Back from sunny Italy

Well we’re back from our week in the beautiful Calabria region of southern Italy.

We boarded our coach from Digbeth at 1:00 last Monday (8 Sept) and slept (or rather attempted to – I shut my eyes and listened to relaxation music on my MP3) all the way down to Stansted.

Our 06:10 flight to Lamezia was on time – in fact Ryanair prides itself upon its record number of on-time landings and fast turnaround times.  Pity about the cattle-class conditions, crusty customer services and bun-fight, sit-where-you-can policy of not issuing numbered tickets, but I guess you get what you pay for.

The heat that walloped us when we stepped on to the Italian runway was intense.  No need for the cagoules and thick socks we’d had to don back home.

All week we melted in temperatures of 37°C.  The weather was glorious all week, save for our last day, Sunday (14 Sept), when it rained torrentially all day.  And on Saturday and Sunday nights we were battered by the mothers of all thunderstorms.

I am not ashamed to admit those storms scared me, especially when we were woken up by the deafening volley of crashing.  I thought we were being shelled.  I had never known lightning like it.  In Britain we’re used to spurts of forked lightning at recurrent intervals, whereas this blazed with the persistence of a light switch being flicked constantly on and off.

Now I never thought I would say this but that sweltering heat actually made me appreciate our temperate British climate more.  Yes seriously!!  For all my whingeing about our drizzle and chill, I certainly couldn’t live beneath the sticky Italian sun on a permanent basis.  Basking on a beach in that heat may be marvellous, but living and working in it would get me down.

Mind you, in this particular case matters were not helped by the fact that the air con at my parents-in-law Frank and Chris’s apartment decided with wonderful timing to conk out on the first day of our stay! 

Attempts to arrange an engineer to fix the problem proved frustratingly fruitless, with the Italian “Domani, domani!” – the equivalent of the Spanish “Mañana” – being the standard answer to Frank’s increasingly aggravated queries.

So a good night’s sleep proved elusive, even on the thunder-free nights.  I don’t sleep well in sticky heat.  We had to have every window in the place swinging open at night – the only disadvantage to this being that the apartment was situated just yards from an extremely busy railway line.  The all-night trains rattled the place at the volume of your average jumbo jet.

The newly built apartment, though – situated between the small, pretty towns of Belvedere and Diamante – is beautiful and spacious.  And five minutes from the beach.

We had some fun scouring markets and homeware stores for bins, scales, bread knives, garlic crushers and other essential items to kit the place out.  Next time we go, we can concentrate on buying more cosmetic accoutrements like pictures and cushions.

The area is lovely and unspoilt, with breathtaking countryside, medieval buildings, clean beaches and quaint mountainside villages which resemble film sets from Allo Allo.

As you may imagine, the local food and wine sent the taste buds into overdrive.  Even M&S’s “no ordinary” fare doesn’t cut it against the fruit, vegetables, bread and cheeses from the small, family-run village shops in Belvedere.

Oh, and they love their chillies.  Great strings of them hang in every grocer’s window.  The red chilli is something of an emblem of Calabria, with giant model ones adorning numerous streets.  We were fortunate to wander quite by accident into the lively annual Peperoncini Festival, when stalls and performers take to the streets of Diamante to commemorate the contribution made by chillies to the region’s cuisine.

Calabria is not touristy and few of the locals speak English, which made communication interesting at times.  We got by – just – thanks to Frank and Chris having attended Italian evening classes, by carrying a phrasebook at all times and employing illustrative hand gestures.

I have to say I did not miss everyday luxuries like TV and Facebook, I wore make-up and jewellery just twice in a week, when we ventured out to restaurants, and haven’t a clue what was happening back in Britain during our time away from it.

Now we are home I am enjoying my second week off work.  Like a schoolkid enjoying the summer holidays, I am getting out and about and visiting local places of interest.  Further blogs describing my days out will follow…

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