Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 5, 2016

In praise of aunts

I am lucky, I grew up with lots of aunts and uncles. Mum is the youngest of 8 and Dad was the eldest of 3. There were fun weekends with our many cousins at the beach, or on picnics beside mountain streams. I loved it.

My Aunty Rose died last week. She was 95. You could say she had a good innings. She was as lovely as the roses she grew in her garden.

Aunty Rose played the piano beautifully, she made the best cakes and they were served on pretty plates…afternoon tea at her place was great.

She married my mother’s brother, wonderful Uncle Bob, in the middle of WWII. He was away fighting for most of the war, in Palestine, Crete and New Guinea. He had a rotten time and rarely spoke of it. The first years of their marriage must have been extremely anxious for Aunty Rose. She did her bit by joining the land army.

She was always beautifully dressed and her lovely thick hair was never out of place even when it turned snowy white.

She loved her 2 daughters dearly. Sandra was born profoundly deaf and Aunty Rose was her best teacher. She taught her to speak and to lip read by spending hours practising every day. Sandra learned by watching her mother’s lips and feeling the vibrations on her throat. The fact that Sandra speaks so well is testament to her mother’s persistence and patience.

Of course, we thought nothing of the hardships she and Uncle Bob endured, they were just there with us for days of scouring the beach for treasures, or whirling us around to make us squeal with delight, or making cakes.

I feel very lucky that I knew Aunty Rose for 63 of her 95 years. I have only 2 aunties left, and only 1 uncle, all in their 80s. I hope they last at least as long as Aunty Rose.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 2, 2016

Faces at the Palio

There were some very interesting faces at the Palio dei Somari in Torrita di Siena.

Palio de Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

 

…and some cute feet.

 

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

I would return to the Palio dei Somari for the costumes alone. There was so much beautiful detail in them, I would love to have a close look.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 30, 2016

I love my weeping cherry

Spring is slowly showing its lovely face at Casa Debbio. We are 630 metres  above sea level so it is a little behind Bagni di Lucca, but my weeping cherry is looking gorgeous.

Casa Debbio

Casa Debbio

There was a small fig tree in this position and I had it taken out to put the cherry in. There was a loud protest from Sisto, who was helping, but I stuck to my guns and am very happy I did so. This beautiful tree greets me as I come up the driveway.

Casa Debbio

Casa Debbio

Casa Debbio

The daffodils are almost finished, but the fruit trees have tiny buds and there is a tinge of green on some of the trees.  I am hoping the lavender will start to grow soon…I’ll keep you posted.

My new terra cotta bench is in position.

Casa Debbio

The table is still wrapped up…I need more pairs of hands for that one.

We have some gorgeous new/old pots. They are waiting for geraniums to appear in the nurseries. I want some great big red ones.

The magnolia tree has big flowers, which will be finished soon. Fabulous growth is required from the tree this year to provide shade in front of the house.

Casa Debbio

We can see a huge improvement in our new garden this year…and it will only get better.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 28, 2016

Reading a train ticket

You might think this would be easy, but every time I get on a Freccia Rossa, Freccia Bianca or  Freccia Argento (Red Arrow, White Arrow or Silver Arrow) there is confusion over the seating arrangements.

These fast trains, which can travel at speeds of 250 kilometres per hour, are run by Trenitalia. They were previously called Eurostar Italia, but the name changed in 2012.

The whole thing can be very confusing for a first timer. You are in a bit of a rush, you have too much luggage and everything is unfamiliar. You can buy a ticket from the sales counter (expect a long wait) or from the automatic machines, a much speedier way to do it.

Here is the ticket you will most likely receive.

Train ticket

 

The circled and numbered items on the ticket are what you need to look for.

  1. This is the train number. Look for this on the departures notice board to see which platform (binario) your train leaves from. Your destination may not be the final destination of the train.
  2. Carozza is your carriage number, most important. If you get in the wrong carriage you will probably find someone sitting in your seat.
  3. Posti is your seat number. It will also tell you if you have a window seat, in this case, or an aisle seat.

There is no need to validate these tickets as they have a time and date.

You do need to validate tickets for regional trains as they are not dated and you can use them any time or date. The tickets will look similar, but there won’t be a carriage or seat number.

Train ticket

The validation machines should be near the entrance to the platforms. If you don’t validate your ticket you risk a fine.

I have a funny train story I’m sure my friend won’t mind me sharing. My friend’s son was due to arrive in Bagni di Lucca from Rome. His time of arrival came and went. I bit later there was a phone call. She said “Where are you?” He replied “I’m still in Rome. I wanted to catch the train to Florence. The bastards have changed the name to Firenze and I’m still here.” He did eventually arrive.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 26, 2016

Chocolate frogs

My lovely friend who lives in Germany gave me these beautiful Lindt chocolate frogs for Easter. I love frogs and I love chocolate, what could be better?

Chocolate frogs

They are too pretty to eat!

I hope you are all having a great Easter.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 24, 2016

The donkeys appear

The crowds began to gather quite early in the afternoon for the Palio dei Somari…the donkey race. Festivities were not to commence until 4.00pm, but the seats in the stands filled quickly and early. I went an hour early thinking that would be plenty of time, but was lucky to get a seat. As it turned out I didn’t have it for long. I stood up to watch the entry of the entourage and the others in my row spread out and my seat disappeared. It didn’t really matter as everyone was soon on their feet so as not to miss anything.

You might be surprised to hear that the event began with some ceremony. The sbandieratori and tamburini were back with the rest of the troops. They walked the length of the track and gathered in the area in the centre. The enthusiastic crowd welcomed them.

Palio dei Somari

The master of ceremonies welcomed everyone and the donkeys arrived with their escorts.

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

The first award was announced. The blue team Refenero won something, but I couldn’t understand what it was. The cheers were fairly subdued, so it clearly wasn’t one of the main ones.

Palio dei Somari

Children from each contrade came on stage and there was a draw to select a donkey for each team. The donkeys, with names including Malda and Veronica, were given a rosette  in the colours of the contrade to wear. They seemed unconcerned.

Palio dei Somari

There were 4 heats with 2 donkeys and riders in each. The winner would be the first to complete 3 laps. The donkeys and riders arrived at the starting line. The riders were patted down, to check for…I don’t know what.

They were off!  In a way…a donkey race is not much like a horse race where the horses usually move in one direction quite quickly. Donkeys do their own thing. They trot forwards for a while, stop, turn around and perhaps even walk backwards. I wanted to laugh, but I noticed that nobody else was. This is a serious business.

Palio dei Somari

The 4 losers of the first heats came back for a second chance. Once again they completed 3 laps.

There was a break where the groups from the contrade returned and the winners of the award for best tamburini and sbandieratori were announced. The professional team were called in to present the trophies.

Porto Pago (the red and green team) won best tamburini to much excitement.

Palio dei Somari

Cavone, the green team won best sbandieratori. I wasn’t surprised, they were spectacular, in every way. There was much cheering, kissing and jumping up and down.

 

Palio dei Somari

Time for the race final. This time 5 donkeys and their riders lined up. The winner would be the first to complete 4 laps of the circuit.

Palio dei Somari

The rider from Gavone fell of at the end of the first round. He had to stand and watch his donkey run off by herself.

The race continued with the usual donkey antics with the riderless donkey in the lead.

She went on to win, it seems the rider is not needed to win the race…a little surprise, and a second win for Gavone.

Palio dei Somari

The crowd erupted and everyone from the contrade moved in to join the excitement.

Palio dei Somari

This event is one of the most fun things I have attended in Italy. It was very well run, all information was excellent, but most of all I am impressed by how Italians (I heard no foreign accents all weekend) behave at these events. There is no alcohol, no bad behaviour, everyone just joins in and has a great time. The ticket to the actual race was €8, everything else was free.

I will be back next year to see it all again and I will try to stay again at Casa dei Fiori. It was the perfect place to be.

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 22, 2016

Sbandieratori, Tamburini and more

I know I said this post would be about the donkey race, but the festivities that went on before were so fabulous I want to share them with you. The costumes alone are worthy of their own post, before I even get to the spectacle that is flag throwing.

The competition among the 8 contrade (districts of Torrita di Siena) is fierce. On Saturday night all the spectacle that the town could muster was on show in Piazza Matteotti, the lovely square in the middle of town.

First into the piazza was the band, people of all ages.

Palio dei Somari

Then came the competitors. There were 2 sbandieratori (flag throwers) and 2 tamburini (drummers) in each team.  Prizes are given to both the drummers and the throwers. The costumes were stunning and the participants were very athletic. Winners are announced at the Palio on Sunday.

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

There was also an exhibition by an amazing troup, who looked very professional.

Palio dei Somari

The evening finished with a bit of fire breathing, just to add to the spectacle.

Palio dei Somari

Sunday morning’s activities were even more spectacular. The entourage of each contrade made their entrance into the piazza, led by 2 knights, a flag bearer and the band.

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Everyone filed into the church for mass. They returned to the piazza for the most exciting part…the sbandieratori and tamburini display.

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

After the magnificent display everyone took their places for the parade through the town. I told you my apartment was close to the action, that is my front door behind the participants.

Palio dei Somari

At last the final person disappeared down the street and it was time to have some lunch and get ready for the main event.

The next post will have donkeys.

 

 

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 19, 2016

Run donkey run

I am in Torrita di Siena for the Palio dei Somari. Torrita di Siena is a well preserved hilltop town not far from the Autostrada and on the way to Siena.

Torrita di Siena

Not to be outdone by their slightly more famous neighbour, in 1966 the townspeople of Torrita di Siena began the Palio dei Somari…the donkey Palio.

I arrived  the day before the race to get the lay of the land and to find good positions to see the parade that will go through the town tomorrow. I had time to wander through the narrow streets bedecked with the flags of the various contrade…the areas of town competing in the race.

Torrita di Siena

There are some gorgeous views of the Tuscan hills from the edges of town.

Torrita di Siena

I was really lucky with my choice of place to stay. It is a lovely little apartment, called Casa dei Fiori right on the path for the parade and less than 50 metres from the piazza where the celebrations will begin with flag throwing and drummers. The owners are delightful and they are going to show me some of the other apartments tomorrow, so you can all come next year for the Palio.

I got to watch some of the participants practising this afternoon.

Torrita di Siena

Torrita di Siena

This is where the race will be run tomorrow afternoon…I have my ticket.

Torrita di Siena

Torrita di Siens

Here is a photo of a photo from a vantage point that I won’t have. This is the piazza where the festivities will begin.

Torrita di Siena

…and some old photos of the race and the donkeys.

There will be an exhibition later tonight and I will be there…I love a bit of flag throwing and drums.

The streets are getting dark.

Torrita di Siena

I will be jostling for a position in front of the bar. The next post will be the celebrations…and the race.

Torrita di Siena

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 16, 2016

Clean with your feet

I found these slippers in Lucca the other day when I was attempting to renew my Permesso di Soggiorno.

New slippers

Did you notice those bits sticking out of the soul?

New slippers

They are actually mops to clean your floor as you walk around, talk about time saving!

new slippers

They are stuck on with Velcro and come off to wash…a new era in floor cleaning. I can imagine that I will be shuffling through the house with new vigour…don’t you love my hundred year old floor tiles?

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 12, 2016

Antique market Arezzo

On the first Sunday and the preceding Saturday of each month the Piazza Grande in Arezzo fills with collections of old furniture, household items, pots, linen, art…all kinds of treasures. The antique market began in 1968 and now attracts exhibitors from all over Italy, up to 500 in good weather.

Arezzo is a fabulous city, so I didn’t need much of an excuse to revisit. I am on the hunt for special items for the garden at Casa Debbio. It is still too early to begin planting, but not too early to find some old terracotta pots, or a sculpture or two.

The main part of the market is in Piazza Grande, but it spreads all through the town as well. We arrived on Saturday afternoon and the weather was awful, windy and raining. Most of the stalls had closed for the day. Lucky for us the sun came out on Sunday morning and we set out early…come for a wander through the market stalls in Arezzo.

Antique market Arezzo

Arezzo antique market

Arezzo antique market

Arezzo antique market

Arezzo antique market

As we were admiring the market delights we heard drumming and soon after a procession headed towards us. I have no idea what it was all about, but I love these moments in Italy.

Arezzo antique market

Arezzo antique market

There was a barber putting on a fine performance in the Piazza Grande.

Arezzo antique market

Some birds were enjoying the blue sky…perhaps they were looking for bargains from above.

Birds, blue sky

We stayed again at La Corte del Re, a great little hotel right on the corner of Piazza Grande. Here is the early morning view from the window.

Arezzo early morning

I’m sure you will ask if I bought anything. The answer is yes and no. I didn’t buy anything at the market, but I returned to a shop we visited last year where we had fallen in love with a terra cotta table and bench seat. They were very expensive and we left them behind. The shop no longer wants to sell large items and these two pieces were going for a song…this time I couldn’t resist them. I will show you how gorgeous they are when they are installed at Casa Debbio.

Look for the shop if you are in Arezzo. It is called Arete and it is in Piazza Grande.

Arete Arezzo

The antique market in Arezzo is well worth a visit. It is a fun spectacle as much as anything. Stay the weekend and really take the time to enjoy the town as well.

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