The leaves of the olive trees glistened silver in the early morning sun as our group of made our way through the hills of Tuscany, the towers of San Gimignano in the distance like an apparition or an oasis in the midst of a desert. Today, we would walk fourteen miles to the medieval tower city. We were a colorful group, a term my grandmother would use in place of eccentric because she thought it polite; nine Americans, four couples, me and two guides.Thirty minutes ago, we stood outside our villa, where we had spent a lovely evening walking around Siena, shuffling about wondering why we had to leave, slightly sleepy, the smell of wood burning in the hills below. Harry and Ida, in their late seventies and proud Texans, Sarah and Joel, mid-forties from Massachusetts away from their kids for the first time in ten years, Peg and Warren, newly retired, Eliza and Jessie, life partners and investment bankers from San Francisco and me, newly single, greeting 40 and Europe for the first time. Our guides, Maria, a transplant from Queens, New York and Alessandro from Milan, began as they had each morning, explaining the route, handing out snacks and water for our packs.
So we walked, Maria in the front and Alessandro following, the conversation moving through the breeze and the tinkling of olive leaves.
"We started late, got to make up time, Ida. Move it."
"Joel we need to think about the interview into the club, it's important we make the cut."
"Thanks for your help,Warren. Perhaps your wife would like some water too."
"Liz, you hang here with Maria and have your smoke. I'm gonna continue walking with the Jersey girl and the hottie from Milan."
I walked, never catching Harry and Ida, passing as Eliza threw down her pack and declared the smoking light on, insisting that Warren go bring his wife some water and snacks, navigating around Joel as he was unzipping his hiking pants to make them shorts yelling at Sarah, "It's all bullshit!"
As I started up another hill, wondering why I was doing this, I heard a voice, "Lean into the hill. Take slow steps and rest your arms behind you."
Alessandro illustrated as he passed me, tucking his hands behind and under his pack, just as Jessie motored up behind us.
"You have it all under control, don't you?", Jessie said as she reached up and tucked his long hair behind his ear.
He didn't flinch. I was appalled and impressed.
"Come on Jersey Girl! What do you have to say?" Jessie said dancing around the two of us, "Pretty good for having knee surgery a month ago, eh?"
I continued up the hill, leaving Jessie with Alessandro, seeing Harry and Ida ahead moving closer to the mystical towers of San Gimignano. The conversation lost as I put distance between me and the group, thinking only of finishing and the possibility of a shower.
In the quiet, I saw and felt a place that was nothing I had ever experienced except, perhaps northern Arizona, different trees but bright sunshine and great expanses of land and that's when I realized in my soul what I needed.
So I walked until I saw the gate and the towers before me, Harry and Ida were pacing waiting for the group and directions to our hotel. I took pictures as Harry and Ida talked to me about their grandkids. Tourists on day trips parted as the rest of our group climbed the hill, Maria and Alessandro gathering us and pointing us to Hotel L'Antico Pozzo in the midst of a plaza.
Salty, sandy and tired, I heard my room number and bid the group 'adieu' and staggered into the hotel. I was greeted like majesty and led to a room that was nothing like I'd had ever seen ---a huge bed, curtains billowing in the breeze and a shower that was palatial.
After a blissful thirty minutes, I emerged onto the plaza, sans hiking gear dressed for dinner to meet my group who was already positioned in a prime spot on the plaza and garnering the attention of the wait staff, laughing and toasting the day.
This is just another Magpie Tale---travel here for more scents or sense...