Saturday, 30 June 2007

Decisions over Granita and Brioche

It’s a funny thing trying to find somewhere in the whole of Europe to relocate to. We’re travelling with the completely unfounded expectation that the perfect place to settle down will miraculously appear on our road and scream “this is the farm you’ve been looking for guys, buy me!” It’s a kind of bizarre mix of serendipity and stupidity. It means that every day I am open to the possibility that any of the people we encounter on the journey might just lead us to the discovery of our utopian dwelling. It’s a provident optimism which believes in a destiny that’s bright and full of magical experiences. Naïve it might well be. But I’d much prefer to look at life through the lenses of this hopeful naivety than the alternative, and oft considered more sophisticated and mature version, which tends to be a little more pessimistic, sceptical, cynical and therefore distrustful.

One of my clients told me this year that research had just been published into the subject of happiness. It was a big study apparently from a prestigious university involving hundreds of people from all over the world, seeking to ascertain the common factors that make happy people, happy. They found that it wasn’t the existence of money, fame, success, family etc that leads to contentment. The one common trait of all truly happy people, was their propensity to trust others. So we journey on, trusting in each other, in the goodness of life, and in the one that made us.

Another funny thing is when you find something so obvious you think “why doesn’t the whole world know about this?” So it is with the Sicilian breakfast of granita and brioche. A granita is simply crushed ice mixed with juice of your choice. Our favourites by far are Mandorla or Lemon. Mandorla is an almond thing. You find it everywhere here - in biscuits, scrumptious soft cakey things and now we’ve discovered it in ice form. As it’s been between 40 and 50 degrees the last few days in Catania, with massive fires in the city and the suburbs, we’ve had a few Granite to keep us sane.

Last week we wild camped for a few days on a rocky beach in the north until we nipped down to Marsala for a few bottles of sweet sherry. Dry almond biscotti dipped in cold sweet almond sherry are simply delicious and unbelievably addictive. In Marsala we stayed in a car park next to the sherry shop, but unbeknown to us, twas a car park that became inhabited by the young and inebriated til the wee dawn hours, revving car engines, motorbikes, and singing the latest and diabolically poor (why is that?) Italian pop tunes at the tops of their voices. Von slept like a baby as it obviously reminded her subconsciously of the harmonious lullabies of New Cross that have sung has to sleep for the last decade. But for me it was torture.

Michelle called us the next morning and said she’d arrived in Sicily and we should come back up north to see her at Virginia’s place in Castellamare del Golfo – a quaint old little town where Virginia and her man Uchio have been renting an apartment for the last year. They sorted us out for a couple of days at a mate’s little house which is normally rented out but was fortunately free for us. We rested, enjoyed being in bricks and mortar with an endlessly-running-water kitchen again. Virginia also gave us a tour of a local vineyard for sale complete with old broken down farm house. It had everything we said we wanted. In the hills. Stunning view of the sea below. Vineyard. Olive trees. Character with 3000 year old catacombs on the property. Fertile land surrounded and protected by tall rock formations. Perfect in so many ways. Except one. Although it had its own spring, we realised a spring was not enough. For Von to grow the garden that she wants to grow she needs lots of water. A rivers worth. Also streams and rivers provide a flowing energy that even in the hottest days means it’s unlikely to ever feel stagnant. So we are now looking for enormous farms that have gushing rivers running through them, in the mountains not far from the sea. Probably with a small village of farmhouses already in situ (as getting planning permission for new living accommodation in Italy is a trifle tricky they tell us with current State commissions into Mafiosi controlled building developments). Not much to ask I know, but it felt good to clarify what we really want.

We left to see the south coast and the Greek temples at Agrigento and came to the swift conclusion that the north of Sicily beats the south not just because of the beautiful mountainous terrain and endless jaw dropping landscapes, but simply because there are less people that live there! Wherever humans gather in larger numbers we are a disgrace. Or maybe my intolerance for cities clouds my judgement. Either way, large towns and cities are not for us. The quiet of the uninhabited calls me from the deep.

We did enjoy a couple of days at a cute campsite south of Ragusa on the coast where Von noticed an interesting thing about Italians and I got some excellent motorhome tips from Denis and Kath a sweet English couple from Bristol who’ve been on the road for 3 years. Von realised that Italians move in packs. The beach on the weekend where we were staying was rammed. The family unit in Italy is large and all seem to go to the beach together at the same time. But there was no agro like you’d expect on crowded British beaches where families preciously guard their territorial space. In this culture the hustle and bustle of large families juxtaposed in close proximity with one another is not just tolerated, it’s desired and respected.

Next, a drive to Syracuse for a day rubber necking at the Roman amphitheatre and Greek theatre was topped with a meal out at a Pizzeria where the pizza was the best yet. Although the pizza was awesome the most special moment happened when an old granddad celebrating his 78th with his family at the table next to us, invited us to share his ice cream cake. Maybe it was because we sang along with the chorus of “tante auguri” but I suspect it was our kids. The most touching thing here has been the way so many Italians have utterly adored Josh and Ellie. Everywhere we go it seems that people can’t wait to be introduced and when they are, they lavish attention and praise on the kids and Moses, and through association, on us as a family as well. Hardly a day has gone by where we haven’t heard “You are a beautiful family. You have a beautiful dog. You have beautiful kids. Beautiful. Really beautiful.” After a while you actually begin to feel it too.

Day 50, Sunday 24th June, an afternoon spent sharing coffee, limoncello liqueur and loads of laughs with 2 similar aged Italian families parked up next to us in the Syracuse parking lot. Marco and Nadia, Giuseppe and Laura and their fabulous kids from Trento on the Austrian borders, holidaying in Sicily. While all the kids cooled themselves down with a water fight in the sprinklers the parents had lengthy discussions in our broken English and Italian on the merits of home schooling. I do hope we see those guys again. They were good people and we very much enjoyed their company.

Today we’re on our way to Regione di Calabria on the mainland and then onto a speedy trip through the mountainous regions of Italy – Abruzzi, Umbria, Tuscany and onwards. Probably going north to get away from this blistering heat and onto Norway for Roberto’s wedding if it’s still happening in late August. Then I suspect we’ll head for Portugal as we keep hearing how gorgeous and how cheap it is there. Not often you get that. Gorgeous and cheap. Must be worth another little serendipitous adventure.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Greek Temples and skinny dipping on Mount Etna

We popped into Paestum for a 2 day history lesson wandering serenely through magnificently preserved 500BC Greek temples. Von and I remember studying temples at school and being baffled why we were made to spend so long drawing those archetypal 6 by 14 column Greek buildings, without, as it seemed to us at the time, any learning purpose whatsoever. Admiring up close the brilliance and durability of the architecture and hearing more about the alternating religious and social usage through the various empires of the ages, was a whole different experience. It bought history alive for us let alone the kids.

Walking through and touching a place that old made it possible to tune in to any moment of 2500 years of history and imagine with surprising clarity what the inhabitants of that city were doing, what clothes they were wearing; you could almost hear the sounds of life in the city and smell the cooking. The Greeks, the Latins and the Romans all built vast empires of wealth and power. And in a generation they were gone. All the sophistication and brilliance of these civilisations couldn’t sustain them. At the height of their influence I bet few could foresee they would all collapse. But ultimately they did. And if History teaches us anything it’s that every empire falls. And so surely will ours. The era of the west is drawing to a close and the dawn of the east begins. Sitting in the ruins of a Roman villa brings that inevitability of our future into sharp focus.

So to Sicily. The ferry across was exhilarating mainly because a new and strange sense began to surface in my consciousness. I never met my half Italian grandfather, Vittorio Emmanuelle Maffezzoni, but I started to feel like he along with his 2 brothers, were calling us. Even, dare I say heretically, guiding us? Vittorio’s father, Arnaldo, came to London at the turn of the last century from northern Italy near Milano to set up a restaurant business in Soho. We don’t know why he left Italy or what he was fleeing from. And I don’t know what the connection with southern Italy or Sicily would be. But I feel something deep in my bones like I am home at last. More probably I am identifying subconsciously with the young Don Corleone first journey’s back here in The Godfather II!

Day 34: Skinny dipping in the Gore D’Alacanta was a bit special. Like so many of the sites of natural beauty through Italy where tourist centres have been built to cash in on the passing trade of wallets, this one was no different. 5 sanitised walks were laid out on a map which indicated the dangers of the gorge below and suggested strongly hiring necessary fluvial trekking equipment along with the €10 entrance fee. Luckily some kind Dutch travellers told us we could climb down steps a little further along the road for free. So we did and consequently discovered a stunning stretch of the gorge where the usual crowds of pesky tourists were thankfully absent. Huge boulders scattered at the bottom of a deep ravine with icy cold waters from Mount Etna’s snow covered summit gushing past. Perfect for a sneaky dip to cool down. Moses absolutely loved it too.

We travelled on in the evening to Randozza, a grey non descript busy but sad little town north of Mt Etna where we stayed with a lovely old retired couple, Johny and Ezna, in the grounds of their house. They explained the reason they lived there was due to the weather in that region having 2 clear seasons - snowy winters and not too hot summers. The rest of the island was mainly hot throughout the year. It was good to hear about snow as Von is worried about relentless heat and missing the changing English seasons. On the drive through to Randozza we passed several farms for sale and one area can best be described as ‘wild’. Although there was clear evidence it must have, at one time in its past, looked altogether different. Behind the overgrown vineyards and tumbling down buildings we caught glimpses of Yorkshire dales style dry walling and terraces carefully constructed from the volcanic rocks. It was a rich, green and fertile area but oddly abandoned. Who knows why but we could imagine ourselves living there and making one of those farms beautiful and fruitful once again. Probably a bit far inland to what we are really hoping to find, although with the spectacular backdrop of Mount Etna to inspire and protect us, we might consider settling for it.

The last week we’ve toured precariously along mountainous cliff edge winding roads in the 2 national mountainous forested parks on the north coast of Sicily – Monti Nébrodi and Le Madonie. After a days driving through Palermo, we headed for San Vito lo Capo and found by chance along the way yet another quiet tourist free Agrotouristico farm available for campers. I think we must be the first visitors of the season as the owners are quite excited by our arrival and are spoiling us rotten. Apart from the horses, donkeys, cows and mountainside outside showers overlooking a sun baked valley, they also have a restaurant here and the first night it was rammed with a hundred people in what initially appeared to be a wedding reception. The noise level when Italians eat altogether like that is phenomenal. They all made us feel exceptionally welcome rather than what could have been construed as gate crashing a private family affair. It actually turned out to be an end of season celebration for the local boys swimming team. All the 16 year old lads had dark curly black hair with rich olive bronzed skin and were accompanied by girlfriends and parents. Bizarrely, the boys all looked liked they could have been Josh’s older brothers. He looked spookily similar to a few of them.

Then the food started rushing at us one course after another complemented with an endless stream of vino rosso from one of Italy’s 300 varieties of grapes (compared to France’s paultry 50 and the Aussie’s 7). Antipasta was scrumptious cous cous, grilled aubergines and cheese followed by prima plati of pastas, one with truffles the other with tuna. Perfect thinly cut fillet of steak with a sausage dish and salad arrived next for secondi plati. Dolce were large cream filled sweet case somethings washed down with aniseed flavoured liquor. To be honest we were stuffed after the antipasta! The rest was pure Roman gluttony and another extraordinary evening already etched into our long term memory that we’ll treasure for years to come. It’s set the benchmark for what we now expect for an evening eating out in Sicily. I could live with this.

Next we’re off along the west coast past Trapani, sampling the sweetness of Marsala and hopefully a quick peek at the ancient now mafia infested town of Agrigento in the south. After her trip to India, Michelle should be hopping over from London to join us at some point next week too. If we find a place to settle for a week or two here, we’ll extend a warm invitation to join us if you fancy a week in the scorching Sicilian sun.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Salve From Von

Allora! Here we are. You are probably wanting me to rush you through the beautiful scenes you will see, to tell you of the latest activities of the poopineurope tourers from my perspective and that will come, but first a little context.

This is the experience of Vonetta, you may have heard a bit about her from the other characters in the blog. Vonetta has come all the way from Barbados and while you make think you know what this means you do not, in fact neither does she fully. You may think that to come from Barbados is to come from a paradise of beautiful beaches, soft sweet smelling sea air and warm laughing locals. You may even think, well it is obvious where she should go back to, paradise. But what may be paradise for one may not be so for another. Even paradise has its shadows, shadows of historical uprooting, people taken as trees from the earth for no purpose other than greed and left upended and homeless. In these circumstances perhaps you can see why paradise is not all it is cut out to be.

The March of the Abolitionist walk was an excellent way of working through some of this conflict of being born in paradise but a paradise not of choice but of force. Walking through the intellectual homeland of England powerfully revealed that this feeling of homelessness has within me nurtured a considerable amount of anxiety, fear and sadness. However, sadness is fertile ground, allowing the flowering of a feeling of freedom, if one has no home then one has no obligations to any particular place and like any uprooted creature will just have to find new territory to battle for, and now in Europe I think it will be quite a battle!

England has provided a wonderful resting place. As the old saying goes ‘home is where the heart is’ and the heart generally warms to those who love the wearer of that heart. In Barbados and in England there have been many people to love and it is hard to leave those people and the people in those places. Long lunches and loud gaffawing with Granny, Mum and my gorgeous sister Annie; walking in the fields in Dulwich with Sally and Jonathan and getting a damn good education over a cup of tea. Listening to Joshua and Eloise playing piano with Aunty Sally. Eating, laughing, playing, crying, arguing and being taken the piss out of with Anna, Hatti, Nooshi and Simon; oh so hard to leave you four. Watching films and opening bottles of wine with Jon and Caroline, playing with Mya and Luka. Crossing the street to borrow rice, sugar, tea or just to borrow a chat with Becky, Keith and their girls. Nights at the Jazz Café and days spent in Greenwich market and park; walking along the Thames; hanging out in Deptford and endless hours of dog walking in Hilly Fields. Parties in the garden at Shardeloes road; teaching and working with the lovely people that the word client seems to small to describe and just the general familiarity of a place that has welcomed you and all the numbers of people you know and get to smile at or just chat too. Urban London at its best is hard to leave. At times, even in the most beautiful places my heart spasms and my mind questions the judgement of leaving.

Still, once the urge to journey starts it is hard to resist, the wind changes and will not be ignored and so everything flutters along or is swept away to a new place. I am aware that this is not a holiday but a chance to see whether there is a new place to settle and root for a while. Consequently, the going facilitates the knowing that things will never be the same. Peoples’ circumstances and lives will change significantly during the time I am gone and nothing will be the same as it once was. The good, the bad and the ugly will change and with that two thirds of ugly and bad falling away there will always be one third that I will miss and will only be reachable through fond memories.


What to say of this magical place in one paragraph. Well, if you have the chance ever in your life to go to India - go. India is an incredible place and as Michelle said to me, “it demands that you love it”. Go to India knowing that all of your senses will be assaulted, that your morality will be questioned, that your spirituality will be shaken, stirred and stilled if only because the only stillness you can find is within yourself. Go knowing that India will show you as much of herself as she can. Everything that is hidden will be turned inside out. Go knowing that it is likely that at some point you will get very sick. Go knowing that when you leave India you will never be the same again, your journey through life will be catapulted. Go to see to feel and to experience. Try not to push against anything you find or you will just be exhausted, go with the flow of life whether that flow be a sudden dust storm, a flat heavy, placid river, a muggy unable to catch a breath day; a squash of bodies so tight and so loud that you fear that the small particles you are actually made of will soon explode and dissipate to nothing. Go knowing that just as you have had enough she will romance you again with a cool, crisp, clear and perfect mountain breeze; a simple beautiful devotee; or just the sheer quantity of life all jostling and rubbing up. An amazing place and an awe inspiring experience, totally exhausting and simultaneously invigorating. I hope to see India again someday.

5 Weeks in Europe

Ferry Crossing from Portsmouth to Le Harve

Finally we are off on our European tour. How long it will last, where will we go, who will we meet, when will we stop all nonsense questions because we have no idea and still my infernal mind keeps asking them. Stop I tell it and just enjoy the moment, moment by moment and breath by breath but the mind is a reckless and stubborn creature and still carries on. Fortunately the body is a little more ready to relax and just see what happens next, a lesson well learnt from a month in India. The heart is a little more pulled between the mind and the body at times relaxing into the experience and at other times pulling towards the past. Andy’s enthusiasm is a god send at the moment and pushes us on. Already I can see the characters we play, Ellie is overyjoyed and appears to have forgotten all else other than the joy of being in the ferry; Andy is busy trying to make sure we are all safe and secure and grinning like an idiot, I love seeing him like that. Moses is in the mobile home probably wondering what the hell is going on and in his characteristic manner taking it all in his stride by stretching out on the nearest bed and sleeping. Joshua stands with me looking out at a fast receeding England and says with the beautiful simplicity of the young, “ that is where I was born, that is where my friends are, it is where my life has been but I am not there anymore”. Speechless with the way he seems to say what is knocking around in my mind, I finally manage to say, “That is how I felt sitting on a plane leaving Barbados and look how many wonderful things have come out of that, let’s see what happens.”

Giverny: Monet’s Garden

I have to write about Giverny in the present tense because everytime I think about it I am right back there in that garden of dreams…

I can’t believe I am finally here. I have wanted to see this garden for such a long time and I am here! Giverny does not disappoint it is a symphony of sensuality, every corner filled with colour, every plant I love is here and many that I have only ready about in books I am now seeing in full bloom. I feel like a little girl in a sweet shop and all at once I know what I want to do with my life, grow flowers, grow a garden, find a piece of land and spend the rest of my life loving it. Giverny has reminded of why I have chosen to leave the ethnic haven of Lewisham. London has become a little small for us as a family, we need just a little more space to grow, to feel the sun, to be in the ocean, to enjoy the land and to get all those lovely friends to come out and share it with us as often as possible.

A print of one of Monet’s paintings now hangs above our bed area to remind me of why we are

Gay Paris!

Our trip into Paris was actually created out of the disaster of trying to get our enourmous mosiemobile into Versaille, after much roaring and cursing (on Andy’s part) and eating our picnic in the mobile home we decided to head back to camp and just forget the day. But unable or unwilling to accept defeat we eventually set a new destination for Paris, this time by train!

I have seen Paris so many times but never like this. For me, Paris was all about seeing it through the eyes of the children, particularly through the eyes of my 8 year old princess Eli. Eli fell in love with Paris and Paris with her. Everywhere we went people commented on how beautiful she was and how lovely her French accent was (thanks to a month of Inspector Clueseau – see Andy’s blog). She lept into the language, speaking as much French as her memory could muster (or speaking English words with a French accent) studiously copying the French mouth ie pout.

Climbing the Eiffel Tower with them was such fun. The enthusiasm of truly happy children is better than food and water for a tired out Mum and before long I was as giddy with Paris happiness as they were. Admittedly I resisted the urge to spit off the Eiffel Tower choosing instead to duck behind a large person and pretend the children were not mine; but the discussion after did give opportunity to create a lengthy discussion on terminal velocity beginning with the question, “Mummy, does spit take longer than a coin to reach the ground off the Eiffel Tower”. To which Andy said, “You let them spit off the tower?” To which I said, “Well I didn’t actually let them, it was more a case of I turned around and saw them doing it, that it was too late to say stop and therefore I did what any responsible mother does and pretended they weren’t mine.” Ah…Home education, it’s all about imagination and exploration after all.

In the evening we stopped over yet another beautiful French bridge, they really do know how to create beautiful vistas. Now you have to picture this with me, a day that started as a disaster, midway led to a change of plan that turned out to be really quite pleasant, we stop and pause over a bridge I stand behind Eloise (Josh and Andy and Moses are faffing with something in the background) us girls are looking out without talking and all of a sudden the Eiffel Tower starts to sparkle. I look at Ellie and she is silently crying she says, “ I am Eloise, I am in Paris and the Eiffel Tower is sparkling, Mummy thank you I am so happy.” Need I say more.

Other highlights and dimlights

Highlight – walking down the Avenue de Montaigne and pressing our noses up to the windows of the designer stores without the snotty sales assistants looking back.
Dimlight – feet killing, really tired, extremely thirsty, ravenously hungry.

Highlight – Josh taking photos along the Champ Elysee with eyes as huge as saucers.
Dimlight – Missing the train and waiting another 50 minutes for a train coming at 12:15am, kids tired, me tired, Andy close to tears! Moses calmly taking a leak up the wall.
Highlight – Organising the kids a bed made of scarves, our jumpers and a fluffy warm dog called Moses, they looked so cute.

Dimlight – French tolls, wow so expensive.
Highlight – Sitting in a service station watching tourists’ confusion as French men walk into the ladies toilets because the men’s ones are being cleaned; the French are so delightfully rebellious and disrespectful of rules.
Dimlight – Having to go into the same toilet and try to use trying to avoid all that French male pee.

Highlight – Moses being loved to pieces everywhere we went. If you want to get into the French heart then borrow someone’s dog and take it with you on holiday.
Dimlight – Don’t the French ever pick up doggie poo!

Highlight – The French aesthetic: beautiful countryside, beautiful promenades, beautiful houses; even their places to stop for the night on the road and sleep are beautiful and such a welcoming sort of name - “Air de Service”.
Dimlight – Being woken up in thickness of the night by truckers and odd men hanging around outside their trucks at the “Air de Service”.

Highlight – 3 days with our dear friend Monette
Dimlight – Leaving Monette to go to Aix-en-Provence and then rushing Eli to hospital
Highlight - Being with Eli in hospital, having nothing else to do but just be with her and cuddle her and kiss her and love her. She is a lovely kid.

Dimlight – Having to speak very complicated French in the hospital
Highlight – Being so tired that I forgot I couldn’t speak French and speaking it perfectly.

Dimlight – Leaving Aix-en-Provence without really enjoying it.
Highlight – French nurses pushing me out of the hospital after I had been in it for 36hours and saying go for a walk. Then having a café in a beautiful square.

Dimlight – On two occasions trying to drive through the most outrageous traffic with our huge mobile home and wondering what in heavens name is going on.
Highlight – Both times finding ourselves at the Cannes Film Festival and The Grand Prix in Monaco surrounded by lots of sexy amazing people wearing outrageously gorgeous clothes and ridiculously high heeled shoes and smelling rubber and testosterone and seeing famous actors, well actor – Bill from Kill Bill!

Dimlight – Andy shouting at us to get out of the motorhome when he is cooking. Oh so Italian, so passionate!
Highlight – Lots and lots and lots of kissing.

Highlight – Moses being picked up by lots and lots of beautiful girls as we take photos of him in famous places
Dimlight – Getting Moses or Andy away from said girls.

Dimlight – Leaving France with its wide roads and Air-de-Service and crossing the border into Italy in the middle of the night, hanging onto the edge of the seat as the roads suddenly become narrower, and more winding and the driving suddenly becoming a lot more aggressive and faster and just generally bloody scary!
Highlight – Italia! Italia! Italia!

So far it has been a truly wonderful experience. It took us a while to settle into being together all the time, as you may well imagine. There have been times when I feel like I am going to go crazy being with my family 24 hours a day, but could I go back to being without them for so many hours? I don’t think so. Joshua is so relaxed these days I hardly recognise him. He has the biggest smile on most of the time and at any given moment if it isn’t there it can be summoned ever so speedily. Ellie is growing from strength the strength, swimming most of the day and just being delightful at every turn. Andy has lost his frown, and spends a great deal of time getting well dressed and looking at himself, as if he is seeing this new person for the first time. Moses is so excited, every time we stop the mobile home he looks at us expectantly. He now knows that not driving equals water and the chance to swim his little heart out. As for me, I am loving just watching everyone bloom. I struggle a little with being the only black person for miles around if not the only black person, full stop. Being in Italy now I am trying to get used to the penetrating stares of entire piazzas or campsites. Every now and again the desire to run and hide under the nearest bush rises up but Andy is always quick to say they are staring at you not just because you are black but also because you are beautiful. I try to remember my recent lessons: that my ancestors like so many others, have paid with their blood for the wealth that the West enjoys today and secondly that this planet belongs to all and does not recognise the boundaries created by human beings. So black and beautiful I lift my chin, stick my chest out and journey on.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

My first month – France & Italy - by Josh

This month our lives have changed. From packed weekends, long school days, miserable evenings and being bored to death, our weeks have been free to do with what we want ( as long as we see famous places and learn from them i.e. we went to the Eiffel Tower and we learnt about terminal velocity and area)! There are still the occasional arguments, sometimes multiplied because of our small spaces, but they are soon forgotten.

My favourite things that we have done so far have probably been taking photos that are impossible to go wrong (some of them are on here) and sending postcards to my friends at school from places like The Leaning Tower and rubbing their noses in it ( I hope you’re reading this!)!

It’s not just the famous places that I love; in fact I like the small villages like Cinque Terre (they are five villages that are on a huge cliff over looking the sea) and Siena (a medieval town with a huge cathedral and palazzo) that I find more beautiful. And its not just man made things that are amazing, although to think that the Romans built huge aqueducts like Pont du Gard is pretty outstanding, nature also has a way of making you fall in love. The views from mountains and cliffs just make you want to stay there for ever and watch the world go by.
There have been funny incidents, sad incidents, happy ones, scary ones and ones that include all of those feelings! Things that we would never be able to do in London, like go for 10 minute rides in places that we have never been before, on our own, its even easier to learn languages because of everyone speaking to you in the same language, I mean I’ve already learnt 50 times more than I could have ever learnt in London!

Everyone (including mosey and his mobile home) have been ill apart from me, HELP! Ellie had an asthma attack, mummy had trapped wind yet no matter how much she let it out (which was often) there was always more, dad had a cold, mosey had worms and the mosiemobile lost his skylight and I’m probably gonna be next! After getting the skylight fixed and going over our budget by about 1200€ (800 bleeping quid!) we left for Cassino just north of Napoli, Just south of Roma and staying in a campsite for 18€ a night! We are going to a monastery and after that we head south for Sicilia!

After leaving one journey, we join another; Italia! One world to another, Clueso to Luigi!

Kill Bill, 9 Ferraris and 5 Villages

What a buzz to drive through Cannes on the last day of the film festival. Just to know that we were in close proximity to the Ocean’s Eleven superstars Brad Pitt, George Clooney et al plus all the who’s who of the world’s film industry. I know it’s terribly shallow but I absolutely loved it. Really really loved it. We drove round and round Cannes for half an hour trying in vain to spot any one of the A-list celebs that must have been in every bar and café on every corner. Alas we didn’t see a single one. But they were obviously just trying to be inconspicuous and blend into the ultra cool crowds. But then as providence would have it, just as we were leaving the cute little sea side town, and all hope had drained from us, right there in front of the Mosiemobile, only a few millimetres away crossing the road on his bicycle, looking tanned, fit and donning the classic American baseball cap and sunglasses was the one and only Bill from the film Kill Bill. David Carridine. Oh such sweet satisfaction. It felt so paparazzi.

Further up the Riviera outside Antibes we stopped for a couple of days at a charming campsite next to both a beach and a national park (where Vonnie managed to get properly lost one morning -but thank the Lord she found herself!). Ellie made mates with an English girl called Hannah in the swimming pool and they played from dawn til dusk in and out the water and with their Nintendo DS.

With Italy calling us we set off on Sunday for the border the other side of Monte Carlo. Lazily heading off at about 2pm we had a drive along the coast completely devoid of any traffic. A little suspicious we soon found out why there wasn’t a car on the road. Out of nowhere vehicles began approaching us from the opposite direction at high speed. First a Ferrari. Then a Porche. Then a brace of yellow Lamborghinis. Followed by countless luxurious 4x4s. All driven by extravagantly dressed sunglass wearing testosterone charged men. It was 3.30pm and we were, completely by coincidence, approaching the 2007 Monaco Grand Prix only minutes after it had finished. The police had just opened up the roads again after the race to let the traffic through but no one was stupid enough, except for us Poopers, to be considering driving through Monaco at that time.

As we drifted through the centre of Monte Carlo metres away from the actual Grand Prix race track, the streets were pulsating with thousands of Grand Prix fanatics, and the air was thick with the aroma of jet fuel mixed with burning rubber. In the space of 20 minutes I caught a glimpse of 9 Ferraris and drooled over countless other luxurious sports cars driving off to their outrageously opulent yachts moored in the harbour or their private helicopters which had begun passing over our heads like flocks of migrating birds. Simply marvellous. Another unforgettable experience we will treasure for the rest of our lives.

3 wonderful weeks in France but we were all ready for Italy. That evening as we crossed over the border in between 2 tunnels where the French A8 motorway became the Italian A10, our first adventure came to an end and our next was beginning. At that moment, quite unexpectedly our excitement erupted with spontaneous cheers for Pizza and ice cream, chants of “Italia, Italia” and a quick rendition of O Sole Mio. We had no idea what we were going to do in Italy, where we actually going to go, or how long it would take us. But it just felt so good to be here.

After a night at a service station we headed off for Levanto and a couple of days of exploring an adorable section of coastline known as the “Cinque Terre”, second only they say to the Amalfi coast. Apart from the stand up rows I had with a parking attendant, getting all of us thrown off a train for unknowingly not signing the back of our family tourist day pass (our first encounter with Italy’s famous non si fa - ‘it’s not the done thing’) and finally with another train inspector for not being prepared to pay a ticket for Moses or to muzzle him, we actually had a terrific time discovering each little historic village built precariously on the edge of the cliffs by generations of Italian peasants hundreds of years before. We took lunch in Consiglia from where bottles of wine were found buried in Pompeii, apparently still full with the Consiglia wine inside them. It tasted pretty good too they say, preserved perfectly under Vesuvius’ ashes over the centuries.

Next Pisa. And its badly built tower. The kids will post up their view of this experience (and the multitude of their other ones when they can stop for a moment from their vivacious existential lifestyle to type up their thoughts). Thanks to Vonnie’s research from the Lonely Planet guide my highlight was a perfect lunch in a back street family run restaurant away from the tourists and in the heart of Pisa’s university district. Von stocked up on reading material for all of us from the university bookshop including an exceptionally insightful and witty book for me which I am in the process of devouring - “The Dark Heart of Italy” by Tobias Jones, an English journo who spent 3 years in Italy trying to understand the complexity of the predominant conservative Italian culture beyond its obvious art, cuisine and history. He writes about the fascinating relationship Italians have with their powerful political and religious institutions and attempts to explain how the endless stories of corruption and crime rife in Italian’s recent post war history have created a morality where, beauty, wealth and cunning are such well respected traits. ‘Wrong doing and crime are invariably excused by the fact that political and church leaders are thought to be up to much worse things and a little tax dodging or bribery by us lesser beings really isn’t that important. Everyone is up to something and you’re stupid if you’re not too.’ A must read for any Italian visitor.

While at the Pisa campsite 15 minutes walk from the Tower and the Duomo, I had another run-in with a low hanging object. This time not a Brockley bridge to knock off our top box, but an equally destructive overhead wire. I was asked to reverse into another space on the site by one of the staff because the one we were in was apparently reserved. I obliged accordingly and an unseen ruinous wire sliced into our roof light shattering it into a few irreparable pieces. Moments later the heavens thundered violently and the rains poured down incessantly for an hour. I sat on the ground, lit my Hamlet cigar and sang a little Que sera sera.

Calling round local garages, we eventually we found someone with a replacement skylight. We drove there, but they didn’t actually have it. They did find another garage for us 150 kms away south of Florence. We arrived 5pm on the Friday of one of Italy’s numerous long Festival weekends for some saint or other. Only to find the Perspex part they had in stock didn’t fit. My basic Italian was getting stretched to its utter limits and my sanity was floundering just a touch at the prospect of spending the next 3 nights with a hole over our heads and the resulting risk to our security. A few deep breaths, 2 hours and 1200 euros later the guys at Due Elle garage had fitted us an entirely new skylight. And to be honest, a better quality one than we had before.

We left with a serendipitous recommendation of a free car park with facilities for motorhomes high up in the Chianti hills at yet another beautifully crafted historic Italian town called Castellini in Chianti. There I met a happy chap and Italian West Ham fan Giuseppe who advised us not to take the ferry to Sicily, which we were considering, but just drive the 800 kms south. He gave us a booklet of all the free decent car park facilities in Italy and told us not stop anywhere near Napoli cos of the robbers. Allora, these things all work out in the end. As we have no plan we can’t get upset from things happening that throw us off a plan we don’t have. We’re free to just enjoy the whole experience. The good and the bad. The hoped for and the feared. The irritations and the kindnesses of the strangers (or inanimate objects) we happen to meet on our way.

Day 30. After a day in Sienna on Saturday and a long drive down the A1 yesterday (waving to Rome promising to return later in the year and fast learning Italian from a CD on the stereo) we are now resting at a tucked away nearly empty tree shaded campsite site in Cassino, north of Napoli. We have been quenching our thirst today drinking directly from the ancient natural Roman springs that flow from the ground into a stream on one side of this site. We’ll pop up after lunch to the top of Monte Cassino to see its magnificent Benedictine monastery. And then head off for the Amalfi coast on our way to Sicily. Andiamo.