Thursday, 24 January 2013

First photos of work in progress - mostly dirt!

I'm a visual person so photos of work in progress make me happy.  Even photos where I have no idea what's really going on in them make me happy!

This week I got the project managers' first photos for both the UK project and the Italian one.  It's the second week of work and both projects are starting off on the lowest level so the photos mostly show the ground being dug up, but I think it's still obvious which project is which, even without McDonalds bags or Starbucks cups in view!

So let's see who's reading and whether you can distinguish British groundwork from Italian!
One project is in Hastings, Southern UK and the other is in Monopoli, Southern Italy.  
Based on these photos which project do you want your holiday in?!

Project A

Project B

(All photos courtesy of project managers.  Thank you)

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The builders have started - woohoo!

Last night I signed the contract with the builder so today was the first day of work on our new house.  Is it wrong that I want to be there watching?  I'm imagining the old water-stained plaster coming off the walls to reveal beautiful centuries-old tufo stone, but in reality they are probably just clearing the site and taking the doors off so I can wait!  Maybe tomorrow...!

I've realised that I will make compromises on this project in a way I don't back in UK.  For example, in UK I would browse different fridges or baths online and easily compare dimensions and prices, but here shopping seems to be done by going in person into shops - can you imagine?!  With my limited Italian and limited patience I suspect I'll settle for what I can find rather than continue trawling round and round for the perfect piece!  In UK I would likely order as much as 75% my fixtures and fittings via ebay for the great prices and convenience of having everything delivered to the door, but I'm not sure that's going to happen here either.  The answer to every question whether it be where to source a kitchen, bathroom tiles or sofa seems to be "there is a great shop in the next town; very high quality".  Fantastic except, (and this is where I get most nervous) everything here is such good quality, I am afraid my "economical" approach to kitting out a property which in UK is good business, may be seen here as a crude weakness!  Will I be seduced by the "it will last 50 years" quality products that are the norm here?  I'm as frustrated as the next person by washing machines that pack up a week outside the 12 month warranty, but will I have stunning glass Bisazza tiles at £120/sqm lining my bathroom 6 months from now?

Given the UK is, let's be honest, a small country and Italy is proud to be home to the best designer labels, it has surprised me just how much influence GREAT Britain has.  English words turn up on T Shirts with surprising frequency (I find it amusing/bizarre that so many parents have no concept of what their children's clothing announces!), shops have English names and even the iconic Union Jack and other symbols of Britain sometimes pop up where you least expect them.

Makes one quite proud!  Rule Britannia!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Food glorious food!

I used to think of myself as unfussy when it comes to food.  Ask me and I'll tell you there's only one food I don't go near - mushrooms - but I'll give most things a try and will happily dig in whether it's Chinese, Thai, Indian, Mexican... you get the picture.  Then I came to Puglia!  

I'm still trying to give most food offered to me a go, but some I do not plan to revisit for a while.  For example, fennel!  I have never knowingly had this in any form in UK.  It's one of those mysterious ingredients in a recipe that will stop me making the dish.  Does anyone in UK eat raw fennel?  I was surprised to see kids chomping away at what looks like a type of onion but was told it was dolce (sweet) so thought I'd try some!  Sweet?!  It's aniseed overload in vegetable form!  Not convinced!

For the first time in my life I feel awkward if asked about my food preferences.  A friend offered vegetable soup, and I declined as I only like chicken soup/broth.  I always ask for just a taste of pasta dishes rather than take the bowlful offered as the first course of any meal, as it's too heavy for me.  I now know fennel is out!  So no soup, no pasta and truth be told <whispers> I don't actually like tomatoes!  How on earth am I going to survive in Italy?

Well, I'll tell you how - check out breakfast:
croissants and nutella-filled pastries 
"chocolate salami"
I mean, obviously, there's more than just pastry and chocolate on offer, but you could get by on just this and a few veggies for lunch and dinner right?!

I am probably more obsessed with chocolate and dessert then the average brit, but I think it's fair to say dessert is a less important part of the meal here than it is in UK.  Often fresh fruit will precede or sometimes replace dessert (although it's so ripe and delicious I forgive them!) and many restaurants offer a simple choice of lemon sorbet or lemon gelato (ice cream) after a meal as opposed to a full "dessert menu" as you might get in UK.  Truth is, when it's so warm, the appeal of a full-on melt-in-the-middle chocolate fondant or sticky toffee pudding is diminished somewhat  - but just somewhat!  I can't see that I'll be losing my sweet tooth anytime soon!

One dessert that's popular here that doesn't have a real comparison in UK is the ice cream cake.  It is the most incredible mix of, as an example, chocolate trufflle, vanilla and hazelnut ice creams plus all sorts of additions like biscuit pieces and swirls of chocolate sauce through it.  You buy it whole in a bombe-shape and serve in slices.  So delicious and a definite step up from Viennetta!  Reckon I'll be okay here!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


I hear it was snowing yesterday across a lot of UK including London and the south-east.  Here it was 14 celsius. Now, that may sound a little smug, but I mention it as I have been really feeling the cold here despite it being so mild compared to the 2 or 3 degrees when I left UK!  How long does it take to get acclimatised?  My friend thinks I'm turning into a proper Puglian already!

P.S. Dangerously upping the smugness level, but have I mentioned yet how much I love the sea?  The first day of this trip I got tears in my eyes seeing it glisten in the sunlight and thinking this was my new home.  Last night it caught me by surprise again hearing the sound of the waves when everything else was quiet.  We don't have our dream home yet as our new house isn't directly on the seafront but I think I can live with a 3 minute walk for now!

Monday, 14 January 2013

A trying day

There's no nice way to put this: I got very hot under the collar today while dealing with my project manager and lost my calm veneer a little for the first time ever in Italy, which made me really uncomfortable.  The joke is, this wasn't in the meeting with the builder and project manager for our new Italian home but on the phone a couple of hours earlier with the project manager of a UK project I have starting at just the same time!  Who'd have thought the Italian one would be the easy one (so far - let's wait to see how many weeks it is before I am eating those words!)

I find it bizarre that my two very different projects in two different countries would end up with the work starting the same week and pretty much identical finish dates too in mid-June.  Here's to making sweeping generalisations or critical comparisons between UK and Italian builders, their work ethic and excuses as time goes on!  Who will come out on top?!  I have an idea - what do you think?

Tomorrow I'm going with the builder and my friend to see an example of his previous work in a countryside villa.  He told me today about a marble bath he put in that cost €13,000 (more than £10,000!) so I think the scale and grandeur may be a couple of notches up from ours!  Still, I'm up for pinching as many ideas as I can!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Looking for inspiration...

Today has been split between trying to get this blog looking better (probably a little too pared back now but trying to get my photo uploaded for the background was driving me crazy!) and scanning blogs for design ideas for our new house (infinitely more fulfilling!).

I have a good idea of the eventual look of the interiors already.  But the reality of moving from our 3 bed house to a 1 bed maisonette, albeit with 2 guest apartments below, means we will be downsizing as we won't be keeping personal items in the guest apartments.   So clever storage is uppermost in my mind as I try to maintain my ideals of clutter-free space and un-obstructed light while building in space for all our stuff!  I keep reminding myself of this quote:
Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful - William Morris 
Unfortunately, I seem to have an ongoing mental block when it comes to exterior design.  Inspiration never came when planning our garden here in UK and I'm similarly struggling with our future roof terrace which will double up as a second reception and dining room.

***Prepare yourselves - this is your first photo of our supposedly (soon-to-be) glamorous Italian home!!***

The polite phrase is that it has potential, right?!
Go on!  Have a laugh at how grotty it is so I can do a proper Sarah Beeny/Kevin McCloud reveal later!
We're re-roofing it all so can start from scratch.  What's your dream roof terrace?  Loungers?  Day bed?  Outdoor shower?  Hot tub?  Plants?  It's overlooked so we also want to create privacy without losing the sense of space or blocking the sunlight (or violating planning laws!).  Please share your vision!

Monday, 7 January 2013

Happy New Year!

It's 2013!  This year we sell our UK home and make the move to Italy!  We only started talking about it during our September visit, then found our property the same week, completed the purchase a few days before Christmas and have builders starting this week!  Are we lucky or stupidly impulsive that things are moving so quickly?!

There are some things that are so very different in Italy, I wonder how we'll adjust.  I'm not too worried about the language or the slower pace of life, but the women I know look fantastic all the time!  One recently told me it's the norm for women young and old to have a hairdresser come to their house to blow dry their hair every week!  I couldn't believe it but she does, her mother does, her mother-in-law, her sisters-in-law and so on.  I haven't figured out how they stay so slim eating all that pasta and cheese, but I have at least solved the mystery of the glossy tumbling curls!  Plus, having read that Italian men like their women to wear heels at all times, I'm yet to see my friends in flip flops or sandals, but then I'm already taller than half the men, so I'm not sure if I ought to tower any higher!

So, in a nutshell, while my inner snob thinks how lovely to be surrounded by such well-presented and classically fashionable ladies (chav chic hasn't reached Puglia yet!) my inner slob panics that I may re-inforce all their preconceptions of British fashion with my hair blasted with a hairdryer, last season's jeans and virtually flat cowboy boots!
Oh the shame!

tough guy + fur-trimmed purple puffa!

P.S. Even the men wear tighter and more colourful clothes than I wear - a gay friend confided that his gaydar has real problems when it encounters "Europeans"!

P.P.S. Reassuring: whatever differences in our appearances, we're all the same underneath!