A weekend with Gill

Our dear friend Gill popped in for the weekend. It’s easy to say, but “popping in” meant a ridiculously early flight for Gill from the UK on Friday morning to Pisa where the entire Mowday clan went to pick her up.

It was great to see her and the girls got straight down to business. Three bottles of Moet disappeared almost immediately followed by a couple of bottles of Chardonnay (one a kiwi chardonnay saved especially for the occasion) over a dinner of Jeans famous roast chicken and potatoes. Suffice it to say Saturday started slowly in the cottage.

There was a little “pool time” and then dinner in the Campo at Al Mangia. Because the Campo is being prepared for the Palio on Saturday 2 July, barriers and stands are in the process of being erected and we had dinner in what is soon to be the middle of the racecourse on 3 inches of hard packed clay with race barriers on each side. Imagine having dinner on the finish line at Trentham racecourse and you’ll get the idea.

Dinner at Al Mangia sitting in the middle of the Palio track

All around us Campo life continued as always with bars and restaurants doing their usual business – but all in slightly surreal surroundings. It wasn’t quite what we expected or had planned. Jean being the control freak she is spent the first 15 minutes saying “this isn’t right, no, this isn’t right” repeatedly and wanting them just to “put it back the way it was” but Gill pointed out it was a truly unique experience. A couple of bottles of wine and an excellent meal helped everyone mellow somewhat.

We will see Gill and family again in late July and can’t wait.

Catching up with Kate

Last night we caught up with Kate and her family who are spending 2 months travelling around Europe. Kate used to work with Jean at Clemenger but she is currently based in the UK with her partner.

Jean had put Kate in touch with our villa wizard friend Olga when their trip was being planned but made sure to recommended a villa we had stayed at previously. Villa Crognole is a beautiful villa tucked into the Chianti hills with a view down the valley towards Radda.

We called into Crognole yesterday afternoon for a drink or two along with Olga and her husband which meant the afternoon was spent sitting in the sun discussing travel, news from home, and any other subject that wandered into people’s minds, all in a mix of english, italian and kiwi.

We went to dinner with Kate and her family at Le Vigne restaurant just outside Radda. It was dining al fresco with a view over the vineyards that produce some of the great Chianti Classico wines.

Dinner was lovely and all done on Italian time. That simply means that the wine and various courses rolled out through the evening until we finally left the restaurant, just before midnight.

Good people, great company and truly la dolce vita.

Our photo album

Jean and I have taken hundreds of photographs over the last few months.  We’ve put a selection of them into an album on our MobileMe site.

There are some shots we have used in the blog but a lot of new ones.  Follow the link and have a look.

We’ve got mail

One thing we pondered when we arrived at Casavacanza Vesta was whether letters, packages or parcels from home could find us.  While almost all of our correspondence is by email or text, we thought there may be the need for good old fashioned postage.  You know, documents that need signing, letters that need reading and packages that need opening.  Could the Italian postal system work it’s magic and deliver mail to our door?

We have mail.

Jean’s Mum helped us out by mailing a test letter a fortnight ago and the good news is it arrived yesterday – lovingly delivered by Mrs Patritzia.  She seemed a little surprised to be the final link in the Poste Italian supply chain as I suspect we were the first guests in Casavacanza history to get mail.

So, gentle reader, let’s put Mrs Patrizia to work, feel free to write or, even better, send presents.

Monday night takeouts

Monday nights are rapidly becoming takeout pizza night.

Parked for pizza.

The little pizza shop in Monteroni D’Arbia now has two regular kiwi customers who are working through the menu with gusto.

One thing that we have to perfect is getting the pizzas the 5 km to home hot.  The first step was streamlining the pickup – which Jean achieved in true Italian style.

How serious are we about learning Italian?

Pretty serious it seems.  I wandered into the kitchen (dining room, lounge) the other day and saw the note below taped up above the kitchen sink.  It’s the stuff we need to learn this week – the irregular verbs avere and essere and all their various permutations.  Sigh.

The note on the wall.

Summer in Tuscany

In an earlier post I bemoaned the fact that when we arrived in May, Tuscany was green – bright green – not the usual mix of faded summer colours that, for us, have always defined the area. What a difference 6 weeks makes.

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Jean and the girls in the Campo

I thought I had posted this photograph before but looking back, I haven’t.  It’s the day the whole family went to Siena.  And in true form Jean is looking lovely, Poppie is looking cute and Daisy (partly obscured) is, well, see for yourself.

The Mowday family in the Campo, Siena.

Washday at our Pa

Life in Tuscany isn’t all fine chianti and al dente pasta you know.  The washing still needs to be done and Tuesday is as good a day as any other.  A load of washing costs €3 for casual guests but is built into our weekly rent.  Given the rate at which we go through clothes that’s about $NZ500 which can be spent on fine chianti and al dente pasta.

Washing drying beside our cottage on a sunny summer morning.

Visitors from distant shores

We are starting to plan for the arrival of summer visitors. Today we bought a small freezer which now holds pride of place in the kitchen (and the dining room and part of the lounge) so we can do ice cubes, gelato and actually store meat for more than a day or two. And get beer really cold in a hurry.

The barbecue is being specified at present. We are thinking charcoal as that seems to be the accepted norm. Around here gas seems to be for gattino – look it up. Also a slew of other home comforts are being put in place because it’s the beginning of the visitor season.

In the next month and a half we have visitors galore.

Villa Crognole outside Radda in Chanti.

First up we catch up with Jean’s friend Kate Maclean who worked with Jean at Clemenger. Kate and her partner are working in the UK. Kate’s family are coming over from New Zealand for a holiday which involves a week in a villa in Chianti. It has been arranged through our villa wizard Olga and is the same one we stayed at in 2006. A fantastic place. We are popping up for drinks and dinner in mid June.

Next up is a flying weekend visit by Gill from the UK. We are thinking pool life combined with excellent meals in Siena. And the odd bottle of New Zealand Chardonnay mixed in.

At the start of July the Mowday family packs the car and leaves Tuscany heading for Positano where we have rented an apartment off the lovely family who own and run Eden Roc Hotel. The really good news is we get full hotel privileges (pool, bar tab, meals on the terrace, Tony’s cappuccino for breakfast, etc) but stay off site so the dogs don’t disturb the hotel’s peace and quiet. We are there for two weeks and Jean’s sister Charmaine, brother-in-law Mike and their baby James arrive towards the end of the stay.

Jean, Josh, Andre, Gill and Jordan around the pool in 2010 while the dolphin watches on.

Back to Toscana with Charmaine, Mike and Jimmy for a week and then Gill, Josh and Jordan arrive from London with Andre following after his pilgrimage to the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. We are still looking for large, slightly disturbing, inflatable animals to go in the pool prior to their arrival.

We are also expecting a mate from work, Danny Malone, to put in an appearance at the end of July on his 2011 European trip to round things out. An excellent month at our place.

We then head south to Rome for a weekend at the end of July with Charmaine, Mike and James before aiming the Peugeot at Nice for a car swap in early August – and a week at the delightful Hotel Welcome in Villefranche sur mer. See an earlier post for rave reviews.

After that we are ready to welcome other kiwi visitors – you know who you are – through August and September as the summer crawls to an end and our thoughts turn to autumn.

Excitingly it looks like our old friend Isabel and Charlie will be visiting in late September/early October as well. I think I can call Isabel an “old” friend as we both have had very significant birthdays this year.

Let the fun commence.

Bugs and other thingies

Something for our visitors to remember – Tuscany has bugs and crawlies. As well as endowing Tuscany with beautiful countryside and light that artists would die for, God also provided Tuscany with its fair share of things that crawl, fly, jump and hop.

Those of you who know Jean know she’s not great with things that crawl, fly, jump or hop. In fact it’s not unknown for her to do a funny little dance accompanied by a high pitched scream when some poor creature makes an appearance on the floor or stupidly flies in the door. And that was in relatively bug free New Zealand.

Here things are much more exciting. By category:

Flying things

Apart from the usual pesky flies, we have humming birds (which look like giant wasps) and hornets which actually are giant wasps and make a sound not unlike a weed-eater when they approach the cottage. We have mosquitoess (only starting to appear) and sandflies (not dangerous to humans but they can carry some nasty dog diseases) and numerous other things that flit past the cottage each day.

Crawling things

This is a big category. We have millipedes and centipedes and the odd earwig. We have spiders of all shapes and sizes although Jean’s jandal is doing an excellent job of keeping the local population under control.

Two Geckos meet on our terrace.

Geckos are everywhere at present and find the brick terrace ideal for sunning themselves. We have one particular gecko which seems to spend the most time sunning himself on our terrace and who seems to call our place home. He has lost half his tail and defends our front door heroically from any other geckos that dare to show up.

There is another class of crawling thing which we’ll call “don’t know what it is but crickey it runs fast” and there are a lot of these.

A passing Gecko poses for a photo.

We haven’t seen any scorpions yet but it’s early days.

Jumping things

We have a resident cottage frog which traverses the verandah each evening going from somewhere to somewhere else. Although he is classed under “jumping things” he seems to spend most of his time walking.

Hopping things

To be honest we haven’t spotted any hopping things as yet but I’m sure they are out there.

Fighting back

Never let it be said we are quitters. We have armed ourselves with the latest in bug protection to fight back. We have a bug zapper for the verandah, mosquito deterrents for inside and out, magic stickers for the windows that kill flies, an old fashioned fly swap and, of course, Jean’s deadly jandal.

Bring it on I say.

Ten minutes down the road

Having explored as far afield as Radda in Chianti north of Siena and Buonconvento in the south, yesterday we strayed closer to home in Monteroni D’Arbia. This small hamlet is only 10 minutes from the cottage and is the centre of our small district.

We first visited on market day about 3 weeks ago when the main shopping area was filled with stalls selling everything from clothes to meat to household appliances. Every day of the week there is a market in another local town and, rather than them just being a tourist attraction, they are an important part of local life both economically and socially.

We attracted quite a bit of attention walking around, possibly because of our inherent elegance, but more likely because we had the girls with us. Daisy will, as you know gentle reader, take on any dog she sees be it Doberman or Chihuahua so our walk through the market involved a ballet of side steps and distractions as we spotted any oncoming dogs.

Without the market Monteroni D’Arbia is still a delightful place to walk and browse the local shops. It’s not a picture postcard Tuscan village but rather a good honest working town. We stopped for a drink in the cafe on the main road and Jean shopped for plants and containers for our front verandah over the summer. Once again our mix of bad Italian, sign language and the good nature of the locals triumphed and we returned home with everything we wanted – including takeout pizza and beer for dinner.

All up, a good day.

Rainy afternoon in Siena

Yesterday we had our third language lesson in Siena. The day started out sunny but with thunderstorms rumbling around the hills in the distance. By 4pm our lesson had finished and we adjourned to a bar in the Campo for a well earned drink or two. The thunder was closer and the sun had been replaced by clouds although the temperature remained in the low 20s. Clearly the locals expected unsettled weather as the awnings and umbrellas that protect the bars and restaurants around the Campo from the sun had been kept in place.

Rain falling in the Campo.

At 5pm the heavens opened and the rain came down. Big, fat drops and unusually for someone from Wellington who expects rain to fall horizontally, they came straight down.

The crowded Campo emptied immediately as tourists rushed for shelter, some in shops but the majority straight to the nearest bar – all forced to buy drinks they didn’t really want at Campo prices. The Sinese locals produced umbrellas and continued going about their business as if nothing had happened. After 10 minutes the rain eased, the skies lightened and tourists flooded back into the Campo. All about €10 poorer for their drink.

More rain.

We took this opportunity to make our way back to the Peugeot congratulating ourselves on our timing. Not so fast, about halfway to the car the rain started again and, like everyone else we headed for the nearest shelter. In our case it was a bag shop in one of Siena’s small side streets. But for the period of the rain it sold umbrellas – as did every other shop in Siena. Bins of brightly colored umbrellas had appeared from nowhere and were prominently displayed just inside the shop doors. We took two – €16, Grazie.

Yet more rain.

However Siena is described it is, above all, a city of merchant traders.

Please note: photographs used have been digitally enhanced to highlight moody weather.

Daisy is getting old

Daisy had her 14th birthday in January.  This would make her about 85 in human years and like any elderly person she is slowing down.  Things that were easy for her a year ago are now a challenge.  A walk around the property in the evening wears her out, her back legs seem to have a mind of their own occasionally, and when she does the head to tail shake on the tiled floor often she ends up flat on her stomach with legs splayed.

Admirably she take all this in her stride and soldiers on.

She is still her cantankerous, independent, stubborn old self.  She dutifully protects the cottage from any potential intruders including Mrs Patrizia and Fabiana when they deliver our fresh laundry or simply call in for a chat.

Daisy sleeping

Lately Daisy has struggled to jump up onto the bed at night and will grudgingly accept a helping hand up when it’s offered.  If no help is forthcoming being Daisy she simply finds somewhere else to sleep – in this case on my neatly folded clothes on the shelf just inside the bedroom door.

What’s the travel accessory you should never leave home without?

I used to think it was noise cancelling headphones.  But I was wrong.  Headphones might be good for the luxury traveller taking short jaunts to foreign climes but for us long term, hard core, down to earth travellers the perfect companion is a Leatherman Blast.

My "must have" travel accessory.

I was given the aforementioned tool for my 50th birthday – thank you Charmaine, Mike and James – and it has proved invaluable.  It can cut, screw, saw or slice pretty much anything.  Whether it’s mundane tasks like tightening a screw on a wobbly pot handle or more exotic uses like an ice pick to de-ice a dodgy fridge, it’s ideal.

Recently it was put to use erecting some temporary wire fencing around our terrace to give Daisy and Poppie some indoor/outdoor flow without the chance of them doing a runner.

Mission accomplished thanks largely to the Blast.

One warning, if you bring something like this on holiday don’t pack it in your hand luggage.  The 4 inch knife blade might be a bit tough to explain to those nice gentlemen from Homelands Security.

Poppie meets the new fence.