Monday, 26 January 2009

The Last Post

If you want to find out what we are doing now is a good place to start.

Suellen's website is and her wildlife blog is at

If you've enjoyed the read, drop us an email to and if you want to stay where we did in Peschici then visit

Monday, 12 January 2009

Home !

34 days, 3,902 miles, £4,486 later - Not quite the cheap break we had planned.
Petrol alone was £745 - but what a great holiday.

Dawn in Langres was -10C and clear

And the 4 hr journey to Calais was another dream drive.

12th Jan 2009 - the blog ends here. Thanks for all the kind emails. If you are here after Google led you to this page and want to leave a comment - please do.

Dave Raven

Sunday, 11 January 2009

A drive to remember

The 470 mile drive from Menton to Langres was a dream. Bright sunshine all day, quiet autoroute, and fallen snow by the roadside virtually all the way. Anyone who has driven to the Côte D'Azur is likely to have stopped at the large service area in Provence on the way back.

Around 3 hours drive from the coast it's a perfect place for a loo stop, and fill up of the car and its passengers. Normally bathed in sunshine, with added snow it's gorgeous.

The Marmotte hotel, Langres is cheap, clean and serves a good evening meal. Belgian, Dutch, French - we are the only Brits.

Today, the last 320 miles to Calais and another 100 to home. Final chapter tomorrow.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Let them eat cake

We have visited Menton on many occasions and have nearly always stayed at the Hotel Paris-Rome. It is about one kilometre from the heart of town near the Italian border and we thought that this time with the winter weather we would stay nearer the centre of town.

The internet is a wonderful thing and as it matures, the information you can get on hotels from sites like Tripadvisor and ViaMichelin means that you can get reviews from fellow travellers that are up to date. We chose the Hotel Méditerranée, good reviews and within our price range.

Their website had various offers. The old folks deal which included free breakfast, the romantic break with breakfast and a welcoming glass of champagne and the epiphany special with breakfast and epiphany cake and champagne. We chose that one.

Yesterday morning after a very good breakfast we asked when we got our cake and champagne. The receptionist looked surprised and said she would find out. When we got back from Ventimiglia in the afternoon we were given a card saying we could have our cake anytime between 5pm and 11pm at the rooftop bar on the 7th floor.

So after supper, where the cheapest wine available was 26 euros compared with our final meal at Pane e Vino Peschici where the entire meal, including one litre of wine, cost 25 euros, we went to the 7th floor for our glass of fizz.

At 10:30 we were the only customers and the bar manager said that our cake was waiting. We said that we were full and just the fizz please.
"It's not champagne it's cider, you can have a wine or a beer instead - but the cake is just for you, I'll wrap it up if you don't want to eat it now"

So a glass of wine on the terrace with a fabulous view.

And then to our room to unwrap our cakes. Not a little piece of Epiphany cake each but two whole cakes including crowns.

We'll save it for the journey back. Thank you Hotel Méditerranée

Friday, 9 January 2009

Pizza, Beer and Bananas

Today is Ventimiglia Friday Market - nearly a mile of stalls selling everything from cheap hats

- to fur coats starting at over £400. Loads of hooky gear and the French police mount a border patrol on market day to stop people coming back, not with cheap gin but with fake Louis Vuitton handbags.

What is very odd is that almost everything, from clothing, belts, jewellery down to pots and pans are stored in banana boxes. I cannot work out why unless the banana box is perfect for stacking in a panel van.

Then to lunch on the plage and a needed beer after all that retail therapy.

Suellen didn't enjoy her pizza !

And the view to the snow covered hills was great.

Tomorrow 500 miles to Langres.

Snow in Liguria

The little town of Mattarana in the hills behind La Spezia was coming to terms with the snow yesterday morning.

This is an area where snowfall is very rare and the narrow, hairpinned route SP1 had been cleared - up to a point. We set off in glorious sunshine with a shiny, black ice free road surface.

With great views and a lovely drive until the road down to the Autostrade. We slithered down the 3 miles, thank God for traction control.

A day in Rapallo with Suellen's old family friend, and then the 2 hour drive to France and the lovely town of Menton. We settle in to the 3 star Hotel Mediterraneané.

It's funny that the more expensive the hotel, the more everything else costs. Parking 12 euros a day. Wi-fi 15 euros a day. Compared with the Locanta where wifi and parking were free even though the room security did not look too strong.

Click the photo for full size and look at the key - a rare no lever lock.

Today is Vengtimiglia market and shopping in Menton - And the sun is shining.

In the words of an old friend " I can feel a lunch coming on"

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Driving in a winter wonderland -Bah Humbug

The view from our hotel room in the hills behind Portofino on the Ligurian coast, 495 miles from Peschici.

A great drive for the first 300 miles then the snow started. I'm coming to the belief that the overhead information signs on the Autostrade are for the entertainment of motorists.

As we drove North we kept seeing signs for an abandoned vehicle at Pescara Nord. The first time we saw the info, Pescara Nord was still about 6o miles ahead. As we got closer the signs became more frequent. And then Pescara Nord; nothing, not even a broken down Piaggia.

Then a new sign - "Snow ends at Parma". What snow ? We're still driving in the dry, but then gentle flakes begin to fall.
"Ah well, It'll end in 80 miles at Parma".
The snow gets heavier and at Parma we turn off on to the Autostrade to La Spezia. The motorway is closed so we exit and ask the policeman on duty.
"Where are you going to ?"
La Spezia
"Four wheel drive "
"OK = be careful"
and waves us back onto the motorway for a 60 mile journey from hell.

Arrive at the hotel 90 minutes late and get stuck in a snowdrift when we park.

Today is a short hop to Rapallo and then 80 miles to Menton.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Our last day

Tomorrow we start the 1,500 mile drive home. Via Rapallo on the W coast to visit an old friend of Suellen's family who she hasn't seen in 30 years and then 2 days in Menton - Astbury made me do it !

Today has been perfect, a bit of packing then into the Foresta Umbra for a walk in the woods then down to Lake Varano for our last picnic lunch.

Pictures to follow when I have time.

Tonight, Pane E Vino for our last meal in this wonderful location.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Windy Sunday

The wind blows from the NE crossing the 80 mile wide Adriatic from Montenegro unimpeded. The whole East coast of Italy is golden beaches apart from the 500 square mile limestone clump that is the Gargano Peninsular rising sheer out of the sea up to 1,000 feet at its highest point.

Peschici clings like a limpet to this cliff and our house, Nido Aurora, is just 250 yards from the sea and 250 feet above the bay.

The wind thwarted by this blockage, buffets the house, the windows shake and it almost feels that the stone is moving.

For a small boat sailor the view is terrifying. Looking down at the lee shore, the scrotum tightening sea and the tight broadside turn against the waves to get into the shelter of the harbour, sends a shiver down the spine.

So we dress up in layers, woolly hats, gloves and off down the 350 steps to the harbour. When we get down to sea level, what felt like a gale from the house, is in fact a 6 gusting 7. Still, not one I would like to be out in.

We walk along the harbour wall, peep at the waves and then along to the bay. There we adopt the usual routine, pick up driftwood sticks to ward off the 2 dogs that protect the closed pizzeria and lido, then along the sand watching the spume blow across the beach like white balloons.

We head back home through the town and we are the only ones out. No cars, no pedestrians, not even a dog. The main street - Corso Garibaldi is deserted, just a street sweeper with his broom and dustpan.

Back to the house and an afternoon of planning the next Editorial Intelligence briefing at CASS business school on the 14th and the Taggs Island Management end of year accounts. Sadly, I still have to work on this trip.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

This is for the BFBS Old Boys

A cold, wet Saturday in the Gargano peninsular. It is pioggia'ing with a steady determination. So off to a local restaurant for lunch.

The Pane E Vino does what it says. 3 miles from town, in the summer this will be a bustling agri-tourism campsite and pizzeria.

In the winter, we all retreat indoors round the 2 fires. No menu; starter, pasta, main course, pudding and local grappa and amaretto.

The oil, wine, spirits and most of the meat and vegetables are from within a square mile. £20 per head for 2 carafes of wine and a huge banquet of superb, simply prepared food.


Next to our table is an old Phillips radio

I go to look closely

And almost a tear. DAB - pah ! In the 1950's we had our own spot on the dial.

Love to all the old Forces Broadcasting colleagues reading this.

Friday, 2 January 2009

The Living Nativity - Alberobello

A cold day in Peschici - late afternoon. The first Raven'n'Blues of 2009 is done. We've just come back from a good trip out to the beaches earlier today.

Time to backtrack to last year and our first night in Alberobello when we went to experience a "Living Nativity". I had expected to see two people dressed as Joseph & Mary with a baby (real or otherwise), perhaps a donkey, some wise men, shepherds etc etc.

How wrong !

Alberobello has been presenting a Living Nativity for many years. I would guess that two to three hundred people are involved as actors in the many street tableaux, trulli residents in period costumes and guides.

Plus all those doing film and sound reproduction, catering at the end, care of the many horses, donkeys, sheep and even a camel.

After entering the church at the edge of the old town of piccolo (little) trullis you get a slideshow presentation of the history of the Living Nativity and some instructions about staying with your group and then you are off into the old town.

One by one the streets scenes unfold. You duck into little houses and see people dressed in 19th century costume, making bread, cooking food, weaving, and woodwork. Historical and biblical scenes are enacted.

The streets are full of groups of us, all being led by our guides with flaming torches, and at every turn as we zig zag through the old town, something else to see.

After over two hours we get to the nativity scene and then the last descent to the main street and are given a glass of wine with some savoury pastries.

And the cost for this - nothing. Should you ever be in Puglia at Christmas you have to witness this wonderful experience. But wrap up warm.

The video was grabbed as I was not expecting anything like this and left the big camera in the hotel room. Rough edits too, next time I'll be ready.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year

Happy New Year from Italy

These are the church bells just 20 yards from our house and which Suellen can sleep through at 7am when they ring for the first mass.

When planning the trip Suellen bought a small Italian/English dictionary to help with translation problems.

As we enter our fourth week here it has becoming something of a joke. Every time we have looked up a word it has not been in the dictionary. The only words we have found that we wanted were ironing board and firelighters.

Suellen looked up the word for fireworks - fuochi d'artificio - and armed with that we went into town for the final shop of 2008. In our local veg shop, Suellen asked if the town had fireworks
"La città ha fuochi d'artificio stasera"
"No", she said, "No fireworks"
Since my stroke I don't do late nights, so after a good supper, off to bed with a book.
Bang, bang, bigger bang, woosh.
Up we get, throw on some clothes, up on to the roof.
The town was alive with bangs, flashes and colourful bursts of light illuminating the harbour, the church tower and the towns along the coast.
So we went out into the town - not much life on the streets. The Fra Stefano restaurant was having a boisterous party. Otherwise just young boys setting off home made bangers and rockets.
So back to bed.
We plan to light our last fire in the house with the dictionary - obviously published by the "My postilion has been struck by lightning" school of language courses.

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

New Year's Eve and back in Peschici

It's a gorgeous sunny day, so a short diary and off into the sunshine. Tomorrow is forecast wet, so I'll do more writing and photo editing then.

It's good to be back home even though we left behind underfloor heating and a jacuzzi in Alberobello. Almost trullied out after 2 good days of exploration. They are very striking buildings from the outside.
And from within

That is one of the piccolo trullis on the North side of the town where the living Nativity was staged.

The Pietradimora B&B was one of the larger trulli's on the South side of the town with the main cone being over the bed.
The view looking up from the bed is impressive. But . . . . . .
Thw conical shape will be great for cooling in the hot summers but it did mean that in our wonderfully warm room you could feel the cold cone above you and so there were no limbs outside the blanket at night.
The other downside is that the acoustic characteristics of the cone mean that any sound underneath, say like someone snoring, like the Whispering Gallery in St Pauls, are amplified about 10 fold. No names, but guess who had a sleepless night !
All was forgiven over breakfast
Thw 30 miles from Alberobello to Ostuni is non stop cones, and lovely old walled cities like this one at Locorotunda.
We are 10 years too late to snap up a bargain - I blame Amanda Lamb. But we will return.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Trulli wonderful

Late Monday afternoon and we are still in the land of internet connections in the most fabulous B&B in Alberobello, the Pietradimora -

It is superbly renovated, with just 3 guest suites in a trulli with staggering views over the heart of the city. Underfloor heating, jacuzzi, heated towels and the wonderful Daniella as our hostess.
It rightly has the top rating as the most popular accommodation in the area.
This is the view across the town from the roof garden.

Our 150 mile drive South from Peschici yesterday took us through the Foresta Umbra, this time covered in snow.
When we arrived in Alberobello the town was bursting at the seams and after we had grabbed a space to park we went off into the town, armed with Daniella's advice.

She had mentioned a living nativity in the Church opposite and so we went to get tickets. They were free and our time was at 5:05pm. I had expected a stable scene with the usual Nativity figures.

How wrong I was, as you will find out when we post the full story. Nearly 3 hours later and having experienced some amazing tableaux we did see the stable scene.
It was the most amazing experience. Later, over supper, we met people from Rome - 4 hours away and Naples, 3 hours the other way, who had come just to see it.

More after we have collated the video and still images.

Today was the Trulli highway to Ostuni - images and story to follow. The Brits are already here though. Daniella said over breakfast that they had arrived in so many numbers the area was becoming known as Trullishire !

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Trabucchi on Christmas Eve

Today is a cold and gray one in Peschici so, apart from a forage for driftwood at the local beach, it's a day for hunkering down with a good book.
Time also to go back a couple of days to Christmas Eve when on our trip out we stopped at the top of the hill leaving the bay of Peschici to get a shot of the glorious beaches to the West when we noticed that the bar across the narrow track down to the trabucchi we can see from our house on the far side of the bay was open.

So down the track we went and met a man who said that he was open but only had white or rosé wine. That was OK with us so armed with a tumbler of local rosé we investigated this working fishing platform.

It has so much standing and running rigging it's like being high up in an old square rigger.

All the standing rigging is galvanised wire and everything is supported back to holes in the rock.

Joints in the wood are made with wire lashings

The blocks are handmade

and so are the windlasses

After a great photographic hour we headed off for lunch.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Happy Christmas

A blog free Christmas day, and a very different one to the way we usually spend it.

We spent Christmas eve in a restaurant in the old town, Fra Stefano and there we started with a traditional Southern Italy Christmas Eve dish of seven different fish dishes, one for each day that God took to make the world.
Mussels, large prawns, octopus, anchovies, squid, tuna carpaccio and a staggering mussel souffle. I finished with more fish from the grill and Suellen broke with tradition and had the beef.
At 10:45 she went to the church next door to midnight mass and didn't get home until 01:40. Christmas morning was bucks fizz with breakfast and then into the town for 12. We couldn't believe the view. Corso Garibaldi, the main street was packed, with everyone dressed in their finery, young girls in incredibly short skirts, young men with impeccably gelled hair in shiny silk suits, ladies in fur coats and everywhere, people kissing and shaking hands.
This photo doesn't do the scene justice. We sat at the bar/gelataria in left of the picture above, had a Campari soda and watched the 'passageria'.
At 1 o'clock they all just drifted away and by 1:10 the main street was deserted so we came home and had smoked salmon and fizz for lunch.
Our main meal was at 6:30. Beef carpaccio, turkey, roast onions & potatoes, carrots, peas and no Brussel sprouts.
Christmas pudding steamed for 3 hours, flamed with brandy with cream to finish.
Wallace and Gromit on the TV - A great great day.
Carpaccio and Prosecco

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The Peschici Lottery win 1998

Domenico Lamargese owns the Mille Cose, Peschici's only newspaper shop.
In 1998 he came up with a system which involved 99 people taking a €20 share - the Italian lottery was on its eleventh rollover week and on 31st Oct 1998 the syndicate had the only winning line scooping the 63 billion lira jackpot.
In the two months before the cheque was presented at Christmas 10 years ago it had accrued another 306 million lira in interest (€180,000)
With the 100 winners all being from the town of then just 4,000 people, it meant virtually everybody knew or was related to one of the winners.
Not good news for everyone as a young Peschici woman engaged to be married dumped her fiancé, who was not part of the winning lottery pool, to wed his brother instead, who was among the jackpot syndicate.
Each winner received around €300,000.

Santa for the nonnis, padlocks, murals and the Christmas shop

We kept seeing this rather scruffy Santa Claus in a little white Fiat van stopping around the town. When we caught up with him he was giving a couple of old people small gifts. He explained that Christmas wasn't just for children but nonnis (grandparents) too.
We told him we were old too but he wasn't impressed.

A close up of the young lovers of Peschici's vow of love

And another mural. When you have boring steel shutters to protect against the elements, why not make them attractive ?

That door really is a shutter !

Finally to the Christmas shop. There is no Tesco equivalent in the town, or nearby. I would guess that Foggia - about 90 minutes drive away might have something, but here we have half a dozen shops selling fruit and veg, about the same number of butchers and assorted general purpose shops selling almost everything.
Out at 7:45 to get early to the butcher who specialises in birds, to get our turkey leg, and some carpaccio as a starter.
Then to the Inoteca & veg shop for the next on the list. A brussel sprout free Christmas - hurrah !
Then the bread shop, the vegeme supermarket and back home by 8:30. Every shop full of laughter - what a contrast to the Sunbury Cross superstore.

I have found out about the lottery win - more later.

Wherever you are reading this - a very happy Christmas from us both.