In the morning, Karol went for a run with Keane and scouted out a good area for a later pick up. Today we were all going to try a first for all of us – touring Europe in a 9-passenger van! Karol and Keane went to pick up the van at the airport, while the rest of us cleaned and checked out of the apartment. We met at a bridge and after some muscling of the back seats to allow for all of our luggage to fit in the back, we were on our way!
On our route to Pisa, Bowe organized some car games. We went around naming animals in alphabetical order, but before adding a new animal we had to name all the ones that came before. This is what we came up with (we had too look up Xenon):
Once we completed the animal cycle, we changed the category to movies. It took us all the way to Pisa, and we even had to finish a few letters after. Here are the movie titles that came up:
It was a bright, sunny day in Pisa. We found good secure parking close to the main tourist attraction and walked from there. Once we entered the Piazza di Miracoli, tourists from all over the world were taking funny pictures with the Leaning Tower in the background.
After our photo shoot, we navigated our way past the touristy stands and butiques and took the opportunity to get grocery provisions for the road, including a vareity of cold cuts and fruits for lunch. We decided to drive a little bit to a beach park to see the Mediterranean Sea. From the beach, we could make out the Gorgona Scalo island in the horizon, and the Apuan Alps when looking away from the beach.
After having lunch on the Mediterranean shore, we went to see Giacomo Puccini’s former lake house which today serves as a museum. Unfortunately, the house was only accessible through guided tours scheduled every hour and we just missed the last one by a few minutes. From the lake shore, we had a good view of the mountain range. There was snow on the peaks of the tallest mountains, while some of the mountain sides seemed to be heavily eroded. As we looked more closely, we saw that in fact the naked sides were quarries. It turns out that the marble from this mountain range is some of the oldest and best-known in the world and that Michelangelo’s sculptures were made from this very marble!
We drove another 2 hours to the town of where we ended up buying groceries for dinner. We then took a breath-taking 30 minutes drive up a narrow winding road (I think I counted 18 hairpin turns!) up to the tiny mountainous village of Cassagna passing picturesque houses and step-farms and the miners’ bar. Once in Cassagna, we were delighted to find our accommodations to be a hobbit house – possibly a remodeled attic. Our host, Aurora, greeted us warmly and told us that today the village consisted of 10 people (aged from 3 to 102) and 25 cats.
After we unpacked, we reviewed our music and sang to half of the village – the half that resided in the same building that we did. Our European premiere was humble but special. The residents did not speak English, but waved and smiled. Careful not to overstay our welcome, we ducked back into our hobbit hole.
Bowe and Naomi took on dinner duty. The two made gnocchi and ravioli that we bought fresh at the store (in Italy, you can buy fresh pasta that cook in 2 minutes) and a mix of vegetables, including local zucchini and peppers. A side of Martina’s wine, of course, tied the whole meal together. Compliments to the chefs, the dinner was delicious!
Soon enough, Keane was snoring on the sofa bed and we all followed suit within minutes.