My Italian Diary: Manciano

18 August 2018

We packed a small bag, grabbed our helmets, and hit the road.

It almost felt too good to be true that we were really doing it. I packed 1 dress, 1 pair of shorts, a shirt, socks, undies, 3 figs, and a bag of tomatoes. Priorities. Our goal was to make it to Rome by nightfall…about a 5-6 hour drive. We started west into the mountains to head for the sea. It was really quite cold for being the middle of august so we wrapped ourselves in the sweatshirts we stuffed into the bauletto and continued on. Of course we then realized that the GPS had switched and had been guiding us on the longest, windiest, coldest possible ever to Rome. I was as cuddled to Davide’s back as I could be on the back of the bike to keep warm, slipping myself some figs through the bottom of my helmet…priorities.

It wasn’t much longer until we crossed the peak of the mountain, where the sun was shining brightly and heavily on us. And thus, began our descent to the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. We were able to see pieces of it on our descent. Our eyes were wide with excitement, as if we’d just seen it for the first time.

We named Davide’s beautiful bike “Kaki Kawasaki.” She was our trusty companion on this journey. We journeyed south, passing through the olive groves of Liguria, the marble queries of Carrara, and countless Autogrill for a quick espresso — essentially a requirement when traveling anywhere in Italy. We reluctantly took the autostrada (the paid highway) to clear our arrival time to Rome, after losing many hours in the mountains from the glitch of the GPS. I underestimated the amount of strength requires to ride a motorcycle. Every time we stopped it felt like my knees were going to give out. The tradeoff is that it was the best shape I’ve ever been in my life from keeping my muscles engaged the entire time.

We arrived in Livorno at the end of lunch hour around 2:30. This was one of the first of many lessons I would learn about how Italy is NOT New York. I was hangry. The figs weren’t holding me over, and not a single restaurant would serve us because they already stopped service. Davide calmly reminded me that Italy is not 24/7, and that family time and well-being take precedent. It took me about 10…ok, 30 minutes to actually be happy about that, but I still needed to find something to eat. We trespassed into the only open place we could find: a yacht club which was serving up some bar sandwiches. After having to turning down the fried seafood for my endometriosis, I grabbed the tomatoes out of my bag, removed the bar sandwich cheese, and created a fulfilling summer tomato sandwich.

At this point we knew we wouldn’t make it to Rome by nightfall. There were places we wanted to stop and see along the way as a part of our journey that we had been organising for months. We found an agriturismo in Tuscany that was about halfway between us and Rome.

There was nothing that could have prepared either of us from the discomfort of sitting on the bike for extended periods of time, so we powered through it. Through the journey alongside the sea arrived the pine nut trees — one of my all-time favorites. The first time I came to Italy 6 years ago, I was so taken aback by their beauty. So much so that I decided to get the tree tattooed on my back. I’m embarrassed to admit that for the past 6 years, I thought it was an olive tree… but relieved to know it’s actually one of my favorite trees…the pignoli tree. This tree was our indicator that we weren’t too far removed from our destination. The scent of the pine is still well-implanted in my memory.

Lost in a trance of the sea and perfumes of Tuscany, we hadn’t noticed the copious grey clouds ahead. It almost immediately started to pour. Raindrops at 130 km/hr feel remotely like high-velocity pennies falling from the sky. To make light of it, I started singing “Pennies from Heaven,” but Davide barely had any protection from the bullets of rain. We waited a moment under an overpass for it to of course become worse, and decided that if we just powered through it, it would soon clear. Davide’s hands we clenched tightly to the handles. “We got this, Kaki, let’s go!” He braved us through the storm into a fully arched double rainbow. For me, another sign that Jena was right there with us, howling with adrenaline from the rush of the sea winds.

Kaki powered us to the top of this Tuscan hillside town: Manciano. It looked like a painting out of a fairytale. With little energy left, arrived at the agriturismo, and greeted our kind hosts. Our room was decorated with nothing less than traditionalism. A crucifix, framed paintings of babies that probably no one knows, a porcelain water pitcher, and crispy 1970s bedsheets. We couldn’t help but giggle a bit, but it was truly beautiful and appreciated. The sun was about to set, so they suggested we seek out Saturnia Terme, a natural hot spring nearby. After circling the chilly streets, tired, and dazed, there it appeared at the base of the hill — a mystical, ice blue, silica-rich wonderland of water and earth. The currents were almost dangerously strong until they carried us to a calm oasis adorned with trickling waterfalls, and bright green rocks. We set out for something to eat…on time. The sun had dipped into the top of the mountains. Colors of deep reds, pinks, and orange filled the entire sky. It was one of those sunsets that brings tears to your eyes. Not sad tears, but tears of internal peace.

By recommendation of our faithful hosts, we found ourselves at “the best pizzeria in the world” of the year 2000. We grabbed cheap wine, beer, and headed back to the agriturismo as fast as possible to taste the best pizza of the world. For me, it really was. Tipsy and tired, we settled into the 1970s bedspread, and watched outdated Italian gameshows until the weights slid off of our eyelids.

In the morning, we were greeted with freshly baked coconut cake, coffee, and fresh fruits. The coconut cake tasted identical to the cookies my grandmother would always keep stocked in her cookie cabinet. I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmingly at home. And thus, we hit the road for Rome.