Sunday, 20 September 2009


the miracle of actually getting there

Have just returned from our annual holiday to Italy and it really was a miracle that I actually made it: having had two infections and then, oh great joy, catching swine flu had really knocked me for six and left me with severe post-viral weakness. So much so that we actually started to cancel our arrangements.

However, I kept thinking about not going and how the sea air, relaxation and not-having-to-do those boring little activities like cooking and washing etc would do me the world of good and so I came to the conclusion that as long as I could get on the plane for Nice then I would somehow manage. And luckily, we were able to rebook.

John always sets off several days earlier in the car with all the luggage and I fly into Nice from our local airport, Southampton, which is a smashing little airport.

view from John's hotel room in Tain

actually getting to Southampton Airport and then Nice

Now, you'd think that taking the dog to the kennels and then walking for just five minutes to the Railway Station for a seven minute train ride with a few minutes walk at the other end to the airport would be an easy accomplishment. But it seemed like Mission Impossible to me in the condition that I was in.

So, I took the totally outrageous decision to go by taxi. And so I got on that plane with no problems, spent most of the journey chatting with Nigel, the guy sitting next to me, and there I was - in Nice - with its beautiful blues of sky and sea - the elegance and excitment of this white city spreading along the coast and up the mountains behind - and an awaiting husband. Truth to say, I wept a little with sheer happiness, relief and pride that I'd actually managed it.

The Windsor Hotel, Nice

We'd never stayed here before but we certainly will again. It's just a few blocks parallel to The Promenade Anglais and very close to the wonderful art deco hotel - The Negresco.

I was very impressed when I walked into our bedroom. On the far wall were two enormous ceiling to floor double windows, very typical of the older buildings of Nice. And beyond the balcony (yes, of course it had to have a balcony) were luscious trees, plants and flowers of the garden beyond. The room was modern, restful and to be honest, I think I could live permanently in a room like that if necessary.

views from the balcony

Went to a haute cuisine restaurant close by for supper and John just had to take this photo of my fish course:-

The wide smile on my face reflects how happy I was to have actually got to Nice.

The coissants and bread for breakfast in the hotel gardens were superb but the coffee was dreadful. Why can't the French make decent coffee? Let me know if you'd ever had a good cup of coffee in France and where you had it.

the weather

It was unbearably hot in Nice - 35 degrees plus. I know we've had a lousy summer here but believe me, you don't want to have that kind of heat. Finding a parking space close to the old part of town, looking at the stalls of the Monday Antiques Market (more of a flea market these days) and lunch at Le Safari were not much fun in that heat and it was a relief to head off on the autoroute with the sea breezes wafting into the car.

I've probably mentioned this before but I'm going to mention it again. The panarama to the right as you drive along the autoroute into Italy is just spectacular, passing attractive towns which spread down through the valleys and towards the sea plus the exclusive Principality of Monaco, with those glorious blues of the Mediterranean beyond, and dramatic, stark mountains (really the tail end of The Alps) on the left. ( Taking the coast road is even more amazing but takes longer.)


Took about an hour and a half to reach our destination - the little sea-side resort of Laigueglia - and our small, family run hotel Albergo Teresa. We love it there because everyone is so friendly, the food glorious, the view from our balcony (!) overlooking the sea and the Liguria Coast just breathtaking. And it's really good value, too. 100 euros for both of us per night, including breakfast and evening meal.

views from the balcony with me in the way

It's the kind of place where regulars return so we know quite a few guests and it's always a joy to meet them. Last year, the nice Italian lady who used to bring her dog wasn't there because she was looking after a friend, but she was this year. However, the lovely friendly German man who is in his seventies/eighties and snorkels every day wasn't. I hope he's there next year. But our German friends Paulo and Michael were there and we took on where we'd left off last year - teasing each other merciously.

And one thing that I'd forgotten about was that you can hear the sea all the time in the bedroom, which is quite something.

the holiday

Normally, I walk everywhere, swim a lot etc etc but just couldn't do it this year. It was still terrifically hot here, despite the calming effects of the sea, so I stayed out of the sun for the first week.

I rested a lot in the room and John would come and pick me up, drive to one of our two regular beach cafes - La Scogliera (the wave) and Bagni Lino for lunch. Then John would drive us to the public beach for a lie down in the shade and a swim for me. This year I didn't even try to swim to the bouy. I just swam close to the shore and actually preferred it that way.

John at La Scogliera

There was, however, a nasty moment for me. The waves were quite fierce on one particular day so I only swam where I could stand up. But, coming out, an enormous wave totally knocked me over and winded me. I could feel myself going down to the sand below very quickly and there was nothing I could do about it. Had another wave hit me straight away, I couldn't have coped. But luckily, I managed to stand up in one go and eventually staggered out but I couldn't speak for about five minutes.

Respect the sea. It's more powerful than you and I.

gradual recovery

Each day, I walked a little further into town and was so chuffed with myself. At first it was about five mintes to get to Al Molo for a coffee and fag. And then I ventured half way along the town, to the Post Office and then back to Al Mole and then the room. And eventually, I managed to walk right to the end of town and back although that was probably too far for me. Needed a long time to recover.


Can't mention the holiday without the shopping, which is one of my delights. Prices have generally rocketted this year, which actually made the temptation to shop easier. The 5 euro shops in both Laiguelia and the next town, Alassio, have become over-priced boutiques, but there are still some quality bargains to be had if you know where to look (and I know where to look!)

Bought some smashing little cowl-necked tops, a few bangles, several pairs of ear-rings, fantastic candles with attractive decorations (for the Ch/X word presents), a winter jacket and my pride and joy - a pair of very classy sunglasses with red frames, which no doubt I shall sit upon and break at some stage.

the ear-rings

I bought several pairs in different colours because they weren't expensive and I liked the colours BUT and, with me, this is almost inevitable, the first time I wore one of the pairs on the beach, I decided it was safer(!)to take them off before swimming.

I placed them very carefully on my towel, reminding myself to put them back on as soon as I had towelled off. Only, I didn't. And by the time I remembered, they were gone, hidden in a vastness of fine sand. And to make matters worse, when I got back to the room, I discovered that I had actually put one ear-ring from one pair and another from another pair. It really is a good thing that I don't work for air-traffic control.

the food at Albergo Teresa

We normally have our evening meal in town mainly because there are four courses at the Albenga Teresa and I find that too much for me. However, because I was finding walking difficult, we ate in the hotel most nights. And the food really is DELICIOUS.

I solved the problem of over-eating by having a salad instead of the pasta dish. I was also going to be strict with myself about the puddings but I gave up on that idea as soon as I saw the choices. As well as chocolate mousse, creme brule and caramel cream there was always a cake or a tart (even better with a scoop of Italian ice-cream) or a meringue cake full of delicate rasberry and vanila cream (my favourite).

I was convinced that I must have put on a lot of weight, what with eating like it was going out of fashion, and consuming at least half a bottle of Italian wine (very good stuff) EVERY evening but, to my surprise, I have actually lost weight. Perhaps that's the answer to dieting - eat more - particularly meringue.

home comforts

I knew before we went that I'd be staying far longer in our room than normal, so I decided to take some home comforts: photos of Lou and Archie, our new throw for the bed made by Ellie of Loominellie, a brand new pillow, a kettle, a cute little mug, a jar of hot chocolate powder, and two teddies and two 'pups'. (Okay, so I'm sixty and have teddies. So what!).

I also had John's portable CD player so I could play music from both my ipod and his. Had forgotten how good Brian Ferry is. He was definitely my favourite this year.

Gulliver Travels in Laiguelia

Gulliver is the Easyjet teddybear I bought on the way to Morocco in June. Supposedly, if you sent in a photograph of Gulliver in some exotic place, you could win two air-tickets. Great, I thought. But when I looked carefully at the details later on, I saw that the location had to be somewhere famous, which ruled out my locations.

Plus, when I searched on the web for a selection of the photographs that had won (supposedly one a month) there was no trace of this competition whatsover. Undaunted, however, I still took photos of Gulliver in Llaiguelia which I think show off the town remarkably well. (Hopefully).

change in the weather

On the last Wednesday, the weather cooled down considerably, the sea roughed up so much that I didn't even try to swim, and it rained. Hard. Because the town is situated at the bottom of mountains and much of the town is medieval, it tends to flood very quickly.

So, I always have wellington boots and wet weather gear in the car for such occasions thus I was able to walk around town fully protected, which must look strange to the locals but so what. For someone who swims everyday it might seem an anomaly, but I hate getting wet when I'm wearing clothes.

And I watched with envy from our balcony the four surfers who were having great fun and managed to capture them on a couple of photos:-

Made me wonder whether I could find an all-weather swimming suit - not as heavy as a wet-suit but one which would keep all of me warm even if the sea is cold. Any suggestions?

The next day was sunny and hot again and it was a luxury lying on the beach all day just soaking in that warmth. Would have prefered the next day, our last, to be like that too but it wasn't meant to be. First thing in the morning, there was a threatening dark shroud over the mountains at both ends of the bay, which apparently was a bad sign.

Managed to fit in a swim (in a now very cold sea) and get to La Scogliera for lunch before it absolutely tipped it down, like cow relieving itself constantly, and a storm whipped itself up into a frienzy.

We sat outside under the awnings but quickly discovered that there were holes in it and so everything became damp.

Ironically, one of my published short stories - September in Italy (in Quality Women's Fiction, now The Yellow Room)- featured my two characters watching a storm whilst sitting at La Scogliera and it was very romantic, drawing the two close together after a rift. But the storm we witnessed had lessto do with romance and more to do with terror.

La Scogliera is in a very exposed position at a tip in the middle of the bay; at sea level and below the level of the road. To the left of the road is the tail end of a steep mountain with netting covering it to prevent boulders from crashing onto the road (and us, below). And to the right, a very menacing sea.

The thunder got closer and closer until it seemed to be right over us. One thunder clap, which set the two residents dog scuttling for cover and half scared me witless, was, so John calculated, just one kilometre away and I was beginning to wish that I wasn't there.

When we did make a run for the car (with all my wet weather gear in the boot and not on me) we were totally soaked. It was definitely time to go home.

However, there was a certain beauty about the place as this photo of St Thomas's Church in Llaiguelia shows. It has a wistful look of Florence about it.

This church dominates the town and if you sit, late afternoon, at Al Molo, the setting sun's rays fall lastly on the spirals giving them an ethereal golden glow, which is what you'd want from a church, reminding you of its purpose.

There is an element of irony, though, because on that last day there was far too much water for my liking and when I got home, far too little.


Felt much stronger on my return journey. It was hot and sunny in Southampton and I had no trouble in catching the train home. And I kept that wonderful holiday feeling right until I arrived home and walked into the kitchen.

On the kitchen table was a letter from a friend who had popped into the house whilst we were away to keep an eye on things, explaining that when she'd flushed the upstairs loo, the float mechanism jammed (calcified, I discovered much later) and water flooded out of a hole in the pipe on the other side, a hole we had no idea existed, and down the walls and into the kitchen below.

My friend asked a neighbour for help and the two of them turned off as many water valves as possible, so thankfully the flooding stopped.

The only problem was that I didn't know exactly what they had turned off. I soon found that the stop-cock had been turned off but when I put it on, water came pouring down the kitchen walls. Turned the stop-cock off, of course, but now I had no running water. Coudn't get in touch with my friend or the neighbour so made numerous phone calls to John but since we didn't know what else had been turned off, we were pretty stuck.

Phoned up our usual plumbers who do emergency call-outs but it went straight to answer phone and the emergency phone number given didn't work. Went to another neighbour, who had recommended these plumbers originally and asked if they had the correct mobile phone number. Yes, but it was the husband who had it and he was half way up a mountain in Wales. Isn't it always the case!

So, I thought I'd take pot-luck and look in the yellow pages. Found a large firm which did emergency call-outs in our area. Yes, a plumber was in the area and when he'd finished the job he was on, he'd come right round. It was going to cost £120 per hour plus vat and parts and did I want to sign up with them to be on their books at a price of around a £100 pounds?

By this time I wasn't thinking clearly. I'd had to pick up Archie from the kennels and do some food shopping so I was now exhausted. I agreed to the price but at least had enough sense to refuse paying to be on their books.

Was this refusal that did it? I don't know. All I know is that several hours later I was phoned up by the firm to say that their plumber couldn't come until the next day. His last job had taken longer than expected and he was going home. I thought you offered an emergency service, I said, but apparently only when they could be bothered.

Phoned John again, by now distraught. The thought of being home without water for three days before John returned was too much for me. He was outside a chocolate factory in Tain L'Hermitage when I called (their chocolate is to die for) and he patiently talked me through all the things I could do inbetween my pathetic sobs.

This meant crawling twice into the attic space, with the dog trying to lick me to death, searching for a screwdriver and testing taps for water flow. Eventually, he asked me to turn a screw on the toilet inflow pipe just 180 degrees, which immediately stopped the flow of water to the toilet. Yeah! And so, then I could turn the stop-cock on again and have water apart from the upstairs loo.

Success and water - at last.

Phoned up the company to cancel the plumber and gave them what for, which did me the power of good. (They even had the nerve to phone up the next day to try to rebook the appointment and so was able to voice my opinion of them again. Plus, we were saved an enormous bill, so all's well that ends well.)

(Another irony - my friend also had water running down her kitchen walls that very same day as the flood in our house because of leaking bathroom taps, despite the fact that a plumber had just 'fixed' them. So it's a thumbs down for plumbers at the moment with both of us. Sexist statement coming up here - perhaps a female plumber would have been more reliable/effecient.)

But, a total wreck, now, I crawled into bed and slept for several hours. And when I got up, I had a very strong Bloody Mary, which helped more than you can imagine. Somehow, I managed to make some supper and have a coffee, watching 'Strictly Come Dancing' for the first and last time. I loved the dancing but was irritated beyond words by Bruce Forsythe's unfunny bantering and the panels exagerations.

Just so tired now that I went straight back to bed, totally missing the film Casino Royale, with Daniel Craig coming out of the sea.

There's always something nasty waiting for you when you come back from holiday. It could be a letter or a phone call or your house has been burgled (has happened to us once). But I'm going to make very sure that the next time we go away, we turn the stop-cock off. And to remind me, I wrote a message to myself before I went to bed and stuck it on a cabinet door. It read:-


Just about summed up my state of mind at that moment.


It was a wonderful holiday. Good to be home, of course, but I have so many happy memories and sometimes I can almost hear that sea and imagine being on that balcony just watching the Meditteranean. Lost weight and got a bit of a tan, too, so it was definitely worth taking that taxi. (The young taxi driver was Asian and had never heard of the group 'Asian Dub Foundation'. Quite a surprise. Didn't get round to talking to him about The Wire but it was just a short journey.)

P.S. Feel totally humbled that I panicked about not having running water when I consider how many people don't have and have never had that luxury. We do so often take such things for granted in the West and we shouldn't.

P.P.S. A big thankyou to the daftnotstupid technical expert, John Knutson, for introducing me to the the joys of experimenting with different colours for headlines.

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