Late July 2019: arriving in Massa Marittima

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Over thirty friends and family joined us at Il Girifalco, Massa Marittima to celebrate David’s first 65 years. Hugh, David and I arrived on Tuesday 23 July to find Jill, Peter and Lottie (travelling on her ice-cooler blanket) already in place after their drive from the UK, and ready for supper (including that runaway favourite of cinghiali  and olives) in Grassini, with its wonderful view of the Cathedral

and Rob and Joanna were next, joining us on a very hot Wednesday (though not as hot as the record-breaking temperatures they left behind in the UK (38 deg in Cambridge), in time for supper at EraOra, with its very fish-oriented menu.

There were two tense moments.  First, the sudden news of Easyjet cancelling Laura’s Friday flight, which led to a flurry of iphones searching for, and rapidly booking an earlier alternative after a quick consultation with both Laura and Frances (who was i/c the children back home. And would there be a bed for this extra night? Hugh offered to sleep in a car…) Second, at the other end of the electronic capability spectrum, a refusal by the ristorante to take payment on more than one card, or a card and cash. An exasperated (and slightly hammed up)  ‘tre amici, tre carte…. che cos’è il problema??’   seemed to do the trick…

Laura was not alone in having her travel plans disrupted. Erica and Steve, travelling by train, had news just before they left the UK that a part of the southbound rail tunnel through the Alps had collapsed, and the alternative offer was a coach ride from Paris to Milan.  They found a kinder route, via Marseilles and Genova, and arrived in Follonica Stazione Ferrovia at 16.35, only five minutes behind schedule.

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Margaret arrived just after lunch by car from her home in Paciano in Umbria,  followed soon after by Allan, Rebecca and Jonny. Anna was not far behind, travelling by train from Rome after earnest prayers had been offered at St Peter’s for all MW students. Peter and Jill swept her up in time to join the ever-expanding group for ‘una cena fuori’ at Le Mura, with its spectacular views as the sun set over the hills.

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This time the evening was interrupted by news that the extraordinary weather conditions in the UK (huge storms following a dramatic break of the heat wave) were generating both delays in flights and further cancellations. By 23.00 the driver of the transfer in Pisa airport began to doubt the existence of Laura’s flight. David returned to the hotel to help Simona keep him to task…

Laura finally arrived at 01.30, safe and sound. Hurray.

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Sadly two of our number didn’t make it. Sue and Robert were marooned in France when their virtually brand new Range Rover packed up, and resisted both local efforts and two days later, the UK engineer sent by Land Rover. They finally reached home in the UK four days after the party. As I write, caravan and range rover are yet to arrive!

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Friday 26 July arrived, and as the day wore on, so did our remaining guests: Jason and Jess after a short stay in Pisa; the WSET team, Vicky, Sara and Harry (after a long wait in the wrong car hire queue), Carla and Eduardo from Sassotondo in the southern Maremma,  and shortly before the 18.00 start of our ‘grande degustazione’ Giulio and Janey of Morisfarms, Gianpaolo and Justine, former owners of Poggio Argentiera, and Magdi, proprietor of Il Bacchino, Massa Maritimma’s wonderful Enoteca and delicatessen.

Thanks to Simona, and all the staff at Il Girifalco for the wonderful food and tremendous flexibility over booking rooms;  and to Margaret for most of the photos!
We missed other family members: Jez and Emma, en route to the Galapagos Islands; Ralph and Rachel, Luke and Sam, juggling work, family and Sam’s occasional but distressing viral wheeze; James and Lucy, Ernest and Olive, moving house to New Alresford in a heatwave while James was running all Hampshire’s Development cricket squads’ summer fixtures, and Adam in Los Angeles with work while Laura’s and Adam’s daughters, Alba and Marlowe had a sleepover with Frances in Salisbury for her birthday.

We missed other great friends: David and Kate were celebrating their big 50th wedding anniversary with family at WOMAD; Sheila and Derek, busy taking weddings, Helen, awaiting the imminent arrival of her son’s first baby; and Joan, whose husband Len is sadly too ill to travel. And finally, two of David’s fellow MW students, Gabriele, with Azzurra and  Guiseppe of Montalcino, and Pietro of Donna Fugata in Sicilia, both hard at work in the wine industry.

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They were with us in spirit – and we rather hope there’ll be a next time!

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