After 7 weeks on the road, with 2-3 nights in most cities, we were well and truly ready to settle down again and enjoy the slower pace of a small Tuscan town (of 140 people) for the next 6 weeks.
We were met at the train station by our new housemate, Ben, and the ‘2IC’ for the workaway, Mark. Somehow we managed to cram our 2 suitcases and backpacks into Ben’s Mini Cooper as Mark helped him navigate his way up the mountain to Montefegatesi. It was the type of journey where you can look out the window and vividly imagine cascading down the edge should another vehicle try to pass. Some of the bends are definitely classed as hairpin tight, with the lanes narrow enough that you need to beep to warn possible oncoming traffic that you’re there. Thankfully we passed the 30 minute ride relatively quickly, as we found out what lay ahead for us at this workaway.
Upon reaching the town we discovered that we had to haul our suitcases up a fairly steep incline before we could finally relax and get to know Montefegatesi. Our hosts, an Italian/English family, Charlotte, Claudio, Maddie and Giac, live near the top of the town, right next door to Claudio’s parents and just around the corner from his brother’s family.
We found this little door at the back of the village and had no idea this was behind it – Steve loved it so much he shot a video!
The arrangement for this workaway was a little different to the others we’ve experienced so far, in that we had a separate house which we were sharing with Ben and another workawayer Barbora. We had plenty of time to get acquainted with Ben, Mark and our host family at the fiesta down the other side of the mountain in the valley at Botri. Barbora was too busy hiking in the mountains (to the point where her shoes broke) so she didn’t come with us.
Our 6 weeks passed surprisingly quickly. We managed to pick up quite a bit of Italian while helping Maddie & Giac with their summer homework. The kids helped me practise rolling my Rs. By the end I could roll them at least a little on most words that need it (and kept trying to do it in France instead of the throaty French Rs). Other activities with the kids included going to the pool in Bagni di Lucca, practising dance routines, playing Madlibs, obstacle courses, scavenger hunts and showing them Aussie animals. Giac was particularly taken with The Crocodile Hunter videos and the fact that he wasn’t actually hunting crocodiles, but protecting them.
Sometimes there were several of us with the Maddie & Giac, but other times Steve and the others went off to do other jobs like gardening, sorting, organising, wooding, sanding and painting. When the kids were back at school we also did quite a bit of ironing, tidying and cleaning.
Thanks to Ben we were able to visit some local towns which would’ve been a lot more difficult to access otherwise. There was a trip to Lucca as well as the beach at Viareggio. Apparently it has the least amount of ‘public beach’ space available out of the whole of Italy. It seemed like we had to walk for ages, only to find a small space already crammed with others not willing to pay to go to the beach. The whole experience was completely different to what we’re accustomed, with hawkers selling everything from sunnies to custom made beaded bracelets.
Charlotte also frequently took us down to Bagni di Lucca while she ran errands. We would go for a coffee or take the kids to the park. One day we went for a workman’s lunch. Mark had been talking it up for a while so we were very pleased that we had the opportunity to try it. It was a typical Italian meal with wine or water, primo piatti (first plate of pasta/risotto/gnocchi), secondo (second plate of meat) and contorno (side dish of vegetables). I had gnocchi, roast beef (thinly sliced, slightly similar to carpaccio) and beetroot – by far the best 10 euro lunch we’ve had!
In the afternoons and evenings we’d often frequent Richie’s bar down in the piazza for some wine, coffee or a pizza. Otherwise we’d head to the best place in town, Dante’s (named due to the monument of Dante which lives there). We had many good times trying various red wines and enjoying the spectacular view from the peak of the town.
Of course food was one of the best parts of being in Italy. On Barbora’s final night, Charlotte cooked a traditional meal of wild boar stew with chestnut polenta. It was absolutely delicious and accompanied by a fabulous red wine which also happened to be incredibly cheap. We went to a couple of pot lucks in town too; a great opportunity to try a few other local dishes. One of our favourite things to do was a Saturday night cook up with Ben and Mark. Steve and I loved having bruschetta with fresh mozzarella, tomato, garlic and basil. Ben’s specialty was smashed potatoes – a mix between mashed and fried potatoes. While Mark also specialised in potatoes, cooking a potato casserole type dish which went down especially well on some of the chillier nights.