Sunday, December 31, 2017


Every trip we give ourselves a special treat, a decadent gift. This time it was a full day of pampering at the Adler-Thermae Spa in Bagno Vignoni. It's okay for the envy to set in about now.
It's a five star resort and spa high up in the Tuscan hills serving up a complete package of hotel accommodations,
incredible food and beverages
and a therapeutic spa like no other
Under the spa supposedly rainwater seeps into the earth and through a process that takes decades is heated and enriched as it passes through volcanic rock at a depth of over three thousand feet.  The heated and bicarbonate and sulphate enriched water then rises back to the surface and into the pools at the spa at a temperature of ninety-seven degrees filled with therapeutic benefits that will cure just about anything. There are a lot of snake oil salesmen in Italy but we bought into it anyway.
Each of us was to pick four things to do at the spa. Protocol for the spa is a little intimidating but once you decide to throw caution to the wind and keep telling yourself none of these people are ever going to see you again you begin to relax a little.
Since it's a spa everyone walks around wrapped in one of the spa's lush robes with a button pinned to it as a kind of ID reducing you to a number so the staff can identify whom to charge any incidentals to.
Though this is not a come and wing it experience. You need to have planned out well in advance what you'd like to do and then the spa puts together your itinerary and mails it back to you in an order they deem appropriate.
Emmy and I both started out with a pre-massage treatment called the Fango. To start with your treatment assistant escorts you into a very special therapy room. Zen music and a perfumed scent fill the room. A bed covered in plastic fills up much of the room.
You're given a teeny-tiny packet containing the only garment the beautiful assistant tells you is what you are to wear for you treatment. This is again repeated with several of the additional treatments each of us chose. I'm still confused as to which is the front and what is the back with this adult slingshot. You're then instructed to get on the bed in a sitting position while the nice lady smears hot mud all over your back and shoulders some of which is destined to find your plumber's crack. Then comes the fun part. You're instructed to lie down. At this point the assistant gently wraps you in the plastic you've been lying on and turns down the lights. As she leaves she hits a switch and like an episode on "I Love Lucy" the bed inflates like a life raft and traps you in as if it was a Venus Fly Trap attacking its prey. Once the shock wears off you kinda give in to it and it becomes a little womb-like and cozy although a little constraining.
After the Venus Fly Trap Emmy and I had a little time before our massage treatment. We decided we'd take advantage of one of the relaxation rooms where Emmy nodded out on a circular daybed.
My Harmonizing Experience with Lavender was scheduled ahead of Emmy's so I just let her sleep. Out in the reception area I was greeted by another therapist who guided me into another room with another bed this time a traditional massage table with a hole in it for my face.  On the table was another sling bikini bottom, the same as the one I had to don for the previous Fango warm up session. In addition to the table this room had an elaborate tub with all sorts of gadgets and gauges hooked up to it. The full front and back massage was done with aromatic oils as the soothing tunes of Hatma Hotuni and His Hotlicks softly lulled me into a stupor. After about forty-five minutes of full back and frontal laying on of hands my guide directed me to the tub she had filled with bubbling warm water. The bubbles gave just enough cover to disguise my practically nude body that by this time she had seen pretty much all of it. She then reached over and turned on the jets after placing a wrapped towel behind me head and adding a saucepan filled with essence of lavender to the water. That's when the jets kicked in from all four sides and below. There were at least a hundred jets in that tub. So many coming from so many directions that the tub contained a bar you put your feet under so you wouldn't be jettisoned out of the tub. Then she was gone and that's when the fun really started. About five minutes after she left the room the water level began slowly draining. As the water continued to lower more of the jets especially those from behind my shoulders became exposed above sea level rather than below it. They started spewing water like a kid with a water pistol in all directions and at any random target. I didn't know if this was supposed to happen and this was a part of the treatment or if something had gone horribly wrong. With my feet still secured on the "no float" bar and no sign of a help button I stayed where I was for the next ten minutes as the room began to look like an aquarium. When help finally arrived the look on the therapists face said it all. I just said, "I didn't touch a thing. I'm guessing this wasn't part of the treatment."
Rick had finally found three empty chairs by the indoor part of the thermal pools. So I joined him in an attempt to hide from my previous attendant in fear that they might think me responsible for the splash party back in my not so harmonizing therapy room. I, of course, was the only one of the three of us who hadn't packed a swimsuit to bring along. Rick lent me a pair of his black underwear and at this point even if he hadn't I think I might have jumped in without anything but a smile!

That brings me to my third of four treatments, the LPG Endermologie Body Treatment, and no this has nothing to do with the Lady's Professional Golf tour. No, this was a treatment designated for men where you were to squeeze yourself in the suit you see here laying on the floor. You had to enter this suit through the neck hole. It felt like birth in reverse. At least that was my impression as I slithered first one foot and then the next into a hole that wasn't any wider than the ones in Krispy Kreme donut.
Once inside the suit you were to lie down on yet another cushioned table and Frau Bruisenstien and her little robot friend began pummeling you with a tool that felt like a toilet plunger on your stomach and love handles. The two of them alternately sucking at your fat and pricking you with a laser. Do not expect to see a before and after picture of my results. At present all I feel is extremely bruised.
The last treatment I'd signed up for was just pure snake oil. My final assistant ushered me into her salon where I received a Thalasso Vitality hair loss treatment. Goop after goop was applied to the few remain hair follicles I still try to maintain and then I was repeatedly rinsed off for a treatment that lasted about thirty minutes. I was then blown dry and brushed out with a three-inch high bouffant that I immediately finger-combed out once I left her room.
Rick and Emmy did their final event together in the salt bath grotto where to my chagrin they blissfully floated about. As bizarre as my experience was I think we all thought it was worth it and when we once again make our back to our beloved farm in the Tuscan hills we're sure to go to the Adler-Thermae once again.

Friday, December 29, 2017


We woke in the morning to the sound of rain tossed like a handful of sand against our bedroom window while the olive trees made wild undulating circles in the wind.  The droplets hung to tree branches like so many pearls.
It was a slow rollout in that damp cool morning from under the warm blankets. Rick was the first up. I just pulled the covers up a little tighter until the smell of fresh eggs from the hen house baking in a bath of olive oil from the farms olive orchard started wafting in from the kitchen. When the scent of a sizzling sliced cake Rick was grilling followed I couldn't resist any longer. I stepped into my insulated slipper and padded out into the kitchen with my arms wrapped tightly around me. He had concocted a topping of cut fruit in yogurt and cinnamon and added a cup of coffee swirling in milk and sugar both of which were now sitting on the table. I floated to a seat at the table under the enticing aroma of his simple yet so delicious culinary skills. When I return and you don't recognize me since I'll probably have doubled in size you'll know who is to blame.
The Sarcenis had been so generous with adding meal after meal to our stay we felt the need to reciprocate. We offered to cook that evening's meal for everyone. So we were off to Montelcino to purchase the most important ingredient of an evening repast: the wine. This is where we met Ilaria at Franci Bio, a natural and organic wine shop. Talk about knowledgeable; this woman knew everything there was to know about wine. She even told us where the best wine store in New York was located. The secret: Chambers Street Wine in Lower Manhattan.
Prior to going back to Armena to begin our cooking "moment" as Alessandro would call it we had a little more shopping to do. There's a beautiful shop in Montelcino called Montelcino 56h. The 56h refers to the altitude of Montelcino. The jacket hanging from the shelf was made by a friend of the owner out of a World War I army blanket. If it hadn't been almost seven hundred euros we might have found room for it in Emmy's suitcase.
Instead Emmy walked out with these polyethylene boots. Why? Don't ask, something she had to have to complete her New Year's Eve ensemble.
On the drive back to our cooking chores I made everyone stop at the Altesino Winery. We had been there many times before. Alessandro's best friend Mirando was the former wine Maestro at Altesino.
It's not far off the road leading back to Armena. We've been there in the summer when the sun lit up the cypress trees and filled the gardens with flowers.
This was a different look at the winery's beautiful grounds.
After that it was time to put together the evening feast we'd promised. Turns out the only easy part was uncorking the wine we'd bought from Ilaria. Rick arranged the menu and then delegated the tasks
Here's what we put together. A frittata with onions, red peppers, parsley, 3 kinds of cheeses, prosciutto, and traditional Tuscan ham. A caprese salad with basil and drizzled with the house olive oil.  Two pasta dishes, Spaghetti with sausage in a red sauce, and Penne with sage brown butter and parmesean then topped with lemon zest. Finally, a salad of mache, cucumber and celery with a dressing of more olive oil and lemon. Dessert was our only missed cue. We bought panetone basso, a kind of fruitcake instead of pandoro. Of course the Saracenis had one stashed away.
I filled my first plate with frittata, salad, the sage pasta and the caprese. Maybe because of the wine and the lemoncello I can't remember what was on plates two and three. All I remember is it was delizioso but time to go to bed!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


It was our first day of bad weather. A dull grey hung over the vista from our room. A light rain splattered the stone patio surrounding the pool. It was the day after Christmas and in Italy a day of equal importance. It's called the Feast of St. Stephen in honor of Santo Stefano believed to be one of the first Christian martyrs. It's a national holiday that closes up government offices, banks and schools not to mention most everything we wanted to do starting with grocery shopping and including some gift exchanges.
Our hosts had suggested we go to either Siena or Arezzo to see the holiday lights. Unlike in the United States where the day after Christmas is another major shopping day filled with sales and drastic discounts the Christmas holiday in Italy actually extends to January 6th and lacks the frenzy of post holiday shopping we find in the US.  Lucky us.  We flipped a coin and decided on Siena for a late afternoon visit. With the weather in Buonconvento still looking ominous we grabbed our umbrellas and headed out.
Our lucky streak seemed to still be with us. About half way to Siena the clouds miraculously parted and a rainbow formed so close to our car we felt as if we could touch it.
The rainbow followed us all the way in to Siena and then disappeared along with the rain.
By the time we reached Piazza del Campo, the main square of Siena, the clouds had evaporated like ice cubes in summer.
It was nearing four in the afternoon, about the time shops would begin to open again for the afternoon-evening hours and to our surprise many of the stores in Siena were opening up. Most Italian commercial areas run a civilized schedule of opening from ten to one and then closing for an afternoon meal and nap before reopening for the evening from four to eight.
The three of us made our way up the narrow stone streets
to the Duomo, Siena's main Cathedral.
The sides of the exterior of the Duomo are predominately clad in alternating bands of black and white marble with the banding continued around its inspiring tower.
The front of the Duomo carries most of the ornamentation in a Gothic Romanesque style laden with exquisite fret work and amazing sculptures.

Rick and Emmy weren't too interested in going inside so we split up deciding to meet an hour later. I purchased my four- euro ticket and went inside. Normally during the summer months entry is limited to designated time when you purchase your ticket. The lines are long and you might have to wait hours to get inside.
At this time of the year there weren't any lines. I got in without any waiting. The stanchioned corridor for entry was empty. Once inside I had the Cathedral virtually to myself. It was another gift to see a space so incredibly gorgeous.
Magnificent frescos and paintings adorned the walls. Everywhere you looked a new set of angels fluttered skyward.
The Corinthian columns soared to unimaginable heights supporting vaulted ceilings and coffered domes.
The altar was still set up for the Christmas service with rows of poinsettias and a small baby Jesus rested at the head of the altar.
A full-scale nativity scene was set up to the left of the altar. It is customary for Catholics to visit the ornate nativity scenes in many Italian Catholic churches on St Stephen's Day.
By the time I left the Cathedral to meet back up with Rick and Emmy the light was beginning to fade.
It was then that the streets began to turn into fairytale corridors of twinkling lights.
There were streets with themed sun burst designs
and others where it appeared as if Christmas trees had been reimagined in lights and hung overhead.
Beautiful real trees covered in millions of tiny lights took over little squares where statuary would normally be the principal draw.
As we made our way back to the main square we stopped at several shops to pick up a few additional items for dinner.
There was prosciutto, pecorino cheese and a giant loaf of Italian bread. We also added a bottle of red wine to our dining menu.
When I found this gelateria I wasn't going to be denied since in the smaller towns the gelato shops seem to close for the winter . I got a double scoop and enjoyed every cold spoonful.
By the time we returned to the Piazza del Campo night had set in, the sky had turned black and the lights of the holiday had been turned on.
We made our way back to our car by climbing back up the steep and cobbled streets of Siena while
leaving Babbo Natale clinging to the side of a building still delivering gifts to the citizens of Siena. We left Siena with one more perfect day under our belts on our European Holiday Adventure.