Un Giro ( But Outside Italy)

If you have ever travelled up through Italy to the Mont Blanc tunnel and then on into France you will know that on the Italian side the road sweeps you under mountains in the form of long tunnels and across ravines on high viaducts whilst on the French side you spend hours turning the steering wheel as you negotiate a seemingly endless series of hairpin bends that take you tortuously up and down the mountains on their side of the Alps.

From our rented house base I had planned to take day trips down into the Mani as this area is known ( it is to those of you with Google maps the middle of the three fingers that stick out at the bottom of the Peloponnese) . However the weather has proved too nice and instead we have spent the days swimming and sitting on sun loungers a few kilometres down the road. The decision to adopt idleness was helped when I read that almost all the roads in the mountainous region of the Mani were built by a virtual army of occupation from France in the 1870s. I therefore knew what to expect from any venture through the mountains and down to the less developed ( I thought) areas to the south of Avia.

Today however with a dodgy weather forecast for the first time since arriving in Greece two weeks ago we set off for un giro ( a trip).

The French didn’t disappoint. The first hour was spent winding up and then down the mountains with only one small break for the arm muscles when we did cross a deep ravine over a large and very new bridge. It was so new that there were still news reporters standing on it doing interviews. The Greeks had clearly tired of going up and down the ravine and built across it. Bravo.

This is the bridge

New Bridge

We started the day by going to Kalamata to get on the road through the mountains and so to the southern area on the Mani. Kalamata is of course home to the famous olive of the same name and to the scene of yet another one of those heroic British Army retreats. This one was in 1941 when the expeditionary force was pushed into the sea by the rampant German Army and was once again taken off the beaches by the Royal Navy. However it wasn’t really so heroic as the officers decided that the delights of a Royal Navy ward room and the clubs of Alexandria and Cairo were far too good for their men and so left the majority of them behind on the beach whilst saving themselves. The men either surrendered or stole Greek fishing boats and set off for Egypt themselves. The British residents of which there were quite a few down here were similarly abandoned and Lawrence Durrell, at the time teaching English at the Kalamta British School, who we last heard of in my Corfu blog, managed with his family and a few another Brits to “borrow” a Greek boat and headed off to Alexandria. He, like the soldiers, had quite a harrowing time as the RAF had retreated too leaving the skies full of German aircraft. Once there he sat down and wrote his famous Alexandrian Quartet of books which are well worth a read.

Kalamta also now boasts a bloody great international airport that really should have warned me that the “ deserted” southern area of the Mani so beautifully talked about in guide books might not be as quiet as I thought.

The first big town after the mountains is Stoupa and it would seem that the Germans never really left. It is like a suburb of Dusseldorf but by the sea.

However we drove on and found Agios Nikolaos and that is nice. It is how you imagine a small Greek seaside village to be. The small harbour

Ag Nick Harbour

The cafes lining the harbour wall


Ag. Nick Enterance

and the blue blue sea

We had bought picnic stuff from one of the ubiquitous Lidl stores that now populate all Greek towns of a certain size and a few miles outside of Ag. Nik. we found someone had helpfully put a large bench and so we sat

picnic ag. nickand ate whilst looking at this view.

Picnic view

Not too bad is it?

Ag. Nik. is quite a nice find and one to store away in case we return again but maybe we  will wait until the Greeks have been tunnelling more or asked the Italians for help.

Of course I would always stay at our rented house in Avia ( the lady we are renting from reads this blog I discovered) !!!

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Gun Boat Diplomacy

The house we have rented has no internet. The Greek lady owner tells me that without a phone it is still not possible to have the internet. “ Greece is far behind the rest of Europe” she says as I show her the Network 3 web pocket that I have in Italy. “ Maybe next year” she says more in hope than any expectancy.

I realise it is like coming of a drug dependency being without instant access to the world. The Kindle becomes your substitute methadone  but it is hard not to have access to the world on a regular basis.

It is an holiday my wife keeps telling me. Enjoy the sun and swimming and I am. It’s just it would be nice to read other stuff too.

I have always thought that sun loungers were designed with me in mind. I have often said that a mistake was made in the hospital and that the wrong name tag was put on the wrong wrist and that out there is a 66 year old guy who has spent his whole life frustrated at having to sit on beaches and sail on luxury yachts when all he really wanted to do was work . Meanwhile here was I ideally suited to the life of leisure, flogging away at work all my life. I am not sure quite how many millionaire’s wives there were at the NHS Hillingdon General Hospital  that January maybe not that many if I think about it but there must have been one, maybe caught short at Northolt Airport or the newly opened London Heathrow Airport on Hounslow Heath.

Now one of the frustrations of sun loungers in the main is your towel. The towel is great for reserving sun loungers as you can put the lounger flat and lie the towel on it. A couple of books ensure it wouldn’t fly away and as you breakfast you can look out at the frustrated Germans pacing around looking for empty ones. But once you actually want to sit on it you need to raise the top part into the sitting position. Now the towel takes on a mind of it’s own and however much you tuck it in it falls down behind you and specially on plastic sun loungers you start to sweat. You also then wander up to the bar with everyone looking at your back and thinking you have been on the wrong end of a cat o’ nine tails.

In Florida when working there I went one Saturday to see an old work colleague from Toronto Canada as she had a winter home there . She had solved the towel issue by sewing together two 4 ft towels lengthwise. Then she folded over about 18 inches of towel and sewed up the two sides. Are you still with me? She then slipped the top bit whose sides she had sewed over the top of the sun lounger. No more slippage no more cat o nine tails. But rather a lot of work and quite a few towels needed for the exercise.

Today I settled on to a sun lounger and turned on my iPod Nano to my playlist called beachcomber music. It is my longest playlist which must prove how dedicated I am to the beach. After a few minutes I realised my towel had slipped down behind me despite me wrapping it through about three slats. I glanced down the beach to two Germans who had set up camp nearby and was astounded but delighted to see their solution to the towel issue .

Towel Pegs

Two bloody great pegs . How easy is that. Now all I need to do is find out where they bought them.

Do all revolutions start in the south of a country ? Bodica  was running around East Anglia burning Romans, Napoleon came from Corsica, Garibaldi started the Italian revolution in Sicily  and blow me down if the Greek Revolution in 1821 didn’t start just 2 kms from the beach I was on this morning.The Turks ruled Greece then and in the small village of Kitries ( and I mean small) lived the man Petrobey Mavromichalis who decided to toss them out. By March 1821 he had the whole of the Peloponnese  revolting and then the British, French and Russians asked to join in and the Turks were well and truly on their way out with the Greeks busy slaughtering Muslim converts and burning their homes or indeed towns.The Egyptians came to the Turks rescue in 1825 but then the British and French Navies put a stop to that.

I have to admit not knowing a great deal about Greek independence but like Italy it is a country much invaded and very much a pawn in the great powers chess game of the 19th century.

I am of an age that I can remember when carrying a British passport was a great thing to possess. “Her Britannic Majesty requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to offer the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary” written on the inside cover really meant something rather like being a citizen of Rome was in Roman times. Looking briefly at Greek history I came across the Pacifico affair. He was an ex Portuguese  Consul no less but was born in Gibraltar so could claim British citizenship. His house in Athens was burnt down in 1850 during an anti semitic riot ( he was a Jew ) and he wrote to complain to the British government. Now imagine today David Cameron getting such a letter. Nothing would happen except maybe a sympathetic letter from a junior F.O clerk or offer of counselling on Pacifico’s return to Blighty . What did Lord Palmerston do when he got the letter ? He summoned the Admiral of the Fleet and he in turn sent the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean fleet to blockade Piraeus. The Greeks rather than starve settled not only with Pacifico but paid up for the cost of the fleet too. Love it.

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Sitting in a bar in Igoumenitsa last week waiting for a meal the TV had coverage of some terrible floods and raging torrents of water and mud in various towns. We assumed it was in Greece and worried that maybe it was where we were heading to the next day . However the caption underneath said it was the Gargano Peninsular an area of incredible beauty up the road from us in Puglia.

I see today the the prosecutor’s office there has opened a file as they call it to investigate the authorities for culpable manslaughter, violation of zoning laws in the building of houses and factories, billing for cleaning and clearing of canals which was never actually carried out, corruption by officials, corruption by politicians, corruption by civil servants. in fact the usual ” round up the usual suspects” that seems to happen whenever there is a catastrophe in Italy and more especially in Puglia.

I see today that it is raining again in Puglia with yet another low pressure system sweeping in before moving on into the Balkans rather than down here in Greece.

I have, in fact, been on the beach all day today sitting in glorious sunshine down here in Kyparissa  which I guess will really annoy the readers in Puglia.

The beach is still fairly busy but they operate it here very differently than in Puglia. There they charge you for each sun lounger and the sunshade. It can work out as an expensive part of your holiday. Certainly it is not unknown for each sun lounger to be €12-16 each and a sunshade about the same price.

Here they charge you a fee that if you don’t want to pay you need to redeem by spending the money in the snack bar of the beach guy you rent them from. It seems like a really sensible idea to me . In September down here it is considered low season and so we are charged just €6 to rent two loungers and a shade which is a couple of iced coffees and a couple of bottles of water. However the flamboyantly gay guy  decked out in a niffty two piece bikini who runs that place didn’t have enough English to tell me how much he charges in August and to be honest I  didn’t want there to be any misunderstandings between us about what I was asking he charged what for ! Beware Greeks bearing gifts I was taught at school !

The other amazing thing after Puglia is the space each sunshade occupies on the beach. These are more like huge pods

Pods on the Beach

I cannot imagine there is an Italian who would be happy with this arrangement. You are so far away from your nearest neighbour. How can you converse, how can you see what they are eating, how can you hear what they are saying. It just couldn’t work. As an Italian you need to be able to roll on to your neighbour’s sun lounger without almost any effort and if you can’t the beach is no good to you. We could barely see the people next to us let alone roll onto their lounger or glimpse what they were eating. These are great sun shades though and the whole beach area is like it.  I can only assume that the thousands of Italians that flock down here in August must bring sun loungers and shades that they slot in between these Greek ones so they feel more at home.

I tell you what is also very noticeable no screaming kids. Greek children are so well behaved. I watched as a small boy threw some sand at his sister by the water’s edge. the mother shouted at him to come here and straight up the beach he came to receive a lecture and return to apologise and hug his sister before resuming their play. Oh boy how often have I heard an Italian mother screaming veni qua ( come here) endlessly at her child with absolutely no effect or action at all from the child who continued to play. Eventually the mother would go down and reward the behaviour with a smacker of a kiss.

Least you however think all is a bed of roses down here let me just say that during the day while we sat at the beach we could hear but not see a high level of activity somewhere near our hotel.

As we walked back it was clear that things had been happening. Indeed a bloody great fairground has appeared alongside our hotel with several rides coming right past our window and balcony. In fact I think I can get on the octopus ride for free if I time my jump right tonight.


The local church is having it’s yearly festa and tomorrow night the place will be jumping as pigs are slaughtered and cooked whole on spits. There will be dancing ( maybe I get to show off again ) and much revelry in other words noise . Indeed they have just as I type rigged up the sound system and I swear the hotel rocked . The dogs are now all howling. Time for a Fix beer or 6 I think.




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Down Memory Lane

So our leader Renzi says no growth for Italy either this year nor next year which means his €80 a month tax break for lower paid workers is not going to do what he promised and start people spending.  He did get in a dig at Frau Merkel however by calling for a much weaker Euro going forward. The way to achieve that is by introducing Quantitive Easing which the Merkel is very opposed to and indeed last week said that her poodle Draghi  at the Central Bank had been “misunderstood” ( he speaks fluent English) when he also talked about introducing it. Bloomberg reckon Italy needs the Euro at 1.17 to the US$ to kick start industry and begin the recovery. It is 1.29 today so a long way to go. It would be great news for the British expats too except those Scots are revolting thus stopping us enjoying a jump in purchasing power.

Still we are now down in the South of the Peloponnese having left the lovely little town of Nefpaktos

herbour enterance

Last night as I walked into town to post a letter I heard a few notes of a tune as a car drove by me with a CD on.   As I caught those few notes I felt a little like Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited when he first hears the name of the large house where his army group has been sent

“an immense silence followed, empty at first, but gradually, as my outraged sense regained authority, full of a multitude of sweet and natural and long-forgotten sounds – for he had spoken a name that was so familiar to me, a conjuror’s name of such ancient power, that, at its mere sound, the phantoms of those haunted late years began to take flight”

For I had heard that song many years ago not on my first visit to Greece but on one to Corfu for the first time in 1964. Corfu then was almost as it was in the 1930s when the Durrel boys Lawrence and Gerald were living there. Just 3 hotels had been built and package holidays were still some way off. As the Economist said the other day ” it is hard to appreciate the freedom, sunlight and sense of space that Corfu provided 50 or more years ago. Intrepid travellers would come to explore  ancient villages in solitary peace, and sleep under the stars on empty sandy beaches. The island was especially enticing, and no books contributed more to it’s image as a paradise than those by the Durrell brothers, Lawrence and Gerald. “Prospero’s Cell” (1945), Lawrence’s diary of life on Corfu, and “My Family and Other Animals” (1956), Gerald’s account of his experiences as a child there, are brilliant, contrasting views of life on this Greek island in the 1930s, and remain popular to this day.” Both are well worth a read.

We stayed at one of those which was managed by a very lively Greek from Crete. He loved Greek dancing and insisted on teaching the guests his favourite ones each evening after dinner. He had bought with him a selection of records to play and we were all eager learners as Zorba the Greek the movie was out as well. Over the two weeks we all became quite proficient at both a slow dance and a fast one .

The car that had gone past me had played one of those tunes and I felt a little like one of the contestants in that game show both in the States and in the UK called Name That Tune. The players had to decide how few notes it would take them to name a tune. “I can name that tune in three notes” etc and then a pianist would play the first three notes.

What was the name I thought and then I remembered that my mother had asked the Greek manager what it was called because she thought it would be great to take back to play at our yearly Christmas Day night time party. The manger became very embarrassed and mumbled that he would prefer not to say it to her. It was rude he said. Perhaps he could tell her husband instead . Intrigued she called my father over and he whispered the title in his ear.

We were all desperate to know the name. Who would have thought a rude Greek song and we had been dancing to it for two weeks.

My father, of course, held out for as long as he could but eventually told us the title. It is he said in Greek “Strose To Stroma Sou”  Yes but what does it mean we shouted. Shocking he said it means …………….Make a Bed for Two . The Swinging Sixties had yet to arrive in Corfu and to a Greek this was a very naughty title.

This is it

I took the record to sea with me on P&O and many passengers on S.S. Orcades learnt their first Greek dance from a young Purser Cadet who the Entertainment Manager coerced into teaching Greek dancing on Thursday afternoons.

Think I can still do it too. What a teacher. What a song.


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Keep a Crisis Well

One of my favourite quotes from A Christmas Carol is that Scrooge ” knew how to keep Christmas well ” He had, of course just had a visit from the Troika in the shape of three ghosts of Christmas. Greece had theirs in the shapes of Frau Merkel, The EU Central Bank and the IMF. I would guess that Scrooge got off lightly.

However after three days here I must say the Greece does a Crisis well when I compare  it to Puglia. Just before Berlusconi  was ousted from power by the same Frau Merkel he was asked what about the crisis. Crisis he said in a quote reminiscent of  the British P.M. Sunny Jim Callaghan in the 1970s  what crisis all the restaurants in Rome are full and nobody can get a table.

That is certainly no longer true in Puglia but here in Greece it most certainly is. Every place last Sunday on the drive down was packed to the gunnels with people. The roads were jammed with cars heading out to eat and what cars. Not a clapped out old Fiat in sight. Everything looked new or almost new and the audis and Mercs were too numerous to count.

The only place where there was no traffic was on the magnificent EU motorway built to allow Bulgarians and Romanians to come to Italy for their hols.

massive motorway

We drove for 89 kms on this and saw three cars. the Italians built the tunnels the French the flat bits and the Germans supplied all the machinery so a win win for the boys and some magnificent scenery for the odd motorist who travels on it.

Nafpaktos on the Gulf of Corinth when we finally got here after hours passing huge lakes

Huge Lakes

not realising we should have been on the other side of them and had added 110 kms to the journey, is exactly the same.

Every hotel here is full and the bars that line the beach are also a sea of faces. September is when the Greeks take their holidays and unlike Puglia ( 40% down in tourism ) this area is booming. Every hotel we try for on the next part of the journey is either sold out or last room only.

How have the Greeks done it ? If you believe what you read I thought we were coming to a Country ravaged by a Troika hell bent on wrecking the place. I thought we would see miles of closed shops and beggars on the streets. Just now there was a cloud burst and people were running to their cars. The man who sells lottery tickets table by table was also caught out in the rain. Now years ago in Greece this job was done by war veterans who had lost limbs. They were clearly poor and eked out a living . This guy trotted over to a Mercedes 280 and jumped in throwing his lottery tickets on the passenger seat.

It just shows I guess that if you take to the streets after every cut in spending it has an effect. The cuts get cancelled and life moves on. The Italians who in the main don’t want to stand up and be counted tend to suffer in silence. “What good will it do ” many say.

Prices over here are higher than Puglia. A cappuccino is always between €2.50 and €3.50 and beer in a bar can be almost eye watering with many charging €3.50 for a small bottle. However eating out and wine are about the same.

What is noticeable is the price of hotels. Here they are about 50% lower than in Italy and of a good standard. This one is just €50 a night with breakfast and what a view from the balcony

Viwe from the Room

Beach chairs and sunshades are way cheaper than Puglia as is bottled water from the various vendors. It is therefore not surprising that tourism numbers this year in Greece are through the roof even though they have had a summer similar to the one we have had in Puglia. Little sun and lots of rain. A lesson I guess for the tourism types in Italy.

With GRIM aldi ferries doing a couple with a car for €90 o/w it is quite possible that the missing 40% of Northern Italian tourists flocked over here instead. I certainly couldn’t blame them.

Still it seems the greeks are doing the crisis well and that certainly Puglia is suffering far more than here . Maybe it will change when we hit Athens .

Maybe Renzi’s threat of any reforms or the Troika is not quite so strong an argument once you have seen how Greece is doing and maybe all it takes is to drop a few prices to get things moving again in Italy.

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Life on the Ocean Waves

Once the monsoonal rains had stopped we left the Hotel Nemo to head out to the dock and into the hands of Grimaldi .

Luckily there seemed to be no early morning flights and the first i heard of a low flying aircraft was at about 8 a.m. I had no idea that the airport is so near the dock but it makes sense as Brindisi was the hub for B.O.A.C.s flying boats in the 1930s .  The runway threshold is 900 metres from the hotel and they are low as they come in on approach.

over the hotel

No zoom on this and the Captain waved and smiled as I took his photo.

Now I had read all the reviews and knew that Grimaldi were not one of the great ferry operators. But just how bad could they be ?  Hmmm.

Check in was a doddle to be fair. not a soul there and 4 guys doing check in. The first sent us to the second window, who in turn sent us to the third who pointed out the fourth. But once there the tickets were done and our club class seats printed. They weren’t together as the ” computer” doesn’t do that- see the purser he will sort it out.  Ho Ho.

At 11 a.m. down towards the ship and into a queue. With no cars in sight just trucks I did an “Italian” and roared past everything. An official looking guy leaped out and stopped us but after gesticulating at us for a few minutes gave up and waived the Suzuki on.

Quickly the car line was called forward to park near the ship. Not long now I said. With that the two crew guys in charge of loading called all the lorry line down and proceeded to load them all before us. Not quite P&O Ferries and the boarding takes so long. Grimaldi on the Channel crossing would manage just 3 sailings a day.

After an hour of watching trucks being pushed into different lines the cars were called to board. Most were Rumanian and Bulgarian registrations but about 30 were Italian and mindful that the Italian Grand Prix was the next day tried to overtake everyone to get to the ramp first. Most succeeded but things come to he who waits my grandmother always said.

The car deck on Grimaldi is a Cul de Sac .The first cars onto the deck are parked nose in to the dead end. The remainder end up parked where they can turn to get back down the ramp.

Cul de Sac Parking


For once not being an Italian driver paid off.

The ship actually left on time and we found the club seats but the Purser’s office had a big sign on the door. Forbidden  Access. So much for sorting out the seats. An American family were in the same boat seat-wise as were some Italians behind us. There were just 9 of us in the cabin when the ship cast off. So we all sat where we wanted to .

However outside the calm of the club lounge chaos was brewing. It had started to rain again and so the deck space was a no go area and the public rooms were packed.

nowhere to sit

More and more people started to form groups and start search parties to find seats. 40 odd empty Club Seats were a natural target and soon our cabin was full of screaming children and Romanian gypsies .

Amazingly the Italian family went to get help and I followed. the purser had ventured out from his hole and was understanding. Shocking he said maybe I will come and see the problem and ask for their tickets he threatened Oh yes if I do that they will all have to go they will be fuori ( outside toot sweet or the italian equivalent). Yes he reaffirmed maybe I will but hmm maybe I won’t . Romaneys you say. They are not nice. I will think about it.

He never came and the mugs who had paid ( us) were just pleased that it was not an overnight sailing.

The ” sealed ” car deck was porous all trip with people visiting their cars and getting more food etc. The Americans went to the buffet and came back to tell us it was the worst meal they had ever eaten so we were pleased ot have had the panini from the Nemo.

An hour before docking everyone was in their cars jockeying for the off and the 30 Italians were fuming in the cul de sac. Once docked I did a three pointer and was about number 15 off the ship.

We docked at 10.15 p.m. and at 11 p.m. after checking in to the really nice Hotel Astoria we were sitting by the sea enjoying a Fix beer and awaiting a big plate of Mousaka.

Grimaldi were grim but not disastrous. However August must be horrendous.



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De-Mob Fever

Well after a few journies back to the house to get things I had forgotten or to unplug things I had forgotten to unplug we have made it to the Hotel Residence Nemo just yards from the port. let the adventure begin once we have found a bar and then tried the in-house pizza joint.

Phillip says some very nice things in the comments bit of the blog. I actually started writing this blog to record the changes that would surely take place in Puglia and to describe the lifestyle of the people down here.

I was inspired by the book A Small Place in Italy by Eric Newby who wrote about buying a house in Tuscany in the late 1960s  and the the changes that came about as Italy and therefore the Italians became more prosperous. The Italy he knew and loved in the 1960s and 1970s slowly disappeared and he sold his place in the late 1980s . the advent of television he felt stopped the are of conversation and the influx of rich Italians from the large industrial cities of the north meant labour rates went through the roof and lifestyles changed.

I thought it important to record what I saw over a period of time so that should my future grandchildren inherit the small house we have they could read something about how it was and why we lived here.

I am not sure I have done enough as yet on the people who live around us . However on my walk this morning I meet an old boy that I hadn’t seen this year . I had rather feared that the the grim reaper might have claimed him in what seems to be a February cull of old people down here. He is 84 years old and normally is to be found all summer working on his 2 acre small holding where he grows almost everything he needs. He is always dressed in what I would call British Army desert rats shorts, those huge thing you see the troops wearing in war movies, plus a singlet and bare feet. He spends most of the day in the field and then certainly last year would walk back to his daughter’s house some 5 kms away.

This year he has aged suddenly and he said he was not doing as much work as before nor walking so far.

We walked up the rough track that is part of my walk and I asked him if the house we were passing was abandoned as it had clearly been built with care and the fitments looked expensive yet i have never seen anyone there.

Well that stopped him in his tracks and he started to chat. I followed the bits in Italian and got lost on the bits in dialect but the gist was that “things ain’t wot they used to be”. The land and the house he said was built by a man who left here in 1970 to find work in the factories in the North. He had returned in 1990 to buy land and build a house not for himself but for his eldest son. he was, it seems, not alone . Loads of people came down, as Italy entered a period of low interest rates, and did the same thing. The old fellow had indeed sold off lots of bits of land including the one we were standing by.  Like many others the son had never ever been to visit the house nor had he any interest in coming to Puglia.

I don’t know the word for spoilt in Italian but my old fellow clearly felt that the youngsters today in Italy were given too much by their parents. They didn’t need to find work nor did they  understand hardship. he was he said 13 when the Allies arrived in 1943 and life was tough . If he wanted clothes the family went without some food , if he needed school books the family went without food. That is how it was.

He clearly didn’t like the new Italy though to be fair he had a new small motorbike parked at the top of the track which I admired.

Puglia resists change. The people here are hugely conservative and hate anything different than the way they have always done things. But change it will as Italy realises it cannot go on the way it has done. Renzi our leader no longer threatens an election to try and get his reforms through. Now he threatens the Troika from the IMF and the EU and that scares everyone.

I think we are seeing the last of the old ways and am pleased to have experienced it.

Now I shall go and have a look at Greece .




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