A relatively uneventful week this time but some progress on the house. On Thursday the Land Registry finally accepted responsibility for losing the plans. We heard on Friday that they’ve now got everything back on their computer and we’re waiting to hear if everything is ready to meet the notary and “do the act”, as they say here. On our way out shopping this morning Anna told us she’d heard from the agent and that we are expected at the office tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday) for Important News. Perhaps that’ll be the actual signing; she’s out at the moment so I can’t ask her.
After Anna moved most of her things last Monday we felt a bit more confident about getting our own stuff here, so we rang Arrowpak to arrange a delivery date. To our great disappointment the earliest they could offer was October 25, so we still have over a week to wait. Anna has been moving her remaining things to the house down the hill but hasn’t actually joined them yet for her over-wintering; by now it must be like living in a cave downstairs, with little more than a bed and a sofa.
A minor event happened the other evening as we were cooking dinner. Suddenly the lights went out so we groped around for the torch and candles. Just as we found them on came the lights again, but went out again a few minutes later. Shortly after, Anna knocked at the door and pointed out we were tripping the power switch downstairs. The Italian system is very unlike that in the UK, in that you have a fixed limit of 3kW unless you pay for more. I suppose it’s to avoid overloading the main distribution system, but the effect is you can only run one high-power appliance at a time. Unbeknown to us, Anna had the washing machine on and we were trying to use our grill. A bit of a daft time to use the washing machine, really, but it highlights a potential problem with visitors trying to cook or use the dishwasher while we’re doing the same. I have a solution planned, in the form of a pair of small boxes each with red and green lights and a switch; one box goes upstairs and the other down. If your red light isn’t on, throw the switch and your end goes green while the other goes red. When you finish, throw the switch back and both lights go out. If the red light is already on, don’t use any high-power appliances. So I have to find a components shop where I can buy the bits I need to make the boxes.
The other morning came a knock at the door. Standing there clutching a box was Danila, the owner of the Soldana vineyard we helped to strip a week or two back. In the box were six bottles of last year’s Rossese wine; our reward for nearly crippling ourselves. Some reckon the Soldano product to be the best in the whole of the region, so this is a gift to be prized and not to be poured down the necks of the unworthy. (Get your written applications in now.)
We’ve been getting really pally with Bruno and Fern, who live about half a mile towards the village from here. Fern is English, which has made Frances feel a lot better, and Bruno is Apricalese, that’s to say a native of these parts. He worked as a waiter in London’s West End for years but is now retired, his roots are here and he knows everybody and everything that’s going on. Or so it appears, anyway. We get the low-down on people and events, usually without even asking; a bit like living in a Welsh mining village but with more sun and a language that’s easier to understand. Bruno’s English accent is pure stage Italian, though I shouldn’t mock as my grasp of Italian has a long way to go.
Anyway, Bruno and Fern have gone back to England for a week to see their children, who both work and live in London. Bruno doesn’t like driving and Fern can’t drive at all (which presents a few problems living in a place like this) and in any case it’s expensive to leave a car at Nice airport, so we offered to take them there on Saturday morning.
After dropping them off at the splendidly-named “kiss and fly” we took the coast route back through Nice, along the Promenade des Anglais then past Cap Ferrat to Monaco and Menton before crossing back into Italy through the disused customs post at Balzi Rossi.
The French Riviera is a whole world different to the Italian one; very much the rich neighbour, with towering hotels and apartment blocks, rows of huge yachts and a general impression of wall-to-wall money.
It is possible to get good value, though; just outside Eze we stopped at a roadside cafe and ordered Club sandwiches, which sounded like a modest snack. How wrong can you be? You know that image of the French peasant cycling home from the corner shop with a three-foot stick loaf waving about in the basket? Well, one of these loaves forms the outside of a Club sandwich, the inside of which is the remaining contents of the shop; half a ham, several slices of cheese, tomatoes and sundry dressings. All for five euros. This was the kind of sandwich where two people can start from opposite ends and never reach each other. And because the roll overhangs the plate five times over, its contents steadily drip out onto the table. I exaggerate a little, but only a little.
We finally left the cafe clutching a yard and a half of dribbling unfinished Club sandwich, destined to form lunch for the following day, and continued along the Cote d’Azur, stopping on the promenade a couple of times where we could find spaces – not easy on a Saturday. The sea was that wonderful shade of azure and the weather was beautiful with an air temperature of 25C but feeling much warmer in the hot sunshine.
The beaches are popular with sun worshippers and the occasional bather who hasn’t heard the season ended over a month ago, but are a slight disappointment; none of the golden sands you might expect of the most expensive coastline in Europe, just shingle of varying colours and sizes. Not very different to the Italian beaches except for ten miles of expensive palm-lined promenade to rollerblade along, but it makes a much more interesting drive back from the airport than hacking back along the motorway and it’s all a complete contrast to our rural peasant life back home among the olives.
The Monaco road system seems to have been built by the designer of Spaghetti Junction so the roads go up, down and around, crossing and re-crossing each other regularly. At one point we found ourselves going the wrong way along the famous tunnel of the Grand Prix circuit, which would have been worrying if we hadn’t been following other cars. On the promenade a three-day go-kart event had just started and the air was full of burnt Castrol-R and the buzz of small engines driven to the limit. Because parking is such a problem the best way for out-of-towners like us to see Monaco is to leave the car at Ventimiglia and go by train; the station is close to the harbour and promenade.
And so finally back into Italy. A little down-at-heel by comparison, but more relaxed and maybe starting to feel like home. If only we can start on some of the things that need to be done around here, like clearing overgrown terraces, pruning some of the olive suckers and catching up with English TV. But these things will come to pass.
I started by saying how uneventful the week had been. But on Sunday at about 10am groups of motorcycles started to pass the house on their way down from Bajardo. Singly and in twos, threes, fours or more and at least half of them with pillion passengers, they continued to pass for the next three hours. At a rough estimate there must have been getting on for a thousand of them, making a couple of thousand people in all. The models were mostly either regular bikes, big scooters like mine or the occasional Vespa, and at one point a quad bike was among them.
We took Trixi for a walk for an hour or so and from a vantage point high above Apricale we could see them threading round the village. There was no sign of them in the distance on the road from Isolabona to the sea, so we guessed they were taking a route that leads the other way, through Pigna and over the pass at Monte Ceppo, and that their start and finish point was probably Sanremo. I’ll have to find out what the event was; presumably a large club. Perhaps we can expect them every year, maybe even more than once through the winter months. Maybe I’ll even be able to join them one day; there were more than a few grizzled faces behind some of the helmets. This being Italy there’ll have been food provided somewhere, a considerable logistical exercise to feed that many bikers and provide space for their machines.
And this morning we found a boarding kennels just outside Dolceacqua – about six miles from here – that takes cats too. So that’s one less worry for when we want to come back to England. Things are definitely looking up.