Welcome toCasa dei Viaggiatori- the House of Travellers
Our new home in Italy
Getting the deal done... After nearly six months of negotiations and seemingly endless red-tape, we finally took ownership in September of our new holiday home in Italy; we have affectionately called itCasa dei Viaggiatori, The House of Travellers (although I also like to think of it as Casa di Francesca, The House of Frances).
On the road again... Speaking of Frances, the intrepid traveller that she is, flew off to Italy on her own in early September to make our Italian dream into a reality.
It's never easy... Before leaving Sydney Frances spent countless hours making the necessary arrangements for life to carry on smoothly at 4 Angourie Court Dural for the five weeks she was to be away. This included Emma's care and the logistics for her various activities; making sure the dog would be fed, watered and walked (a tougher task than making arrangements for Emma); and ensuring her pot plants, garden and lawns wouldn't perish from neglect.
Thank goodness for family and friends... So with lots of help from Rhiannon (and her brand new Nissan Micra to get around in), and our good friends the Norrish family and the Penny family (who both had Emma to stay with them), Frances was able to take off on her journey knowing everything was in order.
Venetian Blonde... Frances began her Italian adventure in Venice where she met our friends from Dural, Catherine and Paul Wilson, for a couple of days of site-seeing and soaking up the culture and history of that beautiful city. After the Wilsons departed on a cruise ship, Frances spent another two days exploring Venice on her own. Back to Capestrano... From Venice, Frances travelled south by train to Pescara on the Adriatic coast where she collected a rental car for the 45 minute drive up into the mountains to Capestrano. Once again Frances was able to use the home of her brother, James Elston, as a base while she got settled and completed all the administration for the purchase of our house.
Making friends - Italian style... Not surprisingly, Frances quickly made friends with a number of people in the village including several British women who also have homes in Capestrano. With the help of her new friends, and the very nice agents who introduced us to Casa dei Viaggiatori, Frances was able to successfully complete the purchase of the house, do all the necessary administration with the local authorities, and travel far and wide to purchase the various things she needed to get settled in (fridge, TV, appliances, kitchenware, bedding etc). It was a huge achievement, especially given the rudimentary - but improving - level of her Italian language skills.
I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in (think Sgt Pepper's Loney Hearts Club Band and you'll know where I'm coming from)... So with enough things in the house to be comfortable, Frances moved in to Casa dei Viaggiatori looking forward to the wonderful experience (albeit a lonely one) of the first night in our new home. Little did she expect her first night to be accompanied by the worst rain storm in Capestrano in many years. Amazingly she held her nerve as the water came lapping into the house from the flooded pathway outside the front door, and more disturbingly pouring down one of the walls. Fortunately there was no lasting damage to the house and nothing inside got too wet. The silver lining to this particular dark cloud (excuse the pun) was the fact that we became aware that something was seriously wrong with our roof and that it needed urgent repairs; had we not discovered this problem when we did it could have become even worse with all the snow and rain that falls on Capestrano in the winter. We subsequently paid several thousand euros to a local tradesman and the roof has now been fully repaired.
After the storm... Having survived that tempest, Frances spent the next few days assembling bits of furniture and starting to put her personal touch on the house. During this time she was also able to enjoy the company of our nephew, Luke (James Elston's son) and his girlfriend, Dee who were visiting Capestrano for a few days.
A Welsh homecoming... Of course, Frances could not fly all the way to Europe without also visiting her mother in Wales. So a week before Emma and I arrived in Italy, Frances flew to London and drove to Brecon to spend several days with Mamgu. Along the way she was able to see all of her brothers, and had the special experience of meeting for the first time our new niece, Lucy who was recently adopted by Chris and Sarah. Frances was absolutely charmed by Lucy, and was thrilled to see the joy she has brought Chris and Sarah. A very special family moment indeed.
Beautiful Wales... Another highlight for Frances was to climb Pen y Fan, the highest peak in the nearby Brecon Beacons national park. The walk up Pen y Fan is somewhat of a pilgramage for expatriate Breconians like Frances, and it had been a couple of years since she had done so. So it was particularly satisfying for her to stride to the top of Pen y Fan (up the longer more difficult route, she tells me) along with her brother James and his daughter Rebecca.
Mother and son... While in Brecon Frances was finally reunited with her baby boy, Oliver. Having survived an arduous (but enjoyable) summer of working at a leisure park, managed by his Uncle Nick, on the south coast of Wales, Oliver was ready for some pampering from his mother (and some philanthropy from his father). He was also very excited about seeing Emma - they've missed each other very much during the six months Oliver has been away. Frances and Oliver then flew into Rome and spent a night at a hotel near the airport to await our arrival.
Travelling in style... Emma and I flew Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong. Because I fly with Cathay so often I've reached the top tier of their frequent flyer program, and this affords me priority treatment at check-in (including an additional luggage allowance) and access to the Cathay (or partner) first class lounges. Frances took advantage of this fact by having me bring an extra two suitcases full of things for the house . Emma particularly enjoyed the luxury of eating a delightful meal (with all the trappings) in the Qantas first class lounge at Sydney airport. And on the flight she was keen to tell anyone who would listen that it was her birthday in a few days time (8Oct); this proved to be a successful strategy when she was given a box of chocolates and a birthday card signed by all the cabin crew - it made her feel really special (which, of course, she is!).
Reunited at last... After more than 20 hours of flying Emma and I had a wonderful family reunion with Frances and Oliver at Rome Fumincino Airport before we squeezed our vast amount of luggage into the rental car for the three hour drive to Capestrano (as luck would have it we were upgraded by the rental car company and given a larger car than we'd paid for).
Labour of love.... It's hard to explain just how satisfying it is to have a plan come to fruition so quickly (and so affordably!). Although there was much work for the three of us to do (as always, Emma was a sympathetic spectator) it was largely a labour of love and by the time we left nine days later, we were justifiably proud of what we'd achieved. We'd made another visit to Ikea - this time in Ancona, two hours drive north along the Adriatic coast - and bought various bits of furniture and other things to make the place even more comfortable and practical than it already was. And as nice and as comfortable as it is, Casa dei Viaggiatori will remain a "work in progress" for some time to come, especially while we have the two lower levels to develop and make usable/habitable. The most immediate project is to have plumbing, drainage and electricity installed in the cantina (the bottom level) so that we have somewhere to put a washing machine. Eventually we hope to make this level into a kitchen and living area, along with a laundry and bathroom.
Beautiful Italy... Of course our stay in Capestrano was not all work. We continued to explore the surrounding area and visited some more beautiful and interesting places including another trip to Campo Imperatore in the Gran Sasso National Park, and a fascinating village called Castelli, famous for its porcelain factories. We also did some lovely walks in and around Capestrano and as always, indulged our epicurean interests by eating some delicious meals at local restaurants and drinking some of the fine local wines. Our trip to Italy was made complete by getting to spend a lovely evening with James and Debbie Elston who were making a weekend visit to their house in Capestrano.
Heading home, but already thinking of the next visit... We left Capestrano on October 14th and spent a night in Rome before we parted company with Oliver who took the train to Florence to begin a three week trip around Europe with two friends from Australia. Frances, Emma and I flew to Hong Kong and were able to relax in a hotel near HK airport for the day before the girls boarded their overnight flight to Sydney. I flew back to Beijing the following day. My next visit to Capestrano will be during the Chinese New Year break in late January when Oliver and two of his mates will join me for a few days skiing and snowboarding; and Frances is hoping to return to Italy for a month or so from late May (and depending on my work schedule I may be able to join her for two weeks in June).
The Brodie Family 2011 Christmas Message
In a world of constant change, it’s nice to know that some things remain the same. Hopefully while reading our annual Christmas message, you’ll be reminded of the fact that we still think of, and cherish, all our family and friends all over the world.It’s also hoped that you’ll be encouraged by the fact that life has continued to be kind to the Brodie family, even if we did have some sadness during 2011. In particular, we said goodbye to my mother, May, who passed away earlier this year at the grand old age of 96.
For those of you who have followed our adventures, either because of regular contact with us or because you occasionally visit this website, much of what I have to say in this note will not be particularly revealing. But please indulge me, because it’s fun to recount our achievements and experiences.
Despite the sad loss of Granmay, 2011 was another outstanding year for the Brodie family. Maintaining our collective good health and fitness (Emma included!) has been paramount; but it’s hard to go past the acquisition of our holiday house in Italy as being the absolute highlight of the year. If you haven't already done so, you can read all about it and look at the photos at the end of this Christmas note.
James left the Army earlier in the year to begin a new career as a technician working with Motorola. His work responsibilities have him traveling all over Sydney and the surrounding areas maintaining and installing radio networks for a broad range of customers including some government departments. It’s been a radical change from Army life, and although it may not be what he wants to doover the long term, he is gaining valuable experience. He and his girlfriend, Monique, are very happy together and live in a nice apartment not far from the beach in the eastern suburb of Coogee. Their travel highlight for the year was a nine day trip to New York City in September, where they got to attend theMen’s final of the US Open Tennis tournament.
2011 has been a big year for Rhiannon, especially her appointment as the communications officer for the non-government organisation, Family Advocacy located in Epping. The role of Family Advocacy is to provide support and advocacy services for people with physical or intellectual disabilities and their families and carers. Rhiannon has played a key role in promoting major initiatives including those related to the Federal government’s National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the State government’s Person Centered Approach. It’s fair to say Rhiannon has been able to provide valuable insight to her professional role because of her personal experience with Emma. Rhiannon recently moved from living with Frances in Dural to the inner city suburb of Leichardt where she now shares a house with two male housemates. Mr Right has not yet entered Rhiannon’s life, but in the meantime she continues to enjoy a very active social life along with her large circle of friends.
Emma’s work situation contracted this year with the days she works each week cut from three to two, and then to one. She very much enjoys her work as an administrative assistant at Network 21 (a business development company) in Thornleigh, but one day a week is not really sufficient to meet her needs. So the search is on for another job; hopefully something worthwhile will be found early in the New Year. In addition to work, Emma’s week is filled with a day of creativity at Studio Artes in Hornsby, and occasional adventures on outings with Recreational Services (including walking treks, visits to the movies, sight-seeing trips etc). Involvement with the Sydney North West Special Olympics Dance group continues to dominate much of Emma’s spare time, with regular performances and other commitments. And just for good measure, she played netball on Saturday afternoons throughout the winter. Emma continues to be a great source of pride and joy to the whole family.
After traveling to Italy with Frances and I in April, Oliver moved onto the United Kingdom to spend several months working in Wales and enjoying the company of his Elston family relatives. During the UK summer Oliver was able to live and work at a sea-side resort on the South Wales coast near Tenby. The fact that his Uncle Nick is the general manager there didn’t mean Oliver had things easy; but he survived, and actually enjoyed himself. After the summer season, Oliver once again joined Frances, Emma and I in Italy before returning to the UK to spend time with his cousins, mostly in Wales. Shortly after Christmas he is traveling to the USA to spend a week in New York with our dear friends, Randy and Gina Inniss, and then a six day trip to Aspen, Colorado for a snow-boarding holiday with his friends from Cherrybrook,the de Gorter family. The last of his adventures before returning to Sydney in early February, will be to once again travel to Italy in late January with another friend from Sydney where they will join me in Capestrano for five days to explore, and try out, the nearby snowfields. It remains to be seen what the rest of 2012 holds for Oliver, although we are hopeful he’ll settle down and perhaps undertake a TAFE course in the second half of the year.
As always, Frances has lived her life at a pace that defies description. She has continued to manage the household, and take care of all of Emma’s needs, while keeping herself in wonderful shape. Still a regular theatre goer and occasionally a keen kayaker, Frances has now added a passion for things Italian to her inventory of interests. Having become the proud owner of a property in Italy, Frances has risen to the challenge of learning the Italian language – by attending weekly classes at the Italian Consulate in Sydney - so that she can make the most of the increasing amount of time she is likely to spend in Capestrano in the years ahead. In addition to two trips to Italy in 2011, Frances also had trips to Los Angeles, Melbourne, southern Queensland, northern New South Wales, the Hunter Valley and other locations closer to Sydney. She even managed to get home to Wales to see her mother while she was in Italy in September.
I’ve spent 10 of the past 11 years living apart from Frances and the family, and the novelty of that arrangement is starting to wear off. So I thought about making a change from my role as Security Director for the NBA in China, and moving to a city closer to home. But having just missed out on a new job in Hong Kong I decided to stay with the NBA in Beijing for at least another year, especially as we begin to develop our new house in Italy. Professionally, the second half of my year was disrupted by a labour dispute between the NBA players and NBA team owners that resulted in the cancellation of the first six weeks of the 2011/12 NBA season, and placed a cloud of pessimism over the organisation. It also meant that we didn’t have our annual NBA pre-season games in China (where two NBA teams travel to China to play exhibition games) which is usually my major activity of the year. Fortunately sanity has prevailed and the dispute has been settled, allowing for a late start to the season on Christmas Day. Flights and traveling have been a major part of my life for the past decade and 2011 was no different. I made nine trips to Australia as well as traveling to the US, Italy (twice), Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Hong Kong (numerous times). But I cannot complain about any aspect of my life. I have the extreme good fortune of not only being a very fit and healthy bloke, with four delightful children, but most importantly I have the love and support of a wonderful (and equally fit and healthy) wife who continues to inspire and encourage me.
Love and best wishes to you for the 2011 festive season, and may your 2012 be everything you wish it to be.
Neil, Frances and family xxx
I try to update this website regularly throughout the year, or after a significant family event. So please check it out every now and then for our latest family news.
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