Under the Tuscan… Rain?
Maybe buying a tent called “Waterfall” wasn’t such a hot idea. Maybe it somehow cursed us. Ridiculous idea maybe, but hard to avoid when Libertario tells you this is the most rain he’s ever seen in May in all of his 60 years.
The trip started well. We made it from DutchBoy’s parents’ house to Italy much the way we’d planned, with an overnight in Colmar, France. Around Lugano, Switzerland, DutchBoy remembered that his aunt and uncle had very much enjoyed their stay at a campground in the area, and we sms’d them for info. We almost went there, and then looked at the clouds and thought, nah, close to the mountains is not where we want to be when there are rain clouds coming, let’s go to the coast – it’ll probably be clearer there.
And it was. As we pulled into our campground in Deiva Marina (between Genoa and Cinque Terre) on Monday evening, it was clear and dry. We told Sprocket that we would go swimming in the morning and looked forward to a nice warm day on the beach, and giving Sprocket the beach toys we’d brought as a surprise. And then, in the night, it started. Rain. Vancouver rain. Steady, steady rain. The kind of rain brought on by clouds hitting mountains and emptying themselves out enough to lift themselves over them. When we woke up, DutchBoy said that it probably just sounds bad because we’re in the tent. I knew better. I’ve too much experience camping on the Wet Coast. This rain was bad, and it was nowhere near stopping.
DutchBoy asked the campground lady what the forecast was – she said it would be better tomorrow. We thought OK, one day of rain, we can take that. So, DutchBoy and Sprocket walked into the village and back, getting utterly soaked, and we hung out and then found a supermarket and had pizza in a (warm, dry) restaurant. It was good. But we talked to some Germans in the restaurant and they told us the forecast for the rest of the week was rain. We decided to pack up in the morning and seek a drier place.
In the morning, it became clear that this was a very good idea, as the water was starting to seep through the outer tent and onto the inner tent. With another day of rain, the tent would truly have resembled its namesake. We repacked the car and headed south. If we got to Pisa or so, we thought, it would be dry, since we’d be out of the coastal mountains. So, we decided to spend the night in a hostel in Pisa and look at the weather to decide where to go next. We hoped the hostel would have somewhere to dry our tent and wash our burgeoning supply of wet and dirty clothes.
Except, when we got to Pisa (which was beautifully dry and sunny – though it was clear that the rain had just left), the hostel we were looking for (based on info in our 8-year-old guidebook), was no longer there. After fruitless attempts to find the tourist info (well, it was found eventually, but by then had closed for the day), we started calling hotels from the GPS, since all the hotels in the guidebook were in the city centre, where we didn’t fancy leaving a fully loaded car overnight. We found one, they gave us a deal on the price, and we headed off, with no idea what kind of place we were heading into.
We got to the Villa Rinascimento and found a gorgeous building in a lovely hillside setting – probably even lovelier if it hadn’t been raining again. We had a room in the “annex” where the rooms were done in a style I’ll call affluent rustic. Perfect for our three-year anniversary, even if our celebratory dinner was pasta surreptitiously heated up outside over the campstove and eaten all together sitting on the floor of our room (it was very late by then, and taking overtired kids to a restaurant is a recipe for disaster). They even let us dry out the tent in the workshop area. Breakfast the next morning was great, complete with a waiter who called me beautiful. And everyone admired the kids. And, they had internet to use to check the weather forecast. That’s where it got bad again. Rain, rain and more rain, for most of the next week, and throughout all of Northern Italy. Sigh. We decided to do something other than camp.
We used the internet to look for agriturismo locations (places to stay on agricultural land) and called a couple of them, without finding a good match. But, as it turns out, our next door neighbours and friends from Utrecht were also coming to Tuscany later in the month for vacation, and since our time overlapped, had emailed us the location they were staying. We looked at the website, decided it looked good, gave them a call, and decided to stay there for a week. It was by Stabbia, a little village in between Lucca and Florence.
When we got to Corte in Poggio, we knew it was a good choice. It was a lovely hilltop location, with flowers and vineyards in all directions. We had a two room apartment and Libertario and his wife had a crib for Sprocket and a bath for the kids and absolutely doted on them. Perfect. While we were waiting for the apartment to be ready, it started to rain again, so we took off in the car to drive around aimlessly and let the kids sleep. We decided we liked the area. We saw signs for Medici villas and vineyards and then a place called Vinci – hmm, we wondered, I wonder if this is where Leonardo came from, and headed there. Indeed it was, complete with musea. The kids were still sleeping so decided to come back a different day, and we headed back to our home for the next week to get it all set up and have dinner. Having an apartment is much better than a hotel with kids since parents still have a place to sit after the kids are in bed and it’s easy to make them meals whenever it’s convenient.
Friday (overcast with shadows), we headed back to Vinci and went to the musea – cool models of Vinci’s technical drawings, but not much else – and the house he was born in – nice location, but just a house with nothing in it. Saturday (sunny!), we headed to Siena, along with lots of other tourists. Very lovely city. Sunday (sunny, with rainy bits), was Mother’s Day, and my present was getting to sleep in as long as possible. We didn’t do much – planned to go out to dinner, but I wasn’t feeling well, so I went back to sleep and DutchBoy got us (very, very yummy) pizza.
Monday (back to overcast with showers), we headed into Florence by train and wandered around. The way it’s written up everywhere I was expecting my socks to be knocked off a la Stendhal, and probably if we could do musea and old churches we might have been more impressed, but travelling with two small kids I didn’t find it awe-inspring, I think mainly because there were sooooo many tourists. Could also be because I’ve been spoiled by so many beautiful places or because of the weather. It was nice and all, but I certainly didn’t get dizzy from the beauty.
Tuesday it was raining steadily, so we decided to go shopping. We’d asked the tourist info in Florence for malls, but they’d given us a list of designer outlets – we went to one just south of Florence hoping to find other stores as well, but no luck, and we’re just not designer types. We did stop in Florence on the way back for dinner at Il Vegetariano (English review), which was extremely yummy.
Wednesday (overcast with showers), it was back to Pisa (which was lovely and sunny again) so I could take a look at the tower. We also went to the Carrefour there (I love going to supermarkets in other countries) and I stocked up on linguini (can only find it in one store in Utrecht, and it’s not especially cheap) and we got some wine to take home. On Thursday (sunny, with cloudy/rainy periods), we headed to Lucca to do a bit of shopping – it was more low key than most of the other local places, though there were still busloads of tourists roaming about. We also visited tourist info to get help finding a place to stay for the weekend – Corte in Poggio was fully booked as of the next day. While there, we saw that there was a wine festival in tiny village of Montecarlo, and as it turned out, the cheapest B&B they told us about was also there, so it seemed perfect. In the morning, we called, booked for the weekend, and then drove off to San Gimignano for the afternoon, which is a very picturesque little village with lots of tours and lots and lots and lots of tourists. We wanted to go to Volterra as well, but as we left San Gimignano, Sprocket fell asleep, so we drove there, took pictures from the outside, and then left, heading off to Montecarlo.
It was pretty late as we pulled up and we hadn’t eaten yet, but as luck would have it, just as we got there, two 60ish Dutch women staying there as well came back and offered to watch the babyphone after the kids went down so we could go and have a nice dinner. They were both mothers, one a grandmother even, and it seemed perfect. After a bit of struggling, the kids were asleep and we headed out for our first dinner out alone since Sprockette was born. It was lovely – good food in a nice restaurant – but we couldn’t completely relax and make dinner as long as Italians do since we were worried that Sprockette would wake up and need feeding. We partly chose the restaurant because we saw one of the big burly waiters taking a plate of food out to feed the cats in the square outside the restaurant, but it was a good choice.
Saturday morning it was raining again, steady, steady rain so we just wandered around Montecarlo after breakfast and then headed back to the B&B to let Sprocket take a good nap, since he was exhausted. He woke up much more cheerful so we headed back to the village to see the fort, which was open and free for the festival, and staffed by people in medieval costumes. There was no let up in the rain, and as we headed back to the B&B after dinner, we saw that the wine festival had apparently been cancelled, as none of the planned festivities were in evidence.
Sunday, our last day in Italy before heading back to sign the papers for the house on Thursday (we left an extra travel day to be on the safe side), we headed off to the zoo in Pistoia (where the pistol was invented) and met our neighbours from Utrecht there, as they’d arrived the previous day. Sprocket and their son really, really enjoyed the animals and playing with each other – and it was nice to see them here and have a lovely relaxed time together. After that, we headed back to the B&B and got our last Italian pizza for dinner. It was good – we had managed to find some pizza that was only OK during the trip, but were lucky this time. We hadn’t been so lucky with the B&B – there was nothing wrong with it, and the location was scenic, but the owner seemed over the whole idea of guests in his home and wasn’t very friendly. The last night we were there he even fell asleep in the room next to ours with the TV blaring.
Monday morning we loaded the car and headed back north, through Austria this time to avoid any problems with Swiss customs and bottles of wine. We found a nice guesthouse in Innsbruck for Monday night and then made it to DutchBoy’s parents by Tuesday evening, giving us a day to rest before signing the house papers on Thursday the 20th of May.
Despite the rain it was a fun trip and I definitely want to go back to Italy. The food (and wine) was wonderful and Italians are very friendly overall and love, love, love children. Walking around with our kids is like accompanying rock stars. I even liked the driving, though most people would say it’s insane. DutchBoy much preferred that I drive. The roads, however, are horrid. But they go through such lovely places that we can overlook that. And, although we stayed in a small geographic area, there’s so much more to see even there, let alone the rest of the country. Many Dutch people ask why we moved here instead of living in Canada as they’d all like to – being able to drive to Italy in two days is one of the reasons.
For the photo album from the trip, click here or on the photo below.