Friday, July 12, 2013

My Mum and Allan's visit

The visitors begin ...

Having returned from Sicily late April, we managed to fit in a visit from our friend Liz who is living in Rome, followed by Angelina a work colleague from Sydney, with just enough time to change the bed linen again before heading to Venice airport to meet my parents.

Aperitivo with lovely Liz

Aperitivo with Angelina

And the tour begins …..

Tasting at Real Collegio
Marino being a regular burner of toast, I thought it important to mention to him prior to mums arrival her utter loathing of the smell of burnt toast. Day One, after 7 hours driving to and from Venice we kick off with breakfast and lots of talking (of course), it’s been over 12 months since we’d seen each other!!! After a considerable amount of time I ask Marino where is Allan’s toast he was preparing earlier? 
Oh Dio!!! Yes, you guessed it – it’s under the grill – in cinders!! And it’s only hour 1 of day 1!!

I did mention he’s a regular toast burner.

A little torta for dolce!
We began our guided tour of Lucca with a lap of the infamous wall, a great way to orient oneself with the city. My mum immediately fell in love with ‘our’ city as we proudly showed Lucca off, and her and Allan quickly adapted to the daily groove of 2 laps of the wall by bike followed by coffee at our local bar. I proudly showed them off and introduced them to anyone and everyone we bumped into. The local fruit and veg shop owners, my friend Stella – we got around.

Meeting the locals

Thursday night mum joined me for a majolica ceramics painting class in Montelupo, everyone was most impressed with her ability with a brush as she secretly reminisced her old days of folk art.





For our first weekend we joined a CAI (Club Alpino Italiano) trip to the tiny Tuscan island of Capraia. Our CAI friends were very excited to have 2 extra Australians on board. After a rather choppy 2 ½ hour crossing we arrived at the port. Here we checked into our hotel (a family room – ha ha) and set off for a 5 hour walk. I was not expecting mum or Al to join us but mum is always ready for a challenge; she strapped on some walking shoes and off we trotted. Al opted for an afternoon of relaxing in the sun. 

Mum resting her weary feet
Marino with his feet up

Me amongst the wild flowers on Capraia

Our following week was filled with various trips to some of our favourite destinations. Pisa, the villas of Marlia, the town of Pietrasanta (a personal favourite of mine) and a tour of a Carrara marble quarry. 

Playing tourists in Pisa

The Italian garden at Villa Grabau

The Devils bridge – Borgo a Mozzano

Marino and I have been wanting to do this tour since we’d admired the views of the marble mountains from our many walks in the Apuane Alps. Our marble tour began with being kitted out in a fluoro safety vest and plastic hard helmet, that’s Italian OH&S for you. We then all piled into the back of a jeep and were trucked up to the top of the mountain. I’d completely forgotten Al’s vertigo – this was not a pleasant journey for him. At the top we all piled out and walked amongst the many trucks ferrying massive blocks of marble up and down the mountain - it was a workday after all. We were only 100m or so from all the action. An amazing sight, which words fail to describe.

Cutting up a marble mountain
OH&S on the marble mountain

The view from the marble mountain



Cooking Class


Look what I made!

Back in Lucca, mum and I did a day’s cooking class at Hotel Carignano, where I’d previously done a class. This time we learnt pasta making and pasta sauces. I think we made 6 different types of pasta and accompanying sauces. We then sat down to a late lunch to sample each one. Although I hardly had room for it, the chocolate, pear and ricotta ravioli with the strawberry sauce was my favourite. 

Sampling the days work

Mmm …. Chocolate ravioli



A health story

I am proud to say that Marino and I have remained pretty healthy throughout our time in Italy with only the odd mild cold between us, so no need to visit the doctor – phew! Unfortunately Mum picked up a nasty cough somewhere between Australia and Lucca which turned into a chest infection, so off to the doctors with her - there went my plan of staying clear of the Italian medical system. We headed off on our bikes to our appointment, I am acting as interpreter which given my knowledge of the body parts in Italian I thought I’d be ok. Wrong! But we did manage to get the message across thanks to a few hearty coughs from mum. The doctor then proceeds to inform me of the treatment he's prescribing that I’ll need to administer. When the list ends after the 5th type of medication I’m slightly worried. We head to the farmacia (pharmacy) and basically cleared the shelves!! The pharmacist again explains what I need to do. When I see the box hypodermic needles I’m really worried.  Finally after a demonstration by the local nurse on how to mix the drugs using the first needle then mix a further drug before changing needles, it was then over to me to play nurse Betty for the next 9 mornings injecting my mother in her buttocks! Thankfully, the injections did the trick and the infection cleared.


Sardegna (Sardinia) has been high on our list of places to visit whilst in Italy so it made perfect sense to book a trip while my parents were here. Pisa airport being just down the road, and good old Ryanair have cheap direct flights to this island.

We set off on a Saturday afternoon after a morning tour of the Lucca antique market. The antique market occurs only once a month, and our tiny town is filled with an assortment of furniture, antiquities and general bric a brac. The town is almost unrecognisable as the piazzas and narrow streets are spilling with all kinds of ‘stuff’. 

Mum and Al enjoying the Antique Market

The unrecognisable city of Lucca

So much stuff, that we somehow managed to lose Allan, who was not particularly happy when he finally found his way home. Sorry Al, it was a misunderstanding!!!

Finally we arrived in Sardegna and made the 2 hour drive north to our apartment in the cute and colourful town of Santu Lussurgiu.



It didn’t take long to work out that there was some kind of horsey thing going on in this town. There were these amazing 3 dimensional horse paintings on the walls of various buildings. After a quick chat to the local barista the story takes shape. The ‘Sa Carrela e Nanti’, is a horse race held every February during Carnival. The race is run through the town, in and around the steep roads, with the riders masked and riding in pairs. There’s another part to the story about a chicken – but that kind of got lost in translation.

One morning on our way to the bar for our morning coffee we noted that the local church appeared very busy and there are women piling out of the church all with handfuls of beautiful roses. Of course we have to go in and see what’s going on. And glad we did - we were each given a long stemmed rose - all of which appear to be home grown - and there are buckets full of them at the foot of the Madonna and child. Yes, it’s Saint Rita’s day. 

The blessed!

We’d never heard of Saint Rita or that she even had a saint's day! A quick google and we now know that Rita was an Italian Augustinian num, widow and saint. Rita is known to be the patroness for abused wives and mourning women. Not sure what that means about all the women of Santu Lussurgiu in the church that morning, but the story of the rose is told that near the end of her life, Rita was bedridden at the convent. A cousin visited her and asked her if she desired anything from her old home. Rita responded by asking for a rose from the garden. It was January and her cousin did not expect to find anything due to the weather. However, when her relative went to the house, a single blooming rose was found in the garden and her cousin brought the rose back to Rita. I do love a story of a saint and accompanying miracle. The other miracle is that when we got back to Lucca I realized that the print of the saint we have hanging in the entry hall is none other than Rita!!

The men, just being Italian …..

We spent our week exploring the province of Oristano and discovering the Nuraghi of Sardegna. The Nuraghi are ancient stone buildings developed during the Nuragic Age (between 1900 to 730 BC). There is no consensus on what the functions of these structures are, conical towers of stone on the outside and shaped like a beehive on the inside - we were fascinated by them.


Mum and Marino

discovering the Nuraghi

The Santu Lussurgiu locals were extremely friendly and chatty, by the end of our week we were on first name basis with Matteo the butcher, Rita from the local supermarket, and of course the barista at the local bar had our coffee order almost ready before we sat down! The weather was unseasonably cold for May, and everyone we met apologized for it!!

On our last morning before heading back to Cagliari for our return flight, we were invited to inspect the house of an English woman we’d met at the bar earlier in the week. She had just settled on her property, a 3 storey terrace with 2 balconies and a kooky indoor pizza oven all for just €20,000. She was about to begin her renovations, which were desperately needed. It got us all thinking about finding a little property of our own in Sardegna!

With only 4 more days in Lucca before Mum and Al departed for their trip to Venice and onwards, we just managed to squeeze in another trip to Pittarello, the fabulous shoe supermarket.

Pittarello – the shoe supermarket

3 days later, their train pulled out of the station at 2.30pm and by 5.00pm that same day we were greeting our next guests. Hello Billie and Ken!

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