Rogue Carver on the Loose in Italy
Part 16, Ripafratta to Rigomagno
Tuesday, May 20th, 2014
As I write these words I now find I have to trace back the individual weeks in order to calculate just how long I have been in Italy on my Great Tuscan Adventure; three days in Florence, five and a half weeks in Pietrasanta, two weeks in Ripafratta, and now the end of the second day in Rigomagno, which amounts to just over seven weeks in total. And with a shade under five weeks remaining it comes as something of a shock to realize that I am well over the half-way point.
I am now so accustomed to my role as a ‘Rogue Carver on the Loose in Italy’ that even I can sometimes lose sight of the fact that I came to this beautiful country to carve marble – Cararra marble no less, but as there’s nothing to be gained by rehashing events I’ll just reiterate the fact that I am just so glad I chose the path on which I currently travel as it has lead me to so many fascinating and memorable places, only a fraction of which I have been able to include in my blog.
Time restraints, limited bandwidth and even access to the internet itself serve as perennial problems when attempting to travel and blog in real time, but I have nevertheless been documenting each stage of the adventure and plan to revisit the places I have yet to blog about about in future blogs, many of which will most likely only surface on the web once I’m back on familiar turf in Woody Creek, Colorado, my home for the past ten and-a-half years.
At the moment though I’m writing this comfortably reclined next to a nice roaring fire in my spacious and beautifully appointed apartment on the ground floor of a fully restored ancient Tuscan farmhouse. A chicken, potatoes and baby onions roast in the oven, and my supply of local wine shows no danger of running out before the evening is through – the perfect setting then to devote the evening to some quality blogging time… just me, you and a roaring fire! I’d offer you a glass of wine but unfortunately all I am able to share are photographs and a few recollections; so here we go.
To begin with I just cannot tell you just how wonderful my hosts, Adriana and Mateo, were throughout my two week stay in Ripafratta. From the moment I arrived they went out of their way to make me feel completely welcome and comfortable in their lovely home, but the extent of their hospitality extended way beyond anything I would have expected or could have imagined.
I discovered their lovely Bed & Breakfast via Airbnb… a seriously radical approach to independent travel the site offers the adventurous traveler the opportunity to stay with real people in their homes, which in turn affords not only a genuine warmth and familiarity but a unique insight into the lives and customs of the community in which they live. I can’t even list the kind favors and helpful hints that Adriana and Mateo volunteered; from providing a really beautiful bike with which to explore the surrounding countryside, to bringing me along with them to a Saturday night ‘soupa festival’ with their circle of close friends; taking me to their secret favorite hide-away rustic café bar, not to mention an open invite to dine with them whenever I wished, breakfast lunch or dinner. It was in fact… ‘they were’ in fact nothing less than amazing.
Consequently it’s no surprise that the fortnight simply flew by. I have so many wonderful memories to look back upon but I certainly cherish those I gathered while exploring nearby Lucca and Pisa. Both cities provide a wealth of interest to a Rogue Carver such as myself, and each visit never failed to open the door to a new revelation; an incredible carving, stunning building, truly ancient church, a vista or panoramic view I had missed on previous trips. Both Lucca and Pisa were incredibly easy to reach, with a train every 30 minutes from the nearby station. There is even a magnificent cycle path enabling a beautiful, level bike ride into either city… the best and most rewarding way to approach Lucca and its ancient walls in my opinion.
But as I said, it almost came as a shock to realize that my time not only in Ripafratta was drawing to a close but the entire coastal region, for essentially my move from Pietrasanta had simply shifted me from one side of the region to the other – the scenery was essentially the same, as was the weather, but my move yesterday took me way down to central/southeastern Tuscany and here I am presented with an entirely new and different landscape… drier, warmer and with a definitive landlocked feel to it.
I have to say though that my journey was not without a certain amount of difficulty. Previously my travels have been comfortable and reasonably hassle-free; train carriages have been quite sparsely populated and railway platforms uncluttered with people and baggage. However I have been noticing an increased build up in the number of riders of late and my journey from Ripafratta to Siena proved something of a tipping point. The trains, not to mention the stations, were packed – so much so that I had to ride part of the way seated upon a cold hard step, all the way from Empoli to Siena. Not exactly an unmitigated disaster by any means, and I only mention it to illustrate the difference between travelling in Tuscany in April and the reality that faces the traveler of May. Just what June will be like I dread to think. But it did get worse – considerably so in fact, for on arrival in Siena I was dryly informed by the ticket man that although the map (even their map) shows a station at Rigomagno the trains for some reason simply refuse to recognize it or even stop there!
OK, I’ll take a bus. The bus however held similar misgivings about the place and promptly dropped me and my huge suitcase by the side of the freeway… a kilometer or so from the poor ignored station and the cluster of buildings huddled around it. What to do, what to do? I tried hitchhiking but came to my senses when the drivers refused even to look at me, and so I began to haul myself and my weighty baggage along the edge of the drag race strip of a road that lead into town, a tortuously slow and arduous trek that destroyed one of the (cheap) wheels of my (cheap) bag.
By the time I arrived at the outskirts of town, sweaty, annoyed and thirsty I was relieved to discover that the cluster of buildings did at least count a bar among its numbers and so slaking my thirst with a couple of ice cold beers I began to recover my sense of bravado and, spotting a phone booth marched over to it confident that I would be comfortably lodged in my next B&B very soon. Needless to say the phone was out of order, at which point I retraced my steps and slammed two very quick whiskies – single malts that did wonders I can tell you. At this point I simply gave into the situation and turned my attention to the tiny black and white TV in the corner of the snug and simply let the chips fall where they may.
It was at this point that the bartender began to take an interest in my plight and pulling out his mobile volunteered to ring the number. Of course there was no answer but the whiskey was calling the shots by this point and with the growing realization that it was only a matter of time before the situation was resolved I simply let my frustrated tired mind wallow in the bizarre reality of a farcical Italian comedy playing out on a tiny monochrome TV that seemed quite tame in comparison to the previous hour or two of my own life.
So how lovely it was to see Barbara and Jacob come beaming around the corner. Moments later we were sauntering the isles of a supermarket grabbing fresh trout and whole chicken, pecorino cheese, olives, pesto, eggs, tomatoes, strawberries, peaches, fresh pasta and bread, wine and everything I imagined I would need to stock my apartment refrigerator for the next week.
And so, here I am… and what an extraordinarily beautiful place this is… and what extraordinary people Jacob’s family turned out to be. Last night we feasted on the trout, along with a delicious seafood ‘soupa’, freshly picked asparagus, salad, antipasti… followed by Barbara’s amazing tiramisu – an exceptionally indulgent treat in itself! After which we polished off the last of the wine, only for Jacob’s father to bring out the Glenfidich! Needless to say the talking, laughing and intense discussion went on late into the night.
And so I ask you – where else can an independent traveler find such wonderful company? In a hotel? A motel? Guesthouse? No… Airbnb, that’s where. And so if you are in need of a little quality travel time of your own you could do worse than to check out their website. There’s an adventure just waiting for you, of that you can be sure.
Until next time, if in doubt, opt for adventure.