Outings and School
First Day in France
Moving South
Vienne and Vinsorbes
Dutch Campground
First Days in Italy
Montelcino Antonio
First Days-South Italy
First Days-Giovinazzo
Living in Giovinazzo
Picking Olives
Outings and School
Rosa's show
Hols & New Yr
Back to School
Croatia-Plitvika, Krk, Cres
St. Pierre
Camping on the Med
Eli's Diary
Rosa's Diary


1-13 December: Trip to Matera, First Days in School, Altamura

Our new bath tub

Sassi area in Matera

Lava beach Samm ywants to bring it all home



1st December (Wed)

We were to go to "present" the children to the "director" principal today but Toni's friend wasn't able so we had no plans once again. When Toni came to tell me about the school arrangements he met Mimo. I told him to ask Mimo quick for a translation for anything he wanted to know as he is always asking us things. He just wanted to know what we thought of Italian hospitality, luckily Toni answered that he didn't need to ask me as I'd already told him. I asked Toni why exactly they are giving us so much. He said that he believes they think we do need it, but also that we are really something unusual in Giovinezzo.

It will be hard to get used to a routine after this long holiday. Rosa had a "bath" in the new tub and I took the boys for a walk to "Pirates Cove" Sammy was very pleased. Later after chores and Mike had finished at the internet cafe I had short walk by myself, always a luxury, and found a fish market mainly by smell. It was finishing up for the day but I'll have to try and take the kids sometime. We all walked again in the afternoon. Eli bought his siblings a small bouncy ball each and they had a great time with them in a little enclosed square in the old quarter. Mike made soup and pasta and he and I got ourselves a movie. Something we are getting a bit addicted to. The system here is very cool. There is a DVD dispenser nearby and we just pass our card make our selection and away we go. The first 6 hours rental cost only 1.25euro with 10cent every hour thereafter. So Mike drops the movie off after we watch it. Mike's back to olives tomorrow and I have to see what happens with school.

2nd December (Thu)

The days seem to be passing quicker and quicker but today was a lovely long day because of the weather. I went to see Toni first thing, leaving Eli in the apartment, to find out what was happening re school. He says we will go tomorrow as his friend is in a political party and has gone to Rome for a meeting. He shows the guys how his ice cream machine works and lets them help scrape out the ice cream yogurt he has just made. Rosa then watches while he makes the next batch and we both laugh when he produces a big stick blender that looks about the size of a small pneumatic drill. He gives us some older passion fruit sorbet that he isn't going to sell and we head back with it to Eli.

It is like a summers day. It had been warm yesterday evening but it is hot from early morning. I decide to take the kids along the sea front to where we spotted some large flat rocky with big pools at them. We stop in a little shop and get a picnic. (Turkey rolls, crisps, water and Milk for 4.50euro!) Eli complains on the way there that it is too hot! We find a nice spot although there is a bit of smell up the shore but its okay by the water and spent a relaxing few hours with the kids paddling and catching small crabs. I can't get over the temperature and wish Mike had a day off today. We go back to meet him around 2.30 and while we wait the kids get soaking in the little water pump in our piazza. Mike arrives and we hang out in the piazza and I get Toni's sorbet which we share. Its delicious. Unfortunately Mike has to go back at 6pm to keep an eye on the trailer which is parked at the Massera and is half full of olives. So we have diner and say goodnight to dad.

3rd December (Fri)

I get the kids up and ready to present to school. Toni and his friend arrive and we go first to another school to the administration offices. We fill out some forms and meet the principal and then the friend drops us to the school. Toni comes in and helps explain everything. Eli's teacher speaks a little English she take him off to introduce to the class, and I go with Rosa. Her teacher speaks some French so we do ok, and I find I have volunteered to help with the art for the nativity on Tues afternoons. Rosa is pleased to meet some children and we are both surprised by how informal they are with the teacher. When she kneels down for a moment to say hi to Sammy they are pulling on her and one boy hops on her back. We find it hard to get away and I'm conscious of Toni's time so we go collect Eli. He is in English class! It turns out each class has more than one teacher about three plus an English one we think. Toni explains he thinks is it due to falling numbers of children as much as for educational reasons to keep teachers employed. Lastly we go to Sammy's school round the corner. His teacher is also very friendly and speaks a little English Sammy is very pleased. She tells me her sister is and English teacher who would be happy to meet me.
We head back to Toni's and I reward the kids bravery with -guess what. After we go for a little walk and then wait for Mike. He usually gets in about 2 or 3p.m. Its nice he's back so early in the day although he has put in 7 hrs of work by then so is pretty wrecked. I go for a little walk and get some bakery biscuits for desert. The weather is turning rainy, but we have a nice Shabbat and movie.

4th December (Sat)

We are up with Mike and head to the farm. We worry we are a bit late but arrive just ahead of the workers and Mike heads off. I stay at the Massera with the kids for a while and Dominico arrives just as we are coming outside. We are all delighted and the boys play for ages with our guys, in the knight stuff once again. Then we head to the field, but are waylaid by several things, the arrival of Dominico's father-in-law, the kids playing under the big oak tree and discovering neat bugs, and the thick clay of the field. By the time we get to Mike they are finishing up a bit early so we head back again. All the others leave, but we stay and have some lunch and clean the kids up before going to Matera. Its about 30 mins away and our first stop is the huge Carrefore supermarket on the outskirts. We try to restrain ourselves, but end up spending 100euro and still don't know what we have for a meal. Then we go into the town, and take a little time finding the center and parking. We spend the rest of the afternoon and evening wondering round the old town and the ancient Sassi. It is like being in Jerusalem really amazing. There are some good shops in the town and the children get drawn into an Indian one by the druming coming from inside. We meet a friendly Indian man and Italian woman and child. It's late when we decide to head back to Giovanazzo and we haven't had diner I buy the kids some bakery things and fresh milk and we head home. Unfortunatly Sammy drinks too much milk and has an upset tummy on the way home and over night.

5th December

Sammy is much better today, but we take it easy and enjoy a late morning- eventually tidying up a bit doing some washing-of clothes, kids and us. Later we hang out with our neighbours Noami, Pierre Luigi, Nicole and their parents and Francesca. Its really relaxed and pleasant in the piazza and we are reasonably able to communicate.

6th December (Mon)

The kids are both nervous and excited about their first day of school. So am I. Eli goes in very easily and Rosa clings a bit, but she does go into her class after a minute. I take Sammy to his school and his teacher Giovana's sister is there. She speaks fluent English and we chat while Sammy settles in. She is suffering discomfort in her eyes as she has just had laser surgery for eyesight, and is one of the unlucky few for whom healing takes longer and is painful. Finn and I head home and hardly know what to do with ourselves, but before long it is time to go back for Sammy. He is very happy to see me but seems to have had a good day. We play and picnic in a piazza and then get Eli and Rosa. Rosa looks exhausted and relieved to be done and Eli tells me it was the hardest day of his life. He says he didn't eat his lunch because he was embarrassed that it was different from the other kids', and Rosa then says that there had been no break for her. It seems they only get ten minutes in the whole day and Rosa had missed it. I bring them home for a big lunch and some TLC and tell them I am really proud of them all. Mike is tired too so we do very little for the rest of the day.

7th December (Tue)

Amazingly just being over the first day the kids are fine about returning to school. I meet Lorella (Sammy's teacher's sister) again and she invites me back to her apartment for a cuppa. She lives in a wonderful apartment that has been in the family a long time. It is right by the sea in the old town and is very antique. We have a nice chat and tea is made by her friendly Somalian housekeeper. After school it is warm so I let the children play in the main piazza by the fountain. They surprise me by being thrilled with their second day of school, and are pleased not to be given homework. Mike comes back and I go with Rosa and Eli to what I think is afternoon school. I have been asked to help with art for Christmas I think. It turns out Eli does not need to be there as it is Rosa's class who are doing a show of "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas." They want my help with small backdrops from the book. I set to work and peep in at Rosa's class singing. When Mike meets us after school the teachers want us to go to an exhibition in the main square. It is of all sorts of models of Christmas cribs. They are done as small Biblical towns, very detailed including one in chocolate, but Finn and Sammy fall asleep in our arms as we walk around it. After dropping them back to the apartment I head out again for a kid free stroll and chat at Toni's. Then I do a bit of shopping -butchers, gas man, and our local little supermarket where the people are very good to us. I meet a trombone player who's been to Ireland. He tells me to drop by and meet him next Tues at the school of music in our square.
Mikes makes a very nice tomato sauce for our pasta - the local ingredients are a help too. Then we sit and play tin whistle on the balcony, and get a nice long call from mum and dad. Mike and I treat ourselves to late night ice-creams.

8th December (Wed)

Today  isa religious fiesta so everybody has the day of even Mike off. We lie-in and have a lazy morning- In the afternoon we go for a walk but its a bit rainy. We go to a small beach with lava rock and see fish stalls so we get some for a barbeque on the balcony. Later I work with the kids on their home schooling a bit and their diaries as the website is finally going to get up and running as Lorella has broad band/ADSL and is very happy for us to use it.

9th December (Thu)

The weather is a bit rainy and is considered bad enough for Mike to be off - He is pleased to be able to come with me to take the kids to school. On the way back we revel in a quiet tea together at Toni's. Lorella invites me to go Christmas shopping in a mall near Bari in the afternoon. I go home and make scones and brown bread as Mike got some whole meal flour in a bakery when we were in Matera. I bake them at Toni's and give lots away to people to try. The outing and company with Lorella is fun and the Mall could be anywhere in the world. I manage to buy a tiny real Christmas tree, and lights. When I return the kids are thrilled and we have a great time making decorations for it including pasta strings.

10th December (Fri)

Mike is still off. The rain is very light to us but either way I get a lie in while he takes the kids to school. Then I get up and tackle the apartment again. I end up going back to the Mall with Lorella. We have to change something and this time I do a bit of a food shop. We have a good time again, and when I get back Mike has set the Shabbat diner table which looks. lovely. I cook while the kids watch their movie. Lorella invited us out for a drink but it was too short notice to get a babysitter and we were both tired.

11th December (Sat)

Mike is still off and yet it is still a bit like a weekday as Eli Rosa are at school. Eli pretty reluctantly. Together Mike and I tackle large loads of laundry with the wee boys help. The weather is getting nice again so we get it all outside to dry, After collecting the guys Mike takes big guys to Lorella's to fiddle with the website and the little guys and I try Italian napping but don't wake up again until 7pm. I have to lift boys.

Mike was not back so we had diner. When he does come back we read e-mail responses to web-launch and are very please. I take the wee boys out for ice cream -big guys had already had cake and ice cream at Lorella's. we chat to Tony and meet his friend Anna again. She is going to ask sister re babysitting as Lorella has invited us out again on mon. Before bed Mike and I watch the film/documentary with Michael Moore - Fahrenheit 9/11 pretty scary stuff but recommended viewing!

12th December (Sun)

Up after a 8.30 lie in. Great! Mike was making pancakes then we got ready to go to meet Dominico and family for an outing and lunch with his mother and family. We were late leaving and further delayed when Eli had a fall while walking Cal, he slipped on the slippery slip way, and cut his himself near his ear, it wasn't too bad but he was a bit shaken and was helped back to the apartment by a nice man. Anna our neighbour (who helps with the washing machine) and is a nurse auxiliary and training to be a nurse said "steri strips" which I have so we fixed him up and left about 10.20, we were due at the farm at 10. We rang Dominico at 10.40 and discovered they too were delayed leaving and were further delayed by a fire on the road. When we all met up at the Massera I was reluctant to let the kids out as I had them nicely dressed, and the mud around the farm is awful but of course they wanted to run around with PiereValdi and Giovani. I let the boys go but Rosa and I hung out in the van as she was wearing light pink! After that Dominico said he was taking us for a bit of sightseeing. First stop was an amazing canyon 90mtrs deep. It was very impressive with three hawks circling over head and Neolithic caves in the distance. It also had a fair number of old rusting cars at the bottom, stolen and dumped according to Dominico, as well as, a load of old tires that looked like they had been rolled down the steep slope for fun.

Next we were off to learn about L'homo d'altamura, we arrived at a little museum in the middle nowhere. It was a Massera similar to the farm and was run by a voluntary society of cavers. We were the only visitors and got a great tour. It isn't possible to go into the cave so they have created a virtual tour on computers. It was fascinating. (If you are interested read the next paragraph.)

In 1993 members of the caving group were exploring a long narrow cave in the area, it was of great interest as it was very deep and very ancient. The first cavern had many stalactite and stalagmite formations as well as ancient animal bones from, bison, deer and hyenas. They felt wind further into the narrow tunnel and decided to open it up a bit to gain deeper access. Then they made a unique discovery of the skeleton of a man later dated as coming from roughly 300,000 years ago. Previously there had only been a skull from this time found in Germany and the skeleton in the cave was complete and preserved due to calcification. Its pretty creepy looking as a result. They think that he fell down a hole while hunting or being hunted He didn't die as there were no broken bones but rather crawled deep into the cave looking for a way out. The museum also put on a 3D show to see the man better, they have all sorts of camera equipment etc in the caves. The discovery was taken over for scientific study and all the equipment was well funded as it was such an important one. As he was studied it turned out the skeleton was even more important as it did not display characteristics either Neanderthal man or Homo erectus but rather both. His forehead doesn't stick out so that was like homo erectus but his jaw was like a Neanderthal. They had found a missing link between the two.

We all got a lot out of the visit and we are grateful to our volunteer tour guide who spoke a lot of English and was very nice considering we had 6 kids with us. The kids were mostly interested but at one point got carried away on the swing chairs by all the computers.

We then followed Dominico to his mothers apartment in Altamura. I was a bit worried at first as she lives in a lovely old apartment and I wondered about precious ornaments etc. It turned out that she has her grandsons to visit often and one room had lots of their toys and the precious things were mostly in a separate room that we didn't go into. Well actually Mike and I went in for a peep at the old working gramophone with Dominico. Our meal was served at two tables adult and kid. There were another two teenage cousins who kept an eye on the kids.

Here's our menu.

1st pasta, tiny meat balls and fried aubergine/egg plants (Mike's allergic to these so had to decline)

2nd polenta and steak) or spicy sausages. (Mike was known not to eat pork hence the steaks)

3rd baked seafood and sliced potatoes complete with baby calamari (I tried this but not the calamari)

4th fruit

and 5th two light deserts, a large Crème Brule and a white molded flan type thing with kiwis, that is a specialty from the time when some court only ate white foods.

The meal was eaten amid what we would consider a large amount of exuberance. The children finished long before us and were soon playing wildly. Ours were actually the quieter ones, probably as they were exploring the toys. The male older cousin tore around after the younger boys doing loops through the room where we where eating. The adult conversation was equally lively and during one of Dominico's funny stories Mike and I could not contain ourselves from giggling the whole way through, before he got to the punch line, because of the whole scene. It was great very Italian and I enjoyed the experience of being at a large gathering and not being stressed and distracted trying to modify the childrens' behaviour. I like the Italian approach to children.

Also our children, who are like all kids naturally affectionate, have already responded to the physicality of Italians young and old. The kids they know greet them all with hugs and take them by the hand. Sammy hugs and kisses his teacher when he see her and we by comparison seem reserved with our new adult friends, but I watch Italians shake hands and hug all the time. All the kids we see hanging out together, even the teenagers, show no awkwardness or affectedness about this but do the same as the adults.

After our meal, of which, needless to say we had a sufficiency, we are taken on a late afternoon stroll around the old town and spectacular cathedral with Dominco's brother and sister in law. Francesco is very knowledgeable and gives us a really nice tour translated by Clara who speaks fluent English. I am going to help Clara at the high school where she works as she is involved with a European funded project where a group of students are learning about Ireland. Both she and Fransesco have been to Ireland and liked it very much. On the way back to the appartment Finn and Sammy fall asleep but Eli and Rosa are offered more food which they have before we leave for Giovnazzo. We have a cup of tea and some of the light fruit cake I'd brought as I'd learned it was a Christmas treat. Then it was back with tired children to the appartment after a very full Sunday.

13th December (Mon)

Back to our new routine, Mike off to pick Olives at 5am and kids up, a bit late for school. When I tried to drop Sammy off he balked, no matter how long I stayed and despite having hugged and kissed his teacher when he saw her. I decided he was too tired after yesterday and let him come with me and tried to make the morning pretty boring by just cleaning and tidying all morning. He and Finn played away very contentedly. We'll see how tomorrow goes. After school we had lunch and then went to meet Maria Grazie - Anna's sister - our new babysitter.  Both the kids and I check her out. She is just back from Brighton where she was taking a course in English so we had no trouble communicating and she is lovely. She is a p.e. teacher but would like to go back to England if she can find work. Mike got back and was able to shower and have his lunch in peace before joining us in the park. We arranged for Maria Grazie to come back at nine for us to go out. I bathed Finn and had a speedy shower as we have a very limited hot water tank and gave the kids their tea. Luckily I had Finn and Sammy asleep before she arrived as I don't think Finn would have let me go. We go and join Lorella and her husband Luigi and a group of their friends in a cool little place in the old town for a Mexican night.  It a very enjoyable evening with even a few English speakers. When we get outside there is a message from Maria Grazie Finn was awake for 40mins, and the our mobiles didn't work through the think walls.  When we get back Finn is curled up with Eli still sobbing in sleep. Poor pet.

13 December

We go out late at night to a place with "liquid lounge" in the name, invited by Lorello. About half the people speak English and I sit next to one who's a doctor in Bari. He has studied in several places abroad and seems very like us in outlook, but as he translates the others' lack of ability to understand us, our situation, why we'd leave Ireland etc., I realise he also has some difficulty relating. I had assumed that other middle class well traveled people would be like us to some degree, and I am really surprised at how little they really "get" what we're doing. Lorella husband Luigi asks through her if I get psychologically tired during the day, and then follows up with, would I do it again if I knew now what it's like? I like his question and wish we could communicate directly; my answer is that I don't like the work and it is very mentally tiring, but that in a way it is like medicine because it is forcing me to get out of my head (intellectual) and learn to use intuitive, physical and emotional approach.



Grinches fireplace I am making

Kids rehearsing



Rosa and Nicole

The other side of South Italy -Rubbish dumped despite millions of town dumpsters

trulli in the fields

Olive grove roads

at the farm



L'homo de Altamura -virtual tour

our guide (right) and Dominico

children's table at Dominico's mother's apartment

adults table

play room

Catherdral tour Altamura



This site was last updated 03/26/05