Sunday, 30 January 2011

Saturday 29 January - a market & a cane burning

For the first time since we got here, and probably for the first time ever, we actually managed to get out of bed and out of the door whilst it was still reasonably early in the morning.  We were both floored when we checked the time as we were driving to Lanciano.  It was only half past eight!  How the hell did we do that?!  By missing my coveted breakfast, that's how.  Amazing, with just two more days to go before we go home, we've finally done it.


But it was good, and explained why everyone here are early risers.  As soon as we got to Lanciano, and had our much needed coffee and croissants, we started to enjoy ourselves.  All the shops were open and there was a great hustle and bustle in the market.  Everywhere was alive!  Normally, by the time we get out, even though it may be mid-morning, everywhere is starting to wind down and close and nobody is interested in selling or showing you anything at all.  But this was great!

We had fun in the market and came away with a few bargains, KP doing his usual haggling thing.  I got some very decent kitchen knives: a big carving knife and a meat slicing knife, perfect for slicing the salami the man said; and I got a new coffee pot - hoorah! At last.  And my bargain of the century, a fabulous big, chunky, green-flecked, jumper with a wonderfully cosy, big, roll neck.  KP says I look like Kermit the frog, but at €3 I was very happy to look like Kermit the frog.

Tina's house, Lanciano
We popped in to Tina and Richard's place in the centro storico to take them breakfast and have a nosey around.  What a beautiful little place.  Slap bang in the middle of the ancient part of Lanciano and about 500 years old.  Its all twisty hidden rooms, on lots of different levels and with a lot of the old stone revealed.  Just beautiful.

We finally got back mid-afternoon and KP set about having a go a revealing the old stone in our house.  Ha ha.  In the corner of our bedroom there is some slight damp that's been caused by the drain pipe (that is now safely tucked away in the water butt).  The damp has loosened the plaster and so provided a great opportunity for having a little chip away to see if its worth the time and effort of revealing the stone.  KP's been itching to have a go ever since we bought the house.  So he set too in the corner with his hammer and chisel and spent the afternoon happily tap tapping away.  It was looking good.  Until he sat back to admire his handy work and mused as to why there appeared to be no end to this huge piece of rock.  No joins, no irregularities, no nothing.  Just grey rock.  Maybe they used massive stones for the corners, he thought?  I joined him in his musings and suggested he chip deeper, that rock looked suspiciously like rather old concrete.

So with a few hefty bangs of the hammer on the chisel we were studying the small lump of 'rock' that had been knocked out.  Concrete.  Definitely concrete.  A few more hefty bangs revealed the concrete to be covering bricks beneath it.  Bugger.  Guess we won't be revealing any stone in this part of the house.  At least we found bricks beneath, not breeze blocks, or I think I might have cried.

A very close inspection of the house then followed with us comparing the floors and the depths of the walls in various different parts of the house.  Oh my God.  The walls are different depths.  Well, well, well.  Our close inspection suggested that various parts of the house have been added to at various points in its history.  The kitchen, the room above, and the cantina are definitely the old original stone.  But the rest of the house, the rooms at either end, are later additions.  Fascinating.  Now I can't wait to get my hands on the deeds to see if they throw up any light.

A bit later, we walked into Serramonacesca to stretch our legs and see what's happening.  The bars were very busy (at least by Serra standards) and everyone was pretty lively and noisy.  OK, it may have been Saturday night, but it was definitely more rowdy than usual.  Something was going on.  Ian and Carol then arrived, so we knew something was up.

It was the Festa of the burning of the canes!  Hey, how about that!  The one that was cancelled last week because of the snow.  So we ditched our early supper and early night plans (both suffering a little now from our early rise this morning) and joined everybody up the hill in the dumper truck shed, which doubles as the village hall.  There was a load of food laid out, carefully made by the women of the village this afternoon, a load of sausages on the go and plenty of free flowing wine.  There was also a very crackling sound system that did little more than blast out a few times before dying again whilst someone fiddled with the wires.

Cane burning, Serramonacesca
The canes were burning well outside and we had the most surprising jolly old time.  We met lots of people and some great characters.  We even met the Mayor!  At last!  KP was ecstatic.  He's been dying to meet this oh so powerful patriarch of the community that demands much bowing, scraping and deference.  No one can even sneeze without the permission of the Mayor.  But he was just a normal guy.  Not a God at all.  No robes, no chains, no funny hats.  Just a little guy, quite young, with jeans, an old coat and a beany pulled well down.  Nice guy.  His wife looked pretty scary though.  Clearly the one who rules the mayoral chambers.

Eventually we pulled ourselves away, full of sausage, cake, wine and bonhomie and made the very dark walk back to our mismatch of a house with an attractively revealed concrete wall in the bedroom.

Friday 28 January - making it happen

After being thoroughly spoiled over the last few days with the absolutely heavenly weather, today was just ghastly.  We lay in bed last night listening to the rain pouring down. We lay in bed this morning to it pouring down.  We got up to it pouring down.  And it didn't stop all day.  But it did give the water butt a thorough testing!  It worked like a dream.  Even the overflow pipe worked and water trickled beautifully all over the shrubs and trees next to it.  Not that they needed it, of course (it was raining).   Heady on the success of this project, we now have very grand plans for collecting surplus water from everywhere and feeding it all down to the vegetable and kitchen gardens, maybe even with some sort of gravity fed hydroponic system going on!  There will be no waste at Kokopelli!

As well as giving the water butt a through testing, the weather today also gave our roof a thorough testing.  With the rain also came a significant thaw, now was the time for any chinks in the armour of the roof to show themselves.  All we found was the tiniest little drip.  Not a problem and inevitable with so much snow, so we were told.  So we were very happy with our water tight little purchase.

The other good thing about today was that it gave us the perfect excuse for lighting the fire first thing, and keeping it going all day.  It just transforms the house.  And made it very comfortable for Roberto and his wife (still don't know her name) when they called round unexpectedly.  We were able to play the perfect hosts and treat them to coffee (definitely not tea this time, I used the old coffee pot that spewed coffee everywhere) in a warm kitchen.

After they'd gone we got on with our inside jobs of KP putting up a bathroom light and playing with the electrics, trying to understand the spaghetti junction and hotchpotch of wires sticking out everywhere.  We have a bedroom light that refuses to work.  A little error along the way resulted in him blowing up a socket (and almost himself).  He tried to keep that one from me, but the blackened plug and charred wall was a dead giveaway.  He did, however, managed to mend the bedroom light.

Leaving him to wander around the house with his electric tester thingy, and muttering his utter confusion to the wall and to the wires, I just beavered away at yet more cleaning.  This time preparing another bedroom for use and giving all the windows a good clean.  My mum would have been proud of me.

Much later, Sue and Enzo came round as arranged and we walked and talked them through our plans for the barns.  Having now had plenty of time to decide on exactly what we want and where, we've decided to accept that its far too big a project for us to manage alone.  We've realised that we need to bite the bullet and bring in a project manager.  Enter Enzo, Geometra Belli.

We spent a good hour with them talking about our plans in detail and going through KP's rather rough sketches, which I thought highly amusing but which were proving to be very useful indeed.  Enzo, a non-camper himself, was intrigued by our thoughts and became almost as enthusiastic us, throwing in a good few ideas of his own.  In fact, he even wants to come and stay in one of our tents when its all done!

Having finished outside, we all thawed and dried out in front of the fire as we then went through the finer details, we discussed solar panels and we considered the 'minor' issue of gaining the necessary permissions.  Obviously we've now got to wait for all the costings to come in, but we did give a whoop! whoop! when they'd gone.  Bloody hell, we're actually going to build a campsite!

The day was nicely rounded off with a really good night out with Tina and Richard, our first night out since we've been here!  We had no 'going out' clothes and felt like real country bumpkins, but it was a real treat.  Tina chose a superb little cantina in Guardiagrelle and Richard chose a selection of typical Abruzzese dishes for us to try.  The food was just superb and a really good evening was had.  We left feeling very warm, happy and full.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Thursday 27 January - playing with butts

Today was dominated by a water butt.  There is a drain pipe coming down the side of the house that goes to nowhere and, with the thawing of the snow on the roof, has become a gushing torrent.  There is no drain below it so (a) the water is constantly wetting the corner of the house (not good), and (b) this wonderful, natural resource that will be so scarce in just a few months, is just running away (equally not good).  But do you think it would be easy to find a water butt?  Of course not.

We went to a garden centre (of sorts), and we went to the agricultural store.  No water butts, but we did get a copious supply of rat poison, a couple of rat boxes, and directions to a water butt shop.  An hour later, we were coming out of said water butt store having just had a narrow escape of parting with over €100 for a tank to beat all tanks.  Just what you need, said the man.  Still feeling as guests in our host country and not wanting to offend, we almost took it.  Thankfully, sanity and a "couldn't care less about causing offence if we're being duped" attitude took over at the till and we thought better of it.  Sorry Mister, we know you've been really helpful but all we need is a way of capturing the rain.

So off we went again, this time with KP having put his Heath Robinson hat on and having built up a desire to play with his butt all afternoon.  A picture was forming in his head of utilising one of the old plastic barrels that we have knocking around in the barns and being creative with an even older, but distinctly more attractive, wooden water barrel.  This time we went off in search of a tap and a few washers, which proved far easier.  Success was had.

The rest of the afternoon was spent once more working outside in glorious sunshine (with a nagging, thawing, dripping, roof).  Me carrying on with my new log store and KP spreading himself out on the terrace with tools and barrels everywhere.  A lack of suitable tools meant holes for the tap needed to be cut in wooden and plastic barrels with my very best cheese knife (bought as part of a set at the €1 store in Pescara market), so much cussing and cursing (and some admirable creativity) punctuated the otherwise peaceful afternoon.

Eventually, just before that critical time of sundown when we need to down tools, light fires and retreat inside (leaving us feeling as though we're on the set of HG Wells' Time Machine needing to get to safety before the Morlocks come), we were the very proud owners of a fully functional water butt.  It's just beautiful.  A very neatly disguised old plastic barrel, fitting snuggly within the rather lovely wooden one.  And all for the price of a tap (and a few grazed knuckles).  It even had an overflow pipe at the top!

With our nice, neat log store at one end of the house and the water barrel at the other, we were very happy indeed.  Time now to retreat inside, get the fires going, get supper on and then wander down, and then up, the hill into Serramonacesca to pick up a few essentials from the mad lady at the corner store and have our usual swift drink at the bar with our new friends, the locals.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Wednesday 26 January - self-indulgent pleasure, and a few strange translations

A gentle, pottery sort of day today.  Nice.

With the sun coming up over the hills, the pale pinks and steadily increasing blue to azure gave the promised of another glorious day.  A perfect day for skiing, a perfect day for a long, slow run, a day not to be missed.  So KP headed for the slopes whilst I pulled on my trainers.  Both very happy to be indulging separate passions without dilution.

My run was short, as these hills are absolute killers.  The climbs just go on and on without respite.  I'll get used to it, but for now I'll take it easy, build up the endurance and just enjoy the views.  I don't think I will ever get used to these views.  To be out running on sweeping, winding empty roads with snow piled almost as high as me, looking out across the valley with the mountains to one side and the sea to the other is just unreal.  Surreal.  To have this view, drink it in constantly and greedily must be the ultimate high.  Pure, unadulterated, self-indulgent pleasure.  My run was just sheer and absolute joy.

KP, too, was very happy indeed to be back on skis again, and without a moaning, grizzling, whining child tagging along.  The weather was just perfect for him, so warm you could almost ski in tee shirts.  So he had a pure self-indulgent time too, just able to please and satisfy his need for the great white stuff.

Although a full day on the slopes was planned, he did surprise me by appearing back at home at lunchtime and catching me out sitting on the terrace just enjoying the sunshine!  The runs at Passo Lanciano are a little tame, no black runs, so after a couple of hours he'd exhausted all of them.  Being on his own, he also took the sensible decision (amazing for him, completely uninfluenced) not to go off-piste.  And so he joined me on the terrace, both very happy to have had a very good morning indeed.

A little later we wandered down the lane to Roberto's.  A recently met neighbour who'd invited us round for coffee that afternoon.  Actually, he'd invited us round last Sunday but a misunderstanding in translation meant we had no idea we were invited, and he was left a little offended on a Sunday to have been stood up and no-one to eat his cake.  Oh dear, I think we may be having a few of those.  I've already been left feeling very confused when I got muddled a few days ago between pommodoro (tomato) and pommerigio (afternoon).  Why on earth was this man talking about tomatoes when I'm trying to make an appointment with him?!  Took me days before the penny dropped.

But I think we redeemed ourselves with Roberto as we ended up staying all afternoon with him and his wife (another oh dear, I can't remember her name.  Carol will know).  We had coffee and cake, talked about their heating system, antiques and home-made rose-hip tea, and we learnt a bit about them as people too.  And all in Italian, no English spoken at all!  Roberto is retired, has lived there all his life, was even born in the house and married his wife five years' ago.  His wife is Ukrainian and a seamstress by trade, but only sews now for pleasure.

We were treated to a guided tour of their house, which then followed a guided tour of Garifoli, with each house being pointed out, a little of its history told and a small insight into its owners given.  The tour was rounded off with a visit to our house where we returned the pleasure by making them tea (but the looks on their faces told me we must get a coffee pot.  Pronto).  We gave them a tour of our house before freezing their butts off, as we'd done to Tina and Richard a few days before.  They left as the sun was dipping telling us that they'll arrange for their geometra to come round and help us with the barn conversion.  We think that's what they said, and we think he's coming on Friday, but you can never be sure.

A quick building of fires then ensued by the slick, well-oiled fire building machine that we've become.  Before long we were enjoying the warmth, crackle, spit and glow of the open fire as the flames danced up the chimney.  Which, reminds me, our next job is to find a chimney sweep.  And so I reached for the phrase book once more....

Tuesday 25 January - a no ski day

I need to go to ski school.

Passo Lanciano, view from the house
Skiing on an occasional, ad hoc basis is not for me.  Maybe skiing's not for me, but one thing's for sure doing it this way is not going to work.  I didn't even make it onto the skis this time.  One look at the chaotic slopes at Passo Lanciano, with people hurtling themselves here, there and everywhere, with little care, control or direction, was enough for me.  Another day of going up and down, up and down the nursery slopes, or scaring myself silly plunging down a mountain on nothing but a wing and a prayer, without brakes or steering, just wasn't going to happen.  So, having driven all the way up, we drove all the way back down again.

Ski school it is then.  If ever I am going to do this I need proper brakes, steering and gears.  And the only way to do it is with consistency and building, slowly mastering each skill before moving on to the next.  Everyday, with tuition.

But the day wasn't entirely wasted, well, not for me, although I'm sure KP would far rather have been up playing on the slopes than chopping down trees or knocking down walls, but that's what we did.

Once more the skies were a brilliant blue and the sun was so warm you could almost get a tan.  So an afternoon working outside was an incontrovertible absolute.

Job number one was doing some serious chainsaw surgery to the walnut tree next to the house.  The old owners said it was dead, and it certainly was blocking a lot of light from the house and the mandarin tree below it.  It seemed a shame to cut it down completely because (A) its pretty, (B) its not completely dead, and (C) I like walnuts.  Some major branches were therefore lopped by a very dangerous looking KP perched far too precariously for me up a rotten old wooden ladder that, unbeknown to him, had been salvaged from my "totally useless, but very pretty" pile.  But KP did survive the ladder and the falling branches, and the tree was left in a greatly thinned state to see what happened over the course of the year.  A decision on its final fate will be taken after fruiting at the end of the autumn.
Mountain man

I then got on with the job of chopping up the branches and starting a new wood pile of green wood ready for next winter, whilst KP knocked down and pushed out the back wall at the end of the barn.  And, Wow!  What a transformation.  This is where the main chillin' area has got to be.  The views down the valley and to the mountains beyond are simply breath taking.  This area will be built up into a huge sun filled terrace dotted with deck chairs, barbecues and a big old table for sitting around, eating around, making new friends around and drinking and nattering into the early hours around.  Facing south west, watching the sun slowly melting into the mountains will be a truly spectacular treat.

The view revealed

And now we must return to the rats.  They are not long gone, as I'd hoped, but they are still here, very alive and kicking (or rather jumping) under our wood pile.  As KP found out yesterday.  Quite sweet, he said.

Now, I know rodents are a fact of rural life, and urban life for that matter, and I don't mind the odd mouse or two.  But rats?  No, sorry.  They are going to die.  Fact.  Decision made when I saw one jump from the window sill (the barn window sill, that is.  Not the house) into the wood.  Off to the agricultural store tomorrow.  War has been waged, and there will only be one winner.

Oh please, oh please

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Monday 24 January - putrid, stinking, rats

All I can think of today is rats.  Putrid, foul, stinking, rotting, bloated, rats.  The acrid stench of rats.  Slime, sludge and bile.  Nothing else will appear as memories of today and take away those pictures and smells.  My whole being is permeated by them, nothing else exists.  Maybe in time they will ease and be replaced by shiny happy sunny thoughts and be banished to their rightful place buried in that deep deep corner of my brain under mounds of bright, fresh, joyous memories.

The view to Gran Sasso
If I try hard enough I can see bright, fresh, joyous pictures of today, as today was a sparkling happy day.  The sun shone, the skies were the freshest blue and the snow just twinkled and glistened.  The air was so crystal clear that, for the first time, we could see all three mountain ranges.

More log sorting
And we had a rainbow of twinkling crystals cascading down the balcony from above as the snow melted from the warmth of the afternoon sun.  So my job, and a most delightful one it was too, was to dig and sweep the snow from the balcony.  My afternoon began with that heavenly contrast of being surrounded by white and ice and yet still being as warm as toast as though it was a spring day.  KP, in the meantime, was having a jolly old time wielding his brand new chainsaw and disappearing under mounds of saw dust and logs whilst throwing up smells of petrol and oil and sawn wood.

Eventually, I pulled myself away from the bliss of the sun drenched balcony and joined him in the barns.  I picked the end one as a logical place to start and began sorting through, putting things into a pile for the dump, a pile of tools and gardening implements for finding a place for, and a pile of interesting old things for keeping for another day.  Old, useless but very pretty tools, old boxes, old mis-shapen wooden feed containers.  All far to beautiful and fascinating to throw away, but which will undoubtedly find a place somewhere, hanging on a wall, cluttering a shelf, or just simply on or under a bench outside somewhere.

Wonderful old bits for salvaging and restoring
The mounds of rat droppings should have warned me of the things to come.  But I just carried on, singing away in my own happy little world secure in the knowledge that these were ancient poohs, all dried up and but a distant memory of the wine and oil making industry this house once was and which, with the chickens, rabbits and other stock, provided a rich haven for extended families of rats.  I was just very, extremely, glad it wasn't in my time.  So I just swept and cleaned, removed all trace and glowed with the satisfaction at the transformation I was making.  All to the backdrop of the industrious chainsaw activity next door.  A happy, rustic scene.

And then I came to the wine vats.  Beautiful, huge, bulbous dark green glass containers in old old baskets.  One day these will make a very pretty picture dotted amongst the olives and tents, or on the balcony illuminated to a translucent aquamarine with candles inside.  But, for now, they needed to be emptied and stored.  And so started the absolutely foul job of dragging them outside, one by one, and emptying them of the foul, putrid, contents of ancient and forgotten wine.

The first two weren't too bad once I'd got used to the smell.  The acidic liquid contents just glugged out over the snow.  A couple of times the neck got blocked with a slimy sludge, but nothing a good shake wouldn't dislodge, and the glutinous mass would be aborted in front of me before the wine flowed and gushed once more.  I did, however, give these sludge shapes a cursory glance.  They couldn't be, could they?  No, of course not.  How could they?  Apart from being longish and slightly oozy around the middle there's nothing to suggest they could be.  They are just the sludgy remnants of wine that has congealed over the years.  And so I carried on, but with not quite the same gay abandon.  An uncomfortable feeling of things to come was starting to prickle in a very primeval way on the back of my neck

The very innocent looking wine vats
And then they appeared.  In the neck of the next wine vat glugging its contents into the snow.  First a saturated nose, whiskers and tiny, pink, little claw-like hands blocked the wine from flowing.   Oh God.  Its foul.  A couple of hefty shakes and it was spewed onto the ground, aborted like the sludge in the earlier bottle.  By my feet.  It was right in front of me, the decomposing, bloated, putrid mess of the devil's spawn.  And I was splattered with the contents.

Another one appeared: nose and teeth and claws, with the most disgusting bit of all, the big fat, long, brown, pink, slimy tail going thwat on the floor as it too was spewed out.  But it was the breech birth that finally brought my bile juices and the contents of my stomach to the surface.  It's tail appeared first.  It was foul and waggled as I shook the bottle.  Oh God.  Someone help me.  I can't do this.  Take me away to a sunny, clean fresh place by the sea where I can sip cocktails from my sun lounger.  Please.  I turned my head and heaved into the snow before getting a stick to prize it out.  No more.  I can't do anymore.

KP appeared to muse at my antics and the proceedings before returning to the sanctuary of his wood pile with some unhelpful comment about putting them in a plastic bag before disposing of them or they'll smell in the morning.

Not a chance.

The most I could do, amongst the heaves and rising bile, was to shovel them up and throw them into the bushes, hoping some kind wild boar would eat them in the night.  Pickled rat must surely be a delicacy for some passing hog?

But it just went on.  Eventually the sun started to go down, time to call it a day.

One day these memories will dim and fade and the other, very good memories of today, like finishing the day sitting in the bar meeting more of our neighbours, or sitting in front of our kitchen fire eating sausage and lentil stew, or curled up in the armchair reading, will take over.

But for now, they are there.

Sweet dreams...

Sunday 23 January - Fabulous snow & a winter wonderland

With so much snow comes much to do.  Thankfully, the snow had stopped falling from the sky, but it was easily above my knees as I discovered when I went out exploring first thing.  I stepped out into the garden amongst the olives and promptly sank.  Walking around was a challenge in itself, there was so much fresh loose powder that each step went right down and then had to be lifted high and clear in order to make any forward progress at all.  A very odd picture I must have made.

A mandarin in the snow
A quick survey of our surroundings revealed the house and barns in tact, but many olive trees had sadly lost branches, in return, however, they had given us a further small supply of winter fuel.  A small tree next to the house had had all its branches snapped so will be needing some serious attention with the saw.  Paths will need to be dug, the beastie, who spent the night in the ditch down the lane, will need to be rescued (if possible).  The road was amazingly completely clear.  The snow plough had obviously been working relentlessly.  It was an incredible bonus to see that even tiny roads like ours weren't forgotten.  It hadn't frozen overnight, so if we can get the beastie out of the ditch we should be able to get her home.

A very different way of viewing an olive tree
So I set about digging paths and lopping the broken branches off the tree at the side of the house, whilst KP, having cleared the entrance to the drive of piled up snow ploughed snow, disappeared down the lane with shovel and car keys.  I had a lovely morning, and thoroughly enjoyed digging trenches through to the barns, log store and cantina; the steps up to the house were found, revealed and finally swept of snow.  I think I might just be a little achy tomorrow.  But there was still the long drive out to the road to tackle, another long trench that can wait until KP returns.

KP stunned by by pulling up outside in the beastie! He'd done it!  He'd dug her out.  Amazing.  I really thought she was going to be there for days, and no way would she come out without the help of a tractor and tow rope.  And there they were, both looking a little sheepish.  But there was still a lot of work to be done to the drive to get her back into her rightful home, so we set to work with the shovels.  KP starting from one end, me from the other.

Eventually, sometime later, KP was manipulating her cautiously into the drive so that she was out of the way but in a position to get out again should the weather turn bad once more.  Job sorted.  We then finished the trench to the house together before looking back and surveying our work.  A good morning's labour, big satisfaction and a big pat on the back.

A beautiful Serra in the snow
Not wanting to call it a day yet, we wanted to stay out in this beautiful winter wonderland.  The landscape had it's own surreal beauty, it was very wild and dramatic and just a little scary.  There was an eerie silence that you only get with such a snowfall, the skies were a heavy low laden grey and the mountain rescue helicopter was a stark reminder that, pretty as it may be down here, these conditions are not to be taken lightly.

Skiing was out of the question, but a good walk was not, so long as we followed the roads with no off-piste discovery adventures and antics.  Still a little shaky after the narrow escape of yesterday, and with the distinct feeling that we may just have used up all our nine lives in one hit, we did actually, amazingly, stick to the roads.  Some, admittedly, barely roads at all as they were hidden under mounds of snow, but we were unusually cautious when decisions over direction needed to be made.

KP and the view across the valley
So we had a very pleasant and safe walk.  But what a long walk it was.  What with that and all our digging and clearing earlier we were a very weary pair who came home, more than ready to poop for the evening.  And how nice it was to return as the sun was getting low and the chill setting in to find a warm house with the sawdust burner chugging along happily.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Saturday 22 January - Snow, snow & a sliding car

How on earth do I describe today?  This will test my literary skills to the limit.  Of what we have seen and done today, I have no idea where to start.  So, lets start with waking up to see snow falling.

The morning that awaited us
White everywhere.  Just beautiful.  And it was coming down in the biggest flakes I have ever seen.  KP, for reasons, known only to himself, needed to get the beastie out and moving.  Our Plan A for the day was to go into Chieti first thing to book our coach to take us to Rome for our flight home, to buy a chain saw for increasing our log pile and a pair of boots to keep his feet dry.  Plan B was to hole up until the weather had passed.  But Plan A we clung to despite the elements, logic and sanity screaming NO!

Now, let me explain.  We are in a hamlet on the top of a rather large, steep hill with a single track road to negotiate down to the main road, that is "main road" by rural Italian standards.  There are also some rather evil twists, turns and unprotected sheer drops before the bottom.  It'll be fine, says he.  I'll just go slowly.  Hmmmmm......  I interject.  What about gravity pulling you into a slide (and over the edge) says I?  Trust me, he says.  Fine, I say once more, but excuse me whilst I get out and watch.

Down the steep hill he went.  Slowly, slowly, slowly.  Piano, piano.  I felt sick.  My legs gave way and I couldn't watch.  But I did peek a little.  Between my fingers.  Until he got to the first bend.  The car wouldn't turn, but continued down the hill defying the direction of the wheels.   KP and the beastie slid in a straight line heading towards the edge and oblivion amongst the snow laden olive trees looking so forlorn way, way below.

Someone, somewhere, must have been watching over him (certainly not the porcelain doll of the sacrificial burnings a few days previously) as he ground to a halt before the edge.  But the road was now well and truly blocked.  He couldn't go up, he couldn't go down.

Enter the snow plough.  And two Italians, one with an umbrella protecting him against the by now blizzard.  KP got out of the car and joined snow plough man and umbrella man observing the scene with a lot of scratching of heads.  A problem, they said.  I, in the meantime,was a gibbering incoherent mess observing from a safe distance up the lane.
Sliding on her own

And then the beastie began to slide.  All on her own.

How she stopped once more, I'll never know, but she did.  And the three men, kicked into action by this new development, grabbed some old bricks from the side of the road and threw them under her wheels.  Umbrella man then jumped in the driving seat as snow plough man parked his rather hefty vehicle across the road to act as a barrier in case beastie decided to make a kamikaze leap over the side.  Umbrella man was taking no chances either and left and driver's door open (to allow for a swift emergency exit) as he guided the beastie to the side of the road and entrenched her firmly into a ditch.  She's going nowhere fast now, and the lane has a clear passage for the snow plough to go up and down.

Another lesson harshly learnt.

And so they went on their way, and we returned back up the hill to put Plan B into operation.  The sawdust burner was lit and the kitchen fire stoked with logs.  KP disappeared upstairs to sort the very suspect electrics in the bathroom whilst I took the opportunity of being grounded to do some very overdue housekeeping of accounts and records.

And the snow kept falling.  Two foot of the white stuff and growing.  The electrics, flickering on and off, were clearly straining against the weight of the snow on the cables and distant cracks could be heard as far off branches snapped and fell.  But we were cosy toasty with a kitchen full of food, a mantlepiece warming the wine above the fire and a sawdust burner chugging happily along.

Tonight was the night of the festa of Saint somebody or other who was due to be celebrated by the burning of the bamboo in Serramonacesca.  Not to miss out on the fun, we stoked the fire, got wrapped up and braved the above-welly-height snow to walk into the village.  Goodness knows where the burning was taking place, or even if it was still happening in these conditions, but we had fun.

Serramonacesca, still snowing
The two bars were packed.  We felt a little conspicuous as we walked in and all eyes turned on us, but everyone was really warm and welcoming and kept us plied with hot sausage rolls and plenty of olives.  Flying the flag for womanhood, apart from one girl I noticed earlier on, I was the only female, but no-one seemed to mind.  They may not have women in their bars to keep things on an even keel but they are certainly a hardy lot these mountain men.  The electricity flickered then died and not a bit of notice was taken when we were plunged into darkness.  Torches and candles appeared and all carried on as though nothing at all had happened and it was all quite normal.

We have no idea what happened to the burning of Santa Whatsit but, with our tummies warmed with wine and sausage rolls, we eventually wandered back up the hill, listening to more distant cracks and groans of the trees straining under the snow.  Every now and then a brief white flash lit the sky, whether it was lightening in the mountains or arcing electricity we couldn't decided.

We arrived home to find our house in darkness too, and so cooked supper by the light of the fire and our amazing little wind up lanterns bought in Horsham for half price in the post-Christmas sales just a very short time ago, but what seems like an absolute age away now.  Another world.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Tuesday 18 January - a very dismal day

Our day began in bed. Me sitting up with my laptop making use of an unusually "not quite a snail's pace" internet connection and trying to catch up with the blogs.  KP copied this working in bed scene and got his huge strimmer out and started assembling it right there, nuts and bolts, blades and packaging strewn all over the bed.  And both of us with wooly socks and fleeces on.

To help you imagine the scene further, our "bedroom" is simply a large room coming off the kitchen, which was chosen to benefit from the warmth of the kitchen fire.  Lying in bed with an iced up runny nose and watching my breath coming and going in steaming clouds I'm not sure if this theory is working.  In the middle of this room is our bed.  Nothing else.  Apart, that is, from an old relic of the 70's table, round, veneered and as ugly as sin, a couple of salvaged dining chairs and a lot of space. And achingly cold marble floors, no rugs.

And so there we started our day, chuckling at the comedy opening up in front of us.  Both of us sitting up in our sparse bedroom wrapped against the cold in old fleeces and wooly socks. 

The day, with the sun streaming in, was far too good to waste, so as soon as the assembling was done KP went outside to try out his new toy. I too made use of the sunshine by keeping up with the washing over my big stone sink and hanging it out to dry in the cold, damp fog.  Fog?  Where did that come from?  What's happened to the sun?

It didn't lift all day. 

But, hey, we had fun.  Of a sorts.  KP strimmed, I raked. All day long. We built a compost area for the mounds of cuttings, decided on locations for vegetable patches, herb gardens and children's wilderness play area. We pictured the tents amongst the olives and we picked the most idyllic spot for Rosemary to spend her semi-retirement earning her keep giving bundles of fun and pleasure.  She'll be at the highest point of the land on a southerly spacious spot with a view to die for.  She'll have the morning sun as it comes up over the mountains and enjoy it's dappled shady effects as it moves over the fig trees tempering the effects of the stifling afternoon heat.

And then the strimmer started to wind down. No longer did it have it's powerful heavy engine "I'm going to slice through everything" noise.  A slow whine was all it could manage.  So KP cussed and cursed and tinkered. It came back with a brief return to all it's macho glory, before slowing down to a girlie phut phut once more. Not a happy KP.  A very sad and miserable KP. I just wanted to help and make it better.  Other than encouraging him with a cup of tea, there was little I could do.  So I continued to rake and KP continued to tinker. 

Eventually, raking done, tinkering exhausted and the sun getting low we decided to call it a day and go in search of the agricultural store in nearby Scafa.  A faulty spark plug being blamed for the source of KP's woes, so a new spark plug we shall find.

We found the agricultural store and what a find!  Small, maybe, but it sold everything! I was in heaven wandering amongst the salad plants and seeds, chicken feeders and rabbit cages, rat traps, spades, forks, brooms and fertilisers. I was in my element. KP found his spark plug so home we went, stopping off on the way back to restock on supper supplies.

It was dark, damp and getting very cold by the time we got back so warmth and nourishment were our first priorities. KP got the fire going and I put on a big pot of a hearty lamb and vegetable stew.  As the stew was bubbling on the hob and the fire crackling and roaring in the hearth we presented a picture of rural simplicity. An idyllic scene, apart from the strimmer still not working...

Friday 21 January - visitors & a sports bar

Kicked ourselves out of bed early again - we are having visitors!

We're slowly getting into the Italian way of not only rising early but also being organised and out and about early, but its coming hard.  If you want anything done, its essential to be "up and at 'em" at the crack of dawn.  Not only does everything seem to close down at midday, but everything seems to take an age to achieve, whether that be going to the bank, shopping, meetings, whatever.  No one is any hurry whatsoever to do anything, with inefficiency and chaos being the normal order of play.  And there's nothing you can do about it.  The more you push, the more stressed you get, and the slower they go.  And the roads!  There is no rhyme or reason to the twist, turns, switchbacks and directions.  For a country built by the Romans, arguably the best road builders EVER, I have seen more straight and logically positioned roads in the UK!  Maybe the Romans were too busy building their Empire overseas that they took their eye of the ball in their own country?

So, with anything you are wanting to do, and everywhere you are wanting to go, seeming to take an age to achieve, if you are not out of the door with a plan and agenda (plus a Plan B) by 10am latest, you can forget it.  For two people used to having a slow rise and prolonged breakfast whilst the proceedings and plans for the day are discussed, debated and decided upon, this is a big cultural change indeed.

But, looking forward to our visitors, we did get up at a good time and, joy or joys, to a not totally freezing bedroom.  Amazingly the sawdust burner was still warm from the night before last and was still taking the chill out of the air.

But it was raining and cold.  Big, hard, get you very wet sort of rain.  There was also a frosting of snow on the hills, and the temperature had certainly dropped.  Such a shame and so disappointing as we really wanted our new friends to see the house and its views in all its glory so our vision could be shared.  But no.  It was cold, grey and mucky, both inside and out, and the beautiful mountains were keeping well out of the way.

Fausto the dog
Tina & Richard (and Fausto)
But Tina and Richard, and Fausto the dog (a wonderful bouncy, black shaggy bundle of Tigger-like energy) still came, had a guided tour of inside the house, outside the house and round and round our heads of ideas.  We sat in the kitchen, drank tea and chatted and chatted, learning about their lives and experiences of living in Italy, whilst we no doubt bored them senseless with all our plans.  And froze their butts off.

Not wanting to use up our precious fuel store, we tend not to build the fire during the day but, boy, was it cold just sitting and nattering in our kitchen.  No-one took their coats off.  Poor Tina and Richard.  But it was fun to seen them and Tina has promised to take me to the so far very elusive charity shops that she's discovered and where she has become a Grand Master at elbow shoving.

After they'd gone, having another go at the sawdust burner seemed like a good idea.  This way, if it decides to bellow out clouds of smoke again it will be all gone by bedtime.  Having run out of firelighters, however, and having missed the morning opening of the local shop once again, a trip to the supermarket became a necessary evil.  But it was well worth it.  The little darling heater just gave a few little phut phuts of smoke before settling down to a red hot glow.  A bit too hot this time, as she roared and roared and roared as though she was about to take off and didn't settle down to an easy slow burning, even with the bottom air vent closed.  Next time, we'll pack her more tightly, but we certainly weren't complaining.

A trip back out to Sue's office came next, as evening arrived, to finalise plans and arrangements and we were entertained to the usual waiting and inefficiency of comings and goings, shuffling of papers and nothing working.  All we needed to do was sign some data protection stuff!  Eventually, papers appeared and were signed and we were on our way, me worrying a little about the length of time we'd left the fire burning in the hearth.
Bar dello Sport, Serra

Bar dello Sport
We got back home in time to save the fire, check on the about to explode tin can, get some supper on and in the oven and then out again, but this time just a short drive to Serramonacesca as we thought it about time we sampled the local hostelries.  A swift half was had before we were back home again and settling down to another evening in front of the fire, and me taking my coat off for the first time that day.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Thursday 20 January - plans, schemes & dreams

I awoke in the very early hours of the morning to feel the gentle warmth of the sawdust burner easing the usual icy chill, despite the windows having been open all night long.  A quick look at the fascinating little machine in the corner revealed all to be well, with a very satisfying red glow radiating through the middle.  And no fumes whatsoever.  Feeling more confident that this innocent tin can wasn't about to poison us with noxious gases as we slept, I shut the windows and returned to bed looking forward to a non-icy and unrunny nose when morning came.

A little beauty
And it worked.  It was still piping hot.  This little beauty needs to be worked on, teased and nurtured.  We need to play around with our filling technique and with the air vent, it will also be worthwhile checking out and cleaning the flu.  If this little gem can work without belching its eye-smarting fumes we'll have a neat way of providing warmth (maybe even some cooking), and all using a natural waste resource.  Just a shame its not connected to the hot water pipes.

Our day following that little bit of early morning excitement was fairly uneventful.  It was just a nice pottering, re-grouping sort of day.  We popped round to Roccamontepiano to see Sue and talk through our instant needs with her on the things she's offered to help out with.  We had wanted to sort everything ourselves but have, after many discussions over the last few days, decided that employing her services, at least to get us up and running fast, will actually be money well spent.  So Sue agreed to change the utility services over into our name and pay the necessary stamps, register us with the council, arrange our refuse collection, get our telephone and internet connected, make enquiries for getting gas installed and, finally, make some discrete enquiries for how the commune would feel about us setting up a campsite.  Doing it on a small basis doesn't seem to be a problem at all, but how high can we go?

By the time we'd finished with Sue the shops were shut and the weather had taken a bit of a nose dive.  Apparently snow is on the way, but this was just pure rain.  And it rained all afternoon.  KP made the most of it by having a good sort through the wood pile, stacking a load by the kitchen door and making sure we have enough to last us until we go home.

I had a very pleasant afternoon writing and sorting through photographs.  Sadly, however, uploading the photos for all to see proved far too much for the dongle, so that will have to wait until we get back.  As will checking out eBay Italia.  Thinking this might be the answer to my architectural salvage and rustic antiques problem, I had a quick (or rather very slow) explore of the site.  But, no.  Waiting five minutes for each page to load was just a little too painful.  There are only so many cups of tea or small chores you can do to fill the time.

The Maiella, the playground on our doorstep
We also both had our creative heads on and had a very exciting time walking around and brainstorming our very happy purchase.  The ideas just flowed.  One after another, they didn't stop.  We just bounced off each other.  One idea led to another, and another, and another, until my head was absolutely swimming.  If we can make this work, if only, if only, if only.  But why not?  It can, we know it can.  We have the perfect spot.

Come 5pm we dragged ourselves away and wandered into Serramonacesca to check out the little shop for milk and bread.  Bugger.  Shut.  Ah well, a trip to Scafa was now inevitable.  Carrefour is bound to be open.  The supermarket rot is slowly spreading its tentacles, aided by people like us.  Not good.  This will stop as soon as we're more settled, organised and have found our way round.

Cosy kitchen
But we did need milk as I was making lasagne!  Now that is very exciting indeed as it means I have an oven!  At last, hoorah!  There is only so much you can do on a gas hob.  But I've discovered my oven is actually gas too (and not electric without a plug as we'd thought) so my culinary creativity will know no bounds.  Well, sort of.  For now we were happy with lasagne for supper.  And very good it was too.  I like my oven.  I think we can be friends.

The evening was spent reading by the fire as seems to have become our very pleasant habit.  Me finding all about the seasonal cooking, meats and produce of Italy and growing, rearing and making them all in a permaculture sort of way, whilst KP was looking very serious indeed with his nose firmly embedded in the latest Stieg Larsson.

And so to bed, minus the noxious fumes but with a still very softly glowing tin can.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Wednesday 19 January - A sawdust burner and a smoke filled room

A day of unfamiliar manual labour and outside work yesterday had come hard on two ageing softies who have been away from the work of rural life for far too long.  It was good to come back to it, felt like coming home, but, boy, did we ache!  So we stayed in bed till 10am.  KP sleeping, me writing and researching.  I did, however, get very excited when I finally got the internet to load a couple of pages without what is becoming the murder inducing message of "Page has timed out".  I swear this dongle is going to be jumped up and down on and obliterated in a fit of rage before too long.

The pages that got us so excited were how to light a sawdust burner!  We have a sawdust burner in our bedroom, a mass of sawdust in one of the barns and no idea whatsoever what to do with it.  For two people all but camping in a house without heating (and with snow on the way) this was very exciting indeed.  So the pages were saved until later and we got up to go and explore Chieti in the hope of finding second-hand shops, antique shops, architectural salvage yards, anything to start filling our house with characterful 'junk'.

All we want is some old iron coat hooks, door furniture, old terracotta pots, a tatty old kitchen table, a few chests and the odd wardrobe or three.  Is that really too much to ask?  Oh, and we could do with some old rugs too.  So far, however, such shops have proved a little, how can I say it?  Elusive.

Chieti was lovely and we did have a good old mooch around, but failed to find what we were looking for.  Back to the drawing  board, I guess.  We did, however, find a builder's merchant which lit our excitement once more.  We had a good wander round ooh'ing and ah'ing at the timber and tiles.

When we got back, late afternoon, the sun had come out so more strimming and raking was accomplished.  Then, most exciting of all, it was time to experiment with the sawdust burner!  Hoorah!  What larks, Pip!

It started off really well with the filling and pressing down and the building of a hollowed out chimney through the middle.  It even lit with a concertina of scrumpled paper fed through the chimney with a match put to it at the bottom, just like it was supposed to.  OK, we did resort to a firelighter, but it was only a little one...

It's alight!  Way hay!
Feeling very pleased with ourselves and really looking forward to a warm bedroom (or at least one with the chill taken off), we settled down for the evening in front of the kitchen fire.  Every now and then we'd wander out, check on the outside chimney, feel the pipes going through the bedrooms and marvel at the greatness of this amazing overgrown tin can on three legs.

And then the smoke started.

Billowing out of every crevice possible.  No longer an amazing tin can but a stupid, useless piece of junk that will be finding its way (as soon as its cooled down) to the municipal dump (if only there was one).

It smoked and smoked.  Our eyes streamed and we had to fling the windows wide open.  A debate then ensued about the benefits of warmth versus the benefits of clean air.  Clean air won and we were to go to bed with the windows open.  Deep joy.

The flame before the smoke!
By this time, however, the little gem had actually settled down to a lovely smokeless red hot glow, giving off the most delightful gentle heat.  Sadly, though, we were, by this time, far too freaked by the possibility of suffocating in our sleep and losing all we'd just achieved that we didn't trust this machine one jot.  The windows stayed firmly wedged open all night and we slept in wooly socks and jumpers, with hot water bottles providing the finishing touch.

The Good Life.  Bah humbug.

Monday 17 January - kitchens and big boys toys

Having finished the cleaning and clearing of the house, it was time to go shopping and start crossing off some of the items on my ever growing list.

Monday is market day in Pescara so, with bargain basement items not to be missed, we pulled ourselves away from our domestic haven in the hills and headed into town.  Unsure of the exact location of the market, other that it being close to the football stadium, we fell across a busy and bustling area of town and a huge complex with many people coming and going.  This has got to be it.  We parked up and followed the throng of people...   Into the City Hospital.  Ooops.  Wrong.  Back in the car.

Eventually we found it and filled our shopping bags with exciting things like a fish slice, potato peeler, tin opener and toilet brushes.  We found the most ghastly covers, that wouldn't look out of place in the Trotter's household, for our battered armchairs.  Perfect.  At only €10 a piece we couldn't resist. Dusky pink don't you know.

The market done, we then went off in search of the big boys toys.  A petrol strimmer, complete with brush cutter (whatever that is) and a big and beefy lawnmower was on a very excited KP's shopping list.  Various garden machinery items, all new and shiney (where are the farm sales and auctions round here?) were gaped at, examined in detail, turned upside down, engines inspected and blades felt.  What about this one, I offered, its a delightful yellow?  The look of complete disdain that was shot my way encouraged me to go off in search of yard brooms.

Eventually, two beautiful shiny macho garden machines which, by the way, included a bright yellow lawnmower, were being loaded into the back of the beastie manfully shoving my kitchen paraphernalia out of the way.

Our planned run was easily postponed so we could both play with our new toys.  I unwrapped and found homes in my newly cleaned kitchen cupboards whilst KP was in a Boys Own bliss building machines, filling them with petrol, pulling cords, starting engines and muttering something about chokes and air filters.  Or was it oil filters?

With the sun going down, KP strutted amongst the trees pushing his big boys toys up and down.  I, on the other hand, followed in his wake clearing away his forgotten tools, cuttings and branches from some earlier gardening activity.  Making use of the last light, I had a good tidy up outside and, finally, collected the kindling and logs for the fire before it got too dark to see.

The evening was spent sitting reading manuals in the kitchen, warm and toasty in front of the fire and marvelling at our new pink armchairs.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Sunday 16 January - the house is ours!

The next two days were spent in something of a cleaning haze, both working Mazlo's theory to perfection.  The incontrovertible priorities, without need for discussion or debate, were to satisfy our very basic, primeval needs unchanged since prehistoric times.  Food, warmth, shelter and clothes.  And so we set about ensuring we had somewhere to store, prepare and cook our food, somewhere to wash our clothes, somewhere to sleep and a fire to warm ourselves by at the end of the day.

We hadn't long started emptying drawers and pulling out cupboards when two of the brothers arrived for one final look at their parents' old home.  Their family home.  We stopped work whilst they wandered around, feeling terribly awkward and very sad for them to see two strangers emptying their house of their parents' personal effects.

The house almost seemed to have been stuck in a very eerie timewarp.  There was a calendar hanging in the kitchen dated 2003, there were old newspapers going back to 1997, there were old photographs, letters, children's school projects.  There were clothes in drawers, shoes under the stairs and unfinished knitting.  There were jars and jars of homemade produce, clearly many years old, gathering dust amongst the shelves.  There were seed packets and saved recipes.  All were emptied from drawers and dumped on the veranda outside the door ready for sorting into the pile for burning, the pile for scrap metal, the bottle bank and for taking away shamefully to landfill.  How very sad that two lives and the lives of a family should have come to this.
Two nights of bonfires
Lit up by the fire

For two days we worked solidly and for two nights we had huge bonfires in a clearing amongst the olives.  Slowly but surely the house began to live and smile again.


By the end of two days we had a cosy and workable kitchen pulled together from salvaged items.  We had a gas hob, but no oven yet (a plug needs to be sourced and fitted), a fridge freezer, a drawer full of old cutlery and cupboards full of crockery and pans.  All squeaky clean.  Very basic maybe, but a start.  Our kitchen even had a table and chairs and two battered armchairs in front of the open fire, the only heat in the house.

We had three bedrooms clean and cleared and awaiting beds, and two functional bathrooms with the unexpected but very welcome bonus of hot running water.

Cantina, and pizza oven
Our bedroom was selected and our new bed made up, the little cantina was cleared, scrubbed and brought back to life.  Its pizza oven was revealed and the old stone sink, complete with scrubbing board was once more in use.  Sadly, the rusty old washing machine revealed a fatal leak and found its way to the landfill pile.

The weather, whilst we were working, was just glorious and totally unexpected.  Brilliant blue skies and a warming winter sun gave the scene an idyllic domestic hue.  Each time I went outside to add more rubbish to the piles my breath was taken away by the landscape around me.  Was this all really ours?  Are we really here?  The soft, round hills of the lower Maiella, the snow covered glistening tops of the Passo Lanciano pistes and the sharp and dramatic white peaks of the Gran Sasso massif appeared close enough to touch.  I just stared and stared.  Never has hanging washing out created such a blissful feeling of self-indulgent pleasure.

Gran Sasso

Friday 14 January - The final signing


The strangest day of all.  The day of the final signing.

Our appointment wasn't until 3.30pm and we just didn't know what to do with ourselves.  It was the most beautiful warm and sunny day, ideal for climbing, but we thought better of it lest we manage to break a limb or two and not make the appointment this afternoon.  So, instead, we drove into Scafa and bought a mop.  As you do.

In actual fact, we bought quite a bit more.  All cleaning products so we can make an early start on the house tomorrow.  We also spent the best part of the day bickering.  Two managers again.  One wanting to prioritise one way, the other another way and both, of course, always right.

Teddies out of the pram time.  OK fine.  If you feel like that don't do it then!  Fine, I won't then.  If you think I'm going into business with  you, you can think again!  And so we went on until we reached the Notary's office.  A sideways glance and a muttered "f***wit" and we were friends again.

The meeting itself was hilarious and classically chaotic in the extreme.  We were the only ones seated on time.  The selling family, all five of them, arrived about half an hour late and squashed into the Notary's far too small office with nowhere near enough space or seats to go round.  There was also Ida, the translator, Enzo (geometra), the Notary and the Notary's assistant.  All looking very serious and sombre.

There was much coming and going, checking of documents, crossings out, flicking through files and shuffling of papers.  Eventually, an hour later, we began the formal process.  The Notary reading out the Deed to the sellers, Ida reading out the translation to us.  Word for word.

The banality of the proceedings was suddenly refreshed by a lot of activity on the Italian side of the table.  The gesticulating, animated voices and shuffling of papers had begun again.  Ida kept glancing up from her translation.  Something's not quite right.  "There's a problem" she said.  No shit, thought I.

It turned out that a capital gains certificate that should have constituted part of the Deed had somehow been forgotten.  And so we adjourned whilst the certificate, many pages long, was translated, typed and attached to the Deed.  Two hours later, 6.30pm by now, we continued.

The most weird, and comical, bit by far was when we actually paid the family for the house and the professionals for their services.  We were given a list of who should have what and how the sums should be apportioned between cash and cheque.  For each individual (ie everyone of the eight people around the table).  The cheques that we had drawn up by the bank yesterday were each given out, one by one, checked in detail by each recipient and put into pockets.

The cash itself I counted out from the great wad KP had been guarding so closely since yesterday.  Each portion was carefully counted onto the table with everyone watching quietly and intently.  You could have heard a pin drop.  Terrified I might fall into a fit of giggles, I kept my eyes fixed firmly on the money I was counting and well away from KP.  To have met eyes with him now would have been fatal.

Each pile of money was then passed to Ida who recounted it and past it to the individual concerned.  It was then counted a third time before being finally accepted and put away.  A far more entertaining way of doing business than bank wire transfer.  Absolutely brilliant.

Finally, after four hours of sitting (or in some cases, standing) around the table, each page of the Deed was signed by each party to the contract, hands were shook, backs were slapped and the keys were handed over.  Done!  We'd bought a house!

We all retired to a bar over the road for more hand shaking and a raising of glasses with many cheers, chin chins and salutes.

Eventually, an exhausted but euphoric pair, we were picking our way carefully and slowly back to the Gallards through the dark and foggy streets of Pescara.  Not having eaten since breakfast that morning, we stopped off in Mannopello at a great little pizzeria with vaulted ceiling, ancient stone oven and cosy little tables.  With more raising of glasses between the two of us, we tucked into our pizzas greedily, enjoyed our wine and celebrated the day.

Tomorrow we move into our house.

Thursday 13 January - twinkly blue eyes & a romp up the hill

D-Day minus 1.

The alarm waking us at 7am this morning was a bit harsh.  Neither of us wanted to be awake at this time, let alone drag ourselves out of our far too warm bed and into the cold (no heating in our room), dark, January morning.

But we needed to get to the garage for 8am and then on to Pescara for our meeting with Financial Advisor, Walter, at 9am to sort out the cash and cheques for completion tomorrow.  The Italians don't seem to use the simple, quick and clean (sterile?) process of bank transfer for moving money around.  At the final signing tomorrow we've got to have all the outstanding monies on the table for counting.  This is split between a number of cheques: one for the notary, one for the property agents, one for each of the sellers and a whole wad of cash for everyone, who clearly don't want to declare their own individual gross profits of the sale.

If ever we needed inspiration for getting moving in the morning it was the sight that was awaiting us as soon as we opened the shutters of the bedroom windows.  What an amazing sunrise!  I have never ever seen such an incredible sky.  It was ablaze with reds and golds and oranges, blues and purples.  Gran Sassa, home to the highest and most dramatic peaks of Abruzzo, wasn't to be left out of nature's party and these mountains of snow threw a soft and shimmering pink back to the sky.  Just wow.

A good omen for the day to come?

The visit to the garage, that we'd both been worrying about all night, not sure how to tackle, turned out nicely in our favour.  We left feeling quite humbled by kindness and a little guilty for doubting the honesty of the garage owner.  He'd done a great job and far more than we'd expected or asked for, and at a bargain price.  Being a girl with no interest in mechanics and engineering whatsoever, I left it to the men to strut around the car looking at and poking the wheels and making the usual gruff and growlie sounds of appreciation, awe and wonder at such things.  All in all, I think Mr Garage Man did a very good job indeed and is now KP's NBF.

Next stop Pescara.  It was good to see Walter again.  He took us to the bank and guided us through the process of arranging the cheques and withdrawing the cash and even went through internet banking with us so we can now check transactions online.  He also showed us how to use the bank card at cash points to top up the mobile.  Nice man, and with very kind, twinkly blue eyes.  We like Walter.

All set for tomorrow, we were starting to enjoy ourselves and, feeling more confident that this is all actually going to happen, and we really were going to be moving into our house on Saturday, we went shopping for a bed.

We had lots of fun in the bed shop and, after trying a few out for size (somewhat essential when, by Italian standards, you're a 6'3" freak), we were round the back collecting our chosen bed and tying it to the roof rack with the climbing ropes.  We also bought a duvet, pillows and linen, and a mobile phone, and a dongle!  We won't be on the floor in sleeping bags after all!  And we'll have internet access.  Yippidee doo dah!  Bring on Saturday!

Over lunch in a Pescara bar we made a quick call to the agents and soon had the OK to deliver the bed straight to the house this afternoon.  Another Yippidee doo dah!  By off-loading the bed and all the stuff we'd been carting around in the back of the beastie all week we will only need to make the one trip from the Gallard's on Saturday morning.

View across the valley
So we dropped everything off at the house, which was bathed in glorious sunshine.  The skies were so clear and sharp that we could even see the pistes of Passo Lanciano sparkling in the distant sunlight.  Hey, we'll be able to sit in our garden with our binos and watch the skiing!  Nice one.

We reluctantly dragged ourselves away (one more day, just one more day), went back to the Gallards, changed into running gear and set off for the hills at a good romp.

The Abbey, Maiella
The cheeky Maiella, not one to be taken lightly or without respect, soon knocked the wind out of our sails.  Our chosen route took us almost directly and vertically up.  It was muddy and it was rocky.  And it hurt.  Eventually it levelled off and then it was just sheer joy.  Running through the trees with glimpses through the clearings at the hills below and Gran Sasso in the distance was inspiration indeed.  Beautiful Chieti, perched precariously atop the highest hill, with her magnificent cathedral taking up centre stage, was lit up to a golden glow by the late afternoon sun.  You could almost, almost, see the sea.  It doesn't get much better than this.

Before long, we were hurtling back down the hill, leaping over rocks, past streams and ruined castles.  And then we hit the bottom and ran into Serramonacesca.  We loped through her ancient streets, under the archway and then started the climb back up to Colle Serra.  More pain.  But, boy, was it good.  50 minutes and 6km of pretty harsh terrain but with the most stunning views.  It really doesn't get any better.

View to the castle from the house