Thursday, 22 August 2013

Scavenging: savvy or scummy?!

One man's junk?

I am sure it isn't the done thing in Italy, but when I saw the guys renovating the apartment opposite ours loading up my builder's van with furniture I couldn't resist going to have a look!

A bit of garbled Italian later and look what I have!

You beauty!

I'm not sure if anyone else finds it beautiful but it's huge!  To get an ornate wooden mirror of this size in UK would have cost me at least £70, probably double that from a decent second hand furniture shop, so I'm thrilled, not least because of the story attached!

Once it's painted it'll be stunning.  And if not, it'll have cost me just a bit of time and paint!

Seeing my enthusiasm for the mirror, the guys were kind enough to invite me up to the apartment to see what else I might like!  Italian antiques are typically dark wood and immaculate so there were some stunning pieces, all sadly destined for the tip but mostly too big for our new home.

With just half an hour until I left for my flight and because everything was being thrown that day I rather impulsively rescued a few chairs.  I'll have a closer look but I suspect they'll cost too much to renew so I'm afraid this may be just a brief respite before they're dumped!

Worth the effort?

These also caught my eye.  They are not at all my usual minimalist style, but I did think if there'd been a full set I might have taken them as a sunny addition for our roof terrace kitchen.  

Nice or nasty?

I'm still surprised in retrospect at how pretty I find them.  Maybe the Italian penchant for colour and the ex-pat penchant for quaint authenticity is rubbing off on me!

Would you have taken them home?

P.S. It turned out the young guy I assumed was a worker was in fact the new owner and so for the first time I have now met a neighbour who is closer to our age than retirement.  Bonus!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Road trip!

We've made it, car and marriage intact!

To summarise, for those who like details or fancy doing the Kent to Monopoli trip themselves:

  • 20 hours of driving turned into 24 with fuel stops and a few wrong turns (naughty sat nav!)
  • split it over 2 days and Lucerne is a fantastic stop halfway
  • Eurotunnel cost IRO £100 (last minute booking and mid-summer)
  • tolls totalled IRO €80 (avoiding most of France, where apparently, they are extortionate)
  • no fuss at borders as most of Europe is in the Schengen zone = no passport checks
  • longest uninterrupted stretch = 420 miles on one road in Italy!
  • lessons learned: none really, just make sure you have plenty cash for tolls!

We first refuelled in Luxembourg where they speak French.  The strangest thing for me was, despite studying it for 12 years not so long ago and having been pleasantly surprised by my recall during a visit to France a few years back, now I couldn't find even basic French, and blurted out grazie ("thank you" - in Italian!).  It seems my brain can only hold one language in reserve at a time!

In my head, a road trip from UK to the south of Italy taking in France, Luxembourg, (the tiniest corner of) Germany, Switzerland and the length of Italy would involve so many exciting changes of scenery I should have a tough choice choosing which photos to share.  In reality, for at least half the trip, Mr RR and I looked around and said "This could be England" and most of the remainder induced little more than "meh!" as we pined for Puglia!  I know that sounds awful but it's the truth!

Still I documented a few moments for posterity!

Approaching Eurotunnel

Approaching le shuttle

Glad I wasn't the one driving onto the train!

On board and driving down the train

Other side of the channel: it's flat, it's green, it's cloudy - a bit meh!

Lucerne =  clean and fairytale-like. Big thumbs up, but still grey!

Switzerland - uber classy, until this!

Telling that the sun came out as we approached the Italian border?

Straight through customs, no fuss

Arriving into Monopoli at dusk alongside tractors!
And, to answer the big question in my last post, Mr RR made a bid for hubby of the year with his suggestion we buy an entire box of Dairy Milk from the supermarket!

Heaven wrapped in purple!

Friday, 16 August 2013

First flying visit back to UK

We've just been back in UK a couple of days for work projects and not had time to catch up with many people, but I've twice been told that what I'm doing is inspiring.  It's nice to hear that by simply pursuing what we want in life it is helping others have faith that they can go after what they want.

Being back, it's strange the small things you notice.  For example, I am a fast walker, always rushing and feeling short on time, but I realise I walk slower, even here, since being in hot and laid-back Puglia.  In UK, I live in a nice town in the wealthy south east and see beggars or homeless people at least once a week, whereas despite Puglia being one of the least wealthy regions of Italy, I have not seen any beggars or homeless people in Monopoli.  Also, coming back I appreciate how refreshing it is in Monopoli to walk down a street without chuggers or people selling "lucky heather"!

This Sunday we'll be up at silly o'clock to drive to Puglia!  Mr RR reckons we can split it into 2 days of 10 hours' driving a day and we've booked a Swiss hotel for the mid-point so I hope he's right!  It's a long time since we've done a road trip together and I'm really hoping the new sat nav plays its part in ensuring a stress-free journey so we'll still be talking by the time we reach sunny Italy!

So another countdown: less than 48 hours 'til we leave and we're indulging our taste buds with some delicious chinese food tonight and then tomorrow night it's haggis at home!  Today I'm pondering the need to pack hard-to-find-in-Italy essentials into the boot of our car.  How much Dairy Milk chocolate do you think Mr RR will let me take?!  Surely "reasonable" is all in the eye of the chocaholic!

Monday, 12 August 2013


Yesterday I made a salad.  I know, that doesn't sound impressive but it is, as it's the first meal I've made from scratch in Italy and each of the 4 ingredients were from a different local supplier and I managed to ask for them in Italian without disintegrating into a giggling, apologetic English mess!

Mr RR was suitably emphatic about how yummy it was and between us we managed to polish off this massive plate, feeling virtuous and satisfied thanks to our healthy lunch!  I could get used to this!

Juicy nectarines, creamy mozzarella, salty prosciutto - yummy!

Saturday, 10 August 2013

What do you do in Monopoli when it rains? Write a ranty blogpost!

It's been thundering since dawn and the streets, which don't have drains just strategic gradients, are now streams as the heavy rain falls.  It's apt as yesterday evening brought more bad news and as I left the architect's the weather had already started to turn, in keeping with this ragazza's stormy mood!

I should start by explaining that August is holiday season.  Next week there are 2 days of official holidays, kind of like UK bank holidays, but in reality from the end of Friday 9th until Monday 26th August if you don't work in a business linked to tourism, you close and everyone goes to the beach.

This is frustrating because, for example, we are supposedly down to the last days of work and our builders have said they will keep working, but the reality is they can't buy materials; it was left until yesterday to confirm with the joiner the doors I wanted despite me making the decision weeks ago, and now he can't source any wood until after the holidays; the shower enclosures approved weeks ago, can't be ordered until after the holidays - you get the picture!

And for some reason that I haven't quite got my head round yet, but mentioned in my previous post Musings on Monopoli, shops here don't usually hold stock, so the glass for the shower enclosures will have to be ordered in and will take 3 weeks to arrive, starting after the holidays of course as factories aren't open, delivery drivers aren't driving - Italy has stopped working!  The tiles that will have to be ordered to put right a serious mistake in one of the bathrooms will take 4 weeks to arrive, from after the holidays.  (They put a control panel in the wall and altered the plans by moving the basin, WC and bidet down by 30cm each and no-one noticed until I pointed it out on site yesterday that the bidet would be right up against the shower glass and therefore totally useless - a big and expensive mistake for them to fix seeing as it's all been plastered and tiled!)  Some others we need to re-order aren't even in Italy but will have to be shipped from Spain, so I can't begin to think when we might see those!  They just can't imagine how incredulous I am when I think back to the good old days of checking the B&Q website, driving to buy the tiles and starting the tiling the same day!  Even small things like shower heads and taps have to be ordered in, so it becomes a big deal that having said I would buy the small pencil shower heads in UK, but then been discouraged by a bathroom supplier as he wasn't sure the fittings are the same in UK and Italy, because they can't just be picked up!

I had to leave the office yesterday when the joiner said the doors would be ready for the end of October as I was so overwhelmed and upset at the idea of another 12 weeks of waiting especially as we have family who have booked flights to come stay with us in our new home, but actually it worked in my favour, as when I returned he said he would do what he could to source the wood asap and that the doors will take 3 weeks to make so in theory, starting after the holidays, we could have doors for the middle of Spetember - still 5 weeks away but a hell of a lot more reasonable.

Talking of reasonable, the doors are costing £700 each!  Now I know solid wood doors are expensive and they will be handmade so they will be beautiful sturdy pieces that, seemingly like everything in Italy, are designed to last a lifetime, but even the MDF ones are £400!  £400!  I have just ordered 4 panel doors for another project with a beautiful grained effect for £10 each!  That is with developer's discount and admittedly a crazy cheap price, and to compare like with like you'd have to add in the handles, hinges, architrave and fitting which are included in the joiner's £400 price, but still!

The architect thought I was frustrated about the holiday period, telling me twice I have to accept if I live in Italy that August is le ferie ("holidays"), but I don't want to change the practice of having an entire country on holiday at once, I'm just asking for a little bit of planning ahead to be ready for it!  

And so, the adventure continues!  We won't be in by the end of the month and our guests will likely book a hotel as I suspect they prefer a door on their bathroom!  I love what I do, I trust that the end result will be beautiful, I know efficiency isn't an Italian priority, but sometimes I still want to scream!


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Another day, another drama!

I had been convinced by Italian friends that aluminium shutters were better for us than traditional wood - longer lasting and less maintenance.  Today they were fitted and, to demonstrate that it isn't all sunshine and gelato renovating a property abroad, I'll admit to you, I cried a little.  I hadn't properly considered that sturdy, high security shutters were never going to look beautiful and would always introduce an element of industrial compromise on what is otherwise such a beautiful building.  

Me: "I'm upset.  They're so ugly.  What do you think?"
Mr RR: "I like them."
Me: (brightening and encouraged that perhaps I'm overreacting) "Really?"
Mr RR: "But they are jarring!"

There have been decisions on this project that I've never had to consider before and really, in my defence, deciding on colours and styles of shutters when you are in UK with little to no frame of reference is hard.  I'm sincerely hoping that:
   1. they'll look better once the whole building is finished, and
   2. I'll get used to them
but regardless, the shutters are likely staying as this is a very, very expensive element to change.

"Love is a wonderful home"!
On a more positive note, this afternoon we spotted a squashed gecko outside our new home and the builder told us that geckos are good luck here as they signify money.  I'm not sure how seeing a dead gecko isn't therefore bad luck and the end of money, but anyway!  He went on to tell me that a holidaying couple from another part of Italy had popped their heads in when he was working, so he had invited them up to see the real "wow!" of the building, the vaulted ceilings of the first floor, and they said they loved it, had asked to buy it and left their details if we ever want to sell it!  

Is it wrong that I'm curious to see what they would offer?

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Remember the last time you moved house?

...In 35 degree heat?
...In 2 languages?!

It's been quite a day!

We knew about the challenges ahead of time:

Firstly, transfer all 950 cubic feet of our stuff from the larger lorry into a smaller van to navigate the centro storico.  They were in no doubt, they had never seen such tight windy roads!

Secondly, they had to move it to 4 different storeys!  I was dubious to start with, but there's no doubt the montacarichi ("hoist"?) guys more than earned their money today, turning up with one lift to transport the vast majority of our things straight up to the first floor...

...And another lift for the third challenge: getting an oversized American fridge freezer into our kitchen considering the tight winding staircase - via the roof terrace!

Crucially, the English and Kiwi removal guys didn't let me down in front of the locals!  They worked harder than anyone else in today's heat without break or complaining.  One of them spent a year in Afghanistan so I guess that brings a whole new perspective to a hard day's work in the sun!

On a slightly more superficial note, my personal challenge was to not resemble a beetroot at the end of today!  Thank you SPF50 baby sun cream and Body Shop make up, we got full marks there too!

And another positive: I don't think anyone who saw us today will be questioning where we're from!

As of today, we have all our windows fitted and all our stuff inside - 2 steps closer to calling it home!

Monday, 5 August 2013

What gets Italian builders working like they just can't stop?!

Answer: I wish I knew!

Our builders went home at 1pm to get some lunch.  They will return in approx 3 hours to continue working.  I've always assumed this break was unavoidable but perhaps I'm doing something wrong...

The builders working on the site opposite my friend's house have been working through lunch even as I type 4pm.  They also have Tina Turner's song Simply the Best on repeat - literally, on repeat - for hours!  Do you think they've hypnotised the builders to work for as long as the track plays?!  Is it possible my Italian builders need 80s rock to make them happier doing whatever it takes to finish?!

Work continues without break
P.S. In reality, I am sure that whoever owns this building is throwing a lot more money at it than we can afford to, and here, as everywhere, money talks, so that's the real answer to my original question!

P.P.S. For the avoidance of any doubt, as I have been getting requests for more photos of our place, I repeat, sadly, this is not our Palazzo!  Word on the street is it's going to be a museum.  Stunning!

The door to the Palazzo during my last visit
The door today with work going on
Mamma mia!  What an incredible entrance!

We have moved to bella Italia!

We arrived into Monopoli Saturday evening, so we have now been living here for 36 hours!

(I think it's pretty obvious I'm virtually a local now!  I got waved through customs without him even opening my passport - presumably due to the authentic accent on my buonasera ("good evening")!)

The first evening, we had a stroll then went to one of my favourite restaurants in town.  It is on the main thoroughfare through centro storico which, on these summer evenings, is an incredible continuous stream of people! I was delighted the owner remembered my name and found us a table despite turning away just about everyone else that evening who hadn't booked.  We sat outside and it was lovely that, considering I know virtually no-one in this town, we were not only greeted warmly by the restaurant owner but also by our architect and engineer who were strolling by, one of the guys working on our site (who tried and failed to get a table!) and a lady who had started up a conversation with me on hearing my English the first time I ate there, who had booked with friends.  That's more people than I'd recognise out for a meal back in my old hometown where I've lived for decades!

Thankfully Mr RR was as impressed with the friendly service, great food and value for money as I have been so we'll likely be seeing a lot of Antonio and his lovely restaurant!

Continuing our passagiatta ("stroll") we visited the market in the main piazza ("square") then headed along the seafront enjoying a gelato ("ice cream") and later a granita (= a drink made of shaved ice and flavoured syrup - think slush puppy!).  (Blonde moment: the first time I saw the man selling these slush puppy drinks with "Granite" written on the side of his cart I thought it was such a strange name for a drinks stand, but of course, in Italian, granite is the plural of granita!)

Everywhere was still busy as we headed home after midnight.  It might seem strange that the town would still be so alive at that time, families taking a walk, babies asleep in strollers, children running around playing, old people sat out on chairs talking to friends, but everything is very quiet between about 12.30 and 5.30 due to the heat so it is just a practical solution to split the day up in this way.

Despite a good night's sleep, to be honest, my immediate feeling on waking up was of being daunted.  It felt overwhelming to have this new life stretched out before me - what would I do with it?

Then the practicalities of life kicked in.  We have no food in so we'd have to do a small shop and Mr RR was desperate to get to the beach - like most things, it's easier if you just take one day at a time!  I was eager to show him the house (we're renting a friend's house until it's ready) and due to the security being just a few planks of wood propped up covering the entrances, we sneaked in and had a good look round just the two of us and it was wonderful!

Being a Sunday, we had plenty of time to enjoy a snack for lunch and then a stroll along the coast in the late afternoon where we bumped into our engineer out for a cycle and got a wave from one of the other guys who has been working on our house and was today, like just about everyone else, working on his tan at the beach!  We found a spot on the rocks by the beautiful clear sea where Mr RR could take a dip and I attempted not to blind anyone with my paleness - he affectionately calls them my "glow-stick legs" - and enjoyed the sound of the waves.  Quite heavenly.

After a while a lady sunbathing nearby asked us the time, despite being in earshot of the church bells which ring out telling you the time every 15 minutes!  I worry occasionally about settling in and not forever feeling like an outsider, but as a blonde girl and a chinese guy we have always been an easily recognisable couple, even more so now we are in the south of Italy, and everyone is so friendly here that I feel confident they will strike up more and more conversations as they realise we are here for more than just a week's holiday and their curiosity gets the better of them!

As the sun dipped behind the buildings it was time to head home, shower and dress for dinner and passagiatta again and so you can get a glimpse of how life is here.  I am delighted to say the pace of life is definitely already having a relaxing effect on Mr RR as life back in UK has been stressful.

We're so happy and so excited to share this wonderful little town with everyone.  Our belongings arrive tomorrow (all 900 cubic feet of them!!) and we hope our place will be finished by the end of the month, so get your passports out: we'll be ready for guests soon!