Sunday, October 9, 2016

Our house of dreams is finished, and we get a look up close with new friends

Two days ago, Lucy and I arrived back at our home inside the walls of Montecarlo. Yesterday we visited one of our former  “dream homes,” a once run-down casa rustica in San Salvatore that five years ago had inspired us to envision buying a house here. It is no longer crumbling, sagging and dilapidated—very much the contrary. It is now a shining example of the splendid transformation that a good portion of tender loving care and money can render.
Lucy standing atop the river levy in 2010.

We noticed last summer that the derelict house, visible from the train tracks and also via Mattonaia, had a construction crew working on it. We felt a certain nostalgia because we had often looked longingly at the place, even though we knew it would never be ours. We had decided that fixing it up would be too costly, or at least too time-consuming. We wanted to come to Montecarlo to relax and mingle with Italians, not work on houses—we already had plenty of work to do on our houses in Gig Harbor.
After a total transformation, Kjetil, Laila and Lucy converse outside the train house.

But we were also content to see that someone had shared our interest and vision for what we sometimes called “the train house,” and we looked forward to seeing what it would look like when finished. We assumed that we would only get to see the finished exterior, but through a happy set of circumstances, we are also able to tour the interior.

We had lunch in Montecarlo with the owners of the train house, Kjetil and Laila, whom I had met online by chance earlier this year. I had noticed that Kjetil had written Tripadvisor reviews in English about some familiar Montecarlo locations, and he mentioned in one that he would soon be living in Montecarlo. I contacted him through Tripadvisor and learned that it was he and Laila who had purchased the train house. I directed him to my old blog entry about his house, and we set up a time to meet.

Laila and Kjetil in front of the remodeled fireplace.
We enjoyed lunch and conversation at the Osteria alla Fortezza, where we learned that Kjetil and Laila are native Norwegians who had worked in Houston, Texas, for two and half years and were currently living in Russia, where Laila works in human resources for an oil company. Kjetil had also worked for an oil company but is now retired. They intend to make Montecarlo their permanent home when Laila retires. They are in their 60s like us, with 15 grandchildren, and we found them molto simpatici. After the meal, we drove down the hill to see what they had done with the place.

An earlier view of the fireplace, as it appeared two years ago.
The freshly stuccoed and painted outside looks almost completely new, with the exception of a few places where the original stones were left to show. The broken, missing and sometimes bricked-over windows have all been replaced. The yard has been mowed and cleaned up. Inside, the transformation is even more striking. Here and there, a door or some stonework from the old house has been re-used or left exposed, but for the most part the interior looks entirely new and modern, designed in a style part Norwegian, part Italian and part American—and maybe even part Russian, for all I know.

It makes us happy to see the house in good hands and looking so beautiful. We wouldn’t have had the patience, time or money to finish it so well. We also feel fortunate to know the couple who did the work, and we look forward to continuing to develop this friendship. When we started coming to Montecarlo in 2010, we wanted to interact mostly with Italians to speed up the development of our language skills. But in the past year, we’ve realized that it’s time to reach out and find more English-speaking friends as well, and it’s comforting to know that we have so much in common with Kjetil and Laila, who will be nearby when we come here in the coming years.
The finished kitchen.

The kitchen in 2014


  1. That's absolutely amazing - how wonderful to have it back to it's glorious condition and that you have new friends

  2. What a great experience and story! Love it!


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