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Pictured left to right outside the new store are: Paul Hardwick, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents Director of Retail; Emma Bailey, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents; Tutti Taylor, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents; Councillor Candy Vaughan, Mayor of Eastbourne; Trevor Ridler, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents Business Development Manager; and Shirley Waters, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents..

Crespina Capers With The Cooking Experience

Karen Jones, who works in our head office, has just returned from escorting a culinary tour in Tuscany. Staying just outside of Pisa (Crespina), the group were joined by Anne and Marko from local cookery school 'The Cooking Experience', who were nice enough to send over some memories from what was a fantastic trip.

Oh, what a week!!

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Annie and I have done many exciting events since we started The Cooking Experience. This one tops the lot! It has been a joy and privilege to spend seven days with such an eclectic group. Each and every one of you has shown us who you really are. Your enthusiasm, your passion, your humour, your sense of fun and the ridiculous and, most of all, your unfettered friendship has touched both of us to the core. We shall be remembering all those wonderful moments, some captured by the camera, others just great memories in our minds. As we trundle along writing this, we will flag some of them up.

Annie, Karen and I were somewhat apprehensive as we approached the beginning of this adventure which was dreamed up by Karen, who happened upon one of our courses in Ipswich. She then came to see us in Hadleigh and told us that she was in the process of looking for a suitable location to do a cooking holiday in Tuscany. Were we interested? Of course, we were!

The Cooking Experience

Here are some memories...

Stansted Airport. Like herding cats?! Karen 'holding the baton' gathering us all up at stupid o'clock. Success with check-in and all boarding passes. All smooth and David got his sticks on to the plane, not without a slight hiccup at security! Arriving in Pisa meant more herding in a strange airport where all sorts of things that can go wrong.

Waiting for villa access. Lunch in a weird, but good, restaurant near the villa which had no apparent signage and was the ultimate Italian Tardis! Good lunch, but the Mozzies started their pre-dinner canapés, mainly legs, but rising to other parts of the anatomy for their main course and dessert. We ate well, scratching all the while (anyone got any mozzie spray?). Sarah instigated singing and we had only just begun.

Wine and Cold Meats

Villa La Guardia. Phew! It's ok, all was well with the rooms so we unpack and settle in. We prep for dinner, during which Marko wings it with brilliant help from the group. Simon instigated a round of coffee and remains in post as coffee meister.

A fire in the mountains in the night led to dramatic views from the villa. Then the cooking started in earnest. Bread, pasta and lovely salads for lunch.

Group Tuscany

The daily routine continued with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each cooking session, we changed the small team around to allow all to partake. From Sarah and Simon's risotto to the simple but delicious barbecue, the food produced was a reflection of the simplicity of the region's ingredients and the ingenuity of the group. And what about the fantastic Risotto which will be part of any future Italian cooking experiences both abroad in Italy and at The Taste Academy in Ipswich?

We will never forget Bob's meticulous dissecting of the chicken? Pasta making was hilarious with the makeshift drying arrangement thanks to those who found the laundry airer and the broomsticks!

Pasta Drying

The swimming pool could have been warmer, but Marko remembers leaning over the railings and boring those around with royal gossip! So at least some people used that bit of the villa.

All in all, it was a memorable week for us, we hope it was for you all.

Love from Annie and Marko x

The team at TravelQuest is already planning more of these culinary adventures, so watch this space for the chance to be part of the next one.