Scenes from an Italian life

Here’s a blog post containing only photos and captions for once. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, just that daylight saving started yesterday and that 1 hour of lost sleep has rendered me quite brain dead today.  We’ve been going about our daily lives here and interesting things happen all the time, so my narration would be disjointed anyway.

A random old man sitting in a cafe. He just sat there, not eating or drinking the whole time we were there.

Graffiti in Italy is different to the usual "tagging" in Australia. We see messages of love, politics and humour here. I hate graffiti in general, but if it must be done then this is the type I prefer.

Our favourite waitress Katuschia at "Big Ben" cafe in Filattiera. Yummy pizzas!!

Did you see the Super Moon last week? On March 19th, the moon was the closest it's been to earth since 1992 (356,577 km from earth). This shot was taken on the night before because the 19th was cloudy.

For all my Canadian friends. Please don't take it personally that this jacket was on the sale rack for 1 euro!! It's practically disposable.

The obligatory bread basket at Gavirini's in Mocrone. Really great food! I highly recommend pranzo there.

The entrance to Bagnone (the Castello in the background and then Pastina in the distant background)

A lovely day in Bagnone!

At Lucia's shop in Pontremoli. Giant Lindt balls!

Denver at the 150 year celebration of Italy. A great show of patriotism was seen for days, flags everywhere.

My beautiful little boys! Such sweet little faces xx

"Can I have a puppy Mum?" The little puppies at Germana's antique store in Filetto.

Just a statue in someone's garden, but it has significance as it is like the Statue Stelles of Lunigiana.

Last weekend we took a trip to Fivizzano, Ceretto and Castelnuovo. This is Fivizzano.

Fivizzano, on the way to the piazza for a coffee and gelati

Verrucola, just outside of Fivizzano. There is a great castle there. You can see the old ruins of a watchtower up on the hill behind this house

The tower ruins at Verrucola

The castle just outside of Fivizzano (in Verrucola). It is privately owned unfortunately, so we could not go inside. We did walk around the little village though

Denver sitting on a doorstep off a little stone laneway in Verrucola

On the way to Ceretto there is a little stone house in the middle of the road. It's abandoned but would make an interesting residence. Location location!

I don't actually know the name of this village. It is near Cerreto and is accessible off a road that leads under a bridge and winds down to the bottom of the valley. We could not see it's name. What a great spot for a village though! Does anyone know the name? Leave a comment please.

The ski resort of Cerreto Laghi. We were suprised at how busy this place was. It's very touristy with lots of hotels and cafes and of course lots of skiiers. The season is almost over, so I'd hate to see it in peak times!

Frozen lake in Ceretto with a soccer ball. You can see hotels in the background.

Not much snow left even in the mountains! This is on the way down from Cerreto Laghi towards Castelnuovo dei Monti

On the way to Castelnuovo dei Monti, there is a little church which sits by itself upon a hill. The sky was so blue that day.

An old wagon wheel behind the church. Oh how I miss the chocolate kind!

Townhouses in Castelnuovo. Patriotic Italians!

An interesting site in Castelnuovo. It's a fountain (I think) completely covered in newspapers. Modern art? Prank? Italian method of weather protection?

Ah, Italian coffee.

The little village of Virgoletta (not far from Bagnone). One of our favourite places. It's very old and fun to walk around with lots of little places to explore.

Balin and I, exploring one of the little stone tunnels in Virgoletta

The remains of a stone window looking out from a piazza in Virgoletta

I'm not really sure what this is, but it was at the end of the village of Virgoletta, sort of like a courtyard. Perhaps Manuela could tell me?

We took a drive in the countryside one day and came across Lusignana, another cute little village on a hill

Chris and I teaching English to the Italian teachers again.

Monika burning off some branch cuttings in our back yard. It is the time of year for such things.

Chris mowing the ENORMOUS lawn here. It took 3 days, but he had fun (as you can see)

The finished lawn. Yes, it's big and there's more behind the photographer too!

I hope you enjoyed some of the images from our everyday lives here.  Next week we will be in Switzerland and France (we are going to Disneyland and Paris amongst other things) so there may be blog silence until we get back.

Ciao
x

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Porto Venere and Carnivale for kids

Two weeks have flown by since I last posted an entry here. I’ve been occupied with personal matters lately, and the neglect of this blog is just one casualty.  Despite all the bullsh#t going on, I think it’s important to always have a bit of fun (and never to feel guilty about it!) otherwise I’d go insane.  Well, even more than I already am.  So, dear friends, I give you some photographs to make you smile!

Last week we visited Porto Venere, a small but very beautiful village on the Ligurian coast near La Spezia.  It’s actually not a very long drive from here and quite easy to find. No GPS required! After going through La Spezia, you continue for a truly beautiful drive along the coast.  The views were just gorgeous on such a lovely day.  There were lots of little fishing villages, narrow streets winding up hillsides and little boats in the bays.  On the way, we stopped off in Le Grazie (actually by mistake) and were charmed by the little marina and shops and restaurants along the water.  When we got to Porto Venere, there was a steep one-way descent down to the village by the water, and then back up again to find a park.  We enjoyed the walk down to the village, and had a look around at this gorgeous little tourist spot with it’s looming island (Palmaria) to one side and the castle and fortress wall above the village.  We headed up some very steep stairs into the old centre and wandered around. We came across a stone piazza on a cliff-top with the church of St Peter (consecrated in 1198….no, that’s not a typo!) and the Grotta dell’Arpaia (Byron’s Grotto) leading off it.  The Grotto is very cool and you can climb right down to explore the cave and rocks.  This grotto is famous because the English poet Byron swam across the gulf of La Spezia to San Terenzo to visit Shelley in Lerici, in 1822.  He must have been keen, because that water looks cold!   St Peter’s church is built right into the edge of the cliff and has a spectacular view from it’s balcony and rooftop.  The view of the Mediterranean sea is so wide, you can almost see the curve of the earth.   We wandered back and eventually found a way up to the Andria Doria Castle, perched high above Porto Venere.  Really, these Italians know how to make the most of an amazing sea view! The castle is still in pretty good condition for 12th century real estate, and we enjoyed exploring the many levels and towers.   After a steep descent back down to the water and some gelati, we headed back home.   It was a great day and such a beautiful place to explore! It’s all free too (except for the castle which is just a few euros) and a very good family outing.  Enjoy the pics (all 20 of them! It’s hard not to go a bit overboard in such a lovely spot):

Porto Venere

Porto Venere and you can just see the island of Palmaria to the left of this photo

Looking out from the castle above Porto Venere to the island of Palmaria

Some Japanese tourists returning the favour of the family portrait Chris did for them

Those cool multi-coloured village houses that I love so much in Italy. Tall and narrow with washing hanging out....there's always washing!

The church of St Peter in the background and the grotto is off to the right

Down in the grotto, you can see the castle behind us on the cliff

Chris climbing on rocks in the grotto

Denver and I exploring the stone pathways and caves

Denver after being told to "stay where you are!". He likes to raise my blood pressure by running off and climbing dangerous rocks. (The windows in the rock wall behind look like eyes don't they?)

The views! The views! Just look how beautiful the med looks through that arched stone window.

Inside the church of St Peter. I love that stripey stone work (apparently "new" 14th century work)

Did I mention the amazing views??

On the way up to Andria Doria castle

Looking down from the walk up to the castle. Breathtaking!

From the castle entrance, a view of a very ornate campanile

The view down the castle wall

Playing in the Andria Doria Castle

One of the narrow stone corridoors of the Andria Doria castle

The great hall of the Andria Doria Castle. Pretty solid.

 

Carnivale for kids

Oh how they love a good Carnivale here! You saw the Viareggio one, now check out the Bagnone one.  OK, it’s nowhere near the same scale, but I think it was even more fun!  This sort of thing happens in all the towns around here: the kids get all dressed up and then parade around on “floats” (dolled-up trucks) and get to throw confetti and spray silly string at all and sundry.  Fun!!  Our friend Monika lent us some costumes for the boys and they loved dressing up as Peter Pan and Dracula.  It was a lovely day in Bagnone luckily, and we all had fun parading through the streets with stops along the way for food and drink (very important!).  It all ended up in a hall near the school and there was even more food and merriment.  The kids had a ball and got to take part in something I’m sure they will never forget.

All dressed up and ready to go

The boys in their costumes

On the float

Having fun amidst confetti!

Monika and I in the crowd

Denver and his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Cinzia

Riding on the float, the Italian flag flying high

Kids jammed in the back of a truck!

At the "after party", Balin with his girlfriend Jolie

Denver with his "other" girlfriend Vanessa. Fickle boy!!

Even the adults got in on the fun! Franco wearing his grandson's hat.

We got lots of comments on the “jumping” shot from the last post, so I thought I’d finish with another one of the boys. It’s hard to synchronize them, but it turned out OK in the end (as it always does).

Wooohooo!

Ciao
xx

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Carnivale in Viareggio…it’s time to party!

The trouble with having only news channels to watch in English is that you tend to become mired in the doom and gloom that is broadcast daily. Civil unrest, the economic crisis, wars, William and Kate (the latter not gloomy but annoying!)……sometimes you just have to turn it off in search of a good time.  Right now in Italy, there’s no better time to be had than at Carnivale in Viareggio.

A tradition for 138 years, the Carnivale is like no other I’ve ever attended. Pretty much everyone dresses in costume, there is music, MUCH confetti, food, dancing and a parade of enormous floats that make the Adelaide Christmas Pageant look like a quaint country fair.  (Btw, I am by no means knocking our Christmas Pageant with all of it’s charm and unique atmosphere! I’m just making the point that Carnivale is HUGE).  Really, these floats are amazing with their sheer size, bright colours and moving parts.  They parade along the seashore in a circular route and the crowd is encouraged to be a part of the procession. There are no barriers and only a small grandstand for the elderly (party poopers!).  Actually, the kids were a bit overwhelmed at first with all the people and the noise, but after a few minutes they acclimatized and became engrossed in the bizarre sights.

If you DO plan on attending Carnivale some day, be aware that there are NO parks in the entire town. We had to drive almost all of the way out of Viareggio and walk back in.   Enjoy the pics:

A beautiful garden! The mantis bugs were moving their legs and heads around

The parade of floats. You can see some of the crowd dressed in costume.

Shark!!! The shark and the fish all moved around on the float.

It's Obama! The floats were very political, and this one even had a terrorist on the top complete with gun and crazy antics. Obama's eyes and hands moved and smoke came out of his wand.

The back of the Obama float with a flying peace dove

Look at that one Daddy!!

My absolute favourite float! This was a big skeleton monster with Berlusconi's face. The face opened up to reveal a skull. The neck moved around so it looked like the skull was coming at you. Scary! There were ghosts "floating" around the base too.

The Kama Sutra! "Mummy, what are those people doing?" "Err...just having a cuddle"

Another awesome float! This was depicting the monopolization of the media. The monster had blinking eyes and blue lazer lights coming out of them.

This float actually broke down and only got back into the parade at the very end. It was huge!

This week we have continued our usual touring of Lunigiana. Amongst our “discoveries” are the castle at Bastia, Torre di Apella, Caprigliola and more of the lovely area around our village of Groppo.  Chris and I have been taking many long hikes around here and discovered a bare hilltop a few k’s down the road. It’s only used for grazing right now, but would make an ideal house site with 360 degree views of the mountains and valleys. On a clear day, the Apuans look so three dimensional!  The view of Groppo from a different angle with the alps behind it is also quite spectacular.  I’ll let the pics do the talking again:

A little village just past Aulla called Caprigliola. It's very visible from far away due to it's precarious positioning right on top of a hill. It has very sheer walls around it and of course spectacular views.

The entrance to Caprigliola. Very defensible!

A very obvious feature of Caprigliola, even from a distance, is the round tower.

I do love a good tower!

The fortress of Bastia. This sits on a mountain above the town of Licciana Nardi. Actually, we did not know what it was and had to point it out to one of the locals in LN. The castle/fortress has now been converted into apartments, but still remains a pretty impressive SOLID structure which dominates the valley.

I thought this might be a good shot, and Chris was only too happy to oblige me by climbing up the rocks! It would make a cool cubby house for a kid.

We discovered this tower on the way home to Groppo from Licciana Nardi. It's the Torre di Apella which is now an Agriturismo. It is situated with nothing around it except for a winding road leading up to it.

The Torre di Apella. Such a lonely looking tower.

Another view of Groppo taken from the little hill we discovered. It looks big here!

The Apuan mountains as seen from the little hill

The awesome Apennine ranges with Pastina in front.

Wooohooo! Spring is almost here! Wildflowers, snow, blue sky...and getting some serious air!!

Finally, I am most pleased to announce that I’m now a card-carrying member of the “Donne di Luna”, the local women’s organization.  I was invited to attend the Annual General Meeting last Friday night, followed by a delicious buffet dinner.  In the meeting, the “head lady” outlined what had been achieved that year and what plans were in place for the coming year.  It seems quite a lot of charity work was done as well as social and cultural events.  My friends Giusi, Catherine, Sandra, Alison and Nikki are all members and I met some other Italian ladies on the night.  I learned some new words and got to practice the language, as well as enjoying some new foods like “lardo” (thin slivers of cured pork fat!) and swordfish.  It was a fun night amongst such lovely ladies.  It was also the first night I’ve had out by myself since we arrived in Italy 🙂

Ciao
xx

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A spooky tour and an English lesson

There has been much going on this past week and of course it’s only possible to write about a few selected highlights here.  That’s not to say that the parts I omit were not important, just that I probably don’t have good photos to accompany the stories!  At any rate, this past week we have enjoyed:

  • a spooky night tour of the castle at Fosdinovo
  • the first Poker night at our house in Italy (thanks Trevor, Mary and Laura!)
  • a birthday party for one of the boys’ school friends
  • shopping for beautiful Italian cashmere at a well-kept secret location (thanks Manuela!)
  • Valentine’s Day where the boys made cards for their Italian sweethearts
  • helping to teach a class for people learning English
  • …..and meeting lots of new people!

I’ll start with Fosdinovo.

Sometimes it pays to spend an inordinate amount of time on Facebook, because you never know what you’ll discover or who you’ll meet.  It was on Facebook that I “met” Bianca (the lovely owner of this house) and also where I read about the planned night time opening of the Castello Malaspena at Fosdinovo.  You might remember from a recent blog entry how we visited Fosdinovo one icy cold day, only to find the castle closed.  You can imagine my interest when I saw the announcement in my Facebook news feed that they were planning to open the castle for a special night tour.  I immediately phoned and booked us in on the “early tour” – 9pm.  It meant picking up the kids early from school in order to arrive in Fosdinovo in time for dinner and to find some suitable overnight accommodation. It would have been too late to drive back to Bagnone that same night, especially on such narrow and treacherous roads.  We arrived in Fosdinovo at around 7, and wandered around looking for a lady called Monica who we had been told owns a local B&B (as well as the local jewellery shop).  We found her and, although she was technically closed for the winter months, she agreed to let us stay for a reduced rate.  Great! We then set off in search of a restaurant. Fosdinovo is one of those very steep villages, where all the roads are narrow, winding and very hard on the thigh muscles.  We walked all over and could not find one single Restaurant open.  In fact we could not find ANYTHING open! We asked the first person we saw and they confirmed that we would have to leave Fosdinovo in order to find a Restaurant.

The deserted streets of Fosdinovo. Any enterprising Restaurateur could make a killing here!!

Off we went, back to the car, back down the road to Giucano where we had heard of a Restaurant that was supposed to be good.   After a pretty hairy parking experience, we found Ristorante Emili and enjoyed our own personal dining room (ie, no other guests around).  The food was fabulous and we enjoyed HUGE Sgabei (hot, crispy, fluffy and salty….mmmmm!) and various pastas and meats.

HUGE sgabei at Ristorante Emili in Giucano.....oh my it was GOOD!! Actually, I found the recipe here: http://www.ristoranteemili.com/ricette.htm

Unfortunately, by this time it was fast approaching 9pm so we had to hurry our dinner a bit.  We managed to be back at the castle by 8:55.  We sat outside the door on a cold stone bench within the castle walls and waited…..and waited….and waited. Did I mention it was cold? It was bloody freezing!

Castello Malaspena in Fosdinovo, lit up at night.

Waiting in the internal courtyard of the castle for the tour to begin

Finally, at around 9:15 (more than enough time to eat desert IF we’d known we had time!!) a little old grey-haired lady opens the door and beckons us inside.  No explanation or apology for tardiness, just our payment and then on with the candlelit tour. Unfortunately, our guide did not speak one word of English, so it required my full concentration to understand her and be able to ask questions.

I suppose that the castle at night is an entirely different creature than the castle during the day.  To be sure, it had an atmosphere of dark foreboding and it was all too easy to imagine it’s resident ghosts shimmering in the shadows of the flickering candlelight.  We were led on from one huge cavernous stone hall to the next and finally into some enormous rooms.  As lovely as castles are, living in one would not be much fun in winter. It was very cold in there, and our guide chatted on regardless telling us of the various legends and the lives of the people who once dwelled there.   She pointed out where ghosts had been sighted, and led us on through very narrow winding passages which you could easily become lost in.  A few times Chris stopped to take photos and the lady seemed very concerned to hurry him on.  Of all of the rooms, the highlight for me was the great hall with its painted walls and huge arched windows.  The views from the castle over Fosdinovo and towards the sea were quite spectacular at night.

The great hall of the castle with its beautiful decoration and grand proportions

One of the bedrooms. That metal object is actually a cradle for a baby. It has a lock on it, and was only used for male babies as they were considered to be most precious!

Apparently this is a haunted bed. If you were going to haunt a bed, then this would be a good choice....look at that gorgeous carving!

A great view over Fosdinovo and beyond from the castle

Of course a castle is not worth its salt if it doesn’t have some gory tales, and this one had plenty.  We were taken deep down into the dungeon where our guide described the various tortures that were performed there.  There was a grate in the floor where the dismembered body parts were disposed of.  We were also shown into a room with all of the various torture implements on display.  Unfortunately, I now know what they were all used for and so does Balin! It was the first time I’ve rued his growing knowledge of the Italian language.

The dungeon. It was a very creepy feeling being in there! An oppressive atmosphere of doom.

The torture implements. Top marks for creativity though, some of those items had uses I would never have imagined!

We finished the tour and went back to our accommodation, a charming little B&B on the outskirts of the village.  We awoke in the morning to a very different view of the castle from our bedroom window.

The castle the morning after.

English Class

This week, our good friend Lucia invited us to help her with a class of fellow teachers who are learning English (as part of a compulsory government program).  We were very happy to oblige, as Chris and I are both certified trainers in Australia and it felt good to contribute our skills so far from home.  The students needed to listen to the English language spoken by native speakers so that they could get used to the sound and try to understand the words.  Chris and I highlighted the differences between pronunciation of words in America and Australia and we spent some time talking to them about ourselves and our lives before breaking off into smaller groups where the students could practice speaking to us.   I have to say, they were all very good at English for having only studied for a short time.  As we have noticed amongst Italians on previous occasions, they are very shy and lack confidence in their linguistic ability, but we soon had them chatting to us.  Actually, I would be happy to be able to speak Italian as well as some of them can speak English.   Even Balin and Denver had a small group to themselves and had some good conversation going.  Balin even SANG to the group!   It was great fun.

Lucia and the boys

Chris' group of students

My group of students (I'm wearing my new Cashmere poncho....although it looks rather like a tent in this pose!)

Balin (out of shot) and Denver holding the attention of their students. They did a great teaching job!

I will leave you with a cute pic! It was Valentine’s Day on Monday and the boys made special cards for their respective girlfriends at school.  Denver has a new girl in his heart now and her name is Cinzia (chin-zee-ah).  He went to some trouble making a very pretty card for her, and apparently it was well worth the time and effort.  When we asked him how it went when he gave it to her, he smiled smugly and said matter-of-factly “She loves me.”  Of course she does!

Who wouldn't love a face like that?

Ciao
xx

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Casabasciana

One of the reasons we came to Tuscany is to find relatives and places of significance to Chris’ family.  Chris’ Dad was born somewhere near Bagni di Lucca in a small town called San Concordio.  He doesn’t know the exact spelling, but we Googled several versions of it and could not find it’s location.  Instead, we decided to visit Casabasciana, which is where Chris spent some months when he was 8 (back in 1973).

On our recent trips, we have preferred to tell the GPS to avoid expressways. This way we get to drive through lots of little towns and see some “off the beaten track” scenery that we wouldn’t otherwise see if driving on the boring autostrada.  The down side to this is that it is slow and it’s very easy to get lost, in fact we got lost about 5 times in total! Co-Pilot (on my android phone) is not a bad app, it’s just that the roads were small and winding and it was very easy to miss crucial turns and then very hard to turn around again.  The scenery on the way was stunning though and the Apuan mountains dominated the landscape.

Lonely trees, a scowling sky and majestic mountains

Panorama shot into a valley

The obligatory olive grove and several little villages in the distance

We stopped for lunch in a small town whose name completely eludes me (must start writing things down!) and the boys feasted on the biggest pizza I’ve ever seen.  We watched the man cooking it in a traditional wood oven.  I enjoyed a nice scallopine with vino bianco.

Yum! So tender, so juicy.....

Although we had left from Groppo quite early that morning, we did not arrive in Bagni di Lucca until around 3ish. It was much later than we wanted and consequently we could not spend as much time as we would have liked there.   The town appears much like Pisa when you come into it, with it’s central river and bridge.   We walked around a bit, enough to be sure that it warranted a second visit!

Bagni di Lucca looking very much like Pisa

A miniature castle turret on the banks of the river in Bagni di Lucca

We headed on to Casabasciana, only minutes from Bagni di Lucca, but up a very steep mountain road.  It was getting late, and we knew we would not have much time to explore the village.  (There will be a blog post for part 2 later this year for sure!)  Casabasciana is very old and built into the side of a mountain, therefore it is also VERY steep.  You can’t drive cars in, so we left ours in a carpark.  I love this village, it’s quite large and built in the typical labyrinth style of streets and houses going off in all directions. It is easy to get lost in it as all the piazzas look similar and it’s hard to see landmarks (like churches) with such tall buildings and steep slopes.  There is a central “road” (stairway really) which orientates you, but if you get lost then it means lots of needless uphill hiking!  Chris followed his nose (and his very poor memory of being 8 years old) toward the back of the village and we were actually only metres from his Nonna’s old house when we met some ladies in the street.  We asked them if they remembered Chris’ Nonna and, to our great suprise, one of the ladies did! She not only remembered her, but also Chris’ Nonno, his Dad, the fact they went to America, their stay in Casabasciana and how many siblings Chris has (there are 7 of them).  It was incredible!  This lady (Rita) was 80 years old and she remembered all of that.   Rita showed us the house Chris had stayed in and then invited us in to her house for coffee.  We chatted to her for a while and discovered many interesting things about her life, she was born in the village and has never left so she knows everything and everyone.  Rita told us exactly how to find the grave sites of Nonna and Nonno and we left with very accurate directions (right down to the row number and number of sites in).  We eventually found it!

Casabasciana in the late afternoon

The nice ladies we met on the street in Casabasciana (we are standing in front of Nonna's house). Rita is the lady on the far right

The exact spot where Chris used to play as a kid (there used to be a sign with a cat on it above him)

The grave of Nonno and Nonna in Casabasciana Cemetary

This is why so many residents of Casabasciana live past 100.....they are fit from walking up and down this every day!

I know it’s only February, but I can see the season changing already. On our walks through the forest above our house (apparently called Mount Barca which South Australians may find funny!), I have noticed the most beautiful wild flowers peeking up through the undergrowth. Besides the snowbells and their larger cousins (starts with an “H”…..sorry Catherine I know you told me this morning!), there are also daisies, violets, purple things and little yellow things.  Yes, I confess I’m botany-challenged! I must be a huge disappointment to my Mum who could look at any given plant then tell you it’s name (both common AND scientific) as well as the best way to grow it.  My excuse is that all of the plants in this foreign country are unfamiliar to me……that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!   Anyway, the weather has been spectacular with beautiful sunshine and clear, cool days. I think that Spring is very close and I have it on good authority that the wild flowers are going to get MUCH more spectacular.  In the meantime, here are some shots of my “evidence” of Spring. If you know what these plants are, please leave me the answers in the comments section so that we can all learn together 🙂

Look! It's spring! Purple things are coming up!

......and white things!

....and pale green and white things that start with "H"!

Chestnut season is finished for sure

The forest still looks like winter though. This is a ruin that we discovered on a walk one day.

…and last of all….this is the result of what happens when you set your camera to “smile detect” in order to get a self-portrait and it doesn’t detect your smile!!  We grinned like Cheshire cats, pulled faces and finally cracked up laughing…..

Say "cheeeeese"!!

Ciao xx

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Pontremoli Fires (Part II) and Tresana

We’ve had quite a busy week, and unfortunately I’ve had to trudge through it all with ANOTHER darn cold! That’s one of the problems when you move to the other side of the world: all new viruses for your immune system to meet.  Two colds in two months is rare for me, and I hope that’s the last of it for quite some time.  But enough about me….

On Monday night we went to Pontremoli for Part II of the rival bonfires. It was San Geminiano’s turn, and we felt some allegiance as our good friends Alice (Italian Melanie) and Lucia (school principal) belong to that side.  We got there nice and early and walked all over trying to find the best possible vantage point for Chris’s camera.  Of all of the spots available (and they were all available suprisingly until the last minute), Chris wanted to be up on a terrace away from the heat.  He did get some great shots, some of which I’ll share with you here. As always, the best ones will appear only in his book.

The "before" shot, all prepared for the inferno

Moving in for the torching

...and up she goes!! (run boys!)

In a blaze of glory

Weird fire shapes! (bet those people on the bridge were toasty warm)

Wide shot to show the crowd (and Pontremoli in the background)

After the fire, we were very kindly invited to Lucia’s house for dinner.  We were joined by Lucia’s mother, her sister and Alice.  Alice’s iPhone was running hot and we were told that the reason was the general consensus amongst her friends that San Geminiano may have lost the competition this year. It seems to be a very mysterious adjudicating procedure, something to do with the way the pyre burns and how high it gets, but in any case the verdict would be in the next day.   We had a lovely dinner of lasagne, chicken, a cheese pie, roasted potatoes and baked apples for desert.  Conversation was a mixture of Italian and English and we all learned some new words.

During the week, Chris and I had a little outing to Tresana.  Can you guess why we went there? That’s right…a castle!  On the way, we stopped off at Lusuolo to see their castle (impressive, but closed) and we walked around their little walled village which was basically a single street.  The weather was so stunning that day! The drive through the mountains was perfect: sunshine, breathtaking scenery, Beatles on the mp3 player…. life is wonderful 🙂  Descending into Tresana, the castle really dominated the valley. It just rises up from the earth and makes everything else around it look out of place.  At present they are doing maintenance work on the outside, so it’s closed to the public, but we walked around for photos.  We met a nice old man too, who told us a little about his life (he’s an ex Navy officer).  We also experienced the narrowest “street” we’ve ever driven through where we had to bend our side mirrors in to avoid scraping.  Still, these days we are not phased by such things!

Lusuolo and it's fortress (well, what remains of it)

I do love defensible housing! (just out of frame were several cats lazing about in the sun, a few of the many cats populating Lusuolo)

Chris on the main street of Lusuolo

One of the many abandoned houses in Lusuolo

The castle at Tresana, striking in it's landscape

Hey, there's a tree growing out of that tower! A leafy neighbourhood?

Put your hands on the wheel! That's a rental!!

Random road-side cottage

One of those cool little "tunnel streets" in Fornoli (on the way home)

Chris and I both found this Mary statue peering through a church window to be VERY creepy!

I’ll leave you with a photograph of our special guest visitor tonight: “Scorpy” the Scorpion, as the kids called him. He decided to say “G’day” on the wall above the front door. Those of you who know Chris and his joy of “playing with the wildlife” will not be suprised when I tell you that he caught it in a bowl first in order to take photos and study it closely.  It ended up in the fireplace, but not before we identified it with the help of Google and ascertained it’s potential for killing us. Apparently it’s not lethal.  Come on Italy, how about some wildlife with BALLS? We miss living in a country where snakes, spiders, sharks and crocodiles are all just itching to violently cut your life short when you least expect it……

Our visitor. Not lethal, but I still wouldn't want to piss him off!

Ciao xx

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Fosdinovo and Treschietto

I’m sitting here waiting for a man to come and look for Fainas.   It’s just another part of country life here in Italy, dealing with the critters who share their habitat with us pesky humans. A Faina is a small animal that I have personally never seen, but the pictures on Google show a VERY cute little critter resembling a ferret.  These little guys hibernate in the winter months and very often choose the nearest warm roof space to do so.  Unfortunately, the house we live in had a couple in residence at one time and the little buggers caused a bit of damage when they woke up.  Nothing serious, just some holes here and there and the Faina Man is the guy who comes to “bag ’em and tag ’em”…..err….that is to say give them a permanent hibernation.  I’m all ready to talk to him and explain where the problem is, so I hope he actually arrives this time.

Meanwhile, I have some new photos to share.  Last weekend, as part of our quest to cover as much of Lunigiana as possible, we drove down to Fosdinovo.  We had read about the area and it seemed to be a very popular spot for tourists and castle-appreciators like us.  In fact, I think they have the best castle I have ever seen!  The drive to Fosdinovo includes much steep climbing up into the mountains with the accompanying spectacular views of tiny villages built precariously on the cliffs. The air got colder and colder as we ascended up the winding roads, which made it even less fun for poor little Denver who had to exit the vehicle for a “breath of fresh air” just short of Fosdinovo.

Village houses nestled in the shadow of craggy mountains

The drive on the way up to Fosdinovo, little mountain-side villages

I think this is the village of San Terenzo on the way to Fosdinovo

A very strange cloud formation over the mountains....UFO anyone?

We decided lunch would be best eaten first before the Castle exploration, so we drove to a little place called “Il Faro” (the lighthouse) just down the road from Giuoco.    If you are ever near Fosdinovo, seek this restaurant out – it is EXCELLENT! The food is authentic and they serve items unique to the region. Instead of the usual bread basket, there was a basket of a sort of fried bread in little puffy square pillow shapes. The outside was crispy and slightly salty, and the inside was soft fluffy bread. Carb heaven!  I WISH I could remember the name of it….something like “sbeglio”? I really must photograph the menu next time.  Anyway, it was delicious and went well with my hand-made pasta strips with wild boar sauce. Yum! The boys all had delicious meals also.

Delicious fried bread thingys at Il Faro

Fosdinovo is a walled and very defensible village on the top of a mountain.  It is dominated by its castle which is in pretty good condition for its age (it’s about 1000 years old).  We walked our delicious lunch off amongst the steep and narrow streets on our journey toward the castle.  When we arrived it was closed (of course) but we were able to walk around the internal courtyard, stairs and around the outside.  I LOVE this castle! It is intact and quite magnificent in its daunting sheer walls, towers and battlements.  A local man we spoke to who lives across from this castle (I mean, can you imagine walking out your front door every morning and looking at a castle?) says that it is haunted too. Nothing like a ghost to get the tourists in.  We’re definitely going back in the summer when it’s open.

The castle at Fosdinovo

My favourite castle so far...Fosdinovo

Try climbing up THAT!

This is the village side of the castle

The castle at Fosdinovo viewed from inside the courtyard

Within the walls of the castle at Fosdinovo, Balin and Denver exploring the walkways

My favourite part of the Fosdinovo castle: a walkway that juts out from the main tower. It's a lookout. I loved the stone arches, so medieval!!

We walked around Fosdinovo for the afternoon and explored the narrow winding streets. There were very few people around as it was such a cold and windy day (about 3°C) which gave a very lonely feel to the village.  There were the usual amount of abandoned houses, but these seemed even sadder on such a winter’s day.  We stopped off for coffee/chocolate to warm us up before heading home.

Will I ever be able to drink Australian coffee again?? (and yes...I'm wearing furry earmuffs)

Ah that thick thick Italian hot chocolate....Denver likes the dark variety

...and Balin likes the white variety. I think the white one tastes like hot custard.

Wondering down the narrow streets, we found a big marble church wedged in amongst the houses

Somebody's wood delivery just plonked in the middle of the street!

Wanna buy a house? This one's for sale! It's right next to another marble church

Treschietto

Bagnone is the gateway to many different parts of Lunigiana. From Bagnone, there are signs leading off to numerous little mountainside villages and on Sunday we drove up the only one we’d yet to travel on.  We wanted to visit all the little villages on the way to (and beyond) Treschietto. It wasn’t a particularly long drive, and on such a beautiful day it was a real pleasure.  The main attraction for us was (yet again) an ancient castle.  To our suprise, upon arrival in Treschietto, we discovered that this particular castle was located in somebody’s private backyard!

My ultimate backyard! Can you imagine how cool this would be to own?

Not to be discouraged, we wandered around the village for a bit and met some local ladies. Out of pure luck, one of them was able to let us in to see the castle. Now I don’t know if it was her house that backed on to it, or if tourists were always being let in to see it, we were just grateful to get a closer look.  The castle was once the residence of a member of the Malaspina family. It was built sometime around 1350.  This castle is now just ruins, but you can still clearly see the round tower and remnants of the walls and windows.  We climbed up the steep mound and walked around inside the ruins. The kids loved it! We loved it!!  Ruined castles are just as good as intact ones I think.

A walk through the obligatory olive grove, then up to the ruined castle

How the heck are we going to get up there?

The inside of the ruined tower, you can see where they would have climbed through to the battlements

The ruined tower

Another view of the ruined tower with the remains of a wall

Chris exploring the ruins of the castle in Treschietto

Well the Faina Man came and went and I managed to tell him (in pretty good Italian) that we need him to look for the animals and also to fix the holes. He understood and is coming back tomorrow.  Some days you just nail the language! 🙂

Ciao xx

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