The first of the month and we'd booked a trip to the Xmas market via steam train in Seggiano, we'd never heard of the place but it was in the Monti Amiata area of Grosseto, friends came along too. What a day! We got up at 5am, shocked the cats silly, sorted them out and us on the road in time to meet up at the station. The train to Siena was a normal diesel from Chiusi and we arrived before the steam train which was 15 mins late. There were about 300 people waiting thankfully all the seats were pre booked, from tiny babies in arms, grandfathers and a small band. The carriages were ancient 3rd class with hard oak bench seats and no heating which we noticed as the temperature was only 1c and the journey to the next stop took us 1hour back the way we'd arrived, so we decided on the way home to disembark at that point and catch an earlier train home. The countryside was raw and only just tamed, explosions of pheasants, partridge and deer as the train passed hedges and overgrown fields, became almost commonplace as we traveled long. The organizers had a knowledgeable person in each carriage to point out local historical points and currant use of the land. The area passed through the Crete-sense which is known as the “bread basket of Italy”. We were deposited at a remote station and allocated into 7 very plush and warm coaches for the trip up the mountain, it was hair-raising but we arrived safely and were told to return to the bus at the same spot at 4.20pm. We looked at the 1km up the hill to the town and at the supplied minibuses that were going to and fro but we seemed never to be in the right spot to catch one and the freezing wind was howling like a banshee. A lady called us over and said she could get us all in her car and so packed in with her shopping on our laps she drove us up in to the old town to the barriers where she said we had just a short walk into the temporary pedestrianized area. The walk was a struggle against the wind and terror of the shear drop to the side. The views were breath taking, scary as the town had seemingly grown straight of the the rock of the mountain and the wind had sculpted each an every stone to shape! We hung on to each other and gritted our teeth, the few stall holders at the top were hanging on for dear life to their shelters and small children and the frail were at risk of being blown away by the gusts.

The market was a disappointment, a dozen stalls, a few cantinas and the old mill were open for us all to prowl through. The mill was located under a house in the square on 3 levels through solid rock the question we wanted answered was how did they get the mill stones up there and why did they haul the fruit up to the mountaintop to process it?

In the freezing gale we sought shelter in the church, a bar, vaults, anything... We lunched in a small temporary dinning room opposite the church where we really enjoyed home made ravioli, bruscetta, the local Brunello red wine. We hung around for as long as we could then made our way back to catch a minibus to the bottom of the hill where we, and 100 others, camped out in the pizzeria/bar watching football. We agreed it had been well organized, the people of the town welcoming and very good to put up with 300 strangers descending on them for 5 hours, not a murmur of complaint with all of us crammed in keeping warm out for the cold wind, but there simply wasn't enough to do or see and frankly 5 hours in Siena would have been the same. The journey home was via Monti Amiata station, we couldn't look as the buses transversed the hairpin bends over deep drops, which had been closed since the 1990's and was only used by the steam train occasionally so no amenities, we got off early at Asciano to wait half hour on a cold platform for the regional train and a warmer journey home. Perhaps the steam train in the summer maybe more fun.

We've had freezing fog for most of the month dragging the house temperature down a bit but we managed to maintain around 17c in the big room, so we're content but Mike almost walked into the car it was so thick and couldn't see the pergola never mind the gate so canceled shopping Friday and went out Sat instead, it was manic! but treated ourselves to lunch in CDL at Julio's, VERY nice in fact better than Quo-vadis, and so reasonable, well worth the trip there. 10 of the usual suspects got together for a Xmas pizza at Santa Maria old mill , Ann treated us all as her present and thank you for all the dinners over the last 12 months, it was a fun evening.

Mike has been experimenting with a flower pot heater. You put 2-4 night lights on a tin tray with a lip or a wire rack, top with a small terracotta flower pot covered with a much larger one and they heat up and act like radiators and run 4 hours at a go. Then he's been burying potatoes in foil in the hot ash buckets from Bertha, he's threatening to cook the chicken in the bottom! All this time on his hands is making life interesting, what will he be up to next? We've got crystal dehumidifiers in the utility and the guest room to see if it keeps the condensation / damp at bay, so far so good.

Had a shocker of a refuse bill in, almost doubled, the comune have revised their charges, loaded up by the government taxes and have also warned us that there will be extra charges for exessive black bins or reductions for those who put out fewer bags, but they hadn't adjusted our domestic rate from business rate, so they corrected it by 155 euros. Ann says they'll have an election before the new rates are added on top. Bad news is IMU is back and due on the 24th of next month but no one knows how much as the government hasn't voted on it yet! Still its cheaper than if we were in the UK paying for a house this size, so how can we complain?

Good news on the shopping front, the English Library sent a notification out about the British Corner Shop where you buy things on line and they'll ship up to 30kg for £11.99 and if you spend over £100 they'll post it out for £5.99 so a group of us can get together and order stuff like spices and exotics like Marmite. OK they don't do everything but family and friends won't be burdened with kgs of stuff lugged hither and yon.

CDP has 2 trees, artificial but beautifully done. We spent a quiet 25th at home with the cats, toast marmalade and champagne. Went to see Francesca and her cats between Xmas and new year and caught up with Annie and her family and friends before she went to visit them in the UK.

Invaded by deer who've eaten the medlars to twigs again and hunters who are after the boar but we missed the worst of the weather that hit the North with snow and the south with rain and gales like the UK.