Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Surviving the Italian Train System

Train travel is a love hate relationship. I have been able to travel around Europe, jumping on a train in one country and in just a few hours getting off in another. But with train travel comes train trouble. Here is a guide to survive the notorious Italian train system.

First, just to give some background, there are three types of trains in Italy. There is the Eurostar, the nicest but also the most expensive. Every seat is plush and comfortable, some even with a little leg room. They make fewer stops, have a dinner car (well most of the time), and travel to the larger tourist and commercial destinations. Next there are regional trains. As the name suggests they travel regionally, stopping at every po-dunk little city and run down train station between Roma and Timbuktu. However they are fairly inexpensive – maybe a euro or two, but you definitely get what you pay for. In general they smell like a backed-up toilet, the seats are spotted with dirt and you can see the make-up and dead skin stuck to the head rest. To add a dash of excitement don’t be surprised if you are bumped and jostled or shoved and sat on or who knows the train may just screech to a halt or crawl painfully slow to your final destination. Finally there are InnerCity trains (IC), the love child of a Eurostar and a regional train. It has fewer stops than a regional, is not as expensive as a Eurostar, and as long as the train’s toilet hasn’t exploded then it might not smell too bad.

As for seating arrangements there is a wide variety. You can sit in a single seat. These sound great because you are near the door and don’t have to sit next to a stranger, but don’t get too excited. Next to the door, where there will ultimately be a cold breeze, is also the toilet and remember what I said about the smell and in general someone will also be lazy and not want to drag their bags to the middle of the train cabin instead opting to stack them in the large empty space next to the single seat near the door.

Then there is the four seat arrangement where two sets of seats face each other with a small table in the middle. This is ideal if you are traveling with a group. You are able to sit and chat with each other, maybe even play some cards. But that table, which is great for books and food, is also a royal pain in moving around and facing each other – just imagine where your feet have to go – right into the other person’s leg room, so I hope all your friends are very short. As for the regular two seaters, they really aren’t that bad when it comes down to it, unless you are claustrophobic and then maybe you should just not be on a train. Lastly with seats, in my opinion, always…always get the window seat if you have the option. With the window your head can bypass the weird discolored head rest that makes it impossible to sleep and instead lean against the window. Just don’t think about that oily streak across the window from the previous train sleeper or the drool stain on the arm rest – it is totally sanitary. And of course this situation is ideal because it discourages the frequent stops to that horrible bathroom because you don’t want to have to disturbed the spiky haired, pierced Emo kid dressed entirely in purple who is perilously sleeping upright in the seat next to you.

Oh the bathrooms…what a great place on a train. As a rule of thumb with train travel, if you haven’t guessed already, pay the 30 euro cents at the train station before you get on. It might only be a hole in the ground at the train station, but at least you don’t have to touch the toilet there and the toilet sits still. But if you don’t listen to my strongly, strongly encouraged advice, here is a little bit about what to expect.

Dirty…smelly…umm did I say smelly. I do believe I have seen it all in train bathrooms because sadly I am just that cheap. There will be toilet paper on the floor and most likely graffiti on the wall. Also for the ladies, if a man just came out of the bathroom you might turn and find another restroom, especially if you just traveled around a corner. One thing to the good side though for the train bathrooms there is usually water for your hands, but don’t count on soap or a towel so make sure you have your handy hand sanitizer. As for toilet paper that is usually a big, fat, NO because it is all over the floor and you just don’t want to use that. Yet if it comes down to it and you just have to go, don’t squat or you will find out how the floor got so dirty and Oh - make sure the train is moving. Trains are probably the most UN-environmentally friendly sources of transportation because when the toilets flush if you watch it go down, you will see the speedy ground below open up – and well of course, remember that next time you decide it would be exciting to walk on the train tracks!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Camera shy

“Oh my gosh…there we are. We are on TV!” I heard someone shriek from behind me. The room burst into noise and rustling. You would think our mushroom lasagna had burst into flames and was torching the kitchen at how quickly everyone ran out of the kitchenette to gather around a television smaller than the box of wine we had tapped for dinner at this announcement.

With the furry I turned around from the layers of fresh pasta and finely grated parmigano that I was lining a pan with and I could instantly feel my face rush red in a warm blush at the sight of myself taking notes on television.

My hair was disheveled – in a tangled mess partially covering my face. In my hands was my jacket that I had to take off because of the hot production lights over head which caused my note taking to look awkward and nerdy.

I didn’t know they were filming us then, I thought to myself. While it is notable that Rété Veneto doesn’t put on a “show” for the news, I really could have used some hair and makeup.

On Tuesday morning my travel writing, cultural communications, and ethic courses visited Rété Veneto, a television station in Bassano del Grappa. An office, hidden on the outskirts of town, in a building that doesn’t even seem large enough for a family of four, is a surprisingly small production facility for the station that transmits to a region the size of Chicago.

Inside was even more cramped, especially when you are trying to maneuver around 14 extra people through small offices, production rooms, and a multi-use studio. Taking up more than half of the entire hallway standing shoulder to shoulder our group quickly settled around Angelica, one of the newsroom editors, for our tour accepting that we were going to be uncomfortably close for the next hour and half.

Even though early in the morning and close enough to my class mates to know if each showered the night before, the company tour was eye opening to the differences between Italian news and American news.

“One thing is the journalist, one thing is the news” Angelica said describing American and Italian news. American news is more about the show – it’s over the top and glamorous, while the Italian news is all about just the news, she continued.

Throughout the remainder of the day we came to learn this fact well. Standing around the studio, we were told we were going to be on the 10:45 news brief with the pattern station. Immediately my hands started sweating and I’m sure my eyes were probably wide with anxiety.

The lights from the overhead were bright and hot like the most miserable summer day, which did not help calm my nerves. When we were grouped together behind Angelica I made sure to stand off to the side and not directly behind her to try to avoid the camera.

Once the camera was off and I stopped holding my breath, I was glad that I did a great job of staying off the camera almost the entire time. But obviously you just can’t hide on stage.

Monday, November 17, 2008

RIP my beloved Keds

RIP my beloved six dollar blue and green plaid Keds.

My pile of dead shoes continues to grow as I travel more and more around Europe. I have now lost two of my most favorite pairs of shoes.

Barcelona saw the end to my black flip flops that I have had since I was 12. They were perfectly molded to my feet and even though they were wearing millimeter thin in spots they were the most comfortable pair of shoes I have ever worn. The bottoms of the flip flops were so worn that they have almost killed me several times. They have zero traction. Whenever it rained I had to walk perfectly flat or I would fall right on my face.

When I was a senior in High School, my band traveled to Victoria, Canada for a parade. One afternoon there was a freak rain storm and as we walk to the olden day photo shop I slipped and sprained my wrist; yet I still love them.

They also almost killed me another time. The spring of my freshman year of college my friends and I decided to go rafting down a river near Sweet Home, Oregon. I wore my beloved black flip flops because I have really soft feet and hate walking on the rocks. It also happened to rain that day, but we decided to float the river anyway. It was below 50 degrees outside and I’m sure the river was well below that temperature because the rain almost felt warm when you were out of the water. About half way down the river, exhausted from high water and I’m sure almost hypothermic we decided to cross the river and hike up the bank to the road and call our friends to pick us up. Stupidly I decided to wade across the river with my flip flops on. The water was up to my chest and strong. All of a sudden one of my flip flops slid off of my foot and began floating downstream. Knowing I loved those shoes and could not lose them, I reached for shoes and left my raft. Yet the current was too strong and started to carry me down stream. I reached one flip flop as the other came off and I hit the rapids. Crying out to my friends I desperately tried to grab at the rocks beneath me but they were to slick. Finally I turned on my stomach and landed on some rocks that brought me to a halt before I hit the second rapids. Crying, bruised, and scratched in only my bathing suit I laid of the rocks and called for my friends to come get me – but also to make sure to grab my flip flips. I was not going to leave without them.

Barcelona brought an official final end to my flip flops. As we went out to find some dinner one of my travel buddies accidentally stepped on the heel of my shoe, ripping the strap from the sandal and tearing the weak rubber. I thought I might cry – but the first thing that ran through my head was my sister laughing – see absolutely hated those flip flops, thinking they were the ugliest things she’d ever seen. To make the situation worse, we were too far from the hostel to return for me to put on a new pair of shoes so I had to improvise and tie off the strap and basically walk on one foot around the dirty floors of the Barcelona metro and grainy sidewalks along the beach.

However, my six dollar Keds made it through that trip to Barcelona and up and down all the stairs. They even survived my trip to Florence – horse back riding and being chased through the streets. They saw more laps around Paderno then I would like to admit and even made it to Prague, Czech Republic. But that is where the fun ended.
The historically old streets of Prague are rough and uneven with small cobble stones that make walking difficult. I can’t even imagine trying to maneuver those streets in Stilettos, but my Keds were going great. The smooth sole and light weight fabric traveled great over the rocky pathways; yet by the second afternoon a large hole in the heel started to appear and by the end of the day my shoes were “talking” the flap opened so far.

With a deep sadness I packed up my Keds back in my bag and went to the mall in Prague and bought myself a new pair of tennis shoes. Again only the equivalent of six dollars, my new black and gray high tops roamed the streets of Munich, Germany, up the frozen paths to the Disneyland castle in Fussen and wondered the barren streets of Bratislava. Each day I was reminded of my loss, seeing my Keds sitting out-of-service in my bag – yet I could not throw them out.

Now sitting in my room in Paderno are my sad, broken, shoes that have been through so much with me. I feel as if throwing them in the trash and leaving them in Italy just doesn’t seem appropriate.

Would haling them back to the States and burning them in a good bye ceremony be too much?

Behind the Quiet Walls of Bratislava

Two hundred and twenty Slovenian crowns left to spend and two hours left to kill. I wondered into a small café and souvenir store off of the main square in Old Town Bratislava. Originally intrigued by the posters of croissants and coffee I decided to sit down at a small corner table with red and white checkered table cloth and table lamp for a second lunch in a measly attempt to spend the remainder of my Slovenian money.

At the counter I eyed a delectable looking chocolate mousse and banana cake. Ordering with only charades and pointing I managed to get a slice and a round warm cup of cappuccino for less than 100 crowns or three euro and then settled into my corner table with my book. Over head was the light and upbeat music of the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. The music carried my thoughts and spirits lighter after a long 7 days traveling around the former Austrian-Hungarian Empire. A quiet moment to myself to think and just really enjoy my surroundings, then I suddenly realized…

Wait! I’m in Bratislava! I actually made it to Bratislava…

Just under four years ago I sailed by that same Bratislava. Recognizable by the large castle fortressed with four corner watch towns that loomed over the entire city at the highest point of the Danube river valley, Bratislava was one of my young and naive dream cities that I wanted to visit. Built off of impressions I gathered from watching the movie Euro Trip with my high school friends, Bratislava in my mind was a poor eastern European city where two pennies could buy you the world. However, on that trip my dreams of seeing the city would sail by on the hydropower boat that carried my high school travel group and me smoothly past on our way to Vienna.

It is still remarkable to me, that my second travel week here at CIMBA panned out that my travel group of four girls wanted to stop by Vienna before returning home to Paderno del Grappa. Since I had already visited the gold clad palaces and gothic style cathedrals of Vienna, Austria, I pulled from my high school dreams the chance to visit Bratislava.

At 7:00 am Saturday November 16, I yanked myself drowsily out of my bunk bed at the Wombats Hostel in Vienna and grabbed my purse and black and white pea coat and made my way to the West Bahn train station to cross the border of Vienna to Slovakia and the undefined border of Western to Eastern Europe.

Only an hour away from Vienna, Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, a country that has seen war for centuries. The country only gained its independence in 1993 when Czechoslovakia divided into the Czech Republic with Prague as its capital and Slovakia represented by Bratislava.

A city on the rise, Bratislava is starting to flourish as a European hub along the Danube River however its dark history can be seen in every crackling stone building, bullet hole filled walls, and constant military presence.

I arrived at the small, empty train station outside of Bratislava around nine in the morning and quickly realized that I should have printed off a map or found directions before I left because no one spoke English. Finally I found someone in the train station who sold me a map and pointed me in the right direction of the bus.

Take bus 80 – five stops.

One. Two. Three. Four.

I counted to myself as the bus scooted through the west bank of Bratislava and over the main bridge to Old Town, not knowing where I would end up if I lost count.

Five. I jumped off the bus and before me laid the entrance to Old Town and above my left shoulder watched the castle.

Old Town, more than just the walled in portion of Bratislava, was a whole another world. Within the walls, the mix of eastern and western cultures converged in the city streets; however, with each winding street the Old Town remained ghostly dead. Beyond a few small tourist groups and the random store owner, the streets were empty. You could walk for a few blocks and not see a sole, as if you were the only one left.

The city on the outside, people ran around wildly, sirens constantly rang with police cars chasing one another – the people inside with dark masks covering their faces, and trams honking at pedestrians crossing the crowded streets. Yet within the walls of Old Town remained a quiet peace – a peace though that swallowed with it a feeling of deep sadness, in hopes of a revival for the town.

My own mind raced with the history of Bratislava as I read my walking tour guide map and strolled through the Old Town’s many squares and stared in awe at the castle’s grand walls.

But then I spotted that café with its red and white checkered table clothes, warm cappuccino, and moist, crumbly cake. With each bite and sip I was able to quiet my own mind like the walls of Old Town for Bratislava. I was able to swallow the frustrations of traveling to revive my spirit and excitement and – well of course – spend a little cash in a city where you can still almost buy the world for two pennies or at least something more valuable - a new state of mind.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Presidential Election

In the dead of night or first minutes of the morning darkness – you know, that time in the middle of night where it is the darkest and coldest immediately before the sun starts to peak above the horizon, I strangely felt the closest to home through the blare and bright repetitive flash of the TV screen. Thousands of miles away from the United States and I still almost believe I could hear the hopeful and excited cheers echoing off the Atlantic waves.

Barack Obama is the 44th elected president of the United States, the cheers announce in unison roar.

While people back in the United States were just finishing up dinner and settling down in front of their televisions or traveling to Grant Park or Times Square to watch the election live on November 4, 2008, it was already the 5th here in Italy and way past my bed time. I wondered over to the Simpson room on the CIMBA undergraduate campus from the computer lab a little after midnight. The sun had long gone down and the cold mountain wind that rushes down the steep slopes of Mount Grappa was swirling the leaves around the cobble stone path ways. The Simpson room, the common meeting place with chairs and a T.V. and satellite from the US Army base in Vicenza, was already scattered with the few other students dedicated enough to the presidential campaign to sacrifice sleep. The three almost-comfortable chairs were already taken by this time with students dressed in flannel pajamas and sweatshirts. Also it was obvious from the open plastic wrappers from candy bars, empty tan coffee cups from the vending machine, and paprika potato chips, they had already been there awhile and were prepared for the long night ahead.

Coverage of the election started about 1 am. Still wide awake from excitement, the first states closed the polls and one by one blinked red or blinked blue up on the screen.



John McCain was ahead 5 electoral votes after the first two states announced.

For the next two hours, the five of us who survived past one thirty at night, sat transfixed by the screen as the colors illuminated the voters decision and illuminate peoples hopes and dreams for the United States.

By a little past 3 am and after 2 cups of cappuccino, a coconut chocolate bar, an apple with peanut butter, and a bottle of water, I started to wind down – finally giving in and pushing four chairs together and wrapping up in a blanket to try to get comfortable; yet determined to make it to the official president-elect announcement.

A Barack Obama swayed room, each time a blue state would appear on the screen a tired, strung out cheer would erupt, keeping us on our toes and letting everyone know we were still conscious.
3:30 am marked the hour when only the strong would survive with our group dwindling down to just myself and fellow Oregon student Jill. It also marked when Ohio turned blue – a battle state, notorious for voting with the winner. Twenty electoral votes went over to Obama’s side by a close margin of only 3%.

With still almost half the country to finish voting, Jill and I enjoyed the low-budget, ridiculous commercials on the Army satellite station and the educational presidential facts reported by Brian Williams.

Even though we already knew that Obama was going to win the election, Jill and I were on edge. Finally a little past 5:00 am, the screen all of a sudden split out. Washington, Oregon, and California had not closed their polls yet, but flat on the screen in gold and the patriotic red, white, and blue read that Obama was the elected 44th president of the United States of America.

Shocked, we sat sitting at the screen asking, What? Huh? What's going on? And then the news station panned to the crowds of people celebrating in Grant Park, Chicago.

At that moment, even half way across the world, I could sense a change in the attitudes of people. Looking at the numerous flags over Barack Obama’s head as he gave his winning speech, I felt proud to be an American again for the first time in eight years.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Swallowing Eggs and Ethics - a chat with Dominic Standish

As the sweet smells of cinnamon French toast, crunchy thick bacon, pan roasted potatoes and fluffy scrambled eggs settled in the cozy living room and our breakfasts in our stomachs, my traveling writing class of seven scattered around the room, laughed as Professor Standish narrated his beginnings in journalism, exclaiming in praise “Hallelujah” for the International Herald Tribune finally offering him an assignment.

Wednesday morning instead of having regular class, everyone in my travel writing class got up a little bit earlier, threw on our slickers and trekked through the rain down the empty streets of Paderno to our professor’s house. To break up the normalcy of class, we had a homemade “American” breakfast and a conversation with a British professor from CIMBA.

Dominic Standish, an expatriate, has been living in Italy for 11 years. After only four days in Italy he was married in Venice and has since started a family. When asked what his role is as an expatriate, he jokingly replied that it is less about patriotism and more defined by public responsibility.

It’s the responsibility of journalists to spur debate and to stop the erosion of public intelligence, he commented - a reoccurring theme in the overall conversation and a point that I think is worth reflection.

As a journalist it is important to realize that your work influences the public. Society depends upon journalists to be a watch dog – to provide checks and balances. While I don’t think any media can be completely impartial, journalism strives to offer the public accurate, clear, and unbiased material so they can develop their own opinions.

Standish offered the idea that as a journalist he works toward initiating a conversation with society. People 30-40 years ago, according to him, valued debate. Academics played a wider role in society and journalism worked to connect the two for the good of the public. However today there has been an erosion of public intellect. The media no longer holds the deep moral journalistic standards that propelled the industry only a few decades ago.

As we have been exploring in Standish’s Mass Media and Ethics course, ethics policies, which have increased ten fold in the past 30 years (ever sense Watergate), are becoming more and more restrictive – regulating more than just journalists' action but also how they are expecting to think ethically about situations. People in my opinion are no longer building their own morals but depending on the ethical codes of their companies to mold their beliefs, leading to the ethical decay that we have been witnessing in recent history with company scandals and downturns.

Journalists should be working on defining society’s morals by preparing news for public debate. The media should spur conversation and dredge up people’s personal opinions.

Finally, I also agree with Standish when he suggests that more academics should enter journalism because as he divulged the hardest piece to write is a story you know the least about…

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Trotting Under the Tuscan Sun

The lavish and warm glow of the sun reflected off of the burnt red, olive green, and golden yellow leaves of the rolling hills. The grape vines, sprawling and climbing in even rows, are slowly withering in the cooling weather and the fields are being turned to rejuvenate the soil. A meandering path, twists in front of me. Made of gravel, the road is spotted with holes from heavy hove traffic. The land is open before me, stretching in a panorama that makes you feel a part of one of Bob Ross’ acrylic paintings – small and insignificant on the horizon yet with the all world before you with endless dirt paths in front of you to explore. It is autumn in Italy and I am trotting Under the Tuscan Sun.

On Saturday, October 25, 2008, though I wasn’t fixing up an old house in the Tuscan country side, I was horse back riding under that same Tuscan sun and in the same Tuscan hills, thinking about how perfectly Frances Mayes described an olive tree’s ability to just be, no matter who was there to tend for it. A trait, I related, that I would hope to see in myself one day.

“The olive tree does impart a sense of peace. It must be, simply, the way they participate in time. These trees are here and will be. They were here. Whether we are or someone else is or no one, each morning they’ll be twirling their leaves and inching up toward the sun.”
~ Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun page 69.

Having never ridden a horse, I woke up this morning nervous yet filled with excitement. My palms were cold and clammy as I pulled on my five day old jeans and plaid Ked tennis shoes that have slowly worn a hole in heel. I assumed there was a possibility of getting dirty riding horses, gathered from the many western movies that I watched with my dad growing up, so I didn’t want to wear my good clothing. I also dawned my hat to cover my tangled hair from the long night in my eight person hostel room and grabbed my pack and rain coat for the day’s adventure as I headed out the door.

After a continental breakfast, I met up with my friend Stephanie who was staying at the same hostel and we were off for our Horseback Riding Wine Tour of Tuscany (according to the brochure), yet neither of us knew really what to expect.

Outside of the McDonalds across the street from the train station, we met our tour guide for the day – a 24 year old Italian student living in Florence named Daniele Rettino. He was dressed in a nice black, ribbed sweater, baggy blue jeans that were faded in the center, a slate grey baseball hat, and dark aviator sun glasses that made it impossible to see his eyes.

Anxiously we shook his hand and he offered us a seat in the gray van marked L’equipe Agrifoglio, the name of the horse club we booked the excursion through. Making small talk as we waited for our fellow horseback riders to show up, he asked us if we had ever been horseback riding before. Stephanie and I looked at each other and laughed, replying that neither of us had ever been before, even though Stephanie is from Texas and you would assume she would be a professional cowboy by now.

Jokingly he told us not to worry – they had ponies we could ride!

The forty minute van ride to the ranch flew by quickly like the Tuscan landscape outside of the van window.

By the time we arrive, luckily, the sun had come out, enveloping the country side in light and making the lonely, last flowers of fall and the magnificent red, orange, yellow, and green hues of the hills brilliantly pop out of the landscape in every direction.

The ranch at first glace was not what I expected. It was more rustic with small individual wooden structures for the ponies and donkeys. It was more charming with grape vines growing up the sides of the deck of the barn and over the pergola, and it was more homey with the employees laughing and joking in Italian with each other while gathering the horses and playing with the small dogs and cats that roamed freely across the ranch grounds.

Before I knew it I was up on a horse. A beautiful horse of chestnut brown with a long coffee brown tail and mane and white feet named Giada. Of course in my ignorance through the whole trail ride I assumed that my horse was a female, referring to Giada as a she, yet I was bluntly corrected by the owner of L’equipe Aglifoglio who let me know Giada was actually a he, point to his male anatomy – making me blush.

After the quickest riding lesson I could have ever imaged in broken English:

To turn left, pull to the left. To turn right, pull to the right. To stop, pull the reigns back. Keep your heels down ALWAYS and give it a kick to start.

We were on our way.

To start we follow along a hand built wooden face that separated the pasture and the stables before turning off the path toward the open vineyards and olive groves of the neighbors’ farms.

As the tour continued, we wondered through hills and fields, precisely laid lines of grapes and olives, and small villas and farm houses nestled in between where the hills converged.

Riding along I quickly became accustom to the movements and tendencies of my horse – his long strides, focused path, and need to be forth in the line of six horses, refusing to pass the large black horse that paced third, named Gustave. Why he could not pass Gustave I do not know, but I didn’t mind as long as Giada seemed happy, calm and corporative.

On what I assumed to be a peaceful and quiet horseback ride (which it was some of the time) the tour was also marked with yells from the riding guide, a Italian women in her middle thirties and an accomplished rider of 15 years, to Maria, a fellow beginner, who was riding in the rear of the line.

She would yell, MMMAAAAAAARRRRRRRIIIIIIAAAAAAAA, Maria! Velocemente…velocemente…scossa…scossa…scossa…Maria!

Roughly translating to faster, faster, kick, kick, kick she would yell to Maria who was lagging behind the group by a couple hundred yards.

Though I found this ferocious bickering back and forth I was not able to escape the wrath of our riding guide. While we were riding all of sudden the path sprawled open into a golden field where the grasses seemed to carry on forever. The wind was blowing through the tall grass and the sun was shining through a patch of scatted clouds, making the scene literally picture perfect. Pulling out my camera to capture the image digitally, I hit a bump in the rough dirt road causing my camera to slide out of my hands a crash hard into the ground. Looking around not knowing what to do to get my camera, I road past it and turned around on my horse just in time to see my camera almost get smashed to smithereens by the horse behind me.

The Italian rider behind me seeing my confusion and poor scratched camera on the ground called up to the front and gathered the attention of our riding guide. Dismounting and marching over to my camera looking obviously angry for having to yet stop again, she handed back my camera saying nothing; yet the stern, don’t do that again, look glared through her eyes, and we returned to the trail in front of us.

The remainder of the ride was smooth sailing if you can use a boating analogy for trying to convince a horse to go down a rocky hill and ride past barking dogs. I continued to take photos and a consistent bellowing of Maria could be heard echoing through the Tuscan hills surrounding us, so maybe I should describe it more as, as smooth as the pot holed, rocky dirt path that we trotted along – stressed from hard work, exhilaratingly bumpy, straddled by the most vibrant land and heated by the Tuscan sun!

Two hours after our departure on the horses we returned to the ranch. I was sad for the riding to be over yet happy to get some blood flow back into my feet which were tingling like pins and needles. After dismounting and almost collapsing to the ground from having to use my legs to stand again, I said goodbye to the beloved Giada and the group said goodbye to the first half of our adventure and hello to an authentic Tuscan meal and Chianti wine tasting to end our rumbling stomachs.

Tuscan Food and Wine


Salami and prosciutto with sheep cheese and bread


Tri-pasta platter including cheese ravioli in a white truffle sauce, hand rolled spaghetti noodles with meat sauce and flat egg noble pasta with fungi garnished with a slice of lemon.


Biscotti di Prato, a dry almond biscuit that you dip in the dessert wine
Chocolate fruit cake sprinkled with powdered sugar

Wine Tasting:
2008 regional white
2007 100% Chianti red wine
2005 Aristocratic Chianti red wine
1996 Santo dessert wine

(Posted from my travelog assignment in Cultural Communications)