our friend, the mosaicist…

our friend, the mosaicist…

Many years ago, when we had a website called Didsbury Life, promoting independent businesses in Didsbury and West Didsbury, we had a beautiful office, right on Burton Road. We designed the logo for this business and commissioned our very talented friend, Amanda, to create a mosaic sign for the front of the premises.

This mosaic came back to our West Didsbury home when we gave up the office premises and sat in our garden for a good few years. When we had the house and garden renovated, it was properly installed on a wall and was only taken down to be safely bubble wrapped and packed for the journey out to Istria with us, where it still sits in our garden. She’s a bit weather worn now and the effect of hot sunshine and rain and frost has meant that some of the tile pieces have fallen off, but she’s still as beautiful as the first day she was handed to us, and she is a reminder of our West Didsbury life.

However, she’s not the only mosaic we have by Amanda, because when we renovated our home in West Didsbury, we asked her to create a piece of art with the name of our road on it, which we displayed in our bathroom. The black and white mosaic, set against white metro tiles, looked lovely.

And, six years later, we’ve finally found a home for Arley Avenue. She’s never been on the wall here, as we’ve never found the perfect place – until now. The house is being spruced up to go back on the market and as well as lots and lots of painting, we’ve also been de-cluttering. Or “packing up” in preparation for a potential move, and so wall space has revealed itself a whole lot more, and our M20 mosaic has found a new home. For now.

Amanda has a huge repertoire of mosaics and is widely commissioned to create individual and bespoke pieces. If you are interested in acquiring a very unique piece of art – for yourself, as a gift (we had one created to celebrate a family wedding) or as signage, for example – check out Amanda’s work. As an artist, I’m sure she’d be delighted to receive enquiries – and possibly commissions. And, she’s blooming lovely, too!

Amanda also offers workshops, where you can get to learn some of the skills required, and come away with a mosaic of your own. Very popular are the “Make a Manchester Bee” workshops at Manchester Art Gallery. Full information on Amanda’s website.

 

 

 

new year : new project : the house

new year : new project : the house

Summer 2022 ended with a bit of a whimper of the house front, as we reluctantly made the decision to take the house off the market and give up on our dream of The Printworks – the property we had secured which we hoped would become our open plan, super modern, dream home, on the outskirts of the medieval town of Oprtalj in northern Istria. After getting so close to closing the sale on our house and it falling through, we felt pretty defeated and just wanted to take some time out, away from viewings and everything related to selling.

However, a few months of breathing space have worked wonders and we are truly invigorated.

We have made the decision that our beautiful stone house is going back on the market – and we are now truly, truly thankful that the sale did fall through and that the dream of The Printworks is no longer happening. Looking at it practically, even costing out everything to the euro, we finally realised that this project had the potential to be a money pit. Also, our vision for it was quite out there, and again we came to the realisation that although there are very contemporary houses scattered across Istria, we would be located on a main road – fairly quiet, but a main thoroughfare all the same – and that perhaps what we wanted to do, wouldn’t be right or appropriate in the location.

We spent a lot of time over Christmas and New Year looking at all of our options and from thinking we only had one – The Printworks – we’ve come to see that there are lots of options. We’re not tied to Istria. We design websites for a living, so can work from anywhere really, as long as there is good internet access. And, now that we are living in Europe, we have more countries to more easily explore. Post-Brexit, things are a little more complicated but we have an application in for Irish citizenship and we have been consulting with an immigration solicitor to work out our options, and this has led us in a whole new direction. And, a new country…

But before we head of in a new direction, into the sun, we need to focus now fully on the sale of our house. Last time it was up for sale, we think we made the error of not putting ourselves in the shoes of the purchasers. Most people who were viewing, were viewing to buy a summer holiday home, not a full time home. We do live here full time and we can’t escape this fact, but I think our house looked too much like a home, rather than a holiday villa. A place in the sun, where you could arrive for your vacation, unpack and unwind, without “us” being stamped all over it. The decor of our home is quite unusual and reflects what we like design-wise, but we’ve decided that we need to pare it back. Take away some of the “personality” that we think was potentially getting in the way of people seeing our house as just that. A house. To come and spend nice, quality time in with family and friends, and then lock the door and go back to their own full time home, at the end of their holiday. So, 2023 has started with paint pots and brushes and rollers and sandpaper, as we’re going light, white and bright. Gone are the dark Farrow & Ball navy colours on walls and floors. Summer vibes are incoming as we transform the house…

The start of the transformation - landing floor sanding before undercoating begins.

The start of the transformation – landing floor sanding before undercoating begins.

The big white-out as the undercoating continues...

The big white-out as the undercoating continues…

The wooden stairs were painted a very deep navy, and we have loved having them this colour, but – and it’s a very big but – they were very dark. And, very us so the decision was made to also change these. It’s a big job, and a fiddly one, because the stairs are open wooden treads (but with backs) and there are two flights, so the past few days have been spent in awkward positions, undercoating all the nooks and crannies, as well as the stairs themselves. However, even just half-undercoated, we can see a big difference – and that house which we hope will be seen as a holiday home, rather than our full time home, is beginning to emerge. (Although one massive perk for new owners is that this is very much our full time home, and so it’s a house which is upkept all year round, and not just in the summer).

Tomorrow the renovation continues…

free passage : croatia : schengen zone

free passage : croatia : schengen zone

When we moved to Istria in 2017, we knew that at some point in the future, the country would be allowed to join the Schengen Zone and there would be no more border checks, between Croatia and Slovenia. And Hungary, but we never cross any of these borders. We kept checking online to check developments and we had some time in 2024-2025 in our heads as the point when things would happen.

Then the Pandemic happened and travel was severely curtailed, for some weeks not being permitted at all, and certainly not cross border. Then in 2021, the UK was out of Europe, and being UK citizens, we were suddenly classified as “third country nationals”, and our Croatian residency had to be renewed again, under the new terms of the Withdrawal Agreement. A knock on effect of this, was that once travel was permitted again, we had to not only show our passports, but we had to have them stamped when we entered Schengen – so when we crossed into Slovenia – and stamped again, when we re-entered Croatia. In the early days, when everything was new, we found ourselves having to ask for our passports to be stamped, as sometimes the border police didn’t seem too clear on the new systems. We had to ask, because if we’d been stamped one way but not the other, the new 90 day rule could have been applied to us, even though we have Croatian residency. It has got a lot easier and we – and the border police on both sides – have become familiar with the stamping process, but it’s still been a bit of a hassle, and has always made us feel a tiny bit worried that maybe we weren’t doing the right thing.

Another issue has been that since January 2021, we’ve not been able to us our nearest border, which is only 10 minutes away, because this is deemed to be for local use only. And because we are “third country nationals” we don’t fall into the category of locals. So, we’ve had to use the main border crossings with Slovenia, which in the winter are OK, as traffic is light, but in the summer have been a nightmare, as thousands of tourists head into Istria, and northern Croatia. We avoided crossing as much as we possibly could for the last two summers, but when Italy is only half an hour away, sometimes we couldn’t resist. Our worst crossing was in July of this year, when we were returning from IKEA – it was blisteringly hot, there was no shade and it took over two hours to travel what would normally take us about five minutes. Schengen membership couldn’t come soon enough, so I was ecstatic when I read that Croatia had finally met the 281 recommendations in the eight areas of the Schengen protocol, the most comprehensive and detailed evaluation yet – and that it would probably only be a matter of a rubber stamping procedure when the EU council in mid-December.

Finally, much sooner than we thought, the decision was made that Croatia would be accepted into the Schengen area, and we spent the last two weeks counting down the days until we knew that we had got over very last stamp in our passports. It all happened at the stroke of midnight 31 December/1 January, and I knew it was real when I saw an Instagram post by our local mayor, shaking hands with his Slovenian counterpart from Koper and a raised barrier.

And, on 4th January 2023, we made our first crossing into Slovenia, without having to show passports or receive exit and entry stamps. The booths, normally with a number of border police, were empty and closed. And signs had been erected, in a number of languages, declaring “Free Passage”. It was an absolute joy to once again be able to drive into Slovenia where the local border crossing point had been in operation until January 1st…

And, on the way back, we drove via one of the larger crossings we’ve had to use for the last couple of years. Open border and free flowing traffic – which will be amazing in the summer!

Free passage is now in place between Croatia and Slovenia and Croatia and Hungary. Border checks are still currently in place between Croatia and Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina & Montenegro. Additionally, although controls at land and sea borders with other EU members have been lifted, checks at air borders will not be lifted until 26 March 2023.

 

 

los caracoles : frigiliana : andalucia : spain

los caracoles : frigiliana : andalucia : spain

On a drive, high up in the Andalucian hills, above the white washed town of Frigiliana and the coastal town of Torox, we spotted some very unusual shapes ahead of us. White domes, almost hobbit-like, overlooking the sea. From the roadside, they looked a bit forlorn, and we thought that they were possibly abandoned, so of course, we just had to find out what they were…

Turns out, they’re not abandoned buildings after all. They’re a complex of hobbit-like, cave dwellings which combine to form Los Caracoles (The Snails…), an amazing and unique hotel, with panoramic views over the Axarquia area of Andalucía, which we just had to investigate. Although we were staying in Nerja, we made a booking to explore – and each time we have been back in the area we’ve ensured that we’ve incorporated a stay at Los Caracoles, as we were so enchanted by it and its surroundings.

The complex is made up of five Snails (bungalows), each consisting of a master bedroom, a living room, bathroom and balcony, plus six double rooms with en suite bathroom and terrace. We’ve stayed a number of times and so have experienced both the Snails and the double rooms, and all have been pretty magical. The restaurant is located in a snail shaped dining room, with a spacious outdoor terrace. All tables have spectacular vantage points with views across the Andalucian hills, sprinkled with many pueblos blancos, and down to the sparkling Mediterranean sea. Landscaped gardens roll away, almost as if they fall off the hillside, and a beautiful pool, with sun loungers and accessorised with Moroccan lanterns, is a much needed addition – even in the winter we were warm, so can only imagine how much this pool would be required in the height of summer.

Because the buildings are made of stone – they are cave-like dwellings – they are not pristine. Each room/bungalow does have heating, in the form of wood-burners and electric heaters, and when we’ve stayed, these have been most welcome. We’ve only ever visited out of high season, and so we’ve experienced chilly weather, foggy weather and torrential rain, as well as blue sky and very warm sunshine, for the time of year. But, because the temperatures haven’t hit the highs they reach in the summer, the accommodation can feel cold, and at times, almost damp. However, once the burners are going, the rooms do heat up quickly, but if the initial feel of cold bedding leaves you cold, Los Caracoles might not be the place for you. If it is though, and if you can appreciate the unusual qualities on offer, then like us, we’re sure you will absolutely appreciate this very unique accommodation.

Being so high up in the hills, the views are just spectacular. And, so is the weather. On one visit, thick, impenetrable fog enveloped all of the site and it was so atmospheric, seeing white domes emerging in front of you in the mist. You do feel as if you are up in the clouds when the weather rolls in…

But the beauty of being so high up, is that as soon as the weather clears, you can see the beauty that lies in front of you…

As I said previously, if you want accommodation that is high end boutique and utterly pristine, maybe on this occasion, Los Caracoles is not for you. It is a little bit on the rustic side, perhaps even rough-ish around the edges in places, but it is totally unique. It’s a bit of a thrill to be so high up in the mountains, in very quirky accommodation and take your morning coffee, on a balcony overlooking the spread of Axarquia below you. The restaurant is definitely one of the highlights – and factor in eating here, because Los Caracoles is quite isolated. Although not too far from Frigilana, it’s a bit of a drive across the winding roads, so this restaurant is an excellent option. The menu is very inventive and when we’ve stayed in the past, the chef has been superb. Food is of a very high standard and quite different to your normal Andalucian fare. Fish and meat feature highly on the menu, but there is also a range of vegetarian options. Everything is fresh and cooked to order – we had, on one occasion, John Dory and Skate. The smell of the sea was still on them and they were the most delicious fish I have ever eaten. Breakfasts are substantial – and in the cooler months, just a lovely morning experience, as the wood burner is lit in the dining room, and soft lighting enhances the Moorish-inspired decor.

We are so looking forward to revisiting Los Caracoles on our next trip to Andalucia – and hoping that Blass, who was the largest puppy in the world – is still part of the fixture and fittings.

 

 

 

the *unfinished* apartment : citta alta : bergamo

the *unfinished* apartment : citta alta : bergamo

Although we’ve largely finished the renovations of our stone house, I can always find something else that needs to be done. So, effectively, it always “unfinished”. But not on the scale of these properties, which have been designed to be deliberately “unfinished”.

Peeling wallpaper, floors that have been left untreated and hanging cables give character to these interior design projects, which look as though they’ve been abandoned halfway through decorating.

All photographers credited in Dezeen article : https://www.dezeen.com/2022/10/02/unfinished-interiors-residential-homes-lookbooks/

All photographers credited in Dezeen article : https://www.dezeen.com/2022/10/02/unfinished-interiors-residential-homes-lookbooks/

There’s something very appealing about rough-around-the-edges, industrial rawness – combined with softness, through colour palettes and accessories and lighting. We’re lucky that our home lends itself to a certain unfinished look in places. Parts of the internal walls are still original Istrian stone, as opposed to smooth plaster, and so even when painted white, they still look, well, not quite finished. But they are! OK, we could have them plastered, but the stone is a nod to the heritage and history of the house. Renovated mostly in a contemporary style, we made the deliberate decision to keep parts of the house in its original state, and so we have a bit of an interesting mix going on.

However, not as interesting – or as bold – as some of the houses featured in the Dezeen article, or the apartment we found in the heart of Citta Alta, Bergamo.

Stripped back and very minimalist, this upper floor apartment in a very old townhouse, was absolutely beautiful, in its deliberately unfinished state. Exposed beams, highly polished floorboards and the remains of stunning frescoes in the rooms. I think this is a really bold design choice in a tourist apartment – I’d be so worried about damage to the historical features – but I guess people do show respect. The apartment does have modern amenities and facilities – in particular, a very contemporary kitchen is housed behind a sleek, high gloss white partition wall – and so the stay is very comfortable. I have tried to locate this apartment again online, as we would recommend it, but it would seem it’s no longer taking guests, which is a shame.

However, we will be taking inspiration from this apartment and from the properties in the Dezeen article, as we begin a new journey in 2023. After a topsy-turvey house experience last year, when we actually popped a bottle of fizz as we thought we had sold it, we’ve picked ourselves up and are ready to go again. We’ve taken a long, hard look at our home and have decided that we have a few projects to tackle to get it ready to re-market. And, we’ll definitely be definitely going for “unfinished” – but absolutely finished – in certain places, to create a house which has a very different feel and vibe to the one which was up for sale last year.

 

 

 

 

string curtains…

string curtains…

Our bedrooms are not overlooked and so we don’t necessarily need curtains at the windows. But sometimes, curtains – or a simple roller blind – can just finish off a window. We have installed white roller blinds in all of the window recesses, because even though we feel OK about having “naked windows”, visitors may well prefer the feeling of privacy. In our bedroom, we’ve always had sheer muslin drapes, because the double window wall, although painted white, is still natural stone and so the curtains soften the wall. We’ve now added floor length duck egg blue velvet blackout curtains, to each window, as even in the winter, early morning sunlight was wakening us up. Not a problem any longer!

Our third bedroom is the one used the least and it currently has the least pretty view, as although very high up, it does overlook the construction of a neighbour’s small stone cottage. I didn’t want to hang curtains as such in here, as I rarely go into the room, so the hassle of drilling a curtain pole into a thick supporting beam above the window, didn’t seem worth the hassle, as the curtains would hardly ever be closed. But, I still wanted to “finish off” both this window and the room, and obscure the work outside at the times we were in the room. Then, bingo! The solution came to me…

The grey curtain strings (there are four at this window) are usually at the front door in the summer, to keep files out, when it’s open, but during the winter they’re just hung up downstairs, not being used. They’re on a very lightweight rail, so no drilling was needed and they were up in minutes, doing exactly what I’d wanted – transforming the window and the room. Not blocking out the light during the day, but obscuring the view.

These string curtains were purchased from Jysk in Istria. In UK Jysk stores, they’re usually priced at £7.99 per curtain but I’ve just noticed (end of Dec 22) they’re on sale at just £5 per curtain. Bargain!

antiq palace hotel : ljubljana : slovenia

antiq palace hotel : ljubljana : slovenia

In the heart of Ljubljana city centre, a distinctive stone archway marks the entrance to Antiq Palace, a luxury 16th century palace hotel. Designed originally as the residential palace of noble Slovenian families, it’s now part of the Historic Hotels of Europe group. We’ve been lucky enough to stay here twice. We rarely revisit hotels we’ve stayed in previously. preferring instead to explore new options. But Antiq Palace is one of those places that deserves another visit. It’s a stunningly elegant building, renovated completely in 2011 and just oozes opulence. Even without knowing the history of the former palace and its inhabitants, you can feel the history of the place.

The entrance and reception area is grand and expansive – but it doesn’t feel stuffy or the kind of place where “ordinary” people like us feel out of place. It’s welcoming, with it’s beautiful decor and artwork and attention to detail in terms of how its accessorised. It takes me quite a long time to check in, as I can spend ages just taking in everything around me.

The rooms – or rather, suites – are pretty unbelievable. We’ve visited both times in winter, so maybe prices increase over the summer months, but the rates for both of the “rooms” we occupied were pretty much on a par with what we’d pay elsewhere. Not bargain basement, but absolutely, definitely not ridiculously eye-watering. On the first stay, our “room” – because that is what I thought I had booked – consisted of a huge double bedroom and an exceptionally large en-suite. With many original features including parquet flooring, antique oriental rugs and frescoed ceilings.

Completely over the top for a one night stay for two people, but we had the opportunity, so we went for it! The second visit, the following winter, was probably even more over the top, because we were able to book a suite this time, for approximately the same amount of money – and so we decided to go for this option, and experience the suite. Believe me when I say that there will be many, many apartments which families live in, which are nowhere near as big. But, if the hotel is housed in a renovated palace, then I suppose if the integrity of the building is retained – as it is – then “rooms” will be on the very large size.

Breakfast is a pretty sumptious affair, too – cold meats, cheeses, fresh bread, pastries, juices, eggs, cereals, coffee – all served in a very elegant dining area. It’s a large space, and tables are positioned in such a way that you never feel you are on top of other diners, so you almost feel as if it’s just you there, having breakfast. There’s also a beautiful internal courtyard, where breakfast can be taken, although in February it was definitely a little too chilly – especially on the first visit when we had a magical covering of thick snow.

We can heartily recommend Antiq Palace Hotel in central Ljublana (just a cobbled street back from the river) if you fancy a night or two of regal opulence. And, Ljubljana in itself, is a very pretty city, but with a very small historical centre, so it’s a real doable weekend visit kind of place. Winter is gorgeous – it’s does get cold and you can be pretty much guaranteed a sprinkling of snow, which makes it even prettier.

 

 

 

 

christmas : 2022

christmas : 2022

Well, that’s almost a Christmas wrap. We’ve spent the last few days hunkered down, with the wood-burners on, lights twinkling, candles flickering and eating all manner of luxurious food at the most inappropriate times of the day. Chocolates for breakfast, with a tot of Baileys is perfectly acceptable at this time of year, I think. We’ve also not seen very much out of our windows because a thick Christmas fog has been clinging on for days. Very atmospheric, but we’re now starting to crave a bit of blue sky.

Like the last two years, we’ve spent our Christmas, at home, in Istria, rather than travelling back to the UK. In 2020, travel restrictions were in place so that was a definite no-go. Last year, although things had eased slightly, we still felt it was too much of a risk travelling across multiple countries, staying in different hotels and then when in the UK, still being largely on the move and then doing it all again on the way back. This year, we decided to stay put because again of rising Covid rates and not really wanting to expose ourselves, and family and friends, to any infection we could have picked up en route. But, added to this in 2022, we’ve had to also assess the situation with strikes in the UK, a country which feels is currently grinding to a halt. Border force staff out on strike on key dates – so whether we drove or flew, we’d inevitably have been affected, and then highways staff on strike, meaning that once we arrived and were on the road, car journeys would have been a nightmare. We salute the strikers and everything they are attempting to achieve and had we travelled would have reminded ourselves constantly of this, but I think with hindsight, given the length of the journey, we’d have been too frazzled to have actually enjoyed any time with family and friends. However, there have been two other considerations and this is where things have become a bit more complicated this particular Christmas.

Our passports expire in August 2023 so we need to renew them pretty quickly. We had considered doing it when back in the UK by just going to the passport office in Liverpool. But – and it’s a big but – if timings didn’t work and we couldn’t make it back for ferries etc, or if the passport office staff went on strike, this would have added another layer of stress. Plus – and it’s another biggie – Croatia is set to join the Schengen zone on Jan 1st. In itself, this is the most brilliant, fantastic news, for us. But not if we’d be middle travel. On the way out, pre Xmas, Croatia would still have been OUTSIDE the Schengen zone, meaning our UK passorts – because of f*ckin’ Brexit – would have to be stamped as we entered Slovenia. This isn’t usually a problem, as we tend to cross the border to go to the supermarket in Slovenia or Italy and and return within the day, or if staying over, within a few days. We definitely never exceed the 90 days which – even though we have Croatian residency – we’re now stymied by, because we are currently UK citizens/passport holders. But, joining Schengen will eradicate all of this as long as we stay within the zone. No more stamping of passports when we travel in Europe. (Until we return to the UK – which probably means in the near future we’ll fly as that will be easier than trying to navigate French borders, with a UK passport and Croatian residency. It’s very complicated, currently, and so with all things considered, we decided that staying put until we were 100% sure of the situation, on all fronts, was the best idea). However, if we were returning AFTER Jan 1st, we’d have to ensure that when we exited Slovenia, we’d still have to have our passports stamped, to tally with the stamp we got on the way out. Because if we didn’t, further down the line, we could have problems if it was seen that we’d out-stayed the 90 days. Which we would have done because we live in Croatia. See how complicated it all has been?

So, our third Christmas has been spent in Istria, but because we do get to see family and friends via Zoom and Facetime, and keep in regular touch with calls, we still feel we get to spend quality festive time with them. And, because of where we are currently, we also get to enjoy a Hygge kind of Christmas. Because when your house is at the top of a very high hill, surrounded by forests and swathed in thick fog, it’s the perfect place to get all Scandi over the festive season.

In the spring and summer, our house is light and bright and airy, as windows are always open, the front door is open and sunlight streams in. But in the winter, it takes on a different personality, as the days are shorter and darkness falls much earlier. I’m an absolute sucker for candles – the more the merrier – and especially of the scented variety, so most rooms will usually have at least a few tealights. Pillar candles are also a bit of a favourite, and for some reason, they are very inexpensive out here, so these are burned most of the time.

Although it’s not freezing by any stretch of the imagination, there is a chill in the air when the wood burners aren’t lit, so the excess of faux furry throws also come into their own over the winter, and there’s nothing more luxurious than covering yourself in one, and snuggling down on the sofa. It’s what Christmas is all about…

We made sure, before Xmas, that we stocked up the fridge and that the wine rack was full, because there was no way we were going out – anywhere – after Christmas Eve. And that’s just what we’ve done. We’ve locked the door, pulled over the big navy velvet winter curtain, drawn down the blinds, lit the candles and over indulged in delicious food. Even though we’re up in the Istrian hills, we’re still very close to all amenities and so can get most of whatever we need from big supermarkets nearby. But, since discovering British Cornershop, we’ve also been able to get hold of those little luxuries which have so alluded us – Cadbury’s chocolate, M&S crumpets, chocolate yule logs, salt and vinegar crisps – and so our Xmas cupboard has had the addition of some much missed treats. As well as a traditional Xmas lunch, we’ve had Baileys for breakfast. Smoked salmon and poached eggs for brunch. Cheese platters – with delicious local wines – in the evening. We’ve made bread too, as we’re definitely not heading out to a supermarket, just yet – but this is the easiest bread recipe, ever. Baked and ready to eat in less than an hour. Everything you want but can’t justify usually – especially, as it seems currently, day after day. Still, we’ll soon return to normal and so we’re making the most of festivities in the fog.

It’s still not over. We’re in those strange days between Christmas and New Year, when you’re never sure what day it is, but the house still feels like Xmas. The decorations are still around. You’re still eating a tube of Pringles (salt & vinegar) in one sitting. Mulled wine at 2pm is a good idea. You’re catching up on all of that TV you’ve missed.

But, as lovely as these days are, that just roll into the next one, we do still need a bit of normality. A day when we’re not eating from the moment we get up and day when we do actually get out from under the throws and off the sofa. And that day is today…

Although it’s still technically Christmas, it’s also the start of Project23 for us. Things are hopefully going to be taking a very different direction, but first, the house is going back on the market. As much as we love here, it was never going to be our forever home and so we are pushing ahead with a new plan, which only came about when the Printworks plan fell through, leaving us a bit devastated. But that feeling has changed and we are now super charged about what may be coming up. But first, house maintenance and a bit of exciting renovation, mixed in with some festive sparkle…

 

 

 

 

 

 

pre christmas dinners…

pre christmas dinners…

Now that we don’t have a supermarket on our doorstep, I like to plan ahead. Not that it means we are ever really without anything, or able to buy milk, for example, if we run out. The nearest supermarket is only about 10 kms away, and in the time it used to take us to get from West Didsbury to Cheadle at the busier times of day, we can even be in Trieste and have a much bigger choice of supermarkets. And, since British Cornershop started delivering again to Croatia, post Brexit, we’re rarely without anything we really need. But, you know how it is before Christmas – food in cupboards, fridge and freezer, but it cannot be touched yet, because it’s for Xmas…

So, with just a few days to go before we can eat the Christmas stuff – because that’s the law – we’ve been creating meals out of what we’re allowed to eat. As in, food that isn’t just for Christmas! But, also food that’s a bit healthier and lighter as we know we’ll most probably be over-indulging over the next week or so. Last night’s dinner was what our nephew would call a “mash-up”, and it was pretty delicious and tasted all round healthy.

A big chunk of halloumi, cut in half, and lightly fried with lemon juice until all sides were nicely browned, but the cheese inside, still nice and squeaky. Thin slices of potatoes, smothered in olive oil, rock salt, black pepper, smoky paprika and chilli flakes and baked in the oven for about an hour, until the edges were crispy. A salad of rocket, cherry tomatoes, spring onions and cucumber, drizzled with nutty olive oil. And finally, a tin of smoked tuna, heated up in the microwave. Just the tuna, not the tin, as well. This is from a Greek range called Eridanous, which is often stocked in Lidl, and is very, very tasty.

So, a big plate full of salad leaves, fresh and healthy, spicy potatoes, cheese and tuna. Admittedly, it sounds as if it was all chucked together, and it kind of was, but the flavours were just perfect. Nice also, to have a winter dinner, that wasn’t just comfort food. Almost as if spring was just around the corner…

 

 

venice : italy : december 22

venice : italy : december 22

The last couple of years have been a bit crazy, haven’t they? Travel, in the early days, was for very obvious reasons much curtailed and so for a long time we didn’t get to see family and friends in person. Thank goodness that we do live in an age, though, where communication is easy and we’ve spent much time catching up with people via calls and on online. But, this year, things have started to get back to something resembling normality and we spent almost a whole summer with our family who came out to visit us. We’ve also started doing a bit of travelling again ourselves, mainly to Italy because it’s now so close, so again things are starting to feel a little more like they were pre-2020.

Just recently, we were very lucky to be able to drive across to Venice and meet up with Didsbury friends, who had decided to come over for a long weekend. The original plan had been for them to visit us, in Istria, but winter flights just weren’t working out for the small window they had for travel, so Venice was agreed as they could get flights and we could travel across, easily. And, it doesn’t matter how many times we visit Venice, we are always in awe of its staggering beauty – and the fact that it’s somewhere that is now so accessible. If we travel on the motorway, it’s just under two hours, but the more leisurely SS14, across the flat Veneto, is a much less stressful option, although a bit longer.

Through AirBnb, we booked an apartment for two nights, in the Dorsoduro area of the city, right on canalside. In the summer this must be a prime apartment, with two large baclonies with seating/sunbathing and dining areas – premium space I’d expect in this part of Venice. For the four of us, it was pretty perfect in early December, too. Large, two big bedrooms and two bathrooms and a spacious living room, with an area for dining and an open plan kitchen. As it rained heavily on one night we were there, we decided to eat in, and it was a great place to spend a night with friends.

Images : Booking.com

Images : Booking.com

Dorsoduro isn’t an area that we know too well, so it was good to discover more of Venice. It’s located very close to the big Marco Polo car park, so easy to get your bearings – although as with anywhere in this magical city, half of the thrill of exploring is to just walk and wander and get lost at times, knowing that at some point, you’ll come across somewhere or something familiar. The weather wasn’t the best – grey, misty and drizzly – but having visited during the Aqua Alta in 2018, we found sight-seeing this time, to be a bit of a breeze…

Our apartment was located very close to Campo Santa Margherita and we found a lovely osteria called Bakarò. Looking nothing really from the outside, once inside, you realise quite how beautiful it is.

Image credit : https://www.bakarovenezia.com/

Image credit : https://www.bakarovenezia.com/

Raw and industrial in places, you’re left in doubt this is an old building – and it wears its history on its sleeve. Exposed brickwork, steel beams, old windows which would have been on an upper floor, but because the floors have been removed, the windows seem to float. The lighting is muted and very atmospheric and perfect for a rainy December evening, when all you want to do is cosy up and eat fabulous food. Which is just what we did…