A day without the guidebook in Tagliacozzo

Our first full day in Tagliacozzo!

I had a pretty good sleep, waking at around 8 o clock, which is a bit of a lie in for us! Our bedroom opens up onto a balcony outside. Pushing out the glass doors and then the wooden doors straight out into the new day. I never tired of this view.
The view from our balcony is superb, again photos do it no justice. Steep mountains covered with trees in front to our right with the landmark of a sculpture of a cross on top. At night, this cross is lit up, guiding us from the town to our own special “estate”. Below and to the left of our balcony is the village estate we live in. Ancient houses sporadically thrown wherever they could find a rock or bit of ground in the steep incline. Flowers, plants, grapes and even boxes of cat litter boxes decorate the outside of the tiny houses. The front of our house is emblazoned with a golden picture of Mary, Jesus’ mother. In fact, on our walk down to town, we notice grottos and dedications of all sorts to Jesus and Mary.
I can smell something nice! Simon has got the coffee machine working. We set up the table on our balcony with bitter sweet peaches(like you’ve never tasted before!), crispy bread, creamy mozzarella, salami, soft cheese and ham. Divine.
I’ve been typing this diary up on my iPad. It must have overheated but it cleverly warned me and shut down!
An excuse, so, to go down town!
We spent the day just wandering. The guidebook for The Abruzzo region tells us to throw out the guidebook! We did just that and discovered pristine churches, outdoor churches, quirky shops selling leather, jewellery and pretty paper goods, outdoor markets, butchers, cake shops, delis and the most amazing gellato. It had the best ice-cream ever. I had a dark choc and nutella cone, Simon went for the yoghurt and coconut one. The owner was very proud of his ice-cream and brought us out to the kitchen and showed us how they were all made. He kept giving us spoonfuls of the stuff and rattling away to us in Italian, we sat at his cafe bar for about 3 hours, just reading and chatting.
We had our dinner here in the Square in ” Al Corradino di Svevi” which translates cleverly as “The usual place”. I opted for the ravoli with Ragu and Simon went for the Gnocchi mushroom thing. Who won? I think I did, just. We had starters of suppli and a healthy looking brushchetta. The starters were 1€ each! The whole bill came to €22 with a large glass of wine and 2 bottles of water!
We promised ourselves we would have a crepe nutella from this enticing stall. A very happy lady who loves her job makes crepes all night long here. When we wandered past the first time, she caught our eyes in a flirty way, beckoning us to come back But, alas, we were too full.
Tomorrow, we travel on the train to Sulmona, a large city of 25,000 about an hour away. It created the sugar almond things that you get at weddings traditionally and has a museum dedicated to these almonds. It has an open archaeological museum, which seems worth a visit. Also, some highly recommended eateries.
The walk back from the town up to where our house is seemed slightly more easier tonight. Probably, in the head but I feel my thighs feeling it already. I saw a woman jogging through our village today. Madness. Slow down, woman, chill out. Everyone else is!

Arriving in Tagliacozzo, Abruzzo, Italia!

Our flight to Rome was problem free.
I spent the flight being spoken to by a little 2 and a half year old girl, who really was a doll child. Her parents were from Belarus, while she was born in Ireland. Her name was Arina, she was the most fascinating child I’ve met. A bright thing but she knew she was cute and blonde and pretty with her little stripy tights. All the passengers around her smiled at her immediately. She spoke at me for half an hour, in Russian mostly with glimpses of English, using her hands to demonstrate points of her story. From what I could make out, she was raving about friends, holidays, Mummy and favourite colour. Which was green.
We waved goodbye at Ciampino airport, Rome and were greeted by our new Italian family. I always wanted this reception. When you arrive at an airport and a person is waiting for you with a big sign ” Lewis”. At last, I got this! Federico is the eldest daughter, she was the only one out of the family that spoke English. We were welcomed to Italy and shown to our new car.
A left hand drive. A Mercedes Benz. Impressed but scared.
Simon wanted to do the whole car thing so he had to drive.
He did really well. We headed off following the whims of the sat nav, bound for the town of Tagliacozzo. This town is built into the mountain. The name itself means “cut into the rock” it’s about 70 km from the airport. No bother to us.
Simon seemed to handle it brilliantly, very calm and collected. I, too handled it well. It helped that he drove at a slow speed all the way. The scenery was amazing but we couldn’t really enjoy it as we were dreading the last bit of the journey.
The road from Ciampino to Tagliacozzo is straight down the motorway. Excellent.
However, when you take the exit for Tagliacozzo, off the motorway, the fun begins.
We had been told about the 5 hairpin turns. In fact, Federico had sent us a diagram if them. They looked mental. Imagine a hairpin, slightly pulled out. Now, imagine 5 joined Together.
When we arrived into the outskirts of Tagliacozzo, we had a feeling that we should take a left. It looked right However, b%#^* face( or our beloved Sat Nav) told us to go right. She meant bear right, we found out after. Which is entirely different from Take right.
On top of this, we were greeted with a learner driver’s worse nightmare. A hill start. On a very, very steep hill with 10 irate and pissed off Italian drivers behind us, telling us to hurry the frick on.
Simin revved the car to the max and we took that right, as suggested by b face.
5 km up the most mental of roads and steep hills and inclines we had ever seen, we realised that B Face was wrong. Very wrong. Her map showed us that had to keep driving to the end of the 5 km and turn somehow.
We carried on driving. Sorry, Simon carried on driving. I looked out the mirror and told him there was only one car behind us when in fact there were now about 15 more irate Italian drivers, mad to beep and overtake at any chance.
Poor Simon, but he did good.
We eventually reached the village of Trimente, which was of course, very Italian and very fab. We couldn’t really enjoy it as the next thing happened.
The next thing to happen was a big lorry tried to get through a small space. He got stuck. He told us to reverse or turn around onto the irate drivers behind us. Simon had proven he could make the car go forward but reversing off the edge of a cliff was a big ask.
A group of friendly Italians from the village had formed around the scene. I fluttered my eyelashes at one of the men and hoped for the best. Within seconds,he had jumped out of the car, reversed it and drive it back to us with a smile and saying something in Italian. All I understood was “sat nav”
The crowd of young people outside chatted away, one young teenager was eager to show off his English. He had been to Limerick last year to learn English. Well done, Limerick teachers. He was good. He loved Ireland but scoffed at our weather.
So, we were back in the car. Down the treacherous road to Tagliacozzo. Next the hairpin bends.
Simon did it with no major hassle, the ease he took them was probably because of two things.
1- he had hyped up these hairpin bends so much that the reality was always going to be better.
2- the 10 km drive up and down to Trimente had prepared him for anything.
Who cares what the reason is? We did it. Federico had taken photos of where we should park. Apparently, we had to park the car and go a pied. By foot to our little house. As luck might have it, there was one space on a big line of cars at the side of the road. We parked the car and stopped the car and breathed.
Now the next bit of the adventure was to find this apartment. The place where we are staying is right on the hill. The houses are all typically what you’d imagine to be Italian, small and snug. The houses are all built into the hill with windy, tight roads weaving their way in and out down the hill. It took us a good half an hour to find the house. I sat and petted cats and read while Super Simon jogged nonchalantly to reach our final destination. I think he was so happy to get out of the car in one piece that he didn’t really care what happened after that. After about half an hour through the Labyrinth, we found the house.
The house is just gorgeous. Two storey. Two rooms downstairs. Bathroom and open plan kitchen and sitting room.
In the sitting room, there was a table. On the table, there was a note saying ” ha, ha, suckers! We have got your house now, we are take over it as squatters!”
No, really the note said:
” Welcome, enjoy! From the Nobili Family”
A bottle of prosecco lay on the note.
After investigating the house, two bedrooms upstairs and open balcony from both bedrooms, we had a glass of prosecco and a light lunch, that the family had left for us in the fridge.
Proper Parmesan( I.e not a rip off)
Some kind of garlic ham.
We indulged and had a nap.

When we awoke, we were raring to go!
However, the electricity had failed. We rang Fedrico and she rang to get help. Help came in the form of a very, nice(again smiley) Italian family. The 5 of them traipsed into the kitchen, pushed the fuse switch up and down and opened the fridge door a few times. This worked perfectly and we all clapped at the fun of it all.
After a shower and oiling up of sun protection, we walked down to Tagliacozzo. A 15 minute walk down through the maze of houses left us breathless but amazed.
Real Italy, we had wanted. Real Italy, we got.
First, we just sat in the main square-Piazza Del Obelisk, a pretty square surrounded by bars, restaurants and shops. A fountain domineers it with a massive obelisk item coming right up through the fountain. The photos do it no justice. Just visit! I had a nice glass of cold white wine and Simin went for beer. As we soon found out, if you order any alcohol in a bar, you are presented with free snacks. Not any snacks. Enough crisps, bread, veg and biscuits for dinner for us! We sat there for a a couple of hours, chatting about our great luck with our house swap.
Later in the evening, the town really lit up with people and families out eating and drinking. We spotted a very charming looking restaurant called Alla Fontana. This is a pizzeria but also does a normal restaurant food
We filled up on a pizza and suppli( rice, parmesan coated in breadcrumbs and fried). Simon opted for breasolo, rocket, Parmesan, sausage, cheese on a tomato base. Mine was a white potato pizza. Both were excellent. However, Simon’s was the winner. I scavved many slices off him and I know what I’m getting later tonight! The restaurant “Alla Fontana” was packed with Italians, the real ones not those fake ones you might find occasionally. Actually, we seem to be the only non-Italians in the whole town! With a bottle of water and 2 beers, the whole bill came to €20!
Let me summarise, in Ireland, we are ripped off.

The pre-hen night

My sister in law, andrea(Simon’s sister) is getting married in August. We had a lovely dinner in Bann Thai in Ballsbridge. A nice, relaxed and quiet evening to prepare ourselves for the strippers, oil, thongs etc of the real Hen night tonight.

Discovering my shape

Discovering my shape.
It’s quite confusing being a girl and having a girl’s body, for me anyway. I’m short at 5’4 ish and work hard to keep my figure at a size ten. I don’t want to be any smaller or any bigger. I was larger years ago at a size 16-18 so I’m constantly aware of my body.
The other day I discovered that I am a hourglass and I’m delighted!
Most people tell me I’m a pear shape. No offence to the pear shape but the hourglass shape if the shape I’ve always envied. Look at Jennifer Lopez, Nigella Lawson and Marilyn Monroe. See what I mean? A lot of Irish girls have pear shapes but don’t dress for this. Simon always told me I was an hourglass but I really thought I was a pear shape after a friend told me this in the changing rooms one day shopping.
Since, I’ve discovered I am a curvy, hourglass, I’ve felt happier with my body and appearance, weird I know!
How did I discover? I measured my shoulders, hips and waist and found that my shoulders and hips are the same size with my waist being ultra smaller in comparison. That’s the way you will know if you are an hourglass! But, you are going to have to measure as us ladies tend to not see the real shape in the mirror as I’ve proved for years! The oprah website( which actually pretty good!) then gives you strict guidelines for ways to dress to show your body off, be it pear, hourglass, athletic. We all have amazing bits of our body to show off.
Amazing fact about hourglasses that I did not know-
Hourglasses are the only body type that look really well in strapless dresses! Yay!
Skinny or slim jeans look best on hourglasses figures only. It’s funny how we think that skinny size zero girls look best in skinny jeans but no, that’s wrong! Skinny jeans with heels show off your killer curves at their best. Im starting to sound like Gok!
Now, I recommend you get the measuring tape out and check out the oprah website. I’ll try and get some photos up of me in hourglass worthy clothes!

Lennon’s in Carlow

We are very lucky to have this amazing Art and theatre in Carlow. Visual was built last year and it is on the grounds of St Patricks College and Carlow Cathedral. It’s just nice to walk through. If, you do take a visit to Visual, Mimosa wine bar(one of my fave spots) is on the way!
Lennon’s Cafe is in Visual, which is reattach. Lennon’s bar was an institution for Carlow Town. Until it shut abruptly one day and a bookmakers went in on their premises. We have approximately 2,300 bookies in Carlow Town. Excellent planning.
Lennon’s does great, local food and really good coffee. No wifi but I’m informed this will change. Yes, the food is expensive and you could eat there every day but the food is really good. Try their thick, potato wedges with skinny garlic dip. Good.

I’ve always wanted to do that….

You know the way. There’s something you’d always been meaning to do. Learn the piano, travel the world, read Ulysses…You imagine that one day you’ll do it. You convince yourself even.Most people carry on like this until they pass this world. Some people take action.
I was thinking about how many times I reminisced on how much I enjoyed singing when I was little. I sang in our school and church choir, sometimes solo but always loved it. When I left primary school, I became too self conscious to bother with it.
But I’ve always remembered the way it made me feel.
I don’t want to be one of those people who put it off and off. So, one evening in a fit of madness and a glass of champagne, I googled “voice training”
I found this charming website and beautiful singer under the name of Charlotte Mahler. I listened to her voice and thought, yes, I’d like that! Obviously, I’m never going to be a mezzo-soprano like Charlotte but one can always improve what they have!
Today, I had my second lesson.
It went well, it is fascinating. There’s so much to take in. We started with our warming up exercises and then launched into the songs. Woah, one was far too high for me but she told me in no uncertain terms that:
” You will be able to sing this song in half a year if you practice every night!”
I’m up for the challenge.
Even if I never do anything with this, I’m enjoying the time spent on myself and proving to myself that you don’t need to put things off and off.
If you want to do it, make the steps.
My next aim?
Learning the piano!
Hmmmmm. Let’s get the singing right first!

Free wifi in Lir coffee bar, Ballaghdareen, Co. Mayo.

On our way back to Carlow, I saw three signs on the side of the road telling us to come to sample their coffee and food.

Go on, treat yourself, you know you wanna.
Better food than your Mammy’s!
I had to stop here as they had got the apostrophe right.
Lir’s Cafe bar is really a pub/bar but does rather good coffee. Plus, it has free wifi so me and iPad were really happy!
Lunch is good a chicken pesto wrap with fries to share €5.95. Really, nice little waiting staff. There is never usually a reason to stop in Ballaghadreen and now there is!
This could be our new stop!
After this, I’m on the way to buy my new shoes In Dundrum, LK Bennett shoes are to be mine at last! I had promised myself these shoes if I completed a task( sounds mysterious but it’s not) and when I didn’t complete the task, Simon gave me a voucher for them for my birthday!
Cannot. Wait.
I’ll take photos later and demonstrate how cute they are!

Printed tablecloths, baked potatoes and a rather spruced up Ballina!

Sundays can be boring. Yes, Sundays are boring. The only good thing about Sunday mostly are the papers. I demand that shops open 24 hours a day. I demand that banks open when I finish work.
So, we are in Mayo( where I’m from!) for weekend and decided to take drive. Stopped at Mary’s kitchen coffee shop on the way. Mary’s is in an idyllic, tiny town called Ballycastle, beside the famous Ceide Fields. Always wanted to pop in here, it’s been open for 13 years! I got my chance today. It’s a very homely, printed tablecloth type coffee shop with a glowing, healing crystal alongside a crucifix. Strange but true!
I can’t really comment on the food as I only had coffee. Though, Simon had a scone, which he dubbed “pleasant”. In Simon language, this means “average or ever so slightly above” I might also add that a scone could only really be average. It’s a scone, that’s all.
Mary gave us free refills and generally was very attentive. I was trying to write and found it hard when the quiet coffeeshop turned into a swarm of little toddlers making unnecessary noise and the like.
We got back on the road to Ballina and searched for the Ice Hotel, a venue ice heard great things about. A local informed us that it would take far too long to walk to and pointed us in the direction of “Dillon’s Pub”, this place has won loads of awards and when a local recommends a place, who an u to turn it down?
The waitress was lovely and geeky and expressed her annoyance at the fact that there are no wifi hotspots in Ballina at all. We agree with her totally and ate glad we have 3g!
The menu is massive here and has everything you could ever want! Pizza, pasta, steak, wraps, fajitta and jacket potatoes stuffed with various fillings. I ordered jacket potato with garlic chicken, cheese and garlic sauce and Simon ordered the chicken fajittas.
Really tasty but a massive portion! That’s my criticism of eateries these days. Far to much. Yes, I know there are people out there who like their grub but I shouldn’t have to pay for your portion sizes! I paid 9.95€ for 2 f;$) off jacket spuds loaded plus massive salad and a portion of potato salad! I can only eat half. Why not two options on the menu?
Normal size portion- 1 jacket potato with small salad-5.95€
extra hungry and huge portion designed for 2 people-2 jacket spuds with huge salad and extra potato salad.

Not much to ask for?

vegetarian- a long process!

For the last 2 weeks i have had a good old stab at a non-eating meat diet! Not too bad actually. Although how I am doing it I don’t know as I have an official Vegetable and bitty fruit phobia…Since meeting Simon however I have managed to get over this phobia! Honest, don’t laugh! When I met Simon I couldn’t even eat spag bol with bits of onion or tomato in it and had to sieve it or pick it out with a fork or some other implement!

I have advanced onto eating many different veg, though with reluctance..I have a feeling that if I keep at it, my body will adjust!

Actually, the first time I tried a tangerine I used to have a force a tiny piece down me and chew and chew and when eventually I knew i had to swallow it, I would visibly gag…Poor me! Today, I ate a full tangerine on the way home, I rock and i have came a long way! Used to live with a gang of girlies in Dublin when I went to college. I survived on waffles, oven chips and pizza and garlic chips…not one bit of veg or fruit for all that time and i would estimate my body has not seen fruit and veg for about 20 years!

I worry that I will die of cancer because of this. I know I worry about everything!

So, who knows in a years time I may be a fully fledged fruit and veg goodness eater? A natural one that doesn’t balk at the thought of it!

Wish me luck and freshness!