Monday 30 March 2015

A blue Monday... eventually!

After feeling a huge amount better for having had a rest yesterday, I decided I would continue with the recharging of my reserves and made no effort to get up early today - in fact, I woke at 9am when Helen came into the bedroom with a mug of tea for me, a lovely way to start the day. It would have been silly of me to then get up and take my tea back downstairs after Helen had expended all that energy carrying it up them, so I did the respectful thing and lay in bed with my head in a book for half an hour, a real rare treat that I thoroughly enjoyed. I probably should have let Helen know that was what I was doing though, as it turns out that while I was enjoying some extra sleep and the half-hour with my cup of tea and book, she was downstairs worrying that I was slipping back to my pre-Christmas levels of tiredness and lethargy.

After getting up, I quickly demolished a bowl of cereal for breakfast before heading out for a shopping trip out with my in-laws while poor Helen continued to toil away in the office. The day was decidedly chilly and grey - it was as if we were stuck in the cloud, a very different day from yesterday and not what we'd been expecting.

As we needed methane for the car, I decided we might as well drive out to Montecatini and have a look in OBI for a few things - top of the list was a UK-style gardening fork, the thought being that as Italians don't seem to go in for what we know as a garden fork, the Germans might offer us one that would be more familiar. They did indeed, but what they were offering didn't look very sturdy and having already snapped a tooth one fork digging up bramble roots, we decided against this particular purchase. We didn't leave empty handed though - we left with a trolley full of goodies including tools that I didn't even know I needed, and potato and onions for planting.

After loading the car, we stopped for a coffee in the main shopping centre, accompanied by a jam tart each - well, why wouldn't you? (sorry Helen).

Our next stop was a garden centre on the outskirts of Pescia to try and find some agricultural lime and maybe even a decent fork. Lime we found, fork we didn't, but we also left with six small fruit trees to add to our small but growing orchard as they were selling them for a mere five euros each! So, to add to our fig, peach, apricot and almond, we now have two types of pear, two types of plum, an apple and a cherry, it's going to be long wait for the fruits but will be a momentous occasion when they arrive.

It was close to 1pm when we finally got home, so we went straight for lunch - an indoor lunch today as it was still chilly and cloudy outside and definitely not al fresco dining temperature. After clearing away lunch, Jill, Mike and I got the tools out for an hour while Helen finished her shift for the day. In that hour, the in-laws and planted another row of potatoes to give us an entire bed of potatoes, and then raked another bed before filling it with shallots and two types of onion. I can't tell you how exciting it is to see things actually going into the ground and on such a scale too, but we've got our work cut out over the next few weeks if we are to get everything we'd like planted at the same time as strimming all of these terraces we now have uncovered that are now growing vegetation at an alarming rate.

The mobile phone rang just after lunch - it was a courier letting me know that he would be arriving at the gate in five minutes. I told him I'd meet him at the end of the drive and hung up. I knew I didn't have any outstanding orders, so guessed it would be the collection of our now broken Skype phone, which is being DHL'd back to China under warranty. I'd been sent the documents and some labels from the seller in the UK but as yet they hadn't confirmed which needed to be fixed to the outside of the box, so I ran down the driveway with sellotape, scissors and package in hand. The courier pulled up shortly after I'd arrived at the gate and hopped out of the van with a parcel. We each looked at the other's parcel with the same bemused expression for a second, until I realised that this wasn't the DHL courier after all, and this courier had an Amazon parcel for me. I duly signed for the parcel and walked back home. Confused, I could only reason it was an early birthday present, but I'd not had any advance warning from anyone, so Helen offered to open it for me to check. While I waited outside the room, I heard her start laughing and she called me to go and look... it was only a pair of brand new, top of the range channel lock grips from Zach and Holly! My old pair of budget ones had disintegrated while Zach was removing our sink and toilet a couple of weeks ago, and he obviously felt the need to replace them - an extremely generous and really unnecessary thing to do, but thanks guys if you're reading, it's really appreciated and made us both smile - I will
always think of you when I use them in future!

Thank you Zach and Holly!

After Helen had finished her work, we all headed out, inspired by yesterday's walk to try another of the footpaths in the valley. This time we picked a path that starts in the village of Sorana. We parked the car and headed into the village with only a vague idea of where the footpath would start, but when we arrived in the little piazza Mike spotted the familiar (but not very obvious) red and white footpath marker on the side of a building, so we headed up and out of the village, ending up winding our way past the cemetery and uphill on a very quiet road. It turned out to be a really lovely walk with some different scenery, lots of colourful flowers and by this time we were accompanied by blue skies and warm sunshine with a refreshing breeze - a complete change from this morning's damp and chilly start.

So today we manage to bring you another set of photos that are not dominated by terrace photos. There are still plenty of Reggie though, as despite our best efforts to have some dog-free shots he seems very adept at photo bombing.

Sunday 29 March 2015

Potatoes and a bicycle tree

I woke with the sunlight this morning, and got up at 7.30am to see to the animals. Aware of the fact that Stuart had been very, very tired yesterday afternoon and last night, I tried to leave him in peace and quiet to have a mini lie-in. By taking Reggie with me to release the geese and staying with him in the living room afterwards, we managed to achieve a mainly quiet household. To pass the time, I started prepping vegetables for lunch (a Ligurian potato salad). When I came to put the potatoes on to boil though, I noticed that the gas was very low and unresponsive to the knob being turned up. I realised we had finally reached the end of our first full bottle of gas (which had cost us around €30 and lasted about 5.5 months). Handily for me, just after I'd I realised this, Dad emerged from the apartment and offered to change the bottle if I could find him a spanner. Finding things in the temporary man-cave (the office) is quite a challenge at the moment and I know that the disarray and lack of organisation is driving poor Stuart round the bend. I have to say I am not particularly enjoying sharing my office with power tools, bicycles, dirty boots, garden forks, spades, hoes, rakes, lump hammers, pick axes, boxes of screws, nails and the list goes on... (I'm sure you get the picture) either! Happily, after a few minutes of searching I managed to lay my hands on an adjustable spanner and took it out to Dad, who swapped the empty bottle for a full one, after which I was, quite literally, cooking on gas!

Dad then decided to turn his attention back to the vegetable beds and headed down with the pick axe, garden fork and spade, while Mum and I sat and chatted in the living room while the potatoes cooked.

Stuart managed to lie in until around 10am (which, to be fair, only felt like 9am after the clocks had changed last night), and once he'd showered and dressed, we all shared a coffee in the fresh morning sunshine on the patio. It was another beautiful morning - blue skies and sunshine, but with a fresh breeze.

After coffee, all four of us went down to the terraces for a joint effort at digging over the vegetable beds, pulling out dastardly bramble roots, and resorting to an axe for the particularly tenacious ones.

We carried on until lunchtime, when we broke for a lunch (that Ligurian potato salad) on the patio - and for the first time this year, the garden umbrella made an appearance to shade us from the glaring sunshine. I'm not sure I ever imagined needing to use it in March!

After clearing lunch away, we decided to take Reggie for a proper walk and to try out a new one. Mum had spotted a walk on one of our maps that looked like it was worth investigating, so we all piled into the car and drove to Stiappa to find the footpath that leads from just outside the village to 'Molino del Grillo', and then on to Pontito beyond.

The footpath was delightful, really pretty and very different from our usual dog walks, and definitely one that we will come back to again.

Some of the highlights of the walk were the beautiful primroses dotted all over the banks, the horse shoes (or, as Mum and Dad decided was more likely, mule shoes) carved into rocks all the way along the path, the fish and the serpent carved into rocks next to the mill building, and the 'bicycle tree' - which can really only be explained in a photograph.


Mule shoes in the rocks along the path.

Pontito from near the start of the path.

Fish and serpent.

Mule shoe.

A bicycle tree (this was a new one even for my botanist Dad).

 After having got as far as the mill, which looked like it was about the halfway point to Pontito, Stuart and I decided to turn back and take Reggie back to the car, leaving Mum and Dad to walk on up the track to Pontito, where we would pick them up.

We duly returned to the car and drove to Pontito. As we drove along the road, we could see two little figures making their way along the track on the opposite hillside from us - we blew Reggie's whistle and waved, but we were too far away for them to see us.

That's Mum and Dad circled in the photo!
Anyway, we found the other end of the track (complete with sign pointing to 'Molino del Grillo') just outside the village, so we pulled over and waited. And waited. I even walked partway down the track to surprise Mum and Dad and walk with them for the last part of the trek, but there was no sign of them. So we waited some more. Eventually, after about 20 minutes, Stuart decided we should drive into the village in case there was another footpath that had brought them out in the village itself. As we turned into the square at the bottom of the village there were two familiar faces sitting on the wall waiting! Oops!!

The weary five of us then headed for home and cups of tea for Mum and Dad and a glass of beer for Stuart and me.

After their tea, though, Mum and Dad headed straight back to the lower terraces to plant potatoes. It had been their mission today (self-imposed, that is, not a mission set for them by us) to finish digging the first vegetable plot and plant up the potatoes, and so they did! Stuart was under strict instruction to take it easy this afternoon, so he sat and read up on composting and other useful topics.

Feeling like I ought to do something constructive, I headed up the terraces to saw down a couple more acacia trees (which, I guess, could be considered destructive rather than constructive), but before I knew it the clock was striking 7pm. This daylight saving hours malarky (a.k.a. British Summertime to those born and bred in the UK) has taken us all a bit by surprise today, so we all hurried inside to clean up before dinner.

It has been another lovely day - a real treat to spend so much time with Mum and Dad, and the beautiful spring weather has made it even more enjoyable.