Italy Part II: White Stone & Grappa
In times like these,
how can I speak of Italy without mentioning that my family’s and my prayers are with our friends in Italy? I know their prayers are with us in America in this International crisis battling Covid-19.
My heart aches to think of the difficulty they are going through as many places we visited are run on tourist economy.
If this blog makes its way to Italy or my friends at Poggio Ubertini are reading:
We love you and hope God brings all the relief and safety you need.
From what we learned in our travels, Italians are remarkably resilient!
Allow me to take you back with us to the beautiful and scenic country of Italy in the year 2017...
This adventure consists of my memories and stories of Italy as it was when we arrived. Italy is a country that holds many treasures from the past, but is also quickly evolving and changing.
If you haven't read Part I of this blog series, make sure you go check it out! It explains the why, when, and how we got to the nation of wine & pasta!
WELL. What are we waiting for- let's drop right back in!
Pisa aka PIZZA
Did you know that Pisa is a college town?
The first thing we all notied when we drove through this silent town was how clean and well kept it was!
We thought maybe we would be the only ones in Pisa that day...until we saw miles of cars parallel parked along the sides of the roads leading to the Historical Landmarks.
There were more than a couple petalers who offered us protection of our car if we would purchase a souvenir. They didn’t have to twist our arms. My mother-in-law was not wrong to grab an umbrella. It was a huge help when we got to Florence on a rainy day!
The leaning tower itself was CRAWLING with tourists.
Everyone was awkwardly posing and laughing turning a tower that once displayed military might into a funny joke that the whole world seems to be in on. (Just so we are clear, this architecture is NO JOKE. It is GLORIOUS.)
We were, of course amazed by the tower, but the real spectacle was the Duomo and Baptismal that I hadn’t even heard of, which stood towering right beside the leaning “tower.”
We read all about the history of the Leaning Tower and how it began to sink down on one side immediately upon construction, but because became such a good revenue producer for Italy, they payed millions to keep it tilted at a specific degree when they rebuilt the foundation. I was pretty impressed by the effort they went through.
Admittedly, if I hadn't read that, I would have been in even more awe.
We ended our fairly short time in Pia by having Pizza!
Who knew they would serve “Hawaiian Pizza” at an Italian Restaurant. Not the MOST Authentic place we visited, for sure, but the service was good and the pizza was admittedly DELICIOUS unlike the pizza we would have in Assisi...
Assisi was the white city of my dreams.
Located at the edge of a simple town, there she stood. This place legitimately looked like the White City of Gondor aka Minas Tirith. My jaw was dropping before we even reached its heights.
On the trip there, we saw white marble mountains that took my breath away. I realized in that moment why the Leaning Tower, Duomo, Baptismal, and all of Assisi were so unique. They were made of what material was available!
Assisi was everything I had envisioned but SO MUCH MORE.
Escalators lifted travelers to its pearly gates. I wondered what the road up would have been like to walk let alone build all the way up there.
Even the pigeons were beautiful and looked like white marble stones come to life. I couldn't tell if I was on a movie set or if I fell into the pages of a Tolkien Novel!
In the “white city,” I practically had my sister's camera (thanks for the lend, Shawnie!) superglued to my eyebrows.
No pot of flowers, bakery, or stone escaped my camera's lense! Each object seemed saturated with stories.
We bobbed and weaved around the long white streets for a few hours marveling at how many little shops with nativity scenes could be smooshed together!
We were SO HUNGRY when we got there, we made the worst mistake you can make in Italy: eat tourist food.
Kyle inherited his dad's hollow leg and hanger so with them both famished from a long day of driving, we settled for a restaurant right in town square upon arrival.
There were very few people in the city the day we went, so we didn't find as many authentic shops open. As it turned out, the place we ate at basically baked frozen pizzas, which I thought should be punishable by prison for life in Italy.
We saw the occasional monk wandering around and watched as they asked shop owners for free food. I was glad I had just learned about St. Francis and how he lived on the "generosity of others” as the provision of God!
Talk about faith. When it comes to my stomach, my faith doesn't get much exercise. I like to know where my next meal is coming from!
The monasteries for St. Francis and Catherine were life changing for me.
They were, of course, BEAUTIFUL, but hey were also sobering. Their lives were truly inspirational to learn about.
Considering we weren't allowed to take pictures inside them, I hope the architecture and art I saw that day will be etched in my memory forever as it is today.
Remember how I told you guys back in Part I how that Italian couple hooked us up with a vineyard to stay at???
Here it is. Poggio Ubertini sits atop a lush valley with castles on visible on distant hills. The only thing more incredible than the view were the people!
We arrived there midday and were greeted by a friendly man named Luka runs the beautiful monastery turned Bible Camp!
He greeted us warmly in English, which was a welcome change for us.
He led us straight to our little apartment which was not too different from an Air bnb! There were two rooms, one bath, and a common dining room/ kitchen for us to spend time together! He let us choose who got the room with one queen sized bed and who got the "uh, how you say, 'unmatrimonial positioned beds" aka two twin beds separated by a night stand.
It was then that I knew this guy had the coolest sense of humor EVER.
When he led us to the courtyard of the compound, he said "this is where you take-a your panoramic picture."
Luka, if you are reading this, you are the best and your English is really great!
They gave us access to their laundry machines which saved our butts since we had packed so light!
Luka introduced us to the kitchen staff and volunteers at the camp who invited us to their "family dinner."
That family dinner was INSANE.
They had two HUGE cafeteria style tables lined up against a wall and had us sitting in the middle with our backs to the wall. We were the only ones for the first half hour.
They brought us some scrumptious rice and meat dishes and we ate our fill...then the family started arriving, totally blocking our exit, and we knew the meal had just begun!
We quickly found out that we had, in fact, only had the appetizers and were expected to eat entres and dessert (not to mention drink wine, then coffee, then wine again)!
It was PANDAMONIUM.
We ate whatever we could, obediently trying to understand some of the words spoken around us.
There were only two other English speakers in a group of about 20 people.
One was a young teenage girl with an adorable Southern accent! She studied abroad in the Southern USA which gave her a cute drawl.
Everyone was curious about us so they were all demanding she translate their questions and such! I ended up sitting next to a man, I found out later, was the pastor of their Church!
They invited us to their Sunday service in town and the festivities went on for around 2 hours.
By the time we finished eating, they were already pulling out the hard liquor aka "Grappa" that contains about 70% alcohol.
We didn't know about this clear wine made from grape skins and they assumed we understood what it was...wrongly.
The oldest man at the table sweetly offered some to Kyle, so of course Kyle held out his newly filled miniature coffee cup. (In Italy, you drink espresso shots during and after your meal)
The old man smirked and poured some in, then just staired. The table got a little quite as Kyle took a big drink from his "shot sized" cup.
His face got all twisted and laughter erupted at the table. They explained that no one had ever mixed espresso and grappa before and we all proceeded to "die laughing" at Kyle's experiment. They all proceeded to try it and make faces that matched Kyle’s reaction.
They busted the myth that Christians "can't drink" WIDE OPEN that night! It was a vineyard after all.
The best joke Luka EVER made was his response to my questioning the location of our passports. He said, "I stole them. I ama how you say, 'cereal killa."
We went to church with them that Sunday and got to sing many of the songs we know in Italian, which was incredible!
Our inturpriter was a wonderful woman from London who graciously recorded a video saying, "Aubrey Strawberry" for me.
A friendly elderly gentlemen came up to us and had her translate that he hoped we would stop by again. He said to stop by anytime and say "surprisa" aka surprise!
The last night we stayed at Poggio, Luka told us, "thank you, on behalf of my whole country for what America did for us in World War II."
I was genuinely confused and tried to pretend I understood the gravity of what he had said. I may not have comprehended his point.
A knot formed in my stomach as the he was nearly moved to tears by the sentiment.
More on that point later.
The morning we left Poggio Ubertini, we had breakfast with the lovely old couple who owned the vineyard.
They taught us about "hard work" and how it is good for the soul. The husband who we now fondly refer to as "grappa" (as a play on words for Grandpa) told us about his life as a young man and how impoverished his country was.
He said during the wars, Italy was so poor, they had to dip their bread "biscotti" in water because it was so stail. To this day, he only eats a slice of bread with a bit of tomato with a glass of wine for breakfast.
We watched their wine press, met some cute kittens, paid for A BUNCH of wine, and said our goodbyes.
We were beyond grateful to the people of Poggio Ubertini, who housed us, fed us, prayed with us, and taught us!
We were able to see Florence while we stayed there and also received MANY bug bites from leaving our windows open.
I am grateful that a rich Lady of Italy long past, donated her land to the Lord so that it could be used for his work! That is, after all, the heart warming story of Poggio Ubertini!
On our way out, we weren't able to go see the castle we had stared at through our windows, but we were able to see a different one that was INCREDIBLE.
Thank you so much for reading another one of my crazy blogs! That is all for this one, but Florence, Rome, and our trip home are still to come.
Stay tuned for Part III of our Italy Adventure!
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Thanks so much for reading.