on Saturday, April 10, 2010

Well, I am back in Milan and am happy to say that I had a wonderful trip in France & Spain. However, before I write about that trip I am going to write about my road trip through Tuscany, like I promised. The great news is that I have taken close to 1500 pictures in the past 2 weeks so today you will get to see A LOT of them. The bad news is that it might take you a while to see them all.

Our trip began on Friday morning with a bus ride to the airport to pick up the rental cars. We rented a Volvo station-wagon and a Ford Focus. Both cars turned out to be great but the GPS system that we rented ended up not working too well in the remote parts of Tuscany! In total there were 10 of us and we were a pretty diverse group! There were 5 Swedes, 3 Norwegians, 1 Dutchman, and a Colombian-American (me, of course). Our first stop along the way was in Parma, where we had lunch. Parma is most famous for its prosciutto di Parma, or raw ham, and Parmesan cheese. For lunch I had a pasta but then I made sure to also get a panino (sandwich) so I could try their famous prosciutto. Our 2nd and final destination for the day was Firenze (Florence) and I was especially excited to see the city because I had heard it was extremely beautiful countless times. We stayed in a hotel roughly 200 meters from the Duomo so we couldn't have asked for a better location. After we got settled into our apartment we headed out to see the city and eat dinner. It was really nice to walk around after sitting in the car the whole day, but we made the mistake of paying 9Euros for an awful gelato near the center of the city. For dinner we ate at a restaurant right in the Piazza della Signoria which is in front of the Palazzo Vechio. It was really beautiful and peaceful but we were surprised when a huge procession of people marched into the piazza to celebrate Good Friday singing Catholic hymns. After dinner the girls headed to their apartment/hotel and we all went to bed so we could get up early.

The next morning we got up early (as planned) and got breakfast. Afterwards we walked next door to the Duomo to see it during the day and then we were back on the road. Our first official stop of the way was the medieval walled town of San Gimignano, but we stopped several times while driving to admire the rolling Tuscan hills we saw along the way. Some of the sights we saw looked like they were out of a movie. San Gimignano was also extremely beautiful and had a very medieval feel to it, like at any moment a group of Roman soldiers could come marching over the hills to invade the town. The highlight though was easily the gelato that we had. There is a chance that I will never try another ice cream THAT good the rest of my life. I had a combination of Mango, Strawberry, and Nutella and all 3 flavors tasted better than the real thing. It is hard to put into words, but the mango tasted more like mango than a real mango does (I know that sounds confusing).
Our final stop of the night was in Siena where we were staying on a farm which was a 15 minute drive from the city. This was our first night of a real Tuscan experience because we stayed in a little house outside of the town and we were all excited to be staying closer to nature for the night. I was also excited because as you know, I had already been to Siena and absolutely loved the city. We went into the city for dinner at a restaurant and the Piazza del Campo was just as beautiful as I remembered it to be. After a wonderful dinner together we all headed back to the house and played Mafia (fitting for Italy right?). I had never played the game before, but essentially, a couple people get randomly assigned to be the mafia (using a deck of cards) and everyone tries to guess who it is without trying to get killed. It is A LOT more fun to play than it sounds and we literally played until 4 in the morning. Everyone except for one person had never played it before so it was fun and I definitely think we will continue to play it this semester. 

After a really late night (and less sleep due to losing an hour to daylight savings time that night) we dragged ourselves to breakfast, which ended at 10am, and then headed into Siena once we were all packed up. The weather was perfect and it made the city even more beautiful, which I didn't think was possible! The highlight for me was when we went to the top of the tower in the Piazza del Campo and got spectacular views of the city and surrounding countryside. That day, Siena was hosting Genoa in a soccer match so there were people everywhere and it was a really fun atmosphere. After spending a few hours walking around the city and eating lunch we hit the road again and didn't stop (except to take pictures) until we got to Montalcino. Montalcino is known worldwide for its Brunello di Montalcino red wine. It is recognized globally as one of Italy's best and most expensive wines. The town itself was modest in size but was built on hills and had a very nice downtown area. In said area, I made what turned out to be a fantastic purchase when I bought a yellow plastic soccer ball for us to play with on our trip. The ball, which became known as my baby, was used whenever we weren't in the car and we all had a lot of fun kicking it around. I also got the nickname of being the baby of the family because I was the youngest person by like 2 years, with the oldest being person on the trip being almost 5 years older! After leaving Montalcino we headed to our lodging for the night and none of us could believe our eyes. The little farmhouse we stayed in was literally in the middle of nowhere in the heart of Tuscany and we didn't have any neighbors for miles. Compared to this little house, the farm we stayed at the night before was like staying in midtown Manhattan. It literally might have been one of the most secluded places I have ever been and it was also one of the most beautiful and peaceful. Milan is actually a pretty loud and busy city so I hadn't really heard complete silence in months or years! I can't remember the last time I have been outside somewhere and heard absolutely nothing. It was a PERFECT place to go on vacation. After we all got settled in we drove to the nearest village for a nice dinner and then returned for another exhausting night of mafia.

Wow! When I woke up the next morning the first thing I did was look outside and was blown away but the view. Nothing but rolling hills for as far as the eye could see. It was the epitome of what I had always dreamt Tuscany would look like. After a small breakfast we loaded up the car and left our cozy cabin for the last day of our trip. We had all been looking forward to the last day because we headed back to Montalcino to a vineyard for a wine tasting! The vineyard was very historic and the original family was very well known because 2 of the children went on to be Popes of the Catholic Church. Before we got to taste the wines, Mario, whose worked at the vineyard for decades, gave us a tour of the museum and also explained the process of how the wine is made and showed us the production facilities. Oscar and I spoke the best Italian so we translated for Mario because he didn't speak any English. Mario was incredibly nice I loved talking to him. He was living proof that the best and easiest Italian to understand comes from Tuscany! The fun part started when we got to try all of the different wines and we tried them all in order from youngest to oldest which turned out to be the same as worst to best! We also tried a Vinsanto and a Grappa which are more like liquors and they were both interesting. I bought 3 bottles of wine for myself (the best ones I tried) and am very excited to have them with a nice meal. I think I am going to save the best one for when my brother Francisco is here to visit. After the vineyard we all walked around the area and then headed home but it was a fantastic experience and we all had an incredible time.

As I am sure you can tell, I had an amazing time in Tuscany but the best part was getting to know the group of friends I was with better. This was a trip I won't ever forget.

Peace and Love,
Camilo Andres


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