Under the Tuscan sun

3/31/12

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”

— Giuseppe Verdi 

Studying in Italy makes it so easy to travel throughout Europe. Going from country to country in Europe is like going from state to state in the U.S. With all of the international traveling I’ve been doing — from Switzerland to Poland to Greece — I sometimes forget about all the beauty I have yet to see here in my “home” country, and that just because I know Florence doesn’t mean I know Italy.

Some friends and I decided to spend the Saturday after spring break getting to know our home region — Tuscany.

We booked a day of horseback riding and wine tasting through a company called Fun in Tuscany. The package included an authentic, Tuscan lunch and transportation through the countryside. Simply riding around in that van was one of the best parts of my day.

We met our guides near the train station early in the morning, and drove about 30 minutes to the Chianti region. Chianti is in the heart of Tuscany, where some of Italy’s most famous wines are produced. There, we spent about two hours on horseback, riding through vineyards, woods and olive groves.

My horse’s name was Bruth (pretty, I know), and I was pretty nervous to get on her back. I knew that I’d ridden a horse before, but I couldn’t remember when, and it very well could have been 10 years ago. I’d ridden a donkey just a week ago in Greece, but a man was guiding the donkey with a rope. This time, I had total control.

One guide on horseback led a caravan of about 15 of us; the other guides helped us gear up and waited back at the horse farm. They taught us some moves to guide the horses, and just before they sent us on our merry way, one of the guys told me Bruth is the youngest and doesn’t always like to listen. As if I wasn’t nervous enough!

Bruth gave me some trouble, but nothing that was too much to handle. The worst part of the ride was the anticipation that she might run off. The rest was pretty perfect.

Next, we went to the 13th century castle of Monteriggioni for some Tuscan wine tasting. We tried about six different bottles of wine, each of which were different flavors, qualities, etc. Everyone seemed to think each flavor was incredibly unique and exquisite, but I didn’t notice much difference. I guess I need to start drinking more expensive wines…

One of our guides and his son

Inside the walls of Monteriggioni

After a few glasses, we were all ready for lunch. I don’t know the name of the place, and I didn’t take any pictures of the food, but it was the BEST meal I’ve had in Italy. Even the bread was amazing. While we ate, our guides (three men) told us (a table of 15 girls) jokes about stereotypical men in America, Italy and throughout Europe. Most of the jokes aren’t blog-appropriate, but I was in tears I was laughing so hard. The Tuscan countryside was amazing — as were the horses, wine and food — but the people and the laughter were what really made that day so memorable.

View from the restaurant

It was Michelle’s birthday, so they surprised her with a cake.

After lunch, we had some time to play around the area. I jumped on a trampoline (with Kate and Michelle) for the first time in probably 10 years. Then, we hopped in the van to head back to Florence.

It sounds silly, but that van ride was one of the highlights of the day. Our guide was blasting American hip hop music and flying down and around the country roads — brake checking and swerving to “make us dance,” and racing the guides in the second van. I was laughing and dancing on the outside, but I was also having a quiet moment on the inside — taking in the magnificent landscape.

This photo doesn’t even come close to doing it justice.

As we neared the train station, our guide pointed to a fair that his son always begs to visit. “You girls want to go?” he asked, jokingly.

“Yeah!” we all chimed.

“Really? Okay!”

He turned around, pulled into the lot, and we topped off an already amazing day with an impromptu trip to the fair. Our guide even paid for us to play some games.

Italian rides are much more reckless (but way more fun) than American rides. On this spinning ride, partners would hold on to each other’s seats and kick them up to try to grab this flag (above). Whoever pulls down the flag first wins a prize.

Our guide and Michelle

I never know how to end these posts… I think this photo from the van does the trick:

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