Posted by: Debra Kolkka | January 14, 2021

Deep snow in Vergemoli

I can’t go to Casa Debbio for a while. The road to the house is deep under the snow that has fallen recently. It is not possible to drive to the house and even walking up is difficult. Filippo went up a couple of days ago and said there are icy patches hidden under the snow making the steep parts of the road slippery and dangerous. I will take his word for it.

The snow fall in Vergemoli was the heaviest for years. Carlo Cecchi and Clarissa Asti, who live in the village, have some wonderful photos on their Facebook pages and have kindly agreed to let me share them. I won’t be driving up the mountain until conditions are safer.

Here are some of Carlo’s photos of the roads around Vergemoli.


…and around the village.

 

This is Carlo’s photo of the wonderful house directly below ours, looking even more beautiful with its snow trimming.

 

These photos were taken of the village from a distance.


Clarissa took these lovely photos. The first is in front of the church. The road to our house is beside that. The second is from her window.

 


This is her front yard.

My friend Roberta took a couple of photos of Casa Debbio from the village. Filippo said several trees have been damaged by the weight of the snow, which is disappointing. We will have work to do once the snow has gone.

The snow is very pretty, but Vergemoli was without power and phone for days. We have had a few calm, sunny days, but more snow is predicted. I hope it doesn’t cause any more damage.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | January 7, 2021

A day of snow

Yesterday I woke up to see light snow falling here in Ponte a Serraglio. It doesn’t happen very often so I kept watch from the window of our apartment. At first it didn’t seem to be gathering on the ground.


Gradually the snow fall became heavier and soon the village was transformed.

 


I quickly got dressed and headed out for a walk in the snow.


My pansies were covered with snow. They have already been pelted with rain for weeks. I wonder if they will survive.

All along the river everything was covered with a light dusting of snow. In the higher villages there was much more snow, but this was enough for a pretty walk.


 






I walked up towards Bagni Caldi for a different view. By this time the snow had stopped falling and the snow on the ground was beginning to turn to slush.

I spotted thus bright bush dusted with snow in a garden on the way.

It is a lovely walk up the hill at any time.


The first stop is at the tiny piazza in front of the Bernabo baths, now closed.

 

Then a bit further up for a different aspect.


…and back down the hill to my apartment.

Later on the sun came out briefly.

Then mist settled over us.


The 6th January, Epiphany, is the last day for Christmas decorations. The white Christmas tree I decorated with pink bows lasted well considering it was rained, hailed and snowed on.

 

We had just a day of snow in Ponte a Serraglio, but the falls were heavy in the higher towns and villages, where many houses lost power and telephone. Lots of roads were cut with fallen trees and landslides.

This is the road to Vergemoli, where our mountain house is, a few days ago.

Here it is after the snowfall. You can just make out the curves of the road.


The photo was taken by Carlo Cecchi from Vergemoli. I hope I can share more of his photos. I would love to go up to Vergemoli, but I’m not driving on that road just yet!

 

 

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.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | December 24, 2020

Christmas in Florence

Tuscany was given a short reprieve , 4 days in the yellow zone, before Christmas. I took the opportunity to leave the village and visit Florence to see the city decorated for Christmas. I am not usually here at this time of the year so it was a special treat.

The sun shone briefly as I arrived in Florence. I checked into the hotel and headed out immediately. The city was quiet and I had the usually busy streets almost to myself. It unusual to see the Ponte Vecchio without crowds. The views from the bridge are always wonderful.

I wandered slowly towards the Duomo, stopping along the way to enjoy this beautiful city.

 

The sun disappeared and it began to drizzle.





As the lights come on in the evening the city becomes even more enchanting.

Via Tornabuoni is especially lovely.








Palazzo Strozzi has a message for us.



The Ponte Vecchio is transformed with a stunning lighting display.


Rinascente’s windows are filled with vintage Neapolitan nativity scenes.


This one is life size.


The facade is lit up, brightening the Piazza Republica on a drizzly night.



I walked back across the Santa Trinita bridge to Piazza Santo Spirito where I was staying.


Here is the Christmas tree in Piazza Santo Spirito.


…and the view of it from my hotel window.

I stayed at Palazzo Guadagni,an elegant hotel in Piazza Santo Spirito. It is in a gorgeous palazzo with a balcony overlooking the piazza with views over the rooftops of Florence.

I can see that this will become a regular place for me to stay.

http://www.palazzoguadagni.com

As I walked to the station the next morning I crossed the Ponte Vecchio again. I doubt I will see it like this very often.


I had one more look at the Christmas tree at the Duomo before heading home for 10 days of lockdown.


Merry Christmas everyone. Let’s hope 2021 is better for all of us!

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | December 20, 2020

The leaning tree of Pisa

Tuscany is a yellow zone for 4 days, which means we are allowed to travel outside our municipality. Today I went to Pisa. I was worried there might be crowds, but it was very quiet so I felt safe taking a walk around the Piazza dei Miracoli where the leaning tower stands…crookedly.

I parked nearby and entered the piazza from a different entrance from the one I normally use and spotted a tree with the same lean as the tower.



I wonder if it is deliberate.

I forget just how beautiful these buildings are. Repeat visits are great.


The Arno River reaches the sea near Pisa. Late afternoon is beautiful by the river.




When I returned to the tower the light had changed completely.





I can’t believe I was able to enjoy the spectacular piazza with almost no people there.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | December 15, 2020

Pasta made in a castle in Italy

Martelli Pasta has been made in the castle in Lari in northern Tuscany since 1926. It claims to be the only pasta made in a castle in Italy and probably the world.

My friends and I visited Lari before the current restrictions. It is a tiny hilltop town in the Province of Pisa. The town has Etruscan roots and dates from the 8th century BC. The castle dominates the hilltop. (Photo Wikipedia)

 

We found a carpark near one of the old entrances and walked the short distance to the top, following the wall of the castle. Because of Covid we could not go into the main part of the castle.

A road circles the wall around the central part of the castle. The whole town would once have been circled by the outer wall.




At the end of a tiny laneway, Via dei Pastifici, is the entrance to Martelli pasta factory. There were once 2 pasta factories in this lane, which is called a “ruga”, meaning wrinkle. It really is a narrow lane.


For a long time there were 2 factories, the Pastificio Catelani and the Pastificio Meini, which ceased production in the early 1950s. Both business supplied only the local market.

Pastificio Catelani employed many people from Lari, including 2 fatherless boys, Guido and Gastone Martelli.  Close to old age, and without heirs the Catelani left the business to their 2 loyal employees and in 1926 the brothers became the owners of the factory.

Even though the Martelli factory is small it now sells its pasta all over Italy and several countries around the world, while still using the traditional method of production.

Our friendly guide met our small group outside the door to the factory and explained what we would be seeing. There is not much space inside and covid restrictions make it necessary to keep a distance.

The pasta dough is made using only durum wheat semolina and cold water kneaded slowly in small batches. It is then pushed through bronze dies to give the pasta the required shape.




It is then dried slowly at a low temperature, cut to size and later packaged in the distinctive bright yellow Martelli packaging.



Larger factories use Teflon dies and higher drying temperatures to speed up the process. The bronze dies and cool temperature mean the pasta will have a rougher surface, which helps the sauce cling to it.

Here is a list of countries Martelli pasta goes to.

After our tour we wandered around the town and bought some pasta to take home at a store in the centre.




Naturally all this talk of pasta made us hungry. We had lunch at  Il Rosso della Paola in Via Belvedere, just outside the town centre. The service was friendly and helpful and the food was delicious, traditional fare cooked and presented very well.




The countryside around Lari is pretty.


Along with the interesting story of the pasta and an excellent lunch it made for a great day out. Thank you to Raffaela and Stephen for the research and driving.

http://www.famigliamartelli.it

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | December 10, 2020

A night in San Gimignano

On my recent visit to San Gimignano (before the latest restrictions) I stayed the night. I stayed at Albergo  L’Antico Pozzo in Via S. Matteo, one of the main streets. The position was excellent and the hotel was lovely. In a small room beside the reception area is the old well the hotel is named for.


My room was airy and comfortable and had a great view over the street below.


After dropping my backpack off I set off for a walk around the edge of the town.

Later as I walked back through the town I spotted a Slow Food restaurant, Ristorante Dorando, with an enticing menu. I immediately phoned and made a reservation for later on.

I went for another stroll as the light began to fade. It is a beautiful time of the day.



I was the first to arrive at the restaurant.

Here is the menu.

I ordered for first course quail with stuffed onions.

Second was stuffed guinea fowl.

I didn’t really need dessert, but I suspected the ginger and apple tart would be excellent…and it was.

This was probably the best meal I have had in a restaurant in Italy this year. I considered staying another night so I could return to the restaurant and order the same things again.

San Gimignano looks wonderful at night.

The next morning I walked around the edge of town again.



I lined up for what is supposed to be the best gelato in Italy, for research purposes of course. It lived up to expectations.

I had a last look at the towers.


There are some lovely shops and galleries in San Gimignano and I explored quite a few of them.


I have been to San Gimignano many times and I find something new to like on every visit. I know people complain the town can be full of tourists, which can make it crowded and difficult, but if you go in the off season and stay at least one night I’m sure you will find it charming and delightful. Most visitors are day trippers and leave by around 5.00pm so you can enjoy space to wander…there is much to admire, especially if you take the time to go slowly.

This year has been quite different because of Covid restrictions. I feel lucky to be here and enjoy being able to see these beautiful towns when we have been able to travel within Italy.

Albergo L’Antico Pozzo

http://www.anticopozzo.com

Ristorante Dorando

http://www.ristorantedorando.it

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | December 2, 2020

First snow at Casa Debbio

Snow was forecast for our area, but I woke up several times during the night to the sound of rain. At some point that rain turned to snow. I awoke again at 6.00am and opened the window to see snow on the ground. I had to wait a couple of hours for enough light to see it properly.

This was at about 7.30am.

A little later it looked like this from my bedroom window and from the terrace in front of the house.





The driveway.

I pulled on my waterproof boots and went for a walk around the garden to make the most of a rare snowy day.






There is no washing on the line today.


…the path above the house.









…and back.


…down the driveway, past the weeping cherry and on to the terrace below the house.





My terracotta heads are all wearing snowy hats.



…further down the driveway.





…back up to the house. There are 3 sets of footprints now.

 


The sun came out in bursts and mist swirled up the valley and gradually the snow melted.





From the kitchen window.


Later this afternoon the snow was almost gone.

I decided a few days ago that being at Casa Debbio is like living in a snow globe. The house is on the side of a mountain and is surrounded by mountains. The sky sits above like a dome. Today there was also snow. It was fun while it lasted.

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | December 1, 2020

Sensational San Gimignano

A small Etruscan town existed in the 3rd century BC on the site of the current town of San Gimignano. In the 1st century two brothers, Mucchio and Silvio, built two castles named Mucchio and Silvia. The name Silvia was changed to San Gimignano in 450AD after Bishop Geminianus, the Saint of Modena, intervened to prevent the destruction of the castle by followers of Attila the Hun.

A church was built and in the 6th and 7th centuries a walled village grew around the castle and the church. The town sits on the medieval road, Via Francigena and in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance era San Gimignano became a stopping point for pilgrims on their way to Rome.

Conflicts between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines in the medieval period resulted in the competitive building of tower houses. Towards the end of this period there were 72 towers up to 70 metres tall until the local comune called a halt to any tower higher than the one beside the Palazzo Comunale.

The remains of these towers are a feature of this beautiful town. There are 14 towers left largely intact and they are clearly visible from the roads towards the town.

It was a cloudy day when I visited before the most recent lockdown and I stopped when the towers came into view.


I went on and parked at the car park opposite Porta San Giovanni, one of the entrances to the town. By then sunshine had appeared.

The view from the square in front of the entrance is Tuscany at its loveliest.


I walked up Via San Giovanni towards the Piazza della Cisterna, the main square of the town.




The well in the centre of the piazza was the main water source for the residents of San Gimingnano. The piazza dates from the 1300s. It was renovated in the late 20th century but some of the original paving remains.

 



Walking past the piazza I quickly came to the Piazza del Duomo, home of the Collegiate church, the Palazzo Comunale and the Palazzo Podesta

 


I continued down Via San Matteo to my accommodation Hotel L’Antico Pozzo.


The hotel was excellent. I will show you in the next post about San Gimignano, along with some views of the surrounding countryside, the town at night and a great restaurant. There is much to love about this gorgeous hill top Tuscan town.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | November 23, 2020

The last of autumn colour

My view from Casa Debbio changes every day. Autumn has been spectacular this year, but perhaps I am just seeing it more because the restrictions mean I have more time to notice my surroundings.

Strong wind recently means the last of the autumn leaves will soon be gone.

Here are some views from Casa Debbio.







The view changes constantly with the weather.




I like the way the garden looks on misty days.


My favourite tree is the weeping cherry on the corner of the driveway leading to the house. In spring it is full of pink blossom, and now the leaves are gone, the last of them blew away in the wind.


The persimmon tree has lots of fruit. I planted this tree because I love the look of them, the actual fruit is secondary.


Two big chestnut trees in front of the house have lost their leaves.


The kiwi vine excelled this year. I picked 220 kiwi 🥝. I will be giving most of them away.

The weather has been quite warm for this time of the year and I was surprised to find some wild daisies behind the house.

The last of the lavender is about to be pruned.

I picked enough olives to soak them in brine to make them edible.

I have a couple of caper plants growing from walls. I hope they survive their first winter.


Pumpkins are in season so I made a pumpkin and feta tart. I planted pumpkins in spring but they were eaten by wild animals. I also attempted ricotta truffle tortino, with limited success.

My cheerful frog will have to come indoors for the winter.

Freezing winds have now blown most of the leaves from the trees. Snow has fallen on some of the higher mountains in the area and may even fall here in the next week. The days are still warm and sunny, but the mornings and evenings are quite cold.  Casa Debbio faces south and the sun shines on us all day when clouds don’t cover it.

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