Now may be a good time to mention our bus driver Aldo who drove us all the way from Venice to Sorrento. Aldo did not speak English well enough to try to talk to us, and that might be the reason he seemed to be very quiet on the bus. But if you sat in the front of the bus you could hear the conversations he was having with Alessandro, our tour manager, in Italian. Aldo had that calm air about him that made our bus-rides all the more relaxed and enjoyable. He drove the huge bus in all kinds of situations, including the drives on the highways, and the twists and turns of the narrow streets that had to be negotiated to get to out-of-the-way places. He drove day and night and in different kinds of weather conditions without any change in the handling of the bus. He was a master of the road. We were all appreciative, and so was Alessandro our tour manager. He even made up a ditty for us to sing to him as a token of our appreciation (“Oh Aldo..”).
I will also preface this particular blog with a note that the experience that we had that night which I am going to write about was totally unexpected. After all, we had all paid what we thought was a reasonable amount of money for what we presumed would be a simple tour with a focus on sightseeing. Although a few dinners were included, we were thinking of them as additions to the package to make our life easier during the tour. The lunch the previous day had been a pleasant surprise in this regard. But the experience of the dinner that night really blew away expectations!
Folks might have been looking for a little bit of relaxation after a long day of walking around Florence, but there was more to come that evening. Dinner was happening in a restaurant called “I Tre Peni” in the hills of Tuscany on the outskirts of the city. Aldo was there promptly at our hotel with his bus to get us to our destination. It was not an easy drive through the narrow winding roads where there was barely enough place for automobiles , let alone an automobile and a bus, to pass each other. I think there was a little bit of blind faith, and perhaps a short prayer or two, involved in negotiating the blind corners, hoping nothing was coming the other way. But Aldo got us there with aplomb.
We were greeted at the entrance with glasses of a blue wine courtesy of the owners to the restaurant, a family that own a winery called Fratelli Saraceni.There were a couple of musicians there to entertain us, a guitar player and a singer. There were more bottles of different kinds of wine awaiting us at our dining table.The dinner started out with a wonderful spread of vegetables laid out on a central table for all to share.It is quite the sight, and a nice surprise. We had been missing out on the usual vegetable intake that we were used to at home.
The singer walked around the restaurant singing to the ladies and inviting them for a dance or two.The merriment continued through the items that we were served before the main course, and indeed all of this food was polished off.The musicians would take breaks from their efforts every once in a while and then come back to sing some more songs for us. At some point one of our fellow travelers was invited up to sing an Italian song with the musicians. And then the folks at our table convinced me in my inebriated state to join the guitar player to sing a song that I did not know the words to. I survived, and fortunately others were in the same state of mind as I was so that it did not matter that I was probably making a fool of myself. By this time the guitar player was playing more and more riffs from songs in English that I could recognize, and so some of us joined in the background singing from our table.
The main course consisted of a serving of different kinds of meats on a big dish, to be shared around the table.It was all quite tasty. And the wine kept flowing. After dinner Alessandro joined in some of the singing and noted that it was time for some dancing.Aldo was also invited to join the musicians. He watched the rest of us with a somewhat bemused look on his face.Folks boogied while the musicians did their thing. Alessandro then introduced a newlywed couple who were a part of our group and brought out a cake for them. A song was sung for them.When informed that there were other couples who were celebrating their anniversaries during the trip, he invited them all up. The musicians sang a song to all of them,and they then all together blew out the candle on the cake. Finally it was time for dessert and a shot of limoncello to close out the festivities at the restaurant.
On our way out of the restaurant we stopped at the front desk to jointly order a few bottles of different varieties of wine to be shipped home for us. (This is something we may not have done if we had been in a different state of mind!) The bottles of wine have just arrived.
Folks were in a great mood on the drive back. There was music and singing, and even an attempt at trying to dance,as Aldo drove the winding roads carefully, on his mission to deliver us safely back to our hotel. But he was also part of the fun. At some point he had us going around in circles in a roundabout. There had been some talk before we set out for the restaurant about walking to a good gelato place near the hotel after dinner for more dessert. But some of us had had enough fun for the day. We retired to our rooms in a tired and tipsy state of mind ready to fall asleep. We had the drive to Rome ahead to us the next day to consider.
Read the next entry in this series of blogs on our trip to Italy here.