La dolce vita
I know, I know, la dolce vita is a clichéd title, but it’s pretty appropriate.
I’ve been slightly absent from the blogosphere for a number of weeks. The reason: Matt and I had a non-stop few days involving London, northern Tuscany and the area around Lucca.
Saturday 9th September found us up and about early, laden with luggage. Matt’s close friends Matthew and Emma kindly picked us up and drove us to Stockport train station. From there we headed in luxurious First-Class seats to London – thanks to Matt’s Virgin staff perks!
I had the pleasure of accompanying Matt to his friend Sam’s hen do, and was kindly welcomed into the events.
First stop: The Crystal Maze Experience near Angel. I didn’t get to be a part of the actual experience as there was a maximum group number of eight. Everyone had an amazing time in the tasks, and the Maze Masters were all mad as hatters! Trust me – I saw a few from my comfy seat in the bar, beer in hand. If you go along as a non-participant, simply ask if you can wait in the bar. You get a perfect view of the crystal dome, the last stop in the groups’ experience.
It was perfect for snapping shots of Matt and the ladies grabbing at those golden tickets. I’d seen a wide range of techniques in the grasping, including the fantastically faulty stick-them-down-your-top-and-tip-them-out-at-the-end method. I’m pleased to point out that our team won out of their cohort – well done gang!
From there we went on to a booked salon, where the gang was treated to hair styling and make-up. Matt and I opted out of the makeover, I’m sorry to say… Oh, although Matthew did put me forward for a hair wash and styling. It wasn’t exactly my cup of tea when finished… A little on the big-and-blow-dried side I must say, though not its most out-of-control.
Copious quantities of prosecco later, we popped off to The Alchemist bar and restaurant, where sadly Sam’s Italianesque balloons were confiscated. We were clearly not to be trusted with them. I wonder where they ended up? Potentially on one of this year’s episodes of The Apprentice – we were close to the Gherkin after all.
The food was delicious in The Alchemist, as were the cocktails. I stuck to my usual fare – a pornstar martini – and Kelsey and I debated what exactly one should do with the shot of prosecco. The jury’s out. Mix it into the cocktail, or knock it back separately? What do you do with yours?
The girls went on elsewhere for their night, but Matt and I got our sensible heads on and returned to St Pancras station for our locked-up luggage. We had a room booked in the Luton airport Ibis hotel, ahead of our flight over to Pisa on Sunday morning…
Comincia la dolce vita
It sounds like Iberia came off pretty well in the weather stakes last week. Matt’s parents enjoyed sunshine and soaring temperatures in Portugal. Matt and I arrived in Pisa airport to grey skies collapsing into torrential downpours once we headed out to the car hire centre. I’m just glad I thought to pack my waterproof jacket!
The drive up to the small Tuscan village where we spent the first three nights was an experience. Forget the Crystal Maze! We faced mist on the motorways, giant puddles in the Lidl car park in Aulla, and incessant sheets of rain heading up into the mountains. The dark of night descended early, and the edges of the roads were difficult to spot.
It was a huge relief to arrive at our destination and reach the front door of Matt’s parents’ Italian house. We were ready for that wine purchased in Aulla en route… I was not ready for the little black scorpions however. I’d been forewarned, but still – eight-legged critters don’t sit well with me. They may be harmless, but they’re aggressive-looking blighters. All pincers poised and stinger stuck up. Bleuh. Thankfully Matt was fearless and got rid of any he encountered. Usually before I got a chance to see them.
I managed to muster the courage to cook us a casserole incorporating fennel bulb, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms and some orzo pasta. The vegetables in Italy might not be as perfectly shaped as here, but they are impeccable in terms of taste.
We had a mix of weathers during our Italian sojourn. We went from the soaking of Sunday night to sunny spells on Monday, which allowed us to have a midday walk a few kilometres over the hills to L’agriturismo Al Vecchio Tino. We were witness to some spectacular scenery…
…and arrived to find shrines, donkeys and, unfortunately, that they were closed.
But no matter, as the lady was kind and despite this, gave us a carafe of white wine, a bottle of water and nibbles. Followed by a second carafe of white wine and more nibbles. This simply wouldn’t have happened in Britain I don’t think. Closed is closed is closed. Goodbye. But in Italy, we were spared the arrivederLa. And all for 10 euros. Ka-ching.
We remained more housebound on the Tuesday as the weather remained variable. We slept in late, got up and remained indoors. We ventured out onto the balcony for drinks and food at lunchtime, with an episode of Gardeners’ World playing on my iPad. We went so far as to break out the sun loungers – and swiftly changed our minds as the wind picked up and clouds rolled overhead.
Tuesday evening stayed lighter and drier, and we drove down into nearby Gragnola to try out the recommended pizzeria Il Mulin da Mattia. Superb. It was the epitome of the fact that in Italy, you’re hard-pressed to find poor cuisine, even in the simplest of establishments. We managed to have wine, a giant pizza and a flavoured panna cotta for just €18 each. Whenever in Italy, keep your eyes peeled for the places off the beaten track, yet which seem the busiest with Italians. You’ll be charged less, and fed better. When we turned up, the pizzeria was hosting a family of three, a couple and a young labourer. Before we left, at least 15 teenagers turned up. Testament to its brilliance.
And that brings us to Wednesday. We packed up the car, closed up the house, and set out on our winding roads over to the town of Marlia. There we met Sam and Fabio, the bride and groom, and their families. It was their upcoming Italian marriage that brought us over; more about that in my next post…
Italy in September:
- La Dolce Vita – part 1 of a week in Italy
- Olives and vines – part 2 of a week in Italy
- Villa Reale di Marlia – Italian garden tour