Thursday was also the day Spain played Italy in the qualifying rounds of this year's Euro Cup. It felt like being in the enemy camp. Spain has a good team but has always been spooked by Italy so my hopes were not very high. 

We went out in the early evening to walk along the beach. It was very hazy with  no sun which made the solstice a bit disappointing. It's so different to the beaches I know in Spain which are mostly wild with only the odd "chirringuito" (beach bar), sun beds and parasols and maybe surfing but not much more. Marina Centro beach seems so built up and consists of lots of different businesses practically owning parts of the beach. From the promenade you couldn't see the sea itself because of so much beach paraphernalia. 
Rimini's Marina Centro beach is all built up you can hardly see the sea

Many of them are associated to many of the hotels in the area.  To me it looked like one big beach party. I also got the impression that Rimini Marina Centro is Italy's equivalent to Ibiza  -in terms of partying. Not my thing. I far prefer the Playa de Póo in Asturias or our own beach near Santa Pola. But, each to their own and Rimini is a very popular holiday location. 

We walked a long way but did not get to the end of the promenade. i later read it is 15km long. It was hot, hazy and sticky and after a while we came back to our strangely air conditioned apartment. I say "strangely" because it only worked if you had all the doors closed, including the bathroom and kitchen doors. 

Eladio watched the end of the Denmark England match which resulted in a 1-1 draw. I read that England didn't give their all but I didn't see it so can't judge. After a simple dinner, Eladio watched the Spain Italy match which was perhaps the most anticipated match of the qualifying rounds. Spain have never played well against Italy but they did that night, winning 1-0 after an own goal from the Italians. In my humble opinion that's not the best way to win. Poor Eladio had to watch the match on my PC (thanks to my Express VPN), alone and with his headphones on. I was not interested and continued watching my current favourite series, Our Girl on BBC iPlayer.

Friday dawned and it was hot, hazy and sticky again. In Madrid, our home town, however, it was a lot cooler and had even rained which is good for the garden. It was an important day for our grandchildren, Elliot and Juliet aged nearly 3 and 5. That day Elliot received his first judo belt, the yellow and white one. Olivia sent us a photo of that moment, next to his judo instructor who has a black belt. I later found out the meanings of the colour of belts in this oriental sport; white means a new slate and yellow a progressive stage of learning and skill. Elliot loves his judo classes. I loved the photo. What a lovely family
Our grandson receiving his yellow and white judo belt, an important milestone for him. 
To top that Juliet, not yet aged 3, "graduated" from her nursery class. Here she is smiling with her teachers. 

Juliet "graduating"
Their school is very good at putting on events that stimulate and motivate the children. I only ever graduated from University hahahaha. Elliot always looks the same, very handsome, I must add, but Juliet changes all the time. She is so big now and I can't work out who she resembles in our families. What a lovely family and I miss them so. It will be fantastic to see them again when we are home. 

But back to our Road Trip and Rimini. The city where Federico Felini was born and whose film La Dolce Vita has gone down in history, is one of the most famous seaside resorts in Europe. But it also has a lot of history, mainly from Roman times which figures. 

I was almost grateful the sun was behind the clouds as we visited the old town of Rimini which for us, at least, was much more interesting than the beach. As experienced sightseers, we were there at 9 am, early enough to beat any crowds and not yet too hot. I was the guide that day and my tools were basically either the Italian tourist page Italy.It  or Wikipedia and Google Maps. I read that the history of the city dates back to 268 BC thanks to the foresight of the emperors Augustus, Tiberius and Hadrian who saw the city as the perfect meeting point between two of the most important Roman roads, Flaminia and Emilia. It soon became a key economic and cultural centre until the Middle Ages.  Its growth continued during the Renaissance, mainly thanks to the Malatesta family when it became an important hub for art, literature and science. 

We started off at the famous Roman Arch dedicated to Augustus, the first Roman Emperor.  Built in 27 BC in honour of Augustus, it is the oldest of its kind and best preserved in Italy.  Commissioned in 27BC it marked the entrance to Rimini for travellers on the Flaminian Way which linked Rimini and Rome. Sadly, the walls it was joined to are no longer there, mostly because of bombing during WWII I presume. Here I am pulling on a silly face in front of the Arch of Augustus, the main entrance into the old town.
In front of the Arch of Augustus in Rimini on Friday
From there we continued along Corso d'Augusto to the Church of the same name.
Just a peek of the Church of Augustine in Rimini
Its late Romanesque style and is one of the city's oldest churches. 

From there we walked to one of the main squares, the Malatesta square where the Castle Sigismondo is located and built by the Malatesta family. 
The 15th century Sigismondo Castle located on Malatesta square
But I far preferred the Piazza Cavour, the city's commercial and political centre in the Middle Ages  There you have three Venetian style palaces Palazzo dell'Arengo, Palazzo del Podestà and Palazzo Garampi, a statue of Pople Paul V as well as a famous fountain, the Fontana della Pigna (pine cone) which apparently Leonardo da Vinci loved. I was not that impressed as it seemed quite small and there was no water coming out. I wonder why he loved it so much.

The palaces, the statue of the Pope and the Pine cone fountain on Piazza Cavour, my favourite square in Rimini
We then walked towards the cathedral and came upon the Piazza Tre Martiri, the Square of the three martyrs. Originally this was the heart of the town, the ancient Roman forum where Julius Caesar stopped after crossing the Rubincon. Later it became a market square and was then renamed after three young partisans who were executed there in 1944. There is also another important symbol of the city, the Torre dell'Orologio (Clock Tower). Oh, how the Italians love their clock towers. Because Eladio is so interested in the history of the Roman Empire, he had to pose next to one its most important representatives, the one and only Julius Caeser.

The statue of Julius Caeser and the Clock Tower in the Piazza  Trei Martiri

This unfinished Romanesque cathedral was round the corner and I rather liked it. It is called the Templo Malestiano and was built in the 14th century by the Renaissance theorist and architect Leon Battista Alberti. The funny thing is San Francesco (its proper name) was once a 13th century Gothic church belonging to the Franciscan Order. The all powerful Malatesta family changed it to what we saw on Friday. 

The unfinished Cathedral in Rimini
We have seen our fair share of the remains of Greek and Roman history, of churches, cathedrals,  medieval towns or villages by the sea and mostly on mountain tops, as well as monuments of all kinds on this trip. Thus I wasn't surprised when Eladio mumbled to me while I was enthusiastically doing my guided tour, that he was suffering a bit from the Stendhal Syndrome. I totally understood and felt a bit the same myself, but couldn't ignore all there was to see in Rimini, after we had come so far to see it. Thus we made a halt and walked back to the attractive Piazza Cavour to have a delicious cappuccino and latte machiato. The waiter asked if we were from Argentina or Spain. When we said the latter, he mentioned the all important UEFA Euro Cup match Spain had won the night before. But he also said he kept Alvaro Morato, the Spanish Squad captain, in his heart. I wondered why. The answer was simple, he married an Italian girl and plays for the "Juve" (Juventus team). It's so funny how football is always a  wonderful ice breaker.
A nice break from so much culture and history
Our last stop in Rimini was visiting and crossing the Tiberius Bridge over the River Marecchia once called the Ariminus River from where the town gets its name. Erected by Tiberius but decreed by Emperor Augustus, it was built in 14 AD. This five arch Doric bridge is covered in Istria limestone rock and is "one of the most remarkable Roman bridges as well as an important example of the Romans' technical skill" so I read on Internet while doing my guided tour (hahahah). And here are some pictures to remember this beautiful bridge, one of the few monuments to have survived Roman times.
The Ponte di Tiberio - our last stop in old town Rimini last Friday
By then we had had our fill of sightseeing and our stomachs were grumbling. We didn't have much to make lunch with and needed some bread. We found bread and much more in a wonderful little gourmet store on our way to the Augustus Arch to get our car. There we bought all sorts of fancy food to make a delicious lunch in our apartment where we headed afterwards. 

The afternoon was spent quietly. We woke up very early on Saturday morning. We had a long day ahead of us. We were leaving Rimini for Bologna (115km) but stopping on the way in the Republic of San Marino and beautiful Ravenna.

We arrived in San Marino at 8.30. We had beat all the tourists to it. It was  quite a drive up to the mountain where the main city lies perched on rocks with amazing views. This is what we saw as we approached the oldest Republic in the world. 


Approaching San Marino
This was another country to add to the list of countries we have visited on this road trip. It is tiny with just 35.000 inhabitants. We parked at one of the main entrances to the fortified city with three amazing towers perched on a mountain which we would climb.  I think this was the first.
One of the three symbolic towers of St. Marino.
As we approached the second, a kind tourist took a photo of us. What a view behind us. Beautiful. We were very impressed with just how picturesque the place is.
With one of the towers behind us
We then walked down and admired the views from some hotel gardens. What a beautiful place to stay I thought. 
View from the top of San Marino
We then walked down to the cathedral which looked pretty modern. 
San Marino cathedral
Our last stop was at the Piazza della Libertà. This we really liked. The Palazzo del Populo in the square looked  Venetian. 
In the Piazza della Libertà in San Marino
Here we had one of our last cappuccinos and latte macchiatos in Italy which we enjoyed much earlier than usual. 

We then walked down to the car park to drive on to Ravenna. I had wanted to stay there rather than in Rimini but didn't find anything suitable. 

Ravenna is important in history. It was once the capital of the Western Roman Empire and then was taken over by the Goths and became the Ostrogothic Kingdom and finally was ruled by the Papacy until it became part of Italy. There is so much to see you don't know where to start. Just Ravenna has 8 Unesco World Heritage sites.  We were in the Piazza del Populo by about 12. This is what I saw of it. 
Piazza del Populo in Ravenna
To use a pun, I was ravenous and all I wanted was to eat something before we did more sightseeing. Plus, it was so hot, we needed fortifiying. I found an expensive rip off place where we had a tiny dish of pasta each and it came to over 50 euros. I haven't learned my lesson have I?

Only then could we concentrate on seeing the sights. Our first stop was the Basilica San Vitale. There we had to buy tickets which could be also be used to see the Galla Placida Mauseleum, the Neonian Baptistery, the Bishops' palace which is now a museum and the other famous Basilica di Sant'Apollinare. They all have some fantastic mosaics. I read that the city has the finest collection of Byzantine mosaics in Italy. It was craftsmen who were brought to Italy from Constantinople when Justinian was the Roman Emperor. They created some amazing scenes, that have been preserved and can be seen in the main sights of the city. 

I have had some PC issues (long story) so none of the photos below are in the right order. But I will still post them and if you are interested you can see what is what thanks to the captions. 

We first visited the Mauseleum which, although tiny, impressed me most because it's just full of mosaics. The funny thing is the buildings themselves are not that special. It's the inside that really makes an impact. When we walked into the Basilica de San Vitale, Eladio whispered to me it was the most beautiful building he had ever seen. I whispered back that the Taj Mahal still beats it, hahaha. 

Ah, and we also visited Dante Alighieri's tomb which is another top sight in beautiful Ravenna.

The Basilica di San Apolinare from the outside

Just look at those mosaics which all tell a story inside the Basilica di San Apolinare


The outside of the Basilica di San Vitale

The Mauseleum of Galla Placida

The inside of the Mauseleum of Galla Placida


The altar inside the Basilica di San Vitale

The unimposing Neonian Baptistery


Inside the Baptistery
Our last but one stop was Dante's tomb. 

We didn't find that imposing but of course we had to see it. I wondered why he was buried there. Turns out he wandered for many years from town to town until the Lord of Ravenna invited him to make his him home there in 1318. That is where he wrote his masterpiece, the Divine Comedy and it was there that he died and was buried in 1321.

I have to say I have learned so much on this trip and am so thankful that we have the means to travel and learn so late in life. It's never too late is it? But it's wonderful to be able to see and touch history. That's what we did in Ravenna yesterday.

When we had had our fill of this wonderful city, we set off for Bologna where we are staying for two nights. Before leaving I spied an Essalunga supermarket - the best in Italy and we headed there to get provisions and also to buy pasta, pesto and prosecco to take back home. It was only an hour's drive from there to our new pad, this time booked on Airbnb and I am loving it. It's cute and clean and in a lovely area. 

Today is Sunday and we shall explore Bologna at our leisure before beginning the journey back on Monday to Spain. 

And that's all from me for this week folks.

Ciao and buona giornata from Bologna, Masha and Eladio