On my second day in Pisa, the family and I first went to the swimming pool. While Federico and Lucca had swimming lessons, we lounged in the outdoor pool and swam laps in the indoor pool. Unlike in America, as many as 6 complete strangers share one lane – since there are not enough pool facilities for all the people who want to swim. Also, a swimming cap must be worn and a robe or towel must be worn until entering the water and again immediately after exiting. You must also wear flip flops and leave them at the edge of the pool… Different culture, different swimming rules.
After swimming, Lucca, Giancarlo, and I made the 20 minute drive to Decathalon, the mega European sports store. There we got some things for the boys including tennis racquets and balls – that way I can teach them how to play! In Pisa, only small stores exist in the city, most of the larger grocery stores, clothing stores, sports stores, etc. are in the country about 20 minutes away from the center of the city. Storks – the birds that carry babies! – live in the area around Pisa and we saw some when driving.
When we returned, I decided to go for a run around Pisa. About a 45 minute run allowed me to take in most of the major sights, including the Piazza Miracoli – Square of Miracles where the Leaning Tower is located. The weather here is nice, between 70 and 80 during the day, not too warm, not too cool. I took pictures of each interesting or famous monument I passed. I showered and put on a dress when I got back so I could join the family on a trip to Giancarlo’s childhood home in the county of Pistoia.
We drove inland and north for over an hour until reaching the home of Giancarlo’s mother and brother Maurizio. They live in a tiny town in the hills, where Giancarlo grew up. First, I got a tour of the impressive backyard garden. They grow lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, grapefruit, lemons, various spices, onions, radishes, and more. The climate is ideal for gardening. Next, we went to mass at the Church, where Giancarlo’s father was an important member. He died 10 years ago so there was a short memorial for him at the Mass. The church was old, very small, but still beautiful on the inside.
On our way home, Marina and Giancarlo stopped to talk to all of the neighbors while the boys played in the fields and I found the shed where they keep the floats for Carnivale. They love Carnivale so much that they celebrate it in July too! Giant animated characters, people, and music on parade. When we got home, it was time for a true Italian dinner in celebration of nonna’s 80th birthday. Course after course and drink after drink was served. I was amazed – half of the meal was produced in the gardens outside, the rest within 3 kilometers of the home!
The first course was cantaloupe with prosciutto. Next up was fresh salad of three lettuce varieties grown in the yard and olive oil and vinegar. We had bread, and a soup made with tiny pasta. I was already feeling full but next, slices of roast beef arrived with fresh zucchini and tomatoes, which I couldn’t turn down. With the meal, we drank wine produced 1 kilometer from the home. Nonna used old water bottles to go to the barrels where the wine was stored and fill up with red and white wines. When dinner was over, the cake for nonna was brought out along with a variety of other desserts. I had a strawberry torte and a pastry filled with chocolate cream. I had biscottini with Donato, a very sweet wine popular in Tuscany. I had some coffee. I tried some grappa. Then I tried lemoncello which was made by Giancarlo’s uncle, from lemons grown on the trees outside the house. A process which takes about a month; he explained how to juice the lemons, soak the peel of the lemon in alcohol, and let it sit to achieve a refreshing flavor… nom! Marizio and nonna kept insisting that I try a little of every food and drink presented to the table… whew! When we finally left around midnight I was so full I thought I would burst! The boys slept in the car on the way home while I discussed with the parents how good of a cook nonna was. I vowed not to eat so much the next day…