Saturday 31 May 2014

...and relax, a little

This morning passed very enjoyably in a blur of laziness: a slow breakfast, good coffee courtesy of our little Nespresso machine, and just mucking around on the internet in an altogether more aimless manner - Helen largely searching for information on the local area and events nearby (with good success: for example, she found out that there is a ham sandwich festival in the next village from us in August - that's going straight into the diary), and I made a start on setting us up a new account on That was until the internet started dropping out intermittently. It did this yesterday, but we'd been told that was because hail had been battering the dishes at the satellite park - so either the same was happening today (which seems a little too much of a coincidence), or something else is amiss.

We were both a touch annoyed and frustrated - having spent a large amount of money on the satellite connection we were expecting a more reliable service! I duly sent an email to Brad (Mr Satellite) during one of the brief periods of uptime to ask what was going on. Anyway, we gave up with the internet in the end and had lunch (on the patio in case you were wondering), and decided to head out shopping to attempt to buy a storage solution for the living room. We'd seen something that looked like it fitted the bill on the Ikea website (when the internet was working) so we headed for Pisa.

We were after something a little like this. (Kind of.)

Ikea was considerably busier today than on our previous visit, and it turns out that Ikea at the weekend is hellish no matter what part of the world you are in. What was odd was the number of times we heard dogs barking in Ikea. Never experienced that before. We lost count of the number of dogs we saw out shopping for furniture - weird.

We managed to wander around browsing at a fairly leisurely pace (for us at least) until about half way round, then just couldn't tolerate the throngs any more - one universal fact of life is that people get in the way!! Having found the cupboards we were after, we headed for the vast self service area. 

After finding that all items were in stock, we grabbed a trolley and loaded it up with the six cupboard carcasses, but we had to leave the cupboard doors for another trip as we couldn't make it all fit in the car. 

We left Pisa and headed eastwards for home but stopped off at Mercatone Uno in Altopascio on the way to see if we could find out when the kitchen (that we ordered two weeks ago) was going to be delivered. It seems that there's a thirty-day window for kitchens, so we can expect delivery some time around the middle of June. It was good to find out that things are in hand and that we hadn't missed a call from them to try and arrange delivery.

Our final stop before home was the supermarket for a bit of grocery shopping - it was busier in Esselunga than we'd ever seen it before (no dogs here though), although perhaps the fact that Monday is a bank holiday over here played a factor in that. 

When we finally got back to the house (some 4 hours after setting out!) we tried to call Richard to find out if this evening's trip to Vellano for dinner was still on. We couldn't get any response from him, so we decided to have a beer on the patio and sit it out until the church clock struck half past eight, at which time we considered it safe to call time on the idea of going out and retire indoors for dinner and a bottle of St Emilion - another import from the UK (thanks Allison & Q!) with a little bit of TV or DVD, depending on whether or not the internet has sorted itself out!

We're looking forward to a lie-in tomorrow, but after that we are torn between doing things that need doing in and around the house/garden, and going out and doing something completely different that will give us some more insight into our local area (there are SO many places we haven't visited yet - we've not even turned right out of our drive yet, only left!). We'll see what the morning brings and what the weather brings.

Teeny tiny olives.

Friday 30 May 2014

A little bit of rain never hurt anyone...

Helen was up bright and early this morning, although not as early as I first thought when her alarm went off - it seems that my radio-controlled alarm clock will insist on being on UK time, and despite me manually changing the time before I went to sleep, it had sneakily reset itself to UK time during the night. So it was half past six, and not half past five, when she left in lycra to try out her new exercise mat and kettlebells. Panic over, I went back to sleep, still tired from yesterday's exertions.

After breakfast, Helen went to boot up the computer and log into her office work, and I decided to head back into the apartment again - it hadn't seen any of my affection since last Friday. Gosh, how I get bored of painting! Today's must have been coat number 3 or 4, and there's still one more required.

My painting was interrupted, pleasantly, by my wife with my walkie-talkie in hand - not only had I forgotten to take it downstairs with me, but we hadn't even tested them yet! She went back upstairs and we tried a quick test - turns out they work perfectly between the house and apartment. A longer range test (end of drive to house) will be conducted in drier weather though - this morning was humid and damp.

In between painting, I had a quick look at the ceiling in the bedroom of the apartment. We knew that it needed some attention - the boards had been un-jointed and moved by the previous owner and not repaired, so with the ladders that had arrived from Abingdon, I was able to get up and have a look at it. When I moved the boards, this is what I found!

Granted, the cobwebs are unattractive, but the beams and tiles make for a far more attractive and traditional ceiling than plasterboard!

Further investigation is needed (by removing some more of the ceiling boards), but we're now considering pulling the ceiling down and exposing the beams and tiles - although it will depend on what we find this false ceiling is hiding (possibly the services running to the bathroom) ... to be continued!

On calling upstairs on the walkie-talkie to find out what time it was, I was told it was lunchtime already! So we lunched - on the patio, of course, as it was still 24 degrees, but don't worry, the smugness ends here as halfway through lunch it rained AND thundered a little. Undeterred, we soldiered on with the use of an umbrella.

We won't be put off by a bit of rain.

Actually, a fairly large amount of rain.

After lunch, and having finished the coat of paint in the apartment, I joined Helen in the office (after having moved mountains of linen and other things to pick my way to my desk), the plan being that I would do some final tweaks to our website and, now that we have an internet connection capable, upload it for the world to see. The small flaw in this plan was that our super-fast, super-reliable, super-speedy, go-faster satellite internet connection kept disconnecting. Regularly. For about two hours.

In between drop-outs, I emailed Brad (a.k.a. Mr Satellite), the installer from Italia-WiFi, who replied to say that the 'satellite park' (I had visions of larger satellites supervising their offspring satellites on swings and roundabouts) was being battered by hail, which was causing a bit of flakiness. Sure enough, a couple of hours later it was restored to its former high-speed glory and I was able to upload our website.

Mid-afternoon, we went for our usual walk to check the post and retrieved some rather soggy mail from the postbox. It seems that the post box hanging on the gate is a little on the small side (we often find larger mail protruding from its mouth if it's anything bigger than a standard letter) and while, this time, the important mail made it safely inside, a new phone directory was left protruding - which had (not so)helpfully collected rain water and funnelled it straight into the post box and onto the letters inside. We were horrified to find letters from our loved ones completely soggy, but we left them outside to dry as the sun was making an appearance again at this point.

We were planning to head out to the supermarket this evening to get a few bits for the weekend, but decided instead to stay in, relax and make do with what we have in the fridge until tomorrow when a trip to Ikea in Pisa beckons (we are hoping to acquire some storage shelves/cupboards/boxes), after which we really need to try and decipher the list of documents we need before we can apply for residency. Oh, and we might be going to a social event in Vellano (the village up the mountain from us) tomorrow evening - the excitement at having something to go out for is almost unbearable. Helen doesn't have a clue what to wear...

Happy weekend all!

Thursday 29 May 2014

It's curtains for the bugs

One of us woke up at 4.30am this morning. Rather surprisingly, it wasn't me for a change. Having woken up and gone to use the bathroom, poor Stuart was then unable to get back to sleep because he started, and couldn't stop, thinking about fly screens and how to make them. Eventually he threw the towel in and got up at around 5.15am to go downstairs and read his book (not about fly screens).

I hauled myself out of bed at around 6.30 to do some running up and down the drive by way of exercise, then it was back to the house for shower, breakfast and booting up the computer. We each spent about an hour working - me doing office work and Stuart continuing with his tidying and doing some measuring up - before heading out for a trip to Obi and the Comune office.

As we were driving towards Obi, Stuart asked me if I would like to go to Decathlon (a large sports store for those who are unfamiliar) to get an exercise mat. Would I heck! Yes!!! Despite having acres of land here, there are precious few spots that are suitable for doing any exercise that involve putting any part of the body on the ground. Most of the flatter areas are gravelled (so burpees/planks/press-ups are too painful on the hands) and the only non-gravelled flat bit is either concrete (not so comfortable for lying on to do abs) or grass mixed with gravel (and wildlife). A mat will thus help to make my exercises more varied.

I'd never been into a Decathlon before. Oh wow. I was like a kid in a sweet shop. But like a kid in a sweet shop who's been told they aren't allowed any sweets. It was torturous wandering round looking at all the shiny things and knowing that I no longer have the available funds to indulge in buying exercise clothes, trainers (they even had women's trainers in my size for goodness sake!!) and gadgets.

Still, I put on a brave face and headed for the mats. Found one at a reasonable price and ... oops, next to them were a range of rather pretty-looking kettlebells. I think Stuart must have been feeling sorry for me not having bought any new toys since we arrived (while he's had a strimmer, a hedge cutter, a saw...) and he suggested I get one. Well, you can't have one kettlebell can you? I left the shop with a mat, two kettlebells, oh and a pair of walkie talkies!

The only problem now is that I have less of an excuse when I fail to crack my exercise regime.

You may wonder why on earth we bought walkie talkies - could it be so that Stuart could bark 'go faster', 'jump higher' instructions at me from the comfort of the sofa while I run around exercising outside? No. That would be silly and quite uncalled for. No, the walkie talkies are an idea Stuart came up with the other day to get around the problem of communicating with each other when we are in different parts of the house/garden/land. For example, when one person is in the apartment and the other is in the house, there is no quick way of signalling anything to them (e.g if there's a phone call for them). Likewise, if one is strimming at the end of the drive, that's a whole long way to go to ask a question or let them know dinner's ready (or to yell for help if there's an unwanted piece of wildlife in the house). With no mobile signal here, walkie talkies seemed like an ideal solution, if a little bizarre. What struck me as more bizarre though, was why Decathlon were selling walkie talkies (what sport are they for?).

Anyway, enough of that. We next arrived at Obi, looking for materials with which to construct fly screens for the windows. There are no end of flying things here - some of them bite, some of them don't, but all of them are annoying when they are inside the house rather than outside where they are meant to be. We've holidayed in a number of places over here before that have a frame with a fine mesh across it at the window - meaning that you can happily fling the windows open, safe in the knowledge that it'll be very difficult for those biting nasties to get in. Until now we haven't opened any of the windows in the house for fear of letting creepy crawlies in. There is also still a layer of secondary glazing in each window that the previous owners put in for the winter months. With the house starting to warm up inside, it won't be long before it's unbearable not to have windows open, so getting some fly protection was high on our list of priorities.

We looked at the special kits sold for creating exactly these screens and added up the cost of all the different elements (aluminium for frames, rubber bits, corners, mesh..) and calculated that it would cost around €40 per window (we have six). We then looked at the possibility of Stuart constructing something himself with some pieces of wood for the frame and stapling the mesh onto the frame. We decided this would be a lot cheaper IF he could make it work, so bought the bits he needed and kept our fingers crossed it would work.

We also left Obi with a new curtain pole, a fine mesh curtain to hang at the front door to keep bugs out when the door is open, and a new toilet seat.

Next stop was Pescia town centre to visit the comune office to attempt to find out what we need for our application for residency. We duly went into the office, were directed to the basement, and stood in a queue for what seemed like ages. When it eventually came to our turn, we (I say 'we', I mean Stuart) told the rather unimpressed-looking man behind the desk that we wanted to apply for residency. Without even a hint of a smile (this man really should take some notes from smiley guy at the bank) the man gabbered back at us in Italian at high speed, leaving us floundering. I'm not sure that he really did sigh, but he definitely gave the impression of someone who was utterly fed up with these stupid English people standing in front of him, and not particularly interested in helping us. He seemed to be saying that we would need a translator for the appointment that we would need to make in order to register our request for residency. He also waved a piece of paper in front of us that had a list of the requirements (documents etc.) for said appointment, but then snatched it away again and put it back in its pile. We conceded defeat at that point, but Stuart did manage to ask him to give us the piece of paper so that we could take it away and start to decipher it. I'd say that was the first time we've felt any less than welcome. In the man's defence, there had been a long queue of people before us, and more in the queue after us, and it was nearly lunchtime, so maybe he was just a bit tired and hungry.

By the time we got home it was nearing lunchtime, so we had an early lunch (outside, although it wasn't ultra-warm), then we each went back to our respective posts to work the afternoon through.

While I was hard at office work all afternoon, Stuart was being busy, busy!

By the time I stood up to stretch my legs mid-afternoon, he had put up the new curtain rail, hung the fly-screen-curtain at the door, and started work on the window fly screens.

Thin mesh curtain to keep flying things out.

Now, about a week ago, I mentioned on this blog that my husband has a problem with spending small change, and instead, hoards it - like this:

This makes me want to scream.

Well, I have an apology to make to my dear husband. Just look at the ingenious (and not unattractive) system he found for weighting the bottom of the mesh curtain:


He really was on a roll today. A couple of hours later he had completed the first two of our anti-fly mesh screens for the windows:

Just look at the craftsmanship.

You'd never know they weren't the 'real' thing.

A short while later, they were fitted at the two windows in our bedroom and we were able to fling the bedroom windows open for the first time since we arrived. We calculated that each frame had cost roughly €6 to make - as opposed to the €40 it would have cost using the specially designed kit. What a clever husband I have!

Fresh air, sans bugs!

By the time all that was done, it was getting on for 6.30pm - time to have a break and enjoy the evening sunshine on the patio for 20 minutes. It's been a strange day, weather-wise, today - at times it has felt very cool, and at others really quite warm. The day ended with sunshine and blue skies, but a fair breeze and feeling quite fresh.

So things are starting to come together in the house and we have some familiarity and comfort at last.

Recognise that curtain?

We've almost got the living room straight.

As Stuart mentioned, the 'office cave' (which will double up as a second spare bedroom) is still a long way off being tidy though - we need to buy storage solutions to sort out this mess!

We're a while away from being able to have guests to stay in this room, but we'll get there soon!

Our weather app says there is an 80% chance of rain tomorrow, so that might cheer some of you up in the wet gloomy UK. Forecasts seem to be even more hit-and-miss than back in the UK here though - we are in such a position in the valley that it can be fine in one place and raining just 5 minutes up or down the road, so we'll see what tomorrow brings.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

STILL unpacking!!

We woke up to pouring rain this morning - not like the damp stuff we had one morning last week, but proper heavy rain. We heard it during the night so it must have been raining for a few hours - in fact, it was raining so hard we collected 2 inches of water in a bucket outside the front door.

2 whole inches!

So after a little catch up on social media and emails over breakfast, Helen went to the office and I had the task of working out where the last of our stuff was going to go. Most of what was left in boxes was stuff that really needed to go and live in the man cave, so there was nothing else for it but to have a proper sort out in there to make some space. My nice tidy cave of last week was ruined within an hour of our furniture arriving as all of my tools were first off the truck. In fact, my cave was so full that there was no room for our precious bikes in there on Sunday evening, so they had to stay outside overnight! I had a big job to do, but I do LOVE organising stuff.

The whole morning passed in a blur of tidying and, with every inch of space made, squeezing something from the living room into it. The rain that I had been so convinced was here to stay for the day (or even week) had stopped by mid-morning, which meant that I could throw some of the stuff on the patio to make life a little easier. It also meant that, when we stopped work for lunch at half past one (tomato bruschetta with some cheese on the side), we were able to eat outside - it was a touch breezy, and much cooler than recent days, but pleasant enough and pretty warm when the sun peeped out from behind the clouds and the wind dropped.

After messing around with my telescope for quarter of an hour (I say messing, but what I mean is reassembling and lining up the finder scope using the village below - including spotting people's laundered under garments hanging out to dry from their balconies), we went back to our respctive offices.

We missed today's opening hours of the council offices (commune) to enquire about what is needed to apply for residency status - as we mentioned yesterday, from what we've been told it involves a lot of form filling, some sending away of documents to be legally verified, and the translating of copies of documents into Italian, so it could take a while. We can't actually get our residency until we've completed the purchase of the house, but we thought it would be a good idea to get the ball rolling and start collecting the necessary bits of paperwork together as soon as possible. Until we have residency, we can't buy a car here. With the MOT on the Citroen due to run out at the end of July, we really need to get a new car here, then get the Citroen back to the UK and sold before the end of July - I'm sure the window will end up too small for comfort! Anyway, we'll see what tomorrow morning brings when we head down to the commune office.

Three hours after lunch, the man cave version 2 was complete. Playing in caves can be quite enjoyable, and I can see why Batman has one at his house - although the only method of transport we can fit into ours is pedal-powered.

Man cave 2, hoping there doesn't need to be another sequel.

What my cave will look like soon, without the car, or cape or space.

After a quick trip to the bins to dispose of the rubbish from the cave (the wood shed is too full of cardboard boxes to store anything else), I was ready to call it day at half past five. As I write this, the sun is still out, although it's quite cool and breezy up here on our hill.

So while Helen goes back to her cave (which is considerably less tidy than mine, and will stay that way until we acquire some shelving) to finish some work, I've collapsed on our sofa in an almost tidy living room to write this blog post nice and early. Hopefully that'll mean that the editor can get her hands on it in good time and it can be knocked into shape while I cook dinner tonight - pasta with pan-fried zucchini and peppers, possibly in a tomato sauce, or maybe a potato salad with green beans, black olives and plenty of pesto. Decisions, decisions! But no wine tonight, of course, it's a school night.

Talking of vegetables, we already have a pepper on the plant we bought recently, as well as five or six tiny yellow zucchini, two or three aubergines (which from here on in I'm going to call melanzane), and the tomatoes are flowering.

Our first pepper!

Teeny tiny zucchini, a yellow variety.

There is a melanzana in there, another first!
Tomorrow should hopefuly be a little more interesting, with a trip to the council office at least, and we're also aiming to get some storage solutions ordered from somewhere so that I can do even more organising and finish the last bits of unpacking and tidying.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Cheque mate

It was a bit of a late start today, we were both so tired from the last couple of days that we slept until 8am - Helen even switched off her alarm, which she never does, although it didn't stop her going out into a damp morning to exercise again. (We had more rain overnight - not sure if we'll ever be able to sleep through rain with the noise it makes on our roof window! - and it was still showery this morning.)
After breakfast - which included a very welcome coffee from the machine that we've missed so much over the last few weeks - I set about more unpacking whilst Helen went to test drive the new office chair. And that's how the morning went, with nothing worthy of note except that by lunchtime the rain had stopped and it was dry enough and just about warm enough for us to eat outside... Again.

Still in chaos, but we're getting there - SLOWLY!
It was a quick lunch though, as Richard had called earlier to say that, following the meeting with Andrea (the geometra) yesterday evening, we needed to go to see Marco, the bank manager, to sign yet another form - and that it had to be done today. Since the bank is only open from 14:50 until 15:50 in the afternoon, we had a small window in which to get this done.
After a quick stop off at the communal bins to dump some of our unpacking detritus, we drove into Pescia square and headed for the bank's fingerprint airlock cubicle once more. Once inside, the smiley cashier whose name we've yet to learn gave us a warm 'Ciao!' from behind the counter while he was serving someone - it was very nice to be recognised! We noticed that the entrance to the corridor leading to Marco's office was roped off, so there was nothing else for it than to get into the queue and hope that whoever we spoke to knew something about the paperwork and we wouldn't be left floundering at the desk while everyone overheard our failure to get what we needed.
We ended up being served by the same girl as sorted out our Bancomat cards last week, she seemed to recognise us too (guess Brits stand out a little more than the indigenous folk). After delivering my carefully constructed sentence about needing to see Marco to sign some papers, she informed us that Marco wasn't here this week and wouldn't be back until next Tuesday... Result!! No confusion, no squinting from her as she stained her ears and brain to hear and understand us (why do people squint when finding it difficult to hear or understand?). We were very pleased that we'd made ourselves understood and that we'd understood the response - it was a shame we'd failed to sign the document but that was out of our hands and we decided we would email Andrea later to explain that Marco had been unavailable.
After mentally chalking that as a victory, I thought I'd attempt to ask for cheque books for our accounts while we were on a roll. Again, there was no confusion, no squinting, we handed over our account details and the bank teller set about getting some crisp new cheque books out of her stash and rubber stamping each page of each one, twice. There is none of the palaver you have back in the UK where you have to order a new cheque book - they simply have a stamp with adjustable digits and they stamp your account number onto each cheque (there are only about a dozen in each book so it wasn't too protracted). While we were waiting for all the stamping to happen, smiley man had to dash across to the stationery cupboard, and as he came past us he told us to go and see Fredo in the office about our paperwork - so it seems like we were going to get our paperwork sorted after all!
So after a brief meeting with aforementioned Fredo to sign the paperwork (which took less than 5 minutes) we left, chequebooks in hands, floating on our toes and returning a warm smiley 'ciao' to smiley man on the way out - we had to control the level of flounce somewhat though, as with the glass tube to contend with we couldn't just coolly breeze out of there.
Rubber-stamped cheque books.
Our next stop was a second-hand car garage in Porcari, close to Lucca. I've been emailing this car dealer intermittently for a few days about a car I'd spotted on the internet.
For many months before arriving, we thought we might get a pick-up truck as the work horse for our new life: we need something with a minimum of four seats for airport transfers (plus enough space for suitcases), but which can also be used to carry tools and building materials around, and a pick-up truck seemed like a good solution. However, even before arriving in Italy, were already doubting the feasibility of running such a vehicle after speaking to our friend Ben about the running costs of his pick-up.
The cost of running a pick-up was going to be an albatross for us, and while surfing the internet I stumbled across another option: while searching for pick-ups I inevitably came across vans ('furgoni') and noticed that there were more than a few cars in amongst them - well, car-derived vans, but also their car equivalents. It seems that, regardless of whether you have a version of the vehicle with windows in the side or not, they are sold as vans purely based on their load capacity. So it was here that I stumbled across dozens of Fiat Doblos. The van form is no good to us as we need more than two front seats, but the car forms have 5 seats and they seem to often be used as working vehicles with the back seats folded down. An ugly vehicle, but a perfectly practicable solution!
So having narrowed down our options to two cars, both of which are duel fuel and run primarily on methane (which is about half the price of petrol), we arranged to go and see the nearest to us. We arrived on time and were met by the owner and his colleague who he'd dragged with him to translate as he spoke no English. 
We had a good look around the car and it seemed a perfect size, even with a little bit of space taken up in the boot for the methane storage. So the next step was to take it for a test drive - this time with without the translator... GULP!! It wasn't so bad, and I managed to follow the garage owner's directions in Italian, and while at it discuss both the weather (it was pouring with rain by this point) and his upcoming trip to Chicago, all whilst driving a strange car on the wrong side of the road (who said men can't multitask?!).
On our return to the office, we discussed road tax and insurance costs and, having decided we like the vehicle enough, asked for their best price. There was no movement on that front - it's one thing making yourself understood, but playing hardball with an Italian used car salesman is a step too far for me. However, he did offer to fully valet the car and throw in a set of summer tyres as a 'present' (the car is currently sporting winter tyres, which are a legal requirement in our area between November and April, but no good in summer), so it was a sweet enough deal for us to declare our interest and we've agreed to be in touch as soon as we have our residency application letter so that they can start the paperwork (did we explain that you  have to have Italian residency - which we can't apply for until we've completed the purchase of the house - before you can buy a car over here?). So, as long as we're not beaten to it, we have secured our new car. We just need to get the old one back to the UK before the end of July now!
Ugly, but practical - and we're in no position to be picky!
After all of that excitement, our evening consisted of a quick trip to the supermarket (once again via the communal bins to dump some more of our unpacking detritus), followed by a pea and mint risotto for dinner with some TV courtesy of iPlayer and our new satellite.
Tomorrow we plan to go to the commune office to make an initial enquiry about acquiring residency. From what we've heard (Sue had some tales to tell yesterday), it can be a very long and drawn out process with lots of paperwork and rubber-stamping, so the sooner we can get the ball rolling and find out what documents we need to gather together, the better.

Monday 26 May 2014

Lightning fast

Today started with a mad-cap drive back to Castelfranco di Sotto to return the trusty van to Rossirent. Again, Stuart set off in front in the van, with me following behind in the car. We almost didn't even make it out of Pescia together as twice the lights went against me, and all I could do was to watch the van disappear into the distance. Thankfully, Stuart managed to slow down and let me catch up. We then followed the most bonkers route to reach our destination. Stuart had plugged the address of Rossirent into his phone's sat nav app (neither of us could remember the way from Saturday), which sent us around the houses (literally in some cases) and through the back of beyond before incredibly (well, I was surprised) bringing us to the exact spot we needed - 10 minutes before the deadline for returning the vehicle!

Mr Rossirent came out to inspect his van and, satisfied that we hadn't been rally driving or doing handbrake turns in it, completed the paperwork and sent us on our way.

Next stop was Mercatune Uno to pick up a cheap office chair. After two weeks of switching between sitting at my computer on a foldable wooden garden chair and sitting at my computer on a kitchen dining chair, my back was telling me in no uncertain terms that it had had quite enough last week - and considering that having a working back and useable limbs might turn out to be quite useful with all the work there is to do in our 12-acres of land, we agreed that finding an office chair should be a high priority. We duly left Mercatone Uno with a suitably squishy and supportive-looking chair.

Once back at the house it was back to the unpacking slog. After going at it full steam yesterday, we were both a bit jaded by the whole thing today, and depressed by the sheer mountain of stuff compared with the tiny amount of space we have. Just one example: we knew the kitchen was small, but we hadn't bargained on there only being one kitchen drawer. Said drawer is too small to fit our drawer tidy/knife & fork holder into, so is now rammed to bursting point with cutlery, kitchen knives and utensils.

Shortly after lunch we had a call from Brad (Mr Satellite) who was trying to find us but despite being on the right road, seemed a bit lost. Stuart went off to stand at the end of the drive to flag him down.

He returned about 15 minutes later with not one, but two people. Mr Satellite had eventually found us, and so had one of the previous owners' friends - a lady called Sue who lives in Pescia and had come to say hello.

Brad got on with doing his thing, while Stuart and I chatted with Sue. Again, it was lovely to talk to someone else, and to talk to someone who's been there, done that, as it were. It was very reassuring to hear that someone else also feels overwhelmed by it all at times (and did so especially when she first arrived here). Sue, her husband and two boys live on the outskirts of Pescia - she seemed really friendly and after a cup of tea and a few useful pieces of advice and tips, she left us with her phone number and the offer of any help, should we need it. (Top tip of the day was that each year the local supermarket sells squash (a la Robinsons) between the months of June and August - we'll definitely be going there to stock up when that comes in, as we've never found anything even remotely resembling squash in all of our previous trips to Italy, and that's the single 'British' food/drink item I'm missing the most.)

Shortly after Sue had left, the Albanian crew turned up again - this time there were three of them. Somehow, they managed to fit all of the rubbish pile, plus the old sofa bed and the hacked-in-half bedstead into their van. They also left us with their number, in case we need anything else disposing of (not sure whether they deal in old Vauxhalls...)

Rubbish - GONE!
Brad continued to work all afternoon, fixing a satellite dish to the front of the house and then fixing a lightning rod to save our electricals from getting fried in a storm.

At around 6.15pm, Stuart had to leave to go to a meeting with Richard and Andrea (the geometra) to discuss the various payments that we will need to make when we have the final meeting to complete the purchase of the house (these include Andrea's fees, the notary's fees, land tax and so on). We were both going to go to the meeting, but with Brad still not finished I stayed behind.

Brad finally finished at close to 7pm and left us with... a FAST INTERNET CONNECTION. And it really is lightning fast! Woohoo!

Unfortunately, that comes at the expense of having an ugly great satellite dish and lightning rod on the front of the house, but I guess that's just the price we have to pay:

Not an attractive addition.

Stuart eventually got back from his meeting at around 8.45pm - having been furnished with a list of all the costs, and instruction to go to the bank tomorrow to get us some cheque books as we will need to be writing some cheques on the 6th!

As he now tries to set up the TV so that we can finally watch some iPlayer without it freezing every 20 seconds, I'll leave you with some pictures of our cornflowers that have just come out in the garden.

Sunday 25 May 2014

Short but sweet

The title of this post describes its content I'm afraid, we're knackered!!!
In brief:
I drove down the hill at about 10am this morning in the 'tender' and picked up the boys from their car park where they were enjoying the morning sun in a couple of our collapsible chairs along with the first load of our belongings.
We let the guys do pretty much all of the unloading today as we were inside the house fire fighting (figuratively speaking, of course) - we were unpacking as quickly as possible to try to make space for the next load of boxes and belongings. We held our own for a while, but after a couple of van loads we lost the battle and were completely overwhelmed - and such was the pattern of our day until the last load was squeezed into the house. On the last run up the hill the boys, who were dripping in sweat from the 28°C heat, brought with them another chilled four-pack of cider so all we sat on the veranda for an hour chatting and soaking up the sunshine.
Just before I was about to drop the guys back to their lorry we mentioned in passing the enormous bedstead belonging to the previous owners that was stuck in our bedroom - somehow too big to fit through the doorway, let alone get around the corner to get it down the stairs. Clearly up for a challenge, the boys offered to have a look and see what they could do.
Five minutes of grunting, hand sawing and claw hammering later, it was on its way down the stairs and it now resides next to the other pile of rubbish awaiting our new Albanian friend (who didn't turn up today, by the way).
It was getting on for around 2.30pm by the time I'd dropped the guys back to their lorry - they planned to spend the afternoon cooling off in the river next to the car park before going on to their next job tomorrow morning in Florence. 
When I got back we had a bit of lunch and soaked up our last dose of sunshine for the day, gathering our strength for the afternoon ahead. We then spent what felt like a lifetime unpacking - the more we clear, the quicker it gets, but we'll both be happy to see the last of the boxes marked 'kitchen' (they just keep coming!).
So the whole afternoon was a relentless repetition of unpacking, bagging up the packing paper to keep for fire starting in the winter, and collapsing the boxes ... ENDLESS!
It's just never ending. How did we end up with this much stuff?!

At 8 o'clock we both found ourselves motionless, having hit a wall and feeling too tired to cook (never mind the fact that every available space in the kitchen is covered with pots, pans, bottles, crockery and utensils that have yet to find a home), so decided to have a takeaway pizza. We hopped in the van, drove down to Pescia to the local family-run pizza place and ordered two house pizzas loaded with veg and prosciutto - which we watched being cooked in the wood fired oven - and headed home.
It was still so warm - and the house was in such as state - that we decided to eat outside, with a couple of citronella candles to keep away the bitey insects. It almost felt like a holiday! As we sat in the dusk, we saw two bats flitting around in they sky above us and a handful of fireflies - they seem to be green versions up this way, and not in anywhere near the same proliferation as they were in the week of our wedding two years ago near Siena, but maybe we're still a little too early.

Outdoor dining by citronella candlelight.

So that's it, a short and sweet post, as bed beckons. It's back to Rossirent in the morning (hoping we can find it again) with the rest of the day to finish the unpacking and a trip to Lucca at the end of the day to look at a car.

Saturday 24 May 2014

Reunited at last!

We both woke early this morning, knowing that there was a lot to do today. First things first: try and find the hire firm from which Stuart had hired the van - not really having much more than a vague idea as to how to get there.

It ended up taking close to an hour to drive there (via a very convoluted route), but when we eventually arrived, Rossirent turned out to be a very respectable hire firm, and we could see 'our' shiny van parked outside on the forecourt, all ready for us to take away.

We signed all the paperwork, had documents photocopied, checked the scrapes and dents on the van with the man from the hire firm, and were handed the keys!

So that was it - time to head for home, and time for my first ever 'solo' drive on the wrong side of the road. We set off, with Stuart driving the van in front, and me following nervously behind in the car - Stuart was under strict instructions not to leave me behind!!

For the most part, the drive was pretty easy - I got left behind at the very first set of traffic lights we came to, but Stuart managed to pull over and wait for me to catch up, and we took one wrong turning, requiring us both to do a quick 3-point turn to get back on track, but on the whole it was quite an easy drive. I say that, but I have to confess to being somewhat freaked out by the hoard of Lambrettis that came past.

Clearly, weekends over here are set aside for rallies of all different types - last Saturday it was Ferraris (as part of a bigger non-Ferrari-specific road race), last Sunday it was Vespas (or scooters of some sort) and today it was Lambrettis. In their hundreds. No kidding. Had I been in the passenger seat I would have been quite enthralled by the spectacle, but in the driver's seat I was merely alarmed, especially when there was a cyclist I needed to try and manoeuvre around while the opposite side of the road was awash with Lambrettis.

Stuart, being the more experienced wrong-side-of-the-road driver, however, was cool as a cucumber and even managed to whip his phone out and take a picture:

Lambrettis as far as the eye can see. (You can also see the cyclist I was about to have to manoeuvre around.)

The nearer we got to Pescia, the more I found my white knuckle grip on the steering wheel relaxing, and once we were back onto more familiar roads and entered Pescia, I felt positively calm and confident. Before too long we were both trundling down the drive back at the house - my first solo drive completed without incident.

Look at that smart van!

Three cheers for Rossirent!

On arriving home, our next tasks were for Stuart to strim/tidy up an area at the very end of the drive which he thought would be a suitable place to go and park our car so that it would be out of the way while the furniture unloading process was going on, and for me to reacquaint myself with the mop and bucket - in a vain attempt to clean the place a little better before moving our things in.

The water came out black every time I emptied the mop bucket, and I know that the little cleaning I did has barely made any difference, but it makes me feel a little better to know that the floors have at least been shown a mop. I think that what is really required is to devote an entire day to cleaning each room in turn. Stuart agrees, but I'm not convinced that he's entirely on board with the idea - I can almost see his brain ticking over thinking of what other fun jobs he can do in his man cave while I am doing the cleaning...

We also decided that, with the Albanian (we think) guys (of second-hand-furniture fame) coming back tomorrow to get rid of our enormous pile of rubbish, we ought to go round both the house and the apartment and make sure that anything we don't want to keep is put on the rubbish pile ready for them to take away. We spent the next half hour or so finding various bits and pieces to throw on the rubbish pile - and, since that included both of the lights from our bedroom and various other pieces of furniture, it did cross our minds that, should there be any delay with our own furniture delivery, resulting in it not turning up as planned today, we would somewhat have left ourselves in the lurch!

Car boot sale? Anyone?

Stuart also attempted to roll the dumped car forward a little to make more space for the van to turn around, but not only did we find various things growing inside when we opened the door, but the brakes had ceased, so he was unable to make it budge even an inch.

Soon it was time for lunch. Today was another day with brilliant blue skies and scorching sunshine (sorry, I know it's been hideously wet back in the UK), and we sat on the veranda with our lunch and a cold bottle of beer - well deserved after the morning's work.

Stuart had been keeping in touch with the removal guys on and off all day - they had initially expected to be with us a little after 2pm, but in the end they were delayed. Unbelievably, we were their third job of the day, the first having been more than 130 miles away, the second around 20 miles away - what a long and arduous day for them, with nothing more to look forward to in the evening than sleeping in the cab of their lorry.

Anyway, while we were waiting I decided to start trying to shift some of the stones and old roof tiles that had been dumped on the tier above the house - the same ones that stopped me in my tracks when trying to strim the tier a few days ago. I started moving some of them, but they just kept on coming - no sooner had I pulled one out of the undergrowth than a whole pile more of them peeked out from beneath the scrub. I reckon the whole of the old roof must have been up there.

Eventually, we had a call at around 5pm to say that the removal guys and their lorry were just down the road from us. Stuart offered to drive down to pick them up so they could decide whether or not it would be feasible to bring the lorry as far as the road at the end of the drive. The consensus was that it would not be possible. Our belongings were in the back part of a double-trailered lorry, a little like this:

Almost exactly like this, in fact, they've even labelled the picture with our name...

Even though access to our house is easy, there are a couple of tight hairpin bends on the road before you reach it, and there was no way the lorry was getting around those! So, off they went in the van back to the parked lorry (which they'd parked at the spot where our communal bins are located, just down the road) and started cross-loading our things from the lorry to the van.

Soon, the first load arrived at the house - I couldn't wait to see what was inside! Well, that was until I realised that the first van load consisted almost entirely of Stuart's tools. Not impressed. Stuart was happy to see his ladders again though.

A happy reunion.

The next few loads were much more exciting - kitchen bins (who'd have thought it possible to be excited about a kitchen bin, but seriously, after more than two weeks of living with a bin liner pegged to the edge of the kitchen worktop, a bin is like a luxury item), kitchen stools, clothes, TV, pictures, OUR BED, sofas... The guys even came back on one of their runs with a four-pack of cold Strongbow to share with us. Stuart could barely contain his excitement, having not seen any cider for weeks...

A happy, happy man.

Eventually, after about 4 trips, and at around 7pm, the guys decided to call it a night - since they aren't allowed (by law) to drive the lorry on Sundays, they will have to stick around until Monday morning anyway, so they decided they would come back tomorrow morning to finish the job.

Stuart offered to run them into town in the van so that they could pick up some overnight food supplies from Esselunga and then take them for a quick beer to thank them for their hard work. So here I sit writing this post, surrounded by all of this stuff. The worrying thing is that this is only half of it - where is it all going to go???

There has to be a sofa or two under there somewhere!

Where will it all go...?

So tomorrow, we have: the removal firm coming back to do roughly 3 or 4 more vanloads, the Albanians(that's what we're calling them from now on) coming to remove the pile of rubbish, Brad (Mr Satellite) may be coming to install our satellite internet (otherwise he'll be here on Monday), and Michelle (ex-pat who lives in a village up the road) may pop in to say hello.

Just a nice, quiet relaxing Sunday then!

Right, I'm off to have my first night's sleep in MY OWN BED for well over a month. See you tomorrow.

Friday 23 May 2014

Midnight drummer

So I suppose, technically, the day started for us at around the same time as it did for all clocks in the same time zone, or at least in the same valley: we were both woken in the early hours by what sounded like a drummer performing a drum roll on the landing outside the bedroom. It wasn't, of course, it was the Tuscan rain hammering on our roof window, but thankfully it didn't last long and we were both off to the land of nod again in no time.
I was almost alarmed when we both came to in the semi-darkness to realise it was 8 o'clock already! A 9-hour sleep is more than we are usually naturally capable of these days, but we've decided that the extra drain on brain power each day must be having an effect on our tiredness levels - so while Helen is slowly creeping towards being able to sleep normally, I'm sleeping like the dead once I'm unconscious, but waking earlier than is usual for me. I have to say I quite like it and hope it sticks - although when I do wake I feel like I've had too much to drink, which is somewhat annoying as we haven't touched a drop all week. Anyway, I should probably move on, as this post isn't even out of the bedroom yet and I've half filled the screen of my tablet.
Helen went out for some exercise again, while I opted to get up and start dealing with today's looming issue - that of sourcing a rental van for tomorrow. We touched on this in yesterday's blog, but here's the detail:
We always knew, after sending a picture of our new driveway to the removal company, that as part of the deal we would need to hire a van locally so that all of our goods could be cross-loaded onto it for the short journey from the road to the house - so that neither our driveway nor the large truck (or indeed both) would perish.
We finally received a copy of the removal firm's delivery schedule on Monday, which stated that we were due to receive our belongings on Saturday, but as we were third on the list of deliveries (the first of which was scheduled for Friday), we thought it churlish to blindly assume ours would be on time - especially since there had already been a hold up in the schedule, courtesy of the police. 
So we had a delivery schedule for Saturday afternoon, for which we needed to hire a van - so this meant we needed to collect the van either Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. But what if they ended up being late on Saturday? They would have a hell of a job here once they started, and if they ran out of stream and wanted to finish the job on Monday then we would need the van all day Monday too.
I'm getting ahead of myself. On Tuesday, I checked (after much Googling) the cost and availability of such a van rental, and after finding nothing in the local town, I found two places within a stone's throw from each other in nearby Monticatini Terme. Result! I emailed the little Italian company first, ideally wanting to spend our money with local companies - very honourable, you may think, but I soon went to Europcar for a quote after hearing nothing from the local firm all day (although that's perhaps no surprise if their internet is anything like ours). Anyway, having procured a quote from Europcar online, and confirmed availability, I parked the job until I could confirm that our furniture was definitely arriving on Saturday - otherwise we would have hired a van for three days for no reason.
So, back to the plot (if you're still with me). Yesterday morning I received confirmation from the removal firm that the delivery was 100% on schedule, so I promptly logged onto the Europcar website to book the van ... except now when I tried to book it, I was presented with big flashing graphics all over the site telling me that I couldn't possibly book anything online within less than 48h of the pick-up time!! Brilliant. (No, that's not the word I actually thought in my head.)
I decided to call Europcar and, after a confusing conversation in part-English, part-Italian, the central sales rep told me that since the Montecatini Terme office was now closed, she couldn't tell me whether they had any availability, so I would have to try calling again in the morning. Not happy with that, I continued my search. Everywhere I tried I hit a brick wall: online, everyone was saying the same thing about the timescale being too short, and on the phone, nobody had a van available. I did think I had struck gold after a lengthy call with Hertz (which included paying a deposit to book a van which was to be collected from IKEA in Pisa), but the sales rep later called back to say that, in fact, they had no vans available after all!
By this time it was late, my brain was addled and we were outside of Italian working hours, so there was nothing else for it but to wave the white flag and call it a night in the hope that when Europcar opened in the morning they would have a van for us... I duly phoned Europcar first thing this morning and... they didn't!! The only option left to us was local firm Rossirent - we had taken a look at their website yesterday evening, and got as far as the booking of a van, but since their website didn't seem all that well set up (or secure) for payments, we decided to leave Rossirent as a plan B for this morning, and do the deal by phone if necessary, rather than online. After a minute or two of battling on the phone in Italian, the woman on the other end passed the phone to Filippo, who said he could speak a little English. Between us, with me speaking part-English, part-Italian, and Filippo doing the same, just minutes later we had only gone and managed to get us a van booked!!! Woo Hoo!!
So, after conquering that enormous mountain we decided to take the rest of the day off and do some sightseeing in the sunshine.
No we didn't. We had work to get on with - besides which, there were still low clouds on the mountain tops and dampness everywhere, so Helen once again logged on in the office while I went to the apartment to continue my work down there.
Murky morning.

What no sunshine?!

It was around 10am that the people from the second-hand furniture shop returned to collect our pile of unwanted furniture. They never did return 'in 5 hours' yesterday, so not sure what happened there. Thankfully, the pile of furniture was positioned under the cover of a large fir tree so it was protected from the worst of last night's rain and remained remarkably dry. It was two different guys who came this time, and while chatting to them (in Italian) I managed to arrange for them to come back on Sunday morning to relieve us of the large pile of rubbish we have accumulated for a small fee. Result! The only way we have found to dispose of these things otherwise is to surreptitiously leave them by the communal bins a little bit at a time. We had visions of using the hired van to drive around in the middle of the night depositing bits and pieces at all of the different bins in the area... So it will be a huge relief to get rid of all of that rubbish - and one massive job out of the way.
After a subsequent couple of hours slapping white breathable paint around in the apartment bedroom (at which point I ran out of paint), it was time for lunch (which we had sitting on the veranda as usual, but not in sunshine today), and after lunch we decided we would both take a trip to Obi to source more paint and other useful bits.
It's amazing how much you can learn language-wise when you need to. We found breathable paint - all 14 litres of it - in a single can that nearly put my back out when I lifted it out of the trolley for the checkout lady to scan, a couple of tubes of something that resembled caulk (whatever it was it was in a variety of colours and was paintable), and some curtains to put across the new wardrobe construction.
Demonstration of how the new wardrobe will work (although those are not the curtains we bought).
Job done, and having spent one of my shiny new 200 euro notes (courtesy of Richard, who used them to pay me (yesterday) for the job I did with him back in April), we headed home in the by now hot sunshine. (Amazing how much the weather can turn around in the space of a few hours here.)
With most of the day spent, Helen went to finish her office work then set to work with a vacuum cleaner and a mop in an attempt to clean the house a little more before our furniture arrives. Meanwhile, I went back to the apartment with my tin of new paint to give it a second coat.
We called time about half past six and sat on the veranda with our first glass of wine since Sunday, and how sweet it was!
Not a cloud in the sky by evening.

We chatted the last hour or so of direct sunshine away, disturbed only by the large green lizard which seems to live not far from our veranda. Said lizard came flying out of the grassy bank and came to a skidding halt on the gravel. It made us laugh briefly - until we saw it was being chased by (look away now, Mom, and scroll down) a large snake which stopped just behind it. I dashed for the camera, but snakes seem to be able to detect even the slightest movement and it had gone before I'd even made it as far as the door - leaving the lizard somewhat traumatised. The shaky lizard went back to the edge of the grassy bank and it spent half an hour staring into the grass to make sure it was safe, finally disappearing at about the same time as the sun - which we also took as our cue to retire inside to make dinner and blog.
Lucky escape lizard.
Guess we'd better find out where this van needs collecting tomorrow.
Ciao for now!