Friday, August 16, 2013

Bikinis, mankinis, tankinis and stuff

Generally when we go on holiday we rent an apartment or villa. This tends to be the cheaper and simpler option for five of us. Hotels frequently mean we need to book two rooms and you are then often restricted to their meal times and menus. For the majority of the world that is a good fact: there is no washing up, there is no shopping, there is no meal planning or preparation, in fact, there is no groundhog day but in a hot country! For our family that consists of a vegephobe and small people, that can sometime mean two weeks of eating French fries and something that resembles a sausage but surely can’t be due to the colour, texture and taste! It also means that we get to experience supermarkets. There is nothing, in my opinion, that aids feeling a true part of a country, than getting into their supermarkets or street markets. Language barrier/smanguage barrier! I even managed to explain that I needed antihistamine tablets to a pharmacist yesterday through sign language and crazed imitation scratching of my body (Oh, for the record, if you ask for ‘Zirtac’ – it’s a common pharmaceutical name…why doesn’t the guide book tell you that rather than you risk being thrown out of the shop for imitating a monkey?).
Our home for the next two weeks was a lovely top floor apartment within the walled city of Campiglia. We had views of the sea from the window, a beautiful tower, boats, Tuscan villas and farmland for as far as the eye could see and…other people’s bedrooms! This was a way to get close to the locals, hanging out our smalls on the washing line 20ft above the unsuspecting tourists below whilst nodding and muttering ‘Buonjourno” to our opposite neighbour, noting her partner still asleep in bed, the name of the paper they read lying on the pillow (yes, THAT close), and the fact that my British undies appeared to be four times the size of her Italiano ones – or maybe they weren’t even knickers – but I digress! I think our only mess up was the fact that we didn’t have a pool or access to one, but, when we booked, we were told we were only 5 miles from stretches of beautiful beaches, so we didn’t feel the need to worry.

Ah ha! In my next life I will come back as an estate agent and I will tell people the TRUTH. I will not elaborate or decorate what is basically the phrase “the apartment is only 5 miles from beautiful stretches of beach that are made hideous by the fact that you can’t SEE the beach for Italians.”
Day two was a bit of a shock. Luckily we had fore-warned the children that we may not be able to get onto the beach ‘today’ and hadn’t loaded the car up with the typical Brit’s beach attire of buckets and spades, windbreaks, umbrellas, picnic food ready for a coating of sand and lots of white skin ready for burning. What we hadn’t envisaged was that the Italians beat the Germans at getting up early to get the best spots on the beach. We also hadn’t factored in that the beach was better than a Brazillian waxing and was quite literally a small landing strip that stretched for miles. Miles and miles and miles of young and beautiful Italian women and men stretching out their (no, here I’m using poetic license) contorting their lean and slim bodies to fit into a space no bigger than a dog’s basket, to sit for the next 10 hours topping up their already barbecued body. There was bikini after bikini after mankini after bikini. Interestingly there is no age restriction on bikini wearing in Italy (long live the bikini!!) even if you are 102! That was also somewhat of an eye opener. Much as my feminist side said “you go woman! No one cares about your shape or age – if you want to wear a bikini, you wear it!” there was a bit of overkill when, on our sixth kilometre of passing parked cars parked for their day at the beach and another wrinkly bikini wearer getting out arse first, zimmer frame second and Mr Beehive having to slam on the brakes for fear of literally ‘rear ending’, we decided that perhaps the Italian beach was a step above these Brits. So we decided to seek out further water play elsewhere!

And boy, did we find it! Calidario thermal springs are natural Etruscan baths in the next village over to ours. Naturally, like everything in Italy, if it moves, breathes, gives any form of view or spectacle, a huge price tag is wacked on it, but in temps of 34degrees and a son whose eczema was needing some kind of miracle to get better, we decided to budget in a couple of days spent here. Interestingly this place was almost empty and there were sunbeds galore! And there speaks the difference – we will pay through the nose to get away from other people whereas the Italians are happy to sit for hours on their neighbours’ laps and it’s free! For us though, it was worth it. We spent the whole day there enjoying the baths and sitting out reading our books. Master Beehive the elder was able to swim without pain and the baths came highly recommended as a good place for people with all kinds of conditions, so he didn’t feel freakish about taking off his t-shirt either. It has actually done his skin a lot of good, so this place gets the thumbs up (and free access to our credit card naturally *sigh*).
Back in our village, we arrived at the beginning of Apritiborgo. This is a week long festival in which there is entertainment every night from 8 until midnight, street food vendors and a great atmosphere. Once we discovered what we needed to do after misunderstanding the estate agent’s Italian to think we had to get our ticket for our car otherwise we wouldn’t be able to get into the village all week – yes, there was disaster in the air about being trapped on a hill town in Tuscany for the first week of our holiday – not too dissimilar to finding ourselves in a walled town in Morocco in the middle of Ramadan last year – it’s been known to happen…don’t laugh! We got the first gift of the holiday by finding an English speaking Italian who told us it was free for resident (we were classed as residents) there’s that ‘freeeeeeeee’ again! It also referred to us as people rather than the car, so we were able to come and go into the village, although, as we discovered yesterday on arriving back a little later than anticipated, late parking ie: after 6pm, is more of a bun fight.

We have since been to the festival almost each evening, sampling the different street entertainment and food. Wild boar Panini at dusk, overlooking vinyards, sat at the foot of a ruined castle seems somewhat light years away from the fact that it’s a really just an overblown hot dog in the park. The mood and atmosphere was lovely. Of course, no evening would be complete without sampling yet another couple of flavours from the local gelateria in the main square. Our rating for our local gelateria is 7/10. It loses marks on the presentation and the fact that they ran out of two flavours on day two of our stay and we’ve yet to see them return, instead they have been replaced with ‘milk’ flavour and ‘cream’ flavour, which in my book is a bit of a cop out considering that cream/milk is the number one ingredient anyway! So far we have a list of flavours that do NOT go together and a list of flavours that really, really do. My favourite is mela verde and mango…I’ll leave you to your Italian dictionaries to figure it out.

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