The Lovely Leaning Tower

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It doesn’t matter how many tourists visit it and how much of a cliche it may be, the leaning tower of Pisa is still a stunning building. After a week with the sombre palette of the Tuscan hill towns, it was easy to see why they named this transcendent, shining white place the Piazza dei Miracoli.

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Food shopping abroad – Italy

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Traveling while we were growing up meant that we came across a variety of foods in addition to the basic British fare in our NAAFI;  the samosa and curry spices from Canti’s stores in Kenya, wurst and frites with mayo in Germany and fresh brotchen every day from the mobile bakers, I‘ll never forget the wonderful smell of that bread!

We also had magical outings to the Canadian Forces supermarket in Soest where we first encountered hamburgers, corn relish, TV dinners (what a treat) and banana or apple and cinnamon cake mixes Dad then baked for us. Better than Instant Whip!

So although I like to eat out, my favourite thing is be self-catering, to shop for fresh food locally, in markets and small shops but often in the supermarkets.

The Coop in Pomerance was food heaven for me; the season’s first artichokes and broad beans, courgettes with the flowers intact, soft skinned and scented Sicilian lemons, organic mozzarella and ricotta, polenta with mushrooms, seemingly endless choices of dried and fresh pasta in different shapes and flavours; spinach, courgette and pea, pumpkin or artichoke. Jon went to explore the local wine section and having found a Montecastelli red from the village we could see from our window at Fattoria San Paolo, returned to find me still deliberating over pasta:)

At the hilltown of Libbiano we had a picnic of Taleggio, focaccia, tomatoes and fresh basil and then went for a walk in the Monterufoli Nature Reserve. Later that evening we cooked the artichokes, mushroom polenta and a borlotti bean dish with rosemary and olive oil from the farm. Delicious.

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A week in Tuscany with baggage

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A romantic wedding anniversary break in Tuscany; rolling countryside, medieval hill towns, cypress and olive trees, splashes of poppies by the roadside, wonderful food, fresh air, sunshine, wild cyclamen in the woods and the first fragrant strawberries.

So it was upsetting to find the stowaway grief goblin in my luggage a month before he was expected to turn up. Of course you don’t tell the grief goblin what to do, I should know that by now. All I could think of was the last time I had visited Italy with my brother Tim and how much he loved it, spending holidays with his family on the Italian coast and hoping to return in his retirement. It all felt so sad. I wasn’t feeling very creative but I was going to have to do something.

A couple of days into the holiday we drove to Rocca Sillana, an 11th century hill fortress designed by Giuliano da Sangallo. I like the fact the Italians credit the architect instead of saying which king commissioned it as the British would. It’s intimidating, 530m high and looking like a block of solid rock, it dominates Pisa, Siena and Grosseto provinces. It was restored for public access in 2009 and it feels more like a monument than a building. The steep climb to the top is rewarded by a cool breeze and stunning views of the Cecina valley.

I used a stone to write Tim’s name in the gravel next to the fort wall. This seemed right; we spent our childhood around military architecture of one sort or another, living in Army quarters and barracks and later making family visits to castles and Roman army sites at Vindolanda in Northumberland and Caerleon in Wales.

This was a way to make my thoughts physical and real, to have Tim with us and maybe even a small return for him to a country that he loved. I threw a couple of stones over the fort wall for the men of our family and a few more for the women from the path walking back down the hill.

I felt immediate relief, the grief goblin spontaneously combusted. Then I had a  holiday.

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Susan Roberts 2013