RECIPE: Broccoli & Sweet Potato Soup

Oh January, all the dampness of December, without the glitter of Christmas lights, to make it bearable.  Having battled the rain for the millionth time today, I can truly say, hand on heart, I cannot wait for spring!

This blasted weather makes me want to sleep in in the mornings, live in my pyjamas & spend my days wrapped up in blankets, watching classics, like Casablanca, with Mr Pig asleep beside me.  

At times like these, we all need comforting food & what better, than a hearty & simple soup, like this one:

Broccoli & Sweet Potato Soup

This delicious & simple to make soup, from the never homemaker blog, is just perfect for wet windy days.  It requires very little effort, but is tasty, healthy & warming.  The great thing is, it's easily adaptable, if you fancy changing things up & trying out your own combinations of winter vege, like using butternut squash instead of sweet potato, or peas instead of broccoli.  The combinations are endless.

What's your favourite soup?


The crumbs that surround me.

I swear there is something about The Oaks, it's like an inspiration vortex.  One month away in Reading, going on daily brisk walks through muddy fields & dense forests, salads & fruit on high consumption, the odd yoga & meditation session & an abundance of inspiration.  Now back, I can barely be inclined to arise in the morning, let alone get dressed & into a downward dog.  Nope, it's no good, my time here is very clearly done.

Flight booked, I have one week to prepare myself before returning to Italy.  First things first, making time for friends.  I've already previously discussed the importance of solid friendships.  It is always important to make time for those you love.  Not to be morbid but, none of us know how long we have & the worst thing you can do, is take each other for granted.  Regardless of anything, with my entire life surrounded around travel, I honestly don't know when I will see some of my friends again!  Better to make the most, whilst I have the opportunity.

Tomorrow I shall be heading into town to stock up on essentials; Green & Black's 70% dark chocolate, chia seeds & organic soap.  Fruit, nuts, vegetables & salad may be in abundance in Italy, but good quality, vegan friendly, affordable chocolate is surprisingly hard to find.  Don't even get me started on natural organic skincare & superfoods.  I don't even think the majority of Italians even know what a vegan is!

Of course, all this packing & itinerary planning, is taking its toll on my stress levels.  My once determined, healthy eating mind, is starting to wane & my biscuit cravings are currently at a high.  How much weight can I possibly gain in a week?!  [nibbles on another bourbon]  Get me to Italy!!!


REVIEW: Booja Booja Hunky Punky Chocolate 'ice cream'

Hallelujah!  At long last, a dairy free ice cream has come along, that is so good, so delicious & so surprisingly guilt free, that I could happily eat the entire tub, in one sitting & not feel in the slightest bit naughty.

Booja Booja's Hunky Punky Chocolate dairy free alternative to ice cream, has only four, yes FOUR, ingredients.  Water, agave syrup, cashew nuts & cocoa powder.  That's it.  All natural, all organic & completely soy & gluten free!

Having always loved their truffle range, which by the by, are melt-in-the-mouth delicious, I was overwhelmed with excitement when I discovered they had produced a range of ice cream!

There are currently five flavours to choose from; Keep Smiling Vanilla M'Gorilla, Feisty Rollercoastery Ginger, Coconut Hullabaloo, Pompompous Maple Pecan & Hunky Punky Chocolate, which is my first to devour.

After letting the tub sit for a few minutes, so as to let the ice cream gently soften, I grazed the edge of the tub with a spoon & took a mouthful.  Having never been a big fan of chocolate ice cream, I can now say I am fully converted.  A taste of almost mousse like consistently when fully softened, with a pure chocolate flavour.  Booja Booja have ticked all the right boxes when delivering this culinary masterpiece & with only four natural, organic ingredients, this sweet treat is one that comes entirely guilt free.

This pot didn't last two days in my greedy paws & now I am eager to try all of the other flavours on offer!


RECIPE: Cacao Boosted Raw Chili

I have to say, looking back through my photos from my summer abroad, I really am longing for the warmth of the sun beaming down on my bare skin, sand beneath my toes & the sound of waves gently crashing into the shore.

Looking out into the bleary English sky, at it's grey clouds, rain trickling down the window panes, whilst I cling to the radiators, on at full blast, I inwardly weep.  To keep me going through these dreary winter months, I have been taking comfort in food & am thankful that, there are some delicious, healthy options available, such as this:

Cacao Boosted Raw Chili


This wonderful recipe is provided by Elenore, over at Earthsprout.  Full of chili peppers to kick start your circulation (helpful in keeping you warm!), aid your digestion & boost your immune system (especially useful during flu season).  Along with a little hint of cacao, just to add an additional health boost, as well as an unusual, but delicious taste combination.  C'est magnifique!

What are your favourite warming recipes for winter?


This heart of mine, was made to travel this world.

Although in some ways, coming back to England for Christmas & breaking up my traveling, was a required break, in other ways, it has made me feel unsettled.  Now when I think of returning to Italy, I get the same nervous feeling in my stomach, that I had before I left England, last July.  To some extent, it's like taking the plunge all over again.

In order to pull myself out of any self-doubt & encourage myself on, I decided to take a look back on my travels thus far, through the medium of photography.






















Oh, it was a wonderful six months.
Y'know what, I think I am ready after all.



My time in England is, slowly but surely, drawing to an end & soon, I shall be flying back out to Italy, to continue my travels.

Life for me, at this moment in time, is quite simply, just flowing down a river & seeing where the current takes me.  To some, this may sound dreamy, to me, it is a mix of emotions, both good & bad.

Following your dreams & your passions, is always a good idea & should always be encouraged.  But be warned dear dreamer, achieving the end goal comes at a price & the road is bumpy.

I am thankful that I have a loving & supporting group of people around me, who prop me up when I start to feel weak & contemplate giving up.  I honestly don't think I could do this on my own.

I am at least encouraged that, despite having no income, no home & a few boxes of possessions to my name, I have felt happier & more at peace than I possibly ever have.  Which, in essence, I think really goes to show, that I am doing the right thing, even if at times I have a wobble & begin to question it all.  Usually ending in a heap of tears somewhere.

The day that all the pieces come together, that I am sat, meditating, on the floor of my own home, will be the most precious day & I shall truly appreciate it.  To look back on all the hardship of the past year or two & see that it was all worth it.  I live entirely for that day.


RECIPE: Raw fig, cherry, lavender & honey cake

Upon my return to England & veganism, I wanted to really start looking after myself & think more consciously about what I was putting into my body.  (Four months of gelato, pasta & vino everyday, certainly takes its toll on the ol' bikini body.)  I chose to cut out all processed food & really cut down on my sugar intake.  You'd be surprised how many things have sugar in them these days.  You think you're being good not eating that bar of chocolate today?  Well, did you see that there was sugar in the bread you made toast with this afternoon?  Or in the baked beans you lavished on top?  See how easy it is to eat unhealthily without even realising it!

Well, cutting out processed foods & eating healthily sounds like hard work & what about if you're like me & your life is somewhat ruled by a sweet tooth?  Well, that's where research comes in & ta-dah!  You find yourself looking at things like this beautiful, all natural, raw cake.

Raw fig, cherry, lavender & honey cake


Made by the talented guys at Ascension Kitchen, a great spot for yummy but healthy food ideas, you can find the simple recipe for this glorious delight here.

Proof that eating healthily doesn't have to be boring, or hard work.

*Whilst this cake does have honey in it & having been a strict vegan in the past, I know that the majority of vegans choose not to eat it.  However, I personally have come back to veganism on the more relaxed front & I've decided to keep it in my diet.  In case you were wondering.


The good life.

When I was fourteen, the organic era was in full swing & mère wasn't letting anything else into the house.  I made the executive decision, that I too was going to go 100% organic.  So, I swapped my Walkers crisps for Kettle Chips & my Dairy Milk for Green & Black's.

A year later, just before my fifteenth birthday, I decided to go vegan.  Veganism wasn't really a big thing in those days & so, on my birthday, reluctant to forgo my annual double chocolate fudge cake, that mère made, I quit being a vegan for the day.  Of course at the time, I had no idea you could make such things without eggs & dairy.

As the years went on, more & more stores began to fill with vegan friendly products.  Soy milk, vege sausages, dairy-free ice-cream, even dairy-free white chocolate!  As is usual with my, seemingly uncontrollable, glutinous desire to try everything, I went a little crazy for a while.  The rule of organic went straight out of the window & everything processed & packed full of E numbers, colours, preservatives & flavourings came in!

It's odd to think how, when I was simply a carnivore, or a vegetarian, I would eat healthily without even thinking about it, yet when I became a vegan, it was as though everything suddenly became a treat!  Like, 'oh they've got vegan fudge!  I must have some…(everyday!)."  Soon I became over-weight, intolerant to soy & my body clearly hated me!

Then, becoming too obsessed with losing weight, I went all the other way & ended up with an eating disorder, living off a bar of chocolate & a salad everyday & excessively exercising.  It was about that time, I met The Ex & soon went back to eating meat again & regained my lost weight.

Now, five or so years later, I've come full circle again & am back to being a vegan, except this time, I have a much clearer idea of healthy eating & thankfully, a lot more resources at my fingertips.  In fact, a recent trip to Waitrose caught me by surprise when, strolling along the milk isle, I see not only soy milk on offer, but rice, coconut, almond, oat & even hemp!  Like it was normal!  Which, I guess, now it is.

In fact, being a vegan in 2014, seems so much more mainstream than it was, back in the day & far less hard work!  Especially healthy options, which is great for me, as I really want to cut out processed food & really start eating well.  Both for my health & also to shift some of this damn pasta weight!

As well as exploring all the new foods available, I'm also looking into the new wave of organic cosmetics available on the market.  Whilst traveling, it was quite hard to find anything decent at times & to be honest, I started buying whatever was the cheapest I could find.  But, it seems ridiculous to spend so much time & effort refining what I put into my body, if I don't give a damn what I'm putting on it!

I like to think of it as a two pronged attack.  Firstly I'm a vegan because I prefer to live a cruelty-free life & help the environment in the process.  Secondly, I'm a vegan because I want to treat my body better, both inside & out.  You'd be surprised how much better you feel after a week without those daily chocolate bars/handful of biccies/can of Coke.  Yes, I'm sure the thought of a salad, versus an iced bun, isn't very alluring, but you can take my word for it, when you're getting all the nutrients your body needs, you stop craving these things, almost altogether.

If you're still doubting me, I shall attempt to convince you of the good life further, by posting regular recipes & product reviews.  I swear there won't be a Birkenstock or hemp jumper in sight!


Sometimes, love really is all you need.

Leaving Italy was filled with such sweet sorrow.  Gazing out of the window on the plane ride back to England, tears had formed & hovered at the roots of my lashes, not quite committing to the fall.  As much as I was excited to be heading home for Christmas, I knew I would miss Italy & a part of me worried that I'd made the wrong decision.  Had I been too hasty & not thought through the consequences of my return.  Especially as finally, after four months of traveling, had started to feel settled in my new environment.

My first morning back in England had felt surreal, as though my time away had been all but a dream.  Had I not been in Rome just a few hours ago?  It all seemed so close & yet so far away.  Of course it was comforting to see Mère & to be back with Mr Pig, but I couldn't help feeling solum & regretful of my return.  In some ways, I felt like a failure.  I'd only been gone for four months & there I was, back again.  I wouldn't let this be the end.  Christmas, I thought.  I'm only here for Christmas.

A few days in & cracks, in my new found inner peace, really started to show.  Although I was back in England, I wasn't in my own home.  That was gone & all that had filled it had gone with it too.  Staying with Mère & her new partner, I was having to adjust to a whole new setup.  I had taken a break from traveling, only to realise, that without roots anywhere, I was merely a guest & in essence still on my travels.  The sudden realisation that I was truly homeless, made me crumble into a sobbing mess.  Was I always going to feel like this?  Awash with the tide.

In a bid to stop myself from drowning in my own self-pity, I decided to make the most of my time in England & reconnect with my friends.  At the beginning of my travels, I had made a point of sending my closest friends postcards.  One from every place I traveled to.  Which, by the way, is far harder & more costly that you'd think.  Then once a month, when I'd start to feel a little down & homesick, I would Skype mere & Charlotte & it would really lift my spirits.  It's surprising how, just seeing a friendly face, or hearing a familiar voice, can really comfort you & stop you from feeling alone, when you're far away in an unfamiliar environment.

As the months had rolled on & I started to stay in places for longer periods of time, my postcard deliveries slowly dwindled to nothing & in turn, the Skype sessions ceased, despite my requests & I started to hear less & less from my friends.  At first I wasn't too concerned, because, by this point, I had settled in Italy & had a nice group of friends around me, however, after a while I started to feel like I'd been forgotten.  Was it a case of out of sight, out of mind?

Once back in England, although I made no big announcement of my return, I was disappointed at first, when my friends didn't fall over themselves in a bid to see me & instead, seemed to be perpetually busy.  I started to doubt some of my friendships & this, combined with my already glum disposition, really started to affect me & bring me further down.

Then, just as I was about to melt into a pool of my own tears, my friend Ben came over to see me.  We went out to my local village pub, The Black Horse, & caught up over a drink.  We hadn't seen each other for an entire year & yet, it was as though I had only seen him the day before.  He filled me in on his job & his girlfriend & I told him about my return to veganism & all the big ideas I'd thought up, inspired by my travels.  Waiting for his eyes to roll, I was surprised at how encouraging & supportive he was.  But wait, wasn't that what friends were supposed to be, why was I so surprised.

Soon after, in typical fashion, friend after friend, contacted me, wanting to meet.  I spent a lot of my time over Christmas, popping over to friend's houses & going out for lunch.  I almost didn't realise how much I'd missed them until we were back in each other's company.  Each friend was so keen to hear of my travels & so excited about my future plans.  It really touched me, especially at a time, when honestly, I was starting to feel lost, despite all that I'd experienced away.

My time away traveling & my brief time back in England, has really made me see the true meaning of friendship.  It's the people that make time for you, the ones that are always encouraging & supporting you, making you feel heard, making you feel loved, regardless of how much you see or speak to each other.  Those are real friends & ultimately, whatever else falls away, no matter how little you seem to have, if you have just one friend that truly cares, you have everything you need.


The nail in my dairy coffin.

Back in Sicily, when I was staying at a carob farm down in the south, they used to always have on offer, fresh ricotta & a ball of provola.  I've never been a big fan of ricotta, but the provola was delicious.  It came in a large pear shape, tied with string at the neck & would be hung up in the kitchen.  I used to sneak in & cut slices off it, to nibble away at greedily, when I thought no one was watching.  It's a kind of rubbery cheese, quite salty, but honestly, so delicious, especially when melted over aubergine in a Melanzane Parmigiana.  Yum!

Both cheeses were handmade, by a small dairy farm round the corner & one morning, my host arranged for us all to go to the farm to watch them make the cheese.  I was so excited, 'cause I love that kind of thing, seeing things first-hand.  We had to be there at 7am, which was a bit of a drag & along with my tired eyes, my stomach was pretty grumbly by the time we got there.

I watched as this old married couple stirred the milk in this huge bucket on the floor (which didn't seem too hygienic) & sieved out the forming ricotta.  Then, whilst waiting for that to drain over another bucket, they began to form the balls of provola, out of the more solidified curd, they had in boiling water.  It was quite something to see.  Secretly, I would have liked to have got my hands dirty & given it a try.  However, at this point in my travels, I could barely do more than order food in Italian & these dairy farmers were Sicilian.  They spoke in the local dialect & even some of the Italian speakers I was with, struggled to understand them.  So unfortunately, I didn't learn much in the way of cheese making technicalities.

Whilst they continued molding the cheese, the rest of us headed for a look around the farm.  The first thing I saw through the gates was an emaciated guard dog, who was keeping watch of eight crates, stacked in two rows & stuffed with live rabbits.  My gut churned at the sight.  Entering into the cow shed, I came across one pen filled with calves, all stumbling over to see me & lick my hand.  I wanted to steal them & take them back with me, they were such darlings.

Finally, I ended up in the milking room.  In my naive, young mind, I had always envisioned Italian dairy farms to be small & tucked away in the countryside.  Cows out in the field, chomping away on blades of bright green grass, strolling in to be milked by hand by some old Italian man, sat on a wooden stool, squirting milk into a tin bucket.  He'd have probably given them all names, like Margherita.

Well, in reality, things were far different & I was not just disappointed, but really quite saddened.  Six cows, three on each side of the room, concrete walls & floors, all hooked up to machines.  One cow, to my right, her leg restrained by string, kept pulling at her ties, showing her discomfort.  She looked at me, right in the eye & I had to stop myself from bursting into tears.  One of the workers was standing nearby, filling needles with unknown substances.  I had to get out. 

Heading back up to where they had now set up a table & chairs for us, I sat feeling sick.  The farm workers brought out fresh warm ricotta, homemade bread & of course, the Italian staple, red wine.  Who wouldn't have wine at breakfast!  I ate some bread but declined the cheese & tried to ignore everyone's glares.  How rude of me to come here & not eat the cheese!  But honestly, I couldn't bring myself to have one bite.

Leaving the farm, the final nail in my cheese coffin, came in the way of one of the farmers.  Expecting a visit from an inspector, he was attempting to get the cows from outside into one of the sheds.  Slowly but surely they trotted along, but he kept shouting at them & would hit them on their hinds with a spiked stick.  The last cow in was this poor creature with a limp.  Hobbling along, this guy wouldn't stop shouting at her & started hitting her.  That was it I thought, however delicious, I'm never eating this cheese again.

I never did eat anything from that farm again, but the entire incident had rattled me & reminded me of why I had originally chosen to be vegan, all those many, many years ago.  Whilst I had returned to being carnivorous some time ago, I could feel myself longing to return back to a cruelty free diet.  At this time though, I wasn't quite ready to commit.

However, during my time in the monastery, many months later, a part of my meditation's focus, was directed at my diet, for which, at this point, was nothing but gluttonous.  I tried to envisage myself as a vegan again.  No more gelato at my local bar.  No more giant bars of Swiss milk chocolate.  No more fresh mackerel from the harbour.  Could I really live without all of these delights?

Persevering past  my greed, I eventually saw a slimmer, happier, healthier me.  Eating fresh fruit from the market.  Mixing delicious avocado rich salads.  Making almond milk salted caramel ice cream.  Nibbling on chunks of rich dark chocolate.  I realised, I wouldn't really be giving anything up, so much as gaining a broader, more diverse diet & feeling & looking better in the process!

And so, since the day I landed on British soil, I have not so much as glanced at a piece of meat, taken a sniff at a bar of milk chocolate & successfully turned my nose up at buttercrust mince pies, over the holidays & I can honestly say, I haven't missed a thing.


I feel lightened, but not quite enlightened.

After two weeks of boredom, lounging around, watching TV & doing yoga, I was chomping at the bit to get to my next stop, Santacittarama, a Buddhist monastery thirty minutes away.

A couple of years ago, my manager of the time, had given me the book Holy Cow to read (do read it if you have the time).  It is the true story of an Australian woman, whose journalist boyfriend, had been sent to work in India for a year.  Accompanying him for the duration, the book chronicles her time there, adapting to her new environment & her exploration of the different religions throughout the country.

I was so hooked on the book, that the minute I read the last page, I immediately found myself googling ashrams.  I felt rather disillusioned by the ones I was finding.  All seemed to be aimed at tourists & demanding fees.  This wasn't quite what I had in mind.  Then, finally, I found Santacittarama.  A beautiful small Buddhist commune in Italy, just outside of Rome.  I was so enamoured by it, I swore to myself I would go visit one day.

It had now taken me nearly two years, but finally I had made it to the monastery.  Hidden a twenty minute walk down a bumpy road, away from the main street, Santacittarama sits surrounded by a forrest.  Everything about it, from the main building, to the ten foot statue of Buddha in front of it, all blends perfectly into the nature surrounding it.  As if there was no doubt that it should be there.

Upon arriving, I met a novice monk, Vidu, a Sri Lankan, who seemed to take me under his wing, throughout the entire experience.  This was his third attempt at becoming a monk.  Novice monks must practice the monastic life for two years, before they can officially become a monk. Whilst the elder monks dress in terracotta robes, the novices wear only white.  Some, like Vidu, stay for a few months & then find they wish to return to lay life, only to return some time later, in order to try again.

Another novice attempting to make the grade was Giuseppe, a twenty three year old Italian guy, who'd just returned from a week's visit to his family.  Unfortunately, this break from monastic life had brought on the realisation that perhaps, he wasn't quite ready to renounce the modern world quite yet.  He soon became my favourite.

I thought I would really struggle following the monk's routine, but after a few days, it all just started to seem quite natural.  Although, I will admit, waking before five in the morning, was not any easier on the last day, as it was on the first.

The day generally flowed as follows:
    •    5am - Morning chanting for twenty minutes, followed by one hour of meditation.
    •    6:20am - Return to the woman's house to clean.  Admittedly, this was where I crept back into bed for a nap.
    •    7:15am - Breakfast.  A buffet affair, usually consisting of biscuits (the quintessential Italian breakfast), fruit, mixed cereal, warm milk & quite often, a Thai rice soup, which I chose when on offer, in an attempt to be considered healthy.
    •    8:15am - Work meeting.  This was where we discussed, with one of the head monks, who was to do what for the day.  Anything from picking fruit, to cutting iron (yes iron).
    •    8:30am - Work Time.  The best jobs were the fruit picking or any work in the kitchen.  Basically, anything that involved access to food.
    •    11am - Lunch time.  This is the one & only main meal for the day.  After midday there was no food to be consumed.  As this is once again a buffet affair, it was customary to pile one's plate high & then go in for seconds.
    •    Noon - Free time.  You can leave the monastery.  Hang around to meditate, read, study.  Do as you please.  In my case, it was walking up the road, in the rain, finding a tree to sit under & attempting to get some internet on my phone.
    •    5pm - Tea time.  This is where all the guests gather in the kitchen, to sit & drink cups of tea, with a head monk present, so we could abuse him with questions.  There is also dark chocolate on offer.  On one of my first days there, I was chastised for eating a banana at tea time.  Fruit is a no go, but hey, chocolate is fine.
    •    7:30pm - Evening chanting for twenty minutes, followed by one hour of meditation.

Getting used to not eating after midday was surprisingly easier than I had previously envisioned.  Before going to the monastery, I was planning on stocking up on secret supplies of chocolate & biscuits, to hide in my bag & snack on when no one was around.  But once there, it was surprising how full & content I found myself.  Although, the few squares of dark chocolate at tea time did help.

The other surprising thing I found, was how funny the monks were.  A mix of Thai, Sri Lankan, English, Czech & Italian, I was expecting it all to be so silent & serious, but it wasn't at all.  Yes, there were times of great silence, but the majority of the time, everyone was smiling & laughing & they really knew how to crack a joke.  It made the whole environment seem so light & welcoming.  I really felt at peace there.

After years of infrequent yoga sessions, I was ready equipped to handle sitting straight backed & cross legged for a duration of time, so when it came to the twice daily meditations, I found myself quite at peace.  However, although I had mastered the pose, my mind on the other hand, was quite a different story.

The majority of my life has been consumed by over thinking.  To the point I would become lost, in a dark hole of my own self doubt & worry.  One thought leading to another & another, until the subject matter had changed beyond all recognition.  Here I was, at the fountain of enlightenment, attempting to learn how to still the mind.  In essence, it was everything I'd ever longed for.  In practice, it was seemingly impossible.

My first two attempts literally brought me to tears.  Thankfully, with everyone else around me still with their eyes closed, deep in concentration, I was able to wipe them away, before anyone could see.  It was surprising how strong a reaction it had evoked.  Equally so, the monk's daily blessing at lunchtime, thanking all the people that had helped provide them with food, from the people who'd cooked it, to the people who'd donated it, all the way back to the people who'd grown & produced it.  The strong harmonic murmur of nine monks, chanting in Pali, reverberates through you like nothing else.  My eyes welled up, quite embarrassingly, a fair few times in the beginning.

Although I never found the ultimate end to suffering, I did find some form of enlightenment.  A small, but profound clearing in my mind.  I gradually found some acceptance of my situation & some faith that all would be good again, given time.  I looked into myself & saw all that I truly wanted, was to some extent, all that I had given up.  A home.  But, now, it was time to find that sanctuary within myself.  This, as you can imagine, is far harder than it seems.

I saw that I'd lost my faith & my passion in the past few years.  Trying to find my happiness in material possessions & constantly wondering why, when surrounded by such things, I wasn't happy.  I realised now, that happiness can't be outsourced.  It doesn't come from expensive cars, big houses & a stocked wardrobe.  That whilst life can seem so full on paper, it's often marred by emptiness within ourselves.  I didn't want to lead a life that looked great on the outside anymore.  I wanted to find true contentment & real happiness.

There were people I wanted to help & support.  Places I wanted to go.  A body I needed to start treating better.  I sat in meditation, legs crossed, palms of my hands resting in my lap, back straight, eyes shut & I saw myself, happy & content.

Feeling as though I'd finally seen the whole picture, I left Santacittarama & all the monks I'd grown to love, with a feeling of excitement.  I knew what changes I wanted to make & I felt ready to implement them.  Booking a flight home to England, I looked forward to starting a new chapter of my life.


Welcome to the rain season.

After a fifteen hour bus journey, comprising of overpriced arancini, substandard pizza, nearly getting stranded dock side, after spending too long exploring  the boat & not staying on the bus & very little sleep, we finally arrived in a very glum, cold, rainy Rome.  Having made the unfortunate decision to remain in my sandals, upon leaving a warm Sicily, my feet were not appreciating the damp conditions.

Moody, tired, hungry & damp, Kate & I got the metro into town to go & meet Mara.  Running late, due to many unfortunate factors & still with my damn bag, which I was quite ready to throw down a flight of stairs & burn, we met up with Mara & her friend & took a stroll to the Trevi Fountain.  No matter how many times I have been to Rome & no matter how long it has been between visits, I still stand in awe of this aquatic masterpiece.

Stopping for some much needed gelato, the four of us pulled up a chair & made conversation with the locals for a while.  After which, we continued on to the Spanish Steps, for a spot of people watching.  I love watching the guys trying to sell cheap toys & roses to unsuspecting tourists.  Handing small children rubber blobs to play with, forcing parents to cough up the cash, once they find themselves unable to get the damn things back off the now crying infant.  Smart marketing.  Then there are the roses.  Handing them out to every girl that passes, like they're a free gift & then chasing after them, demanding money, much to the tourist's great confusion.  When the girls won't pay & try to return the stems, the scrupulous sellers refuse to accept them back, forcing the tourist to either pay or throw them on the floor & walk away, quickly.  You can't deny they've thought through their strategy & in most cases the seller walks away the victor, after pocketing their cash. 

Leaving my friends & the hustle of Rome's city centre, I caught the train alone, out to the suburbs, to a town called Monterotondo.  Situated ten minutes from the train station, was an agritourism farm, run by a young family of four.  Unfortunately, half of this family was made up of infants, a fact of which I was not aware of when arranging to stay.  I have never hid my dislike of small people & I can't deny the horror I felt upon being made aware of their existence.  Much of my time was spent attempting to avoid them, which was harder than you'd think.  Nothing makes me gag more than a small boy grabbing my sleeve, after his hands have been down his pants.  I will never get over the smell of pee on my jumper.  [shivers]

Another unfortunate aspect to this stop on my trip, was that there was simply not a lot of work for me to do.  In two weeks, I spent two days olive harvesting, two days assisting a fence being built, two days working on a synergistic garden & a few days picking open pomegranates.  Having been given an apartment to live in, with a very quiet Polish guy, who didn't speak any English & my host family, somewhat leaving me to my own devices, this left me with a lot of free time on my hands.  You may be wondering as to what is wrong with this situation, but believe me, time alone is not good for me, not good at all.  Too much thinking time can be dangerous with a mind like mine.

With Rome continuing to suffer from a bout of rain & with the temperature having dropped rather severely for the majority of the time, I couldn't even go out for a walk & so, spent the majority of the time, tucked up in my apartment, abusing the free internet, streaming copious amounts of films & TV shows.  There were times where I motivated myself just enough to do something useful, like study my Italian & I did start to see an improvement. 

Thankfully, one of the few beneficial things on offer, was use of the wellness centre, which included an indoor heated swimming pool, a sauna, a turkish bath & a yoga class twice a week.  I made sure to use all the facilities as much as possible, although, was disappointed when I found out I had to wear a swimming cap in the pool.  What is it with European countries & their love of swimming caps!  Nothing more unflattering than a bit of rubber suctioned onto your head.

On my first visit to the pool, I took my things into the empty changing room, to put my bikini on.  It had been a little while since I'd been half naked in public & looking into the changing room mirror, I felt my bottom lip tremble at the sight of myself.  I hadn't fully seen myself half naked for some time, & had thus avoided seeing the full impact my new Italian diet had had on my once slender frame.

Bulges of fat had appeared in places they never had before.  My once twenty four inch waist was barely visible, having filled out to non-existence.  I wrapped myself in a towel & snuck into the, thankfully, empty sauna.  Feeling completely sorry for myself, I sat & sobbed & wondered where it had all gone wrong.  It's such a pain to be traveling & want to fully experience everything, only to be quashed by feelings of guilt.

A few sessions of yoga, the banishment of bread & the reduction of pasta, soon started to ease my sorrow & self-loathing.  Although, I did take to comforting myself with a slice of chocolato fondente every evening…Freshly made & still warm from the restaurant on site, it was hard to ignore the call of delicious sweetness, especially when I was so far away from a supermarket.  In fact, all my meals came from the restaurant's kitchen, which, was really quite a treat, although it did make it harder for me to cut down my consumption, when so much good food was on offer to tempt me.

When the end of my time at Monterotondo came, a part of me was sad to say goodbye, but equally, I was looking forward to my next stop; a buddhist monastery, thirty minutes away.  I was about to enter into a monastic life, that did not come with the luxury of WIFI or meals after midday.  Perhaps two weeks break was needed after all.