At Last

According to Corriere Della Sera this morning ( I know the paper is called Courier of the Evening but hey you can’t be picky here)  ENI have announced that fuel prices are to go down by 1 cent for diesel and 1.5 cents for unleaded petrol. They are the first and the others have yet to follow suit. However as winter is coming LPG will go up by 1 cent.

Apart from Holland, Italy has the highest fuel prices in the EU driven by the highest excise duty and 22% VAT which is why the central government is so disinterested in the cost of fuel.  The price of a barrel of Brent crude is now the same as it was in 2011. Average fuel prices yesterday before the ENI announcement were €1.81 for petrol and €1.71 for diesel.

How does that compare to 2011 well Diesel was at €1.51 and petrol at €1.65 so seemingly we have a long way to go to actually get the fuel price down to 2011 levels. Will they return there, don’t hold your breath only the poor consumer is really interested in lower prices and the consumer as we know has no voice in Italy at all.  I am reading a book by Tom Brewer called Branson: Behind the Mask and one chapter describes his travails with Virgin Mobile in Australia, Canada and USA . His advertising falls foul of the regulators for over promising and hiding charges. Oh to have a regulator in Italy for mobile phones or fuel prices or electricity prices ( has anyone ever figured out an Enel bill ?).

Italy imports almost all of it’s fuel and spends €62 billion doing so each year. Our leader is determined to reduce that figure as part of his need to reduce the deficit to please young Angela in Berlin. He hopes to reduce it by at least €14 billion by 2020 and to do so has repealed articles 36,37,38 to allow drilling for oil both on and off shore ( Italy has the third largest known oil reserves in Europe and it is expected that a load more can be found off shore).

Yesterday the Puglia Regional Council called on him to re-instate the articles and to go further by calling on the EU to ban any oil exploration or drilling in the whole of the Mediterranean Sea .

The council claim that Puglia has borne the brunt of the drive for solar power farms, wind turbines and the like which is a bit rich to be fair as many of the self same politicians are under investigation for fiddling the land deals and possibly accepting ( could it be true) bribes. No not an Italian politician surely.

The council is worried that off shore drilling could ruin Puglia’s beaches which is a worthy cause I’m sure though these are the same fellows that have allowed huge oil refineries to be built in Taranto and Brindisi and have done little to monitor the effect they might have on the population.

The cynic in me therefore starts to look at the real reason these eager wind and solar farm enthusiasts don’t want off shore drilling. Maybe we need look no further than down the road in Basilica where drilling is happening a pace in the big oil field there. Under the Renzi repeal  he has sweetened the pie for regions that find oil. More money stays in the Region for ” development” and politicians here love those loose terms. Industry Minister Flavio Zanonato last fall described the move to spend more locally as having a “dual objective:” to reduce unemployment in the regions and build consensus in favour of increased production.

The Val d’Agri field has already created a mini boom for Basilicata. Between 2008 and 2012, Eni and Shell paid the region almost €500 million in royalties.

The Basilica oil is being piped to Puglia but all the extra dough stays in Basilica. Off shore oil would similarly be merely piped or bought by tanker to Puglia and still no  “development lolly” .

Put a bit of pressure on the boys in Rome and who knows what concessions you might get from them ! No no I know the Council has merely gone green on the issue, of course they have.

I’m not sure anyone has told Cyprus that 6 regions in Italy want the government to lead the crusade to prevent any oil development in the Mediterranean Sea as yet. Here the papers are full of the terrible Turks who have announced they are to do seismic blasts in an area the Cypriot Greeks are already testing.  Here the Greek Cypriots are always searching for the next money spinner that will solve the problems that they could easily solve themselves . First it was the Brits buying houses by the thousand, when that dried up it was the Russians and now that has dried up all the property ads are in Chinese. However the oil and gas reserves promise to give them wealth to live like sheikhs in Saudi Arabia they think and I don’t think Puglia regional council is going to dissuade them in a hurry.


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Gambero Rosso

I am reading a book by Paul Feeney called A 1950s Childhood From Tin Baths to Bread and Dripping in which he takes the reader through what it was like to be a child in that era. For me it is pure nostalgia, a trip down memory lane no less, remembering things as he talks about them that I had forgotten. Izal hard toilet paper in my grandmother’s outside loo and the scariness of going there after dark. The lack of fridges and the pantry with it’s wire mesh window for ventilation. No hair dyers, the mangle on the sink on wash day, the front room for entertaining “guests” who ever they were. The move from the radio era into the TV era in the 50s. In 1948 there were just 13,000 households with a TV in Britain by 1964 there were 13million households glued to the screen each night.

I loved the radio and still enjoy a good radio play and until they handed control of The Archers over to the guy that used to run Eastenders ( with predictable results) I still listened each week to the omnibus edition. But Paul Feeney reminded me of another one I listened to in the 50s Mrs Dale’s Diary

Now Mrs Dale normally used to start off ” I’ve been worried about Jim ” as you can hear on that clip. And I guess I can say “I’ve been worried about Taranto” or not me particularly but the tourist industry of the area. They have finally woken up to the fact that tourism is down and continues to go down so the council have been trying to do something about it. They have looked enviously at areas in the north of Italy and the number of foreign tourists going there and wondered why.

At the hearing last week they asked tour operators and travel agents to attend and tell them what was wrong. Little seems to have come out of it other than the usual suggestions to attend travel trade shows most importantly the big one each year in Rimini and the shows in the USA, Germany and the UK. However you rather need something to present and show at these things and bear in mind this is the area that has problems with pollution, high cancer rates, big oil refineries, grim steel works and is the same city that closed it’s archaeological museum ( reckoned to be the second most important in terms of artefacts in the whole of Italy) for two summers for repairs so the workers didn’t get cold by doing it in the winter.

However it seems this weekend a white knight has come a-riding into Dodge City  (actually I guess that should be cowboy but there you go)  in the form of Gambero Rosso.

If like me you aren’t sure who that is, let me tell you what I have found out. The magazine Gambero Rosso or Red Prawn in English ( it comes from Pinocchio and is the tavern where the Cat and the Fox eat) is huge in Italy and indeed in many parts of the world. It was founded in the early 1980s to counter a wine scandal that had rocked the Italian industry ( a small matter of sticking anti freeze in the wine to save money ) and has grown to be the authority on Italian wines. It’s wine guide is read by millions as is its’ restaurant guide. In 2009 it launched it’s own food channel on Sky Italia ( channel 411 if you have Sky) and also launched Citta del Gusto in Rome then Naples, Catania and Palermo. The Citta del Gusto is a cooking school, TV studio, bookstore etc ( the Rome store is 10,000 sq metres in size) and promotes the local genuine cooking of the area.It is much valued brand to have and hugely popular.

Anyway guess what they are interested in Puglia cooking ( who isn’t these days) and I tell you after 5 weeks of fried lamb chops so am I. But they didn’t go to Bari they came to Taranto and it is here they want to put down roots. The idea is to promote real Puglia food with new labels that reflect the authenticity of  food products from Puglia , to develop regional cooking schools and to ensure and grade restaurants that serve real Pugliese food made in the traditional way ( oh why aren’t they in Cyprus).

With this Taranto finally has something to hang it’s hat on and could attend trade shows as a Citta del Gusto. It would be nice as despite all the problems it is a pleasant city with a lovely centro storico as well as having the beautiful islands just off the port as well.

A popular chef  appearing always on the Gambero Rosso channel is Jamie Oliver  so who knows we might have him in Taranto soon

I’m not sure about Altamura having the best bread in Italy or indeed in Puglia. Most Italian friends tell me that the bread in Matera is the best bread in Italy though I love the bread from my local bakery in Martina Franca. Wonder if he delivers to Cyprus ? Wonder if Mimma’s restaurant in Ceglie could deliver me a pizza ?


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Snakes Alive

After the ” summer” ( a bit of a misnomer this year) in Puglia it is a surprise to get to Cyprus and hear so much English. Our entire apartment block is British, indeed barring one Greek family our entire street is British. There are more Brits living in our small town here than there are Brits and all other foreigners living in the whole of Puglia. Over the hill from us is the Russian compound but to get by they all speak English, On the other hill is little Birmingham and they speak Brummie .

English is the language of the town. The bars and restaurants are full of Brits, the local Greek Cypriots don’t come out to drink and eat out only on Sundays or when one of the restaurants treat them to a free meal ( they are all related to each other). There are Brits on the town council here and in areas of Paphos there are British mayors running the place.

Almost no one bothers to learn Greek, there is little point. In the main if you speak in Greek the locals will reply in English. This is not a new phenomenon when Lawrence Durrell the poet and writer whom I mentioned in several blogs from Greece arrived at Limassol on the boat to take up a teaching position on the island he used his fluent Greek to the customs officers. They all replied to everyone of his statements in English and he found it quite a fine game to continue to do this on the island always being replied to in English. He wrote a book Bitter Lemons about the island and his life here but eventually left in 1956 as the uprising against British rule and for union with Greece took hold. He recounts the Greek taxi driver on the way to the heavily defended airport telling him” the Greek though he fights the British, he really loves them. But he will have to go on killing them—with regret, even with affection.”   

Walking here in Cyprus is a very different kettle of fish to walking in Puglia. In Puglia I walk on quiet country roads.

Long and Winding Road

I pick figs from overhanging trees and from July feast on blackberries as well as collecting wild herbs and asparagus.

Cyprus is a lot more like a lunar landscape

Lunar Landscape

There is far more traffic here ( all those Brits with two or three cars) so road walking is no fun but it is easy to take to the hills, up dusty tracks made by goat herders driving their 4 wheel trucks up to feed the livestock


These tracks wind their way around the various headlands but to really get off the beaten track it is better to emulate the goats themselves and take to their tracks that criss cross the area.

Goat Tracks


You need to keep some landmark in sight as these tracks can lead you around in circles, there ain’t much upstairs in goat’s  heads it seems. However the views as you reach each headland can be worth all the effort.

Great View

In past years I walked with a ex Royal Marine colonel who had found many walks in his time here . He unfortunately has gone to that great walkway in the sky but I now know many of the best walks thanks to him. He had an hatred of snakes . It seems the Royal Marines spent lots of time jungle training in Borneo and given the inclement weather there many poisonous snakes would seek shelter in one or other of the Marine’s sleeping bags.

There are loads of very poisonous snakes in Cyprus, most will slither away as you approach or hide from you long before you see them but vipers are territorial and will come after you.

As I walked today I came across one. It looked dead lying prone in the middle of my pathway and indeed I wondered if maybe it was just the skin of a snake as I approached it.

But it was an hot day and it could well have just been basking . I took the camera out to give you a picture of it as it was very stout . This is the picture I intended to take but I have pinched it off the internet



That is the type it was and weirdly pretty much how it was lying. As I focused I kicked a small rock at the prone and what I thought lifeless body.

Well up it came into the attack position and took a lunge at me. This is the actual shot I got for you


as I took to my heels and ran. The snake stood it’s ground no retreat but didn’t give chase. I walked a little more carefully after that as I waited for my heart to stop pounding.

This is what the blurb says about the little critter on the web

The blunt-nosed viper (Vipera Lebetina)

RISK: High, Dangerous and highly poisonous. Its teeth remain embedded in the tissue and the movements of the jaw pump large amounts of poison into the wound. If bitten it is imperative that medical attention is sought from a Doctor or Hospital immediately.

Identification: A stout snake with a total length up to 130-180 cm, the most stout and dangerous snake species of Cyprus. Top of the head covered with small, keeled scales, including over the eyes.




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Arrivati a Cipro

” Is there anyone there ?” said the Traveller in Walter de la Mare’s poem The Listeners and I guess I echo that as I have been off the air for so long but those of you who live on Mainland Europe will understand the hoops that have to be jumped through to do something as simple as bring a Cyprus registered car back to the place of registration after a gap longer than a few months. Add to that the shipping of it from one Greek speaking country to another one and you have a red tape nightmare when it should be so simple.

Days have been spent in various ministries explaining this simple proposition. The car has been away and now it is back. The officials on the other hand are busy explaining the number of penalties ( money) that you must pay for doing this. Indeed at one stage on Monday we were to have had to toss the old Cyprus plates and put new Cyprus plates on the car to reflect the fact that cars from Cyprus  should only go on their hols for a maximum of three months without another penalty.

The concept of free movement of goods whilst built into the EU Charter is not something that any EU southern state has ever embraced . There are just too many penalties (money) to be imposed. I read the other day that Portugal still has a tax on the import of cars from other EU countries and the income is greater than the EU fine so they continue to do it. Still the car was pronounced Cypriot again at 3 p.m. yesterday and I can now drive past road checks here head high rather than praying the policeman isn’t about to raise his baton.

We are now in the apartment and settled after those 3 weeks of hotels in Greece. George Bernard Shaw wrote ” the great advantage of a hotel is that its a refuge from home life” but I would paraphrase it as the great advantage of a home is it is a refuge from the buffet breakfast.

In Italy buffet breakfasts in hotels are rather sad affairs or certainly in the 3 star places I frequent. A small room is set aside and in it sits a gurgling coffee machine whilst on a table sits an heated (partially )plastic see through cabinet with a few stale baguettes. It is why when you read Tripadvisor reviews of hotels outside of Italy the Italian reviewers spend all their time talking about the breakfast. In fact it is true of Italians writing about Italian hotels. I stayed in one near Otranto where all thirty Italian reviews merely talked about the number of cakes on offer so surprised were they to find such offerings. The hotel was in fact not bad but I couldn’t get on with eating just cake for breakfast whatever Marie Antoinette said.

In Greece the buffets have been grander affairs as they are quite keen on tourism ( Italy take note) and try to pander to the requirements of a more international group of breakfast eaters. In the Peloponnese this international group tended to mean German. Now a bit like eating cake I am not great on eating cured meats and sliced cheese for breakfast like our German cousins but normally the odd boiled egg and a toaster are hidden amongst the meats. .

Breakfasts are well attend by the Germans staying in the hotel and as many would do justice to a defense line backer in the NFL getting to and from the buffet when they are in attendance can be a struggle. To me it is essential that the hotel at least has someone delivering the tea and coffee and then you can focus all your effort of grabbing the morsels that are being left before they head out to the pool.

The last hotel we stayed in before Glyfada ( which is best just forgotten ) was in Githio ( a lovely town by the way)  and prided itself on its breakfast buffet. Not only didn’t it have someone delivering tea or coffee so you queued like a small quarter back behind his offensive line but horror of horrors alongside the said coffee and tea dispensing machine they had placed a juicer !

The Orange Juice Maker

A guest has to first cut up his oranges then place them in the Juicer and await the juice. Now I’m sure the wretched staff member that came up with that great wheeze has been warmly congratulated by management. But in reality it is a disaster. In your mind’s eye place three 300 pound hotel guests in front of that juicer. Then surround them with 6 equally large people trying to get to the coffee maker and the rest of the restaurant trying to get to the plates and cutlery you can see on the left of the juicer.

I rest my case. George Bernard Shaw you are wrong.




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One Chop Too Far

Well the journey is over. Yesterday we managed to drive through Athens without a map or a GPS system and find Glyfada and today the Suzuki has sailed away to Cyprus on Salamis Lines.

Of course it wasn’t plain sailing all the way. Athenians drive like bats out of hell and I was relying on screen shots taken off Google Maps to find our way . Supposedly we were to drive along the coast avoiding Athens altogether so it was somewhat of a surprise to see the Acropolis up on it’s hill as we entered the centre of Athens.

With this week being the anniversary of the Battle of Arnheim which spawned  the movie  A Bridge Too Far this last bit of the trip was definitely our lamb chop too far.

Lamb Chop too Far

I told you Greek cooking wasn’t too great didn’t I ? Geraldine says after the trip so far I am beginning to bleat.

The production designer for the movie was Terrance Marsh and he is married to a girl who was once my babysitter. In 1976 he was busy designing the set for A Bridge Too Far and had it all laid out as a model in his attic . I had met Sandra on a London street quite by chance. Come for drinks tomorrow she said and I did.

As I sat on the sofa in their large house in leafy Sheen I saw on the mantlepiece two gold statues. Hang on I thought those things look familiar . Are they ? I asked. Yes said Sandra they really are Oscars hold one if you want, most people do ! I stood in front of their fireplace holding Terry’s two Oscars one for Oliver and one for my favourite movie of all time Dr. Zhivargo  whilst imagining the announcer saying “and the Oscar goes to Mike Jones for …………..”

Driving through the centre of Athens whilst screaming blue murder at each other I was  still able to see first hand the effects of the “terrible” ” vicious” cuts the Greeks have been going on about. Everywhere so far has been booming but all Greeks we asked said wait till you see Athens then you will realise the enormity of the problem. A couple of Brits in Gythio we were having a drink with said the same. You have just come from there ? I enquired. No no but we have read the English newspapers and they were full of it. Hmm.

Well there were no beggars on the streets unlike London nor many shops closed. Restaurants we passed at 3 p.m. were packed, cafes were overflowing and the cars and what cars, Audi, Porche, Mercedes, BMW oh hang on they all have one thing in common they are all German. Well well.

If this is the Troika then I want in. Italy should want in too. If this is death by a thousand cuts then start slashing me. The drive up from the Peloponnese and the drive to the port of Lavrio is past millions of summer homes for Athenians . The  hotels are full  not with foreign tourists but Greek tourists. There is not a bed to be had in Athens for love nor money nor on the coast. The Brits and the Germans have all gone back to work leaving the locals to enjoy their longer vacations.

Last night we queued to get into a restaurant that had been full from 6.30 p.m. when we walked past in search of a beer  and was still full when we left at 11.30 p.m. having eaten.

Crisis in Greece 1

and outside

Crisis in Greece 2

Prices are eye watering . €4 for a cappuccino in a cafe, €12 for a 500 ml bottle of local beer €14 for a foreign one. Yet you queue to get into a cafe and cannot get near a bar to get the overpriced beer. The places are just packed with Greeks spending money.  In the bar last night the Greeks were booing the TV newscaster. She was announcing that the IMF had discovered that billions of euros in initial loans had been illegally taken by politicians to line their own pockets and the IMF wants the money back. The same politicians have said they will need to raise taxes to do it. Once the newscast was over everyone bought their €12 beers or €18 cocktails whilst continuing to argue the unfairness of the IMF. They are killing us they moaned into their beers. We will take to the streets next week once we have closed up the summer home and put the boat in dry dock.

Renzi’s threat to call in the Troika if he doesn’t get his way seems pretty stupid from this side of the Med I have to say. Bring them on I’ll have an Audi please.

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But before we get to Fred Flintstone I just want to add to the last blog that there are things that are different about Puglia and the Peloponnese. One noticeable one is the lack of butchers. In Puglia every town boasts a butcher on every street corner. Italians are very particular about their butchers. Most families we know have a butcher for each meat type. Go here for pork Mike, go there for lamb Mike only go there for chicken Mike, the best bombette are at that butcher’s Mike. Here we have yet to even see a butcher and in the evening at which ever taverna we eat they merely reach into a vast deep freezer, weight out a portion and throw it frozen onto the hot coals of a BBQ to defrost and cook. It probably sums up Greek cooking which has a reputation like that of the UK in 60s and 70s. My father, never a fan of Greek cuisine on our various holidays here, said one time when asked by the owner of the taverna what he thought of the meal we had just eaten ” well at least we knew the butter was fresh because I could see the cat licking it in the kitchen.”

However the Greeks do have thousands of chemists ( farmacia) almost more than the Italians have butchers whilst the number of chemists in Italy is strictly controlled by the size of the town’s population. This was to be one of Mario Monte’s many reforms that he promised Italians and the EU more chemists means more competition. Like all the other reforms they died a death as they worked their way through the labyrinth of committees that a new law has to do in Italy.  What it means is that here over the counter drugs like aspirin and paracetemol are about the same price as in the UK whilst in Italy such drugs are over 10 times as much. So Monti had a point but just failed to do anything about it.  He still an M.P. on a great salary here and shows no sign of wanting to quit a job he said he would only do for a year or two.

We left Kalamata to drive to Sparta home to the ancient Spartans those guys who had child rearing sorted so long ago. This is a bit of a post on it

“All children were expected to grow up to serve Sparta. The government only wanted healthy and athletic children to train. The officials put baby girls and boys through “fitness” tests at birth and if it was decided that the baby was too weak, they would leave it in the mountains to die from exposure. They thought these children would be useless to Sparta. The healthy, athletic children were taught as early as possible about their duties to the city-state. At age seven, the boys were taken from their parents and put in military camps in the mountains to begin a thirteen-year-long training, known as agoge in the Greek language. They were taught discipline, independence, toughness, endurance, survival and combat. They had no clothes or shoes. They were given only one cloak to wear for an entire year. They lived in barracks and slept on bushes. They were punished and tortured for doing anything wrong. The boys often fought each other to the death in practice battles. ”

The road to Sparta is to say the least torturous though with spectacular scenery.

Top of the World 1

However before you get up to this dizzy height you run down and around a long ravine. All along the ravine which goes for about 40 kilometres are signs warning of rockfalls and all along the road are large rocks either in the road or pushed to one side. These things are big too and we were  in a soft top Suzuki . It was a little nerve racking almost waiting for some bloody great stone to come through the roof. It reminded me of The Flintstones the Stone Age family of cartoon fame ( rocks you see and stones, oh well I think of strange stuff) and we sung the theme as we waited for our bang on the head as we drove along.

Once out of the ravine I shouted yaberberdaberdo  just like Fred.

Two hours and 58 kms after leaving Kalamata we arrived in Sparta having seemingly gone to the top of the world and back just like James Gagney in White Heat ( great movie).

We deserved our beer in Sparta but only after we went to to see Leonidas the warrior king of ancient Sparta


Not an ancient relic itself the statue was sculptured in 1968 but quite impressive. It is where the Spatathon road race finishes each year. This is one of the great ultra long distance runs and celebrates each year the run made by Pheidippides, an ancient Athenian long distance runner, who in 490 BC, before the battle of Marathon, was sent to Sparta to seek help in the war between the Greeks and the Persians. According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, Pheidippides arrived in Sparta the day after his departure from Athens. Some 246 kms of running in 24 hours on roads, tracks  and then takes the runners on the 1,200 meter ascent and descent of Mount Parthenio in the dead of night. This is the mountain, covered with rocks and bushes, on which it is said Pheidippides met the god Pan. In 2,500 years man has had no impact at all. There is still no pathway over the mountain that is swept by strong winds with temperatures as low as 4°C. The ascent is marked out by a trail of battery-driven coloured flashing lights and its challenge is a trial for human stamina and mental strength. . The runners have no sleep and those that finish are all hallucinating like poor old Pheidippides who was chatting to Pan not surprisingly . It takes place this next weekend . Good luck to them . A British woman took the women’s title in 2012 running just 1 hour behind the leading man. Fantastic.

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