Agriturismo la Fidanza

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    • Day 29

      Cinque Fotografie- Tuscany Day 1

      May 12, 2022 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

      After a relaxing morning with breakfast on our host's patio and a lovely conversation with Ruth, who was visiting from Germany, we made our way to Napoli's Central train station.

      We marked the first month of our time on the road, and I'm noticing the benefit of all the walking that we're doing. I calculated that we've walked about 143 miles since we began our trip, and I'm excited about building endurance while enjoying the sights.

      This was our second time on a fast train in Europe. This time we rode on FrecciaRossa operated by Tren Italia. I really do love the experience. The seats are comfortable,
      and the ride is smooth. We had a brief stop in Rome, and then we continued on our way to Firenze (Florence).

      We arrived in time in Florence and we walked to the nearby Hertz station to pick up our rental car. The driving experience in Florence was considerably less chaotic than Napoli or Catania. Most of the time, drivers appear to follow rules about right of way and they seem to adhere to speed limits. I will not miss the kamikaze cyclists in this driving adventure.

      The trip to our agritururismo, IL Segreto de San Piefratretta was an easy 45-minute drive through the Tuscan hillside. When we arrived, we were warmly greeted by Diego and Pedro who own the agritururismo. The grounds and rooms are really spectacular with olive and fig trees peppered around the vineyard.. We are excited to visit the nearby town of San Gimignano whose towers hover on a hill off to in the distance.

      Once we settled in, we lounged by the pool and I chatted with a couple from England who are on holiday.

      We enjoyed a wonderful dinner on the patio and watched the sunset and accompanying silhouette of San Gimignano. Dinner was delicious: Jim had a cous cous cake and I had pork tenderloin with an apple topping. The Cab Franc blend of wine was spectacular. And we finished the meal with a chocolate souffle and cappuccinos.

      We are very grateful to be able to spend the next ten nights here. It's a really great homebase for our time in Tuscany.

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    • Day 31

      Cinque Fotografie-Tuscany Day 3

      May 14, 2022 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 13 °C

      It felt like summer today in the heart of Tuscany. We decided that it was a great day for a hike, and we opted to take the longer route from our accommodations to San Gimignano, the town that overlooks the valley from the distance.

      It took us about ninety-minutes to navigate the hilly five kilometer hike. The valleys below were filled with vineyards and olive trees. We enjoyed most of the walk except for the latter part where cars raced by on a road with little room for pedestrians to navigate.

      We arrived at the walled city and rewarded ourselves with gelato first (life is short-eat dessert first) and then pasta for lunch on the piazza. We enjoyed panoramic views from a balcony point (Rocco) navigated by narrow steep stairs.

      We took the short route home which took us about 45 minutes through area agritururismos. It was a really challenging, but fun hike. I'm grateful that I was able to navigate the walk; it probably has helped that we've been averaging over five miles a day walking. I'm really happy about the progress.

      We returned to our accommodations and did our weekly call to Genevieve and Olive to talk about our adventures with her storybook hero 'Pete the Cat". We ahowed Olive a Zoom screen of the Olive trees and she replied, "Look, those are Me trees."

      After our call, we lounged by the pool.

      We had a lovely dinner and we were joined by a sweet couple from Germany. It was fun comparing our relative experiences in our countries, and we decided to watch the finals in Eurovision together. It was fun to chat with friends back home contemporaneously. Congratulations, Ukraine! It was another stellar day. 🇺🇦 💖
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    • Day 32

      Cinque Fotografie-Tuscany Day 4

      May 15, 2022 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 15 °C

      Today we were joined by Jim C's sisters,Sharon and Nancy, who traveled from Oregon, Wisconsin and Portland, Maine (we have Portland and Oregon well covered on this trip).

      Although they had a few travel delays arriving from Boston, they made it to Firenze safe and sound and we headed back to our accommodations in San Gimignano.

      We enjoyed drinks and sunbathing by the pool and resting up before a wonderful dinner on the terrace.

      I have always marveled at how close Jim and his siblings are. It's fun to watch their rhythm together, and it's a treat to experience the treasure of Tuscany with them.

      As I reflect on our reunion today, I offer this thought of gratitude:

      Sharon and Nancy have always treated me like I was another brother. From the day that I first met them, I have deeply appreciated that they respect and honor our relationship as important. I love them very much for that experience, and I've also always experienced it with their parents and their children as well. There are too many of our GLBT friends who don't get that experience, and I know that we are very lucky.

      We are looking forward to our new adventures this week. L'amore per la famiglia è magico.
      Buona Notte 🌟
      Note: Thanks to Nancy C for the first four pics.
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    • Day 35

      Cinque Fotografie-Tuscany Day 6

      May 18, 2022 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 15 °C

      Today Jim C, his sisters, and I spent time in San Gimignano, the 13th century walled town that watches over us. This beautiful town is dubbed "San Gimignano delle belle torri " (of the beautiful towers) with good reason. The towers are among the most striking feature of the town, and it enhances the frozen in time Medieval feel of the city.

      In our previous visits this week, we has mostly sampled the food, wine and gelato. Today we thought that we would get a sense of the many shops as well as the art and history of the city.

      After admiring the architecture of the city we took time for a light lunch and watched the influx of tourists arriving by tour bus. After lunch, Nancy and Sharon decided to check out the various boutiques, and Jim C and I purchased tickets for the art museum and Duomo. Included in the purchase price was access to the tallest tower in the town, Torro Rossa.

      We learned that at San Gimignano boasted seventy-two towers at its peak. Our assumption was this to serve as watchtowers to guard the city. Instead the tower building was initiated by two rival families in competition with each other, and the practice was adopted by other wealthy patriarchs determined to model the ageless demonstration of male prowess in the "whose is biggest" game.

      The times of the Great Plague witnessed a deterioration of the number of towers and the numbers have dwindled to sixteen today.

      When we entered the art museum, we saw the entry to the Torro Rossa, and I entertained the notion of going to the tower. At first the steps were stone, but eventually there was a metal stairway that you could see down below between the steps, and that ended my delusion of continuing up the tower. Jim C and I came up with a Plan B: we would tour the art exhibits together, and then we would go our separate ways with Jim C going up the tower and I would visit the Duomo otherwise known as Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunto.

      There were many beautiful pieces in the art museum. Most depicted Biblical events and a number were painted on wood. One of the pieces of the Virgin Mary reminded us of many of the portrayals of children who look like old men. I labeled this work as Jesus and Benjamin Button.

      I thought that I might grow weary of visiting yet another church, but I do find them peaceful and beautiful. Today was no exception, and I learned about St. Fina, the child saint and local pride and joy of the community. St Fina's remains are buried in one of the side altars, and I read a pamphlet of her story. When she was ten , St. Fina experienced an illness that rendered her legs useless (polio?) at the age of ten and she was confined to a wooden pallet for the remaining five years of her brief life. St. Fina is credited with many healing of visitors and for the demonstration of grace despite her severe impairment. The legend is the a special violet grew on her pallet and also appeared throughout the towers of the city.

      The duomo has many brilliant frescoes depicting the passion of Christ and scenes from the Old Testament.

      When, I rejoined Jim and his sisters, Jim recounted his trip up Torro Rossa where the last part of the journey to the overlook was a metal ladder. I attribute my avoidance of this experience as Divine Intervention, and I'm happy to give credit to St. Fina for missing yet another "Oh Hell, No" experiences.

      We concluded our time in San Gimignano with some incredible gelato, and then we headed back to our agritururismo. Once again, we enjoyed pool and nap time, and yet again another fine dinner on the terrace. I'm grateful for another beautiful day in San Gimignano. It's definitely a jewel in the many treasures of Tuscany. Buona Notte!
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    • Day 36

      Cinque Fotografie-Tuscany Day 7

      May 19, 2022 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 18 °C

      We enjoyed a cooking class led by, Andrea, one of the staff at IL Segreto de Pietrafetta. He was a wonderful encouraging teacher who attributed much of his culinary skills to his mother.

      Like many during Covid times, I took up baking bread and learning to make pasta. It was fun to expand on skills today, and to create a meal with family.

      Sharon and I collaborated as Team 1958 and Jim and Nancy (Team JC/NC) worked together on their preparations.

      We learned to make focaccia, tagliatelle, and cantucci which is similar to biscotti.

      Our two teams made different variations on the theme. Team 1958 created a stuffed tomato, sun-dried tomato and basil focaccia, while Team JC/NC made a potato/rosemary focaccia.

      We learned to create pasta dough which required rolling it out and stretching it much like the creation of pizza dough. Cutting the pasta into tagliatelle noodles was a fascinating cutting process. The final result was a really wonderful cacio e pepe (parmesan and pepper) creation. Sharon is not a fan of cheese and she learned to make a butter/sage variation.

      We made two flavors of cantucci: chocolate/vanilla/hazelnut and rose/vanilla/pistachio. We learned that it is a tradition dating back hundreds of years to serve cantucci with Vin Santo, a strong amber colored wine used for dipping. Here's a link to the history:….

      We enjoyed our collaborative meal creation served with an ample supply of white wine that was available throughout the meal preparation process.

      After a restful afternoon, we ventured about 40 minutes away to the hilltop village of Volterra known for its walled Medieval structure and is beautiful alabaster sculptures. We enjoyed tree valley views below and walking through the village which had similar features to Sam Gimignano. Although, our destination restaurant was closed, we found a great outdoor restaurant before making the trip back home. Kudos to Jim C for his adept navigation skills across the narrow winding switchbacks to and from Volterra.

      We ended the evening with an aperitif of a limoncello style variation made with mandarin oranges that we had found last week in Sorrento. It was fun to recount the day, another wonderful series of adventures with family and lasting memories.

      Before we retired for the evening we met Brian & Kathy, a couple from Spain who were celebrating a Covid-delayed honeymoon. Kathy is originally from Vermont and Brian is from Cork. They gave us wonderful tips for our upcoming travels to Ireland and we enjoyed reminiscing about our favorite places in Vermont. Signing off for now. Buona Notte!
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    • Day 36

      Cinque Fotografie-Tuscany Day 8

      May 19, 2022 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

      One of the goals of our family time together was to take a trip to the coast and to enjoy some time at the beach. As the emerging summer is becoming more evident with consistent sunny days and warmer temperatures hitting the lower 80's° F, we thought today would be perfect.

      At the advice of our hosts,we traveled to Polpulonia in search of a public beach. On the way, we retraced the hilly winding roads through Volterra and continued to the coast.

      During our time in Tuscany, we have admired vast fields of red poppies that contrast valleys and hills boasting varieties of shades of green. As we were approaching the coast, we noticed a particularly abundant and vibrant splash of red created by a poppy field, and we pulled over to take some photos.

      We reached Polpulonia in search of a public beach and the opportunity to rent some lounge chairs and umbrellas. We were delighted to find Bagno Baratti and a row of lounging chairs on the beach.

      I learned after the fact, that Polpulonia was an ancient Etruscan port city (Fufluna) named after the god of wine and intoxication. I've been an unknowingly devoted follower of his in ample wine offerings this week.

      This area was also an important port and was known for its mining and trade of iron which remains evident in the black, red and silver shining beach sand. We didn't explore the adjacent Etrascan Necropolis; we instead opted for sunbathing and wading in the horseshoe shaped Gulf of Baratti nestled between the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian Seas.

      The water temperature was cool, but bearable, and it was a nice contrast to the balmy air temperature. We loved the clear water and calm sea. We noticed some small fish that seemed consistently interested in stalking Jim C. We enjoyed a nice lunch on the beach which was surprisingly good for beach shack food.

      While people watching from the shore, I couldn't help but notice a young man playing on the beach with his young son Nico. When his son wanted his father's attention, he called out "Papi" and the interaction made me long for grandfather time and to reflect on days at the beach with Genevieve and Keegan when they were young.

      I also watched a carefree older woman swimming on the beach in striking white pigtails, and I kept thinking of her resembling Pippi Longstocking who had matured gracefully.

      When I watched Sharon, Nancy and Jim in the water I could envision their younger selves enjoying a beach day as well as my time at the beach in Connecticut and Rhode Island. A little too much sun exposure today reminded me of sunburns and Noxema applications to sooth the ache in my youth.

      On the way home, we stopped for our obligatory gelato break after Nancy and Sharon received Covid tests in preparation for their return to the U.S. (all good). We had another wonderful leisurely dinner on the terrace, and called it a night.

      Buonanotte, amici e famiglia! 💞
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    • Day 37

      Cinque Fotografie-Tuscany Day 9

      May 20, 2022 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

      We made our way to Firenze today with the primary goal to explore the historical district and to see Michelangelo's David.

      One of our first challenges in getting to the historical center of Florence was figuring out how to navigate entering the restricted zones where automobiles without a pass are subject to steep fines. Thanks to an internet search, we learned that private parking garages can alert the city for the purpose of a temporary waiver. We managed to find a parking garage that was located fairly close to the Duomo de Firenze.

      Given that we had nearly two hours before our tour of La Galleria dell'Accademia di Firenze, we decided to wander around the historical district. We first reached the massive Duomo. This cathedral's construction began in 1296 and was consecrated in about 140 years later upon its completion. While we didn't purchase tickets to enter the Duomo, we were impressed with the detailed exterior.

      While Jim C and I were wandering through the streets to inquire about ticket logistics, Nancy happened upon a street artist who was dressed like an ancient pope and frozen in time until she activated his animation with a donation. It was fun, and a tad bit creepy ("Stranger Danger") to see the photos of her interaction with him.

      We arrived at noon for our scheduled guided tour of the Academy Gallery that houses Michelangelo's David. Our guide, Safe, shared that he was of Tunisian and Italian heritage and he observed that most of the interesting sites of Firenze were found outdoors. He playfully remarked that, in contrast, the interior buildings would only be limited to portrayals of Mary and Jesus.

      On the tour, we learned from Safe that Michelangelo's masterpieces would discover what figures emerged from blocks of marble. Further, Michelangelo was torn between artistic commissions of two popes and their respective families. One of the unfinished pieces is a self-image of sorts portraying Michelango as a stressed slave depicting his conflicting challenges: so much art to create, so little time.

      We enjoyed the other sculptures in the Academy as well as many paintings from Renaissance artists. One exhibit also demonstrated many period musical instruments. I was impressed to see a Stradivarius violin as well as several ancient instruments. Nancy observed that she wandered if the instruments were sad being relegated to display cases rather than a more fulfilling demonstration of musicians playing them.

      After a light lunch, we walked over to the Pitti Palace and the adjacent Boboli Gardens. We opted to remain outdoors rather than touring the interior structures as we recognized that we were experiencing a bit of museum fatigue. While some might view that as a missed opportunity, we enjoyed the opportunity to be outside and admire the architecture and grounds.

      In the late afternoon, we made it back to our car, and we enjoyed an alternate route back to our Agritururismo. The tree-lined streets and views of the city from the hills overlooking the city were spectacular.

      We managed to arrive in time for drinks and pool time before a wonderful farewell dinner with Nancy and Sharon. We really enjoyed sharing the Tuscany leg of our journey with them.

      It's time for bed as we need to get them to the airport early tomorrow morning. Ciao!
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    • Day 38

      Cinque Fotografie-Tuscany Day 10

      May 21, 2022 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

      Today was our last full day in San Gimignano. The day started early as we said good-bye to Sharon and Nancy, and Jim C took them to the Florence Airport to catch their flight home.

      I enjoyed some time by on the patio while waiting for Jim to return and sneak in a quick nap.

      A local online acquaintance recommended that we visit L'Abbazia di San Galgano, about an hour to the south of us. The Abbey was built between 1218 and 1288. It was the first Gothic church built in Tuscany. The Cisterian monks built this here because it had many resources in the area: rivers, woods, plains and marshlands. Like much of the area, the Plague hit the area very hard, and attacks on the monastery subsequently caused the monks to move farther south to Siena. In the late 1700's lighting hit the bell tower, and the roof collapsed leaving the walls that remain today.

      When I reflect on the numerous churches and cathedrals that we have visited in the last five weeks, many adorned with gold, marble and paintings from the Masters, this place reminds me about the beauty of simplicity and resilience. It's a good reminder about the grace of aging as well. If you look deep enough you see the beauty of the character that remains through difficult challenges. It's a good lesson.

      As we walked around the grounds we noticed a photographer taking photos of a young couple preparing to get married later that day. It was a touching image of contrast getting to witness preparations for a new beginning in an ancient site that remained resilient through centuries of troubled times. Another sign of resilience was the ever present Tuscan red poppies growing in unlikely places among the ruins.

      After our visit, we had a light lunch at a nearby agritururismo, and we headed back to our place in San Gimignano. On the way, we passed bales of hay on rolling hills that reminded us of Pennsylvania except there were towers in the background.

      We arrived back in time for relaxation time by the pool, a Zoom call home to Genevieve and Olive, and a rest before dinner.

      We had another wonderful meal on the terrace, and we enjoyed a local bottle of Chianti.

      It has been a really great stay in Tuscany, and we're excited for our next adventure to Basel,Switzerland tomorrow. Buonanotte!
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    • Day 30

      Cinque Fotografie-Tuscany Day 2

      May 13, 2022 in Italy ⋅ ☁️ 15 °C

      After an amazing breakfast, we took a two-hour drive to the town of Assisi, birthplace of St. Francis. The drive was so beautiful as we traversed rolling hills of green- olive trees and vineyards with mountains serving as a backdrop.

      I've had many reflections on taking this trip as a former Catholic who traveled among others who were clearly making a pilgrimage to this beautiful hilltop town and Basilica.

      Ever since I was a kid, I loved the story of St Francis. I knew that he held reverence for all living things and held respect for diversity. He abandoned a wealthy life and chose poverty and service. In doing so he defied his father and chose his own path at a young age.

      Today I also learned about Claire who followed Francis and chose a life of poverty and service as well. They both created a movement with a significant following.

      I was today years old when I learned that St. Francis was never ordained, yet the Franciscan movement was endorsed by the Pope at the time.

      I was really moved when we sat in the lower Basilica and witnessing St. Francis's tomb about above the altar. As we walked around the altar, we witnessed the burial sites of his four closest friends as well as a woman who wanted to visit Francis on his deathbed. Initially, she wasn't allowed, but Francis invited her as one of his last acts, and her remains also rest nearby. The thought of being with those you love when your life ends is beautiful and comforting. In all of his suffering in his short life of 44 years, Francis was rich in his love for all beings and the return of the love by his friends and followers.

      I have always loved singing the Prayer of St. Francis. I had no idea that he didn't write this prayer and it was instead penned anonymously seven hundred years later (1912) by a French clerical magazine. Regardless. I have always loved the thought of that it was more important to "seek to understand than to be understood...",an important element of any healthy relationship in work and in personal matters. Stephen Covey lifted it as one of his "Seven Habits..."

      I learned that St. Francis did write his own gratitude prayer "Canticle of the Sun". In the prayer, Francis gives broad thanks for all creation. When he was nearing the end of his life he amended the prayer to include and celebrate "Sister Death" and his belief in the afterlife.…!

      We returned late afternoon and reflected on the day as we relaxed by the pool and later took an evening walk in the tranquility hilltop village of San Gimignano under the watchful eye of "sister moon".

      I finish the day grateful for friends and family and the motivation to find new ways to be of service to others when we return home.

      Buona Notte. 🌙 🌚 🌔 🌕 🌖 🌛 🌙 💗
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    • Day 33

      Cinque Fotografie-Tuscany Day 5

      May 16, 2022 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

      The day started early as we got up to watch the lunar eclipse around 5 a.m. It was fascinating to watch the emerging eclipse from lounge chairs by the pool as the area birds sang their songs. Although the moon slipped behind the hilly horizon, we did enjoy witnessing this experience, and we were grateful for clear skies.

      After returning to bed for a few more hours, we got up and enjoyed an ample breakfast. We then made our way to Siena, a town situated about 40 minutes south of San Gimignano.

      Siena was one of the most important thriving cities in Medieval Europe and it had a firece rivalry with Firenze (Florence). As we first arrived in the city we headed over to IL Campo (field), the connecting plaza for Siena's 17 neighborhoods. One of the traditions that occurs in this plaza is a 90-second horse race competition that draws about 60,000 spectators twice each summer. While, the plaza is quite large, the thought of that many people evoked my first of two "Oh Hell, No" exclamations about this locale. The second "Oh Hell, No moment was the opportunity to climb 400 stairs up the 300 ft Torre del Mangia, the second tallest tower in Italy adjacent to the town hall "Palazzo Pubblico". The Palazzo is guarded by she-wolves, a creature I previously only associated with Romulus and Remus folklore. Apparently, Siena adapted a Texas style "Don't Mess With Siena" brand evidenced several times throughout the city.

      Jim C and his sister Sharon opted to brave the claustrophobic climb up the tower of terror later that afternoon while Nancy and I toured the nearby phobic-free botanical gardens.

      We enjoyed wandering through the neighborhoods with the various mascots symbolized by statues and plaques at intersections. The mascots ranged from fairly benign symbols of forests and caterpillars to panthers and dragons.dragon's.

      Early in the afternoon, we visited the Duomo. It was an unusually adorned cathedral with striped pillars. I dubbed it "Our Lady of the Zebra". I found the stripes a bit incongruous with the other artwork and statues. The frescoes abs stained glass windows were stunning. I enjoyed seeing a sculpture of St. Peter that was created by a 25-year old Michelangelo.

      Within the Duomo, we visited the Piccolomolini Library which honors one of their famed family Mendes members who eventually became Pope Pius II. The room was decorated with many scenes of his life and lower panels displayed massive illustrated chant hymnal.

      After the Duomo tour we had lunch of pasta and pizza. I sampled the tagliatele with black truffles. I know that truffles are considered a rare delicacy, but I savored the fresh pasta more than the truffles which were a bit bland and resembled thin wood chips.

      We headed to our separate tower and garden adventures, and we celebrated our rendezvous with an obligatory gelato break.

      We decided that six hours of touring Siena was sufficient, and chauffeur Jim C got us back to our Agritururismo in time for naps and pool time.

      We had another wonderful dinner on the patio, and we called it a night after celebrating great wine, great food and family time. Ciao!
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