A special place in Greve

When Mike and Charmaine and wee James were here we visited the small village of Greve in Chanti.  Greve is built around a triangular piazza which has the usual assortment of shops and cafes dotted around it.

It also has one shop which we think is special.  The sign outside says Norcineria – or butchery – but the experience inside is something else.

Looking out towards the piazza in Greve. Love the sign

Describing Antica Macelleria Falorni as a butchery is like calling St Peters in Rome just a church.  Entering the shop, you are hit by complete sensory overload.  Everywhere you look there are cured hams, cheeses, salamis, and more cured hams hanging, stacked, packed and displayed.  The smell is overwhelming (I’m told as I have no sense of smell) and it strikes you like a hammer the moment you walk through the door.

The shop also sells wines to go with the wide range of cheeses available as well as the ususal Tuscan butchery mix of meats, game, and poultry.

In the usual Italian way, things can be tasted before buying – just to provide even greater sensory overload.

Inside Antica Macelleria Falorni in Greve

The shop stretches through 3 street frontages so as you move away from the front door you move from one small area to another, and in each the ceiling is hung with curing legs of ham giving the whole shop the feeling of a cave.  For food-lovers, almost certainly an Aladdins cave.

If you visit Tuscany, you really should stop in Greve and marvel at this most unlikely tourist attraction.

Not another photo?

As a keen amateur photographer trying to capture the relaxed Tuscan lifestyle I can become a bit demanding on my available talent – which consists of one long suffering wife and two small white fluffy dogs.

When the demands become too great the dogs simply get up and walk off. Jean isn’t so lucky.

The pool busters

The complex has ben really busy over the last few weeks. Guests are coming and going and we have had a great mix of nationalities – Dutch, Italian, the ocassional Brit and, of course, the Germans.

One day recently Jean and I headed to the pool for an afternoon of swimming and relaxing to find that, when we got there, every lounger was either being used or was empty but with a towel drapped over it – clearly the European sign for “reserved”.

It reminded me of a UK TV commercial that aired in the early 1990’s about this very subject. Enjoy.

Fun in the sun

You can never have enough pool toys

Daisy has taken up a fair bit of our time lately, but prior to that we managed a bit of pool time. It was the only way to keep cool in the 35 to 40 degree heat.

Clearly in Europe everyone turns up at the pool with some form of inflatable toy to amuse themselves. Often there are so many toys in the pool it’s difficult to find a spot to swim.

Not to be outdone Jean splashed out (excuse the pun) on a lilo. All of 5 Euro at the local inflatable pool toy store.

Jean and Nacho Libre

The man who sits by the pool has made a wee movie showing Jean in action.

Please note, the ocassional swat at the water is simply Jean avoiding wasps, bees, bugs, etc, that have made their way into the pool.






Really hot

Watching the sun go down

The last week has been unseasonably hot.

Temperatures have hovered in the late 30 degrees during the day which is great for pool life but not good for cottage life or for the dogs.

Relief comes in the evening when it becomes bearable to sit outside and enjoy the sunset.

A new look, same old ramblings

If you are a regular reader of Toscanakiwi you will notice that the look of the blog has changed. Why? Well, it just felt like time for a change. And, more importantly, I figured out how to do it.

The good news is that everything is still where it has always been, however there are a couple of additional things to mention. Firstly I can now include video in the blog. This probably means a series of home movies will crawl onto the site over the next few weeks.

Secondly there is a new section called “Travel Tips”. This is a place for us to leave helpful tips we’ve picked up traveling over the years. It will have new bits added as they come to mind. Also if you have any questions about traveling to Italy simply ask us. We will do our best to answer them.

Anyway, I guess “new but old” sums this change up.

About Daisy – Part 2

It’s Friday evening and Daisy has had her ECG and there’s more wrong with her heart than right.  Having said that, the cardiologist has altered her medicine to best suit her condition so there’s a bit of life in the old dog yet.

Pictures of Daisy's big heart at work

When we arrived back at our vet, Julia had talked to the cardiologist and apparently he agreed that Daisy was a medical miracle.

Her inability to walk without falling over has been diagnosed as Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome and not anything to do with her heart.  It means a loss of balance and co-ordination – a lot like a big night out on the town by the sound of it.

Best Google it for details but it’s something that just needs to work it’s way through her system with some assistance from medication.  Some drugs that they usually prescribe for this syndrome would be bad for her heart so they’re off the list.  That means there’s no quick fix and she will gradually improve over the next month or so.

Until she recovers she will need to be carried everywhere – and I mean everywhere.  For up to a month?

About Daisy

The more observant of you may have noticed that there have been very few posts over the last few days. That’s because we have been busy looking after Daisy. She is not well and it seems her old age is catching up with her.

Last week she had two seizures in the space of 24 hours where she collapsed and did her best impersonation of a dead dog. Both times she recovered, picked herself up and soldiered on in her own unique way but it gave us a huge fright and she was off to the vet in record time.

Daisy has a heart problem and takes medication to manage it. Julia our vet thinks the medication needs to be changed so Daisy has had a thorough check-up, X-rays and now is booked in for an ECG this afternoon at a cardiologist in Florence. (We didn’t know there were dog cardiologists but apparently there are.)

Sick Daisy and friend

To complicate things in the last 24 hours she has started to fall down a lot when walking (or even just standing) which meant another rushed trip to the vet and further discussions in a mix of English and Italian and occasional arm waving.

It seems that the falling down is probably not related to her heart and is something else – most likely a neurological infection that is affecting her balance. The catch 22 is that we can’t treat the infection until we know what state her heart is in as that will affect the medication used to fight the infection. So we are waiting for the ECG to be done this afternoon. It is a long wait.

Daisy of course doesn’t know all this medical stuff and just thinks life is miserable. She has to be carried everywhere as she has given up walking. And her favourite treats and even Jean’s famous roast chicken dinner won’t cheer her up. Right now she is asleep in the bed next to me with her head buried as far under the pillows as possible.

If I were her I would do the same.

Summer continues in Tuscany

All around us the rhythm of the Tuscan countryside continues.

Fields of crops that were green and growing when we arrived have been harvested and plowed ready, waiting for next season.

The last week or so has seen hot settled weather. Temperatures have been in the low to mid 30s day after day prompting even the hardened locals to comment “troppo caldo” and roll their eyes skyward.

The countryside is dry and baked – under our Tuscan sun.

Chores in Florence

Having been back from Nice for a few days it was time to catch up on some chores. You know, those things you keep putting off because they are a bit difficult or mean going out of your way.

Well our chores revolved around a trip to Florence. Yes, alright, I can hear a chorus of “you poor hard-done-by things” reverberating around the world.

But, Florence is an hours drive away, and the parking is a bit of a trick, and it’s full of tourists, and it’s always warmer than around our place. Ok, reading this back it’s not really that much of a chore. And it is the birthplace of the Renaissance after all.

Anyway, we headed north on Wednesday with two planned chores and one that crept up on us over the last few days. My darling wife had an ear-ache – probably an ear infection. One of those that makes you miserable, hurts like hell and requires drugs – lots of them.

We decided to seek medical help in Florence because we had the name of an english speaking doctor who has a practice there – and we were going anyway.

On the drive north we called the doctor to find that, like most people in Italy, he was on holiday during August. He left some alternative places to visit, one of which was very close to the Duomo. Even we can find the Duomo in Florence so the plan was set.

We found the medical centre quite easily, signed in and waited for their ear specialist Dr Alonzo Attilio. He spoke very little English and our Italian is still a work in progress so things boded well for medical misadventure.

One thing we have noticed is that the Italian medical system – for people or dogs – seems very efficient. And sure enough our wait was only 5 minutes. We struggled to explain the ear problem to the Dr Alonzo but one look into Jean’s ear and he understood. He then explained, in great detail, what he was going to do to fix it none of which we understood.

Within ten minutes we knew what he had said – vaccum, prod, poke, vaccum, clean, prod, vaccum, syringe, poke, vaccum, a course of antibiotics, cortisone and pain klllers for an ear infection – grazie and arrivederci.

Jean said that if she had known what he was going to do she would have done a runner, so maybe a language barrier isn’t always a bad thing. Dr Alonzo must know his stuff as Jean’s ear is improving by the day.

On a happier note we then went to Tiffanys to collect a necklace for Jean and collected skin care products from the only pharmacy in Florence (or Siena) that stocks that particular brand – or in this case had to order them in especially for Jean.

On the way home we stopped at Piazza Michaelangelo which overlooks Florence and, along with about 1000 other visitors, took the classic photo of Florence.

All in all a successful day.

The day we didn’t get thrown out of the Palio

Some of you may recall a previous post where Jean and I, and the dogs, were ejected from the Palio rehearsal back in early July and ended up walking through Siena in the rain feeling dejected, wet and alone. Not our finest moment.

Well there is a second Palio held each year in August. The very helpful family that own our cottage reminded us of this earlier in the week. They said it was busier than the July Palio and that there are rehearsals every morning at 9am (not really something we could contemplate) and at 7pm for the 3 days preceding the actual Palio race.

Here was our opportunity for redemption.

We planned this like a military operation. We knew that we had to get into Siena early so we aimed for 3pm. No dogs – sorry girls. The bars around the Campo are forced to shut at 3:30pm until 5pm while the track is watered. They reopen between 5pm and 6pm and then close until the rehearsal is over at 8pm. So the plan:

1) a late lunch at a wee cafe off the tourist track from 3pm to 5pm

2) a drink or two at our favourite Campo bar from 5pm to 6:30pm

3) into the centre of the Campo where the viewing is free

4) watch the rehearsal

5) back to the bar for dinner and drinks and then home.

For once our planning worked perfectly. At 7pm we found ourselves in the centre of the Campo along with about 5000 other people. All crammed in waiting for – well we didn’t know quite what to expect but given the other 5000 people standing with us, it had to be worth watching – I guess.

We saw the preparation of the track, the parade of the officials and the parading of the mounted Carabineri. All leading up to the main event – the Palio horses and riders mock racing around the track for a lap or two before pulling up and then the final parade – each contrada and their horse as they left the Campo.

Jean was particularly taken with the cavalry who did a first lap at a stately trot in formation but for the second lap were at full gallop with swords drawn – a god old fashioned cavalry charge.

It was interesting to watch the children from the competing contrada who had a special section of the stands. The kids had no hestitation to “have a go” at their competitors in chants or gestures, winning the palio was everything – a far cry from the political correctness of our homeland where winners and losers are frowned on and simply being involved is rewarded.

During the rehearsal race one of the Palio jockeys fell from his horse and was taken away by ambulance. As always the riderless horse kept racing but it shows the danger involved for both horse and rider on the narrow, tight Palio track. Particularly harrowing are the two 90 degree turns which, when taken at full speed are recipies for disaster.

After the rehearsal it was a drink and dinner, and then home. On the walk to our car we passed one of the contrada dinners. It was held in one of the main streets of Siena that had been closed for the occasion. And that’s what the Palio is really about – building and maintaining communities.

Update below pictures.

Update: The race the next day was won by the Giraffe Contrada – the red and white jockey in the photos. Four horses fell on the final lap however it appears none were seriously injured. There is ongoing controversy about animal welfare issues and the Palio. Despite there being a number of changes made over the last few years to make the race safer almost every year there are horses injured or killed. Interestingly the Palio was recently removed from the list of nominated Italian world heritage events as it was felt the backlash from animal rights groups could impact on the chances of approval for all the events being nominated.

For our part, we watched the race on TV the next day and agree with the animal rights groups.

Relaxing on the Cote d’Azur

Before leaving New Zealand we had planned a weeks stay at Villefranche sur Mer on the coast just west of Nice. It was an ideal place to drop off our Peugeot lease car and collect our Renault lease car and to take a 4 day break from our holiday.

A holiday from our holiday if you will.

We stayed at our old favourite Hotel Welcome, right on the water, and were joined by Mike, Charmanie and James who had arrived in Nice a few days before us. This break was a chance to explore Villefranche a little more, sample some of the local cuisine, spend some time at the beach and soak up the atmosphere of the French Rivieria in peak season.

In the week we did all this. What else did we discover?

1) Much like other places some food is good and some isn’t

2) Meals tend to be less expensive and better quality further from the waterfront

3) The exception is La Mere Germaine right on the waterfront which we tried. Great food since 1938

3) Sitting on a beach is therapeutic no matter where you are in the world

4) The majority of French women have an urge to go topless on beaches. Some really, really shouldn’t

5) French service is more surly than Italian service but does warm up if you become a repeat customer

6) The girls are welcome everywhere we are which is great

7) Chateau Eza is always a great place for a drink – which costs about the same as a meal anywhere else.

Three countries in three days

It’s been a hectic week. Starting last Saturday we headed home from Slovenia to our cottage in Tuscany. Two days later we headed north to Nice on the French Riviera to swap cars – and spend 5 days at Villefranche Sur Mer with Mike, Charmaine and James – then it was back home on Friday.

Daisy takes everything in her stride

Time for a cup of tea and a lie down I think.