On October 3 I returned to the U.S. from my trip to Italy – my first vacation as a single baby boomer traveling with people that I did not know.
I am still smiling inside. The trip was better than I could have imagined. I am still missing Italy and the people I traveled with. Going to work has become somewhat more difficult.
Where do I begin trying to explain this?
In no particular order, these are the things that I liked about traveling to Italy with thirteen other travelers from the U.S. and a trip leader from Siena, Italy:
The Italian people. The food. The wine. The way that the Italians savor their food, their wine and their company at meals. The gelato. The landscapes (look above). The history. Hunting and eating truffles. My traveling companions who became my friends. The hypnotically expressive way that Italians speak (particularly the women).
Yes I know that the Italian economy is in shambles. That does not interfere with the Italians’ ability to appreciate life and each other. Everywhere we went and engaged with local people, they happily engaged us back, using their inner joy to overcome the language barriers.
We in the U.S. often just don’t get it. We are too caught up working for the weekends and accumulating our stuff. More than ever I want to permanently escape from these misguided concepts. I’ve started on this path but there is more to do.
I am definitely going back to Italy some day. Many of you may have already been there. For the others, put it on your early bucket list.
This particular tour – with Overseas Adventure Travel – was perfect for me. Our group was small – five married couples and four solo travelers, including me. At age 63, I believe that I was the second youngest. I saw many large bus tour groups being led by guides carrying flags. That is not the way to go in my opinion because it makes it so difficult to get an immersive experience and to engage the locals.
Excluding our day in Florence and a quick trip to Assisi, our group mostly visited places somewhat off the beaten path. This allowed us to escape the crowds and interact with the local population to a greater degree.
For example, we went truffle hunting on a farm 3000 feet up in the hills of Umbria. The farm has been in the same family since 1490. It was sort of like being with the Duck Dynasty of Italy without the guns and other hard edges. After we found the truffles, we started eating them – with eggs, with bruschetta, and with pasta we made ourselves.
While there were times that I missed having my wife with me, my fellow travelers were so kind and welcoming that it became a net positive experience. I hope to see at least some of them again.
One of my traveling companions is a poet. She loves to write and perform poems about her life experiences, past and present. Her name is Marsha Johansen. Marsha and her husband Carl (now living in Albuquerque) were lots of fun and tolerated this Tennessee guy well. Marsha has written a poem about part of our trip and kindly agreed to let me publish it here. Please read it and let it inspire you to plan your own trip to Italy someday.
Adventures in Pettino
Nauseous, still half asleep,
I was mesmerized, far away, in another world.
Our bus whipped, screeched, skid through hairpin turns,
boldly turning, molding us into new landscapes.
Italy’s views were spectacular
above rolling hills
we arrived at last,
in a town called Pettino,
and found a beautiful family of sheep farmers,
high above the valleys of Tuscany,
where truffles and pecorino cheese are plenty.
I smiled, in awe of my good fortune,
ready to devour their story,
their unique contribution to life in Italy.
this family was content in their isolated hideaway
far from the rest of the world.
They spent most days living off the land
reaping life’s rewards as producers of pecorino cheese,
removed from the fast pace of larger cities like Rome and Florence.
We experienced true Italian warmth as women served up fresh honey cake and espresso,
before we piled into their trucks, followed Lucca, and his trained spaniels.
Running from one rock to another, the dogs dug up rare-exquisite truffles,
then were rewarded: special treats for a job well done.
Mushrooms resembling dirt, a tidy bounty for culinary collectors.
We followed our trusty guides to fields lined with sheep,
And watched a beautiful baby named Apollonia
run with abandon among the dogs.
An open fire, our next offering,
fresh scrambled eggs laced with truffle shavings,
followed by sips of Prosecco.
Our trucks lifted us back to a cubbyhole inside their home,
Where we observed an aging woman hunched over flour, eggs and water,
as she mixed, swirled, kneaded fresh pasta dough,
as her back ached and cautioned her to slow down, stop,
but something called love of family keeps her coming back
to the table each day caring for her family’s minds and bodies.
We each wanted more of this experience and stepped up,
each took our turn as we moved, rolled, flipped the dough back and forth,
then cut thin strips and lifted them high in the air,
celebrating together as we sampled Italian wine, drunk with happiness.
We then bonded as a group, became our own family unit,
enjoying our experiences as culinary enthusiasts,
high up in the mountains.
Long devoted to creating something unique now lost in our culture of boxed food,
We engaged in a lost art, creating something from scratch, what a concept!
Our palates rejoiced in a dramatic finish,
We gathered near the grill outdoors to taste fresh flavors of grilled sausage,
freshly created pasta now topped with sauce, tossed greens
with a sweet finish of an apple/raisin tart for dessert.
We joyfully engaged in more wine, more laughter.
A day like no other, filled with new adventures,
so completely removed from our stagnant lives back in the United States.
Thank you Marsha for the wonderful images generated by your words.
Thank you fellow travelers for elevating my travel experience.
P.S. – If you ever decide to take a trip with Overseas Adventure Travel (highly recommended), send me an email and I will refer you. This will save us both some money!