Sunday, 22 July 2007

Wild Camping in the Abruzzo Mountains

At last we found a spot where could settle for a few days and rest. 4 days on the side of Lago di Campotosto has been delicious. There’s hardly anyone up these mountains as Italy seems to disappear on mass to the sea for the summer. We’ve shared the space on the side of this hardly used road with Giorgio and Simone, a young couple from Northern Italy and their 2 little dogs Hugo and Pepe. Then for one night with Margo Portrait, a young french dancer from Corsica who’s been working her way round Europe for 15 months. Like us, Margo is looking for some land, somewhere heavenly, on which to build her own home.

The best bit about wild camping is the freeness. Free to wander off the beaten track and find a place with a stunning view for the night. Free then to build our own fires and cook on them. Free to pee in the bushes. Free from the little microculture of campsites with their rules and their people. But best of all free of charges.

The last time we booked into a campsite was a fortnight ago in Alberbello where we stayed for Vonny’s birthday amidst the Trulli of Puglia. Since then we’ve been shown round a couple of abandoned farms to get used to terms of negotiation for when we find the place we know we want to buy. Stopped off to see one of the many sweet towns built around ancient cave dwellings. Nipped up to the Castel del Monte 12th century octagonal masterpiece. Passed through Minervino which had the best vibe. Kipped in a lorry park paying a short fat bloke with a big torch a few euros for our protection. After being impressed by the largest medieval fortress in Europe at Lucerno we headed deep into the Gorganno mountains and baked out first cake in the motorhome for Vonny’s delayed tea party. We’ve also bought sugared almonds from the home of confetti at the original factory in Sulmento (I’m sure Von and Ellie will tell you more about later). We’ve seen the little old ladies dressed in traditional black in Sconno, where we took a walk in the hills and bathed in a fresh mountain stream fountain trough, usually used by flocks of sheep passing to drink.
The evening walks, Passiagiato, in Italy are quite lovely. Everyone comes out to see and be seen walking around the town. The guys come out first at about 5 and sit in the squares in the shade by a bar, drinking coffee and talking together. The girls come out a little later and sit in another part of the square, gathering, chatting. And then the whole city, town or village begins to heave with the mass of people descending for the evening stroll. It’s a wonderful sight, and touching to see how such a regular ritual appears to be a way to connect into the community where you live and a means to make sure everyone is OK. I imagine if you don’t show for Passiagiato for a couple of days, you’d get a call from someone.

Our walk this Sunday evening was in L’Aquilla, another medieval town and some say the capital of Abruzzo. University towns so far have been quite special. They seem to have more of a vibrancy to them and a racial diversity that I’ve found to be a welcome change from some of the mono cultural towns in Italy. The kids played on a bouncy castle in the central piazza, we had ice cream, bought some more English books, and even had time to buy a new outfit for Von from Benetton before finally settling down to yet another delicious pizza this time outside the 14th century church doors of Saint Marco. We stayed the night next to L’Aquilla’s 16th century castle fortress built by the Spanish and met a really lovely dutch couple on tour with a van, Nikko a theologian and Margareed a lecturer in education.

This week in Campotosto has been so relaxing. As each day heats up we take a plunge for a swim and cover our bodies with the silty mud washed down from the various mountainous tributaries that feed this lake, man made in 1939 because it was over farmed of peat. The mineral rich mud instantaneously rejuvenates your skin. I reckon a tub of it would set you back £50 in London. And another £50 for someone to spread it on you. More freeness. Love it. In the afternoons we’ve taken a couple of long bike rides, the first return trip of 23km to the town. A bench mark for the kids. Now they know how far they can ride and just how good your body feels when you finish exercise like that. Evenings are spent gathering vast quantities of wood (and tea smelling grass packed dried cow poop) for the fire on which we cook then watch until it eventually dies out late into the night. Last night we gorged on a huge bbq of meat and salad and the essential toasted marshmallows and realised (thanks to Joshua’s playing with fire experiments) that if you burn the end of your marshmallow stick in acts like a sparkler on Bonfire night and you can make all kinds of patterns in the darkness when you whiz it round fast.
I know gazillions of people have made life changes like us. I know it’s not something new we are doing here. But I do feel incredibly blessed to have the chance to figure out what our life change is going to be without having to do so amidst the pressures of working life in the city. We have all the time we need to muse, to ponder, to wonder at what could be. And from each new experience on this journey we take away a little something that we might just be able to use in our next life.

Next we’re off to Tuscany to see our dearest friends from London Anna and Simon, Anoushka and Hatti currently holidaying in Cortona. Hopefully popping into Assisi and Perugia on the way. It’s a tough life this. And one I’m getting quite attached to already.

Josh - Turning Italian

I’ve decided that waiting a month is too long to wait (for me that is) so I have decided to post randomly, depending on how much we have done, and this last fortnight has been wild.

It has been a fortnight since we were last at a campsite and a fortnight since my last blog so this is about my wild camping experience. I think our tour will be wilder than we thought, because of the fun you find from every day things, like mud. Wake up in a tent, slumber into the roasting morning heat, open up the freezing cold motorhome (we have realised it’s the sun that is hot so we’ve been sticking to the shade), and eat breakfast. After slowly pulling on our swimming costumes on we run down to the lake, jump into the water and take a mud bath worth £150 and cook. The wild cows and flocks of sheep climb up to your motorhome and stare at you like ‘where the heck are you from you human idiots?’ The burnt biscuits that fall off your makeshift spear into the fire go to the cows and the charcoal to the sheep (they will eat absolutely anything!). To wake up in a tent knowing that the billions of sheep that will come round between 9-10 o’clock is a experience that you will remember for the rest of your life. To go down to the lake to swim and knowing that the cows are just around the corner is another memorable experience.

Wild camping gives you Freedom to do anything. Dad has said a lot about Freedom so I will just share my Freedom. Freedom gives you the pleasure (especially for Moses) to wander down to the lake and go for a swim by yourself. Freedom lets you collect the dry tea smelling cow turds for the fire. Freedom lets you play with the still burning ashes of the evening fire and learn about chemistry for the sake of it. Freedom lets you pee where you want when you want (like in the hot ashes of a fire, I will remember to be careful of the sparks next time). Freedom is a thing you will never experience unless the boundaries are billions of miles beyond the horizon, which was what they were for us.

It is so simply easy to turn Italian. Going for the evening passagiata, eating excellent Andy/Jamie Oliver Italian food and let the world go by is all you need to become one with this long living round race. Let me get this over to you; do none of these things you never will truly fit into Italy. Italy is one of those things that flow into you with a little push; reach out for it though, and it will run away. Italy is something that will change you forever and if you don’t want that then you will never experience the fun of Italians. Live Italy, Love Italy and Love Life; that’s the done thing. Make sure you keep some of your old life because Italy is a thing that will change you forever (which is not necessarily a bad thing).

What we have decided to keep is exercise. A few days ago we went for a 23km ride into a town (or more like a piazza with houses) and yesterday dad and me went for a 800-900m swim across the lake with the current (in a lake!?) against us. It took a good 45 minutes, we also had to deal with a kilometre walk back on thorns, boiling concrete and sharp rocks, not to mention the tank loads of sheep poop (it is the Poop in Europe Tour is it not!). Italy has not only surrounded our life but has also crept into us and we are Lovin’ It. Just for extra measure I’m playing football with anybody at anytime possible because cricket is basically unheard of in Italy.

Alright 23km a bit long don’t you think (especially since it is mainly uphill even though it was a round trip)? Ok, get ready by 12:00 get the bikes off the back and start riding. Start going down hill going very fast and feel very cool (both ways). There were a few up hills but still we sped round the corners. We stopped at a fountain and drank. We looked ahead at a huge hill. We pedalled up eventually and looked at little piazza open mouthed. We pedalled back so fast that my wheel reflector shot off at high speed. The swim was hard. It was against the unexplainable tide non-stop and feeling like the shore was moving away from us. When we were 10-20m away from the shore two fishermen started being rude and saying that we were disturbing the fish. For the second time dad cussed in a different language (again in the polite form)! The walk was more painful and our feet are still covered in cuts and bruises. That evening we left towards Tuscany and went through a 5-6 mile long tunnel!

The evening passagiata is the done thing in Italy. It means the passage and it is when everyone comes to stare and get stared at ([sigh] typical Italians)! It is especially amazing because it is always at sunset and normally around the main piazza and the main fountain so it is pretty amazing I must say. The main reason (I think) is so you can make room for the huge 8 o’clock dinner whether it’s pizza or pasta. We bet that if you don’t turn up at passagiata you’ll get about a billion phone calls to see if you’re alright.

Now dressed up and leaving for passagiata. What can you say? We’re turning Italian!

Monday, 9 July 2007


As you know if you have been reading Andy’s blog we are in Italy. We have been through Scilly and are now in Italy again. I am really not sure how I am feeling about this part of our trip. The Walk in March seemed to be about tying up loose ends; the trip to India about exploring the possibility of working with friends and seeing the homeland of yoga. The trip through France was about getting to Italy and getting used to being together. The first part of going into Italy about getting to Scilly before it got too hot, something we absolutely failed at doing since when we got there it was climbing to the 50 degree centigrade mark with a hot wind coming from Africa. Now we have left where we have been aiming to get too and I am feeling a little like so many of the rivers we have seen, large placid and meandering around the land.

Sicily Weeks 1 and 2
I kind of hit a low point in week 6. It seemed we were working towards Sicily for so long and then when we got there I just ran out of steam. I just felt lost and a little purposeless. Sicily was all about the water, mainly because it was just too hot to do anything else. I truly felt on the outside of the experience as I could not swim or bike or snorkel or do any of the things that brought Andy and the kids so much pleasure and relief from the heat. I started longing for land for soil for flowers for my garden. I felt fed up with not being able to speak to anyone with anything more than the most basic Italian. Just generally feeling like a square peg in the round hole of mia familia. I became acutely aware of myself and my own limitations the way I like to see the world and take part in it, i.e. largely on land, by foot and in English and just how limiting that way of seeing has been.

I suspect this is the joy of being in a family. The people who make up your family are so close to you that they reflect your limitations and if they love you can encourage you to expand in as many directions as possible. So with snorkels on eyes and mouth piece clamped between my teeth holding onto Andy’s shorts I went snorkelling into the deep waters on the hottest day of the year so far. All around us there were fires burning and the inhospitability of the land just pushed me into the water. Live freely or die trying I said to myself but whatever you do let go of the limits and live. What a beautiful day that was, I saw very little of the ocean creatures as I was so bloody terrified; but I could feel Andy being so proud of me and the children loving me being with them and that was enough.

Sicily will always feature warm in my heart as it is where the home-schooling has really taken off. The kids have taught me to ride a bike and to swim and every morning I try to learn a little Italian. Little did I know that when we started out I would be the one learning, learning, learning but it is so good to be taught by them, a great privilege. To be honest I started to feel a little younger day by day especially when Ellie and I spent over an hour doing handstands in the water or Josh and I played volley ball. Or even when Andy and I just lay on our sides shutting one eye and then the other or just jabbered about nothing in particular. I never seemed to have time to do these things in London but these are the experiences that make you feel so silly, young and free and don’t cost you a penny.

Sicily is indeed bellissima. The beaches reminded me so much of Barbados and the Sicilians are incredibly friendly, warm just like the climate until they get too hot. The heat of the people can be experienced in its finest when driving. So many times I was certain someone was going to crash into us as waiting for anyone is not the done thing. However with our mouths wide open and many times my eyes squeezed shut we managed to stay intact.

You can not have warmth without some heat and when these Italians are good oh they are so good. They move in packs, large groups of families, they do the same things at the same time, like arrive on the beach at 10 and leave at 1 and be back at 3 and leave at 6. They all wear bikinis no matter how big or small how young or old. I love that, big lovely mamas without a care in the world, I felt so at home amongst them and very small! They all bring umbrellas to the beach and lie under them or swim very gentling and then go swiftly back to the work of lying down. When camping they bring what looks like their entire homes with them and they eat, eat, eat and talk, talk, talk. The family is a beautiful thing to behold here. To be a Mama is an honour a privilege something close to sainthood and even more so if your children are even a little attractive. Joshua and Eloise have been absorbed into several large families for an evening or two leaving Andy and I waiting up for them wondering when we will be allowed to go to bed. Children are never a problem and always a pleasure and as they are so incorporated into everything that is good about the world I felt so proud of myself for having them.

Sicily Week 3
I am feeling quite comfortable now, even beginning to feel a little comfort with the stares for as soon as I brave a Buona Sera or a Buonjourno the smiles light up faces that would otherwise be thought of as extremely austere. There have been many times when we have arrived at a place apprehensive as to what we will find only to have people cross the street walk up to our camper and say would you like a glass of wine or beer (never a cup of tea which is what I would really want). Or to offer us cake or biscuits or fruit or a welcome just anything that they have on offer at the time. I have even started introducing myself as Maria (my middle name) as opposed to Vonetta. Vonetta just seemed to be too confusing a name. Whenever I introduce myself as Maria the warmth that comes from them is incredible. “Ah Maria, that is a good name” punctuated by kisses on both cheeks and lots of hand holding and even some crossing of the chest on their part. I love it! Yet it also speaks of another side of Italy the side that wants everything as it has always been as it is supposed to be. So that while I enjoy the warmth I also fear the implicit cultural control. But as a visitor it is all good and the kisses from the black clad grandmas is too yummy to think about any further.

Moses has even managed to be a big hit in Sicily. Very surprising as many Sicilians are extremely afraid of dogs. Sadly, many people simply use their dogs as guard dogs, locked in a small space all day these poor creatures become mad with boredom and fear. After three weeks in Sicily we could understand and appreciate that fear. Moses charmed himself into many hearts by swimming. And swim, swim, swim is all he has been doing. We have even taken to continuing his training in the water. The throw of a stone brings him even more pleasure than a treat and I have looked up often to see a small crowd of families watching then clapping saying Bravo, molto buono.

I am sad to be leaving Sicily but it is just too hot now and I think we have come to the conclusion that it is not the place for us. A wonderful place to holiday by the beach but that is just not enough for us.

We have now arrived in Calabria in Italy and have stopped for the night at the home of a family from Tuscany at their summer bolt hole in the mountains. I can not begin to express how wonderful it is to be here. The air is deliciously crisp and cool as if God himself is blowing a gentle breeze on us, greatly appreciated after being hot and dry for so long. All around us there are fields and mountains, mountains and trees. The yellow laburnum flowers are coming out all over the mountain sides so that the air is filled with their gently sweet smell. Jazz is playing , Ellie is reading her latest book, Josh is reading over my shoulder, Moses is lying at my feet and Andy is cooking a risotto, “tutt’a posto”, everything in place, as they say. I think we will stay here another night after all what else is there to do other than whatever is happening.

We are really quite high up in the mountains and have stopped off for the night a home/restaurant/camper parking place. It is owned by a truly gregarious Italian he could not be more archetypal if he tried. Round in the middle, red in the face with long laugh lines, quick to laugh loudly and gesticulate wildly. His name, Guiseppe! Perfetto!

Leaving Guiseppe and travelling through the Pollino mountains I have fallen in love and am certain we will be back here. Everywhere we look there is nothing but mountain and high rolling plateaux, goats, sheep, cows with musical bells. This time our welcome came from two Golden Eagles, one carrying a newly acquired snake and the other trying to steal it. As we drove down we realised the snake-free Eagle decided to check out our motor home and swooped down to around three feet from my window. Hearing these beautiful creatures calling out over the mountain landscape, their cries carried by the wind, was enough. But to see them carrying prey and then to have one come so close to my window, well…

From Basilicata to Puglia
So what is happening with me, Von? Well not a lot and everything at the same time. It’s my birthday tomorrow, 8th of July 2007 a Sunday. I was born on a Sunday and I think birthdays which occur on the day you were born are somehow more special than any other. In fact today seems even more significant for so many reasons as it is the 07-07-2007 I lived in Barbados for 17 years, England for 17 and who knows where for the next 17! We are also in Puglia and it’s about 7 months ago that I saw Puglia on a travel programme and thought, “what a lovely place I would like to go there” not for a moment actually thinking I would. You see the Barbadian girl in me still speaks and says those places are just too far and too expensive and too foreign and yet here I am! In Puglia and feeling very happy. Honestly speaking I can not think of one negative thing to say about our experiences in Italy so far even the scary ones outlined above have been appreciated; just life happening as necessary as love, happiness and good times, all legitimate all adding to the adventure.

The drive to Basilicata to Puglia was indeed a long one. We had two days waiting in a WWF car park for a vet who we felt would not take advantage of us. Moses had been bitten by another dog on his paw and it was a little swollen. We were not too worried as he was still his old self rushing to the sea as soon and as often as possible, still it needed looking at. As it turned out the vet was lovely and gave us yet another lead to the possibility of finding a new home. That is how it feels really that we are being given leads or clues by the people we meet having no real plan but just following the latest scent.

Anyway back to Puglia, after the long drive and a stop off at a shopping mall to kit out the outside of the motorhome and a stop off to fix our leaky gas we decided to set out for Puglia. My reaction to being in a shopping mall revealed the truly natural life we have been living. The experience sent me into sensory overdrive and left me hiding in the motorhome like the coward I am, leaving Andy and the kids to brave the shiny surfaces on their own. Not an experience I am hoping to repeat soon.

Generally speaking I have found the architecture in Southern Italy (apart from the Duomos and Churches) just a little dull, square and uninspiring. Puglia is famous for its olives, wine, pasta and Trulli. I had seen a few of the Trulli on the programme about Puglia and was expecting to have to hunt out the dwellings in the usual archaeological sites. However, as we turned a corner into Alberobello…. we were suddenly orbitally blessed with the site of a previously unimaginable number of these whitewashed circular stone tepees complemented by beautiful whitewashed homes, rich red well turned earth, olive trees, gardens and a vast sky. Being a lover of mountains and hills or expanses of water I was surprised by my appreciation of the flat landscape not only because of the vast sky and uninterrupted views of the beautiful Trulli but also because I knew my cycling muscles would be grateful for a break from mountain cycling.

We haven’t quite as yet walked through the towns to see the Trulli up close as we have chosen to hang out in our delightfully and surprisingly simple campsite with the newly upgraded motorhome. (This picture added after we saw the Alberbello yesterday.) You see we spent a lot of the time in Sicily thinking wouldn’t it be nice to live outside of the motorhome more, seduced by the large Sicilian family camping style. So we bought two tents so the kids can sleep outside (result!); a dining room table, a pretty table cloth and a large ground sheet to which we have created a sitting area or dance floor as Ellie prefers to see it. However now we have arrived at a campsite with simple rented caravans and not one single extended table, armchairs or any of the other home away from home stuff we had grown accustomed to seeing and coveting when in Sicily. So instead of looking like another well equipped Sicilian family on a camping holiday, we look like total urbanites bringing as many creature comforts as possible.

The day has been spent, cleaning, tidying, swimming, painting toenails (girls only) singing and dancing. Ellie has this amazing new bikini which I wouldn’t have been caught dead in not even when it was possible for me to wear such a thing. Andy frowns everytime he looks at it, I guess he can see that she is no longer a baby and blossoming perhaps a little quicker than any protective father would wish. But this is Italia after all and I love seeing how happy it makes her to wear it. Josh is hanging out being the little Andy and I can see that he wants so much to be like Dad now that Andy is around all the time. I can’t help staring at them all for even in the thick of having a good time just being family I can feel the time passing, the kids growing and leaving and these moments quickly becoming fond memories to keep us warm in our old age. The slow letting go of their parents is so bittersweet to watch and be a part of esp when there really is nothing else to do but watch it.

It truly is amazing to live like this for the moment to have no other agenda but to live in each moment, to not know where we will be going next or whether a little Barbadians girls dreams will come true and then waking up day after day and finding that all my dreams are coming through one by one. When I think of all the things I could have been an artist, a lawyer, a doctor unfortunately never a singer (next life), I am so grateful for being the thing I am at this moment Andy’s wife, Ellie and Josh’s and Moses and Angel’s Mum and just Von on the edge of being 34!.

As to the question “Could I be one of the pack? Could I live in Sicily or in Italy?” Who knows, I most certainly don’t and right now I couldn’t care less too busy just living right here and right now and exploring Puglia tomorrow.

Last night I dreamt I was dancing. Dancing in a large richly coloured room. Dancing to ballroom music. The room seemed to sparkle without lights. I was dancing but my dancing partner was not in front of me, my partner was behind me dancing close. Holding my left hand with their left hand and holding my waist with the right arm my partner danced close taking every step I took and breathing in time with every breath I made. My partner was my dear sweet Mum and behind her, her mother and behind her, her mother and today I danced with Ellie. I just want to keep dancing. Do I miss you all? Do I wish my friends and extended family were here with me? No, because I now think that all the people who have been part of my life so far are here with me all making me the person I am and the person I am yet to be. Ci vediamo! Maria.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Peaches and plonc from a pastor in Pollino

They always say you never really appreciate what you have until it’s gone. But in the midst of having everything, of having it all, I think you can. I’m sitting outside our Mosiemobeel (on one of 4 Ikea style wooden fold away chairs that just made our day when we saw them last week at a beach side market stall), at 2 o’clock in the afternoon while my family, including the adorable Moses at my feet, are sleeping in what we’ve all, including the dog, have just realised in this part of the world, is the essential pastime of siesta. Everything is shut so you can’t do or see nuffink anyways, but still for 8 weeks we managed to knacker ourselves out in these wee afternoon hours labouring away at something or other while we should have all been sleeping. So while they are sleeping today, I type.

The view all around us here is unbelievably breathtaking. The photo here doesn’t capture it in the slightest. The feeling is like being in a set from a movie - I keep half expecting the animated horse ‘Spirit’ to run over the nearest hill neighing in unadulterated pleasure at being so free. It’s timeless here. It’s magnificent. It’s miles away from the now tired and deeply unstimulating experience of life in Italy’s beachside chocker campsites where we’ve been forced to frequent after our gas ran out a few days ago. Now, refilled with gas, we’re 10k from the nearest paese, in between Morano Calabro and Mormanno, slap in the middle of the Pollino national mountain park in the north of Calabria, Italy’s southern most state. Staying at another agrotourism place – a summer bolt hole of an elderly couple from Tuscany who themselves just arrived yesterday - they’ve put in water and electricity so campers can stay in their fields and revel in such resplendent views. We’re the only people here, which sweetens the idyllic experience.

We crossed the ferry from Sicily last week and have been meandering our way up the eastern side of the sole of Italy’s boot. Stopping over on the sea promenade at Brancaleone; lunching at an hearty family trattoria in the thousand year old georgeous hillside town of Gerace; resting a day on the beach at a campsite near Stilo; getting ripped off at a pretentious seaside seafood restaurant past Soverato, then doing an early morning runner to avoid paying the remainder of the €110 for 2 course meal; and eventually ending up at a huge city of a campsite in woods next to the beach in Sibari. We fled the mundane and took a tour of yet another extraordinary Calabrian mountain town called Civita, which proudly overlooks an impressive gorge to a gushing river a few thousand feet below. Unfortunately our motorhome was a touch too big for its tiny streets (fit only for cars the size of those nifty little Fiat 500s) and after the kind help of 8 locals including 4 pushing on one side to avoid scrapping the bottom of the coach, we manoeuvred our way to a safe parking space on a hill next to a house from which an old bearded pastor emerged to offer us his home made white wine and a bag full of large nectarines, which he implored us to consume together. Peaches dipped in plonc. If you’ve not tried it, you must. Superb combination. Go on. Buy some today.

Back to the appreciation of now thing. The day is nearing when our children will enter the phenomenon of teenagedom. It might not be as an horrific rite of passage for us as it usually is for most (thank you Potts for being such an exemplary inspiration to the contrary), but nevertheless change is afoot. I sense it. I sniff it in the air. It is the smell of inevitability. What we have now, with the kids as delightful as they are, in these precious moments, in these days that we cannot relive, in these dramatic mountainous landscapes, on this irrefutably enchanting episode, I know will not last forever. They will all disappear in a twinkling. Children into adventurous adults. Effervescent swimming puppy into prolific stately sire. This watchless travelling, musing and dreaming will morph one day soon in its right time into planning, building and engaging once again with people in some shape or form somewhere or the other. But today there is only really one thing to do. Cherish. To treasure this outstanding family of mine. To bask in their sunshine and simply to play. For on occasions like these, when all is quiet (except for their surprisingly harmonious little snores) I hear with exceptional clarity a voice speaking to me from the future. The voice is recognisable and it is mine. It is my 70 year old self once again urging me to waste no more time on the futility of life’s busyness but simply to “walk more, listen more, kiss more”. Obediently I proceed. After my nap I’ll attempt to master another of Jamie Oliver’s Italian recipes for our supper this evening. But first I might just have to nip into town for some more peaches and plonc. As it’s a tip from a pastor, it might just become the first religious habit I’ve practiced in a while.

Josh’s Month 2 – Sicily & Italy

Our drive through Italy was full of beauty and wonder as we drove through the mountains laughing and learning Italian as dad drove; stopping to watch the last rays of the red sun go down behind a mountain or little village. The sights are unforgettable, sticking in your mind and filling it up with questions and thoughts that just make you cry, whether because of sheer amazement, or love for the planet that we live on.

We are having lots of fun driving through the tiny village streets with Italians speeding down in their scooters and Ducati’s or even a 40ft coach! No matter how annoying the experience we never can hold back the laugh of Italian driving! The funniest parts are when the five foot Italian men step out of there BMW’s look up at our six foot two dad, struggle to find words to tell us to get off the road so the only thing they do say is ‘Midispiaaaaaaaaache’, and scamper back into their cars and reverse as fast as possible towards the next turning, eyes wide and red in the face. Luckily we have enough self-control to hold the laugh back long enough to take our turning and then let out the ear-splitting-laugh that stops us from breathing for a good 30 seconds!

It is amazing how the people react to the temperature. When its warm (which it can be) they are warm, when it’s hot (which it almost always is) they can be a bit grumpy, and when its cold (which seems almost impossible) even the coach drivers have an ear to ear smile that is impossible to erase (they have the same face when they get their way!). The Italian culture is similar in the places we have been so far. The boys have short hair until they become 14 – 15, and so I’ve had some pretty nasty looks from adults and children alike. To be polite almost all the men over 30 have stomachs the size of three beach balls! The strange thing is that the girls like boys with long hair (which I hate because my hair is constantly being played with), and the men laugh and call me Ronaldinho! What makes us laugh almost as much as their driving is the way they move in groups. For example, theirs a 250m beach that’s exactly the same all the way along, and only 35-50m of that is used up by about 100-175 Italians, so 200m is left for anyone who wants it!

Our first week in Sicily was spent wondering where all the people went between 12 and 4. I don’t have to say why they disappeared at mid-day, 40-50ºC is too hot to do anything let alone drive, which, is what we were doing at that time because it takes a good 3 hours to get the mosismobile ready and another hour to get ourselves ready, and by then it’s 12 and 5 is too late to drive, we would still be in France if we left at that time!

If it seems like the Italian driving is too bad for you, don’t go to Sicily, you might explode. If I wrote a list of the bad driving it would be about one word long. If I wrote a list of terrible driving maybe ten words long. But if I wrote a list of unthinkable driving in Sicily it would stretch round the world 100 times with 50 metres to spare in the tiniest writing possible! For example in one instance a 4.5ft Sicilian man with a 4-beach-ball-belly got out of his coach and ran at dad at 5 mph his personal terminal velocity because he wanted to come down a narrow road first. Before dad could open the door fully the man slammed the door on dad’s fingers and shouted at him in quick rough Italian, trying to scare him by saying they will call the police. Dad knows when to let his temper go, smartly, this wasn’t one of those times. He may not speak much Italian, but dad knows how to silence a Sicilian, the only problem is Sicilians hate to be silenced, so he stormed back to his coach wide eyed and red in the face with anger.

Parking, don’t get me started because I might never stop! The amount of double parking on roads just wide enough for a SICILIAN car and truck to fit through could fill Asia the US and Europe! When there are no parking spaces they stick the nose of the car in between two other cars and call that parking! The Sicilians may be crazy drivers but they are warm expressive people and have been lovely to be with.

It’s funny, everyone has a dog, but everyone is afraid of dogs. If you went to Sicily you would see why. Dogs are frequently locked up going mad with boredom. Funnily enough (or maybe not so funny) they use one of the friendliest dogs, the golden retriever, as guard dogs, which give Moses a bad name. But when they see Moses lying down oblivious about what his teeth can do they swarm round saying “Bello canne, Come si Chiama?” And we reply “si chiama Moses.” They start pampering Moses and he replies by rolling on his back and thinking ‘left a little, no, no right, up, down, Ahh that’s the spot!’ We have had some scary moments with dogs attacking Moses; the most recent one was when a golden retriever attacked Moses going for his throat but caught his foot, he now has a plaster on it. This was a time though for dad to let his temper go and he did just that. The dog went for Moses again and dad shouted, “NO! STAY!” (Then something in Italian) Now he started to speak to the owner who was an old farmer “LEI MOLTO STUPIDO! IL CANNE é MOLTO PERICOLOSO!” (You are very stupid! That dog is very dangerous!) Since dad is English and he just cussed the old man in Italian, the old man must have felt very stupid! As for dad he felt very proud of himself (as he should do), he defended the youngest of our very small pack.
The other way Moses pulls people towards him is by his swimming! He loves swimming so much Mummy got him to do left right and out! Mummy finally got over her fear of the sea and is swimming with the rest of us. Once you overcome your fear you look back and think how silly you were, which is true for many things. We are still beaching everyday (almost), and snorkelling. There was a very special snorkelling moment where mummy finally realised she could float. There were fires all around us one just a couple of streets away and mummy dad and me were snorkelling oblivious. We saw a huge shoal of BIG fish and I dived down to touch them. It is so easy to fall in love with something as beautiful as the sea, and that is what happened to mummy, she fell in love.

Biking has been a miracle. Mummy has learnt just as much as me and Ellie and maybe more. She has learnt how to play cricket, swim and bike! Before we left my great aunty sally gave mummy an old fashioned bike and that is how mummy has learnt to ride. She is no longer the beginner who crashed into fences; she is the intermediate who rides 6km to the shops to get us dinner! Mummy now has the same pleasure that Dad Ellie and I have biking and swimming. One last thing, roller-skating!

Ellie has listened to her MP3 loads. Get driving, MP3. When she’s bored, MP3. When she’s got nothing else to do, MP3! It is like she is addicted to music!Ellie has also learnt how to play cricket, and a lot about maths. Sometimes she is a pleasure to be with (when Ellie and I have full stomachs), but sometimes She can be a royal pain!

We have all learnt something, I have learnt about KS3 chemistry and algebraic equations. Mummy has learnt how to play cricket swim and bike. Ellie has learnt to play cricket and maths, and dad has improved his Italian.

We are now driving through the Pollino mountains in Italy at 12:35 4th July, we still haven’t got used to mid-day siestas!

How to eat an ice-cream - by Eloise

#1 Lick round the sides of the ice cream until it no longer drips, and that it’s in the shape of a top hat.

#2 Eat off the top of the ice cream until it is flat.

#3 now blow in-to the cone and when you hear a crackling sound stop, and look in side if it has gone down then your doing the right thing!

#4 munch around the cone until your tongue meets with the ice cream.

#5 finally, do what you want!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!