A Design for Life: Tuscany

Friday 26th August
My alarm went off at 1.45am which I think was even earlier my normal early starts. I made my way to the bus stop and as I’m now used to the bus didn’t show which meant the buffer I’d built in evaporated instantly. I had to change buses at Marble Arch but no longer trusted them and as the minutes ticked by I decided to get an Uber Taxi to Liverpool street. My driver asked if I’d had a good night and I explained I’d only just woken up.

The journey to Stansted was fine and the Uber had meant I’d gone from potentially missing my flight to arriving at the airport with enough time to get breakfast. I found a free table at Wetherspoons and asked the couple next to me to save the table whilst I went to the bar to order. On my return to the table they seemed overly sympathetic that I was travelling alone and I had to reassure them I was meeting friends in Italy.

I was ‘upgraded’ to the emergency row because the people on that row were too young to be seated there unsupervised. Some probably like the extra space but I was the opposite, my short legs didn’t know what to do and because I had the aisle seat it took me longer than usual to fall asleep. We landed on time and my e-passport meant I avoided most of the long queues through the airport.

A shuttle bus arrived shortly after I joined the queue and I we arrived slightly early so Edwina and Lauren were still sorting out the paperwork for the hire car when I found them. During the time I’d been in the air they’d been on a whistle stop walk through Rome. Our hire car was bigger than expected and after a quick inspection for scratches we were on our way.

Lauren successfully navigated us through the 6 level multi story car park which can be daunting at the best of times but no doubt worse when driving on the opposite side of the road to usual. Fortunately most of Rome seemed to be one way and it wasn’t long before we had left the city and we were on the main road. We made fantastic progress using the toll road but then a quest to find a grocery store put us behind schedule.

First we missed a turning, then at the next town I caused us to double back on ourselves before we arrived at where the shop was meant to be only to find an empty space. Luckily the town had two coops and once we found the second store we were able to stock up on fruit, veggies, snacks, coals for a bbq, nutella and wine.

We started making our way back to a main road but whilst we’d been in the shop a lorry had caused an accident on a side street which blocked the road. We turned around just as another lorry came down the hill which for them was a bad life choice. Meanwhile we found another route and after a while we were on the final long twisty approach to our accommodation. There was a mixture of delight and relief when we came over the final crest and saw the swimming pool with two brightly coloured inflatable lilos.

Jess, Steph, Charlotte and Erin met us on our arrival as they had arrived the day before and Jess took us on a guided tour. The accommodation, an old tobacco factory looked amazing from the outside and maintained the rustic atmosphere inside. In total it was made up of 3 apartments, each with a kitchen, bathroom, dining room and bedrooms. Instantly it was obvious that Jess had found us somewhere pretty brilliant.

After a refreshing dip in the pool we opened a couple of bottles of wines so we could enjoy the peaceful surroundings (besides a fair few irritating flies). Then after a quick shower we regrouped on the balcony for various home made pizzas, more wine and to listen to some music. I automatically felt overly comfortable with “the girls” and at one point when we were talking inadvertently said without flinching “if I was a guy…” All in all, there are worse ways to end a day when you’ve been up for 20 hours.

Saturday 27th August
We had a relaxing start to the morning and all we really had to do was make sure we were ready to leave by around 10am to visit the wine cellar Jess had booked us in to. The booking included a 4 course lunch and so I just had a light breakfast. Charlotte wasn’t joining us however kindly offered to drive one car and Edwina and I were again incredibly grateful to Lauren.

We arrived at Avignonesi and had a glass of prosecco whilst we waited for the tour to start. This was my 3rd of the year after visiting Champagne and Bordeaux however it was perhaps the most interesting. Our guide told us that the vineyard was certified organic and that they used the patterns of the moon. I was impressed. The vineyard was also spread over two valleys. In Montepulciano they could only use a particular local grape however in the other, just across the road they could make international mixes.

We explored a couple of the parcels in the Le Capezzine vineyards and tasted the grapes. The first Vigna Tonda was in a circle with a tree in the centre and quite unusual however the layout of La Stella was slightly more orthodox. Next we were taken on a tour to the cellars where the barrels of wine are stored

I think we had all built up a bit of an appetite by the time we were seated at our table which provided a lovely view of the surrounding valley. We were given a glass of chardonnay to go with the “Chefs Welcome” which was a mix of bread and salad before the red wine flowed. Despite being from a wine region and living with Jess for over a year, Steph had never sipped red wine. Lauren captured the historic moment and ended up with the best sequence of photos from the holiday as a result.

We had a number of options for our second course and I opted for the home made tagliatelle with a glass of La Tonda and Grandi Annate. Steph had ordered a parmesan and tomato sorbet which I was allowed to finish. Whilst It was nice, it confused the taste buds because it looked like vanilla and strawberry ice cream.

Admittedly my third course “Patata Novella al cartoccio con fonduta di parmigianio” was a bit simple and was basically just a jacket potato filled with parmesan cheese. Whilst it was tasty (and I don’t think I can only have cheddar again) the chicken and lamb dishes also looked particularly good and the others were surprised by my choice. The Grifi, 50/50 and Desiderio red wines were also good though I still prefer white wine.

Finally the dessert was selection of sweet treats, such as flavoured chocolate and biscuits all thoroughly delicious. This came with two vin santo’s (one black and one white) a type of Italian dessert wine. I’m still not sure if I can claim to be any good at establishing what drinks (especially wine) suits what foods, but I certainly enjoy both!

Once we had paid, Lauren, Edwina and I travelled straight home whilst the others called in to a supermarket to grab some more supplies. Once we were back it was late afternoon and as it was still got we all had a refreshing dip in the pool. The others joined us and we lazed around until early evening.

Edwina, Lauren and I prepared bruschetta for the others with various toppings my favourite being Pesto with tomato and mozzarella. A few more bottles of wine were drunk as we listened to music without needing to worry about the neighbours.

Sunday 28th August
There were no plans, except to relax, but eventually I hauled myself out of bed so I could nap by the pool rather than in a dark stuffy room. I got up and made myself a banana, grape and yogurt breakfast before eventually bumping in to Edwina and Lauren who had both put me to shame by going on a short run. We then sat in the kitchen area eating the nutella we’d brought, though I had it with a fresh peach and watermelon in a feeble attempt to balance out the unhealthiness.

I spread out on a sunbed and tried to get a tan, rather than going straight from white to red as tends to be my normal experience in the sun. I’d put a “Soulful Sunday” playlist and whilst I only recognised the occasional song it felt quite appropriate. The hours ticked by and eventually I decided to get in the pool to cool off. I’d struggled to get on the inflatable lilo at first, looking like a rather humorous hippopotamus trying to climb on to a piece of wood and flipping over however by now I’d mastered it. Charlotte joined me and we decided to have a race whilst sitting on the lilos and agreed that it should be added to Olympics if not for comedy value alone.

Once we were done Charlotte tipped me in to the water but she misjudged her momentum which caused her to flip in to the water as well much to the amusement of Jess who had caught the whole event on camera. The three of us then relocated to the balcony where Steph, with a bit of help from Lauren and Erin had used up all the unused food to create a almighty buffet of burgers, sausages, pasta, mini pizza and a salad.

After a number of plates I waddled back to the deck chair where I felt like I resembled a beached Whale. Edwina had been napping but joined Charlotte and I back in the pool for more Olympic Lilo Swimming competitions before we used the go pro to try and get some underwater profile pics. I then used what was left of the sun to dry out and to check the football scores. In fact, whilst realising Watford had lost on the previous day it had had resulted in no impact on my relaxed mood.

Eventually we all made our way back to the balcony where we all probably over ate. More music and wine. There were no more days to drink the latter however I don’t think any of us were overly drunk once the final bottle was finally finished. Edwina, Lauren and I had brought some exciting looking ice cream on the first day and whilst Steph wasn’t looking (because she wouldn’t let us have dessert until we’d finished “all the dinner”) we quickly broke in to the tub. Despite it being a chilled day I was exhausted when I finally climbed in to bed.

Monday 29th August
We had an early start (compared to recent days) because we wanted to visit Siena before commencing the final leg to Rome. I was in my own annex and I wasn’t sure how early the others had got up but eventually I wondered over at 7am to grab a light breakfast and to help with any outstanding errands, which mainly included taking the rubbish away.

The drive to Siena was uneventful as Lauren successfully followed Charlotte however once we were in the city we had to navigate through small winding streets and narrow gates. Both did an absolutely sterling job and whilst it was no doubt stressful it was rather exciting. We thought we’d found a street car park however a local explained it was for residents however thankfully the multi story wasn’t far.

Siena itself was rather pretty. First we visited the cathedral (Duomo) built in 12th Century and considered a masterpiece of Romanesque Gothic architecture. We then continued on to the Piazza del Campo which is overlooked by the Palazzo Pubblico. On our way we each got a coffee at II Bargello, and I was impressed with the cafe latte I ordered. Once we arrived in the square I got a mix of berry and mango gelato.

Edwina, Jess, Charlotte and I then climbed the tall tower, Torre del Mangia, where we had a stunning view of the city and surrounding area. It was quite obvious why it is UNESCO listed and reminded me of Bordeaux which had also surprised me at its beauty. Afterwards we briefly stopped at the fountain, Fonte Gaia before we ordered some food from a restaurant in the main square and I had a pizza with a beer

Siena never a city I’d contemplated going to, my only knowledge coming from the football team, however it had been perfect for a half day visit to break up the long car journey. On our exit from the city there were a number of different routes and I inadvertently caused us to lose about 10 crucial minutes. Once we joined the main road the rest of the journey to Rome was uneventful and we successfully found a petrol station to fill up the hire car. Some of the Rome streets were narrow and smart cars kept cutting us up and despite a potential mishap on the final street Lauren successfully returned the car unscathed though rather dusty.

We made our way to airport and after reuniting with the others it was clear we were all rather exhausted. As Steph shortly leaves us all to move back to Australia the holiday seemed a fitting way to send her off and to make some final happy memories.