Friday, January 25, 2008


Last summer, Lesley and I, along with 19 others went to Pienza, Italy. There, we experienced the most fantastic, creative and relaxing week imaginable. Lesley led us in making a unique one-of-a kind book in which to keep our travel memories. This was a rare opportunity for me to take a class and I was so excited. We had such a marvelous time that we decided to go again this year. All info is one the Art & Soul website and I encourage you to sign up right away. There is room for only 5 more and we must have a committment by the end of February. We will not be returning to Italy in the future.

I kept a journal and will share it with you now.

May 14-16, 2007
ITALY! The excitement once again has gripped me and reality has finally begun to sink in. This time I am visiting Pienza, a
small Tuscan Village steeped in history. I have contracted with Lesley Riley to teach a 4 day class and 18 attendees will be joining us for 7 days.

I left home on Mothers Day after enjoying a wonderful brunch at the Sheraton with Vonnie, Derek, Luke and Abby. Arriving at the airport, I was sorry to learn that there was no curbside check in for Lufthansa, nor was there a wheelchair available. Derek left the car unattended (illegally) while he helped me schlep the scooter and gianto suitcase to the counter. After waiting in line for hours (or so it seemed), I was told that I didn’t have a valid airline ticket. Impossible! I had a paper ticket – the kind the travel agent
sends in the mail, with a confirmation agenda. Unbelievably, the ticket agent insisted that the confirmation only guaranteed a seat, but that payment had not been received. Did I have my credit card receipt - she asked? Naturally – I always carry the statements from 5 months prior with me. Of course not. The plane was booked; there was one seat available (MINE) and the price --- $8,000. I had no alternative -- Lane was waiting at the gate; we had a car and driver waiting in Florence; I had a meeting scheduled for the afternoon of our arrival. I had to take it – and pray that the travel agent could find and correct the error.

The rest of the trip was uneventful --- the driver was waiting for us with a VAN – just as if he knew how much stuff we were bringing. He spoke no English, so it was fun attempting to communicate during the 2 hr ride. It was a hot and muggy day, the van h
ad little AC and we were both dying to get out and settled. We arrived in Pienza around 3:30 in the afternoon, unpacked, surveyed the hotel and were determined to try and stay awake as long as possible. Borjana, the hotel sales director, made reservations for us to have massages at 6:00pm after which we could fall into bed. It was a delightful experience, much different than a massage at home. Let me just say that Italians don’t cater to modesty.

We crashed and didn’t awake until 10:30 on Tuesday morning. After a quick shower, it was time for lunch and coffee at the hotel restaurant. I had forgotten how much I enjoy, and missed proscuitto and melone. Then we fired up the scooter and headed into town. I am in heaven. For the first time, I have total freedom to explore. The scooter works perfectly on the uneven cobblestones – the only thing that slows me down are steep inclines. At those times, Lane gives me a push and I “pedal”! Works every time. We saw ½ of Pienza today and have decided that we want to purchase an apartment here. The town is charming and the scenery exquisite.

The room next to ours is occupied by an Australian gentleman who is quite taken with Lane. She is gagging as I write this – he is definitely NOT her type. He invited us to share a bottle of wine at the Wine Bar tomorrow evening, and just now he spotted us in the lobby (where we have Internet access) and suggested that we join him this evening and enjoy some champagne. He is a travel guide and has a group with him. He let us know that they are a dismal bunch and that he prefers women who are in their 50’s. Quite the rounder it seems. He left to attend to his flock and shortly thereafter, we saw the hotel staff take a chilled bottle of champagne and three glasses to the elevator. Our minds were in a whirl – seemed like too much of a coincidence. Did he really assume that we would join him in his room?? Laughing like silly teens, we dashed to our room & stuck the “do not disturb” sign on our door...jetlag you know. Fortunately, he leaves for home in two days.

Borjana and I planned the menu for the week and I hope that all will be pleased with my choices. I want them to have an authentic Italian experience.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007
We are having difficulty adjusting our internal clocks to the time change. Neither of us is getting a full, restful night of sleep and then we crash in the afternoon. Although for me, I realize that it is all a part of learning to relax. I feel uneasy if I am not rushing at full steam accomplishing something – no matter how trivial. Lane has to continually remind me that we are in no hurry; we have no deadlines and my life can exist without being in front of the computer all day. A concept that is difficult to enforce.

We explored Pienza again today, taking more time to enjoy the history and beauty. I find it to be much more enjoyable than Cortona; there are fewer tourists; the town is much flatter and easier to navigate, and, most importantly, it is not as hot. Of course, scooting around makes an incredible difference for me -- what a delight. I am quite the oddity and garner stares and double takes wherever we travel. And then they look at the scooter. We have already made some friends of shop owners, most of whom are elderly. I think I see some scooters coming to Pienza in the near future.

The flowers are amazing and the homeowners take such pride in their town. Everyone snaps photos of the doorways and windows. Our hotel is under major refurberation/construction. It appears that this little sleepy village has been ‘discovered’ and is experiencing growing pains. We sit atop a hill, as most old towns, with incredible views of the valley below. Pienza is approximately 100 miles from Florence and off the beaten path which keeps the tour buses at bay.

Friday, May 18, 2007
The owner of the San Gregorio is quite a dapper Italian. For three days he did not acknowledge us and for the most part looked away if we were approaching. He is impeccably dressed, complete with pointy shoes. I would guess that he is about 40 something. I’m not certain if his demeanor is due to the Italian perception of women, his inability to speak English or if he is just plain rude. His staff, on the other hand, is wonderful. Most do not speak English, so we have a delightful time attempting to communicate.

Our main contact at the hotel is a tall, beautiful young woman from Slovenia, named Borjana. She and the owner drove us to Castiglione d’Orcia to look at a new condominium. We found it interesting that Borjana never introduced us to the owner and he maintained his distance from us. The town is approximately ½ hr from Pienza, further into the country. It is an incredible area, preserved as an historical ‘park’. No homes can be built – ever. It is rolling hills and farm land. The condos are the last construction allowed and reasonably priced. I find myself thinking of ways to form a time share with 5 others so that we can purchase the property. This part of Italy is growing rapidly and it is an incredible opportunity for investment. The homes here average 2 million euros -- who can afford such luxury? Apparently the English and Japanese – to the dismay of the Italians. The condo is 2 bedrooms, 2 baths with a garage and swimming pool for €280,000.

We returned from Castiglione d’Orcia and then spent the afternoon in Siena. What a contrast to Pienza! The crowds/tourists were almost stifling. We only stayed for 2 hours and were anxious to return to the slower paced country village.

Saturday, May 19, 2007
Today there is a race of sports cars – just like the ones we have seen in the movies. They are literally on the main highway – in amongst regular traffic, passing in front of the hotel. This is the first time that I have seen tour buses in Pienza – people coming to watch the unusual vehicles. They look like antique roadsters --- only very LOUD. The race began in Rome but we have not been able to understand where it ends. Not that it matters – just curiosity. They would buzz into Pienza square, register or something and then be escorted back onto the highway. Cars passed for over 4 hours – it was huge. There were also fancy Lamborghini’s and Ferrari’s and some that were quite eccentric looking. These were not racing, but apparently going along with the flow. The crowds had small race flags and cheered their favorites – be it driver or car – who could tell??

I am somewhat dismayed that the swimming pool has not been completed. The website says that it and the spa were to be finished in May 05. Not a whole lot of concern or activity around here when it comes to construction. They were literally putting our chairs together today. The room is enormous – we certainly can spread out and not feel cramped.

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