Day 8: Finding the Tuscan Sun - Cortona with Giovanni.

Today we met Giovanni, an expert on Cortona who, Brad told us, was a consultant during the making of the film based on Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun.

The first thing Giovanni showed us when we arrived, however, was a newly unearthed Etruscan archeological site at the base of the hill that Cortona was built upon.  The site was one of the largest ever, including a massive staircase and railing.

He brought us to the beautiful reconstructed Church of Santa Margherita, whose namesake's mummified body is on display in a glass casket inside.  Frankly, I'm not sure how well this kind of thing would go over back home, as it gave me a serious case of the creeps.

Bremasole, which is the name of Mrs. Mayes' villa, was a nicely renovated stone house surrounded by flowers, and if you turned around from viewing it you would be afforded a grand view of the valley below.  Of course, as Giovanni pointed out, the house is on the wrong side of the town so it gets very little sunshine for much of the year.  I guess that's just part of the quaintness.

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We went into town for a tour of the main square and surrounding buildings.  Cortona is a place of steep streets and thick-walled brick buildings in pastel colors with the ghosts of former doorways now bricked over in every wall.

Giovanni's favorite phrase throughout the tour was, "this means nothing!"

"You see these marks in the stone?"  We would crane our heads and furiously try to figure out what they were for, and then he would tell us, "this means nothing!" with an Italian emphasis on the first syllable of the last word so that it sounded like NUH-thing.  It cracked me up every time he did it.

We were set out on our own for lunch in the city, which unfortunately didn't work out so well for me and Freyja.  Although we arrived at a restaurant at the same time as Tom and Lynette, we waited 40 minutes to be served while they finished their lunch.  To make a long story short, the wine and bruschetta were fabulous, but we got no other food before we had to leave to catch our bus.  As Brad summed it up, short lunches and Italy often don't go together well.

We said our goodbyes to Cortona and were off to Lucca, our home for the next 2 nights.  Lucca is a walled city near Florence with a continuous park all the way around the city on top of the wall.  This made for a perfect biking path, so Nina, our local guide took us on a bike ride around Lucca.

After the ride, Nina showed us around inside the city, and brought us around to the many wonderfully fašaded churches, as well as the amphitheater (see the home page for a picture) made up of a ring of pastel buildings.

We then were on our own to walk around the city.  During the walk, one group of us spied a statue of someone familiar.  It seems that the Luccans had sculpted a statue of Phil!  Of course he denied it completely, but when royalty travels incognito one must keep under cover.

I had dinner with Freyja in a small restaurant on the path back to the hotel.  They had good lobster and very good wine.


Cortona with its ghost doors and Lucca with its great towers remind me that stone lasts so much longer than people.  There is much history left to be told, long after we are gone, and the stones will still be here to tell it.

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Last updated 11/12/2005 .  Email me at