Last day & Home

IMG_0877Yesterday was our last day in London. I left for work at 7:30am as I had a breakfast meeting (not sure why I agreed to that after 2 weeks on holiday). It was a typical English summers day – cool with a light drizzle. After the sweltering heat in Italy I found it quite pleasant but everyone else was moaning that it was cold. The family spend the day doing some more shopping and walking around. Michael and his bunch tried to take the tube to Oxford Street but someone had jumped in front of a train at Victoria Station and so that station was totally closed. Everyone seemed to have a good day.

We had a car to pick us up at 5pm to take us to the airport but since there were so many of us we couldn’t all fit. Daniel and Michael decided to take the tube instead and meet us there. There was surprisingly little traffic and so we got to Heathrow T5 in under an hour. While checking in the agent noticed Michael’s booking on the system and said we could not go through until they had seen Michael’s passport, full birth certificate and one of his parents had to be available. I said we would all wait and then the agent said then she couldn’t check any luggage through as you are meant to check in and then go straight through security. Seriously?! I pointed out that there were restaurants this side of security and did she honestly think that people didn’t use them after checking in. She nodded and said but unfortunately those are ‘the rules’. So we agreed Helen would stay and wait for Michael to arrive (and then shh don’t tell anyone), I waited with her and Chloe for them to come.  We then all headed through security and went to lounges to get some dinner.

We headed for the plane only to discover when we got there that there was a technical problem with one of the baggage doors and so they wouldn’t let us board until it was resolved. Fortunately they did resolve it and we boarded about 30 minutes late. That issue caused a delay in loading the baggage and so the people were all loaded before the baggage was loaded. And then the pilot announced that we had missed our slot and that air traffic control said it was very busy (10pm at this point) and so we were delayed another 15 minutes. A 15 minute taxi to the runway (yes I did time it) and we finally took off at 10:30pm. By this point some of us (aka Helen) were already asleep and continued to sleep for the next 9.5 hours until they turned the cabin lights on for breakfast. It was quite turbulent most of the night and of course when it was at its worst I needed the toilet. Always happens and I eventually just ignored the seatbelt light and went anyway otherwise the seat would have been damp.

We are all now home and I am sure the girlfriends parents are happy to have their daughters home. I am too – it will be a much cheaper week for me now that we are back to 6.

Until next time (which will be September) …

P, H, S, L, M, O, C & D

Last day of holiday for me, 2nd last for everyone else

IMG_0865Helen had found out (when we were back in SA) that there was 10km race happening today in London called the Great British 10km. The route takes you past numerous well-known London sites like Trafalgar Square, Downing Street, National Gallery etc. The route also goes right past our flat in London. Helen, Michael, Lara & Oli were registered to do it and they left just before 8am to get to the start (which was at the back of Buckingham Palace). Stephen, Chloe, Daniel and IIMG_0867 went down to see them run past us which was quite near the end of the race (around 8.5 km mark). The conditions for running were almost perfect as it was cool and overcast. They all seemed to do quite good times with Lara leading the way as the fastest runner from the group.

After they got and had showered, they all headed off to do some shopping in Oxford Street. I really did not need to do that so I stayed in the flat and cleared some emails (I love having decent internet access) and watched the cricket (SA v Bangladesh) on my iPad and then after lunch I watched the cricket on my iPad and the Wimbledon final on the TV. What could be better than watching two sports events simultaneously with no one interrupting me for any reason.

IMG_0873The rest of them got back mid to late afternoon (they returned in shifts) and just in time to watch Federer being beaten (unfortunately). As this was our last evening together, we went to a steakhouse in Covent Garden (Sophie’s) which we have eaten at previously (and enjoyed). The steaks were very good and Stephen and Daniel were convinced they were the best they had ever had. Helen and Chloe took a taxi back (it was relatively cool) but the rest of us walked back to the flat (around a 25 minute walk).

I need to get myself back into ‘work’ mode as tomorrow will be my first day back.

Until tomorrow …

P, H, M, L, O (because they all did 10 km), S, C & D

Estate to Milan to London

IMG_0846Everyone started leaving from 7:45am this morning. My brother and his family left first, followed by my oldest sister (and her husband and one child), my uncle & aunt and then us. We were in no rush as our flight was only in early evening but we decided to stop at the Ferrari Museum on the way back to Milan. Ferrari’s home base is near Modena and after much pleading from Chloe, Lara and Oli we decided to do the short detour.

IMG_0856Michael has been the navigator for most of the trip using his cellphone and he navigated us to the Ferrari museum through a very weird single lane route.  I am sure that it wasn’t the main way of finding the museum but we did get there.  The whole area is just ‘Ferrari’. The factory, the track, the restaurants – everything is Ferrari. The museum was slightly disappointing in that it has lots of Ferrari’s but you can only look (no touching) and some of the more iconic ones are missing. It has both the normal ‘road’ Ferrari’s as well as the F1 cars. All of their companionship winning cars are there. Some of the cars are 1-of-a-kind. Chloe could simply not contain her excitement and insisted we have a photo taken at one of the classic Ferrari’s.

IMG_0849After the museum we headed back onto the motorway again (by the strangest route thanks to Michael’s navigation) and immediately we pulled off at a services to have lunch. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea as there was a traffic jam getting off the motorway into the service area. The boys were very happy to find a Burger King inside the services when we did finally get in.

We still had about 2 hours of driving after lunch to get to the airport in Milan. We were fortunately leaving from Linate airport which is in the South of Milan versus Malpensa (which is in the North). There is almost an hour difference (and 10IMG_08500 km) between the two airports. Not sure why they have two airports as both seem to be quite old and neither particularly good. We got to the airport just after 4pm and after dropping off the cars and dragging our luggage to the departure terminal, we found that the BA check-in was not yet open. They did open a few minutes later fortunately and we were able to check-in our 10 bags from the 8 of us and then head into the BA lounge to kill the time before the flight. Daniel & I did that by watching the Springboks play World XV. Just as the game was finishing they called our flight.

The flight went smoothly and we landed on time and got through passport quickly and our luggage came off almost immediately as well. As there were now 8 of us, Stephen and Daniel took the tube and the other 6 of us and the luggage took the car we had booked. We just fitted all the luggage in the car. We are definitely not traveling light and it took us three trips to get all the luggage up into the flat.

Now that the blog is done, it is off to bed.

Until tomorrow P, H, M (for his navigation skills), O, S, L, C & D

 

Last day in Tuscany

IMG_0835Today was our full day in Tuscany. We decided that instead of just loafing around at the Estate for the whole day that we should at least go and see another Tuscan village and it was suggested we go the Akone which is the nearest village to where we are. It is only about 3 kms away. There really isn’t a lot to see at the village but it does amazes me that someone would think to build a village there – on the slope of the hill. Your wonder what anyone does for a living in the village. The views were quite nice and we walked through and up the village to get an even more impressive view. Daniel (my favourite nephew) and Michael then proceeded to run up a further hill to get an even more impressive view (or so they said). We then went back down into the valley into Rufina as we needed to replenish our drinks.  We also went and had a coffee at the local ‘bar’ and some people had gelato as well.

While we were doing that some of our group were getting a cooking lesson from an Italian chef at the estate. For us poor Safricans there was no way we could afford it but a significant number of the richer Americans participated (and my cousin from SA who runs a cooking school herself). They seemed to enjoy themselves and said that the Tiramisu recipe was the best they have ever tasted (and given I don’t eat it I will have to take their word for it).

This afternoon Michael, Oli, Daniel and I played a game of tennis. It was fortunately cooler today (just around or under 30) and so I didn’t entirely expire while playing. Michael and I played Oli and Daniel and it was pretty evenly matched but Michael and I did take the set 7-6 in the end. Michael was too tired to play another set (fitness issues it seems) so we called it quits at that point. I headed straight for the pool after that and then a cold shower and that just about brought my temperature back to normal.

This evening we had a Pizza evening. They have their own pizza oven and they had a ‘master’ pizza chef come and make the pizza. I don’t like pizza but this was the best pizza I have ever eaten. Maybe it was the setting and maybe it was the pizza and maybe it was the fact that I was hungry and maybe it was because it was so fresh. But it really was quite good. Add to that we finally found the Chianti Rufina Reserva that we bought on Monday and has gone missing since then (it seems my Dad had it hidden away), it was quite a good evening. We also had two quizzes (after the ones we had earlier in the week) and my team ended up winning the whole week – winners only get bragging rights. After dinner they served gelato which was also really good. Have I mentioned how good the food has been this week? We also took a group photo which was another whole process in itself. Who knows how those will come out trying to get 33 people to look at the camera and smile at the same time.

While I type this three of my nieces are sitting here and questioning my blogging ability.  Only one of them is actually subscribed to the blog so the other two are fair game. Now to only think of something to say about them … can’t think of anything interesting to say so will just move on.  It has been a great week of relaxing and catching up with family.  Well done to Lara & Oli for managing to survive the week (and my family) as well.

Until tomorrow

P, M (because we won the doubles), O (because my sister said I need to promote her but just can’t remember for what reason), H, S, L, C (& D because he almost qualifies as part of our group)

PS: sorry for lack of photos but internet connection is poor and my patience has now run out!

Another day of loafing

Today was just spent around the Villa. Some of the group (including a bunch of my family anIMG_0762d their girlfriends) were meant to go riding. But the heat and the difficult roads around here put them off. My hard-earned money down the drain. Helen and Lara did go for a 5km run though and this time Lara was complaining about how difficult it was. It was considerably cooler today so it couldn’t have been the heat. This evening you might even be tempted to say it was cool – at least the drop in temperature persuaded both Lara and Olivia to wear long pants to dinner tonight.

We really didn’t do much today. Michael and Oli played tennis (and Michael has the sunburn to show for it) and there was some TV watching, some swimming, some napping and some eating done. All in all a quite relaxing day. The Temple siblings and parents had a meeting at 5:30pm to discuss how we would pay for the 7-days and which of our party we should sell off to finance the trip. That information stays on a need to know basis until Saturday when we leave.

IMG_0827Dinner this evening was prosciutto and melon as the first course, pasta with tomato & olives for next course followed by chicken and roast vegetables. The desert was fruit salad and ice cream. All accompanied by Italian wines from the region (Chianti Rufina) and finished off with the last of the Port I brought over from Portugal. This was a last meal that the chefs werIMG_0823e cooking for us and so we called them in and gave them a standing ovation. The food has really been fantastic. No one could go away saying they were hungry because there has been tons of food every evening with loads of leftovers (generally enough for lunch the next day as well).

The only issue has been the lack of ability for the young men to be able to get open a bottle of wine. Tonight it took of three of them and they still didn’t seem to manage.  Tomorrow might be a day of explaining to them how to open a bottle of wine – they seem to need it.  There has been much messing around of the younger generation and as I type this I can hear shouts of ‘ah’ and ‘oohh’ coming from above. Chloe and her cousin Kirsten seem to have even forgotten their own names and so had to apply them to their foreheads.

Tomorrow is our last full day together. It is amazing how quickly the time has passed.

Until tomorrow

P, H, C (because she sat next to me at dinner), S, L, M & O

PS: I was told off this morning for saying that the statue of David was 7ft when it is actually 7 meters. So here is the correction!

Firenze

IMG_0799An early start for everyone today as we needed to be at the train station in Rufina at 9:20am to catch the train to Firenze (known to us as Florence). Probably the earliest some people have had to get up this week and especially after a 2am game of poker again for some last night (@Bryan – don’t worry it’s not strip poker).  Adding in the treacherous road, we needed to leave at 8:30am. We managed to figure out the ticket machine for the train and then got onto the 9:20am train into Firenze. Given there were 20 odd of us, the train had no seats and was standing room only for most of us. Daniel and I were leaning against the train door (not recommended) when he suddenly gave way – fortunately not too much but we both avoided doing that for the rest of ride.

IMG_0800We arrived into Florence around 10am. At that point the group split up. Some were going to the Academia to see the statue of David, some were only going to the Uffizi (famous art gallery in Florence) and some (Helen, Chloe, Kirsten – my niece and myself were doing none of them and just wandering around Florence and seeing the sights). We wandered down to the river and headed to see the Ponte Vecchio which is the most famous bridge in Florence. It was the only bridge that Hitler commanded not be destroyed by the Nazi troops on their withdrawal from Italy – he did it for sentimental IMG_0804reasons and it apparently cost the German’s significantly as it would have slowed the Allies down if he had destroyed it.  He did destroy all the other bridges. I am glad he decided not to destroy it because it probably is the most interesting bridge I have ever seen. As you can see from the photo it is a bridge of apartments – the bottom section being jewelery stores and above it are residences (I assume of the owners of the stores).

IMG_0805We had iced coffees and Affogato on the other side of the bridge and then headed back over the bridge and toward the Duomo which is the Cathedral in Florence. On the way there we passed some of group waiting to get entrance into the Uffizi (there tickets were for 12pm) and then we met up with the rest of the group that had finished at the Academia after seeing the (what I believe is) impressive 7ft statue of David. They all remarked on the size (and I am assuming that it wasn’t about his nether regions).

IMG_0817We went for lunch at a restaurant on one of the Piazza’s and everyone had the traditional Italian Pizza or Pasta. The group split up again and either headed for the Ponte Vecchio or the Duomo (depending on which one you hadn’t yet seen). The Duomo is pretty impressive from the outside and apparently is even more impressive inside (we didn’t go in). Some of it is being restored (as most things are in Europe of any significant age). It was would be even more impressive without the restoration.

We then headed back to the train station and as we were first back we bought tickets for everyone and sent a whatsapp to say which platform the train was leaving from and then hoped everyone would make it in time. Michael and Daniel wanted to go the Vodaphone store as their SIM cards weren’t working and they were eventually the last 2 to get on the train with a few minutes to spare.

IMG_0814The train only makes 3 stops before Rufina. Just before the 4th stop there was an announcement in Italian which we clearly didn’t understand and then we stopped. However, we looked outside and there was no platform so we assumed it was a forced stop before the station. And then I realised it was at the station and the carriage we were in just wasn’t near enough to the platform. So the 14 of us started running forward and trying to get doors open as we went and then the train pulled out. Station missed. So we waited the 6 minutes and got off at the next station which was in an industrial area. Thank goodness for Google which told us the next train back to Rufina would be about 12 minutes and so we waited and finally it came and we got on. I noticed this train had a conductor (of course it would because we didn’t have tickets for the reverse journey) and so we tried to get on a carriage not near her. But of course she came before we got off at the next station. There was much hilarity plotting how one person could distract her and the rest of us would get off, one person could burst into tears, one person could pretend to have a heart attack etc. Jeff (my brother-in-law) did his best to persuade her that we had missed the station and were just returning to the correct station and she seemed sufficiently satisfied. As Lara said to me, it is those experiences that make holidays.

The rest of the afternoon was spent cooling off in the pool or taking a siesta (given it was 37 degrees). Dinner this evening was risotto (zucchini & squash) and Pasta (pesto & tomato) followed by spare ribs and turkey breast with cauliflower and then creme caramel for desert.  All too good again not to stop eating too much. The food has been ridiculously good. The chef is a teacher who does this just for the summer when he obviously gets well paid. He really is pretty good for a teacher!

Until tomorrow.

P, H, S, L, M, O, C

Another day of doing very little

IMG_0790Today we had nothing planned and we just spent the day around the Estate. It seems Helen is the first one awake each morning and today was again no exception. She went for a morning swim and found Lara in the pool already and even more surprising was that Stephen arrived shortly afterwards. It is surprising because they have been up late most nights playing games or some sort or another and last night they were playing poker until well past 1am.

Some of the group had decided to go outlet shopping about 40 minutes from the Estate. We had looked at the type of shops and they were Gucci, Prada etc and decided even at ‘outlet’ prices we wouldn’t buy anything and so opted out. From the comments of those that went it seems that was exactly the right decision. One family went into Florence to do some initial sightseeing and then to do an ‘escape the room’ game. While I have done those in Cape Town (and enjoyed it), I didn’t see the attraction of doing one in Florence (especially since my Italian isn’t so good). They seemed to enjoy it and I believe they got out of the room in 36 minutes (which sounds way too easy because you’re meant to take an hour – I hope they got a discount).

IMG_0792The rest of spent the day in the pool, around the pool, catching up on emails (in my case because the WiFi was working again) and reading. It was pretty hot again today and got up to 37 degrees and is still probably around 26/27 degrees now at 10:30pm. There is not a breath of wind either which makes it feel hotter.

We did our own dinner tonight which was a braai of chicken and sosaties. Last time we had a family reunion I did the braai with my brother and this time I was off the hook in that my brother and brother-in-law did the work. I was quite pleased not to have to braai but my brother said it was much easier than the last time when we were using a wood braai (they did it on gas).

After dinner we had a quick game of 3 on 3 soccer and I am still trying to recover (still sweating despite sitting in front of the aircon for 20 minutes while I typed this). The good news is that we won 4-1 and put my 3 nephews to shame – they were shamed by Stephen, Jack (my youngest nephew aged 9) and me.

Until tomorrow (that photo on the left is of my youngest niece .. she’s about to turn 3 and has been getting the most attention of out of everyone here – good luck to her parents when she gets home)

P, S (for being a winner), H, L, M, O & C

Olive Oil and Wine Tasting

IMG_0775Today was the olive oil and wine tasting day. Four of us headed out at 9:45am for a preliminary wine tasting. We needed to buy wine for the next 5 nights dinners and so my Dad, my brother-in-law, my brother and I went to one of the nearby wine farms for a tasting. The owner’s wife did the tasting for us. They produce 2 million bottles a year (which is a massive amount). There are strict wine laws in Italy about what you can put on the label depending on what grapes you use and how long the wine is matured in oak barrels. You can (for instance) only put ‘Reserva’ on the bottle if it has been matured for at least 2 years. You can only use the word ‘Chianti’ if 80% of the grapes used are Sangiovese. We are staying near Rufina which is one of the Chianti regions and so if they meet the requirements the bottles must be marked ‘Chianti Rufina’. Rufina is the smallest region in Italy that produces the Chianti wines.  After we had tasted and indicated that we wanted to buy so said the price varies by whether it was for private consumption or not and whether we wanted a receipt or not. You can see how this country works – not too dissimilar to Greece it seems.

We then waited down in Rufina for the rest of the family to pick us up. They were picked up at the Estate by two large taxi’s that seated 18. We didn’t want to spend the day wine tasting and then drive ourselves afterwards. Not only would that not be a good thing given the state of the roads, I also couldn’t imagine it would be a good experience getting arrested for drinking & driving in Italy.

IMG_0776It was about a 40 minute drive to Castello del Trebbio. That was where we were going to do the olive oil tasting, wine tasting and also have lunch. It is a Castle built in the 12th century. You can only imagine the history in a place like that.  It is lived in by the owners of the castle and wine estate which apparently is quite rare these days as you can imagine a castle is a not a great place to live in the winter. We were given some of the history of the Castle and its owners which included a famous Italy family called ‘Pazzi’. They tried to assassinate the Medici brothers and only managed to kill the one and the other escaped and then took immediately revenge on the Pazzi family and ended up hanging them all in Florence.

IMG_0781The Pazzi coat of arms (which is still over the main entrance) was designed by Donatello. That piece must be worth quite a bit by itself. Inside they also had a painting by Raphael. There is another copy of the same painting and the other copy is found in the Louvre in Paris. The painting must be worth a reasonable amount and so that immediately got some of the family members plotting about how it could be stolen. We had a brief tour of the Castle and then we were taken down into the cellars where they showed us the oak barrels and then into the dungeon which still has the original hooks and clasps used for tying up prisoners.

We then went to do an Olive Oil tasting. They explained what makes a good olive oil and how you can discern a good one from a bad one. The guide taught us that you should never use anything else but Extra Virgin Olive Oil and nothing else and it should always be in a dark coloured bottle as light affects the oil. Anything else is actually bad for your health and not good. Italians use olive oil for cooking all the time and the guide said that on average a family uses 1 litre per week (to which we all gasped and she laughed and said that is always the reaction she gets and she can’t understand why we think that is odd). We all tried the olive oil and my Dad almost coughed himself to death when he tried the first one. While she had told us what to look out for, in the end none of us could really tell the difference between the 3 and we realised we were rubbish olive oil tasters.

IMG_0785She then moved onto the wine and that we didn’t need much instruction on. We tasted their Chianti Rufina and then Chianti Rufina Reserva was what was served with the lunch. Lunch was a typical Mediterranean lunch of salad, bruschetta, salami, cheese, pasta with tomato, tuna & olives and a tomato and bread dish. All of it was excellent (as has been the case with every meal).

It was the hottest day in Tuscany this year and when we got back to Rufina the temperature was reading 42 on the car (in the shade). Fortunately the Estate is on the hills above Rufina and it is 5 degrees cooler up on the hills (i.e. 37 at the Estate). Still pretty hot and so most people spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool or in their rooms have a short siesta before dinner. Dinner this evening was (fortunately) slightly lighter with salami with figs, bresaola with rocket & Parmesan, bruschetta with tomato and then gnocchi with a mince sauce. Dessert (note spelling Rachel) was pannacotta with chocolate sauce.  Again excellent as we have come to expect and no one could say they went away hungry.

After dinner the ‘older’ folks shared some thoughts about the past and the things they didn’t have when they were growing up and the things they did.  My Uncle (Bill) told us how they used to play in the storm water drains as kids and my Dad told us how they blew up the corner of the street while trying to eradicate some snakes. You just realise how stupid you can be as kids and how God has preserved us all despite our stupidity sometimes. The end result is a family reunion of 33 people!

Until tomorrow …

P, H, S, L, M, O, C

 

Estate of Petroio

Today was a leisurely day around the estate. Helen was up way too early and decided to go for a morning swim as her daily bit of exercise. The estate consists of four separate buildings and we have them all. There is the main building (where Helen and I have our bedroom) and then there is a smaller main building and two other smaller units. Breakfast is self-service and happens in one of the two main buildings. Our kitchen is right next to our bedroom so we really have everything close by. The only drawback is that each kitchen really only has plates & cutlery for about 6 people so breakfast has to be in shifts and fortunately that works well because everyone woke up at different times anyway.

After breakfast most people headed to the pool for the balance of the morning. It must have been up at 30 degrees already at that point and the shade and the pool seems to be the best place. After a morning of a little bit of cricket and then swimming and trying to cool off, it was time for lunch. Not sure where the morning went but it simply slipped by. After lunch I did what I usually do on a Sunday afternoon and that was to take a nap. Given the heat (which must have been around 35 degrees), you can see why in places like Italy and Spain an afternoon siesta is a good idea.

At 6pm we had a church service. We make up our own congregation with 33 people. Oli had brought her flute along (she is a very accomplished flautist) and we sung with that as an accompaniment. The singing was pretty good (I thought at least). My Dad preached as my sister had ‘kindly’ said to him it may be the last time he gets to address the whole family together. To show I was paying attention, he spoke from Ephesians 6.

Dinner followed which tonight was starters of smoked salmon & watercress and melon & prosciutto. This was followed by pork with apple sauce and chicken breast with a sage sauce accompanied with beans & potatoes. Finally there was a desert of what they called cream tart with fruit. I didn’t see much cream – it was more like a tart with fruit. No idea what the desert was like because I very seldom eat desert but the rest of the food was excellent. The table seating was changed so that we got to sit with different people again tonight. Helen and I sat with my brother-in-law and my two younger nephews (Collin and Jack) and it was a good evening just chatting to them.

Over dinner we also had a little fun in that we were given 24 little known facts of the people present. Now as you can imagine, in a family context that is pretty difficult to find things that most other people don’t know about you. I couldn’t think of anything to submit actually but some of the things were outrageous. For instance one person wrote “I was asked if I was a drug dealer”. That turned out to be my oldest sister. I still haven’t gotten the low down on that incident and even her husband looked amazed. We also had ‘I have mild Thalassophobia’ which you will now no doubt have to Google to find out what it is.  Some other interesting ones (that I can remember) were ‘My grandfather made shoes for the Queen’, ‘I had a state trooper stop five lanes of traffic on the motorway for me’, ‘I was engaged twice, married twice but never divorced’ (and no we don’t have bigamists in our family) and ‘I was a divisional wrestling champion’. It is amazing how you sometimes don’t even know things about your own family.

After dinner we went for a walk up the road from the estate. And it really was up. After about a kilometer some of us turned back and immediately on getting back we headed for the pool to cool off while the light finally faded. The evening is the best part of the day as it is marginally cooler at least.

Until tomorrow …

P, H, S, L, M, O, C

(PS: Sorry about the lack of photos. The wi-fi has stopped working in the main villa it seems (no idea why) and I tried to upload some photos using both my phone and Helen’s phone and neither worked either. I am hoping I can at least send this out without the photos.

Italy Here we Come

We were up at 4:30am this morning as we needed to leave for the airport around 5am. We dragged our bags from the hotel up to the terminal (and I specifically said ‘up’ because it seemed to be uphill the whole way. This being Portugal, the check in counters were not yet open though they were meant to open 2 hours before the departure of the flight (which was leaving at 6:45am so they should have been open from 4:45am). We checked in our 8 pieces (no light traveling) and even though some of the bags were over their weight limits the guy checking us in didn’t seem to care. Time is relaxed in Portugal and so are regulations (fortunately). We flew from Lisbon to Milan and I was expecting the flight would be empty given that it was a 645am flight and who travels from Lisbon to Milan anyway? But I was wrong – the flight was packed full.

IMG_0753We landed in Milan at about 10:15am and then waited for our luggage for almost 30 minutes. We had moved from Portugal to Italy where time seems even less important (if that is possible). It is not that the airport was extremely busy – it was just that no one seemed to be working. Eventually the bags appeared and we headed to get the cars (again two station wagons so that we could fit the luggage in). Stephen and Michael went to get Italian SIM cards and eventually at about 12pm we finally left the airport and hit the road south to Tuscany.

What I quickly learnt about Italian driving is:

(a) speed limit sign posting is non-existent – you have to telepathically guess it seems what the speed limit is (or in our case look it up on the internet)
(b) use of lanes is entirely optional – fading over a lane or changing lanes with or without indication is perfectly acceptable
(c) just because there is a stop sign doesn’t mean it applies to motorcycles
(d) if there is a 3-lane highway, everyone uses the middle lane except if you want to overtake then you use the left lane – the far right lane remains unoccupied except if a car is using it to enter onto the motorway and then move into the center lane
(e) there are thousands of cars in Italy and they were all on the road today

It was a VERY long and strenuous drive. Almost 5 hours (when we thought it would be about 3 hours 30 mins) and with constant traffic on a two or three lane highway. Add to that the driving tactics of Italians and you could never say it was a leisurely drive.

We stopped twice on route to Rufina (the nearest town to our Villa) at the services on the motorway. The services are themselves a little chaotic and after ordering our lunch and paying from the one point we then weren’t sure whether they charged us for the drinks or not (and we couldn’t check because the lady who did the sandwiches took the slip). After much debate we decided to just walk past the cashier and see if they said anything. They didn’t. We are still none the wiser – we might have rightfully paid for them or we might have stolen 7 cool drinks.  Not sure we will ever know.

IMG_0755We had to stop at Rufina today to buy drinks and lunch for tomorrow. There is only one supermarket and as we were arriving we discovered that Daniel (my favourite nephew 🙂 ) had just arrived on a train into Rufina as well. He asked whether we could give him a ride to the Villa. We reluctantly consented. And then when we pulled into the supermarket it turned out that my Dad, my sister, my brother and my cousin were all there as well. From that you can tell that it is a week of family reunion on the cards. After doing the necessary greetings we managed to get our food sorted out and then headed up (and I do mean ‘up’) to our villa.

It is a 21 minute drive from Rufina to the villa (Estate Petroio). We had been warned about the road but no warning could truly prepare you for it. In England it would have been deemed to be a Health & Safety hazard and all traffic would have been prevented from driving on the road. It is a narrow single track road and you just pray that you don’t meet any cars coming down. I met 3 on the way up – one of them being my brother-in-law going to fetch his daughter and son-in-law from the train station. We also met the owner’s wife and she had to actually get out of her car and explain to me that she couldn’t reverse and so I had to pull over and then I watched them pass within millimeters (no exaggeration) of our car. At this point I was no longer concerned about Helen driving behind me and came to the conclusion of it being every person for themselves.

Fortunately we made it safely up the hill and to the Estate. It is a sprawling estate and we have the whole place to ourselves. Given there are 32 of us (I think) you can understand why we need the whole place. We are spread over four buildings and over the next week I will try to give you a perspective of the estate and how it is all situated. As it turns out, Helen and I are in the main building and we have Daniel (did I mention my favourite nephew?) and Michael with us on the same floor. There are numerous other bedrooms also in the building but it is a labyrinth and finding a room can be easy and then seemingly impossible the next time you look for the same room. We have 3 kitchens in the main building and so far I have only found 2. Not sure how many other people are staying in the building but most of the girls are here as well.

It is also sweltering hot. When we arrived it was 35 degrees and that was at 5:30pm. Most of the younger generation and a few of the older generation headed straight to the pool (of which there are actually two). There was not a lot of time to unpack and cool off before dinner as dinner was starting at 7pm. The dinner tonight was split into three tables – one large table of cousins (and girlfriends and husband) and then two smaller tables of the older generations. Dinners catered by the owneIMG_0759r and his chef and tonight it was vegetable crudities & bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar followed by Risotto (with Parmesan cheese) and then Wild Boar (didn’t know you got tame boar) with broccoli and mashed potato. That was the part that mattered to me because afterwards their was Tiramisu with strawberries (which I don’t eat so I don’t really care about!). It was really good food accompanied tonight by Petroio’s own Chianti wine and finally concluded by Port (which I brought in from Portugal). Apparently there is a substantial amount left over and we can eat that for lunch tomorrow so not sure why we bought lunch at all it seems!

It was a lovely meal with good company and enjoying catching up with family we hadn’t seem in a while. Looking forward to the week ahead.

Until tomorrow …

P, H (because she handled the drive so well today), M (because he navigated so well), O (because I she said I owed her to move up after some comments I made), S, L & C

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