Jul 24

Celebrations in the UK

Well, they say every picture tells a story and generally that’s right – especially when its photos of people having fun. Our recent short trip to the UK was one big round of fun so for this post I will rely on pictures rather than words which is rather unusual for me, as you know. It will probably be the shortest so far.

We arrived at Stansted on Thurs 6th July and had a really pleasant BBQ with Andrea, David, Fiona and Martin. It was warm. We sat outside until midnight. Was this really the UK we wondered?

The following day we went to a Dog Show. Neither of us had been to a proper dog show before. I had once gone to a local fete with my Retriever, Charlie, who won “most smiley dog” or something like that – but this show was for real!

Mylo on the run

Lovely lady Calypso

…and young Meira or Miera….Sorry!

As well as watching Andrea show her three dogs we amused ourselves trying to guess the number of spots in the Dalmatian ring and watching the agility dogs….

…. they were amazing. Well, some of them were though one or two decided that once off the lead the food tents were fair game.

That evening we met up with Caroline and John and several of their guests for a pre-wedding get together before the first “Big Day” on Saturday 8th July at the Athenaeum in Bury St. Edmunds.

It was a very special day. Gorgeous weather, great guests, lovely family and a fantastic bride and groom.

Mr and Mrs Joplin

Yeah… confetti sisters

Margaret….giving her daughter away and her speech. Amazing lady.

Who said you could tell that story……

Morecambe… or Wise….

Even we managed to scrub up well.

Lots more guests came for the evening – including Andrea and Fiona, the latter of whom……

……now awaits “A level” results [more celebrating hopefully].

Caroline and John showed us all how it should be done….

….and then we bopped the night away.

Nothing like a spot of “uncle dancing” before being the last people to leave.

It was then up to Cheshire for some more food in the garden – this time with Chris and John.

Can’t remember what the joke was but it was obviously a good one.

House projects took up two days of the week and then I met up with some of the “Sundowners”….and remembered to take my camera this time.

A few members of “the best team”

You will hopefully see more of them soon as there is a little get together planned in Valencia in October.

On Thursday 13th Mike joined “the boys” in Manchester – to decorate the venue for the following day and I was with “the girls” in Holcombe Brook…..

Bride to be….

…and bridesmaids

…… arranging some of the table flowers.

Top table stuff….

Simple but very beautiful and very effective was the overall approach to Jenny and Tom’s wedding.

Mum, daughter, freesias from the garden, beautiful bouquet..gorgeous

The venue was “Victoria’s warehouse” in Manchester which is quite amazing – but unfortunately I wasn’t set up for fairy lit photography so this was the only photo I got.

Suffice to say Jenny was a most beautiful bride and Tom a lovely groom. Thanks to Andrea Seed who put this photograph, and those below, onto FB which I could steal!

We had just enough time the following day to recover over a big breakfast in Chorlton with Steve and Mary when it was time to party, party, party, yet again to celebrate Dave’s 60th.

Mary’s amazing creation..

Fabulous friends

WOW – Dave is 60!

….and us!

And that, dear friends, is that. We left the UK on Wed 19th July having really enjoyed everyone’s celebrations and just sorry that we can’t join Phil and Emma [Happy Wedding Day], Chris and John [Happy 1st Anniversary], Peter and Lin [Lin’s 60th] and everyone else who has reason to celebrate at the moment.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2017/07/24/celebrations-in-the-uk/

Jul 01

Out and about in Western Tuscany

As often seems to happen when I sort out photographs and sit down to write a blog, I find I have enough for two! So rather than leave you in suspense in the middle of an engine tale [because it isn’t over yet] I have decided to tell you about some more beautiful places we have found to visit within a couple of hours drive from Livorno.

Apparently the author “Stephenie Meyer” considered Volterra the ideal place for her principle vampire coven in her book series “Twilight”.

I can understand why the well preserved medieval town with its ramparts and Gothic architecture would serve such a purpose but, fortunately, there were no vampires in sight when we visited. Though as it was daylight I don’t expect there would be!!

One of the most visited buildings in Volterra is the “Cattederale di Santa Maria Assunta” and its Campanile [bell tower].

Unfortunately it is currently closed for restoration work but the C13 Baptistry opposite its main doors, in the Piazza San Giovanni, remains open.

The marble font was created by Andrea Sansovino in 1502.

The original fortress [“Fortezza Medicea”], which you can walk past on the ramparts, is now a prison. No photographs of it were allowed but it is very imposing.

Equally impressive, and with no photograph restrictions, is the Roman Theatre just outside the medieval walls.

It was built in the first century BC and could hold up to 2000 spectators.

The main “Piazza del Priori” and the cobbled streets surrounding it are where most tourists seem to gather but when wandering around those streets, rather than gaze in the various tourist shop windows, I seem to have developed a fascination for letterboxes.

We chose to eat in the less visited “Piazza XX Settembre”….

……which has several restaurant options. The trattoria “La Carabaccia” is run by three sisters who make only two “primi” and two “secondi” each day.

We both went for the wild boar tagliatelle and then Mike had lamb baked in the oven and I opted for the alternative, lemon chicken.

Another day and another excellent lunch….

……this time in the hill town of Barga, about 20 miles north of Lucca.

This town is dubbed “The most Scottish Town in Italy” as many of its residents are third/fourth generation Scots/Italians. Barga’s silk industry, which had been operating since medieval times, saw its demise in C19 upon which many of its inhabitants emigrated to Scotland where they became firstly street traders and then opened ice cream parlours and fish and chip shops. Today, Barga boasts an annual Fish and Chip Festival [August 17], Burns night celebrations and a Celtic supporters club.

Our convivial host at lunch was not one of the residents with a Scottish accent though he seemed to have entered into the spirit of things.

The city grew as a castle surrounded by a line of walls and a moat. As well as being narrow……

…… many of the streets have fairly steep inclines….

….which are well worth the climb because standing by the walls at the top of the town next to the Cathedral affords a great view of the surrounding countryside……..

…..dominated by Pania Della Croce, the fourth highest peak in the Apuan Alps.

As you can just make out, there are many hilltop villages, most of which have historical churches/cathedrals and mainly fell under the jurisdiction of Lucca.

The region was part of the “Gothic Line” in WW2 and was the scene of intense fighting between the Allies and the Germans between October 1944 and April 1945.

Barga’s Duomo – the church of San Cristoforo – was first built in 1000AD. Successively between C9 and C15 further building works took place – best evidenced around the tower….

….and resulted in a building with a fairly plain exterior…

…..which belies its lovely interior.

It is almost like a small church within a church, the pewed area a few steps up from the main floor of the church behind a red and white marble panelled wall.

Stone lions decorate the main door and form the base of the magnificent pulpit.

The “Grafitti” has also stood the test of time.

Linking the old town and the new and spanning part of the old moat is the C15 Barga aqueduct which is also a two storey semi-circular arched bridge. Due to the lush foliage it is difficult to see the lower, larger, arches.

Of stone construction it was originally built to facilitate a good supply of water to the many fountains in the historical centre.

As well as the letter boxes pictured above, gardens – or rather parts of streets, doorsteps or courtyards which have been set aside for planting – have also captured my imagination.


Rosignano Marittimo

The above were in towns I will be telling you about in a moment but my favourite was the one in Barga.

For our next lunch jaunt…..

……we went to Pietrasanta – a small town just outside Viareggio and therefore about 30 minutes north-west of Pisa. Not as much visited by tourists as other parts of Tuscany, Pietrasanta is renowned by Italians as a refined art town. Its historic centre is car free and full of small galleries, workshops and boutiques.

Michaelangelo came to the town in 1518 to source marble from its quarries and driving around the area you pass several marble distributors, the most famous being in Carrara just north of Pietrasanta.

This workshop seemed to specialise in copies.

On the other side of the courtyard was one of the “Pietà”

It is impossible to miss the cathedral in the central square. The bell tower – 36m high – is actually unfinished. The red brick was supposed to have marble cladding.

The statue outside is called “La Folla” [the Crowd] and is by the Danish sculptor Jørgen Haugen Sørenson.

Statues abound in the town….

“Nu Montant L’Escallier” – Salvador Dali [1973]

“Trans-Catarse” – Rabarama [2006]

…. and a “Dance in Art” exhibition was being shown in the now deconsecrated church of St. Augustin which has an amazing sculpture above the door….

…but, being a Monday when we visited it was closed. However, two excellent exhibits were outside…..

Whether they were part of the exhibition or not I don’t know but without too much imagination and with a bit of a breeze [which there wasn’t!] I think these could quite easily be seen to be “dancing”….

As I said above, Pietrasanta is just outside Viareggio – where we have been a couple of times to see the Yanmar mechanic. Viareggio itself is a holiday town. Its beach is about as long as Blackpool’s which, for the uninitiated to the delights of one of the UKs most famous seaside resorts, is 7miles [11k]. The promenade, however, does not stretch the full length – being a mere 1.8miles [3km]. It is, however, lined with hotels, shops and cafes.








The cafes are outside buildings many of which have names incorporating the words “lido” [beach] or “bagno” [bath]. Behind the main façade there is often a theatre, restaurant, rooms or chalets, and beyond these the beach with umbrellas and deck chairs.

As Mike said – they are perhaps what could be classed as the first incarnation of the “all inclusive”!

I told you in my last post about the Italian love of the beach and sea and at weekends the beaches of Viareggio and other seaside towns are jam packed.

Whilst this photograph was taken just a five minute walk from our boatyard it is representative of that culture. We were wearing shorts and tee-shirts as we strolled along and were certainly overdressed. We remarked that even had I been wearing my swimsuit and Mike his swim shorts we would still have been overdressed! Bikinis and Trunks [all of the itsy bitsy, teenie, weenie variety] are generally the order of the day.

About 30 minutes south of Livorno – accessible off the SS1 or the SP11/12 – is the small town of Rosignano Marittimo. Regular readers may remember we previously visited Rosignano Solvay and I said that, had we known, there was the old town worth seeing in the hills behind it. Well, now we have been.

Rather than a cathedral being the focal point of the old town, in Rosignano Marittimo it is a castle.

“Ave Maria” in the castle walls

Inside its walls are a couple of “streets”…

…..and as well as a few houses and an internally modernised administrative building of some sort there is a small museum spread over three floors and housing artifacts mainly from the Etruscan and Roman periods. The bottom floor is designed to represent a Roman Villa….


Wine Cellar











….and the upper floors house various coins, pots, jewellery, tools etc as well as information boards describing the agricultural, fishing, pottery making [amphora for the transport of local wines, olives and salt] and maritime importance of the town.

My favourite exhibits were these Etruscan utensils….

….and these marvellous earings….

We also learned about the Roman Baths which were central to socialising and probably where business was also conducted. The baths could be owned by the State, by Private proprietors or by the Emperor and there were warm rooms, hot rooms, steam rooms, cold rooms, and games areas.

More interesting are the people who worked there.

We worked out that the first two respectively took the money and handed out towels, the Balneator is the “keeper” of the bath-house [manager] and the last guy we think had something to do with scraping the skin. It was the guy in the middle who really had our imaginations running amok. What think you?

OK, OK – he was the stoker….and you can now let your mind run with that too!!!

Unfortunately the restaurant we had chosen for lunch didn’t open at lunchtime, well not that day anyway, so we drove along the ridge road to Castel Nuevo Misericordia where we found a small Pizzeria/Trattoria….

…….and had some excellent pasta [Tagliatelle with a chickpea sauce and Salt Cod and a Seafood Ravioli], Mixed Salads and half a litre of local wine for about £15 between us.

Finally, we were surprised and delighted one day to get a text from Martin and Ruth to say that they were on holiday in Italy and would be staying in Lucca for a night and could meet us there during the day. Once again we were rewarded by the views of the city as we walked the walls and saw things we had missed when we were there with James.


Reading by the lily pond

Best of all it was great to catch up with their news and share ours over another lunch and later introduce them to “Aperol Spritz”.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2017/07/01/out-and-about-in-western-tuscany/

Jun 18

A couple of days off and a drive through France

So, there we were – ready to go. Unfortunately it didn’t happen as we planned, but that is for another blog post. In the meantime I need to catch up with myself and write about some of the things we did during our limited leisure time whilst working on “Owl and Pussycat” and about our drive through France when we returned our car to the UK.

Although we seemed to spend a lot of time not working directly on the boat this was because, as I described in my earlier post, sourcing things was difficult and we spent hours driving around – often aimlessly. During the five weeks we actually only had two afternoons off – unlike the Italians who had one “Holiday” every week – and on one week two extra days tagged onto a weekend! They certainly seem to get a lot of National holidays here.

On the first afternoon we decided to drive north from our boatyard to Tirrenia. This is just up the coast from Livorno and it, and Calambrone which lies between the two, are two coastal “sprawls” which attract hundreds of Italians every weekend and holiday. Basically there is a long stretch of coast road along which are restaurants with beaches. It seems that you select your restaurant and then spend the day on their beach chairs. We didn’t actually do this but drove the full length ending up at Marina di Pisa, a small town – which lies at the confluence of the River Arno and the sea.

At the edge of the town on the south bank of the river lies the small and attractive new “Marina Boccardano” [335 berths] which attracts local people to its restaurant…

…and for walks along the marina wall.

As you can just make out by the masts in the photograph, there are several other small marinas/boatyards going up the Arno towards Pisa.

I am not sure I would like to tackle the river entrance. Other yachts obviously do but it looked a bit rough and there can be up to 3kn of current flowing out of the river. Cables are also stretched across the river from which are suspended “drop nets” so a transiting yacht has to avoid the cables and any nets which might be in the water.

The fishing shacks are built on fairly shaky platforms above the rocks on the opposite side of the channel to the marina.

Not sure whether people live in them full time or just when they are fishing.

Fishing is a very popular pastime and these nets, which are raised and lowered about every two – three minutes, seem to be the preferred method by folk who set up their nets on small boats or on the quaysides, though rods and lines are also used.

Our second afternoon jaunt took us south – to Rosignano Solvay and another, larger, marina called “Marina Cala de Medici”. Fairly new and purpose built there are 65 designated visitor berths as well as several hundred permanent ones.

Again the town of Rosignano Solvey is popular at weekends with beach-goers and, above the new town is the old medieval village of Rosignano Marittimo which, unfortunately, we didn’t know about and therefore didn’t visit. Still we enjoyed people watching and found a beachside bar where I had my first “Aperol Spritz”.

Aperol tastes a bit like Campari but is weaker both in taste and alcohol content. It is mixed with Prosecco and a little soda water to make the spritz and a slice of orange added. Very refreshing.

Whilst many people wouldn’t consider shopping as “time off” Mike and I do enjoy finding local produce and trips to the local market felt like leisure time. The covered market itself is fairly impressive….

Operating since 1894 its main hall is 95 x 26 metres and is 35 metres high with elegant large windows and an iron and glass roof.

There are actually 92 cellars accessible from both outside and inside so that stall holders can get their goods in easily. A similar number of small store rooms are on the second floor above the stalls.

The hall in the photo above is mainly “farm produce” and there is a separate hall for fish and one which houses a variety of different stalls including bakers.

As well as the inside market there are numerous stalls in the pedestrianised area outside the market where there are more fish stalls….

….and most of the vegetable producers.

On one of our walks around town in the early evening Mike took the camera from me and told me to sit so I did…..

….in a city full of iconic scooters he had found one which suited me perfectly!!!!!!

So, after five weeks it was time to return to the UK. As it was now early May we felt it was safe to drive through the Alps without having snow chains in the car so we made our way to Genoa and then headed inland past Alessandria, Vercelli and Aosta towards Mont Blanc and through the tunnel.

Statue at the north side of the tunnel

Mike said it was one of those things you should experience at least once – and, given the cost of a one way ticket [£40], it probably will be only the once! Having said that it saved several hours driving and the views were excellent.

We even had a “Richard Burton/Clint Eastwood” moment.

“Where Eagles Dare!”













Our first night was spent in “Bellegarde-sur-Valserine” about which I have nothing of note to say. A rather scruffy town with ridiculously and disproportionately highly priced restaurants [and only two of which were open even on a Friday evening] so we ate take-away Pizza in our hotel room!

From brilliant sunshine the day before we woke to drizzle which continued for the next three days – except when it rained properly.

Still, we tried the make the most of it and made our way slowly north, the first day visiting Maçon with its very traditional “Mairie”……

…. and Cathedral…….

Colourful plant pots brighten the dismal day

…. enjoying a picnic lunch at Montceau-les-Mines which was a very quaint small town along the canal…..

…..and visiting Beaume in the afternoon……

“Higgly Piggly” houses

Hidden petit chateau

…. where we indulged in a small libation…..










….before making our way to our overnight stop – Troyes.

What a contrast to the night before. Troyes was brilliant and I would recommend it as a wonderful place to stop for at least one night. Wandering the streets – even in the drizzle – was a joy.

Half timbered medieval town centre

Narrow alleyways to somewhere

Flying Buttresses everywhere














I was really taken by the gargoyles.

The buildings are equally enticing at night….

….and even the closed carousel was lit up.

We wish we could have stayed longer but the ferry was booked so the next day we had to drive to Calais.

Calais wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. I don’t know why I didn’t expect it to be a pleasant place – probably because previously I have just driven to or from the ferry terminal on one of the main arterial routes or been driven to the wine warehouses on a day trip by coach. Yes, I admit, many years ago I did go on one of those!!!

It was polling day when we were there. Not sure whether all French polling stations have such a police presence?

Maybe it was just that this was the main [or only?] polling station in town at the town hall – which sits in its own gardens….

…. which also house a Rodin.

So, that was about it. We had just two weeks in the UK spent with family and friends as usual. Also typically, for us, the UK had had a dry spell during April but there was rain on most days when we were back early May. Some sunshine broke through occasionally and we had an afternoon of Gin and Tonic Devon cream teas with Chris and John….

….and, as you see, Preston – who was very interested in the scones!

All this was courtesy of Pantaenius. Yes! We won a prize. Mike completed a feedback form after our insurance claim for”Siga Siga”had been processed and we were, apparently, entered into a draw.

We received an e.mail just before we left Italy and the hamper was delivered while we were in the UK and what a hamper it was. Bursting with Devon goodies – we gorged ourselves on pate and cheese and wine and bubbly and jam and cream and ginger cake and a pudding and nuts and crisps and biscuits and fudge. We still have some more jam, marmalade and chutney awaiting our next return. In the meanwhile many thanks to Pantaenius for the excellent prize.

By the way – if any of you ever visit “Owl and Pussycat” you will see that we managed to get the actual hamper to Italy – it just fit inside our hold bag and we filled it with boat bits! It now has pride of place on a shelf in the saloon.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2017/06/18/a-couple-of-days-off-and-a-drive-through-france/

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