Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 24, 2021

My life in Italy

I have been in Italy for 18 months. Last year all my scheduled flights back to Australia were postponed then cancelled.

I haven’t even tried to get home this year. The vaccine rollout in Australia is proceeding at snail’s pace. The number of Australians allowed to fly home is all over the place and if I did manage to get one of the very expensive flights I would have to pay to quarantine in a hotel for 2 weeks.

I am staying put until I can quarantine at home. At this rate I am expecting to go home mid next year…there are worse things that could happen.

Summer is marching on, with lovely cool mornings and extremely hot afternoons. I do what I have to do in the morning and retreat to my apartment for the afternoon and venture out again in the cool of the evening. Thank goodness for my sewing machine or I would be bored silly.

I have guests at Casa Debbio until mid September so I am now at Ponte a Serraglio for a while. I had some lovely friends come to stay and we did a few day trips, not too far away…Siena, San Gimignano and Cinque Terre.  I can walk fairly well but I still get a bit tired, especially in the heat.

I went recently to delightful Forte dei Marmi, just over an hour away on the coast. I wanted to visit a new shop by 2 Australian sisters…the extremely successful Zimmermann.

The shop has opened in a pretty square off the main street


Zimmermann.


The shop was busy when I arrived and I had to wait until a few people left…covid rules. I asked if I could take some photos to show friends at home who love the brand. The charming assistant told me they have had a wonderful season. I am not surprised, the beautiful clothes would fit right in in Forte dei Marmi.



Some friends and I discovered a new restaurant in Lucca and were impressed. It is called SurReale, and is the brain child of the owners of Villa Reale, once owned by Napoleon’s sister. The menu was created by the chef from Butterfly restaurant, well known and loved for years. His son is the chef for SurReale.

It is just outside the anfiteatro walls.

The decor is modern.

There is an open courtyard at the back.

We chose a table at the front where it was cooler.

Hot bread arrived with truffled butter, a good start.

First courses…anchovies and tiny prawns with a delicious mayonnaise.

Salmon.


Burrata.

Second courses. Lamb, duck and pork.

Delicious dolce. Apple tart tartin and an amazing strawberry concoction.

These are the fun things about being in Italy. It is not always fun and laughter. My Wifi stopped working at Casa Debbio a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t worry too much, it sometimes happens in the mountains. I eventually went to the shop that handles Noitel, previously Cloud Italia.

I told the attendant I had no Wifi in Vergemoli. She replied “No, you won’t, they took the tower away.” Where does that leave me?  I asked. “Nowhere” came the reply. The company decided there was too much maintenance on the tower, so they removed it. There was no notice and they kept taking payment for a service they no longer provided…well done Noitel!

I went to nearby Gallicano to sign up for Eolo, a company that specialises in Wifi for remote properties. I waited 10 days for the technician to arrive. After a debacle involved with getting to the house he announced that I can’t have it because their tower is not in the line of sight from our house. He offered no alternative.

I went back to the office and asked for Sky. No, I can’t have that without a landline. Can I have a satellite dish? Yes, that should work. I have now signed up for a dish and will wait for the technician to come. You must actually ask directly for information, none is offered.

Another 10 days waiting by the phone for a connection date, along with waiting for a new couch to be delivered, now a couple of weeks late.

If this doesn’t work I will have to go to Tim and get a landline. I would rather stick pins in my eyes!

Zimmermann…Piazza Tonini 12, Forte dei Marmi.Phone…0584 1862050

SurReale… Via del Anfiteatro 37, Lucca
Phone…0583 1382422

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 4, 2021

Birds, the road and a birthday party

There are lots of birds this year at Casa Debbio, which is lovely. We hear birdsong all day. Blackbirds and tiny finch like birds can be seen flitting around the garden. Owls can be heard at night.  One family of blackbirds seems to be nesting under a sage bush near our little vegetable garden.

The downside of this is that all my ripening gooseberries have been eaten, along with raspberries and cherries. It would be nice if they left a few for me.

Our new road is a bit of a puzzle. We have lots of new retaining walls, some of which I doubt were needed. We have an excellent new crossing over the stream flowing down to the water mill below. This is the bit that was washed away in 2013, and the reason for road works. There are channels directing the flow of water from the springs on the side of the mountain, new pipes to take the water below the road.


But work has stopped. The equipment is still there but nothing is happening. The road was to be surfaced but there is no sign of that. Ho hum…what next?

For the first time I am at Casa Debbio to see my lavender flowers open. I usually have to leave just as it is about to happen. Some of the plants are almost as tall as me…I love it.


We were invited to attend the birthday party of a good friend on the weekend. You hear about wonderful long lunches with far too much food and wine in Italy. This was one such event.

We drove high up into the mountains of the Garfagnana, a wild, largely untouched area of Tuscany near where we live. The old farmhouse has a pizza oven built onto the side of the house. It was built long before pizzas were eaten in this part of Italy so it would have been where bread was baked and much of the cooking was done for the family who lived there.




The fire had been lit days before the party to allow it to reach the required heat. Just a few logs were added on the day. From the oven came the most delicious foccacia, some plain with salt on top, some with sesame seeds and, my favourite, with zucchini and cheese. I ate far too much…knowing that more heavenly food was to come.


There was bruschetta with those tomatoes you hear about that seem to grow only in Italy. The cheese was from a friend who keeps goats and sheep.



This was followed by freshly made pasta with a sausage and tomato sauce, then sausages and ribs with roasted vegetables. Everything except the pasta was cooked in the oven.


Then there was dessert.



When lunch was cooked loaves of bread were loaded into the oven, one for each of us to take home.



This is Lucia who did most of the cooking, she was also a lot of fun.


There were too many cakes, all of which had to be tried and lots of wine was poured. Then there was home made limoncello and cherry liquor, grappa and more.

Here is the Alfredo whose birthday we celebrated.

My lovely friend Rina is hiding behind him, reluctant to be photographed. I met Rina shortly after I arrived in Bagni di Lucca and we have been friends ever since. Life here in Italy would not be the same without her and Alfredo.

Thank you for a wonderful day. We felt very lucky to be invited to the celebration.

I went home and fell asleep for hours.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | June 26, 2021

A visit to Montepulciano

The Tuscan hilltop town of Montepulciano is perhaps best known for its fine red wine, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. It is also a beautiful town full of happy delights for the lucky person who finds their way here.

I have been to Montepulciano a couple of times. Here is a previous post…Montepulciano-A Tuscan Gem

It is difficult to believe it is 11 years since my last visit, I should go more often. This lovely town is the highest in the region, sitting 605 metres above sea level. It climbs steeply above the plain below. I know, I walked slowly up from the free car park below the town on a hot day.

After cooling off at my hotel, La Dimora Nel Corso, I set of to rediscover Montepulciano. The hotel is in Via di Gracciano nel Corso, a continuation of Via di Voltaia nel Corso and Via dell’Opio nel Corso. These streets are the main shopping streets of the town. Here you will find an excellent selection of stylish shops, cafes and restaurants and tasting rooms for wine and local produce. There are lots of others scattered around the town too, so do venture further.


I thought the flowers in front of this shop, where I bought some local olive oil and almond biscuits, were plastic, they looked so perfect. They were real begonias.


The shop below is the oldest in Montepulciano, it began in 1848.

Last time we were here there was a row of yellow shoes in front.

After turning left at Piazzetta del Teatro I walked up another steep street and came to Piazza Grande, the main square of the town.

Here you will find the Cattedrale, Santa Maria Assunta, consecrated in 1712.

The Palazzo Comunale completed in 1440.

The lion on the front is a little worn.


The Palazzo dei Nobili.

Pozza dei Grifi e dei Lioni surely features in every photo of Montepulciano. The well was built in 1520 when Montepulciano was under Florentine rule. It has 2 Doric columns holding up a travertine table with 2 lions holding the Medici crest between them and 2 griffins on either side. The well was restored in 1702.


A slow walk around the back streets of Montepulciano revealed some wonderful buildings, gardens and sneak peeks at the countryside below between the buildings.

I wandered into this delightful courtyard. It it the entrance to a B&B, Meuble il Riccio.



This wonderful building has the most amazing weathered carved stone blocks on its facade.



Pulcinella stands on top of a clock tower. Pulcinella is a 17th century puppet from Naples. It was probably placed there at the time of a restoration in 1680

I had some delicious things to eat in Montepulciano. The hotel did not have a breakfast room so it arranges for guests to have breakfast at the stylish Poliziano cafe.

The cafe has a tiny balcony with views over the Tuscan landscape below.


I also had lunch in the restaurant on the floor below. It has a stunning view from a covered outdoor area.

Here is my stuffed guinea fowl with Montepulciano prunes and the signature Poliziano dessert, both delicious.

On another evening I enjoyed panzanella and pici, the local pasta, with duck, at Ristorante Magrola in Piazza Erbe.

I walked around the edge of the town to take in the magnificent views from my lofty position.


Aperitivo is my favourite time of the day and where better to enjoy a spritz than Piazza Grande.


As you can see there were few people around. It was great  for the children playing football in the piazza. This was the case for the whole time I was in Montepulciano.

Normally at this time of the year the streets and squares would be bustling with people. While it was pleasant to wander without crowds I found it sad. I feel for the people trying to keep their businesses alive. Travel in Europe is still hampered by this wretched virus. Restrictions in many countries make travel difficult.

Tuscany will be a white zone from Monday which means everything will be open with no curfews. Masks are no longer needed outdoors, which is great in the hot weather. This is excellent for those of us already here in Tuscany, but the season will be hard for those businesses depending on international tourists.

A last look at San Bagio church on the way to the car park.


I won’t leave it 11 years until the next visit to Montepulciano.

La Dimora nel Corso…ladimoranelcorso@gmail.com

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | June 17, 2021

A day at the seaside

Hot weather has arrived! I went to Pietrasanta near the coast today to do a few things. I love this town. It has its summer colours up.



There are some very stylish shops in Pietrasanta, including this one with a lovely courtyard.

New art is being installed in the central piazza…I will go back soon to see it.

After Pietrasanta I went to Marina di Pisa for a seafood lunch. The seafood here must surely be fresh, the fishing boats leave from the port where the Arno reaches the sea.

These fishing huts are at the mouth of the river.



There is also this odd cement building. I have no idea what it is.


I saw another one as I was leaving the car park. I think this one was watching me.


The beach at Marina di Pisa is stony and I won’t be venturing into the water there any time soon. Mind you, most people were only sunning themselves rather than swimming. I won’t be doing that either. I like sandy beaches with surf and I don’t sun bake.

 




I did enjoy a very nice lunch here…il Peschereccio.


The first dish was a free taste of pappa al pomodoro with fish.

The next 2 are self explanatory.

It is nice to be beside the seaside. There was a cool breeze and excellent people watching.

I have been to Marina di Pisa before…I can’t believe it was in 2011, how time flies!  Here is the earlier post. Marina di Pisa

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | June 8, 2021

Lots of peonies

The final work on the road to Casa Debbio is underway. Huge cement pipes have been delivered and the bit of the road that was washed away in 2013 is being dug up. The pipes to allow the water from above to flow through are being installed and soon the new surface will be put down.

This means I can’t stay at the house all the time. I could if my walking was stronger, but it is a bit treacherous right now and I won’t risk it. Fortunately Filippo is more sure footed than I am and he will take care of the garden. He lets me know when the road is drivable and I go up for short visits.

Last Autumn I pulled out some lavender that was struggling under the chestnut trees, which have grown, and now cast too much shade.
I transplanted peonies from pots along with some new ones. In the more shady areas I planted hydrangeas, some from cuttings. Everything has grown and the new garden bed is starting to look great. It will only get better. Filippo is now keen to take out some more lavender and mix things up a bit. We will wait until autumn.



I could not resist these stunning petunias. I hope they last the summer.

My peonies are beginning to open and they are stunning.



The weeping cherry didn’t get a lot of blossoms this year but without wild goats eating the leaves it is growing well.


These bright yellow flowers brighten up a little corner.

The aquilegias are still growing madly. The yellow ones are nearly as tall as I am. I admit that I am not tall, but these little treasures are at least 1.5 metres high.

I pulled the ranunculas out of the pot and have saved the roots to plant in autumn. I wonder if they will come up next spring. I put a hibiscus in their place.


The hydrangea flowers are starting to open.

On the most recent visit there were so many peonies I had to cut quite a few. Some of the plants were being completely overwhelmed with the weight of the flowers. The photos below were taken a week after those above. Lots of peonies opened in the warm weather.

Here is my table under the pergola with some of my cut flowers.

And my kitchen sink at Ponte with the flowers. I gave away bunches to my friends.


Tiny gooseberries will slowly ripen.

Roses have blooomed.



The rocky hill that was bare a few years ago is gradually being covered with acanthus, peonies, may, fotinia and rosemary.

The wisteria over the pergola will need a trim soon.

The hydrangeas behind the house are opening.


I wonder what I will find when I go up to Casa Debbio next time. We have had rain this week which will be good for the garden.

 

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | June 2, 2021

Beautiful Florence

I don’t usually go to Florence after April. It is too hot and too crowded. This year is different. It has been much cooler than usual and because of restrictions there are few tourists about.

I can’t walk very far or very fast so I decided to stay a couple of nights so I could retreat to the hotel for regular breaks. I stayed at the Palazzo Guadagni where I stayed at Christmas. Christmas in Florence

It is in the Santo Spirito district. It is a lovely area between Palazzo Pitti and Santo Spirito church, with lots of small interesting shops, cafes and restaurants in the side streets.

The hotel has a wonderful loggia terrace, a great place for evening aperitivo, looking over the rooftops of Florence.

The view from my room was even better. If you go, ask for room number 8. I think it is the best one.