Friday, April 26, 2013


Yesterday was a national holiday in Italy.  It was Liberation Day, celebrating the end of Nazi control over Italy.  I thought there might be some special celebratory events in Florence, but there really wasn't much going on, so I decided to take another trip into the rolling Tuscan hills.  I could do this every day!  

The destination was Chianti country, and, according to the tour billing, we were going to take a walk through the vineyards, have a typical Tuscan lunch, and then enjoy a medieval festival in the little town of Panzano.  The advertisement for the tour said "you need to be able to walk".  Well, I can do that, so off on the tour I went.

We arrived in the main piazza of the small town of Panzano and had a coffee before setting off on the hiking part of this tour.  I had some reservations about whether I should do this hike, because I could see now that it would require going up and down the slopes of the Tuscan hills.  Our tour guide, Giacomo (English translation is James) suggested that I walk with them for part of the way and turn back when I felt uncomfortable going further.  That sounded like a sensible plan, so I set out with our small group of only 8 people, 5 of whom were under 25.  Well, the beginning was all downhill.  At the point I should have turned around, I reasoned that going up the hill at the end of the hike couldn't be much worse than returning up the slope we just descended into the valley.

So I trooped along with the group, and I was really enjoy the walk through the beautiful country with vineyards and olives orchards rolling around us. 

There were lots of wild flowers, and an occasional red poppy brightened the bouquet.  

Here's another loner by an old grave.  They popped up all along the way, always just one lone flower.

The leaves on the grapes vines were just beginning to show.  This vine must be ancient.

We also passed by a number of these tabernacles, and it wouldn't be long before I had good reason to pray when I came upon one.

We passed through a beautiful stand of cypress trees.  They smelled really good.

I was doing fine when we stopped in this olive orchard for a short rest.  This is our tour guide Giacomo.  He was one of the most laid back Italians I've ever met, with a real  "Don't worry.  Be happy" attitude.  He does these tours only on weekends and holidays.  He said his weekday job is real estate and that his family had invested in a number of properties.  He must be doing okay, because he has traveled extensively and for long periods (like three months in Australia recently).  

After a short rest, off we went for the uphill portion of this hike.  I could continue with a whining account of my upward trek, but I know you'd just get out those little violins and be thinking, tongue in cheek,  "Oh poor Colleen, she had to walk up a hill in this beautiful Tuscan countryside.  What a pity!"  Okay, I don't get a pity party, and I did make it up the hill without passing out from exhaustion.  But this confirmed for me that I'm definitely not a hiker.  I can walk long distances on flat ground, but put steps or hills in front of me, and I'm a definite wimp.  All the way up, I was thinking about that tour advertisement that said simply "you must be able to walk".  Harumph!

I told the rest of the group to go ahead and let me go up the hill at my own pace.  By the time I made it to our destination at the top, this church, I was dripping with sweat.  That was a 2-1/2 hour hike, and the last hour was all uphill!

After gulping down about a half gallon of water from a water hose by the church, I sat down to recover trauma I inflicted on my aging body.  As I was trying to recover my positive feelings about the view in front of me, I saw this old woman, probably in her early 80's walking up the hill, and I just couldn't whine any more.  She probably did this every day and she slowly, but steadily, reached the top of the incline and continued on her way into the church.  

On our walk back into town, there were a few more inclines, but slighter.  We passed this contraption on the side of the road.  It was once used to press oil from olives.

By now, we were all famished, and our lunch destination was the house of a noble Tuscan family who owned vineyards and olive orchards in the valley we just traversed and produced a number of different wines, as well as olive oil.  

We first had a tour of the centuries old wine cellar.  This is our host Lorenzo, who is carrying on the tradition of this family who have produced wine for seven generations.  I've been on a number of wine tours, so there was really nothing new that I learned here.  The only difference, I think, is that Italians make grappa from the grape skins.  I don't know what American vintners do with that refuse.

We had lunch at a huge table in what I think was the dining room of this old house.  This is the old fireplace that was right beside us.  When I went upstairs to use the bathroom, I passed by walls completely covered in family portraits.  You could tell by the dress of the men in the older ones that this was a noble family.  I thought it was a shame that this noble young man, Lorenzo, was reduced to serving a pasta lunch to a bunch of tourists and selling his products to us.  I bought some olive oil--it's the best I've tasted in a long time.

The medieval festival parade marched by Lorenzo's house just as we were leaving.  They were going uphill, and I didn't follow them.  Instead, the only other member of the tour group who was over 50 and I went downhill into the main piazza and checked out the wares of the many vendors who were showing their crafts.  

The paraders came back down the hill, having swelled in numbers by townfolk dressed in medieval finery.  

A prince with his lady friends.

There was a mock hanging planned and the executioner was in a cart pulled by these huge white oxen.  

This harnessed buffoon played around on the edge of this balcony, pretending to jump, and finally did.  

We were treated to some this sword fight.

And this flag twirler.  

Then the procession went back up the hill, without me, although I thought about hitching a ride with one of these gallant knights.

In the middle of the piazza, there's a huge wine bottle, a fitting sculpture for a town that makes its living producing some of Tuscany's best chianti.

I saw this building with three flags flying.  The one in the back is the U.S. flag, the middle is Italy's, and maybe the one at the front is the flag of the province or the town.  I was just surprised to see the American flag, but then I remember the holiday and the U.S. role in freeing Italy from the Nazis.

We caught our bus back to Florence at 6:45 p.m.  By the time I walked back to my apartment, I was one tired puppy.  Even though I drank some of that delicious wine, I slept like a babe for 9 hours straight.  

Tomorrow, I leave beautiful Tuscany to explore the neighboring province of Umbria.  I hope I love it as much.

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