I’m a summer person, I love the heat, I love Australia in the summer. I’ve never really understood why people could be so passionate about autumn or fall. Everything starts to go quiet, no more swimming or daylight savings. Pumpkin-spiced lattes and misty cold mornings, not for me.
But I get it now. The colours, the colours are extraordinary. Every shade I thought possible of reds, yellows, orange, gold, green, along with shades and hues I never thought possible. I’m no artist, but I do like a good colouring in book. Small children laugh when I attempt to draw a dog or cat, one once asked me to draw a mower, I was laughed out of the room and haven’t been asked to draw since. If you’re after an abstract mower drawing Pictionary partner, I’m your woman. With the colours here in Tuscany as influence I decided to buy watercolour pencils and paper and try to capture some of the colours I was seeing so I can remember it when I’m 90. I can’t see them being in the Louvre anytime soon, but I’ve been loving sitting quietly playing with the colours, watching the world go by. And thanks to the watercolour part, if I stuff it I can just smudge it with water and try again.
I hired a car for three days in my second week in Tuscany. You’ll be pleased to know I’m no longer smacking my arm on the door when I go to change gears. I’ve driven over 3000km so far on this trip, so I’m down with the driving, you just have to do what the locals do.
This is what I’ve learnt so far:
Indicating = for losers
Leaving a space between you and the car in front = loser
Sticking to the speed limit = loser
Waiting for oncoming traffic to pass before overtaking = losers
Using designated parking areas and not just the middle of the road to park = losers
Doing whatever you feel like = winners
And that’s it, if you’ve got those rules down, you’re driving like a local! Piece of cake.
Driving gives you so much more freedom to see the places outside the tourist track, and I’m finding it a lot easier and less stressful than I was led to believe it would be, so I’m determined to hire cars in most places I’m staying to get out of the city. One of the highlights is the way my Australian google lady pronounces places in her bogan accent, viiiiah duuohmow gaahriiibaalddeeee translates to ‘via Duomo Garibaldi.’
My first driving day I drove north, up into the mountains above Tuscany aiming for a town called Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, (google maps lady smashed the pronunciation of that one, I can assure you!) As soon as I started to climb the mountains I knew this was going to be special, and it is one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever done in my life. The town was lovely, perched on a hill side with a river running through the valley. I had my first and hopefully last unwanted experience with a local man who tried to keep grabbing my hand to lead me along. I asked him politely to leave me alone, he didn’t, I said no, again, several times as he kept trying to grab me, and when that didn’t work, in my loudest voice I shouted, “go away, leave me alone” which grabbed the attention of two policeman and most of the people in Garfagnana. He unsurprisingly left in a hurry. So, with that unnerving experience behind me I decided to spend the rest of the day driving the countryside, with my music playing and no one trying to hold my hand, and jeez I’m glad I did.
I followed my nose and started to climb up a road so steep my little Italian broom-broom beep-beep hybrid box started to struggle. I curved and winded my way up the mountains for hours, eventually working my way back down the other side of the valley. It’s hard to describe the unexpected beauty. I love it when you find something you had no idea was there. I’d turn another corner or come over another cliff and say out loud, “oh come on!” It was magical.
On day two I ventured south into the vineyards and olive groves of Tuscany. Holy Toledo Batman, they weren’t tricking, it actually looks like those paintings, seriously, it actually looks like them. I thought it was just pretend to try and bring the tourists! The sand coloured buildings with their terracotta roofs, surrounded by fall colour vineyards perfectly lined up and down the hills. The silver grey of the olive trees glistening in the sunshine. WOOOOOW!
I drove for hours through the countryside, stopping to taste Tuscan wine. I sat down with my free plate of salami and cheese and three different wines to taste, overlooking San Gimignano high up on the cliff, which back in its prime had over 70 towers standing proudly along the Tuscan skyline. I took my first sip, quietly taking it all in and burst into tears, much to the horror of the lady serving me. In broken Italian I explained it was happy tears because it was so beautiful, and she left quickly, slightly nervous of the weird crying lady out the front.
It was an overwhelming experience. It was overwhelming to be here finally, to be doing this after some tough years and working my butt off to get my business to a point where I could make it work from over here. It was overwhelming to be the only person in this vineyard, looking at this view, drinking this wine. It was overwhelming that I was doing it by myself, and had so far, been able to do it by myself. A good overwhelming, a wonderful overwhelming.
I devoured a gelato in San Gimignano from the “world’s greatest gelato” shop to help me recover while wandering around the piazza’s and tiny lanes, then headed back to Lucca for a quiet night in and a well-earned wine and prosciutto snack.
Number of gelatos: 11
Number of pizzas: 7
Number of pasta dishes: 10
Number of “wow” jaw dropping moments: 56
Nugget of Wisdom
Get out of the cities and towns and into the countryside for something truly authentic and magical.