Sunday 23 October 2016

R&R - "rest & relaxation" or "raking & riding"?

My trip away from Numero 182 and our little piece of Italy for the annual Virus Bulletin conference was long and exhausting, but the plus points were being able to catch up (if all too briefly) with my lovely family in the UK on the short hop from Italy prior to the long haul to the US, as well as spending the week in the US working with friends and colleagues.

Being in Denver was something of a culture shock - the view from my hotel room was certainly somewhat different from the view I have become used to at home! It also turns out that being in the 'mile high city' is somewhat different from living at just 200m above sea level, and the effects of the altitude (combined with jetlag, plus the end of a bad cold, plus tiredness from long working days) were noticeable.

A somewhat different view from normal...
...But there are mountains in the distance!

At the end of the conference week, there was a day and a half to spare before the start of the long journey back to Europe, which afforded me the opportunity to meet up with Zach and Holly and their little dog Winry - our 'trio' of HelpX-ers who spent three weeks painstakingly raking our lower terraces in March 2015 (who moved to Denver at the end of their trip around Europe), and without whose work we would have struggled to get our veg beds up and running so quickly.

Lovely to see these faces again...
...and I got a brief cuddle with Winry (shhh don't tell Reggie!)

I also spotted something on the streets of Denver for us to aspire to:

We'd need a crane to carry this up the terraces from the veg garden!

After 11 nights and almost 12 full days away from home I was more than ready to come back, and it was with great relief and happiness that I finally touched down in Pisa and was met at the gate by the very welcome sight of my lovely smiling husband. I even got a 3-minute enthusiastic welcome from Reggie when we got back to the house!

The following few days were spent re-adjusting to Italian time and catching up on sleep, as well as trying to get my head back into Italian language mode (with two lessons on the same day - total immersion?!), and before we knew it, it was the weekend and time to welcome some more guests: our good friends Allison and Q.

Having spent the week in Denver with Allison, and stopped over at Allison and Q's house on the way back, it was only a matter of days since I'd last seen them, but we had been looking forward to having them come and stay with us for months. They have visited us each October for the last few years, this being their third visit, and their visit usually marks the end of a long, intense summer of hard work for me (and even more so for Allison) as well as the start of some lovely autumnal days with blue skies and sunshine during the day and the first fires lit in the evenings.

Allison and Q are unique amongst our guests in that Allison considers 'R&R' to be helping us with work outside on our terraces, while Q considers 'R&R' to be cycling up the impossibly steep mountainous roads around the valley. This suits us just perfectly of course, and we were looking forward to a week of working outdoors in the autumn sunshine, and eating, drinking and chatting the evenings away in great company.

And so the week unfolded pretty much exactly like that. Q went out cycling around the valley every day, while Allison donned her work clothes and hiking boots and got stuck in with us on our terraces. The weather was generally kind to us with just one day when it was too wet to go and do anything outside (although Q still managed a cycle ride). On that day, we managed to coax our friends out for a trip to Vinci, birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci, where this time we actually visited the museum dedicated to Leonardo's many incredible inventions as well as admiring the stunning vistas all around.


With Allison's help, and with the extra motivation that having an extra pair of hands (and keen ones at that) inspired in us, we made great strides outdoors this week. I had long ago decided that I would take this week as a 'holiday' from office work, so it was with impunity that I donned my working clothes and dedicated whole days to being outdoors.

Between Stuart, Allison and me, we cleared additional sections of each of the terraces below the house, widening them out to their full width by clearing the sections that descend from beneath the car park. On the final day we also cleared the other end of the terraces, finally starting to tidy up behind and around the old rubbish shed beneath the walnut tree. We cleared bramble and acacia, burned and chipped, filled compost bays, cut trees and moved wood - it's fair to say that by the end of the week we were feeling almost as exhausted as at the end of the week working away in Denver, but it was a very different and much more pleasurable kind of exhaustion and a very satisfying kind of work.

Allison has now added tractor driving to her list of skills.





And... Clear!

Allison adds wood chipping to her CV.

Building up the compost piles.

The other side of the terraces
Clear up to the rubbish shed.

The end of a satisfying day's work.

This being Allison and Q's third visit to us, it was the second time Reggie has met them, and he seemed to relax in their company remarkably quickly, even allowing Q to get close to him for a good tummy rub on the sofa. A privilege indeed!


We ended the week in style with a trip to Michelle's restaurant up in Macchino for the most enormous meal I think any of us have had all year. We started with a plate of delicious antipasti, featuring cheese from Siena, honey from Medicina, walnuts from Sorrento, parma ham, various salmis, wild boar sausage, the sweetest baby onions cooked in balsalmic vinegar, delicious pears and the most incredible crostini topped with a parsley and garlic mix. I attempted to advise the others to skip the pasta course, but they ignored my advice and while Allison tucked into a plate of hand made pasta with a sausage and leek ragu, both Stuart and Q opted for pasta with a zingy tomato sauce made with nduja, a spicy salami that melts into the sauce. Of course, Stuart offered me a few mouthfuls of the pasta and I can confirm that it was amazing! Next, Allison was presented with a plate of Tuscan sausages cooked in beans, while Stuart, Q and I each had a plate of wild boar on a bed of polenta, served with beans in tomato sauce and rapa (a type of greens) cooked with garlic and chilli. By the time the main courses arrived, we were all fit to burst and thankfully, after we'd had enough of a taste to confirm that these dishes were also absolutely delicious, we had the foresight to ask Michelle if we could take some leftovers home, which she kindly boxed up for us. Finally, we finished the meal off with a caffe corretto (espresso 'corrected' with a shot of sambuca), limoncello, and a smooth sweet dessert wine with cantuccini. Michelle's hospitality really knows no bounds!

The week went by all too quickly and before we knew it, it was time for the drive back to Pisa to drop our friends off at the airport for their journey home. It has been a great week on so many levels - great to be outdoors in the sunshine, and great to have made such progress with work outside, but above all, great to spend quality time with such good friends. Ahh, it's good to be home!

Surviving in a wife-less world.

Monday was a slow day and after a dog walk I put the fresh linen on the bed in the apartment and laid out the towels ready for our guests to arrive from Germany later that day.

I have to be honest, writing this part of the blog over a week later I can't remember in the slightest what else I got up to on this particular day, I've checked my phone for photos and my messages back and forth from friends and Helen for the day and can glean nothing from anywhere as to what I did, it almost seems I ceased to exist for the time between lunch and going to Vellano for dinner with Dave and Sarah and their guests so I'm afraid you'll have to make do with that...there's plenty more to come though.

I met Dave and Sarah at Manero's in Vellano for dinner, it was Monday night and I was first to arrive and walked in on the chef having dinner with three friends, so sat myself down in front of TV until an Aperol Spritz arrived for me.

It wasn't long until the rest of the gang arrived and we moved into the dining room for the usual feast of antipasti, pasta and grilled meats with side orders abound.

As we left we crossed a couple of locals on their way in for a drink, It seemed I hadn't received the email with the dress code.

Apparently Monday is Grey Hoody night at Ristorante Manero..

Tuesday was a lovely clear and fresh day so I decided to start the day with a brisk walk along the track that starts near San Quirico, a track that winds up the hill for almost 5km before arriving at a refuge.

We have avoided this tracks for months now and particularly in summer as it is very popular with mountain bikers, not one of Reggie's favourites but figured it now being October we could give it a try...what I hadn't banked on was the volume of Mushroom pickers lurking in the woods, there must have been a car parked on the side of the track every 200 metres, after passing the 12th car and more still passing us on the way down after picking I decided it best to turn back, soon after which Reggie found one picker deep in the woods barking at him until I could call him back, I can only imagine the look on the person's face...from shock and fear to annoyance that their secret spot might have been found.

San Quirico looking splendid in the Autumn sun.
After getting home and a bit of lunch I went to pick some veg down in the garden so that I could take it to Amanda for sale in her shop.

Peppers and Aubergine still cropping well into October.
It was only the second time this year we had taken more than Amanda felt she could sell so I headed home with a few spares to make a start on the homework Samantha gave me to leave with, there was more of it than I realised and before I knew it, hours later most of the afternoon had vanished.

More than two hours spent doing homework..Samantha was very apologetic when she realised.
Wednesday started with the usual Johnny lesson but in an unusual fashion it this week it was only Johnny and me, Helen obviously still being in Denver and Dave and Sarah having guests until later that day.

After initial concern of having nobody to hide behind we had a great lesson which ended up being conversationally based in which I felt like I'd learnt some really helpful stuff and the fact it was just me and that I was trying to converse it highlighted my weak areas, really useful so that I can now try and concentrate a little more on that outside of group lessons with Samantha.

After lunch I spent the afternoon down in the neglected veg garden making a start on tidying and the always present activity of weeding.

Except for one bed of brassicas the garden is starting to wind down for the year, the last few tomatoes can be picked soon as can the last peppers and aubergines, after weeding all the beds and removing the spent plants we will need to mulch with some form of material as is the no-dig method of gardening, to keep smother the weeds,  nourish and condition the soil and stop any rainfall compacting the soil and leaching away useful nutrients, also leaving in tact the network of
Mycorrhizal fungi that should hopefully be now building beneath the soil.

Sprouts seem happy on the right, as do the other younger brassicas planted at the end of summer.
After a sweaty few hours amongst the black fabric of the garden I retired indoors to shower and after dinner I spent a couple of joyous hours catching up on the American football highlights from the first three weeks of the season that I realised the BBC had acquired this year...thank you iPlayer.

Thursday again started with a dog walk but yet again I have a blank in terms of what I did for the gap after the walk and before Samantha arriving, I'm sure it was something productive but I couldn't tell for a moment what, you're just going to have to take my word for it and be thankful the blog is a little shorter.

Samantha arrived at two for our lesson, again it was one on one and again I was nervous of the situation but having a heap of homework to check through first I soon eased into it finishing by translating a story about a wounded dolphin (which turned out to be a dead dolphin by the end) and answering multiple choice questions to assess comprehension, this took us up to the end of the lesson, another very fruitful and useful one but next week will be back to normal.

After Samantha left I changed into dirty farm clothes and took the tractor up the newly cleared donkey track to start cutting things down and moving fallen trees to the quarry for seasoning for next winter.
Two new chopping blocks off to the quarry!
More wood for winter 2017
After a very enjoyable afternoons work in pleasant Autumn weather I headed indoors to have an hour with Reggie before abandoning him for the evening to go for dinner with Paul, Kathy and their guest Simon at an Agriturismo that I'd up until now only seen signs for and heard about.

The place was very Italian and unfussy, by that I mean a TV in the corner and overly bright lighting but it was comfortable nonetheless and we sat down to a table already adorned with wine, salumi and bread, an excellent start.

I'd been told by Paul and Kathy the menu never changes and for that reason there is no physical menu, shortly after starting the cured meats a plate of crostini with warm chicken liver pate arrived.

This was followed by mushroom tagliatelle which in turn was followed by a ravioli with ragu.

For main course we had thinly sliced roasted beef with a side of white beans, followed by roast chicken and rabbit with chips, followed by wild boar stew with fried porcini mushrooms!!

It didn't end there, we each got a chunk of their own cheese, a combination of goat and sheeps milk made at the farm, followed by a small portion of cake with coffee and finished with the obligatory limoncello, all for €25 per head...staggering..or should I say rolling out of there before midnight to head home.

Friday I took Reggie for a walk before depositing him at the house so that I could do the food shopping in town as was my normal routine.

After that and a bit of lunch I headed up the donkey track again but this time with the wood chipper was time to really put the chipper through its paces.

There were a few piles like this to chip my way through.
Chipper did an admirable did the sure-footed tractor
I chipped my way all down the track.
The chipping took me the rest of the day before which I showered and changed before heading back down to Pescia for dinner at the Phillips household, people seem to assume Men alone cannot feed themselves but I wasn't about to argue.

Saturday I decided to take Reggie somewhere a little different for a good lengthy walk so headed right up to the top of the valley and to Stiappa having identified an as yet untried track that goes into the woods from the village.

Having suffered a whiny Reggie in my ear the entire way I found the roads littered with cars, so many there was nowhere to park, scuppered yet again by mushroom hunters? Wasn't sure but I didn't want to try walking the dog in the area even if I could find a spot to leave our car, so poor Reggie had to endure a descent down the other side of the valley before I decided to try a track we hadn't used for a while which headed up towards San Quirico from an old abandoned mill at the roadside.

It wasn't long after crossing the bridge to the mill that a couple of mountain bikers came at us from the hill we were about to ascend, shouting as they passed that more were wasn't going to be a good day for doggie walks it seemed but we clambered around in the woods the other side of the river trying to find a path to Aramo instead which gave Reggie enough of a leg stretch for us to turn back and head home for lunch.

Stage three of the weeks work was to now swap the chipper for the box and go and collect the chippings and shreddings so that could go to the compost piles.

Off to the compost bays with you!
With that done it was off to Vellano for dinner with David, Sarah and Donatella, tonight though it was Chinese on the menu, Szechuan to be more precise using the second of Sarah's spice box deliveries.

We have not yet had a chinese style curry from the Spicery but it was very good, as always it felt authentic when compared to what you get in the U.K. lots of the dishes had viniger in to give the sour part of the sweet and sour combo typical of food from the Szechuan region, the main two dishes were a noodle dish with tahini and peanut and Aubergine in a thick, dark sticky sweet and sour sauce.

Sunday was a slow start and I allowed myself something of a lie in but rose to take Reggie for a walk during which we encountered no foragers but I did have an epic boot failure which cut the walk a little shorter than planned.

Severe boot failure! 
Walk done it was compost time...after fixing the chute to a more permanent position I set about shovelling all the material down to the bins below.

Chip chute fixed in place so it's no longer a moving target!
Time to build the pile!

SO one full bay at last...three to go.

At four in the afternoon Paul and Kathy picked me up to head to the chestnut festival in vellano.

The festival had been going for a couple of hours by now so we had to park some distance from the village and walk in from there, during which the lovely afternoon started to turn decidedly wet and by the time we arrived to but donuts from Donatella, David and Sarah who were selling them at the Circolo it was heavy rain indeed.

After about quarter of an hour and a brief reprieve in the weather we headed into the village to look around the mining museum but it was clear that everyone with a stall was giving up on the festival for the day so after leaving the museum we headed straight back to the car and were Pescia bound.

There was a street food festival on which had previously been rained off also so we were interested to see what was on offer...the answer we soon found was not very much, we guessed some had packed up early also because of the rain that day.

We headed instead to 'last chance motel' in the form of a beer festival in a restaurant tucked away off a little Piazza, we were too early but the setting up looked encouraging so we headed to trusty old Bar Pulter for an hour for a couple of drinks before heading back to the festival.

As the picture bleow shows...third time lucky! My first ever real pretzel which are a huge improvement over the snack type pretzels and a huge lump of pork on the bone, washed down with a couple of red German beers before heading home for a relatively early night.

German beer festival in Pescia and my first REAL pretzel.

With the week behind me and another starting I went out to fix a water supply problem in Vellano with David during the morning and after replacing a leaky t-fitting and using some magic mortar that sets in running water it seems that we may have finally fixed this ongoing issue once and for all.

So much water now it's back flowing.

If you need mortar to set under water then you need MasterSeal 590!
The rest of the time between lunch time and leaving for the airport to collect Helen on Tuesday afternoon I busied myself cleaning the house top to bottom and doing laundry and linen changes as a little surprise for when she got back.

After collecting a tired wife from the airport we went home for dinner, doggie cuddles and the first fire of the season.
First of the season but one of the last in this old wood burner.

Mommy cuddles!

Monday 3 October 2016

It's been a while!

Well it's been so long since I last wrote a post I can't even remember, brace yourselves...I've waffled on a bit...and Helen hasn't had chance to edit it either!

After the fun of the weekend I felt up to a bit of physical work Monday, the first in weeks which was hugely frustrating as the weather had turned positively Autumnal since getting back from England, weather that I had been waiting weeks for to arrive so that I could get stuck into some work outside.

After breakfast and walking Reggie I went to finish off building the new compost bays below the car park area so that I could start building some compost piles with the help of the new chipper.

Having built the bays it was time for lunch and a bit of time in front of my computer to work on the graphic design for the Virus Bulletin conference the following week, the clock was ticking!

After Finishing off the video I produced to open the event I went back outside but the phone rang before I got more than a few steps (will I ever make any compost?), It was the courier delivering our new fridge, he wasn't far away but didn't know the area so I had to give him directions after which he said he would see me soon, leaving me to hope that he wasn't going to have kittens about the driveway like the guy who delivered the dishwasher did.

He soon rang the gate buzzer which set Reggie off barking and I waited for him to arrive at the house, he did a three point turn and reversed into our little dry stone wall breaking his rear light, preparing myself for the worst as he hopped out of the van...he said nothing, relief!

We unloaded the fridge, as we did he apologised for being late, he had a puncture that morning which had delayed him considerably and he still had another five deliveries to do that evening, poor guy.

After setting the fridge in the house and signing the multiple copies of the paperwork I walked him out while trying to explain where Larciano was so that he could head off to his next delivery.

I went back inside to unpack the fridge when my phone rang again, it was the courier, he had hit a piece of stone on the driveway and had another flat tyre!

I went to see him to offer help, he was clearly running out of patience with Monday and didn't seem to know what to do but asked for a hammer to try and repair the wheel rim which now had a huge dent in it.

The hammer didn't work, this was a wheel destined for scrap!

So, I had a large van on the drive with three working wheels and two flat ones and he was saying that his breakdown company would be hours before coming to him, did I know a tyre shop he asked.

After all the messing around going back and forth for hammers and tyre shop numbers it was gone 6pm, quite likely now that most if not all tyre shops would be closed but we tried calling a couple and one in Pescia said that they were too busy to come out to him but if we took the wheel to them they would have a look so we loaded the flat spare from under the van into the car and went into Pescia, a little confusion ensued as I was looking for the tyre place we'd spoken to but he now wanted me to go back towards home to a car mechanic we had passed, it turned out someone in his office had been calling around too and spoken to someone there that said they would have a look.

We found the place ready to close but two young guys waiting for us to arrive, after pulling a couple of suspect items from the tyre tread but failing to find the puncture we were on the verge of giving up and I was wondering if this guy was going to need a bed for the night or at the very least a stiff drink and dinner.

Luckily, just before doing so the young guy found the problem was a broken valve and set to work repairing it before sending us on our way with a fully inflated tyre.

Relief! A quick wheel change and I would be rid of this guy!

It was now dark by the time we got back to the van, he'd been here for about three hours already so we unloaded the wheel and he asked for a wheel brace...'non hai una chiave'? I said, he said he used to have one but hasn't done for months so I produced ours from the car only to find it too small, 5mm to be precise...would this saga ever end!?

I called David up in Vellano to see what he had in his was bigger than 20mm, so I charged up to Vellano to get that from him along with a second he found of yet another size, Why aren't these things standardised?

I got back, tried the first..too small...tried the second...HURRAH! 20 minutes later and with a smile returning to his face he drove off into the night Larciano bound.

What a day!

Tuesday after breakfast, and a dog walk I sorted through the two crates of tomatoes we picked the weekend so that some could go to Amanda and the rest into the freezer, this took up the rest of the morning but good to have done it, now we have heaps of homegrown cherry tomatoes in the freezer which make a great out of season fresh pasta sauce.

Tomato town!
After lunch I went out on a few errands, fuel was first, then to Maionchi to collect my repaired hedge trimmer attachment, finally ending up at Frateschi for some new metal fence posts now that I had used our last to build the new compost bays.

While there I caught sight of one of those builders rubble chutes and thought that would be amazing for shifting large quantities of chippings directly to the bays below so I asked Danilo if they were expensive, they were, not that I ever found out exactly how expensive but I explained it was only for wood chip, it didn't need to be that indestructible just long enough to reach the bays and wide enough to throw a spade of material into.

He took me to the very back of the yard and showed me some 6 metre long tubes that were very light, a little flexible but durable, used for laying under roads he said, or at least I think that's what he said, he can be quite hard to understand, especially when laughing at me as he often does.

I went in to Paolo to pay for the posts and asked how much the tube was...€100 was the reply, seemed like just the right price for the amount of labour that would save in building just one pile so said I'd like one but didn't know how to get it home.

He looked through the window at the car and said put it on the roof, he said this with a deadpan expression so assumed he was serious, had it been Danilo who suggested this I'd have been giving it more serious thought but Paolo as the owner of the shop is much more serious and sensible so I paid and took the car to the back of the yard to strap the new chip chute to the roof, much to Danilo's delight, who laughed and giggled his was through the whole process insisting I don't leave until he took a picture of the car with its 'canon' on top.

He appeared from the office with Paolo and his camera, both men beaming from ear to ear, it was infectious and I couldn't help have a little giggle myself with them before driving up the valley for the short drive home...that was quite enough for one day.

'Pimped' my ride!

Wednesday as usual started with our Italian lesson with Johnny, this week though without David and Sarah as they had guests with them and were heading to Siena for the day.

After an interesting lesson translating a list of common mistakes made by foreigners when using Italian we sent him on his way to Paul and Kathy, and I took Reggie out for a walk in the woods before lunch time was upon us, I was determined today to make a start on the compost heaps.

After lunch on the patio Helen went back to the office to continue to tie up loose ends before heading to the conference and I headed to the compost area to start loading the first bay.

Up until now we haven't wasted any food scraps of any sort, uncooked veg peelings get split between the chickens and the cold compost heap behind the house while cooked items plus some raw veg go to the wormery which is now also home to black soldier fly larvae, also excellent composters and possibly even better than tiger worms, time will tell on that front.

This is all working very well and we have taken a fair amount of fresh compost out of the cold piles each year but the down side of a cold pile, (by 'cold pile' I mean a pile that is slowly added to until full and then left for many months until composted) is not only the time required for it to break down but that seeds germinate readily in the compost and it's possible to harbour disease from old plants which then ends up on your next years plantings.

WARNING: more paragraphs of compost talk to follow, feel free to skip past if you have no interest in dirt.

By contrast a hot pile, which is built in one go to a minimum size of 1 cubic metre gets so hot it kills all disease, pests and seeds in the process and can be ready to use in as little as three months, clearly the best compost we could hope for but we need a LOT of material to create such large heaps, hence the purchase of the wood chipper.

Now...I've read a fair amount in books lately about composting and all seem to agree that the optimum composition for compost building is a ratio of 3:1, that is 3 parts brown/carbon to 1 part green/nitrogen, so fallen leaves and wood-chip for browns and grass clippings and anything still green as the nitrogen or greens.

The theory is the greenery creates the initial heat in the heap as it rots quickly then the brown materials will heat and stay hot for a number of weeks helping the whole heap break down much more quickly, turning the pile about every three weeks or once the pile has dropped below 38 degrees centigrade.

So I spent the rest of the afternoon shovelling materials down the chute and then layering the pile, each layer had a light sprinkling of fresh compost to introduce the helpful bacteria and a light watering so that the bacteria can function.

A fairly labour intensive job but very satisfying knowing that this single heap will have saved us around €80 on shop bought compost and we still have another four bins to fill, self sufficient in compost next year? hope so!
5 bays built

Chute ready for action
Taking aim!
Layer one of many...6 inches of 'brown' material
layer topped with a sprinkling of fresh compost and then watered
A layer of 'green' with yet more compost and water
Compost lasagna almost finished!!
Thursday was a frantic day as Helen was leaving tomorrow morning and she had a lot to get done before doing so.

I first busied myself with walking Reggie and finishing off my own last bit of conference work which took me up to lunch time.

After lunch the compost thermometer I order arrived so I went straight down to see how the pile was doing, assuming I'd built the heap correctly it should be warming up already, I stuck the thermometer into the heap and watched as the needle span slowly clockwise ending up at 65 degrees centigrade, excellent start!
..and then to 65 degrees! (149 fahrenheit)

It wasn't long before Samantha arrived for our weekly lesson so I sat down to do my homework before she arrived not wanting to be a disappointment the teacher.

After half an hour of marking and correcting I left for the office while Helen and Samantha got stuck into whatever advanced stuff they are working on with out me to hinder the process, most likely more prepositions.

Once Samantha left to the usual volleys of barks from Reggie I started up the wood chipper to chip up a pile of kindling cluttering the area where the tractor will soon be parked under cover before calling it a day and retiring indoors for a quick and easy dinner of take away pizza.

Goodbye cuddles!
Friday started with taking Helen to the airport at Pisa for the first of her four flights over the next two weeks.

We barely spoke during the drive, partly through tiredness partly through sadness as she was going to be away for a lengthy 12 days, possibly the longest time we've been apart.

Needless to say there were a few tears at the airport and after waving my best friend goodbye I headed back home to count down the days.

Once home Reggie and I went out for a walk up near Vellano before coming home for lunch.

After lunch and a large mug of coffee I headed out to do a few hours strimming before getting ready for dinner at Restaurant Da Carla this evening, Allen and Gisela had very kindly invited me out to eat with them and I took no convincing, it would certainly be nice to chat properly without Reggie as the backing track for a change.

I cut the grass around the gates to tidy up the entrance way before heading to the upper donkey track which I wanted to cut and tidy before attempting to venture up there in the tractor to collect wood to chip.

After getting up to the top and running out of cord I headed back to the house to shower off the dirt before going out for what felt like a well earned meal after such a long period of inactivity thanks to the tracheal infection I've been battling with since getting back from England.

We were soon in the car and heading down to Da Carla for a typical Tuscan meal and more Sorana beans which both Allen and Gisela had developed a soft spot for in their short stay here.

We shared salumi, cheese, bean salad, crostini and bruschetta to start followed by a plate of pasta each and then a mixed grill for two between the three of us, a mixed grill that beat us, not being able to eat the last pork rib or two pieces of rabbit (Reggie had no problem helping out once we got back with them).

After they refused my money and paid the bill, yet again remarking how cheap the restaurants were in this area we headed home with the doggie bag and sat outside for an hour with a glass of wine chatting until almost 1am before retiring for the night, what a wonderful evening was had with such lovely people, we were all just sad that Helen had missed out.

After a late night with Allen and Gisela it was a slow start to the day, while I could hear Allen and Gisela packing and tidying down in the apartment in readiness to leave I sat with another large mug of coffee (I have to drink twice as much from the Moka pot now Helen is away) and a book on small scale farming.

Eventually I knew they were starting to load the car, or at least that's what I think Reggie was shouting from the fence separating them from him.

I went down to chat while they finished off and helped fill out some postage forms for a couple of parcels they were sending back home to upstate New York before they continued their holiday heading for the mighty Dolomite mountains.

One of Allen and Gisela's guide books!
The lovely Gisela
A rarity...all three of us in a single photo..thanks Allen!
After saying goodbye I waved them off hoping that they would come back sometime, of all our guests, many of whom have thoroughly loved their time here, non have fitted into the valley more than Allen and Gisela so we do hope they'll be back at some point, although the Atlantic is quite some obstacle.

Not long afterwards I loaded Reggie into the car and headed out for a walk down in the valley bottom by Castelvecchio, after crossing the somewhat overgrown Ponte Bello I ascended up the other side of the valley until I came to a junction in the footpaths, one Helen and I had passed before but this time I turned right towards Casa Buti and Pian della Bombola, neither of which I knew of but fancied a change.

We walked...and walked, and walked, all the while up hill, we passed an overgrown stone built chestnut barn that must have been disused for many a year judging by the location and access.

I had no idea where I was going but had vague idea of where in the valley we might pop out, If only I had my phone or GPS...but I didn't, both were at home, the phone on charge.

We continued for some time, during which we could hear some guys with 2-stroke machines way below us, surely on the track we had walked up, I couldn't tell if they were on dirt bikes or had some kind of tool, either way I decided to keep heading up in the hope we'd pop out somewhere soon but the dense woodland never relented.

At home in the woods but thirsty!
After an hour and a half of this I decided it was probably sensible to turn around and retrace our steps as Reggie was now slowing down and taking time for the occasional lie down, I at least knew where there was a stream for him to drink from behind us.

As is often the way with any journey the return seems half the distance as the venture out so it felt like only a hour after turning back when we got back to the car, could well have been that much shorter, it was all down hill after all.

No idea how far up this track we got, next time the GPS is going with me!

On the way home we stopped off at Amanda's to collect our weekly loaf of fresh bread, this week having changed from our usual salted Tuscan loaf to a Pugliese style loaf, much lighter and fluffier, needless to say I went straight home and ate copious slices of it with cheese and onion sandwiched between them before the gate buzzer rang, it was Paul and Kathy on their way to Montecatini with a welcome gift of a bottle of English Ale for me!

THANKS Paul and Kathy!!
After a coffee and a chat, I decided to head out for a few hours work, time I spent with the chainsaw and tractor tidying up wood for next winter and moving it from the car park to the quarry near the gates out of harms way.

After a muggy few hours I retired indoors for some dinner, a bottle of Wainrights Ale and a movie before bed.

Sunday started deliberately slowly, yet another mug of espresso and my head in my farming book before heading down to clean the apartment in readiness for our next guests arriving Monday.

By half one I'd done everything but put fresh linen and towels down there but that was a job for tomorrow before they arrived.

After more fresh crusty Pugliese sandwiches I headed into town with Reggie to walk the river while it was quiet, it being lunch time.

It was warming up as the day wore on and was glad to get back to the car, we even had the air conditioning on for ten minutes as we drove up the valley home.

I had been invited to the Phillips house for dinner this evening at six so was only left with a couple of spare hours so feeling duty bound sat down to start my first blog of many weeks if not months and feeling very rusty for it!

An uneventful end to the week but punctuated nicely by dinner with Chris, Sue and the boys whom I hadn't seen for months so we had a lot to catch up on.