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Report 236: Our Italian Sabbatical

By Trishmael from Louisiana, Fall 2003

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Page 7 of 10: Under the Tuscan Thumb: Cortona

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Park at Sunset

Life can't continue to be so sublime. I sensed there was something wrong when I spoke to our landlady in Cortona on the phone. I reviewed our accommodations just outside of Cortona, La Torre di Venti, on the site, so I won't elaborate here--suffice it to say this rental was aptly-named, and there were some...interpersonal issues. Pucci dropped us off in Orvieto. Our train to Camucia station was late, and it was almost dark when our landlady picked us up (more on her, and the meal she had prepared for us, under Review #722).

The weather turned on us, and staying in a place named for the wind exacerbated the damp cold late October gales that seemed to be funneling through the valley on the windy side of Cortona and directly at us. We bailed out of our rental 2 nights early and took a room at a hotel in town.

If I had it to do over, our negative rental experience notwithstanding, I would have stayed in Arezzo--or, actually, I would have gone further south and east and stayed in Umbria, but never mind that. I suppose the "Under the Tuscan Sun" book had gotten to me. I'm not a fan, but we wanted to have one of our weeks at one of the larger hilltowns that was connected to others by bus and train. A little gremlin in the back of my head whilst planning had been a little dubious about Cortona, and I wish I had listened to her. Cortona entertained us for a couple of days, but with the bad weather, one of our major planned activities, hiking, was a problem. Ditto getting around on buses and trains. Once we had exhausted things we wanted to do in town, we became all the more irritated by our unpleasant digs and by the half-hour walk it took to get into town from it in order to wait for buses in the cold and rain. We kept our senses of humor and adventure about the whole thing, managed to have some good experiences, but on the whole this was a week we had to work at being cheerful about.

On our first bus trip, it was my birthday, and we chose to go into Arezzo to have a good meal and for Gary to find some shops with old metal stuff. We did something incredibly dumb. Because the weather was lousy, we elected to carry not much besides our wallets, and forgot our map. We wound up on a local bus that stopped so many times we lost count, and when the bus pulled into what seemed like the end of the line, and everyone else got out, I just assumed we were in Arezzo. The windows were all steamed up and rain-streaked, and this added to our confusion--we couldn't see out the windows. By the time we figured out this wasn't Arezzo at all, but Castiglion Fiorentino, the bus was long gone.

Fortunately there was a TI open, and they gave us a map, a bus schedule, and a suggestion to visit a museum while we waited a couple of hours for the next bus. A strange museum, as it turned out, with a whole room of crucified Jesus paintings and carvings, and another--be still my heart--full of saint relics! By the time we got to Arezzo, however, nearly everyone was closed for the afternoon, so we wound up having a not-very-good lunch at an overpriced wine bar on the corso. We did, however, make friends with the wait staff, and had a nice conversation with the headwaiter about the strength of the Euro against the USD. We told him that on our last trip 3 years ago the rate had worked so well in our favor--and he was planning now to go to the US to take advantage of the Euro's power. We agreed that the pendulum swings will even us all out in the long run, and not to worry about it. It is better to have some more wine. Yes. Happy Birthday!

Back in Cortona, it is dark and I manage to get an international phone card to work in a pay phone and call my mother in southern California. She reports that it is snowing ashes where she lives--California seems to be on fire. I am not so worried as she is on an island, but still.... I realize it has been 3 weeks now since we looked at CNN or any television at all, and the only papers we've tried to read are the funky little Italian local ones that Gary favors. It was my birthday, I was cold, tired, and little waves of homesickness were lapping at the edges of my soul. Ah, well, this will pass, I thought, planning on drinking a very nice vino nobile to keep warm and take the edge off everything that night, and we started our hike back to the windy house.

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