Sunday, 7 October 2018

Start of phase three. Tuscany.

Short note as it is past my bed time...

Girls have completed some more pieces of artwork and are now looking to phrase three of The Grand Tour.




We have arrived safely in Pontedera, near to Pisa. Easy journey and after meeting up with some friends, we finally unloaded an unbelievable amount of luggage from the Fiat. (I guess my family is 80% ladies)....

One of the young ladies took on the chaos of the Italian autostrade this morning and happily drove 80 miles playing guessing games with the lorries etc at 130 kmh. (Speed limit 130 kmh, well she's not going to drive any slower than that, is she?)..

Beautiful house here located on a private drive within a forest. As we arrived in the dark, we'll investigate the grounds tomorrow, but we were greeted very warmly by a bottle of prosecco and a lovely cake. Dead easy to make that, I said.....well it's a Pisa cake? Not funny, they said. And "don't ever laugh at your own jokes...". Ok. Fair enough....

Urgent meeting has been scheduled over breakfast tomorrow to discuss weather reports for art-photography as to best light, maritime conditions etc. So, we either are heading west to coastal locations, maybe Livorno, or possibly north to Lucca/Pisa. 

Any suggestions or recommendations for favourite Tuscan locations, let the girls know !

Night all.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Wood, electric bills and more kittens

1st day of October and the weather has changed at last. It has finally got colder....

I have been complaining of late to the locals that it has been too warm in London for most of the summer and they, in turn, have been complaining that I have worn the same pair of shorts since we arrived at the beginning of September. That is incorrect, I remind them, as we actually arrived on the 5th....

This last week, the huge event locally was the English family's intention to make a purchase of wood. This causes much debate as to which vendor to engage (and negotiate) with, which type of wood, the strength of calorific value for best burning and heat, the price and whether the wood gets delivered....

2 days later, we had agreed on a plan. My wife's uncle helped us out with the negotiations, and, in exchange for my offer of a small quantity of local wine, he kindly arranged for the dumping of a mountain-sized couple of pallets of "excellent" wood at the front of this property.






Much discussion then ensues as to how best to stack it, where to stack it, a plan for passing the wood to the person who will stack it, how long it will take to stack it, and of course, how much it cost to stack it...

It all got done in a couple of days, the teamwork between two of us worked very well, (Art by Three declined the request for help by burying themselves in the basement to continue their projects), and besides the pain, splinters, bruises etc, (and those were caused just by paying for it), we sat back and admired our work.

So we are safe for the winter, obviously, at this height in the mountains, the locals panic without a good supply of wood for heating and, obviously, for cooking.

Art by Three decided on driving their Fiat down to Riva del Garda for some shopping and buying their Grandad (il Nonno) a present. The drive is not an easy one for many reasons. I'll not explain in detail, but the basic fact that the road has Italians "driving" on it, could give you a clue.. So my wife had another litter of kittens. She also picked her fingers to the extent that she couldn't catch the wood that I was throwing at her and she even had to get me to check their progress on some kind of app on her iPad...

As a dad, you of course are concerned, but must never show it...I did once when I refused to take the (then) young girls up to a particularly dangerous mountain peak and I have been humiliated ever since..(in a sweet way you must understand...errrr.)

But yes, as you probably know them by now, they had no problem. All in their three strides, as it were.

We enjoyed the return visit of our friends that speak many languages. A wonderful 'late lunch' (1:30 which is a criminal offence in Italy) made by the girls and the wonderful visiting mother. Again, all conversation reverted to English, which meant when I volunteered to read something in Italian later, it was absolutely awful. I didn't even understand myself... The word "ispezione" (inspection) was attempted and subsequently failed three times...

Finally, I have decided to sign up to a degree-level course in interpreting Italian electricity bills. We believe it is a three year course and, as yet, no one has ever completed it. Apparently many of those who thought they could do it ended up as jibbering wrecks and changed careers to something much safer, such as parachuting without a parachute..Three days past I stupidly announced that I'd try and calculate (with my English calculator and excel spreadsheets) the actual costs of running this apartment so that our agreed rent would cover many times the cost.. (Don't worry, just an accounting fetish)...
Serious error..Last night, after another two hours comparing the average cost of the three different rates and the "standing charge", which seems to have a non-relative correlation of {¥%} to the power of #/€[~3.14], I was found hiding in a corner and apparently refused to come out. If anyone out there can provide pastoral care for someone who has dared even read one of these bills, then I'll pay for your electric 10 times over. Oh, and yes, free supply of wood...

Have a super day and stay warm everyone.


Monday, 24 September 2018

Financial Reports and Go Carting down mountain

Yes, they do have something in common, so please bear with me.

As I have mentioned before somewhere, my background is in Banking, Finance and Accounting.
That, in itself, is nothing to write about. You are correct. But I do have to remind myself that I will have some very complicated financial assessments to complete for a couple of clients soon, partly I can do in Italy but the signing off has to be done in England.

The problem with spending time poring over excel spreadsheets with lovely coloured cells (please don't ask, it helps even when this writer suffers from some kind of colour-blindness), is that Art By Three are convinced that I can somehow come up with a budget for "The Grand Tour" and stick to it!!

So, the first task they set me yesterday was to come up with all expenditure and a Trial Balance for the Switzerland and Austrian mountain campaign. They wouldn't take any of my excuses to avoid this challenge, in fact, they knew that I actually wouldn't be able to resist it...

So, buried under a (yet another) pile of receipts, login passwords and a friendly, trusted calculator that performs its duties faithfully in English and not Italian, whereby it would normally be missing a few "transactions",  shutting down for two hours after lunch etc.... (To all my Italian friends, you know that is A JOKE.......err)... I managed to reconcile.

I will admit we overspent a tad. Switzerland is very expensive indeed. One evening I had to decide whether to buy a small beer in the hotel or instead buy a villa in France.... But if you had the joy of hurling yourselves down a mountainside on three-wheeled go carts (I can't see ever doing that again!), would you have a pop at £xxx?


That day was just amazing, there are photos of such beauty, and I can include my dear daughters in that picture. From Grindelwald to First and then just keep walking up until you meet with a couple of lake-ettes. On the walk up, I always chat with any other fellow walker that fancies the same. 
I met a lovely Korean lady and we discussed the merits of hurting your legs in order to get an even better view...she said, thank goodness for the cable car!, to which I readily agreed. She then said that she had met a really old man at the top of the cable who had walked all the way up from the bottom!! I said, amazing but he was probably only 25 years old when he started...and she started to giggle, then laugh (in Korean, which is great). She said I'm really sorry, that is so funny, I have to tell my friends behind. Then, as I march ahead, all I can hear over the chuckling marmots is the chuckling and laughing of a group of Korean tourists. I was proud for just one moment, in that a most simple, inane,  innocuous comment to us English, translated so well into Korean..


Art by Three are off to the shops today in the local town of Riva del Garda. No doubt I'll be doing some further financial reports later.

I have been given the list of chores on the 'to-do' command, but only 12 days left before we head south as The Grand Tour winds its way to Lucca, Pisa, Grossetto, Siena with the final onslaught of Florence. Because Tuscany can also be expensive, and as I have sneakily already paid for the accommodation, I'll try and amend the budget upwards by £50 or so in order to have an ice-cream with three flavours and not just 2......

Have a lovely day all.





Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The Ogre, the Young Maiden and the Monk...

......or to you and me, the Eiger, the Jungfrau and the Munch. Three spectacular mountains in the Swiss Alps.

After a few days of discussions as to one of the girls' new bed and mattress, and the successful purchase thereof, a period of cleaning and polishing the apartment continued in our rented apartment in Italy. New bedside lamps, new mop, new kitchenware and a new cat appeared to investigate the goings on....

I have been trying to cycle a few miles everyday as the challenge to lose 10% of body weight by the end of the year (I never agreed as to which year) continues unabated. On top of that, we had a hot day on Saturday (31 degs) where we out in the sun for 3 hours in the morning, followed by a hefty luncheon with some friends whose young offspring can speak in four languages. After much discussion, we agreed on English as we thought it best we understood what we were saying ourselves....

A trip to Trento followed and we'll be going there regularly to meet up with them and other friends of ours.

Sudden flurry of activity in that we saw a window of opportunity in the Swiss Alps. Ever since I popped there for a wine tasting tour in June, my family have been nagging me to take them too, but without the wine. We decided on Grindelwald as a base, as I had been skiing here in 1987, I think. We are staying at the same hotel and the same waiter is now the owner.
Here I am all those years ago!




So we went for the Schilthorn trip (I will not say how much it was, but my wife has now produced yet another set of kittens). And there was cloud. Lots of cloud indeed. The kittens were thrown out the basket. My 007 brunch had kitten soup on the menu. Kittens everywhere. We had to retreat to a lower stage on the cable car to be able to get out of the cloud.






All, however, is now peaceful. We are staring in awe at the Eiger, the Jungfrau and the Munch. Tomorrow is going to be a hard-walking day as we are going to submerge ourselves into cheese and meat fondues tomorrow evening. Some 31 years ago, I did the same such thing....happy memories.

Good night all. A local owl is telling me to turn my lights out so I'd better retire soon. On Thursday, Art by Three have chosen for us to visit Werfen in Austria to visit the ice caves and castle. Keep you posted.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Made it back "home".

Strange how one enjoys the company of your outlaws much more when your betrothed is not around.... No intentional disrespect, but I enjoyed the meals and being strangled by my nieces (twins also same birthday as me, not that I care) so incredibly more when I don't get the "stop it, you're over exciting them!!". Well that's what uncles are made for...

I had an extremely easy journey back to Italy, slept 10 minutes in Bolzano at 05:30 Monday.

Made girls drive the mountain roads to Val Daone (pics attached), they are so confident in driving. I say to them that I didn't get to drive abroad until I was 28 and that scared the proverbial out of me, even then. They are still shy of 19 and they say, bring it on. Art by Three are fearless of heights too, which scares me something rotten. At nearly 6 ft 5, I get scared just standing up, but they can climb mountainous routes that make me squirm...





 


This morning, my wife disappeared (no bad thing), so I took the advantage to repair our heavy wooden blinds in our bedroom, go to the recycling centre, go shopping by bike, say goodbye to family here who are off to Mallorca for a week and cook tonight’s Chilli con Carne.

Also booked in is our trip to Switzerland, (Grindelwald for Jungfraujoch and Schiltorn) Austria (Werfen, for ice caves and castle). We're going next week. Art by Three have started painting today and are working on Prague etc.

I am now on our balcony and listening to the fauna that are declaring their territory and courtship rites. Let them have it, I say.

Good night all
R

Friday, 7 September 2018

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

I had planned to take the train this morning to Verona from our 'local' station, which is some 30 miles from our new base in Valle di Ledro. However, a "Gentleman" offered to ferry me to Verona, not by a ferry, but his car.

There are two problems with this offer. 1) This gentleman never, ever accepts any compensation for his time, diesel and his annoyance at having to listen to my drivel for 1.46324 hours (as he had reminded me) in his vehicle. 2) Although he is Italian, he can drive well. I do know this as I can take my eyes off the road and talk for 1.46321 hours (the difference being for when I coughed).

This kind gentleman is a friend I have known for many years. We can call each other some terrible things, but as his use of English is better than mine, I usually have to admit defeat. He is also a driving instructor. (Yes, the Italians do have them..) I have taught him well in English sarcasm, self-depracating manners, not least the art of understanding proper Ale from the British Isles. ( & Eire post 29/03/2019.....

I bade farewell to my semi-conscious wife at 07:00 (yesterday Art by Three cleaned the apartment top to bottom and sorted out all their 'stuff' for artwork). I had to return to England as you know for just a couple of days, but still many Italian friends said their goodbyes and offered their advice on how to prepare for the return journey on Sunday. I might not be tempted with going via Portugal, Morocco, Libya, Lampedusa after all.

So, the first Gentleman gets me to Verona airport. One good turn deserves another, so I am happy to help with directing the priority/non-priority queues, giving up my seat for a very noisy mother and child (not sure who was loudest), translating for others and lifting heavy baggage into overhead locker-things. So, I decided I should be the Second Gentleman of Verona... We did well today, sir.

I am now home with the outlaws again, having dined well on a roast with potatoes etc, with gravy that you just can't  do in Italy. Summer (the Cat) was pleased to see me again, but she intimated that her territory was now "up for grabs", back at our place. Apparently, she has accepted all-comers into her new patch, so we'll be expecting squirrels etc for dinner some time soon. A good friend of ours, we'll just call her Eve for now, loves her animals, so we won't complain if the squirrels don't pay their way. The Wife and Art by Three announced that they have just bought a new bed and mattress as "her old one was too lumpy". Fair enough, I suppose.

We are really looking forward to this next stage.  I'll bring the girls' car out to them on Sunday/Monday and they are planning short trips. Maybe they can drive the mad, driving instructor, Gentleman of Verona and show him how it's best done. As I taught them to drive in the first place, maybe we might lose this battle....

Thank you, Mr Shakespeare, for your fine work. If we ever meet again, then I will be happy to hand back my dated copy of Julius Caesar that I was "encouraged" to appreciate at 13 years of age. I did enjoy it, Bill, but all I can say is - Et tu Brute?

Art by Three will be discussing next week as to Switzerland trip via Austria, weather depending. I know they are excited about that as I had a "man trip" up the Schiltorn in June and it was outstanding scenery. I have been told I don't deserve a second trip, so I'll lick my wounds in a coffee-bar at the bottom of the cable car.......

Good night all.....I leave you with Summer

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

I set the alarm for 4 am.....( in the morning )....

Don't worry, I'm not going mad. Well not just yet anyway. The words "4am in the morning" have been with me for most of the 460 miles drive today

I blame Mike Oldfield. I blame him for writing those lyrics in that wonderful piece of work entitled "Moonlight Shadow". He enticed the vocalist (the amazing Maggie Reilly) to agree to sing "4am in the morning" as the words errrrr....fitted the music/score/whatever.

How can 4am be anything other than morning, I ask?....if anyone can prove otherwise, please let me know. Yes, I hear you cry - in the Arctic circle for example there are seasons without any sunlight for months, so maybe there could be a 4am in the evening, but Mike Oldfield was definitely not writing about polar bears carrying guns while being on the run..

I digress, sorry. At 4am (in the morning), I hauled my carcass out of bed and successfully negotiated my way downstairs to make tea, coffee and to warm the flask. No sign of the cat, so we'll Skype her tomorrow I guess. Everyone all ready at 5am and we said goodbye to the outlaws.

A 06:50 Eurotunnel was offered, gladly accepted. Art by Three put on their eye masks and settled down to snooze whilst we tore through France, Belgium and Luxembourg. A spot of luncheon washed down with a cheap diesel fill up @ 1.139 euros per litre in Luxembourg. Autobahn driving in Germany allows one to eat up the miles, so we arrived near to the hotel by 3pm (in the afternoon).

We have stayed here before, Sankt Annagut at Burrweiler not far from Karlsruhe. A lovely spot indeed. The girls chatted about our plans for the Tuscany trip. We have a week near Pisa, then another week near to Grossetto on the coast, followed by Siena. Please do feel free to give advice as to your favourite places to visit. One good one so far is the remote village of Volpaia..We keep telling others that this will be "work". You should see their reaction..

Anyway, thanks to Mike Oldfield and Maggie for being in my head since 4am (in the morning).

Good night all and sleep well.