Monday, February 20, 2012

A Day in Tuscany

One summer when I was in college, I spent a few weeks living on the island of Corsica. It was not the best of experiences, actually it might have been my worst time abroad, ever, but it was an experience nonetheless. One of the best parts of that time was being able to see Italy for the first time.

I took the ferry from Corsica to Livorno. Livorno is a little sea town with nothing particularly amazing about it. I visited a couple old Catholic churches and saw some old statues guarding barren piazzas. My favorite part of this sleepy town was the few canals it had. It was wandering along these waterways that I found this rendition of, what I can only assume to be, the boogeyman.

hide yo' kids
Another small treasure of Livorno was the very yummy pizza I ate at a little place on the other side of the piazza from my hotel. The pizza oven was a commanding view inside the restaurant and took up quite a bit of room. I could see the pizza chefs sliding out pizza after pizza while I sipped on my carafe of red wine. It was so good I ate there twice and I only stayed in Livorno one night!

view from my hotel room in Livorno
The next morning I took the train to Pisa. While riding the train, I met a very nice gentleman from Tunisia who spoke French, Italian, and English. At the time, I'd never even thought about the tiny African nation. In fact, I didn't really know where it was exactly but now looking back, I wonder if he played any part in the uprising that started a revolution.

graffitied train in Italy
I arrived in Pisa early in the afternoon and couldn't check into my modest hotel until late in the afternoon. I decided to wander around the city while always walking in the general direction of the hotel. I went shopping for a while along the beautifully paved streets. What a difference Pisa was compared to Livorno! Just a short train ride away and here were beautifully renovated old buildings, pedestrian streets lined with fancy shops, and pots of flowers everywhere.


A summer storm came along and I stopped at a little restaurant to eat lunch while I waited for it to pass. Although the rain didn't let up after over an hour, I decided it was time to find the hotel and ask if I could check in early to free myself from my luggage. Thankfully, I had brought an umbrella but it was summer so I was wearing a dress and sandals. This is when I got lost, had a break down, and got my faith in humanity revitalized, all in less than an hour.

I was trying to stay dry, hold onto my luggage (which was an abominable bag I've since gotten rid of), look at a map, and navigate an ancient city definitely not built in a grid like pattern. I was alone and feeling very down. Speaking zero Italian, I tried to stop every person who looked like they spoke English. No one had heard of my hotel. I was getting desperate and trying not to cry when I heard some Americans talking a covered but open air restaurant. I must have looked really pathetic because they instantly invited me to join them and bought me a drink with the promise that they'd help me find my hotel once I've calmed down and the rain stopped.

It's was a kindness I'll never forget. Just them telling me that it would be okay was immensely reassuring. It turned out they were from California too, and after talking for a bit I was feeling so much better. Not only did I finally have someone to talk to but I also had a whole day of fun planned with them by the time the rain stopped. We found my pitiful hotel down a dark alley. I checked in and dumped my bags quickly before heading back out to explore with my new found friends.


We visited the leaning tower, of course. Why else go to Pisa? My friends had rented a car and planned on driving to a fortress town for the late afternoon and dinner. I was welcomed along and so we drove through the beautiful Tuscan countryside to a small town crammed onto an even smaller mountain. The town was magical, like something straight out of a fairytale, but what I remember most was the drive, for it was even more majestic. It was everything you would think the Italian countryside should look like. There was golden sunshine, rolling hills, cypress trees, olive groves, grape vines for days, tiny villages, and waves of gleaming grasses swaying in the wind. I sat in the car gazing out the window, so thankful for the generosity of strangers and the beautiful world around me.

Tuscany






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