Posted by: Debra Kolkka | December 30, 2020

My covid year

I usually spend 6 months each year in Italy and 6 months in Australia. I like to arrive in Italy in February to enjoy the last of winter and beautiful spring before heading back to Australia in June for our perfect winter in subtropical Brisbane. I then return to Italy for a couple of months in autumn. I like to think I have the best of both worlds.

This year things didn’t go to plan. I arrived in Italy as usual in February on the day the first covid death happened in the country. A few weeks later I was in lockdown at our mountain house, Casa Debbio, a remote house outside the village of Vergemoli in the mountains in northern Tuscany.

I started writing posts about the situation in Italy on March 9th from Casa Debbio, just before our area was sent into lockdown. At that stage I was still hopeful, like everyone else, that the virus would not spread from northern Italy.Italy now

On March 12th I reported on our second day of lockdown. We were not allowed to leave home except to by food and necessities. I chose to stay at Casa Debbio instead of our apartment because at least I would be able to be outside in the garden as we have no houses near us. I left the house about once a week to go to the supermarket and that was it. Lock down in Italy

I was at Casa Debbio for almost 3 months with no company except for Filippo on the days he worked in the garden. Luckily I am quite self sufficient and am happy enough alone as long as I can keep busy. This was easy in spring. I had the growing garden to work in and I got to know it intimately.

It was a delight to watch plants grow, especially my gorgeous peonies. I have around 70 plants and this year they were spectacular. I had so many flowers I  liked to keep bunches of them in my kitchen window so I could see them when washing dishes, a truly boring job.

Another favourite thing in my garden is the first weeping cherry I planted. There are a couple more now and I hope they will be as lovely as this one.

I developed a routine for myself. Each morning if it was fine I would make a coffee and a pastry and sit on the terrace on front of the house on our swing chair. On wet or windy days I stayed inside and cooked.

I would talk to family and friends in other parts of the world before a walk around the garden to decide what needed to be done and to admire the glorious views all around me and remind myself how lucky I was to be safe in a beautiful place.

Spring was very dry and much of my time in the garden was spent watering. The sunny days were lovely and I had tanned legs for the first time in 40 years. Before next summer we will put in some irrigation to make things a bit easier.

A new project this year was to turn my straw bed into a garden bed. There were mixed results with this. Wild goats ate most of the plants…back to the drawing board for next year.

Once lockdown ended on the 18th May we were allowed much more freedom. I moved between Casa Debbio and our apartment in Ponte a Serraglio. I remember the first time I drove downtown the mountain, it was the first time I had been past the supermarket in the nearest town in months. The roads were almost empty and it felt quite eerie to be out and about.

I soon got used to it and for the summer months life was almost normal. We had to wear a mask most of the time and almost all dining was outdoors, but this was not a problem. I travelled to a few places in Italy and did some guided walks in Bagni di Lucca. I am not usually in Italy in summer, so it was a new experience for me.

Here are a couple of my favourite trips. There are more in the archives.

Urbino, perfect Renaissance city

Siena again

Sensational San Gimignano

A visit to San Miniato

Venice and covid 19

A swim in Lerici

Pistoia revisited

My flight home in mid June was postponed, then postponed again and eventually cancelled so I deferred it until October thinking all would be OK by then. I was wrong. That flight was cancelled too. I didn’t even try to rebook it as I have little interest in a 2 week isolation in a hotel on my return to Australia.

Once summer was over and cooler weather drove people inside the virus returned with a vengeance and restrictions were put in place again. I returned to Casa Debbio for another lockdown.

This was not as enjoyable as spring. The autumn weather was not kind. We had lots of rainy days which kept me inside and the short days are a bit dreary. On fine days Filippo and I did lots of work in the garden. New garden beds were created and peonies that were in pots have been moved into the new beds. If they all survive the garden is going to look amazing next spring.

We have some new terraces planted with fruit trees below the house thanks to Filippo and Ugo and there will be a new car port before next spring. There are also plans for some new stone walls and some rock pools below our spring…can’t wait. One of the benefits of being here all year has been the time spent in the garden working and planning.

We have had a few brief bouts of freedom when I was able to be out a bit. Lucca was lovely in autumn. Autumn in Lucca..

Autumn at Casa Debbio was stunning. The last of autumn colour

A day of snow was wonderful. First snow at Casa Debbio

My recent trip to Florence was excellent. It was the first time I have been here for Christmas. Christmas in Florence

There are lots of local stories about Bagni di Lucca if you look on my other blog http://Bella Bagni di Lucca 

This current lockdown will end on 7th January if all goes well. I understand why the authorities wanted to shut down over the Christmas holidays and I am OK with it. One lost Christmas is worth it if lives are saved.

This year has been a difficult one for most of us. I admit to being quite depressed at times, especially when the weather is awful and I am stuck inside with not enough to do and little motivation to do much anyway. I have to keep reminding myself that I am very lucky. I don’t have a job or a business to lose, I don’t have to worry about money and I am safe. This is usually enough to get me back on track.

The plan for 2021 is that my husband Jim will come to Italy in March and we will go back to Australia in mid June. It all depends on what happens with Covid of course. I am hopeful that the vaccines will start to work and life will return to some kind of normal. I will be getting the vaccine as soon as it is available.

One of the things that helped me through my extended stay in Italy has been my connection with friends at home and around the world via phone and social media. I could not have managed my isolation as well without this contact. Thank you to all those who have kept in touch with phone calls, emails, messenger and comments on my blog.


  1. Hi Debra!
    Greetings, happy holidays & all best wishes in the new year to you & yours.
    Thank you for sharing your Covid- lockdown diary.
    I your experience was reassuring, inspirational, sad & familiar. I sure hope your husband can join you soon. Happy to hear you seem to have remained in good health. At least. I also look forward to reuniting with my daughters (UK & California), once we’re vaccinated. Until then, I continue to be grateful as you are, for all that is good & fortunate. I love my pink peonies too! Best regards, Leslie (a long time follower).

    • It has been a difficult year, but not all bad. I feel as though I have been marking time all year and worry about wasted time and lost opportunities, but we just have to make the best of things and wait for better times. I hope you can join your daughters soon!

  2. Such a crazy year for all of us! So thankful that we are all ok here and that people are for the most part adhering to the guidelines. We shall see what happens after the Christmas break. How wonderful for you to have your gardens to keep you busy and put a smile on your face! Here’s wishing you a wonderful 2021!

    • I think just about everyone will be happy to see the end of this year. Surely next year will be better! I know my lockdowns have been a breeze compared to many but I will be pleased to see the end of them.
      Happy new year to you!

  3. Oh Deb….A poignant story. I’ve really missed you and our long conversations over very good coffee, but I was thankful that you have been safe in your beautiful other life!!!
    Thank you for the calls, messages and emails we’ve shared… it was good to hear your voice and have a laugh!
    You helped me through a very dark time as you have before over our 42 year long friendship….. can you believe it’s that long? We have always been able to find the ridiculous in most situations and long may that continue….
    Stay safe, dear chum and let’s hope 2021 will see us sharing time together again. Best love, Jxx

    • It is well and truly time for this year to be over. I feel for everyone badly affected by this rotten virus. We all hope for a better 2021 and I certainly look forward to coming home!
      Happy new year!

  4. Thank you for sharing your thoughts , Deb. Life here in Queensland hasn’t been so restrictive. Today the sun is shining ready to welcome a new year. My family is well and we are very grateful to feel safe. Take care and stay safe in Italy. xx

    • Australia has done reasonably well with the virus compared to some countries. I hope Italy can get on top of things soon.
      Happy new year!

  5. A very touching article Debra. I think you see and appreciate the beauty of Bagni di Lucca and Italy in general, more than many Italians. Your blogs are a pleasure to read. I am very pleased that you are safe and that you have made the most of a bad situation. Love your photos……I feel quite nostalgic. Dina

    • I love our little corner of Italy. Even in the worst of the lockdowns the beauty of the place is uplifting. I wish you a very happy new year!

      • Grazie Debra. Buon Anno anche a te.

  6. Dear Debra, how difficult that you haven’t seen your husband for almost a year. Even in difficult times of the many lockdowns you were in, you have made the best of it as you could and I am sure all your plants enjoyed your presence and care, so they all bloomed and bearing fruits happily. You have shared all your outings in the beauty of Tuscany and I am very thankful for that, for all the virtual trips I have indulged in. I wish you a happy getting together with your husband and a happier and healthy New Year. Again thank you for cheering us up with your wonderful posts, you made my mind traveling. Greetings from Cornelia from California

    • Thank you for your regular comments on my blog. It would hardly be worth writing without feedback! The posts about lockdown I wrote almost as a diary for myself to remind me of this time. It has been an eventful year.
      I hope you have a wonderful 2021!

  7. Very well written Debra – indeed a very trying time for everyone – here’s hoping for a vaccine

    • The vaccine rollout here has started. I will be waiting in line when it is my turn. I want life to return to some kind of normal for everyone.
      Happy new year!

  8. Dear Debra your Post “My Covid Year”was great reading even though like others it made us sad & nostalgic thinking how quickly plans were turned upside down for you & for the whole world.
    Your beautiful garden may have helped you through, but we also enjoyed following the seasons & the blooms of the gorgeous peonies & your plans for the garden. Love the sight of your weeping cherry – have to tell you on our visit to Toowoomba for their annual
    Garden Festival the cherry trees in the Japanese Garden were in full bloom. This was the first time we had seen them even though we have visited many many years.
    Also enjoyed seeing your cooking & our lunches seemed very poor in comparison!
    When you were able to travel we enjoyed your visits to familiar places & new to add to list of where to go hopefully. Italy is so wonderful.
    Hope all proceeds well in 2021 & you & Jim can enjoy all the plans you had for this year.
    Take care and all the best for you & the whole world in 2021.

    • Happy new year! Thank you for following my blog and all your lovely comments.
      I will definitely go to Toowoomba to see the Carnival of Flowers. I love looking at other gardens. They are a wonderful source of inspiration as well as being beautiful to look at.
      I plan to do a lot more travel within Australia when I return, particularly to country areas. I love Australia too!

  9. This has been a testing year for most of us. I must confess that I am looking forward to 2021, as it cannot be any worse. Enjoy your garden!

    • This year will not be missed by anyone I am quite sure. I know is has been tough for you.
      I hope 2021 is much happier!

  10. Well, what can be said, except Buon anno nuovo a tutti! I wonder what 2021 will bring us?

    • 2021 will surely be better! We can only hope.
      Happy new year!

  11. What a year it has been Deb. Trust you have had a lovely Christmas and may the New Year bring us all some joy and happiness. We, like you, made the most of Covid lockdown for a few months and have been very lucky that Western Australia has not been terribly affected with restrictions for months now. Take care and we will talk again soon.

    • All we can do is make the best of a bad situation. I know Australia has fared better than many countries, but this rotten virus has affected everyone in some way.
      I hope you have a great 2021.

  12. Divine peonies. Considering a very chaotic year for you Debra, I think you have managed it very well.
    Wishing you a happy New Year; hoping 2021 goes easy on us.

    • I love my peonies. They will be bigger and better than ever next spring…I hope.
      Happy New Year to you…it must be a better year.

  13. Dear Debra
    I have enjoyed your pictures and words over this last year and am so glad you have that gorgeous garden! It inspires me too.
    I wish all of us a better year! I have never had the flu vaccine but this year I will stand in line!
    I hope to see you and Lucca and now your lovely house and garden in 2021!
    My love and good wishes, Sondra

    • Hello Sondra, nice to hear from you. I will be lining up for the vaccine too if it helps us all to get past this. I hope to see you next year!

  14. It’s always lovely to read your posts. They have kept me posted in Italy after having had to cancel my trip this year. Sadly even next year is not looking hopeful to travel ex Australia with the vaccine not really likely before March/April and only for essential personnel. After Melbourne being free of Covid cases for many weeks now, we sadly have eight new cases originating from Sydney so New South Wales again blocked from travelling to Victoria.
    Now New South Wales is in trouble with many new cases of Covid. It has been very hard on all of us in Victoria, basically locked down for six months in total, and it has been hard, mentally challenging and difficult to get motivated to do anything. It tomorrow we are back to wearing masks again. Will it ever end. So you stay safe in your little corner of beautiful Italy and keep posting.
    Felice Anno Nuovo! Isobel

    • It seemed Australia had escaped the worst of covid, but it is not finished yet. We have been wearing masks all along. It is OK now that it is cold, but in summer they weren’t much fun.
      I am hoping that things improve for international travel. As much as I love Italy I don’t want to be here for another year. I miss home and will be quite ready to return in June.
      Let’s hope 2021 brings some covid free joy.

  15. Dear Debra, once again a grazie mille for your posts. You have made this lockdown virus nightmare so endurable. Can’t wait to get to Italy to cycle my favorite routes, which hopefully will include Bagni di Lucca, and Casa Debbio. Felice Anno Nuovo, Derin G.

    • Thank you! It has been such a difficult time for many people. I feel lucky to be in a lovely place but it has not always been easy to be cut of from so much we take for granted.
      Have a happy 2021 and I hope you can come to Italy soon.

  16. Oh Deb, we have other friends in England and Milan. They seem to be struggling with this winter outbreak and the extension of the denial of hope this brings that it will all soon be over. Your eye for beauty and the rhythm of your regular writing and social media posts breaks through the daily mundanity for so many of us this year. It’s so lovely to hear how appreciative you are of the place where you live. If last year has done one thing, at least it’s made us slow down and appreciate what we have around us.

    • I am finding the winter difficult right now. I like cold weather but the incessant rain is getting me down along with the constant bad news about this bloody virus! It really does make us appreciate the small things, like a brief moment of sunshine and a coffee with friends.
      Bring on the vaccine and let’s hope things get better soon.
      Happy New Year to you!

  17. Happy New Year Debra. I hope your husband can get to join you in Italy. I always look forward to your posts and it helps to dream of what could be. Even in Sydney, my husband and I have been living a very quiet life nothing like the norm. We all hope that the vaccine being distributed throughout the rest of the world is a success. Eventually we will have it also. Who knows what 2021 brings but hopefully the eradication of this virus.

    • Thank you! I hope the vaccine is rolled out soon. I will line up for mine as soon as it is available. We all hope it will make this wretched virus go away and we can return to some kind of normal.
      I have been happy to be stuck in Italy for 10 months but there is much I miss about my life in Australia.
      Happy New Year to you!

  18. Happy New Year Deb!!
    Thank you for sharing and allowing us to experience what we too love and haven’t been able to do. What a year 2020 was !!
    2021 will hopefully bring normalcy back for most plus allow travel back to be with our friends and family in Italy.

  19. I’m not sure I would have coped as well as you have done, Deb. I do spend more time on my own here than I did in Brisbane and i find i talk to myself – which i have never really done before – fortunately i have some insightful ‘conversations’ and frequently make myself laugh!! I think i too would have gained great pleasure and solace from your beautiful garden and the utterly, sumptuously, glorious peonies. I too will be lining up for the vaccine – I know several people whose immunity is compromised and i worry for their safety. I so enjoy my vicarious travels with you and I particularly enjoyed your guided walks in the summer. So, Hopeful and Happy New Year, Deb – if you need another book recommendation I’ve just started reading Bruny by Heather Rose and I’m really enjoying it.

  20. 2020 has certainly been a year of firsts: first time living through a pandemic for most of us, first time being confined in our homes for weeks even months, and first time having to work almost entirely online, among others. Things may slightly improve in 2021, but some experts say 2022 will probably the year when normalcy begins to return in our daily lives. Until then, stay healthy!

  21. Happy New Year Debra! It must be such a challenge doing it by yourself but I think you’ve managed admirably. Having that routine with little joys in place is a great idea. I hope that Jim can come to Italy and that you can come back to Australia. 2020 and 2021 feels like an extended nightmare.

  22. […] I guess it was an omen of things to come. I had no idea when I left Australia what was ahead of me. I arrived in Italy on the day of the first recognised deaths from covid in the country. A few weeks later Italy was in a severe lockdown and I was isolated at Casa Debbio, our house in the mountains. You can read about last year here… My covid year […]

  23. Hello Debra,
    Read your Blog with great interest, it sounded very much like our year here in Spain, only difference is we are by the sea and did not have any gardening to do. Vaccines are going full steam, Gil (my husband)has already had his first Pfizer, not sure when I will receive mine. Stay safe and hope you are reunited with your husband soon.

    • Covid has disrupted all our lives. We are lucky that we don’t have jobs and businesses to lose. As disappointing as it is that we can’t travel we have to keep reminding ourselves that we are OK and can handle the restrictions. I really hope the vaccinations release us from this difficult situation soon. Stay well and happy!

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