When I told a couple of buddies from home and my family that friends and I had rented a country house outside of a little village in Tuscany for Easter weekend, I could sense their eye rolls and silent “eff off, you spoiled jerk”s over the phone. Yes, I’m ridiculously lucky to travel as much as I do, and I get that. I do.
You don’t want to hear it. You’re sick of travel bloggers portraying their lives as being flawless. Their trips are amazing, they take private tours and eat until they’re just bursting with delicious food. Lifestyle bloggers might even be worse. They have perfect homes/abs/children/kitchens/bodies/wardrobes/eyebrows/whatevers.
You’re sick of cookie-cutter Instagram influencer chicks wearing a designer dress at the top of a mountain in the woods with perfect nails and killer eyeliner or lounging in a pool of rose petals in the mouth of an extinct volcano or whatever else they’re doing these days. It’s exhausting.
I started this blog to share tips and stories, in the hopes of helping people have fun and eat well as they see the world, or perhaps to show someone who might be hesitant to travel that the world isn’t such a scary place after all. I’d love to help somebody achieve a dream of moving to Italy someday.
I also want to show the real side of travel, because, yes, it is wonderful and I am incredibly, profoundly grateful that I get to do it so often, but it’s not perfect. I don’t want to make anyone feel badly when they look at my blog. I want them to feel good, and to laugh, and to know that I’m telling the truth. I’m committed to realness, not trying to sell something non-existent (because, spoiler alert, nobody’s life is perfect).
Anyway, lucky for you, I’m hella not wearing a sundress or makeup in the woods. I mean, come on, guys. I’m from Maine.
So, with that, here’s the story of my most recent trip to Tuscany, warts and all.
We arrived at the house on Friday around 5pm, after winding through some very small villages and up some very steep mountain roads. The owners’ son was there to let us in. He was meant to show us how things worked, but essentially just gave us the keys, told us to keep the fire going, and said that there was more wood in the storage room under the house. We excused his brusqueness because he looked like a sexy fireman.
The house was beautiful. It was rustic but charming. There was a fireplace in the kitchen kicking off heat and an orange glow, with another fire-fed furnace next to it which heated the rooms upstairs (or so we thought).
We claimed our bedrooms and then peeked outside at the view. Gorgeous. We also noticed that there was no cell service. Whatever! We’d all enjoy being unplugged.
Three of the eight of us were car sick from the drive up, so we did what anyone else does when they’re trying to settle their stomach and started drinking copious quantities of beer. The night unfolded in just the way I had envisioned it – food, games, wine, and laughter. Perfect.
When we climbed the stairs to bed, we realized that the upstairs rooms were a bit smoky. We opened the windows to let some of the smoke out, and slept.
Day two was rainy and cold. Like, properly cold. I hadn’t really brought the right clothing for the temperature that it was. I took a boiling hot, almost painful shower, and promptly turned back into an icicle approximately one second after it was over.
My sweetheart and I started the fires up and had a cup of tea. I was thrilled at the thought of going to sleep later in a nice, warm bedroom that had been heated all day long, not just for a few hours in the evening. Does anyone else get excited for bedtime in the morning? Asking for a friend.
Everyone started waking up slowly, taking showers, having breakfast, etc. At a certain point, the toilet got clogged and nearly overflowed. ‘We’ll call the owners,’ we thought, only to remember that there was no cell service. Fortunately, we had already planned to take a trip to town. We knew all of the stores would be closed on Easter Sunday, and we still had some groceries to get. So four of us ventured off to Bibbiena, where there was a shopping center that housed an enormous supermarket. While we were there we called the owners, who asked us to go to the house next door to ask for a plunger to fix the toilet situation. #glamorous
We shopped with the rest of the people who live in a 100-mile radius and then chugged back up the mountain. At a certain point, I said, “Ok, I really want to see some animals!” The Airbnb post about the property said there was “a pack of wolves” in the area and “hordes of boars”! I’d settle for, well, anything other than a wolf or a boar really, because I’ve heard they’re both pretty assholey, and I wasn’t up for getting mauled or pig-bitten.
Anyway, if you’re one of my devout readers (or perhaps I should say, my one devout reader – hi, Mom!) you’ll know that I sometimes try to manifest seeing wildlife, and up until this trip, I had never had any luck. But Tuscany, magical land of beauty that it is, granted my wish, and on the next hill we looked up to see seven gorgeous deer grazing in a field.
We headed back to the house happily, unpacked the groceries, and then sent the one Italian among us to the neighbors’ house to talk toilets. They were very kind indeed, and informed us that they didn’t have a plunger, but that we could use their bathroom. Now that’s a neighbor.
We found cell reception by forming a human pyramid while two of us held balls of aluminum foil, and called the owner for help. Getting a plumber to come in Italy usually takes a small miracle, and on a holiday weekend, the odds of us getting someone out there were approximately one in a squillion.
Help arrived a few hours later in the form of the owner, Dante, who looked like a character from the opening number in Beauty and the Beast. He had long, white hair, bright yellow teeth, and weathered skin. GUYS is the sexy fireman son going to look like that some day? I wonder. Anyway, digression aside, he had a cigarette dangling from his lips as he traipsed around the house talking about what was blocking the toilet.
He claimed it was the previous renters who had brought their dogs. His best guess was that they had flushed a plastic bag full of dog poop down the toilet in order to get rid of it. This seems highly unlikely to me, but potayto/potahto, Dante. If that was, in fact, the case, I’d really like to meet the geniuses who thought that was a good idea so that I could set the bag of dog poop on fire and throw it at their idiot faces.
Dante returned from about 20 minutes outside, being really, absolutely, positively sure to track mud all over the floor, and said that there was nothing he could do. We all looked at each other, trying to work out a way that we could avoid eight people’s waste from building up over three days in a single toilet.
He then disappeared to try one more thing. We fretted in the kitchen and wondered how soon we could ask for a refund, but luckily, he came back, triumphant, to tell us that he had fixed the problem. He informed us that we “didn’t want to know” what caused the blockage. You know when people tell you “you don’t wanna know” but you can totally tell that they really want to tell you? It was like that. Luckily, he spared us the details.
We decided to celebrate by going for a little hike in the afternoon drizzle. I was a bit edgy that we hadn’t spent that much time outside, because the scenery was absolutely spectacular. Like anyone else who was raised in a religious household, guilt comes easy to me, and I felt badly that I hadn’t enjoyed the outdoors on our outdoorsy weekend.
About three steps into the walk, I started to complain that I was cold. I’m sure everyone was really glad that I had come. Luckily, my boyf is always hot and offered me his coat. The temperature was really low, so I resisted, because I didn’t want to be like Rose in Titanic, hogging the comfort for myself while my poor, darling Jack freezes to death (THE DOOR WAS BIG ENOUGH, ROSE! IT WAS BIG ENOUGH!). Too distracted at the thought of Leo’s beautiful hands sinking into the icy water, I accepted the coat, to complete my #influencerinthewoods ensemble of a sweatshirt under a hoodie under a jacket under my boyfriend’s jacket.
The views, other than those of anyone looking at me, did not disappoint.
We scampered back down the hill, happy that we had finally taken a little stroll and communed with nature. Now we could go back to wine and games.
I went upstairs when we returned from our walk, only to discover that the bedrooms there were full of smoke. I mean, mouth and nose burning when you walked in, eyeballs drying out, cough-inducing smoke. I guess that lovely fire that we were going to burn all day long in order to heat up the bedrooms was actually going to kill us.
We hemmed and hawed and ultimately put out the fires, opened the windows, and plugged in an electric heater to try to warm up the main room of the house. We’d sleep with all our clothes on if we had to.
At some point after dinner, someone suggested we play Monopoly. If I had a time machine and could go back and redo anything about the whole weekend, it wouldn’t be to bring a plunger, or warmer clothes. It would be to throw Monopoly into one of the two fireplaces I had handy and watch that little monocled bastard go up in flames.
Monopoly is the worst game ever created (although it’s possible that it’s tied with the Game of Life). It’s not even fun. I’ve come to regard it as an evil capitalism indoctrination tool, where the rich get richer and everyone else goes to jail.
I will spare you the full story, but suffice it to say that at one point, I wanted to flip the table like a Real Housewife of A Little Village in Tuscany, and that my sweetheart and I have made a pact to never, EVER, play Monopoly together again.
Sunday, thankfully, was sunny and warm. The sky glowed blue and puffy clouds floated lazily across it. We woke up early and hiked to a waterfall. It was warm enough that we ditched our coats. We closed out our weekend by spending the day outside, eating, laughing, and having fun. It was a very happy Easter.
I am extremely lucky to have the life that I have. I work hard for it (two jobs and a side hustle) but I also know that I can live this life because of some of the privileges I was born with. I’m white. I’m American. I’m straight. I’m healthy. I’m cis-gender. I don’t have learning differences or physical disabilities. I have gotten a world-class education. I’ve never faced discrimination in my field, for not “looking” American or “sounding” American. I have a wonderful, extensive network of loved ones who support me and my adventurous nature. I have awesome friends and a lovely, loving partner. I have a family I can fall back on if the dog turd in a plastic bag hits the fan. I’m very fortunate, and I make a conscious effort to remember that every single day.
So, I hope I don’t come off as whiny, because I know that some people would kill to spend a weekend in a rustic Tuscan house with their friends. Despite the warts, I’m incredibly grateful that I was able to do this.
I just wanted you to know that things, especially photoshopped images of perfection, aren’t always what they seem. A couple of things went hilariously wrong in our rustic Tuscan house, and I wanted to share them with you (Mom). Like I said before, I’m here to tell the truth, to hopefully make you laugh, and to inspire you to have your own weekend with your beautiful friends, freezing cold in a smoke-filled house while ancient feces bubbles out of the toilet.