Archive | August, 2012

Would you pay 150 euros for 90 seconds of excitement?

17 Aug

We visited Siena during our holiday in Tuscany, which is a beautiful city. It is famous for the ‘Palio’ which is a 90 second horse race which takes place in the Campo twice a year, July 2nd and August 16th. We could indeed have gone to see this famous event, as we were in Tuscany during the August period. Apart from the fact that I am not at all keen on horse racing, according to Mr Rough, the whole event is a complete nightmare for those of us who are not keen on crowds, heat and the Olympics, especially as going to the loo and getting plenty to drink would be a near impossibility.

It is possible to buy tickets months ahead for anything between 150 and 300 euros. For this price you would get a grand stand or balcony seat. But supposing your attention wandered for a few seconds? You could miss the whole event! The riff raff generally crowd into the centre of the Campo and see the event for free. For the best view, it is advisable to find a position on the inner rail by 2:00pm and reserve it for the next 6 hours! According to Mr Rough, people keep pouring in up until a few minutes before the race and ‘the swell of the crowd can be over-whelming.’ When I first read that I thought that it said ‘the smell of the crowd….’ but I am sure that this could also be true! There is little in the way of shade, toilets and refreshment, and the riff raff will be unable to leave for at least 2 hours after the event. Consequently, very little drinking goes on. I think that the best option would be to get a she-wee (he-wees also available I am sure!)

Well, my mind was made up – no smelly horse-race watching for me!


Oh no it’s still Mr Blobby!

16 Aug

I always have a good look at the car park suggestions provided by Mr Rough. But for some peculiar reason Paul expects me to give him directions to get to the car parks! And then of course I have to read up on the restaurant recommendations and check where those are in relation to sights we are visiting that day. So when he suddenly says, ‘which way do we go at this signpost?’ I am in a panic, as I was actually working out how to reach the best restaurant with Tuscan specialities! I mean, am I expected to multi-task?! So when I confess that I have no idea, and that the road atlas does not show that particular exit from the motorway (because the scale is too small – that is such a good excuse!) he says ‘ look at my ‘phone then!’ ‘But I can’t see where we are on the ‘phone!’ ‘Just find the blue blob and you will be fine!’ ‘Okay I’ve found Mr Blobby but now the scale is so big that I cannot see where we are heading for!’

Of course the other problem is the tolls. Every time we come to a toll, I have to wind down my window and take the ticket then pay the toll with the credit card. Goodness knows how single drivers manage in an English car, with the steering wheel the wrong side of the car! And of course mistakes on the motorway in Europe, coming on and off motorways and changing direction every few miles, can be expensive mistakes!

Despite all of this, we have had lots of wonderul days out and reached every destination (eventually!)

Oh no, it’s Mr Blobby again!

16 Aug

In every good marriage or partnership, there should ideally be a driver and a navigator. Unfortunately, I am blessed with neither skill. I am best at providing a humourous perspective on life; Paul is an excellent driver and navigator, but even he finds it difficult to navigate whilst driving.

We have always managed with maps, rather than electronic devices. It has been quite a challenge driving across Europe, because of the scale of the road atlas. In England I can manage reasonably with the usual scale of atlas, but this is more difficult with such a vast area as Europe.

Thus we have resorted to the map system on Paul’s iphone. He set it up to mark our location with a flashing blue blob wherever we are. But you then have to keep increasing and decreasing the scale in order to see where you are going. And the road signs are something else in Italy! Place names mysteriously disappear just at the crucial moment; when they are there, it is difficult to ascertain whether the route is via the motorway or minor roads.

And when sitting in the front passenger seat, I prefer to spend my time admiring the scenery and reading out extracts from the ‘Rough Guide.’ Paul is very keen on history, so we like to get a historical perspective on all the sights and details of relevant paintings and frescoes in cathedrals and museums. After all, if he asked me to read  out the history of the Duomo of Florence, for instance, was he really expecting me to give him directions to get there too?

Man and machine

13 Aug

According to the ‘Rough Guide’ the reason for the huge decline in population in San Gimignano was the Black Death. However, we have recently found evidence of the real cause. In one of the wonderful Piazzas, there is a man turned to stone standing next to a condom machine. Obviously he was struck down for his sinful ways; the introduction of said machine must have had a massive effect on procreation.

Can you kill flying bugs with crawling insect killer?

10 Aug

Just a few notes about the wildlife we have encountered in Tuscany:

Paul and Jess have been plagued by mosquitos; in fact we have all been bitten, but they have suffered more than I have. Paul’s bites have turned to blisters, so he has resorted to popping them with a sterilised needle (yuck!) and then wearing trainers and socks. One night, unknown to me, Paul actually closed our window despite the mosquito mesh, because of the gap at the bottom – understandable really given how he was suffering. The next day I blocked up the gap with a towel, so that we could have the window open. I just cannot sleep in the heat. This leads me onto other small creatures, namely……

Grasshoppers! You would not believe the size of them – at least 3 inches long and with a tendency to leap onto your laptop or land in long hair! (Jess and I have long hair). The same night that the window was closed, I am convinced that a grasshopper was rubbing his legs together gleefully all night, high up on the wall in our  bedroom. The noise was just unbelievable! Also very common here are…..

Lizards! Now I have no complaints about the lizards, being quiet and rather fascinating to watch. Trouble is they are great food for….

Cats! Our hosts’ family of cats has decided that we are easy prey for scraps of meat and spare milk. Viola is the mother and loves eating lizards. The first time I saw her eat one, she left the tail, which consequently was leaping around for a few minutes after the disappearance of the body! The rest of the family consists of Nero her son (we named him Nero as he is apparently nameless, and obviously black), another tabby who is probably a daughter, and a fox-like looking cat who could be the daddy! One evening, all except daddy joined us for dinner on the patio.

All of this leads me to my first question: Can you kill flying bugs with crawling insect killer? And I do not know the answer to that. However, we did go and buy some new flying insect killer when we realised our mistake. We also use the traditional burning coils at night, and the plug in insect killers. But there is nothing quite as satisfying as killing a hornet with a spray killer…..

I really need some sharp knives

10 Aug

This villa is really beautiful, but it could be greatly improved by the addition of the following:

Sharp knives and scissors

Gas burners which are more controllable

Electric kettle


Cleaning fluid in case of spillage

Bleach in case of blocked sink


Space to stack washing up

More cupboards for storing food

Bigger fridge

More glasses

More salad bowls

Small saucepans

Small roasting tins for oven

Comfortable armchairs

Non-wonky garden table

Washing line

Washing basket

Bathroom fan

Loo roll holder

Loo cleaner in case of whiffy moments

Mosquito mesh in second bedroom

Bigger wardrobe in main bedroom

Drawers/cupboards in main bedroom

More herbs growing in garden

Dedicated food bowls for cats

Our Tuscan Villa – Part Two

9 Aug

The kitchen area is woefully inadequate, but when you are on holiday you can cope and have a bit of a laugh about it. Clearly as the property is so remote, it is designed for self-catering, but the fridge is small, and there were no cupboards provided for food storage. We had to tidy out the bin and cleaning equipment from the cupboard under the sink in order to find more space. There are almost no worktops for food preparation and no space for piling up the washing up. Hence much time is spent bringing the garden table in and out of the house to use as a work top.

The cooker is hilarious. It is very important not to have the water heater and the oven on at the same time (the oven is electric) or all systems fail. The hob is run by bottled gas, which is completely uncontrollable; you can have flames licking round your saucepans in true chef style, or nothing at all. And in true mediterrranean style, the kettle is not electric, so it is very hot and steamy making cups of tea and coffee. We like fresh coffee, and as the only coffee maker available is a tiny percolator, we have to be inventive. Apart from being small, the percolator does not seem a good idea, as I’d probably just burn the coffee having to put it on such a high gas flame. So I have taken the filter part from the percolator and, holding oven gloves, use it to strain the coffee which I make in a jug after boiling the water in the kettle.