Tuesday 11 June 2019

From one extreme to another - sizzling

As mentioned in our last post, May 2019 has been declared the coldest May recorded in Italy for 62 years. And it continued to be that way right up until the very last day of the month - our various visitors put on a brave face, declaring that the weather really didn't matter, while we wondered if we would ever see anything that vaguely resembled a proper spring or even summer.

We needn't have worried as the weather gods seemingly decided they had had enough fun tormenting us with cold, damp weather and it was time to fling us straight into full, sweltering summer, and now as we sizzle in temperatures that reach 37C during the day and struggle to sleep in a bedroom that doesn't drop below 27C, we can barely comprehend the fact that just three weeks ago we were still lighting the wood burner in the evening!!

But for now, back to the cool, damp end of May, when we were joined by our great friends Allison and Q for a week. They have been to visit us every year since we arrived, and have traditionally come in October but decided to try out a different time of year this year. They must have wondered why on earth the bothered as every time they have visited in October they have had amazing sunny, warm weather, but on this occasion were greeted with mist, cloud, rain, and barely a glimpse of the sun the whole week.

Their arrival coincided (not entirely accidentally) with the annual Via Vinaria wine festival in our local wine producing town of Montecarlo. During the festival most of the wine producers that surround the town open their doors to the public and it's possible to tour around the countryside tasting wine in all the different wineries. As was the theme of the week, the weather was wet and rainy - but a bit of rain wasn't enough to dampen our spirits (don't worry, the wineries were all under cover so there was no chance of the wine being diluted in the rain) and we duly spent a very enjoyable afternoon sampling the wines of 5 different producers.

No dampened spirits here - there's wine to drink!

The following day was also pretty much a wash out, but with the annual Valdinievole rally routed right past our gates we were as good as barricaded inside our property in any case - the road was closed for the most part of the day while rally cars came popping and screeching around the hairpin bends at breakneck speed. It has been a few years since the route of the rally came past our gates, but this time, just like 4 years ago, a crowd of spectators gathered at the gates and eyed us suspiciously when we walked to the end of our own drive.

A couple of things were different this time though: electric gates prevented the spectators from camping out on our property (well, unless you count the guy who used our post box as a seat), and it's likely that the presence of 36 bee hives and a swarm in one of the trees above might have put them off a little bit in any case!

Yes, just the day before Allison and Q's arrival, on coming home in the dusk we spotted an odd shape in one of the acacia trees near the gate. Was it a giant bat? Was it a sloth? We quickly realised that it was in fact thousands of bees - clearly the bees from one of the hives had departed with their queen, and had set up home, at least for the time being, among the branches of the tree.

Is it a bat? Is it a sloth?

The rest of Allison and Q's visit was less eventful, but no less enjoyable. Just 4 weeks on from having a brand new hip, Allison was a little less mobile than in her previous visits, but every day she diligently walked up and down the drive countless times in a bid to build up muscle and shorten the recovery process - it was incredible to see the progress she made just during the 7 days she was here, from arriving with one crutch still in use, to the last day when she managed 7 times up and down the drive without assistance. Not only that, but, determined not to be held back, she requested some less strenuous (on the legs, that is) jobs to help with and, as well as powering through a huge pile of wood for chipping, she and I also sifted and barrowed all the leaf mulch from the end of the drive down to the house, for use on our veg beds. What a warrior!



Sifting leaf mulch.

We also took a trip into Pistoia - the reason being that the weather that day was so dreadfully wet that we didn't envisage any outdoor work being done, and couldn't imagine Q wanting to go out on his bike either. Of course, by the time we reached Pistoia the clouds had dispersed, the sky was blue and the sun was out! But that made for a lovely circuit around the main sights of the city, as well as a stop for a drink in the sunshine.

Where did the clouds and the rain go?!

Stuart demonstrates the ancient Tuscan measure of a double arm.

We also made the now traditional trip into Montecarlo for a glass of wine (sadly indoors as the weather was too inclement to brave an outdoor seat), spent an entertaining evening entertaining our new American friends Bruce and Kim, had a lovely meal out courtesy of Allison and Q's generosity, and, as a parting gift, Allison bought us a pair of goldfish!

Yes, the toad pond, while still completely lacking in toads, now has a solar powered fountain, some pretty aquatic plants, and a pair of resident goldfish. The idea is that the goldfish should help keep down the mosquito larvae that accumulate in the pond.

While we're on the subject of larvae, Stuart has constructed our first soldier fly house. Not long after we first moved here we set up a wormery to deal with our kitchen scraps. The wormery was not a great success as, thanks to the high temperatures of the Tuscan summer, the worms perished. But we noticed that the wormery also soon became home to the larvae of the Black Soldier Fly which a little research told us was in fact a super-composter (better, even, than the tiger worms that had previously inhabited the wormery), as well as being excellent food for chickens! Approximately three years ago Stuart added "build a home for soldier flies" to his never-ending to-do list, with the aim to move them in and increase their numbers. Now, he has finally found the time and materials to do so - we wait to see what happens!

A soldier fly home!

The week between Allison and Q's visit and the week just gone is a bit of a hiatus as I spent 4 days in the UK, visiting my lovely family ahead of Dad's 80th birthday and coinciding with half term. It was absolutely lovely to see and spend time with Dad, my sister, brother-in-law, nephew and nieces, and despite the weather doing its best to dampen spirits, we maximised our opportunities to get out and about and had some lovely walks in the countryside around Bristol and South Glocs.

Love these people.

And love these people!

Meanwhile, Stuart held the fort back at home and took the opportunity to dismantle the kitchen, sand the work tops, re-stain and re-seal them all and re-assemble everything!

The day of my return to Italy marked the first day of decent summery weather here - which came as a welcome relief after weeks of grey and cool weather.

The change in the weather also came as a relief for those of us keeping an eye on the forecast for what would be the wedding of the year - our dear friends David and Sarah were to be married here in Pescia on 8th June and for a while we were all worried in case the weather didn't play ball!

But more of that later.

A week ahead of the wedding, we headed up to David and Sarah's in Vellano along with Paul & Kathy and Donatella to all put a hand into helping them spruce their property up ahead of the arrival of their friends and family during the week ahead. With the temperature reaching the high 20s to early 30s it was sweaty work cutting grass (which the previous month of wet weather had sent into overdrive), but many hands make lighter work and we were soon enjoying a lovely lunch and the great company of our friends.

The following day we spent a very enjoyable evening with new friends Andrea and Begoña - having met Andrea through our English evenings at the circolo in Pietrabuona, Stuart had been helping his fiancee Begoña brush up her English ahead of a trip to Brazil later this month, and the pair had invited us round to their place for a barbecue. It was a perfect summer's evening - warm, still, the air full of the scent of flowers, and we had a great time chatting with Andrea and Begoña, eating far too much, and enjoying being outdoors until late at night.

On Monday we welcomed back Australian couple Ludmila and James who had stayed with us for a short period last summer. This time, however, we were showing them to a different house, which they have rented for an entire year! They are great company and wasted no time in sitting us down with a bottle of wine, without even unpacking a bag. We look forward to seeing more of them during the course of their long stay.

The next day we met up with our friends/neighbours Gianni and Serena in Pescia to go and visit a grower of aquatic plants. The plants currently in our pond had been bought from the internet and were, shall we say, not really flourishing. While I was away in the UK Stuart had spent an evening with Gianni and Serena and their neighbours (an English couple) and had got chatting about ponds. Serena had recommended this grower, so we arranged to visit him together. It was a delightful couple of hours, first wending our way up a steep track that leads up the hill just outside Pescia, then discovering at the top of the track a small sheep farm (complete with the sounds and smells of sheep that took me right back to childhood holidays in the Yorkshire Dales - although perhaps with a little more heat!). Next to the sheep farm (and indeed the farmer's brother in law) was the grower of aquatic plants. A really interesting man, he showed us all around all the different types of plants, explaining what each one was, telling us all about the natural plant based remedies he uses, and finally selling us a couple of plants and giving us some additional ones for free.

Pond life!

We now feel as if we are somewhat pond-addicted. Who knew that would be something I would ever say, or write?! It comes as a complete surprise to feel so enthusiastic about pond life! Having originally set up our pond on a purely functional basis (to attract the toads to eat the slugs that eat the mushrooms), it now looks so pretty that we would like to have another one sited close to the house that we can see on a daily basis. Project pond 2.0 coming soon!

On Wednesday we were out in the evening for a fun-filled evening celebrating our friend David's 50th birthday - with family and friends having begun to arrive ahead of the wedding day, it was a good opportunity to get everyone together for the first of the week's celebrations.

We had our own celebration the following day, which was our 7th wedding anniversary (where does the time go?!). Having been generously given a sum of money by my sister and brother-in-law to treat ourselves to a meal out, we chose to go for lunch at a restaurant we had passed many times in the area Marginone, but which we had never been into. It was a lovely place, delicious food, and it felt very special - the perfect celebration.

Of course, Saturday was the Big Day for our friends David and Sarah. A day we've all been looking forward to for, well, a little over 5 months since they got engaged at Christmas. With family and friends distributed in various houses and apartments around the valley, we were due to have the best man and his fiancee staying with us and, after the journey from hell involving a cancelled flight, a delayed flight and a missed connection, they finally arrived with us on Saturday afternoon with just 5 hours to spare before the start of the ceremony itself! We breathed a sigh of relief when they finally rang the buzzer for the gate on arrival!

For all our fretting during May about the weather being miserable for the big day, it turned out to be a real sizzler - perfect for all those visitors from the UK. The ceremony took place in the Palazzo del Palagio in Pescia and was both beautiful and humorous. The ceremony was led by the mayor of Pescia, who injected much humour into proceedings and had both Italians and English chuckling and cheering. Both David and Sarah looked amazing, a true fairytale couple.

A fairytale wedding.

After the ceremony, we ducked out for an hour to spend some time with Reggie before joining the rest of the party at the Circolo in Vellano for a fun evening of eating, drinking and music that lasted until the early hours of the next morning. A wonderful day.

As we start the next week, we have just welcomed our friend Yvonne (well, friend of Stuart's Mum really, but we consider her our friend too) and her friend Liz. It seems they are in for a week of scorching temperatures - summer seems to be here to stay!!