Tuscan Hangover

Symptoms of an Alcohol Hangover- dry mouth, headache, achy body, stomach that won’t quit.

Symptoms of a Tuscan Hangover- dry mouth that wants to be quenched with a carafe of red table wine (which is most likely just as good if not better than much of the wine in bottles); the headache is replaced with waking up with a smile on your face, remembering the birds outside of your window and church bells; the achy body is replaced with a morning stretch where you notice the farmers tan where you wear your watch, remembering your day in Florence; and that stomach ache is replaced with an ache for Pasta Luchessi!

A Tuscan Hangover- the kind of hangover you want.Image

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A final night in Lucca before heading home…

So… final night in Lucca.  A walk on the wall, some gelato, a stroll past what happens to be the cool joint in town (Re-Wine, a wine bar.  And a cute name.)  Although I’m ready to go home, at the same time, I’m not.  I still want to go to bars and have wine and snacks and talk and…

But- it’s time to go.  Arrevederci, Italia.  Grazie.

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How to rent a villa in Tuscany…

As I am nearing the end (OK, it’s really near.  Like, tomorrow.) of my first villa rental experience in Tuscany, I thought I would capture some thoughts/notes/ideas about the experience that I know might have been helpful to my friends and I when we were first considering embarking on this grand adventure.

First thing I would say, before getting into specifics is DO IT.  As many people who have traveled know, to have space all to yourself (more than what a hotel would afford) is truly a blessing.  And to be in a country so rich in bounty of meats, cheeses, vegetables, etc. and have access to a kitchen to do some cooking is just, quite simply, a blast!  So- do it.

Agency or Independent:  We went back and forth, and ended up going independent.  (As it turns out, the place we rented was literally the very first one my friend found on the internet…  after several months of looking, we ended up booking where we began!)  The decision for us, really, was based on many of the agencies not really having what we were looking for.  We wanted two bedrooms, one or two baths, kitchen, location near Lucca.  Most of the villas agencies had were much larger, like 4-5 bedrooms for large families or multi-family/friend groups; or they were more like smaller apartments that were a part of a larger compound.  As it turns out, everything was just fine and has worked out great.  Getting the deposit to the owner was a bit of a challenge, as he does not take credit cards.  But once we worked it out, it was fine.  (And we were both very patient with the process.) So, the verdict?  If the agency had what I wanted, I would give that a go for sure.  But I wouldn’t be afraid to go independent again either.

Mobility:  If anyone in your party has mobility issues, make sure and ask about stairs, showers, toilets, etc.  We are in a great unit, but with a steep, somewhat awkward staircase and if my parents were with me, for example, it would be a challenge (although the older Italians seem to have no problem with stairs, etc.  Guess they are just in better shape.)

Pool:  Something to really consider.  If you will be traveling with kids, rent a place with a pool.  The days exploring the Italian countryside can be hot and dusty, and for kids knowing that there is a pool at the end of the parmesan and prosciutto crusted path would make them very happy, I’m sure.  Hell- it would have made us happy!  Again, this with another decision based on size…  Because we wanted a smaller unit, and not to be a part of a larger property that would have shared a pool, we ended up going without.  But it would have been nice.  Really nice.  Not that we would have spent a whole day by the pool, but man- a swim would have been nice.  (Did I mention that a pool would have been nice?)

AC:  Remember, it’s Europe.  Almost nowhere is air conditioned.  And we Americans loves our AC.  So if this is something that’s really important to you, narrow your search.  I can’t imagine you will ever find a villa that is totally air conditioned but there are probably ones that have ac in the bedrooms.  We were here June 2-June 16, and the weather was actually perfect…  some evenings, it was actually cool.  But we always slept with the windows open and it felt great.  (I’m not looking forward to the trip home to Florida and the humidity.  But I do have a pool, so I have that going for me!)  If you DO find a unit with AC, I bet you will have to pay for the electricity to run it- a fee above and beyond the unit rental price.  This usually applies for the pool heater as well.  We did not have to pay extra for electricity or gas, as we had no AC or pool.  Although we did get reprimanded one day for leaving our outside light on all day.

Toilet Paper:  Why toilet paper, you ask?  To serve as an example of making sure you are clear of what is and, in the case of toilet paper, what isn’t included in the villa rental.  We discovered that toilet paper is not included.  The kitchen had basic supplies and is it is a rental, there were basic items (spices, salt, pepper, etc.) that others had purchased and left.  This leads me to my next point…

Grocery vs. Supermarket:  Yes, virginia, there is a difference between the two over here.  Grocery will be a much smaller, more local stop for very basic supplies in small quantities.  The hours are most likely very limited, it’s probably closed at least one day per week, etc.  Supermarket is going to be a store more like we are accustomed to in the states.  Don’t feel like you need to be ‘all local’ and shop just at a small market.  The supermarket has everything you need, in larger quantities but still focusing on local produce and products.  (Note, you get a shopping cart by inserting a 1 euro coin into the slot near the handle of the cart.  This is then returned when you return the cart.  Kind of genius.)  All of the produce is clearly marked as to its origin, so you can still shop very local.  We found that nearly all of the produce at our local Essalunga (Supermarket chain) was from Italy, except for those items such as pineapple and bananas.  Call me a food nerd, but I love grocery shopping in different countries.  I always end up bringing home a new spice or something that when I then use it reminds me of my trip.  Note that the supermarkets also have somewhat strange hours, and are usually closed on Sunday, and don’t re-open until Monday afternoon.

Location:  The last big question- where to rent.  If you’ve never been to Tuscany before, then you really can’t go wrong.  The whole place is beautiful, and each area has its own highlights.  If you don’t have a specific location or city in mind, I would then recommend making a list of what you want to do and see, and then find a central location.  For example, we chose Lucca area for several reasons.  First of all, Lucca is amazing and I wanted that to be our homebase for shopping, exploring, etc.  But it was also central for much of what we wanted to do:  Florence (1 hour by train); Cinque Terre (about 1:30); Forte di Marmi and the coast (about 30 minutes); Siena and the surrounding area (about 1:45) and we were flying in and out of Pisa (about 30 minutes)…  So it was just a great central location.  If you were more interested in touring wineries, you might want to be in the Chianti area of Tuscany, for example.

I’m sure I will think of some more things, but all of this popped into my head on my morning walk today and I wanted to capture them!

My morning walk today- that will be my next post.

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Disappointing News… I guess?

I received a work email yesterday with news that I was not going to be transitioning into a new position which would have meant a very major move to Asia.  The job would have been a promotion (which is a good thing), would have had great compensation tied to it (another good thing) and would have definitely been a grand adventure (much needed in my life right now).

So why is it disappointing news, I guess?  Although all of those things were exciting, the prospect of the move, being very isolated from family and friends, being so far from home relatively alone- all of those things made the opportunity quite scary.  I had determined that if offered the job I would take it…  and my ego was excited about updating my facebook status to say “I’m moving to Japan!” and being a former actor, there is a part of me that always wants to book every gig I’m up for but in my heart, I don’t think I really wanted it.

And the universe knows, I’ve decided.  Over the years, I have had different opportunities with my job.   One a few years ago would have meant a move to LA (that part of the opportunity was exciting), a promotion (again, exciting) but would have meant working for a controversial leader within the company (not thrilling).  For that reason, mainly, I turned down the job.  Well, about three months later I was offered a job within the company that I really, really wanted that was local to where I live.  And at about the same time, the leader I would have worked for in LA was fired and many of the team around her let go as well.  Those that weren’t are still, in some ways, reeling from the damage she wrought during her time with the organization.

And just this past year- another opportunity in California.  But the pay just wasn’t right, and it wasn’t a promotion, so I turned it down.  Because of that, I ended up spending much of my summer working on another project in Hawaii (not bad), and at the same time the leader I would have worked for in Cali (which, by the way, was the one reason to take the job) left that area and I would not have liked AT ALL working for the leader that took his place.

So- disappointing news.  I guess, because we all want to ‘book the gig’.  But does it mean something truly better is around the corner.  Absolutely.

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Italian Resolutions

More Pancetta.  More wine (although it will probably be from California- to be honest, I think I like California wines better). Cook my vegetables longer.  More red wine vinegar.  Try and find a way to plant a garden at home.  Less processed and prepared food (I’m pretty good at this, but could get better.)  Travel more for pleasure, not just work (although I do love my work travel.)  Lose weight.

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Lunch in Tuscany

What better way to spend an afternoon in Tuscany than enjoying lunch outside, under a tree with a charming Italian host and his family enjoying delicious homemade Italian food.

I was invited by Guido, the caretaker of the villas and who’s family has owned this property for over 400 years (as I learned today).  I was to join them at 1:15 and to be honest wasn’t sure exactly what to expect…  I didn’t want to arrive empty handed, so I went to the store to buy some wine as a gift.  (I did stop by a local flower stand on my way, but the whole process of trying to explain a ‘mixed bouquet’ in my more than broken Italian combined with a good chance of the owners speaking no Italian made my decision to buy wine an easy one.)

Having enough time in Europe, I knew I wouldn’t want to wear shorts to lunch, and turns out that was the right decision.  Everyone was dressed- I was the only one in jeans, but that’s all I have with me- with Guido’s father being especially dapper- blazer, sweater, pressed white shirt and ascot/scarf around his neck.

The table was set under a tree- nothing fancy, rubbermaid chairs, a simple table-cloth, but in true Italian fashion real plates, real glasses, wine, bread, etc.  We had a delicious spaghetti with tomatoes, salmon, olives and zucchini followed by prosciutto, cheese, salad (fresh from the garden, no less) and cauliflower as a vegetable.  It was really quite perfect, and luckily the white I brought went with everything.

Following lunch, my host showed me around the large palazzo the family lives in.  He said that it is over 400 years old, and has been in the family since the early 1800’s (at least, I think that’s what he said…  we do our best to communicate.)  His father was born and grew up in the house (his father, it should be noted, is quite old- at least 80 or so) and had stories from WW2 of playing in the yard as a child and hearing a bomb falling and exploding in the field next door, which knocked down a portion of the old stone wall around the garden.  He also told stories of the germans occupying the first floor of the palazzo and when they fled the Americans coming in and driving jeeps up the drive.  He said that the remembers liking the Americans because they brought chocolate to the kids.

Touring the inside of the house was interesting.  I can’t imagine living in a place that old, with different rooms, wings and levels that you have blocked off and don’t go in to.  There were wonderful rooms with old furniture, paintings, rugs and other effects accumulated over the years.  As we moved upstairs, he took a key from a secret hiding place, went behind another panel and turned off an alarm system and we then went to a large, dark room that turned out to be the former ball room…  Old furniture, a piano, more paintings, a carved and frescoed ceiling, all covered by plastic and sheets to protect them from dust and light.

What a fascinating and special opportunity it was to explore the house and gardens with a member of the family who owns them.  I can’t imagine what his reality must be like knowing that all of this is his and his brothers.  That is a lot of responsibility for a young guy.  What do you do if you want to move on with your life?  Just really made me think…

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A rainy morning in Tuscany

Woke up today to the sound of rain outside the window of the villa.  I also woke up to the incredibly annoying sound of a blackbird attacking the roof of the car.  This has been happening daily since we arrived- a large bird seems to have something against the car, or where we park or something!  He attacks it daily, pecking repeatedly at the roof, batting his wings against the rear window and just creating a generally annoying disturbance.  It was kind of funny for the first 7 days, but now…  enough is enough!

But back to the charming beginning of the story- rain outside the window, villa, Tuscany, etc.  That is a much better image of Tuscany, rather than Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”.

Spent yesterday afternoon exploring the area…  I had ambitions of driving along what appeared to be some type of wine and olive oil trail.  But with little information of what the trail actually “was”, along with the crazy small, steep, curvy roads winding through olive groves, I decided to turn back and went to the grocery store instead.  Here’s the thing- we had so many great adventures while my friends were here that I didn’t feel bad about the choice.  It is really stressful driving those roads, and I was almost having a type of ‘panic attack’ while driving.  It’s funny, while I was with my friends in the car it was OK.  I think I had them to distract me or something.  But on your own, it’s almost as if you focus on it too intensely or something, which causes one to stress.  So off to Essalunga.

I bought way too many groceries, but there were still so many things I wanted to try before heading home, so I just went for it.  For some reason, I wanted to cook a real meal last night so I bought a chicken and roasted it- something I’ve never done at home, so go figure.  Italy inspired me, I guess.  I coated it in garlic, lemon and rosemary and then roasted it with onions, potatoes and carrots.  I plan on using some of the leftover in a salad for dinner.

Last night I watched the movie “The Iron Lady” on my iPad.  It was wonderful.  Of course, I know of Margaret Thatcher, her role as Prime Minister, her close connection with Ronald Reagan and his various policies…  but the movie gave a much deeper and incredibly interesting insight into this fascinating woman.

Today I am heading into Lucca…  probably for the last time this visit.  I am going to wander, so some shopping at my own speed and try to find a particular restaurant noted in the New York Times for lunch.  And then, probably a nap.

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