Two more months

New year, new start. Fast out of the blocks? Not quite.

The first week of the new year was punctuated by Epiphany, or Befana. A national holiday in the middle of the week and bad weather kept progress to a minimum.

We did think that once out of the ground the garage and portico would be finished quite quickly. Not so it seems. We have more than a suspicion that work is being slowed down as the beams (travi) for the garage and portico roof are nowhere to be seen. We think they were ordered a bit late in the day, just before Christmas. But what do we know?

At 10½ weeks

The garage is being dressed, but no hat. The portico is being dressed, but no hat.

13 weeks: Roofless in Cartoceto

It’s now exactly a quarter of a year since the build started. The garage is mostly formed but with no roof. The portico is mostly formed but with no roof.

14 weeks: Why bother thinking ahead?

We were awoken by the sound of an angle grinder. It was cutting a channel through recently laid concrete for a drainpipe. As the drainpipe was always on the plan then why not create the channel when laying the concrete? It’s not the Italian way. Build it first, change it later.

It’s the same for the water and electricity supply for the cantina. The hole will have to drilled through from the garage above even though we supplied a plan well before the roof of the cantina was built.

And again for the portico columns. Last week they were finished, ready for the roof. Only they weren’t. The tops weren’t as per the plan, so off came the top two layers of bricks only to be relaid:

We’re still roofless. The wooden beam supplier came round this week for us to choose the colour and style for the portico and the garage. They showed us the options. We made our choices. “Do you want some time to think about it?”. We didn’t see the need. They were simple choices. “You are very decisive, you are not like Italians” he said.

The garage has been rendered. It’s effectively a courtyard. We hope it will become a garage soon when the roof goes on.

15 weeks: Part roofed

The portico has really taken shape this week with the wooden frame of the roof completed by Friday night. The 130kg beams took some manoeuvring, as we discovered when one fell from the crane and crushed a ladder and damaged some of the freshly laid tops of the columns. They will have to be relaid for the third time.

One slight snag. When measuring the thickness of the house walls to decide what size bolts to use for the beams they forgot about the niche in our bedroom and drilled right through. Some more making good to add to the list.

Not wanting to be outdone by the portico, the garage also has a part roof. The beams inside are up and the insulation laid.

16 weeks: Waterproof?

This week was all about getting the portico roof tiles laid and making it waterproof. By the end of the week we had the under tiles, the bitumen layer and shiny new copper guttering. Just as well as on Saturday morning we woke up to this:

17 weeks: Snow stopped play

No workers on Monday. No workers on Tuesday. Colin worked all day to clear the snow from the rooves of the portico and the garage ready for Wednesday.

No workers Wednesday.

At least the two days worked this week resulted in the garage roof tiles being completed.

When the builders said they’d brick up the window into the garage in two steps, starting with the outside then the inside, we didn’t realise they meant brick up the outside then leave the inside for the following week.

18 weeks: Trench warefare

Monday morning started well then came to an abrupt halt. Whilst digging the trenches for water pipes and drainage they discovered ‘dirty’ water. It was from the reed bed sewage system we have used without any issues since 2004. They feared the water was being directed into the well. We said we didn’t think so as we would have smelt it over the last 17 years. No work until Sauro the geometra arrived. We showed him the plans from 2003 showing the course of the sewage pipes. He declared it all clear and work resumed.

The Italian building industry is obsessed with ‘pozzetti’ (small wells). They put one in every so often and every time the pipe turns a corner. In the UK we would just put in one smooth pipe with a slight fall all the way to the sewer with maybe one inspection/rodding hole along the way. Not here. We have pozzetto pandemic. We now have 19 of them around the house!

On Wednesday we discovered two more buried for the last 17 years. They said we needed to raise the level and put a cover over it so we could get access. We asked why when we didn’t even know they were there and everything has worked fine for years. We were told that Italians open their drains every now and again to clean them out of solidified fat etc. We don’t put fat down the sinks. Sure enough when they opened ours they commented “You English are very clean”. Also, a big thank you to all those people who have stayed at Casa Angeletti for not putting fat down the sinks!

The front garden was also dug up for water pipes and the cable for our planned fixed line internet connection from TIM (what a nightmare, but that’s another story). Colin dug the channel up the slope to the telegraph pole but left the rest to the scavatore with the digger.

At least by the end of the day the front ‘lawn’ had been levelled. Just as well we plan to replace the grass with gravel anyway.

The ‘first fix’ electrics went in the garage and cantina this week. The Italian version is very different. All the electric cables are run under the concrete floor in plastic tubes. I’ve never seen so many tubes just for power and light in a garage.

As we’re down to just one worker this week and the first of March is on Monday we had a word with the builder. He promised us more workers so that they could finish off the job next week, or maybe the following week, or maybe……

Let’s see how many turn up tomorrow.

This concludes Part 1 of this marathon build story.

We hope Part 3 will be the sprint finish.

Part 1 : 8½ weeks

Which door?

Would we be leaving through the green or the red door?

The local Comunes have set up a scheme to offer free Covid tests for any resident. So far they have found 700 people with no symptoms that have tested positive, so we thought we should get tested.

We dropped by the local restaurant being used as a testing centre. It was a very efficient process. As we had pre completed our simple forms the whole process was over in 10 minutes.

The swab up both nostrils isn’t painful, but it’s unpleasant and leaves a strange sensation up the nose for several minutes afterwards. Otherwise, there’s nothing to it.

The exit from the restaurant had two doors. One with a green sign for those who were negative to return to the car park, and one with a red sign that led round the back.

The results were read out loud to all those waiting, using the last three numbers of the code number we were given on entry.

“003 Janet, va bene, verde”

“004 Colin, va bene, verde”

We left via the Shakin’ Stevens door.

Queue, Queue, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb

If you don’t get the reference in the title, it’s from our childhood. Trumpton (1967)

The day before we, as citizens, leave the EU it was a very British experience. Queuing.

Yesterday we received a reminder from “Brits in Italy” that we need to start the process of exchanging our UK driving licenses before the end of the year. We are allowed a year to swap our licenses but if we start before the end of 2020 we won’t have to take either the written or practical test.

By chance some other Brits contacted us to ask how we were getting on with the process. We had to admit that this aspect had passed us by. We spent the day researching what we needed to do.

This morning, we set off early, armed with:

  1. Passports
  2. Copies of passports
  3. Driving licenses
  4. Copies of driving licenses
  5. Codice Fiscale
  6. Copies of Codice Fiscale
  7. Copies of residency certificates
  8. Completed TT 2112 forms
  9. Photographs
  10. Covid declaration forms to explain why we were leaving the Comune

We arrived at the Motorizzazione Civile in Pesaro without an appointment at 08:30 when they opened. Surrounded by young people taking their driving test we explained our plight and we were let in. To our delight we were advised that everything was in order. We just had to pay the fees (Bolli). This meant Colin had to go to the post office whilst Jan stayed at the centre as a hostage!

This is when it became more British. There was a queue outside the post office to join the queue inside the post office. I asked who was last in the queue (Italian queues are not lines, they are gatherings). I adopted the Italian method of announcing to the gathering that I was next after this lady whilst pointing at her (not so British as a proper queue makes this unnecessary).

It became less British when a lady parked outside the post office, partially blocking the traffic and asked who was last in the queue. She then pointed at him and announced to everyone that she was after him and closed the door to wait her turn in the warmth of her car. So Italian.

Back at the Motorizzazione Civile a driving instructor asked another “Did you see that British car here earlier? What are they doing here? They are leaving the EU on Friday” he joked. He had no idea that Jan was standing behind him.

After 40 minutes in the cold I was inside the post office and had my queue number. 20 minutes later I was heading back to the centre with my receipts.

With a dramatic flurry of stamping every page of all the documents we were issued with temporary licenses. Our Italian ones may be ready form the 20th of January.

We shall see.

8½ weeks

“About 8 weeks” was the answer from our geomtera, Sauro, when we asked how long it would take to build the cantina, garage and portico. As it took us six years to get this far then a forecast in weeks rather than months was fine by us. Like the rest of the world we are looking forward to spring 2021 when things might be better. As long as we have it done by then we’ll be happy.

Starting Monday 26th October, how did the 8 weeks go?

Week 1: Half a hole

I know there is no such thing as half a hole, but we had one. The idea was to dig out half the space needed for the cantina, and use the wall of earth to support the new wall against the foundations of the house. Clever. As Gabriele the builder said “I’ve done this a few times before”.

On day two we had our first decision to make. We were advised that the house foundations were wider and deeper than they had expected.

Good foundations in half a hole

This was good news for us as it meant that all the money we’d spent in 2003 on the foundations were indeed spent on foundations. We suspected they were good after the Aquila earthquake in April 2009. We happend to be in Italy for Easter that year. It was 03:30 on the 6th April. We were awoken by the bed and the whole house shaking. Jan had experienced earthquakes before when working in California but this was Colin’s first. The good news was that the whole house moved in unison. No cracks, no misaligned tiles, nothing. All good.

Sauro advised that the foundations meant we had to either lose 65cm along the 5m wall or build the whole underground cantina 65cm further into the garden and adjust the plans accordingly. We opted for preserving the space as we thought we’d always resent losing it.

By the end of the week the cement for the back of the cantina had been put in and they’d made a start on the holes for the posts for the portico.

Using the other half of the hole to support the retaining wall:

Week 2: In the dark

Only four days work this week as the builder declared that Monday 2nd November was a holiday because All Saints Day on the 1st fell on a Sunday. We were confused as half our Italian friends said it wasn’t a national holiday and the othe half said it was. Who knows.

This meant they were up against it on Friday afternoon/evening when the cement lorry arrived. The objective for this week was to excavate the other half of the hole and create the shuttering and metal re-inforcing for the foundations of the cantina, the access slope and the supporting walls either side of the ramp.

By the time the cement was flowing on Friday afternoon it was already getting dark.

They got it done though. By Saturday morning we had foundations.

Week 3: What a load of walls

Five to be precise. Three walls of the cantina, plus the retaining walls either side of the access ramp. The plan was to build all the steel reinforcement cages and then the shuttering ready for concreting.

I chatted to the workers who reckoned they would be finished by Friday night ready for concrete on the Monday. Gabriele tried to persuade them that he should order the concrete lorry for Friday afternoon again. The workers very obviously didn’t agree. They didn’t fancy laying the concrete in the dark again. After what we would consider a blazing row but just a normal conversation between worker and boss in Italy, the workers won.

By end of light on Friday there was just a suspicious one hour of work left to do before concreting. I suspect they were making a point! They’d also dug out the three holes ready for the supports for the portico.

Week 4: Swimming in it

On Monday the guys popped by for an hour to finish off the shuttering then left site as the rain started to pour for the rest of the day.

The following day I mentioned to the builder that we hadn’t ordered a swimming pool!

Tuesday morning was madness. Two concrete lorries turned up, then our cleaner, then a gas delivery.

For some reason, Gabriele decided to add a layer of stones along the drive to cover the damage that the various lorries had done to the drive. We were perplexed as we’d already explained that he didn’t have to worry about that as the drive would be taken up and replaced with gravel some time next spring.

By the end of the week we had our walls, which were being damp proofed before the rain came down again. Having pumped out all of the water during the week, our swimming pool just filled up again on Friday.

Week 5: Floor to ceiling

This week we said goodbye to the swimming pool. Pump the water out again, fill the space with gravel and concrete over. We had a floor.

Next was applying a DPC to the external walls, a layer of industrial ‘bubble wrap” to stop stones piercing the DPC and put the soil back around the cantina.

Things really started to take shape after they started to put the roof on the cantina. For the first time we could stand inside it an appreciate the amount of space we’ll have to process and store the olive oil, wine, cherries etc. We chose where the sink, water softener and water pump would go so that the drains could be fitted. Such an exciting life!

On Friday morning we spotted that one of the delivery lorries had damaged the post box on the gate. I had words with Gabriele. I appreciate that these things happen but to just drive off and not say anything pissed me off. I think he could tell.

Week 6 To door or not to door

First thing Monday morning Gabriele had two replacement post boxes for me to chose between. He’d been good to his word that he would replace the damaged one. We agreed we’d fit the new one once all the work was finished. We really appreciated that he’d taken the trouble over the weekend to source them. Grazie Gabriele.

On Tuesday Jan had a trip down memory lane. The cement lorry took some samples in mid flow. These blocks of concrete are sent for testing to show the correct mix has been used. Many years ago Jan worked as a concrete tester, using very similar blocks. In her day the blocks were in greased metal containers and had to be hammered on the bottom to get the concrete out. Italian workers are always confounded when a woman knowledgeably asks them about their concrete mix.

After a morning of concrete laying the back of the house was transformed:

After a couple of days lost to rain, the garage infrastructure started to emerge. At that point Colin asked why they were building a pillar where the passenger door to the garage was supposed to go:

This was a consequence of having to build the cantina 65cm further out that planned (remember our day 2 decision). No one spotted the consequence for the door. A good job we were paying attention. Gabriele took it all in his stride. He convened an onsite meeting between us, Sauro the geometra, and the engineer. We asked why a support pillar couldn’t be keyed into the house. It turned out that’s not possible as we’re in an earthquake zone. The two new structures have to move separately from the house. They came up with an alternative solution, to move the support pillar away from the house to allow room for the door. That was extra work of course.

Our choice was that or no door. We split 50-50. Jan wasn’t bothered bout the door, Colin preferred to have one. In the end we went with the door. We’ll find out next year if it was the right decision. We won’t know until we start using the garage.

At least we now have the shuttering for the four pillars of the garage. That’s good as there are only 2 weeks left of the original 8 weeks estimate.

Week 7 Mystery week

Just like Nevada, Romania, the UK, Australia Poland, Ukraine, and Finland the mysterious monolith phenomenon came to Cartoceto. We upstaged them all by having several appear during the week. We have no idea where they came from.

Week 8 The pressure is on

Now that the roof line of the garage has emerged the guys are working closer and closer to our bedroom window. This week the shutter has been closed. It doesn’t stop the sound though. One morning this week the sound of ‘discussion’ blasted the air. We recognised “figlio di puttano”, which is an interesting phrase to use when discussing which bit of the garage to build next.

We’ve reached the end of the “about 8 weeks” period. There is still quite a bit of work to do, but we’re quite calm about it. It’s not as if we’re going anywhere. It looks like we’ll be finished sometime in January.

Week 9 Half a week

The guys worked for half a week bringing it up to the full Fellini:

Having checked that Wednesday was their last day before the Christmas break we prepared mince pies and beer for them. We headed out in the morning for all our Christmas food shopping. When we got back before lunch they had gone! They’d worked days, exactly half the week.

To be continued/…

Part 2 Two more months

Noi siamo residenti

Photo: The only way to celebrate in Italy when the restaurants are closed

On the morning of Friday 24th June 2016 the alarm went off in London at 05:00 for our drive to Italy. We turned on the radio. We were plunged into a state of shock. The UK had voted to leave the EU. When we entered the channel tunnel David Cameron was Prime Minister. By the time we emerged in France he wasn’t.

Four and a half years later the impact of that decision is hitting home. From the 1st of January 2021 EU citizens will be able to visit the UK for 6 months at a time. We however can only visit the Schengen zone, of which Italy a part, for 90 days in any 180 day period. The UK government have ignored the fact that its citizens will have fewer rights visiting the EU than EU citizens visiting the UK. Reducing our rights and increasing our costs – exactly the opposite of what governments are supposed to do for their citizens.

We’ve spent most of this year debating what we should do. Sell up, visit only for 90 days at a time, or become resident?

We’ve opted to become resident in Italy so we can enjoy all we have worked on over the last 17 years.

It being Italy the bureaucracy was a challenge. All in Italian of course, we had to manage forms, marriage certificates, translations, self declarations, health insurance, identity documents, phone calls, visits to the Comune and of course a lock down.

Today we collected our Attestazione di iscrizione anagrafica di cittadino del Regno United Gran Bretagna e dell’Irlanda del Nord. Confirmation of our residency in Italy under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement. It means we’ll have to pay UK and Italian tax but we’ve put so much into the house and land we just couldn’t sell up so soon.

We can now look forward to spending as much time as we wish in our home, with our wonderful friends, food, wine and running/riding the roads of Italy. It’s also our ‘passport’ to visit as much of the Schengen zone as we wish. As the world gets better in 2021 we plan to make the most of it.

Twenty seven and counting

“Who the f**k is that calling us at at 8am on a Sunday morning?” It was uncle Alan calling from New Zealand to wish us a happy anniversary. Thanks Alan. It was great to chat with him. Next time we hope to be a little more cogent.

This year Jan’s birthday was during lock down in London. Colin’s birthday was also in lockdown in London. Having been relatively free over the summer our anniversary was during Orange Zone lockdown in Italy.

The bars and restaurants can only do take aways, we are under a 22:00 – 05:00 curfew and we can’t leave the Comune, so we have to make the most of it.

The day started with coffee at Arté Caffé. It’s a bit sad having our coffee and pastry in the car but it’s the best we can do. We heat up cups at home then take them to the caffé so to avoid adding to the global pile of plastic. Gigliola marked the occasion with a message:

Our anniversary lunch was delivered by Gaetano from Post Vecchia. The restaurant is only a few hundred metres inside the next Comune, but still out of bounds for us to collect.

All we need now for a perfect day is a Liverpool win in the Premiership…

The future’s bright, the future’s orange

Photo: The biggest ride possible staying within the limits of Cartoceto

From tomorrow (Sunday 15th November) we enter the Covid Orange Zone. Our region is moving up from Yellow. This means all the restaurants and bars will shut and we cannot leave the confines of our Comune. Cartoceto is quite a small Comune but we have the essentials.

At least the building work can continue.

In anticipation of this we did stock up on essentials we can’t buy within the Comune. We toured various cantinas to get us enough red wine to see us through to the new year.

As we’re not resident, then technically we don’t have a Comune to stay within, but that wouldn’t be fair, nor do we fancy trying to explain that to the Caribinieri. Especially as we have an appointment on Monday morning to submit our application for residency under the Withdrawal Agreement.

We suspect we’ll be moved into the Red Zone before we start to come back down again to the Green Zone, but we’ll see. Just like every body else, we’ll just have to make the most of it.

Breakfast on Sunday, Orange Zone style. A take away in a local park isn’t exactly the experience we’re used to but at least we’re trying to support local traders, including Arté Caffé in Lucrezia.


A small start but at least we are on our way

How long does it take from first thought to a spade in the ground? In our case 6 years. That’s how long it’s taken us to get planning permission and start the building of a garage, cantina and portico at Casa Angeletti. Admittedly Covid-19 got in the way which delayed things a bit but running through quicksand is easier than navigating Italian bureaucracy.

One of the features of Italian building sites is that you have to display this sign showing the number and date of your planning permission to show the world you are playing by the rules.

The real fun starts tomorrow when the digger turns up to excavate the hole for the underground cantina. Today was just the prologue, digging up the tiles and concrete next to the house where the garage will be going.

After all this time, a big day for us.

London calling

Photo: Not sure why we swapped the autumn sunshine in Italy for this

At this time of the year we’d normally be preparing for our return to London for the winter. Not this year. Brexit and Covid means we’ll probably be in Italy for the winter, with no idea when we’ll be in London next. If there is another lock down, we’d rather be in Casa Angeletti than in the apartment.

With this in mind we decided on a quick dash to London to sort out a bunch of stuff.

We were busy.

During our stay we bought a load of stuff to take back to Italy; cleaned the apartment; collected veggies for a food bank; saw friends for dinner; gave blood; saw our estate agent about selling the apartment some time; completed Lamb’s Passage Management Company business; rode the Italian Job with the maximum of 5 other riders; met with a company who might rent out the apartment; and finally had dinner with friends on the last night of Tier 1 for London.

Whilst out on a walk through the City, we noticed a new dry cleaners. Not sure they thought through their shop front:

We got back last night. We’re now in isolation pending our Covid test tomorrow morning.

It’s been a while

Photo: A fantastic lunch at Falco in the sunshine on the last day of September with Bernadette and Gerard.

We realised today that we’ve not updated this blog for some time. Looking back at the photographs since our last entry in July, we realised that our life has been dominated by training for and then comleting the Giro di Muscoli (see Colin’s blog) with a few guests sprinkled throughout the summer.

The last of our guests for 2020 left this morning. Bernadette and Gerard headed back to the Netherlands. Eating, drinking and chatting featured highly.

Our other guests this year were Emilia, Jyde and Arun then Andy who joined me for five stages of the Giro di Muscoli.

Now that Autumn is well and truly with us we will be very busy until at least the end of the year. Updates will be more often over the next few months as we start our garage, cantina and portico build; buy another property; apply for our Italian residency; change the registration plates on the car; harvest the olives and nip back to London for a week whilst we still can. Watch this space.