Showing posts with label Tuscany. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tuscany. Show all posts

Friday, June 1, 2018

Under the Tuscan Sun ~ Bring on Bramasole!

BRAMASOLE ~ from 'Bramare' to yearn for and 'Sole' the Sun
BRAMASOLE ~ Frances Mayes’ home in Cortona, Under the Tuscan Sun

As our train carried us from Florence, Italy through the dreary, rain-soaked Tuscan countryside, the view through the dirty window had us yearning more for the sun than Bramasole . 

Dirty windows, stormy skies - welcome to Tuscany!
We were en route to Cortona, the next stop on our week-long get-away from our home in the Greek Peloponnese.  As long time readers here know, I’ve often credited Mayes’ book with planting that seed of possibility about ‘living differently’ way back when it was published, more than two decades ago. 

Having now purchased a home and moved to Europe, we can even better relate to her tales of dealing with cultural quirks; those everyday frustrations and wonders of living in a world different from that we've known.

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Villa Marsili, Cortona - friends meet, location great, room charming, breakfast incredible
While Cortona has long been on the ‘bucket list’ we’d never made it there during earlier Tuscan travels.  This trip came about when a Pacific Northwest friend, Sharon, and I were discussing Mayes’ books via email and she reminded me that she would be in Cortona that following week as part of a a University of Washington (Seattle, WA) alumni tour group. They’d ‘do’ Tuscany from their Cortona base. 

What a perfect time and place to rendezvous, I thought. And how nice to have short and relatively inexpensive flights between Athens and Rome! Luck was with us, as we were able to book a room at  Villa Marsili where the UW group was staying. 

The hotel, besides having a perfect location (10-minute walk from the center of town and a walking distance to Bramasole), also offered a breakfast buffet included in the room rate that offered so many selections it required two display tables. In the evening complimentary Vin Santo and sweets were served. Everything about this four-star hotel exceeded our expectations.

Cortona, this charming walled city was devoid of huge tourist groups in May

For that matter, Cortona exceeded our expectations.

This city, founded over 25 centuries ago and continuously occupied since then, was pleasantly devoid of the tourist hoards we'd encountered in Florence. It could have been the  temperamental weather that brought rain and wind storms with few sun breaks during our stay or the fact it was still early in the tourist season. We were told that in summer the place can be packed with people. But then it wouldn't take many to pack its streets and shops.

Our footsteps echoed on the cobbled streets at night
There was also little evidence of Frances Mayes's influence, in this town of jumbled narrow cobbled roads (shared by autos and pedestrians), stairways, and piazzas.  We quickly decided she may have gotten us here the first time, but the town is what will be bringing us back.

Copies were scarce of her memoir, Under the Tuscan Sun, which remained for two years on the New York Times Best Seller list after it was published 22 years ago (how can it have been that long ago???). Two copies of her books were for sale in the bookstore. A DVD of the 2003 movie made from the book was available in another. In the wine store off the piazza a peeling poster on a back wall advertised a 2013 tasting and dinner with her. No one had heard of or seen her of late. 

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The town was a maze of narrow walkways leading to expansive piazzas

Bring on Bramasole!

“It’s kind of amazing the people will travel because of a book. I admire that.”
                   --Frances Mayes

We spent our first couple of days exploring the town on foot, a rental car wasn’t necessary nor wanted on the narrow winding streets.  As our time in Cortona was growing short, it was time to ask our hotel staff how to find Bramasole. . .after all, the place has been a part of my life for two decades and I wasn’t going to be this close and not see it - no matter how 'tourist' I might sound when asking for directions.

The Strada Bianca - Cortona, Tuscany and under a Tuscan Sun!
Apparently I'm not the only one who's still interested in the place as the hotel staff quickly printed out a set of walking and driving directions to it that they keep on their computer. With directions in hand, The Scout and I set off on foot following the ‘strada bianca’ (white road) that I had envisioned so many times while reading the book. The route, a gradual uphill climb, leads past some beautiful Tuscan homes well worth the walk without Bramasole as a destination. We walked and walked and the road forked and continued to climb. A small directional sign was posted with an arrow to 'Bramasole'. 

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Bramasole neighboring homes - Cortona, Italy
“No one had lived there in thirty years and the grounds seemed like an enchanted garden, overgrown and tumbling with blackberries and vines.”

              -- Bramasole, as first described in Under the Tuscan Sun


Then. . .there it was! Whoa!  Far exceeding -- in size and grandeur -- any of my conjured up images, the place is absolutely enormous. The grounds (at least from the road where I was standing) were immaculately groomed. 

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Bramasole - Cortona, Italy
How had she done it?  How had she found time to renovate the place – bring it from blackberry brambles to such beauty – AND still find time to write a best selling book about it??  Then to keep it looking spectacular and keep writing even MORE books?? I am finding renovation and upkeep of a much, much smaller home and grounds to be an all encompassing task.  How did she fit in all that research and writing and reading?  

Close up of Bramasole entryway niche
BTW, She wasn’t in residence. I'd never have posed like that had I thought she might be looking out of one of those many windows. (I’d read her blog and knew she was on a US tour promoting her newest novel.)  I could gawk for as long as I wanted. No one else was around. The Scout wasn't as taken with this outing as I was, but he humored me and let me linger until my senses were satiated.

While soaking up the 'spirit of place' I vowed to get out that writing notebook of mine and make time to write about our Stone House on the Hill. I also made mental note to buy more clay pots and fill them with plants on our return. (I’ve bought the pots and filled them, but the notebook is still empty).

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Train station is shared by Cortona and Camuccia towns 
The next morning we boarded our train for Rome, where we’d spend our final day and night in Italy.  Next week, I’ll tell you about our time there; actually there are two stories about our time there - one real and one imagined. I can guarantee that one of the two will be filled  with “Diamonds, Danger and Desire”. . . no joke!  They say truth can be stranger than fiction, but in this case, fiction will be stranger than truth! Got you wondering what I am talking about? Well, see you next week and I'll clear all that up!

As always thanks for the time you’ve spent with us in Cortona. Safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking up this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Riding the Rails ~ On the 6:20 to Tuscany. . .

To travel by train is to see nature, human beings, towns. . .and rivers, in fact to see life.
-- Agatha Christie

We love European train travel. Nothing can get our travel juices flowing like a train station over here. And our week-long getaway to Italy’s Tuscany last week gave us more than ample opportunity to pursue our passion for ‘riding the rails’.

Roma Termini
We’ve spent most of our lives in the train-starved Washington State where a single train departs for  Canada’s Vancouver, British Columbia or south to Eugene, Oregon, (sometimes as far as California) or east towards Montana and Chicago. These are all one or two departures a day from Seattle.

Then we moved to Greece – there are no trains running here, aside from a small metro commuter in the Athens area. (There is talk of a high speed train between Thessoloniki and Athens one day. . .)

So many tracks, so many destinations

So for this pair of vagabonds, being in a train station bordered by multiple tracks with a reader board listing dozens of destinations, we simply felt like  kids in a candy store.

On the Leonardo Express to Rome

Arriving in Rome
We flew from Athens to Rome. Once there we did as so many travelers do: hopped aboard the Leonardo Express, for the 32-minute ride between the airport and Roma Termini, the downtown Rome train station.
P1070323The cost* was 11 euros per person each direction
(* if booked in advance on-line). It is a quick and easy means of travel into town.

There’s also some great sightseeing as it travels through agricultural land that surrounds the city and then you pass some great historic sites once you enter the city.

Plenty of seats and luggage racks make it a great choice for getting to the airport and there’s usually a train departing every 20 minutes, at most every half hour.

And according to its website, should there be a strike that stops trains from running (we’ve had that happen to us twice during previous visits to Rome) they claim they will provide alternate transport to the airport.

The 6:20 to Tuscany

P1070471We bought our tickets for the train bound for Florence at the same time we’d purchased the Leonardo Express tickets - after we arrived at Rome's airport. We paid dearly for having ‘walked up’ so from that point on, we purchased tickets in advance using the internet.

No printer, no problem. They’ve gone electronic. 
(It was the first time we’d done electronic tickets and I was a wreck turning the phone off and on to make sure the ticket would show up when the conductor came past – but it worked, I am hooked!)

We had no metal detectors, no stripping of coats and shoes, no pulling computers out of the bag. We simply walked from the track on which we arrived, to the track where our train bound for Florence was sitting. 

We were reminded that the reader board displaying train departures lists the train’s final destination, in our case, Milan, and a running list in smaller print tells where stops are made along the way. 

Let the Adventure Begin. . .

I never travel without my diary.
One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”
                                             --Oscar Wilde

Old Oscar must have taken a night train to have written such a thing. One of the wonderments of train travel to our way of thinking is the world passing by the windows. I can’t imagine reading anything with a bit of daylight to illuminate the country through which we traveled. We’d have missed scenes like this. . .

Italian Countryside
And this. . .

Tuscan blues and greens
And those far distant towns. . .we wonder what the names might be as we’ve come without our usual travel companions, a map and a guide book. This was a rather spur-of-the-moment trip for us.

Another town to explore one day
With scenes like these to keep us entertained. The hour and a half trip went rapidly. Well, so did the train, come to think about it!

Readerboard on the train told us the next destination and train's speed
As the sun set, we pulled into Florence. . .home of Michelangelo’s David, shops, galleries, eateries. . .oh my! Coming from our small village in the Greek Peloponnese, it was a shock to the system! I’ll tell you more about that stop in our next post.

However, I have just a bit of housekeeping to do today because the European Union and Facebook are complicating the world of blogging through two separate acts. . .  

Arriving in Florence
First, Facebook. Many of you read the blog after I would post it on FB.  I am learning that FB isn’t always feeding those posts to everyone so if you want to be assured of getting posts, you may need to 'subscribe' (its free – but it is a two step process that involves signing up with the link provided in the right hand column on our home page, and then when Feedburner sends you an email asking if you signed up, you must say yes or verify you did).  I have a number of you who are still unverified on my subscriber list. If you do get it on FB, please hit the like button so it will continue feeding through (assuming you want it to!)

Then comes the EU. On May 25, the General Data Protection Act comes into force across the EU (General Regulation 2016/679 of the European Parliament). This means that companies (and bloggers apparently) will no longer be able to use personal data, (Now keep in mind, I don’t have any personal data for you other than your email address – and I don’t even have that, it is Feedburner that sends the emails). But apparently we must have your consent to send such messages. Now I am not going to contact you individually as I don't know who you are. 

So tell you what. If you don’t want to receive the messages, all you have to do is unsubscribe.

There, I’ve satisfied giving you notice – I hope! (And I hope you don't unsubscribe!!)

Bottom Line:  I am going to be writing a post at least once a week to tell you about navigating the world of the ex pat in Greece and our explorations on this side ‘of the pond’. We are grateful for your comments, shares, and emails and the time you spend with us. . .and look forward to having you with us!

Until next week, safe travels to you and yours and hope you’ll be back for a taste of Florence next week!

Linking up this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On the Road in Tuscany. . .

Just saying the word, Tuscany, brings back memories of our day trip through Italy’s stunning countryside last fall.

As travelers you know those kind of memories; those images tinged with a just bit of regret because you didn’t .  . .

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. . .breathe a bit deeper. . .

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. . . linger a bit longer. . .

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. . .appreciate more the experience as it was happening.

The kind of trip not dictated by a GPS, in fact, one not clearly defined on paper either. . .

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. . .where the direction doesn’t matter. . .

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. . .your route doesn’t disappoint . . .

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. . .where your destination isn’t set. . .

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. . .where you find unexpected treasures along the way. . .

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That’s the kind of memories I am talking about.  Have you taken that type of carefree approach to trip planning lately? If not, give it a try – you might be surprised by what you find!  And if you’re ready for some armchair travel, head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for Travel Photo Thursday.

(And thanks to those who let me know you couldn’t leave a comment last week because of Google’s fickle support of its blogging system.  I don’t know what caused the problem nor how to fix it, but thanks for letting me know. . .if it continues, please let me know at

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Tuscany’s Most Romantic? That’d be Cetona!

The Scribe suggested the town Frances Mayes has made so famous, Cortona.

The Scout wanted something closer to Rome’s cruise port.

That’s why we set out from Bologna without a destination that October morning on a drive through Tuscany that led us, at day’s end, to. . .

 MilanBolgTusc2012 256
. . .one of the most charming, romantic towns we’ve ever visited. . .


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It was late afternoon when we pulled up to the side of the town’s 16th Century main square, Piazza Gariboldi.  As with other Tuscan towns, the square that time of day was  empty but for the handful of park benches where the old ones had gathered; clad in their drab ubiquitous black and gray garments, nearly blending in with the muted colors of the stone. We provided a brief bit of entertainment as they focused on us – obvious newcomers -- strolling toward the hotel (the building - we thought - at the end of the Piazza.)

MilanBolgTusc2012 286The hotel actually to the side of that building, on this late-season date had a number of rooms available including the one featuring – what we later realized – seemed to be the only balconies in town.

And they became our wrought-iron ‘viewing stands’ where we spent a great deal of time during our two-day stay. 

There really is something about that Tuscan Sun when its late afternoon rays illuminate a balcony on which you stand, overlooking a medieval village you’ve happened upon by chance.

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This small hamlet sits in the shadow of Mount Cetona; the surrounding hillsides and valleys are lush with cypresses and pine trees. No wonder, as we were to learn, it’s a favorite  getaway for Romans escaping the pace of the big city.

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We explored its empty narrow streets that seemed to squeak between centuries-old stone work. . .

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We pondered who climbs these steps up into in the privately-owned medieval fortress, la Rocca, that dates back to 1556, the time of Cosimo I de’Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.

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We followed the narrow walled roadway out to view the valley; a green carpet with red tile roofs highlighting its design. . .

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As the day came to an end, we’d join those other ‘old folks’ who returned to the square for entertainment and we’d watch ‘the boys’ gather for their game of cards. . .

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And then came the time to forage for food and drink. . .luckily our hotel was footsteps from Cantina La Frasca, a shop and tasting room of Podere Tre Case. . .

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MilanBolgTusc2012 249We sipped Tuscan wine tucked into in a room, resembling more wine cave than room, while visiting with the winemaker’s wife – a broken English-Italian  conversation punctuated by laughter.

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For each of our two evenings we dined on salamis, cheeses, olive oils and fresh breads that she prepared and served.

Even with slow walks, daydreaming, and napping we couldn’t stretch our time here – it simply went far too fast in this magical corner of Tuscany. Not wanting it to end, we strolled to the little bar where the boys had earlier been playing cards.

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And in the darkened, empty Piazza Garibaldi, toasted this fairy-tale town with a vow to return.

This is our entry for Carnival of Europe hosted by Aleah Taboclaon of Solitary Wanderer. This series theme is "Most Romantic Places in Europe"  so click the link to see what other travel writers are recommending.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

TP Thursday: Did You See That?!

We tell you about the destinations, but don’t always mention those entertaining sights (and sites) along the way. Those brief snapshots in time . . . so fleeting. . .so unexpected. . .but oh, so memorable, like in:

Tuscany, Italy
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We had been, for some time, the only ones traveling this two-lane road through Tuscany last fall.  Yet, we stopped and waited at the red light. . .and waited. . .and waited, to the point we started thinking it might be some sort of joke. When, finally, it turned green, we found major road construction just around the corner had narrowed the road to a single lane.

Eastern Washington State

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We’d passed through a number of picturesque small towns as we drove from Spokane, Washington to Joseph, Oregon but none had as clever a welcome sign as did the town of Anatone, a tiny spot  in the southeastern part of the state.

Nothing, Arizona


Nothing, Arizona is just that these days. The sign on US 93 between mile markers 148 and 149 is six miles north of the junction of Hwy 97.  It once was the site of an operating rock shop, and a gas station and even a pizza joint.

Sfakia, Crete

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That is a roadside guard rail at the top of the photo, framing this beast of beauty we spotted sunning itself one fine day on the southwestern coast of Crete.  This laid-back sunbather could have been posed there for the attention he gave to my phototaking.

Nevada’s Extraterrestrial Highway

State Route 375 is a long, lonesome 98-mile stretch of highway in remote southern Nevada. Like other similar roadways  in Nevada and Arizona, it provides immense stretches of vast, barren high desert-scapes. 
What sets it apart from those other roadways – besides the fact it’s near ‘Area 51’ which was for sometime a top-secret government research and test facility within the Nellis Air Force Base’s Bombing and Gunnery Range -- is that in 1996 it was officially named the Extraterrestrial Highway because of the UFO and other paranormal activities recorded here.

We’d chuckled about not seeing anything extraterrestrial or otherwise as we drove between Crystal Springs and Warms Springs, on that particular morning. About then, this is what we saw in the distance:

                                 Alien Research Center- Jackie Smith photo

We drove past, but I insisted I had to take a photo, so we returned to the parking lot so I could take the above shot. It was then we saw the sign "Alien Research Center."   Hmmm, not a person in sight, although the sign read, ‘museum and gift shop now open’. 

That was two years ago. I Googled it then and again this week and found no more information on either of my investigations than I have told you of this place located at:  100 Extraterrestrial Highway, Hiko, Nevada: It is simply there.

That’s it for this week’s Travel Photo Thursday. Hope you visit Nancy’s Budget Travelers Sandbox today for more fun photos. And if you’ve not yet checked out TravelnWrite’s Facebook page hope you’ll drop by there as well.

How about you? What have you seen on your travels  made you exclaim, “Did you see that?!”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

TPThursday: Travel Guilt or Gratitude?

Thanksgiving Day is being celebrated throughout the United States today with traditional acts of gluttony and, hopefully, with some time spent on gratitude (the day’s original purpose).

We are bypassing the culinary gluttony this year for. . . What else? Travel gluttony.  So, as I was stuffing our bags instead of a turkey, I was thinking about how grateful I am for the freedom and ability to travel as well as the joy it brings.

I recalled a passage from Paul Theroux’s  book, “Pillars of Hercules”.  Thanksgiving seemed the perfect day to share it with you:

“Did the traveler, doing no observable work,

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                             (Early morning Milano, Italy’s train station)

freely moving among settled, serious people, get a pang of conscience? 

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                             (Afternoon Bologna, Italy)

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                           (Evening Cetona, Italy)

I told myself that writing – this effort of observation – absolved me from any guilt;

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                             (Squero di San Trovaso, one of Venice’s few remaining gondola workshops)

but of course that was just a feeble excuse.

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                              (Wine store in Venice, Italy)

This was pleasure.

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                         (A piazza in Milano, Italy)

No guilt, just gratitude.”

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Happy Thanksgiving ~ we are grateful to all of you for stopping by on this Travel Photo Thursday. Remember to stop by Budget Travelers Sandbox for more armchair travel.

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