Piazza al Serchio and cottage – part 2

We parked the car and wandered over to the bar, the door squeaked as Ty pulled it open. The room we stepped into was sparsely furnished and dimly lit, paint was flaking on the old walls. A large round table took up a large section of the room, around it was 6 or 7 mismatched chairs seating children of various ages noisily playing cards. The bar would have been very miserable except for the large floor to ceiling windows that gave a magnificent view over the valleys and mountains. There was also a little tiled balcony and a lookout area with seating.As we strode to the counter I was thinking about what I’d have to drink….certainly not a soft drink, maybe a wine, no, I think a gin and tonic is the order of the day. The woman came out from a door between the kitchen and counter wiping her hands on her apron. Buona sera she said and we reciprocated and then we proceeded to ask for a gin and tonic, after trying a couple of times, all of us smiling and laughing we gave up on gin’n’tonic and asked what she had. “Il vino Secco” showing us a bottle of red. “Si, Si” we said in unison…”we’ll give it a try”. Two generous glasses of wine cost the grand sum of 2 euros. We took our drinks outside, wondering how rough this red would be!! Oh well, when in Italy……..

Sitting in the warmth looking at the amazing view I took a sip of my wine, oh yes, this would take me a while to drink, it was so dry. As we sat and took in the scenery I imagined the elderly italian men meeting here each morning to drink their coffees and talk about whatever elderly italian men talk about…..or did they just sit and stare at the scenery as well?

It was almost 4pm, I’d managed to drink the glass of dry red, we probably should head to our cottage. As there was no street address Ty had set the co ordinates into the GPS from google earth several weeks before. When we were given information on how to get to the cottage it was in the form of coordinates! We had pictures of the cottage so as long as it was true to its picture we’d be fine. The roads in the village were extremely narrow, no passing on these lanes. As we round a corner the GPS tells us that we have reached the “Italy house”, we were to hear this on daily basis for the next 2 weeks. Yes, the house looked exactly like the photos on the website even down to the flowers that edged the path. The only exception was the gazebo in the front yard.


The key was in the front door, everything was as we had expected, until we stepped inside the door. The odour of stale fried oil enveloped us. You know the smell, our clothes sometimes smell like this if we sit too close to a restaurant kitchen. If you insist on frying inside and there isn’t an exhaust fan please open all windows because the smell permeates everything, curtains, walls, lounge covers, everything. Obviously the guests before us enjoyed fried foods on a daily basis without opening windows. I think there was only a day or so the house was vacant before we arrived, probably not enough time to fully wash all curtains, lounge coverings or air the cottage. At that moment I wondered why it was when others have a flu or virus they can’t smell a thing but when I have the same ailment my nose stays in perfect working order?

Whilst opening the kitchen windows I expressed my disgust at the smell (grizzled probably a more apt description) we proceeded to explore the rest of the cottage. Walking through the little hall we found 2 bedrooms and the bathroom. In the main bedroom a heavy, ornately carved timber wardrobe and dresser, typical old italian. I threw open the windows in the bedroom whilst Ty opened the shutters outside to let in as much fresh air as possible to make sure any traces of the cooking odours were carried off on the breeze. Luckily the bedroom was far enough removed from the kitchen to only have a faint scent of cooking oil. Otherwise I would’ve been taking my pillow and blanket to sleep in the car.

The lounge/dining/kitchen was one large open area with a fireplace being the central feature along the side wall. Above the large brick fireplace was a mantle lined with books, ornaments and some photographs of the house in winter…..surrounded by snow!!! The hearth held a large bucket of neatly stacked chopped wood. There were 2 lounges on either side of the room with a large television in the corner. It was a cosy cottage and I’m sure in the winter it would be very cosy with the open fireplace, listening to the sound of crackling wood and mesmerised by the colourful flames dancing along the wood. Unfortunately that burnt oily odour took over again.

Oh, almost forgot, there is the outdoors to explore, an undercover area attached to the back of the house containing chairs, table and a bar b que. At the side of the yard was a set of stairs with a timber gate at the top. This lead to the pool surrounded by a large deck with several chairs strategically placed. The water in the pool was very blue and inviting. It’s still extremely hot so I put a toe in the water…..it’s freezing…..I won’t be getting in there in a hurry. Further down the back yard we can see a vegetable garden, lots of tomato vines and huge pumpkins.There is a little shed and a tractor. Ahh, that explained where the vegetables in the basket sitting on the kitchen bench came from.

After unpacking and a quick shower it was time to head to town for dinner. Thank goodness it was twilight till after 9pm as we needed to navigate the road in daylight before trying it in the dark. No street lights in this part of the woods. We decided to head to Piazza al Serchio for dinner mainly because P al S was bigger on google earth than Casciana we figured there would be a plethora of restaurants. Thought you’d like that explanation. The driveway of the cottage was on a blind corner of the narrow winding lane which was the main thoroughfare between Casciana and P al S and beyond.

There were very few houses on the 5 minute drive, in fact, there was only 2 houses along that road and these 2 sat right on the edge of the laneway. The laneway has vegetable gardens on both sides and we’d see couples tending to their gardens every day.

We crossed a little causeway and drove under the stone railway bridge into P al S. These back lanes were even narrower than our road into the village. Meeting another car became interesting as one of the drivers manoeuvred their car into the smallest space at the edge of someone’s garden to let the other pass.

We chose a restaurant to have dinner, the choice wasn’t too difficult, apart from the fact they were all serving italian food there was only one open. We headed in and sar at a table in the middle of the room. All the other diners looked up when we spoke. Of course we were speaking in a foreign language and we were to find that, in this region of the Garfagnana, practically no one spoke or understood english. We were in for a fun experience.

We were given a menu each, in italian of course, we managed to decipher some of the words….pollo (chicken),manzo (beef),spaghetti…ah too easy….so that was it…I had pollo and Ty ended up with beef stew. We were laughing trying to order the carafe of vino…I was wanting something sweet but that wasn’t working and I could see the waiter was becoming frustrated with us but we did manage to amuse the other diners, mostly workmen, with our bad italian and our laughing. To make the waiter happy we just ordered any old carafe of wine and we drank it…weren’t game not to!!! Oh, how did we know the other diners were workmen? They were dressed in their best dungarees and dusty shirts.

We were the noisiest people int he restaurant that night, each time we spoke or laughed there was silence..and the two of us talk and laugh a lot! The meal and wine cost us 28 euro, very cheap we thought. After our coffee we headed for home, it was still twilight and warm, a lovely evening and very ,very quiet.

Before I could to go to bed I had to take several tablets, one to help the headache and stuffiness go away, one that would lift the mucous off my chest, one more to suppress the cough when the mucous wanted to get out, ooh it sounds disgusting and it was!!! Then the worst of all, Ty had found this marvellous cough elixir that would also help….it had the worst taste of all…..supposed to be apricot flavoured well that was the picture on the bottle. Icky icky icky …………to take this I had to do the whole foot stamping and dancing in one spot routine. I still had my usual array of pills to pop, the ones for cholesterol and the thyroid, blood pressure. Damned if I know how these pills managed to work out which areas they had to suppress or kick-start once they arrived at my stomach!!!

Time to sleep now, Cinque Terra is on the list for tomorrow so it will be an early start. Time for all these medications to start working as well..

Finally, bed and lights out………..”oh my god, it’s so dark in here” we both said. Pitch black you could not see your hand in front of your face, absolute blackness. “I can’t sleep without any light at all” Ty said, as he got up to turn the outside light on, “This will give us filtered light so we don’t break our neck if we need to get up in the middle of the night”. The house sat on the side of a mountain with the moon behind the house, no street lights or houses in coo-ee, not even a shadow – just black.


Piazza al Serchio and the cottage – Part 1

When planning our Italian holiday I had a fabulous idea, we should base ourselves for a couple of weeks in a Tuscan cottage. Having a base would allow visits to little towns and villages around the area plus day trips to Cinque Terra, Sienna, Lucca and Florence, to name a few. We could also spend an odd day or two sitting around the pool enjoying the solitude. The plan was to write a chapter or two of my book on those odd days. Yes, this would be the perfect opportunity for relaxation.

The one thing my rapidly planning brain had forgotten was that we aren’t people who enjoy sitting around….out and about, looking, watching and shopping, that’s us! But searching the internet, seeing the amazing Tuscan scenery, pretty stone cottages perched on the hills, the pencil pine trees standing straight and tall by the front entrances, quickly erased any misgivings.

With GPS set to our destination, we were eager to leave Rome and head for the hills, the three of us are off. It would be a long drive from Rome to Piazza al Serchio and the little cottage in Casciana, Garfagnana region! My flu/virus (new companion) had worsened even though I was taking a number of cold and flu tablets and a very foul-tasting medicine. Perhaps the fresh air of the Appuan Alps (part of the Apennine group) would help relieve the symptoms.

The road from Rome to Lucca was very good, freeway all the way (A1 I think). However after reaching Lucca it was a different story. Lots of Autogrills along the way for coffee stops and loo breaks. As we headed out of Lucca the road narrowed a little, but the further away from Lucca we travelled the narrower the road. Of course the Italian drivers don’t get any better.

We were told the L’Clerc in Gallicano was the place to stop for supplies , we dutifully did that. A supermarket that had everything, similar to a Walmart but considerably smaller. Luckily for me it also contained a Farmicia because Ty felt I should add to my stores of medication, perhaps might we become lost in the Alps or couldn’t find our way to another chemist!!!! The Pharmacist couldn’t speak or understand english and we could understand very little Italian. I tried all the usual hand signals, you know, rubbing my nose, blowing into my tissue, that fabulous sawing motion across my throat but no, still she stared at us and said “non capsici”. Through sheer frustration at the fact these people continued to play a one-sided game of charades, and weren’t going away in a hurry, she invited us to come behind the counter and choose our own products. Ty was very excited at the prospect of getting his hands on all those lotions and potions he rushed behind the counter picking up bottles of this and tubes of that. It was soon evident even though the label was in Italian the ingredients were in a universal language. In no time there was a selection of tablets, icky nasal sprays and cough medicines assembled on the counter. “do I need ALL these” I queried. “yes” was his reply, “You’re not getting any better and these will all help” Of course they will, I thought, as I handed over 25 euro…

The road from Gallicano to Casciano narrowed again and we missed the little signpost and the sharp left hand turn that would take us to the village. We found somewhere wide enough to make a u turn and headed up the “road” which was tiny, very windy and each bend was like the top of a backwards ?. We were in a little Golf and at the same time as negotiating the bends, we were climbing higher and higher, I was sure the car would topple backwards. I was already starting to worry about where I had stationed us, of course, it didn’t help when Ty kept saying “where are you taking us” as he negotiated another steep bend on the goat track. It became much more stressful when a van was coming from the other direction. “He surely isn’t serious, there’s no room to pass, we’ll fall off the edge” “I don’t like this road”, I said, “there must be another way in and out of this village”. I tried to stay calm and gripped the armrest tightly as we continued along the goat track,finally, after a 4 hour drive from Rome, we reached the village of Casciana. Thank god, I think we were both relieved, time to have a drink – the cottage can wait.

The road to the House from Piazza Al Serchio