Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Settling in

It's important to me to feel part of a community.  While I know we'll never be locals, I don't want to forever feel like foreign outsiders here.  We're obviously not there yet by a long stretch, but I want to share a few little stories with you that I think show we're on the right track.

Firstly, as a pale blonde girl and chinese guy, we're a distinctive couple most places but especially here in Puglia, so it's no surpise that we're remembered when we return to our favourite restaurants.  Most recently though, when the menu had been slightly changed, the waitress knew what I was looking for before I'd even said the item and showed me where it was now listed, so she knew our regular order, which makes me smile - we have a "usual"!  In another restaurant we frequent quite often, the young (female!) owner recently called me cara (dear) which is a term of affection some of my Italian friends I've known for years haven't used yet!

Secondly, when driving through a toll booth somewhere in Italy last week, I asked the man for il scontrino, per piacere (the receipt please), and with a smile his Italian response roughly translated to "A polite English woman: it can't be true!".  I find it hard to imagine that we as a nation have a reputation for being rude, or that every previous Brit he has encountered has shouted at him or refused to pay his toll, so could it be my use of per piacere (which is the normal phrase for please in our part of Puglia as opposed to the more usual per favore,) that made the old man smile?  Not sure if it counts as settling in, but I was happy my Italian got such a positive response!

Thirdly, today, I managed to explain and ask for primer in a DIY shop, having not been able to find the word for it in my handy translator, and then, when I wasn't too clear what the instructions on the back said, made my attempt at a joke Devo imperare fai da te e italiano! (I have to learn DIY and Italian!), and the old boy behind the till actually laughed and understood, saying that both were important, so that was a first too!  (Hey, I never claimed to be a comedian!)

I'm learning other things that are new here too.  Like the electricity!  Strange I know, but there is a limit on the supply you have here, and it is far lower than we are used to in UK.  I was aware of this from expat forums (endless stories of Brits throwing their kettles away after a week here as they always tripped the fuses, or learning not to put the oven on until the washing machine had finished its cycle!), and knowing how frustrated Mr RR and I would be if we couldn't continue our lives more or less as normal, I paid extra to have our supply double the norm and we haven't had any trouble with it.  Until last night!  I'm downstairs, in the living room, pot of bolognese sauce simmering upstairs in the kitchen with the extractor fan on, when BANG! the lights go out.  There are fuse boards on each of 3 of the 4 floors for this very reason, but I'm still getting familiar with what is where, so off I go up and down our steep stairs in the dark checking for tripped fuses!  It's then that I am so grateful for these little guys:

Just innocently waiting: ever-ready....
... to be a hero when emergency strikes!
The architect suggested having one per stairway as a precaution and I am so glad we did!  They charge off the usual supply day by day and, when the electricity goes off, automatically switch to battery power and become torches you can pull out of their socket on the wall to light your way.  Genius!

But seriously, the hob is gas and I had 2 lights on in the whole house so our extractor fan on max power was enough to trip the fuses at double the normal supply?  I can't wait to try and cook in summer when we have the air conditioners on sucking all the power!  Mamma mia!

P.S. Morning after posting this and the best workman I've found out here for reliability, value and super high quality of work has turned up to finish off the kitchens in the apartments and greeted me with 2 kisses, something I don't get from anyone else but my friends.  Not sure what it means but I really want him to come back and help me with so many bits and pieces, so it's good news!  Here's to settling in!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Road trip - again!

I'm sorry it's been so long since I last posted.  It's been a busy time without much to share, except perhaps for our road trip from Puglia to UK and back - no less than 2600 miles (and that's not counting the miles driven in error!).   Why you ask?  Mainly, to get the MOT sorted for another year, and, seeing as we were making the trip, to transport back all sorts of things we have found difficult to buy in Puglia: for the house, wooden shelves, memory foam mattress toppers and decent paint, and for me, dilutable squash, lime and lemon curd and a few month's supply of decent chocolate!

Car full to the brim!

Notable stories from our outward journey to UK include us having driven 12 hours and being just 5 minutes from our halfway resting point of a hotel in Lucerne, when we were the second car behind a toppled trailer which had spilled 4 panicked cows onto the motorway!

Cow chaos!

Being the second car meant we had options: it was a 3 lane road, so we could have driven round the first car which slowed, ignoring the farmer's request to stop, and headed on to our destination.  We didn't, as we could see one of the cows had made a run for it and didn't think that leading a procession of cars down into a tunnel with a loose cow was the responsible option!  We may have chosen differently had we realised it would take quite so long to resolve the situation!

Return of the runaway cow

Heart sinks: cordon = not going anywhere for a while!

Strike a pose!

So near and yet so far!

So we waited and waited as the emergency services came, cordoned off the road, drew over the skid marks on the road with chalk, took lots of photos, brought in a new trailer, ushered the cows on board and then eventually let us head on our way.  I felt grateful at least that, being the second car, we had front row seats to the spectacle, which was not the case for all the long queues of cars behind us!

Our next hold up was at the end of the next day at the Eurotunnel: 5 hours' wait following a train that had broken down in the tunnel earlier that day!

At least the sunset while we waited was pretty!

Our way back with the car to Puglia was slightly less eventful, although, I do want to have a little rant about our hotel at our halfway point, this time in Lugano.  Mr RR had accumulated enough points on business trips to earn us a free night, so we got an upgraded room and after a long day and a nice meal out, headed to bed about 11.  About 10 past 11, a light just off the bedroom in front of the main door switched on for a minute then off again.  Weird we thought.  10 minutes later it happened again.  So I got up and looked for a light switch that controlled the light.  Couldn't find it.  I took the key card out of its holder, thereby deactivating all the electricity.  Light stayed on.  At this point, Mr RR is sound asleep and the idea of phoning reception and requesting a new room held zero appeal, so I switched the bathroom light on, thinking at least this way the room would be in semi-darkness all night as opposed to alternating between pitch black to lights on every 10 minutes, and tried to get some sleep.

Come the morning, I was incredulous to hear the lady at reception explain to Mr RR that she knew about the light: that it was on a sensor as some people like it if they have to get up in the night and that we should have phoned reception to get someone to come and deactivate it if we didn't like it!  Short on sleep and frustrated that no-one thought to mention the quirky lighting set up when we checked in (we have both travelled a lot - this is not normal even in the fanciest hotels!), we firmly explained it couldn't have been operating on a sensor when we were both nowhere near it but in bed, but still no apology came.  Nul points Lugano Holiday Inn!

Still despite all these hiccups, (the less said about the 2 hours heading the wrong way out of Calais the better!) we were on the whole, even-tempered throughout and when you're stuck in a car with your nearest and dearest for 4 days, that and a safe arrival are perhaps all that matters!

Thankfully the only Asse on our trip - boom boom!

P.S. There's always something new when you head out of your usual environment.  This time round it was this little beauty found in our Lucerne hotel buffet.  Think chocolate spread but with a hint of malt and crunched up maltesers mixed in.  I must confess I smuggled a few out in my handbag!!

Ovomaltine - ohsogood!