There and back again, part 1: Tuscany

All work and no play…

Just as I recovered from my last Sicilian adventure, I find myself on what will be my tenth visit, aboard another grueling twelve hour flight to Italy. (I know, poor baby, right?) Normally, I hit the ground running, straight to business. This time though, I’m changing things up a bit and scheduling in a little R&R on the front end of the trip. I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that I’m no “Spring Chicken” anymore, and a little respite after that long flight will certainly be molto buono.

The perfect cure for jet lag is breathing the sweet, fragrant air of Tuscany. We’re no strangers to this region, but with each subsequent visit we insist on checking at least one new town off the list. It’s also just two weeks past our twenty-first anniversary, so some belated celebrating “under the Tuscan sun” may just be enough for me to secure the elusive “Husband of the Year” award.

We’re spending a few days in the medieval hilltop village of Montepulciano, with its world renowned Vino Nobile. Our dear friends Massimo and Cristina were going to join us, but some intense rain in central Tuscany kept them from driving here, at the same time diverting our flight from Florence to Bologna. We’ll just have to catch up with them later in the trip. Cristina rarely travels outside her home town of Massa, so it’s our running joke that we have to travel to Italy to show her the beauty of her own country.

When we first met Cristina (who works in the stone industry here in Italy) years ago, she was asked by the company we were dealing with to “drive the Americans to Pisa and show them the sights.” Assuming that we would want to listen to music, she put in the only American CD that she had; a collection of Christmas songs by singers clearly past their prime. Mind you, this was in May.

It wasn’t long before we had enough and asked, “Mi scusi Cristina, come si dice ‘this music sucks’ in Italiano?” Without answering, but silently agreeing I think, she inserted another disc and the most mesmerizing voice softly caressed the speakers of her humble Toyota Yaris. “Who is THIS?” I noticed a hint of a smile as she answered with her thick Italian accent, “This is Laura Pausini.”

And so the cultural exchanges began. We corrupted her with our useless American slang. Her favorites being “Wow,” “Not my cup of tea,” and after walking for miles on the cobblestone streets of Italy, the exercise giving her “Buns of Steel”.

In return, along with the auditory delights of Ms.Pausini, we learned how to make a serious pizza, the tradition of Aperitivi, and how to properly execute a customary “Euro-cheek” greeting. It’s right then left. Get it wrong and the result is… um… awkward to say the least. (Don’t ask us how we know, as what happens in Italia stays in Italia.)

Driving near the Estruscan town of Pitigliano, we made use of a quick photo opportunity in the Piandirena tufa quarry near Sorano, and afterwards fought with the GPS yet again to find our way back to Montepulciano. Some of the distinctive little streets of Italy can be a challenge for GPS systems. (I like to blame the GPS, and do it often. You’ll notice a pattern here, because it could never be the driver.)

…and then there’s the wine.

The wines here are simply astounding, and there’s something about enjoying a glass of Brunello di Montalcino in Montalcino that makes it even more special. Pair it up with a little prosciutto and some parmigiano reggiano and you have the recipe for an afternoon that is absolutely perfetto.

Visiting quaint little villages and wineries up and down the “Chianti Road,” I have a new appreciation for the wine bearing the same name, although I tend to associate it with liver and fava beans courtesy of the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

Nonetheless, September in Toscana is hard to beat. Meandering through the countryside, admiring vineyards straining from the weight of ripening grapes and the famous cypress pines towering like sentinels over this most romantic of landscapes.

A perfect cure for jet lag indeed…

Oh, and for the record, it’s “Questa musica fa schifo!” in case you were wondering 😉

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