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I’m going to write today about What We Did In The Homeschool, but it’s ironic I’m doing it the morning of M’s first day in a brick-n-mortar school in four years.

I’m a little melancholy, but also hopeful. Meet the teacher day was a success, and my intuitions were confirmed. It was absolutely right that we homeschooled for that “elementary” part of life and quite right – I think – that he’s going back for middle school in this school. The teachers all seem to be working at a level that’s challenging and interesting, but imbued with caritas, as their motto says they should be. Religion will be Old Testament and history is Ancient History, and the material will be integrated in creative ways by a great teacher. Science is in a new, up-to-date lab, taught by a Ph.D (who incidentally taught my daughter in a public school International Baccalaureate program several years ago). Spanish is taught by an experience native speaker. We had good experiences with many of these teachers two years ago with my older son, so that’s no surprise, but I was still concerned that this one’s extraordinarily deep and frankly, unusual for his age – imagination, level of interest in and openness to learning might be constrained in a school environment. I’m not thrilled with presenting “1.5-2 hours of homework a night” as a feature, either,  but I’m hoping that it won’t be the case for M, and if it is…we’ll recalibrate. Life is too short for an 11-year old to spend 7 hours a day at school and then have two hours of homework. But as I tell them both frequently – if it doesn’t work for you, we’ll do something else.

This morning I said to the older one, “Do you have any advice for your brother?”

He shrugged. “You’re going to be hungry and you’re going to be tired.”

#Truthteller

#Tradeoffs

All right, so you’re going to homeschool. What next?

I hear Europe is nice. Let’s go there.

Yes, that’s what we did. Spent the fall of 2012 in Europe.

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Here.

I’m not going to relive that experience and go over it in detail, but I’ll just focus on what that absolutely crazy decision was about in the context of the decision to homeschool.

In short, it really was a way to force my own hand.

If I made us leave the country, there was no way I could, come August 1, change my mind and race back to school, registration forms in hand, begging for them to open the doors.

Yes, I was in a privileged position. But it was a privileged position that came out the fact that my father had died the previous year and I was an only child. Frankly, I would trade my father being not dead at 77 from the effects of 60 years of heavy smoking for that fall in Europe, but it was what it was, and as I contemplated what he would want me to do with part of what he had left behind, I was sure he would be just fine with it. This was something he could give these kids through me and this moment, so it happened.

So we went.

Oh, and I should mention that this time in Europe was also a trial run. I was seriously toying with the idea of moving to Europe for a time. Didn’t know where, but it struck me as another solution to the American-education-is-mostly-terrible dilemma. Before we went, I spent time studying the possibility of life in various mid-sized cities like Turin, for example – looking at homeschool rules, the experiences of American kids going to school in European schools and so on.

Well, that almost-four months cured me of that notion. Not in any dramatic fashion, and not in negative terms, but I simply came to understand that as much as we all like visiting European countries, my kids are American kids, they like living in America, and I like raising them in America. With all the stress of being a little family whose husband and father had died, I saw very clearly that taking us to Europe to live would just be…stupid.

So yes, we were in Europe, doing the Roamschool thing, and here’s what we did:

First, I said from the beginning of this that they would be perfectly free to return to school in January. It was going to be completely up to them. And I wasn’t joking, and I wasn’t playing psychological games. I meant it, they knew it, and the school knew it.

With that in mind, we did some formal “schooling” in Europe, mostly with the curricula that their school used in the basics, so that in case they did return, they would be on track with their classes. That meant the second-grader did his class’s spelling words and math program. The sixth grader did the same, plus the vocabulary book. I have photos of them sitting at tables in a gite in the Pyrenees with their books open, pencils going. I am insufferable and awful. But you know…I meant well. And really, I had no expectations that they would want to keep homeschooling come January – I thought they would be thoroughly sick of me and my constant, insufferable teachable moments, and if so, they wouldn’t want to “be behind.”

Journaling and doing Envision Math in Appy, Montignac and Lausanne. Crazy. Not the journaling part, but…

The rest of the education was absolutely, er,  teachable moment from one day to the next – but I did prepare and I did teach. I even sort of designed the trip to hit the high points in chronological order. We started in the Montignac area where there are a lot of prehistoric sites. Then moved to Provence (with Lourdes in between) where we took in Roman Gaul. Then Paris for a month..well, Paris. Then to Italy. Well, okay, it was all over the place. But it was all very intentional and how can you not learn tons in that context?

And today, I look back, and I think…I did what? I planned four months in Europe with these two and we did it, and every day we did this thing and saw everything…and we lived?

It wasn’t that long ago, but I swear..I can’t imagine undertaking that kind of trip today. It was mostly glorious and amazing and I prayed for my dad – and everyone else – at every shrine.

 

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“I have to tell you it has been fun.” Haha.

 

 

As the end approached, the question started coming up.

Well? Do you want to go back to school?

Most of the time while we were over there, the answer was either that they didn’t know or “probably.”

But then we actually got back home, we went to the Homewood Christmas Parade they saw their friends, saw that they would be able to be thick into basketball and scouts with these friends and didn’t need school to see them, then considered the reality of waking up early every morning, putting on uniforms and sitting in classrooms, compared it, not to Europe, but to what I suggested we would be doing – work, sure, but also science center classes, zoo classes, “school” done, if everyone cooperated, by noon every day at the latest….

We’ll stay home. Homeschooling will be fine.

And it was.

Now, I’m not going to go into great detail on our days. If you want to see how crazy that was, you can click on these links, which should take you to most of the posts I wrote on homeschooling over the past few years.

Homeschool Daily Report

Learning Notes.

What I am going to talk about will also be a bit limited because I don’t want to go into too much detail about my kids. There was nothing bad or problematic, but I just don’t think it’s my right to write about the particulars of their personalities in relation to education. That’s their business. But what I’ll try to cover is what we did and how it worked without crossing that line of privacy.

First, what did I envision?

To be honest, I really did envision being far more Unschoolish than we ended up being and I do harbor regrets that I never could pull it off. I had hoped that they really would take charge of their own learning and I would just facilitate, and it would be a glorious, busy little hive of self-directed learning, projects and entrepreneurship, but it didn’t work out that way for reasons having to do with them, and having to do with me.

It’s hard to explain, but I think part of it was that the compliance that school demands had…worked. They were perfectly cooperative with authority to the extent that they – especially the older one who had been in school longer – were in the mode of “Learning is about doing what a teacher tells me to do.” I knew this before we went, and indeed, it was something about him that I had discerned and hoped homeschooling would break. But perhaps it is just his personality. As the years went on, he really just preferred to be taught and get it over with for the day so he could go on with his life – and I never could work the “go on with his life” into some sort of educational path. Eh, it was fine.

And secondly, well, there’s…me. I’m not a control freak,  but you know, there were some things I really thought they should do. Yes, we’ll unschool. We’ll be roamschooling unschoolers!

But you know, you know…you have to know how to write properly. Oh, and you’re not going to get out of homeschooling without some Latin. And this math program is fantastic. Oh, and here are some poems to memorize. Look, Shakespeare!

Yeah, I know some unschoolers, and I admire them. I wish I could claim the mantle, but I just can’t.

I guess I should also mention my own personality and how it worked into the homeschooling paradigm. This might be useful to readers, since this is something you have to consider as you get into this. I’m not a robot. I’m a person with certain characteristics and a particular personality. Forget the kids. How am I going to fit into homeschooling?

I mentioned before that I’m an introvert and that the surge of relief I feel when I’m finally alone is probably felt three houses away. I usually explain it by telling a story:

For a time, a few years ago, one of my older sons was living with us, right after he returned from some time teaching English in Rome and while he was going to graduate school. At the time, the younger ones were in school. The day would dawn. They’d go to school. I’d come back, and my older son would be in his room with the door closed. I’d sit at the my desk, ready to work, but finding it difficult. I’d fidget, find distractions and generally feel not quite settled. A couple of hours later, my up-to-then invisible and silent son would come out of his room. “I’m going to class now, Mom,” he’d say, and he’d leave.

Finally, I’d think. Now I can concentrate.

Pretty crazy, huh? Well, that’s an introvert for you.

So yes, I was going to have to be aware of that – as if I couldn’t be – and take care of myself so that I would, at some point, just lose it because no one ever goes away.

And then there’s the personality thing. I don’t set a whole lot of store by personality inventories, except when I do. Like any of you who have worked in group settings, particularly during the 80’s and 90’s, I had to take various personality tests – Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, etc. They are mostly fantasy, but you know…I actually have always found the Myers-Briggs reasonably predictive of my own personality. I always tested as an INFP, and that introvert/intuitive/perceiver is right on. I like to research my tail off, but I don’t like to plan, and my actions within situations are very reactive – in a good way, I think. I’m ready to go in any direction, and I go in what I perceive the needs of the moment call for instead of imposing my will on the situation.

This means that as a homeschooling parent, there was no way we were going to do a boxed curriculum. It meant that as much as possible, I was going to follow their lead and facilitate – much easier, as I have indicated, with one of then than with the other.

And honestly, what it meant was that I spent a lot of time researching resources of all kinds, often late into the night, seeking out interesting nature and history videos, copywork materials, online math, grammar and language games, places for us to go and information about whatever was the topic of the moment.

My life would have been “easier” if I’d done a boxed curriculum or just depended on textbooks, but that is not why I was homeschooling. At all. And of course, I love researching. I love doing travel research, I love digging up recipes…I’m a library rat, and the Internet is the Biggest Library of All.

At one point, there was an attempt to bring a hybrid Catholic school into the area: kids would be in a school maybe two days a week, I think, then finish up work at home. I love the idea of a hybrid school – it really is my ideal – but every time I would think, “Maybe…” I would look at the curriculum again, and think, What they would be doing that I like…we are already doing at home. And I don’t like some of it. And I would be paying a good chunk of money for it. And we would be constrained in our travel and their other fun classes that they like to do.

So I never signed up for it, and as it turned out, not enough people did in the area, so it didn’t happen.

Homeschoolers are hard to plan for, I tell you. They are an independent lot!

And so that’s how it went for two years for both of them, and then for the younger one alone when the older one went, first to 8th grade in school, and then high school. My goal was to get what I considered basics in every day: a bit of writing practice, math and Latin. Everything else was ad hoc and geared to the moment. If their science center class was on molecules one week, we’d talk about that a lot and do more experiments. If we were going to be seeing a Shakespeare play in a few weeks, we’d be reading that. If it was Lent, we’d be paying attention to that. They took lots of classes in the community, and we traveled in the area quite a bit. “School” took no more than three hours a day.

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Fancy. 

For you see, this is something I had learned from classroom teaching: You can’t teach everything, so just try to teach what you can, and do it well. For example, I taught Church History to high schoolers, and as I would explain it, holding my arms out as far as they could go, “There’s this much history.” Then I would hold my fingers very close together. “And we have time to study this much.”

In other words, I had to constantly tell myself, THEY ARE TWELVE AND NINE YEARS OLD. THEY WILL READ MORE SHAKESPEARE. THEY WILL ENCOUNTER CHEMISTRY AGAIN. THEY MIGHT EVEN TAKE LATIN AGAIN. CALM DOWN.

So what did I want for them?

To develop a lifestyle of looking at the world with open eyes and open minds, learning from every moment, and learning how to understand that world and communicate what they see. I wanted them to see how fluid life is and how our understanding of the world changes through time, and to understand this, as much as possible via the world itself without the mediation of textbook companies and state curricula guidelines and their narrow, shallow, secular viewpoints.  I wanted them to see that the world is beautiful, fascinating, but broken, and to be open to the intuitions within them that are prompting them to contribute to that beauty and heal the brokenness, whether that be as an artist, an engineer, a researcher, a physician, a zookeeper..or who knows what else God is calling them to.

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I took this our first full day in Europe in 2012, and it remains my favorite, expressing everything I hoped for them from that roamschool adventure.

Tomorrow, I’ll write about my favorite resources, and Friday, I’ll wrap up with a big “What I Learned” post, so…#rantingahead

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— 1 —

I’m typing this on Friday morning in a regular, American-style hotel room – the AC Marriot hotel in Pisa. It was the first accomodation I had booked when I planned the trip, mostly to be sure that we had accomodations the night before our flight, and also to know that we would wrap up the trip comfortably.

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Don’t get me wrong. We’ve had good accomodations, but there’s been some quirkiness and some that initially looked great turned out to be not that comfortable – the loft area in Ferrara, for example,  didn’t get any of the air conditioning and there was no fan. And all of them, of course, have European-style showers, which are like lockers.

So I knew we’d be ready for this – although we weren’t so desperate that we needed a double shower. But we got it.

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Ready for the road to take us all the way to Alabama

— 2 —

Our flight is relatively late for a Europe -US flight – it doesn’t leave until 1, which is good from my perspective, “I” being the one who has to get everyone up and going. We get to Atlanta about 8, and depending on how long customs takes, I hope we’re home by 10.

We’re ready. We’ve had a great trip, but we are all definitely ready to be home with our own beds, a washing machine and familiar roads.

Stages of Relationship to a Rental Car in Italy:  1. This is GREAT! We’re free from bus and train schedules we can go where we want in this cute little Fiat flying through the Italian countryside  ………(six days later) 2. I cannot WAIT to get rid of this damn car and be DONE driving on this stupid winding Italian roads…

 

— 3 —

So on Thursday, we left our outside-of-Florence (because I don’t really know where it was other than that) apartment and drove to Pisa. Got here around 11, dropped off the luggage at the hotel, then drove to the airport, dropped off the rental car, and then took a cab to …..

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 — 4 —

It is not, of course, the only thing to see in Pisa, but with our limited time, it was our focus. We did end up doing a bit of walking – mostly because we couldn’t find a taxi station (for returning to the hotel) and ended up doing a circuit that eventually took us to the train station, which I should have thought of at the start….So yes, we saw a lot of Pisa.

 

 

— 5 

It’s kind of a mob scene, but not that bad, and it’s just fun to be with hundreds of other people also experiencing the same “Wow! It really does lean!” response and just enjoying time in a new place and time together, whether it’s family, friends or tour groups.

Walking up is kind of crazy because you really do feel the tilt.

6–

The duomo was beautiful and fascinating. The font was constructed, as others we have seen, to accomodate several priests baptizing lots of babies at once, since baptisms only occurred at most twice a year.  While we were there, the employees demonstrated the sonic properties of the building – one stands at the center at sings a tone – the tone then takes so much time to echo that he has time to sing another a third up, and then another a third up from that, so the effect is of him singing a three-tone chord all by himself. Lovely.

 

— 7 —

Notes on returning: Next week is a music camp for one of the boys, and chilling out for the other. I will be consolidating photos and working on printing and making a book – it’s not going to wait two years this time. I also have a book proposal to whip up. The rest of the summer is open at this point, except for family visits. We’ll see!

See you on the flip side of the world…

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Remember…I’m still on Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2).

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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PHEW.

Sorry for the silence. Our internet went out yesterday, and I didn’t want to bother anyone about it…my phone has data, so my family in the US can still get in touch with me, anyway.

But we arrived  back from Florence today to find everything was back up, so I’ve cleaned the kitchen, repacked all the souvenir purchases, Instagrammed a bunch, so here I am.

We are staying about 10 miles outside of Florence at an apartment in the country that I booked on AirBnB two days before we arrived. It is a nice little apartment with all that we could want, but just a *little* more remote than is ideal, plus it’s been too cool to swim, so the advertised pool is of no use. That’s okay. I could maybe stay at a Motel 6 in Birmingham for what I’m paying to stay at an apartment amid olive groves in the Tuscan countryside, so it remains A Deal.

Before we actually got here, I wasn’t sure how much time we would want to spend in Florence – which is why I didn’t even attempt for us to stay in Florence, proper. I had heard so many conflicting things: Florence is great. Florence is my favorite. Florence is crowded and dirty. Florence is teeming with tourists and poseur American art students. 

So I figured…stay outside of Florence, have the car, give it a day, and if a day was enough, we’d have other options.

(You are saying…um…philistine? You think “a day” in Florence might be “enough?” Well…just remember that I have two kids and we are at the end of almost three weeks here. I didn’t know if they would just be at the point of Enough with museums and cities and such, so I was ready to be flexible.)

Well, we’ve ended up spending both days in Florence. I won’t say that I adore it, but one day definitely wasn’t enough, and of course two still just scratches the surface, but given where we are on this trip…two days is good.

I’m not up for narrative, so I’ll bullet point.

  • We are not driving into Florence. We go to Scanducci, park at the big grocery store (not kidding – biggest grocery store I’ve ever been in, including Super Wal-Marts), then go to the tram that runs right into Florence. Free parking, no city driving, very easy.
  • After much research and internal debate I ended up getting a Firenze Card. I’ll write more about this in a separate post because it’s a popular topic among travelers, but I’ll just say that for me, it was worth it.  No, the dollar value of the tickets I would have bought was less than what I paid for the card, but the convenience of not having to reserve specific times at the Accademia or Uffizi is worth that extra $20. Everyone values different things, and I value flexibility and freedom.
  • Tuesday, we got off the tram and went straight to the Duomo area. We went to the baptistry first, then the Duomo. Climbed the campanile. Which was enough to make me decide I was *not* climbing the duomo dome itself. So far this trip, I have climbed a Bologna tower, up to St. Peter’s Dome, the Siena duomo and still have Pisa to go. Plus a zillion other stairs. I’m good.
  • Then meandering and a sit-down lunch, which was nothing special.
  • More meandering down to the Ponte Vecchio. Talked about it, crossed it, walked to the Pitti Palace, which I sped-read about and decided we would not be interested in. So we walked back across the bridge, I talked to them about the 1966 flood and pulled up some photos of it on my phone,  and then we made our way up to the Accademia.
  • On the way, spent time in San Croce, the largest Franciscan church in the world. Much wonderful art, Michelangelo and Galileo buried there.
  • Then to the Accademia, to see David. The line for unreserved tickets snaked around the block (this was at about 5, and the museum was open into the evening). With the FC, we went to the ticket office, I had to pay a 4E “reservation fee” for each of the boys (showing J’s passport as proof of his under-18 age, which pleased him), but then got that done and waltzed in. See, I told you it was worth it.
  • Saw David,which, like the Eiffel Tower, no matter how iconic it is, is still astonishing at first sight.
  • More moving, though, were the Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures in the hall leading up to David.
  • Poked around a bit more, including in the musical instrument museum. Made our way back to the train, got back to Scanducci, bought a roast chicken and other things at the grocery store and drove back …to no internet. #Sad.
  • They explored the property, found scads of snails and some horses amidst the olive trees.
  • Up this morning, same routine: park at the grocery, tram it to Florence.
  • Started at S. Maria Novella, which is near the train station. Some fascinating art, including a Giotto crucifix.
  • If you have traveled to Catholic sites, particularly in Italy, you know that they can be strict about clothing. Once in Sicily, I was wearing a sleeveless shirt and was handed a IMG_20160608_112235shawl when I walked into a church. I’ve heard it’s one of of the reasons there used to be so many scarf-vendors around St. Peter’s (didn’t see *any* this time…mostly selfie-sticks). I visited a Hindu temple outside of Atlanta and even though my skirt was barely above the knee…nope. Had to wrap up in a big black…wrap they hand out. S. Maria Novella has a solution I’d not seen before: Robes. They are mass produced, thin robes packaged in plastic. You waltz in wearing short shorts? Here’s a robe.
  • Then back across the Arno to a branch of the Natural History Museum that is there. We like animals, I thought it would be a nice break, plus they have a collection of 18th-19th century wax human anatomical models I wanted to see. Bologna has a similar collection that I could never seem to get to, so I was particularly keen on this.
  • It was a good idea. A quick walk-through, yes, but they enjoyed it – the animals, that is. It is an old collection (the kind of thing I really appreciate – seeing older, quirky museum collections) and with many of the specimens, you could see the taxidermist’s seam lines and so on.
  • The anatomical models were FANTASTIC. The boys were skeeved out, but I could have stayed much longer. There were a number of people there sketching, so the collection still has great value, obviously.
  • Then a quick counter lunch here, which was far superior to yesterday’s lunch. That is usually the case, I have found.
  • Up across the Arno. The Galileo Science Museum is right next to the Uffizi, so we hit that first. Great, great exhibits. It’s not huge, but is certainly dense, centered on a couple of collections of historic scientific instruments including, of course, Galileo – a couple of his telescopes and other instruments, as well as relics – a finger bone and a tooth!
  • They advertise an “interactive” section, but don’t go thinking that it will be anything like your typical American science museum (about which I have mixed feelings, btw). It’s all of two rooms, with maybe 5 “hands on” activities.
  • Then the Uffizi – the FC card got us through within minutes, and without that 4E kid fee either.
  • More on the Uffizi later (as in…next week). I enjoyed it, but it was mobbed and a couple of times it was challenging to see the art because of the tour groups.
  • ….and back.
  • Of course remember that all of this is interspersed with regular gelato stops. Always.

Check out Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2) for more…and here are some random pics.

Tuesday:

Wednesday:

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All right, the last couple of days in a quick nutshell.

Sunday morning, I spent a while wandering Sorano looking for another Catholic church I swore must be there. Indeed, one church was right around the corner from our apartment, but as I interpreted it, the Mass times were 8 and 11:30 – the first being too early, the second being later that I wanted.

When I mapped it, I thought I had seen another Catholic church, but when I set out walking..it was nowhere to be found and my data didn’t work. So..I wandered. Which was fine.

Got the boys up, then we left at 11:29.30 for 11:30 Mass, which is nice. The congregation was composed of 18 people, including the three of us. More on that later when I can be more reflective. It was sad, with one tiny glimmer of hope who wished us pace with great sincerity.

We then headed to the path below the village that led to our own area’s via cave – of San Rocco. It was quite a hike up – and when we were back “home” looking up at the plateau upon which we’d stood, it was hard to believe we’d done it. But worth it. Several Etruscan burial sites, caves and niches, and a small (locked) Romanesque church.

And on the way back…it started raining. We were wet, certainly, but not soaked or hurt, so who cares. We hung up our cloths, dried off, ate, waited for the sun to come out, and made our next moves – a tour of the town’s castle (I didn’t take any photos because it was just the three of us, an elderly American couple and our sweet Italian tour guide with her charming, precise English, and it just didn’t seem like the right time. For most of its history, it belonged to the Orsinis. If there is one aspect of history I am emphasizing to the boys on this trip it is simply the patchwork history of Italy, and I think they are getting it. I know I am certainly coming to a more solid grasp of it myself.

The sun was out, so we decided to head over to Pitigliano – this amazing place – where we actually parked (free, because I had actually studied up on it and understood that if the lines were white, the space was free), wandered, checked out the duomo (Mass was happening), the Jewish quarter, and ate some dinner. There was a substantial Jewish population in Pitigliano until World War II, when most left, but the synagogue and other historic buildings are still maintained – not open on Sunday. What was terribly sad was that the complex was guarded by two military guys with machine guns. How tragic that that is necessary.

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Back to the home base, where we did a bit more wandering, up to the rock that has been built up into a viewing wall. We spent a lot of time up there looking, studying the landscape, talking, and imagining the people – from the Etruscans to modern times – who have inhabited the place.

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Then it was time to go. The apartment is located in a pedestrian-only zone (as is most of the town), so you can’t park there. The instructions I got for where to park were basically this: “Don’t go in the main gate of the village. Keep going and you will come to some nut trees near a power station with a yellow sign. Park there, walk down the stone steps and you will find the road to the apartment.”

O-kay. 

It took me a couple of tries – I drove past once, couldn’t imagine that that was actually where I was supposed to leave my rental car, but the road led me up, up, up a mountain across a gorge from the village. What was funny was that when I finally found a place to turn around, not one, but TWO cars pulled into the same place behind me, both drivers studying maps when they pulled in. Solace in a confused community.

Well, it was a safe place, the car was fine, and the walk wasn’t bad, except a bit of a chore up the stairs with suitcases. But I didn’t do that, so not my problem, eh guys?

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The drive to Siena took a bit longer than I thought because I turned off on one wrong road, and instead of backtracking, I decided to just keep going an alternative way. It’s fine. It’s all gorgeous scenery.

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When people drive to Siena, one of the great concerns is parking.  Most Italian cities have what they call ZTL zones – historic zones in which driving is limited to those who have special permits. If you venture into a ZTL, you apparently get zapped with a massive fine, and everyone is super scared. I didn’t have a problem – I just followed the “P” signs which indicated a lot with available spaces – Il Campo – and parked there. Easy.

***

We only did the basics, unfortunately, but they were quite enough for one afternoon – the Campo, the Duomo, inside and from up top, and the Catherine of Siena sites, include the relic of her head, which was not at all gruesome.

I’ll write more on that later.

It was a rainy day, but not too bad. We found shelter in churches and gelateria. Which is a metaphor for something.

Then a rather tortuous drive to the outskirts of Florence – probably more tortuous than it should have been – found the new place. We went to the biggest supermarket we’ve been to on this trip – an Esselunga – and stocked up, and then drove back up the hill to eat things like salami and prosciutto sandwiches, pepperocini stuffed with tuna. a cold pesto pasta dish, cheese, bread, olives and Italian chicken nuggets – “just to see”.

I obviously hope to get into Florence today…we’ll see…

Random photos I don’t have time to label. Seriously – follow me on Instagram or on Snapchat (amywelborn2) to get more during the day. I have videos on both – and remember Snapchat stuff is only up for 24 hours. You have to download the Snapchat app and register, but it’s painless – and you can make your kids cringe with embarrassment that you’re on Snapchat, and possibly drive them off of it as a result, so that’s a win.]

(Photo related – the blog header is from the Siena duomo – heads of popes lining the walls. I am convinced that whoever designed Disney’s Haunted Mansion had visited this place. It’s all I could think of as I looked at them looking down at me with their various expressions….)

 

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Yeah, well so much for thoughtful blogging. I just spent the late evening trying to figure out next week. Almost there, pending a response from an AirBnB host.

Today, we drove over to Sovano, where we explored some Etruscan vie cave – which are these trails amidst Etruscan burial sites. Burial sites are the only sites which provide evidence of Etruscan life, since the settlements they founded are mostly still settled, so their artifacts are buried very deep.

This is where we wandered today.

Then over to Saturnia, which is known for its thermal waters. I was a little confused as to where the waters were, my phone data wasn’t working, so we ended up in the town itself, where we found a place that was still serving something for lunch (at around 3 – not easy to find in non-heavily touristed Italy), got gelato, and then found the Information office, where the staff member was very helpful. In both Saturnia and here in Sorano, the information offices were staffed by people who spoke excellent English (and probably German and French as well) and were very kind and helpful.

Found it!

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Only one of us went in – my oldest was fighting a headache, and I was just not in the mood for getting wet and then driving…but the younger was all for it, and took the waters with the Italians.

No mud, though.

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The intention was to get to Pitigliano, which did happen, but not before a grocery store stop. As we drove through Montalcino, we saw a supermarket – which Sorano definitly does not have – so we made a stop for supplies, which also includes random food souvenirs that I will be bringing back. More on that later.

Back in the car, then to Pitigliano, the place that inspired my interest in this part of Italy.

We did drive through it, but it really looked like it was going to rain, so we didn’t stop. It was pretty crowded with visitors, anyway.

Back to Sorano, then a little break, then a walk down to the beginnings of our own vie cave – saw a muskrat in the river! – then back up into town, a bit of dinner here – it was very good and far superior to the dinner we’d had the night before. I hope it’s open on Sunday, because I will certainly return. I had tagliatelle with puttanesca sauce and a side of caponeta, simply because I was curious about the caponata – it was good, but I have to admit I like Michael Chiarello’s recipe much better – far more pungent and strongly flavored.

And that’s it. Tomorrow, Mass, back to Pitigliano to explore their vie cave, a walk on ours, tour the fortress here in Sorano and probably a bit of just driving around. We’ll see.

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Speaking of Siena..

(Which we were, on Friday. Right?)

Siena is in an area of Italy called Tuscany. Tuscany is north of Rome and includes, not only Siena, but Florence, Pisa, Lucca and dozens of charming towns, many of them atop hills.

Tuscany looks beautiful and interesting. Tuscany is very popular. A spate of books on the expats’ experience in Tuscany both reflects and exacerbates the popularity, which then leads to a certain packaging of the Tuscany experience.

 

Thanks to reader John for the reminder….

But Tuscany is also a large area (not as big as North Dakota, George. Sorry.) with a lot to see, and the challenge is that while it is about three hours from Rome up to Florence – and that doesn’t seem far – the geography of the area makes finding a central base for exploration challenging, and you for sure need a car.

So, after weeks of reading and thinking, I had to force myself to return to one of my basic philosophies I claim I hold and ask myself if I really indeed believed it and was willing to live by it:

You can’t do everything. Just do what you can, and do it well.

So no, we were not going to be able to see everything that we might find interesting. Choices would have to be made.

And I still haven’t made them.

Yup. Some people plan their vacations a year out. Me, I’m a few weeks away from a week in Tuscany, and I haven’t yet booked a single accommodation.

Right now, this is what I’m thinking – feel free to chime in.

We are done in Rome on a Friday. At that point, I’ll rent a car, and we’ll head out. I was thinking that for two or three days, we’d do the southern part of Tuscany, or Maremma. Orvieto (which is really Umbria), Pitigiliano, Sorano, Sovano, Saturnia – focusing on Etruscan stuff as well as the usual Catholic fun.

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Etruscan Stuff and Catholic fun all in one – part of the Etruscan Via Cave with a later Christian addition – appropriate for today (May 1) – St. Joseph protecting those who venture onward. More here. 

Alternative: take the train to Orvieto, center there for a couple of days, rent car and use a car for the rest of the week.

Maybe.

Then there’s Siena.

And Florence.

And little towns around.

I would love to base in Siena, but, a couple of things…Siena accommodations are pretty expensive, it seems. Secondly, it’s a hike from Siena to Florence – over an hour, maybe more, I think. I’m leaning towards basing somewhere between Siena and Florence for the bulk of that week, but I just don’t know.

We end up in Pisa. We fly out of there on a Friday afternoon, so I figure we will take Thursday afternoon and evening to do Pisa and stay there Thursday night – I already have those hotel reservations.

Bottom line: I have no idea. No. That’s not true. I have ideas, but I’m torn and am having to resist, with all my strength, the temptation to dash around and See All The Tuscan Things. I know from experience that is miserable, and I know the way to actually benefit deeply from travel is to calm down, stay still, look and listen.

I think: I’ll be back. I can see more on some other trip.

But will I? I might drop dead, some other drama, tragedy or priority might make future travel of this sort impossible or ill-advised. There are many other places in the world I have my eye on. So no. Maybe I won’t be back.

And what does it matter anyway? There is no urgency or necessity about this, at all. If I don’t see some little Tuscan hill town that caught my eye…so what? If we don’t experience this ruin or Etruscan site that I think the boys will enjoy and appreciate…so what?

Whatever we are doing while not doing what we’re missing…will be worth doing.  

It’s all fascinating, all opportunities to learn, to see, to listen – all – beginning with my own neighborhood, my own town, first of all. Beginning today, here and now.

The only way to “miss” something important is to close myself off to the present – where ever it is I happen to be.

 

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