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.|
|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!