1 day road trip

This little road trip was my own doing.

I already mentioned to you: my evening of cooking at an agriturismo.

What I haven't yet shared is the views on the way. Old idiom: it isn't about the destination it is about the journey. I find it is hard to put into practice; I am first in line to be busy cleaning, organizing and thinking about the 'next thing'. But this time I really was smiling-while-driving.

On my way to the agriturismo, I used the main highway driving south from Florence, then popped off near Chiusi and Terme di Chianciano. (I have some odd draw to terme; if you recall the boys and I visited no less than 5 on our 6 day Tuscan road trip). I am intrigued with all the sulfur swagger under vast stretches of Tuscan terrain.

I peeked into the Terme Sensoriali (in Terme di Chianciano); Italians have long adhered to the restorative properties of Bagni (though I am learning some are for bathing, others for 'drinking the water' and breathing). This spa would no doubt heal some part of you: it is a spa experience based on the 5 elements etere, aria, fuoco, terra, acqua AKA ether, air, fire, earth, water. This time, I simply peered in the windows and went on my way (find www.termechianciano.it and/or www.termesensoriali.it).

For now, I feel quite satisfied hunting down and seeking out the 'public' baths that are less poised and planned but authentic, free, outside---no doubt with healing properties of their own. When cousins arrive at the end of this week---we will whisk them off to one such set of hot springs (Petriolo).

I have a huge pamphlet (from the agriturismo Sant' Egle) all about the Maremma region of Tuscany (www.lamaremma.info and www.amiataturismo.it). I have spent time in this region both in February and March: finding terme in Saturnia and San Casciano, enjoying agriturismos, Etruscan tombs and cliff-hanging cities like Pitigliano, Scansano and Sorano. The hills are rolling and so, so green I cannot begin to describe them. It is gorgeous, and a little bit off the normal tourist-beaten path. I like that.

On my drive home from the agriturismo, I snapped some photos and at one point followed my nose down a dirt road to La Foce (www.lafoce.com). La Foce is in the Orcia valley in south-east Tuscany; it boasts an incredible garden and restored farmhouses---with pools---for rent. It adheres to the Slow Food Movement (in case you wanted to know); my favorite part is that this property lies on such a beautiful road, tucked in lush valleys and near some of my favorite places: Sienna, Pienza, Montalcino and Montepulciano. 


umbrella update.

A quick overview (aka umbrella) of some of our recent frolicking around and beyond Florence:
  • Caleb and I attended the once-a-month flea market near Piazza Ambrogio; we found gemstones, scarves and smurfs.
  • Visited and brought books to the Paperback Exchange (store credit!); boys found a funny-fact book called 'The Book of Lists.' I couldn't resist a book I have been eying for 4 months: Maxine Clark's Italian Kitchen.
  • Saturday March 27 we blitzed Florence, visiting: History of Science Museum (Galileo's instruments), San Marco Museum (key for those who read Agony & Ecstasy re: Michelangelo. Has Savonarola's cell and garb, Ghirlandaio's Last Supper fresco and amazing frescoes by Fra Angelico), and The Baptistry--think gold plated domed ceiling.
  •  Attended Saturday night mass at the Duomo (Sat at 5pm is one time a week there is mass in English).
  • Dinner at a fave new restaurant: Bella Donna. Met new friends (owner and boyfriend)!
  • Janelle took a quick road trip to cook with friend Erika in her Tuscan agriturismo; read about it on my food blog talk of tomatoes. Fantastic food, new recipes, great photos all over the countryside!
  •  Last weekend we visited: San Miniato (known for November white-truffle festival), Collodi (famous for Pinocchio Park and Garzoni Garden), Empoli for math tournament (you have to love: story problems in Italian...), Museum of the Duomo in Florence (underrated and one of our fave museums).
  •  Visited Montecatini Terme and Montecatini Alto; the Terme were closed but we got a glimpse, and the city of Montecatini Alto was really quaint and clean---we had a nice little hike around the city and an early dinner.
  •  Had boys walk boxes home one day, and I walked a bike box across all of Florence another day. We are packing bikes to return home with our house guests.
  • We are busy making big plans for our cousins to visit! We will be visiting Cinque Terre, Venice, doing a token loop in the Chianti region, putting our toes in hot springs, blowing through Lucca, perhaps seeing a cheese factory in Parma and if we are lucky: see fireworks come out of a chariot by Florence's Duomo on Easter day.


do you like pina coladas?

James and I, while planning for this year-of-adventure 'escape' from life's normal routine, would sometimes sing along [with SEGs] to this song:

"I never knew... that you liked Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain.
And the feel of the ocean, and the taste of champagne.
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape.
You're the love that I've looked for, come with me, and escape."

He recently emailed the [full] song to me... here is part of my response, referring to taking chances, embracing instincts:

"...when I was driving home from my overnight (I cooked in a Tuscan Agriturismo!), I pulled over once to follow a random little dirt road---stuck my nose in a door that was held open by a lawnmower---and saw one of the most breathtaking gardens... what if I had never followed that road?

Eyes and heart open;)."

He thought 'you all' would enjoy that little verbal transaction... along with a pic of [part-of] the garden:

Look at the pic: to the right there was a uniform series of box hedges, a row of cypress trees lining the garden and the wall had vines growing all over it. Above to the left (which you cannot see) was another garden that looked like it had a fountain and more (I only had 5 seconds b/c the gardener saw me... and I had on the wrong camera lens to capture the entire garden...). BUT it was beauty to behold, and I literally did stop breathing for a second when I first saw it. Here are a few more pics from my drive home:


funny tshirt... you had to be there.

Anthony and I were taking a walk around Florence---and found this t-shirt. Mostly because we cycled across Holland and Belgium, into France. And spent time in England... and now live in Italy... I think we found this shirt particularly hilarious. Stereotypes are stereotypes, and we have experienced quite a few of them recently! This was cause for some great belly-rolling laughter.


frolicking, round 14.

More frolics from Florence! This past Monday was a real treat, since I am a food blogger (www.talkoftomatoes.com) and chef: Florence had its food show. It was a food event showcasing Italian food, where restaurant, hotel, store owners go to sample new foods and meet vendors. It is where college kids sneak in and get free samples of wine, it is covered by magazines and packed-full of foodies---from casual to snobby.

You could eat dessert with actual gold flecks, taste compare over a dozen varieties of salami, easily the same amount of chocolate, vino, pasta, balsamic, and beer. I stuck to confettura and pestos, cheese and dessert wine---for the most part (I only made it on Monday, since on Sat/Sun the boys and I were in Arezzo).

I cycled across town and spent 5 hours at this foodie event---and loved every minute of it. Read all about it here. Besides Monday's food event, fun frolics this week included learning to knit with my friend Tannis (she is planning to open up a knitting shop and fattoria in Florence!). The boys played hooky were sick and did a bit of knitting as well.

In addition to learning to knit, we imbibed on mimosas, and made Dutch Pancakes and topped them with powdered sugar and one of my purchases from the food festival: Bianca Pesca Confettura (white peach jelly). OMG fabulous.

I am not a great knitter. I tried to teach myself with a do-it-yourself knitting book for kids some years ago. But found I had little questions here and there and nobody close by to answer. So I piled my knitting needles and yarn into a box and tucked it away. Learning to knit is on my life's list of things to do (I just found my cousin online and LOVED that she had a life's list of things to do and is tracking them; it is a hoot to see them crossed off and blogged about with pictorial proof!).

I didn't expect to 'cross that bridge' (aka learn to knit) this year, at this time in my life. But I am so, so glad serendipity occurred and our odd little knitting group developed. For the record, Anthony is the best knitter in the family.



We are adjusting to the fact that we don't always know where soccer games will be---and find out field location just days before we hit the pitch. Which means, this last weekend collapsed into a last-minute trip to Arezzo. (I will say, if learning 'spontaneity' is on your short list of personal goals, this would be a perfect environs for you). It turned out to be fantastic.

I rented a car (this simple phrase always cracks me up, as it involves riding a bike across town with out-of-town bags strapped on---and since 6 days a week only registered resident-only cars are allowed to drive into the city---picking the boys/passengers up at a rendezvous point 4 blocks from our flat). In this case the boys walked with me across town (my bike carrying 3 bags while we pushed it---and took in the sites).

Actually, on the way to the car we spotted a tiny museum next to Ognissante church and popped in for a five minute peek. It ended up being of all things: Giambologna's Last Supper. All sorts of frescoes by Giambologna, including some that were just started---and you could see the grid and sketching on the walls waiting for paint... very, very cool. Giambologna was the master of the studio where Michelangelo got his start...

So we picked up the car, first went to Caleb's at-home soccer game (Anthony and I poked around Fiesole while Caleb's team warmed up), then packed into the car and drove to Arezzo. More accurately, we drove straight to our country hotel. A good bargain since it was just outside the city. And it was way up a curvy road, where there was still some snow on the ground! We ate dinner at the hotel---a treat above all treats. Then slept, woke, ate a delightful breakfast (a spread of pastries, meats, cheese, homemade jellies, coffee, fruit, yogurt...) and sped off toward Anthony's game.

The whole day was sunny and delightful.

We hit Arezzo in the afternoon, saw Vasari's house (just the outside---it was closed), toured the Duomo, and sat in the grande piazza for a long lunch in the March sunshine. We Anthony [parla Italiano] had made an appointment to see Piero della Francesca's Legend of the True Cross---apparently one of Italy's greatest fresco cycles (in the church of San Francesco). We also went into an antique-museum of a personal collector whose finances still make Arezzo a better place; he is the reason Arezzo is so famous for its antiques market.

Besides the antiques, churches and the food, we loved Arezzo's park. This huge glorious park (with a sculpture of Petrarch) was full of grass, sun, stretches of pathway-lined trees, and stunning views over stone walls. People were throwing balls, sitting about chatting, babies riding in strollers, children running about. People of all ages filled this park to the hilt. All this buzz was right in the heart of the city---the whole park butted right up against the Duomo.

And the long streets coursing through the city (Corso Italia & Via Cavour) were people-laden as well. But the thing was---it wasn't tourists. It was the people from Arezzo humming and chatting about. It is a clean city, well-kept (rebuilt and restored since the war---and it shows), cared for and lived in. No graffiti (there is a ton of graffiti in Florence, so we always notice where it isn't); just neat parks, clean streets, good restaurants, inviting piazzas and well-kept buildings (the library and loggias were beautiful).
And we find that with most of the cities we visit, we make immediate plans to return. Our next visit will include a visit to Vasari's house, time at the Museo Statale d'Arte Medioevale e Moderna, a lingering visit/picnic in the park---and exploring the ruins of the Fortezza Medicea. So, Arezzo... until next time.


frolicking round 13

Bugger---I am behind on blogging about my frolics. Here goes: last week my one-day frolic blurred across multiple days.

For Lent I decided among other things, to take 2 days off a week from my computer. Entirely.

Wow that is easier said than done. The first day I had to avoid the 'elephant in the room,' but found my day was long and enjoyable and I spent time doing things I always mean to do: read a book, study Italian, walk around Florence, try a new recipe. One day I felt lousy and watched a movie. Now I am lenient with myself, and let myself at least check email---but I cap my time.

The best part of meaning to take off 2 days a week is that it is encouraging me to traipse off and enjoy Florence with increasing abandon. I am more likely to pop out of the house if just for an hour or two. Which means I will go to the farmers' market---the long way around.

Every Thursday there is a garden market---with seasonal flowers, plants and herbs---under the Loggia on Piazza Republicca. If I am around, I generally walk through it. Last summer, the boys bought little cacti there. I usually just peek, but this time I bought fresh thyme. I continued onto the Mercato---the largest market near San Lorenzo---and bought fresh mozzarella, polpettini (small meatballs) and some tomatoes.

Other forays last week included:
  • spending some time at Orsanmichele with Anthony (used to be grain market and open loggia with miracle-giving painting of the Madonna and Child (a place for hope during the plague). Now it is a church (still with grain chutes), with fantastic statues commissioned by the various guilds and an impossibly ornate and breathtaking tabernacle housing a newer painting of the Madonna (by Daddi). The museum above the church houses sculptures under restoration and glimpses of the grain mill (only open Mondays).
  • walking/exploring the streets near Tornabuoni, toward the train station and Santa Maria Novella. I found Antinori's Piazza and wine bar, a mozzarella bar (really!) and bought some Italian cookies to sample with the boys.
  • I snapped a photo of a street-cleaner; it made sense to take a picture since we see and hear them all the time near our flat. The token moment: after I snapped the photo, the driver and I caught each others' eyes---and both laughed-out-loud.
  • drank coffee at the posh coffee bar (Caffe Giacosa). I say posh because it is by Tornabuoni---the shopping street lined with all the high fashion name brands. And with magazine-spread photos on its walls, is consistently packed with well-dressed Italians and truth be told: the coffee is good.
  • I made tortillas. From scratch! The boys and I gobbled them up for dinner.
  • Anthony, Caleb and I also went for a walk around town recently---we found pastries and visited the Academia (Michelangelo's David), laughed at silly t-shirts and bought souvenir sweatshirts.


what's in the box?

I know you think I just sip macchiatos, graze farmer's markets, ride my 'junk bike' and walk through museums admiring sculpture and art. It isn't always so. Consider this day in the life of:

This day had a lot to do with the fact that James is in Seattle, and we thought it would be a good idea for him to send us a care package. Why not send a box of things we could use, stuff that might not be readily available in Italy? We will just keep it light so it doesn't cost so much to ship. (So we thought).

So he shipped a box via 2 day FedEx and a few days later, the customs office calls me to tell me if I want the box I need to pay tariffs and fill out then fax paperwork---and I have 3 days to pay or the box gets shipped home. So she emails me the forms. The next morning:

"Mom, we are having parties at school today for Carnevale, and I am supposed to bring plastic cups." Can you have it there by 10am? So it starts: breakfast, dishes, laundry... send boys off to school. I sneak an hour online to blow through some emails, check twitter, facebook and the like---mostly waiting for the printer and grocer to open. I load the customs' papers onto a geek stick and at 9am, pop into the printers to have it printed. I stop by the grocers, buy cups and bike across the Arno to the boys' school to deliver the cups. On my way home, I stop in Piazza Niccolo and have the best 10 minutes of my day (well---duh---despite all the minutes with the boys): a fantastic pastry and macchiato (did you catch that? that was the macchiato-sipping moment).

I cycled a bit further to the post office---in Italy you pay bills at post offices and/or banks. So I went to pay my 40 euro tariff. And stood in line for 30 minutes. I paid, was given a receipt and 6 pages of paperwork to fill out... in Italian (bugger!). So I stopped by one friend's shop for translating help---she wasn't there. Then I came home and called another friend; we sat on Skype and went through line by line (it wasn't horrific, mostly just addresses but I had to describe box contents and claim vitamins... assuming that's the food product they meant?). After it was mostly filled out, I waited until James woke up in the states so I could verify some facts. Then waited until 4pm when the printer would be open again (she is open, like most Italian stores, from 9-12 and from 4-6; times vary slightly, but you get the idea).

First I went to the post office, to fax from there. I waited 30 minutes---wrong window, need a different letter/number ticket. Waited another 30 minutes, gave my papers over to the gal and she said to wait while she faxed and when it was confirmed I would pay and be on my way. Another 30 minutes; unfortunately, the fax wouldn't go through. So I left. I stopped by a printer near our house and tried faxing another time; she tried multiple times---no luck. So I came home, got my geek stick, scanned the paperwork (again at the printer), came home and tried to email it back tot he original sender (following this?). Then I emailed James all the info, and he followed up as well (at this point the clock is ticking: it is day 2 before they send this box home, and James had already paid shipping, and I had already paid the tariff...).

It was about 6pm, I had done what I could; I cooked dinner and the boys and I enjoyed a nice evening together. That was my day.

A few points of interest:
  • Communicating in Italian is not yet my forte; fortunately I had just learned 'ieri' which means 'yesterday'. The post offices kept asking when I received the email, knowing I only had 3 days to turn it around. I also know 'aspetta'... which means 'wait.'
  • The cost kept creeping up: it cost 35 euros to send, 40 euros tariff and when the fax finally goes through, another 10 euros. Ouch. What's in that box anyway?
  • FYI commodities in the states are so, so much cheaper. And often better quality. When my folks visited I actually had them bring me Ziploc bags and scotch tape (lol).
  • In the box:
    •  vitamins (fish oil pills, gummy vitamins, some Tylenol cold medicine)
    • Q-tips (I know---embarrassing. But its a quality issue for me... and how would I know they would end up costing like $20?).
    • mosquito net (also embarrassing. But the mosquitoes here are vicious, biting multiple times and haunting you while you try to sleep). And it is wonderful to have the windows wide open!
    • a bank card. that is the crux. I actually DO need that item.
    • 2 sport watches. Insanely cheap compared to Italy (mine Timex, Caleb's Puma); Caleb and I both needed watches with trusty alarms on them---our morning depends on it. We picked out inexpensive watches on Amazon and shipped them to James. (Amazon.uk ships to Italy but then you are talking pounds instead of euros... still very expensive). Even with all the fees aforementioned? Still cheaper to buy our watches and ship them twelve times. 
    • Aveda hairspray. Yes, really. Once you compute the exchange rate it costs 3x as much here. So I had James toss a bottle into the box. What was I thinking?!?! 
FYI we did finally get the box. James tracked down the company-with-our-box online; they had given us the wrong fax number. Make that twice. The third time was the charm: and then round two, since one page I hadn't filled out fully (translation: specific kinds of vitamins, not just 'vitamins'). Another few faxes add geek stick, trip to printer...  and I specifically asked them to hold the box. Because at this point, we were headed out of town for our 6 day Tuscan road trip. Could you imagine? All that work, 3 attempts to deliver and then 'failed delivery---return to sender.'

... on day 3 of our road trip I received a phone call from the delivery company (a different company than the receiving company); they had attempted to deliver the box 2 times. Would I be there tomorrow? (Seriously, thank god she could speak a bit of English). No, I would not be there tomorrow. I will not be there until the following Monday. She said they can hold it and would deliver it Monday morning. PHEW.

Monday morning. I cannot walk Anthony's still-wet painting up to his school for fear of not being available for the post. (He ended up taking it in later that week---the art teacher was gracious). In fact, would I even dare use the bathroom? No music---so I can hear the buzzer. Morning came and went. The delivery man arrived at 2:30pm. But we had our box! finally.

Seriously? Please don't send me anything. at all. ever.  

I need a macchiato.


    Caleb's To-Do list

    Caleb was bored in class the other day, and decided to write a list of things-to-do after school.

    On Tuesdays in particular, he has the night off (no soccer). And since the boys are home by 1:10 on that day (1:10 on Tue, Wed, Thurs and 4:00 on Mon, Fri), Caleb decided to list his options for how to spend his time.

    Of course, as a mom this tickled me to pieces; I often ask the boys---to determine their homework load for an evening---how are you going to spend your time tonight? As in: what is your plan? How will you choose to spend the hours in front of you? How will you prioritize work and play, when will you do your requirements (homework, chores) and what do you want to do with your free time?

    I find that when Anthony and Caleb (and me too!) have a big chunk of free time (say a long Sunday or a big night off like Caleb's Tuesday), sometimes we are disappointed when all of a sudden the day has gone and we haven't 'done what we wanted to do.'

    Sure, it can be nice to have a mental break in front of the TV or catch up on email or facebook---I get sucked into my computer like the best of them. But technology seems to swallow time. Ten minutes becomes three hours---and your morning is gone, or you blink and all of a sudden it is bedtime. And although it can be nice to check your email... you may want to do other things with your free time (bake, journal, paint, play guitar, study Italian, create ornaments). So we are increasingly in the habit of asking: how will you choose to spend your time?

    Too, the boys can gauge if they want to do homework right away (generally yes) or if they are brain-fried and need some time to paint, play cards, catch up on email or just watch some TV. Relaxing is fantastic, especially when you are spending your relaxing time---very valuable free time---the way you really want to.

    Here were Caleb's time-spending options/priorities for Tuesday night (italics are my additions):

    • sit-ups, push-ups
    • eat sandwich, music on
    • play army (for Anthony) (the boys are constantly making up strategic card games, army games, etc.)
    • walk around Florence
    • cut fingernails
    • email
    • Bachelor! (last episode of The Bachelor downloaded today)
    • Facebook profile picture (I vote for one of the photos in this post!)
    • Parts for street hockey (add to growing pile of rules, parts and accouterments for games)
    • watch TV (the boys are really into CSI, NCIS and Law&Order; though we love a good soccer game)
    • Draw cards
    • Read
    • D&D
    • Invent
    • Guitar
    Lucky for him, he only had 10 minutes of homework. He watched The Bachelor, painted (because I had just bought new canvases that day), tried to take a new profile picture (not good results with indoor photography at night), ate his lunch to music, sketched design ideas for a new car (see Invent, above), cut fingernails and played guitar. All in all, a nice long evening off---and he felt good about how he spent his time.

    And so did I.


    the rocks of Elba Island

    A big reason we chose to incorporate Elba Island into our road trip is Caleb's affection for rocks and minerals. In Florence, we had recently visited a mineral museum and a mineral/gemstone exhibition at the Specola. We found that many of the minerals and stones were found on Elba Island.

    Elba Island is tectonics gone wild. There are so many varieties of minerals, vast differences across its' shorelines, you can see where the plates have been pushing against each other---it boasts of an explosive, rocky history. We managed to go to the mineral museum in Rio Marina (on Elba); it was fantastic---we were just sad some of the excursions and mineral shops were still closed (we traveled during the off season; a lot was closed---to open again in May).

    Beyond Caleb's growing mineral collection (um... rocks are heavy... how do you plan on bringing them back to the states again?), Anthony actually gave a tectonics PowerPoint to his class recently---in Italian! Although he did not highlight Elba Island in particular, it gave us a good notion of Elba's plated fate (hey dad: did you like the pun?)---especially while absorbing information at the mineral museum.

    Here are some pictures (more pics) of what we saw during our short stint on Elba Island: from sandy beaches to rocky granite lined shores, to piles of practically glowing-red dirt:



    5 baths in Tuscany (aka hot springs, terme or bagni)

    My goal for our week-long road trip was to visit at least one of the hot springs in Tuscany. I 'scheduled' time at the Bagni dei Saturnia on day 4. Little did I realize---that was the just the beginning. Although I only planned for one, we rallied and visited 5 baths in Tuscany (4 public, 1 private).

    Public means: accessible to all, no changing rooms, no fees, open. Private baths are often associated with resorts or hotels, may have specific hours and seasons and are often modernized (including dressing rooms, lockers, etc.). Oh, and at least re: this wintery time of year, the private baths are busier.

    I wanted free, open, authentic. So we went for public baths, though were fortunate to have a private bath fee inclusive in one of our stays so experienced the posh side of terme as well. In the end---private or public---no two baths are alike. In fact, they aren't even close.

    The temperatures vary from body temperature to a the hottest of hot tubs. Some smell heavily of sulfur, and some only offer a faint glimmer of their sulfury source. Some baths are small, some large; some are more like a waterfall and others have all sorts of pools lined up for the taking. Some merge with large rivers, so you can jump from hot to cold... the experiences are as diverse as the baths that populate Tuscany---and there are many.

    Here are 5 pictures and quick excerpts re: the baths we sought and sank into. All 5 are in Tuscany, south of Sienna. In order:
    1. Terme di Saturnia: cascading waterfall pools, body temp. Out of a dream!
    2. San Casciano dei Bagni: smallish, hot tub temps, relatively unknown.
    3. Terme di Sorano: private. Included actual pool where boys used goggles; just above body temp. (can also pay for massage, other services, etc.). Quite busy.
    4. Bagni di San Filippo: calcium deposits look like huge snow drift. Really hot water spilling over. Runs into river. Hiked a path to find it; boys LOVED this one!
    5. Bagni di Petriolo: hot hot wonderfully hot. Smallish hot-tub like pools to populate with friends. runs into cool river---nice contrast. Busiest of them all (at least the day we visited). Bring wine!
    For more pictures of baths and our entire 6 day Tuscan road trip, peek at our photo album


    6 day Tuscan road trip (itinerary)

    Our bags and bodies smelled of sulfur, we ran out of clean clothes (all the hiking and beach-combing and changing 'pool-side'), we refilled our take-along snack bag 4 times (once with a big mixed bag of homemade Italian cookies!) and our gas tank 3 times... we have souvenirs that include sand samples, rocks from hot springs, beach-combed minerals, 4 bottles of Maremma wine, olive oil from San Casciano, 2 tiny ceramic bowls (Volterra and Pitigliano), 1 olive-wood ladle and a rolling pin for making pici pasta (Sorano). Our camera batteries died one by one from overuse (hundreds of photos), and we recharged our GPS 6 nights in a row. Copies of our passports, my International driver's license, affirmation of lodging and round-trip ferry tickets...

    All remnants of our 6 day Tuscan road trip (and all these pictures!)
    I would have blogged our way through it, but was too busy driving (driving the back/forth and up/down hills and roads of hairpin-turn-trophy-land of Tuscany is not for the faint of heart OR the sensitive stomach) and connectivity was impossible. But no worries. We are home and there is much to share:

    The boys' school had a week off during the last week of February, so I nabbed the opportunity to plan a road trip---there is so, so much to see! We decided to aim west and south out of Florence, instead of north or east (next road trip?). It is still winter, and the further north we go the colder it would have been (we had lots of sun, so it turned out to be a fantastic choice). I really wanted to visit at least one [public] hot spring---since they are highly touted and quite common in Tuscany. Here is the original itinerary I planned (and the RED includes all the extras we added along the way, aka our actual itinerary):

    Day 1 (mon feb 22)
    Lorenzo the Magnificent's Villa, designed by SanGallo: Poggio a Caiano
    Leonardo da Vinci's house-of-birth (just outside the city of Vinci)
    Volterra (Duomo, Roman ruins, dinner)

    Day 2 (tues feb 23)
    ferry from Piombino to Portoferraio (from coast of Italy to Elba Island)
    Elba---Napoleon's country house
    Marina di Campo---sandy beach (south side of island)
    Capoliveri---hilltop mining village
    Porto Azzurro---port and resort town, we ate dinner/pizza in the piazza

    Day 3 (wed feb 24)
    Rio Marino---Museum of Minerology (exploring streets, black-sandy beach, docks, bakery, red dirt!)
    wicked awesome 'shortcut' drive through Rio nell' Elba (amazing views, one-lane mountain road!)
    Portoferraio---Napoleon's city house
    Portoferraio---Medici fortress

    Day 4 (thurs feb 25)
    return ferry from Elba to Italy (drive through Maremma, south to Saturnia, Sorano, Sovana)
    stop at wine shop in beautiful hill-top town of Scansano
    Saturnia's hot springs
    Sovana's Etruscan tombs (including famous Ildebrand Tomb)
    special dinner at Agriturismo (Sant' Egle)

    Day 5 (fri feb 26)
    visit [public] hot springs in San Casciano
    visit Pitigliano (famous for Etruscan caves, city built up/on top of rock)
    visit Sovana (one-street city, mostly closed but quaint)
    special dinner at Agriturismo (Sant' Egle

    Day 6 (sat feb 27)
    Bagni di Sorano
    visit Sorano (walk streets, see caves, grab lunch)
    visit Bagni di San Filippo (hot springs)
    visit Bagni di Petriolo (hot springs)
    visit San Galgano (famous abbey/ruins)
    brief stop in Panzano
    return car in Florence (whew!)
    late night pizza from restaurant downstairs:)

    Fond food memories:
    1. we started out our trip with a batch of lunch box cookies in our snack bag
    2. bag of classic Italian cookies from bakery in San Casciano dei Bagni (la fornarina)
    3. meals at our Agriturismo (included starter, primi, secondi, dessert, apertif, vino/coke); highlights were tiramisu, eggplant appetizer, vegetable lasagna, ravioli, milk-braised beef... and walnut digestivo)
    4. eating kiwis and blood red oranges while sitting in San Casciano terme (tasted so good!)
    5. organic olive oil at Agriturismo
    6. fantastic pizza/gnocchi/steak at restaurant in Portoferraio (happenstance)
    7. cafe lunch/snack in Pitigliano: wild boar brochettes for Caleb, Ravioli for Anthony, Pecorino & marmalade, regional vino... and chocolate cake. 
    8. buying Maremma wines from wine shop in Scansano

    Where we stayed:
    1 night, Volterra; Agrimonia
    2 nights, Elba Island; budget-hotel Hotel Villa Ombrosa (no hidden fees, incl parking, breakfast, good location).
    2 nights, Sorano; Sant' Egle

    *all places included breakfast, a must. We also ate dinner our last two nights at Sant' Egle---it was divine. We will no doubt return!

    **more in-depth road trip posts to come!


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