Thursday, 29 May 2014

Roman sunset and farewell Roma…

Sunset over Roma on our last night
I am writing this blog post as we travel by train from Roma to Firenze (Florence) before we complete our journey to Castellina in Chianti for our workshop. The tourist activities and the shopping are over and I am sure we will be working hard for the next ten days.
Yesterday began in a minivan hurtling down the Autostrada del Sole (literally Motor Way of the Sun) with Marcello the driver to my left, and Andre the Armenian dentist from Pasadena on my right. It was an interesting experience. I set off on my day of Amalfi coast exploration in this minivan with eight passengers … no engine in front of me and the road flashing past at 140 kilometres per hour! Bronwyn and Fiona were heading off on a tour of Ancient Rome which turned into something else but more about that later.
By the time we stopped for the first coffee of the day at a service centre an hour south of Rome, I had relaxed into the trip and was becoming quite complacent  with the chopping and changing of lanes between large trucks and slow cars at the speed of light with no use of indicators. I was being entertained Marcello’s conversation, both on his mobile phone and with other drivers who upset him by tooting their horn as we sailed past. Italian hand gestures were a major feature of the conversations between drivers…and I learned some new Italian words.
We set off toward Napoli and the rest of the passengers were introduced to each other. Andre from Pasadena was on a quick visit to Italy, Kelly from Washington State and her son Eric from Arizona were visiting Rome, Istanbul and Amsterdam to celebrate his graduation. Two couples from India completed our group.
The Amalfi coast was inspirational.
Many scenic views
Words do not do justice to the amazing landscapes which met us as we wound our way around the coast. Hopefully the photos I took that are scattered through the blog will give you an idea of the scenic beauty.
 We stopped at Amalfi for a quick visit and tour of the shops and I had my first taste of Limóncello. The icy cold burst of lemon on my tongue was soon replaced by a pleasant warmth in my throat as the alcohol content kicked in. A wonderful taste but probably not a drink you should have for morning tea every day! I had to purchase a bottle or four to take home, and also one to share with the girls in Tuscany.
We spent an hour or more travelling along the coast past tiny villages where houses clung precariously to the cliff side and huge lemons hung from branches that were trailed along timber supports. 
The cliffs were covered with wire to stop rock falls hitting the cars on the narrow winding road on the edge of the cliff.  Occasionally we would pass a beautiful ceramic urn set into spaces in the cliff side along the road.
We drove thorough Vietri sul Mare, Cetara, Maiori, Tramonti, Minori, Ravello, Praiano and other small villages with the magnificent vista of the sea to the left and the houses and cliffs surrounding us. But the jewel in the crown was Positano. The churches, the fortified towers and the stunning views made it a place to come back to. 
Shopping in Amalfi
A week hiking the hills through the lemon groves would be an amazing holiday. The streets were steep and to paraphrase John Steinbeck, ‘you don't walk to visit a friend here, you either climb or slide’. 
After Marcello parked the car and led us to the very bottom of the hill to a beachside restaurant for lunch, we did a lot of climbing and shopping. A lovely meal with Kelly, Eric and Andre… more Italian food…gnocchi today… and of course the obligatory vino. 

Lunch in Positano..on the beach
The next two hours were spent climbing the hill and visiting a plethora of wonderful shops. Lemon soaps and pretty little dishes will now have to be rammed into the suitcase…along with the Limóncello. If my suitcase is overweight, Bronwyn and Fiona have offered to drink the Limóncello to lighten it. True friends are always willing to help out.
After we farewelled the Amalfi coast, the group set off with much anticipation for Pompeii. Marcello’s hand gestures and Italian phrases kept us entertained as we were caught in a traffic jam on the outskirts of Sorrento and spent almost two hours to complete a thirty minute trip. Nevertheless we arrived in Pompeii and met our wonderful tour guide for the next two hours. A third generation guide shared his passion embellished with a keen sense of humour.  I am sure we would not have noticed the phallic symbols above the brothels without his commentary.
Pompeii with a passionate guide

The sheer scale of the Pompeii ruins and the state of preservation was something I had not expected. Having a guide for our group and listening to the anecdotes made the town come alive for me. Inspiration for a story set in the Roman times began to tug at my writing mind as we walked through the houses, the shop, the brothels and the square.
So far Pompeii has been the highlight of the trip for me.
Mt Vesuvius and Pompeii

A three hour trip back to Roma… as we were caught in another  traffic accident on the motorway was lightened by a text from Fiona asking me what I would like for dinner! I do love travelling with this pair!
A lovely (faux) candle light dinner awaited me as I stumbled from the lift at 9.30 pm. The tour and the travel had begun at 6.30am so it was a long but satisfying day. The girls had prepared a lovely meal, and waited dinner for me lingering over their entrée of vino as they waited…and waited. It was very kind of them to save one glass of Prosecco for me.
I enjoyed listening to the description of their day… the tour of ancient Rome which turned into a small part of the day after they discovered a dress shop with a proprietor who said ‘wow’ every time they each tried an outfit on. Between them they told of getting many wows, and their suitcases are now significantly heavier after their expedition to ancient Rome.
The train trip to Florence is delightful; we bought our tickets separately and I am enjoying first class as I write this post… I hope the girls are having a good trip four carriages away from me.  We will be in Castellina in a few hours and will report in as soon as we have internet access.
Our home for the next ten days

Post script…we have  arrived, had our introductory talk from Eloisa and the place is humming with creative energy. More tomorrow…
Our group

Tuesday, 27 May 2014


So... the working holiday began at Sydney International Airport where Fiona and I had a few hours to fill in before our long, long flight before we joined Bronwyn in Rome. We did some duty free shopping and then I learned some new tricks with my new camera.
Fiona and Annie at the airport in Sydney
It's a fabulous camera...I learned how to wi-fi it to my phone so you can set it up to take a photo, click the phone and the camera takes the photo! I love my technology!

And then the long flight began. Emirates looked after us very well and we had three flight legs... nine hours and then a one hour stop to refuel in Bangkok on the middle of the night, and then six hours to Dubai where we were able to have a very welcome shower and be amazed by the spectacular airport, and then another five hours to Rome.
Fi on the way to Roma
Annie on the way to Roma
The last leg was on an Air Bus A380 and we had the luxury of three seats each to stretch out. It is the biggest passenger plane in the world and we thoroughly enjoyed the extra space as you can see by the tired, but happy smiles.
Flying over the desert and over Turkey and Greece was amazing, the sky was clear and we had a great view below. Our first view of Rome lived up to all expectations.
Airbus A380
 A quick trip from the airport (where we noticed that coming through Customs and Passport security in Italy is very different to Australia) and we found our apartment on the fifth floor right in the centre of the city.
Happy birthday, Bronwyn!
It is a beautiful base for the next few days until we catch the train to Florence later in the week. Coincidentally Bronwyn and Fiona both had red hats so they helped me choose one too! It is very easy to pick the red hat brigade in the crowds in Rome.
Red Hat girls.
Bronwyn and Annie
Some quick sightseeing within walking distance...the Pantheon
Fabulous apartment
is a stone's throw from the apartment and then we had a birthday drink for Bronwyn on the beautiful balcony and watched the sun set on our first day in Rome.
Annie and the view from the balcony
Sitting on the balcony, sipping champagne with the sweet fragrance of star jasmine drifting on the breeze was a fine way to end the first day.
The view from the balcony

Sunset in Roma
Day 2... no sleep in for the tired travelers today. Fi and Bronwyn headed off for a tour of the Sistine Chapel at 7 a.m. and I hopped a Hop On Hop Off bus to orient myself for future sightseeing. Driving across the Tiber River, past the Colosseum and Vatican City was wonderful. I spent lunchtime in Piazza Novana trying my first authentic Italian cuisine as I watched the crowd pass by. Got lost on the way back, but eventually found my way home and joined the girls for a restful afternoon in the apartment ..after all what do authors do on holiday? We write...

Fiona at work
Until tomorrow..when I will report in from the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii...
Bronwyn at work

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Dreams do come true.

So...the countdown has begun...six more sleeps!

The suitcase is almost packed...and I am organised six days out which is a bit unusual for me. I may even have time to begin my next book before we leave. A flurry of emails arrived  from my two travelling buddies over the weekend as we work out phones while we are overseas, itineraries and decide if we really can afford to shop in Italy!
I am sure we will find time...even though ten days will be spent in a different type of shopping! Work shopping with Eloisa James.

The final itinerary for the course came by email over the weekend and it is packed with fabulous workshops with Eloisa. What an amazing opportunity! I am sure we will embrace very moment. The afternoons will be spent on individual writing assignments in the Tuscany! It is time to pinch myself. Dreams really do come true.

One of the most exciting things for me will be visiting London for a few days on the way home,  and meeting several of my author friends and editing clients. The wonder of today's technology! We have forged strong friendships over the past three years online and we are about to meet in person! The lovely Rachel Lyndhurst  has booked  high tea for us in London and I am so looking forward to meeting a couple of wonderful fellow Entangled authors, including Incy Black who I met on line during the Mills and Boon New Voices competition back in 2011, before we were both published.  The wonderful Samantha Darling will be there too!

Photography has always interested me and I am now the proud owner of a fabulous camera with a set of zoom lens. So expect some wonderful shots of Italy as I travel. Bronwyn and I have managed to squeeze in a couple of side tours around the workshop days... the Amalfi coast, Pompeii and Cinque Terre! And of course there will be shopping in Rome and Florence.
Think of the inspiration for more books!  There is sure to be another Italian Affair on the way...perhaps a Tuscan Affair may be in order? What do you think?

Next report from Sydney as we prepare to depart!

Friday, 9 May 2014

Preparation...Organisation...and Excitement!

Castellina in Chianti

When I finish my latest WIP...Capturing the Pirate's Heart...
I can begin to pack!

I am so looking forward to the workshop with the fabulous Elosia James!
Have you read her latest book? 
Three weeks with Lady X.. it is packed (on the iPad) and is one of the books I will be reading on the long flight from Australia...
34 hours from leaving home to arriving in Rome!