We took a trip last weekend to Casentino with Leif's tour guide class. I know, so far it doesn't sound so romantic, spending the weekend with a bunch of strangers most of whom speak only Italian. The weather wasn't exactly romance novel stuff either. It was cold, like winter cold at times and wet.
But Casentino is a magical place. Tall mountains covered in tall (I do mean tall) trees and deep valleys where rivers and lakes hide. This is where we met in 2009 when I was taking a study abroad class and Leif was our guide through the mountains. He walked with us, ate with us, drank with us. He found friends there in our group that will probably be life-long, if long-distance friends. This is where we became enchanted with each other.
And that is what made it romantic...walking the same paths we did three years ago, this time holding hands and remembering our friends.
OK, had enough of the sappy stuff? Because while emotionally it was a beautiful summer day, physically it was hell, if hell is wet and cold (nearly freezing) and poorly lit. And no one speaks English.
We got to spend Saturday inside a museum so we stayed dry, but there was no heat so looking at dried leaves and flowers, and (poorly) taxidermied animals in a vignette that made them all look rabid wasn't as pleasant as it might seem. Even the squirrels and deer looked carnivorous, while the badgers and fox looked positively mangy and foul-tempered. The best part of the whole thing were the birds placed carefully into the faux trees still attached to the round bases for placing them on tables. That was sarcasm.
Dinner was fabulous. A minestrone just shy of boiling did a lot to warm me up. Our second dish arrived. We had asked for beef. We got two ginormous steaks straight from the grill. Wow. For dessert we had almond ice cream with a coffee/amaretto syrup. Again, wow. There is no sarcasm in this paragraph. It was the high point of my day.
Our hotel, in a burst of economy, had also turned off the heat. They did give us a space heater to use, but we couldn't leave it on overnight because it's the kind that radiates heat from coils that lit the room up with an orange glow that (once again) seemed hellish. I accidentally drowned the toilet paper while showering. I was too busy trying to get warm under the spray to worry about toilet paper. We put every blanket we could find in the room on top of us and turned off the heater, comforted by the knowledge that we were being watched over by an early 1900's picture of Jesus holding the heart thingy (I'm not catholic, sorry) in one hand and holding the other hand over our heads. Nothing bad can happen when Jesus is on watch, right?
You've already heard about Sunday. It rained. And rained. Sometimes it stopped. Then it started again. We would hike quickly up (I kid you not) an incline and stop at the top to discuss (in Italian) various trees, plants or the region at great length. Then another mad dash up, or possibly only sideways, to the next fascinating tree, or mushroom, or pine cone for another lecture, at great length. Basically we spent the day working up a sweat, only to stop and allow the bitter cold to penetrate to our very bones. Repeat, repeat, repeat...you get the drift.
The ride home (like the rider there) was a rollercoaster-like event. I just closed my eyes and tried to go to my happy place. Which is warm and dry and where Leif holds me close. Which was exactly what the ride was like, but my happy place is stationary, which the car definitely wasn't.