Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tuscany – Relaxing… and skeeters

I have never seen so many bites on Bryan in my life. Usually, I am his repellent and he never has to worry.

A couple days before the bites, I got off the train in Empoli wearing one my sandals and one of Bryan’s. People were giving me weird looks all the way from Naples to Empoli, but I didn’t care as my blister was incredibly painful. It was a blister on top of a mosquito bite and it would not tolerate any shoe except flip flops. Unfortunately, Bryan threw my “danger” flip flops away two weeks earlier, so I had to wear his. It was about two times larger than my shoe size and I could barely walk, but at least my blister was able to breathe.
We arrived in Empoli, a little city in the region of Tuscany, at around 4:30 pm. The hostel we were staying in was about a half hour up the road in wine country. We were supposed to be picked up from the station at 8:30 pm, so we needed to find a place to hang out for awhile. We made the mistake of sitting at a cafe in the train station because they had air conditioning but ended up paying way too much for a crappy sandwich and a bad tasting glass of wine.
I couldn’t walk very well with the flip flop, so Bryan hunted for a good place to buy new ones and another cafe with air conditioning and wireless. It was a successful hunt, and he came back with a look of pride on his face. The cafe he found was a garden with a greenhouse within. We were surrounded by tomato plants, flowers, and nice lady who saw me taking pictures and told me to follow her. She showed me another little garden area in back and then pointed to the bathroom and said “beautiful.” I couldn’t understand how a bathroom could be beautiful until I entered this one. As soon as I opened the door, it automatically started playing meditation type music. There was a ground level water feature that went from the “sink” to the toilets. The sink was cement with a pipe to wash hands and homemade soap that smelled like floral. It was pretty cool…I think I’ll have one like this in my future house.
The cafe closed at around 7, so we needed to find another place. About a block away from the station we found a place with cheap pasta and olive oil on the table. Actually, having olive oil on the table was not unique to this restaurant as it was in most restaurants we ate at in Italy, Spain, and Morocco. One of the best things about traveling through the Mediterranean, olive oil is cheap.
8:30 came quickly and we soon found our driver. Patrick was a New Yorker who had been traveling the world for the past five years and started working at the hostel 2 months ago. I didn’t care for him too much as he was just so intense and serious about everything and not really friendly.
The drive to the hostel was stunning. Windy roads, vineyards, and the typical Tuscan houses surrounded us. It was exactly what I had imagined Tuscany to look like.
We finally arrived to the “hostel” but it was more like a villa. We were high up in Tuscany and everywhere we looked there was a splendid view of hills and vineyards. The place was owned by nice man named Guido and his wife, a local Tuscan family. They didn’t speak a lot of English, but we still managed to communicate with them when needed. There was a lot of character to the villa, including vases filled with wine corks, unique decorations, and of course, mosquitoes.
After leaving Naples, we were desperately hoping for no mosquitoes and fan/air conditioning. Italy is hot in the summer and at that point none of the hostels we stayed at in Italy did not provide even a fan. We thought for sure they would have something. Nada…there was nothing expect one window.
We went to bed with the windows closed as we had seen about a thousand mosquitoes as soon as we arrived, and I never exaggerate. I woke up at about 3am feeling overwhelmed with heat and could barely breath due to stuffiness. It was either mosquitoes bites or window. We chose window. I woke up and saw close to 100 mosquitoes flying directly above me, and this time I’m really not exaggerating. I have never seen so many in my life. I calmly woke Bryan and told him to look up. He said something like “oh my.” Once again, I had all the bites and Bryan only had a couple.
We ate breakfast and then walked about a half hour up the windy road in an effort to find a grocery store. We were passed by several highly trained bicyclists. Originally, we were thinking about renting bikes for the day. I’m so glad we opted out as I would have died trying to ride up those hills. There were also no sidewalks, and we intelligently decided it would not be a good idea to walk those streets at night.
The views, Tuscan houses, and nice lady behind the counter at the deli made for a nice journey. She had us sample about a half dozen lunch meats and Bryan could not have been happier. We left with two bags filled with meats, veggies, fruits, yogurt, and then we quickly made our way back down to the villa.
We put our food in the fridge and immediately headed for the pool. The pool was probably the best part of the place as it was an infinity pool with a stellar view of Tuscany. It was also a nice break from mosquitoes because for some reason they did not like the pool area. Guido was very strict about making people with long hair wear caps, so as you can imagine, I looked fantastic in my pink shower cap.
Later that evening, we ate pasta with our new Australian friend, Andy. Andy is traveling solo for 4 months, but prior to leaving, she got engaged. As we were making conversation and getting to know each other a bit, Bryan asked if she ever felt home sick. She immediately started crying and said yes. She had recently been ill, which always makes me feel homesick, and she talked about wanting to share the same traveling experiences with her fiance. While traveling solo is empowering and a wonderful thing to do, I can’t imagine not having Bryan by my side. There’s just something wonderful about having the person you love by your side, even if that person is reading a book, the other is listening to music, and there is no conversation at all. With that said, we all feel homesick at times (I’ll write a blog about this later), but then there are times when you get to see the alps via train, or you get food like you have at home and the sickness slowly fades away.
By the way, Guido’s wife was a fantastic cook, and the two meals we ate there were by far my favorite meals in Italy. I’ve never had pasta that tasted so good. She definitely knew how to work with spices.
The following day was mostly spent by the pool, skyping with family, eating another great Italian meal at the Villa, and reading. Later in the evening we watched the Euro cup final (Italy vs. Spain) on Bryan’s laptop with our Californian roommates, Nathan and Jasmine. We talked about going to a bar in town but it would have been too expensive as there were no buses. The Italians lost 4-0, which was the largest margin for a European Cup final in history (Bryan informed me of this). We all agreed it was better we didn’t go to the bar.
After trying to sleep in the blistering heat the previous night, we all decided it was best to keep the window open all night. The bug spray we bought smelled too good for it to be effective, but we put it on anyway. I woke up feeling like I had a good nights rest, so did Bryan. A couple hours later, I realized I was bit about 20 times and then I looked at Bryan. I have never seen so many bites on him, ever. He was bit about 20 times each on his arms, legs, chest, and feet. He finally understood what it was like to be me. For the record, anytime I started itching my bites, Bryan grabbed my hand and tried to control me. Let it be known, Bryan is far worse at itching than me. Since he doesn’t have any nails, he was itching with his credit cards, backpack, keys, and found other odd items as well. The boy was uncontrollable! Although I felt bad for him, it was kind of nice not being his repellent for once.
We left the villa the morning of the bites, and we were really hoping for an air conditioner or a simple fan in our next hostel. We were not so lucky.
Next stop, beautiful Venice.
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