“When Rome’s in ruins, we are the Lions, free of the colleseums.”

We have come to the land of Nutella and pancakes!

After a long and arduous journey from Spain which involved much confusion and stress, many busses, trains, cars and (in passing) two nuns and a monk we had finally arrived. We are in Umbertide (pronounced umber-tid-ay) or rather the mountains above it which is in the province of Perugia about two hours north east of Rome. It is truly beautiful. Every morning we wake up to the sun rising, arrowing its passage through the mist surrounding the mountains and most evenings the sparkle of a million stars above us shrouded in their cloak of black.

Our hosts were, from the start, very welcoming, despite the language barrier (they do speak English but we have to simplify what we say in order for them to understand). As soon as we stepped off the train Peter was declared to resemble an Australian adventurer! And as we have found out they love pancakes. Now as I have mentioned before, I love pancakes, probably a little too much, so much in fact that I named my travel blog after them. Never in my life have I met someone who loves pancakes more than me until now. I’ve made them several times for our host which results in millions of yummy noises being made, jumping up and down in anticipation and a 1kg jar of Nutella which is brought out at practically every meal. The food is fabulously Italian as you would expect, lots of pasta and pizza so I’m enjoying it immensely.

Our hosts seem to have a problem in life and that is if there is a sick, injured or mistreated animal within a 50 mile radius they will inevitably cross paths and said animal will be taken home with them. This is how most of their animals (dogs, cats and ponies) have been acquired and so this is what our primary job role is; to help look after them. Our morning starts with pony medication, feeding and cleaning out, followed by the same in the kennels. We help take the dogs for short walks which includes a view overlooking the mountains which still takes my breath away each time I see it. We then nip inside for a quick human breakfast (which has involved many pancakes) then we feed the dogs and go on “the poop tour.” We do a complete circuit of all dog walking areas picking up their left overs along with the horse muck then drop it off at the bottom of a field for the farmer to use. This field is also beautiful and I am convinced there must be Wolves nearby.

In fact, there are. Our hosts have never seen a live one but they know they are about and recently came across a young dead female. Their neighbours have also filmed them playing in daylight (when I saw the video I squeaked a lot!) This of course would be the European subspecies rather than Iberians. Other wildlife here includes Porcupines (In Italy! I had no idea!), Roe Deer for which we have seen plenty, many mustelids and the Hoopoe! Pete and I are constantly on the lookout and have found some interesting tracks, lots of scat and a Porcupine quill so far. It’s all very exciting from a potential wildlife perspective.

The other thing it is here is cold. We came to Italy and it’s bloody freezing! I can’t quite believe it. The high the other day was just 6 degrees! As zookeepers (and northern England ones at that) Pete and I are pretty hardy to the cold but the main issue is the house itself has no insulation and no heat source either unless the fire gets lit. Up on the mountain it’s obviously a fair few degrees colder anyway but very often we are surrounded by cloud, mist and buckets of rain. Not the first thing that comes to mind when you imagine Italy. We have been told this is actually quite unusual for the time of year but it does make us appreciate the sunshine when it does make an appearance. Thankfully this has happened today and the temperature itself seems to have warmed up considerably. I blame the humongous clap of thunder we witnessed first thing this morning which was enough to rattle the glass in the windows and wake me from sleep (an achievement of hugely difficult proportions!)

One thing I love about being here is the fact that Peter gets to do karate. When we found these hosts on workaway we were excited by the prospects of Italy and working with animals but then we read that one of our hosts does karate twice a week. It was perfect. Pete has done karate since he was a teenager and is a 2nd Dan black belt (pretty lethal in lay mans terms) but had, more recently, struggled to find a club in which he truly gelled with. However he has received a very friendly welcome from the Italians (despite only a few of them speaking any English at all) and I have taken to photographing the sessions for which our host is very happy. I had never actually seen Pete do karate before and it’s wonderful to seem him so focused and driven as well as appreciating just how good he is. Apparently one of the guys from the first kumite fight he did was completely broken the next day!

We are also getting a little braver. Initially the lack of language skills truly daunted us in Spain but as we get used to fact that we stick out like a sore thumb and can only communicate very basically we are gradually finding our feet. We have managed independent shopping (I even managed to source correct baking ingredients) and an adventure into the local town for a whole day on our own. But that is another story entirely.

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