Firenze – a Personal Wake-up Call

My memory of my first visit to Firenze (affectionately known as Florence to everyone other than the Italians) includes lazing in a beautiful park, flowers everywhere, munching on Italian hams and cheeses, sipping red wine (and probably the cheapest available, as I was on a student budget at the time). Of course I’d also been to see the infamous statue of David. It was a happy, go-lucky time of my life and I vividly remember admiring one of God’s creatures in the form of the male species, jokingly likening him to the statue of David, with one of my girlfriends. Your youth should always have such pleasant memories.

Thirty years later and some, excited to return, I find that Firenze, as beautiful as it is with its architecture and history, variety of shops, restaurants, river flowing through it, a perfect example of the pure essence of Italian lifestyle, was just not what I remembered, expected, or maybe wanted. Maybe, secretly, I wanted to be whisked back to that world devoid of worry and filled with carefree moments, idle days and endless dreams. Maybe I just wanted to be young again.

But is being young manifested only by your age or can it be a way of life – the way you engage with the world around you. I never think of myself as being old, mainly because in my mind there’s nothing stopping me from being or doing all the things I want to be and do. Would I go back to my youth? An emphatic NO. Who I am today is a result of the mental and spiritual growth I’ve experienced over the years. Why then are we obsessed with being young, keeping our youthful appearance? Why are we afraid of growing old?

I’ve decided now that, in fact, I AM YOUNG! Young in spirit and at heart. The memories I create at this stage of my life are even more pleasant because the ‘me’ in it is the same ‘me’ of thirty odd years ago – just a ‘me’ with double the responsibilities, yes, but more importantly, double the love and double the blessings in my life.


Taste of Tuscany – Siena

Certainly Siena is the most impressive of the Tuscan towns. As we climb our final ascent into Siena we are filled with pride and a great sense of accomplishment. Along the way we are tempted to take the short and easy road but stay our course and continue along the long and narrow pathways to our final destination.

And well worth the journey – Siena rewards us with its magnificence, grandeur and imposing strength as we meander to our hotel Il Chiostro del Carmine – a former monastery equipped with a small chapel and a welcoming courtyard where we eventually spend cool peaceful pre-dinner wine tastings.

We celebrate the end of our journey with the now expected Prosecco and pasta, but even better we are serenaded with the ringing of the bells from the Santa Maria de Asunto Cathedral. The following day we venture further as we explore the town and its amazing Cathedral – a magnificent showcase of craftsmanship, artistry and simple dedication, with intricate details of biblical history throughout. We are fortunate enough to celebrate a small mass therein the following day.

The stairs within the Museum lead to an amazing view of Siena and we are once again entranced by the beauty of this city and its surroundings.

The days are hot but the nights are cool and we engage in pure Siena hospitality as we embrace the culture of ‘liming’ in the Piazza after dinner, just simply enjoying the moment, the environment and the company.

Happy to be there, happy to be a part, proud of our accomplishments. What started as a simple adventure through the Tuscany Valley, ended with stronger bonds, greater sense of self and one’s own physical ability, and of course, memories that would last a lifetime.

Thank you my friends for sharing your time, determination, good nature and self with us. We look forward to many more exciting journeys together.


Taste of Tuscany – Asciano

A rest day is always welcome. And where better to spend the day than lazing around a hill top hotel overlooking one of the most spectacular views in Tuscany. As with many of these establishments located on vast acreage, the pasta served was freshly made as was the honey, as this is part of their own industry.

Leaving was a bit difficult but knowing that the first part was primarily downhill was certainly an incentive. The Tuscany region once again did not disappoint with its smell of the pine trees, gentle rolling hills and intermittent gravel roads, you truly feel one with nature and the environment as you pass along perfectly manicured vineyards and small towns on the way.

We skirt off course momentarily to visit the Monte Oliveto Maggiore. This is a large Benedictine Abbey located just 10km south of Asciano. The monastery is accessed through a drawbridge which leads to a medieval palace in red brickwork. This structure began in 1393 and was only completed in 1526 and restored in the 19th century. After the entrance you are greeted with a long alley lined with cypress trees surrounding a botanical garden. Strolling through this peaceful place calms you and at the same time energizes you for your journey ahead.

Asciano is a small town with just about 7000 inhabitants. Typical of Tuscany’s history Asciano became the centre of attention between Siena and Florence in the 13th century eventually being won over by the Sienese after the bloodiest battle in the Italian medieval history in 1260.

As usual we arrive at the hottest time of day when all are indoors and the place is quiet and filled with an eire atmosphere. Later in the evening, we are thoroughly entertained by our multitasking receptionist, come bar man, come chef, as he Kariokes the evening away to our personal enjoyment.


Taste of Tuscany – Buonconvento

Life does not begin until you’ve had a close up view of a field of Sunflowers. My journey could have ended today and I would have been the happiest person alive. If you’ve been following my blogs you will surely have noticed that no matter where I am, there will always be a flower that catches my eye. Well the sunflower fields were my heaven-on-earth experience.

The ride today was a bit more challenging to say the least as we scrambled up steep gravel trails, pushed our bikes up some 16% grade hills, cursed the Tuscan heat, and endured the trials and tribulations of cramps and flat tyres.

In the midst of it all though, a small quiet town with a water oasis calmed and relaxed us. Gave us the energy and willpower to carry on and we arrived safely at our destination – weary, weary and did I mention weary?

But as usual the recap of the day, the local wine and beer and the cool breeze that accompanies the amazing sunset, lifted us and we ended the day once again triumphant of what we were able to accomplish and experience.

Stay awake Tuscany – we have not yet finished our journey.


Taste of Tuscany – Monteriggioni

We sleep well. We are up early and get our gear ready to go. We leave San Gimignano, reluctantly, but excited to continue our journey. The scenery changes slightly as we are now exposed to more greenery than the day before. The traffic is minimal and you feel as if you alone occupy this precious space in time. Your mind is at rest. You are peaceful as you cruise through the Tuscan Valley.

The sun continues to caress you with its warmth and you wonder ever so silently – how much more of this Tuscan heat can one take. But as you look around you, the rolling hills, expertly manicured vineyards and strategically placed Cyprus trees, remind you that you are in one of the prettiest places in the world – and your worries melt away as you contemplate your impending stop for lunch.

You enter into a pristine town that cools you by its simple but welcoming presence. You cycle to the nearest charming restaurant and enjoy the hospitality and charm of the Italian countryside. Your thirst is quenched by non other than the local Prosecco and beer and you indulge in the finest pasta and pesto ever.

Refreshed, rejuvenated and probably smiling a bit too much, you continue through the Tuscan hills to your destination Monteriggioni. Nothing however could prepare you for the elegance and grandeur of the Castel Pietraio, our home for the evening. At the end of a 40km cycle in the hot Tuscan sun, your only thoughts are air condition and water. At the Castel you are welcomed like kings and queens, ushered into exquisitely appointed rooms and told that the pool is just a short walk away in the well manicured garden. Wine is served as an aperitif at 7 and you stroll into the village for dinner.

Royal service indeed. What more can you ask for..



Taste of Tuscany – San Gimignano

No matter who you speak to – whether they live in Italy, visited Italy or even heard about Italy – San Gimignano is on the top of the list of places to visit in Tuscany. And I now join this long list of fans, for San Gimignano is one of the prettiest towns I’ve ever seen. But I jump ahead. Let’s get back to our journey.

We are excited, nervous, anxious but most of all rearing to go as we pack up our cycle gear and leave Volterra – the Tuscany valley ahead – our dreams of cycling through its most famous towns finally coming true. We have decided, in the interest of flexibility of time, to opt for a self-guided tour as offered by Saddle Skeddadle. You are pretty much left on your own, given details of your journey, accommodation in each of the towns is pre-arranged, your luggage transported as you meander along at your leisure from city to city. I mean how difficult can this be, right?

S T O P ! – our self acclaimed leader shouts from the back of the group – We’ve missed the very first turn. Now, picture this. We are a group of wanna-be cyclists, who have ‘trained’ for this vacation, and are traveling down hill with the wind in our hair and smiles on our faces. You can imagine therefore that the thought of stopping and turning around uphill, is not very appealing – to put it mildly. We stop, we deliberate, our leader takes one for the team and retraces our tracks.

Minutes and minutes go by as we wave to passers-by who are probably wondering why we’ve decided to take a break on the corner of what has turned out to be a very busy road. We wave none-the-less pretending that this is part of our plan. Our leader returns and we are finally relieved to learn that we are on the right track. Smiles once again confident that we can do this, and we are on our way.

The day passes without another hitch. We amble through the recently harvested fields of wheat, stop for much needed refreshments (Prosecco and beer, of course) along the way and quietly skirt through the small towns and villages along the way.

It’s a tough first day of 36km – the sun is hot, the undulating terrain challenges our new found cycling skills as we are faced with an uphill stretch of 12km at the very beginning. One or two of us take our first bike spills, and, did I mention that the sun is hot. We are undaunted however. We laugh through it all as we continue our exciting journey.

We arrive in San Gimignano, sun scorched, starving, discussing the day and as we push our bikes through the welcoming arch we are left speechless – not because we are exhausted but oh my, this place is priceless – the quaint streets, unusual shops, towers, the charming square – warm our hearts and we are immediately relaxed. The challenges of the day immediately forgotten.

We are happy, exhilarated and most importantly triumphant. One day down, four more to go. We celebrate with Prosecco and pizza and, as the sun sets, we are surprisingly entertained by street musicians in the main Piazza.

Smiles are back on our faces and we look forward to another glorious day.


Taste of Tuscany – Volterra

In our infinite wisdom, my husband and I decided to tour the famous towns of Tuscany using our favourite mode of vacation transportation – bicycle. You see on two previous occasions we travelled through the picturesque terrain of Austria and northern Italy and then, before trekking to Machu Picchu on another holiday, we cycled from Cusco to the Amazonas – two exciting and extremely rewarding vacations.

This time a group of our closest friends decided to join us on our Tuscany excursion. Over the next few blogs I will attempt to take you through our very exciting journey.

After meeting in Pisa (see La Torre Pendente di Pisa) we bussed it directly to the romantic city of Volterra. Volterra offers a glimpse of the architecture typical of medieval times and is filled with small alleys, squares, palaces and towers. And much like other towns in Italy, the window boxes filled with flowers and the charming shops lure you into a lifestyle that is simple, inviting and oh so relaxing.

As the sun sets you are drawn to the magnificent views which surround this important city and the cool evening breezes transport you to that peaceful place you’ve always longed to be. A perfect start to our Tuscany adventure.