Did you think I’d make you go cold turkey on the travelogues? I thought it might help the transition if I posted once more and shared a few things.
The trip home took some time, but the family was back in a rainy Maryland before dinner last night. Now Nora’s reacquainting herself with the dogs and the garden and putting away all those Christmas gifts. [Insert a procrastinator’s eye roll here.]
When you deal with photos without the experience, creating these posts can take a great deal of care. Usually I’d review the day’s worth of photos everyone uploaded to the shared Google account and pick what I thought would work. Put my choices in a draft blog post and then see what matched Nora’s copy, which would arrive overnight. Occasionally I’d send specific requests (like, Where the heck is the rosemary plant you went on about?? or Where’s a photo of the second puzzle?), but mainly it was going on instinct.
Finalizing the post was the first task of my day, which is why so many of you have sipped your morning drink and read the blog during this trip. Last year’ Montana posts were more cocktail hour ones.
Occasionally a photo would show up after I’d posted the blog.
Like this lovely one of Kayla and BW on the first night in Florence.
Or this lovely night shot from Jason.
Speaking of Florence, here’s BW’s video tour of the flat.
On occasion, I’d live up to the Cranky Publicist name and complain about not having details I couldn’t look up. Or would outright say no on a visual pun. More often the real issues were tech ones when WordPress didn’t like a photo format — especially from iPhones or iPads. In those cases, Jason — along with BW, another Android fan — would filter the photos through to me. Fortunately, we quickly figured out the work around and he didn’t have to do double duty for more than 3 weeks.
The work around for the panos — a family favorite — was a direct text to me.
On other occasions I’d have four photos of the same thing. In the case below, everyone liked this butt when they visited Pitti Palace. This is Kat’s version.
And there were several carousel photos, loved this for the action. Photo by Jason
As the goal was to have the photos to flow with Nora’s recaps, sometimes I couldn’t use the random photos everyone sent. I think you saw all of Kayla’s signs, but there was a lot of fabulous street art Kat captured in Florence.
Or the quirky things Kayla and BW noticed in Gimignano.
And I could have just done the flowers in Tuscany for days.
Plus tons of Griffin.
One of the games in action.
And the cloud, horizon, evening, daytime landscape views were gorgeous.
But you can’t share everything. And all things do come to an end.
Nora and I found the accommodations throughVia Villas and just scrolling through their website is almost a trip to Italy in and of itself.
Nora’s home for a couple weeks, then it’s time for Greenbrier. I’ll probably do the recaps for that one with Nora chiming in.
A day of packing and organizing and planning. Five adults and a toddler can spread out a lot in a couple weeks. Apparently I slept through a storm the night before—thunder, lightning and much needed rain—which turned the day’s sky pure blue, blew away all the haze, and took the temperatures down to normal.
Of course there’s time for racing, for Mario Cart—and a finished puzzle. Kat left me the last four pieces because she’s the best dil in the history thereof.
We have to be out of the bedrooms by nine for the cleaning crew to start, so packing’s pretty essential. And we have to plan our agenda for rental car return, customs stamps for tax back and so on.
Also essential is our traditional family panorama. Griffin’s not much interested in this tradition so we play slide the cars while Jason and Kat plan it out. Then he just runs around while we’re doing our thing.
There’s time to sit out, enjoy the view which never fails to relax, even when Mario Cart and the Switch must be packed up.
We take our last trip into Barbarino for dinner, aiming for Bijou where we’ve enjoyed dining in and take out a few times. As we sit, street side, a gorgeous classic car—I don’t think a Rolls but something like—top down streams by. Going the wrong way on the little one-way street.
In the back are unquestionably a bride and groom. They stop not far past us as a car coming the right way hastily backs up.
The bride steps out in her stunning fairy tale frothy strapless dress, hair up, crowned with little flowers. And she is not happy. She is the picture of The Pissed-Off Bride.
There’s some discussion—a photographer loaded with his gear hops out of a car. Then The Pissed-Off Bride strides alone down the street, her frothy hem and lovely train dragging in the dust. Shortly after, the groom in his handsome gray tux follows. And from around the corner, more discussion, louder discussion in rapid Italian.
I assume since the couple rode together in the fancy car the wedding already happened. This may be their first marital spat, or perhaps they’re united in their pissed-off status aimed elsewhere.
Meanwhile our delightful server takes our orders. Pizzas for Kayla, Jason and me. Tagliatelle with fungi for Kat and BW. Hot dog and fries for Griffin. Some salads.
Music starts up from somewhere, so I hope the Pissed-Off Bride is now The Happy Bride and dancing with her man.
The pizza’s marvelous, and I’ll miss it. Griffin’s hot dog is actually four hot dogs (they come on a sandwich, but they leave off the bread at Kat’s direction. He ate all of them. They’re not huge, but still. Four dogs.
We all thoroughly enjoy our last dinner in Tuscany. And some of us enjoy the complimentary limoncello after.
The sky’s pretty but lacks drama tonight following the pure blue sky day. And we head back for cappuccino in our kitchen and some of the teramisu Kat and Jason bought for BW’s and my anniversary.
Kayla and Griffin have a game filled with wild laughter. She is just so sweet with him, and he is so in love with her. They’ve bonded drum-tight over these three weeks.
But bedtime comes as bedtime must.
This morning Chain Saw Man is silent. I like to think he knows we’re leaving and is sorry to see us go so can’t drag himself to work.
The cleaning crew’s already busy. We have a couple of hours left before our car—the one to take BW, Kayla, me, the luggage to the airport—arrives. We’ll try to limit ourselves to the kitchen and dining room to stay out of their way.
It’s been fabulous, absolutely perfectly fabulous. Family, fun, food, wine, shopping, art, culture, views, adventures, relaxing and racing. I’m grateful to have had this time to spend in such beautiful places with people I like and enjoy as much as love.
But now the time approaches to say Arrivederci to Italy, and grazie.
After workout, I’m told we have no cold water. The gardener’s trying to fix this issue, and the housekeepers are also on it. It’s a good thing my workout was brief today, because no shower. Definitely no shower as by the time we’re ready to leave, no water at all.
And about the time we’re walking out the door, the villa manager’s husband fixes it.
Griffin’s not happy when Mommy heads out, but his attempt to follow her—making a run for it, even figuring out how to open the gate—is foiled by Daddy.
And with Kat at the wheel, we’re off.
I anticipate a workshop where we’ll sit around someone’s table and play with silver wire, twisting or bending it into what would be in my case, a poor excuse for a ring or pendant. No problem with that, it’s always fun.
Navigation takes us to a kind of industrial area between the villa and Florence, and now I anticipate we’ll twist that wire in some sort of warehouse setting. Then we make the last turn, and it’s a little bit residential, so I’m back to table.
We ring at the gate, walk in. Katarina greets us, and takes us up to a display room to explain what’s possible to make. Well, wow. Jewelry and much more. Boxes, bowls, key chains, charms, wine stoppers, salad tongs. Beautiful, shiny things. She explains some aren’t possible to make in an hour or two, but we have many choices, and she’ll take us down to what she calls the laboratory for inspiration.
This isn’t twisting silver wire at a table.
It’s a serious, professional work space with all sorts of tools, presses, rollers, work benches, soldering irons. And her father who sits at a workbench creating. She shows us little silver beads that come from the mine, and explains they send them away to a place that makes them into sheets of silver. And—fun fact—pure silver doesn’t tarnish. Copper’s added to make sterling, and the copper causes the tarnish. We’ll be working with sterling.
Kayla’s picked what she wants to make. And I can’t tell you as it’s a surprise gift, but after a brief consultation Katarina says it’s possible. I decide on a pair of earrings I saw in the display room, and Kat, being Kat, has an idea for something else altogether.
She makes a prototype out of a strip of paper. Katarina and her father discuss if it’s possible. He doesn’t speak English so the discussion’s in Italian. But it’s possible.
Katarina tells us that silver is not only pure, it’s alive. I think our group will be very simpatico with Katarina and her Papa.
Kayla begins, and follows instructions on how to use the big tools to bend, straighten. One of them has a large handle, and you swing it, keeping back as when it swings back, it would knock you a good one in the head. Kayla want her creation engraved, so into another workspace and the engraver, a machine you guide by hand—so cool. You pick the letters, line them up, and then increase or decrease the size, center. You hold one handle, and with the other guide the engraver into the letters on the tiles so it etches the letter into the silver. Slowly, firmly.
It’s absolutely fascinating.
Then it’s soldering time. Heat the solder, dip it in powder, touch it to the joint or base when the flame turns the silver at that point pink.
Now Kayla’s really impressive creation goes into a solution to clean it, and it’s my turn.
Before I begin, Papa takes us into another room to show off some of his work. Well, Jesus! The man is a true artist. Beautiful candlesticks, ornate bowls—all that detail, all hand-crafted. Gorgeous boxes with intricately designed lids. He’s justifiably proud.
To start I’m given what looks like a little spring of silver and sharp-nosed clippers. Snip! She tells me to cut a few as back ups for mistakes. We take the little rings to the soldering station to fuse the ends together. Fun! I haven’t soldered since high school metal shop.
Now I get to do the big swing, and the rings are now flat. Into another room and what Katarina calls the pasta machine. It’s basically a roller. Put the rings down, nudge them under with a tool, and the big roller (what a number THAT would do on a finger!) flattens them more and shapes them into ovals. Do it all again. We take the ovals to another bench where I get to hammer them. I love hammered metal, and it’s a kick to do it. Whap, whap, whap. Then over to file the joints inside the top. Punch the holes for the wires.
I’ve freaking made hammered silver earrings.
Kat begins by, along with Katarina and Papa, bending a strip of silver by hand. And oops, cuts her thumb. Antiseptic and bandaid provided. Kat bleeds for her art. The experts feel the strip was too thin, and provide a thicker one. And Papa works with Kat. His daughter tells me he is very precise, has very high standards. If a guest, like us, or a customer wants something made he doesn’t like, he won’t do it. Just no from Papa.
Whenever it’s time to make samples, she tells me, it’s a big family fight.
He obviously approves of Kat’s design as he breaks from his own work to supervise hers. She has two strips, hammers them—again under Papa’s eye. He’ll say no, or stop, or signal to continue. Bend them into the shape she wants by hand—again with Papa instructing—Nods, no, stop.
More tools to turn the flat strips into the smooth and rounded, soldering.
Kat’s work goes into a sandblaster for cleaning. All our creations are polished—so pretty!
Up to the display room where Katarina provides Kat with ribbons and twine so she can use her curving bauble as a bracelet or pendant—or both as she made two. Papa comes up, so I think we’ve entertained him.
We’re given certificates—like diplomas. Papa instructs his daughter to roll and ribbon them. (Pretty sure we made a hit with him.)
I spy a pair of small, gorgeous, ornate scissors—for cutting grapes, I’m told—and buy them.
What a fun, fascinating time. I’m not surprised by how beautiful Kat’s and Kayla’s creation are, but I did astonish myself with mine.
Well pleased with ourselves and with Papa and Katarina, we head home to show off our work.
Griffin’s happy to see Kat. He must be happy to see me as before too long he challenges me to a race, with jumps.
More puzzling—we’re almost there!
And oh—no water. This time BW fixes it as instructed.
Time for a drink, a sit outside. The lawnmower’s back and I can hear it rattling in front of Griffin.
And another oh—no AC. What the what?? I wouldn’t mind so much, but it’s seriously hot. I’d had a conversation with Katarina about this long, unseasonable heatwave and drought. It’s a serious problem. Kayla comes out to stand in the center of the breezeways, doors open on either side for the cross-breeze.
The manager’s husband and daughter come to fix. Takes awhile to figure out that when the gardener tried to fix the water, he inadvertently turned off the AC. As the villa took awhile to heat up, it’ll take a little while to cool down.
But we’re heading out to dinner soon anyway.
And off we go—so does the lawnmower. We’re going to try the place just down from last night’s spot, and at seven-fifteen are the first table occupied. Kayla and I are pleased they offer green salad—just field greens. Many varieties of pasta to follow. I go with the thick spaghetti in a garlic and tomato sauce, and it’s wonderful. Griffin’s happy with his lawnmower, Kat’s phone and French fries to start. It’s a much quieter place than the night before, and service is much brisker and still relaxed.
[The variety of dinner choices to follow.]
Everyone’s well pleased with their choices. Kat has her splash of wine from the best bottle of red yet. Smooth as silk.
The sky goes pink—a huge cloud, rosy pink, demands pictures. Time for cappuccino and dolci as the bells chime at nine. Laura tells me this is an old-tradition, the mad bells at nine—to signal it’s time for prayers and bed.
A perfect little chocolate soufflé first? Yes, please!
A mishap with the cappuccino, as the tray dips and two hit the stone. The waiter’s full of apologies—no big for us, we assure him. Replacements delivered, and we all enjoy.
The walk back in time to see those last fiery lights. And home for another look at the half moon before bed.
The winery we’d hoped to tour is fully booked, but we may take a drive to look at a castle. Depending on the distance and how windy the road, I’ll join or stay back and pack. Packing must be faced as this is our last day.
Chain Saw Man doesn’t disappoint and has been busy since about six a.m. Otherwise, the hills and valleys are quiet. I’ll do my last water bottles for weights routine, see what’s what.
In the quiet, I watch a hot air balloon float over the hills.
After my work out, I can hear Kayla fake squealing so know I’ll find her and Griffin, at least, in the game room. And I do, along with Kat and a game of video Yahtzee. Griffin requires a brief non-virtual race with Nana before he morphs into Danger Guy dangering on the sofa. He pays no heed to reminders of his previous spill, but fortunately doesn’t repeat it.
He does invite me to jump from said sofa to the padded bench. While flattered by his belief in my prowess, I respectfully decline.
It’s time for puzzling. Kayla does a little packing, Jason’s doing some foundation work. I make a little snack of cheese, grapes and paprika-flavored chips (tasty!) and write for an hour.
We pass a lovely, long, lazy day where I occasionally think about packing a little, then go back to the puzzle. BW and I have a drink and sit outside—a much better use of time—and Griffin has a nap.
A new-to-us restaurant is on tonight’s agenda. It’s a street east from the little main road, and a kind of different world. It’s a big outdoor space, some under a pergola, other tables uncovered, and all with the gift of a spectacular view. We won’t get the sunset here, but that also means we won’t have the sun’s heat and glare as we sit.
It’s a lively place, and I think a number of locals as well as vacationers already enjoying it. I can’t tell if there’s more dining inside, but think it’s all kitchen and work area. The bells chime over the sounds of conversations and clattering dishes.
They bring us water and two brown bags of bread. One of the offerings is green. I think basil maybe. Pesto bread? I don’t want to eat bread because:
I decide, because who knows when I’ll have the chance again, to go with the Florentine steak. I won’t make a dent, but others can enjoy the left-overs. Marco, our waiter, assures me it isn’t really so big. He also assures Kat they can make some pasta with just butter for Griffin. They also have what we discover are home-made potato chips.
They bring us out little dishes of complimentary tomato and bread soup. I taste it—really good—but again, I have steak coming.
Meanwhile a family group is seated at the table beside us. Two couples, a girl of about four, a boy of about 18 months, and a very fresh baby in a pram.
The boy’s wearing overalls. He has red hair. He’s possibly the cutest child (excepting my own kids and grandchildren, of course) I’ve ever seen. The girl’s curious about our table, and gives us—or at least me—the eye. She’s also very protective of the baby and checks on her many times.
The light changes as day ends and goes, on this eastern side, gold.
Kat and BW get a starter—it’s an egg, somehow breaded and deep fried into a globe within the breading. It’s fascinating—and they both give it major kudos.
Despite Marco’s claims, the steak is huge. It actually comes on its own table.
Its own table.
It’s amazing, and I don’t do it justice. BW and Jason will have a hearty lunch today. But I enjoy every bite I can manage. And the Chianti, and the soft fall of night all around.
The little boy and his father approach the table. It seems the Seriously Adorable Child wanted to give us all high fives. Now add charming to adorable.
The little girl does something which earns her a scolding. Tears follow. But she rebounds and strolls around the tables, smiles at me, checks on the baby or walks with baby and mama up and down the cobblestone street when baby needs soothing.
Kat also strolls Griffin. It’s a very leisurely meal, and he’s a trooper, but he needs to move a little.
The girls decide to split a dessert—something with cream and dark chocolate and wafer thin crunchy pastry. I now assume the restaurant doesn’t believe in splitting as we each get a dish of it, and combined it would be enormous. I do what I can because it’s fantastic.
Griffin’s holding on—it’s nearly ten now, and we arrived at seven-thirty—but he looks unhappy. Kat says: Bedtime? And hope spreads over his face as he repeats that magic word.
We have two cars, so BW and I stay back—Kayla’s tired, too—to wait for the check that’s taking its time getting to us. It may be ten, but the place continues lively.
It’s a quiet night walk back to the car—I could’ve used twice the distance after that meal—then the drive home. Kat and Jason wait in the kitchen to make sure we arrive safely. Sweet.
And now another perfect summer morning, and CSM’s making busy use of it. Me, I’m just enjoying the view.
Likely an abbreviated workout coming as we girls are heading off to our silver jewelry making workshop this morning. I don’t expect to make anything memorable—but for the experience—but I’m anticipating what Kat and Kayla create.
A stay home day is just fine. Chain Saw Man gets very busy through the morning, and this time two trucks are spotted in the general vicinity on what we’re now calling Chain Saw Ridge. And he’s at it again today. CSM is no slacker.
Neither am I as I appear to be Griffin’s Race, Jump, Pratfall partner. I hold up my end, but still have time for puzzling. Making progress, and Kat is making serious progress in that area. She and Jason head to the market, and Griffin’s satisfied to hang with the rest of us. Kayla lures him outside for a race, but he spots his trucks inside, so in we go. He has several Mario figures—his new hero, perhaps displacing Blaze and that gang. Down the sliding race track with Mario, time to sleep for Mario, time to wake up and slide for Mario. Mario is very busy for awhile.
A little lunch when the shoppers return, Kat makes cookies and BW takes his drone on its longest journey yet.
We have discovered the Italian brand of Fruit Loops. Kayla decrees them okay, and undoubtedly healthier than the real thing. Griffin loves them—but often requests the purple ones. Kayla questions this preference as to her pallet they’re all the same. Later at dinner, Kat will do a blind taste test, and proves Griffin is correct—or at least she and Griffin share the same taste buds.
But before dinner, we all clean up and change. Kat and Griffin visit my room as Kat’s booking a little fun time for the girls. We’re going to make silver jewelry, instructed by a local silversmith. Griffin doesn’t know a bed that isn’t made for bouncing on or jumping off of. Kat and I take turns—as directed—helping him take the big jump from the chest at the foot of the bed to the floor.
Somehow he decides it’s now my turn to jump. Unexpected! But he doesn’t object when I sort of sit on the chest, and assists me in my version of a jump before he switches to Hide and Seek. He hides—in my closet, every time. Oddly, I never find him.
Then they’re off, and I hit the showers.
We’re booked for dinner at 7:30. Just before 7, Jason tells me Griffin’s fallen asleep—small wonder. He gets his brief nap before Kat carries his limp self out. We’re armed with Italian Fruit Loops in case of crankiness, but though zoned, he’s surprisingly non-cranky.
We arrive right on time at the restaurant the driver recommended for pizza. The cook/host/owner/part-owner (?) seems surprised we arrive on time, but gracious—any table we like as none of the outdoor seating’s yet occupied. We sit, order a bottle of water, and observe what’s essentially Main Street in a small town. A car parked across the narrow street scrapes the stone wall of the building on his way out. He appears unconcerned.
People sit and chat at the wine bar next to us, others walk by. Another guy walks past our table into the kitchen/bar, and it becomes clear our place is a two-man operation, and this may be the owner.
The menus have English names for the pizzas—like Body and Soul, Nice Pesto. Jason uses his phone to translate as the descriptions are in Italian. They also have a handful of appetizers, and Kat picks one—a kind of puff pastry turnover filled with tuna with caramelized onions on top. She’s hoping Griffin will go for the tuna.
I won’t call the service slow. I’m going with very, very laid back. Friendly with it when we eventually order. The tuna deal, pizzas, more water, a bottle of Chianti.
While we wait, another car slides in to park across the street, bumps into a pole. Apparently no big deal. I assume the cars parked or moving are locals as through traffic isn’t allowed after 8–and it’s already well after as another starts to slide next to the building, clearly texting while doing so. And somehow she avoids mishap.
Bells chime on the hour and the half from the bell tower across the street. At nine—I don’t know why—they chime like mad things.
Griffin absolutely goes for the tuna. The pizza’s delicious, and very sloppy. Kayla solves this by folding pieces in half. I go for the lift by a fork until I get it up method. Kat finally succumbs, with apologies, to knife and fork. However you get the job done, it’s pretty damn good. Griffin agrees, though when he takes the piece I offer, most of it slides off the crust. He likes the crust. And the purple Fruit Loops.
For a kid wakened from a nap, hauled into the car, packed in a stroller, parked at a restaurant for more than two hours, he’s remarkably chill. Maybe his sense memory of his first year and a half of life’s clicked in. Scotland, Ireland, California, Hawaii, Montana, New York—there may be more in there. In any case, he’s a most excellent traveler.
We miss the sunset, but catch the final dramatic red blush with the growing moon sailing overhead. And head home for cappuccino. Kat wants to try making it, and does a very fine job.
From the looks of the sky this morning, I expect another pretty day. I’m going to work out, and consider it training for any upcoming races and jumps.
Jason, Kat and Kayla head out to Pisa, and Griffin invites me to sit and watch a morning video. It’s a clear day, and will be hot—but not quite the triple digits hot. The boy doesn’t notice his mother’s not there for awhile, then he gets up, wanders into the kitchen. I know he’s looking for her. He’ll usually call out: Mommy? Where are you? But today, he just looks. Then one of the cleaning crew comes in—she has dark hair like Kat, worn pulled up as Kat often does.
I can see for an instant he thinks it’s Kat, then realizes, nope, not Mom. But he decides she’s worthy of attention. Since the pandemic, he’s been very wary of strangers, but he likes the look of this one, so follows her around, chatters at her. She’s amused and chatters back. The toddler English and the adult Italian don’t seem to matter in this cheerful conversation. Then she walks over to our dining room Start/Finish line, and he assumes: Race, and gives her butt a little nudge.
She is even more amused, and I’m delighted when he doesn’t back off when she crouches down, touches him and they converse in their different languages.
I race with him as she’s busy, then Grandda joins. Now it’s chase and catch Grandda time.
But when the second housekeeper comes in, he decides she looks interesting, too. And when the pair of them start up the stairs, he’s happy to believe this is a race. Up the stairs. Race Up! So up we go, trailing the two housekeepers into Kayla’s room.
They work around him as he jogs in a circle, babbles, then climbs on the bed to jump and bounce. We have a fairly dignified pillow fight on Kayla’s bed, pretend to sleep. Back down he finds one of the buckets with cleaning products interesting, and I must explain: That’s not yours. Fine then, back to videos and the occasional race. Then a break to play trucks before lunch.
I puzzle and BW reads while he eats.
He’s truly good as gold and very entertaining throughout the day.
It’s a long trip for the adventurers, and they bring back many stories and pictures. After the drive, lunch—which given the rest they think should’ve been reversed.
[Presenting photos from Pisa, captions from Laura. Any errors are mine. ~L]
The climb up the Leaning Tower is circular and tilted—with my tendencies toward motion sickness and vertigo, I suspect I wouldn’t make it. Kat has a little trouble, and from the interior pictures I can see why. But they make it to the top and the spectacular view. And after time admiring it, documenting it and regaining some balance, down again.
On the way back they spot a winery that looks like a castle—and we may adventure there. Though Kayla doesn’t like wine, she’d like to visit a winery here. I like wine, and would also enjoy a visit.
For dinner we just raid the fridge and pantry—there’s plenty to go around.
And it’s time to Chase And Catch Grandda again.
Then sit outside in the shade of the back yard, relax while Griffin plays with water, pouring—intensely—from pitcher to bowl, through the net bag that held a kind of Ferris wheel toy, and all over him.
An evening swim for Kat and Griffin, another spectacular sunset.
Cloudy and cooler this morning. Chain Saw Man was busy earlier, but must be taking a well-deserved break.
I’ll get my workout in, then I suspect plans will depend on the weather.
BW gets a glimpse of a little yellow tractor disappearing into a thick swath of cypress on the western hill. CSM’s in there somewhere.
Post work out, I hear the squeals and cheers of racing. Today’s track is around the dining room table with competitors Kayla and Griffin. It’s pretty sweet to watch my oldest and youngest play. Before long, I’m drafted onto the field.
At one point Kayla tells him she needs a break and sits. Oh, the sad! No whining, no vocal objection. He simply hangs his head in a moment of mourning silence before I distract him back into the race with just me.
It’s a hot—triple digits hot—hang out Sunday. BW does some droning, Jason’s checking on his house—big rain storm back home. There’s racing and videoing, a new puzzle to puzzle, hide and seeking, Mario Carting and Mario Partying.
Danger Guy dangers himself off the game room sofa onto the tile floor. A hug and Mommy stroking’s all he needs before he’s back in business with a new game. Crash The Nana—with pillows. I execute many dramatic fake falls which pleases him.
Cooking starts to happen. Scrub and quarter potatoes with a sharp knife—thanks, Kat—figure out conversion for oven temp—thanks, Jason—gather herbs, mince garlic, grind some pepper, slide big ass pan in the oven.
BW’s drafted to make a salad, Kayla a cheese board. Kat will handle the broccoli. Jason’s assigned to make some fries—we have frozen—for Danger Guy. And we discover, unlike at home, these won’t cook in the oven—translation from package instruction says fry in oil. An attempt to subvert this with the oven fails. We have sunflower oil, so Jason fries, Kat steams (the broccoli), Kayla creates, BW tosses. I stir up potatoes, slice some bread, some tomatoes—add fresh basil, pepper and olive oil there.
And indoor meal tonight due to heat and bugs. And it’s all more than fine. A lovely family Sunday dinner in Tuscany. After which BW makes cappuccino and the gang cleans up.
It’s pool time. Out of the blasting afternoon sun, an evening swim sounds good. Knowing the water temp won’t meet my standards, I will observe and document. Kayla’s reaction doesn’t surprise, but she eventually inches herself in.
We examine the room near the pool—another bedroom we didn’t need, but haven’t looked over. BW finds one of my In Death books inside. Nice.
As the sun goes down, so does the heat. It’s breezy with it, so very, very pleasant.
Bedtime—but I place a couple puzzle pieces first.
Today, Danger Guy stays with Nana and Grandda while his parents and cousin adventure off to Pisa. BW and I have been there, done that, so we’ll give Griffin a day of adventuring at home. I hope Danger Guy takes it easy on his nana’s heart rate.
Chain Saw Man’s busy, and some bird calls out—a hoarse call, like it has a cold. Not a cloud in the pale blue morning sky.
I’m going to see about getting a short work out in before I step up for Nana duty.
First, for those of you wondering why we don’t/hoping we will walk down to see what Chain Saw Man is building, an explanation.
We’re on a hilltop here, overlooking the valley with more forested hills to the east and west. CSM is somewhere—best we can tell—on a ridge to the west, within one of the dense forests. We can’t see him, only hear.
No way to walk down anywhere from here as the first step would be a doozy!—which is why we have stone walls to prevent tumbling off the hill. Plus he’s not `down’ there, he’s over on another hill somewhere. I can see a vineyard on the top of the hill to our right—the west—and what looks like a dirt road going down, but even with all the sounds of building, we never see any movement.
Don’t know where he is, and there’s a lot going on over there this pretty Sunday morning. Sawing, hammering, and the first time I hear the sound of a vehicle. A tractor, maybe? A small bulldozer? Not sure, as it’s just not visible. I just heard a tree go down, and I was looking in that general direction, but didn’t see one fall.
After work out, I join the family for a pleasant time in what’s sort of our sitting room/Griffin’s play room. The cleaning crew’s doing what must be their Saturday ritual, and that’s thorough, so we’re staying out of their way as much as possible. Kayla appears late morning as she’s spent some Face Time with her guy as he and his family are leaving for a cruise and they won’t be able to talk for about a week.
We think to visit the shop in the village, then make a quick hit on the market for fresh strawberries and what Kat needs to make cookies.
Daddy stays back with Griffin, and off we go.
Sadly the shops are closed. I guess Saturday isn’t a big hunt through shops day in Barbarino. So with Kat as our driver and tour guide we head to the big COOP—like chicken coop. There are two—one big, one small—we want the big one as there’s a better chance they’ll have Kayla’s oat milk.
We also score, to our satisfaction, chocolate chips, and to my pleasure, two bottles of Veuve.
Unlike the shops in Barbarino, the COOP is a madhouse. It’s interesting looking for specifics, identifying flour, brown sugar and so on when it’s not in the packaging you’re used to and in another language. Like a hunt, and we become skilled hunters.
Home we go, me to make frozen margaritas, Kat to make cookies.
The reason for margaritas needs no explanation, but the cookies?
Griffin is fond of Chips Ahoy—only the chewy ones, red package. He’s used to being offered a cookie or two daily, so his parents brought along what they thought would last through our Italian adventures. However, there are more of us offering those cookies (often as bribes, of which I am a firm proponent).
He’s running out. We have substituted what he calls cookie cake—some sort of Twinkie looking thing without the filling but with tiny chocolate chips. This was Kayla score, but she shares. Kat’s decided to try to reproduce cookies that meet Griffin’s Chewy Chips Ahoy taste bar.
I’m going to make strawberry margaritas for Kayla and Jason, and for me, a purist, regular. BW can have either. I need cookie-baking Kat’s guidance on the machine to start. But soon I’m juicing and measuring (mostly eyeballing as measuring tools are scarce) slicing and blending. And produce pretty strawberry margs while Kat makes the world’s smallest batch of cookies (it’s a test batch, after all).
Then what I consider a real frozen marg. And I fear I’ll never use margarita mix for anything but marinating chicken and fish again. Fresh is so much better.
In her cook’s mode, Kat makes hummus for Kayla and presents a lovely tray. BW, Kayla and I sit out, BW and I with our second margaritas and some cheese and crackers, Kayla with her hummus tray, and enjoy the view and the sunshine.
Inside, the kitchen smells like fresh cookies, and a few sit out cooling—bigger than the standard Chips Ahoy. Back in the sitting room we learn Griffin took one from Daddy, had a bite, made a disillusioned face and handed it to his mom.
But then went back, took Daddy’s cookie, had some more. I’m too full of margaritas and cheese for cookies, but BW had one. Kat has another culinary success.
It’s game time. Kat v Kayla on the ever-popular Mario Cart. Danger Guy is dangering on the sofa below the screen. I take the other sofa and a bat nap.
We plan to try the other restaurant in the village—recommended for its pizza. It doesn’t open until 7:30, so we head out about 7:15. Griffin plays a game with me and Kayla, closes the gate behind us, guards it. We pretend to beg to come in. He opens it a crack, peeks out. This keeps us entertained.
We also discover the old door across the road sort of built into the wall of the hill isn’t locked. Inside a kind of small cave are big old wine jugs and baskets. I don’t know why.
Shops still closed in the village, and we learn our intended destination is fully booked for Saturday night. We go next door where we had dinner Friday, elect the street patio area.
Kayla and I are going to split a salad to start—what I thought would be a smallish Isalada Mista, that turns out to be huge with tons of roasted veggies. We make a spare plate of tons of roasted veggies to take home for tomorrow’s Sunday morning omelettes (by Kat).
Then there’s pizza, pasta, wine. We don’t lack for conversation. Kayla remembers I can find a song containing almost any word you can throw out. My father could do it. So words are tossed, and Kat says I’m faster than Google. But, I admit, chocolate stumped me. Jason Googles and finds many. None of which I recognized.
Cappuccino, lemoncello—and then they bring us a complimentary dolci, a pretty crepe with many forks.
On the waddle back, we make a reservation at the other place for Tuesday night, so we’ll now compare food and service.
The view of the sky, that thumbnail moon, the red glow at the horizon, from the parking lot is just awesome. Which may be why they have a platform you can go up to to enhance that view.
Home for a last sit out and bask for me, then bed.
We plan a Sunday dinner at home tonight. I’m going to make roasted, herbed-up potatoes—a crowd fave. We have salad makings, broccoli, cheese, bread, left-overs.
I may write awhile after my work out, or sit and read—or watch what I assume will be more Mario Cart competition.
What I think was a big gray cat just dashed up and away. At least I hope it was a cat as I only got a glimpse out of the corner of my eye. We’ve seen a little black and white one in the bushes outside the gate, so I’m going with another cat.
Chain Saw Man continues his work, and I think everyone else is still sleeping.
Before I work out it’s time for some morning video amusement with Griffin. Then I discover Kat’s making Eggs Benedict—a BW fave. Some round Italian type bacon will substitute for the usual Canadian, AND she’s making Hollandaise sauce from scratch.
I must watch the process, and use her phone to memorialize some of it.
The result is lovely, and BW decrees YUM.
Well past time for me to head down to my outdoor gym. Water bottles for weights day, and Tony Horton on my Beach Body app. While I’m lifting I hear the thunder of a plane. A BIG plane that sounds like it’s about to land on the roof of the pergola.
So I step out in time to see—farther away than I’d have guessed—some sort of fighter jet streak by and over the western hills. Back to Tony, a quick one with Shaun T to cap off some cardio, back to Tony for some core mat work, then finish up with Autumn for stretches. Good session!
Up to charge my tablet as 90 minutes or so of streaming eats up batteries.
A slice of cold pizza with Jason and Kat in the kitchen as we discuss plans to go into the village for dinner tonight. Then up to change.
Pretty day, temps rising again, but I don’t mind. I consider setting up to work awhile, or hanging out and watching the Mario Cart competition. Mario wins. And when the game ends I decide an hour’s work is now the thing.
I spot a man and woman outside the gate. It looks like she’s taking pictures of the hydrangeas as they stand and discuss something. She’s carrying some sort of packet, and they’ve come in two cars. Up the steep road they walk. Huh.
Before I go out, I see her come back, with two other guys. Big discussion right outside the gate, then she walks off a distance—like you do when you’re measuring. Discuss, discuss. I have no idea what that’s all about, maybe a property line dispute. Who knows.
Kat, Kayla and I (mostly Kat!) finish the puzzle! Hurray!
I go to work. It’s nice and quiet again.
Plans are to leave about six, and it’s about five-thirty when I surface. I’m going to change into something cooler for dinner, then I hang with Kayla for awhile while everyone else is pulling it together.
You can’t drive to the restaurant—the narrow street forbids car traffic after eight, and we’ll surely be beyond that when we’re done. I go with Jason and Griffin (Griffin considered driving but was denied) and the others lead the way.
It’s a pretty drive to the parking lot outside of Barbarino. Steps lead up—or a ramp for Stroller Boy—and to a sweet little park, then down that narrow street of the pretty village. BW and I see a shop—closed by this time—lovely little Tiffany style lamps I have no idea where I’d put, but just so lovely. And a little accordion. All sorts of things stuffed into the shop.
We must go back when it’s open.
The restaurant Mr. Google told us opened at six doesn’t serve until seven-thirty, but the next one down—where we’ve gotten take-out—welcomes us in. And back to a patio with a beautiful view. Umbrella must be adjusted for shade as the sun is blazing.
Our server has about as much English as we do Italian, but we manage to order water and wine. The menu’s a little bit of a struggle as we have our vegetarian and our allergic to meat and shellfish diners. The good part is there are numbers representing allergies beside every dish.
Mine’s easy: Spaghetti a pomodoro.
Before our mains, another server brings out a round of bread, sort of like a small, sauce-free pizza, with a dish of what turns out to be vodka red sauce. It’s pretty wonderful. So is my pasta. Griffin’s fries must’ve been as well as he sure enjoyed them.
It’s a really nice meal, and we have the whole patio to ourselves throughout. So how about some cappuccino and some dolci? I say yes.
Kat and Kayla learn BW can make cappuccino on the coffee maker at the villa. This brings joy.
Complimentary limocello, and it’s wow.
The walk back is welcome after that meal, and the view from the park is great.
Back home and it’s sunset time. Then pj time for me and Mario time for all. While the games rage, Griffin decides it’s chase Nana time—with his lawnmower. Around and around we go, from game room—jump—to sitting room and back around—jump to game room. At the finish line I’m instructed to go again—the lawnmower’s on my heels.
A wheel comes off. Nana fixes.
Jason attempts to tag me out as BW takes over his controls. But Griffin’s declares a three-person chase. Then does his pretend fall routine. Oh No! I help him up. When I pretend to fall, he helps me up. I think we’re both doing the pretend fall routine as we need to catch our breath.
Jason comes up with a run around Nana game, and Nana’s grateful for the reprieve.
I step outside, and GOD, the sky! That rose line bleeding at the horizon, a spreading canvas of indigo above with a perfectly carved crescent moon sailing on it. I have to get my tablet.
Everyone comes out. It’s the first we’ve seen the moon—Griffin’s a fan of the moon—as it’s waxing. And the thumbnail of white just hangs over the hills for us to admire. Griffin and Kayla have conversations. Griffin’s completely smitten with Kayla and often gives her heart eyes. It’s adorable.
Couldn’t ask for a more perfect end to a really good day.
This morning a mist hangs over the valley, and as I sit it spreads and rises until the world’s a white cloud. I can hear Chain Saw Man down there and wonder how he can see what he’s doing.
Gradually, mists roll back a bit until the eastern hills look like they’re floating in a white sea. Minute by minute the valley peeks through—hints of green and gold—and blurs of blue show in the sky.
Chain Saw Man is VERY busy this morning. Sawing, hammering. Without the mist to muffle it, the sound’s clear again.
I hear someone stirring in the house, so it must be work out time for me.
The gang has plans, and they fill me in when I’m done working out. A trip to the village of Certaldo—about twenty minutes away—and a ride up a funicular to the 13th century Etruscan-era town high on the hillside. The funicular portion makes me hesitate. Just how high is it—and is walking an option?
Walking is, though it’d be hot and steep—and the ride, I’m assured is only a couple of minutes.
Okay then, we’ll give that a try.
The drive’s nice. The opposite way from where we came in, so new views of vineyards climbing and hills doing their rise and fall. We squeeze through what we’re calling the ghost town. Lots of buildings, no people and wind and turn our way—our two-car caravan—to Certaldo and a car park.
After a bit of time, we reason out the pay box, opt for the 8 Euro full day deal as the hourly rate’s just too complicated for us.
A short walk to the ticket office and the funicular—mask up, collapse the stroller and pile on the already crowded car.
This is Griffin’s favorite part of the journey. We go up, up, up!! And it really does only take a couple minutes, which is great for Nana as this is NOT her favorite part of the journey.
Worth it. Beautiful old buildings with portions of failed stucco revealing old brick. Brick streets so narrow we’re surprised to see a few cars. But people live here, work here at the restaurants, the museums—and yippee!—the gelato place.
I love the pots of flowers hung right on the brick like art or in window boxes—and more pushing their way to the sun right out of the brick street. It’s steep, and obviously chosen for defense rather than convenience.
The palazzo museum—our goal—isn’t open yet, so why not lunch? We choose a sweet little place with tables right on the skinny sidewalk. And on a steep slope.
Our server’s young, pretty and speaks excellent English. It’s a fine way to while away the time for the opening hour, cool off a bit—it’s very hot again—and sit under half umbrellas—they butt right up against the side of the building—with a solid blue summer sky above.
People climb by as we eat, most with kids—so likely tourists like us—or with dogs—maybe locals.
There are big, old wooden doors, most with intricate detailing, more flowers pushing their way under red tile roofs. And quiet.
When we finish, our server asks where we’re from, and we learn she’s from right there. It’s quiet, we say, and she agrees. Yes, quiet, and boring.
And I expect it is for a young woman, as life is likely that quiet and work most of the time.
On we go to the palazzo with its clock tower and flairs. Inside it’s lovely and fascinating with frescos, painted ceilings, steep steps, a dungeon!—A small dungeon that must’ve been very depressing. The governor’s private chapel, with saintly frescos.
There’s a screen with a video on a loop of a festival in Certaldo, and it looks like a crazy, fun time. I hope our pretty server enjoys that when it comes around.
There’s a garden courtyard outside, and we set up a group panorama, and climb some skinny, steep stairs to what might’ve been a battlement. Wonderful views, and no hint of invading forces.
More steps up to an art gallery, and down into an echoing little church with a tabernacle, frescos—one of which Jason dubs Bluebeard, because he has one.
Our time there turned into pretty much a private tour, which made it only more enjoyable. quiet is definitely the word of the day.
Out we go and down the steep brick street for a stop for gelato. Kayla opts for the cola-flavored Italian ice and Jason for a tropical-flavored—which he says tastes like it looks.
We finish our treats before we go in to wait for our ride down. Much less crowded on the return trip, just us and a family with two little girls. Griffin also enjoys the down part, and gives the girls the eye (sort of like a teenage boy might eye a couple of pretty teenage girls, pretending he’s NOT looking).
We drive back—and the boy falls asleep in the car. Kat sits with him as he takes his well-earned nap.
Kayla’s back at Mario, and chalks up a thirteen #1 winning streak on her races. When Griffin wakes, Jason and Kat join her for some competition.
We’ve decided on Pop’s Pancakes for dinner. This is my father’s recipe, handed down generations. We believe we have everything necessary to make this happen, as it was on the potential menu for awhile.
I discover my gang has picked up condensed rather than evaporated milk —it calls for both regular and evaporated. Hmm. Kat googles, and finds I can use about half the condensed and add more regular to substitute.
There are no measuring cups or spoons in this kitchen. One big measuring pitcher, so eyeballing is required for the dry ingredients. And that’s when we discover the box of baking powder we’d previously seen in the pantry does not contain baking powder packets (how it comes here) but pretty little drink umbrellas. Who would hide drink umbrellas in a baking powder box? We are displeased with them.
And this is a problem.
Once again, Jason comes to the rescue by driving to the grocery store (which isn’t around the corner).
Meanwhile Kat preps strawberries, blueberries, makes bacon.
We find a big enough pan—I’d normally use a griddle—for cooking the pancakes.
Jason returns, and we estimate 3 heaping teaspoons as about one and a third packet. Here’s hoping.
Heat the pan, ladle in the batter—I can do three at a time if I’m careful with the flip. I make strawberry, blueberry and plain.
We have the butter and syrup to go with them. Kat makes me a pretty little fruit bowl of strawberries and apricots, and a little bacon sandwich since I’m not a big pancake eater (sorry, Pop!)
They are a success!! I think Kayla ate three—don’t know where she puts it. And if we make them again, we’re better prepared.
Another glorious sunset to cap off dinner.
During clean-up, the kitchen island becomes a race track for Griffin. I get a car and join. Kayla sits at the island and becomes part of the course. Jason and Kat time the laps to avoid crashing the drivers while they do the dishes.
Then Kayla begins to call the race, which is thrilling for the boy. The police car wins!
Again, the boy says, and we’re off.
Grandda joins about the time Griffin’s decides both his cars should fall off the cliff on each lap. Oh no! Try again, and hilarity. More hilarity when Grandda takes the red car and drives it off the cliff. Now it’s screaming hilarity. Again and again.
Our boy is pretty easily amused.
It’s beyond bedtime, so Kayla gives the one-more-lap warning. He draws that one out, gives a subtle attempt at another. But when Mom and Dad scoop him up, he retires from the field gracefully.
I take my last glass of wine outside to enjoy the gorgeous night, then also retire from the field.
A pretty morning, and Chain Saw Man’s building something down there. I think I see a small structure in the trees, but it’s too far away to be sure. But the sound of building carries up.
Work out time approaches. I’m going to see if anyone else is up and about.