Friday, December 12, 2014

A Photo Tour through Tuscany

Not a bad view for a rest stop
The peaceful Tuscan landscape

An afternoon run to the Roman baths of Bagno Vignoni
Life is beautiful at Lago Trasimeno (Umbria)
Like my spread?

How to picnic on a rainy day? Move lunch inside the cellar!

It's the laid back attitude that appeals to me most
The view from my room in the castle tower
The Basilica di Assisi
Negronies overlooking the campo of Siena
The famous bisteca fiorentina comes with a lovely server to cut it for you
The beautiful Virginia Creeper
I'll hang here for a while

La Fortezza di Montalcino illuminated at night

Lorenza and her fresh pici pasta

Looking back at Il Rigo Agroturismo (outside of San Quirico)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Living a Tuscan Dream

The two months I've been in Tuscany have flown by. I'm finding it hard to beleive that one: I did not like it here in the beginning, and two: it is coming to an end. 

I've witnessed the end of summer and beginning of fall here. The summer heat suddenly dissipated and the air is crisp and pleasant. The green leaves on the oak trees and grape vines have started to change to shades of yellow, orange and red. It has transformed the landscape into a new kind of beauty. Grapes have been harvested and the aroma of fermenting grape juice has filled the air. The daytime crowds in the hilltop towns have dispersed and the cobblestone streets are now occupied with more locals than visitors. Shop owners stand outside, breathing in the fresh air and greeting passers-by. Overall there is an aura of relaxation. Locals and visitors alike seem to linger a little longer to finish their lunches, chat with a friend, sit on a park bench, or take in a view. 

I too, have been affected by this unhurried atmosphere. (Or maybe it's just the fermenting grape must that we're all breathing in!) I am so much more relaxed with guests. I am thinking less and taking in the moment more. I find myself strolling instead of speed walking, taking more photos of my surroundings and taking an extra minute to talk to shop owners who now recognize me.  I frequently stop in my tracks to admire the landscape. I've gazed at so many sunsets and it always mesmerizes me. 

It's white truffle season here - every restaurant is serving up the freshly shaved morsels on top of homemade pasta. We met with a truffle hunter, Paolo, yesterday, who talked to us all about his job that he loves and introduced us to his trusty canine "co-workers". Before dinner we accompanied our guests into the restaurant kitchen as our chef demonstrated how to make the antipasti that we would be eating: a pumpkin soufflĂ© with pecorino cream sauce and shaved truffle on top. We were in heaven when we sat down and enjoyed every bite with the Vino Nobile Riserva made by the owner's son. 

Our guests keep commenting how great this trip is and that they don't want it to end. I can honestly say that I feel the same. My co-leader and I have been enjoying this just as much as the guests. They refer to us as "the parents" because we "take such good care of them", but truthfully, this week hasn't felt like work. It feels more like showing off our hometown to friends, taking them to all the best places and watching their faces light up with every new experience. 

As the season as a tour guide comes to an end, I am grateful to leave on a high note. It has been extremely difficult at times, but also very enjoyable and surprisingly rewardingMost of my colleagues request to work someplace else after working in Tuscany. They want to see new places and live in a leader house that is less chaotic. They complain that Tuscany is too boring and clichĂ© after a while. I disagree. I am finding so many moments of gratitude for this time that I've had to discover and become familiar with this part of the world. I too, would love to see new places and live in a quieter leader house, but Tuscany has grown on me, and I am in love. I would be thrilled to come back to this dreamy place.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A New Perspective

Things have taken a major turn for the better since that night when I cried in front of my waitress. I finally had a couple of days off to sleep in, relax, eat, spend time with co-leaders and recharge. It´s powerful what a little bit of rest can do for your well-being. The time off rejuvenated me and I began to get excited for my next trip. I would be supporting a 6 person Premier Inn walking trip; In other words, paid vacation for Tracy! (Support driving a walking trip is much easier than supporting a biking trip, and with only 6 people to support, it was sure to be a breeze).

The trip turned out to be the break that I was hoping for. It was beautiful, relaxing and above all, fun! My co-leaders Steve and Zala taught me how to be silly and have fun with guests. We were also fortunate to have really wonderful guests who joined in the silliness and together we created so many memorable moments: An impromptu apperitivo bar in the hotel parking lot with Negronies and dancing, karaoke on the bus to Siena, and preparing for the rain that never came with shower caps, to name just a few. We were all laughing so hard that our stomachs hurt.  

The Negroni is made with Campari, Gin, Sweet Vermouth and orange slices

The trip was so smooth and enjoyable that it felt like it was our own vacation with new friends. We could have easily kept going after 6 days of fun. In fact, we did keep going. After we said our goodbyes to guests, two of them invited us to join them the next day for lunch and wine tasting in Montalcino, land of the famous Brunello wines. (They even offered to let us crash their B&B!) It was a nice offer, but we were all thinking we should let them have their own time and that we should get caught up on paperwork, errands and life. As we drove away, winding our way up and down the peaceful Tuscan hills, a silence and nostalgia set in. Our week of fun had come to an end. As we descended into the not-so-picturesque San Giovanni, through the busy streets and to the warehouse and then to the crowded leader house, reality set in. I yearned to go back to the land of grapes and olives and cypress tress. 

We unpacked the van and as we circled in for a group hug we all seemed to have the same thought: Let's do it! Our time is short out here, so we may as well make the most of it. Another co-leader, Sky, agreed to join us and the next morning we were on the road with our bags, bikes and tunes. Italy road trip, wooh! We met up with our guests for lunch and a wine tasting and then took off on our own adventure, down through Tuscany and into southern Umbria. Along the way we visited little hilltop towns like Pienza, Cortona and Assisi. We rode our bikes along quiet roads past grape vines, had lunch at Lago Trasimeno, visited an underground wine cellar in Montepulciano, danced and sang along to good tunes in the car, ate well, drank well and had the time of our lives.  We extended the last day of our trip by purchasing fancy wine glasses in Cortona and stopping in a little town on the way back to the leader house to sit in the park and watch the sun set with a bottle of wine and pecorino cheese. 

I have a new appreciation for this opportunity to live and work in beautiful Italy. There's a reason why I dreamed about coming here.

I hope my dear family and friends have not been too worried about me after reading my last post.  Although happiness is what most of us strive for, I think that being sad when appropriate is necessary too. It's not only normal, but it's also healthy because it's real. The low times in our lives help us to recognize and appreciate the good times. 

Thank you for reading, showing understanding and for sending me positive energy and blessings. My love goes out to all of you, and I am grateful for the reminder that love and friendship is essential for our happiness and well-being.