La dolce vita in Italy.

Our home base in Tuscany was a medieval tower half way between Florence and Rome, in the charming, walkable town of Cetona. Early on we met Nilo, the local restaurateur who seems to have cornered the Cetona market with his fine dining Ristorante di Nilo, the local pizza joint, and a sports bar-gelateria-café. In our first week Nilo set us up with a special meal served by his son Cristiano in the wine cellar of his ristorante, with an off-menu pizza for Sam delivered from his pizzeria. Later that week, Patrizia up the road delivered what would become a weekly tradition: a home-cooked lunch of chicken with rosemary potatoes that I’m still dreaming about, lasagne, and roasted green peppers from her mother-in-law’s garden. In that first week we found the local hot springs, spent a gorgeous day swimming in the therapeutic waters, and were adopted by Julia, who invited us to supper at her house in a cute village nearby. In short, Tuscany did its best to find its way into our hearts through our stomachs. Ungratefully, Sam and I pined just a little for France: focaccia is not baguette, polenta with ragu is not steak frites, etc, etc, etc. I know, I know, it was an awful attitude to have and we did our best to stop wishing we were with the girl we love and start loving the girl we were with. Patrick, on the other hand, was instantly smitten and embraced la dolce vita without a backward glance.

The local delights made it easy to spend days on end venturing only a few steps from our front door. Our typical routine involved a morning macchiato perfectly prepared by Patrick, and then breakfast complemented by local honey from up the road and even, once or twice, a few eggs from the neighbour’s chickens hand delivered with a quick rap on the door, a spate of rapid-fire Italian, and a friendly chuckle at our puzzled attempts to figure out what she was talking about. Most Italians we met seemed good-humoured about our linguistic limitations, but not a single one of them slowed down the torrent of words: they seemed to think that if we only understood 25% of what they were saying, they’d better say more. Perhaps they were on to something, because by the end of the month we were catching at least half of it.

After a good morning’s work we’d reconvene for lunch and maybe an outing to one of the nearby towns: Montepulciano, Chuisi, Siena, Florence, and Chianciano Terme all got multiple look-ins, and we booked a great hotel in Rome for two days of dedicated sightseeing. We continued our French habit of an Aperol Spritz before dinner, now served with a bowl of olives, some local pecorino with honey, focaccia from the bakery in the town piazza, and cured meats from the village shop, all acquired during Patrick’s late-afternoon passeggiata. Sometimes we skipped dinner altogether, or grilled Tuscany’s famed steak over a wood fire, or tossed some fresh pasta with a simple sauce.

Our home schooling focused on Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei, complemented by visits to the tiny but adorable and informative museums in Florence dedicated to these two Italian titans of innovation. At the Leonardo museum Sam was delighted by the wooden models of some of the inventions the artist had sketched in his workbooks, many of which were fully functional; we saw more in Rome, and Sam was able to explain their functions, so it’s clear he’s learned about pulleys, levers, and gears from il maestro.

Our routine changed a little during the final week of October when Martina, Sean, and Sebastian arrived, maple syrup and multiple orders in tow. Sam enjoyed having a real live cousin to play with, and we had a great time introducing our visitors to our favourite Tuscan sights: Siena, Florence (where we fell in love with the San Lorenzo Market, which had eluded us on previous visits), the thermal baths at Chianciano Terme, and Montepulciano, where we toured a winery and had a very boozy lunch. Just as we were getting into the swing of things, the time had come to drive them to the airport and make our way to Civitavecchia, an hour’s drive from Rome, where our cruise would be departing the next day.

I get the feeling that Martina and Patrick are both hatching plans for a return visit to their ancestral land, which is good because we’ll need to go back to Florence now that Sam has discovered a passion for art, the unanticipated side effect of our amazing cruise from Italy to the United Arab Emirates. Read on to find out how we managed to tackle home schooling and sabbatical writing in a tiny stateroom for 21 days.

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