On Thursday our friend Alessandro phoned to ask if we would like to go with him to Baratti Bay, where he has a small house near the beach. Baratti is famous for its Etruscan heritage and unspoilt coastline so, although the forecast was a bit iffy, I was thrilled. I love being by the sea, whatever the weather. As I child I could never sleep the night before setting off for the seaside and the same happened this time. I counted every hour between 3 and 6am but filled in the time happily running over my holiday outfits in my mind, to make sure I had packed enough pairs of sandals and shorts.
Beautiful Baratti Bay
So, we met up on Saturday morning, did some shopping for essentials such as pasta, prawns, salumi and wine, then set off for the coast. The drive takes about two and a half hours through amazing Tuscan scenery and lots of sharp bends. Alessandro drives fast and by the time we arrived I was quite queasy, since I had been in the back seat, but a glass of prosecco and a prosciutto-stuffed schiacciata soon sorted that out.
Before we ate though, we had to admire every inch of Alessandro’s beach house. His family had been lucky enough to buy a plot of land about 1 km from the unspoilt bay of Baratti nearly 40 years previously and now there was a delightful, small cottage set in lush gardens. It had all a man could want, two small bedrooms, a kitchen- dining room with fridge that cooled beers in minutes, two static caravans in the garden (one for sleeping in and one for storage) plus two sheds, an outside shower and, wonder of wonders, a long green tent-affair that covered the Vaurien. This last was our main reason for being there. Alessandro has been lovingly restoring the 4m sailing boat for months and Guido wanted to give him a hand with the final painting and varnishing. Alessandro unwrapped the layers of tent and he and Guido hauled the little boat out into the sunshine. Named Moby (Alessandro’s nickname for his wife and no whale connotations at all), it was very cute, with its white hull and wooden interior. We all admired it for a while.
Alessandro, The Moby and … me, overseeing the work from the sun lounger!
The men began to examine the finer point of the design and discuss the sails and rigging. At this point my admiration was overcome by two things – my rumbling tummy and the need to find a toilet. I was a bit confused, because on first investigation of the house I had not noticed a door to the bathroom. I had probably overlooked it in my excitement of being by the sea. Off I trotted to search for a loo. The house plus garden was not exactly huge, so it was strange that I couldn’t see anything that even vaguely resembled a lavatory. I even peeked into the outside shower – only a tatty dressing gown and some old bottles of shampoo lurking there. Finally I had to interrupt a lively discussion of grades of sandpaper needed to achieve the perfect finish. Alessandro rewarded me with a warm smile and indicated the path that ran around the side of the house. There I found what I had taken to be the wooden tool shed. Oh dear. All was soon clear. The house did indeed have all a man could ask for. I, however, am a woman and this was my first experience of an outdoor toilet, apart from on camping holidays. Apart from meeting a rather shy lizard and several dead spiders, the experience was not too bad though and, feeling much relieved, I went back to find that the men had left the boat, for now, and were rustling up lunch.
Lunch was delicious. Then the men got back to work. Several hours and a good sanding and layer of varnish later and the men realised that I was champing at the bit for my first glimpse of the sea. Leaving the men to wrap Moby up again, I went to change into my bikini. Alessandro kindly offered his protection factor 30 sun cream and, since all I had found in my cupboard the previous day was a small squidge of protection factor 20, I took him up on the offer. This would be the first sun my pallid skin saw this year, so it was best to be safe. Guido came to get changed too and yelped when he saw me. Puzzled, I peeked into the small mirror on the bedroom shelf and saw a white mask looking back.
“Don’t worry, it will soon blend in,” I reassured him as he left the bedroom, trying not to laugh. Unfortunately that was not the case. In the end, even when I had scrubbed my face and body with a rough towel there was still a subtle layer of zinc-white remaining. Zinc plus mozzarella skin – not a good combination! When I dared to go outside two men turned innocent expressions on me (Guido had obviously briefed Alessandro about my predicament) and they managed quite well to stifle their giggles. I hid in the car while Alessandro locked up. Or rather tried to. And this is where the turtle comes in. It is a furry turtle of lurid green hue and guards the great wad of keys needed to unlock every shed, caravan and door. Shouldn’t be hard to find, we thought. An hour later my zinc-white had sunk in enough for me to look human again, so that when I found the keys I got a hug from their owner. After looking in all the obvious places but also checking the fridge, the cupboards and the loo-roll store, I had finally decided to check the shower room, even though I didn’t think anyone had been in there. One green turtle smiled up at me from between the bottles of shampoo.
“Oh yes”, said our host, “I remember now, I went to check that the hot water was working for when we get back!”
Alessandro, hard at work in his socks, in case he trod in varnish!
By the time we got ourselves sorted on the lovely beach, a rather pleasant breeze was getting up and a thin veil of cloud was slipping across the sun. I lay down and began to relax.
“Let’s go and see where I am going to keep the Moby when she is ready,” Alessandro suggested. Off we traipsed along the beach. The bay is truly spectacular, fringed with a natural park full of windswept umbrella pines. At this time of year it also has a lot of algae, which lined the edge of the beach and since I did not much fancy walking over that with bare feet, I kept to the wet sand where possible. Often that was not possible, so I had to plough through the soft sand. The short walk seemed a lot longer than it had when Alessandro first indicated our destination but I am sure it did wonders for my thigh muscles. By now I was ready for a swim. We trekked back to our towels and I dipped my toes in the sea – bliss. Also, cold.
Both men declined to swim. They were not hot enough yet. I glanced up at the sky, very definitely cloudy now, and wondered if I could chicken out too but, I am British after all! So off I set bravely, until the water reached my tummy and then I threw myself into the waves to avoid a long period of torture. I surfaced with the darn seaweed on my head. In fact bits of it floated all around me and when I put my feet down the bottom was slimy with it, so I pulled them up again quickly. I swam a few metres, until a long tendril slid along my thigh, then turned tail and got out as fast as possible.
Why is it that when you get out of the sea your flesh seems even whiter than it did before you plunged in? The men, with their Italian skins, were looking quite tanned already! I lay back down and shivered. Thankfully our time had run out on the parking metre so we had to head back home or put more money in. I admitted to being cold and gratefully ran to have a hot shower the moment we reached the house. I did not care about spiders or mosquitoes – it was blissfully warm. Instead of a slinky evening outfit I pulled on a tracksuit and even some socks and stood very close to the BBQ that Guido had lit while Alessandro did a little more varnishing.
That evening was just magical. We cooked fish and prawns over the BBQ, listened to the birds and cicadas serenading us and drank some delicious wine, while talking about so many things and discovering more about our fun and interesting host. When we went to bed Guido and I had a fit of the giggles as we thought back on the day and tried to negotiate fitting two sleeping bags on a rather small bed. Even our nocturnal excursions to the outside toilet were fun. We went together, him clutching the torch to light our way through the garden and on our way back to bed were treated to the spectacle of a night sky free from city lights. Saturn and Mars danced among the other stars and the scent of jasmine was heady in the dark.
Guido and me by the BBQ – Yummy prawn and fish.
The following day we woke to a storm. First the distant rumble of thunder and then a real downpour. Since no work could be done on Moby in this kind of weather we decided to plant the top of the delicious pineapple we had eaten the previous evening. Guido informed us that if the top is planted a new plant would grow, so we gave it a go and if it works Alessandro said he will soon have a small plantation. This first spiky experiment was christened Alain and he was certainly well-watered.
The sun came out again after lunch, so with perfect working conditions the men sanded and painted merrily, while I lay in a sun lounger and directed operations. We all had a great afternoon and the day ended on a perfect note when we drove to the Calidario thermal spa for a long soak in the warm waters while watching the sun set.
Calidario Thermal Spa
On Monday, Alessandro kindly sent me off with Guido (who would much rather have stayed to help him) to the beach while he finished with the boat. He offered us the use of sturdy mountain bikes and Guido cast me an uncertain look. He has been trying to get me on a bicycle for 26 years and is convinced that I do not know how to ride one. Not so – I used to cycle perfectly well but since the age of 12 have had no inclination to do so. Today however, 1 km under the hot sun by foot did not seem very tempting, so the bike was a sensible option. Guido sped off and I wobbled after him. The hem of my shorts somehow kept getting caught up on the seat and the seat was VERY uncomfortable on my nether regions, especially when I found out why we had mountain bikes. I had never ridden a bike with gears before and it took me a while to work out which order to use them in. The track was dusty, uneven and full of tricky stones to negotiate. To my surprise I found myself really having fun (but don’t tell Guido or he will insist of going out together again and there are far too many hills near our house for someone who only has downhill legs!) I raced a few lizards, chatted to butterflies that kept me company and smelt the wonderful aroma of the coastal undergrowth.
All went well until we got to the beach itself. Some twit in the council had decided that putting a slippery rubber slope down to the sand was a good idea. My flip flops slipped from under me and I was so worried about doing damage to the bike that I held on to that and fell under it, breaking the offending flip flop and scraping my knee, not to mention damaging my dignity. The bleeding stopped after several minutes of being rinsed in the waves and I began to see the funny side to everything. After all, this was absolute proof that I was not too old. Who ever heard of a child coming back from a bike ride without a graze or two?
All in all, it was a splendid weekend away and I am looking forward to going back to Baratti when it is time to launch the Moby. First Alessandro has to learn to sail, but that will be another story!