Tuscany is the place of my dreams. All of my Italy dreams, for decades, have been wrapped up in visions of the beautiful Tuscan landscape, with hopes of quiet sunsets, peace, and preferably, a classic Italian soundtrack playing in the background. In discussions before we left on this trip, Dwayne and I both realized that I had some pretty high expectations for this leg, and that I would be wise to remember that sometimes things don’t work out the way we expect. “Things are what they are. We are unhappy because we expected differently.” (I have this wise quote on one of my Pinterest boards, but I’m afraid I don’t know who said it first. If it’s you, feel free to take credit.) Anyway, I was focused on letting our Tuscany experience unfold as it would and just enjoy it.
It was more than I could have ever hoped.
I could fill pages and pages with my thoughts and stories from these 5 days, but I’ve saved that for my personal travel diary, because you have your own life to live and probably don’t have hours to read about our travel ups and downs. Instead, can I share just 4 snapshots of joy? Four treasures that I will hold in my heart from this beautiful experience.
Snapshot One: We spent our first full day in Florence on bikes. I love Hansen family bike rides, and there were some great parts to this one, including an incredible view of Florence from the Piazza Michelangelo. But, a good portion of this day was spent arguing with Dwayne and feeling quite angry and frustrated. Whatever. It happens. I was hoping for a more blissful bike ride, but that’s not how it worked out. We worked it out eventually and carried on with our day, and later, after dinner, we left the kiddos getting ready for bed and headed out on one of our many mini-dates. (PS. This is an amazing perk of traveling with a kid of babysitting age!) We eventually found ourselves on one of Florence’s beautiful bridges, watching the sunset, admiring the beauty of the river, the sky, the city, and wouldn’t you know it, each other. Joy on a bridge.
Snapshot Two: Long before we come to Italy, we booked a Pizza & Gelato making class, which received glowing reviews online, and which we were all pretty pumped about. The class was in a kitchen right in Florence, and since it was a bit of a splurge already, we didn’t book the upgraded version that took you out to a vineyard in the Chianti region with wine tasting and beautiful views. Of course, I wanted to book this one, but in the end, it was sacrificed to our budget, and we were happily looking forward to the class in town. The day before our class, we received an email asking if we’d be interested in a free upgrade to join the tour in Chianti! Sweet Tuscany hallelujah, yes! I was so pumped to have this one evening out in the countryside where I was sure all my Tuscan landscape dreams would come true.
We left Florence in the heat and sunshine at 6pm, and by the time we were halfway to the vineyard, huge storm clouds blew in, the heavens opened, and it poured rain. I mean, poured! On the one hand, we were quite giddy about it. We really hadn’t seen a rain like that for months, and after the heat we’d been enduring for 13 days in Italy, not to mention months in the desert, it felt, smelled, and sounded amazing. On the other hand, it didn’t really look amazing. My dreams of Tuscan views and peaceful countryside were washed away as we got out of the van, running to the kitchen for shelter. So I put on my “let it be what it is” pants, and focused on enjoying the cooking class in this gorgeous Italian kitchen full of lovely people and delicious ingredients.
Then, within about half an hour, maybe an hour before sunset, the rain stopped. The sun came out from under the clouds. And it felt like I was personally treated to the most stunning and refreshing Tuscan sunset I ever could have imagined. I can’t fully describe the moment or the joy of the whole evening, but I can tell you, as I stood at the fence, looking out, that I felt the presence of my generous heavenly Father who delights in giving good gifts to his children. I literally felt his joy in my joy. Joy in a perfectly imagined moment come true.
Three: We went to the Uffizi and Accademia Galleries to see some of history’s most renowned art, and I felt bad that it just wasn’t that awesome for me. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated a handful of pieces wherever we went, but it turns out Renaissance art just isn’t really my thing. I love art, but of a different sort. And personally, in Italy, I prefer the landscape and the architecture and even the sculptures to the endless paintings of Mary and Jesus. And you know I love Jesus. Anyway, it just wasn’t as moving for me as I’m sure it is for many an art lover around the world. But we came upstairs toward the end of our time in the Accademia Gallery, almost done and ready to leave the art world behind, when we came into this room full of books. Old books. In glass cases. And I caught my breath and put my hand to my chest and even let out a little, “whoa.”
Here in this quiet room were a handful of musical and religious books, handwritten by monks hundreds of years ago. Illuminated letters and illustrations filled the sides of the pages. They were so beautiful, and here they were in person, bound and meticulously copied by dedicated men. I spent about 20 minutes, practically by myself, marveling at these books while everyone else photographed Michelangelo’s David downstairs. (Who, by the way, is hugely popular for a reason. Quite impressive.) But it’s funny how different things speak to different people. These books spoke to me, and I was a little bit in awe in that room. Joy in nerdy book love.
Four: On our last day in Florence we took a day trip to Cinque Terre to visit the 5 little towns on the quieter side of the Italian Riviera. This day turned out to be worthy of a chapter in a book, and ranged from the highs of an amazing coastal hike on the Mediterranean to the lows of drifting off to sleep on a concrete train station floor at midnight. I would call it a series of unfortunate events, but it’s not really unfortunate when you still have an amazing adventure day, no one is harmed, and you leave with a great story. We are fond of great travel stories.
But the snapshot moment of this day came in the little village of Vernazza, where we finished our beautiful hike, ate some beautiful gelato, and swam in the beautiful sea. Dwayne and the kids were jumping off some rocks, the sun was setting, I was perched on my own rock with the waves lapping at my feet and feeling the blessing of the moment. Joy in my family and the sea.
Travel is not an uninterrupted lineup of joyful snapshots. In fact, it’s more like a series of routine or forgettable moments interrupted by memorable ones. All of those ordinary moments of travel simply prop up the treasured snapshots. But when I look back on this trip, I probably won’t remember most of the mundane walking and waiting and sweating and riding and packing. It’s the snapshots that will come to mind.
I think that’s how it is for most of our lives. A lot of ordinary moments that give life to outstanding ones and fill a treasure box of memories. So cheers to you today, and both your ordinary and outstanding moments.