Pescina (back to normal now the wind has gone)

On Wednesday we had a circular walk around the woods and fields where we are staying and foraged for sweet chestnuts on the way.  The winds of the previous two days had brought down a lot of the fruit before it was ready, so we had to make sure we were picking the burrs that were brown and half open. 

The winds had also brought down some trees and when Karen went for her morning run the road was closed while the trees were cleared by firemen with chainsaws – reminded us of contractors doing the same thing back in the UK when trees fall across the cut.

Now the wind has gone, the sun is back to its intensity of the last few weeks, so we just spent the rest of the day at home.

Thursday was our weekly supermarket shop day but with such gorgeous weather we didn’t venture out until later in the afternoon.  We decided to go to a new town for us, Arcidosso, to try a different supermarket as it was a couple of miles beyond Castel del Piano where we did our weekly shop last week.

I mentioned the bells the other day and it does seem that we have only heard them on Sunday (unlike every day and every hour in France!) and we think we found the culprits on our way:

The bells
After driving through Castel del Piano, we could see Arcidosso at the top of the next hill with a tower right at the highest point.  We decided to have a walk around the town and investigate the tower before braving the supermarket.

The tower at the top of Arcidosso
We were glad we decided to have a look around as the hill part of the town was medieval and the streets so narrow and steep that they were car-free.


The tower at the top was closed so we will need to find out when it opens and return another day.  We were impressed how clean and tidy the streets were and Buddy was impressed with the number of cats; it seemed every time we turned a corner a cat would scuttle off up an alleyway.

After walking around for a while, we fancied finding a bar so we could put the supermarket trip off even longer 😉

We were approaching a bar when an Italian stopped us and asked me if I had ever seen the Grateful Dead.  I was a bit taken aback as it was a really strange opening line.  I replied that I had, back in the early 1970s and he explained that they were his favourite band.  I asked him what had made him ask the question and he just pointed at my tee-shirt – I hadn’t clicked which one I was wearing at the time 😊

Pescina (Feeling the after effects of storm Ali)

Monday was a ‘do nothing’ day so we spent the morning reading and puzzling, oh and Karen did some knitting.  Actually, that’s not quite true because Karen went for a run first thing and Buddy and I went butterflying.  Later in the afternoon we walked a couple of miles further up the hillside to find our water source.  A mountain stream has been dammed and water is stored in a large underground tank that supplies several of the properties on the hillside including the one we are staying in.

During the walk we came across several areas where trees have been cleared and barbecue areas have been installed:
On Sunday night the wind had got up and Monday was about 10 degrees colder than we have been used to and the wind made it feel even colder.  Apparently, it’s only going to last a couple of days, so we will make sure we go back up and use one of the barbecues when it warms up again.

Buddy was happy to find his own water source just at the point by the dam and holding tank
We were pleased to find a map of a footpath at one point.  I say pleased because we haven’t found any paths for walking on the mountain yet – all the trails have been for mountain bikers only.
At last a path we can follow and according to the direction sign nearby it is about 7km from the top of the map to the bottom

On our way back home. we stopped in the butterfly fields for a while and finally got a picture of a clouded yellow albeit, only partly as the wind was blowing the grass stalks.
Clouded yellow at rest
We spent the best part of Tuesday at Daniel Spoerri’s 40-acre garden just outside Seggiano which is only six miles from us.  He is an 88-year old Swiss artist who bought his Seggiano house in 1997 and has opened his gardens for the public to see many of his works that he has installed there.  We’re not normally into this sort of thing but being so close (and he’s famous apparently) we paid it a visit.

Coupled with the fact that dogs are allowed and, being at the bottom of the mountain meant it was a lot warmer, we had a pleasant few hours wandering around and gradually began to understand some of the pieces.

When we arrived, we were told that the best place to start was at his, ‘Circle of unicorns’ as we would feel all the energy that it harnesses from Monte Amiato.  We should also make sure we saw the piece entitled ‘Chambre 13 Hotel Carcasonne’.  She wouldn’t tell us anything about it as she wanted it to be a total surprise for us.
Circle of unicorns: Couldn’t feel any energy other than the sun but it was our first piece after all
Next, we came across the installation shown at the top, a piece called Dies Irea by another Swiss artist called Olivier Osteppey.  In all there were 112 pieces (half were by the resident artist) and we became so impressed that we saw all of them.  What we found particularly good was, that with so much space, the pieces weren’t crammed in like they would be in an enclosed gallery.

I won’t bore you with pictures of all the pieces but have picked out a few that either impressed us or made us chuckle.  If you really are interested I have included a few more pictures at the bottom of this blog entry too.

Daniel Spoerri introduced snare pictures; a form of art where he captured people’s (usually famous people) actual meal settings as a form of art.  None of these forms were included but a depiction of some of them was shown in the form of marble sculptures placed on a wall: 

Carved snare art taken from the likes of Marlene Dietrich
Karen inside the surprise 😊
Chambre 13 was a bronze work (as is most of them) and in a container placed at an angle in the trees, hence the reason for Karen’s stance.

Showing the sense of space

Me being contemplative
This shows the scale of some of the works

And a few more:









Pescina (wolves, cicadas, bells and dogs)

As on most farms in this area, the farmer we are renting our cottage from, grows walnuts, sweet chestnuts, apples, grapes and olives.  The vines and olive trees must be a particularly hardy variety as the area gets snow in the winter – hence the ski slopes up the road from us.

It seems our farmer doesn’t have to do a lot other than watch his crops grow and arrange for the harvesting to be carried out at the appropriate time of year.  All the produce is then sent to cooperatives for centralised food production.  The sweet chestnuts are from the Amiato chestnut tree and are used for making flour.  The grapes are used to make the local Montecucco wines – I’ve never heard of them but am doing my best to try them all 😉

We were looking for butterflies on Saturday and saw an old Fiat parked under a tree and then we heard rustling in the tree.  It was our farmer in an apple tree collecting the fruit.  We have noticed many ladders in the orchards and they all look handmade and incredibly unsafe, but he seemed quite at home at the top of it.

Apple picking in one of our butterfly meadows
Young walnut and sweet chestnut trees in another one of the meadows
Saturday was one of our ‘do nothing’ days which really means not using the car.  After a late lunch we walked the two miles down to Pescina.  That doesn’t sound arduous, but the road is very steep, so we weren’t really looking forward to the climb back; however, after a trip to the bar it didn’t seem so bad after all and we agreed that we would happily do it again.

When we went through Pescina when we arrived a few days ago we found it strange that, even though it is a small village, it has three restaurants and three or four apartment blocks, all of which are shuttered up.  What we have now realised is that the place must be packed in the winter and the apartments are ski apartments.  We have also noticed that there are chalets hidden in the woods and that they look like traditional Alpine ski chalets rather than Tuscan houses.  It must be a great weekend getaway for people who live in places like Rome (I hesitate to say Romans) who own a second home here as they can have a weekend skiing in the winter or just lazing around in the summer.

Admittedly it won’t be like having a chalet in the Alps but it’s a lot closer to the mountains than if you live in places like Paris or Milan. 
Some of the butterflies we saw on Saturday, clockwise from top left: pale clouded yellow, Queen of Spain fritillary, common blue, Glanville fritillary
I finally got a picture of a clouded yellow (the one above is a pale clouded yellow) but it was out of focus so not included here. I also saw my first ever nettle tree butterflies; what a great name.

Even though the house is rustic, there are a lot of what we call modern arty pictures around that we don’t quite understand.

Whenever we see this type of art we always think we could do it ourselves
Everywhere we have stayed whilst we have been away we have been in the range of bells and barking dogs.  All the way through France it seemed every village church sounds the hour every hour from seven in the morning until ten at night.  We thought it was funny in Bélâbre as the clock was running seven minutes late, so we had an extra few minutes of silence in the mornings.

Howling dogs have been another phenomenon, we seem to have heard them every night wherever we have stayed.  Fortunately, they don’t disturb Buddy or encourage him to join in.  Sometimes it’s just the odd one or two dogs communicating and sometimes it sounds like a whole pack of hunting dogs.

We haven’t escaped it here in Pescina, but being so high up from the village, we have to strain to hear the bells from Seggiano and have only heard the occasional dog.  We are still hearing cicadas even though summer is nearing its end.  At least they are not as loud as they are in the height of summer and their noise is now a muted, peaceful and pleasing sound.

Looking down on Seggiano from where we can just here the church bell – ironically, a hill town
As we are living on the slopes of Monte Amiato we thought we would visit the summit, so that’s what we did on Sunday afternoon.  Despite extensive searches (physically and electronically) we couldn’t find any paths so ended up doing the same as all the other tourists and driving practically to the top.  Yes, we could have walked up the road, but it wouldn’t have been much fun and as its narrow and full of hairpins it would have been dangerous.  The only sign of trails we could find were all reserved for mountain bikers.

Whilst researching for footpaths I did find that this area is one of the parts of Italy inhabited by wolves, but we haven’t come across any signs of them yet.  I have seen porcupines in this area before but no such luck so far.  Mind you, we wouldn’t want Buddy to come face to face or face to bottom with a porcupine  

A green/blue piste runs down from the summit to a large car park and made for an easy walk up.

The piste is paved to help people walk up to the summit in the summer
There are two chair lifts and 12 drag lifts so it’s hardly a resort that will set the ski world alight.  Both chair lifts were in use and disgorging a constant stream of mountain bikers at the top.

Mountain bikers alighting from one of the chair lifts

The summit marker which isn’t at the highest point…

…this was the highest point
Looking towards Rome but we were above the clouds so couldn’t see much

The piste map – not much competition for the likes of Les Trois Vallées 😉
Dotted around the grounds of the house are many demijohns which are traditionally used for wine and olive oil. I mention these because I came across an American website the other day selling ‘genuine’ European artefacts where demijohns, without baskets, were advertised at $255 each!


Our Sunday evening view – the clouds looked like tree covered hills at first glance

Pescina (33 days into our holiday)

Lang’s short tailed blue in our butterfly meadow and Karen relaxing in a hot spring

We are immediately surrounded by some brilliant butterfly meadows which are still swarming with insects at this late time of the year.  The one drawback of where we are living is that it is very hilly.  Living on a boat means that Karen is able to run on flat ground; not so here, but full marks to her for persisting and doing it.

As I said the other day, our cottage is just over 3,000’ up a mountainside.  What we hadn’t realised was that the mountain (Monte Amiato) is actually a small ski resort in the winter so we have now added something else to our list of things to do while we are here.  We obviously won’t be skiing but we will attempt to get to the top one day.

Our breakfast view
Showing you our breakfast view brings to mind another drawback – there are several cats around here, so it means Buddy has to be kept tied up when we are around the house otherwise mayhem would ensue.

Buddy’s breakfast view - constantly looking for cats (must be evening judging by the sun position)
Fortunately, we walk a little way down the track and he can be let off and have a good run in the fields.

Greater banded grayling – so well camouflaged
Our nearest village is a place called Piscina which is just over two miles away.  It doesn’t have any shops but does have a couple of bars so no doubt we will have a wander or two down there, although the steep walk back up will be fun 😉

Castel del Piano is about eight miles away and has a small supermarket, so we popped in on Thursday to get food for a week.  It really wasn’t the sort of place to buy a week’s worth of food so next week we will have to venture to one of the large towns near the coast to get a big shop in a large supermarket. 

We have decided to have a rest day every other and stay at home and then go ‘touristing’ on the other days.   We can still get fresh fruit and veg from grocer shops when we go out, but we don’t count that as supermarket shopping.

When we went into the supermarket at Castel del Piano the town was quiet with just a few old men sitting in the square playing dominos.  What a transformation when we came out.  The square was packed with cars and there were children everywhere; it was obviously the end of the school day and parents had driven in from across the catchment area to collect their offspring.

We spent the rest of the day exploring around the cottage and checking out the butterflies.  One of the more common ones was the Lang’s short tailed blue shown at the top – a rather striking butterfly (well, to us anyway).  There were several species of fritillaries including a Queen of Spain fritillary which don’t live in the UK but very rarely immigrants are seen – about 400 sightings since the first record in 1702.  I was lucky enough to see one eleven years ago in West Sussex.

Tatty Queen of Spain, fresh small heath and a worse for wear sliver washed fritillary
Although fritillaries have the distinctive fritillary markings on the uppersides and tend to look the same other than in size and shape, the undersides are generally all quite different and often used as the distinguishing features.

Butterfly meadow above the house
We’re finding it a bit like the camping trip of the last three weeks or so, not really ready to go out anywhere until early afternoon.  On Friday afternoon we took a trip to the local hot springs at Bagni San Filippo and have to admit they were quite astonishing.  The calcium deposits that have built up on the rock faces looked like torrents of water were rushing down.  Water was coming down but just spread out across the surface and all the pools were really quite warm. 

We couldn’t help thinking how this sort of attraction would be protected in the UK as people walking on the deposits must wear them away quicker than they build up.

What looks like torrents of water is really calcium deposits with a thin film of water flowing over them
Buddy wouldn’t go near the water.  We really have freaked him out since we went swimming in lakes in France

Buddy anxiously watching me walking up to a hot pool (and that's not our pile of clothes)
The whole river valley was full of pools that had been manmade by building dams across the river.

Two of the manmade pools
Many people were caking each other in the mud from the bottom of the pools and the smell of sulphur in the air was quite pungent.  So much so that when we left we needed to pop into a bar for a refresher before driving home.

Walking through Bagni San Filippo looking for a bar in the sulphur-laden air
On the drive home we popped into a pharmacy, in a village called Altori, to pick up some antihistamine tablets.  Even though it seemed to be a small village, the pharmacy was packed with locals and it was quite surreal.  When it got to our turn, the pharmacist wanted to try out his English which wasn’t very good, and, in the end, we communicated by showing him a text message Matthew had sent Karen with the names of three different drugs.  The pharmacist was particularly interested in my tee-shirt which had the profiles of the three peaks of Wales, England and Scotland.  We still couldn’t communicate but inferred that he was interested in hill walking.

We are aware, from the number of emails we are getting from CRT announcing river closures due to high water levels, that the weather has broken in the UK.  Hopefully, when we get back, it means we will be able to continue cruising through the winter and not be stranded in the water starved Leeds & Liverpool canal at Skipton as we had once feared.