Umbria and Tuscany

Trip Start Feb 27, 2008
Trip End May 28, 2008

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Where I stayed
Frank and Gaie's house

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Day 26 - This morning we left Rome and headed to Florence. Florence has a completely different feel than Rome. The people are a slight less pushy and the city has a much more Artisan feel to it. We had our backpacks on, so it was a little hard to go anywhere or do anything. We had some lunch at an outdoor café in the shadow of the Duomo, then walked to the Uffizi (big art gallery) to get tickets. The Uffizi has 4 lines at the entrance. Considering how Italians are allergic to linemaking, I find this alarming. There is a line to get tickets, a line to get in once you have tickets, and line to get reserve tickets so later on you can stand in the reserve tickets line. In front of the gallery is a piazza with several famous statues including the Rape of the Sabines, Neptune, Perseus, and the famous David. Come to find out, this is actually a copy of the Michelangelo masterpiece. The Original stood in that spot until sometime in the 1800's when it was moved to the Galleria alla' Accademia to keep it safe. Why they didn't move it inside the museum it was standing in front of is a mystery to me. Probably so people would go to the OTHER museum in Florence. Tickets were free because of some "cultural heritage week" going on. As a result they were reserved two days in advance. So we booked our tickets and lugged our backpacks across town again to the Train station and boarded the train for Arezzo. The next five nights were going to be spent with Karla's friends from the UK who have a vacation home in the mountains of Tuscany (Turns out it's actually Umbria, but it's close to Tuscany so you can't really tell the difference.). We welcome the break in our adventure because we have been going nonstop for three solid weeks, we're tired of backpacks, churches and museums.
Frank picked us up from the train station and delivered us through some of the least maintained and windy roads I've been on lately. Frank and Gaie have a little villa near the castle of Monte Santa Marie Tiberna. It's a renovated farmhouse from centuries ago. Nobody knows when it was originally built, and it's the perfect getaway from any style of urban living. This place is out in the middle of nowhere. The air is clean and crisp and at night all the stars come out because there is no light saturation. If you sit long enough you can actually hear yourself think. Frank's father, a true Scotsman like Frank, was staying with them for this holiday as well. He was excellent entertainment and a pleasure to share stories with. Unlike most grandparents who bake cookies or sit on the front porch reading newspapers, Bobby is in his upper eighties and still conducting research on the authors of the Geneva bible and weeding the garden in his spare time.
Gaie had dinner and champagne waiting for us when we arrived. I don't know what I did to deserve this treatment, but I'll try to keep doing it. We had rabbit stew with potatoes. Salad and smoked salmon on crackers with cheese and bread afterwards. The food was excellent and the hospitality was absolutely over the top. We went to bed completely content with big smiles on our faces tomorrow, for the first time in as long as we could remember, we had no plans......

Day 27 -  We slept in and it was AWESOME! Gaie, Frank, and Bobby went into Florence for a lunch date so we had the place all to ourselves. I grabbed a can of fruit out of my bag and wondered if I could fine a spoon in their kitchen, but when I walked down I found that they had left a full breakfast set out for us. I have died and gone to heaven this place is as good as home. After breakfast and coffee from a perculating coffeemaker (I love those things) I set to the tast of connecting to the Internet. The directions for the ADSL were in Italian but using my general computer knowledge I half guessed at what words meant and I ended up making it work. I now have food and internet--- this might as well be home! Karla and I visited some of the buildings around the house. These include an old church, a couple of worn down farmhouses and a tower that was used as a signal house. In earlier centuries, this tower would light a fire to signal to Monte Santa Marie Tiberina that the Tuscans were invading. I don't know if they ever used it but it was there just in case. Gaie and Frank's house has a fairly small foot print but it's three stories tal and heated almost completely by wood. I immediately nominated myself head fire master (since Frank wasn't there) and set to the task of up-keeping the blaze all day. Gaie, Frank and Bobby returned that evening and Gaie started dinner and Frank entertained us with drinks and conversation. Frank grew up in Scotland and is a microbiologist who teaches scientists to explain their ideas in ways the public can understand them. When I asked him what he did for a living he said, he was a microbiologist and an actor. Some people might think that this is an interesting combination but being a hydrographer/musician, I found it to be perfectly normal. Frank has a power stage presence, whispy white hair and a passionate affection of the color red. Dinner was wild boar sausage stew, which was so good that I actually requested more. Gaie could make a feast out of two bananas, three saltine crackers, a bag of walnuts and some rosemary. Don't ask me how, it's not a skill I've required but I admire her for it. Frank can discuss almost any topic in depth and is just more friendly then a man with multiple doctorates to be. That night at dinner the topics of discussion included fine art, modern art, frescos, WWII submarines, and finally formations created by shadows on their rock wall. We probably should have gone to bed after the submarines.

Day 28 - We woke up very early and Frank chaueffered us to the train station where we caught the train to Florence. Now not having backpacks we were able to go inside the Duomo. We were a bit jaded about the number of cathefrals we had seen in the last four weeks so we decided against the 460+ stair climb to the top of the dome-leave something for next time right? We meandered through the streets gazing at the shops and eventually found a pizzeria where we had lunch. After lunch, it was time to see the Uffizi, which normally takes an entire day in itself but we managed to slam it in in five hours. The Uffizi holds all types of priceless art from Byzantine to Renaissance. Notable pieces included  Botticelli's "Birth of Venus," several early Leonardo pieces, and hundreds of marble sculptures and numerous paintings that would excite the hell out of an art student. I did recall one piece I remember hearing about in the audio guide was a round Michelangelo canvas commissioned by someone to hang over their bed. When they saw the painting, they rejected it. Immediately afterwards, the public proclaimed it a masterpiece, and so he bought it back at a much higher price due to Michelangelo's large ego and distaste for disrespect. In the middle of the fifth hour, I decided it was time to go. I'm sure Karla could have stayed much longer. After the Uffizi, we tried to go to Santa Marie Novella, another large cathedral in the area. But because it was closed, we decided to go to the train station and write postcards instead.
Karla met Nadine while they were living in the same building in New York. Karla was doing her internship and Nadine was going to law school. The two became good friends and a year later Karla flew to the UK to attend Nadine's wedding. That is where Karla met Frank, Gaie and Bobby as well. Nadine arrived in Florence later then she expected but we still had time to meet up with her sorta-step sister Sophie who is an artist working at a modern gallery in town. We went to an Irish pub in the Duomo piazza. I've noticed you can find an Irish pub in almost any city in Europe, or the world for that matter. This particular pub had a happy hour special where you could pay for the bill in either Euros or US dollars. Given the current exchange rate, how could I pass up a chance to get rid of these green backs-I bought a round for everyone. It was raining cats and dogs so we splashed our way back to the train station and took a train to Arezzo. Frank happily chauffeured us to the villa where we again enjoyed a stupendous dinner and lovely company.  

Day 29 - Today I woke up early and assisted Frank in gathering and cutting wood for the hungry fireplaces. I could hear the voice of my father in my head the entire day. "You like a warm fire and the wood isn't going to chop itself". We felled an old apple tree that was half dead and leaning precariously. I taught Karla how to chop wood and Gaie did a load of wash. Frank and I then hiked into the woods and fetched a small car-load of aged wood left on the forest floor, chopped and stacked it. After a month of vacationing it felt good to put in a days work and earn actually earn the excellent dinner we had that evening.  

Day 30 - I woke slowly and had to stretch before rising. I am only 25 years old but already I understand why older men comment on youth. I can still chop wood like I used to, but I can't get up quite as quickly the next day. It only took me half the morning (and three ibuprophen) to mend myself. For lunch we were shuttled into citta d' castello (City of the Castle). The car was too small to fit all of us, so we had to travel in shifts. Nadine, Karla and I went first and walked around the market while Frank returned for Gaie and Bobby. We had an excellent lunch at one of Frank and Gaie's favorite places called Café Roma. This was a very cool restraunt that was so friendly. They greeted Gaie and Frank like family and Bobby like a local Celebrity. After dinner we had Ice cream for dessert and the hostess gave us the glass dishes afterward. I couldn't believe the hospitality! This region was turning my opinions on the Italian culture, Now just the Romans are on my shit list. After lunch we retired to the house and did absolutely nothing. I might have even taken a nap, I can't remember.
I know it's difficult to write about it when I've done nothing but it's so good for the soul to have a break from all the fast-paced touring without feeling like I'm missing any sights or anything important.
Dinner that evening of course, was very good. I can't thank Gaie enough for all the effort that she put into preparing meals for us. The Topics of conversation that evening included high fashion, Football, Beckham, and concluded with Frank's parlor tricks including setting a teabag into flight while on fire and holding back a glass of water from spilling by using his napkin. These are the type of people I could spend weeks on end with and never get bored of their company.

Day 31 - Today was Barbecue day, and for the second day in a row it had been textbook perfect weather. Bright blue skies, a light breeze and not a cloud in sight. A neighbor brought his daughter down to the barbecue because she was studying English and wanted to brush up on her skills with some native speakers before planning to go to the UK and US. Frank didn't have any charcoal so we had to try a new method of filling the webber with the hot coals from the bottom of the wood stove. All day I tended the fire and probably roasted and entire tree in my attempts to keep the barbeque going. It worked out great and any of my man-friends would be proud of the fact that without charcoal, we didn't succumb to using the stove on such a beautiful day. We set the table and chairs outside, Frank put on the Forrest Gump soundtrack which completed the scene of a perfect backyard meal on a Sunny Sunday. As the meal was winding down we heard some shouts and noise coming from the road in the valley. "I think they're cheese rolling," Commented Nadine. I dashed inside to get my binoculars and there were, infact, five to eight guys standing in the road with a round of cheese. Taking turns rolling it down the road to for distance and making a hell of a commotion while doing it. It appears similar to golfing, although I have no idea how you win or even count points. Cars passing by apparently encountered this on a regular basis and would stop to allow the cheese to travel its full distance before slowly proceeding through the game. I have never seen anything like this in my life. It was great to see some authentic Italian country Sunday activities.
I am sad to be leaving this place, but as so many rock and rollers before me have stated: "the show must go on" and we have many more countries to see. Gaie and Frank are nice enough to invite us back and the stay was so enchanting that I think we might have to take them up on the offer some time in the future. I feel recharged and ready to take on the world again. Frank and Gaie, if you read this, you've made our trip wonderful, thankyou.
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