A curate's egg of a trip, it was too....
The Gardener and I arrived at midday, were met by L, our lovely friend and dearly-loved street auntie (when we lived as neighbours in Newcastle) of Flossie, had a quick look at the glorious Leaning Tower and all the tourists taking selfies in front of it, and went for lunch. We were waiting till 5.30 when Baby E and his parents were due to arrive.
But then the heavens opened, the rain fell in torrents, thunder roared and crashed, lightning flashed, and we decided that Pisa did not hold enough delights to keep us for a few more hours and set off instead to L's home in the hills outside Lucca. Even in the deep gloom, pouring rain, and lit only by lightning, we could see how beautiful the countryside was. The next day, opening shutters in our bedroom, we were to find the most breathtaking views all around; wooded hills and precipitous roads, olive groves and drifting early morning mist - just perfect.
We looked round L's new house. She had made the life-changing decision to move to Italy over a year ago, leaving us marvelling at her courage and ability to settle in a new country, culture and language. And what an excellent decision it was!
And then we three went back in the rain to Pisa airport. L copes well with Italian rush hour driving, but her language can be a little unladylike.
The family duly arrived, and we could see at once that Baby E, grey and listless, was not well. Hard on the heels of a lengthy, barely-cleared cough and cold, he had just developed a new and horrendous cold, which was to worsen.
We picked up a hired car from a firm we will never use again, and in convoy with L, made our way back through the continuing storm to where we had rented the huge old house next door to L for the week, met with the owners, who explained all its idiosyncrasies, and delighted The Gardener by instructing him on how to light the gigantic woodburner in the workshop. This monster, of industrial proportions, was not built to be a decorative feature in the sitting room, oh no; square and ancient, it heated the house efficiently, using logs the size of half tree trunks. The Gardener loves a stove, and that stove exceeded his expectations by miles; he emerged from the workshop each evening smelling strongly of smoke but decidedly satisfied with his results.
You can spot the stove behind the owner, here adding to the monster log pile.
The house is for sale, and if we had the money, plus the same amount again to restore it well, we'd have been sorely tempted to make the owners an offer. But dream on.....
The next day, worried by Baby E's laboured shallow breathing, harsh rattly cough and soaring temperature, we took him to the walk-in emergency room in Lucca hospital, where he was seen at once, treated (in screaming outrage) with a nebuliser and a miraculous decongestant, and emerged a few hours later with temperature down and spirits up, parents and L the translator exhausted by the process and the emotional upset. Slowly over the rest of the week, he improved, probably because he generously shared that cold with his
We went to the seaside. It was sunny and warm, though not warm enough to swim - not that I would have gone swimming anyway, no no nohow - but we sat on the sand, ate our sandy picnic, watched L's sandy dog, Tina, swim and play, and came home again in our sandy cars.
We (L, Baby E and I) went up the hill behind the house, where the views stretched for miles, and watched a man harvesting his olives - L's aren't quite ready yet, but people are putting their nets down in readiness for this task.
The Gardener, L and I went to Florence, which L knows well and she guided us round. Now I know Florence is very beautiful, filled with wonders, but by this time my own cold was raging, and I had to battle with the sore throat, the nose-blowing and the secret longing to be tucked up in a comfortable bed instead of enacting scenes from A Room With A View. I shall have to go back to Florence (perhaps several times) to exorcise the memory of a day of Being Brave But Not Caring Very Much About Renaissance Art.
Baby E spent one wet and misty day with Nonna and Nonno while his parents visited Florence, and we did nothing at all; he was happy to lap-sit, convalescent but quiet, while we compared our phlegm and mucus production - oops, did I really say that? - and drank tea. (I am one of those embarrassing travellers who know that only in Britain can you trust the tea to be tea, and travel with my own supply. Don't judge me. I am invariably proved right.)
We visited pretty Viareggio, walked along the pier at Marina di Pietrasanta, watched men fishing, and allowed Baby E to crawl on the boardwalk, which he did with enthusiasm - he was definitely getting better - and to watch the crashing waves (and the crashing surfers in them).
We drove uphill to Pietrasanta itself, which we loved most of all, and far too soon, it was time to pack and plan our journeys home the next day.
But then.... Baby E's mother received a text from the airline telling her that their flight had been cancelled, due to industrial action at Pisa. Ours would be brought forward by one hour.
So the family had to travel a day later than us; they didn't seem to mind (how odd of them!), and planned a return to the Marina. We left them with the hired car (for which we were charged an extortionate fee for that extra day - in fact the word extortionate was to be used more than once in connection with the car hire firm) and set off early the next morning, driven by L, whose life in the summer seems to consist chiefly of driving to and from the airport in the service of friendship.
And our flight did not take off. We sat, and we sat, in a packed departure area, until a solution was found by our budget airline to the problem of the striking ground staff: in groups of eight, our entire cohort of passengers was trundled by small minibus to the plane some distance away, until everyone was on board, feeling very relieved, and the pilot could inform us that our luggage was to be re-scanned due to a fault with one of the machines. So we sat and sat some more. Meantime L had returned home, to email our cat and dog carers of our delay and to track our progress online. L is approaching sainthood, in our opinion.
We arrived in Bristol airport only a few hours later than originally planned, with The Gardener brewing his own raging cold. We have been feeling both happy to be home with our own animals, wood burner and comfortable cottage, but also that we must return to L in the near future, to pick up the threads of our holiday that had been somewhat marred by sickness and anxiety, this time without imposing unexpected burdens on her hospitality.
With luck, her own olive oil will be ready and bottled by then. I shall trade for it with British tea.