One would not think that a Tower such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa would be quite so difficult to find. Sharon and my's plan for the day started as this: 1.Leave Colleen's go to Pisa to see the Tower 2. Go to Lucca for her meeting 3. Go to train station in Lucca, Rachel goes to Rome. We made it as far as Pisa. We followed all the right signs, we followed her Mike and Greg (because her boys have personalized her Tom Tom with their own voices and hilarious sayings that make it hard to be angry when you're lost), we even asked locals how to get to the tower and somehow we could not find the silly thing. We spent about 30 minutes driving around Pisa until we finally ran into the wall the surround the piazza. By this time we were going to be late for Sharon's appointment so she let me out at the road crossing and waited for me in the car. No problem, this would a simple in, take the picture, and then get back out. So you had better believe I was sprinting like a girl on a mission (I was also dressed in nice close and cute boots so I got quite a few funny looks). As I hit the entrance I slowed to a fast walk so I could snap some photos while I was in route. I got to a good spot, saw a family taking a good angled photo and asked if they would take mine. The nice English man snapped the photo of me by the tower, it was perfect, and I was outta there with within ten minutes. We were still late for the meeting, but luckily the lovely English realtor couple were totally fine with it. We spent about an hour at Sharon's meeting and it was actually pretty interesting to hear about all the laws and restrictions someone living in Italy as well as a historical area have to deal with. After the meeting Sharon asked me if I wanted to join her for her Christmas shopping trip in Florence...uh, YEA! So instead of me leaving for Rome from Lucca I would now leave from Florence. We got to Florence and headed straight for the leather shopping district. Man oh MAN did it smell good there. There was booth after booth of fine (and some not so fine) Italian leather. We're talking handbags, gloves, belts, boots, and of course jackets. We accomplished Sharon's shopping list for that area and I was happy as a bug in a rug with my pretty new blue leather gloves that match my blue scarf. I got my gloves for 25€...not to shabby for real leather with cashmere inside. As we were headed towards the piazza to see the famous Duomo Sharon said to me, "You know, it's too bad that you can't stay later. I'm going to this big outlet outside of the city. And there's a really good bar close by that I went to 5 years ago and it would be fun to see if they are still there. We could go out tonight and maybe stay in Florence or you could just come with me back to my house in the mountains." A few text messages to my friend in Rome later I was sitting in Slowly enjoying the BEST Spritz and amazing happy hour bites. We wondered around Florence a while longer, basically window shopping and then headed to the big outlet outside of the city. Afterwards it was back towards Lucca to her beautiful Villa in the Tuscany mountains (45 min drive from the flat road and town of Bagni di Lucca) in a tiny little village of Montefegatesi.
The next morning I woke up early and went for a run down the path next to Sharon's little village. I wasn't really sure what I was getting myself into, running in the cold in the mountains, but the view...the view was so worth it. The night before it had snowed in the mountains nearby and as I rounded that first big corner I saw the snow capped beauties. I should've known better but I continued to follow the road DOWN the beautiful hill running through Autumn trees by the time I got myself back to flat land. The run back up was a bit rough with the air thinning as I was climbing. When I got back to the Villa the plan was set to see the town and later in the afternoon Sharon would take me to Lucca to catch a train to Rome. Sharon and I walked down to Montefegatesi and had a coffee and a very smokey local coffee bar. Everyone had just cranked on their wood stoves for the season and this particular bar had some ventilation issues that day. No worries, everyone was there enjoying their tiny coffees and brioche just the same. We walked across the street to the small grocery store for the town. I was amazed by the variety, they even had Special K cereal. After the grocery store visit and the necessary morning banana we went to visit a friend of Sharon's. As we walked up to Dominico's house I could feel a warm heat and hear gorgeous Italian opera singers setting the mood of his happy home. We had a great visit, I enjoyed every minute of the music, the talking, and the warm tiny coffee, by the even warming fire place. We left Dominico's and headed up to see the town's statue of Dante. The view from up there was amazing. Afterwards we headed back to Sharon's and I was able to serve as a translator for the men who came to fix her heater. While they worked Sharon wrapped Christmas presents and I caught up on journaling in front of the space heater with a glass of red wine that was so cold just from sitting out in the kitchen I actually set it in front of the heater to make it close to room temperature. It was a delicious red from Sardinia that Sharon had bought on her last diving trip in Sicily. Filieri Cannonau Di Sardegna had a light mulberry color but packed a lot of taste. Tabacco and chocolate with swirls of sharp fruits on the nose and a predictable yet strong smoke/tabacco and oak taste with a loooooooong linger of coffee. I felt it had a lot of the same qualities of a tempernillo (which is interesting because now that I've researched it, the Cannonau varietal's origin is a mystery but one of the theories states that it was brought over by Spainards...). After the workers finished with the heater Sharon and I headed back into town and talked some more with Dominico. Dominico said to me while we were talking, "You know, it's too bad you can't just stay one more night." A few text messages later dinner plans were made and Sharon and I headed off to another outlet for more shopping before returning home to a bit warmer temperature and a hot shower that was, after running and spending all day walking around, much needed. For dinner Sharon, who is also and Italian cooking teacher, made a delicous pasta with sauce that Dominico had made with ingredients all grown in his garden. Sharon also made zucchini with red onions and garlic that weren't quite caramelized and weren't just sweated...they were perfection. Of course Sharon made a simple meat dish as well. We enjoyed dinner and stories. We talked about operas, the good, the bad, and the down right boring. We said goodnight to Dominico and got excited to decorate the Christmas tree. Sounds strange, I know, but Sharon's family will be spending Christmas in the Villa and she wouldn't be back to decorate before they would all arrive so now was the time to do it. I was stoked. We had Andrea Bocelli blasting, red wine, and I had my eye on the Santa hat I saw in her decoration luggage earlier that day. Sharon went to get the tree and I browsed her collection of books based in Tuscany. Sharon appeared in the doorway 10 minutes later with a very confused look..."Someone has stolen my tree." WHAT?! Who steals a Christmas tree?? Indeed someone had taken the tree from her house while she was in her normal residence in Singapore. No tree decorating, but we had a great night enjoying The Princess Bride.
The next morning Sharon and I planned to leave early so that I could go with her to this super secret Prada outlet before she took me to Florence to catch a train to Rome. We stopped on the way out of town on the bridge in Bagni di Lucca to take a picture. I asked Sharon if we had time for me to take a picture with me on the bridge if I ran up and back. She said yes, so I sprinted towards the bridge and about halfway up before I realized just how steep the bridge was. It's deceiving. The bridge is unique because the middle arch is wider and taller than the outer two arches. Legend has it that the bridge is this way because the Devil flew through and pushed it up with his wings. There was more to this legend, but I'm drawing a blank on it right now. Something about the first person to cross the bridge had to give their soul to the Devil so the townspeople got smart and sent a pig. Anywho, We find the outlet just fine, and it didn't even look like anything other than a factory. She was serious when she said it was super secret. I went up to the gate and pressed the intercom button to be asked to be allowed to come in. The nice lady on the other side of the speaker told me, "No." They didn't open until 2:30pm and it was only 10:00am. So we looked around for anything else in the area and then headed to Florence to send me off to Rome. Unfortunately the traffic into Florence was absolutely horrible. We were making okay time until we hit the outskirts of town and basically met a dead stop. I was going to miss my train. It's okay, I hadn't bought the ticket. When we made it to the station I ran in to see if I could still get the train, but it was a no go. I went to the ticket machine to find the next train. It left in 30 minutes from another station in Florence. The race was on. We didn't even park the car when we arrived to the other station. Sharon helped me get my pack on and I sprinted with up the stairs through the hall to find my Binario number, dropping my new gloves along the way. Luckily I noticed and recovered them. I breathlessly hopped on the train 1 minute before it took off. Ho fatto (I did it). Now I could relax in my 2nd class seat that seemed more like 1st class to me and pray that I had hopped onto the correct train. I asked my neighbor...just in case.
I was right, safe and sound, and just a few hours from Rome.