September 9 - 23, 2006
The location of the Villa is so perfect to explore Tuscany and actually, all of Italy really. One brother is a true wine aficionado and he spent most days going south to the Chianti region. My other brother spent his time in Florence, and for me, it was the countryside that was most appealing. We did a day trip to Pisa and that is only day I wish I had done something else. Yes - it has a tower, it leans badly. And that is it. On the way to Pisa, however, is Lucca which is incredible. A completely medieval town with stunning churches everywhere. A town that must be experienced on foot.
When you travel further south to Siena, the landscape changes from lush green pastures to a rich, red earthen color. This is where the crayola color, Burnt Siena comes from and actually, the crayon doesn't do it justice. Also south of the villa is San Gimignano, known for it's numerous towers, hence the nickname, the Medieval Manhattan. Found great shops in this town. One thing you must take in account as you plan your day trips in Tuscany. What looks like a couple of inches on a map or 50 kilometers/30 miles IS NOT 30 MINUTES. Unless you're on the Autostrada, but when you get off that and onto regular roads, figure 30 miles an hour TOPS.
But the most memorable trip away from Tuscany we took was to Venice. We took the train from Florence on the most rainy and dismal of days, but as you'll discover, driving in Italy takes twice as long to get anywhere as you think it is going to. We arrived in Venice and the clouds opened and the rain was coming down in sheets. The line for the Vaporetti (public transportation) tickets was not covered and we got completely drowned. But then we got on the Vaporetti and began traveling down the Grand Canal and right in front of us was 1,500 years of architecture, of history. And I must emphasize that no matter how much you read about Venice or how many pictures you see, it's not until you are there do you really get the magic of Venice. It is like no other place on Earth. I could write a book about how incredible it is here, but suffice it to say, we only had a day and that small window of time was undoubtedly the most memorable of the two weeks I had in Italy.
I read in one of the tour books as I was getting for this trip, "Don't do in a day in Italy what you think you can or should do or see, but really see what you do." Or something to effect and that is really true. The pace in Italy is very different that America. Forget the fact that most of buildings there were built before we were even a country, but simple driving in Italy is a pleasure to be savored. We have super highways and live life at warp speed. In Tuscany, a side trip into the mountains became an all day journey with winding roads, incredibly beautiful topography and off the beaten path places that aren't famous or have anything to offer than there mere existence. But in experiencing Skia, the people, the cafe, the streets, you experience the true simple pleasures of life. Good food, good people in a good place or Venice in the pouring rain. Just being there changes you.
One side note that I must add to this is to tell you about the trip home. I took the afternoon flight out of Florence and missed the connection at De Gaulle so Air France put me up for the night. Missing a flight and being stranded at an airport hotel is not fun, BUT what happened was incredible. A couple of the other stranded passengers were also fellow Bostonians and rather than lament our fate, we took a tour of Paris by night. When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade and that is exactly what we did. And the reason I tell you that just breaking up the trip back to the states into two days of traveling instead of one, really cut down on the jet lag and adjusting to the time. Plus, like my trip to Venice, even though it was only for an evening, seeing Paris at night was incredible.
Finally, thank you to the staff of Wimco for all their help in planning this trip. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget and to whomever reads this, I can't encourage you enough to go to Italy, to Tuscany, to Casa dei Frati. It is memorable beautiful and a place that one day, I hope and pray to return to.
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