Monthly Archives: August 2016

What a lot of to do about windows!!

Have you ever been lucky enough to visit Monet’s House in Giverny?
well I have, it was many years ago and I have one lasting memory, looking through the beautifully painted sage green windows and viewing an unfolding vista of the garden.
So when faced with a garden to design I carried this memory forward and planned that each of my windows should carry a view of something special.
Unfortunately before I could get to this point I really did need to sort out some windows to look out of.



old rotten windows

old rotten windows some without glass

As most of the apertures on our house where fitted with old, rotten, worm eaten wooden frames holding dusty panes of cracked glass. It did not take any genius more than a few seconds to realise we needed replacements.

So off I went on the hunt!!!!



A double glazed window is a window with two panes of glass ………. correct,

I soon realised that in Italy it is not quite that simple. They have numerous extra details like specifics of the glass , width of the wood, insulation, handles , locks etc etc and as you have probably guessed for all these there is a huge price tag.

I was advised to ask one of the specialists from Nizza and was told he had a good reputation. So I invited him to come and do some measuring. He very enthusiastically arrived and even brought me a lovely glossy folder containing pictures of all the other houses he had fitted out to other unsuspecting souls with deep pockets.
If you note,  the picture of our house,

plenty of windows

plenty of windows


and more to the rear

and more to the rear

windows are certainly one thing we are not short of. I had actually never stopped to count but this guy did and in fact suggested opening up more areas to improve the overall appearance of the house.

and of course

“we really must not forget the shutters”
He left here with lots of measurements promising to contact me the very next day with a preventivo (estimate).
I waited a few days but heard nothing so rather foolishly went and visited the shop. I was immediately given the grand tour and subjected to hours of explaination about the building of the said windows. It was built up to such a crescendo that when he eventually produced the quote I was to be eternally grateful to him for giving me such a service.
For such a small sum of 22,000 euros I could fit the front of my  house, with windows and shutters. ( that is just to provide the windows to the front  not the fitting)
Pick me up off the ground I have had to graft hard for my cash and this guy was not going to get 22,000 euros from me for windows. So I baid him farewell and thought he can fund his luxury cruise from someone else.

Back to the drawing board

A joiner friend who owns a house nearby had done some renovations in France and had used a french company Lapeyre, he said that the windows were good quality and priced very competitively. I checked this information out and discovered that I could replace half the house for a quarter of the quoted cost .

Ok, they may not be all singing and dancing, top of the range but they were wooden double glazed windows. just the job. simple and effective we have to make savings on the budget somewhere and this was to be our compromise.
But as always there has to be a drawback ………. we could not order from Italy so we had to travel to France to make our order. Our nearest stores where either Nice or Chambery both being a three hour journey from here.

So we decided to leave the ordering until our next journey to Britain.

A couple of months later  We made a small detour into Chambery . We easily found the store and were even luckier to find ourselves an English speaker. As I must confess my French goes no further than” Oui” or “merci”. We eagerly placed our order and all was going well until the guy asked our address, there was a moments silence and then he took a deep breath and shook his head.

” Italy Noooooooo”

“Why?”  said I thinking is there a ban on taking windows to Italy?
He shook his head again and said “what route are you going to take?”
“through the Alps” I said thinking what business is it of his, what does it matter which road I take.
then to my amazement he said “They will explode at high altitudes”

explode!! exploding windows!!!!!! have we got a translation problem, it certainly wasnt April 1st  in fact it was the middle of December and very cold

I looked on shocked as he proceeded to phone the customs patrol on the tunnel entrance to the Frejus, I listened patiently while he had a 10 minute debate about the altitude of the road and whether the windows would explode or rather implode,

He later explained that this was due to the gas pressure between the two panes.

Anyway, to cut to the chase they all agreed that it was too high a risk and we ended up paying an extra 30 euros per window to change the gas pressure within.

It seems that no other person has ever experienced this, if you have get back to me I would love to know.
We returned to Chambery for our order on a sunny March day after a beautiful journey through the Alps.

a beautiful sunny day

a beautiful sunny day

Following a nights stay and a delightful visit to a nearby garden centre where I purchased some golden bearded Iris for the grand sum of 2 euros a plant, (what a bargain) we returned to the warehouse to collect the windows.

our new windows

our new windows

They were loaded onto the van and we set out on our trek rather apprehensively climbing the Alps.

Many furniture haulage trips

a slow climb

very little was said !

When we reached the tunnel entrance we looked at each other with concern OH said

“no explosion yet”.

I sat in silence considering our big old van which was only supposed to have remained with us for six months.

a dear loyal friend

an old faithful friend



It has become the stalwart of our life here it has not just saved us vast amount of haulage costs, but is now the community van carrying bits and bobs for everyone. It has a tail lift so it enables us to collect heavy objects without a problem. Unfortunately it is slow and a bit noisy.  Inside the cab we hear little else than the engine  it would be most unlikely that we would hear any explosion from within.

As soon as we passed the Italian border we stopped at the nearest car park to check our precious cargo
OH peered over the tail lift terrified that he might find tiny pieces of glass but all was fine and we continued our journey with smug satisfaction.

A few months later the windows were reluctantly installed by our builders who repeatedly told us we would be better buying Italian.

Not sure about the colour

Not sure about the colour

To our disappointment the horrid orange wood colour did not enhance the house at all and I suppose our builders were correct.

By this time I had planted my golden iris and watched it grow but after a few weeks it flopped, struggling to make growth.
I said to myself  ” just like the windows you get what you pay for.”

BUT By the following season the Iris had doubled in size and during the month of May the large golden blooms were shining brightly in the sunlight.

shining brightly

shining brightly

I was so delighted. I sighed happy with success but as I turned and surveyed the windows, I thought      ……mmm! not much improvement here.

Yucky orange

Yucky orange

After a coat of paint

After a coat of paint

Then I remembered Monet and the colour of his windows. Crikey all We need is some paint. During the hot summer OH set about painting them Farrow and Balls Tarrow, a creamy white. By the beginning of July I had some rather handsome windows adorning the front of my house.

Certainly an improvement

Certainly an improvement -just the ones on the left

As the seasons pass the garden is starting to mature and each window has started to frame a perfect view.

The views get better and better

The views get better and better

Just like the Iris ” patience is a virtue.”

Tea with Mary B.

We have now hit the hottest part of summer so little work is being done and it is time  of holiday and festa.

A much needed rest

A much needed rest

OH and I are giving much needed time to designing the garden and finishing off the decor and furnishings of our newly renovated rooms.

Today we are busily trying to revamp the seats of our antique dining chairs. As neither of us have the slightest experience in upholstery it is taking much patience and perseverance.  There are literally 100s of little tacks to be removed before we can begin to refurbish. This allows me plenty of time to reflect on our life here and how we have changed over the past few years.

Firstly would I have ever tried an upholstery job ?  no way,especially not on valued furniture but  spare time and lack of funds means that we turn our hands to all things. As they say needs must. It is amazing what you can learn especially with the help of u-tube site for the dummies.

My thoughts turn to food which seems to preoccupy much of my time these days, I have never been much of a cook or a foodie fanatic but I am always keen to learn and try new techniques. On moving to Italy I have certainly had quite a food changing experience as the people around here spend every waking moment thinking, speaking and making food.


Village outing just a wee picnic.

Every time I visit my friends and neighbours all they ask is what have you eaten today? what are you going to eat next? and what are you planning for tomorrow?.  They wait in anticipation for me to list each dish and then discuss in great depth all the ingredients and how they are put together. It is all so important to them and it has rubbed off on me. I have learnt that the main factor is for it to be fresh and the best quality that you can buy it makes the cooking easier. After 3 years of this intense education I am quite definitely becoming a food snob.

It was in the early days here that I realised I could never compete with them at the savoury food preparation but there was one thing that I had up my sleeve my favourite was the dessert.

Something sweet and indulgent

Something sweet and indulgent

As a child I only ate my dinner to get my pudding —  well not always   — Angel Delight comes to mind. Italians do not give much importance to the dessert, —- tiramasu, gelato, nut cake or a bowl of fruit are about all they seem to aspire to.

It is the custom in Italy when you are invited for a meal or even just a visit that you take something particularly lovely and sweet for dolci. You are expected to purchase these from one of the fancy pasticceria situated in all the villages.

fancy cake shops

fancy cake shops

This along with a good bottle of wine can result in a pretty costly business.

So this was my challenge to give something personal and do a little saving.

Although I was good at making hot desserts I had never baked a cake.

It was time to learn, how hard can it be I thought, let’s face it  I have watched every episode of bake off even in Italian. Mary Berry is my heroine so with her Baking Bible in my hand I set about the task.  My first cake was a success a lemon yoghurt cake , springy, light, moist and tangy and from that moment onwards I was smitten.

lemon yoghurt cake

lemon yoghurt cake

Orange cinnamon cake, lemon cup cakes, bara birth, birthday cakes, anniversary cakes it just went on and on. As did OH ‘s waistline.

Orange cup cakes

Orange cup cakeswork in progress 014

All were gratefully received and eagerly tried with great gusto and much admiration. Every creation was becoming more and more ambitious I was building quite a reputation for these  little delicacies.

So it was just a matter of course when they persuaded the inglese donna to enter in the cake competition at the August festa in the village.

I was a little timid and quite conscious that I was competing against the pros with  the same winner for eternity. I was also warned that the winner was in fact the village hierarchy  so I was advised not to try too hard as we do not want to upset the important folk. This reminded me of a story my mother had related to me on many occasions, when early in her married life She was encouraged to enter the cake competition in the produce marquee at the village show. She produced a splendid victoria sandwhich cake and to everybody’s horror she got first prize beating the “cake queen” Her very own mother-in- law ! . She never did endear herself to her new family. So with this in mind I decided that I just wanted to join in the village activities and possibly make a little impact not to win just be remembered.

I scanned the recipe books and found just the one “Mary Berrys chocolate and rum cake”, 20160801_154256Mary  even goes onto say that it is the recipe chosen for the chocolate cake entry at her village show and furthermore all 12 entries were beautiful and delicious.

This is definitely the winner

This is definitely the winner

How could I go wrong? the Italians absolutely adore chocolate and of course this recipe sounds absolutely infallible. That is in the UK where a British summer may not get above 18 degrees cent. I am in Italy and last summer was the hottest on record . So silly me tries to create this rich moist indulgent chocolate cake decorated with thick fudge icing and little white chocolate stars in 40 degrees C. heat.

This was one I made earlier

This was one I made earlier

Ok ok it was obvious, but not to me!!!

The day of the competition,,

up early and on with the job, sponge was soon made beautiful and light,all was going well.

All is going well

All is going well

Then to the filling,  a few frantic moments over the next few hours as I attempted to make the icing set , eventually decorating was complete if not a little lopsided!

OH inspected my work making little comment rather worrying as he is always so encouraging.  I carefully transported it to its waiting stand inside the village hall. But the temperatures kept rising and rising. When the judges started to peruse all the beautiful manicured creations my cake just went


completely collapsing into a mound of rich chocolate goo erupting outwards with chocolate lava dripping over the plate.

I looked down at this sorry site of sticky mess and heard OH say “you had some guts girl bringing that here it is pretty embarrassing.”

I shrugged and graciously accepted my booby prize —– a wooden spoon to the sympathetic looks of the village ladies.20160801_195301

What the hell I thought at least I took part and after all I had achieved my aim I had made an impact.

When all the locals were let loose for the cake tasting, guess where they headed.

I looked on with amusement to see all my fellow villagers walking around with chocolate smeared about their faces. They had certainly decided against all odds to have a try.

One of the ladies even came over and tactfully suggested that perhaps I should have made it a few days earlier and then it would be dry.

Oh dear, Italian cake is always dry and this is why my spongy, moist cakes have been such a hit here. Had she missed the point I decided not to try and explain.

Perhaps Belveglio is not quite ready for our british afternoon tea and cake, although it will certainly be remembered.P1040757

There is always next year maybe the lemon yoghurt cake would be a better bet and I will keep the chocolate cake for winter.