Soprano in Tuscany

One of the best things about my trip to Rome last month was that I got to see a lot of my best friend Lauren, who is living and working there now.

K & L

On Lauren’s balcony

On my last weekend in Italy, N had to head home and I stayed with Lauren and her adorable family. On Thursday that week she texted me that they were thinking of going to the beach in Tuscany that weekend, and was I interested? I had to think about that one for oh, half a second. Probably less.

So Saturday morning they picked me up in their shiny red Fiat 500L, and we drove north. We were headed to Capalbio, their favorite beach town — really a collection of villages scattered across the green hills that roll into the Mediterranean — in southern Tuscany. After only an hour and a half on the road we came to this:

TuscanyHouse

the customs-house-turned-B&B where we stayed overnight. Look idyllic? Check out the view from the grounds:

TuscanyHouseView

There were ostriches and donkeys on the property so that the B&B could qualify as an agritourism venue, as well as an olive grove and a beautiful rose garden.

TuscanyOstriches

We spent several hours each day on the beach. The setup was just like N and I experienced  in Rome — we rented chairs and bought lunch (wonderful cheese and fried calamari; slightly different fare from what you’d get at an American beach snack bar) at the bar. The beach was much quieter and less crowded than in Rome, and the Mediterranean sea even bluer. There was an exhibition of kite surfers all weekend, and while the kids ran and played we sat in our chairs and watched the kites float across the sky.

Beach Capalbio

We drove up to the old town, perched atop a high hill, to get views of the landscape below,

TuscanHillside

to walk around its sweet stone buildings,

TuscanyOldTown

and to enjoy an afternoon snack, including my last gelato of the trip.

TuscanyGelato

Cioccolato, vaniglia, and frutti di bosco: a cut above Neapolitan ice cream

The entire weekend I felt like I was in a movie, or maybe a tourism brochure. It was that beautiful, sunny, and peaceful in Capalbio. And being led around by friends who know and love the area and took me to all their favorite places made it even better.

Everything was lovely. After an amazing long night of countryside sleep, I woke up in the bright morning to find this gorgeous crostata which the innkeeper had left for us in the living area and Lauren had delivered to our little apartment:

TuscanyCrostata

We ate well, saw a lot, and relaxed plenty. Even the somewhat horrific traffic on our way back into Rome couldn’t dampen my happiness on my last night in Italia. It was a perfect ending to a very special vacation.

TuscanyRose

 

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La Spiaggia: At the beach, Italian style

beachromewaves

The Italian vacation to which I alluded in January is come and gone. And it was wonderful. I ate so much great gelato, pizza and pasta that I will have to do a separate posting on the food. Since N and I spent 9 days in Rome for our honeymoon in 2012, we’d already done a lot of the must-do things in that city, and we were free to plan each day — or not — as it came. This time, after a few days, we were ready to get out of the city. We opted to head to the beach.

From Rome, you can take the Metro straight to the beach at Ostia Lido. It’s only about half an hour from the city, and you can transfer to the train to the beach on the same 1.50 Euro ticket that got you started on your journey. It’s a bargain and a great getaway from Rome that doesn’t even have to take your whole day (which is good because we got a late start after a lazy morning and a trip to our neighborhood outdoor market for our picnic lunch).

Since the journey was ridiculously affordable and we were warned that the public beaches might be crowded, we planned to pay to enter one of the private beaches, and we went armed with the name of a recommended beach. All the beaches have their own bars (a bar is a coffee shop that also serves beer and wine, some cold food like pastries and panini, and maybe even hot food) and usually bathrooms and chair rentals, but private beaches offer more space and well, privacy. They have fancier bars or maybe even nice restaurants serving fresh seafood, and if you want to shell out, you can rent a private cabin for changing. It seemed like it would be a fun cultural experience.

beachroma

But we got sidetracked by a cultural experience of a different kind. On the train, we were befriended by an old Italian man. Actually, he engaged us in friendly conversation with several people on the train, and they all discussed the beach we had chosen and what bus would get us there once we got off the train.

Then our friend offered to take us to his favorite beach. With our limited Italian we gathered that it was the public beach where he, retired and with a free senior citizen pass for the Metro, goes every single day. We made sure there were bathrooms, umbrella rentals, and of course, a bar, and then decided we’d follow him. Why pass up the opportunity to experience something alongside a local? Also, his beach was a short walk from the Metro, two stops closer to the city, so we’d be on the sand faster and with a guide to get there we didn’t have to worry about taking the wrong bus and ending up somewhere way down the coast.

When we got off the train, the old man showed us the fountain where he always fills his water bottle (Rome has these ubiquitous and wonderful drinking fountains that continuously dispense safe, delicious drinking water), and then treated us to coffees at a bar on the way down the street! He delivered us to the beach, negotiated with the attendant for us to pay 5 Euros instead of 6 (too much, he said) for an umbrella, then shook our hands and went to his favorite spot to bake in the sun.

Sure, the beach was crowded.

beachcrowded

It was full of young Italians — not under umbrellas — and young central and eastern Europeans as white as us, who were more likely to be protecting themselves from the sun. We lounged under our umbrella for hours, taking breaks to splash in the (still chilly) Mediterranean waters and walk along the beach. We ate our picnic of bread, cheese, and ripe cherries, and didn’t even need a trip to the bar for further provisions. Our friend came to say goodbye to us, and we left not long after him, wandering our way back to the Metro for a tired, contended ride back into Rome.