Ruth tells me of her last visit to Bergamo, some 30 years previously and it sounds appealing enough to drop by and at least take in the historic centre. Having parked up by the city’s sports stadium, we get on our bikes and make for the téléferique that takes us up to the heart of the old town. Being a sunny Sunday, the narrow cobbled streets are brimming with visitors but it’s only when we turn a corner onto a small square that we realize why quite so many people are there. It’s the opening race of the Soap-Box Derby season that afternoon and the assorted vehicles and their suitably kitted out crews are buzzing around making their final preparations. There is a team of officials taking their work very seriously – weighing, measuring and inspecting the wooden wheels and breaking systems.


We are fascinated enough to wait until the planned start and go to the top of the course and take our places in the ‘Grandstand’well, at the first corner! As we had not had much of a night’s sleep after the Milonga by Lake Garda, we doze on the grass overlooking the expansive plain below the old fortified walls and wait. As ever in Italy, the planned start-time is out by almost an hour and I have to say we are somewhat disappointed by the fact that it is a time-trial event – I had been expecting a massed grand–prix style dash for the first corner, but instead each 2 man team sets off individually.


Having seen 5 or 6 career past us, we make our way back to the cable-car and after a steadying hot chocolate find our bikes and make our way back to Emma. A great day out !

Here are some more photos of this chapter.

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We picked up a brochure in Perugia about this giant tango event in a hotel by lake Garda. 18 teaching couples were advertised, so the mind boggles on how many participants there might be, and how many dance floors to accommodate all the workshops… we are too curious to let this go by unseen.

When we arrive, a workshop is in full swing in the foyer. We find out when the Milonga starts and how much it costs and then we go off to find a parking place. This is the second time in Northern Italy that we find a camperstop where we can pay for a limited number of hours rather than a full day, and in that time, we make use of the shower, the internet, load up water and have a little rest before heading back to the Tango festival.

There are about 1000 dancers present in a huge hall, and a second venue near the bar allows a bit of wriggle room for those who are intimidated by the busy-ness of the main hall. The level of dancing is pretty high, possibly lifted by the fact that there are so many teachers on the dance floor, and the atmosphere is as friendly as it can be with a group that size. For a Tango event, it is too big for me – I see people once and then can’t find them again once the Cortina has started, cabeceo is virtually impossible. I make a nice contact with some of the women I dance with. One of them says she wants to introduce a friend to us but then she disappears not to be found again. I meet Lazzaro, the friendly teacher from Perugia and he gives me a big ‘hello’ smile but then he seems to evaporate. I think my limit of Tango dancers in one venue is reached at around 250-300 people. But anyway, it’s so nice to dance, and Frank and I have some lovely Waltzes with each other.

We leave the event around 2.30am and take Emma to a quiet spot by the Mincio river – at least we think it’s quiet – and by 3am our heads hit the pillow…

About four hours later, I am woken up by the crunching sound of a steady stream of about 50 cars, bumper to bumper, going right past us through the gravelly car park, disappearing down a little lane towards the river. What on earth is happening at 7am on a Sunday morning??? Is this a traffic redirection? a strange outdoor early morning church, or a wedding?

We try to turn over and go back to sleep but curiosity gets the better of us and we hop out of bed and onto our bikes to find out. It’s a fishing competition! Everyone has parked in their assigned spot along the river. Latecomers are being sent away, no-one can pass now, not even us cyclists – the fishing rods are already spread out across the towpath.

We return to Emma and after breakfast, we set off for Bergamo.

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It’s never easy to say good bye to Laura and the rest of the extended Pimpinella family, but one morning the time has come to move on, so we fill all our water containers with the precious Piminella water, bid our farewell and steer Emma to duck under the silken flags to leave this little patch of heaven on earth.

We are heading towards the southern edge of Lago di Garda where we plan to drop in on a Tango festival. But we have one night to spare in between, so we decide to stop near Mantova. Our camperstop book tells us of a place near the city centre, so we go and explore that. It turns out to be quite expensive for a whole night, so we just pay for one hour – long enough to use their shower facilities and check the internet to find the exact location for the dance the next evening, as well as catch up with my daughter Lilli on skype who is in the middle of preparing applications for various exciting projects and funding opportunities. We also catch a glimpse of the town centre’s skyline and decide to go and visit it the following day. Then we tootle off to a car park a few kilometres away, outside a summer swimming pool, where we are alone with the drumming of rain on our roof and the rustling of leaves in the poplars around us.

The danger with these ‘peaceful’ car parks is that at night they might turn out to be quite busy, especially if they are on the outskirts of a city…

Sure enough, plenty of cars come and go, groups of young people with loud music booming out of their speakers. But all seems to be quite harmless and as we are very tired, it doesn’t really affect our night.

The next morning, the rain has lifted and the landscape looks all freshly washed, with luscious green fields and snow-capped mountains gleaming in the distance. The poplars are dispersing their seeds by the handful and the path is covered with a thick padding of ‘poplar snow’.


I am amazed that my body doesn’t react at all – normally poplar seeds make my eyes water and my throat itch, but here I am right in it, even doing Yoga right by it is ok, taking deep breaths of the seed infused air! My nose hasn’t been as clear in years! I blame the Yoga…





After breakfast and a violin practise, we head into the city, parking Emma by the Palazzo and cycling into the centre. We take our instruments and try out busking together for the first time!

Mantova has a picturesque city centre, and as it’s a beautiful spring weekend morning, the roads are full of tourists. However, our playing doesn’t bring in much money. My general experience is that busking doesn’t go too well in a touristic place, it’s better to find a spot where a lot of locals pass, like a farmers market. But we still have a nice time playing and it’s good to be out on the street. After our busking stint, we go shopping on a farmer’s market and then back to Emma to feast on the local produce we acquired.

From Mantova, we cut across the countryside winding our way through little lanes until we reach Peschiera del Garda.

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Horse Riding in the Wild

A little advert that hung on the door of Mauro’s restaurant caught my eye: Horse Riding in the Wild – that sounded like fun, especially if it meant riding through the Montesole national park! Mauro makes a phone call for me to arrange a trip for the next morning. It’s a challenging cycle ride from Poggiolo to the horse farm, going seven times up and down hills before you arrive at a farm run by a Dutch woman and her Italian ex-husband. Federico, my guide for the ride, is about my age and a no-nonsense, slightly gruff but friendly guy. He lets me get on with cleaning the horse for a good ten minutes and puts a western saddle on for me. He asks me to get on the horse and then off again, watching my movements and by that, I think, gauging what kind of a rider I might be. I know the feeling from Tango – you can gauge a dancer’s experience at the moment of the embrace, even before taking the first step. My second test with the horse is how I walk with him down the steep path. Federico is ahead of me and doesn’t really look around but I’m sure he nevertheless is aware of how I’m getting on with my slightly unruly Haflinger called Orlando.


We cross a little road, mount the horses and begin the steep ascent of the neighbouring mountain. For the next half hour, the horses almost trot up this extremely steep path, scrambling over rocky surfaces and climbing slippery slopes. I am amazed how they navigate this path and how much strength they have to pull us up with them. We climb from 600 to over 900 mtrs, Federico meanwhile explaining the beautiful vistas, which present themselves at every turn. Montesole and the landscape beyond is steeped in history; ancient merchant paths cross with Pilgrim routes, and there is the more recent history of WWII trenches. There are also still signs of commercial activities in the forest, in the form of patches of blackened earth where until 70 years ago people used to produce charcoal. We ride through the forest on the ridge of the mountain, the horses nimbly ducking overhanging branches (and me, less nimble, having a couple of painful encounters with the very same branches!). We see mountain goats in the woods, seemingly surprised to see us there and then scuttling off. Federico stops off every now and then to show me something, other than that, he is ahead of me, sometimes by 50-100 mtrs, letting me get on with the horse myself and enjoy the silence of the forest.

It is a challenging 3hour ride, going up and down a lot and in parts moving through the forest with no visible path, but we eventually find back to the house to finish the ride in good time. Frank and Mauro are awaiting me with Mauro’s 4×4, a welcome relieve that I don’t have to cycle back to Poggiolo after a very beautiful, if challenging, hack.


Here are more photos for this chapter and a link to the Riding Stable’s web site

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Jumble Tuft meets Pimpinella

As those of you who follow our blogs regularly will know, in the last couple of weeks, we have been joined by a little companion called Jumble Tuft.


This is our third time at Pimpinella’s but when I take Jumble Tuft on a tour of this beautiful place, I discover things that I’d never seen before!!! He lends me his perspective and allows me look at this place with child’s eyes. Together, we meet a lot of creatures who of course have been there all along but I’d never noticed them!


Jumble Tuft has such a great time that he doesn’t really want to leave, so he tries to hide.


But in the end he decides to come with us, as he wants to meet Frank’s grandchild Eva back in Wales…




For more photos of Jumble Tuft in Pimpinella’s house and garden, please click here

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Return to Pimpinella (by Frank)

It’s a year since we last visited Laura at Pimpinella, high above the Reno valley, but as we pull up outside the rambling house, the Tibetan silks are still flapping in the wind and the doors are open – there’s a course in full swing and the participants are out gathering herbs and plants soon to be transformed into essences, soaps and salves. (See our flikr pics from last year)

Although she knows our arrival is imminent, Laura greets us effusively and like long-lost friends on a surprise visit. It’s so lovely to see her buzzing around like a queen bee – we’ve taken to calling her a white witch as she certainly manages to put everyone under some sort of magical spell within the confines of her place. We are invited to join the evening meal and are soon in deep conversations with Laura’s new woofers and those on the course. After dinner, Ruth serenades us on her fiddle – that’s not to denigrate her instrument but her repertoire is predominantly Celtic – much to everyone’s delight.

Singing and dancing at the end of the day at Pimpinella

The next morning it’s sunny enough for us to continue with our Yoga challenge outside and we are joined by Nava and Kato the woofers – over the next few days the sessions grow but by the end of our stay it’s back to just the two of us on the mats. One of our much used phrases is Not now Kato! from the hilarious exchanges between Peter Sellers and Bert Kwok in the Pink Panther films, which we feel a need to share with Kato. We show him a YouTube compilation of clips and thankfully he finds them amusing too. Ruth gets stuck in to some back-breaking work, clearing one of the sloping terraces of the tenacious roots which threaten to overwhelm the rosemary ‘plantation’. Meanwhile I do some cooking, which is also hugely appreciated. When the course is over and the clear-up is complete, we take a trip down to Sasso Marconi to buy some decent garden forks and a selection of climbing roses to add further colour to an already vibrant garden but also to cover the bare trunk of a dead tree. We also go on an outing in Freedom, Laura’s VW camper, to Monte Sole, where there’s a commemorative festival honouring the resistance movement from the 2nd World War. (Some of you may remember Ruth’s chapter about Montesole from our first visit to this area). The high spot for us, after a glorious picnic, is a very tight and joyous Samba Band, Marakatimba, from Bologna that Laura used to play with.

Marakatimba at the Montesole Festival

Back at Pimpinella we learn of a plan Laura and her daughter Gaia have hatched, to run a Herbalists course for English speakers, which we then help write an advertising flyer for. It s so nice to repay the kindness Laura showers on us each time we visit.


Next day we head for Monte Sole to catch up with Mauro, who runs Il Poggiolo, the Albergo and Restaurant at the heart of the weekend’s festivities and who we’d chatted to briefly at the Festival. He is absolutely exhausted, having got to bed at 4 in the morning, so I offer him a re-generative massage. At first, the idea of such an intimate encounter with another man is too much for him but after some persuasion from Ruth, he agrees to come early the next day to a toasty-warm Emma and receive his first ever massage – and Boy, did he need it! To his surprise and by his own admission he looks and feels 10 years younger when he ‘comes to’.

Later we invite him and Laura to lunch. Though near neighbours, they haven’t ever spent time together and it is lovely to connect these 2 people who share such passion for the area and its wild nature.

In turn, Mauro invites Ruth and myself to eat up at the restaurant where we enjoy a delicious pasta cooked in the regional style and with local ingredients. Then, having sussed out the possibilities of hosting some form of group holiday, to include Pimpinella, archery, horse riding and walking in the National Park, we take our leave and head North. Whilst looking for a camper-stop we catch sight of what turns out to be Mantova and go and explore this evocative sounding city.

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Castel Rigone

The view from Castel Rigone at dawn

When we arrive in Castel Rigone, we experience a two-fold shock: Firstly, it is really cold! We hope it’s just a cold spell and not due to the fact that we are rapidly travelling northwards. Secondly, everything looks super neat and tidy, manicured even, and an eerie silence hangs over the village. We walk around, taking in the beautiful vista of Lago Trasimeno on one side and the rolling hills of Umbria on the other, but we are unnerved by the uniform perfection around us. Compared to the rough charm of Southern Italy and Sicily, this doesn’t feel like Italy anymore – it’s more like a wealthy area in Southern France.

Lago Trasimeno, seen from Castel Rigone

In a local shop, we meet Judi, an English woman who fell in love with this area many years ago and more recently decided to move to a tiny house by the roadside. She invites us to come and visit – just follow the road and you’ll see a tiny house with stairs leading up to it. You can’t miss it! Indeed we can’t miss it. Judi is an artist creating children’s stories with a number of home-made, hand made puppets called The Jumbles, and her house is aptly called Jumble House. The steps leading up to the tiny door are decorated with flowers of all colours and other bits and pieces. Even before entering, you meet the world of The Jumbles.

Judi and Michael outside Jumble house

Judi’s artistic talents found a channel when she became grandmother. To make contact with her granddaughter who lived far away in Singapore, she began to create puppets using tights and other bits she found around the house. Using her I-pad, she took photos or film clips and developed stories around the pictures. The backdrop might be the kitchen in her house or a local park, and her puppets, the Jumbles, get up to all sorts of things on a daily basis. Amongst them is a forgetful witch, who gets her spells wrong and creates all sorts of strange things, or the Jumbletufts, who turn up and create order from chaos.

the forgetful witch

Her granddaughter must be chuffed to have such a productive grandma – there are over 150 clips of the stories on youtube!

Judi tells us about the difficulties of filming in the village without being perceived as completely bonkers. She has to wait until two o’clock, a time in which every self-respecting Italian is indoors, having lunch. Only then does she venture out, armed with her I-pad, a witch and a broomstick, getting herself into strange places and positions to take the photos. It has been known that she’s forgotten to collect all her Jumbles after a shoot and returned the next day to find them still hanging in the same tree where she ‘d left them.

Both Judi and her husband are so quintessentially English in one way and so not at all English in another way, it’s delightful to spend some time with them and hear about their adventures in settling into the Italian culture, brought to the fore in the process of buying a piece of land and building a house. Michael was an accountant and his experiences of the culture clashes in the world of accounting and otherwise dealing with authorities are mind-boggling.

The following day, Judi and Michael repay our visit and come see us in our Emma, which is in fact not much smaller than their house!

When we are about to say good-bye, Judi pulls one of her puppets out of her bag: it’s one of the Jumbletufts and he’s decided to come with us on our journey.


You can find out more about Judi’s creative ventures on her web site

For photos of this chapter, including the cold but beautiful sunrises we experienced in those days, click here

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La Rogaia

Tucked away in the Umbrian hillsides lies La Rogaia, a venue that might be familiar to some of our readers, as it hosts Tango holidays, among other active holidays, like painting or Italian cooking. We had contacted Annette and Wolfgang a couple of weeks ago and they kindly invited us to join their current Tango course for the evening meal and the Milonga afterwards, so at an appointed time, we are in the car park of Castel Rigone in the hills above lake Trasimeno, waiting to be picked up and delivered to La Rogaia. We were told it would be unsuitable for a large vehicle, and indeed, the gravel road is steep and narrow for a couple of kilometres before we arrive in the idyll that is La Rogaia. The scent of Lavender and Rosemary greets you as you climb out of the car and adjust to the spacious silence, only disrupted by the sussuring of cicadas or the melodic lines of a nightingale.

We meet Wolfgang who is a sculptor first and foremost, besides co-managing the courses at La Rogaia and occasionally teaching some of them himself. He leads us around his studio, introducing us to some of his current works. He’s in the final throes of preparation for an exhibition in the South of Germany. Many works have already been shipped off, but even from what is left over, we get an impression of his exquisite work with marble and other stones.




Next, we meet the Ornella the cook, a vivacious, fiery lady who is just putting the final touches to tonight’s dinner. We drop in on the tail end of a class, and are happily surprised to meet Antje and Toenjes, a couple who I’ve met and taught several times in Vis during the Summer workshops that Ines organises there. Last but not least, we meet Annette, the hostess who seems to run three full time jobs at once: Maintaining a huge property with a wonderful garden, raising several children, running a workshop centre and councelling local clients in her capacity as a therapist.

La Rogaia is a unique location – really far from the hustle and bustle of civilisation, set in a beautiful garden, which in turn nestles into Olive groves. I can imagine the benefits on one’s soul of staying a week here, enjoying nature and good food, of breathing in another rhythm and watching sunrises and sunsets.

The next evening, we are once again invited to another delicious dinner, followed by a trip with the group to a Milonga in Perugia, hosted by a very welcoming Lazzaro. There are not many people, but it is very friendly and has a good Ronda. I feel so happy when I get a chance to dance Tango :-)


For a few more photos of La Rogaia’s sculptures, click here

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We decide to cover some distance so we join the motorway for a while. We see less that way and certainly have fewer adventures, but sometimes that can be a good thing, if one wants to make some headway.

As the sun sets, we roll into a campsite about 3km away from Assisi. We tend to avoid campsites, unless we visit a very touristic place or need access to the internet or a washing machine – in this case all three of these apply. Campsites are often full of the type of travellers we don’t really connect with, but in this case, the opposite is true: As soon as we switch off our engine, visitors arrive: we have Polish, Dutch and British neighbours and all of them pop in to admire Emma’s interior – the wood burner eliciting oooh’s and aaah’s once again.

Our polish neighbours have a son, Adam Walny, who is a puppeteer and they give us his book, a beautiful monograph about his work. We chat for a long time about our various children, their talents and courageous life choices for artistic careers.

There is something inimitable about Polish performing arts – it’s witty and gritty at the same time, raw and often very political, but on a personal, human scale. Although probably struggling just as much financially as in most other countries, it always seemed to me that artists in Poland have a much higher social status than in the UK. Looking at Adam’s book makes me remember the wild and wonderful times I had many years ago in Kraków, meeting Piotr Skrzynecki when I performed at the International Festival of Yiddish Music and Culture.


The next morning, we take the shuttle bus up to the city. I’ve been to Assisi once before, about 30 years ago, but I hardly recognise it, it looks so clean and perfect! (a few days later, we hear that it had been hit by an earthquake about 20 years ago and then comprehensively restored, which explains my confusion)

We walk around the beautiful domed basilica, dedicated to St. Francis, until we are both a bit ‘churched out’. Just as we are about to leave, a choir from the Azores starts singing in one of the chapels, so we stop and listen to the melismatic voices weaving into harmonies and drifting along the walls and ceilings of the church. There is a choir competition happening that day and we meet some of the other competitors walking around town. Unfortunately we don’t have time to hang around to hear them all as we have an appointment elsewhere later in the day, but it was fortuitous to hear the one choir practising in one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen.

On our stroll through town, we get chatting to a German pilgrim. He’s been walking for 9 months now. He started off in Santiago de Compostela, following the Portuguese route in reverse all the way down to Southern Spain, where someone stole his wallet and passport. He went to the German embassy to ask for help but they thought that, as he’d managed to walk all the way to Southern Spain, he might as well walk back home too and refused to help him financially! Days later, his boss rang up and said if you aren’t home within 3 days, you are going to lose your job. As he didn’t have the money for a ticket back home, he decided he might as well walk on. So he went along the coast across Spain and France all the way to Italy and thus arrived in Assisi. He said it is no problem walking without money. He didn’t look like a beggar to us, he was young, fit and sparkly-eyed. Where to next? we asked. I don’t know, maybe Rome and then Napoli. We recommended him to continue on to Sicily and gave him 10 Euros towards a ferry ticket.

I guess every pilgrim will have their own stories, and I’m not a fool to believe everything I’m told. It’s neither possible nor would I want to check the veracity of this particular one. Whether true or not, it was an inspiring story of courage, of Letting Go. It gave me food for thought about my own need for security in parts of my life, and why I still need to hold on to certain things to feel safe. We parted from the pilgrim and his dog, each of us smiling for their own reasons. That in itself was worth 10 Euros.


A diver...

For a few other photos, click here 

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