Friday, 29 November 2013


I can't believe it is colder here in Monopoli right now than in my old home town in UK! (And forecast for rain every day this week!)

Friday, 22 November 2013

I actually clapped with glee today!

(Yes I am that girly sometimes, even - and when necessary, especially! - with macho builders!) 

Big news: our gas is connected! Here's to the great Italian tradition of a gift between friends (I had to laugh out loud: it's a while since I've seen so much winking!) bypassing weeks of bureaucracy! Now we have hot water and warm radiators it will be a lot easier to start cleaning and make this place homely. 

Also today I've seen the entire place given a top coat of white paint and the kitchen appliances connected, including this beauty that I had to fight so hard for:

You see, my dear water-filtering, ice-making friend not only had to come into the kitchen via the roof terrace but doesn't actually fit down these stairs... I had one of the walls removed and rebuilt!!  Old news now as all the work was done months ago but today she produced her first ice cubes in Italy! Let's hope she doesn't need replacing before they have figured out how to make slimmer models!

Just a few more items on the snagging list and we're there: I am a very happy ragazza today!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Thunder and lightning!

Having said just a few days ago that this time of year you take your chances with the weather, yesterday all of Italy had the most awful storm. In Sardinia, an island just off the coast, 18 people died after the cyclone hit and 47cm of rain fell in just 12 hours. I don't how much it's in the press around the world but here it's been declared a national tragedy. 

In my friends' hotel the lightning travelled down the phone cable twice causing very dramatic sparks and a small fire! The thunder was the loudest I've ever heard and on a couple of occasions the centuries-old building shook. All pretty scary stuff and as all the phones and internet are now down, not great for business either. 

This morning, the sky is back to bright blue, all innocent like nothing it happened!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

We have doors!

Big doors and little doors! All doors a month late, IRO €1000 (£900) each and without handles but doors all the same!

What about the handles? Well, he told me on Sunday he's getting them by express courier, so they will arrive Tuesday (yesterday) or by Friday next week! Express courier?! Come back Royal Mail all is forgiven!

I keep hearing the same story that the courier services, even big international brands, will take your package for delivery but only actually transport it once they have a full lorry. All this has me wondering whether there couldn't be a business opportunity here for a courier service that actually guarantees a proper fast turnaround?

On a completely unrelated note, the joiner was the third or fourth workman to offer, when I expressed frustration that I still don't have a house to move into, that I stay in his house! No matter how friendly or flirty the builders I've used in uk have been, I've never had that! Sincere kind gesture or super-sleazy line?! Think I'll keep staying in my friends' hotel and hopefully never find out!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Mid-november in Puglia

Stunning view from our hotel bedroom window this morning

People flock here in the summer when the beaches are full by day and the streets and restaurants by night.  The buzz in summertime is wonderful but you pay a privilege for coming in peak season.  Now it's november and everywhere is so much quieter but the skies are blue, the fields are green and a few days back it was 25 degrees and people were still swimming in the sea!  

The weather might be more of a gamble this time of year, but compared to the permanent feeling of cold in your bones and forecasts for snow back in UK, I know where I'd rather be!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Our much-needed break!

Today we flew back to UK after a great week in Chicago.  Incase you are as clueless as I was prior to this trip, Chicago is the third largest city in USA after New York and LA and sits on the edge of Lake Michigan (one of the Great Lakes) with the Chicago river running through it.  I had no idea!!  I now have slightly more idea having explored a lot on foot and taken 2 tours: a ghost bus tour and a boat tour about the architecture up and down the river, each giving a different insight into the city past and present.

I remember enough from my geography lessons to know it was unusual when they said Lake Michigan was the source of the Chicago river.  Rivers flow into lakes and have sources up a hill somewhere, right?!  Turns out, the Chicago river got hazardously filthy after decades of human and industrial waste being emptied into it.  Not only giving off a horrendous stench, it flowed into and therefore polluted Lake Michigan, the drinking water supply for the city.  They started to have real problems with water-based diseases and death so clearly something had to be done.  They decided, not to find an alternative way to dispose of their waste or clean the water, but to stop it being their problem by reversing the river to flow the other way so the fresh lake water now flushed their stinking river waste away!  Charming!

I've never been taken by city architecture before so it was all new when it came to the names of the different architectural styles (e.g. European, Minimalist, European Minimalist... best of all: Brutalist!) and I'd never considered the supreme significance of corner offices but they lead to a Japanese designed skyscraper with no windows on the 4 corners so no-one could be given a sense of superiority and an American design with a concertina design on its corners allowing it to fit in 16 corner offices per floor!

Mr RR organised the best evening of all for my birthday: an incredible restaurant where I had steak and lobster (and for the first time ever in a fancy restaurant, was steered away from one choice by the waiter who actually screwed his nose up and shook his head when I asked if a specific appetizer was good!) followed by the most fantastic comedy night.  We were sat in the front row and were the focus of a couple of jokes after they had asked all the usual questions about where we were from, how we met, how Mr RR proposed!  It was actually pretty weird as their main joke about us focussed on the same quote that is on the front of the card my mum gave me for my birthday!  "To the world you are just one person... but to one person you are the world" = spookier than the ghost tour!

So I don't hold this up as a travel blog but here's my top tips if you're coming to Chicago:

  • Wendella Architecture Boat Tour - great introduction to the city and opened my eyes to the interest and beauty of skyscrapers.  
  • The Second City Comedy Night - perhaps the funniest comedy we have ever seen and all sorts of comedians such as Bill Murray, Steve Carell and Tina Fey performed here before they were famous in shows similar to the one we saw, so you know the pedigree's good.
  • Joe's Seafood, Steak and Stone Crab restaurant - pricey but classy without being stuffy.  Incredible food, great portions and fantastically personal service.  

Last day was a quick visit to the outlet mall on the way to the airport to pick up some new clothes (a tradition I associate with coming to America since I worked out here every summer as a university student!) and one last round of soft shell tacos at a Mexican eatery!

As I said, I'm not a city person but I have really liked Chicago.  The river, the sense of space and friendly people make a big difference here.  What great memories!  Here's some photos from our trip:

Being British is still super-trendy

Fun way to update an old-fashioned fountain!

These little guys get everywhere!

Maple Pecan? Traditional English? I think not!

Reminder of our new home

How do they have stones from our abbey and castle?!

"Stood almost on this spot"!! Wow!

Fanta fountain?

No end of tacky souvenirs on offer!

Afternoon tea at super-swish The Drake

Loved the Gothic architecture

Hated the faux castles!

The river makes this city so beautiful

Bright but deceptively chilly!

Skyscrapers line the river

Funky honeycomb style skyscraper car park

Favourite skyscraper: Trump Tower

Trump Tower at night

Stunning skyline at night

Colours of fall

Loved the Cloud Gate sculpture

aka The Bean

Can you find me?

Beautiful beach

And the city is right there!

And because I just can't help myself (and this is meant to be a property blog!) to finish, here are some lovely homes from the Gold Coast area where we were staying.  Apparently it's not just a clever name, but one of the priciest areas of Chicago, presumably due to its proximity to both the city and the beach and the character buildings, so each of these will cost $millions!



Gorgeous bay windows

Did I learn anything?  European style?!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Meanwhile in USA

So following a week in Scotland, I'm fortunate enough to have hopped over the pond to America for a week!  (It's surprisingly easy to justify paying for hotels and restaurant bills half way round the world when you've been paying them for months in your home town!)  While I'm sorting through the gazillion photos I've taken of skyscrapers (I know!  Can't quite figure out what's come over me!) I thought I'd share some thoughts from my first couple of days.  So if you're strictly here for the Italy stories or property updates feel free to skip this post!

You probably already know there are differences between UK and USA, so I won't go on about the fact that Americans are kinda loud, how they don't know the difference between the ground floor and the first floor and that their meal portions are absolutely massive!

I will say I think tipping is way out of control here:

Exhibit A: taxi drivers seemingly refuse to write your receipt for less than a 20% tip, issuing a blank instead - perfect you might think, but multiple receipts in your own hand-writing really isn't ideal!

Exhibit B: waiter (at hotel's all-inclusive breakfast after Mr RR had left): Is the service ok?
Me: Yes, it's fantastic thank you
Waiter: It's just, most of these people tip me
Me: <awkward pause!>
Waiter: It's not about the money, I just wanted to check everything is ok
Me: Yes, it's just that we're British so we don't carry notes all the time to tip people

Cringe!  Surely, he was wrong to make me feel awkward like that, no?  We're friendly, say thank you (and had planned to leave one larger tip on the last day), but as my dad noted on a family holiday to America years ago, a thank you means nothing here: if you want to show appreciation, pay up!

I've lived and worked out here so I know in restaurants waiting staff have to rent the tables and get paid less than minimum wage so they lose money for the time you occupy the table if you don't tip, so we do give 20% in those situations but at least they typically try to earn it by giving you some chat!

The taxis?  We always round up by a few dollars but if you pay by card the options for the tip are 20%, 25% and 30%!  Given that the vast majority of drivers we've had are on their hands-free continuing their phone call to friends/family the entire duration of the journey, what exactly are we tipping for?  It would be different if they engaged in conversation, told us a bit about the areas we are passing through, etc but just driving us from A-B?  Isn't that what the meter's for?

Maybe you'll tell me I've got this all wrong, but when the service is missing from the service industry I'm really not inclined to pay extra.  Or perhaps I've been in Italy too long.  Where we live there's no tipping but instead a focus on good service because it's what builds good value and good business.

Okay, rant over!  Moving on!

I don't normally frequent Burberry stores but Mr RR was keen to show me how good he looked in a trench coat (bless!) so despite feeling rather ashamed of my unwashed hair, flat scuffed boots and duvet style overcoat, I indulged him!  It was fabulous: statement store, bold British music and elegant assistants who say they are "well" rather than "good", thereby speaking better English than most of UK!

I often feel very proud to be British.  It gives me such a buzz when I'm abroad, both in Italy and here in USA to see how the UK is considered so fashionable, and also to note how far British music reaches.  (Of course I'm not surprised to hear Stone Roses and Pink Floyd in a Burberry store that celebrates Britishness, but there's something quite surreal about hearing Lily Allen as you walk around an Italian mall or Amy Macdonald in an American hotel lobby as I did this morning!)

Even including the $35000 coat (so soft!), my favourite moment came when 2 gentlemen confused me for an assistant!  Can you imagine?!  Surrounded by sleek and beautiful people with me looking like I'm ready for an early morning boot fair, and they asked me for help?!  Absolutely made my day!

There was some strange fashion in there though.  It's fair to say I'm probably a bit conservative in my ideas of what men look good in, but this?  Those shoes?

Seriously?  I feel so old!

Talking of fancy footwear, I spotted a collection of men's footwear that were all essentially knee high boots with 1.5/2 inch heels!  Mr RR would never hear the end of it with these in his collection!

I know it is the land of the cowboys but do these do it for you?!

So I'll be back with more stateside stories soon but to close and reward you for making it this far, here's some of the fantastic Halloween decorations I've seen about town.  They go for it here!

Spooky ghosts

Terrifying witches

Enough to give this arachnophobe nightmares!