After getting back from the clubs at around 3 (we went on quite the adventure), I set my alarm for 7:45 and went to bed. Now, why would I want to wake up that early on a Saturday? Simple answer: travel. I made a pact with myself before coming to Italy that instead of spending my weekends hanging out in Florence or Parma, I would make day trips or weekend trips over Italy and Europe. I can see Parma and Florence during the weeks while I’m studying. Weekends are for new experiences in new cultures.
As such, one of the first things discussed between Brian and I was where we wanted to travel and to where we wanted to go. Being September, it is grape harvesting season and being in Toscana I figured we would have to go find a vineyard. We had no idea where we were going except to the countryside and without the internet or a guide book it was difficult to really make a plan. Luckily a girl on the trip, Katie, also wanted to go adventuring and she had a guide book that told us to head towards Greve in Chianti. It also told us which bus to take. Thus, the plan was set and I was left to rally the troops at 8.
Brian, Katie, Meghan, Kim and I (along with Lauren, Ashley and Matt who didn’t end up coming to the countryside) got down to the train station and I began asking people where the SITA bus was located which would take us to Greve. It took about twenty minutes until somebody finally told me that SITA had its own bus terminal around the corner. Our bus was at 11 so we had more than an hour to relax in a piazza.
We headed back to the terminal which was much more crowded than before. I struck up a conversation with an American who had a ticket to Greve. He was from Alaska and very nice, but he asked me the most important question of the day: “Are you going to the wine festival as well?”
The what? There was a wine festival where we were heading?!?!? News to us, but more than welcome news. We still figured that it would be a bit too expensive, but the idea of a wine festival was still amazing! On the bus we sat next to some students from Vanderbilt. I asked them about the wine festival and they told me that it only cost 10 euros! This was starting to get good! Up until then we had only desired to maybe rent some bikes and lay down under some trees on a Tuscan hill, but now there was a wine festival!!! What could be better!
Even the drive out of the city was magnificent! It took about an hour, but the entire time I stared at the rolling hills with mountains in the distance, the brown and green grasses flowing over each other into a seemingly endless field. Trees broke the angelic monotony as well as villas and small towns. The sky was blue with and God seemed to be smiling upon the valley. It could not have been a more beautiful day to trek through the country drinking wine!
We got off the bus with the rest of the people, figured out when the bus was returning and headed into town. We were hungry and decided to check out a macelleria, which is a butcher shop. This place had prosciutto hanging from the ceiling, salami everywhere and even a basement cheese room! Incredible. The smells attacked the nose with the sense of old, rotting food, but in the good sense since these foods were meant to be ripened. We wanted to sit and eat so we left and found a little restaurant in the piazza.
Once were done eating we excitedly bought our tickets, which included a personal glass and a card with 7 stamps which were meant to be stamped at every taste. After tasting several delicious Chiantis we figured out that for many of the stands if you didn’t have your card out then the people didn’t even ask for it! So for 10 euros we got a near limitless supply of tastes of some very good wines.
Once we had spent several hours wandering the piazza tasting wine, talking, soaking in the sun and having a fantastic time, we bought a couple bottles of wine for later, some prosciutto, some local cheese from a guy on the street, some bread and headed out of town, up a hill and sat in an olive grove overlooking town and the surrounding mountains. Gorgeous!
Lying on back with the setting sun it finally hit me that I would be in Italy for the next 4 months. Until that time life had simply been flying by in a blur of what felt like an extended vacation before I would return to normalcy. But once under the olive trees it became apparent that my adventure had barely begun.
At the moment I cannot accurately describe my emotions, but it was neither excited nor nervous. It was not scared but it wasn’t completely calm. I have no word for it, but a wave of all sorts of thoughts and dreams of how my next four months would go. Already I had done so much (in that day at the festival I had crossed off several things on my to-do list: go to a wine festival, find an olive grove, see a place hanging prosciutto and make it to the countryside) but there was still so much to do! I can only hope there is enough time!
Always though, I miss Courtney. All of these experiences would be a million times better with her here. Not talking to her is rough, but I’ll manage. I cannot wait to see her and just hug her for hours. Trying to contact her is quite frustrating with the present Internet situation.
As for “culture shock” I would not say there has been much of it. Florence is quite touristy, but even so I have had little trouble adjusting to the different schedule and culture. In fact, I feel pretty at home minus the terrible hotel situation. If we were in an apartment then Florence would be perfect. The art and the food and the culture is wonderful. Still, I cannot wait to get to Parma where I will really be thrown into an Italian culture without much Americanization.
In fact the Americanization of the famous and touristy Italian cities is a bit overwhelming. Everywhere you go there is English or tourist spots selling stereotypically “Authentic-Italian” things to saps. It’s a relentless assault of tourism. It wears on me.
Once we returned from the wine festival we decided that it was time to move rooms because the smell of rotting cadavers had become unbearable. Apparentally, every time it rains something involving the sewage sends the smell of a rotting corpse up the vent. There was nothing that the hotel could do so we switched rooms.
Speaking of the smell, it is pervasive here! Almost everywhere there is the faint hint if sewage! Maybe the system is simply overworked or perhaps very antiquated. Either way there is always the risk of a waft of a smell like rotting corpses mixed with horse shit.