Italia: I Went, I Saw, and I’ll Be Back Again Soon
By Allie Richards
Not quite how that saying goes, but it works as a title.
I have long wanted to revisit Italy since I studied there at the Umbra Institute in Perugia four years ago (I can’t believe it’s already been that long…). I decided that this year I finally would. I set aside two and a half weeks to mill about Perugia and the surrounding towns, and also to explore the Val D’Orcia, a part of Tuscany I have known about for years but never was able to visit in the past. I booked my tickets early on in 2017, and with everything else I’ve been busy with, I nearly forgot I was going!
But, November 10 arrived and I was up for another marathon-of-a-day in planes, trains and buses. The best part about international flights is they come with a pillow, blanket, multiple meals – and free alcohol! I admit, I was particularly nervous about this trip since I hadn’t travelled alone in quite some time, but as soon as I saw that we were approaching Rome, I couldn’t keep the smile from my face, and the nerves faded.
The first thing I did when I arrived after the bus into town was to order a cappuccino & cornetto – the breakfast of champions. Well, maybe not, but, it was perfect. Instead of English, everyone around me was speaking Italian; I had missed hearing it. (I really should have brushed up on my language skills before coming). Already, even in the train station, people sounded different, looked different, the smells were different. There’s something exciting about being somewhere completely different from what you’re used to.
I only had one day in Rome before making the trip to Perugia. I walked all over the city. I took a few pictures, and went to see an Oasis cover band perform. I made a great decision, because somehow, I met my good friend Cory’s college roommate completely by chance. What are the odds of that happening? We could have spoken all night without knowing about the mutual connection. Crazy!
I packed up my too-big-for-Perugia suitcase, made my way to the bus station and was on my way. I stayed at a hotel just outside the city center for a whole week – something I never get to do. Of course, it was Sunday, and rainy – not a soul was out in the center. It was really surreal being back, but even more so seeing it in the off-season.
I spent the whole week walking around familiar places, eating at old and new restaurants, and spending time with friends from way back when. With the passage of time, things were different, but also the same. I’m glad I was able to come back.
I also met someone who I’d like to think I’ll keep in touch with for a long time. He showed me his hometown, took me to the waterfalls and the lake near his home, cooked me meals (he is a chef! Can’t get better than that) and even introduced me to his friends and family. It was probably one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me and I’m so grateful for such an authentic experience.
Though I loved being where I was, it was time for the next part of my trip. My friend from home, Heather, was coming to join for this part! She had never been to Italy so it was exciting to be able to show her around and explain how things worked, or what things were. I met her in Florence, where we walked around the city, ate lots of pasta, drank lots of wine, and went shopping (how could you not?).
We had rented a small apartment in an agriturismo (a ‘hotel’ if you will, but on a working farm) between the tiny cities of Pienza and San Quirico D’Orcia. It’s the place you think of when you think “Tuscany.” We rented a car outside of Florence and drove about an hour and 40 minutes south in the night. When the sun came up – we both spent the morning just walking around the property, looking around. Every single property here is a farm and they are all located some distance away from one another atop a hill lined with cypress trees. Amazing. Though it was late in the year and the soil was being tilled, it didn’t matter.The driveway to our agriturismo
There were also 5 cats on the property, which Heather and I both took the liberty to pet and play with them. We’re cat ladies.
I would feel super guilty if I didn’t be a ‘mofo photographer’ for at least one day while I was here. I woke up at sunrise on two mornings to scout out locations and photo spots for future tours! The best part about where we were staying is that every spot is within 30 minutes of each other.I was treated to this amazing sunrise; I made a timelapse too, though I wish I had started earlier.
I will for sure be returning in the Spring at some point to photograph the wheat fields and flower blooms.
The rest of the time was spent exploring and relaxing. Heather and I spent a day at the Spa in Bagno Vignoni, where we got a red wine hydro-massage bath and took dips in the thermal water. And in the same day, went to Bagno San Filippo and Fossa Bianco for some admission-free hot spring relaxing, locals-style. We visited Montepulciano, which is most famous for their ‘Vino Nobile,’ or ‘Wine of Nobles,’ which carry a special denomination. We did some wine sampling, and our Christmas shopping at the Christmas market. We had arms full of meats and cheeses. And on our last day, we took a cooking class, and learned how to make Pici (the traditional Tuscan pasta) from scratch, a tomato sauce and a pear & ricotta pie. Mmmm.
Needless to say, I had a wonderful time and I can’t wait to go back.