The Call of the Mountains: Italy 7

If anyone was to ask my favorite thing about Italy, I think it would be a toss-up between its people and the mountains. But I guess I like the people in small doses.  Venice was beautiful and intriguing but too crowded. And it was time to move on.

Before we left the states while I was looking for lodging, I found one that I insisted upon. There weren’t that many reviews on the agriturismo site, but the photos were stunning. They showed a small stone house dwarfed by snow-capped mountains. Up to this point, I had only reserved rooms at establishments that had many positive reviews, but the photos made me want to give this place, Pian dei Tass, a chance.

As we drove from the Venice area towards this new place, I expected the flatlands to gradually become rolling hills and then develop into mountains. This was not so. It continued flat, and then flat and, well, flat. I wondered if maybe these Dolomite Mountains weren’t going to be all that I dreamed. We were both a bit weary by this point. I almost wished that we could just be done with this whole trip and go back home. We had traveled so many miles, walked many cobbled streets and slept in 5 different beds. This map shows our travels in Italy.

Map from Google maps

Map from Google maps

It was time for rest. But we couldn’t call it quits. Matt still had much more work to do including one more installation of equipment in Italy. Just when I was about to give up on the mountains, I saw them in the distance, shrouded in clouds. The landscape went from totally flat to humongous mountains! This sight did wonders for my disposition. There, indeed, was more Italy for me to discover!

First, I had to endure two more tunnels. The first one was curvy and over two miles long. Did I mention I hate tunnels? I gulped a large breath of air when we escaped that one. Then we rounded a curve and came upon the most astonishing water I have ever seen. It was Lake Barcis and filled with beautiful turquoise colored water.DSC_3095 6

I stared at the water as we kept going and we came to the dam that made the lake.DSC_3609

We crossed it and went into a one lane tunnel. It was very tight and hewn from the rock. I fussed a bit, but Matt kept on. Thankfully, it was a short tunnel and just a bit from our agriturismo.DSC_3622

What a lovely spot! I got out of the car and slowly spun around. We were completely encircled by the Friulian Dolomites. I could not get over their beauty and majesty!DSC_3219 2

DSC_3321 2As I listened, I heard a bird call. It sounded exactly like a cuckoo clock! I had heard this bird in the mountains when we stayed with Sergio. And here it was again to welcome us back. You can hear it here.

We met our new hosts, Mario and Olga. Once, Mario, the youngest of seven sons, had left this glorious haven to see the world and earn a living. He worked in Africa and Saudi Arabia for a construction company. While visiting at home, he saw a lovely young woman and asked her to dance. That started a lifelong romance with this shy Belgian girl, Olga.  He took her away with him on his travels.DSC_3662 3

But the call of the mountains beckoned him. Mario returned when his parents were elderly and took over the farm.  As he says, “People are more interesting in the country. Things are too easy for them in the city.” And here in the glorious mountains, he, Olga, their son, Marcus, and their granddaughter Marie, work hard to bring joy to their guests.DSC_3330 3

DSC_3664 2I guess when you come from such a long heritage; you just can’t resist coming home. Mario told us that his family migrated from Austria in the 1300s and has been there ever since. It hasn’t been an easy journey. When he was just one year old, Nazis marched up the hill straight to his parents’ farm. One of them picked him up on the way. The women from the town of Barcis were all taking refuge in their home, while the men hid in the mountains. The Nazis were looking for the man from the town that had blown up the tunnel to keep tanks from making their way to Barcis. When the Nazis couldn’t find the man, they took it out on the town and bombed it.DSC_3419 2

Maybe that is part of why Mario left the area for a while. Times were hard. But just as the cuckoo bird welcomed us back to the mountains, so did they to Mario and his family. And I’m glad to have met these wonderful people.

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We were tempted to buy this fixer upper!

We were tempted to buy this fixer upper!

A family we met at the agriturismo. Such lovely people!

A family we met at the agriturismo. Such lovely people!

The mountains are beautiful, but dangerous. A man lost his life here taking photographs.

The mountains are beautiful, but dangerous. A man lost his life here taking photographs.

I still can't get over the color of the water in Lake Barcis.

I still can’t get over the color of the water in Lake Barcis.

The apple trees were in bloom.

The apple trees were in bloom.

A photo of Mario as a young man.

A photo of Mario as a young man.

We did much hiking. Here, Matt, walked up a snow glacier to the waterfall. I had fun throwing snowballs at him while wearing short sleeves!

We did much hiking. Here, Matt, walked up a snow glacier to the waterfall. I had fun throwing snowballs at him while wearing short sleeves!

So many ruins all over Italy

So many ruins all over Italy

I just can't resist taking photos of the flowers. The mountain woods were full of tiny wildflower blooms.

I just can’t resist taking photos of the flowers. The mountain woods were full of tiny wildflower blooms.

I think I could have stayed here forever!

I think I could have stayed here forever!

Read the rest of our adventures in Italy: Italy 1, Italy 2, Italy 3, Italy 4, Italy 5, Italy 6

After this we go to England! England 1

Venice and Easter: Italy 6

As much as I hated to leave our new friends, I really wanted to see Venice, the most romantic city in the world. One of my few regrets of our trip two years ago to Italy was that we hadn’t seen Venice. I thought I probably never would. This time, Matt had work about an hour away from the beautiful city, so I insisted we go.

First we drove from Tuscany towards the coast. Florence was in a complete haze as we passed it and I was glad we I got a photo on the last trip. I had waited over an hour for the sun to shine on the Duomo and got this shot!DSC_5368 3

Matt sang the Oscar Mayer song as we approached Bologna. So much traffic going the opposite way. We wondered why everyone was leaving Bologna. Our GPS kept warning that we were going to encounter heavy traffic on the other side of the city. I observed the traffic and realized that I didn’t see any pick-up trucks. Were they just an American vehicle? I heard a sound that until that point I had only heard in movies. You know the sound during the car chase in a European city, the siren of the pursuing police car? It sounds just like in the movies!

As we continued on, the landscape changed as well as the trees. No longer were we enjoying the sight of the pine trees that I called pencil trees or the other ones that I had dubbed umbrella trees. There were more deciduous trees here on this flatter land. Our next agriturismo, Villa Selvatico, sits on a lovely farm just outside of the modern city of Podova. We settled into our new home. It’s funny how each one of these places has become home. I guess it’s true that home is where the heart is and since I have my sweet husband with me, I’m at home!DSC_2652 2

This agriturismo does not serve food. So we opted to stay in one of their apartments that included a kitchen. This meant that we needed to shop for the food to cook. I was quite tired and it was difficult to focus on shopping. What did we need? How many days should we buy for? There were no essentials in the apartment, should we buy things like salt and pepper, or go without? It took us forever to find the eggs. We kept looking for them in refrigerated sections of the grocery store. No eggs? Finally, Matt asked. They don’t keep them cold in the store! We decided to buy just enough food for one dinner for that evening and eggs for all the breakfasts we would spend at this place. Since we planned to go to Venice the next day, Saturday, we knew we would eat while there. I bought some beautiful produce.DSC_2636 2

Then we walked along the canal next to the farm where we stayed and into the village. Such a lovely place!DSC_2660 2

As we passed a flower shop, I saw that they had some herbs. Did they have rosemary like Sergio used? They did! So we bought a whole plant of rosemary. I felt that my friend, Sergio, would be proud of me. I had fennel from the supermarket and now rosemary. I could make the drink he made of pouring hot water over fennel leaves and rosemary. Here is the flower shop.DSC_2664 2

We planned for Venice as we ate our home cooked meal of chicken, beautiful broccoli, fennel and tomatoes. The tour books said to take a vaporetto, or water bus, down the Grand Canal to San Marcos square. That way you could get an overall feel for the place before being overwhelmed by it. With an all day pass for the vaporetto, you could get on and off as much as you wanted. Sounded like a good plan to us and we went to bed and dreamed of the romance of Venice.

Our host at the agriturismo had suggested that we pick up a train to Venice in Dolo. I expected a busy station with lots of people heading to the city, but when we arrived it was desolate.DSC_2688 2

Where did we buy tickets? We saw a vending machine for tickets and were about to try using it when a woman came our way. I am convinced that God keeps sending angels to help us when we need it. She said, “No, no, no. Not here. There.” She pointed over towards a shopping area. We found a tobacco shop there and they sold us two two-way tickets.  This whole train thing was a bit of a worry to me. Had the clerk understood where we wanted to go? Were these the correct tickets? Were we really going to leave our faithful car in an empty parking lot and zip away in a train?

Sure enough, the train took us towards Venice. Here was my first view of the city out of the train window.DSC_2691 2

We arrived at the Venice train station and I found the other tourists. This place was packed! First on our list of things to do was to find a restroom. After paying the one euro charge each, we were ready to proceed. I saw that they were selling maps in one of the shops in the station. As we picked out the map, I heard someone say in English, “So, where are you from?” An American! Not only that, would you believe he was from Maryland too?! Such a funny things to come all the way over here and meet another Marylander.  It was mass confusion as we headed out of the station. So many people. So many ticket offices. We looked at our map and Matt saw that there was a walking path marked out. Our plans went out the door as we headed off to follow the path. One of the main things I want to do in a new place is attempt to take pretty photographs. I had seen so many photos of Venice that were just gorgeous. Would I get any? Would it be difficult in this light of an overcast day? As I followed Matt, I became frustrated. I wanted beautiful buildings by canal waters! Instead, this path was taking us on narrow allies that wound between high, dark buildings. Every once in a while, we would cross a canal and I would shoot a quick picture.DSC_2699 2

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Shops lined some of the streets and these were packed with people.DSC_2803 2

We saw lovely church buildings and continued on our way towards San Marco square. We found a restaurant right along the canal and we stopped for lunch.DSC_2757 2

The Rialto bridge was nearby and we joined the crowd of people walking across it. The whole bridge was shops.DSC_2787 2

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We walked down another dark alley that was quite deserted and I thought we were most likely lost when we turned a corner. We both gasped and said, “Wow!” We were on the square.

DSC_2863 2 Such gorgeous buildings! The square was crowded as people waited in long lines to take tours of the basilica.DSC_2828 2

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Matt found a geocache right on the square! But the crowds were starting to wear on us. I wondered what was so romantic about a city that had so many people in it? I also wanted to visit Burano and maybe even Murano, which were other islands next to Venice. This meant figuring out the water bus situation so we headed towards a ticket booth. Matt asked for two tickets to Burano and he was promptly stated a price and he paid. We then wandered around trying to figure out what water bus to get onto. This all sounded so easy in the tour book or on Rick Steve’s travel video. But in reality, it was confusing. No one spoke much English and we knew some Italian words, but not what we needed to figure this out. Even though we enjoy doing our own thing, it’s at times like these that I wished we were just one of those people following a tour guide holding an umbrella in the air. After asking several official looking people, we were made to understand that our tickets were to Murano, not Burano.

Even though this was a disappointment, I decided to make the best of it. Of the two islands, I had settled on wanting to see Burano because I had read an online article about the 30 most beautiful places in the world and Burano was one of them. How sweet it would have been to photograph there! On the other hand, Murano was appealing to me because it is known for its glass. Throughout my years of jewelry making, I had seen many Murano beads. Wouldn’t it be great to buy some right in the town of Murano?

As our waterbus headed away from Venice, I shot a few more photos out the window.DSC_2880 2

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After resting on the boat during the 30 minute ride, I was ready to take on the crowds in Murano. We docked and I looked out. No crowds! This was a great relief. I really enjoyed walking slowly through Murano. Almost every shop displayed gorgeous glass. And finally, I did find a shop that sold just beads and bought a few.DSC_2978 2

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At seven o’clock, Murano began rolling up the sidewalks. Well, not literally, but all the shops were closing. We headed back to Venice. We still needed to make our way back to the train station on the other side of the island of Venice to get a train back to Dolo. It would be a long walk and we were tired. Maybe we would figure out the vaporetto situation and get to the train station with a ride on the grand canal. Then, Matt said the magical words. “Do you want to take a gondola ride?” Do I want to?! YES!

We asked a gondolier how much for a ride to the train station. Sadly, he replied that they only did round trip tours right back to San Marco square where we stood. This would be no help. We started to walk away, when another gondolier came back to say that he would take us to the station.  He led us to a beautiful black boat with blue seats. As we settled in I realized that here was the romance of the city.DSC_2981 2

While snuggled closely to my sweetie, we glided down the Grand Canal.DSC_3005 2

Our gondolier deftly missed many obstacles, including other gondolas!DSC_3000 2

He pointed out various buildings including the home of Marco Polo and that of “the Italian sex machine, Cassanova.”DSC_3010 2

The sun was setting right over the canal and I looked back to take another shot of the Rialto bridge.DSC_3018-1 2

The magical boat ride was over and our gondolier took our photo.DSC_3030 2

It was still a short walk to the train station and we saw the Venice night life.DSC_3038 2

More confusion was what greeted us at the station. We just missed a train that we think would have stopped in Dolo and instead waited an hour for the next one. We had not had dinner and ate energy bars and tuna that we had with us. I was so glad to see our car waiting all alone at the Dolo station! Maybe after church tomorrow we would go to Burano?

The next day was Easter. It’s hard not being with family and friends on a special day like this. And we really wanted to worship on this glad Resurrection Day. So we joined the throngs of believers that worshipped at the church near our agriturismo.DSC_2671 2

The service was, of course, in Italian and I didn’t understand a word of it. But it was beautiful and wonderful to worship with the crowd there.  We realized that stores would not be open to shop for more groceries and neither were restaurants.  Thankfully, we had leftovers from the day before that we enjoyed.  The day was gloomy and I was very achy, so we stayed home and rested. A very good decision.

The next day, Monday, Matt worked at the apartment and I edited photos and wrote a blog entry. It rained all day. We had to get groceries or eat out. So we ventured out in the rain. The grocery store that we had shopped at before was closing as we arrived at 1:08 pm. Why were they closing so early? Then I noticed that all the shops were closed. We headed towards another grocery store that we found on the gps. Closed. I saw a place open. Maybe they had some food. This bar did have sandwiches and Matt ate one. There was nothing for me. I planned to just eat an energy bar for lunch. What would we do for supper? Matt asked if anyone in the shop spoke English. One man did and was very patient as he and Matt looked at the gps trying to find a grocery store that would be open. He explained that everything was closed on Easter Monday. I told him that in the USA everything would be open. He said not so here because they were ancient.

We started driving back to the apartment after realizing that nothing was open. That’s when I saw it. A small shop with a door open that said Alimentai above it. That meant grocery store! We stopped and that’s when I realized that it was a Chinese grocery store. No wonder they were open! There was not much we recognized in the store, but there were eggs. So, we’ve had eggs for lunch, for supper, for breakfast, for lunch again…..

So, now I am caught up. Matt is working and I have been writing. I did walk for a bit and heard church bells at noon, from three different towns. I’ll miss this home away from home on the flatlands, but later today we move on to the last stop in Italy…more mountains!

Read the next post about Italy: Italy 7

Don’t miss the other posts about Italy: Italy 1, Italy 2, Italy 3, Italy 4, Italy 5DSC_3042 2

My Friend, Sergio: Italy 5

Before leaving for this trip to Europe, I felt that I already had a friend in Italy. I told people at home that I was going to see my buddy, Sergio Settesoldi.  You see, during the reservation process, Sergio and I had replied to each other several times. Since I use gmail, he was able to see my profile photo and he noticed my jewelry and asked about it. How could I not like him after that?! Well, I really had no idea what friends Sergio and Cecilia would become.DSC_2593

We arrived at Agriturismo Settesoldi around 6 pm and had just enough time to settle in and walk to the top of the hill to view San Miniato in the evening sun.DSC_2472

Then we were asked to come into the kitchen while Cecilia prepared dinner. Because of having celiac disease, I had asked for gluten free meals during the reservation process at each agriturismo.  That way, they would be able to prepare ahead of time for my special diet. So far, each one had made meals that I could eat and had served gluten free bread or crackers. But Sergio and Cecilia explained that they had taken this need of mine very seriously. Cecilia did not speak much English, but Sergio did and he showed me that they had purchased a special pot, plate and cutlery for me to use. They knew about the real problem of cross contamination from using items that prepared meals with grains. I couldn’t believe it! Such thoughtfulness. Sergio explained that they wanted to learn about this problem of celiac disease. So, I tried to explain about it in English words that he would understand.DSC_2621 2

I was so touched by their kindness. Sergio and Cecilia really cared about my health and said they would be watching my face while I was there to see if I felt well. This brought tears to my eyes. I was not used to being so fussed over and told Matt that this was difficult for me. He said that it was my turn to let someone serve me and that I should just enjoy it.

It was a chilly night and they had a fire lit in the living area. We had the choice of eating in the dining area or Sergio said he could bring in a table and place it right by the fire. Matt and I had been chilled several times so far on this trip and a fireside meal sounded ideal. Then something wonderful happened. One of the reasons that we had wanted to stay in agriturismos was because they were supposed to be a way of experiencing the real Italian culture. Several reviews of places had mentioned interacting with the family and even eating meals with them. This had not happened in our experience as of yet. In fact, the agriturismos that we had been to thus far seemed more like hotels on farm land. But not at Agriturismo Settesoldi. After rolling in the table to sit in front of the fire, Sergio set the table for four. At first I thought there must be two other guests to be coming, but instead after bringing out the food, Sergio and Cecilia sat down with us! We had such a wonderful time chatting. I was glad that Sergio spoke such good English. He was our interpreter so that I could tell Cecilia how much I appreciated the special care she took with my food.DSC_2487 2

Sergio remembered our conversation about jewelry and brought it up again. He said that the photo with my email looked like I wore jewelry specially made to match my eyes.  I ran back to our room and brought out the few pieces of jewelry that I had with me on the trip. They oooooed and awwwed over every single piece and touched them as if they were precious. Sergio asked about the techniques and tools that I used. And then he showed me the one piece of jewelry that he had designed. It was a gold ring that wound seven times around the finger. It was to represent his name, Settesoldi, which means seven money.  It was beautiful! I noticed that Cecilia admired one piece of my jewelry, a bracelet. I put it on her wrist and it fit perfectly. I decided that it was a way to show my great delight in the way they were taking care of us. Even though she thought it was too much, I insisted that it stay on her arm.

The next day after breakfast, Matt left for work and I had a whole day to occupy myself. Would I find enough to do? I shouldn’t have given it a thought. Even though Cecilia had left for work, Sergio was still at the house.  He showed me where to do laundry and while it washed, I sat in a chair overlooking the beautiful valley and wrote a blog entry. Then I took a walk and explored the countryside.

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It seems no matter where you go in Italy there are ancient ruins. I found this building, which Sergio said had been a monastery, on my walk.DSC_2510

I returned just in time for lunch. Even though I had thought to just eat an energy bar from my room, Sergio said that he was waiting for me and wondered if I would like some artichoke.DSC_2523

Then he picked the artichoke that I had earlier taken a photo of and prepared a wonderful lunch while singing along with classical music. When he needed herbs, he stepped just outside and picked them fresh from the garden. And of course he used his homemade olive oil on everything. So yummy! Sergio and I ate on the patio with a lovely view.DSC_2521

After lunch, two men were coming to the house to meet with Sergio. He explained that unfortunately, the beautiful view we enjoyed there was in danger. The “establishment” planned to put a quarry in that valley. Tourism is the main economy of that area of Tuscany and these men were doing all they could to fight this plan. Sergio showed me a documentary video that they had published. The area was also known for white truffles. In fact, it is famous for the largest white truffle found and for the White Truffle Festival that it holds each November. Sergio and his friends have great hope that the importance of the truffle will stop the quarry. I hope so too.DSC_2519

Matt returned from work and we had just enough time to look for a geocache before dinner at “verso otto e mezzo,” which Sergio said with great flourish and moving of hands. Even though he said 8:30, he really meant closer to nine o’clock, so we had time to drive to Buggiano Castello.DSC_2532 2

This was another town built up on a hill and it was so pretty! I felt like we had discovered an unknown gem since this was not in the tour books. In fact, to go into this village, one needed to park below it and walk up into it.DSC_2576 2

There were signs all over that said private property and we had to be careful not to trespass. We finally made our way to the pretty church and courtyard there.

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Matt found the geocache in the wall and I enjoyed yet another lovely view.DSC_2547

When we returned, I expected to eat another meal with Sergio and Cecilia. But this time the table was set for six. A young couple from France, Lohan and Lauren, had joined us.DSC_2598 2

She spoke very good English and Sergio put us all to ease with his friendly manner and jokes. While talking of our families, I got out my phone and showed our family photo from Christmas. Lauren could not believe it was our family. She asked how old I was. “No,” she declared. “You cannot be that old! What are your beauty secrets!?” I told Lauren that she was my new best friend! I really liked this girl! Sergio then proceeded to say that Philip looked like Brad Pitt, Jeremy like Hugh Grant and Jonathan like Matt Damon. Matt he said, looked like, well, himself. We all laughed as we tried to communicate with the help of Google translate. Sergio mentioned a plant, mirto, and I couldn’t think what it could be. He typed it into the phone and laughed heartily when I exclaimed, “Oh, myrtle!” He kept repeating it in a funny way. Surely I didn’t sound like that!

Lauren asked about the concept of “Slow Food.” It is a movement to overcome what fast food has done to dinner. Sergio explained that this was what we were experiencing; food prepared freshly right from the land and served with much atmosphere, candles, music. It was meant to be enjoyed throughout the evening with lots of conversation and laughter. Indeed, we were experiencing just that and it was wonderful! This is what I had wanted while staying in an agriturismo. I joked that they did indeed do slow food very well, but that they had fast coffee. Sergio was confused until I mentioned that in the USA we linger over a large cup of coffee, but in Italy, they serve espresso which they gulp down efficiently. He just grinned.

It was time to move on. If I ever get back to Italy, I will stay longer than two nights at Agriturismo Settesoldi. Keep blessing others with slow food, my friend, Sergio!DSC_2632Isn’t that a huge bottle of olive oil?!

See the next part of the story: Italy 6

Be sure to read the rest of our adventure! Italy 1, Italy 2, Italy 3, Italy 4

Where is the Amalfi Coast?: Italy 4

I’ve always heard that the Amalfi Coast is not something to miss. Well, we missed it the last time we came to Italy. Instead we went to see Herculaneum which was intriguing. I was determined that this time we would not miss the Amalfi Coast.

Wouldn’t you know that the one day set aside for sightseeing, it was once again rainy. We didn’t care. We had our raincoats and umbrella and set off.  Folks from where Matt worked in Naples suggested how to drive along the Amalfi coast. Plus, we had the information from our tour book and our hostess at the agriturismo drew out a map and directions. We set some information into our GPS and took off.

I’m not sure we ever did see what people call the Amalfi Coast drive.  Matt followed our GPS and we ended up in some very interesting places. Suddenly we were taken down a one lane path. I don’t think we were even supposed to be in the little town of Pietre. I was beginning to see a theme develop for our trip….getting lost.DSC_2330

In the village of Figlino, we were following the GPS and she told us to go down an extremely narrow street. Matt gave it a go, but we were part way through these tunnels and had to back up. We definitely were NOT going to fit. The clutch got quite a work out as he backed up, uphill, without any mirrors. We had pulled them in to fit through the tunnel. That poor clutch smelled pretty bad by the time we got out of there.DSC_2336 2

By now our good mood was wearing a bit thin. I was determined to enjoy whatever this day presented, but…where was the Amalfi coast?! After much discussion, we got turned around and finally found the road that the tour book mentioned. The drive along the coast really would have been beautiful on a clear day, but it was foggy and looking pretty stormy.DSC_2337 2

One of my desires for this trip was to purchase some Italian pottery. Two years ago when we were here, I had enjoyed looking at it, but resisted buying any. Ever since then, I had wished that I had gotten a souvenir of pottery. We were told by many that Ravello was not only a beautiful town near the Amalfi Coast, but also a wonderful place for purchasing pottery.DSC_4105 2

We headed back up the mountain to find some pottery. Ravello was beautiful and we strolled around this town even though it was drizzling.  I did find just what I wanted, a bottle for olive oil. Suddenly, the clouds let loose and it poured.  I was seeing another theme of this trip…getting soaked.DSC_2358 2

DSC_2349We gave up and headed back to the agriturismo. This was the second time that we attempted to dry our shoes with a blow dryer. I wished I had brought some warmer clothes. It was only 8°. Well, that was Celsius.  But still, 46° F did not feel very warm while soaked. Thankfully, we were dry and warm by the time to eat dinner at 8 pm. It still amazes me how late the Italians eat dinner! We had the fun of eating with a fellow boarder, Vig. He was from England and enjoyed giving us advice on our upcoming adventure there.

But first we had three more stops in Italy. The next day we told our hostess, Siska, that we planned to head to San Miniato which was 450km away, a 5 hour drive. She acted surprised that we didn’t mind driving that far in one day. It made me wonder how often Italians drove to other areas. Were they as mobile as we Americans? We headed off, but decided to stop at a place that Vig had said was not to miss…. Montecassino.

As we drove along, we saw one village on top of a hill after another. Each one had something that looked like a castle. It’s funny, I had always thought of England whenever I thought of castles. But there are a ton of them in Italy!  Matt drove and I kept pointing out castle after castle. Suddenly, a mountain loomed in front of us, huge and covered in snow. In front of it there was a lower mountain with a large structure on it. I at first thought it was another city on a hill with a castle, but it looked larger and more interesting. It was Montecassino!DSC_2380

This abbey, just southeast of Rome, was originally built in 529 but has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. The last time was after being bombed during WWII. It is a beautiful reconstruction. I especially enjoyed the mosaics in the crypt. Our friend, Vig, said he had never seen so much gold and it was really beautiful.DSC_2417 2

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DSC_2440 2Our stop was not long and we continued on towards San Miniato.  The scenery changed from mountains to rolling hills. We passed a factory for PRADA and later Gucci.  It seemed strange to fly by Rome and not stop. There was no time during this trip and I was thankful that I had seen it in the last trip.DSC_4535

And finally we arrived in Tuscany. All we needed to do was find our next agriturismo. I had endeavored to find ones that were interesting and yet would be fairly close to where Matt needed to work. As we wound far up a mountain, I was confused. This would not be an easy commute for him. I began apologizing. Even though he said it would be okay, I felt badly. It was a beautiful mountain with wonderful scenery, but we could not find Agriturismo Settesoldi. We found a different agriturismo and we thought about just staying there. But we had reservations at Settesoldi and I wanted to meet the people there. The host, Sergio, had been interesting in the emails during the reservation process.  Matt looked at the GPS and found that we were headed for coordinates, not an address. We put in the address and found that we needed to travel an extra hour…down this mountain, through the valley and up a different mountain. Once again, lost. Finally, we found Sergio, on a tractor, on a one lane dirt road. What a relief! And glad to see our next new bed.DSC_2470

See the next part of the trip: Italy 5

Don’t miss the rest of our adventure: Italy 1, Italy 2, Italy 3

From the Mountains to the City: Italy 3

It was such a relief for Matt to have finished his work in Sicily. The next day was Palm Sunday, so we started the day by reading the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey. We talked about how confusing it must have been for the disciples. One moment Jesus told them that we would die and the next he was being hailed as king. We thought about the changeability of the crowds and of the hearts of people. Then it was time to move on.

Once again, we headed across the ferry to the mainland of Italy towards our next stop, Cosenza. It was a bit difficult to get to the ferry this time though. There was a road block. We are still not sure why. On the detour, I saw folks streaming into a church. It was wonderful to see worshippers on Palm Sunday. And they were carrying the woven items I had seen for sale two days before. They were Palm Sunday decorations! Woven palm leaves…of course!

We had hoped to have an extra day or two to explore the next area, but we would only have one evening.  First we traveled along the coast on the western part of Italy. All the beach resorts looked like ghost towns. The agriturismo in Cosenza was a bit off the beaten path. As we approached, Matt said, “You sure can pick them, Hon!” But he wasn’t being sarcastic. No, he was having fun driving up into the mountains.

The road got quite narrow as we wound up the grade.DSC_2092 2

We passed cattle in the road.DSC_2095 2

The GPS showed the windy road.DSC_2093 2

Here is our little rental car, “The Silver Streak.” You can see that we are heading into the clouds.DSC_2102 2

We arrived at another gate. So glad it was daylight this time! Our new abode was nestled prettily in the mountains.DSC_2148 2

This is looking out of the door of our room.DSC_2129 2

Here I am in my Italian disguise, also known as a scarf. It was quite cold up there! If you looked down through the mountains, you could see right to the sea.DSC_2151 2

This is the place we stayed at, Massadita Terre Rosa.DSC_2197 2

There were foot paths among the mountains and we decided to try to get to one. Such a mysterious atmosphere hung in the air. The clouds were settling right down on us as we listened to the tinkling sound of cow bells and sheep bells. We walked quite a way and it started pouring! I gulped the thin mountain air as we hiked quickly back up to our room. And we were absolutely soaked. I was thankful that I had brought a rain coat but wished I had another pair of shoes. How does one know how to pack for 5 weeks of adventure?!DSC_2195 2

After changing, we ventured among the buildings to find where dinner would be served. We found a lovely dining area with a warm fire. As we entered, people got out of the chairs by the warmth and insisted that we sit there. Matt delighted in conversing with the grandfather of the household. I sat back soaking in the luxurious heat and became sleepy as they endeavored to understand one another. At dinner, we spoke with the man of the house as his wife prepared the delicious food. He had been an archeologist in Volterra and had even collaborated in writing a book. We wondered how he had come to be running a B&B instead of his scholarly work. We decided that it must have always been a dream of his wife’s to have an agriturismo and he joined in.

But after only one night in the mountains, it was time to move on. Our schedule was very hurried since Matt had had to return to Sicily. So, we awoke early for the drive to Naples. Two years ago when we came to Italy for Matt to work, we stayed in a hotel right in Naples. The traffic! Oh my! No one stops at stop signs and traffic lights seemed only to be suggestions. So were lane designations. What a mix of cars, Vespas and pedestrians. At intersections, there was a dance of vehicles. It reminded me of synchronized swimming. It all would be fine as long as everyone just kept going. I shuddered to think of what would happen if anyone stopped when the rest thought he was going to proceed!

So, we decided we would not stay at that hotel, but would rather stay at an agriturismo just outside of the city. I pictured a little farm in the valley just apart from the mayhem. As we followed the GPS to the address, I became concerned. It seemed we were heading into the city anyway. Thankfully, Matt has learned very well how to drive in Naples. Someone once advised that he should never drive timidly in Italy and he has taken that advice to heart. He has mastered it! So even though we didn’t relish the thought of being in the city, it was okay. We looked for the agriturismo and arrived at a gate. I remembered that the photo on the agriturismo site showed a gate. I dug through my papers to find the photo. No. It was not the same gate. Don’t tell me we were lost again!

We stopped to ask a woman pushing a baby stroller. Did she happen to know where Il Corte & Charme was? She spoke no English and went on. Aw, a policeman! We rolled down the window and asked. He just waved us to keep driving. So, we checked the GPS. It had taken us to coordinates that were on the website for the agriturismo. Instead we looked for the address. It took us to a different gate. It seemed the whole town was streets winding through high walls with solid gates. It did not look anything like the picture on the website but we rang the bell anyway. A gentle woman answered and sure enough, we were in the correct place.DSC_2300

Siska showed us to our room and Matt left to drive off to go to work. I learned that this house, which included a large courtyard, was built in 1719 bySiska’s husband’s family. It was a beautiful oasis behind the massive gate.DSC_2242 2

Red jasmine grew in the garden and sprigs were placed on our towels.DSC_2233

The fragrance was divine! The garden was full of wisteria, jasmine, daisies, foxgloves and many other flowers that I didn’t know the names of.DSC_2267 2

Lemon trees and orange trees were heavy with fruit.  Two dogs and a cat roamed the garden with me. One of the dogs kept jumping, trying to catch lizards. The inside of the main building was furnished with lovely antiques. Here is the dining area.DSC_2289 2

I finished wandering around and realized that I had 8 hours to fill while Matt worked. This was more difficult than I had anticipated. I was exhausted. I had never fully recovered from jet lag and too tired to write the blog. Internet access was limited to sitting in their living room. So, I strolled and took way too many photos. I found the gate in the garden that was pictured on the website. Then I sketched and painted in my art journal. I longed to take a nap but feared to because I needed to sleep through the night. Siska had suggested that I walk around in the street to the square.

This concerned me. I grew up in the country. Also, I had read that there was a lot of theft in the cities of Italy. I asked was it safe for me to walk alone and carrying a camera. She assured me that it was. So, I ventured out through the intimidating gate. This is the street we the house was on.DSC_2303 2

I found one of the two churches that she said might be open since it was Easter week. It was not. At the other end of the street there was another church. As I approached, I saw a large group of people exiting the church. Many were wiping their eyes and looking at a hearse parked out front. No matter where you travel, people have the same problems, including mourning a loved one.DSC_2307 3

Easter candy was being sold on the street.DSC_2309 2After wandering around a bit, I headed back to the oasis. This sort of vacation sounded so exotic and exciting. I thought I would love being a woman of leisure. But, I decided I’m not really cut out for it. I may have to ask to wash dishes at our next stop!

See the next part of our trip: Italy 4

Be sure to read the rest of the adventure! Italy 1  Italy 2

Best Laid Plans: Italy 2

You know the saying, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” or the verse that says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails”? Well, I kept thinking of both yesterday.

Planning: a lot of it took place before we left to come here. Matt had to coordinate many things to be able to perform the work that he is here to do. And I researched, contacted and reserved rooms with all the B&Bs. Then there was figuring out how to be away from home for 5 weeks and pay bills. Or how about figuring out how much money we would need and get it in the correct currency. And planning what food I needed to take to be able to eat my gluten free diet.

Well, it all hinged on Matt being able to do his work. That is why we are here after all! He is installing equipment in 10 different locations and that equipment had to be shipped from the states and be delivered by truck before we arrived. He spoke with the others responsible for shipping and it seemed that all would be in place by the first part of April. So Matt allowed some wiggle room and we took off on April 8. Well, you guessed it, the equipment had not arrived to the location in Sicily but we did. This was not a good situation. What should we do? Our plans were carefully laid out and depended on us keeping our schedule. We did plan in some trouble shooting days, but not any here in Sicily. I prayed for a miracle.

After much thought, Matt decided that there was time during another stop in Naples that he could take a quick flight back down to Sicily. That would mean figuring out the flight, renting another car and….leaving me all alone…in a foreign country…where I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t much relish this thought although it would give me a chance to be even more adventurous and an opportunity to, once again, trust God. So, to keep the schedule, yesterday we left our beautiful spot in Sicily and headed towards the mainland of Italy.

I kept saying, “I don’t want to leave this place”, Tenuta Giarretta, the agriturismo. Not only is it beautiful, but comfortable and the food was delicious. And Clelia knew just what to feed me so that I didn’t get sick.

Clelia holding some oranges from their orchards

Clelia holding some oranges from their orchards

And we hadn’t yet gone to the summit of Mt Etna. I told Matt that I just added that to my Bucket List – to go on cable cars to the top of the active volcano: Mt Etna.

Mt Etna with wildflowers

Mt Etna with wildflowers

We left our new friends at Tenuta Giarretta and headed toward Messina where we would catch a ferry to the mainland. My normally optimistic, cheerful husband was not very happy. He tried to act okay, but really he was FINE- Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional. Well, not quite, but he did sigh every once in a while and was very quiet. Even though we were quite concerned about our situation, we tried to have fun driving along. And we wondered, would the equipment have arrived in Naples in time for him to do that install?

Driving through Italy is not good if you have a fear of tunnels. I have never liked them. They make me feel like I can’t breathe! Well, I’ve had to totally get over that. In this part of Italy, you drive through one tunnel onto a bridge over a deep valley and then into another tunnel. And the tunnels are long and curvy. And I actually could breathe!

So many tunnels through the gorgeous mountains

So many tunnels through the gorgeous mountains

We needed to make it through Messina to embark on the ferry. Matt showed great driving skills as he maneuvered through the crowded street.

This little boy was with his mother in a flower cart along the road

This little boy was with his mother in a flower cart along the road

These were hanging in vendors stalls. I'm not sure what they are. Fish?

These were hanging in vendors stalls. I’m not sure what they are. Fish?

We found the ferry, got a ticket and settled in to enjoy the 30 minute ride. The views are beautiful as you look back at Sicily and forward to the mainland.

Our car is down there on the ferry. We enjoyed watching from the upper deck.

Our car is down there on the ferry. We enjoyed watching from the upper deck.

We ate a lunch of prosciutto, chips and a banana. We were headed to a agriturismo that was halfway to Naples about a 4 hour drive.

So much beautiful scenery

So much beautiful scenery

Then our miracle happened! Matt got a call saying the equipment had arrived in Sicily! Yes, a miracle, but here we were on the mainland and almost to our next agriturismo. Did we keep going and Matt have to take a commuter plane ride back down? Or should we turn around and drive back? Yep, that’s what we did. So, yesterday, we drove 8 hours to get, well, right back where we started!

Tenuta Giarretta

Tenuta Giarretta

So, here I sit, in beautiful Tenuta Giaretta while Matt is away working. I’m surrounded by beauty and lots of people. And so glad that I won’t have to be brave while Matt flew away. God is good! Clelia is making me some lunch; at least that is what I think she said.

This agriturismo is a 500 year old building. It was once used as a monastery. They have an area of the floor with glass and it looks like an archaeological dig.

This agriturismo is a 500 year old building. It was once used as a monastery. They have an area of the floor with glass and it looks like an archaeological dig.

This well and lava sink were used by the monks 500 years ago.

This well and lava sink were used by the monks 500 years ago.

I kept seeing bees on the orange blossoms and we were served honey with breakfast. I thought they must have bee hives and sure enough they do! This man showed off their 20 some hives.

I kept seeing bees on the orange blossoms and we were served honey with breakfast. I thought they must have bee hives and sure enough they do! This man showed off their 20 some hives.

Tenuta Giarretta is a favorite place for field trips. The children love exploring the farm and seeing the animals.

Tenuta Giarretta is a favorite place for field trips. The children love exploring the farm and seeing the animals.

 

Gorgeous orange blossoms. The scent reminds me of my grandparents since they gave me orange blossom perfume from Florida when I was just little.
Gorgeous orange blossoms. The scent reminds me of my grandparents since they gave me orange blossom perfume from Florida when I was just little.
We went for a geocache and ended up in Paterno. It looked like a very old town and so interesting. Very narrow streets.

We went for a geocache and ended up in Paterno. It looked like a very old town and so interesting. Very narrow streets.

Matt said there was a pillbox geocache. I thought it was one of those that had a logbook in a prescription bottle. No, I have now learned that these structures from WWII were machine gun bases and were called pillboxes. He found the cache!

Matt said there was a pillbox geocache. I thought it was one of those that had a logbook in a prescription bottle. No, I have now learned that these structures from WWII were machine gun bases and were called pillboxes. He found the cache!

Lots of wildflowers are in bloom. Here are thisles with oranges in the background.

Lots of wildflowers are in bloom. Here are thisles with oranges in the background.

If you enjoyed this post, you will love the first post about Italy. Another Grand Adventure – Italy1

See the next part of the story: Italy 3

Another Grand Adventure: Italy 1

As I sit here, smelling orange blossoms and listening to excited children’s voices chattering in Italian, it’s hard to believe I’m here! And it has been quite a journey. Back in February, while we were in Florida, I jokingly said to Matt, “We need to go back to Italy. I want to take more photos.” Would you believe that 2 hours later, he was asked to go to Italy AND England for his job?! I couldn’t believe it either! So after some quick planning, here we are at the foot of Mt Etna in Sicily.

Our flight out of Dulles didn’t leave until 10:20 pm. It was so hard to wait through the day, but finally we were off. It was an 8 hour flight to Munich so we tried to sleep. I remember as I dozed that my head was rocking back and forth. I haven’t felt such turbulence in years of flying, so when we landed, I was glad to be standing again. I eagerly awaited landing in Italy, but first we had to endure an eight hour layover in the Munich airport. We were tempted to leave the airport and look for our first German geocache but that would mean going through customs, renting a car and lugging around our carry-ons. So instead, we lounged and tried not to sleep since we wanted to make sure we could fall asleep when we arrived.DSC_1907

Finally, we boarded the flight to Catania, Sicily. Each announcement was given in four languages: Italian, German, English and Spanish. It took quite a while to get through each one! Looking past the other passengers to window, I saw a bright orange stripe, the sunset above the clouds.

We landed on time, but still had to wait for our luggage, go through customs and get our rental car before we could head to our lodgings. It is quite disconcerting to wander around outside an airport, looking for Hertz Rent A Car in a foreign country. No one spoke English, but someone did point us to the left. So, we followed other people from our flight. Yay! There was the Hertz place. Unfortunately, it was dark and no one was there. Were they already closed?! We wandered a bit more, asking people and receiving puzzled looks until we finally found a building with all the rental car establishments’ offices in it. Whew! Now we just had to drive our little Fiat… in the dark… to our B&B.

You see, we had decided that we didn’t want to stay in hotels on this trip. Instead, I did a lot of research and found 13 different B&Bs to stay in. Each one, we’re sure, will have its own charm and idiosyncrasies, and we look forward to that. So, Matt set up his trusty GPS and headed to Tenuta Giaretta, our first agriturismo, a working farm.  DSC_1958 2

I wondered about our sanity as we drove on narrow roads and then our gps said to go off road. We did see a sign for the agrituismo which gave us hope and we approached a heavy locked gate. It didn’t open. Matt got out and pressed buttons. It didn’t open. We waited. I began wondering what it would be like to sleep in the car, along a road, in Sicily. Matt whistled his ear piercing whistle. Nothing.  He honked the horn. This brought a dog to the gate. Thankfully, it was friendly. Matt told it to go tell the people we were here. It lumbered off into the dark. I prayed. We waited about 10 minutes. Finally, as we discussed what to do, the gate opened! It was almost midnight as we climbed into the bed, thanking God for answered prayer.DSC_1916

We awoke to sunlight pouring into our room. I got up and peered out. Wow! What a beautiful view of Mt Etna. How much prettier this place was in the daylight! Looking down, I saw farm workers sitting around a fire eating breakfast.  One of them sang cheerfully. And why not with such beauty around you?DSC_1922 2

Our breakfast was eggs, fresh from our hostess’s hens.  And she, Clelia, served us orange juice that she squeezed from the oranges of the farm’s groves. I’m not sure I’ve ever had such good orange juice!DSC_1995 2

After breakfast, we were off to find a store. Matt needed to get Italian SIM cards for our phones so that he could do work. I am sure we have seen parts of Italy that most American tourists never see since they usually come on tours. Not us. We have to search for each thing. Where could we get SIM cards? We are so thankful for gps technology! We got the cards, but then had to wait while they were activated. While we waited, Matt worked in the lobby of the agriturismo.DSC_1984 2

But now I am tired! I must go to bed. I look forward to telling you more of our adventures!

See the next part of the adventure: Italy 2