Tuscany Travel

The transfer company representative was right there, on time, waiting for the group to come in from Toronto holding up the sign, Valerie Kent.  Ten of us streamed towards the sign, luggage already in hand. We had been looking forward to this painting workshop all winter.  A couple of the artists had been to Italy previously, and the rest of us were Newbies.

Joanne Epworth said, “We were all so excited that I thought we would all levitate, but actually all we did was board the pleasant little van which headed right up the mountain to the lookout and took in our first, but no means last, astounding vista.  Beneath our feet stretched the city of Florence and the Arno River. It took our breath away.  You just could not stop looking.  Everywhere you looked it was so beautiful.  It was unbelievable how beautiful the view was.”

Our hotel, the Monna Lisa, was tucked away in the historic centre of the city, with its narrow streets and cars practically touching the walls of the ancient buildings as they zipped by.  Joanne Epworth said, “The hotel which had been a grand residence of  the Medici family, was approximately 800 years old.  It  had a romantic entrance, a garden and a courtyard patio for breakfast when the  weather was good. Some of the group painted out in the courtyard in the afternoon. It was a great location in that it was close to many restaurants, attractions and piazzas.”

We began our trip by taking a stroll around the neighbourhood, ending up on the bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, to see the multitude of gold shops built along the bridge and then we went to the little palace, Palazzo Pitti.  By the time we got there the long travel had caught up to us, so we did not go in, but sat at an outdoor café and had some cooling drinks.  We all walked back and close to the hotel we went to a local outdoor restaurant and enjoyed a beautiful dinner together.

Joanne Epworth said, “Part of the next day was spent doing a walking tour around the centre of Florence through the historic areas.  Later that day after wandering around and getting tempted with all the painting venues, we went to see the sculptures in the various Piazzas.  Then we went into the Academy where we visited the original David. I bought a little sketch book at the Academy which had the figure of David on it.  In the evening several of the group members painted a large flower planter on a column in the hotel garden to get warmed up.”

The third day we left Florence and headed to our next hotel, which very quaintly was in a real tower, tall and narrow, named the Torre Antica in the city of Siena.  There was a spacious Piazza, the Campo, built where the three hills met.  Siena is a town of ancient stone buildings, churches, outdoor cafes and we heard that just recently, they had even had horse races in the Piazza.  Joanne Epworth said, “I was pleasantly surprised, every time we turned around, we found a new and inviting gelateria in Sienna and one day we just had gelato for lunch, a lot of gelato.”

The first day only Nora painted our little street in Siena and the laundry hanging out the windows, but the following day while scouting, I found the Philosophy Department at the local university and its library had an extraordinary garden which overlooked the town and the distant hills.  Nora Fischer said, “The philosopher’s garden was a green and floral oasis which was beautiful and we sat in it for quite a while and painted happily.”

Two days later we transferred to San Gimignano which is a walled town.  It used to have 75 towers, but now has 13. What an extraordinary town with a cistern in the centre of the piazza and fabulous narrow streets and very ancient buildings.  Again our hotel was an ancient stone building, right in the middle of the town.  Several of us shared a large balcony overlooking the fields, hills and valleys spreading out in a panoramic fan surrounding the town.

“Afternoons on the Terrace,” said Carmela Crimi,  “were a civilized way to spend the afternoon with pre-dinner drinks, snacks, and appetizers after such a hard day of painting and touring and the vistas from the terrace and we had a lot of catching up to do with each other’s daily adventures.”

Joanne Epworth said, “We painted the narrow cobbled streets, the arches and the amazing old buildings.  We also painted the towers of the town from our balcony.  Actually we really got quite a bit of painting in.  When it was too hot to paint we shopped at the many small shops and tried out quite a few restaurants and the wines.  Many of us went down to the Piazza La Cisterna to sketch to paint the ancient well.  We also enjoyed people- watching because there were people there from all over the world.”

One of the days we went out to a totally organic farm, Poggio Alloro, for lunch and to try out the wines from their winery.  We feasted on their fresh vegetables and the owner tempted us with fresh figs right off the trees.  They produced extra virgin olive oil, beef, cheese, homemade pasta and fruits including figs and pomegranates from the farm. This was a great place to sketch in our sketch books.

Carmela Crimi said,”I have been ranting and raving about Poggia Alloro to everybody.  I was highly impressed by how the family ran it, how clean it was and the never-ending views were spectacular.  It was a wonderful way to spend a relaxing day.  The lunch was included and we did not have to think about anything at all.  It was all there for us.”

Almost every evening there was a free concert in the centre of the town practically outside our hotel doors.  Nora Fischer said, “Besides the visual arts, we also got to hear the other side of the arts, the musical side. So, we would go and eat somewhere lovely and then attend the almost daily evening concerts, stopping for gelatos before heading to bed.  The gelatos are always a favourite whenever I go to Italy.  We put in fabulous full days.  The young members on the trip and the more mature ones enjoyed it equally.  Kristin, my granddaughter, enjoyed the museums.  My other granddaughter, Meghan, enjoyed the painting as much as we did.  Ryan, her friend, who had never painted before got the hang of it very quickly.  The more advanced artists did well, but the novices enjoyed the teaching and demonstrations just as much.”

Joanne Epworth said, “We went to bed content, having put in another exciting day and with the lovely memory of music ringing in our ears and yet another gelato.”

In Florence on the last day we did some last minute shopping and then met up at the Uffizzi Gallery.  It was just too vast to see everything, but we had made a plan to see specific pieces we were interested in, such as the Botticelli and Michaelangelo paintings. Sometimes we cannot even imagine how big some of these works are because we have only seen them in books and in prints.  We saw our last glimpses of Florence for this trip but hopefully we would all return some day.  We had put our coins into the fountain at the market with that wish.

Valerie Kent, B.A.,B.Ed.,M.F.A. is a visual artist who facilitates trips to France and Italy every summer. She leads artists, photographers and others who enjoy the visual arts and does demonstrations and workshops on the trips. Her work is available in a number of galleries and her sought after workshops are listed on her site: www.valeriekent.com

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