The train ride to Florence was easy. There were no delays, the air conditioning was refreshing, and it actually seemed as if we were really skimming along at 300 km/hr, leaving cars on the autostrade in the dust, which is saying quite a bit. We were able to look out the windows the entire time, unlike our first trip, when a man sitting across from the boys yanked the shade down without the slightest acknowledgment that three others were sitting at the same table. Okay.
Small towns appeared along the way, their terra cotta roofs clustered on hill tops in the distance. Fields of sunflowers stretched away from us one after the other, but their heads pointed down and away, revealing only a yellow fringe in the midday sun. I wondered if I’d have the chance to drive through that countryside some day to explore those towns.
From the moment we arrived at Stazione Santa Maria Novella, it was different. The area inside the walls of Florence is traffic controlled, allowing only those with a special permit the opportunity to enter. Yes, there was traffic, but far less. And absolutely, we had to be wary crossing streets, but not as if we were taking our lives in our hands each time we did. The streets seemed more organized, neater. Less frenetic. And… not quite as intriguing as Rome, nor as quaint as Sorrento.
From the train station, we located the bus that would take us outside the city walls to Galluzzo, a small town 15 minutes away. At the end of the route, we found the gate to Fattoria Settemerli, the old farmhouse where we’d spend the last days of our vacation. A locked gate loomed ahead of us, but the quick press of a button on the intercom gave us the cheerful voice of a staff member who explained that we should go through the gates and bear to the right.
Do you remember that the MoH had a flat wheel on his suitcase? Um, yes.
The road yawned ahead, covered in a powdery white combination of gravel and sand. The sun reflected from its surface enough to advertise the fact that we were definitely on yet another leg of our adventure. The wheels of my luggage weren’t quite handling the gravel, and dragging it over the tufts of grass and wildflowers on the edge of the road wasn’t much better. But I was in good spirits until I led the pack down the first right turn and made the mistake of thinking the villa ahead of us was the farmhouse we were looking for.
At least we were in the shade of old trees that lined this particular part of the road. After deciding that we’d made a wrong turn, and wondering whether we should go back or move along, and questioning the intelligence of going farther when we weren’t sure where we were, an Audi appeared in the distance. Dust from the road plumed out behind it, and it slowed as it approached us, its two occupants responding to our smiles and waves. The MoH asked the driver if the house ahead was Fattoria Settemerli and was told that, yes, we were on the right path. Spirits marginally elevated, we trudged toward a cluster of tall trees that are so often seen in depictions of Tuscany. We hoped there was truly a house nestled there, and that maybe, it was our destination. That if we didn’t show up soon, the staff member who answered our call at the gate would send a search party out for us.
And then the Audi backed up. A tall man emerged and insisted pleasantly in heavily German accented English that we put our dusty luggage into his very clean trunk, and motioned for the MoH and I to get into his back seat. That he’d take us to the farm house and the boys could follow on foot. I was mortified, but relieved, and the gesture was humbling.
I recognized the courtyard of Fattoria Settemerli the minute we pulled up, and after thanking the German couple for their kindness saying we’d see them later in the day, watched them head back down the road. Constance, the daughter of the owner, checked us into our rooms; one for the boys in a separate building, and one for the MoH and I up high in the farm house. We received information about everything we might want to know about the farmhouse, breakfast each morning, the small town of Galluzzo, and areas of interest in Florence. We were asked many times if we had requests.
We’re not used to making requests, so we weren’t exactly sure what those might be. Perhaps a massage for our weary bones? A foot bath and rub. Some serious attention for my hair that hadn’t seen a flat iron, or my usual products in over a week? Sure. Sign me up. No, we didn’t have a request.
We chose instead to catch our breaths, the boys settling into the room that could easily have been for honeymooners, and the MoH and I taking a rest after washing off the dust that seemed to be everywhere. The AC for 5 Euros a day was heavenly, and since I can rarely nap, I took the time to enjoy the quaint old furniture, and the end of my first book. We weren’t sure what we’d do when we were done relaxing that evening, but I’m sure it would involved walking back down that road to catch a bus.
We did this many, many times.
With reservations to see the Uffizi, and The Accademia where Michelangelo’s David is, we knew we’d need to get up pretty early the next two days, but beyond that, we had no particular plans. Bear in mind this wasn’t because we’d suddenly adopted a new attitude of being free spirits. It was more because beyond the two museums I’ve mentioned, there wasn’t much on our list to see and do in Florence. We honestly thought we’d just wait and see what would happen, and use our 3-day bus pass to its fullest.
We ate in Galluzzo that night at a local pizza and pasta place right on the main square where all the buses stop. As usual, we were early, and were quickly led to the open patio shaded from the evening sun by huge umbrellas. By the time we were done with our salad of rocket, parmesan and artichokes, and three delicious pizzas, the entire place was packed full of beer-drinking locals who only occasionally glanced in our direction, and seemed to be dug in for the evening. We loved it and it was a perfect way to end our first day in Tuscany — after a walk back to the farmhouse.
We walked a lot.
The bus to Florence was packed the next morning. Think sardines. We aren’t exactly used to this, so it was entertaining — especially with everyone freshly washed for their day of work and smelling of soap and lavendar. I wondered what the afternoon bus experience would smell like.
High Points of our time in Florence:
- The first night we came back late to the farmhouse. We had to enter through a door in the courtyard, and it was so dark we could barely see. As we approached what we thought might be the door we were instructed to use, we noticed a pair of tiny lights bouncing along the cobblestones. We thought it was one of the farm cats until the lights separated and moved higher than a cat could, eerily working their way toward us. By the time I was close to deciding whether I should scream or run, the MoH whispered, “Fireflies…” and we stood there in the dark, in that very old place, smiling and watching their incandescent glow come and go until they disappeared in the night. Although the younger menfolk ventured out the next night to see them, they never appeared. *sigh* No, I’ve never seen fire flies before.
- Not having to wait in line for the museums. Remember the middle of the night phone calls I made and the wrong phone number in the Rick Steves book I tried about a million times? That was for these tickets. We were able to walk past lines that were unbelievably long to get our tickets, then enter the museums. Totally worth it considering it takes a few hours to see the art. Who wants to add a line wait to that time? Sometimes, it pays to be someone who plans.
- The buses. They make getting around so easy, and if you pick up a bus route map at the Tourist Info booth outside the train station, then buy a 3-day pass, you can go anywhere with little or no thought. Even shoving your tons of luggage on board is a snap. Ahem. Most buses run very late into the night, and that makes a late dinner in Florence easy even though you’ve still got a dirt road to walk down in the dark. Make that a white gravel dirt road with the full moon reflecting off the gravel. Yes, there were lights here and there, but…it…was…dark. So yes, the buses.
- The lunch we enjoyed the second day there at Cantinetta dei Verrazzano on Via dei Tavolini. It was packed, but we got a table right away, and a boisterous waiter who described himself as being half American and half Italian (did I detect a Brooklyn accent?) not only chose the magnificent plate of assorted foccacias and the following spread of meats, cheeses, and fruit, but our wine as well. He was beyond entertaining, clearly knowledgeable, and an avid sports fan as well, so the MoH and he were able to take a few good-natured jabs at each other over home team preferences. Absolutely fabulous. He warned the boys that they better not consider even mentioning that they might order Coke because they’d been making wine for centuries and therefore, Coke wasn’t on the menu. At least one of them was mortified over this. I said the guy was loud? Loud. But hilarious.
- Fattoria Settemerli. It was beautiful, and the hosts so wanting to be helpful by driving us more than once to the bus stop. No, we never asked, nor would we. But they couldn’t stand our walking. It was great to hear the plans they had for the farm, which breeds horses and is a certified organic olive press. I love it when people have plans. I used to have plans to own a place like that — once upon a time. And when I mentioned it to Constance, she told me it was a lot of work. Yes, I do know that, but I also know that when you truly enjoy something, it doesn’t feel like work. We’ve stayed in Bed & Breakfasts before, and although this isn’t what Fattoria Settemerli technically was, I did recall our previous experiences having breakfast with people we didn’t know, and striking up casual conversation. We learned that the German couple with the Audi lived in East Berlin for nearly 20 years under the communist government and wasn’t that a story in and of itself. And there was another couple — young women who were from Hungary. Psychologists, I think. They were staying for two weeks, and were also without a car. One asked if we were familiar with an organization based in our city — one she worked for in Hungary, and that I recognized. It’s not the first time we’ve met people so far from home that we have a connection with. Travel is funny like that.
- And the statue of David, of course. No, I don’t have photos. And no, I didn’t hide myself behind that column to snap one without being seen, but that’s okay, because I’ll always remember how I felt when I saw the sculpture. The perfection of it, the size, the idea that someone so young could create something so magnificent out of stone…I was moved to tears. Unbelievable. Every last detail was breathtakingly beautiful, and so it was perfect that this would be the last art we’d see in Italy.
- The RTR saying with the utmost sarcasm upon entering the first room in the Uffizi (which we visited the previous day), “Oh look. Jesus. And baby Jesus…Yay,” as he motioned to the walls covered with paintings. Evidently, he was over the religious art. Way over. I guess you had to be there.
And the low point?
Mosquito bites. Scores of them on our legs, our feet, our arms…you name it, it was bitten. Somehow, mine didn’t show up as quickly as the menfolk, so I bragged about having garlic coursing through my veins. Mine emerged a day later, making me look like I was the vicitm of measles or small pox or something. The boys did not appreciate being asked if the make-up I patted onto my bites made them look better or worse. I STILL have a few marks left on my legs.
Yes, I traveled in Tuscany with bad hair and diseased looking legs.
But I didn’t purchase anything FAKE from the vendors. We did, however, spend quite a bit of money on this trip, and the last time I checked, money is money. But who’s complaining, right? I’m sure the Italian government doesn’t mind who’s spending as long as they rake in the dough.
Don’t you think that instead of making purchasing FAKE goods illegal, they’d make selling FAKE goods illegal. Just a thought.