Antica Macelleria – Dario Cecchini – Panzano, Tuscany

Every space has a communal table. We descended two or three levels down to a small space where a table for 12 was set, ready and waiting for us. It had to be a cellar, stone walls and the usual vaulted roof, I imagine it’s a space restored, the original bricks curved where an arch might have been are still visible.

Currently there are 7 at our table, an Italian couple and a South African mature couple with an adult daughter who is currently living in London. In a short time we are joined by a couple from the Netherlands, must be newly weds they can’t keep their hands off each other, our final guests a delightful couple from Florence.

The menu though here in Solociccia is incredible and that’s why we are here. We’ve chosen the 30€ per head, right now with our shocking currency exchange rate that’s almost $60 AUD. It’s still a very reasonable price for an amazing degustation menu. We had been advised that the 50€ menu is huge and already I’m pleased for our choice.

Vibrant, generous bowls of crudités dressed the table to be dipped into the individual cups of seasoned light olive oil; paper bags kept bread chunks fresh.

We kicked off with an amuse bouche of consommé made from beef muzzle, sensational! Clear, resembling a chicken rather than beef broth, perfectly season that leaves you wanting more when you know perfectly well that a generous menu is ahead of us. The menu explored every area of beef, there are not enough adjectives to describe the taste sensations. So I’ll give you a quick run down.

  1. Consommé of beef muzzle
  2. Rosamarino in culo…a play on words translated to rosemary up the bum. ????
  3. Spicy ragú on toast
  4. Sopressata sliced very thin (a sausage made up of all the parts of the beast you never believe you will eat).
  5. White beans in extra virgin olive oil
  6. Arrosto del macellaio (butcher’s roast with a silky gravy)
  7. Tenerumi e insalata (boiled beef and vegetables)
  8. Palle de Medici ….(Q. what do you do when the last course is called Medici’s Balls?  A. reassure all the non Italian speaking guests that it’s not really testicles). However it is likely that the sopressata contained this delicacy. ????moooo!
  9. To finish, a plate of chunky cut olive oil cake, coffee (made with a macchinetta, none of this fancy ‘espresso machine’ stuff) and grappa.  Chianti was served with lunch of course and mineral water.

It’s precision stuff; a throng if people arrive flooding every area surrounding the restaurant. Wine and salami and chunks of bread  is available prior to sending guests scampering to their reserved tables. Within the two hours allocated for lunch all guests are disengorged to the street, beaming, whilst the staff are well underway clearing and resetting tables for the evening route.

Cecchini’s is closed just one day of the year. Christmas Day! I wonder if turkey is on the menu? If you haven’t been, put it on your Wishlist. I haven’t even told you about the drive, it’s glorious.

Thanks Dario!

Villa Montelonti – wine and more food!

It’s a gorgeous villa I have to say. We have just one small portion of it. A gated apartment of three bedrooms, two bathrooms though only one has a shower, two living areas, two dining areas one is part of the kitchen, most importantly a laundry and a private garden. Every wall is covered in artwork or porcelain and old beaten copper pots. Every surface has something on it, a set of scales, a tureen, an old alarm clock covered with a glass cheese bell, glass decanters of all sizes, another bowl/vase of flowers.

The owners are moving in for a few months the day after we leave and seriously, looking at the furnishings, the flowers combined with the impending arrival we have surmised that the owners are English and they are spending summer months in England and winter in Tuscany. Well that just one storyline anyway.

Our plans are rather fluid, plans are made and broken, and new plans made. We lost half a day yesterday; our hired vehicle had a dead flat battery, it accounts for why the engine was left running in the parking lot at the Budget rental car office when the staff had gone for a two hour siesta. Of course they wouldn’t  admit it even after I reminded them. Not a high moment in our trip however we met a couple from Ballina, NSW who also meted out their own displeasure having had a flat tyre and associated issues. The fellow was tall, tall and big, large to match his height, overall making him a giant in my eyes. Such a funny man and he wasn’t even trying I’d hate to see him in an angry moment ….it would be a case of, fi, fie, foe, fum, whose the man man that stole my fun ????????????sorry I know a poor attempt at a joke.

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It’s after 5pm the beautiful people hour, that period of time after siesta and before dinner. Houses are like vomitariums, people spilling out onto the streets and lanes, going somewhere wherever that may be.

There are a lot of dogs here and not a few cats. Surprisingly though there are a lot of Schnitzel dogs. Of course they’re not called Schnitzel dogs they are Daschunds but our Georgie says she wants one and will call it Schnitzel, so affectionately we have rebadged them. They’re cute, a lot of them are fat but I’m constantly concerned they are going to damage their undercarriage. These dogs sit perilously close to the ground.

Last night I made a killer pasta of salami, pancetta, left over uncooked veal, olives, onion, garlic, chilli ????, leftover pepperonata and passata. Tonight we are waiting in one of the many piazzas for Rosa (Rosemary) and Kim to return from their sojourn to visit one leaning tower in Pisa and then we’ll have dinner before returning home.

Tomorrow who knows where we will go but I can tell you we have a reservation at Cecchini from Chefs Table on Netflix or is it Stan, I can’t remember which, but I do know it will be memorable.

See you the other side of Cecchini!

Buonasera!

  

Ciao della Toscana

Peter is ever the clown. He has the wickedest sense of humour, he certainly tickled Massimo’s funny bone but Mass got it, chiding Peter that he was affected by all the wine! ????Well he is still doing it. We’re on the bus to Siena. It was not planned, oh, the Siena part was, but not the bus! I just love the antics of the easy going Italians.

I’ll start by telling you our journey to Siena requires a train heading for Florence and a change of trains 7 “stops” not train stations, they have to be stops, to Chiusi, which means closed, then on the train to Siena. 9:00-10:40 Rome to Chiusi then 10:46-11:58 Chiusi to Siena. We had been assured the train waits for Siena bound passengers. Okay, got it!

I can assure you, that when a train runs 30 minutes late, the next train waits for no man. Plan B announcement, the first to be made in Italian and English…. “there will be a bus waiting to take you to Siena”.   Side note to my girls: Remember girls, “if you’re late you’ll be on the bus”, that’s a Dad warning his children all their school lives, ……….wonder who that could be.

We have a delightful bus driver, assuring everyone he will not leave without everyone who should be on the bus, is on the bus, but I love his conversation with another bus driver who he has roped into bussing another group of passengers who are bound for Montepulciano saving our guy time. I heard him saying, “grazie Massimo (coincidentally), you’ve saved my life, oh you saved my life, I’ll see you next time, we’ll have coffee together. Massimo you saved my life, grazie, grazie”.

Wow, are we so grateful when someone helps us?

You can imagine we are running horribly late which means we’ll be late to meet our host at the villa in Poggibonsi but it’s all part of the experience. Nothing a few text messages won’t fix. And you know  they say….. ‘never rains but it pours’, yes exactly, it’s raining and we walked 1 1/2 kms in the rain only to discover that the car hire place has closed for lunch and will reopen at 3pm…..that’s 1 1/2 hrs from now.

So in the meantime I’ll tell you that we have farewelled Rome for another year; I haven’t seen half of the things on my list, you know that means I’ll have to come back and maybe that’s the secret to ensuring we return.

Ciao from Villa Montelonti in Poggibonsi!

Journeying to Sardinia to see Massimo!

Cagliari is the capital of Sardinia, there are three airports, Cagliari (south), Alghero (North West) and Olbia (North east). Olbia is closest Naples, Alghero is closest Sassari where we stayed and Cagliari is a 3 hour drive south, guess which port we flew in to? Crazy I know but it’s about flights, cost and flight dates. Our friend Massimo drove 3 hours to pick us up (what a legend)!

We met Massimo in 2015 becoming fast friends from the first moment we were introduced. After extending repeated invitations for 4 years we have finally come to his beautiful island.

Our friend had the perfect plan for us given the fact he had just driven 3 hours. We kicked off visiting one of the 10,000 sites where ancient structures known as ‘nuraghe’ were developed during the Nuragic Age between 1900 B.C.and 730 B.C. They are unique to Sardinia and indicate a distinctive culture.

Our visit to the largest nuraghe was followed by the Giara Gesturi, a park considered an island within an island. It’s the natural habitat of the Giara horse, a small breed freely roaming the park thought to have been introduced during the Nuragic or Punic periods. Sardinia is semi arid, and in much need of rain the three waterholes we saw over the one or two kilometres we walked were dry which will make it hard for the livestock.

Sardinia is an exporter of cork too, the path right around the 10 kilometres park is well lined with cork trees. Interestingly the cork is harvested only every nine years and only up to 1.2 metres from the base of the tree. At the following two restaurants we were served food creatively displayed on curved wide bowls of cork. I want one! Maybe two!!

By the time Massimo dropped us off at the hotel in Sassari we were pooped but our dear friend still had an hour of driving to get home. He must have driven close to 800 kilometres and that was just day one. Massimo lives in a little ‘paese’ of six churches and 1000 inhabitants. He lives in his mother’s house and helps her though an independent woman. Mass had offered us his own home just 1km from the beach, I’m slapping myself for not staying there having now seen it. It’s on the Smeralda Coast known for it’s crystal clear green waters and sandy beaches, around the top north eastern area of Sardinia. You can bet we will return another time and take advantage of the beauty of this area, we did however visit Isola (island) Rossa a headland made up of a jaggered rocky outcrop, terracotta in colour.

Massimo worked as a prison officer for 30 years, I guess it’s natural that he should take us to Isola del’Asinara, it’s accessible only by boat, you’ll be proud of me going on a boat smaller than the Manly ferry. The only cars on the island are authorised park vehicles. Asinara gets its name from the asses (donkeys not the other) that roam freely but it’s better known for it’s long penal history, POW internment camps from the two world wars and tuberculosis rehabilitation settlement. Forty five thousand people were displaced from the island and restyled on the main island in order to establish the penal colony. Only prison officers were allowed to live here  during that time. If I remember correctly twelve jail blocks cover the island, Fornelli the first we visited was a maximum security cell block for the very worst offenders including the ‘mafiosi’. No one ever escaped from Fornelli unlike Alcatraz, and the only two who reportedly escaped were day release prisoners from an agricultural block who tended the farms by day returning to their cells in the evenings. They were recaptured, they had nowhere else to go the Strait between the Asinara and the mainland is unforgiving.

There’s not much more we could have seen in the three days and four nights we had in beautiful Sardinia. Massimo treated us to a feast at his friend’s restaurant in Castelsardo. Carmelo and Massimo worked together in the prison system for many years until Carmelo retired setting up a family restaurant at the top of a cliff where he also leases out space to a parasailing club for a launching ramp. The best spot though is reserved for diners who have a perfect view of the aerial display. It’s like the dance of a thousand sails up in the sky above us.

We also discovered that the area where the restaurant has been established was the territory, I suppose it still is, of a vixen and her cub. When Carmelo set up his restaurant the fox and her cub would sit back at a distance and watch, smelling the aromas of grilling meat, the restaurant staff began to feed them at the end of the night. And so it came to pass that each evening mother and cub came for dinner waiting patiently to be fed, eventually the guests began to hand feed them also. It’s a sad thing when an thoughtless person kills a fox in its own territory but that’s what happened, now the male fox comes alone. Who knows one day he maybe he will turn up with his new family too.

Italy is not just about pasta. In Sardegna, donkey and horse is a favourite on the menu. I was a slow starter having caught some sort of virus that kept me in bed for a day and am still trying to recover from  it. I would have liked to try donkey. Horse is fantastic too I’ve read, everything equine is available, grills with garlic and parsley oil, salami, sausages plus much more. I’ve had sausages but I doubt it was horse or donkey, delicious regardless. We’ve had amazing steak and roast pork, pork ribs, lamb cutlets, the most delicious veal with orange sauce, the best 200gm beef burger (no bread), scaloppine with wine sauce, with orange sauce and that’s just the beginning. Vegetables…… grilled eggplant and zucchini, spinach with pine nuts and plump golden sultanas is my favourite, roast potatoes, parmigiana of eggplant…… yum, yum, yum! I think between four of us we’ve tried almost all the pasta types, filled, flat, round and with hole.

Come to Italy even if it’s just to eat!

Rome next, see you there!

Arriverderla!

Naples – You have to go at least once!

The Queue

This is true…. when your standing in a long queue people will automatically turn around to ensure there are more people behind them than in front. Everybody wants to be ahead of the pack.

The queue for entrance to the Archeological Museum in Naples which holds all the Pompeii artefacts is close to 45 mins long. It’s a 28 degree day, you might say the sun is hot. I’ve shooed Peter to the shady spots whilst I hold our position on the queue and I’m able to observe the strategy of those in front of me and those behind.

Some have given up waiting and have walked away whilst others crane their necks to ensure they are not trying to jump the queue. The English fellow behind me is searching the internet on his phone trying work out a way to jump the queue or as they say ‘skip the line’. The shade seekers are holding up the queue hogging the shade for as long as they can whilst the rest hold their position and suffer the sun. Then there are the the group of people who appear to be, though not necessarily the majority, and they are the smokers. Less than a metre behind another they will happily light up, draw and exhale ….. right over the person in front of them. It’s disgusting and that’s coming from a die hard reformed smoker.

And I’m standing here knowing already the treasures within and will happily wait.

Naples is a hustling, bustling city. We arrived yesterday from Palermo by plane and staying in the same BnB Emilie and I stayed in in 2017 when we did our volcano tour of Southern Italy. It’s not that it’s  the best BnB in the world, but we are in the heart of Naples, close by the central train station. I’ve previously stated how Italians measure distance by some obscure method and i say that because when I ask our host how far the museum is from the accommodation he said “too far, an hour by walking”. It’s only 28 minutes away! I have to laugh that after 12 years of visiting Italy, the locals still can’t tell distance when giving directions, though the thing they can do is recall that Australia too far! ????????????????????????

The Traffic

Shall we talk about the traffic in Napoli? It is continual movement of disorderly orderly vehicles. Cars, motorcycles and the type of not vehicular traffic, but human traffic. It’s chaos without road rage, but in the end everyone gets to where they want to be. No marked lanes, perhaps there were long ago, but no longer visible; potholes no problem; parking lanes? What parking lanes? double, triple ranked, Ok! We’ve seen more than one car kiss, the drivers got out of their cars, looked at the point of contact, greeted each other then re-alighted their respective vehicles and drove away. When did Australian drivers, cyclists and pedestrians become so angry. What does it profit a man or woman to rage at the driver attempting to break into traffic, or failing to use an indicator or change lanes?

The Pedestrians

The principle of crossing the road stems from biblical times, though using pedestrian crossings where road markings have long been worn away, don’t wait for the traffic to stop, one must do as Moses did.  In order for the waters of the Red Sea to part he had to put his toes in the water. So too pedestrians must step onto the roadway before cars will  stop….. but not motorcyclists. Then it becomes a duck and weave. You move forward, the cars move forward, the bikes move forward……forward and remember to look the other way or the next ambulance you hear will be the one that will take you to the hospital.

The Motorcyclists

Motorcyclists could in the near future out number the cars. Pre-pubescent children ride motorcycles, not on the main roads of course, but in the back lanes and alleyways, and not solo but with a pillion, another young person. Two adults, one with a child in front of them, parents with child between them, this is not a ‘developing world’ thing. But I can’t talk, I remember being sub 6 years old riding with my Dad or Mum on the Vespa, in fact I think it was me standing in front, my parent then my brother behind them. I miss those halcyon days! Naples returned to me a memory I had almost lost.

The Sounds of Naples

Any of you who know me well will remember me saying I strongly disliked Naples. I take it back! It’s dirty, plastic and rubbish litter the streetS, the roads are horrendous, I’ve already mentioned the traffic, always awareness of one’s surrounding is paramount, but I love the sound of Naples. At all hours loud voices echo down the alleys, the sound of fish sellers setting up for the day 5 floors below can be heard in the mornings and at night, a scolding mother or wife, the cry of a child or voices of children mimicking the volume of their parent’s voices carry up to us. I love it! It represents Italy to me. Somewhere there is singing, somewhere church bells, the traffic, the car horns, I love it all.

Yes, come to Naples but choose a different BnB. We encountered a couple from the US on our last night who where staying two floors below who said their place was wonderful. Always good to check out what else is around.

While you’re here check out Spaccanapoli. It’s the street that divides the straight and narrow main street that traverses the old, historic center of the city of Naples. The name is a popular usage and means, literally, “Naples splitter”. The name is derived from the fact that it is very long and from above it seems to divide that part of the city.

It’s full of artisans, religious icons, nativity sets (they are quite amazing if you’re in the market for one), silly superstitious stuff, and lots and lots of people sedately promenading the length of the street. Old buildings on one side and much older on the other. So glad I didn’t miss it a second time.

Tomorrow it’s a short flight to  Sardinia, we’ll see you there.

Ciao for now.

Palermo – Day 4 & 5

Years ago, Peter and I came to Palermo on our way to Taormina in Sicily. The train at the airport was to take us to the next location so that we could get to our final destination. It was at a time when the Mafia shut down the trains from the airport forcing us to catch a bus into the city centre. I’ve since learnt that bus stations are always in the scrappiest part of town. I was horrified and vowed never to return to Palermo.

I’ve changed my mind!

We are staying in an AirBnB in Palermo’s historic centre. We’re living amongst the locals, where the locals shop and eat. I think we are a bit of a novelty but using the local language I think is important I don’t want anyone thinking they can hoodwink us.

The fishmonger’s stall is just 20 metres away, of course we had a seafood dinner. vongole (clams), cozze (mussels), Merluzzo (I think it’s very similar to flathead), and gamberi (shrimp, the red variety). Four men across the wide kiosk served me, one shelled a raw prawn while I was trying to decide quantities and offered it to me. It’s my first experience eating them raw, so soft, sweet, a taste of the sea. We moved on to the vegetable stall holder next, ripe fresh tomatoes, to die for peaches freshly boiled potatoes lightly seasoned, still in the cauldron they were cooking in. The trader offered me one, you buy when you try produce like that. Lastly, we stopped at the man who simply sold olives and anchovies. Armed with all our goodies including two piping hot filoni (baguettes) fresh out of the oven just as we arrived at the Panificio (bakery) at 4.30pm.

I’ve arrived in food heaven.

It’s breakfast time and the street below us is bustling with movement, both people and vehicles. Men greet each other in the street with a kiss, there loud conversations and the odd car with stereo blasting loud enough for this street those surrounding to hear….here comes one now. Cars generally drive on the right but cross over in front of on coming traffic to turn left or right. Double ranked cars line the street and any space is fair go including across corners or if insufficient space then a driver will, without guilt, drive their car up the curb into the corner. Car accidents are the norm but after getting out to assess damage the drivers will farewell each other without a single sign of annoyance.

Our host Sergio left a map for us pointing out all the high spots, I think we’ll just start from where we are and walk as much of the historic location.

Palermo is not my first experience as I previously mentioned, it’s a wonderful place, where the person to whom you ask a simple question will walk you to the place you are looking for..

There are times when people get a little too close though; our friends Kim & Rosie went out on a mission; get beer from the supermarket on the street over from us and then pick up a loaf of bread on our street just a little down from us, then home. It was an opportunity for them to wander a little and experience the location on their own. Most unfortunately as they left the bakery Kim became the victim of a foiled pickpocket attempt . His assailant sent a silver object across the footpath causing Kim to slip and fall to his knees, the assailant feigning assistance while reaching for Kims hip pocket where I can only imagine was the outline of his wallet. K & R’s astuteness saved them a significant loss and the offender knew Kim was serious when yelled out in good “Aussie” form, “get out of it”!

It has to dent one’s confidence and it did. It has taken Kim some time to recover from the loss of a bottle of beer but I think he is over it, now guarding his beer and hip pocket more diligently.

But seriously, he was rattled and who wouldn’t be, he certainly didn’t  let the guy get away with it, but again it highlights the need to assess how we are perceived “as tourists”. We’re not all a light touch!

So what is there to see in Palermo? The Zisa Palace built in 1700s by the Moors and attached to a Chapel built in 1165 by the Normans and connected by a walkway. They say by day the inhabitants of the palace sinned, then went to the chapel to confess their sins.

I walked out to the  Catacomb of the mummified Capuccini monks. Many families have brought their loved ones also to be mummified particularly children and infants; it broke my heart but I’ll tell you no more. To get there I walked through a lower socio demographic area when I thought we had seen the worst. I also came across a plaque memorialising the assassination of heroic members of the community and carabinieri by the “mafiosi”.

The return to the apartment held added interest, at around 4pm food carts were dotted the roadway preparing a fare of tripe (yum), quail or squab and simply olives, eggs and anchovies. Wish I could have hung around but I know when it’s time to go home!

If you have never been to Palermo, come and enjoy the sights, the smell, the people and their wonderful hospitality.

See you in Agrigento

Rome – Day 2

Wherever I go the locals I meet believe they’ve met me before. I could be Hungarian, definitely Eastern European, Italian for sure, and northern Italian just because I’m not dark enough to be a southerner. No one ever says Australian and I guess technically they are correct. I’m a first generation Australian because of my birthplace but my parents are Italian therefore I’m Italian. Most people we meet in Italy want to speak English to me I can’t even give my Italian a workout. Good for them but not for me.

Today we have woken up fresh after an exhausting long haul flight and coming in from the cold to a whopping 29 degrees, thunderstorms and high humidity. We are in the Parco degli Aranci in the Aventine. I had to bring Peter here to see the view of St Peter’s Basilica and the stunning panoramic view that is I think, an optical illusion. The river is only just in view below the elevated gardens St Peters straight ahead and the grand white monument in the distance is Piazza Venezia, continuing on the colosseum is just out of the view but we know it’s there.

An Asian bride and her groom are having the wedding photos, very high tech photographer is using just an iPhone. We saw the trio at the Aventine keyhole. You’ve seen it in photos I’m certain, the scene through the keyhole reveals St Peter’s dome through a pine arbour. The real estate belongs to the Priory of the Knights of Malta and formerly to the Knights Templar (my favourite Knights) and according to the blurb on the table next to the door where coincidentally are rosary beads offered for €1. The Aventine technically doesn’t belong to the Italians. Ha! I say, try telling that to the Italians, but let me leave first please!

There are way many people in the garden today, too much noise, children chasing pigeons, smokers lighting up in a crowded spot, a vendor with a table laid out on the elevated lookout hoping for buyers for his sunglasses and hats and a male violinist playing to canned backing in his purple high heels.

I truly love this place but I love the peace and quiet to be found here not the extension of the hub-bub of the piazzas and around the Roman monuments. I will say this though, the orange trees are looking much better than on my previous visit and laden with fruit as well.

We met Kim and Rosie at Termini train station as agreed. Oh God, I think we killed them last night. Peter and I had already walked 20 plus kilometres, we needed to make the most of K&Rs visit to Rome. First port of call a beer at one of our local piazzas, crowded with people taking up every possible spot on the steps around the fountain. 6-7pm is drinking time, chatting, laughing and possibly talking about where they will eat that night. A view of the Colosseum from the piazza is at the end of the street. Always breathtaking!

I guess you could say we frogmarched them around the streets and lanes of Rome for 5 kms with dinner in between. I lost my way and for a split second I felt guilt and responsibility but I can assure you that is was only momentary. If you can’t get lost amongst the monuments, ruins, and charm of Rome then where on earth can you do it? Finally back at Hotel Verona by midnight, no pumpkin carriages, mice footmen or lost glass slippers involved.

We have left the Harris’s waiting for their ‘skip the line’ tour of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Forum, Peter and I have wend our way to a little cafe overlooking Piazza Venezia a magnificent monument built by a Venetian Cardinal who later became Pope Paul II (a job only for the wealthy) and was at one time the site of the Venetian Embassy in Rome. It’s also a monument to Vittorio Emanuel II, first King of Italy. During the 1920-40s, Piazza Venezia was the location of public speeches by the Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini to his supporters.

There’s so much to tell you but so little time, I’ll pick up where I left off tomorrow.

Ciao
Celestina e Pietro, Kim e Rosa

Italy Again

A Very Disordered Traveller!

Adelaide – 5 Days Out

It’s almost time to head north again. Where you say? Why, Italy of course!

I shouldn’t talk like that really, we’re about to embark on a 4 week excursion with our “Besties” Kim and Rosie Harris and I guess I’m the tour guide. We’ve talked about it for years, well, that time has arrived. It was decided 12 months ago when we were about to jump on the plane to England to walk the Lands End to John O’Groats route. There’s nothing like planning another holiday before taking the last.

Now I will say that I’m not accustomed to travelling with others, even though we won’t be sharing a tent or even a dormitory, being a good host and companion traveller requires good manners and compromise.

I have to tell you I’m totally disorganised. Arrrghhh! I’ve spent months working on an itinerary that will showcase the best of Italy from Sicily as far as Ventimiglia on the Ligurian coast and located just 20 miles (that’s what Ventimiglia means) from the French border. I’m still booking hire cars and train tickets and we leave in just over 5 days, I’ve even changed accommodation in Florence putting us in the heart of the historic city in adjacent the Uffizi.

Peter and I are working to the death knell, I hope they hold the plane doors open as we take a flying leap off the air bridge or the airside crew will be scraping us, arms and legs ‘spread eagle’ off the tarmac.

Singapore – 5 days later

We made it! It’s 11:42……. pm that is. Our flight leaves at 1:30……am that will be.

It’s 36 years since I’ve been to Singapore and heck I don’t need to even leave the airport, it’s a whole city in itself. We booked a room in the transit hotel thinking to catch up on much needed sleep between flights. Peter sold us short by an hour, he bought a new iPhone yesterday, Saturday, these are the things you do before you go away. Anyway, he is still struggling with stepping up to the XR and hasn’t quite worked out that “aeroplane mode” immobilises the phone, additionally he changed his wrist watch to the wrong time and couldn’t work out why his phone alarm didn’t wake us or for that matter why the concierge didn’t wake us at the agreed time.
At $140 AUD for 6 hours it the most expensive few hours sleep we have ever had!
Puts a different slant on renting a room by the hour!!!!

We’ll be boarding soon enough. Singapore Airlines….top notch, it’s my first time. Great plane, great crew, great everything. It’s going to be a great break.

I’ll write you from the other side. Follow us on our travels and feel free to leave a comment.

Ciao for now!

Celestina e Pietro

The weather is changing.

It’s going to happen when you’re on vacation, you will have the best days and then the others. The best meals and then the worst.

We had a rainy cold day yesterday, but we have been prepared for cold rainy days, in fact, I watched the Scotland weather forecast for weeks before leaving Australia, it showed snow more times than not but we have not seen a single flake. Maybe we have a different method of forecasting in another hemisphere. Maybe we say Scotland……cold, freezing, wet; Bahamas………blue skies, blue water, hot days, balmy nights, bikini weather. Here’s what the north say about Australia….. hot, dry, dusty roads and kangaroos. Oh come on please!! But today, the day of our departure the skies are as blue as any summers day in Australia but the cold is biting, the forecast is for 6 degrees at 4pm today.

Aberdeen is a city built of granite, a young Norwegian women who served us in a men’s store yesterday said the city glistens in the sun and she was so disappointed we wouldn’t get to see it, but even if only briefly I can attest to the truth of her statement, it does indeed sparkle in the sunlight.

Our movements have been very much hampered by Peter’s injury, we would have explored every nook and cranny had we been able. I was adamant to search for a magnificent monument of Robert the Bruce King of the Scots before leaving Aberdeen, last night was our final opportunity. Braving the cold and wet we ventured just a couple of streets in the direction where we knew it to be, it was worth it. The Robert the Bruce wearing his crown, sits gloriously on his mount in front of a majestic building once a University Marischal College now the Aberdeen Council offices but still known as Marischal College. Peter in his inimitable style engaged the young security guard in conversation who pointed us in the direction of an even more impressive monument of William Wallace and opposite the beautiful Aberdeen Gardens. These three landmarks are an absolute ‘must see’ should you travel to Aberdeen, (see photos on Facebook).

As much as we are foodies, food does not dominate our time and movements when we travel, but I must tell you we stumbled across ‘Tony Macaroni’ restaurant last night. We had the best Parmigiana di Melanzane (aubergine parmi) ever, piping hot generous serves with a side dish of buttery spinach. It was opening night for this site last night but we’ve seen TM elsewhere and not surprisingly with 17 other restaurants all owned by the one man. It was actually a re-launch last night the manager told us, the official opening was two months ago, kitchen issues closed down the restaurant for five weeks. They must have been serious issues to close for such a significant period, but last night it was the place to be.

If you’ve travelled to the UK, anywhere in the UK you will have seen Costa cafés. There are 2500 cafés all around the UK (not Orkney) and we learnt from one of the Pastors, who moved to England to plant a church recently who is in the interim currently managing Costa cafés, Coca Cola recently paid £4+billion for a region of Costa Cafés. I thought after the conversation GBP£4billion is AUD$8billion give or take a dollar or two, I could buy the whole of Australia for that and all it’s bought in UK is a number of Costa Cafés.  

Things aren’t always as they seem. As you may have read on the day of our arrival we were confronted with the less appreciated side of Aberdeen and the circumstances of a significant number of people. Today however as we leave Aberdeen we are able to see, shall we say, more attractive parts of the city. It’s never too late to appreciate a cities better offerings and where we might have once decided that once is enough I think we could be encouraged to return even for a brief visit.

Our conference (Equip) finished yesterday it has been a week of input and enrichment and every conversation was significant and had purpose. We have met people from all over the UK but also South Africa and Europe. I think it is not usual that someone from Australia would attend a UK Equip but it was right for us, every session spoke into our lives and encouraged us in our ministry going forward. 

We will soon be landing in London Heathrow as we begin to make our way home, a brief stay in Hong Kong where I had hoped to see my brother but I might be lucky enough to cross paths with him at the airport as we go to catch the flight to Australia that he will have arrived on, but we will see my nephew Andrew (living in Asia) and Michael and our sister in law Nola (on buying trip to China). How global is our family that we travel to HK to see family living in Adelaide? Hahaha!

Thank you again for following us on our madcap journey, my scribblings, and all your encouragement to me to consider trying to earn a living doing what I love, writing. 

See you all again in Adelaide very soon. 

Tina (& Peter)

God is speaking, are you listening?

Leaving Orkney was somewhat sad, I, we, felt connected to the green isle. There is such a serenity to be found there. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Do you know the history of Orkney?

We arrived in Aberdeen on Saturday, a 35 minute flight in a 36 seater plane and it wasn’t even full. At check in we were offered the exit row, God bless the guest service assistant, Peter is still struggling with his sprained ankle after his fall in the middle of the never, never.

We heard that Orcadians love Aberdeen and some come twice a year. There’s a ferry leaving Shetland then picks up passengers in Orkney at midnight arriving in Aberdeen at around 5am in the morning and it’s less than £20. But I’m not seeing what they do. Aberdeen is dirty, filthy actually, more people smoke than not (there’s that ugly reformed smoker in me coming out again), high ethnic population, African, Indian and Middle Easterners that I can recognise immediately. In the short distance from alighting the bus to our accommodation there’s evidence of the complete inebriation the night before and I step around it. It’s the clubbing district we’ve discovered as well as the poor area of Aberdeen.

But what I really want to tell you about is Christ Central the church, just across from Union Square which is a shopping mall. It took us awhile on Saturday to find the church. We knew the church had moved to a new location in the zone, it’s not a traditional building in fact it used to be the location of a herring processing operation if I understood correctly. The renovations are not yet complete, it’s being staged and they have plenty of hurdles to jump before it will be finished

I want to tell you about everyone we met, they are an amazing faith-filled group of people but maybe some stories are better told face to face. Amy Brookes wife of the lead Pastor Rick Brookes gave us a condensed history of the journey to the purchase of the building and it’s definitely worth the telling.

Eight years ago or probably longer the building they now occupy came up for sale, two offers were made, one party offering £1.3mill approx and then Tesco (UK supermarket giant) offered £1.6 mill then having heard there was a generator in the basement withdrew their offer. This left an opening for Christ Central to make an offer for the building, being £800k.

Now for all intents and purposes one would say that was a gift, only half of the Tesco offer but all is not as it would seem. Firstly, they offered because they felt The Lord lead them to do so, the building was not a walk-in walkout it was almost derelict and had significant value to the developers of Union Square but would require a great deal of money to get it to a point of being fit for purpose.

Of greatest significance was that the bank required £400k within 28 days before they would release funding and to add to that, the congregation numbered only 34 people. If that was not enough of a challenge Rick felt God saying not to preach and ask for money from the congregation. Amy recounts the story how each day they would look at the bank balance and refresh the screen. As the 28th day was coming to a close and they looked at the bank balance again refreshing the screen a number of times and on the last time an amount of £412k appeared in the bank. I’m moved to tears by this story even as I write it. The solicitors acting for the church were so astonished by this immeasurable act of faith and trust that they gave a further £10,000 to cover all fees.

It is inevitable that the enemy will test faith even after all is said and done. As soon as the church had possession of the building thieves stripped the building of its valuable copper piping gaining access through the gaping holes in the walls. The thieves did not turn off the boiler first so the building was also flooded. They have continually been harassed by Tesco, M&S and others, one party even ordering the cutting down of trees on the church property before the church brought it to a halt.

But the hand of God is so evident in so many ways including acquiring at no cost a vast amount of carpet which was used just the once for a music concert, a member of the church was there to accept the carpet that was being dumped and it has carpeted at least two floors of the building. What colour do you think it is? The colour of royalty, purple no less! It looks fabulous!!

The council wants to tax them as a business which would be 1000s of pounds each year, but because the building was used for prayer meetings for a period and the church is a charity, they can’t. The church cannot use its front doors because of some issue raised by the developers of Union Square, they have installed CCTV on the front door to ensure there is no breach by the church, but it is security for the church. How fantastic is that!

As I say there are still many challenges but their faith is strong and they are meeting these challenges head on as they arise.

Christ Central have a community arm TLC, we had the privilege of hearing Tim Olsen preach on Sunday, Tim also heads up TLC, Rick said Tim left a much better paying job to do so but we could see his heart as he told a number of stories involving members of the community who are able to access help through the food bank, counselling and other support.

To give you some form of perspective regarding Aberdeen as it did for us, the population is around 230,000. Aberdeen is on the coast of the North Sea which is an oil basin and has brought significant wealth and employment to the economy of Aberdeen however when the oil prices dropped a few years ago 120,000 people lost their jobs. Tim said pointing “if you walk 90 seconds in that direction, you will be amongst the poorest 5% of the population”. And all of a sudden it answered all the questions we had upon our arrival.

It is a poor and needy zone in which we have landed. Begging on the streets, though we know not all people begging are truly destitute, the state of the streets, the high disability needs, the look of desperation only the blind can not see it but it’s almost in your nostrils.

The church does an incredible job meeting human need, Tim could hardly contain the emotion in his voice and again we are moved by his authenticity. TLC has three food banks, they see it all, people of faith and no faith, loss and grieving for a number reasons, suicide and so on.

Many of us quote that famous line from the movie Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come”. It was prophesied some time ago to the church and they are believing it and building it.

Someone up front I can’t remember who said of those in the church, “if you need prayer why aren’t you at the prayer meeting, if God has answered your prayer why aren’t you at the prayer meeting”.

God is speaking to us so many thousands of miles from home, but He is also speaking to the ‘whole’ church not just Aberdeen. Where is our faith, where is our faith in action, who are we waiting for to do the work, if we need prayer why do we wait for someone else to pray we should be front and centre crying out for ourselves and for others. If we have had prayer answered, again I ask, why are we not front and centre crying out our praise and thanks to God.

God is most definitely speaking, are you listening, am I listening, who is listening? If God’s hand and favour should depart from us it bears not thinking.

In Genesis 13:4 Abraham built an altar and called on the name of the Lord and he worshipped God.

Cheers from Aberdeen