30 April 2011

A Saturnia a Maremma in Toscana

Throughout Italy are terme (thermal baths, hot springs).  One such hot spot is a town called Saturnia, located in the Maremma part of Tuscany. Some of you know Saturnia is a zoological word that refers to a type of butterfly.  Quite possibly a few of you assume it has to do with the planet Saturn. Must I admit which category of people I previously fell into? Well, here is a little lesson that even I needed to learn.
16th century Synagogue in Petigliano
Petigliano aka "Little Jerusalem"

The Romans stole, almost completely, their mythology from the predecessor Greek mythology.  (Mostly it was only the names of the Greek gods the Romans changed; their attributes remained the same.)  It is the Roman god, Saturn, from the Greek god, Kronos, that gives the name to the term, Saturnia. The mito (myth), as recounted on Wikipedia, is that Saturn was tired of the constant human wars and sent a thunderbolt to earth that created a spring of sulphurous water that would pacify mankind.

Saturnia from the road above and the gorgeous landscape of the region
Only a car makes it possible to reach many destinations in the interior -- despite Italy's fantastic train system.
 Gorgeous, no?
arch of antiquity
Five girls rented a car and went on a road trip.  Two of the five of us are extra furry and use four feet instead of only two.
Mabel chases Millie (aka "M&M") at our agriturismo
Cindy Lauper was right, "Girls just wanna have fun"

Our destination was an agriturismo in Saturnia.  We were welcomed by Marta and Cristina (mother and daughter).  Because we arrived early in the season, middle of April, we were the only guests.  We were treated well, and I recommend you to stay at this conveniently located agriturismo (holiday farm), if you plan a trip to the region.  
 From these "pecorini" (sheep)...
...we get this,
wheels of famous pecorino di Pienza cheese.  Yummy!

Each morning we followed the steam along the road to the therapeutic sulphur baths and immersed our tired and worn bodies into the cascading water. Afterwards, we returned to our agriturismo to wash away the stinky water and eat a bountiful breakfast. Cristina is most helpful and full of knowledge and information to make your stay even better.
Bathing beauties
Saturnia and the baths were our destination.  Of course, there are many fancy and costly spas, but we opted for the free and natural spas.  Along the journey and each day, we stopped in a few Etruscan and Medieval towns.  I have wanted to go to many towns -- Montepulciano, Pienza, Saturnia -- for a long time. Other towns -- Sorano, Sovana, Petigliano, Proceno -- I was not aware even existed. We also spent a day in Argentario, an island connected with an isthmus or two or three (say that five times really fast without a lisp).  We planned to take a 10 km panoramic drive and somehow ended up on the strada bianca (literally "white road," but in reality, a nice way of saying "you're lost."  It is an unpaved road, full of holes, jagged rocks and boulders, on one side of the car is falling rock from the mountainside, and on the other side of the car is a cliff with no barricade to the sea very far below.)

Sovana ... or is it Sorano?

Sorano (above 3 fotos)
We survived.  Of course, we returned to the baths at Saturnia to relax and laugh about the apparent wrong turn.
an Etruscan, I believe, stairway in Petigliano

There is always an adventure waiting to happen when traveling and exploring, especially when in the company of good friends.

25 April 2011

Scoppio del Carro / Explosion of the Cart (Easter Sunday)

I set out early Easter morning to enjoy the procession and the Explosion of the Cart to set free the Holy Sepulchre, a Florentine ceremony celebrated since the year 1099, the time of the First Crusade. Quite an experience!  Rather than give a history lesson, you can read the history here and here. The Florentine word for carro (cart) is brindellone.

I arrived to where the cart is housed and watched from the beginning.  Attached are several photos (click on slideshow) from the morning's celebration.
Buona Pasqua, tutti.

23 April 2011

Giro in Bicicletta / Bike Ride

I used to be pretty sportive, but life got busy.  Always more work to be done, other responsibilities that require my attention. I got tired of working to pay the rent and having little energy and less money left over to do the things that really mattered to me.  We do not realize how much we miss a certain something when we have not done that something for a long time.  We wake up one day and wonder what the hell happened to our dreams.  

That is what happened to me.  And that has everything to do with what brought me to Italy, a grand dream of mine.  I live a much less complicated lifestyle now, and lessons are regularly presented to me to learn how to live in a new, different, and more meaningful (to me) way.  I never had dreams to become a professional cyclist, but I had, and still have, other dreams.  It has been way too many years since this girl rode a bicycle, but I did these last couple days ... and it felt great.

My friend and I have talked for a good long while about doing some cycling together. She has a few days off from work for spring break, and so we ventured out on the bicycles.  The first day we did a flat ride through the park to Signa. Yesterday we first cycled out of town to a bike store where a very cute guy helped fit and sell me a helmet.  Buying a helmet was a smart investment since we decided to tackle the hill to Fiesole, which is about 300 meters (almost 1,000 feet) uphill from Florence -- straight uphill to Fiesole and then straight downhill to Florence. Surprisingly, I did well aerobically.  It was my out-of-condition muscles that were screaming at me as we climbed that long hill. Technically, we went to Fiesole, but truth is we decided to end our climb in Maiano and eat a panino (sandwich) at Fattoria di Maiano, about a third of the distance shy of Fiesole proper, because the traffic became heavy and the road got steeper.

Today was to be the third day of our cycling trilogy -- cycle to Greve in Chianti, one of the closer Chianti towns to Florence -- but we decided to postpone since it was raining this morning and the streets were wet and slippery.

I smile contentedly as I follow my heart and do good things for myself.  Perhaps a bit saddle sore, but that pain is temporary and more than offset by a wonderful friendship that continues to blossom into an even deeper friendship.  

20 April 2011

Sleeping and Sightseeing in Florence, Italy

Most of us get only two or three weeks' vacation a year, which makes travel to far distances a challenge of time and planning. And, of course, once we get to where we are going, there is much to see and experience. Especially in Europe because it is my home now.  The natural temptation is to take in as much as possible in as brief a time as possible, but who is a fan of whirlwind travel? Certainly not me.

My first trip to Italy was 30 days long. I began my Italian adventure in Verona and ended in Rome.  For any vacation, 30 days is not exactly a whirlwind trip, but staying only a night or two in a town does not allow you to get too familiar with a particular place. Sure, I saw the highlights, and I experienced several regions of the country, but I have learned through experience that if I do not spend at least one night in a place, I will quickly forget that town because it didn't have an opportunity to penetrate my soul. 

Now, before I venture out, I study a map and tour book and then place them in my purse or day pack in case they become necessary to refer to. Maybe I have a museum, castle, or cathedral destination in mind, but I allow my feet and my heart to lead my way, possibly wandering down this street or alley and not ending up at the originally intended destination until much later, if at all. Should a tour book indicate one day is all that is necessary in a town to see its highlights, I will choose to stay overnight and spend the next day in the town, which allows me to see the attractions and also have time to take it all in by sitting in a cafe, piazza, or park bench, meeting and speaking with the locals and absorbing the ambiance of that location. Creating and taking advantage of the opportunity to get to know the local people, to live and share in the life of the locals is my primary definition of traveler.  Each holiday, each experience adds to my rich reservoir of easily recalled travel memories.

The first three times I traveled to Italy, I stayed in B&Bs or small, family-owned and -run hotels. No chain hotels for this girl! Because I fell in love with and kept returning to Italy, I decided to rent apartments if my plan included a stay in a town longer than a few days.  Having an apartment offers the feeling that I live in a place for that moment in time. It also is a more economical way to travel. Each holiday, each experience, adds to my rich reservoir of easily recalled travel memories.  And never forget that longer stays lessens the frequency of the least desirable part of traveling: continually packing and unpacking and schlepping around a suitcase. 

A terrace
The holiday season is over.  Winter is complete. Spring is almost halfway over.  Summer will be here sooner almost than the blink of an eye.  Now is the time people plan for their vacations abroad for the prime summer travel season.  How about you?  Do you consider a visit to Florence, Italy? You could rely on guidebooks and the Internet.  They are excellent resources, but they all say the same thing. In Firenze (Florence), you must see the Duomo, the David, Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi, eat Bistecca Fiorentina and gelato.  But if you prefer to see and experience the real Firenze, the locals' Firenze, then you must add some lesser known places.  Or so I believe.  See the artists at work in their studios, have an aperitivo on a rooftop terrace overlooking the city, see some equally important artwork yet less well-known, experience a calcio (soccer) game, visit places off the beaten path. I am no travel expert, but my knowledge and experience of Firenze is of the type that can help you plan your itinerary, logistics, or practicalities. My travel experience and knowledge, especially of my adopted hometown, Firenze, is something I love to share.

For example, does the notion of staying in an apartment instead of a hotel appeal to you?  I can refer you to a friend of mine, from whom I have rented seven different apartments in Florence. He has many more from which to choose in Centro Storico (historical center).

A kitchen
Also available to rent is my beautiful apartment, steps from the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) in Oltrarno (other side of the Arno River) and still in the heart of town.  Some readers might think it odd that I rent space to travelers, but I love the opportunity to meet new people and help guide them with their itineraries. Contact me via email (link below) to discuss the particulars of sharing my apartment at a favorable rate.

Living area and stairs to the loft of my apartment

No matter your final travel plans, please be sure to contact me if your travel will bring you to Florence. It is always nice to have a new friend in the city.

02 April 2011

I Came, I Saw, I Conquered

Currently in Los Angeles with many important things to do, today I accomplished an important task of another type:  outlet mall shopping.  Many of my friends know I have been fiending for the outlet mall, one of a few places I miss in Italy.  I am not the average petite Italian size, which makes clothes shopping in Italy a bit of a challenge for me.  I was in need of some new clothes.

Jennifer, my oldest girlfriend in the world -- we have been friends since we both were 5, and we have been through a lot together -- and I went to the outlet mall together.  We had a blast shopping, reminiscing, sharing stories of what we have been through and what we go through separately and together, helping each other make decisions with blatant honesty as to which clothing fits well and which makes our butts look too big.  It is such a joy to spend an entire day with someone so close and who knows the other person so well.  Not only was it fun for the two of us, we also definitely brightened the day for many salesclerks, who became a large part of our fun and who had fun along with us two crazy girls.

Look how cute we are in the dressing room in matching sailor outfits.  Yes, we each bought our Bobbsey Twin outfits ... only to be worn in two different countries.

With our playful personalities and charm, we were fortunate to have salesclerks who were delighted to play along with us, with all our bantering and teasing. The salesclerks parked themselves in the Esprit store fitting room with us encouraging and enticing more of our goofy fun.

Following his brief war with Pharnaces II of Pontus in 47 BC, Julius Caesar claimed, "Veni, Vidi, Vici." Today, April 1, I came, I saw, I conquered.  Caesar's war, whatever.  My conquering was a blast!

--Josslyn, Camarillo Outlet Mall, California, USA

01 April 2011

April Fool's Day

April Fool's is a day celebrated around the world with practical jokes played on one another.  In Italy, the day is known as Il Pesce d'aprile (the April's Fish). I wish you all a fun and delightful day. 

Since I have yet to experience the day in Italy and am currently in the States, I am counting on you, my friends, to report to me what the day is like.  What jokes and pranks will be played on you, and which ones will you play on others?

-- Josslyn, Los Angeles, California, USA