Under the Tuscan Sun at Le Pratola – part 2

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you.” – Anthony Bourdain.

[For part 1 read here: Tuscany House Party]

Day 7: Sant’Agnese Farm

Boot camp. I rolled out of bed still tired. Does being on vaca do that to you? Make you even more tired? I don’t recall that happening in Antarctica. But maybe that’s because we had Boris or Liz wake us up with the loud speaker each morning.

Maria led a hardcore tabata workout at Le Pratola. Think pushups, burpees, and more. All outside in the gorgeous backyard. We had my snowboard tunes playing in the background. Cheryl and my mom joined the first part, and Khalil, Peter, Maria and I continued to the end. It was hard!!! I took a break and swung a bit on the swing in between a set. Hey, why not?!

That workout was exactly what we needed before we journeyed to Sant’Agnese Farm in Chianti, a trip my mom organized with the owner Margherita of Le Pratola.

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We had a full tour of the wines the family produces as well as the balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

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And we had a huge meal: bruschetta and more bread with olive oil, buckwheat and chickpea salad, scrambled eggs with their truffle oil and local ham, roasted peppers and lasagna, and ice cream.

That night we decided to have a light dinner from being pretty full.

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Day 8: Florence

“We’re going to head to Florence for the day,” Cheryl told me.

“I’ll go with!” I exclaimed. I was super excited. It’s been over 10 years since I visited the city. I had seen a bit of Florence at night with Mark & Joely, but nothing like getting a whole day in during the sunshine.

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After parking in a garage (Did you know you have to park in a garage in Florence if you’re not a resident or don’t have a certain type of pass? If not you get charged 90 euros), we walked to Mercato Centrale for lunch – a huge market in a building where you have a lot of different choices for eateries – and I got a delicious salad (needed a break from all the carbs 😉 ).

mercato

Khalil and Cheryl knew their way around and showed me the sites – we walked a lot! It brought me back to my Western Hum days. We saw the outside of the Florence Cathedral and the Baptistry Doors.

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baptistrydoors

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I even got to nail holes in a belt that Cheryl purchased.

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We went inside the Basilica of Santa Croce, which is the burial place of a lot of famous Italians (Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and more).

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We then walked upwards through the Piazzale Michangelo and to San Niccolò to see a gorgeous view of all of Florence.

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We also went into the church and waited to see if the monks would chant, but it looked like they were pushing the time till later so we headed out.

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church

And we had to end the day with gelato! I had had my fair share, so I ordered an açai smoothie drink with muesli instead. It was delicious. Khalil got a tasty lavender flavor (in addition to chocolate and lemon) which was sooo incredibly good – definitely the best flavor I’ve tried on the trip so far.

That night was the last night of Sevens. Joely and Mark were leaving the next day, but Joely insisted we play – she has so much energy!  😀

Day 9: Montelpulciano

Peter and Maria were ready to take on the sites! We journeyed thru the Tuscan roads to see Montelpulciano, a town I hadn’t visited in years.

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It seemed pretty big, but super quiet! There was a church on green grass where people were taking a nap or lounging out. It sort of reminded me of a Harry Potter scene.

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Every time you walked up a road and turned left you would see the beautiful landscape. Maria suggested we walk up a tower and first came across this guy who seemed to be working amongst a lot of records.

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We got to the top and saw the whole town and beyond.

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Peter and I also went for quite the run. Let me just say, I am in more biking shape than I am in running shape right now. And these hills are hard. We ran over 5 miles amongst the gorgeous vineyards. Up the gravel, then eventually up pavement. Peter, thankfully, pushed me to go faster than I normally would have. It was a great time! #runningundertheTuscansun

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Joely and Mark went to Florence but before doing so stopped at the Prada factory where Joely got 2 beautiful heels!

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That night, we cooked pizza! Peter made his dough from scratch after going to the market and getting zero-zero flour. Everyone else prepped the sides, and my dad was in charge of the pizza oven. We had about 6 different pizzas that night – it was delicious.

pizza

Day 10: Cooking with Barbara – Babs Chianti Cooking School

Have you ever been to a country, opened your mouth to eat their traditional meal or snack or dessert and you taste the culture which surrounds you? You become engulfed in it. I first had that feeling when I visited Morocco. Sitting on the cushions on the ground around a circular table, my friends and I ate the Moroccan couscous and marinated lamb. The culture had exploded in my mouth and I was truly there experiencing it all.

There’s nothing like a hot butter croissant that brings me back to walking the streets of Paris, or dark chocolate melting on my tongue where I recall strolling thru Brussels with my friends from the London School of Economics, pancakes that takes me to the street food of Hong Kong, or even teriyaki beef jerky that I eat on the trails while hiking that reminds me of our difficult yet beautiful backpacking days we had in Patagonia.

Food is simply an experience in itself. When we travel, we see the famous sites, touch the hand of a stranger who soon becomes a friend, hear the different languages being spoken, and notice the unique smells in each place. But eating is another one of those 5 senses that one shall cherish each second of. It is another eye to the culture and you don’t truly get a sense of life in a foreign destination unless you’ve also tasted the food.

So why not eat while you’re there? The delicious pasta, gelato and lattes taste so incredibly pure here in Italy. Indy was text messaging Robin and me one day and one reply said it all: “You won’t get to eat so many delicious things all in one place for quite some time so indulge.”

Our last day at Le Pratola, we did a cooking class with Barbara. We baked panini (not a sandwich like its known here in the US but it’s like a flatbread), a scrumptious eggplant yogurt dip with veggies, an arugula salad, cooked 2 chickens (yes, the whole thing), asparagus risotto, and crème brulee.

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Barbara knew her way around the kitchen and we had a fabulous time. I realized if I ever want to cook a risotto again, it’s best to cook it with friends as you constantly have to stir the rice for half an hour. Barbara showed us how to take apart the whole chicken, and my dad (having worked on his family farm in Nova Scotia each summer) volunteered – I have to say, he did a pretty good job!

Day 11: Florence

I was in Florence on my own. Peter and Maria went on to Orvieto, and my mom, dad, Khalil and Cheryl were flying home to Boston. I had one extra day in order to make it to my friend’s bachelorette party in Florida Friday night.

Khalil, Cheryl and I had attempted the Medici Chapel when we had come a couple of days before but they close on certain Mondays of the month. I was passing by it while walking and decided to go in. The first part seemed like a museum, with a lot of famous dead people’s bones. I went up a staircase and arrived to the Chapel of the Princes. It was absolutely gorgeous.

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Next was the Sacristy which housed the tombs of Giuliano di Lorenzo and Lorenzo di Piero with sculptures adorning those created by Michelangelo.

All of a sudden I heard a thunderbolt. And then it started pouring. Outside the glass window, the rain was coming down hard. And more thunder. I had pretty much seen everything but there was no way I was going outside with that much rain – and with no umbrella or raincoat on. It looked like everyone else visiting the Medici Chapel had the same idea. I went back to the museum part and more people had purchased the 8 euro ticket to come in just to escape the rain. After waiting about half an hour I had pretty much seen the whole chapel and read all the descriptions twice. The rain finally ended and I went outside.

Off to the Duomo! Here’s my one chance. I’ve visited the Florence Cathedral inside before but I’ve never climbed up it. I couldn’t find the ticket office so after asking some Americans who didn’t know either, they suggested asking the pharmacy. I went inside, asked where to buy tickets to climb the Duomo and the lady behind the counter rolled her eyes and said, “Number 7.” Obviously she gets this question every hour.

The pharmacy was #5, I walked to #7, then purchased a ticket and got in the line which had gotten longer. I figured, it was actually a good time to see it since the line wasn’t too long due to the rain. I stood waiting behind two Japanese girls. And after about 10 minutes the clouds came back out and it started raining again. Thankfully those girls were willing to share with me their umbrella, so the three of us waited to go in. 20 more minutes went by and it was still raining. But we made it inside and started walking up that staircase. The one thing I hated about it was that there was graffiti all over the walls while walking up. How could people do that to such a famous and historic structure? I could see as we were approaching the small windows to outside showed the rain had cleared. We first saw the inside of the top of the dome.

463 steps later and we got to the top. It was absolutely gorgeous and we could see all of Florence. So worth it.

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I got back on the street and walked towards the front of the cathedral. 5:01 pm. It had closed at 5:00 pm. Darn! I wanted to see the inside of it again as it’s been years but I had just missed it by 1 minute. Oh well. Always next time.

What an amazing trip it was. And each time, travel, does in fact change me.

You leave marks behind…and in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you.

Those marks you leave behind impact those you’ve encountered in new places, those you’ve shared experiences with whether it be friends, family or strangers.

Those marks on you form into memories and situations in which you learn from. You’re able to reflect upon each of these experiences which in turn builds your own character, your personality, your perspective, and ultimately who you become.

Eat well. Travel often. Learn always. Gain new experiences. Find yourself.

You are who you are, but more of yourself will be revealed to others and you personally through discovery. Travel is just one form of this discovery. So let’s go journey this world.

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