This morning must easily have been the coldest we've had this week - which also means the coldest we've had yet this winter. There was a thick frost on the terraces and even the buckets of rainwater at the back of the house had frozen over. I was thankful for the relative shelter of the half-built shed for the half-hour I spent on the bike and turbo trainer this morning - or was I? I would far rather have been tucked up cosily in bed still, but I knew I would feel better for having done it, and in the end I was right. It was good to get back inside and warm up in a hot shower though.
After we had breakfasted, we sought out winter coats from the depths of the wardrobe that hadn't seen the light of day since perhaps February or March - or rather I did. Stuart decided it was actually cold enough to put a sweatshirt on over his t-shirt, and even went as far as taking a pair of gloves with him - it seems it will have to be Arctic weather before he concedes to wearing a coat! All dressed up against the cold, we bundled Reggie into the car and headed to Nerone's café in the village for a cappuccino to warm us up from the inside, before heading up the hill towards Vellano.
We decided we would do the Obaca walk again today - the walk we first did with David last Sunday. While this time around there were no snow-dusted hills in the distance, it was colder this time around, and a thick hoar frost coated every blade of grass, twig and leaf (at least all those in the shade).
|Lovely in the sun; frosty in the shade!|
The walk through the trees soon warmed us up though, and in the patches where the sun broke through it was beautiful.
Having finished our walk by 11am, we decided to get the supermarket shopping out the way, so we dropped Reggie back at the house before heading into Pescia. We only stopped at Esselunga today, and although it was busy it wasn't too tedious. We decided to stop off in town on our way back home - we wanted an oil dispenser for our fresh extra virgin olive oil and thought we would try one of the kitchenware shops in town. It being market day, everywhere was very busy. We tried the car park by the old flower market, which was rammed with cars parked in the most haphazard manner. There are no markings in this car park to indicate where the spaces are/should be, so it seems that when it is very busy, people just wing it and make it up as they go along. We found several spots that appeared to be free, but on assessing the parked vehicles surrounding them, realised that if we parked there we would either block someone in, or be blocked in ourselves. We eventually found a tight space that Stuart managed to squeeze the car into, and headed off on foot hoping that we'd still be able to get out again by the time we returned.
We managed to find an oil dispenser in the kitchenware shop and decided to swing by the fruit and veg market on our way back to the car, to see if there were any decent empty veg crates going spare. There are always plastic crates going spare at the end of the market - they simply get dumped in an enormous pile and taken away as rubbish once everyone has packed up and gone away - Stuart has now reached connoisseur status as far as plastic crates go, or perhaps I should say he has become a plastic crate snob. We could see the pile of crates as we crossed the middle of the small piazza, and even from there Stuart seemed excited by the fact that there were some of his favourite blue crates in the pile - "really good ones" (what has our life become?!). We duly stopped and picked up five blue plastic crates before heading back to the car. By this time, the morning's sunshine had long since disappeared behind a bank of cloud and it was feeling decided chilly, so we hurried back to the car and headed for home to unload our shopping and the crate 'treasure'.
We decided to have a hot pasta lunch today - something a little out of the ordinary for us, but the weather seemed to dictate that hot food was necessary and we fancied a change from soup.
Once we'd finished lunch I was sorely tempted to spend the rest of the chilly afternoon tucked up indoors by the fire, but instead we left Reggie in the house with a bone to keep him entertained while the pair of us headed up the terraces - together, for a change - to spend an afternoon clearing more ash trees and burning more enormous piles of bramble. While Stuart and his chainsaw made short work of the ash trees, I had one of the best bonfires I've had (yes, that's right, Stuart rates plastic crates while I rate bonfires...). The fire got going nice and easily, and quickly got hot and hungrily burned through the bramble - the novelty of seeing great big piles of waste being reduced to nothing has not yet worn off for me, and the satisfaction of seeing the troublesome brambles burn is quite something.
Stuart also cut off some acacia stumps (not before I tripped over one of them though, bruising my leg and grazing the skin as I did so - thankfully it wasn't too close to the fire!) and painted the cut stumps with some lethal (to acacias) systemic tree killing solution. While we don't like to use chemicals in general, and we don't use pesticides or weed killer on our veg or in the garden, the acacia trees have proved to be the bane of our lives. Only a couple of days ago I was looking at some photographs of the upper terraces that we'd taken just a few months back in the summer when you couldn't even see the terraces that we are now raking and burning on - they were forests of acacia. Since every time we cut an acacia, it springs back into life and sprouts back up again (growing at a rate of knots to boot), we decided to try a more drastic course of action. Hopefully, by painting the stumps with this solution, we will not get the same re-growth as we did this year - watch this space!
We burned bramble and cut trees for a solid few hours before the light started to dim and the temperature dropped again, at which point we brought our tools down, collected the day's eggs from the chickens (three today: two white, one brown), and came indoors to light the fire, roast some chestnuts and spend the evening relaxing.
Sunday morning started out fresh and chilly once again - it seemed a touch milder than Saturday had been, but there was still a hint of a frost on the rooftops in Pietrabuona, there was a wintry-looking sky and the air smelled cold. We took Reggie out for a walk first thing - stopping off for a coffee (of course) and today a pasty at Nerone's café as we hadn't yet had breakfast. We then made our way through Pescia to the part of the river that has become known as the 'chicken run' walk.
As we started out along the river bank, I wished I'd brought a thicker coat with me - with no sunshine on the river it felt decidedly chilly and as Reggie ran along we could see his breath coming out in great big puffs that made him look like a smoke-breathing dragon (albeit in dog form).
Today was the busiest we've ever seen this particular walk - we first met a jogger, followed by a man and a poor elderly-looking dog who Reggie was embarrassingly aggressive towards, followed by two more men and their respective dogs. Of course, we leashed Reggie up for the section of the walk past the 'chicken run house', so other than him trying to beat up the first dog we met, the walk was incident-free. By the time we turned around, the sun was just starting to make its way through the mist to the river bank, making an instant difference in the temperature.
We got back to the car just as it was coming up to 10.15am, and decided to stop for another morning coffee at the café that we recently found close to the end of the 'chicken run' walk.
Coffees warming us through, we headed back up the hill with one more stop to make - our weekly visit to Amanda's shop for our Sunday lunch and my Italian homework from Samantha. As is often the case, we found almost the entire family there: Amanda, Samantha and their Mum and Dad, so we had a good chat with them all and were even gifted two enormous grapefruits fresh from Amanda & Samatha's parents' garden - we will look forward to trying those!
It was 11am when we got home, so we decided to have an early lunch before a solid afternoon's work on the terraces. So, while Stuart spent an hour tinkering with the roofing on the shed, I wrapped some of the pot plants up in protective fleece for the winter (hoping the few frosts this week haven't already damaged them), put some washing on and heated up our lunch: pork escalopes with artichoke, rolls of pork stuffed with cheese, and of course some delicious roast potatoes.
After lunch it was straight up the terraces for both of us with our respective sets of hedge cutters. For a while we both attacked an enormous bank of 6ft bramble covering a terrace towards the top of where we have cleared (I would say 'towards the top of our terraces', but we know for a fact that our terraces go on, and on, further up the hill - it's just that they are currently hidden in bramble). A few weeks ago we'd spotted a large olive tree deep amongst the bramble and I, along with Allison's help, had cleared the terrace to reach the tree. At the same time, Stuart had started clearing further along the left of some of the current terraces, in an attempt to uncover them to their full width. This left us with a single terrace (this one covered in 6ft bramble) between the one I had cleared and the ones Stuart had cleared - so this afternoon, we both attacked the bramble with our blades to break through, giving us a clear run of terraces. Once we'd done that, I turned my attention to raking and then yet more burning - we had effectively created about 5 days worth of burning in about 40 minutes of work, so I decided I ought to get on with burning through some of the stuff that was already piled up awaiting a bonfire!
While I tended the fire, Stuart continued with his hedge cutters, this time working his way to the right of each of the uppermost terraces. By the time he'd finished we had 15 clear terraces from the house upwards. That is 'clear' but for several ash/hazel trees that will need clearing, and 'clear' but for the piles and piles of bramble that will need burning over the course of the winter.
Come 4.30pm we decided to call it a day so retired indoors to light the fire, shower and change and share a bowl of hot roasted chestnuts. Rather than spending the whole evening by the fire though, we were out the door again at 6.45, heading up the road in the dark towards Vellano to meet up with David and Donatella for pizza at the Bistrot. We had a lovely evening - delicious pizza and great company, a perfect way to round off the weekend.