Still sleepy from Thanksgiving turkey the day previous we met and boarded our flight to Bella Italia. Despite departing on a night flight, group anticipation and excitement was high. A number of our group were first time Craig travellers, some had never been off continent and others, seasoned in the ways of Craig, were anticipating great things.
In so many ways Italy is special. For most of us, pasta, pizza, prosciutto and bruschetta are familiar. We have seen great Renaissance art and architecture in books, enjoyed Opera and, of course, wine. Our language is significantly based on Latin too. Italy has a history that spans millennia, a code of laws from Rome that has influenced western legal systems and a flair for design that none can ignore.
Unusual for this tour, we were staying in only 3 hotels for the entire journey. Packing, unpacking and repacking were not part of our daily activity. Day trips and walking excursions were the rule. Good shoes, light layers and small back packs were our daily wear. Our group was interesting and lively with ages from mid-40’s to late 80’s. People mixed well and added to the experience of Italy by looking out for one another. For some of us the challenge was finding even better Gelato each day!
None of us anticipated Raimund, our national guide. A German who has lived and farmed in Italy for 30 years, Raimund’s knowledge of Umbria and Tuscany is exceptional. He has made this part of the world his home and his own. Our trip together was as if Raimund was showing us his personal space – with pride and affection. Together we went to places we felt privileged to go. Met friends of his and went behind the scenes to enjoy Tuscany as if we lived there ourselves. No ordinary tour guide, Raimund brought us an experience we had not imagined.
You can’t talk about Tuscany and not mention the countryside. We were told it was beautiful. We were told hill towns have spectacular profiles with towers and steeples. We were told it was majestic. We were ready. At least we thought we were. On our drive to Vinci and on to the Verrazzano Winery we were enthralled by the country laneways, the texture of the landscape with vineyards, olive groves and centuries old farm houses. We fell in love. At the winery, Raimund had his own key to the cellar! We had a personal tour and fine al fresco farm lunch afterwards tasting a flight of exceptional wine. We glowed for the rest of the day.
We went from the country side to the towns with ancient walls, magnificent churches, grand piazzas and fascinating histories. Some of our local guides brought history to life highlighting the medieval competition and struggles between small principalities and cities: how each centre has its individual culture and how each struggled for supremacy with one another for hundreds of years. Italy is a relatively new country only being formed as a nation in the mid 1800’s. Its history is still alive and competition still reigns as part of daily life as symbolized by its political system today.
Our tour concluded with 3 days in Rome amid the ruins of magnificence and glory that was the Roman Empire. A fantastic contrast to the hill towns, the Seven Hills of Rome are literally littered with the remains of that once great Empire. As well as scrambling though the Coliseum and Forum, we spent half a day at St Peter’s, walked the Spanish Steps and enjoyed shopping excursions. The noise, the people, the busyness of the Eternal City put a marvelous exclamation point on a trip that was over all too soon. Ciao Bella!
(below photos compliments of Lorraine Guerreiro)