I’m pretty sure that if you’re a woman and you’ve seen or read Under the Tuscan Sun, you have related in some way and mentally put yourself into her shoes letting the daydream reel roll.
I’m here to tell ya, those little Tuscan countryside village dreams are real. The Italian men, soo nice to look at. The food, omg good. I wish I could tell ya about a love at first sight or a passionate romance and my moving to a fixer upper in Italy to spend half of each year for the rest of my life, (my daydreams are vivid), but I’m taking it as a sign that I just need to go back and try again for that part.
I went with my 3 girlfriends and had such a nice relaxing vacation. It’s rare that I use the word vacation. I typically need a vacation from my trips. But this one was slow-paced and without any real itinerary or to-do list each day. We drove ourselves around in no hurry, ate to our hearts content and then some, drank liters of wine spending hours per meal, and laughed and relaxed while people watching. Basically we lived the Italian lifestyle.
The birthplace of the renaissance of the world, from my outside perspective, has perfected yet another thing the rest of us could learn from… The art of living simple.
If I have one takeaway from my week driving through Tuscany and staying in Florence it’s respect for the relaxed easy way of life I felt.
Servers leave you to enjoy your meals for hours, & wine is flowing and acceptable at all times. There are no ‘convenience stores around every hilltop town’ because that’s a rushed and efficient option. Where that may be appreciated and expected as Americans, it’s just not the norm there. I love that in these small medieval hilltop towns a family may have a bread guy, a cheese guy, a meat guy, and veggies from the weekly market rather than hitting Whole Foods or Kroger every 2 weeks to only make that 1 efficient trip to get groceries. It may take a little longer, but how simple and relationship building.
Speaking of food, Italian pizza is my jam. Thin crust bread, minimal tomato sauce, and cheese. Maybe a topping or 2. That’s it, and it is SOO freaking good. When things are done simply and intentionally it’s easier to do it right. And I’m tellin ya, all the Italian pizzas I had were done right. Being that I was in truffle region, I had one that substituted the tomato sauce for a truffle sauce and I will remember that flatbread forever.
We toured the Martelli pasta factory in Casciana that had been passed down through generations since 1926. Want to know how many pasta machines they have? One, and each day of the week is a different type of pasta that produced. I’m sure they could have expanded at some point in their history, but it’s enough for the family and the business is doing good. It goes without saying the pasta is good as well.
We wandered around the town after the pasta factory and toured the castle, Castello dei Vicari di Lari, in this small town of 2,500 people. Which brings me to another point I appreciate. Being that history and celebrated buildings and architecture are scattered everywhere, they’re actually utilized. In each little town we visited in Tuscany there were stages set up in the castles or squares for live music or the theater. I appreciate the thought that people have been organizing events in the same spot since the 9th century, which is when Casciana is considered to be founded. Granted, I’m sure the cute little square below the castle saw plenty of bloodshed and torture throughout the centuries too, but we wont go there.
Anyhow. The towns and short drives between them were beautiful, the fields of sunflowers that were greeting us for miles at a time during July made me happy, and I totally get the appeal of Tuscany now. I adored it.
Florence in August is right smack in the middle of busy season. You would expect that my initial peacefulness experiences in the countryside would fade, but it didn’t.
I woke up early to roam the streets alone after a rain shower and was pleasantly surprised to not see many other people at all. Any major city in the US would be jammed with people rushing to work. I stopped in a tiny 1 room shop and found the artist/owner painting dishes, pottery, etc in Tuscany scenes and she immediately stopped and chatted with me for a while. It’s my favorite thing I brought back (other than wine) because I have a personal touch and story to go with it.
Per usual when I travel I try to read a book taking place in that region before I go. Majority of the time it’s historical fiction, or a biography on a major historical figure. I started reading the biographical novel, ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ by Irving Stone, about the life of Michelangelo before I left. While I was roaming the streets, a little bummed because tickets to the Academia to see his David statue were sold out, I walked right past his childhood home. I actually had the book under my arm because I planned on posting up in a cafe. Casa Buonarroti is now a museum and was only 5€. I was the only person in the 3 story house majority of my time! Most of the items there were from statues or items collected from the family that would have been in the home while Michelangelo lived there, as well as items purchased after the family gained famed and built their wonderful art collection. But there were some early drawings from Michelangelo on display, and the marble relief pieces for the famous madonna of the stairs and centaur sculptures. These are considered two of his first sculptures!
I understand I probably found it much more exciting than majority of my readers would have, but at that point I was reading about him moving out of his family home and what his home life was like. This is an exact case in point why I buy books for each place I travel to! Such an interesting man, and one of the most influential artists that defined his beloved Florence for sure. I’m not even going to get into Brunelleschi’s Duomo and how genius his engineering design was for what is still the largest dome in the world.
I was able to see some of Michelangelo’s other works in the Medici chapel, the family basically responsible for the Renaissance. The free walking tour covering the Medici family (found by a quick google search) was very informative and interesting. It proved the history of Florence to be far from simple. I had never even thought about it, but Italy wasn’t a ‘thing’ until 1861, eventually becoming a republic after Mussolini’s dictatorship in 1946. It was a lot of city states and land controlled by the Roman Catholic church (aka wealthy families) for centuries. Like the Medici family, who produced 4 popes. Call them a city-state or now just a city, the main players of Venice, Florence, Milan, Naples, & Rome haven’t changed since the Renaissance.
Ok, I didn’t mean to sidetrack into a history lesson, back to La Dolce Vita in Florence. The Michelangelo piazza that sits on the hillside on the other side of the Arno river from the famous Duomo and museums is ideal to sit and relax with a bottle of wine and watch the sunset. Hundreds head up the hill to watch the sunset every evening, so you’ll have a crowd joining you but it’s still worth it. After the aperitifs of course. Another form italians have found to linger over drinks and a meal. A lot of restaurants and bars offer a full buffet of food with your drink during the aperitif hours before dinner. To be honest I’m still not sure how Italian meal times work, nor can I understand how you can possibly be ready for dinner after a buffet and drinks. The evening out with family and friends is meant to take all evening though, I suppose that explains it. Drawn out eating, drinking, & enjoying the company you’re with. How very Italian.
I found the size of Florence to be just right. Granted, I walked 10-12 miles a day while I was there, but it’s very walkable lol. It felt safe to just wander the streets as well which is always nice as a female traveler.
I suppose sticking with the theme I shall keep this post rather simple as well. It’s not too factual or itinerary based, but I wanted to convey the way this trip made me feel. That’s always personal and dependent on the point a person is at in their life, and maybe this is a sign I’m ready to relax more rather than go go go while traveling. Either way, Tuscany and Florence felt lovely, and I do believe I’ll be back.
Candace, a huge thanks for introducing me your favorite city and making me break my travel ban :D.