Shortly after our arrival, we decided that we were brave enough to venture out on a driving trip and opted for one of those places you have to go so you can say you’ve been there places – the Riviera. So we set off on the winding, twisting mountain roads through the countryside of Liguria. When we arrived at our destination, on the far western Italian Riviera, we were surprised to find that we were only minutes from the French border. So, on this “do it so I can say I’ve done it” trip, we opted to drive to France for lunch. With no clue where we were headed, we decided to stop in Monaco. The most stressful part of the trip was deciding where to park so we could remember where we parked the car – there could be nothing worse than being in a rented car, in a foreign country, where you don’t speak the language, and misplacing your car. We wandered into a rather cute little bistro with a view of the sea and sat down only to discover that it was an Italian restaurant. After a rather uneventful lunch, we headed to the oceanfront where casinos, hotels, and people were dripping in wealth. Mother wore a “I want to meet a Prince” t-shirt.
As we made our way back around the Italian Riviera, we opted to stop in a highly recommended seaside resort town, Santa Margherita. I had carefully selected what promised to be a much-touted, quaint little B-and-B called Villa Gnocchi. As we traveled up the winding hillside, we were taken aback by the amazing views out across the Mediterranean and this adorable little cottage set among olive and fig trees. I was patting myself on the back for having made such a phenomenal choice of accommodations. We were completely mesmerized by the endless views and beauty of this mountaintop vista…until we entered our room to find a rather large sign hanging on the wall that read, “don’t squash bugs on the walls”. Turns out, Santa Margherita should be called Santa Mosquito.
Our next stop was a real working farm in Tuscany – called an agriturismo. The government of Italy subsidizes farms to provide housing to tourists who want an authentic experience. And authentic we got! Albeit a bit rustic, it had all the comforts of home except toilet paper, which I inquired about on a daily basis. Antonella, who runs the farm with her husband, introduced us to her 89-year-old mother who lived above our apartment. Every morning, Nonna, would come to visit us, chatting about her life, talking endlessly about the region, bragging on her family, discussing the daily meals, and more. At least I guess that’s what she was talking about. She spoke very quickly, and very Italian. I simply nodded my head and repeated, “Si.” I honestly can’t tell you one thing she told me. But for seven days, she came to visit. She didn’t seem to mind doing all the talking. Mom, the kids and I spent the days visiting the many hill towns of Tuscany to return to the tranquility of the farm’s pool every afternoon. Again, we may have well had our heads stamped with U.S.A. on them. As I looked around the pool at the other families there – about eight in all – I realized that my mother and I were the only ones with bathing suit tops on. It wasn’t until I looked over and saw my 9-year-old son sitting on a lounge chair with a newfound friend’s mother – she sitting up topless, while Carson sat less than 10 inches from her breasts, completely unmoved by the incident – that I realized just how different our cultures are.
Everything we ate and drank while there came right off of their land – including the chickens whose numbers decreased daily. My suburban kids got their first glance at a chicken being plucked from the farmyard soon to have his feathers plucked so he could be plucked into a big roast pan. They had no idea that that was where chicken nuggets come from! I did not have the heart to tell Lyndsey that the pen of adorable black and white bunnies also meet the same fate.