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Day 8: New location, new friends

I wake up and realize I’m in an unfamiliar place. The sun is shining. It’s warm.

Wait – I’m in Italy!

And I’m hungry. Because it was midnight when we arrived last night, we didn’t have a chance to buy even the essentials. Everybody else is sleeping soundly, so I go downstairs and find a note from the manager that informs that there is one grocery store open on a Sunday in the town of Pontedera, about eight kilometers away.

So I venture out onto the dirt roads around the villa, following the instructions from Google Maps. I smile as rabbits, hares and pheasants dart across the roads into the vineyards as my Fiat Cinquecento kicks up dust along the way.

Fifteen minutes later, I arrive at the Panorama store. The place resembles a super Wal-Mart, carrying with everything from clothes, appliances and groceries. Except this superstore carries an amazing selection of prosciutto, Italian sausages, incredible cheeses, fresh pasta, breads and pastries.

After 45 minutes of shopping, I head home and feed a hungry family. Before you know it, other guests start arriving at the villa. I should say two villas. We spent the night in the smaller house, which only has two bedrooms. The larger house has seven or eight bedrooms - I lost count. There’s also a swimming pool. We’re lucky to have such awesome friends.

The villas, and others on the property, are owned by the Agnelli family – the family behind Fiat cars. They also grow grapes and make wine at the estate. In case you need a place for a destination wedding or family reunion, you can fit 75 people in all the villas around the property. I didn’t ask the price, but just contact me for the phone number. Maybe I’ll get a commission.

Just a little place we've been invited to hang out for a few days

We spend a much needed relaxing day soaking up the sun, eating antipasto and bread and drinking local wines including some made right on the estate.

The cast of characters grows as the day goes on: Our hosts Jim and Stacey, Jim’s sister Jan, along with friends Billy and Ingrid, Rob and Rena, and Annabelle, whose husband will arrive later in the week.

Jim, the official renter of the villa, has made reservations for us at a local restaurant. As we drove over, my rental car did something strange. Like many European diesel cars, the engine shuts off temporarily while you’re at a complete stop to save fuel. That wasn’t the strange thing. However, when it cranked back up, it refused to go into gear. Now that was a little disconcerting - especially with impatient Italian drivers honking their horns. I shut the car off completely, cranked it back up and got into gear.

Little did I know that this little issue would be back...

But tonight was all about new friends and good food. The restaurant we is run by an Italian gentleman with a large smile and even larger mustache who greets by throwing his arms in the air and then hugging us. We are one of several large parties in the restaurant and the restaurateur spends his evening walking from table-to-table shouting Italian phrases that none of us understood and laughing heartily.

The food starts coming and I’m not sure if it’s going to stop: prosciutto, olives, caprese, cheeses, bread, olive oil. And of course that’s just the starters. Then the main courses arrive: pizzas, pastas of various descriptions, steaks. And yes, there is wine with the meal. And wines and coffees with desserts. And laughter. Lots of laughter.

Our Italian restaurateur brings out his wife and makes clear that she’s the genius behind the meal. We give her a round of applause and we, in return, are given more hugs as we leave the restaurant with our stomachs full and our mouths watering in anticipation what will come next during our time in Tuscany.

Salute to new friends and a fine meal!

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