It's Better to Travel than Arrive?

"To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive"

Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque, 1881.

"Robert Louis Stevenson speaks utter tosh and has

obviously never flown long haul economy class"

Kristy, first ever blog post, 2011.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Castellare di Tonda : Accommodation

Castellare di Tonda is spread over around 900 acres with lots of accommodation options.  As I didn’t have a car, I was happy to be placed in the Fornace complex which is located within very comfortable walk (or stagger, depending on your wine intake) distance from the bar/restaurant and lobby.  There is ample parking outside Fornace if you are bringing a car.

Fornace provides plenty of shaded outside seating areas, a big communal BBQ and a large pool with loungers, and a few childrens play equipment items on the mown grass alongside.  There is also a gorgeous old pony, Baloo, who has free rein around the property, so don’t be surprised if you turn a corner and bump into an old grey pony who is looking for an ear scratch or an apple cut up into small pieces that he can slowly munch with his old teeth.

Baloo, the old pony, having a snooze out the front of the Castellare church.

I was originally checked into room 1101, a gorgeous apartment containing a large bedroom (king sized bed), combined sitting/dining, kitchen and decent bathroom (though very tiny shower).  Most windows had grilles and insect screens so it was safe to leave them open to get a breeze without getting bitten.

There was a welcoming bottle of Castellare’s own white wine waiting for me on the table and I popped it straight into the fridge to cool down.  We opened it the next night after a fair bit of exertion (the bottle opener provided was a bit flimsy and we had to try a few times to get it right).  After all that effort we discovered that the wine wasn’t really to our taste, but we drank it anyway – we don’t like waste!

I stayed there for two nights, but in the end, the noise from the other apartments just got to me.  I’m not a good sleeper, and all of the Fornace apartments are lovely, but they’re renovated farm buildings and they’re a bit loud.  After having two bad nights sleep, I asked to be moved either to a free-standing apartment (there are a few) or to an upstairs apartment. 

The Fornace complex pool - gorgeous!

This was no problem for the staff as I was staying early in the season, so they weren’t full.  I happily moved into 1104, an upstairs corner apartment in the same building I was in previously.  It had two bedrooms, one was a single, and a big master bedroom, combined sitting/dining/kitchen and a fab big bathroom with a brilliant shower – it even had a window in it.  It did flood the floor every single time I used it, but it was worth it!

Castellare is a pet friendly resort, and lots of people were holidaying with their lovely big dogs, and even a few lovely little ones.  Dogs are also welcome in the restaurant and bar.

The view from my shower cubicle - fab!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Thank You x 60,000!

My blog has just ticked over to 60,000 page visits
and I can't quite believe it!

Thank you so much for taking the time to click over and see what's been going on - you've made my day!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Siena Photos

A random selection of photos from my afternoon in Siena, on my free day whilst staying at Castellare di Tonda.  I caught the train in to Siena and neglected to bring a map, so I just wandered around for a few hours, following the signs to things I vaguely recognised from books.  I figured if I got too lost, I'd just jump in a taxi, but I found my way back to the train station with no problems at all.  Siena is gorgeous!

This is where I had lunch.  It was in a 400 year old archway leading to the Campo, with a small restaurant and some tables staggered up the steps.  A gorgeous breeze was blowing through which helped keep me a bit cooler than the people sitting in the Campo.  Fettucine with shaved truffles and a glass of chilled white wine - bliss!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Castellare di Tonda : Food

I was on a half board holiday package, so that includes accommodation, breakfast and dinner with wine - along with the riding.  Picnics were provided on full day horse rides, so I only had to pay for a few lunches out of my own pocket for the whole week.  The restaurant isn’t open during the days, but there is a little store next to the bar which sells basic groceries and the bar caters for lunches if you wish.  I had a lovely meat platter one day, and Lucia made me salad for two days.  A fairly large tasty salad, bag of fresh bread and a very generous glass of wine cost around €12, and there is WiFi in the bar.

The breakfasts were served upstairs in the restaurant and were European in style, which means buffet choice.  There was only one hot dish, a bain marie with scrambled eggs.  There were a few cereal choices, some cold meat, cheese and bread rolls, yoghurt, some pastries and cakes, and a toaster with bread which only warmed the bread no matter how high you turned it up.  Tea and coffee were in hot pots and you could also order good cappuccino from the staff (do this, the hot pot coffee was pretty ordinary).  Honestly, the breakfast was okay, but not anything above average.  It would benefit vastly from some fresh fruit, and maybe making the scrambled eggs when they’re needed as opposed to leaving them congealing in the warmer for the length of the breakfast service.

Dinners were served in the restaurant or in the lovely annexe attached (for the buffet dinners, of which there were two in the week I was there).  As I was on a half board deal, I could choose from a set menu, though there was a normal menu for people not on a deal plan.  Again, the food was okay, but not amazing, and I did expect better Italian food from Castellare – they’re in the middle of Tuscany, there’s not really any excuse for “ordinary”.  I did speak with people who were not on the meal plan and they said that their food (ordered from a different menu) was absolutely lovely, so they may well be catering to a price for the half board guests. All of the staff were unfailingly lovely throughout the week.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Castellare di Tonda : Horses

I like big butts and I can not lie!  Lovely Banderas the Criollo - my first horse.

Castellare is a western riding ranch, the main focus is breeding and training Quarterhorses for the sport of reining – and Castellare excels at this!  Their horses are all top quality, well trained and healthy.  They also have horses for every ability, so you can go there to learn to ride, or, if you’re like me, you can go and ride out every day with a guide.

My only real requests regarding the horses were that any horse I was given had to be between 14-15hh and have good brakes - a bonus was if they had a big butt!  I know, “big butt” is an odd request, but I like solid horses rather than finer boned ones.  Castellare didn’t disappoint.  My first horse was Banderas, a gorgeous imported Argentinian Criollo with great brakes and a significantly large butt – yippee!

As I’m used to riding English style, it took a few rounds of the arena and then a few hours on the trail with Banderas, to get used to the big comfy Western saddles, and that you don’t keep a contact on your horses mouth.

The Castellare horses are all trained to neck rein, and they do it well.  It was also my first time riding with a shanked Western bit, and I was anxious that I wasn’t putting too much pressure on the horses mouths – it took me a little while to get used to.

The lovely Jess & Mario (and their dogs, Jack & Arn) were our guides for the week and they really looked after us - you couldn't ask for better.

Out on Banderas in the gorgeous countryside.  He took good care of me.
That's Diego standing behind us, his head obviously dropped off for this photo - giggle.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Castellare di Tonda : Horse Riding Holiday

I'm recently back from a fantastic horse riding holiday that I booked with In The Saddle to Castellare de Tonda in Tuscany, Italy.  In The Saddle are the fab people that sent me riding in Macatoo in Botswana last year, and that holiday was so amazing, that I thought I'd try them again for Tuscany - I wasn't disappointed.

The next few blog posts are going to be about my Castellare di Tonda riding holiday - just warning those non-horse people!  That said, Castellare di Tonda has many other facets to it, horse riding holidays are just one part.  You can do a wellness holiday, take a photography course, drink their wine etc., click HERE for a full list.  I had a ball.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Review : Royal Oak Nails, Royal Oak, MI, USA

You might have guessed that these aren't my actual nails ...

This post is probably only of interest to us girls - sorry, boys!

When we'd just moved to Michigan about 7 years ago, I asked around as to where I could get a good pedicure and a bunch of folks said to head to Royal Oak Nails in Royal Oak.  I went there for the whole time we were living in Michigan and they did great work.  It was a small salon, always busy, and the prices were good.

When we were last in Michigan, we were staying out at Novi, so it was a fair drive (about 45 minutes) into get my pedicure, but I decided it was worth it because they'd always done such a good job.  You don't need to make an appointment, so I lobbed in to find that they'd expanded, taking over the store next door and doubling the space available.

They could fit me in immediately, strangely there weren't a lot of other customers around, though I could see that the manager (owner?) was the same guy who'd always been there.  I asked if I could get a leg wax first because I remember them doing waxing (though I'd never had it done there).  They said that it was no problem and escorted me to a treatment room out the back.  The treatment room was actually a storage room with a broken treatment bed and the remnants of someone's lunch resting on the basin.

I precariously balanced myself on the broken bed and my waxer set about my legs.  Now, I'm not sure if she'd ever waxed before, but her long hair wasn't pulled back and was always in the way, and each rip of the wax hardly got any hair out.  I could see vast patches of untouched hair and I kept telling her to have another try.  Eventually she got most of it and I was worried that the bed was going to collapse by the time she said she was finished.

There was still quite a lot of hair left on my legs, but I could see that she didn't have much of a clue about how to do it.  It was a bit of an accident on my part, but I've had my legs waxed by six off duty Thai hookers in a Bangkok brothel and they did a better job of it than this girl - and that's saying something.  Another story for another day?

Then we moved onto the shellac pedicure.  She did the normal stuff in the usual big massage chair with the integral basin, but then moved to the front of the salon, to the manicure tables, to apply the shellac.  And to do this, she sat on the floor.  Yes, on the floor of the salon.  Not on a stool or anything.  Very weird indeed.  It took a while, and she didn't speak to me, just tapping my feet and pointing when they had to come in and out of the machine (I felt a bit like a horse being asked to pick up its feet!).

The shellac pedicure is fine.  I'm typing this nearly eight weeks after I had it done and everything still looks brand new.  I asked her to take the nails right back, which she did, but the whole experience just felt wrong.  The broken waxing bed in the grotty storage room, the sitting on the floor, the whole feel of the place has changed and it was very odd to see it with so few customers.

The half leg wax and the shellac pedicure came to $75 plus tip (20% is usual, I didn't do that).

Michigan is full of nail salons and I definitely won't be making the long drive back there next time.

Royal Oak Nails
106 E 5th Street
Royal Oak  MI  48067
Phone:- 248 542 1209