While Washington sweltered in the warmest May ever, here's where I was based for a delightfully cool two weeks. Truth alert: I didn't take this photo. It comes from an online travelogue.
My son, his partner, and I have traveled in Europe for the past two years, and we travel well together. A favorite stop from an earlier trip was the hill town of Asola, near Venice. When we decided to return to Europe this May, I immediately thought of Tuscany.
Asia -- especially Nepal -- has dominated my travels since 2001. Before that, I traveled in Europe almost every year. Florence is one of my favorite cities, and I always enjoyed the hill towns of Tuscany. Here's how Rick Steve's describes these towns:
The hill towns of central Italy hold their crumbling heads proudly above the noisy flood of the 21st century and offer a peaceful taste of what eludes so many tourists. Sitting on a timeless rampart high above the traffic and trains, hearing only children in the market as the rustling wind ages the weary red-tile patchwork that surrounds me, I find the essence of Italy.Given my age (86 on May 26) and my Parkinson's, I didn't want to travel the way I used to -- two nights here and three nights there. I wanted to stay in one place and use it as a base for explorations. But which town?
Two of my dearest friends, Daniel and Marione Ingram, had lived in Tuscany for years. So I turned to them for advice. I said I wanted to stay in a Tuscan town that wasn't overrun by tourists. Another requirement: a town that didn't require climbing up and down hills. They immediately suggested Cortona.
Never heard of Cortona? Neither had I. Here's where it is:
From there, it's easy to get around, The train from Cortona to Florence takes an hour and a half, about the same time we needed to drive to Siena.
Apartment Better than a Hotel
At the Ingram's suggestion, we used airbnb.com to rent an apartment in Cortona. That choice proved much more enjoyable than staying in a hotel. The apartment -- two bedrooms, two baths -- occupied the first two floors of the rowhouse. Nobody was in the two floors above us, so it was like having a whole house to ourselves. The apartment cost about $135 a night, much less than two rooms in a hotel.
Our house was the only one on the street that didn't have another house directly across from it, so we got this view from our kitchen window:
Here I am outside the house with our landlady Liliana and her nephew:
A Tuscan Surprise: I Can Climb Hills!
The Ingrams had assured me that the historic town center of Cortona was level, and wouldn't require any climbing up and down. This was true of the town center... but not of our apartment, in the last house on the left side of the street below:
Here's our starting place: #47. The open window is in our kitchen. Note how sharply the road rises from right to left. THAT'S the route to "town."
Here's the view from across the street. At left, you can see the gap in the rowhouses that gave us our countryside views:
When we first arrived, I thought I'd have to take a room in the hotel at the top of the hill. But I decided to try the climb and found that I could do it... with two or three stops along the way. After a rest at the top, I could take long (for me) walks through the town... a reminder that I need to challenge myself more with walks at home.
Sitting in Cortona's town square one evening, I got to chatting with a retired couple from Manhattan. They rent an apartment in Cortona for two weeks every year. I can see why. It's definitely a change from New York, New York.
Let's take a look around. Here are two views of the main plaza. Times Square it is not.
|Several outdoor cafés gave me a chance to engage in my favorite sports -- sitting, eating, and people watching. Our favorite café had a vegetarian pizza... probably the best pizza I ever had. As these schoolkids pass by, it looks like I'm about to knock my glass of tea off the table:|
And here are a few stairs I never climbed:
We took day trips from Cortona to other medieval hill towns. Here are a few of them:
- San Gimignano. This is probably the most famous and well-known Tuscan town. It is said to be the best preserved medieval town in all of Italy. The 15 scenic towers are unique, though I captured only a few of them in this shot: