“A Joy That’s Shared is a Joy Made Double”

Nothing would have made me happier than to have all my favorite people with me on this trip. Although I was unsuccessful in recruiting all of you (not from lack of trying), I DID manage to convince our good friends, Owen and Shirley to “double our joy”.  For those of you that are making the journey with us via this blog (especially my sister, Sue, who refuses to fly), I’m so glad to have you riding along.image
Now, back to our first full day in Tuscany. After Radicofani, we made our way to Giuseppi’s (Pepe’s) sheep farm. Unfortunately, according to Pepe the sheep had a  “party” five months ago, which resulted in a lot of very pregnant sheep, so for a reason I have since forgotten (but was definitely connected to the party) the sheep were all in the barn. Too bad. It would no doubt have made for a lovely photo op.  Instead, the photo at the top of this post just shows you the picturesque fields.  Take a look at the lengths I go to so you don’t have cars or garbage cans cluttering up your view.


Back to the sheep that we didn’t see.  They are Sardinian sheep, because that breed produces the milk that makes the VERY best pecorino cheese.  In case you haven’t guessed, Pepe and his family are from Sardinia.  Like Silvana, Pepe was highly amusing and quite informative.


Of course we had to sample some of that wonderful cheese.  Eight different kinds.  Washed down with wine, accompanied by prosciutto and salami and bread.


According to the official itinerary, we were done for the day, but Anna had a little surprise for us.  We stopped at a cemetery for Americans killed during World War II, just in time for a brief lecture about the military campaign, the men buried there and  the MIA.  After taps, the flag was lowered.  A very sobering experience, especially given the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It made me think about the differences: WWII was the pain and sacrifice was shared by all.  The recent wars are so very different.  A small percentage of our population is giving so much, while the rest of us go about our normal lives.

image image

Normally I like to end on an upbeat note, but for this post all I can say is “Thanks for your service”.


Chianciano Terme–“The place to cure your liver”

That’s right. That’s the slogan for Chianciano Terme, our home for the next six days. Although my liver doesn’t need to be cured–at least not yet, if it ever ails me, I’m definitely coming back to this sweet Tuscan hill town. Twenty years ago, before socialized medicine stopped covering spa treatments, people came here for a week or two to drink and soak in the mineral waters. One hopes they were not drinking the water they were sitting in, but who knows? For some reason, once the treatments were no longer free, business dropped off dramatically, so now it is a much quieter place, which suits us just fine.

Our family owned and operated hotel is cute and comfortable. If you are wondering why I am including the following photo, it is because the shutter visible on the top of the door to the balcony rolls up and down with the press of a button, just like a garage door opener.
I don’t know why, but I find that enchanting.

This time, we didn’t win the room assignment sweepstakes. Our balcony overlooks the parking lot, while those on the other side view the rolling hills. But no matter. Our bus rides offer us views aplenty.


The first half of our trip focuses on hilltop towns of Tuscany.  First up is the lovely hilltop town of Radicofani, a stopping place for pilgrims enroute to Rome.


Here’s Anna, our wonderful guide, pointing out the Pilgrim icon on the side of one of the buildings.

Ghino di Tacco, Radicofani’s most famous resident made his living robbing those pilgrims, but he did it with class. He made sure he left the poor ones enough to eat.  But still, he was a robber.  So how come he is immortalized with a statue on the outskirts of town?

Ghino di Tacco
Ghino di Tacco

All was forgiven after he kidnapped an Abbott, who had digestive problems (perhaps on his way to Chianciano Terme to get a liver tune up?).   Instead, after living on bread, water and dried beans, the Abbott was miraculously cured of whatever ailed him, was released, made his way to Rome, and convinced the pope to make Ghino a knight of the Order of St. John.  Who says crime doesn’t pay? 

Here are a few more images of this hidden gem of a town.image


One of the many reasons I’m loving this tour  with Grand Circle is because of the experiences I never would have had if we were on our own.  Silvana is one of those experiences.  We stopped for a snack at her shop.  Silvana not only fed us, she kept us entertained with a monologue (translated by Anna) that Jerry Seinfeld would have envied.

Anna, our fantastic tour guide, and Radicofani's delightful shopkeeper.
Anna with Silvana, Radicofani’s stand up comic.  Check out those pastries!

Silvana is the youngest resident of Radicofani. Her 78 year old mama is still working, taking care of 5 of her “elderly” neighbors.

Mama, saying hello from the window over the shop.
Mama, saying hello from the window over the shop.

Our trip to the sheep farm will have to wait till tomorrow, or I’ll never get this post finished!

Happy Birth Month to You!

italy trip (1)Mike has a milestone birthday this year, and what better way to celebrate than with Italian food, wine and scenery?   I couldn’t quite get the trip scheduled so that we would be in Italy on the actual date, but then we have never been good at following calendars.

In the past, I just used to declare that according to the Mayan calendar, the date was really—-and fill in the blank with whatever date we were celebrating.

But then I thought why not start for a new tradition?  Instead of Birth Day, why not celebrate Birth Month?  Think about it–you would have a full month to schedule that special event.  The odds that you could find a day that would allow everyone to attend just increased 30 fold, except, of course, for those born in February.  Sorry.

It is especially helpful for those of us that left the Homeland (Massachusetts) for the Hinterlands (New Jersey).  My family has sorta gotten used to my inability to be calendar bound, although I DO usually get the month right.  Anybody ready to join the Birth/Anniversary Month movement?

To celebrate Mike’s birth-month, we will be wandering through Tuscany, ending up in Sorrento.  This will be our first trip with Grand Circle, a sister company of Overseas Adventure Travel.  Although the group is a bit larger than we normally choose, we liked the itinerary, which has us plopped in two towns, each for one week.  Another selling point was the number of optional trips, so we can stay with the group, or choose to strike out on our own, should we feel the need.

The best part?  Our good friends, Shirley and Owen, will be on the tour.

We arrive in Rome, then head for a town I never knew existed, and whose name I am probably mispronouncing: Chianciano.  It will be our base for a week, as we explore the other Tuscany towns shown on the map above.

Our second week will be in Sorrento, a great base for all of the incredible area attractions.

We already received a lovely welcome note from our guide, Anna (pronounced like Donna, without the D) Costes, full of helpful information.  She very kindly responded to my questions about our day trip to Florence.  We are off to a great start!



Today’s snowfall looks like it could actually amount to something. The trees toppled by hurricane Sandy, lying every which way on the ground, might create some interesting sculptures.


Mr. and Mrs Cardinal are wisely loading up at the bird feeder.  If the flakes keep falling, it might be a while before the feeder filler (otherwise known as Mike) gets back out there.


So, what’s a girl to do as she hunkers down for some serious indoor time?  Why, start looking through photos of days filled with sun and fun.   And, having just seen several of my Villa Buddies over Christmas –Diane, Karen, Denise, Emily, Wayne and Sandy– (We missed you, Greg and Sally!), I decided to take a trip down Memory Lane, all the way back to July, by reliving one of our day trips.

We had heard so much about Cinque Terra, we decided to venture forth from our villa to explore a couple of the five seaside villages.

The Lucca tourist office offers a series of regularly scheduled day trips, however the Cinque Terra trip wasn’t scheduled for the day we wanted.  Instead, the tourist office helped us find a far better alternative: a private tour.  Our driver, Wolfgang, picked us up at our villa, drove us to the ferry in Portovenere, got us our ferry tickets and an itinerary, then met us at the end of the day in Monterrosso, to return us to the villa.

Of course, we COULD have managed this on our own, but that would have meant driving in two separate cars, figuring out parking, the ferry schedule, taking a round trip ferry ride–nothing tremendously difficult, but the driving had fallen to the one person willing to brave the Italian roads, and it was time to give Diane a break.

We drove through La Spezia, the cruise ship port for those cruisers bound for Cinque Terra, on our way to Porto Venere, a cute little seaside town.  We had just enough time for a cappuccino and pastry before boarding the ferry.


It was the perfect ferry ride: warm, with a cool breeze, clear skies, with spectacular views along the way.  We could see the cultivated fields stretching up the side of the mountains.

On the way to Manarola

I wouldn’t want to have to plant and weed THOSE  gardens!

As you can see, stone was quite plentiful, and incorporated into the seaside buildings.

Why is it that even laundry looks picturesque in Italy?

Manarola’s bathing beauties

There was only time for a quick stroll up into the town, (and I do mean UP), then it was time to board the next ferry for our last stop, Monterrosso.  We were told there is a hiking trail between the villages, but given that we were now in our lazy phase of the trip, decided to take the easy method of transportation.  The trip UP into town may have helped us make that decision.

This village had an actual beach, with umbrellas and chairs for rent.


P1040110I, however, was more interested in this lovely alcoholic version of iced coffee.  I got all of the benefits of the beach, without sand in my seat, or sunburned shoulders.

And since today is a day for looking through photos, I decided to include a couple from a trip Mike and I had taken in 2004 to Portofino, another seaside village further up the coast. Like Cinque Terra, the houses were sherbet colored, built tightly together.

It too was lovely, and for THAT trip, we actually DID stroll along the hillside trail.  Take a look.

Come a little closer…

Although it lacked a beach, there was plenty to see on that day trip.

Ah, Italy– something tells me I’ll be back!

I Love a Parade

We were fortunate enough to be in Lucca during a festival.  Several nights worth of parades with costumes, music, flags, scary weaponry…who could ask for anything more?

One question:  What do you think would be more difficult–tossing and catching flags, or marching with a flag covering your face?  These guys were masters at both.

True confession time:  i just learned that WordPress will arrange photos into a collage, so I had to give it a try.  Pretty cool, huh?  And very easy–at least from my home computer.