Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 16

 Tuscany, Part Deux

We went for the second time to Tuscany last weekend, and, I must say, my opinion has not changed, (see blog post from last year).  But, since my opinion has absolutely no sway with the billion Americans who have their hearts set on Tuscany, let me just try to steer you in the right direction.

First, and I cannot stress this enough, if you are picturing fields of sunflowers and lilac, YOU ARE THINKING OF PROVENCE.  Provence in is France.  Tuscany is fields of grape vines and olive trees.  Yes, there are a few sunflowers, but they are growing wild along side the autoroute.  They have sprouted from seeds that have BLOWN ACROSS THE BORDER.

Second, and this I also cannot stress enough, if you are coming to Tuscany in the summer, MAKE SURE THAT YOUR HOTEL HAS AIR CONDITIONING.  This is non-negotiable.  It is HOT in Tuscany in the summer.  However, there is one easy way around this.  Don’t go in the summer.

Tuscany is so crowded in the summer that it will give you anxiety attacks.  It is not relaxing.  It is stressful.   But, if that is the only time you can go, stay out in the countryside in a hotel with a pool and you will be fine.  Only venture into Florence or Lucca or Pisa (biggish cities) before noontime and then get the hell out of there.

Here are some really cute villages out in the countryside:  Raddi in Chianti, Volterra (which is known for mining alabaster, so if you are into alabaster, this is your village), Castellina in Chianti, Colle di Val d’Elsa, San Gimignano, Greve in Chianti and there are probably 20 or so others that are just perfect.  By this I mean, they sit up on top of a hillside with a medieval wall all around and they are just begging you to take their picture.

Here are the villages that are just regular, functioning, work-a-day places where actual people live and are not full of tourists:  (mind you, some people want to go to these villages just for that specific reason), :  Poggibonsi, Castelfiorentino, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, and, really, anything along the coast of the Ligurian Sea in Tuscany.

OK, that is all the practical advice for this blog post.  Now, onto the funny stuff.  We stayed in a very nice hotel in the work-a-day village of Tavarnelle.  I actually liked the village because it was quite authentic and not full of tourists.  I mean, I went walking one morning and down in the village at the “private club” on the main street there were already 4 or 5 guys sitting at the outdoor tables drinking beer at 8:30 in the morning.  The stores and bakeries hadn’t even opened yet, but the Tavarnelle Social Club was in full swing.  My kind of place.

Sunday morning I made Mr. Big get up at the crack of dawn to drive to Lucca because they were having an outdoor antique fair.  It was advertised on the internet as a grand 3-day affair with hundreds of vendors.  It was advertised as starting at 9 a.m on Sunday, the last day of the 3-day event.  So, we were up with the farmers at 7 a.m. and out the door for a 1.5 hour drive to Lucca to find, I was sure, many, many treasures.

Yeah.  No.  We arrived in downtown Lucca at 10 minutes until 9.  I started getting worried when we were able to find a parking space which was quite close to the “pedestrian only” downtown area and were, really, only minutes away from this giant event.  Where were the hordes of people and why were we able to find rockstar parking?

In Italian time, 9 a.m. apparently means 10 a.m. or even, lunchtime.   At 9 a.m., approximately 3 out of the 200 participants had set up shop.  We walked around and around and around and around the downtown area, doing the same circuit over and over and over again, each time catching one or two more vendors who had taken the tarps off of their stuff and were ready for customers.  I thought Mr. Big was going to blow a gasket.

Now, if this were France or Switzerland, we could have ordered some café au laits and croissants and sat outside for an hour until everybody got their act together.  But, this was Italy.  In Italy, you eat your breakfast inside the bakery hovering over the counter.  You are expected to down your espresso in one gulp and eat your croissant while rubbing elbows with all of the other patrons and your ass is expected to be out of that bakery/café within 5 minutes.  So, we did that and then we were out on the sidewalk 5 minutes later wondering why we had bothered because STILL none of these Italians had their booths opened up.  It was frustrating, I tell you.

Mr. Big’s favorite item of the morning was a ginormous ship’s head of a naked, buxom lass.  She was about 5 feet tall and each bosom was the size of a toddler.  Don’t ask me what kind of décor she would have fit into, possibly a man cave.  The cool thing about her was that one of her boobs slid open and pirates could hide their booty inside her boob.  We did not buy her, much to Mr. Big’s chagrin, but if I had had a shop in NYC I probably could have sold her for 10 grand.

We did buy four more copper pots which Europeans use for cooking but I use for planters.  After purchasing copper pot #4, I was like, OK, dearest, enough with these copper pots.  I am over them.  Also, we now have to carry them to the car.  Enough.  Y’all, if we didn’t look like two bozos carrying these giant copper pots to our vehicle, then I just don’t know what.  We really need another hobby.  Like golf or something.

Alright, the last and final story involves a bad word, so, if you are a minor or a Mormon, you should just sign off right now.  Fair warning.

After spending a hot, hot day baking on the cobblestones of downtown Florence doing the whole tourist, sightseeing thing and practicing our “gratzee meelee” and “booona serra” and “arrivaderchis”, the four of us were ready for a relaxing stint by the pool at our hotel.  This relaxing stint included, we envisioned, some wine and cheese and sausage which we had picked up while were out and about shopping in Florence.

Approximately 8 minutes after we had happily ensconced ourselves poolside with our delicious picnic, the maître d’hotel, dressed in a three piece suit, comes scurrying up to our lounge chairs.

Mr. Hotel Policeman:  (In quasi-English),  ‘Scusi me, signores  y signoras,  but this is not allowed.

Us:  What?  What’s not allowed?  (At this point, I thought he was referring to my ultra-white Swiss skin in amongst these tanned Italian bodies.)

Mr. HP:   Youah are being very rudah.

Us:  Rude?!  We thought we were being very quiet!

Mr. HP:  No, youah misunderstand.  It is rude to eat and drink things that you have not bought from our bar or restaurant.  You must order only from us your drinks and food.

Us:  (Out loud), Really?  Oh, okay, sorry.  (To ourselves, under our breath), Really, dude?  Where’s the sign?  We don’t see any sign that says “no food or drink”.

So, one of our party, who shall remain nameless but forever dear in my heart, mutters, under his breath, “Fucka Youah”.  Well, I guess you had to be there, but, after an exhausting, hot, sweaty day trying to read and speak Italian, when we were finally, FINALLY, chillin’ and relaxin’ only to be told to put away our wine and sausages, we had had enough.  Fucka Youah, indeed.

This, of course, became our mantra for the next three days and we all went home having increased our Italian vocabulary by 33%.  Next weekend, we are meeting another set of American friends in Venice, (what is it with you Americans and your love affair with Italy?  There are other countries in Europe, you know!), and I am excited to see what other local swear words we can make up.  I’m thinking Asti Spumanti, if said with the right flair, has potential.

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