Between 2008 and 2013 I lived in the hills of Northern Tuscany and wrote a blog about my experiences. I’m enjoying visiting some of my posts again. If you love Italy, or are tempted to cut loose and start again somewhere new yourself , this may be entertaining.
“…So anyway, he said to me, he said, are you coming or what? And I said, what do you think?”
It’s around 6.00 a.m. and I’m standing at the Ryanair check in desk at Liverpool airport. It’s quiet and the girl at the next desk has no customers so she’s passing the time telling the girl at mine about the night before. My girl checks my booking and passport, yawns, and ignores both of us. From the look on her face I’d say that last night was a non starter as far as she was concerned and not worth the makeup.
“Overweight” she says, “pay over there”, pushing a slip across the counter for £35 in excess baggage. I’m not surprised, I was shoving things into my suitcase impulsively in the hours before I left that I’d never planned to take, as if a few more possessions would somehow bring “home” with me.
Much the same is happening at the desk where I’m to pay, two girls rake over the coals of the night before. After a couple of minutes I say “excuse me, could I interrupt for a moment whilst you take my money?” The blond with the pony tail swings round to face me and snaps “Oh, so we’re not allowed to talk now?”
Trundling through to Departures I think of the two hours I so enjoyed whistling down the M6 in the early morning dark, driven by my stepson, chattering away. Being archetypal Northern Man I was almost undone when he said in a roundabout way that he would miss me, and I hugged him hard and had to run. I’m going to miss them all so much… I think of the faces of our two cats as I left the house, gazing at me silently, knowing, as cats do. By now I can hardly see for tears and walk straight into the end of an island display in the Pharmacy, which reminds me I want adaptors for my UK electrical plugs.
Once onboard the service is amazing. A handsome young man leads the flight crew, speaking fluent Italian and switching from one language to the other effortlessly, reminding me that I have yet to begin learning. The crew are efficient, patient and smiling, even selling scratch cards with enthusiasm. We touch down at Pisa to the recorded fanfare of trumpets that announces yet another Ryanair flight has landed on time.
Now comes the bit that has been filling me with fear – driving on the other side of the road. I collect the car from Avis and gingerly creep round a quiet bit of the car park until I think I know what I am doing. I set off, muttering to myself non stop ”on the right, stay on the right, on the right…” This is so all consuming I forget the directions to my new home I thought I’d memorised on the plane and take the first sign I see for Florence.
I know I want to go east, but that’s about as good as it gets. An hour later I’m nearly in Florence, much too far east, and it takes me another hour and a half to find my way onto the right route. Just as I think I’m getting the hang of the car and relax a little there’s a blast like the foghorn on an ocean liner that makes me yelp and leap in my seat. In my rear view mirror I see a huge lorry so close to my bumper its headlights are above me. I’m driving far too slowly for Italians. Foot down, hang on.
Relieved to get off the motorway I find my way through what will become my local town, then up a fairly quiet mountain road to my new home. I’ve visited once already a couple of months ago to check it out, and there it is, tucked into the hillside, ready and waiting. To my surprise, my nephew, who has driven here in a transit van with my belongings is here before me, even though I gave him the wrong directions, and all the boxes are off loaded and inside.
We sit on the terrace looking at the view with a cup of tea, and I realise – I’m here. Then he’s on his feet and away, moving on now to his Dad’s house in Spain, aiming to be over the border by tonight. I’m reeling at the thought.
Now what. It’s late afternoon. Think. Well, of course, food – life doesn’t stop because I’ve got here, it’s only just beginning. I set off back down the hill to town and find the supermarket I passed on the way here. If I stock up well I can spend the next few days just settling in and unpacking.
It’s a pretty good store, Esselunga, and my trolley is piled high. I wheel into a queue and begin to fill the belt, and by the time my trolley is half empty the girl on the till notices. “NO, no, NO – carta veloce qui!” she shrills, rendering me motionless, gazing at her wide eyed with no idea what she means. In exasperation she points above her head, and of course there it is in big letters on a sign about two metres long – ten pieces only.
As fast as I can I hurl everything back in the trolley, blushing and apologising, in English of course, to all in the queue behind me. No one had complained about my huge trolley full in the fast queue, and they were surprisingly accommodating, smiling patiently and making room for me to back out without a hint of impatience. How very nice, this bodes well.
Back up the hill again, I unload the shopping, eat, unpack only what I need for the night, shower and fall into bed. The high ceiling above me is lined with terracotta tiles between chestnut beams. The evening is quiet and still, and the peace is so welcome. I can’t even think any more and am very soon asleep.