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Tuscany

Siena/San Gimignano

We made a quick stop in Siena, which is a beautiful medieval town, but the gaggles of tourists and teenagers were as numerous as the flocks of pigeons in the piazzas, so we left in search of something more rural. We took a bus through the Tuscan countryside, which was exactly as we'd imagined it: a giant, sunny yellow/green patchwork quilt of farms and vineyards and olive groves sectioned off by ribbons of country road. We wanted to wrap ourselves up in it. Above it all, the medieval town of San Gimignano (which we now lovingly refer to as "San Gimmy"), rose out of the hills like the Emerald City itself.

We'd booked a reservation at a farm stay called Borgo Montauto. Our hostess, Marinella, picked us up from the bus, stuffed our backpacks into her Fiat's trunk, and motored down the road — driving with her left hand as she acted out charades with her right. Marinella's lovely home was a dream of sunny rooms, homemade quilts, mahogany beds and sparkling bathrooms.

We perfected the fine art of the siesta at Marinella's, while she ran around in her apron like a fairy godmother — baking, making beds, stirring pots, and beating rugs, all before going to her "real" job. After devouring her homemade pastries and fresh-squeezed orange juice, we'd walk the three kilometers into San Gimignano for a picnic in the parco or a gelati by the fountain. Spring had literally sprung — the birds were chirping and the buds were blossoming. We'd wander over the cobblestone streets and duck into a pizzeria for dinner, where they would pull wine from cool stone nooks in the wall and deliver shots of complimentary grappa for dessert. The grappa must have gone to Will's head one night, when he decided to pop into a store to ask about renting a motorbike the next day. He was getting good at communicating by charades, so was undaunted by the shopkeeper's lack of English. Will simply squatted down, held his arms out in front of him, and proceeded to rev his imaginary engines with a few ebullient "Vrrrooooom, Vroooooooom's." The little old man behind the counter perked up — you could almost see the light bulb light up over his head — and said: "Oh! Pizzeria?" Our laughter must have woken the entire town as we walked back to Marinella's in dark, with only the stars to light our way.

After watching us walk up and down the hills for several days, Marinella decided we needed a break and said she'd make us dinner one night. She asked if we liked corniglia? "Cornili-what?" we asked. Marinella proceeded to made bunny ears over her head while Will hopped around the room on his haunches, trying to confirm the charade. We realized this embarrassment could have been avoided when Will and Marinella found a common language and simultaneously blurted out "lapin!" — the French word for rabbit.

We look back on this dinner as the "Big Night" of our lives. This was no mere dinnerů it was a Dionysian feast of the heavenliest proportions. We sat by the fire at a cozy table for two as Marinella brought us course after course: bruschetta, vegetables baked in parmesan cheese, homemade bread with olive oil from the orchard, fresh homemade pasta, homemade meat sauce with the legendary lapin, and wine bottled from the vineyard out back. Then came the éclairs and the plump juicy oranges and the label-less green bottle of pure ambrosia. Every now and then, Marinella's 95-year old mother would run into the room, stoke the fire with her bare hands, and then return to scrubbing the laundry in a tub outside. With each new course more stunning than the next, our meal quickly degenerated into primitive debauchery: Will leaned back in his chair and farted, and laughed, and farted, and moaned, and farted and sighed (luckily, we had the "restaurant" to ourselves) while Dana watched him with a giddy, hazy glaze over her eyes, her drool-covered chin in her hand. Marinella left us in the living room with dessert and went to bed — but not before we had the chance to ask her if we could buy a bottle of her delicious dessert wine. "Oh, No! Is not possible," she replied, shaking her head. "Is only one." (The rest was apparently still fermenting in a barrel.) In our giddy ecstasy, we continued to pour many, many tiny little crystal glasses-ful of vin santo, toasting "To your health!" "No, to your health!"

The next morning, we awoke in horror at the thought of having downed a half a bottle of Marinella's precious vin santo. We skipped breakfast and snuck out of the house unseen to investigate vin santo prices in the San Gimignano wine stores. We reckoned hers was at least a $60 bottle — our entire daily budget. And the dinnerů. the dinner! We couldn't even begin to imagine what we would owe for that blissful banquet. When we returned to the farm, Will asked Marinella for the dinner bill with his stomach in his throat, and nearly choked when he saw the bill forů. "$20!"

"There must be some mistake," Will said, offering Marinella more money. "Oh no, you embarrass me!" she insisted, brushing it away again and again. By the end of our stay, she'd bottled another label-less vin santo for us, which we bought at her going-rate of $3.

Florence

We got to Florence on a weekend. It may have been a Monday or a Tuesday, but according to the Roaming Year Calendar, it was a weekend.

After more than six months of travel, and at least two near collapses from exhaustion (both Dana's — brought on by Will's go-go traveling pace), we had finally figured out that even if you aren't reporting to an office five days a week, you still need to give yourself weekends to take a break from the constant demands of traveling. But when every day is a new, exotic, beautiful place with no shortage of must-see attractions, how do you spend the day in bed with a book? Since we'd shacked up at the hotel-turned-Gonzaga-College-Study-Abroad-Program dorms, it was easy to pretend that we were back in school skipping classes for a snooze.

The weather was cold and rainy, so we felt a little less guilty holing up in our hotel room reading books while the crowds flocked to see The David. We went to Irish bars, ate Big Macs, and caught a bad American movie. We warmed ourselves with comfort food in a side-alley trattoria that we nicknamed "Mama's" in response to the hordes of apparently single men who gathered there each night. (Dana was the only female in the entire restaurant one night. Will thought he saw the owners showing porn on an overhead television, which would have explained the literal sausage fest.) We did manage to spend some time at the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, and some of the gorgeous churches. But for the most part, we hid from the freezing rain and enjoyed a lazy "weekend" in Florence.

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