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Our friends Rich and Gerry are the latest visitors to stay with us here in Torri and from the very first day they threw themselves into a punishing mountain walking regime, despite the threatening weather. Just like others who have visited us here, their legs sprung boldly into action up our steep mountain slopes before their over-stretched muscles shouted ‘stop!’ and we gave them time for recovery. Having the Ligurian mountain scenery so accessible for the last five months seems to have given us something of an edge in the lower limb fitness stakes when compared with most of our visitors, that and the 61 steps up to our apartment door, of course.

Our evenings with Rich & Gerry were occupied with playing a card game we were taught by our son Ben some weeks ago, a new one (to us) and one that now seems to have slipped permanently into the repertoire of our lives. Sadly the one-word English name by which this game is commonly known is so vulgar that I will avoid writing it here by loosely translating it into the French phrase – ‘TĂȘte de Merde’ – in the hope that this will offend less. (Anyone interested in knowing the rules should follow this link.)

A few weeks later and I have reached a significant milestone, my 60th birthday. This time our visitors are my mother and George, her companion, and we were treated to meal out in the Italian style. To those used to the British way of eating a meal it may seem strange to be served a succession of tiny portions of different foodstuffs, one after the other, over a period of several hours, all nibbled along with pieces of bread and (of course) floated down with wine. There is far less mixing of tastes on the same plate as we might be used to in the UK, each mouthful being just a single tasting experience rather than a blend. ‘Meat and two veg’ it is not. At our meal each morsel arrived on a new plate (in lesser restaurants the same plate is re-used), was dressed with olive oil from a different region and was flavoured with marjoram or rosemary if the chef felt this was needed. Eating this way the diner is encouraged to focus on one single flavour and one texture before cleaning the palette (with wine of course) then being served the next. In Italy a meal is expected to be a social occasion which takes as long as it takes – no rush – and it ends when it seems right that it should.

The final dish was the fruit course and mine arrived with a blazing roman candle stuck in a strawberry, a nice touch and a very memorable end to the delicious birthday meal.

Encouraged to show our distinguished visitors more of the area we live in we popped into France to take in the noisy delights of the Menton Lemon Festival, complete with its fire-breathing, orange and lemon dragon and a parade of near-naked dancers. Then on another day we explored the back streets of Savona just along the Italian coast, a town which boasts a Sistine Chapel with a ceiling painted almost as artistically and dramatically as the more famous Roman one. Savona was the home of Pope Sixtus IV, one of the line that give their name to such chapels.

Kate and I are not great at being tourists and do not generally give sightseeing the priority many think it deserves. We generally prefer to shun the crowds and sneak away somewhere quiet where we can appreciate something nobody else would be remotely interested in – like a set of attractively curved roadside benches which would put at risk the toes of any occupants from passing traffic or else we just gaze at the colours of the mountain landscape we are in, generally dark green but for the next month or so splashed with bright yellow of mimosa flowers.

As spring starts to creep out from under its winter shell we begin to think of leaving this land behind us to return to the boat we left far away on the west coast of Scotland, to meeting up with the many friends we left behind there and to continuing our travels around Britain.

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