The rest of the story...again, get comfy:)
Day Two (Monday): The plans for the day were to venture into a few of the towns surrounding Cortona. After narrowing the list down to two towns, both within about 30 kM from Cortona we felt pretty confident about our day's plans. Oh man:) We patted ourselves on the back for figuring out the bus we were sure would take us to the correct train station that was 2 miles away and hopped on as it pulled into the town square. AN HOUR later, we arrived at a completely different train station, in surprisingly enough, one of the towns we had actually meant to visit but had knocked off our list. Of course. Quick glance around Arezzo and we jumped right onto the train for Montepulciano. Although we had obviously gone out of our way to get there, both the hour long bus ride and the hour long train ride through the Tuscan countryside to Montepulciano were thankfully extremely beautiful and scenic. The train dropped us at the station and we looked around only discover that aside from a tiny restaurant across the street, that was about all that was there. We realized we were still 10 km from the place we intended to be and asked for the taxi number to take us there. Here enters Paolo, the cab driver. Paolo takes us into Montepulciano and promptly drops us smack in the middle of the square. Our breakfast of croissants and cappuccino is quickly wearing thin and we begin our hunt for food. Here is where we learned that Italian restaurants typically close between the hours of 2:30 and 7:30. No worries though, we found the perfect little place tucked away in a cave-like entrance with a breathtaking view of the rolling green hills and vineyards. With pasta and wine safely settled into our tummies and hearts we wandered the hilly streets of Montepulciano. This is the town where they filmed some scenes on New Moon and it is even prettier than in the movie. Time to head to the train station and we realize we have no way of getting there. I used what little Italian phrases I knew and placed a quite ridiculous phone call to the taxi company attempting to tell them where we were in this little town. 30 minutes later, here comes Paolo for ride number 2. As he is dropping us at the train station Hannah, Mama and I notice he is talking to Jodi and Jenn outside the cab doors. He looks as if he is trying to get a point across and is speaking in a very convincing tone. Jenn looks at him like he is speaking not Italian, but full on gibberish, and Jodi is nodding and smiling vehemently. She relays snippets of the conversation to us later with a broken translation of something similar to "it might be difficult to get a train to Cortona tonight but...". We say thank you and bounce off to check the time tables for our train. Realizing we have an hours wait ahead we grab some snacks from the tiny diner and perch ourselves outside in the plastic chairs to await our train in the freezing cold. Here Jenn learned that the wrong emphasis placed on the wrong syllable yields very ugly looks from women who could care less about American tourists. "Toy-let-TAY? TOY-let-tay?":) 15 minutes before our train is to arrive we move across the street and arrange ourselves huddled together on a bench at the platform. Body heat is key here people. Not a soul in sight. Except for a fairly scraggly looking man dressed in camo pants who is smoking a cigarette and occasionally appears out of the darkness several feet away. Every few minutes an announcement would come on and we would all fall silent and listen intently to the fully Italian message, sure that one of us would soon be able to magically decode it. Translated we heard: train, arriving, Cortona...we think, Oh good, our train to Cortona will be arriving soon. About 5 announcements later we are still bundled together on our little bench, anxiously awaiting our homebound train. The scary man from the dark approaches and begins to tell a story with animated hands. "Niete treno. Blah blah, Italian blah, shoppula, italian blah, niete treno. Shopping, blah." Excuse me?? No, we don't want to go shopping, we are waiting for our train..please go away. He continues, "Niete treno. NO train. Broken-o." And it clicks. Sooo..what you're saying is there is no train?? Not at all? No train tonight? "Si! Si! No train!". And cue eruption of laughter, followed by the catch phrase of the trip - of course! A quick phone call to Paolo and he arrives in his heroic minivan to escort us home. First words out of his mouth as he opens the car doors for us.."Hahaha I tell you!! I tell you!!" Classic:) This man got a well deserved photo with us at the end of the ride home. We later learned when asking about a train ride for a different day that the word that sounded so similar to "shopping" or "shoppula" was in fact, something entirely different in Italian and meant "strike". The trains apparently often go on strike and we fortunate enough to try and travel on such a day. We had dinner and wine at "The Grotto (cave)" which was like eating in a fairy tale restaurant with all the perfect touches for a genuine Italian experience. Like any true tourists would, we pulled out our Rick Steve's Italian phrases pocketbook guide and began practicing our Italian. We decided it might not be the best place to do so when Jenn received a funny side glance after yelling "Crepi!!" (translated: Drop Dead!) at the passing waitress. We all sounded like a table with an anger problem as we found the more colorful pages and learned the phrase for "Damnitt!" and the waitress laughed and asked "Oh, so you are practicing your Italian? That's good."
Day Three (Tuesday): We boarded a Florence bound train with the US consulate marked first on the to-do list. The consulates first words were "Yes we give passports, but...you have to get your picture somewhere else." Of course you do. As we arrived at the tiny shop several blocks away we were greeted with "Yes, we take photos..but...the electricity is out!" Haha, of course it is:) We walked several more blocks to a different shop and were greeted with "Yes, but...the computer is down." Of course it is:) Thankfully, the computer rebooted, Mama had her photo op and we traipsed back to the consulate. A little over and hour later, Mama emerged with her new passport in hand and we were free to roam the city of Florence for the rest of the day. First order of business, pizza. We ordered three pizzas to share and when they arrived I dove right in somewhat recklessly. I looked up from my end of the table with mozzarella cheese hanging from my chin (classy I know) and realized that I had somehow missed the memo that "Oh, we are doing small pieces??" I sheepishly removed the entire half of pizza that was currently residing on my plate and divvied it up accordingly. Jodi sadly realized that she had lost her phone somewhere outside the embassy and after a quick jaunt back to the site of the incident we realized it was gone forever. One of the super unfortunate events that happen with traveling, but she took it like a champ and rocked on with her day. We spent the afternoon wandering through the streets of the market buying all the genuine Italian souvenirs family and friends could ever ask for and, of course, had at least 2 more helpings of gelato. Dinner consisted of a trip up the incredibly steep hill to our local coffee shop where we purchased an Italian smorgasbord of cheese, bread, olive oil, spices, salami, pesto and truffle sauce, wine and limoncello to take home to the villa. Yuuummm.
Day Four (Wednesday): This was the day dedicated to exploring all Cortona had to offer. It was a little drizzly throughout the day, but the thing about being in a teeny tiny picturesque village in the tuscan country side is...who cares!!:) I, being the good friend that I am, gave Jodi my terrible cold that I had brought from Australia and so she felt crummy and had to stay behind this day. But, me, being the good friend I am, did take her some beyond amazing ribbolita (fantastic veggie soup with bread) for a late lunch. The streets of Cortona are cobbled and narrow and are lined with countless little shops selling genuine Tuscan artifacts like Italian leather, beautiful ceramics, and super fresh fruits and vegetables. Fact: a kaki, is a fruit that tastes like a fruity pumpkin..even when it gets squished in the bottom of the purse! After lunch at the theater cafe in the piazza, we checked out the duomo and one of the beautiful lookouts over the hills. You know it's a good day when a person standing by comments "You girls have been into the vino rosso a little early today huh? As you should be!" When in fact, we had not, but I can see how watching Hannah, Jenn and Mama try to jump for a picture may give that illusion:) Next up was the 2 mi (one way) trek to Bramasole, the house that the movie Under the Tuscan Sun is based on. Although we were afraid certain members of the group might have a heart attack before we reached the top:)... we did finally make it, and it was well worth the trip. The house was beautiful and it was actually a pretty neat experience to get to see it. One of Mama's primary reasons for wanting to visit Tuscany, and Cortona specifically, was spun from her love of the movie and other books by Frances Mayes, the author. So, when a man pulled up to the house that is supposedly owned by Frances Mayes and her husband, we just assumed this man must know her closely. He introduced himself as Frances Mayes husband, chatted a few minutes and then walked inside. Mama sat and stared at the house with a pleased, yet nondescript look on her face. "Mama! Why did you not say anything else to him??" What? Why would I? "Because that was her husband!!" It was??? How do you know? Why didn't you tell me it was Frances Mayes husband?!? LOL, apparently the lack of oxygen from climbing that hill wore her poor little ears and brain out and she just blitzed right through the conversation without noticing that she had just met one of her most admired authors husbands. Fortunately, he did come back down a few minutes later and Mama was able to redeem herself, engage in a great conversation and take a picture with him. (Although, it should be said that she did almost miss him again because she was pitching a bit of a fit at us for not telling her it was him to begin with! Haha, oh Mama:)
Day Five (Thursday): Although we were becoming pros at navigating the train and bus systems, we still had close calls every now and then with making the right train at the right time. In a perfect example of these rushed mornings, we had just bought all our tickets at the machine and had about 2 minutes to make it across the platform where Mama was waiting to board the already present train. I rounded the corner, ahead of the pack and yelled back with an overly enthusiastic, "Let's Go!!!" As I sped around the corner however, my Toms lost all traction and I promptly fell to the ground in a sideways skid and slid into the door like I had just hit a homerun. I hopped up as quickly as I had fallen and yelled back to the girls who were all doubled over laughing at me, "We don't have time to laugh!!! Let's Go!!!" We made it onto the train with literally a second to spare. Pisa proved to be well worth the trip and we all took our pictures trying to hold up the famous leaning tower. We had extra time that afternoon and used it to revisit Florence. We strolled across the Ponte Vecchio, or "Old Bridge" where couples can place a padlock on the bridge, throw the key in and receive eternal love. We meandered through the Piazza Signoria to get a look at the fake David statue, found that more gelato and limoncello were in order and then made our way back to the train to Cortona.
Day Six (Friday): Rome in a day. That was the plan. We used the metro and made it safely to the colosseum with all our money and passports present and accounted for. So far so good. Walking up to the colosseum is an experience in itself as you can't help but feel overwhelmed by it's natural beauty and the historical significance of it's presence. We excitedly approached the gates to enter and came face to face with sign which read "We are sorry to say that the colosseum is closed today for circumstances beyond ones control." By this point in our trip we are definitely not surprised by this, so we laugh and again say, OF COURSE:) Fortunately, the colosseum is fantastic in itself and we were able to get a great experience even in just standing in the shadow of the base of it. Lunch was fabulous as always, but with one exception...As I chomped down into a piece of Mama's lunch, I commented "Hmm, it's good but it tastes a bit fishy.." And Hannah laughs and says "Yep, there are anchovies in there" She knew the whole time but was paying me back for knowingly allowing her to bite into some liver pate the day before. Paybacks suck, especially when you are ordering from a foreign menu. We did see the phrase "Nothing with eyeballs in it" in our translation book, but we were just hoping we would not actually have to use it. As we walked into the vatican city, the first thing we noticed was a ridiculously long line to enter St. Peter's Basilica that wrapped around the entire square. Knowing the doors would be shutting within the next few hours our hopes of seeing everything were briefly dashed. And then a dodgy looking man approached and asked if we spoke English. Hesitant at what he might want, we reluctantly answered yes. Turns out he was recruiting for the last English walking tour of the day and if we hurried we could join the group before the doors closed for the day. So, away we went, being led like cattle with a group of all the other English speakers into the Vatican City. Our tour guide was a guy from Ohio who happened to be an amazing aficionado of all things pertaining to the Vatican. We were able to see all that a tourist is allowed to see inside the Vatican walls in just two hours while learning all sorts of fun trivia about everything. We toured inside the Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, the inner courtyards, and all the additional rooms and hallways filled with sculptures and artworks from years past. We learned about secret rivalries between Michealangelo and another artist from his time, that pinecones are symbol of fertility, that Nero was purely evil, and that apparently Tom Hanks is responsible for leaking the location of the secret passageways into the vatican in his movie, Angels and Demons. We got our daily dose of gelato, some more vino for the villa and headed home to begin the sad task of packing.
Day Seven (Saturday): We planned our last transit adventure for the final day and set out with Rome as our destination. After lugging all our baggage up the treacherous hills we had one last breakfast of croissants and cappuccinos and hopped in a cab ride to the train station. Mama received an offer to stay with Enzo, our nice little English speaking, Italian cab driver, in his "big house", but even with her love of Italy she strangely turned him down. You rethinking that yet Mama??:) A three hour train ride later we arrived in Rome and hustled to the express train that would take the girls back to the airport. After a week of amazing eating, toasting, laughing and living it up Italian style, we kissed, we hugged, I cried and we said goodbye. As much as I love the freedom of this nomadic life, it is the continuous series of goodbyes that I find to be one of the hardest things to overcome. Cheers to a perfect week Under the Tuscan Sun girls:)