|Spring is in arrival!
Our good friend Sarah came to visit us last week for a 4-night stay. The last time Sarah visited (on that occasion along with her little boy, Ollie, who on this occasion was busy learning how to ski in the French Alps) was almost 3 years ago, and looking back at the photographs from that visit made us realise how much has changed in that time - back then we hadn't even cleared the upper section of terraces, we were still battling with a car that only started when it decided it wanted to, the tractor didn't have a park, and we were just about to embark on our experience of keeping bees.
Laws of the universe seem to dictate that on the arrival day of someone's stay, everyone has a little too much to drink and eat, and as a consequence the first morning of their stay is a little bleary-eyed. And so it was that after collecting Sarah from the airport and doing a quick dash to stock up on supplies from the supermarket, we relaxed over a late lunch and a bottle of wine in the glorious sunshine. The weather was so spring-like that we continued sitting, chatting, and sipping, interrupting the afternoon only for a circuit of the woods with Reggie so that we could all say we'd stretched our legs, before heading indoors when the sun dipped down and the temperature dropped, to light the fire and begin round 2 (or was it merely a continuation of round 1?) of eating and drinking and catching up.
Despite the tired eyes the next morning, we rallied and headed into Pescia to treat Sarah to a tea (Sarah not being a coffee-drinker) and a pastry at our favourite coffee spot, before then heading out for a drive around the hills in the beautiful sunshine. As Sarah so aptly pointed out, we have become "Sunday drivers" - we aren't ashamed to admit that we enjoy taking an hour or two to drive around the countryside discovering new sights, and revelling in the fact that this is all on our doorstep. On this occasion we stopped and had a wander around the villages of Massa and Cozzile - as new to us as they were to our guest.
Once back at home, it was time for a spot of lunch before rolling up our sleeves and getting stuck in with some graft on the terraces. Sarah had very gamely said she was prepared to give us a hand while she was here, so we jumped at the chance to take her at her word. It's always such a blessing when our visitors are game to give us a helping hand as, really importantly, it means we don't have to put everything on hold for the time while they are here and we get the help of an extra pair of hands. We have some great friends!
The main job we wanted to press on with was the big fencing project which, for various reasons, has stalled on more than one occasion. We made great progress at the outset when our friends Steve and Kathryn did amazing work with us to get the project going, then stalled for many weeks as every time we wanted to go out and work on it there seemed to be hunters in the area and we didn't want to run the risk of Reggie running into them/their dogs. We then made another huge step forward when we had a community day with our friends David & Sarah, Donatella and Paul & Kathy back in January, but then the project stalled once again for various weather-related and other reasons. So it felt good to be getting back on track with things, and on Sunday afternoon, Stuart, Sarah and I worked to edge the fencing a little bit further up the hill. Unfortunately, we ran out of tension wire before the afternoon was over, so our fencing was cut short. Not to waste precious time and help though, we switched jobs, with Sarah and me doing some wood splitting and stacking while Stuart tinkered in his workshop.
|An earth star.
|We found a couple of these on the upper terraces.
|Fencing progress continues...
|...thanks to another pair of helping hands.
Sunday night was a little more restrained, meaning that on Monday morning, as Stuart headed off to do a day's plastering work in Pescia (after first having run into the village to procure some more tensioning wire), Sarah and I geared ourselves up for a full day on the fencing project. The morning was chilly - a shock after the previous couple of days' sunshine and high temperatures - so it took a little willpower (and a few jumpers) to get us out the door, but we did it, and were rewarded a few short hours later when the sun came round and the springlike temperatures returned.
We spent the whole day working on the fencing, managing to get it all the way to the top of the right-hand side of the terraces - a great achievement, and a huge step forward. I had a little office work to do later in the afternoon, but there was no stopping Sarah, who took it upon herself to move some more piles of wood, split and stack it all, as well as taking Reggie out for a walk.
|Sarah and I made even more progress.
|Top corner reached!
On Monday evening, we "treated" Sarah to the English Evening experience at the circolo. She was a great sport and got stuck into the conversation with our regulars Roberto and Vicki, while Paul & Kathy, who also came along to help this week, dedicated their time to speaking with a new attendee - Liliana (who is the mother of the two brothers who run the butcher in Pietrabuona, and the aunt of our friend/regular English Evening attendee Daniele's wife) who spent some years living in Chicago but who feels as if she only speaks and understands American and not English! With Daniele also having come along this week, and the ever-present Luca, it was a great evening.
It wouldn't have been fair to make Sarah work for the entirety of her stay with us, so on Tuesday the plan was for she and I to go into Lucca for a day's sightseeing. Having checked the train timetables, we hopped in the car with Stuart who duly delivered us at the station before starting his day's plastering in Pescia, and Sarah and I hopped on the next train to Lucca.
We spent a lovely morning walking the circuit of the historic city walls, before dropping down into the town, climbing the vertiginous Torre Guinigi, looking around the impressive San Michele church, admiring the Piazza Amfiteatro, having a spot of light lunch, and finally wandering back to the station.
|Views from the Torre Guinigi.
On arriving back in Pescia we walked first to the central post office - where we waited an age just to buy a cardboard box - then on to Sue's house where Stuart was working and from where we picked up the car to drive home.
There was time for me to do a little office work when we got home while Sarah took Reggie for a walk, then sat in the sunshine for a bit. By the time Stuart got home we were all chomping at the bit to go out for the meal we had planned - at one of our favourite pizza restaurants in the nearby town of Borgo Buggiano.
Thankfully, the restaurant was open (and cooking pizzas) by 7pm, so we were first in and perusing the menu by 5 past. As usual, we had a delicious meal, and were stuffed by the time we left!
Wednesday was the last day of Sarah's stay with us. Stuart headed off to Pescia as usual, but this time only for a half-day's work. Meanwhile, Sarah and I took advantage of yet another gloriously sunny morning to walk the short distance down the hill into Pietrabuona to go to the post office to post a parcel. After that, we climbed the steep path up into the village, admired the views back across the valley to our house, before starting the walk back home. We were soon pulling our coats off on the way back, the sun beating on our backs.
|Another glorious day and a sunny view of home.
All too soon it was time to take Sarah back to the airport - it felt as if it had been a short but absolutely packed visit, and great fun as well as an amazing help.
After the fun and activity of the early part of the week, Thursday and Friday were both spent eyes down, nose to the grindstone, working hard to make up time spent away from the office earlier in the week, while Stuart was still grafting away on the plastering job.
The weekend couldn't come soon enough for Stuart - and indeed such was the intensity of my work-days at the end of the week, I felt the same. I was prepared to have a quiet weekend, allowing time for Stuart to recoup a bit of energy after having done two solid weeks of very physical work. But, after our usual Saturday morning routine, we spent the afternoon back on the fencing project, this time getting it halfway across the top terrace.
|Reggie, always keen to help.
|The top section was relatively quick.
|Nice bit of fencing.
Inspired and motivated by the progress we'd made on Saturday, on Sunday morning we came straight home after our morning coffee and went straight back to work on the terraces. By lunchtime Stuart had felled a tree (which he wanted to do before building any more of the fencing in case it at some point fell on it), we had cleared it all up (cut off the branches, raked them into a pile, cut the tree into large logs and left the large branches in a tidy pile), put the rest of the fence posts in for the top terrace and cleared all of the over-hanging bramble away from where we would need to work.
|That tree needs to come down...
|... and it's down.
After a quick stop for lunch we headed back up the terraces and, in the blazing sunshine (20C) we continued the fencing all the way across the top terrace and started on the downward leg of the other side of the terraces.
|Reggie inspects the new fence.
|Going down the other side we are using a different strategy, running the fence along a gulley up against a stone wall (which, in places needs a bit of re-building).
|20C - who would have thought it was only February?
|Top section completed and downward leg begun.
|Very pleased with our progress!
By the end of the day we had made a good start at the downward leg of fencing and were feeling optimistic about moving it further on in the not too distant future. A very satisfying end to a very productive week.