Tuscan Love

The last few days have seemed like a dream. From the overnight train ride from Nice, France, to Firenze, Italy, to staring out the hotel window on the Tuscan countryside wearing low-hanging clouds like a favorite gray sweater, to spending way too much money on a few bottles of Brunello and a super-tasty Supertuscan in Montalcino, I can´t tell you what has been the best. It´s just all one big blur of BEST.

Night trains – um… well, it was an adventure! When I first looked in and saw the claustrophobic space and bunk beds we´d all be occupying, I about freaked. But once you get settled in your prison bunk for the ride and the train starts moving, rocking you to sleep, I sorta dug it, ya know? Boys loved it, even though we didn´t get great sleep. I´d sleep for a while, and then a stop would wake me up. Then I started thinking we must be going through mountains, and do you suppose there were sheer cliffs… right OUTSIDE MY WINDOW!?!?!?…. yeah, I´m afraid of heights, took me a while to get back to sleep.

Arriving in Firenze was easy, snagged a cab to the airport to grab our rental car, and I girded my loins for Italian drivers, and off we went. Now, can I just say briefly that my opinion has reversed on round-abouts. They really are the way to go, just blowing throw a stopping place instead of stopping would save oodles of liters of gas, and that´s pretty much how I prefer to go through stop signs. Once you get the hang of if, it really doesn’t suck. I only almost killed us once at a yield/pseudo-roundabout. Looked like a roundabout, really wasn´t, more like a slow down, look both ways (which I didn´t), but we survived it.

San Gimignano is packed with tourists through the day or until the rain starts coming down in buckets, which it´s done about every day that we´ve been here, but the nights are truly brilliant– quiet, perfect, all the old Italians sitting in the cave-like thing by the old cistern in the middle of town. This town, with all the old towers and walls is what every Renaissance Fair is aiming for and never gets close to. It sits on the top of a hill, and the view from everywhere, especially our windows, is everything it is supposed to be. Harry said, “Mom, I can die happy now. It´s like someone gave me a postcard of a beautiful place I´ve always wanted to be, and I was able to just step into it and live.” And the smells…. From the cooking to the pungent jasmine growing behind the walls, to just all that lush earth in every direction, everything about Tuscany smells fully alive and present.

I´ve also become an Italian driver… ignoring speed zones (what speed zones?), passing on hills to get around slow-moving tourists. It´s not all that bad. I only passed one super-slow guy, but I became my kids´ hero in that moment, so I am satisfied.

Siena.is.beautiful. I want to stay there forever or at least a week or two. It´s too busy with tourists in the summer, but I want to go back in October or November, when you can wander the brown city surrounded by walls, walk across the slanted, bricked beautiful center of the city, staring up at the striped tower of the Duomo without the other hundreds of tourists hanging around. My sons had a weird reaction to St. Domenic´s, which is where St. Catherine of Siena´s head is and is the basilica built in her honor. They found St. Denis in Amboise (founded by St. Denis, who was martyred by having his head cut off, who picked it up, ,tucked it under his arm, walked up the hill with it and then died, which is where they build the church) to be completely peaceful, and we spent a long time in there, all three of us, just smiling and meandering about, sitting in solitude, with the sound of chanting as accompaniment. They found St. Domenic´s not peaceful in the least. I didn´t either, but I didn´t feel that in a bad way, more like it was full of energy and presence, which is how I expect St. Catherine was. Anyway, they think the head isn´t real, I´m positive it is, and a big friendly fight ensued as we wandered the streets of Siena in pouring rain. It was lovely, and I do mean that, probably one of the memories I´ll most cherish from this trip.

Montalcino is underrated – nobody was there! Now, true that the city is pretty focused on Brunella wines, but, um, they should be. They are extremely tasty, as are those new Supertuscans. We bought ten bottles of one of them because as soon as it hit my mouth, it was like something was doing a twirling tap dance in there. Completely charming.

Now I sit here writing this staring out my window at clouds. The rain has stopped, but all of San G. is covered in clouds.

Tomorrow we are off to Umbria, to go visit Cascia – St. Rita, you know, my very favorite saint besides St. C., is there and is an incorruptible. Yeah, yeah, I know, but when you´re
Catholic, this is just stuff you do and actually enjoy and argue about. After Umbria, it is two days in Rome and then home. Home, yikes, is it time already? Yeah, I think it is.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Sounds marvelous!! 😡 Enjoy some lovely Tuscan food and wines for me.

  • March says:

    Squeeeeee!!!!!!! I loved Siena and San G (as a friend calls it). I think I told you I ate like a pig the whole time, good thing you’re walking a kajillion miles a day, eh? And I am so glad you are having so much fun! Also glad you did Paris first then Italy; it’s like having the warm-towel treatment *after* being beaten with sticks. 😉

    • Patty says:

      Yeah, thank God for the walking!!! Today is molto walking, Vatican museums, Sistine Chapel, then the Coliseum. We should be toast by the time we get back.

  • violetnoir says:

    Wow, your posts of the trip are captivating, Patty! I am a total Francophile, but Tuscany sounds simply beautiful.

    And now you have me curious about tasting those Supertuscan wines. Hmmm…I wonder if my local wine store carries them. I will definitely look into it!


    • Patty says:

      You should try the supertuscan. I think they call them IGTs because they are outside of the normal Italian rating system. They do a blend of grapes. Really interesting, but even more expensive, some of them, than a good Brunello. I think worth it, though!

  • Mindy says:

    I think you’ve finally helped over my fear of flying. I can’t let a silly thing like that stand in my way of seeing this beautiful world. Thank you.

    • Patty says:

      Totally concur. My youngest son is afraid of flying, and it will always bother him, but he wants to see things more than he hates flying. you do have to go!

  • Catherine says:

    I have a passion for the incorruptibles, and I long to see St. Catherine of Sienna, the saint I took on as my patron during my confirmation so many year ago. There is another incorruptible St. Catherine in Paris, as well, whom I visited often during the year I lived there.

    DH and I went to Italy a few years ago, staying primarily in Rome. Before that trip, he believed my longing for Europe was a first-rate fantasy. Two days into the trip, he turned and said, Yes, you’re right–I want to live in Italy now.

    Continue to enjoy every moment. You sound marvelous!

    • Patty says:

      You should go! We had hoped to go to Nevers and see St. Bernadette, but we couldn’t work that in, so we’re going to aim for that next time I go to Paris. St. C. is my confirmation saint too!

      Italy is magic. I’m always surprised that the whole world doesn’t just up and move there. If their postal system weren’t so bad, I’d go!

  • carlene says:

    Thank you for such a wonderful post! I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was when I was in Italy; I dream of returning some day (soon). You never think it’s going to be as beautiful as the photos, and it *is*, and even more. And Umbria (Assisi) was my favorite place of all. I had the best meal of my life there, too.

    Oh, and also? You are very brave to drive. I don’t know if I could do it.

    • Patty says:

      I want to spend more time in Umbria next time. we drove by Assisi, and I just wanted to pull over and change our plans… again…

      The driving wasn’t so bad… sorta. We had some bad moments here and there. I told the boys as we hit the end of the driving portion of the tour, “all I need now is a narrow span bridge, wide enough for just one car, with sheer drop-offs on both sides and no guardrails, that’s the only driving condition/fear I haven’t had to quite face this trip.”

  • Jennifer says:

    I love Sienna; the place I dream of going back to and just spending time there. This so funny the time I did spend there it rained on us too. So incredibly beautiful

    • Patty says:

      I think it must rain a lot off and on. Every afternoon, rain, rain, rain. Now in Rome, it is hot and bleah!!!

      Loved the rain just for the simple fact that all the tourists (yea, not looking at myself in the mirror!) would go home and vacate whatever city we were in. the day it rained in Siena, we wound up in the town square, and the rain just poured, and then it came down that slanted brown brick center towards the cisterns, I guess, that catch rain water, and it’s just something that I’ll never see again — hundreds of tourists jammed up against all the buildings, with umbrellas or out, waiting, and not a sould moving out there in the center.

  • Eileen says:

    It all sounds so beautiful — thanks for telling us about it!

  • chayaruchama says:

    The light is unbelieveable, isn’t it ?
    Lucy is right, as usual….

    Hey, girl- this closet Catholic loves the church scene.
    All those places are redolent of the Divine in an earthy way; just how I like my religion served up.
    So happy it’s been a memorable journey for you all.

    Love you, and want a safe return for my girl.

    • Patty says:

      Hugs back to you. We’ll be home soon!!! Need to walk on some terra familiara soon. 🙂

      Light in tuscany is great. We took so many pictures, and you just keep taking more because you’re getting like this slice of what it looks like, but it’s impossible to really get it unless you go there.

  • Lucy says:

    I envy you in Sienna! It’s like living and acting in a tiny manuscript miniature. The Gothic-ness of it is so wonderful. I only passed through for a day, and wish I had spent more time there. I want to go back and step inside and climb the stairs of one of the “regular” buildings, not just the churches/museums and public spaces. I imagine looking out of a thick walled window opening to the steep street below like they show the onlookers in the old paintings in the backgrounds. After being there I realized how realistic those paintings actually were…

    • Patty says:

      I would love to just retn someone’s apartment or home in Siena for a week or two. I wnat to know how it feels to live there. i don’t know what it is about that particular place, i loved every hill city we went to, but Siena has some mad magic vibes.

  • Louise says:

    Thanks so much for sharing the magic! It brings back wonderful memories of a trip to Tuscany with my son quite a few years ago. After visiting San Gimignano and inhaling a plate of pasta, he asked “mom, why do Americans think they’re the center of the world”? :d/

    • Louise says:

      Oooh-forgot to ask, any great perfume shopping in Florence???

    • Patty says:

      I know! It does give you a proper perspective on the world, just getting out and living in it a bit.

      No time to do any perfume shopping, can you believe it? Just a quick run to Serge and an even quicker meet-up with D. to pick up a bottle for March.

  • Anne says:

    As I was reading I noticed something. You sound so relaxed. It sounds like this has been amazing for you and the trip of a lifetime for the boys. Hope you’ll post lots of photos. 😡

    • Patty says:

      You know, as pooped as we are (aching feet!), I am so relaxed. I work too much doing too many things, and this has been a great and welcome escape from all the things that have stressed me out so much the last few months, and I’ve got a much better attitude on my life and everything now. It is wonderful. 🙂

  • claudia says:

    oh, and please DO try some icecream in San Gimignano!!!
    If you walk up the main street, just before you reach the piazza with the cistern, there’s a gelateria on the left side. They have been awarded several times for their chocolate icecream, and it definitely is the most chocolaty chocolate icecream I’ll ever had! Also try their saffron-pinenut-icecream, it’s totally yummy, too, and I’ve never seen that flavor anywhere else.

    BTW, love your blog, such a great time to waste time while I should be working… and glad you like Tuscany, been there many times, it’s always great. And while you’re in Umbria, there’s a small charming village called Panicale, near Perugia, the restaurant Masolino serves excellent food at really cheap prices)

    • Patty says:

      We did get ice cream there, and it was delicious. Ice cream daily has been our treat. We aren’t eating in rome, other than breakfast at our lovely hotel and ice cream, because we’re staying near the Vatican, and unless this pizzeria nearby pans out, everything else is overpriced and tragically bad – I know there are great restaurants here, but we’re on foot and tired and just can’t hang for hunting them down. I wound up with a sandwich they claimed was proscuito, but it sure looked like hot dogs to me. 🙂

      • claudia says:

        Absolutely know what you mean! LOL!
        Cannot recommend anything in Rome to you, though. I’ve just been there once, in my poor student days, and lived of a giant bag of dry cookies cos I couldn’t afford anything else. And walked for hours through the city, even out to the Catacombs, cos I couldn’t afford the bus ticket either. The Catacombs are really cool, though, you might like them from a Catholic point of view.

  • Silvia says:

    I am so happy you are enjoying my country, I suspect you’ll love Umbria even more than Tuscany.
    If we hadn’t miserably lost the soccer match last night against Holland, you would have also experienced the post victory celebrations, everyone out in cars honking and shouting.<:-p

    • Patty says:

      I am deeply in love with your country!!! But I was the first time I was here. I think I need to make sure to come back every couple of years. Even as crazy and dirty and insane as Rome is (and just getting to our hotel is a whole story we will laugh like crazy at in a few years, we’re only chuckling about it so far), i adore it.

  • juliaforsberg says:

    San Gimignano is a magical place! I would love to go back there someday. The narrow cobbled streets, the small alabaster work shops, the view over the tuscan landscape *deep sigh*.

    It’s a pleasure to get to follow your trip. It sounds like you’re having a great time:)

    • Patty says:

      thanks! We are having the best time. This is the most time I’ve had since we left to sit down and play on the internet. It’s been ridiculous, but wonderful in every way.

      I really loved and enjoyed San G, but I definitely want to spend more time in Siena next trip. I was afraid it would be too big for us when I booked our hotels, but some folks on the train into Rome told us a great place to stay that’s really cheap and run by a convent. Sounds perfect! She said the view from their window of the Tuscan countryside was breathtaking.

  • ummm. . . an incorruptible? Have you tried letting it run for political office? That should fix it right away. It might start out slow, take a few bribes, but in six months, it should be fully corruptible.

    Sounds like a wonderful trip, especially for the boys. Mine is older, and backpacking through Mongolia. Oy. A mother worries.

    Have a wonderful time in Sienna. It sounds like you are totally steeped in Italian love. Yep. Still happens.

    • Patty says:

      hey, a great idea! 🙂

      Backpacking through Mongolia sounds perfect now. I found out some things on this trip — when you are older, you worry about everything when traveling. When you are young, you just don’t care. it makes it so much easier for youth to just take off and do something bold like that. both boys have loved the trip, but now appreciate home too, but I think they’ve also got the travel bug, just thinking two-week doses are about enough at one shot.

      italy love, I really could live here.