It hardly seems possible, within a day of returning home, that one has been on holiday at all. We all have to snap straight back into everyday life. I’ve done a lot in the greenhouses today, moving, labelling and potting up, and I’ve also weeded the big greenhouse and had the sprinkler on all afternoon, ready for cucumbers to go out there. I’ll wait to plant tomatoes until the plants are in flower, so that they put their energy into fruit production as well as growth.
I haven’t visited that part of Italy before – we were staying in Bologna and also visited Ferrara, Mantua and Ravenna, with guided tours of each place and its art galleries and main churches. Marching along with my walking pole, I wondered if it was actually useful or a placebo. When I went out the first evening for dinner and walked for 15 minutes, briskly (for it was raining) without it, I realised that it had indeed been a helpful aid, and one I relied on more as the week went on.
The weather was a bit iffy to start with – mostly dry and not cold, but a sharp shower one evening and a downpour with thunderstorm another. It also rained, and was chilly, in Mantua, which is quite a bit north of where we were based. However as I said, it was still warm enough for early-evening open-air jacuzzi-bathing on the second night; the third we were too late back and by Friday it was hot and delicious weather. We were back at the hotel by 4.30 (our tour guide offered another stop but we were fully cultured up for the day) and I, with a few others, hot-footed it up to the roof.
I enjoyed the visit very much, and the outstanding part was the friendship. I had a lovely time. The group of us dining together increased each night and we completely relaxed and had fun. Couples tended to stay together, so it was single women (I was not the only one to have left a husband at home, but there were spinsters and widows too) who went out in groups. Great friendships can be made among people who are not ‘on the pull’ or in a couple – I’m not excluding men from this, although there happened to be no unattached men in our party – and middle-aged and plus women can be fine company and support together. We made sure that no one ever felt alone. There were 30 of us in all, which is a good number as we could all get to know each other within the week – last year’s party of 40 meant that it was not quite so easy.
Another good thing was our lovely tour manager, Nathalie. She went out with us each day and made the local arrangements. We had guides in each place too – Christina and Marie-Angela in Mantua, Laura in Ferrara and Luciana in Ravenna. I mention them particularly to demonstrate how much better than I used to be with names. Boasting, and stretching the point, our driver was usually Mirco, once Luca and, to the airport, Mirco’s father, who was not introduced by name. Nathalie is a tiny, slender woman in her thirties, who is French but has lived near Bologna for fourteen years. She’s married to a local man and has two daughters. She was delightful, cheerful, informative and charmed us all. I suspect that the envelope which went round on the last day was generously filled.
The food was also a pleasure. I was circumspect at breakfast, sticking to fruit (bemusingly, and this is the only criticism I have of the hotel – although I found the same in Venice a couple of years ago – all the prepared fruit and juices were tinned and I resorted to grapefruit juice and prunes of all things, as the least unpleasant), a dry roll and plain yoghurt, although I sometimes added a piece of cheese or salami. I took an apple to eat later, a whole large apple was more than I could cope with at breakfast time. For the rest of the day, I relaxed my careful eating plan and am resigned, although I haven’t checked, to having put on a pound or two. The food was very good though. Some highlights were the wild strawberries and home-made ice-cream, the spaghetti with seafood (squid, vongole (clams), shrimps, mussels and languoustine [I know that’s French, what’s the Italian for langoustine?]) and an entirely delicious concoction, made of nuts, one of those flour-free mousse/cake with the egg yolk beaten in, the whisked egg white folded in and the whole baked, topped with a nutty ice-cream. I didn’t normally eat pudding, just one course, but occasionally it’s worth it.
The return journey was also notable for its smoothness. Going was fine, although one poor lady’s luggage went to Bermuda and took a couple of days to follow her to its due destination. For the return, I checked in online, chose the aisle seat at the front, hung back when boarding, swept in among the last and was first out again. The plane was less than half full, I went through a quiet Gatwick, found that the luggage was on the carousel before I arrived there, quickly found my case and abandoned it to a friend’s tender care while i sought the loo. On my return, we were ready to board the coach. The plane was 15 minutes early landing, by the way, so we set off about 45 minutes earlier than we’d expected. I napped thoroughly on the way home, having prudently taken the mic and thanked Margaret, the organiser of the whole caboodle, right at the start, and we arrived at the car park at 11 pm. The Sage awaited me with a mug of tea when I arrived home. He said he’d missed me. I was pleased but not at all surprised. Of course he missed me.
Weeza and Phil invited us for lunch yesterday. Zerlina has certainly grown within the week, and her agility at crawling, pulling herself up and doing a ‘look, one hand’ stand-up turn has improved considerably. She accepts her place in the bicycle-pulling-along-behind-thingy (sorry, I’m hungry and I can smell the dinner that the Sage is cooking, most beautifully) with good grace and the family set off at the weekend for a thirteen-mile ride. Gosh.
So, that was my week. I hope yours was as good.