The Washing Machine

The Washing Machine

I’ve travelled extensively in Europe renting apartments on several trips. I’ve also spent 6 months in UK.  Every flat or house has a front loading washing machine which I’ve never been able to master.  In all my travels the front loader has been my biggest fear, not losing my luggage or having my money stolen or being kidnapped and sold on the black market (ex-husband probably wished for that)!! No, it’s the dreaded front loader washing machine with built-in dryer.  So you can imagine my fear and how much my blood pressure rose when I saw the front loader neatly tucked into a corner of the bathroom.

“Oh, no, I had forgotten about these, I have trouble getting the settings right” I said to Ty, when he asked why I looked so worried.  “We had one the same in Paris and that was ok” he replied as he placed an arm around my shoulder “I’m sure there’ll be instructions my sweet”.  He was right; of course, there’d be instructions in the house “how to” folder, on the table. I flicked through the folder and found no instructions on the washing machine, not a lot of information on anything really, damn, this was not a good start. A couple of days later it was time to do some washing, I couldn’t ignore it any longer.  I filled the washing machine with clothes, put the washing powder in its container and shut the door.  Then I sat on the loo (machine was across from loo) and tried to read/understand the washing cycles.  Should I choose A, B or D I had no idea. Should I choose 30 or 60 who knows? Where is the on/off button? Ahhh, found you……now I have to choose the cycle.  Ok, D with 30 will do hopefully this is a short wash, press ON……hmm, it sounds like it’s doing something.  We now head out for a couple of hours to explore local villages and have lunch whilst e machine does its thing!

Arriving home about 5 hours later I went to retrieve the washing, the machine has stopped so that’s a good thing.  I look inside the little glass door, the clothes seem to be washed although they didn’t look dry.  No matter as long as they’re washed they’ll dry outside in no time at all so I switch the machine off and open the door.  Disaster, water pours out of the machine all over the bathroom floor….trying to stop the water at the same time as looking for something to place on the floor was impossible.  I just wanted to sit in among the mess and cry. Ty came in, took one look at the floor, the soaking clothes being hurled into the bathtub, and one look at my face told him to retreat very quickly and leave me to my misery. Mess cleaned up, clothes rung out and hung out I settled back on the lounge to watch my game shows vowing not to do any more washing. I don’t have much of a competitive streak so I was quite happy to let the washing machine win the round.

Round two of washing machine versus Kerin commenced at the end of the week.  I went through the same process of adding clothes, adding washing powder then I asked Ty to help me decide how to work this monster.  We were both squashed into the small area between loo and washing machine trying to work out the cycle and time limit.  I have to say that the alphabet and numbers on the dial were in light blue and a little faded as well, which didn’t help us. We decided on a wash and dry cycle and after setting it we headed off to Florence for the day quietly confident we’d come home to washed and dried clothes.

We arrived home from Florence around 8pm to find the washing machine still washing….it must have gone round and round on the wash cycle for the best part of 12 hours. We were incredulous; all that wasted electricity and water although I have the feeling it wasn’t changing water, more likely it was stuck on one cycle. We played around with the dial again to try to get the mechanical monster to complete the wash cycle. It took several more hours of twiddling that damned dial before the washing machine actually completed a full cycle. Thank goodness we weren’t reliant on a water tank….it would have been empty in no time.

Naturally, when the machine completed its 600th wash cycle for the day some items of clothing did not survive very well.  A number of Ty’s previously good polo shirts looked like they’d been dragged behind a car for several kilometres at high-speed. They weren’t dirty, on the contrary, but the fibres were barely holding the garments together.  All the clothes were showing signs of stress; some had faded patches in different place.   I hoped that once the clothes had some sunlight on them they’d look a little better than they did now. Even though the machine completed its cycle the clothes were still wet….not dripping as in previous attempts at washing but they were wet.

Still, it could have been worse, some years ago, on another holiday, I had put a large amount of clothing in a commercial washer/dryer. I sat and watched the clothes go around for a while, read a couple of pages of a magazine then turned back to the machine, which was by now in the drying cycle.  As I looked in the machine I could see two very small items of clothing and I said to myself “what are THOSE I don’t have any kids clothing in there” then “oh my god, oh no, I know what they are”.   It was a set of thermals that my brother-in-law had lent my then husband for our trip to Arctic Circle. They were now the size of a 3-year-old child’s clothing.  So embarrassing, I carried those tiny articles of shrunken clothing around with me for 2 more months trying to work out how I would explain this to my sister.

If only I could take my top loader on overseas holidays.

My worst fear is that the home builders will dispense with laundries as a separate room in the future and we’ll all be forced to buy front loaders to place under our kitchen benches or taking up a prominent place in the bathroom!!!!

I think the best solution would be for all holiday rentals to have complete and easy to follow instructions on how to use the front loaders.  Actually, working instructions for all major appliances would be helpful. So if you have a holiday rental and you’ve read this blog….it might be worthwhile to amend the house instruction folder..  In this case more information is definitely better than less.

In my ideal world I wouldn’t have to do the washing whilst on holidays………….or at least have the ability to request the washing machine of your choice when  choosng the rental apartment in much the same way as you choose the number of bedrooms!!.

The Italy Cottage

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.

The pool deck lounges and me!


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……

Windsurfing Nymph?

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 spag bol 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!!

Can't get enough of this food.....

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.

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

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.

20120310-174710.jpg

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.

Pool and deck

Piazza al Serchio

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.

Rome

Ah, Rome, I love the history of this city, my Ancient History teacher would be both surprised and pleased that I enjoy visiting the ancient ruins of Italy and Greece. The fact that the buildings are still standing amazes me.  For all the magnificence that Rome has to offer the visitor  I’m also well aware of Rome’s reputation as a haven for pickpockets. I do my best, whichever country I’m visiting, to make sure my belongings are secure even whilst I’m staring wide-mouthed at some historical building or statue. There are a few unscrupulous Roman taxi drivers who will also try their best to rob you, by charging you double the fare. Even if you manage to negotiate the fare before getting in there’s every possibility of a heated argument at the destination when the fare has suddenly changed. However we didn’t have that problem our driver would be waiting for us.

Stepping out of the airport terminal into the heat of the morning I heard the unmistakable sounds of excitable Italian women talking in the top decibel range. Groups of noisy conversations with much hand waving as they talked over one another to get their point across.

It was all coming back, nothing had changed since my last visit – although there was one thing – this ancient city, bearing so much history and so many wonderful monuments had become a drawing board for disgusting graffiti scrawlers.  Unfortunately this lack of respect for property and surroundings is a worldwide problem. That’s my soap box moment…back to my travel prattle.

As we left the airport, in our prearranged car, our driver very kindly took us on a mini tour and gave a running commentary as we drove to our hotel on the via Nazionale. He pointed out ancient landmarks, roads, anything he thought might be of interest, including a field where we saw several large tents representing a medieval fair of sorts. Hiring a car to pick us up at the arrivals hall and deliver us to our hotel certainly beats haggling (and losing once you reach your destination) with taxi drivers or struggling with our luggage on buses or trainsWe chose Romecabs to pick us up and we were very happy with their service. 

After a wake up shower and breakfast at the hotel it was time to whizz Ty around the many tourist hotspots and allow him as many photo opportunities as possible within a limited period of time. I did allow him an extended visit to the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain on day one. Sounds mean doesn’t it but Rome was a stopover before picking up our car and heading to the north of Italy and the little cottage we had rented.

I decided the hop on hop off bus would enable us to get around as efficiently as possible….anyone think it sounds like I wanted to get out of Rome as soon as possible?? You’re right there, Rome has many historical sights to visit but, for me, I was eager to get to our little cottage. Ahh, relaxing by the pool in a peaceful setting for a couple of weeks.

Oh, just my luck, by lunchtime I felt the signs of a sore throat coming on.  No, not now, it’s the start of my holiday….not happy Jan!

After visiting Vatican City and the Colosseum we hopped off the bus near the Trevi Fountain.  There were wall to wall people around the Trevi Fountain. Trying to get close to the edge of the fountain was a feat in itself, trying to squeeze between people and to duck around others taking photos.  I’d never seen so many people crammed into a small area before.  The fountain was quite beautiful, a backdrop of white marble statues looking over the sparkling light blue water, the bright sunshine made the marble even whiter. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, just a magnificent blue canopy over head.

We had lunch at a little restaurant in a side street, not so good for people watching but it was shady. As we were paying the bill the waiter queried the euro notes.  We had put in two 20 euro notes, I couldn’t understand what his problem was – both notes were blue, I could see the 20 in the corner of both… Ty laughed and told me to take a second look at the notes.  Oh my goodness, how did I do that….one was a euro note and the other was a Hong Kong $20.  I had forgotten to remove the HK currency from my wallet.  I was obviously jet lagged…..so embarrassed.

By the next morning my sore throat had expanded to include runny eyes, nose and stuffy head…..great start to a holiday and a fabulous look as well!!! Soldiered on with whatever concoctions the Farmacia could offer. Ty was out wandering the streets looking for a Farmacia at 3am and (doing his Captain Caveman routine, undies on his head, dun dun daaah), he managed to find one and returned to the hotel with various tablets, lozenges and medicine.  Very pleased with himself.

Along with the Colosseum, Pantheon, the Forum the Spanish Steps were also a must see landmark.  Our goal was to get to the Spanish Steps before the tour groups to, hopefully, take a couple of photos of the area without too many people in them.  Luckily the Steps were only a 15 minute walk from our hotel.  We arrived at the base of the Steps around 8am and there was three other people there.  How lucky we were, there are crowds everywhere in Rome, I was very impressed that we had managed to elude them. One of the three was a flowerseller with a very bad memory because he came up to us at least 3 times pressuring us to buy one of his flowers.

On the third day our driver from RomeCabs collected us and delivered us to the car rental company at the airport.  We completed all the necessary paperwork, jumped in our Golf  and headed for the hills of Tuscany……three of us left Rome that day. Yes, 3, Ty, me and my new companion, the flu or whatever virus I had managed to pick up in the days before we left Sydney.

Us at the Spanish Steps

GPS is set to our destination and we’re off – so it’s goodbye to Rome…..and next episode we’ll be saying hello to Piazza al Serchio.