Sunday, 13 July 2014

Travel Trade Crusade 2014 – Day Four, Sunday 13th July.

Last day of the Crusade 2014, and official fancy dress day.  The meeting point was in a car park beside the lake – and it was at a leisurely 9.00am. 

We all had breakfast in normal clothes – might have been a bit difficult for some of us to consume anything with their suits on.  We had taken the Ghostbusters theme to the limit today.  Paul and I were the Ghostbusters, complete with overalls, goggles, back packs and super soaker guns.  Sonia was Mr Marshmallow Man, and Nancy was Slimer.  I don’t think I have ever seen anyone so excited to be dressing up as a bit white ball of puff as Sonia was.  She had been looking forward to this day for the last few months!  We loaded the car, put on as much as was possible considering we had to drive to the meeting point, and set off.

A large hairy lion with a chequered flag pointed the way to the car park as we were driving along the waterfront.  The car park was full of people in way over the top costumes.  Including us.  Nancy and Sonia had to inflate their costumes (Nancy had inadvertently lost a crucial piece of the inflator as she got in the car at the hotel, so had to be repaired with a cable tie and duct tape.  Apollo 13 again!)  and we made a grand entrance running down the middle of the car park chasing the ghosts as they wafted along.  That made everyone laugh!

There was much frivolity for over an hour – everyone seemed to have forgotten we were on a car rally!  There were croissants and champagne for breakfast – non alcoholic for the drivers!  We then got on our way – only through France today.  One country only – piece of cake!  Sarah had said to follow the lead car for a really scenic route around and out of Annecy – and it really was.  Then we seemed to come across it again – think we may have made a wrong turn somewhere.  We spotted Chris in the Sunvil Inferno going the other way – are they lost or are we?  The third time we went round, we followed the signs to the first town on the lost rather than the sat nav, and eventually left our town of origin!

We were very blasé today.  Flat roads, plenty of time – should have no trouble at all.  We even decided to take an non enforced caffeine injection for half an hour – and the weather then decided to absolutely pour.  The car park was flooded.  No problem – we have got plenty of time!

Challenge 1 today was to go to the town of Dijon, buy some mustard, and then adorn the most unlikely food with it, and eat it.  We got to Dijon a lot later than we intended – social media indicated that most people had been and had lunch and left before we even got there.  We worked out that we could spare an hour, so we headed to the town centre.  Nothing seemed to be open – we were looking ideally for a supermarket of some description, but didn’t seem to find any.  Unbelievable.  You normally pass one every half an hour when you don’t want one.  We decided to put the Disneyland Hotel address into the sat nav, and hope we would come across one on the way.  She took us down some very narrow roads – we even passed a church that looked as if it was more on the road than away from it.  Nancy spied a little shop that looked as if it might sell what we wanted, but it was closed from 1pm to 4pm.  We were at 2pm.  There was a lorry delivering some goods outside, so Nancy got out of the car – initially to ask the chap if there was a supermarket nearby.  She was gone ages – and came back out with a jar of mustard and a box of chocolate éclairs.  By this time, there were about six delivery people taking pictures of the car with their phones.  Sonia didn’t need much encouragement to put her costume on again, and so did Nancy.  Nancy then proceeded to pour a huge dollop of mustard over a chocolate éclair, and ate the lot!  Photographic evidence in the bag – including the look on her face as it was going down!  The owner of the shop decided he would like his photograph taken with the Marshmallow Man and Slimer – and even gave Slimer a kiss on the head.  That pleased Nancy – I think she may keep the Slimer suit to attract the opposite sex!

Challenge 2 was to find and photograph the most unusual Mickey outside of the park.  We were running quite close to time now – we still had over three hours to get to Paris, and it was gone 3pm by this time.  This was when the engine decided to start playing up again.  There were a few hills, and the needle just seemed to hover around that red mark.  That meant that we had to have the heater on full blast, keep to 50 mph, and cross fingers and toes.  We didn’t have any leeway to stop and cool down.  The rain was lashing down at points – which didn’t help as we had to have the windows open to compensate for the 35 degrees temperature it was in the inside of the car.  Who needs an old banger to give you heart failure! The latest time of arrival in Paris was 7.30pm, as they needed to count up the points and have the winning ceremony at 8pm.

When we left Dijon, we worked out from the sat nav that we would have an hour to spare – the eta was 6.30pm.  Unfortunately the sat nav saw that we were on motorways, and didn’t take into account that we couldn’t travel above 40mph when we were going up a hill – and there did seem to be a few.  There were a few tense moments when the needle was touching the red, and then we would get to the crest of the hill, and it would drop a bit as we coasted down the other side.  We were taking about a third longer than the sat nav indicated we should – which put our eta at 7.30pm.  This was going to be by the skin of our teeth if we made it!

We then turned onto a smaller road, and seemed to be able to keep up with the timing of the sat nav.  We pulled into the Magic Circus Hotel at 7.15pm – early for us!  We are used to only having two minutes to spare!  We even had time to set up a photo shoot with the three ghosts heads sticking out of the black box on our roof, and Paul and I “putting them in” with our guns standing in the back of the trunk.  Our own challenge for the day – getting rid of the ghosts!

After a quick change, we all waited for the results of the rally.  The first award up went to the Ghostbusters the Challenge of the Day on Day one – Sonia’s rope bridge challenge.  Excellent!  After listening to some of the antics that some of the others got up to, we were all very proud to have achieved a win of some description.  The Toytastic car won best car – deservedly so – the Big O won the Team of the Rally, and the Mario Brothers won the overall challenge with Sunvil coming a very close second.

What a fantastic weekend it has been again – and the very last one..................

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Travel Trade Crusade 2014 – Day Three, Saturday 12th July.

If you thought yesterday had issues – wait until you hear about today!

An early morning again – breakfast at 7.15am for the meeting at 8.15am in the Super U car park in some part of Colmar.  We just got out of breakfast before a whole coach load of tourists trouped in – this hotel is not going on my list as one to recommend!  Haven’t exactly spent that much time here, but really don’t have any inclination to.  We checked out, loaded the truck, and headed in the general direction of the car park.  After a couple of wrong turns, we arrived amongst the Saturday morning shoppers that really didn’t know what had hit them.  To Infinity and a Blonde were in their second car, the white taxi had arrived at half past midnight and were ready to rock and roll, and everyone else was present and correct.  This morning, we had a car of mad professors, a car of knights of the crusade, a car of the star, sun and Uranus (don’t ask), and a mixture of other superheroes and the like.  We set off with our usual aplomb, and headed off down the road to Chamonix.  There was a choice of challenges today – no time to do both, so we had to choose.  The one to Chamonix was to take the cable car to Aguilles du Midi and then take a picture of the team in “The Cube” – a glass cube hanging off the edge of Mont Blanc.  The other choice was to detour into Italy, and take the route the Italian Job, round the S27, a very long and upward climb.  Paul said not Italy, but apart from that my choice!

We took the sensible suggestion, and plumped for Chamonix.  The first couple of hours was great – no overheating, a steady 60 mph and very pleasant folk smiling and taking our pictures as they passed us.  We passed from France to Switzerland – no passports, but had to pay 40 euros for a sticker to say that we could drive on Swiss roads.  Bit like a toll.  We saw that we were heading to pass Montreaux, so decided to have a small detour.  What a beautiful little town on the edge of Lake Geneva.  The weather was actually behaving itself at this point, which always helps.  We went through here, and onto one of the most picturesque castles in Switzerland called Chateau de Chillon.  An ideal opportunity, we felt, to see if the castle was haunted and needed the help of the Ghostbusters.  It was 12.50 euros to get in, but ghosts were free – so the ghost went in, and we took her picture several times in several different windows.  Then we spotted a jetty that looked just like the one in Mamma Mia where the ladies played the air guitar and then all jumped in the water.  Ideal for challenge number 2!  Paul took the video (strictly 20 seconds long as per the rules!) so unfortunately it cut off just before we all jumped in (not).  Don’t think our singing was up to Meryl Streep’s though!

We set off again, and got on the road to Chamonix.  The rain then came down, and the cloud, and it was horrible.  The scenery all around us would have been stunning if only there was a little sun shining on it.  We then started to climb.  The engine started to overheat.  Oh dear – this is not going to end well!  We stopped at about 2000 feet to let it cool down, and then started again.  The road was really narrow, full of hairpins, and so could only pull in when there was a proper lay by.  We got up to 3600 feet, and we could hear the water bubbling under the bonnet.  We pulled over again, and waited for twenty minutes or so.  Paul thought it would be best if we topped the radiator up with water, and undid the radiator cap a touch to release the pressure.  He thought the pressure had dissipated, and went to undo it a bit more.  Wrong.  There was so much pressure it shot the cap off and there was a fountain of boiling water and steam.  When it calmed down, we realised the cap was nowhere to be seen.  High and low we looked – nothing.  It couldn’t just disappear!  After over an hour of looking we called the breakdown people, and told them we didn’t need to be towed, we just needed a new radiator cap.  It was the UK I had to ring, and after half an hour or so the “International” chap phoned me back.  A couple of sandwiches short of a picnic I think!  After asking many of the same questions again, he said he would arrange for someone to come out to us.  We still continued to look for the cap – where on earth had it gone?  After looking all around the car, under the car, on the roof, in the back, we had almost given up.  About another hour passed, and the breakdown chap rang back again to “keep me updated”.  He said so far, he hadn’t persuaded anyone to come up the mountain to help.  Not the sort of update I was looking for.  He did make a very good suggestion – he thought it would be better if I drove the car to a garage rather than them come to me.  Not sure if he really understood the meaning of a breakdown service.  He did after he came off the phone.

A few minutes later Paul found the cap.  It was wedged between the fan and the radiator.  He couldn’t reach it from the top, so had to take the bottom part of the engine off to get his hand up inside and feel for it.  Nancy suggested using the dipstick to get it – I informed her were already were!!  Having been at that point for more than two hours without toilet facilities, we were falling about laughing.  More like mass hysteria.  We could see a way forward, and it was going to our heads.  I didn’t actually let Paul in on that joke until we were eating dinner that night.  I could feel he might have suggested that I honed my hitch hiking talent!  We got back on the road, and I cancelled the breakdown service.  Well, told them we now didn’t need them.  You can’t cancel something that wasn’t going to happen.

We continued the climb to about 5000 feet – gingerly – and then we topped off and started to make our way down.  We could still make it to Chamonix and complete the challenge.  We had a few more ups and downs, as you do in the Alps, but nothing that was fatal.  We got very near boiling point, but as we approached it we came to a down part so gave it chance to recover.  We took one small wrong turn in Chamonix – started to go towards the Mont Blanc Tunnel (and the S27 which was on the other side of it) because the sat nav was taking us to the top of the mountain rather than the cable car at the bottom.  Good job we noticed before we absolutely killed it!  But to our horror, we were half an hour late.  The last cable car had left thirty minutes before.  What a horrible deflated feeling we all had.  I did suggest that the S27 wouldn’t be shut – but just got “the look” from Paul.  I took that as a no then!

We got back in the truck and headed off to Annecy – our stop for this evening.  Everything behaved itself on the way – apart from the weather, but at least the torrential rain was keeping the engine cool.  We found the hotel at a very reasonable hour – which meant after we had checked in with the Crusade Team we had time for dinner.  Our first proper meal for about three days!  We had, unfortunately, fell off the leader board today – but it is fancy dress day proper tomorrow, and hopefully will be able to make up some points.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Travel Trade Crusade 2014 – Day Two, Friday 11th July.

Well – where do I begin?  What a day! 

We all had to meet in the car park at 0815 for a photo shoot.  Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas, and it was really raining hard.  The photo shoot had to be in the bar!  Where else?  We had decided to do fancy dress on the official fancy dress day – the last day – only.  Most people did the same last year.  Not this year!  We were virtually the only team not in fancy dress.  We had the Big O in lederhosen, the Bright Sparks in orange jumpsuits, To Infinity and a Blonde in alien costumes, a whole team of wrapped presents, a telly tubby, a couple off MASH bringing Hot Lips in on a stretcher – the list goes on.  What a start – and that was without seeing any of the cars!

We had Super Mario, the Parrotmedics, Toy Story, a Land Rover “Rover the top”, and many more that had had hours of work gone into them.  It was a fantastic compilation!  We set off at 9.00am, and tried to keep in convoy for a couple of miles – then we were on our own.  The route today started from Lille, and ended up in Colmar – via Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany at least once – most several times.  The weather was appalling.  Last year we had brilliant sunshine the whole time.

Our challenge for today was to get a team photograph with a saxophone.  Good job we all had google on the go!  Dinant was the birthplace of Alfred Sax – and there was apparently a good few scattered around the streets.  It took us only an hour or so to get there – and the rain had stopped and it was actually quite pleasant.  We parked up, and went up to the bridge where the whole thing was lined both sides with huge models of saxophones.  We had our picture taken with one of those, and by another one in front of a hotel – and in a chocolate shop where we all lounged on the furniture pretending to play chocolate saxophones.  We had bought them first!  There was a little museum just up the road which was a Sax Museum – where there was the real thing.  This is the picture that is going to get us the points!  We saw several of the other teams in the town – a lovely little town by a beautiful river that we could have spent all morning at.  But no – onward we went.  The other challenge was one we had to set ourselves – that fitted in with the theme of the Ghostbusters.   We found a supermarket, and went in and bought a white sheet (it was on the list to bring, but got forgotten!)  We stopped and drove in some woods – blew Raquel up and covered her with the sheet that now had black eyes printed on, and propped her up behind a tree.  I took a picture of the other three pretending to look for ghosts, with her appearing at the back.  I could just about hear an audience of children shouting “she’s behind you!”

After that we went past a very large graveyard with a few huge tombs with broken doors.  It had to be done!  Raquel was put peeping out of the tomb, with us scattered around pretending to look.  Nobody came and hustled us out – surprisingly!  Then, Sonia spotted a zip line sign.  “Let’s take Raquel on the zip line” she says.  So we turned around, found where it was and drove there.  It was around half a mile walk from the car park up and down steps and hills – didn’t know this was a trek as well as a car rally!  We got to the start – and they said they were too busy.  We should have booked!  Sonia did her bit – we got them to take us on one of the high bridges, and Paul took the shot.  Sonia is afraid of heights – so not quite sure why she suggested this!  We walked up the pathway after getting all the safety harnesses and helmets on.  Then we came to the bridge – we were clipped on a high wire, had a wire either side of us to hold on to and wooden slats that got further and further apart the further we went on.  Sonia took the sheet – she insisted – so on the middle of the bridge she put the sheet over her head, and we made as if we were chasing the ghost.  Brilliant!  I could feel the rope bridge shaking with Sonia – she was so brave to do it.  We should get extra points for that!  And it didn’t rain!  She decided to climb up a bit of a rock climbing wall on the way back to the car – and we got a picture of a ghost halfway up!

We had updates all the while on facebook and twitter, so we could keep up with where all the teams were.  Unfortunately, To Infinity and a Blonde had broken down just outside Lille – and that is where they stayed for seven hours!  They called for a backup car from England, and had to wait until it arrived.  Several people had got lost – we even had one update from Istanbul.  I think that may have been a slight exaggeration!  Disaster then struck.  Paul noticed the temperature needle was on red, so we pulled into a rest area.  The bonnet came up, and the steam came out!  Had to leave that for half an hour to cool down.  A few cars along the line was the Romanski Team from Mark Warner in a white London Taxi – with the bonnet up.  Not only was there steam coming out of their engine, they had borrowed a frying pan from the restaurant and proceeded to fry bacon and eggs from the heat.  That’s their challenge for the day sorted out then!  They pulled away – and then we had to sort ours out.  Luckily, we had a container full of water of the roof (for our Ghostbuster Super Soakers that are coming out on Sunday).  Quite a lot of it went in the radiator – I don’t think there was much left in the car!  After about an hour, we felt it was safe to continue on!

We had started to get into the hills – we were up at 1600 feet and then down and up again.  I don’t think this was doing the car much good either!  Paul was most disappointed that his new off road truck hadn’t even made it through the first day.  One of the reasons he wouldn’t buy a banger was because he didn’t want to break down!  We went OK for a little while – then we got in a really huge traffic jam.  We must have been in it for over an hour, and the engine just heated up all over again.  We pulled into a little lay by, and did the same operation all over again.  This time you could hardly see the car for steam!  We decided that we needed to keep going at under 60 miles an hour so the engine didn’t heat up, and not too fast that it would heat up that way, but fast enough for the wind to keep the engine cooler.  Then the rain came!  And boy did it come – the sky was so black, it thundered and lightened, and came down so hard it was thumping on the bonnet.  But it kept the engine cool.  Paul then pointed out that our box on the top of the car to put the ghosts in was metal.  Oh dear.  Wonder how many points we would get for being struck by lightning?

And time was getting on.  All these stops, and traffic jams.  Our meeting point in Colmar was between 7.30pm and 9.30pm.  Too late, and no points!  It was not looking good.  We still had two and half hours to go, and it was 7pm.  Touch and go.  The Bright Sparks passed us – so we weren’t the only ones that were on the drag.  The engine was behaving itself – and the miles went, but we weren’t making up any time as we had to keep the speed under 60.  The mileage signs were showing a diminishing balance – but not fast enough.  It was going to come down to seconds.  We had to meet in a cafe about five minutes walk from the hotel – and it was still raining cats and dogs.  Sonia and I were the only ones with a coat in the inside of the truck, so when we got to the hotel we grabbed the camera bag (evidence) and ran in the general direction of the town square, where the cafe was.  We got soaked.  But we made it by the skin of our teeth!  Our challenges were greeted with positive words – always a good sign!  We had a quick drink and then went back to find the other two.  Who turned up at the cafe just as we turned up at the hotel.  The car park had a maximum height of 1.8m  - the truck is 2.3m.  They got soaked sorting out the luggage and the parking, so we all got soaked.  Still teams that hadn’t checked in – missing in action!  Including the white taxi last seen frying eggs on its engine!

But then we had a text from Crusader HQ.  We are in fourth place.  All to play for tomorrow!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Travel Trade Crusade 2014 - Day One, Thursday 10th July

We set off in our Ghostbusters themed car at 10.30am from Elmswell – via the Elmswell shop, then Nancy’s house (as she had forgotten her Just A Drop tee shirt and walking boots) and then the Claydon shop, and finally the Hadleigh shop.  All three villages had a quick blast of the ghostbusters music and the flashing lights – we had several waves, but a few people refused to look up.  Not sure what they thought they might find!  The only problem we had was in Hadleigh, where after 30 seconds we had a police lady moving us on.  Should have got the bucket out and asked her to make a donation!

Finally we were on the road to where we needed to go – albeit two hours or so after we should have been.  No problem!  The road was fairly empty until we got to the Dartford Bridge, and had to queue from three miles out.  Oh dear – Paul was panicking.  How many times have I heard that we should have left home earlier?  This time, we were late because he hadn’t finished packing.  Or loading the car.  Or perhaps going to all three shops didn’t help.  And certainly this queue hasn’t done us any favours. We get through the tunnel (went in the £2 lane – although I’m not sure a ghostbuster vehicle classifies as a normal car!) and get on our way to the M20.  We can still make it to the Channel Tunnel – at least it is the right side of Dover.  We wouldn’t have made it to the port.

All the way we were keeping up on facebook and twitter of the progress of some of the other teams.  What would we do without social media?  And it made us feel better that we weren’t the only ones that were running late.  Paul had made a compilation CD that had quite a few sing a long tunes on – at least the two in the back were happy!  We were nearing the Tunnel when we decided that as the diesel needle had now actually fell off the end of the gauge that it would be sensible to fill up before we needed to call in the fourth emergency service – that didn’t help either!

We got on our way again.  A traffic enforcement vehicle was in front – not a good idea to whizz past him with the lights flashing and the music blaring.  However much we try, I don’t think we could talk our way out of that one.  Let’s hope he didn’t try and do a number plate check on ECTO 2.  Six minutes to get our train, and ten miles to go.  Touch and go – and I am afraid it was gone.  We made it just as the train was leaving the platform.  Bugger!  We got there at 1351, and the next space for a high vehicle was 1550.  Can’t leave the box to put the ghosts in behind!  So, a cup of coffee and a “delicious” burger king later, we were put in the standby queue for the next shuttle.  Well, that is what they told us.  I think it was really the start of the queue for the 1550 train.  Because that was what we caught.  We gave the officials a blast of music and flashing lights as we boarded – but they weren’t amused.  Does no-one here have a sense of humour?

We loaded into the train, then Sonia decided that Raquel needed to make an appearance (you needed to have been there last year to know why we had a blow up doll!)  The couple in the Range Rover behind, sipping wine from proper wine glasses, did not seem amused either.  35 minutes were over quickly, and we left the train with music and flashing lights.  Eventually.  We were told to turn them off until we were clear of the train.  Health and Safety!  The sat nav had been set, and we were on our way through the wind and rain to Lille – the meeting point for this year’s rally and the starting point in the morning.  It took us just over an hour to get there, about the fifth car to make it.  One had had a flat battery, but was now going, one had broken down on the way – and one team member (who will remain nameless) had travelled to Lille in Belgium instead of Lille in France.  We didn’t do too badly after all.

After registering, collecting our “pack” with instructions of what is expected of us, we had a well deserved drink and dinner, caught up with old friends from the last crusade and some who were new this year, and hit the sack ready for the onslaught tomorrow!

Friday, 6 June 2014

Day Trip to Dublin from Cambridge - June 2014

How about a day trip to Dublin without having to brave a Ryanair flight?  Sounds too good to be true.  But it isn’t!  And what’s even better is that the flight leaves from Cambridge Airport.  For us in the East of England this is just perfect.  For me, it was a forty minute drive to get to the airport – for a forty minute check in before the flight, which left at 09.10.  Park right outside the terminal – and for the summer the airport are offering free parking – and walk to the check in two minutes.

No queues, no fuss, no stress – lovely comfortable sofas to sit on and have a coffee with a maximum of fifty other people at a time.  The flights that leave here are on a Fokker 50 propeller plane, that take a maximum of fifty passengers.  In no time at all, the flight is called and we walk the fifty yards to the plane and board.  This is a full service flight, so drinks and snacks are also included, as well as baggage if you have any.  How is Ryanair sounding now??

The one hour flight was smooth, and we left a fairly dreary Cambridge in the comfort of our leather seats.  In a little under an hour we were landing at Dublin Airport – not quite the scene of tranquillity that was Cambridge Airport, but very smooth and slick.  In actual fact, you can use this service as part of a through fare to the USA, and complete all the US immigration in Dublin, and land at the domestic terminal in the states.

We left Dublin Airport for the City Centre – and luckily the weather was holding.  And so it should do in June!  We had a Dublin City Pass, which includes a shuttle service from the airport to the City, and entry into all sorts of places in the City.  Very good value for money.  At a little before 11.00am we were in the City, with the whole day ahead of us.  After a short wander around the streets around Grafton Street and Temple Bar, we made our way over the Halfpenny Bridge to have lunch at The Winding Stair.  Lovely food in a lovely typically Irish restaurant.

After lunch, we had tickets for the hop on hop off bus so we made our way to the Guinness Brewery, which is included in the City Pass.  This was busy!  But when in Dublin.....!!  We did the whole tour, and ended up in the Bar on the top floor to redeem our free pint of Guinness that is included in the entrance.  The poor bar tenders were pouring pints of Guinness like there was no tomorrow – I think a bus load of Japanese had arrived on the top floor at the same time as us – each one with a pattern of a shamrock on the top.  Nice touch!  Not a nice taste though.  Although I am sure the majority of the clientele surrounding me would disagree, as they were all quite happy downing their glass of the black stuff.  I can still say that I had a pint of Guinness – just didn’t drink it!

We then made our way back to the City and then on to the airport for the flight home.  Not quite the forty minute check in here – we did need to be there an hour and a half before the 19.10 flight back to Cambridge.  A very delightful hour on the flight back, and to top it all ten minutes after the wheels hit the runway I was back in my car and on the way home.  You can’t beat that

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Italian Cookery Course - Day Eight, Saturday 17th May 2014

Our last day. Normally a day of packing and waiting to go. No. We all had to report for bread making at 9.30am. Not going to report who woke up at 9.23am – but was still ready on time! We were back in the room where it all started last week. We all had boards and bowls of flour – just needed to have the master class with Mateo first. We were making the seven cereal bread that we have had every morning for breakfast. It needs proving twice, so we started with this one – we have got a plane to catch after all! Mateo makes it look so easy – he had 3kg of flour, we have just 500g. We use live yeast and a “starter” - purportedly forty years old. When you use a bit, you just put another bit of flour and water in to make up for what you have used. Kept in the fridge in a kilner jar. No green bits on, so not a problem in my eyes. Mix it al up with a squirt of olive oil, mix it together and Bob's your uncle. Easy as that.
Except when your board has a slight tilt and the water goes all over your feet. Not saying who that is either! They all get mixed up, and then they have to sit and prove for thirty or so minutes. Whilst this is happening we go up to the kitchen and make some typical Italian flat bread called Romagnola Piadina. This is flour and lard and baking powder. Nothing else. Same process of mixing in with water, and then leave it to rise for thirty minutes.
Back downstairs to see how the cereal bread is coming along. It knows has to be pushed and pulled in a certain way, and then put in a rattan bowl for the last proving. Either long or round. Back upstairs for the Piadina.
This is now rolled flat, and either cooked on a flat plan plain, or filled with mozzarella and tomato sauce, or spinach, or any other filling you fancy. We fancied tomato sauce and mozzarella so that is what was cooked. And it was delicious. Eaten outside in the beautiful sunshine again. Next to the wood oven that was lit at some unearthly hour by Mateo in readiness for our loaves of bread. He cleared out all the wood, which left the tiles on the side white with heat. A towel on the end of a pitchfork cleared out the debris, and then we all put our own loaves in with a large metal paddle. Leave them there for half an hour or so whilst we finish lunch!

Gianni then came out with deep fried acacia flowers and elder flowers in tempura batter. We had seen them in the kitchen – not for the table displays then. They were actually very pleasant. Not sure what I thought they would taste like, but I think most of the taste came from the oil and the batter rather than the flowers. Marissa then came down with a certificate for everyone and a chef's hat. She said we had all passed. Passed what I wonder? Passed the mark for the most bottles of wines consumed for one group? Or the worst Italian karaoke? Any of the above! Our last hour in the garden before we leave for the airport.  

We then all got our bread out of the oven. It had risen, and smelt beautiful. We all remembered where in the oven we had put our own (some had the forethought to mark it with a special symbol!) so that we could reclaim the right loaf. I am sure someone put another one in the place of mine – it really did look like the runt of the pack. Mateo said he thought that one was his, and gave me one that looked that a little too good to be mine. I wasn't proud, and took it! What a gentleman. If I'm going to carry it all the way back to England I might as well take one worth having.
We all soon packed, and were on our way to Bologna Airport. With our loves of bread. We got there in plenty of time, checked in, and then queued for over an hour to get through security. With our bread. Wondered why they got us here three hours before departure. No-one queried the brown bags full of bread at all. The flight left on time, and Heathrow Terminal 5 was a pleasure to get through. One area where the Brits lead the way.
To sum up this holiday, if you can get past the quirky hotel, the family will give you the warmest Italian welcome you will find in all of Italy. Marissa's vibrancy and the whole family's love for this area is apparent in everything they do. If you love being one of the very few tourists in the village, you will fit in well here.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Italian Cookery Course - Day Seven, Friday 16th May 2014

The two words to describe today is bizarre and beautiful! After breakfast, we went with Mateo and Pappa to a farm that makes cheese about forty or so minutes away. It was a beautiful journey, over the hills and valleys to Ca de Monti, an Agriturismo sheeps and goats cheese producer. Marissa had loaded an electric hob and a huge saucepan in the back of the truck before we left. We got to the farm, and there was actually no-one there. It was in the middle of nowhere (or in the middle of nothing, as Mateo described). About twenty minutes after we had wandered around and admired the view, a little van drew up with an urn of goats milk.
We went inside, to where a row of chairs had been placed in front of a long table with a very sixtyish flowered tablecloth underneath the hob. It took two of them to lift the urn and pour the milk into the pan. Pappa was watching very carefully as well – not sure if this was a new “tour” for all of us here! A two foot thermometer came out of a cardboard tube, the hob was switched on, the farmer proceeded to give a full description of what he was doing in Italian. Mateo proceeded to translate about five minutes worth of talking into thirty seconds – somehow think we were only getting part of the story here.

It didn't take long to get to 30ish degrees, when he proceeded to drop a bit of rennet into the milk. Then he had to stir it for about half an hour. Watching paint dry comes to mind! The farmer was quite animated during his stirring, but I am afraid we hadn't a clue what was going on. Eventually he decided it was done – there was a thick layer of yoghurt consistent milk in there now. Quite quick really. He took all of the thick stuff out with a strainer, and got two fairly large bowls of cheese. This apparently now takes a month or two to strain completely, have salt added and mature the flavour. Don't think we will stay for that part. The liquid left in the pan then had to be reheated to eighty odd degrees, and what floats to the top is ricotta cheese. Very clever. This was not so exciting to wait for either – in the end Mateo suggested we started lunch. Good idea!

It was a lovely lunch – four different kinds of cheese on the plate along with everything else. Very tasty. From here some went back to the hotel with Pappa, and some went to Faenza. This was about forty five minutes drive, again all through the hills and valleys. It really is a lush green beautiful area. The first stop in Faenza, which is famous for its ceramics, was to a ceramics workshop. Which was locked up with padlocks when we got there. Seems to be a theme here today. A few minutes later a young lady came and opened up and took us inside. A very diverse and strange lots of pots and bits. Ron poked a wild boar on a shelf and nearly got his finger chopped off – not ready to touch apparently. Then the boss man appeared, put on his apron, and gave us a demonstration on how to throw a pot – explaining in excellent Italian. The theme continues. Not sure if Mateo has a bad memory, or if Italians use ten times as many words as needed, but the translations were very much shorter than the original. The pot was good – but not a lot else in the workshop was. All a bit too bizarre. There was a Japanese chap doing a sculpture of a woman praying that could have sat in any GCSE art exam. He was meant to be a professional! The lady painting looked as if she was painting by numbers rather than using any skill and expertise. Not many purchases here!
We then drove into the centre of Faenza – which turned out to be the most beautiful town. The main square was amazing – and the cathedral quite large for what I thought originally was a small town. We all sat in the square and had a gelato – as one does! Not really in a hurry to move – or go to the next ceramics place Mateo had lined up – so no idea if that one was any better. We had a quick look in the cathedral – Ron took a confessional (none of us were religious, so it was all quite light hearted). I did check and Mateo wasn't either. Glad about that then!
We drove the forty five minutes or so back to the hotel – ready for Mateo to get to work in the kitchen, and for us to shower and change ready for dinner. Our Last Supper, as Marissa called it. She said she had made the pudding today, as there was nobody left. Well, Paul was left as he had to stay behind to sort out computer problems. Marissa even forgot about him – when he asked her where his lunch was she went into hysterics and told him she had slept. She had shown him how to operate the coffee machine – I am sure if we were here for much longer she would have got him making the beds! I am going to miss her hearty cackle.

Our Last Supper seemed to have extra courses in again – Cheese Fondue Zucchini, Ravioli, Asparagus, Roe Deer, and Catalunya Cream. Then she brought out the Lemoncello. Nobody is going home from this holiday hungry or thirsty!