Upon leaving Denise in London, I hopped a flight to Tuscany. Yes, there was a LOT of time under the Tuscan sun (I am super tan)!
Since it is harder to get around Italy than Africa (and seemingly less English speakers), upon arrival on a Sunday I had to spend the night in Pisa. I've seen the Leaning Tower before, so I wasn't overly thrilled about the idea, but I stayed at a lovely spot with cool 300+ year-old stained glass windows and yummy pizza and lemoncello nearby.
I also oddly met a couple of girls from Temple at the guesthouse-- strange to meet someone from Bristol, PA in Pisa!
As you can imagine, it wasn't quite the same without Kerry here to take my picture holding up the Leaning Tower, but I tried to make the best of it ;-)
Since I'd already been to the limited sites of Pisa, I did spend some time watching Italy v. New Zealand with the locals in the square (and eating gelato, of course)--- if they knew what was to come they probably would have been more upset with that tie.
The next morning I was ready to make the trek to Castello di Potentino, the vineyard I would be working at for the next couple weeks.
The vineyard is outside of Seggiano, not exactly on the Tuscan tourist route since it required a train ride to Grosseto, a bus to Castel del Piano and a short drive to the vineyard. I didn't quite know about the drive part, so when I arrived during siesta and asked someone for a taxi they laughed and said the town had no taxis (oops!).
The hours of travel were certainly worth it once I arrived in the beautiful, unspoiled Tuscan countryside and Castello di Potentino.
Home for the next few weeks- a castle dating from 1042 where Saint Catherine of Siena was once a guest. Yes, me and Saint Catherine!
Castle living ain't so bad! The views from every window were amazing and it was SO quiet (except for our cabaret night). At night all I could hear from the bedroom was the sound of a waterfall from the nearby river.
There were all sorts of outdoor spaces to just sit and stare off into the distance at the tiny towns atop the hills (Seggiano being the one we would hike to for World Cup watching at Caffe 60 with the old Italian men) and the vines and olive trees all over the place.
Apparently the castle was in complete disrepair until a British family, the Greene's, purchased it in 1989. Restoration was complete in 2000 and they've been producing wine and olive oil ever since (they had made wine at their former property in Tuscany). It was fascinating to hear the stories from the ladies of the house-- Sally Greene and her daughter, Charlotte Horton.
Sally, who is married to Graham Greene (a successful British publisher and nephew of THE Graham Greene), grew up in the oldest house in England (1066, the Battle of Hastings!). I loved hearing her childhood stories about the governess, riding side saddle, etc.--- it all sounded like a Jane Austen novel.
Sally also spent time living in East Germany with her former husband who was the Reuters correspondent. She's led a fascinating life, from what she can remember, and is a lovely, charming woman.
We learned a lot about each other (Sally, Charlotte and the seven other volunteers, three of whom are from the Philly area as well-- all these Philly people in Tuscany?) over the long lunches and dinners we prepared as a group. I was mostly an assistant, but I did make polenta all by myself and it was yummy. The food was delish- it is incredible what you can do with fresh veggies/herbs and some olive oil.
Just a few ingredients made for the most scrumptious meals. In fact, one such ingredient was stinging nettles! Yes, they sting!!! I can't say I enjoyed our 2-hour foraging session in my impractical outfit (flip flops and dress), but the walk/wade back through the river when we got a little confused (aka lost) was pretty hilarious.
I did feel I needed to stick up for America at times with the Brits (you know how they can be a little superior at times) but all in all it was really very pleasant. One thing I did learn is that the Brits think "sure" is a very rude response when asked a question that could be answered with a "yes, please" or "no, thanks"--- I must say, when you think about it maybe it is a little rude?
Of course, to answer my own question--- yes, the glass was almost always full. We drank a lot of their Etruscan wine, which is made by foot (I so want to do that in the fall!). It was really nice, and since it has NOTHING (aka sulfites) in it, never was there a headache to follow :-)
Of course, we had to work to get all this great food and wine...
Each day we woke early to start work in the vineyard at 6am, before it got too hot. Perhaps obvious to most-- working in a vineyard for 7 hours a day is tough work (made a little easier by listenting to opera or singing full volume to cheesy music on my iPod). For a few days we trained the vines, which basically means tucking the stray wines between the wires so they grow straight. My arms were super achy from holding them up all day, but that was nothing compared to task 2!
For days upon days all we did was weed around the bases of hundred of rows of vines. After my calves hurt from crouching I leaned over, until my back hurt. Next position- bum, until that hurt from sitting on the rocky and weedy ground. Arms covered in scratches and the start of a nice glove tan, at the end of the day I was exhausted. Wine, please!
Mission accomplished- I have a much better appreciation for wine. I will never drink it again without my back hurting! ;-)