Wednesday, July 31, 2013


DAY 17, JULY 24, 2013

This day's entry could easily have been broken up into three entries. They say good or bad luck comes in threes. Bear with me on the telling of this tale.
If you've been following along you've already heard about Bagno Vignoni and its therapeutic springs. Once there we knew we'd be returning to really test the waters. Rick did his research on the spa located at the source of the rejuvenating waters.
The Hotel Adler Thermae is to pampering the way ice is to cream, gin is to tonic, or Brad is to Angelina. This was our treat, our special splurge of the vacation.
It was totally decadent and I hold no regrets for this indulgence. We arrived at noon Rick and I having previously chosen two treatments from the list of available options from the Man Spa.
There are so many ways they could have chosen to label this category but Man Spa had the perfect ring. Men could do this and still feel like real men. The whole ring of Man Spa had that same man cave cadence. There was a certain machismo to using two simple one-syllable words. It made going to the Man Spa seem like something you could bring up Sunday afternoon while watching the Packers beat the Vikings and not feel embarrassed. I began my session with a full massage.
I met Elaina at the front desk, an average sized woman with short dark hair and a stress free smile. She gave me directions to the towel and robe room where I was issued a deep pile terrycloth robe, I had to return when I left, flip-flops I was told I could keep and a little package about the size of a wheat thin with what I was told I should put on under the robe. In the changing room I got undressed and opened the tiny package to what I first thought was a mistake, a black see-through garment with strings I immediately miss identified as some sort of strange bra. I was about to go out to exchange it when I finally turned it sidewise from the way I had been holding it to discover it was actually a thong.
Next mistake, which I didn't discover until I met up with Rick after our treatments had been completed, was this sling-shot had a thinner end and a wider end. I assumed that the wider end was meant to cover my backside since that would be the largest piece of my anatomy this was supposed conceal. My concern was how this little strip of cheesecloth at the other end was going to cover my package. Fortunately or unfortunately I was able to squeeze all I had into what they had given me. It wasn't until meeting Rick I discovered I had it on backwards. Once in the massage room Elaine asked me to disrobe and get up on the massage table belly down while she left the room. I couldn't see that stress free smile when she came back into the room but I imagine it was there when she saw the backward thong covering my two better cheeks. She was also probably projecting to the mid-point of my massage when she was going to have to ask me roll over onto my back hoping everything wasn't going to spill out and roll around the table.
Turned out average sized Elaina had the hands of a steel c-clamp and the fortitude of a well oiled machine. I let her have her way with me and I was so glad I did. The only draw back was all her digging and kneading in my mid-secion started those tiny little farts to form, the ones you can sort of hold back with some sphincter clenching. With a massage your goal is to release tension not create it. I think I might have let a few slide out. At the end of my session Elaine did give me an organic supplement for gas. After the massage Elaina didn't miss a beat going right into the second part of my treatment regime. Rick and I both chose the Flat Tum Treatment (well maybe not so macho). For fifty more minutes Elaina kneaded my mid-section and gas with aromatic oils and then applied a preparatory peeling and mask with vegetable melatonin purported to melt away my centrally located fat pads leaving me with a firm and flat tummy. Maybe if they used gut instead of tummy I would have felt a little more secure in my manhood. Clearly this treatment had to be administered tummy up which meant Elaina got a full view of everything God gave me. I've never been very modest so if someone got a little peep show at my expense I wasn't going to get upset.
After the treatments and the embarrassment of my wrong thong wardrobe calamity we still had several hours to enjoy the rest of the spa. We could have called it quits and just sat in one of the relaxation rooms and read a book or napped but we decided to have one more look at the brochure. There we saw the Grotto Salina, an underground thermal pool infused with salt from the Dead Sea. It was only accessible through a locked door. Once you were in no one else could enter. Two bronze lions spouted streams of warm water while underground jets circulated massaging whirlpools around your body. The salt water held you up so without any effort you floated around the pool as if you were suspended on an air mattress.
Since we were the only ones in there bathing costumes or those ridiculous thongs were not required. I always have my camera/iPhone at the ready so we decided to take a couple of pictures, only g-rated allowed, but it made me realize how photo censorship from your local insta-print shop was no longer an issue. IPhones have allowed us to take whatever picture we want.
After a half hour of floating the novelty wore off. We ended our stay with some herbal tea stretched out on chaises wrapped in the comfort of our terry robes and six-pack flat abs.

Completely relaxed, skin supple and glowing, our tummies flat as pancakes we set off for La Foce, the gardens Rick had been dreaming of visiting ever since we started planning this trip. If you google search the most stunning gardens of the world, La Foce will always appear on the list. We now knew how to get there from our thermal rejuvenation at the Adler Spa since we had done a dry run two days before. Dinner had been set for eight so we choose to join the last tour of the day at six.
A cloud cover had begun to consume the sky and distant thunder began to bang away as we headed to La Foce. A thought of abandoning the pilgrimage was beginning to settle in on the backs of both our minds. Would they even conduct a tour in the rain? We had no back up plan for coming on another day. They only did the tours on Wednesday afternoons and we had now run out of them on our holiday. We had two umbrellas packed in the back of the car; we forged ahead.
We got there a few minutes into the five o'clock tour. The man selling tickets told us we could catch up with that tour if we wanted. We had told Wim and Maryam we would meet them for the six o'clock tour. The skies were still grey.
We decided we'd wait. By the time our tour was ready to begin a sizable crowd had gathered for the last chance of the day. A distant thunder was still clanging away. I held our umbrellas close.
All tours are conducted in English since so many of the visitors are from countries other than Italy.
Our guide was a woman with a good deal of knowledge of the garden's history and a clear love of their beauty. She began by telling us how the main building was built as a way station on the Via Francigena in the late fifteenth century. People making the pilgrimage from northern Europe to Rome followed this path. Since the journey was made on foot these osterias where built about every twenty miles, the length of one day's journey on foot.
The meeting place, as that is what La Foce means was abandoned until the Origo family purchased it in 1924 in a humanitarian effort for the Italian people. WWI had devastated the area. It was their goal to reclaim it. They hired the architect, Cecil Pinsent, to do the renovations of the old inn and to build on to the original building including the design of the gardens. The concept for the gardens was Iris's, the design for the gardens was Cecil's.
With that she lead us into the gardens. About five minutes later the sun broke through. I still clung to the umbrellas as a talisman against the rain and what we were rewarded with was a spectacular journey through one of the most beautiful gardens I've ever seen.
The Origo family continues ownership of La Foce having changed it back to a hotel and working farm, but only opening the gardens every Wednesday from three to seven

The way back from La Foce was through San Quirico. It has become a tradition with us; every visit to the farm must include a group dinner at the Trattoria al Vecchio Forno. The storm we had dodged at La Foce had struck Armena full force. It rained so hard there that the power was out and water had gushed in everywhere. Stefania and Alessandro had to beg off but the rest of us all managed to gather under the ivy-covered gardens of the outdoor restaurant.
The kids had had the day all to themselves having been shuttled off to the beach by Jacapo, the Saraceni's oldest son. Once again Italian service or their infinite patience with the dining experience made the meal drag on way beyond our tolerance level and need for bed. It never ceases to amaze us how at eleven in the evening diners are still arriving for their evening meal. We couldn't get a reservation until after 7:30, the first seating of the evening.
If this were Wisconsin the dinner bell would have begun to ring around four, the dishes would be piled away and the wait staff would be turning the chairs upside-down before any Italian even started to hear his first hunger pangs.
I'm only focusing on my meal here. I started out with a soufflé of ricotta cheese, pears and saffron with a drizzle of local honey.
For my main course which was only a primero course on their menu I had puccheri della Val d'Orcia, a locally made paste of wide tubes cut into short sections and tossed with fresh leeks, chives, pistachios and what they called a crunchy prosciutto. It was by far the best dish of the evening. We finished off the meal with desserts and local aperitifs that our water brought to our table and served in shot glasses. In Italy even to the kids are included in this ritual. Most refused. We were talking alcohol powerful enough to make your hair stand on end. Once I pulled Rick's head up off the table (from sleep deprivation not the alcohol) it was back to Armena and the comfort of our beds.

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