Paella, Pampona & Panoramic views of ´Dead Mans Corner´

13 07 2011

Well after we  left Greece as mentioned we flew into Madrid. We only spent a day there but Madrid seemed like a really lovely city- clean, well-kept with lots of trees and parks plus nice people. We caught the train to our hotel and then headed out to book our train tickets to Pamplona. The Spanish train system is brilliant but it probably wouldn’t hurt the powers that be to streamline their booking system –  not that we are professionals on the subject and we really shouldnt have left it to the last-minute! We sat for 3 hours in a crowded office with about 100 other people waiting for our number to be called (I managed to sleep sitting up:Deanna). When it was finally our turn we were told that there was only one train ticket left to Pamplona the next day and we would have to go the following day, the 6th which was the day of the actual opening ceremony- we would arrive around 2pm completely missing the celebrations. We booked the tickets as we didn’t think we had much choice at that stage but we were both devastated- we had also booked accommodation in Pamplona (non refundable at a hefty festival rate) so we would have done our dough on that plus have to pay for another night in Madrid. Anyway, things were getting desperate and we were even considering hiring a car for two days but then we decided to check the busses and walked to the main Madrid Station- thankfully at 7pm that night we managed to secure close to the last 2 bus tickets for the next day- Phew!!! Thank God we also managed to get a refund on the unnecessary train tickets as well. Lesson learnt: If you are heading to a major international festival make sure you book your means of getting there in advance!

Feeling a bit frazzled but a lot relieved we headed out to sample Madrid´s famous tapas and paella. We found a little place around the corner from our hotel and ordered our first Sangria for the trip (well I:Deanna did, Chris had a Cerveza pronounced Thervetha, like a Mexican with a lisp ;-)) and then ordered a seafood Paella to share. When it came out we couldn´t believe our eyes, it was huge and was served in the pan that it was cooked in. It looked exactly like what you see in pictures or movies strewn with prawns, muscles and cockle shells and a beautiful yellow colour. We were a bit dubious to start with as it was quite pricey but we loved it, it really filled us both up and it was great being able to taste something so traditional.

The next day we headed for Pamplona on the bus along with a whole heap of other people. Spirits were high and there were heaps of Aussies around. We left around 10:30am and got there around 3pm and made sure that we promptly booked our return tickets for 3 days later. While we were doing this we met a young Aussie bloke with a similar looking backpack who was also there for the celebrations. We got chatting and he asked us where we were camping- we quietly responded saying that we were staying in a hotel feeling a bit guilty, it almost felt UnAustralian not to be “roughing it” along with the thousands of other revellers in tent city! We headed to our hotel and that evening headed into the old town to check out the place for the opening ceremony the next day. On the way home our taxi driver told us that he had run 25 or 30 times before but thankfully never been hurt, he said that he had fallen down before though but not been trampled. The next day (6th of July) we caught a bus to the old town in the morning. Leaving the hotel we felt a bit rare wearing our pristine white clothes and red scarves and thought we might be the only ones and end up standing out like sore thumbs- our fears were short-lived because as soon as we hopped on the bus absolutely EVERYONE was wearing white and red- from new borns in prams to geriatrics on Zimmer frames- it was brilliant to see and we were bloody glad we had gone to the effort! The two tourists on the bus that hadn’t bothered wearing the national colours looked pretty average and were copping accusing stares left right and centre. When we got off we went straight to the little deli that had been converted into a bar and bought 2 litres of Sangria and then pushed our way into the main square to wait for the opening ceremony. This was wicked- it was shoulder to shoulder with the crowd consisting of around 50% Spanish people, 30% Aussies and the rest from all over the world. As soon as we got settled in a corner the Sangria throwing started- people had filled up their goats bladders (yes, goats bladders, used to transport Sangria and for drinking straight out of- we admit, we succumbed and bought 2 later that day) and were spraying everyone with it. Interestingly enough the people who entered into this most whole heartedly were the Aussies whose white clothes were now pink- our convict heritage really came to the fore and you could pick us out – we were the ones with our hair plastered to our face in a sticky mat with pink clothes and a slight wobble. Huge bouncy balls were being bounced over the crowd and someone kept letting off fire works-it was absolute madness! At one stage the crowd surged and we thought we were going to be crushed. Every five minutes the Spanish chant of “Ole Ole Ole Ole” became universal and was heard above everything else. People that were lucky enough to have a balcony had lined their door frame or windows with plastic curtains to stop any spare Sangria coming in, they held their own by regularly throwing buckets of water on the people below- met with cheers! People were crowd surfing, climbing up gutters to sit on shop awnings, being carried around on people’s backs- CRAZY! At 12pm three loud flares were let off from the balcony of the town hall by the mayor and streamers and confetti exploded from the sky declaring the event officially open. It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience and we were so glad to be right in the middle of it.

 The next day, the first day of the actual running, we got up early so that we could get into town and find the balcony that we had booked to watch the running due to start at 8am. We were told to be there at 6:45am and it was great being in town that early. Most people hadn’t yet gone to bed and there were plenty passed out in parks and huddling together for warmth (we were lovin´that hotel!). The place looked like a bomb had hit it but interestingly was completely clean again but 8am thanks to an army of people wielding high pressure water guns and street sweepers. We headed through the main square to our spot on Estefeta Street about 20 metres past Deadman´s Corner. Our balcony was two floors up and we shared it with about 8 other people, we booked it through Pamplona Housing a company that reinvests profits in establishing third-world communities with access to freshwater and housing, well worth the money we paid- check out the site on the links page. We got up there around 7am and had an hour just to watch the supposed runners (some of whom could barely stand up) below planning their strategy for avoiding a wayward bull horn to the butt. Again, on this occasion you could spot the Aussies, they were looking a bit worse for wear at this stage some sporting Sydney Swans guernseys etc (well yes, technically that is red and white).  We genuinely feared for the life of one bloke who was wearing a Danger Mouse outfit- we think he was a Pom – who couldn´t manage to focus both eyes yet. About 15 minutes before the run the bull herders cleared out the people and sorted them into gated sections to get ready for the run. The atmosphere was palpable and everyone was looking really nervous, some people were kneeling down praying that they would be protected during the run, others were looking downright scared. And then we heard the flares and it was on…within a couple of minutes people were surging around Deadman´s Corner (a 90 degree corner on the run trail that usually results in bulls running straight into the wall along with people) and runners were bouncing on the spot to try to get an idea of where the bulls were. They got to us very quickly and everyone was screaming as soon as they came into sight, it was amazing to watch the runners scrambling to get out of their way, it was just so exciting. The first 5 or 6 bulls were past us and up the street in a matter of seconds and there was a hum of excitement as to whether or not there were more coming and indeed… they did. About five more came after this in groups of 1 or 2 but it was just as exciting. We didn´t see anyone get trampled but a word to anyone that is planning to run- do NOT touch the bulls!!! We and at least one other runner were not aware that this was illegal (fines incurred) but also very heavily frowned upon by all involved. Those bull herders that we mentioned were actually carrying 2 metre long, solid wooden sticks of about 1-2 inch in diameter. One bloke thought he was being very smart and whacked one lone unsuspecting bull on the rump and gave his mates the thumbs up and when the next one came along he decided to ski behind it by holding onto its tail and whacking it.. A bull herder did not like the cut of his gib and came straight up to him and splattered his nose across his face with the end of the stick. Blood was pouring out everywhere and the bloke was making a big song and dance about it looking for someone to complain to until he copped one, two then three swift blows to the head by other participants who also did not agree with his antics and wanted to reinforce the message of the bull herder. We think he got the message. (It was one of the most violent things I have ever seen: Deanna) It was really shocking but I guess that is the law of the jungle. Afterwards when the run was over it was really funny to see people looking at the blood on the footpath and cringing as though imagining the goring that took place their earlier, some people were even taking pictures. We didn’t have the heart to tell them that it was actually a wayward runner who learnt a very painful lesson! Chris got the whole thing on video and we will try to upload it here- forgive the shaky camera work, its hard to follow the action when it’s happening so quickly!



After the run finished the adrenalin was still running high and you could tell people were amped for ages afterwards. It was such an exciting event and we really recommend it. We decided against going to the bull-fight that happens each night (I didn´t think I could handle it:Deanna) but we feel that we did the Festival justice.  We left the following day (8th of July) for the seaside destination of Marbella in the South of Spain which is where we are now. We head off from here on Friday for Thailand (Patong Beach, Phuket) which we are both really looking forward to! Chris is hanging to watch a game of AFL at Aussie Bar! We can’t believe that we have been here for nearly 3 months but in a lot of ways it hasn´t flown past which is good. We feel like we have done the “Med” justice by having a decent look around but on the other hand we are looking forward to the comfort and familiarity of home too, not to mention seeing friends and family including our new little nephew Harley Douglas- Andy and Roy´s little boy who we are just dying to see! Anyway, signing off for the time being……………


Sun, Basalt and Moussaka, cruising the Greek Isles…

11 07 2011

Well after leaving Italy we travelled by plane from Rome straight to Santorini. We travelled overnight in order to save time and hit the ground running but hit the ground running we did not, more like a crawl with a limp carrying our  20kg backpacks to our hotel arriving around 6am (we think we are less intrepid than some people we know- Andy & Roy ;-)). The reception was open but there was no one there so we slept on their lounge for a couple of hours until breakfast was served at 8am- that killed around…45 minutes. We couldn’t check in til 1 so we went and had a look around then chilled out by the pool. This place was beautiful! We stayed at the actual main town called Thira and our hotel was set into the wall, our room was actually a dome with vaulted ceilings with our bathroom built into the rock wall, it was really lovely. From our verandah we looked across to a couple of other smaller islands that used to be part of the island but broke away a while ago, one of the islands is the volcano that actually caused the formation of the island, it’s still active and last erupted in 1956. We could also see the old harbour from where there was a constant stream of cruise ships docking, and as mentioned a steady stream of donkeys coming up the hill. Our first day was spent sleeping and recovering and then finding a nice little place to eat tea.  A bit of trivia – according to the guy in reception the buildings were painted blue and white back in the day to trick any marauders into thinking that they were just water and white wash- very interesting!

The next day we hired two four wheel motorbikes (it was the only way I was guaranteed to get a go at driving: Deanna) and rode around the whole island. The island was really beautiful and it was lovely to get out of the built up areas to have a look at the beaches, the agriculture and the little towns. We checked out Red Beach and Black Beach both of which are made up of different types of volcanic rock. There is also White Beach but you cant get there with a vehicle, you need to walk so we decided against it. Besides, we have the best white beaches at home! While we were touring around we came across a spot where a cruise ship crashed around 2005/04 just off the coast of Santorini, apparently not all the passengers survived. The area was sectioned off with a rope and you could actually see a bit of an oil slick on the water. Further towards the end of the island, Akrotiri, we came across the cutest road side stall staffed by some women folk of the town and they were actually drying tomatoes on the road side on a big wire rack right then and there, it was so cool to see it. We decided to pull over and check it out and they had a huge range of local produce including olives, preserved capers (which grow wild on the island) and their leaves, saffron, pistachios, liqueurs and local wine. We got to try everything which was great and Chris assures me that the sun dried tomatoes were the best he has ever tasted! We then rode to the other end of the island and had a look there too. Chris bought his snorkel and managed to check out each spot – apparently he saw lots of cool fish including baby barracuda and a couple of Moray Eels. We spent around 10 hours riding around and came home feeling very tired but really satisfied. We were due to leave around 4pm the next day but when we got back to our hotel around 9pm we found out that the strike affecting public transport had been extended and our ferry was cancelled. The only other available ferry was 8am the next morning which we kindly declined- we hadn´t had a chance to ride the donkeys yet and surprisingly after 2 months of holidays we´ve become allergic to early mornings. We then managed to arrange another night at Santorini and sorted our accommodation at our next destination- Naxos- and settled in for another night!

The next day we go to do the donkey ride! We had wanted to do it since we arrived so we caught the cable car down to the old harbour and then got the donkeys back. The journey was hilarious! Chris started out with the camera and planned to capture heaps of great shots of me on my donkey by turning around but after about 2 minutes he handed it to me and I had to photograph him instead because it was more difficult than first thought- needless to say there is not one picture of me on a donkey which is probably a good thing as I spent the whole trip terrfied! Some of the donkeys seemed prone to biting as they wore muzzles – mine made a couple of quick swipes in the direction of the fleshy part of my leg and I’m sure they would have translated into broken skin and blood if he had the chance. Another thing about a donkey ride up the hill of Santorini- the donkeys don’t have reins so you are pretty much at their mercy. Sometimes they try to crush your legs against the thick walls of the trail so you have to look out for that, sometimes they rush up behind another donkey and the rider finds their knee up a donkeys butt -not that it happened to me, I mean us, it happened to a friend of a friend of ours 😉 regardless I, I mean they, went for a swim as soon as the trip finished! On another occasion a tourist walking down the hill decided to “help” me with my donkey who wasnt going anywhere by slapping him on the rump-it was touch and go for a while and I saw my life flash before my eyes but thankfully the donkey treated the bloke with the contempt he deserved and didn’t respond! Chris watching this happen from a distance told me later that he was prepared to deliver a stirrup to the blokes head if it had of ended badly- not sure if this would have been much comfort to me if I had have been bucked off a wild donkey 😉 but a kind thought. We got heaps of hilarious footage and the ride was most certainly an adventure. We both agreed that we wouldn’t have wanted to take the donkeys down the hill, it is VERY steep and would be VERY scary! 

While we were there we also managed to sample some local specialties including Retsina- its a drink of white wine infused with pine sap- interesting bouquet, it’s not bad but we probably wont be rushing out to buy it in bulk. Another thing we tried was Mastis a drink made from Mastic plant, a locally occurring plant that apparently has a whole range of therapeutic/medicinal properties. We bought it in the form of a cool drink and it was really nice. Apparently the plots of the plant are handed down from generation to generation and are centuries old, it is a really valuable commodity because of its healing properties and recently it has been developed into chewing gum. Anyway, we had an absolutely brilliant time on Santorini and we were a bit reluctant to leave and head to Naxos as we were told that it was less touristy and a bit more quiet and according to the Santorini locals “the people are a bit funny over there, they think differently” – a bit of old fashioned island rivalry we reckon!

We had a hair raising trip down to the Santorini “new port” which took us through dense clouds on the way down and when we arrived at the port we hit something solidly with the bus when the driver was reversing, we never did work out what it was but it sounded nasty! The New Port was chaotic to say the least, there were around 3000 people all trying to catch different ferries with little or no instructions/directions- luckily we got our ship and headed to Naxos!

We arrived at our accommodation the Iria Beach Art Hotel with the help of a very friendly bus driver – he actually dropped us as close as he could get us and was apologetic that he couldn’t take us to the door- for the grand total of 1 euro 60 cents for a 20 minute trip. The hotel was brilliant and we would totally recommend it, the lady who we had been liaising with during the ferry saga greeted us and was really lovely. Our hotel was literally 20-30 metres from the water’s edge, just lovely.  It was probably one of the nicest rooms we have had on the whole trip- check out the link in the links section. And although the place was less touristy we still had a heap of gorgeous bars, restaurants and beaches just in our little block. We picked up some awesome decorating ideas for home and now want to paint our house blue and white!!! 🙂 We ended up wishing we were there for longer despite our initial reluctance. On one day we both went wakeboarding at Plaka Beach, a short walk from our hotel, and it was awesome! The beach was reasonably flat and the boat they had was pretty nice – a slight improvement on the Fuzzmelli- with speakers and music cranking! Unfortunately Chris nearly broke his arm when it got  caught in the handle while attempting (and perfecting) a stylish stack! It was really great to use some energy and it tired us out for the rest of the day!

In Naxos we also got to sample some local specialties, including a traditional fish dish that Chris had. Chris describes it…”probably the best fish dish I have ever had, they take a fish, in this case Bonito, and butterfly it then sun dry it and basically they then rehydrate it with oil, lemon juice and herbs and grill it on an open fire.”

So, in summary, we LOVED Naxos and would love to go back. We would thoroughly recommend it! On a whole so far we would have to say that Greece has been our highlight in terms of accommodation, scenery, food and most importantly the niceness of the people. No one tried to rip us off, everyone was kind and pretty much everyone spoke English- not that we expect that but it is handy!

We left Naxos by ferry for Piraeous Port near Athens and flew out the next day to Madrid but that’s another story……….

Five towns + the home of ceramics + Roma (we’re not talking tomatoes)…

28 06 2011


This was actually a hot day!

Cinque Terre or Five Lands

Pretty cool- literally! We want one!

Well, we are currently in Santorini Greece but before we tell you about that we want to share our experiences in Italy. As you might know we arrived in Manarola the fourth or second town on the Cinque Terre trail about two weeks ago. We booked a little one bedroom unit online the week before in Manarola and we really werent sure what we were going to get. It turns out that Manarola is the most beautiful of all the five towns and probably the oldest- its even listed in the ancient geographical maps in the Vatican Museums. Our unit was great with a really big balcony overlooking the local swimming spot- literally a swimming area made within the ocean by building up rocks and cement- not a beach by our standards but still really cool. When we got the keys to our little place we went straight to the “Coop” and got some drinks and watched the sunset over Manarola from our balcony (the balcony was the same size as the two other rooms of the apartment combined). We then headed down to the main street for tea and stumbled onto a little restaurant called La Scogliera. Chris had meat lasagna and I had Ligurian style large ravioli parcels with a pureed walnut sauce. We finished our meal with a nip of Limoncello- probably not necessarily but when in Rome, I mean Manarola… It was the best meal both of us have ever had, it was just awesome! Over the week that we were there we went back another couple of times and by the second time they were greeting us like old friends. On our last night we told them we were leaving and they insisted we get a pic with the owner in front of his prized ocean mural on the wall of restaurant. Now, about the walk trails…while sitting on our balcony enjoying a few of the local wines we discreetly jeered at the walkers with their two “hiking sticks”, proper boots, camel packs etc thinking how unnecessary and a couple of days later we headed off to test it out. Unfortunately the low (we mean easy) trail along the coast between Manarola and Corniglia was closed due to three serious landslides that occurred the week before due to heavy rain- that part of the trail is not likely to be fixed for another 4 months although according to the tourist/information centre, it will be a couple of weeks- so we had to take the high (we mean extremely, extremely hard) trail into the hills and back down. We walked for 5 hours that day and only did two legs of the trail, Manarola- Corniglia and Cornigial to Vernazza! It was bloody hard going. About 30 minutes of solid climbing in the 35 degree heat we were admiring those walkers with their two “hiking sticks”, proper boots, camel packs etc and wishing we had them ourselves. It was straight up and very hard going, Chris actually got a bit dehydrated (he recovered with a beer when we finished, apparently this is the best thing for dehydration as it actually contains electrolytes and is more easily absorbed by the body 🙂 this is his theory anyway!) but it was all very worth it as we were rewarded by stunning views and really lovely landscapes. We will try to put some pics up. Both of us decided to retire from walking for a couple of days after that as our knees were playing up from all the stairs. We then finished the other two legs of the trail- Vernazza to Monterosso and Manarola to RioMaggiore at opposite ends on another day when we had both fully recovered!!! In saying this though there were parents with kids doing bits of the trail and a couple of guys were actually running it, funnily enough we saw a couple of tourists along the way that obviously had gotten a bit hot and were doing it in their bras and shorts!


We found out about some antique markets in a little fortified village called Lucca so we decided to make the voyage there by train during our week at Manarola. It took us about 4 hours each way to get around 150 kilometres but we were rewarded when we got there, it was awesome! The whole town was full of antique stalls, and we mean REAL antiques not stuff that is 30 years old, some of these items would have been 500 years old. It was sooo interesting. Chris loves his coffee and his pepper so we ended up buying an ancient grinder with a drawer down the bottom to grind coffee or pepper. It is made from walnut wood with a little draw at the bottom and is just gorgeous. The guy that we bought it from specialises in kitchen antique items and really has a passion for it, he had cleaned this one completely and there were not traces of whatever it had been used for prior to us getting it, apparently it was made in 1890 so we have already sent it home in the post and it will become our pepper grinder- a really great souvenir!

Chris “planking” in Manarola


We’d just added our padlock to the collection…


We also did a yacht cruise while we were at Cinque Terre, this left from La Spezia (Chris insists I write in La Stinkia) and was organised by the company that we booked our accommodation through. It was 220 euros for both of us the equivalent of about $300 and included drinks and food. We were both expecting this huge luxury yacht and the drinks flowing but when we were picked up by our skipper- Giorgio – we started to think that it might not turn out as planned. Funnily enough Chris saw this rough looking guy from a distance and said “I bet our skipper is a real salty sea dog” jokingly and guess what? That was Giorgio! The yacht was a bit smaller than anticipated and one look below deck and the piles of foccacia made you think that he was a baker in his spare time. We took off from the port with another Aussie couple and were heading out into the wide blue yonder when Giorgio got a call on his mobile (not sure if talking on a phone while driving a yacht in Italy is illegal?!?), turns out we had left half our passengers behind and head back! Anyway, we finally got out onto the open water and were able to see the Gulf of Poets and all the Cinque Terre villages, it was absolutely stunning! We stopped for lunch and went for a swim off the side of the boat and the water was an exquisite blue, it was so blue that in Australia it would mean that you were in 50+ metres of water but the reason for the dark colour was actually due to the black volcanic sand on the floor of the ocean- it was actually only 9 metres low. Unfortunately by about 11:30am all the beer was gone- there were 8 cans for 6 people- they obviously did not realise they were counting for Australians so we all had to drink white wine which ran out by 1pm. Lunch was lovely, we started with foccacia, olives and anchovies. Giorgio then asked us if we would like pesto pasta for our second course or just have the pesto with the focaccia, we all heartily indicated that we wanted pesto pasta, we were a bit tired of the focaccia. About five minutes later Giorgio came up from the gallery looking a bit concerned “weewn problemmm, de bosss forgett to buy de pasta” so it turns out we had pesto and foccacia for our second course as well! There was also foccacia for sweets if you were still hungry! After lunch we actually opened up the sails and cruised around all day and it was really enjoyable, we even spotted Giorgio Armani’s luxury cruise liner- the size of a cruise ship, it was painted completely in black- Chris commented knowledgeably “this is because black never goes out of fashion Deanna”- glad I’ve got him as my style advisor!?! We all got off the boat tired but happy after a great day on the water.

Vietri Sul Mare- the home of vitreous ceramic…yeehaw!

Based on advise from one of Chris’ work colleagues to head to the Amalfi Coast while in Italy we booked accommodation while WWOOFing. We thought we had outwitted all the millions of tourists that go to Positano, Capri etc and pay a fortune for their accommodation by booking just a little bit out of the way in a wonderful place called Vietri Sul Mare. Turns out we didnt…We headed to the Amalfi Coast after Manarola and after an 8 hour train trip (through Napoli- scary!) we arrived at the train station we found a derelict building that was not staffed by anyone at all. We managed to find someone working on a building and asked where we could catch a taxi from as we were both carrying our backpacks that weigh about 20kgs each and he pointed us in the direction of the town. The place was a bit of a mess in all honesty, it actually is an industrial town that is scraping by as a tourist destination because technically it is the start of the Amalfi Coast. Lets just say lesson learnt. All those millions of tourists actually know what they are doing and there is no easy way to avoid the costs of accommodation at beautiful places during peak season unless you have a rellie or friend to stay with…if this is you we must catch up sometime! From Vietri Sul Mare (they did actually really invent vitreous ceramics which are used to make basins, toilet bowls etc) we did a couple of really great day trips via ferries, one to Positano which was beautiful and one to the Isle of Capri which was awesome. We only had a really short amount of time on Capri as we slept in that morning but during that time we managed to visit the Villa of San Michele- a beautiful villa built by a man called Axel Munthe and written about in his biography “The Story of San Michele” first published in 1929. Coincidentally this book was one that I (Deanna) had purchased from an online second hand bookshop to read on the holiday ‘cos I liked the cover. It’s a really amazing story and I was really glad to get to see it in real life- the book is also a recommended read for anyone! From here we headed to Rome for three days…

Rome- aahh Rome!

Admittedly by the time we got to Rome we were a bit “cultured out” as we have been travelling for 6 weeks at this stage and have been to many historical sites, museums etc, so all we could muster was the enthusiasm to visit the Vatican Muesums and the Colosseum. The Vatican Museums were really cool but very crowded, it was literally shoulder to shoulder for the whole time that we were in there (4 hours) as all ‘legs’ of the museum lead to the Sistine Chapel. We eventually got the to Chapel and were not disappointed. You could very easily stay there for hours looking at the scenes depicted and noticing interesting details. It was well worth it. We then jumped on one of those open air circular bus tours and saw the rest of the sites including the Colosseum which we think is also a must see. It was smaller than Chris had anticipated as we read in our Lonely Planet book (thanks Josie) that it could easily seat 50,000 people- Chris thought it would at least be bigger than Subi Oval! A final note about Rome: you know that saying “When in Rome do as the Romans do”?  well we have always wondered what it is that the Romans do and from our limited three day experience we found it was to be pushy, don’t be afraid to barter, get any price in writing and watch your belongings as this is the only way you have a chance of surviving without being ripped off. In honesty we were a bit jaded by the end of our visit and a tiny bit relieved to get out of there especially with Santorini (Greek Isles) nearly within our grasp.

And that brings us to the present day. We arrived here in Santorini yesterday on a flight from Rome and we love it. The place is STUNNING! Exactly how it looks in the postcards. Our hotel the Hotel Loucas (Fira) is also lovely. From our room we can see the dramatic back drop of the ocean and other islands. Our hotel is that blue white that you see in pictures with domed rooves and every hour a guy comes past with a pack of donkeys in case you want a lift down the hill- you can hear them coming with the traditional donkey bells ringing. They literally walk through the hotel which is divided by a little path which takes you to town or the old port. The donkeys are particularly popular with the heaps of visitors from the cruise ships docked in what is called the old harbour down below as the climb is pretty steep – around 400 metres down. The place feels really relaxed and also a bit decadent with everything painted white or azure blue, even treetrunks. There are also heaps of beautiful shops selling jewellery so I’m (Deanna) having to restrain myself!!! Last night we watched the sun set from the gorgeous little cocktail bar in our hotel and tomorrow we have hired two four wheelers to take us around the island and check out the sites including the still active volcano, many beaches and wineries ………………………………….. to be continued!!!!!!

We thought this was supposed to be a holiday!?!

14 06 2011

Well we are back again putting our fingers to the keyboard, officially we have now finished our WWOOFing placement and are writing from Riomaggiore the fifth town of the “Cinque Terre” but we still have a lot to share about this awesome experience so we will talk about that first.

Our first WWOOFing task was to head to the beautiful Dolceaqua with Enzo for a full day of markets. We were running an hour late- delayed by a herd of cattle up in the mountains. They had huge bells around the neck, apparently to keep the snakes away, and we were really interested in them and snapping photos like Japanese tourists but Enzo was not impressed!!! We rushed in with his Fiat van/ferrari and completely dismounted another stallholders gazebo in our efforts to get to his good spot near the fountain, we both jumped out of the van and helped the stallholder set their marquee right before it toppled into the river, there were a few harsh words exchanged but by the end of it we were all firm friends. We hurriedly  helped set up the stall and then we helped serve customers for most of the day- Chris held back a bit because he was a bit nervous about his Italian language skills (we had only arrived in the country the day before) but I threw myself into it, people were very kind and patient with us. By the end of the day we were both reasonably confident and even staffed the stall while Enzo went to the bar with his mates- this was a bit scary as the scales packed it while he was away and thankfully an Irish lady, Jane, who we had met and were chatting to helped with the translation and we took the products to another stallholder who weighed them for us. The trip home was a bit hairy as it was three hours of driving largely through the mountains, I nearly worried myself sick and Chris had finger indents in his leg from me gripping onto him but we got home safely thank God!

Our WWOOFing tasks were diverse and very interesting and in honesty we really didnt work that hard-  maybe three hours in the morning followed by a five plate meal with wine (and beer for Chris once they learnt that he was fond of the amber ale) and then a siesta until about 4pm when we worked for another couple of hours, we then finished up helping with the dishes after tea which usually was around 10pm. It rained a lot of the time we were there which we think was actually a blessing as it meant that a lot of the hotter, more tedious tasks had to be postponed (hand watering each plan with a pot etc). Our jobs included bottling wine from a big demijohn- this was great fun and we couldnt believe that Silvana and Enzo actually trusted us to do this by ourselves, they took off to town for an appointment and left us to it. We did a fair bit of training pomodori (tomatoes) plants as they grew quite quickly with all the water, we planted basil, beans, onion and celery and helped out with the housework- Silvana was completely amazed with Chris’ willingness to help out around the house as this simply does not happen in Italy. Silvana and Enzos property and livelihood includes growing and selling organic vegetables, eggs and fruit as well as cooking and selling organic bread, biscotti, cornetti, pizza, focacia and panini all made using ancient grains and flour- there are 11 different types of bread some of which we were told were popular with different nationalities- we have the recipes and will write them in our blog. Attached to their house is a commercial kitchen with a huge wood fired oven which is used to cook the bread and other products. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are dedicated to either working at the markets or preparing produce to be sold at the markets and we were lucky enough to be able to help out with this. Chris and I got to mix the bread then make the loaves as well as the biscotti- it was really good fun, this jobs had a few perks like being able to sample hot biscotti and panini straight out of the oven. We also got a realy good insight into how to make a wood fired oven (forno) from Enzo who made his oven himself- we plan to replicate this in little ole Clewlow Court on a smaller scale when we get home. On the weekends in the evening Silvana and Enzo work in shifts around the clock (literally) to bake enough products to supply the markets. 

With regards to some of our other tasks Enzo soon realised Chris’ potential as a work horse/pack mule and had him shovelling dirt to fix the road (I got to rake the already dumped dirt :-)) and also carrying cement poles for bean trellis (I also got out of this)- Chris had a bruise on his shoulder for a couple of days. They were very impressed with his strength and size as they are all pretty small people. On another occassion Chris got to us the chain saw to chop up some logs and I then split them with the axe (antique I think) which they were very surprised by as I was told this this was not “womens work”.

Enzo and Silvana have four adult sons, Marco, Alberto, Stefano and Lorenzo and they were all really hospitable to us while we were there. They took us out on quite a few occassions to a range of places including the local pub owned by a man called Battista (Batty to his mates) where you could buy a glass of the local sparkling wine (this region is famous for it) plus a king brown of Birra Moretti for 5 Euros ($7). We also went to a pub called Open in a place called Cinzano – coincidentally it was right across from the Cinzano factory which is now apparently owned by Guinness. Open Pub features around 100 varieties of beer all brewed in microbreweries (their own and others), the owners have collaborated with Rolling Stone magazine to develop a special range of beers and the smoking section at the front of the pub was made to look like jail cells and you were allowed to graffiti the walls- it was very cool, we went there a couple of times. We also went to a really great seafood restaurant with Alberto and his girlfriend Laura- the place looked like it was out of the bronx but the food was outstanding, it was here that we got to try some grappa on the house (Alberto’s best mate was the pizza maker)- phew, it nearly knocked our socks off.

We got to accompany these guys to the towns where they had markets which included Savona, Genoa and Torino which was great as it enabled us to see a lot from an insiders perspective- they gave us a lot of tips about places to go and things to see. At the markets in Genoa Chris and I had a little picnic and bought some products from a couple of the stalls, one of which sold only salami.  You could buy 4 piccolo salamis of different types for 5 Euros- the vendor must have been having a quiet day as he threw in one for free…it was donkey and as we walked away Chris pondered whether this was because donkey was not his best seller :-).  A highlight was Torino, Laura’s hometown, where Laura took us to the Mole Antoniella a tall tower with a lift to the top that gives you stunning views of the city. When Alberto finished at the markets which were held at Lingotto at the famous Eataly a slowfood shopping centre- awesome- we discovered the joys of aperitivi. We had always thought aperitivi was a drink…its not. Basically you go to a pub around happy hour and buy a drink and then you can eat as much as you like from a buffet of local delights. The place we went to in Victorio Piazza was packed and had dj sets all evening. We couldnt believe the concept- you get a whole meal for the price of one drink. After this we went up into the mountains surrounding the city to see the city at night- beautiful!!!  From here Laura pointed out Superga a mountain where the whole Torino Soccer Team of 1949 crashed and died, there is now a beautiful Church there in commemoration. We also got to see the Capella Della Sindone which is where the Shroud of Turin or Holy Shroud was housed.

We also got to visit the towns surrounding the property in Rivalta including Barolo, Verduno, Novello and La Morra- all gorgeous hillside towns that looked like they were straight from a postcard with their own castle and rolling hills of vineyards, orchards and crops- just brilliant!

Now, about the food…over the whole two weeks Silvana did not cook one dish the same. Each meal (lunch and tea) consisted of at least four plates plus bread (pane) cheese (formaggio) and salami. First course was always pasta followed by meat and/or vegetables. Some of the dishes included risotto with Ortica (stinging nettle) and Fat Hen (another plant we call a weed) and risotto colvino- red wine, risotto funghi (mushies). We had pasta’s with ground walnuts, zuchini (flowers and vegetable), pesto, pomodoro, sage & butter, formaggio, carbonara (egg and pancetta, no cream or milk), ravioli in broth. Vegetables included asparagus mixed with eggs, eggplant with  mint, oil and garlic, boiled zuchini with oil and salt, grilled capsicum with cream of garlic sauce, various potato with meat dishes ususally with a lot of oil and various herbs. All the dishes were cooked in traditional Piemontese style including one worthy of particular mention- raw beef mince with lemon juice and salt! Silvana pretty much forced forkfuls into our mouths (kind naturedly of course) so we had to eat some but it was not something that we are likely to try at home :-). Lunch and tea were always served with wine, either Barbarosso or Dolcetto variety.

Silvana and Enzo’s house was originally built in 1877 for use as a house combined with a cow stable for winter months. Its a huge house but back then the majority of the space was for cows. They bought it around 1982 and renovated it using only natural techniques and recycled products. It is 4 stories high including a cantina (cellar) there are 6 bedrooms that we know of, 3 bathrooms and two huge unfinished unused rooms. The cantina is huge and it has dirt floors, it feels like a fridge and they use to store vegetables and wine. The WWOOFers accommodation was really great, completely self contained with its own bathroom, sitting room and two bedrooms and it was on the top floor and felt like a log cabin- very cool. It was lovely sleeping up there when it was stormy and raining. The family has a few pets to keep them company including a very spirited little dog called Spillo (possibly Jack Russell Husky cross). We had a love hate relationship with Spillo as he was prone to bouts of snapping and biting, the most recent yesterday morning which nearly caused me to faint he was so aggressive- I’m serious. I didnt want to make a big thing out of it but I was shaking as I narrowly avoided a nasty bite- Chris later informed me that this was probably because he had been stirring him up beforehand. Spillo came for a mountain bike ride with us one afternoon and we thought he would turn back and go home after 100 metres but he insisted on coming the whole way- about 10 kilometres- he kept up the whole way and his little legs were still going strong but by the end of  it both he and Chris were puffing a lot and had their tongues hanging out 🙂 The family also has about 5 cats to keep the mice down, two of which (Mina and Mino, collectively known as Min) were tame, the rest were wild. Mina had three gorgeous little kittens while were there- they were very cute, we found them in one of the unused rooms.

Enzo and Silvana do not have a tv and have not had one for sometime, they dont like Berlusconi as they feel that he is corrupt- he apparently owns the bulk of the tv stations so has a lot of control over the content and reporting. Just this weekend gone there was a referendum on the topic of nuclear power, privitisation of water and also the adoption of laws allowing politicians to go without trial proposed by Berlusconi- very interesting! We also noticed a lot of unemployment, a couple of the boys mates are in construction and have not worked for  6 months. Also incomes are quite low, apparently some of their friends earn as little as 400 euros a month for full time work. We were also amused about the Italian peoples concept of Australia and were often told that they had relatives in Australia. When we asked where they lived they would say something vague like “near Melbourne in Tasmania” 🙂

So we left dear old Rivalta yesterday afternoon and arrived at our accommodation for the week in Manarola, the 2nd or 4th town in the “Cinque Terre” and were glad of the rest. WOOFing was an absolutely awesome experience and we were both a bit sad to leave but we have to admit we were very happy to get back to our relaxing! 🙂 So now we are in Cinque Terre but that a story for another blog- we are off to explore ……..and maybe have another swim…….. and a gelati… Bye for now xox





A letter from St Paul to the Australians…

4 06 2011

Well not really, we are now in Rivalta Italy near Bra at the home of our WWOOFing hosts Silvana and Enzo but we couldnt pass up the opportunity to use such a cool title.

Our time in France ended well, on our last day we did a bit of star spotting. Instead of going to check out Monaco (it was two days before the Grand Prix and the roads, and drivers, are crazy here at the best of times, we had avoided any bingles on our hire car and didnt want to push our luck) we decided to explore St Paul Du Vence again, a little fortified village where we were staying, 10kilometres north of Nice. As we were about to leave the village we passed a shiney black mercedes 4WD with its windows open pulled up on the curb next to us and I heard American voices inside but didnt pay much attention. When we walked past Chris said “Deanna that was Leonardo Dicaprio in that car”  and he then got out of the car and walked around. Another person also got out of the car- we dont want to start any rumours but it might have been Lauren Conrad 🙂

The day before we went to Cannes, it was one week after the film festival so there was still plenty of people around plus a lot of serious looking polic and people dismantling the stages and arenas for the event. We took a ferry across to Isle De Saint Marguerite a little island about 2 kilometres off Cannes. It is the location of a fort that was once used to look out for the mainland and later become a prison for prisonners that were incarcerated by order of the king declared a threat to the monarchy or the safety of the State or religion- probably what we would now call terrorists. There was only one person to ever come into contact with the prisoners and there were no records kept or no trial held, it sounded a bit like an early version of Guantanamo. This is where the Man with the Iron Mask was held for over 10 years before being moved to Bastide in Paris where he died. There is also a museum there with exhibits of items found underwater from ancient Roman shipwrecks dating back to first century BC. It was amazing. We walked around the island and found a gorgeous secluded little restaurant but after lookin at the prices of the meals we decided just to have two small bottles of Perrier. When we asked for the bill we got a bit of a shock- it was 14 euros for two little bottles, about a litre in total. We were stunned, this was our first experience of an exhorbitant bill in Europe!

After leaving our little gite, a little reluctantly as it was so cute, we delivered our hire car to Nice and caught a couple of trains to Bra, Italy (the home of SlowFood) where half of our WWOOF hosts Silvana picked us up. We got to the house around 7pm and met some other WWOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) from America, this was quite handy as they were able to give us the unofficial “lowdown” on the place like what was expected of us, what time we were to get up, whether or not we should help with the dishes etc etc. Enzo, the husband, got home around 12pm that night from working at the markets. We ate tea around 11:30pm- it is a very different lifestyle to us. The next day, Sunday, Enzo was due to go to some markets in Dolceaqua (meaning Sweetwater) inland from Ventimiglia, it is another fortified village, for some more markets so we offered to go to help. We left at 7am in the morning and drove about 3 hours arriving at the markets around 10am where we helped to set up. We left the markets that evening at around 9am and arrived home at 12pm. It was a very long day but really good fun.

Our adventures continued…

24 05 2011

Well its been a while since we last wrote so this one will be a long one- sorry! 🙂 We are sitting here in an internet cafe in Vence in the Cote D’Azur or the French Riviera. We have booked a gite (pronounced jeet) for a week and it is awesome! It’s owned by a couple called Gilbert and Isabelle and it is in St Paul Du Vence about 10 km’s from Nice and 20km’s from Cannes. It is a converted cellar (or cave as they say here in France) and is completely detached and self contained – after camping it feels like absolute luxury- there is a proper bed, a deck overlooking the ocean, a washing machine and dish washer plus the beautiful smell of jasmine/clematis always present, and its sooo warm- a beautiful enveloping warmth that allows you to sit outside until 9pm cos its still light then. The couple have a nursery on the tiny terraced property and seem really lovely- on arrival they invited us into their patio (an actual complete outdoor kitchen with pool etc- possible the coolest outdoor area we have ever seen!) for a drink and after a bit of fumbling with the language we managed to have a great chat to them about Australia and France. It turns out the guys grandfather was originally from Venice in 1900 so we had some heritage in common. They asked about Chris’ origins and heritage and he explained that he was Scottish/German/Australian etc etc to which they replied “…aaahh a viking.”

The Champs Elysees is a busy street…

We forgot a few details about Paris that we thought might be of interest. While we were there we walked the whole Champs Elysees where I bought some Ray Bans- just to enter into things you understand 🙂 the following day we have a shopping experience of an entirely different kind- we went to the Flea (Puce) Markets out of Paris, Clignancourt. They were so interesting and the antique section seemed to stretch through a labyrinth of tiny little streets in gorgeous little shops covering in ivy and roses- beautiful. Chris did a bit of bargaining with one of the vendors and we got a great little souvenir for Mum from the late 1890’s- sorry Mum no clues. After lunch and a glass of wine we tried to find our way back to the train station only to find us in the less boutique section of Clignancourt which was really a flea market. People literally had their belongings laid out on the path and were selling them- it was a bit scary as the people looked quite desparate and despondent. We hurried out of there and made our way back to our hotel before dark.

The knee Beaune’s connected to the hip Beaune…

After Epernay, the location of our last post, we travelled down to Beaune which as mentioned is in the heart of the Burgundy region. It was a cute little place with a population of around of 25,000 but quite cosmopolitan. While we camped there we went to the Wine Museum and also another Notre Dame Cathedral -a  little less extravagant than the one in Paris but lovely all the same. We were thankful for the shelter it provided during the rain! It was at Beaune one evening, after a few drinks, that we decided to head across to Lake Como- after all, everything is soooo close in Europe, it looked like a hop, skip and a jump and after our calculations using a chewy packet to replicate the map’s scale we figured it would be a cinch and it made sense to do it on our way down to the Cote D’Azur. The next we packed up and headed off around 12pm- we wanted to get started early after all. The guy at the caravan park looked at us a bit funny when we asked for directions to Lake Como (Lac Du Come) and we thought him quite vague and ignorant when he hesitated and had to google it. Anyway, we soon found out why…

4 Boarders in 1 day (well 24 hours anyway)…

It turns out the trip to Lake Como is quite a hike and most of the terrain hilly so we were still driving at 10:30pm that night. We gave up on finding the accommodation that we had booked as we thought the hosts would undoubtedly be asleep and besides we couldn’t even find the place. Note to self: Do not drive to another country without a road map- a lonely planet book will not suffice! We got to drive through Mont De Blanc which was absolutely awesome and some of the most stunning scenery we will ever hope to see so that was a real positive. The mountainous area was just beautiful and we were really happy to have had the opportunity to see it. Driving THROUGH the mountain was an experience. Note to self – and others- this drive is not for the faint hearted, it was quite scary and got the adrenalin going. Luckily Chris had the testicular fortitude of 10 men- he did all the driving and I was the navigator. He lost it slightly about 10 hours down the track when we were still driving aimlessly around Como trying to find that blasted Lake. I happened to ask where his wallet was as I couldn’t find it- not something you say to a desparate driver apparently- and he was quite shaken not sure whether it was lost in France, Switzerland or Italy. Turns out it was in the glove box. Thus far this has been our first and only moment of mutual near strangulation.  At the peak of our desparation Chris pulled into a police station and we asked some ambo’s for help- they kindly pointed us in the direction of an Ibis hotel and we were sooo relieved. Yet another note to self and others: Stating that you are Australian can really open doors for you! We slept there the night and drove to the Lake for a couple of hours then headed back to France. We took the coastal Autostrade which was equally as hairy as the previous day but just spectacular!

To Caille and beyond…

We had attempted to book a gite in a place called Caille (look it up) the day we headed to Italy but because we didn’t check our  emails we were unable to confirm it so on Saturday (the day we drove back to France) we thought we would just rock up there and check in- breaking and entering if necessary because we ourselves were at breaking point by the stage. On the website the gite looked gorgeous, in the hilly mountains with beautiful green pastures, etc etc, we wondered why it was so cheap (285 euros for 7 days) because by our chewy packet calculations it was only 45 minutes from the coast. Wrong again! At 9pm that night we found the place and again we experienced a strange look from a gentleman at a pizzeria of a neighbouring town, Castellane, when we asked for directions to Caille. We got within 200 metres of the town and the reason for his expression became apparent, basically picture Collie with a population of 200 – goats and people. It looked serene but way too far from anyway and a bit freaky and we were sure we head the faint but distinct sound of French banjoes in the background. We made our way back to Castellane and got out of the booking on a technical issue. Again, this is not a drive for the fainthearted, we averaged about 5km’s every 20 minutes. We got to Castellane around 9:30pm and thankfully the local hotel had one last room and then we also got a table at the local pizzeria (not the same one that gave us directions, we couldn’t face the ‘told you so’ expression he would have given us). Our room was absolutely gorgeous- like an old log cabin with shutters on the windows, it was beautiful. The window opened onto views of the town square and Castellane’s famous rock with a war memorial perched on top and lit up- it would have been at least 200 metres high, straight up! The next day we explored Castellane and dipped our feet in alpine/glacial water in the river for the first time ever, well we think it was our feet that we dipped, we couldn’t feel them after about 30 seconds. After that we headed for Saint Paul a day earlier than our gite became available, we wanted to be there with plenty of time!!! And on this occassion you will be pleased to know the chewy packet measurement was not used, we googled directions and then added three hours onto the estimated travel time. We camped the night in a place called Colle Sur Loup and the next day had an interesting experience with the national police trying to find a criminal in the forest (5 metres from our tent) via a helicopter- they had machine guns sticking out of it and at one point they hovered above us for at least a minute about 20 metres above- a bit frightening! We thought they must have found out about that outstanding parking ticket that Chris had from Bunbury!!!!

Well this brings us to the present day- today we have had a great time exploring the fortified village of Saint Paul and looking at the many galleries and ateliers (studios). We bought some local produce (asparagus, broad beans, cherries, lettuce, avocado etc) from the markets and plan to head home to our cosy little gite and make something nice for tea!

Until next time dear friends!!!

champin & campin

18 05 2011

Well  here we are in Epêrnay in the georgous Champagne region where we have camped for two nights. Yesterday we did a tour of the Moet & Chandon (pronounced Mo-ette for all the Aussies out there who have been saying it wrong, ourselves included!) cellars- all twenty eight kms of them, it was awesome! Included in the price were two glasses of the vintage elixir, bloody beautiful! We then bought a bottle to enjoy later on on the banks of the Marne river where we were camped. At 30 euros a bottle its cheaper than water 🙂

After the tour we had some more tastings with a couple that we met from Brisbane and then cycled back to our cosy little tent- albeit a little wobbly and a lot slower!!!

On our last night in Paris we went to Mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral said by the Archbishop of Paris- I was lucky enough to get splashed by the Holy water when he came around blessing people with it. The next day we left Paris by train and picked up our hire car in Reims- Chris did remarkably well with the driving- no casualties so far but some frazzled nerves! A well earned drink was in order by the time we arrived- they drive on the wrong side of the road over here!!! The temptation is to simply camp here for the rest of the holiday instead of braving the traffic again but nevertheless we are off today to Beaune (pronounced Bone) in the Burgundy region near Dijon, apparently this is Frances centre for wine tasting- hence the large appeal of the place 🙂

Au revoir darlings- talk soon!