Tuscany – extension leads and Libyans

Being very good at doing nothing so far, which is nice but today (Wednesday) I fear we shall have to break the pattern and get out there and do something. Not sure what yet but I’m working on it. Perhaps a drive further up into the mountains will be a gentle enough start.

The climate here is just great, especially compared to what had two years ago, also in August, in the lower more popular parts of Tuscany where it was relentlessly hot and not easy to sleep in any room without air conditioning. Up here in the hills the temperature is 28-29C during the day and 17-20C at night but with an almost permanent breeze. Add to that the fresh air, sunshine, blue sky and abundant flora and you have a quite beautiful atmosphere. Where we are staying makes the most of this with numerous gardens and places to sit or lie so you can always find just the right place to hang out.

Who’d have thought the troubles in Libya would be noticeable in a small Italian town like Fivizzano? Well they are. We noticed a group of black guys, so far all guys, hanging around in the town. Immediate thought was “how come they’re not trying to sell us handbags?” but that, as it turns out was cruel. There are many refugees from the troubles in North Africa now housed in various strange Italian towns waiting for news of what happens next. They are not allowed to work, have no permits at least, and so they hang around hopefully. The Italian people seem to be doing a great job of welcoming and helping them, which is great to see.

One place doing their best to help by serving up plenty of free pasta is the Caffe Elvetico in the town square. Recommended by our hosts, we dined there on Monday and experienced another very noticeable difference between this trip and the last one. Last time, we genuinely struggled to feed the three of us for less than €100. In any half decent restaurant we were paying between €100-150 for food of a mixed quality and no wine. In Caffe Elvetico we were served the menu of the day which consisted of a giant plate of pasta with meat sauce followed by one plate after another with assorted antipasto-like goodies such as – carpaccio, assorted Italian salami and hams, tomatoes with feta, caramelised onions, meat with a tuna sauce……. along with bread, Campari, Fanta, water and coffee the bill came to a grand total of €30! The people running the place are smashing hosts as well. So welcoming and doing their very best to deal with our cruddy Italian language skills. The evening before we ate at another restaurant on the square and that bill was roughly the same. Real homemade Italian food and plenty of it for about a quarter of what you’d pay in Florence or Sienna and at 120 PLN it is also good value compared to Warsaw. Excellent stuff, I have a feeling Caffe Elvetico will be seeing more of us this holiday!

We’ve also made our presence felt in the local shops, although it took a while to work out when they might actually open the doors. We’ve worked it out now, the only safe time to catch most shops is between 09:00-12:00, unless they are closed that day! There’s a decent supermarket in town and a good mix of other shops. It is always fun to see what kind of shops manage to survive in such a town and whilst it looks like a strange collection I’m sure you can get most of what you need in one or another as many of them have a highly eclectic range of goods on offer. The shop with the most individual items on offer is the local hardware store and I visited there to buy an extension lead. Using my best body language combined with words like eletriccita and extensioni I managed to get the point across. The shopkeeper, must be about 90 years old, corrected me that the word I was looking for is more like prolongamenti (more prolonging than extending anyway) and asked what length I wanted it. After a bit of rummaging in the back he came with a 3m lead for a charge of €5. I had to return the next day for an adaptor because they have this funky ‘3 pins in a row’ system and it would not connect to my round 2 pin plug. Out of ideas for anything like the Italian word for what I wanted I asked for a pen, drew a simple diagramme and got an immediate hit. Seconds later I had what I wanted.

Last evening our hosts were kind enough to invite us to join them for their daughter’s 13th birthday party. They had some friends around as well as the other guests staying here, from Edinburgh. All very nice people and good conversation. For our part we bought some local wine and made a couple of salads, one of which was largely from ingredients picked from their own garden. Fresh tomatoes, lettuce and chilli, which Zosia had great fun picking. It was nice for her to have the chance, small as it was, to harvest some food from the garden and realise how good it tasted.

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