I find myself feeling lucky and grateful right now.
I’m sitting on my balcony on one of the last days in March, all the kids are out and I’m making the most of a rare moment of solitude.
The sun is shining and spring is here. It isn’t warm though. Being a Brit, I’m determined to sit outside. I’m a bit of a softie Brit though and haven’t put my shorts on. Instead I’m in my padded jacket and my hands are so cold that I can hardly type but, the sun is out so I should be too!
I need the sun at the moment. I put a colour on my hair to darken it. Mainly because I’m sick of being called bionda. Sadly for me it’s too dark and in an attempt to lighten it, I’ve put lemon juice on my dull head and need to sit in the sun, The next step is a chamomile rinse!
Many people don’t realise that here in Italy it isn’t all sun and heatwaves in fact winters here can be long and cold. Here in northern Tuscany, we get 6 months of lovely warm sun when there is little rain but that is countered by 6 months of grey depressing cold weather with lots of rain and even snow when temperatures can often drop to -8 or even -11.
In my rustic Italian home, there isn’t any traditional central heating. My bedroom temperatures reached 2 degrees and at one point recently, there was ice on the INSIDE of my windows. I’m not good with the cold. I’m like a squirrel and I need to hibernate in these dismal months.
In an effort to keep warm, this year I discovered, courtesy of my friend, the housecoat. The younger generation, brought up in warm, cosy houses may not have heard of this phenomenon but when I was very small, ladies often wore a house coat which was a kind of dressing gown. My rediscovery of this wonderful item of clothing was my saviour this year.
I bought a couple and could wear my more flattering wardrobe underneath instead of dreary fleecy tracksuits which I loath. If anyone came to the door, I could simply whip the housecoat off revealing my glorious and glamourous self No more going to the door feeling dowdy and drab.
Next year I think I’ll buy more so I can be a different colour every day.
Meanwhile, my lemon juiced locks are now dry. Chamomile rinse anybody?
I went out with my Italian girl friends last Saturday to San Giuliano Terme which is just outside of Pisa.
We went to see a friend of ours, Ricky Rialto who is a rather handsome Rockerbilly Roman singer/guitarist with a band who specialises in 50’s rock and roll music. The concert was hosted by a bar / restaurant Route 66 which is done out in the style of an American diner. Well, the Italian idea of an American diner!
Here in Tuscany non Italian venues are popular such as Irish pubs, American style eateries etc. I don’t personally think that these places compare with a traditional Italian pizzeria or Osteria and a slice of tasty pizza or bowl of pasta as well as a great atmosphere but as these things are relatively new here they have particular novelty value.
We had a bite to eat so I will post a review of this shortly and had just finished eating when the music began at 22.30. One thing to remember is that here in Italy it is normal for the entertainment to start quite late.
As usual, Ricky played a great set. He had a table of followers (not just us) some of whom were great jive dancers and who were quite happy to show us some steps. We were thrilled to have “had a go” an my friends, all of who dance regularly but the Salsa and latino dances, want to learn to dance the “boogie woogie” as they call it.
The night was over at around 1.30 and we made our way home
It’s not all sun, sand and spaghetti here in Tuscany you know, especially here in the mountains.
This weekend is set to be FREEZING and anyone who know me, knows that I like the sun and warmth. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like lying all day in the sun but I like the warmth, the blue sky and the feeling of energy that it gives me.
Today we have high winds and snow blowing in from higher ground. Over the next few days we have possible temperatures of up to -12 degrees centigrade, yes that’s minus 12. Brrrrr.
By the way, have I ever mentioned that living up in the mountains of northern Tuscany creates difficulties with services? For example, here in our village, there are no gas pipes. Any gas is delivered to us in canister or “bombola”.
I have one for the cooker which lasts typically 6 weeks and smaller ones for any portable calor gas heaters which we certainly need over the winter months.
These “bombolas” are delivered on the back of a narrow truck which can get near to the houses in medieval villages such as ours and are brought to the door by a delivery man. It’s payment on delivery (cash only!) or you can accept the delivery and pass by the office in the next town but only if your’re a regular and trusted customer.
I’m staying firmly by our log fire this evening even though I’ve been invited out to dinner. I have a 2.7 km drive down the mountain into town but, and as I’ve experienced in the past, the snow can sometimes come down very heavily and stick within minutes making my way home seem like a battle in the arctic. Thank goodness for snow tyres. Here in my zone, you have to have either snow tyres or carry snow chains on board from 15 November to 15 April by law.
Most people here burn wood on log fires or wood burning stoves. I have one of these in my art and craft studio and it makes a lovely atmosphere on Christmas day when we eat our lunch there.
Wood burning stove, luxury in Tuscan winter
Wood is delivered on request usually from September on wards when people get round to thinking about winter and I typically use 5 tons of it over the cold months. I did research the ecological friendliness of this and as woodland is managed, it turned out to be the best for the environment.
The wood comes in faggio (beech) and forte (harder woods such as oak and chestnut). The faggio burns easily and is great for getting a fire started and the forte burns for a longer time but is more difficult to get started.
They say here that the wood warms you twice. The first time when you are putting it into your cellar. A job which needs to be done quickly, usually the delivery day since if your wood gets wet it isn’t any good. The second warming from the wood comes when you burn it.
There’s no better sight in November than a cellar full to the ceiling of firewood. It looks as though it would go on for ever. If this weekend’s forecast is anything to go by however, my wood pile will be much smaller than before.!
Last year’s selection of snowballs before the fight.
I visited the big purple Da Vinci in November staying for a couple of nights only. My daughters were going to a concert and I jumped at the chance to tag along for the ride.
The train journey was easy and fast enough. Great for me as I love train travel here in Italy and Europe. We were lucky enough to find a special offer on Booking.com but we went onto the hotel website and got an even better deal.
We arrived on a crisp, clear evening just before the sun went down. Check in was fast and easy but we were not offered any help with our bags. Another family checking in at the same time and with lots of luggage had to ask. This wasn’t a problem for the hotel who called for a member of staff to come and help immediately. Since we had small suitcases, we didn’t bother.
Our room was spotlessly clean, decorated in modern style and just like the photos. What a relief! The decor was modern and chic and we had a balcony which we didn’t use due to the cooler November weather. It would’ve been better in warmer weather, although the view of Milan is not particularly picturesque as Italian views go.
The only fault that I could find with the room is that being British, we do like a cuppa at all sorts of times of the day. There was a mini bar but we really wanted a cup of tea when we arrived and tea and coffee making facilities would have been great. We could call for room service but let’s face it a kettle and some cups, tea and milk would have left us feeling very satisfied.
The bathroom was modern and clean with a huge shower, no bath but that was fine for us. The decor was purple in keeping with the hotel’s theme and there were the usual bathroom freebies such as shampoo, shower gel, shower cap and soaps.
We didn’t realise on arrival that we were right next door to a very handy train station which was just one stop from the metro. When we arrived we’d wallked 900 metres from the Comasina stop on the metro which was fine as we didn’t have a lot of baggage but if we’d known that we could have travelled 1 more stop and then have access to a station which brought us closer to the hotel, it would have been better. The easy access from the hotel to the metro makes it fairly central to Milan city centre so I would recommend it if you want to see the city.
We didn’t eat dinner at the hotel but the menu was varied and looked to be reasonably priced. The restaurant being down in the basement area.
The tv whilst not complicated to work, promised lots of channels but was too time consuming to set up and we had Milan to see. The next morning we went down to the basement breakfast restaurant which was crowded. We found one of the last tables and helped ourselves to the buffet style breakfast. There was a huge choice from fruit to eggs, salads to cereals, cakes and juices galore. So many types of tea to choose from as well as coffee. I like a good breakfast so I made sure I ate well. The quality was good even for mass catering.
We didn’t try out the cocktail bar and it was only when we were leaving that we found where it was. It was downstairs near the check-in desk but set back and private. For some reason, I had it in my head that it would be down near the restaurant but it wasn’t. I will be going back there later on this year so I’ll review the bar and restaurant then.
Overall, a good stay., I’ll be going back, I’m looking forward to it and I’ll explore more of their facilities. I would recommend the hotel as a short stay, business meetings and for a stay of a week used as a base to explore further afield.
Every third weekend in the month Lucca holds its antiques market.
I love to go and explore the stalls and weave my way from piazza to piazza down the cobbled medieval streets.
There are a wealth of goodies to be found from paintings to carvings, murano glassware, furniture and yes, being Italy you can find a designer bargain from a pre-loved Italian handbag or stylish classic woolen coat. I did actually spot a Chanel quilted flap bag (unpriced) as well as Italian favourite brands such as Gucci and Prada on one of the stalls.
The weather here has been warmer than the seasonal norm here this winter and I knew it wasn’t going to rain. Perfect for browsing the antiques and also the sales which started here on 5 January and the rules are that they continue for 60 days. There are no flash sales here just twice a year, January and July. Incidentally the summer sales start on 7 July and run right up until 4 September.
Lucca is also perfect for trying out a new bistro or coffee bar and although I didn’t lunch, I found a sophisticated coffee bar on the Via Fillungo. I’ll have to get back to you with the *name as I hadn’t intended reviewing it. The cakes were not too special though and one was rather dry.
I did go to a great little restaurant with my lady friends the other day called L’Isola Che Non C’era, tel 0583 057384 for reservations. We had a great lunch for around 20€ with a glass of very good wine and a coffee after. No dessert as we were saving ourselves for a cake and coffee later that afternoon. The staff were pleasant and even though we forgot the time (we can really chat when we get going), we were not rushed and we actually left feeling a bit guilty for keeping the place open.
At the end of oir Lucca trip and being in antiques overload mood, we visited the Mercatino dell’Usato just on the outskirts of Lucca. It’s a treasure trove with tons of things. You need time and a warm coat, it’s freezing in there. Prices are fair with bargains to be had if you can find them. Items over two months old are reduced by 50% at the till and articles that have been there for a year or more have a whopping reduction of 75% at the till. Not all articles have this reduction. Some undated ones are the price on the label.
Outside there are statues and garden furniture, even old carriages but I like the inside with retro goods galore. It’s a great place for finding vintage pieces if you’re setting up a holiday rental or b & b.
The little bar is Il Bernino , the cakes were better this time too. Prices are 3.50€ for home made pastries and 2.50€ for home made cake. They also do some interesting looking cocktails with and without alcohol so I’ll be going back to try.
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