Well we had our first stuff-up and it was discovered at Changi Airport before our flight to Milan. Whilst quickly reading my emails in a cafe there, I saw one from Bianca (the nice lady whose house we are renting) wondering where we are and that they had been expecting us on the 28th. It was like one of those scenes out of a movie when the focus-puller does the quick zoom in on the actor’s face as they scream “nooooooooo!”. I realized then what I’d done: being used to travelling to the US where you go back in time (ie you arrive in the US on the same date you left Australia due to the time difference), we had assumed the same for Italy. So knowing we were leaving Singapore on the 28th, we assumed we would arrive on the 28th. We hadn’t bothered to double check our dates which were clearly written on our itinery! Such a simple mistake can really make you feel stupid, but we scrambled together and shot some quick emails to try to salvage the car situation (we had told them the 28th too) and also to apologise profusely to Bianca.
The 12 hour flight sucked as expected with turbulence (particularly and, perhaps, symbolically) over the middle east. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it had I been asleep like most of the other passengers, but I was sandwiched in between my two boys who were blissfully sleeping stretched out on me and keeping still for them was causing me cramps and numbness in many areas of my body. The horrid smell of vomit reminded me that I was probably not having as bad a time as some people though. I amused myself with the entertainment screen in the seat and watched a couple of Twilight movies and then listened in on the Italian conversations around me. Finally we arrived in Milan at around 6:30am and after going through a very relaxed customs point and collecting our luggage, I got the kids changed into warmer clothes for the zero degree weather outside. Chris called the car company (who magically knew who he was before he even told them) and they were there within 10 minutes with our brand new Citroen C4 Picasso and a nice Italian man to explain how the car works and to draw us a map for getting to Bagnone. It was our first “conversation” in “Itanglish” and we did OK I think.
The drive to Bagnone was lovely. At first Chris was a little nervous about driving on the “wrong” side of the road especially since we didn’t know where we were going and were all really tired, but he did an amazing job. Those Italian drivers are crazy though! The speed limit seems optional and nobody pays any attention to the signs. We drove on a large highway for most of the trip out of Milan and changing lanes to pass was very dangerous as there was always somebody going like a bat out of hell, doing 160 in a 60 zone and almost rear-ending us. Not to mention the obstacles for roadwork which would appear without warning and suddenly close off a lane or divert the traffic to the other side of the road. Chris wondered if they were doing it on purpose just to give the Ferrari drivers a “challenge” as they sped along the freeway. The scenery was amazing though! Little villages hanging down the sides of mountains, huge bridges and tunnels, colorful foliage, snow-capped mountains, medieval ruins….ah, Tuscany! We stopped at the equivalent of a “road house” to grab some food and were bemused by the ordering process where you were required to choose what you wanted then go and pay for it. The cashier then gave you a ticket and you took that to the food counter where they got the food for you. The food was actually really good for “road house” fair and we enjoyed our panini and Italian pastries very much.
After a long 3 and a half hour drive, we arrived in Bagnone. What a cool little village it is! The cobblestone streets are so narrow that you can barely fit a car through and the houses look so Italian, 3 or 4 stories tall with shutters and little balconys with washing hanging out. We tried to follow our directions, but soon got lost and asked a man how to get to Groppo. We tried in Italian first, but he told us to speak English instead! hahaha, I guess our Italian is pretty bad at this point. Anyway, the nice Italian man didn’t really know how to get there so I called Bianca and we eventually figured it out. It was so nice to finally see our new home for the next year and Bianca and Aidan are such nice people too. The house is amazing and we couldn’t be happier to be living here. We have a spectacular view from the huge back yard which overlooks a beautiful valley which has mist rising up in the mornings and little villages clustered here and there. All with the backdrop of snow-capped mountains which change colours in the evenings and mornings. It is so quiet and you can hear the sounds of birds in the forest, the running water of the springs and the ringing of church bells throughout the day. Bianca and Aidan showed us how everything works in the house and were full of helpful local information. They even took Chris out for a drive to the surrounding villages to meet some locals and get some groceries etc. We met one of our neighbours, Franco, who is a very nice man and generously offered to help us with anything we need. Again, he speaks no English, but we were able to communicate with him. After such a long day, we collapsed into bed about 8:30 and slept off the jet lag.
We awoke to our spectacular view through the french doors in the bedroom and had to tell ourselves that this is NOT a dream. Bianca and Aidan came by later in the morning and we went for a short walk into Groppo to speak to the wood supplier. We need wood for the winter and had to organise how many “quintale” to buy (Google it, it’s an ancient measurement of mass). When we got back and after Bianca and Aidan had said their goodbyes, a nice Italian lady came over. She was apparently organising the wood delivery and we spent some time speaking with her about how much wood to get as well as various other things. Again, all in Italian and it was quite amusing at times when words were not understood and charade-like actions were used instead! I was highly amused when the lady started hopping around like a kangaroo when I told her we are from Australia. After she left, Franco came over with his grandson Manuel and the kids attempted to communicate in Italian. It was cute! The wood man came over too and we stacked our load of wood into our shed like “real” country people 🙂
I think we must be a bit of a novelty around here and the people are very friendly to us. We were strolling around Groppo in the late afternoon and met several people on the street. We saw the wood lady again (dam, but I forget her name!!) and she invited us into her house for “caffe”. We had another interesting conversation in her delicious-smelling house and her and husband were very kind and patient with our bad Italian! The coffee was delicious too and unlike anything I’ve ever tasted in Australia. On the way back we met Franco again and he also invited us over. We met his wife and his daughter (Roberta) and we attempted some more Italian conversation. As bad as we are now, I’m confident that these conversations are very helpful teaching aides. The every day exposure to conversational Italian as well as Italian TV (which the kids are watching right now) will have us fluent in no time…….I hope!
Enjoy the pics x