The whole idea of renting the little cottage was to enable us to have a base from which to take day trips around the area and to spend idyllic days in between relaxing by the pool. I would catch up on my writing and Ty would alternate between swimming and reading his book. Yes, well, that was before my companion joined me, uninvited and totally unwelcome, of course!
This tale is about the little cottage or, as the GPS called it, the Italy House (I assume the GPS would use capitals) in the Garfagnana region. Garfagnana pronounced garfunya except by the GPS voice. She/it pronounced it the gar fag nana in her best Aussie accent which amused us every time.
Let’s touch a little on the idyllic days by the pool and the TV game shows.
On the first morning we woke to the sun shining brightly inviting us to the pool for a dip. I’m not a huge fan of swimming pools so the invitation wasn’t very exciting to me. Not so Ty, he immediately shed his clothes and jumped in. In the instant that his body hit the water he realised what a huge mistake this early morning exuberance was. Unlike the bright ball of fire in the sky, showering us with warmth, its rays glistened like diamonds as they made contact with azure pool, the water was freezing. Almost as soon as he hit the water Ty was calling for his towel as he scrambled out of the pool. He hadn’t the foresight to bring a towel around so I went inside to get one. When I returned he stood naked and shivering uncontrollably on the deck, trying to get warm. As I came back with his towel I saw movement way down the back yard and there was the Italian couple that owned the house tending to their vegetable garden. They looked up and waved; we waved back and hoped, from that distance, they couldn’t tell the man waving back was naked. They’d probably watched scene unfold though, most excitement they’d had in this tiny place in a while. I’m sure they’re still chuckling about it, I know I am.
A couple of days later we decided to spend the morning by the pool reading, I needed a rest as my new companion was showing no signs of leaving, in fact it was becoming more obstinate and demanding as each day passed. It had certainly taken an instant liking to me attaching itself like superglue. This time Ty would test the water before deciding to venture in and I thought the sunshine might help rid me of my dreaded viral companion, early morning sunshine not middle of the day extreme heat. I just wanted this affliction to go but I didn’t want to get heat stroke in the process so midday sun was definitely not an option. There were a number of deck chairs scattered around the pool area. Several had a little canopy to keep the sun off your face, a great idea, only trouble was they were prone to collapsing on your head just as you settled back to read or relax.Ty fussed around fixing my chair for me and ensuring I could reach all my medicinal items should I need them. I settled back to catch up on my diary entries as I had fallen behind due to illness and a general malaise. After all the fussing around my husband, before he settled himself into relaxing and reading, bent over to kiss me As he knelt on the side of my lounge it started to collapse and the edge of the sunshade dropped heavily on my head. Then, the rest of the lounge collapsed under me. My head hit the wooden deck and Ty fell on top of me as he tried to rescue me from the inevitable. What a pantomime, the whole scene happened in slow motion (as they do); thank goodness the couple weren’t tending their garden this morning!!! They’d have died laughing I’m sure. I tried to laugh, because it was an accident, but with my head almost split open and my neck was close to being broken I found it difficult to see the funny side at that time. My time relaxing by the pool had come to an end before it really began; I decided the lounge was a much safer option for recuperating.
Apart from reading or writing my diary, television is the other option when spending time on the lounge. Reading held no interest for me and the desire to catch up on my diary entries was non-existent at this time. I just hoped my mind would be able to remember the daily happenings once my health improved. So the television it was. In Australia foreign films generally have subtitles, not so the channels in this northern Italian hideout. Not even satellite TV with CNN or BBC World…… Well I did want to spend time away from the “maddening crowds”. I had definitely achieved that, I hadn’t expected to be ill though, my days were supposed to be exciting, taking in amazing views on some days and relaxing around the house or visiting the local villages on others.
Sorry, digressing again, back to the television. We had a couple of channels to choose from and two of those were very clear with uninterrupted transmission. I watched many game shows and the Italian news. I also watched a soapie which I might have become hooked on had English subtitles been available. Instead I became hooked on game shows, my understanding of the Italian language was very basic, however, I still looked forward to the antics each time I was resting on the lounge. One game show had 3 contestants with 4 people coming out on stage all dressed exactly same. They might be Houdini, nurses, painters, magicians and various other occupations or trades. I gathered the contestants had to guess which man or woman was the real one. To do this they’d ask various questions to reach their final decision. The other game show I would watch was a money game show and, unfortunately, I never worked it out but it kept me entertained!!
The washing machine, well that is another story deserving of its own page so to read about its antics please go to the page entitled simply The Washing Machine.
As we tend to eat out when we’re on holidays the oven and hot plates are usually ignored. This was definitely the case for me on this occasion, Ty did cook pasta one night when I couldn’t venture out and on another night his dinner consisted of a raw carrot and an apple. Not ideal for a diabetic but he just couldn’t be bothered to cook and I wasn’t eating at all. There weren’t any take away places in this neck of the woods either.
Speaking about food: The restaurants around the Garfagnana region were fabulous. I mentioned the first restaurant we dined at in Piazza al Serchio in an earlier post but didn’t state the cost of that meal. I feel compelled to do that now….two main meals, roast vegies, two glasses of wine, a bottle of waiter and two coffees cost the princely sum of 28 euros. The coffees in the square in Piazza were 1.20 euros each…not at all expensive. Most of the restaurants in this area of Italy are family run, mum does the cooking, the kids serve the meal and the wine. The restaurants are part of their home and the food is fabulous and so cheap.
On a drive from Casciana to Aulla we came across a small lake with a little beach area and a strange statue. It was worth a look so we parked the car and took a walk to the lakes edge and soaked up the scenery. At first glance, even second glance the statue looked like a woman in ancient dress, long hair flowing windsurfing!! This was an inland lake high in the Alps so I have no idea what the statue represented….I have placed the photo below – would love it if anyone reading this blog can enlighten me. Leave a comment……
As we returned to the car we noticed a little house across the road with very small sign with the faded inscription “ristorante” just visible on the sign. It looked like the lounge room of the house so we looked at each other and said “why not”. We entered the open door and found a little room full of timber tables with blue and white checked tablecloths and chairs. There were a group of English adults and children on one side of the room and us. The menu was limited for choice but I decided on good old spaghetti bolognese and Ty chose a penne dish. We also had soft drink and water – I was still off the wine….I know, we’re in Italy and we aren’t partaking of much vino….we will though…it’s early days yet!!! Mama took the orders and did the cooking. The food was fabulous, so fresh and tasty. The tomatoes in Italy certainly are tastier than ours, I doubt they refrigerate them for months on end before using them!! Fresh off the vine I’d say.The total cost of this fine meal was 13.50 euros. As you can from the photo below Ty is loving the Italian tucker …even scraping up the sauce off my plate!!
Towards the end of the first week in the cottage we visited decided to visit several of the towns in one day as my illness had slowed down our touristy bits. First stop was Castelnuovo.
It’s a beautiful medieval town with the castle entrance at one end of the main square and several cafes at the other end. Of course this was also a road access so it could be a little hairy sitting at an outdoor café enjoying a drink or eating lunch as motorcycles and small cars whizzed by. I suppose you’re thinking “well, that doesn’t sound too hazardous to your health”. However, as well as breathing in the fumes from the traffic the occasional delivery truck would enter the square and try to negotiate the narrow laneways or park between pedestrians, tables and chairs and large concrete flower pots.
We frequented Castelnuovo quite a lot as the town is a turning point or through point for many of the towns around us. I never tired of sitting and relaxing in the town centre or looking at the views of the river that ran behind the old town. In fact it was so pretty I wanted to take some photos of the river and the stone bridges that crossed it. Only problem was the road where the best views were was the main entrance to the town and was extremely narrow. Trucks, cars and semi-trailers used that road and there was no footpath on one side just a guard rail. Naturally that was the side where I wanted to take the photo so I the shot wouldn’t be marred by a passing car or truck. Ty was in a state of panic when I told him I had to cross the road to get the best photo. “You can’t go take a photo from over the road, you have to take it from this side”. “No” I replied “I have to take it from over there, I’ll be really quick”!! “Give the camera to me, I’ll go and take the photo for you” he said in the tone he used when he knew I would do as I wanted. “You’ll get skittled so I’ll go across and take the photo you just stay put on the footpath”. “Ok, thank you” I said. He had to run across the road as the traffic was quite heavy now and there was a blind corner about 300 metres from where we were. He had to press his body as close as he could to the guard rail as trucks narrowly missed him. Italian truck drivers don’t drive any better than their car driving counterparts, they certainly don’t slow down on narrow roads. Cars weren’t so bad but the trucks were the problem!!! Ty managed to take several photos before it became too dangerous. He had to duck and weave to cross the road again.
Bridges behind Castelnuovo
We also visited the towns of Vagli and Camporgiano before returning to Piazza al Serchio for coffee. I have learnt to ask for my café latte “caldo” otherwise they’re served lukewarm!! We sit in the square sipping coffee and watching the locals go about their business. It’s time to head back to the cottage, as we drive in the gate the owner is watering the lawns. There was no escaping him and, as usual, he was chatting away to us in Italian. I could understand one or two words but that was about it and I tried again to tell him I didn’t understand but he carried on….he smiled, we smiled…and on it went. He was a very nice man, friendly and very welcoming and very hard-working:. tending the vegetable garden down the back daily and watering the lawns.
Wow, tonight on TV we have a treat…..CSI MIami and Midsommer Murders…oh, yes, forgot, they’re in Italian. Watched it anyway, amused me and helped pass the time. Ty was reading another book. It’s so quiet in the evening. A dog will bark way in the distance or the church bell will bong a couple of times….that’s it. Oh, the occasional car will roar up the lane. One night we were woken by sirens. We both jumped out of bed and ran to the window as a little fiat police car whizzed by the house……
The house entrance to the cottage is situated on a blind corner so caution is required when entering or leaving the cottage. After we’d been there about 4 days we noticed that cars would honk their horn as they approached the corner. Ah, the bush telegraph or should I say the Alps telegraph was in action and the villagers knew someone was staying in the cottage so as they approached, whether in a car or tractor, they honked just in case we were driving out. We thought it a very polite gesture.
By the end of the first week instead of my symptoms going away I’ve gained a cough, a really horrid cough. Ty decided I needed more medication and as I was in no condition to go anywhere he would make the trip to Gallicano to our friendly pharmacist in the L’Clerc. It was a 2 hour round trip for him but he was probably secretly thankful I wasn’t with him – he loved driving on the windy mountain roads. He would have been rally driving to his heart’s content with no one asking him to slow down.
One afternoon the owners arrived with another man in tow. They came up to us and this man spoke English. Ahh, great, now we could converse with our hosts. They appeared very surprised to find we were Australian, I suppose they wondered how we had found this place. Many european and several english families had previously rented the cottage. When the interpreter conveyed to them where we were from they made gestures of pointing down and laughing. Took me a while to work out that they were saying “down under”!! It was good to finally have a conversation although I looked awful, red, watery eyes, dreadful cough and everything else that goes hand in hand with the flu virus.I tried to explain that to them but not sure it actually got through.
Night time made this cough much worse, I must have kept the people in the villages below and above us awake with my disgusting cough. I know I was waking the dogs because I’d cough and they’d bark. I’ll bet I was the talking point of the market place every morning!!
They also told us about the places to eat around our local area, some we had already visited some we had yet to visit. One we didn’t know about was the little restaurant and bar across from the Piazza al Serchio railway station. So the very next evening off we went to the recommended restaurant. They have their own little car park in the grounds of the house, there was a seat outside the front door where the elderly Italian men sat chatting but not drinking! We stepped inside and chose a table at the side of the room. The food didn’t disappoint it was delicious….
A couple of days later we decided to have dinner there again, we’d been out all day and so thought an early dinner and an early night would be good. It was just after 6pm when we went to the restaurant and Mama was sitting outside under a tree knitting. As we wandered in she said something in Italian, I shrugged, she then gestured to us by holding up 7 fingers. I assumed that meant she would not be cooking till 7pm. She nodded in agreement so we headed back to the town square and had a glass of wine before heading back for dinner!!
The cottage was quiet isolated, I knew that when I booked it. I think the fact I became so ill helped me appreciate the isolation more than I would have if I’d been well.
It was a base to get around to visit Florence, Lucca, Cinque Terra, Siena and San Gimigiano as well as explore the local villages. We did this without any trouble at all. The views and the amazing stone villages were well worth the isolation as you wouldn’t see those on the main roads or regular tourist trails.
Would we choose such isolation again? Don’t know, would depend on what we were after in a holiday I suppose. Would I recommend the area for a holiday, certainly. There is so much to see.
The cottage is perfect for families with small children who want to spend quality time together in an amazing hilltop setting, Teenagers would be bored I think. Couples or writers who crave peace and solitude would enjoy it. An English family with small children regularly spend holidays at the cottage