A Rendezvous in Tuscany

Trip Start Mar 31, 2011
Trip End Jul 05, 2011

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Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Tuesday, May 31, 2011

We got into Pistoia with no problems and met up with my friend Chris. A little background information-- Chris and I met at our medical school interview at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. We stayed in touch via email and decided to rendezvous in Italy because the timing was perfect. Chris's parents were renting a villa for a few weeks starting in mid May and ending on June 4th. Yet another excellent friend from med school interviews! I hope that everyone in medical school is as excellent as Chris and Adrienne...
Trying to meet up was kind of an adventure-- Chris didn't have a phone and we had to wait to get our train reservations from Milan to Florence until we were in Italy, so we didn't know what time the train was supposed to arrive. We arranged for him to Skype-call me at 1:30 so we could tell him our schedule. When we arrived in Pistoia, he was waiting for us at the station! His dad drove us up to the villa, which was about 15 minutes into the hills from the town of Pistoia. The view from the villa was absolutely unbelievable. We met Chris's mom (Nicki) and her friend Karen and all got to know one another over a fantastic dinner cooked by Nicki. Naturally, I took pictures of all of the food because it was so beautiful. We brought them a ton of chocolate from Switzerland, so we had some of that for dessert then went into Pistoia to get some gelato for the second dessert. Delicious!
We woke up sort of early on Wednesday (6-1) to go to Florence for the day since Jenna and I did such a bad job of it the first time. Chris's dad drove us to the train station and it was quite an adventure as well--  most of the streets in Italy are super narrow and everyone drives so fast! They seem to be very good/courteous drivers, just a little out of control. We got a little turned around trying to get there but eventually made it. Pistoia is about 45 minutes from Florence on the local train line. We were on the same train as all the kids going to school, so the people-watching was pretty excellent. 
Upon arrival in Florence, we went to the Galleria del Academia straight away to try and get in to see the Statue of David. Naturally, there was a gigantic line that was not moving at all, so we went to a little booth to get tickets with time reservations for later in the afternoon to skip the queue. It was starting to rain, so we ducked inside a little cafe for some pizza and wine. It poured for a while, but the rain stopped almost exactly when we finished eating! Good timing.
After lunch, we went inside the Duomo because it had been closed when Jenna and I were last in Florence. The inside was really beautiful-- the walls were plain but there was a very elaborate ceiling fresco that was impossibly high. It is so incredible that someone had to lay on scaffolding 100 feet in the air with their face 6 inches from the ceiling to paint such intricate things!
We walked around the Duomo for a while and poked down the side streets to do a little bit of window/street stall shopping. The leather in Italy is really nice but it is sort of expensive and far too big to carry. Someday I will return with plenty of money and room in my rolling suitcase, and I will buy all the leather I could ever need. We decided to get gelato and started walking around the Duomo again to find the famous stall on one of the corners, and we ran into the cast of Jersey Shore at a different gelato shop! Well, not the whole cast, only the girls. Totally amazing-- we chased them around and took pictures then abandoned the mission because we wanted gelato of our own and didn't want to deal with the camera crews. It's super ironic that we saw Jersey Shore people because I had made some super sarcastic jokes earlier in the day about how Jersey Shore was filming in Italy sometime this summer, and how we should have dedicated our vacation to tracking them down. Obviously I was kidding, but less than an hour later we stumbled across them! And we didn't even know that they were still in Italy, let alone in Florence! I bet the Italians are not thrilled about Jersey Shore making its mark on the streets of Italy. Not exactly a good image for Italian Americans...
Next we went to Plazza della Signora to see the fake sculptures and the big town hall. Then we went down to the water to check out the bridge. I had already taken a million pictures of these attractions and posted them in previous blogs, so I didn't take very many this time. By this point, it was time to head back to the museum to meet our reservation. 
With the reservation in hand, we were able to walk right in the front door of the museum and skip all the lines. Unfortunately, there were no pictures allowed inside the museum... something about copyrights on the art, which we translated to mean that they wanted us to BUY pictures of David rather than take our own. Naturally, we snuck some illegal pictures here and there, but only for the really important/interesting pieces. I'll post them at the bottom of the blog. There was an entire wing devoted to Bertolli silhouettes and another hall full of half-finished Michelangelo sculptures. Michelangelo carved his statues straight out of a block of marble rather than carving the general shape then adding details, so the sculptures appear to be crawling out of the marble. It was super cool, but not as cool as David himself. David is 17 feet tall and completely perfect. Adrienne and I tried really hard to find a magnet of him for our fridge with clothes that you can change, but we failed. Guess we will have to get it on the internet. 
We meandered back to the train station and returned to Pistoia. On the train ride back, Adrienne and I managed to convince Chris to change his flight and fly home from Madrid a week later, so now he will be travelling through the south of France with us! Fun! On the way back to the villa, we stopped by the grocery to get food for dinner then walked back to villa through town. The views are so beautiful in Pistoia because it is up in the hills. We made some little tapas for dinner and spent the evening changing Chris's flight and booking all of our trains/hostels for the next 10 days. So now we are set to arrive in Madrid on the night of June 8th, which will be perfect for saying goodbye to Chris on the 9th and picking Jeremy up on the 10th! Hurray!
We were planning on going to Pisa on Thursday morning (6-2), but apparently it was a national holiday in Italy, similar to our Independence Day. So we decided to stick around the villa and hang out with Chris's parents/Karen and participate in some of the town's festivities. We went into central Pistoia for a little parade where they honored the careers of people who had recently retired in the village and gave thanks to the people who work in civil service. Adrienne and I took lots of sneaky pictures of interesting looking people. Then we had a few espressos and some pine nut gelato, which was really delicious! Back at the villa, Nikki made a gigantic lunch that we feasted on for hours. All of the ingredients that you buy at the markets are so fresh and delicious, and Nikki is a really good cook, so we ate unbelievably well the entire time we were in Tuscany. Because we were so full after lunch, we spent the rest of the day napping by the pool and enjoying the views from the villa. 
When we woke up, we decided to walk from the villa to a little park nearby to see some of the nature in the area. The park was super crowded with people feeding the ducks and making out under trees. The Italians are pretty extreme with their public displays of affection. Definitely would inspire gawking and pointing in the US. Adrienne and I also took a number of secret pictures of people before walking back up to the villa to clean up for dinner. 
Dinner was unbelievable. Nikki cooked a huge pasta feast for the villa's landlord and his wife, and they contributed a ton of meat cooked on a traditional barbecue. We had pasta, asparagus, melon with prosciutto, salad, turkey, ribs, and three different kinds of dessert. Oh, and plenty of wine and champagne. It was easily one of the best meals we've had so far on this trip. Nikki's cooking was excellent as usual, and Rafealo did a really good job cooking the meat. Plus, all the wine and olive oil consumed during the meal was homemade by Rafealo in the land around the villa. He was pretty hilarious and spoke limited English with an English accent. We took a ton of pictures at dinner too...
We were pretty tired after the food was finally finished, so we showered and settled into our room to work on plans for the next day. We had plans to go to Cinque Terra on the Italian Riviera and hike around a few of the villages, and my cousin Parker just happened to be in the same region! We had a very brief phone conversation and planned to meet in the morning in Monterosso, the furthest of the five villages. Fun! Ciao for now. Will post tomorrow about Cinque Terra. 
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Mom on

What a wonderful blog...thank you. The difference between running from village to town to museum to train, verses relaxing with friends in a Tuscan villa is refreshing and most rewarding. I love all the beautiful food photos along with your friends, the scenery and of course, the art. Please, remember to get some of these lovely close-ups of yourself, Valary, for you will treasure them your lifetime as will I.

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