Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Monopoli by night

Just a quick one today to share with you (a couple of very bad photos that barely do it justice but perhaps give a sense of atmosphere of) the delights of Monopoli at night.

Monopoli's a fairly unassuming coastal town.  It doesn't tend to feature on must-see guides to Puglia or have any great claim to fame, but to those of you of romantic disposition, none of that will matter.  Head into the centro storico (old town) and you will find high walls complete with historic cannons, cosy restaurants, a sandy beach and any number of corners that when turned will yield the surprise of an incredible ancient building.  Yes, this is where my new Italian home is and I love it!

Wander the intimate winding cobbled streets, take in the beautiful architecture and the sound of the sea and let your troubles melt away...

Monopoli Cathedral

Piazza outside Monopoli Cathedral

Thursday, 18 April 2013

How not to make a salad!

Yesterday, I did what friends told me couldn't be done in my new hometown - picked a bad restaurant!  It was one I've admired many times when walking round the centro storico, with its impossibly grand front doors, triple height rooms and sophisticated lighting scheme so I thought I'd treat myself, figuring it was mid-week so they'd hopefully let me in, even wearing jeans and without a reservation.

I was greeted and shown to a table, too late to realise there was a projector screening a giant football match onto one of the walls and speakers spouting the commentary in every corner!  I appeared to have walked into the only sports bar in Puglia!  Inside were just the young man who had greeted me and his friends, all loudly cheering on the football!  The DJ booth and inadequate toilet facilties in this otherwise refined building all re-inforced that this was a man space!  Still, I was here now and too British to get up and walk out so I chose a salad and pledged to use the time to find design inspiration for my new house.

My food arrived and I'm not one for photographing my meals so I hope my description will do it justice: white bowl heaped full of chopped lettuce, small cubes of cheese and slices of cured meat - so far so satisfactory.  On top of this were (not sure how to put this) "deposits" of squeezy cheese!

I have never seen a restaurant in UK use squeezy cheese in a salad.  I imagine you'd have to work hard even in America, the home of squeezy cheese, to find a restaurant who thought it was okay to use squeezy cheese in a salad.  But here in Puglia, famed for its organic, home-grown produce, this restaurant has squeezy cheese!  I picked my way around it but unfortunately one of squeezy cheese's qualities is its ability to "smush" into gaps and stick to everything it touches.

I felt queasy at the thought of it all evening and my dream involved huge spots being squeezed and white gunk coming out in long continuous stripes a la squeezy cheese!  Ugh!  This ragazza is traumatized!

P.S.  A quick google of squeeze cheese and the urban dictionary definition adds a little something extra to this subject.  This was not the squeeze cheese deposited on my salad - I hope!

Friday, 12 April 2013

What lies beneath - uncovering the structure of an Italian centro storico home.

Having never seen a centuries-old Italian house stripped back before, I wasn't sure what the structure would look like: it felt naive to think it could be solid stone through and through!

In UK, if you take up the carpets and pull down the ceiling you'll very likely have wooden floorboards below and wooden joists above as seen in these photos from the UK project I'm running just now.

Wooden joists and roof supports

Wooden joists and floorboards
Not so in Italy.  While UK plumbers lift a few floorboards to put new pipework in, Puglian plumbers dig channels in the concrete!  Here's some pics of the new showerrooms for the holiday apartments:

New shower

New toilet and bidet

New sink
 The old stone flooring's been taken up on the first floor and there's no floorboards there either.

New sandpit in the living room!
The mezzanine level has been rebuilt without any boards.

Unsupported stairs in this photo make me really nervous!

Never fear,  Signore silver fox builder's here!
So far, I have found just one tiny piece of wood: the lintel over an internal door within a load-bearing wall.  Not sure whether it was likely to be part of of the original structure.
Door in the marshmallow pink bedroom!
It'll soon be tiled over as part of the new en suite so here's a pic for prosperity!

Is this the only piece of wood in the entire structure?!
So is this contrast due to the materials in plentiful supply - wood in UK, stone in Puglia - or is the lack of wood in this Puglian house due to the greater risk of fires in the hotter climate?  Any other theories?

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Does it absolutely always have to be safety first?!

I'm having a dilemma: a quandary of aesthetics vs practicality.

It is not unusual in Italian homes to see open staircases, where you could, if a little careless, fall over the edge!  They increase the sense of space, they look better and you can get furniture up them much more easily without the restriction of 2 walls.  So there is just the itty bitty problem of potentially falling off!

Open stairs don't contravene building regs or health and safety regulations in Italy like they do in UK, but the look on my friend's face when I brought the subject up was as if I'd put her child's name in the draw for the Hunger Games!  It's one thing to potentially alienate the family market from my 2 holiday apartments, but I really don't want to stop my friends with kids from coming to stay.

A quick google suggests that the biggest worry would be 1-2 year olds, but also brought up articles about parents moving away from child-proofing everything and instead teaching children how to explore safely.  Here's someone else's views on the same dilemma.

So, come on, help me out here!  I really need to hear what you think:

  • How old are your kids and could they handle these stairs with ease?
  • With what age kids would such staircases cease to be a worry?
  • Would open stairs make you avoid the apartments altogether?
  • How do you feel about these type of stairs as an adult?
  • Is it just plain stupid to not have a handrail or barrier on stairs I'll be renting to Joe Public?!

"Look mum, no hands!"