Working in Tuscany, wk 1.

Trip Start Mar 06, 2009
Trip End May 07, 2010

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

We left Matt and Erinn and took a train to our next adventure at a Tuscan farmhouse, working for food, wine and board. My entry here is not exactly in order but adapt damn you. We had to change trains and arrived finally at Sinalunga station but could not see either Barbara or Ugo to pick us up. Turned out they thought we were coming the next day but immediately came to get us, which was nice. Though the alternative would have been to sleep on or in our backpacks so yay all round. We sat at the tiny station bar and saw groups of men chatting and having a coffee or two. It seemed like a very nice small town. Barbara took us home via the couple of little towns near their house, all rolling hills and terracotta-roofed places.

We arrived at their farmhouse and it was gorgeous. A big old traditional place with a small vineyard, veggie patch, olive grove and even an old stables, which is where they had set up a cool apartment type area for us to stay. It has a fireplace, oven, dining area and bedroom. She had set up an old fashioned wash basin and soap, and also advised us we each have a bedpan in our bedside cupboards but so far we haven't felt like delving too far into the 1800s and have not used those. Yet. We were shown around a little by Barbara and then taken for a walk by Ugo in the forest part of their land. They have two dogs and two cats and we have charmed them all, we are The Pet Couple. They love us and pet us and call us George. For you Ev. Over the next few days we have gotten to know bits and pieces about who we are living with and working for - such as Barbara and Ugo have lived in Australia for many years, met in London, both worked on SBS TV and lived here in Italy now for quite a few years also. They get all worked up before they take a tour of people around Tuscany and they bicker a bit, and they cook us lunch and dinner when they are home as well as drive us around. They are really lovely and we are working well with them...though they say I am a worrier and Shane is very practical...don't know where they got that from?! Bah.

The day after we arrived we went over the things that needed to be done around the farm and Shane found out he hates weeding. Hates it with a passion akin to what is found in a Mills and Boon novel. PASSION. But the bad prickly sweaty bored kind, not the romantic happy kind. Unfortunately this farm does not come with pigs and cows so what we are doing is a bit of landscaping for the driveway, weeding after the wet winter in the garden beds, and clearing and tidying things. When Barbara and Ugo go on a long tour we will then be house sitting for a week, and feeding the animals and watering the plants. They have a tour coming to their place to learn to cook a typical Tuscan lunch and we are able to join them! So we have been making the gardens really nice and neat for that day as if weather permits (permit damn you) we will be cooking and eating outside.

Ugo has kindly taken us out for his only vice - soccer on TV. He only went once to a live game and didn't like it so he gets very excited about popping out for the night after dinner to watch a match and have an aperitif. We have gone to various little nearby towns to watch any soccer that is on at the local bars. We are yet to decide on a team to go for but Liverpool seems to be a likely contender. All things Beatles and all. That or MANU as Steve may remember from Chocolate Bar in Thailand. We have wandered around these little towns with Ugo, with their small squares, espresso shots of great coffee, winding tiny roads and little shuttered buildings. Tuscany is absolutely gorgeous and we have really been lucky as staying with Ugo and Barbara is a great way to see the area. The fact that they organise and take people on walking tours of Tuscany means that we are able to be dropped off and sometimes taken on parts of the walks and to the further away towns.
They are also a wealth of information with regards to historical and practical events for the area. And we are certainly learning lots of tips with cooking as they use heaps of things from their garden and love garlic and chilli so we are happy! When they found out we ate seafood but not meat they even bought us smoked salmon!!!! Spoilt! And thought the weeding was hard and boring, we got into a routine of getting up with a thermos of tea and some breakfasty snack, and listening to podcasts of news or Hamish and Andy while we worked. So it was quite fun! (Shane may have another opinion but anyway).

We had to learn how to get from the road to their house as there are a few other houses down the same track and you have to pick which roads are yours! I have figured out its right, right, then left all the rest of the ways. Unless you take shortcuts but we tried that once and then on the way back saw a snake curled up sleeping on a bush so we now stick to bare roads. We have found three big spiders in our stables quarter and had a little freak out at different times with the whole situation, but generally we like it and we really are saving money. They deck us out with heaps of food and we get all their home grown wine so its win win! The wifi helps a lot and almost makes up for no hot water and the toilet being a hole in the ground! Almost. We boil water and mix it with cold to have either a shower in a tub like a yokel, or organise an outdoor shower with the water going into a bag and out a shower head - that is really nice in the warm sun overlooking the rolling hills. Can't beat it while the birds and chirping and bees buzzing nearby in the garden beds!

We do try and take advantage of the times we go into various towns, and poop at bars there when we can. A marmalade cat now sleeps on our bed (unless Shane cracks it and shoves him off). Still yet to eat that damn vegetarian haggis but we will before we leave here, as I'm not carrying anymore dead weight around!

We went one night to Pienza with Ugo, which is a gorgeous old city on a hill (most are) and these visits have been throughout the Easter period so it's been nice to pop into a church and see the locals gathering. We walked down a dark laneway that night, me cursing as I was tired from manual labour and cant see so expect to walk into a spider/shark/snake/bear attack, only to come to a very old little church. A group of guys were smoking dope nearby but Ugo told us some of the history there as they watched us. The church was older than the town and Christianity, it had pictures of mermaids and other symbols of fertility instead of religious images we know of today, it was fantastic. I really appreciated the extra things Ugo and Barbara did for us, as it was about midnight and Ugo had to be up and gone about 8am to pick up a new tour so it was really sweet. The hills were dotted with little lights as we walked back to the car and the moon was huge and full. That was a great night.
In the farm and on our walks we have come across mysterious animal tracks and partially eaten vegetables, which is funny but annoying for us. We also saw a deer (a DEER!!!!!!) walk in front of our car on one night of soccer watching with Ugo, and I still have yet to get my head around that. I can see all the little copses of forest here and there throughout Tuscany, and I know most farms don't have fences as such, but I really didn't except to see deer living and wandering around the area!! I naively think of them as living only in the Canadian wilderness but I have been woken to this silliness. There are massive bumblebees that dopily fly around the flowers as we weed, and earthworms that look like they are on steroids (haven't seen anything like that in Melbourne for many years with the drought), and we both have lots of scratches on our arms. But we are getting a bit tanned and are walking as much as possible (which isn't hard when we live 800 meters to the road and then at least a kilometre to the nearest town and two or three to the other closest....and live with a couple who do Tuscan walking tours....) so we are getting nice and toned. No flabby bum for me! Well, actually still do but just ease up I'll get there..

Our first walk to the closest town of Petroio was nice but it was Good Friday and nothing was open. The town streets go around like a snail shell up to the top but apart from that cute aspect there wasn't much else so we left.
Our next walk to the nearby town of Castel Muzio was a little further away but it was bigger and things were open. We found a great bar in a very small square where old nonnas were sitting around chatting, and were knocking back a few cherry liquor chocolates with a drink when about twenty over 50 Germans on pushbikes came up and sat down. They nattered and pushed us into a corner so we left. Ugh. We did return after they left to use their toilet though. Hehe.

Last night (Easter Sunday) we were dropped off in Siena while Ugo and Barbara took their tour group out to dinner, and we wandered around the town we had only previously seen for half an hour. In a massive storm. Me in thongs slipping about. And having to get a train back to Rome that same day. Needless to say we only saw the initial big wall and some buildings for the first kilometre. But this time we walked right in to the church (which was made with the same stones as a huge one in Florence, white and green stones) and then found our way to a huge square with a clock tower and al fresco dining all around it. We also went in to a place for a wine which turned out to be a Euro each (!!) but lacked atmosphere so we found another place which was gorgeous and proceeded to have many white wines in glasses the size of goldfish bowls (not joking, look at the picture evidence damn you) and a cheese platter. We ended up buying half a cheese with chilli in it to end off, and we sauntered back to the main street where we played my first proper game of Foosball. Halfway through we realised the time and rushed back to our meeting spot. Got there on time, go us.
And so the days roll by and we laze away siesta time in between working the land. Today I potted some flowers Barbara had got to pretty up the place, like it needs it. The marmalade cat lay in the basket I needed and the dogs hung round and requested many pats. Well maybe I deigned pats necessary but they weren't unhappy about it. Shane whipper snippered to his hearts content and Barbara was happy with our work. P.S. Shanes poop stinks and does not smell like roses. In joke, don't try and get it just let it roll over you like the sweet aroma coming from everywhere but Shane.
Shane says;

We took the mid morning train from Rome to Sinalunga, arriving at about 2.30pm. We had to swap train in Chuisi, where we had about an hour to kill before our connection to Sinalunga. As we would for the next month be pooping in a hole in the ground I took this time to savour my last opportunity to use a conventional toilet. But seeing as I went in to the toilet after Milli, savouring is not the appropriate word; I pooped post haste, trying to get away from the Milli poop particles which float about looking for sensitive noses (mine) to invade and backs of throats to lodge in, and said particles have been known to cause blindness in mice. I don't ask why she was pooping near mice, I only accept this as the unbiased independently sourced truth, and you should too.

We saw a group of Italian youths (damn youths) milling, nay loitering around the train station smoking cigarettes and generally being douches. It was apparent straight away which was the alpha male- The kid looked like Sylvester Stallone; both ears were pierced with diamond studs and he was wearing a black muscle top and it was interesting to watch the dynamic between him, his friends and the girls hanging around them all.

Once we arrived in Sinalunga we were greeted by.... No one. We waited for maybe half an hour - seemingly the talk of the town as all the old men huddled in their little group sipping espressos and staring at us. I finally called our hosts (My Italian pre-paid sim card having already proved itself invaluable on numerous occasions) and the hosts having got the days confused agreed to come and get us straight away (pronto in Italian.. see I'm learning).

So we waited in the bar at the train station, me enjoying the last of the many beers I had imbibed that week. I'd decided from that point to detox (read; wine and occasional scotch only) for the next month in Italy. I later caved (day 3 I believe) to allowing myself 2 beers a week.

Barbara came to pick us up and took us back to Trove - our home for the next few weeks. Barbara is an Australian born Italian, Ugo, her husband is an Italian who loved in Australia for many years. They both worked at SBS; Barbara as a producer and Ugo directed a few things, but they now live at Trove, producing their own wine and olive oil.

Our job is to work 24 hours a week in exchange for 3 meals a day, a room and all the wine one can drink.

The last part of day one was spent driving through the nearby villages so we could see where the doctor (Petroio - Mon & Wed, Castel Muzio - Tue and Fri, Montisi - Wed & Sat) post office (One post lady splitting her time between the three nearby towns) and supermarkets are, as well as unpacking our stuff into our little horse stable apartment in the bottom level of the farmhouse, eating really nice Tuscan home cooked meals (that were thankfully not pizza or pasta) followed by a trip into Montisi to watch the soccer at a bar with Ugo.

I have to say that I've watched three soccer games in three days and this was not all together unpleasant. I'd go so far as to say that I really enjoyed it, but that might be because I watched it on the big screen, it a ramshackle bar, sipping espresso with a room full of Italians. Will be interesting to see if I like it as much watching it in Melbourne on SBS at 3am due to the time difference.

Our first full day was split into 4 hours of weeding in the morning followed by another fantastic home made lunch and many glasses of wine, then siesta (loving siesta) then off to Montisi to watch the soccer again. The second full day was pretty much a repeat of the first, ad the third full day was pretty much the same except Ugo took us to the town of Pienza for our nightly soccer fix.

Ugo and Barbara's main source of income is the Tuscan walking tours which they run, putting us in the very fortunate position of having our own personal tour guides to show us around the country side (When we signed up to the help exchange website I really had no idea just how much of an insight into Tuscany I would get, so it's really turned out well).

Ugo told us how Pienza started as a small village by the name of Corsignano, which was the birthplace of Pope Pius II, and was latter renamed Pienza by the pope and built up as the ideal renaissance town. Ugo took us past the farmhouse where as a young man Pius II took his many lovers to.... Well..... make them see Heaven... Scream Jesus.... Recite from his good book.... I've run out of euphemisms.. Anyway that farmhouse is now a 4 star hotel.

The next day Milli and I walked up the 800 metre long driveway (which also climbs over 100 metres vertically from the farm house to the road). We took 5 minutes to recuperate - we aren't the fittest people in the world and I feel as though we almost died from sheer exhaustion, hopefully this changes by the time we leave - and walked to the nearest town - Petroio. Unfortunately this trek took pace during siesta time and the whole town was shut, so we walked back to the farmhouse. The following day we walked to the second closet town - Castel Muzio. We had some drinks at the beautiful bar/pizzeria commenting on the serenity and how that was, when all of a sudden a group of 20 agro-tourists (not angry tourists, but rather people that like to take in the agriculture of an area) Germans on pushbikes rocked up and decided to sit next to - and virtually on - us outside on the balcony, slowly inching their seats closer and closer to us, occupying more and more space until there was none left for us. If ever I was going to feel like I was Polish, this was the time. We left when we couldn't handle any more.

The next night Barbara and Ugo had to meet their clients for dinner in Siena, which afforded us the opportunity to revisit this siting again. The last time we were in Siena was 2 years ago when it decided to piss down rain the moment we arrived, which meant we didn't really get to see any of it at all. I was under the impression it was a small city and was pleasantly surprised to see how big it was (that's what she said... sorry) I stupidly formatted my memory card before double checking that all the photos copied to the computer and because of this I am missing most of our Siena shots - so it looks like another trip is in order as it was a fantastic city. We had wine served in fishbowl size glasses and got half a round thing (technical term) of chilli cheese for our hosts (hoping they will cook us food with is)

The next two days resulted on me swapping my gardening gloves for the whipper snipper and tomorrow we get to go one of the walking tours.
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stilllooking on

Weeding and fertilising
Living la dolce vita.. jealous of you both, although my time will come. Thanks for the heads up re toileting - funny how travel encourages us to share our bowel stories (or then again, maybe not!)

shanemilli on

Re: Weeding and fertilising
Hehe. I was just thinking about you. We're looking at accommodation in Marrakesh.. thinking about this place, what do you think? Will you come to Morocco?

Counting down the days till you leave I bet.

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