Saturday, June 22, 2013

Under the Florence Sun Going to Tuscany

Today we are starting the family hook-ups in preparation for the Tuscan wedding that is to follow this weekend. Ron’s grand-niece Elise and her boyfriend John arrived this morning after spending a couple of nights in Venice. Ron’s plan was to do some touring around seeing sights from the outside and the free ones from the inside. There isn’t much free here. Even some of the popular churches charge admission.

We took them to the Duomo, but Elise was refused admittance. She was wearing shorts and a sleeveless top. I could not believe the hypocrisy and sexism in this as men who were dressed in the same manner were allowed entry. Regardless, I waited with her on the steps in the shade. Elise is truly extroverted making her an enjoyable companion even if she was barred from the church.

Conversely, we did get into Basilica de Santo Spirito for free, where there is a wooden crucifix carved by Michaelangelo. Somehow, we did not see any guards collecting a fee nor did we notice any signs. It was not until later that we realized there was a fee for admittance to his specific chapel within the church.

For lunch, we returned to the same piazza where we had dinner Thursday night, but a different choice in restaurants. This one Osteria del Santo Spirito, was a much better choice, even if it sounds like they only serve first holy communion. Italian restaurants can be extremely confusing with their portion control. Menus offer primo and secundo choices, where the primo is generally either a pasta or risotto dish. Often times, having ordered this as my single entrée, it had turned out that the portion couldn’t fill a demitasse cup. Yet, the price could fill my piggy bank. A cost of 8-15 Euros should provide something more than a tablespoonful of food. With this in mind, the three men ordered the full portions, as opposed to the half portions.

Ron had gnocchi swimming in cheese sauce; my rigatoni macaroni were covered with a tomato sauce sprinkled with dry Ricotta cheese. John dared to try a pasta dish that is served with gelled fish row. As the hot pasta melts the row, it provides a fishy sauce. Elise was the smart one with some forethought ordering a small portion of the same rigatoni I had. John’s dish was too adventurous for my taste and honestly, I don’t think he was overwhelmed with joy at his choice either. He mentioned more than once that it was an ‘acquired taste’. He seemed to be waiting for his taste buds to start acquiring a flavor appreciation, but he took a considerable sized portion as a to-go package. I doubt it ever ventured further than the refrigerator to the trash once we were at the villa.

We still had time to kill before the prearranged taxi drove us to the villa in Tuscany where we would settle for two nights. Trying to walk off our dinner, fatigue took over with the younger ones long before it did their elders. A coffee stop was in order to while away the remaining hour or so.

At promptly 5pm as scheduled the taxi/van was there to transport us. The ride was a paltry 30 minutes, but the cost was a significant 70 Euros, which we shared with Elise and John. No wonder the Italian economy is in shambles.

Without any real expectations of what a Tuscan villa would be like outside of vivid imaginations, we were pleasantly surprised. The hills in the distance and the fields surrounding the villa itself are covered with olive trees and grape vineyards. It was as delicious as any imagination could perceive it to be.
We were greeted by the bride, Andrea. She is the older sister to Elise and another of Ron’s grand-nieces. He being one of 7 children, there are lots more grand-nieces and grand-nephews running around. Andrea and Mark had a quick civil wedding back in Colorado for the grandmothers on both sides of the family who could not get to Italy. We were shown to our room which was one bedroom of a two bedroom apartment, which included two full bathrooms, a living room, a dining room that could seat 20 and a full sized eat in kitchen. Andrea’s parents were given the second bedroom. The second floor included additional apartments where she placed fellow workers who came for the celebration. Just 30 steps out the back door were one of the swimming pools.

Down a trail weaving through olive trees were two more buildings, each with full apartments and a humungous shared kitchen. This is where all of their friends were staying. All totaled there were 37 people who arrived for this wedding. The actual ceremony is scheduled for tomorrow, but the festivities continue. Andrea and Mark booked and paid for the entire stay at the villa and for those who chose, it was available through Tuesday. On Tuesday, there was a wine tour scheduled for anyone who cared to stay and imbibe.

Tonight, however, was the night to party. Female friends had arranged a hen party for Andrea while Mark’s buddies planned a stag party. A whole lot single person celebrations were planned a little too after the fact, but a bus came to pick them up at 6pm. Off they went back to Florence to kick up their heels. Ron and I had stayed behind and wandered the surrounding land. We were not quite certain if we would eat dinner or not since we had no idea what the plan was and had not done any shopping.

As we walked back to our assigned building, a crew from Andrea’s workplace was busy cooking up a dinner. As soon as they spotted us, they invited us to share with them. Seven of us had a communal meal of spaghetti and steak. The food was tasty, but the companionship was spectacular. I had not laughed so hard in years. They are not only a fabulous group of medical professional people, but they are dynamic human beings. We stayed up until close to midnight having a grand time.

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