Saturday, 6 June 2015


There are two reasons for this post. I want to highlight an event I went to recently where I got a taste of some damn fine beer brewed specially in honour of the 800th anniversary of the document that gave Brits freedom - the Magna Carta. The other is to to give my shorthand students a piece of dictation practise by reading some of the press release sent out by Bateman's Brewery, the makers of the beer.

I'm working on some writing projects with Visit the Seaside and Natterjack Creative who invited me along to the launch of the beer at Lincoln Castle at the former women's prison. It was a fascinating event and I got to have a good look around after managing to drag myself away from the bar after two half pints. Suffice to say the beer is moreish. One just isn't quite enough but with only 30 barrels brewed, I suggest you get in there quick because when they're gone, they're gone.

The prison had lots of interactive displays so it was easy to see and read old prison records and get a feel for how things were for the women sent there. Cells were small, functional and neat and, I would guess, rather more sterile and clean than they would have been back in the day. I wondered what the ghosts of the past might think about the beer on display if by some chance they found themselves transported to the future. A thought for fiction, perhaps.


Batemans, the family brewer based in Lincolnshire, has brewed a rich, ruby beer to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. The county plays an important role in the story of the historic document and is home to one of only four surviving original copies. Named Law of the Land and available by bottle, this 5.5% ABV beer has been brewed with sweet English barley and spicy Minstrel hops to give a balanced taste of history.

Batemans has partnered with Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) and East Lindsey District Council (ELDC) to officially create this new beer for the anniversary celebrations, demonstrating the strong relationship between the county’s leading brewer and its councils. The beer was launched at an exclusive event held in the women’s prison at the newly renovated Lincoln Castle, where Lincoln Cathedral's copy of the document is now housed in the new David PJ Ross Magna Carta Vault.

Law of the Land is a rich and opulent old-style beer, brewed specially to be a modern-day representation of the type of ale that would have been enjoyed by the barons who created Magna Carta. It is indulgent, characterful and luxurious, with hints of berries and fruits to enhance the traditional flavour. The use of Minstrel hops is also deliberate, as they feature some characteristics of hops of that time.

The shorthand dictation of the first few pars of the press release can be found by clicking here It is read at 100wpm but has a 15 second break between each of the the three paragraphs. I know my students want more of this stuff so I might create a blog especially for this specialist aspect of my journalism work. For now, I'm simply buzzing that I managed to upload any audio anywhere on the web to enable a link here because previous attempts led to hours staring at a computer screen to then be told : "Computer says NO."

I will upload some shorthand outlines (both contemporaneous and neat) to go with this dictation as soon as possible, with the more unusual outlines explained that are worth drilling before attempting what is a quite difficult piece. My dictation has been amended slightly to reflect this.

UPDATE : You will find the shorthand outlines and some tips on transcription HERE

Friday, 5 June 2015


Musical Teeline is one way of doing 20 minutes shorthand practice a day and another is Television Teeline. Have a go at taking down the actor's lines in this classic sketch from the IT Crowd. I began with Jen, followed her lines to the end and then went back for the missing bits of dialogue from Mozz and Roy.

Go back over it a fourth time and fill in any bits you missed out. When you're sure you've got all the lines and characters in the right order, go back again and try and take it all down in one piece.

Below are my outlines for the sketch.

Sunday, 8 March 2015


Ages ago, I wrote that shorthand appeared to be a dying art with so many new forms of recording technology available to new journalists today which made me fear this great skill may become defunct.

I am very happy to report, therefore, that it has never been so important in the modern newsroom. It has become compulsory at the university where I teach and having 100 words a minute is seen as the deciding factor on a CV when editors consider taking on new trainees.

Some of my students love it and others find it a chore and the early start each morning doesn't help their enthusiasm. However, almost all of them love a bit of Musical Teeline and we often challenge ourselves with our favourite songs from that brilliant blog as a way of making daily practice less like hard work.

Below is my effort to Alison Moyet's Windmills Of Your Mind. I am sure if any of my students read this then they will find a couple of errors but if they really want to challenge themselves, they should have a go at the original and best version by Noel Harrison which is much faster than Moyet's and harder to get down, as I found out when I had a go.

So here is my Teeline Shorthand to the deep and fullsome sound of Moyet's unique voice. I sometimes find putting myself into the same situation as my students helps me to better understand how hard they are working towards first their 60wpm exam and finally, via 70wpm, 80wpm, and 90wpm, their 100wpm exam. Some of them have those exams next week and I wish them, as always, the very best of luck knowing that they are trying their best, working hard, and are determined to achieve their Teeline certificates as their first step onto the road to their dream careers in journalism.

Having just heard this favourite classic by Carly Simon on the radio, I decided to play musical Teeline for fun one last time today. It's a great song and perfect for practice at an easy level.

Thursday, 4 September 2014


Our travel adventure in Italy quickly came to an end after leaving Pineto as we raced north towards Bologna. The owner of the camp site warned us that as we were leaving on a Saturday, there would be a lot of holiday traffic on the road and there was. We sat in a long hot queue and opening the car windows didn't help in cooling us down. The air outside was like a hot fan or hair dryer. As it turned out, there were road works ahead with traffic lights holding us up. When we eventually reached them, the car in front went through on red and my other half followed, so did the car behind, the one behind that and several more as the cars on the other side waited on green for a space to push through.

I had hoped to hang around at least another day in Bologna. A fellow anti-Nanny State and free consumer choice activist who lives in the city had kindly offered to be our tourism guide and I would have loved to take her up on that and spend time chatting over a cuppa and a smoke afterwards. I last saw her a few years ago when we both attended an anti-prohibition conference. However, it was very late when we arrived at the Cittá di Bologna camp site and our minds were firmly set on getting home as quickly as possible. We were both worn out and money was tight.

I have seen Bologna before. I stayed for a while back in the 1980s when I went with my mum to visit her sister and I went again about seven years ago with a friend. The only photo I got of the city to mark my visit this time was the mushrooms which grew around the tree on the spot where we pitched our tent. They were all dead by the next morning.

It was a glorious hot day as we packed up to leave. The car so far had been completely reliable despite my husband's fears that somewhere along the way it would break down. We'd done almost 6,000 miles. As he turned the ignition key, the car grumbled a bit and then died. He tried a second time but the engine refused to turn over. This was the last thing we needed and neither of us was sure what we would do if he couldn't get it going.

"Could it be the heat?" I asked. After all, the car was used to England where the hottest of summer days never gets above about 25 degrees and we'd pushed this car forward daily in temperatures ranging between 35 and 40 degrees.

He tried again and it was with a huge sigh of relief that this time the engine struck up. He said something about the heat being responsible for the petrol taking it's time to reach all the way through the pipe to the ignition switch (at least that's what I understood him to mean as one who has no idea about mechanics.)

Aosta was 400 km away but we decided to try and make it in one day without stopping. We took the autostrade, despite the cost, to avoid the winding mountain roads that we had taken on the way down and we hoped to find the camp site we stayed at when we first arrived in Italy. We knew it had wifi and we needed that to amend our ticket home on the channel tunnel Eurostar.

As we approached the mountains, the air outside had become much fresher and it was no longer warm. There were a few castles on cliff tops which impressed me more than the Castle Del Monte but I could only guess at how one would reach them to have a good look around.

We arrived in Aosta at 7pm and the first thing I did was drag out a jumper and jeans. It also started raining but that had gone by morning to make way for another lovely day that was warm but without the stifling heat which I was already missing. We headed for the Monte Bianco tunnel on the non toll road we came in on. It had cost just over 42 Euros to cross from France to Italy but just over 43 Euros to cross from Italy to France.

I wasn't looking forward to the drive because of the difficulty we had in finding camp sites on the way down. Luckily for us, we saw hand made signs leading us around a roundabout down a single track country road that led us to a lovely site that had a fishing pond and a swimming pool and pasture-like fields that smelled green and fresh. It rained really hard as the evening wore on so we sat for a while in the car until it eased off. The next morning we headed on towards Reims and hoped to camp somewhere near there but after a nine and a half hour drive, we still hadn't found anywhere. It was typical that when we didn't need a camp site we saw loads of signs pointing to several, but when the time came that we felt the need to pitch up, there wasn't a single one for miles and miles.

Exhausted, we had little hope that we'd find one and then a sign jumped out at us and we followed it. We'd gone much further north in France than we aimed to so we were, at least, ahead of ourselves. I'd hoped that we'd have time to go shopping in Belgium for cheap tobacco. We saw signs for Oostend and followed them but we didn't have to go far before we realised that we had crossed the border. it was only because the language changed that we realised we were in a different country. No border controls there at all. Tabac was advertised on big flags outside big stores and I was like a kid in a sweet shop. I bought my usual six months supply and we then headed back towards Calais. This was our last night and we didn't intend to waste it driving looking for campsites. We'd stay in a hotel.

France had some wonderful picnic stops and rest stops where we could pull over and make tea. We decided before we got to Calais that we'd have a cuppa because we hadn't had much to eat or drink since leaving the camp site. We passed one that had been closed down and blocked off so we stopped at the next one. There was a lorry parked there and the driver was at the front of his vehicle on his phone. My husband got the camping cooker out and just as I was about to get out of the car, he told me we weren't staying. He was hastily putting the cooker away again and when he got back in the car he asked if I had seen all the people running out of the bushes.

I hadn't but he when he explained that as he began to set up the cooker, he saw lots of people suddenly appear out of the bushes with ruck sacks on their backs run to the back of the lorry, I agreed we should leg it. We didn't feel safe so we continued on towards Calais with no thoughts of stopping again until we got there. There are so many displaced and desperate people running to Europe from dictatorships and wars in Africa and the middle east that I think ultimately it is impossible to stop them trying to get in.

We arrived in the city after 3pm and starving hungry. Everywhere we went was closed. No cafes were open, no bars, no restuarants, no chippys, no kebab shops, no burger bars. The hotel said they wouldn't be serving food until after 8pm. The best we could do was head to a Lidl's we had seen where we bought sandwiches and cakes. We then drove into town later and noted that everywhere began to open up after 6pm. It appears Calais has the old English pub opening times of 11am to 3pm and 6pm to 11pm. We stopped at a nice bar for a beer when the city came back to life and then went sight seeing.

My other half liked the above building and the one below and we learned about the Burghers of Calais.

We stayed at the hotel drinking beer and smoking in the sunshine for a while before heading back into town for more beer as we wasted time until we had to head off to catch the chunnel train. We had four hours to use up but after two we got bored. We were going to spend the last two hours in the terminal looking around, maybe buying last minute presents, but when we got there we had priority boarding which we weren't aware of so we just drove straight onto the train as other cars queued. In another 35 minutes we'd be in England and we weren't even booked on this train. Then it hit me how quick this journey home from Pineto had been and I felt sad as I realised this was it, there was now no turning back. The travel adventure was over.

My other half soon got back into driving on the proper side of the road. We queued for an hour at the Dartford Tunnel otherwise we would have made good time home. I was thankful that the sun shone and the weather was hot. Everyone had talked about the hot summer England was basking in as we were in Italy. However, it didn't last long. Three days later the tail end of Hurricane Bertha hit us and the weather turned to hell. I've barely seen the sun since.

The car which had been great and hadn't let us down once during the long journey began to play up when we got home. It appears that some water got into the petrol somehow that led to it misfiring or, to use my mechanic husband's technical term, it was running like shit. The garage soon sorted that out for us for a tenner and it's running like its usual self again.

I've been asked if I'd do this again and in a second I'd have to say yes, if I was privileged enough to have both time and money in future. We didn't quite make it around the whole boot. There is the north, Venice, Verona, Burano, Padua, Trieste, and the Dolomites that we missed and which would be worth visiting again. Both me and my husband have the travel bug now and we both want to do another European road trip in future whenever we next get the opportunity. We both quite fancy travelling in Germany and Austria along the Rhine so that will be this year's research project as last year's was Italy's.

Now I have to get my head out of the memories of a dream trip and back into reality as work beckons this year like no other I've had for a while. I will try to keep this blog updated but posts may be rather sparse until I get to drips with my new routine and heavy workload.

To read the Travel Adventure in Italy from Part 1 to 11 click on the links below.

England to Aosta

Aosta to Lavagna

Lavagna to Terme Di Saturnia

Terme Di Saturnia to Zambrone

Zambrone to Ragusa

Ragusa to Agrigento

Agrigento to Trapani

Trapani to Messina

Messina to Castel Del Monte

Castel Del Monte to Pineto

Pineto to England

Monday, 1 September 2014


We weren't allowed to drive up to the Castel Del Monte but we were directed to a large car park up the road where we had to pay five euros for parking and a bus to take us there. I was gutted that I hadn't updated my press card which would have got me in free and meant we'd only have to pay 10 euros for one entry instead of 20 euros for the two of us. My student card from when I studied for my MA would also have got me free entry but it was out of date by almost four years. If only I'd known it would have been good for at least something because in all the time I had it while I studied, it was never valid anywhere for discount and I wondered what the point of it was.

It was another glorious day, if there was a bit of a strong wind, so before we entered the castle, we took a walk around it. My other half spotted this creature dead on the path that ran around the building. We thought it was one of those noisy things we'd heard in the trees that was a sort of squeaky see-saw serenade backdrop to our Italian trip because we heard them everywhere - but only on hot days. If it's even slightly chilly, they shut up. The insect we saw, however, was not a cicada but a Eupholidoptera Megastyla.

It didn't take long to see all of the castle inside and we were left with the feeling :"Is that it?" These bronze sculptures were laid out but I don't know what the significance is. My guess is that they are meant to reflect the astronomical and mathematical rigour of the castle's design. Of course, had I managed to get free entry for a decent write-up then I would have asked but in the circumstances, I approached the visit as a tourist happy to look at pretty things without really understanding why they were there.

Before long we we'd finished the tour and were outside heading back to the bus. I think I liked this little trulli village, built by an artist at the entrance to the castle's grounds, more than the grand building we'd just left.

We avoided spending yet more money in a cáfe so instead of visiting the one at the car park, we moved the car to where the camper vans were and got out the camping cooker and food, brewed up and made lunch. To our horror, the gas bottle ran out again so this would mean no more tea until we could get another and we had no idea where we should look. The rest of the trip without tea would be miserable. There was a camp site close to the Castle so we pulled in and hoped they'd have gas bottles for sale but there was no evidence of it so we drove out again. My other half was still chuntering about the cost of the gas bottle we'd bought in Lavagna and it seemed we had no other option but to fork out another 100 euros to replace it again.

We headed for the coast and kept an eye out for anything that looked possibly like a shop that sold it. Eventually, as evening wore on, we pulled into a very small site in Margherita di Savoia. We asked the man who approached as we entered if they had gas because we couldn't stay without it and he directed us to the bar on site where he said people spoke English. They did, a little, and enough to understand what we wanted and they went to great lenghts to help us. I sat with a strong expresso talking to a group of Italian women and their cousins, children, brothers and sisters, while one of the men took my other half around town to find a gas bottle. Sadly, he came back empty handed so we had to move on.

We stayed on the coast road and ended up driving for miles along a narrow pot-holed road through farmland. Old derelict buildings appear to have been inhabited by immigrants, or poor farm workers, as we saw washing hanging outside and tarpaulin pulled over crumbling houses with no roofs. On one side of the road we saw a load of solar panels, while on the other the field was being stubble burned. Italy's modern and ancient sat side by side everywhere.

As it got dark, we still found no camp sites, or shops and we had little faith that we would this late on. All we could do was find a main road, which was quite a challenge in itself, and then head to the nearest city Foggia to find a hotel, get wifi, and search for gas suppliers, before heading onwards with the journey. At least we had a travel kettle and adapter so we could brew up there.

It had been ages since we stayed in a hotel at Pisa and we'd forgotten how lovely it was to have a real bed, room with space, a TV and all the comfort that goes with it so we decided to stay two days and to hell with the budget. We looked up gas suppliers and found a shop nearby, also Googling directions so we didn't get lost trying to find it. The shop had gas but none like the one we bought in Lavagna so they wouldn't fit the regulator we thought was universal for use in Italy when we bought it. In the end we got a great deal. A huge bottle and new regulator for 35 Euros. Bargain.

With some time on our hands we went into nearby Lucera because, according to my Rough Guide to Italy, it was a prettier town more worthy of exploring. We had a good look around and then decided to head back to the hotel for rest. However, we got lost in Foggia and it took a couple of hours driving around to find the hotel again. We ate in the hotel restaurant that night. It only occurred to me half way through the meal that I was the only woman in there. I think it was the sort of place where travelling workmen stay but there was a police station right next door so maybe the police drop in as well. We had veal cooked in pink peppers. My other half was going to tell the grandkids that he ate Pepper Pig but we feared that might traumatise them for life. He'd already told them that his jelly fish sting was the result of a fight with a giant octopus which he won.

We decided to head for Chieti which is said to be the the oldest city in Italy. We left Foggia and headed for Pescara because Chieti was on route along the SS 16 road. We saw a young women sitting in a layby alone texting. My other half immediately claimed she was a prostitute but I said she might just be waiting for someone to pick her up from there after work or something. Then we saw another woman, and another, but this time they were pacing up and down the layby in a very short skirt and very high heels. Every layby we passed along a 20 km stretch had a beautiful young, scantily-clad woman showing her wares in the 39 degree heat with no shade. I eventually agreed they must be sex workers when we passed one young women who was naked from the waist down and motioning at us to pull over... (and to think my husband got told off by police for not wearing his T shirt on a hot day).. The women waved at drivers going past. Motorists hooted their horns. The occasional car or lorry had pulled in and, presumably, doing a deal with the girl they had chosen.

It was a long drive along a mountain road when we pulled off the SS16 for Chieti and the town itself was very pretty and very traditional. We took a walk in the park where there was a huge memorial to the Italian dead of the First World War. We couldn't really work it out but there were posters advertising a beer festival and we assumed it was there because tables were being set out and as we left, many people seemed to be heading that way.

As we made our way back to where we had parked the car below the hilltop town, we passed a traditional Italian barber shop. My husband had enjoyed a close cut throat wet shave in Pisa and he needed another since his beard had got a bit wild and his hair needed a trim. The barber was an elderly man who spoke no English at all. My other half showed him what he wanted by using his finger to shave down the sides of his face, but something was clearly lost in translation. He came out with his head shaved and polished but his beard was left intact. The barber couldn't understand, didn't want to be bothered, or simply didn't have the time to give him a shave. My other half was also a little disturbed that every time the barber said something, he tapped him on his nose as if dealing with a playful toddler.

After Chieti we headed back to the coast to find camping and we stayed at Pineto. The gate was manned by an an Italian Vigilante and others were parked just on the other side of the gate although to book in we had to go into the camp and to the reception. I wasn't sure what they were but the name "vigilante" carries a lot of baggage in English and it made me feel a little uncomfortable. The site was also the second most expensive we'd stayed at but the facilities didn't warrant such a high price - and you had to buy tokens at extra cost to use the showers. The other over priced camp site was in Rome earlier in the trip but it, at least, had more to offer by way of service. Although my camp site guide book said there was "inevitably" some railway noise, because the site was right next to a railway line, "it wasn't intrusive." We clearly camped too close to it. Trains rattling by every hour through the night and woke us both up. We hardly had any sleep.

We arrived very late and left quite early so we didn't do much sightseeing but the seaside town has a tower, which we saw as we drove past it.

Perhaps it was sheer exhaustion, plus the ever decreasing budget, but it was there, that next morning, that I decided the time had come to head home. If we could get easily to Cortona or Assisi, both on my wish list of places to see, then I wanted to stop by but in the event we didn't see any signs pointing that way and we'd have had to have worked out a route to get there, which we didn't, so we continued north towards Bologna. Our travel adventure was almost over.

In the next post we go back to Aosta and head for France and the channel tunnel train home.

Thursday, 28 August 2014


Sicily was wonderful and the memory of it will live with us for a very long time. In addition, we identified a few places that would be worthy of a week or fortnight's holiday should we ever make a return visit. After getting off the ferry from Messina to Villa San Giovanni on the mainland, we faced a very long drive around the sole and heel of Italy's boot. I'd heard a lot about the trulli town of Alberobello and determined that we shouldn't miss it out but we were a long way from getting there.

We pulled into the Campeggio Doccica at Palizzi Marina. We needed food and so drove into the main town of Palizzi to find a supermarket but we ended up getting a takeaway which consisted of a hotdog sausage baked within a bread roll and a couple of arancini but it was all cold by the time we got them back to camp for our supper. There were lots of young people about doing their hair, looking very dressed up, and we realised later that the camp site was holding a birthday party for someone. There were older people and families on the site too and they all seemed to know each other. We felt a bit isolated but at least we could understand the music that blared out until 1am. It was all English and American and included tracks played by Santana and Queen.

The next day we packed up to leave but when we went to pay for the pitch, there was a delay as the person who takes the money wasn't around. Instead we were invited to play a game of table football with an Italian man and his son. Suffice to say, just like the England team in the World Cup, we got whupped but it was an entertaining way of hanging around.

We took the coast road and went through lots of little seaside towns which were the same in character as any seaside town you find in Britain. Rubber dinghies, rubber rings and surf boards hung outside little shops that also had flip flops, sea shoes and postcards for sale. We eventually managed to find a better road that moved a bit faster and drove for miles across a country landscape on one side with the sea on our right. As long as we could see the ocean, we knew we were heading in the right direction. We weren't entirely sure of where we were going next but we headed for Taranto which sits right at the top part of the inside of the heel.

The Calabrian countryside was littered with fires burning in the distance. It was very dry and barren but quite lovely and the sea was azure blue. This beautiful scenery was contrasted with old rusty industrial relics, big factories and lots of half built apartment blocks and hotels. We didn't know whether work was abandoned due to the economic crash Italy has endured, or workers were on a rest day or siesta, but clearly there are some moves to develop the area's tourism and expand some of these little seaside places in an area where few foreigners go.

We were racing back to the north and we didn't stop to do any sightseeing. We'd spent more than half the budget but we still had the whole east side of the leg and the heel to explore so we decided to play safe and be selective about where we visited. We'd accepted that we'd already seen a lot and we'd never see every city, town, village, hamlet or tourist attraction in the country.

We drove all day and ended up pulling into the Pineta camping village because it simply got too hot to drive anymore. We endured a night of bad karaoke coming from somewhere nearby but it wasn't a big problem for me because I'd got myself some earplugs.

After that we drove past Taranto and then pulled over to decide where we'd go next. Ideally, we wanted to drive around the whole heel but this would add extra cost to the petrol so we went for Lecce - the town right in the middle of the heel - instead.

To save money, we'd started pulling over at picnic stops, taking out the camping cooker and making our own tea. At Lecce there was a big car park right near to the historic attractions so before we went to have a look around, we had a cuppa first. There were many camper vans there which could stay overnight. This type of trip is more cost efficient in one of those because you can pretty much pull up anywhere safely on the roadside for free and at special park ups in towns for a small parking fee.

We had a good couple of hours in this ancient town and then set off towards Ostuni and Alberobello via Brindisi. The road signs were not very clear on that stretch of road and having seen none for Ostuni, which was on the map before the trulli town, we wondered if we had somehow missed it because we couldn't work out where we were. We came off the road to retrace our steps backwards via the coast road but soon worked out that wouldn't help.

We really thought that we missed it and as time was getting on, we pulled into a camp site called the Meditur Village which was a bit like a hotel for campers. The reception was marble, very posh and very, very cool as the air conditioning made it feel like the sort of cold summer day we get at home. My other half wished he could put the tent in there but the pitch we got was very good. We had no idea where we were and so had to ask. The staffer who took us to our pitch pointed on our map to Specchiolla. We asked if we were far from Ostuni. It was just 20 km ahead of where we were were. It was great to know that we were still on the right track. There was a great supermarket on the site and unlike the many others we had seen on camp sites during our travels, this one actually sold more than a few Italian delicacies, wine, dried food and bread which always sold out quickly. My other half got some cornflakes and real milk and I got some bacon and eggs. We had a breakfast fit for kings the next morning and felt good as we hit the road again.

I'd noticed my husband scratching his ankle a lot as we drove on the road to Lecce and then I saw a huge ant that must have got into the car with us when we packed up that morning. We both already had something like 30 mosquito bites each but now we were covered in ant bites on our legs that itched like mad during the night. The treatment cream we'd bought from home helped a lot but it was almost gone. The Meditur camp site shop also sold packs of treatment and repellent wipes which were great, really soothing.

Ostuni is known as the White City and they worked hard to keep it that way. We saw an old woman scrubbing her white steps as we wandered down some of the narrow passageways and up stepped streets.

We could have hung around there for a while but we had to move on and I really looked forward to getting to Alberobello. My husband liked to browse in estate agent shop windows everywhere we went. In Ostuni there were quite a few trullis for sale and often for less than our little bungalow at home is worth. I guess if I decided to move out there and buy one in retirement then they'll be a lot more expensive as they call Puglia the new "Chiantishire" because of it's current fascination with British tourists who are snapping up cheap properties for renovation, holiday homes and to live in.

Alberobello isn't far from Ostuni so we drove straight there arter leaving the White City and headed for a camp site mentioned in my camping guide book but again we lost the sign and ended up elsewhere. We stayed at the Bosco Selva site which was very spacious and not too packed out. There weren't many travellers there when we arrived and of those who stayed, they seemed to be mainly foreigners. Our neighbours were French. I wanted to stay another day because I loved the site and the area but we'd already decided to stay one night at different camp sites on our journey back north.

The owner gave us a map of the UNESCO world heritage site and said it was not too far and easily reached by walking. This was good news. The car was a blessing and a curse. It was great for getting us to places we wouldn't normally be able to reach via public transport but it was a pain sometimes to try and find parking and then find the car again after we'd left it somewhere. The walk, however, seemed to take a long time and we reckon it was more than a km as the owner had said.

The town itself is very charming but very busy with tourists getting underfoot everywhere you went - says a hypocritical tourist who probably got under the feet of others. We visited the Trullo Sovrano which is a small museum giving something of the atmosphere of trullo life, with sweet, rounded rooms that include a re-created bakery, bedroom and kitchen. The entry price of one euro and 50 cents made it the cheapest museum that we visited and it was well worth the money.

I took some pictures and again those pesky tourists got in the way as I tried to get shots of the inside, but not always and I sometimes had a clear shot.

It was a very hot night and after we walked back to our tent, we sat in the light of our small lamp drinking tea and looking at the map trying to decide where we should go next. The Castel Del Monte wasn't far and and I wanted to see it as I thought Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose literary medieval crime novel was set there because of it's eight sides.

I wasn't greatly impressed when I saw it, and it didn't take very long to look around, but the countryside around Andria, it's closest town, was stunning. At one point it felt like we'd taken a trip back in time when a goat herder, who looked for the world that he'd just stepped out of a 19th century hillside, skillfully stopped his animals from crossing at a roundabout we were going through. I'll write more about that tomorrow and the women on the Foggia to Pescara road as I promised. I think this series, that I initially only intended to be a couple of posts, is almost at an end as our sightseeing trip became even more of a road trip race up north as our budget depleted.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014


We left Trapani and headed for Palermo but we weren't looking forward to driving through it. I also wanted to get to Corleone if possible. Palermo was hectic and so we decided to keep on driving straight through it. Traffic came from all directions and the motorway merged with the road that went through the city. We saw the turn off to Corleone but we'd have had to cross two lanes of traffic to get to it and neither of us fancied that much.

In the event, we decided to forget it and keep on towards Cefalú which is a fashionable beach town but, apparently, not over-developed with tourism. The camp site in my camping guide was easy to find but there was a problem. Cars were not allowed on the site because they lock the gates at 11pm, and we couldn't take our car to camp with our tent so we left to find somewhere else to pitch up. Our tent was just big enough to sleep in so the car was the suitcase, wardrobe, kitchen cupboard and the storeroom so we couldn't do without it.

We didn't drive very far from Cefalú when we came across the Rais Gerbi down the road at Finale di Pollina. The sites we liked the best during our trip weren't in my camping guide book and this was another little gem that didn't get a mention.

There were shaded terraces for the tents, which were cool and near steps that led down to the sea. We both loved the funky-looking white bungalows pictured above. If we ever make it back there then we might stay in one. They did look very inviting. The campsite was family run by a very friendly group of people. We had a swim in the sea but we didn't stay in long before heading to the bar near to the reception. As we sat in the heat, the owner stopped to chat with us and asked why we weren't down on the beach keeping cool in the sea. We explained that since the jelly fish sting we'd been wary. He told us that they can kill but, of course, this far down south the sea was "entirely safe."

By now, we'd gone from taking a leisurely drive along the coast, staying a few days at a site to see the area around, to a race to get off Sicily and back to the mainland. This was now, effectively, the start of our journey home even though we were still a long way from getting there. There wasn't much else we wanted to see on the island, after missing out both Palermo and Corleone, so we headed straight for Messina and the ferry.

Because we'd gone from camp to camp, and stayed just one night at each place, we hadn't done any washing for a few days. My other half's T shirts were a bit grufty but it was so hot, he decided not to wear one until the next camp when we could get it done.

The temperature was at least 39 degrees so it was with some relief that we stopped at a service station at Acquadolce for a drink and a refresher and to stretch our legs. I really wanted a cup of tea but getting a good one in Italy was always difficult. We did take a big box of Yorkshire Teabags with us but that ran out at Letojanni and since then we'd been buying whatever we could get our hands on but it was in danger of busting our budget at the extra cost of almost £4 euros every other day for a box of 25 Twinings. We're both fussy teapots and the tea has to be good. We tried the slightly cheaper Star brand but it was awful and the lesser expensive Liptons which was a bit better but still didn't give us the hit we needed that only comes from a nice cuppa with plenty of strength.

At various service station stops, I managed to get a decent brew. If they put too much milk in then I'd just get a black cup of tea and mix them, or I'd ask for black tea and then put milk in myself afterwards. My other half long gave up trying and had chosen coke as his drink of choice when on the road. I asked for an English tea at Acquadolce but the abrupt barman said no. "verde e limone" (green and lemon tea) was all they had so I declined and went for water which I don't find as refreshing. Tea lovers know for a fact that tea cools you down when it's hot and warms you up when it's cold. Water is just boring and it warmed too quickly in the heat.

As we pulled in, we noticed a police car parking up. After our drink, we prepared to leave. I made for the toilets and he went to the car. When I came out, the police were walking away from my husband who was putting on his least grufty T shirt that he'd dug out of the washing bag.

"I just got told off and told to put my shirt on by the police," he said.

The officers had approached him and in my absence he had absolutely no idea what they were trying to tell him. One pointed to his shirt and my husband thought he was just showing him his badge. "Very nice." he said, still bare-chested. The other police officer frowned, pointed to his chest and said "shirt - you - shirt."

The penny then dropped and he realised what they were trying to tell him. Perhaps they didn't like his tattoos, or perhaps it's thought to be indecent that men don't wear shirts in public although we'd seen plenty of bare-chested men on beaches and in beach towns so we weren't sure. He did as he was told anyway. Neither of us wanted to fall foul of the law in Italy.

We made it to Messina in good time but finding the embarkation point we needed was another round of madness, reversing, and doing U turns in the road. He'd long since dropped his English attitude to driving. Kids washed the car windscreen whenever we stopped at traffic lights and it got a bit annoying because one after the other, they wanted to be paid. We eventually got to the dock and began to drive down the traffic lane for boarding. My husband stopped and waited when I said that maybe we should check with the ticket office nearby before we got too far into the lane to go back just in case we were in the wrong place because we had a return ticket and couldn't travel with any other ferry company than the one we'd booked with.

As I feared, our tickets weren't valid there and we needed to get out and find the ferry we'd sailed in on. Unfortunately, cars were now starting to come in behind our car so we couldn't get out. He drove over the metal lumps that divided the lanes but didn't tell me until much later, when we were nearly home in fact, that the metal had ripped a chuck out of the car tyre that already had a nail in it and, like the other front tyre, cracked rubber.

We came off the ferry on the mainland at Villa San Giovanni. We didn't know where we wanted to go after that but we followed the boot round the sole and headed for Puglia which has become the new favoutite of the English and I can see why. I loved it.

More to come in tomorrow's blog post about Ostuni, Alberobello, women who line the road between Foggia and Pescara, and the contrasts we found between old Italy and modern Italy living side by side.