Thursday, 23 October 2008

Its grim in Grimsby

Yay, here we are still in Grimsby, and we will probably be here until the end of the weekend at least. Out all new ship rides the waves like a beached whale and badly currupts the dats; meaning we can't work in anything other than an almost flat calm. Oh well.

At least the ship is comfortable enough, and the crew really good. Sadly, the food has been awful, and it took a week of badgering for there to be a choice at mealtimes, and then fruit and other snacks outside those times. Honestly, it felt like being on hard tack at times. I even went to tescos to get some oranges and bran flakes to keep the hunger pangs at bay, as no food was left out for the night shift, and we had to wait seven hours until breakfast to have anything.

Unless you count a Pot Noodle, which isn't really food is it?

There is another one of our ships in port, and on Sunday night we met up at a rock bar for a few late night cold beers. What they didn't tell us was that it was run by the local biker gang, The Warlocks, and was rough as anything. But, they seemed happy enough with us being there, and the beer was cheap enough. Music was by a Jimi Hendrix soundalike band; didn't catch the name, but they were quite good. The rockin' Baby Boomers seemed to like it.

Grimsby has fallen on hard times; the fishing industry has all but closed, and so the fish dock area of town are in a terrible state. Many warehouses have preservation orders on them, but there is little money to do them up, so time is slowly breaking them down as they become derilict. It is sad to see what was once, quite clearly, a vibrant and properous town fall on such hard times, and once streets full of shops and merchants now appealing to the lowest common denominators; cheap beer and prositution; and then theres the drugs.

So, I have found the library in which to run to in the afternoons, before finding some of the crew for a sociable drink before heading back to the ship. What amazes me is that although we're in port, technically we're at sea, and getting paid as such. Musn't grumble.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Monday again

I know I shouldn't complain. Here I am fust finishing my 6th week of shore leave, and sat in front of the computer looking through pictures took over the weekend.It's grey and cold outside, but I'm inside just out of the shower with a smattering of cats to keep me company. Sadly, Julie has gone back to work, but there are chores to do, and things to listen to on the radio.Seems like theres another financial meltdown under way in London, Iceland is broke; its true apparently, the Steeler won last night. Yay. Too late for me though to watch it.But, my thoughts are on the phone that does not ring. I have not heard from the office since I got off the last boat six weeks ago. even my letter about them screwing up Septembers pay went unanswered. No news of when I am going to sea again. And as usual it will be a last minute thing, and quite frankly, I think thats unfare on Julie.I sent an e mail into my manager telling him that I am happy enough with my wages, though would not turn down more but I am fed up not being able to plan ahead.Unbeknown to him I have applied for another job in the same industry, and am waiting for an interview and the pay offer. It might not happen, or it might. But it sure is interesting being able to offer myself to the highest bidder.It is probable that we will have to move into my house in the Spring when Julie sells this place to her Dad. She will have to give up her job and look for something in the wilds of Suffolk or Norfolk. But at least we have choices I guess.No word from my ex-friend James who as you may have read is a git and no longer a friend or anyone I really want to speak to. It happens, and I guess we will get over it.

Turns out that Mum did not lie, and travelled back home on her own, and Pat was just either mistaken or stirring the facts. Not quite sure about this one to be honest. The fact is that I was able to believe the worst in Mother says volumes about our relationship; but I have made up with her, and I hope deflected the questions about who would want to wreck what is left of our relationship.

We had some storms over the weekend, and after seeing the flat sea on Friday night from the cliffs; much better on Saturday as we sat in the car on the edgeof the white cliffs by the Dover Patrol as the winds tried to knock our little Polo off its wheels as we watched the ferries to France come and go from the harbour below, read The Times and listen to the football on Radio 5.

Once back here at dusk we cooked some lamb steaks left over from the pre-wedding bbq; slow cooked in the oven with an onion, half a bottle of red wine and some redcurrents, served with roasted corn and mash; it was a triumph, even if I say so myself.

yesterday, on a wet and windy day we took my Flickr buddy Bob out; and we ended up in Tenderton on the Kent and East Sussex Light Railway; where we had a roast lunch before sitting behind a Great Western 0-6-0 tank in 30s carriages and watched the countryside roll slowly by in the rain until we came to Bodiham and its wonderful castle.

Back agin to Dover through the gathering gloom of a stormy autumnal evening to his for coffee, and marvel at his view of Dover castle high above the town, and lit up wonderfully apparently just for us.

Let Down Again

The first thing is that I found out from my estate agent/realtor that my so called best friend has been sabotaging all efforts to seel my house in Suffolk. The comment from the last people to view it was it'll never sell with James in it. I trusted a large part of our future with James, thinking he would do the right thing by us, after we had let him live there for a pittance rent for 18 months.Seems like I got that wrong; the result is that the last 5 months the house has been on the market we could have lost many potential slaes, and lost something like £15,000 in profit. The market is now dead, and I have had to take the house off the market as there is no point with him there.I had to call him up and rant at hime for stabbing me in the back and costing us so muchtime and money. He had the balls to deny it; but by that point i wasn't listening.So, James and I are now ex-friends again; and he has 26 more days to get the fluck outta Dodge.The house will probablay not sell with the market the way it is; which is causing us to re-think our plans almost daily.

Another so-called good friend has been spreading rumours about my Mother, and that she has been lying to me again. For once it wan't Mother that was not telling porkies, but needless to say this has caused ever more friction between us.So, here I am caught in the middle of two woman who want to be my Mother; one my real Mother and another childless woman. Why me?

No word of a date to go back to sea; so we are enjoying every day to the full; although this is made a harder as first I and now Julie has the flu. Oh well.We have been busy, and last night made quince jelly from the tree in our garden. We added some hops with the quince fruit from the same place and boiled it all down in a big pan. Today we put the mix in jars after adding the setting sugar and testing it was the right temperature.And tonight we had some onion bread, rustic French cheese, and our own Quince jelly for supper along with a cheeky bottle of French red. Man, it was good.Also tonight we made a batch of chilli jam; yes, chilli jam, which we simmered down to sa slush and will store for cold cuts at Christmas. Right now it's firely, but will mellow in a cool dark place.So, the weekend, and nothing much planned. Just the way it should be.

Under the Tuscan Sun; the honeymoon, day 8

The alarm went off at half five; it was dark and cold; outside an owl called and the wind rustled the walnut tree outside. With coffee in hand I went out onto the balcony for the last time to take in the dawn, and saw the last sliver of the old moon just above the horizon.
With heavy hears we packed the car, and took one last look around at the monastery; one day we’ll be back.

The roads were pretty empty, apart from the one maniac who chased us onto the main road to Siena before overtaking round a sharp bend. At least at weekends there were very few trucks on the road, and even around Siena there was little traffic.

We made good time up to Florence, only to realise that the steel boxes beside the road with auto-something signs were in fact speed cameras, and it was way too late to worry about that now.

At Florence the signs to Pisa were clear, and we managed to find our way on the Autostrada north. The signs off to Pisa were not easy to spot and it would have been easy to be well on the way to Bologna before we would have realised we had gone wrong.

But that was nothing compared with the turn-off for the airport which was only signposted at the junction, which I am sure most people would have seen as the drove past it. Thankfully, Julie had seen the green cooperate colouring of the car hire place, and warned me to slow down.

There seemed to be no problems with the car and this time walked to the terminal rather than wait for the overcrowded shuttle bus. Inside the terminal, it was chaos; there were far too few screens with departure information, and no one to ask. We did find our wary to terminal B, and where our desks would open; and after asking a rep we queued up behind other early arrivals, whilst behind ever more people lined up well into the car park and across the road.

Once checked in and through immigration, we managed to work out the system for the café and got a coffee and something hot and savoury under the name of a cordon bleu; chicken and cheese in a chiabatta bun.

And then it was time to find our way to the gate, have a scrum to get on board, strap ourselves in and then it was time to go. On our way to the clouds, the plane banked, and from our seats we got a stunning view of the Leaning Tower before Italy slipped out of view beneath the clouds.

Under the Tuscan Sun; the honeymoon, day 7

And so our last full day in Tuscany, and a sad farewell to the kitten. Poor Luciano did not know he would be saying goodbye to us so soon; and he played with all the vigour of youth chasing after a cob nut we collected, and some old laces. And then it was time to deliver him to Emy, we handed him over with little fuss, and headed straight out as little Luciano struggled and hissed in Emy’s hands; we knew it for the best, but that did not make it any easier.

We drove out back to the main road, and after filling the tank up, headed north to Siena, for one of the Tuscan jewels. I know how crowded some of the places can be here; and that is why we did not go to Florence. But still, we thought it should not be too crowded this late in September. Sadly, many others had the same idea, and finding somewhere to park was difficult. The second garage we went to seemed to have opened a level, and we found many empty spaces right near the entrance.

Il Campo

Finding our way to Il Campo and the rest of the centre was harder than we thought, and we wandered through many narrow roads with towering mediaeval houses standing shoulder to shoulder on each side.

the road to il campo 3

Soon enough we came to the beginnings of the commercial centre, and around the corner was the main shopping street; lined with the usual Tuscan specialty shops mixed in with the usual fashion houses.

Thieves Like Us

Through an arch on the right I spied the markings of Il Campo, the main city square around which there are horse races several times a year. And gathered all over were groups of tourists clustered around guides clutching brightly coloured umbrellas or some such things to be held up; as people from the whole world did the modern grand tour.


I freely admit to having done such tours in Italy before, and had had the information and history bombarded at my brain too. Much better, I think, to get a guide book and wander the streets to see where your feet would lead.


We found grand churches and cathedrals, palaces, grand houses, narrow alleyways with dark arches to explore; and small cafes and other such wonderful places. All so fantastic, and all the while chic locals sauntered around the only way they know how, all looking cool and confidant.
All roads lead to the Dumo, and so the ever rising paths and alleyways lead us to the grand cathedral. The queues to get in we long as they were legendary; and for the second time I decided not to go inside. We people watched some, and got pictures of the street sellers trying to eek out a living.

And already, the memories begin to fade

Down the steep steps beside the cathedral, there is a passageway leading off, and in that passageway there is a restaurant in a converted church. It is where I had lunch in the city four years ago; and it is where we had lunch on this visit. There were a high concentration of locals, always a good sign I think, and the food really, really good. Julie had toasted rustic bread with melted goat’s cheese and Tuscan honey; which was just wonderful I can tell you; whilst I had the mozzarella with tomatoes again.


We wandered around some more, but decided to head back to the car and then home. I thought about filling the luggage with some such Tuscan ingredients, but thought better of it, and anyway the queues were just horrible.



Errr, what to call this??? How about The Italian Job? Too obvious?

We drove home via country roads; through deep gorges and through high hilltop towns again. It was just wonderful, and we were just about the only travellers about. From high above the villa, we paused at yet another hilltop town, and were thrilled we could see the afternoon sun glinting of the Aegean Sea between Grossetto and Elba. The air was full of the aroma of herbs after someone had been cutting grass; and sadly, tomorrow, we were heading home.

That night we decided to head out for dinner; it was our last night but had enjoyed our meals on the balcony watching sunsets and the wildlife. Emy had given us a list of places to go, and the best for local traditional food was in Civitella Maritima.

Once night had fallen, we walked out to the car in the fragrant air. I am not one to resort to stereotypes; but Italian drivers can be a little impatient to say the least. As we drove to Roccastrada, there were the usual bright headlights just inches from our back bumper. Even funnier was that soon another tailgater was tailgating him and I could see three bright lights in the rear view mirror. One and then the other zoomed past as we headed up the steep hill to Roccastrada, and we could drive in peace.

The 5Km long roman road to Civitella Maritima was not as hectic, but at least budding race drivers could see to overtake and we chugged our way to the restaurant.

It was chilly in the keen breeze; doubly so high above the plain as we parked the car and headed up the poorly lit narrow alleys and up into the centre of the village. There was a smell of wood smoke in the air, and there were groups of rugged looking farmers outside the café enjoying a smoke and an aperitif.

The restaurant was easy to find; its lights brightening the courtyard on which it stands. We walked in and through the small bar to the room with the tables. A large group sat down one side taking over half the tables; we asked if it was OK to eat there; the waitress already looking stressed by the large numbers already dining said in fractured English that we could eat but there would be a wait.

Her fractured English is better than our fractured Italian, that’s for sure.

Julie had a Tuscan pancake filled with unsmoked bacon and Tuscan sheep’s cheese, cooked so it had a caramelised texture on the outside. I had pumpkin mousse with a creamy sauce which was just divine. Julie followed that with local slow roasted lamb whilst I had minestrone soup. I say soup, as did the menu, but it was more like a solid mash of slow cooked vegetables and stock. It was wonderful.

Sadly, the service was slow; there was an unlimited supply of Tuscan breads and the house read was light and fruity. But we had to be up at half five for the three hour drive to the airport at Pisa. We went without the lemon crème brulee and coffee, much to the waitress’s disappointment. Julie mimed sleeping and flying and she seemed to understand.

Outside it was downright cold, and we could see warm light from many of the tightly packed houses on the way down to the car. At least the drive back was calm with no other cars around, and we arrived back at the villa safe, sound and tired. I finished off the bottle of dessert wine and after checking all drawers for forgotten clothes we headed to bed.

Under the Tuscan Sun; the honeymoon, day 6

Luciano slept well, as did we, and we awoke to him being hungry and letting us know exactly how he felt about it.

We spoke to Emy and there was no news on adoption, and so we decided to head out after giving the kitty another feed and hoping he would be ok.

Sorano, Tuscany

After looking at the map, we decided to head to a trio of towns far in the south of the region, and it would be a pleasant one and a half hour drive to get there. We drove down the roman road which we can see from our balcony, and so on to Grosseto. We then drove along the Autostrada for a while before heading inland and into the hills again towards Sovana.


Sovana was an Etruscan town, all cobbled streets and little houses; pretty enough, and as it neared lunchtime we chose a nice looking place and had lunch. Just the usual simple things; antipasto, brucsetti and wild boar ribs for main. It was all we needed, the ribs were a real small portion, but it was really good.


We did try to buy some local wine in a bar, but the girl serving was more interested in talking on her mobile and so we went elsewhere.


Sorano was a much different place. Built on the edge of a cliff overlooking a verdant valley, it was a miracle that it was ever built, and another that people live there. There is a stunning new road built down one side of the gorge and up into the town; blasted out of solid rocks and twisting and turning in very tight curves as it went up and down.


The town itself is a rabbit warren of narrow alleyways and stairs, with people living here still, and living a modern life. Being the end of season, we had the town pretty much to ourselves, and how wonderful that was in the autumnal sunshine. The alleyways lead to another panoramica, and what views as on three sides there was a green gorge, and on the rocks below, the town itself; all terracotta tiles and TV aerials. It looked like something out of a dream to be honest, and I past just a couple of people on the way down.

tomatoes and herb

We stopped for a coffee and an iced tea before the journey back; and what a journey, as we passed another stunning town, also perched on the edge of the gorge; Pitigliano looking like another fairy story come to life. We had ran out of time to call in, but did stop a couple of times to take pictures; and then back in the car for the 45 minutes descent to the plain via the usual twisty road and through villages perched on top of more hills.


Emy has told us the cat has a home; in Florence with his Mother. We say goodbye in the morning to him.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Under the Tuscan Sun; the honeymoon, day 5

During the night we had heard this awful noise; some animal in distress, maybe a cat; but we could not be sure. When we got up, the noise was louder and seemed to be coming from outside our front door. I went out to investigate, to find one of the guard dogs looking with interest at the bush beside our steps and that is where the noise seemed to be coming from.


When I looked there was a screaming hissing ball of fur that was in fact one very frightened kitten. And it was terrified of everything, especially the dog. I tried to grab it, but got a swish of its claws for my trouble.

We knew we could not leave it there, and yet we had no food for it. Julie had the thought of maybe some cheese; seemed a long shot, but worth trying. It lapped it up, and with the second lot we put it further from its hiding hole, and as it reached out to eat, I grabbed it and took it inside.

After a few minutes it settled down, had some more cheese, investigated the villa and made itself at home in Julie’s hands. It was so small, maybe six weeks old and pretty helpless. But it has a healthy set of lungs that it could tell us when it wanted anything.

We have called it Lucianno, after Pavarotti; as they both seem to share an almighty set of lungs.
Emy, the owner is trying to find a home to adopt it, until then we are the owners of a wonderful little kitty; and all plans for the day are on hold.

And so we had a quiet day nursing an increasingly confident kitten, feeding it every four hours and running after it as it raised its tail. We all had a siesta in the afternoon, and then went to bed again at ten after a full day of excitement.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Under the Tuscan Sun; the honeymoon, day 4

We awoke with the pan to head off to see two of the more famous hilltop town in the far east of the region; Pienza and Montepuliciano. It was the same route as on Sunday to Montalcino, so we could put away the maps and just enjoy the journey over the rolling fields and through the wonderful towns on the way. Once again the weather was really good, almost clear blue skies but with those fluffy clouds only seen in children’s tales.

The drive down the side of the hill from Montalcino was amazing, a 10 minute thrill of bend after hairpin bend with no crash barriers, and stunning views over the way we were yet to go.
A few times the road signs to Pienza did disappear, but with a little luck we managed to find our way. The road passes through the new part of town first, all modern two or three story blocks that are nice enough. We found a place to park in a side street and walked the 5 minutes in the older part of town.


Once again it is a mediaeval hilltop town; all narrow streets and ancient houses and churches, with battlements offering stunning views over the Tuscan fields way down below. Already the streets were filling up, but armed with our cameras we found the quieter side streets, and a small street café where we stopped to have a cappuccino and some tasty slice of sweet vanilla filled cake.


In the shops we bought wonderful herbed cheese, some sweet dessert wine, some almond biscuits to dunk in the sweet dessert wine (much better than it sounds) and a copy of the most recent London Times; all full of financial meltdowns which may or may not have been avoided.
We then headed to Montepuliciano before everything closed for lunch and siesta at half one. It was only about ten miles, but took much longer as the road at first dived and then rose to another hilltop town come fortress. There is the most stunning basilica at the foot of the hill on which the town sits, and we stopped there to take a few pictures; before deciding to walk up the 1:3 hill to the town above. The views were stunning, and we at least thought we were going to earn the tasty lunch we promised ourselves.


Montepuliciano is even hillier than the other towns; and its streets are a warren of narrow streets and narrower stairways leading to a grand piazza at the summit. There were tourists from all parts of the world, including the young family we had talked to whilst waiting for our hire car on Saturday; they said ‘hello’ and said they were enjoying their time in Tuscany.

Chiesa di San Bagio

We had spotted a café with views out over the land, but as the heat of the early afternoon rose, we stopped halfway up the town in a street café for antipasto and mozzarella salad and a glass or two of water.


Sadly, two tables away the once typical English tourist was making a scene; ‘don’t you speak English? I asked for a glass of water, not a bottle.’ And she went on in a similar vein. Our food, although simple, was wonderful, and the service wonderfully slow which gave us time to people-watch those making their way up the hill to the grand piazza.

Salcheto, Montepuliciano

We walked slowly back to the car, down the steep cobbled street that we had come up. We passed others making the trip back up, and like us were pretending to admire the view when they were in fact having a breather.

Ristorante Il Cantuccio, Montepuliciano

The final destination was Chianciano Terme. Another ancient hilltop town; but this one with a large modern twin built around a thermal spring. The drive was spectacular as it ever is in Tuscany; and although we decided not to stop, we thought of going out onto the plain on which the main road from Rome to Florence runs, as well as the main railway, to a large lake, Lake Trasimeno. There were two ways down apparently; one along the main road where the heavy traffic goes, and I swear there were signs pointing through the town.

Not having learned from our detour the other day, we headed off into the town centre and through the gats of the old town. Very soon the streets narrowed to little more than alleyways, and the signs now telling us no vehicular traffic allowed at any time was of no help.

Italian Eurostar

We headed on until we came to a turn so tight that the old man sitting outside his house had to get up and move his chair and get in his doorway. And we had to shuffle back and forwards in the car to actually get round the sharp bend. The road was then along the old town walls, but at least going down. More people had to get out of the way, but we did at least get through the other set of town gates and onto something like a normal road.

Italian Eurostar

That this new road had no signs, we thought best to follow the wider road down and see where that lead. It lead down and round many farms and vineyards, until it just petered out as a dusty track. We turned round and headed back to the town, where, after turning the wrong way down a one way street, we did find a main road and in turn the way down.

Once there, there was little to do as the lake was not signposted, and so we sat beside the main railway line waiting for the latest in train technology come whizzing past at something a little less than the speed of sound.

ETR 600.001

And then the journey back; this time through the golden colours of an autumnal Tuscan afternoon. Joining us on their journey home were those who had had a hard day in the fields beginning the olive harvest.

Time enough for some crusty bread and to try out the herby bread with a cup of coffee, before starting work on the evening meal with was spinach and ricotta ravioli and a home made sauce by yours truly, and a glass or two of Vine Nobile de Montepuliciano.

And the sun set, if anything in a more spectacular fashion. Oh, lucky us.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Under the Tuscan Sun; the honeymoon, day 3

We awoke after another marathon sleep; something like ten more hours. At this rate we will sleep the honeymoon away. So I made café Americanos again, this time to go with bowls of cereal. I sat down to write up the past two days events and Jools sat on the balcony doing some beading. All in all, not bad for a Monday morning.

Punta Ala

Julie said she wanted to see the sea, and so after looking at the map we decided to head to Follonica to see what was there; and if it were a dull industrial town we would drive along the coast until we came to somewhere more to our liking.

The drive down was pleasant enough, the verdant hills of Tuscany giving way to the fertile plains nearer the sea. Sadly Follonica turned out to be a dullish modern town, and as we came to the sign pointing the way south along the coast; we took it.

The road left the coast and threaded its way through wooded valley and up and down the sides of hills. All very pretty, but not what we had came to see. We turned down a road Julie the map-reader realised went to a headland, and if nothing else would give great views of the large bay.
Punta Ala was, sadly, a golf resort; but I won’t hold that against it. Also sadly for us, the road signs were not clear and we could not find a place to eat; or one that was open. We headed back out, and I spied a place right on the beach that boasted pizzas and the suchlike. We pulled in, and wandered about; the bar was staffed by a couple of people reading newspapers. Can we eat here, we asked.

Next door was the reply.

We made it clear, in plain English we wanted to eat, and we chose the best table in the place by two huge picture windows with views across the beach and bay. We had shrimp salad followed, for me buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes and for Julie chicken salad with balsamic vinegar. It was simple enough, but just perfect on a sunny day in late September. We did well considering we don’t speak that much Italian and the staff spoke no English.

We drove back across the plain that the city of Grossetto sits on; all flat reed beds and drainage channels. Before having to enter the city to find our way back into the Tuscan hills. Road signs to Siena came and went, and we drove round in circles heading at the same time towards and away from Rome.

But we did clear the city limits eventually, and head once again into the hills, and the land of the hilltop towns. We decided to drive back in a different direction, and leave the main road behind; we followed the signs to Roccastrada, which is a large hill town on the route back. We had the windy lanes to ourselves, and thrilled with the winding road with views out across the plains.
As with most Italian towns, Roccastrada was closed at half three in the afternoon, but we parked up and set off on foot to explore.


It is a wonderful place, very narrow streets leading ever upwards, with narrow passageways with steep steps leading even higher or lower. We followed signs promising ‘panoramica,' and indeed we found it. Sadly now concreted, a former stronghold had views of the pain we usually cross to get from the main road to the that those living here did not get the benefit of the tourist dollar, but their lives seemed rich enough.


After having sated our lust for photography, we headed back with the promise of more cheesy bread to be eaten on the balcony with views of the setting sun. Dinner was of grilled chicken marinated with olive oil and rosemary picked from outside our front door, and more of the tangy salami from the day before.


Once again the sun did wondrous things as it set, and made the sky like it caught fire. Again.