August 12: Last of the summer sun

I think a change is acomin’ … the last of the summer wine, I mean summer sun, could have been today. Maybe we’ll have a bit more tomorrow morning, but then it’s changing to the low 20s instead of the low to mid 30s. Hello autumn.

This change reminded me of the Sam Cooke song, “A Change is Gonna Come.” Listen to it here if you like. What a tragic end to the founder of soul’s life at just 33. What a voice.

After work today, I soaked up those blessed rays in and by the pool with Lotti, Fritz and Liliane. It’s been such a fantastic summer, and I know it has to end soon, but maybe the blow will be softened a little bit because … drumroll … I’m flying to London tomorrow for five days. Ahhhh!

My good friend Bronwyn from New Zealand will be there, so we’re ‘getting the band back together’ so to speak, with friends Carla, Cara and Mike. We’ve been friends since we all lived in London in 1995. Wow, I hadn’t really thought about this being a 20-year reunion, but it will be. The last time we were all together was in 2013, and Leo was there, but unfortunately he can’t come this time. I feel very lucky to be going at all, to be honest, only having just come back from Sicily.

So I don’t think I’ll be blogging while I’m in London (never say never!), but more than likely I’ll do a wrap of the long weekend when I get back. I’ll be seeing a few other friends while I’m there too, which is also very exciting. The days are full.

Tomorrow, if I have time, I’ll bore you silly with a “What I’m taking to London” post. Hopefully not much! A jacket and long pants will definitely be required, because it’s going to be rainy and in the low 20s there too (I’m chuckling, thinking about those temperatures being an Australian winter).

Oh and I haven’t mentioned it – Bruce the Töffli is running like a dream! When I was leaving work, I walked a part of the way (pushing the bike) with Pastora. A little boy in a pram called out “Töf!” when he saw it. So cute.

Wishing you a wonderful day.

August 8-9: Winding down at home

Coming home from holidays is always a mix of good and not so good, don’t you think? You’re happy to see friends and family and sleep in your own bed, but the adventure is over. Sadness.

This weekend we’ve been very low-key, getting back into the rhythm of ‘normal life’ and preparing for work tomorrow. Liliane’s mum, Hertha, went back to her house on Saturday – to prepare her for the shock of not having everyone around, we bought her some yellow roses to brighten up her living room. She is such a lovely and lively woman. I told her I’d visit soon, and hope Bruce the Töffli makes the one-hour trip with ease.

On Friday night, sitting around the pool, Rene asked if I’d been on Bruce yet, which I hadn’t. He then surprised the life out of me to say he’d had the bike serviced, with new spark plugs, while we were on holidays! Liliane had the keys to our house, and he remembered the jacket I always wear on the bike, so he put his hand in the pocket (it hangs with the other jackets near the kitchen), found the key and with help from Liliane and Lene they took it to the mechanics for some fine tuning. I was gobsmacked! I’d wanted to do it before we went on holidays but the mechanic wasn’t answering his phone. Gosh, I love our neighbours! Bruce looks all spruced up and clean too; I’ll add a photo tomorrow.

Saturday we mooched around the house and garden, I went for another swim and finished the book Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (review to come), had a barbecue dinner with the neighbours and played cards til about 10pm.

Today, the weather turned cold and cloudy, so it was the perfect time to finally write some blog posts! And watch the first episode of Montalbano again, so we could shout, “We’ve been there! We’ve been there! We haven’t been there!” 🙂

It’s also time to be a bit more focussed on ‘nutritionally fit’ again – Leo ate his weight in aranchini and I ate so much calamari and ice cream in Sicily – so despite being happy little piggies, it’s got to stop!

Wishing you a wonderful day.

August 1-7: The Sicilian Wrap!

Amazing how a holiday can slow you right down … so slow, I didn’t feel like a daily wrestle with the internet, writing on the iPad or uploading and posting photos while we were in Sicily. We’re home now, after a wonderful adventure.

Currently, I’m digesting the fact the notes I took about our time there have disappeared. For one very rare and welcome moment, my writer’s cap returned and I scrawled notes and phrases about the whole adventure that I would have been proud to share with you. But now, at home, they’re no longer lodged inside the guide book where I carefully placed them. Pages of notes – insights and observations that now escape me. I’m devastated!

So, I’m afraid, for now, it’s just a diary-entry kind of post, not the ‘literary masterpiece’ 🙂 I’d scrawled in peace sitting next to Leo as he drove along a road under the Etna, through lava flow and vineyards with views of barren but beautiful hills.

If you’d like to read some short posts and see photos from the start of the holiday, head here for the first day, here for our first few days with Leo’s family and here and here for a bit more of Taormina.

August 1: Another relaxing day spent on the beach. I never thought I’d be a fan of the umbrellas and sun lounges but when the beach is so stony, it’s fantastic! With the umbrella, we could just move the chairs around to remain in the shade all day. Glorious! In the evening, we went back up to Taormina town and watched Carmen at the old Greek theatre. A wonderful experience.

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The beach in front of the little island Isola Bella in the bay where we spent lazy days on the beach

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Love this underwater photo of Leo

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Sitting on cushions in the Greek Theatre. The original stones would have meant a numb bum in minutes!

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The Greek Theatre in Taormina, watching Carmen

August 2: We said goodbye to Taormina after four beautiful, sun-filled days and headed south to Syracusa. The drive wasn’t too bad, but seriously, the Sicilian drivers are insane. There are road rules and speed limits but everyone ignores them! Surprisingly, we only saw a few accident scenes. Once in Syracusa, we rode the hotel bicycles to Ortigia, the old port town beside the more modern city and had an early dinner in a small restaurant near the main cathedral and cooled down on the hotel rooftop as the sun set.

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Looking down to “our beach” and Isola Bella. Bye bye Taormina!

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The plaza and cathedral in Ortigia

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We weren’t staying directly in town, so bicycles were a warm but fun way to look around

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There aren’t many beaches in Syracusa, so anything goes!

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Our beer didn’t last very long in that heat!

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Back to our hotel rooftop bar and a refreshing drink!

August 3: We drove four hours to see a statue, but it was worth it! We went from Syracusa to Porto Empedocle on the south coast, past the horrible looking Gela (industrial) and the stunning Agrigento (more Greek ruins). We’re big fans of the Sicilian author Andrea Camilleri, who wrote the Inspector Montalbano police/criminal books which were turned into a tv series. Porto Empedocle is Camilleri’s hometown, and they’ve recently embraced the Montalbano tourism opportunities. We then drove to the tv home of Montalbano in Punta Secca, and then had a twilight dinner in the impressive town of Noto. A 13-hour day but well worth the drive.

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Leo with the statue of Montalbano in Porto Empedocle. The tv actor looks nothing like this book version

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Oh, hello, Montalbano sono!

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We had lunch where Camilleri stopped for coffees and I tasted my new favourite beer

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Montalbano’s house from the series. It’s now a B&B and hopefully we can stay next visit!

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The view back to Montalbano’s house

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The arid countryside on our four-hour drive

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The buildings in Noto are all made from this lovely honeycomb-coloured stone

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Part of festival celebrations in Noto

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Sunset in Noto

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Love these old Fiat 500s! Found in Noto

August 4: More Montalbano tv series location hunting! We spent time in Modica and Ragusa/Ragusa Ibla, but unfortunately didn’t have enough time to go to Scicli, which was used for filming the outside of Montalbano’s office and many other scenes. It rained today too, luckily while we were driving. In Modica, I ate my first and only brioche bun filled with ice cream – something I’ll always remember! We went back to Ortigia for dinner with Leo’s sister’s husband and his family, who were on holidays too.

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The church of San Giorgio in Modica

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A view from the church steps

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Ice cream in a sweet bun! Only in Sicily!

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The main square and church of Ragusa Ibla, which was the scene for much action in the fictional Montalbano town of Vigata

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The beautiful baroque town of Ragusa Ibla, where a lot of Montalbano was filmed

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Another angle of Ragusa Ibla

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The boardwalk around the fishing village of Ortigia

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Dinner with Leo’s brother-in-law’s family. Not sure why we’re all red!

August 5: We left Syracusa and the Montalbano trail to go back to Leo’s dad’s house near Taormina, in a small village of 400 called Passopisciaro. On the way, we stopped in Milo for a light lunch and to admire the coastal views, and then drove on a scenic road (when I wrote my missing notes, sob) back to Passopisciaro, via Randazzo. We visited the father and mother of Leo’s dad’s godson, then surprisingly went back to Randazzo for a night-time walk and then had a very late dinner, where the restaurant had closed, but opened just for us.

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The dry, lava flow landscape around Mt Etna north

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Amazing lava formations

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Visiting with Leo’s dad’s friends

August 6: Our last day, once again at the beach! We went back to Fiumefreddo with Tony and Bossy and spent a relaxing time reading and swimming, and admiring the dexterity of the people selling wares on the beach. We then went home for an early dinner and later joined in the village festivities (the start of the month-long festival season in August) and said goodbye to all the people we’d meet and seen, mostly family members!

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How to carry stuff

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Another good photo of Leo underwater!

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Leo’s aunty Elvira, Bossy and Tony at the beach

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One last beach shot …

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Festivities in the town were a human football field, like the table football game but with people strapped to the bars

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Action in the blow-up field

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One of the human football teams, with our new friend Paula on the right

August 7: Up early to drive back to Catania, drop off the Fiat 500, which we loved driving around the country, for our two-hour flight to Basel and 90-minute trip back to Wohlen bei Bern. Luckily we didn’t experience any temperature shock when we arrived – it was 36 degrees in Switzerland! Went swimming at home then joined The Usual Suspects for a fish festival/dinner in Hinterkappelen, the village next to ours.

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Saying goodbye to Bossy in front of their house in Passopisciaro

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Back home! With Liliane, Lene, Nuri (Eve’s very funny grandson) and Eve

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The outdoor dining theme continued at home thankfully!

So there you have it, a far less extensive tour of Sicily as I’d hoped (maybe I’ll find those notes one day!) but to sum up our two-week trip, here are some bullet points.

  • Toilet seats are optional in Sicily. Sit on the porcelain or squat
  • Driver’s licences seem to also be optional
  • Mt Etna emits smoke constantly, which is thrilling and nerve-wracking at the same time
  • The people were generally friendly. It helped that Leo speaks the language and I want to learn!
  • We should have tried more wine – there were vineyards everywhere
  • There’s still so much more to see/do/taste/explore, so we will be back

Wishing you a wonderful day.

July 31: More sunshine

Here’s last night, today and tonight in picture form.

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Italy’s behind those palms, just a few kilometers across the sea

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Taormina at night, with Mt Etna

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One of the main squares in Taormina

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Leo being a merman

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Me being silly and not wanting to open my eyes underwater

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Chilling under the umbrella

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Lovely dinner on a restaurant balcony under the full moon

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Leo getting a haircut at 11pm

Wishing you a wonderful day.

July 30: Taormina

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My view for the whole day

What more can I say about today? Lots of swimming in the beautiful clear water, book reading and Relaxing. We’ve been craving quality beach time for ages – Leo more so than me, because he didn’t come to Australia last year. I’m not so happy about his sunburn though! Why do men think they’re bigger than sunscreen?!

The Internet connection is stronger today, so I uploaded the photos to yesterday’s post if you fancy having a look at a few more.

Wishing you a wonderful day.

July 26-29: Sicily!

Haven’t had the internet until today! It’s been quite nice being internet-less but here’s an update of the trip so far …

Sunday: Flight was great, took photos of Mt Etna out the plane window, were met by Leo’s Dad and Bossy at the airport, picked up our Fiat 500 and drove to their house in Passopisciaro, had a fabulous lunch in a nearby village, met Leo’s Aunty Elvira and had an early night.

Leo, Bossy and Tony with our hire car :)

Leo, Bossy and Tony with our hire car 🙂

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Looking around the grounds at our lunch venue

Monday: Went to the beach at Fiumefreddo for the entire day, lazing under an umbrella on lounge chairs at a private lido (beach area) with Tony and Bossy. Had pizza in Linguaglossa village at Leo’s second cousin’s restaurant with members of Leo’s dad’s family.

Spent our first full day under an umbrella at the beach

Spent our first full day under an umbrella at the beach

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The original version of our Fiat!

Tuesday: Went to Mt Etna in the morning but didn’t go to the highest point – too expensive! Will do that next trip maybe. Cruisy afternoon driving around the region.

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Driving towards the southern viewing point

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Walking around a crater

Today: Left Tony and Bossy for Gole Alcantara, a natural ravine with a cold river, and then drove on to Taormina. Had a swim and a fantastic seafood dinner. Despite the stony beaches, it’s beautiful here!

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Cold water river

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The view from our hotel room in Taormina

Wishing you a wonderful day.

July 25: Meet me in St Louis

We’re in St Louis! Not the famous American version, but a small French town a few minutes north of Basel. Our overnight stop before the early flight to Catania tomorrow has thrown up some lovely surprises.

A free music festival! Love a good festival. We couldn’t be in Byron Bay for the current Splendour in the Grass festival, so this was a close second … except all the songs were in French. We think they must be quite popular bands because there’s a good turnout in this small village – the town slogan is ‘village of the future’. A pretty sign near the train station said it was more than 16,600km to Sydney.

It was quite cool when we left Bern today, so I threw on my denim shirt as an extra layer and it turned out to be an inspired choice for tonight, as the town square created wind tunnels in the side streets. We stopped for a beer then watched a trio who were so French. I don’t know how to explain it other than ‘so French’.

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Our first holiday beer!

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A very tasty amber

A very funky food van

A very funky food van

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An arty snap of the action

The locals had a laugh watching me lick my ice cream straight off the cone, onto my handbag and then the ground – luckily not in my shoes! Leo was laughing too much to snap evidence. I trod back to the ice cream van and the man looked at me as if to say, “What’s happened? You were just here!” I theatre-sported the whole schemozzle and he wanted to replace it for free. I did my best French-accented, “Ohhhh no, no, no, no, no” and he happily took the cash.

Wishing you a wonderful day.

July 21: What I’m taking to Sicily

In the vein of Project333, I’ve decided to take three of the main things each on this holiday to Sicily. This isn’t the normal approach for Project333, but the founder, Courtney Carver, says you can bend the rules to suit whenever you want, so I’m altering them a little for this two-week trip.

We leave on Saturday, staying the night in Basel so we can be at the airport in time for our early flight on Sunday morning. I love packing, so everything’s prepared already!

Leo came home yesterday with a new carry-on suitcase for me, which was a lovely gesture. At 2.75 kilos, it’s probably heavier than something I would have chosen for myself, but I’m sure I’m going to love it.

Originally, I’d planned to take a 22-litre backpack, but it would have been a bit snug, and maybe, just maybe, I might buy something new while I’m there 🙂 (Update: I bought three small bars of soap. That’s it! And if you’d like to see what I packed for a five-day trip to London, click here.)

So, here we go!

I’m really sorry about the quality of the dress-up photos. The only mirror we have is attached to the back of a door which faces directly towards the window, so the light from behind makes everything dark.

For my toiletries and make-up, I’ll be taking something very similar to this previous post for our walk in May. Instead of the small liquid foundation, I’ll pack a compact face powder and some tinted sunscreen.

I know I have too much (I could get away with one dress I’m sure), but there’s still plenty of space in the suitcase, so much so that I’m taking that third pair of shoes! I never normally travel with heels, as they make me taller than Leo. Choosing the best shoes can be a real pain. Luckily mine are lightweight and hopefully fashionable enough for the Sicilian nightlife.

I won’t be the smartest dressed there, but hopefully what I’ve packed will be suitable. Comfort and practicality always take precedence over fashion for me!

Wonder if I’ll take anything out or add anything in between now and Saturday. Can you see anything missing?

Wishing you a wonderful day.

July 17-19: Weekend wrap

Another weekend wrap! This is becoming quite the habit.

Friday was a fun day. Liliane’s mum, Hertha, arrived early with Rene, who had gone to collect the lawnmower (which now runs like a Ferrari … touch wood) and picked her up on the way home. She is in such good shape, mentally and physically, it’s hard to believe she’s 91. Her wicked sense of humour also takes you by surprise sometimes!

Liliane and I went grocery shopping together to a ginormous bulk centre called Growa. We spent an hour or so wandering around with a huge flat-tray trolley grabbing this and that – she bought beer, wine, meat and dog food etc, and I bought beer, feta cheese, spinach, filo pastry (can’t find it anywhere else anymore!) and dishwasher powder. Woo hoo, hold the phone, we went to town!

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Hertha, as the sun sets

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Everyone’s here except for Eve

That afternoon Lotti, Fritz and Paul joined the five of us for dinner beside the pool. We played cards (I lost twice!) and had a huge barbecue. It was a late night but a fun one. Hertha said she really enjoyed it because Rene stayed the entire time. He’s feeling fit enough to socialise more which is great.

Saturday morning it rained briefly for the first time in a very, very long time! At last! Leo went to work for a few hours so I did odds and ends around the house, and once the sun came out again, cleaned the pool, swam a bit and mooched a bit, then Liliane cooked dinner for us all again. We’re good at doing this ‘sleep and repeat’ kind of thing each weekend (although I’m glad we didn’t have another barbecue. It feels like we’ve done nothing but eat meat!).

Later we played rummy and I didn’t lose. At last! Rene brought out some long thin cigars which are twisted/crooked like a small tree branch. I can’t find any pictures of them on the internet, and didn’t take any in the darkness, but we had a laugh smoking them. We could also hear, sporadically, music coming from the Gurten Festival on the little hill of Bern, about 20km away. And it rained again! We sat under the tent and enjoyed hearing and seeing rain again after less than 12 hours.

Today, Liliane’s friend Lene arrived from Germany. Both she and Hertha will stay about three to four weeks so we’ll see them again when we come back from Sicily. Leo had an idea to go to the Rose Garden in Bern, but we both felt too slack. I had a swim and cooked dinner (Jamie Oliver’s spinach and feta filo pie with salad. I love it! Meat free at last!) and then finally at 9.15pm, dragged myself (no, not really) upstairs to write here. It was a great, hot weekend, with two bursts of much welcome rain.

In other non-weekend news, I’ve been experimenting with Dr Bronner’s ’18-uses-for-one-bottle’ liquid soap as shampoo and body wash. It’s been about a month now, and I’m still unsure of the result. My hair feels like it’s coated in kind of a sticky wax, and the effect makes my hair look greasy/stringy. If it dries naturally, it sets into loose curls, but if I blow dry it, it feels like I’m amping up the waxiness even more.

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Natural lavender liquid soap from Dr Bronner. You can clean almost anything with it apparently. I just wish my hair responded a bit better

So the jury is still out. I need a haircut and am loathe to have it washed with their products, because it means I’ll be back to the drawing board again for this experiment. I’m kind of hoping after a few months, my hair gets used to not being washed in all those chemicals and silicone and so on. Maybe I can ask them to just wet it and then cut it like that?

Dr Bronner’s soap comes in all sorts of smells and is available worldwide (I’ve linked to the American website, where you can see all their products). I was given lavender by Claudia when she and Dani came to visit last month. I’ve previously bought the baby/neutral smell and peppermint. I tried washing my hair with those ones too with similar results to now, but I gave up on the experiment after only a week or so, because I couldn’t cope with the sticky/clumpy feeling. Fingers crossed I can persevere and come out a winner.

This is all part of a desire to cut down on the products I use and to be more aware of the ingredients of things. Half the contents of Nivea and other store-bought products are three words long and impossible to pronounce. It would be nice to be rid of stuff like that. Our skin is a big sponge and I’d rather it be soaking up natural goodies rather than chemical nasties.

I’ve started putting things together in a carry-on suitcase for our trip. I was hoping to take a 22 litre backpack but I think that might be pushing it a bit. Not that I’m taking much! I’ll do a post about that on Friday, hopefully. Love the challenge of travelling light!

Wishing you a wonderful day.

July 16: Vincent-esque

On my ride home from the city after lunch with Leonie, I finally stopped to take a photo of the new flower field and all the colours. It’s nice, but just doesn’t have the pizazz of the old field – perhaps not seeing the Alps behind makes it somewhat lacklustre?

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The new flower field is blooming well. Lilies and dahlias and glads and sunflowers and …

The wheat is being harvested right now. And I mean right now. It’s just after 10pm and I can hear the machines working overtime. They’ve chopped the tops off and collected the wheat, and the stems remain behind to be made into hay bales. They’re making hay while the moon shines.

I think this scenery would make Vincent van Gogh reach for his brushes, don’t you?

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Blue and yellow – great combination

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Picture perfect. Imagine some swirls in the sky!

I cleaned Liliane and Rene’s house for four hours today. That’s enough fitfor15in15! Whenever I’m at their house, I jump on the bathroom scales – seems I’ve lost another kilo. Unfortunately, the dress I bought in Spain in 2011 still doesn’t fit comfortably. Maybe I should just accept it as a post-Camino memory and move on?!

Tomorrow, Liliane’s 91-year-old mother Hertha arrives. I can’t wait to see her again, she’s a crack up! She called me last Friday to say how much she’s looking forward to visiting. She only lives 35 minutes away, but comes three times a year for a two-to-four-week holiday. Plenty of giggles will be had next week – our last week before we go to Sicily!

Wishing you a wonderful day.