1:1000, Umbrella & Roadtrip

You’re probably wondering the significance of the bedraggled umbrella, but you’ll need to know a little bit before we get to that part of the story.

A year ago (at the time this was written), my dad came to visit me in Florence. I had a required Chiantishire/ winery fieldtrip during the Saturday smack-dab in the middle of his trip, which meant we weren’t able to take a weekend trip. We still wanted to go somewhere together and I was designated decision-maker.

I sought a place close enough to Florence that we would not spend the whole day traveling…I wanted a place that was worth spending one of his precious days, but wasn’t a place I had already visited or had plans to later in the semester. I spent hours trying to find the perfect location with no avail. In retrospect, we could have gone to San Gimignano—I never did end up going there.

Then one day, about a week before my dad’s arrival, Emily (my roommate) and I went shopping. She was on the hunt for a purse and I… I was just along for the ride. After visiting all of the leather shops on our list without success, we wandered into a shop that should have been on our list. Within minutes, Emily found not one but two purses and waffled over which one to get. I picked out a tie for my dad’s birthday present, eccentric with little bicycles, and found myself chatting to the store employee. I explained that my dad was visiting and that we were trying to pick a place to visit for a day—and the store-clerk suggested a road trip.

We walked out of the shop with a new purse, a tie, and a handwritten list of stops for what our new friend said would be a memorable day.

When the local tells you where to go, you go.

I relayed the Val D’Orcia plan to my dad, who agreed to get his International Driver’s Permit and rent a car for our little adventure.

On my dad’s first day in Italy, we set out in our rental car with the list of town names. We were not entirely sure that our GPS would work, but we had bag of snacks in case we got lost.

The biggest catch? We did not really know what we were supposed to do or look for in each town. There was supposedly something “really special” about the last town on the list. We left the whole experience a mystery.

The whole day was like a magician’s table draped with a cloth; at each stop, we lifted it like we were simultaneously the magician and the crowd waiting with anticipation to see the magic underneath.

We all pretty much jumped out of the car when we arrived in Arezzo. It was drizzly, but that didn’t stop us.

We wandered blindly, no set plan or even general idea of what we should be looking for. Luckily, a visitor’s center provided us with a map with little pictures of the main sights—just what we needed to know. Attached to the Visitor’s Center was a small museum documenting the Giostra del Saracino, a joust that has occurred in the town’s center since the 1600s.

We circled a large monument in a park, making up stories about what it was supposed to depict. We joked about “prato”, which just means lawn in Italian, but for reasons now lost to me was a semester-long laugh between Emily and I.

That’s when I spotted it: a large, broken, blue umbrella.

I dug the umbrella out of the trash can and lifted it above my head so no one lost the group, walking backwards like a tour guide. It is extremely likely that I did this for significantly longer than it was actually funny.

My dad and Emily had been claiming all morning that I was, in fact, our tour guide. In reality, our road trip was probably the least planned trip I had ever gone on (arguably even less planned than the San Marino fiasco, which was ironically only two days earlier).

My tour guide instincts (alright, a combined effort from the three of us trying to decipher the map) led us to the Piazza Grande, where the aforementioned joust occurs each year.

We climbed the Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici bell tower, watched the gears shift, and listened to the bells chime—they reminded us that it was lunch time. Before we left Arezzo, we grabbed panini from a local vendor to eat in the car before our next stop.

The road trip continued onwards to Pienza and then an extremely quick drive-through and near-death-slippery-road-near-a-cliff experience in Montalcino.

The weather degraded throughout the day, the rain slowly turning to snow. Even after the harrowing experience in the hill-top town of Montalcino, we kept pushing forward. The last stop beheld something special and we wanted to discover it.

The day-long adventure ended in Bagno Vignoni. We weren’t sure where we were supposed to go…more unsure here than at any of the other stops. Emily and I climbed down from the parking lot to a small steaming stream: a natural hot spring. We warmed our hands as my dad ran down the path to see if there anything worthwhile in that direction. In reality, he was the true leader that day: our fearless driver, who was probably still jet-lagged. Aimless wandering turned into following the Italian signs, which we couldn’t really read. They took us to the baths, used by Romans and Medici’s and (in a slightly different location) people now.

The next morning, we experienced one of Florence’s rare snows: a dusting laid over David in the Piazza della Signoria and on top of Brunelleschi’s Duomo.

The salesclerk was right: it was such a special trip, and it was only made more special that he recommended it to us. Oh…and we got to see a wild boar. Well, maybe. Only some of us saw it.




This post is part of my 1:1000 series of blogs composed of 1 photo and exactly 1000 words about it.

The pictures that I use for 1:1000 are the ones the photos that truly take a full thousand words to understand. I’ll be sharing snapshots that even after a thousand words might make you wonder how I could have possibly made a sane and conscious decision to post them. I’m posting the silly snapshots that often seemed like they wouldn’t mean anything in the moment, but in reality encapsulate the spirit of a minute, a day, an entire trip.

These pictures aren’t always pretty and posed. They might be framed awkwardly. It’s possible that the lighting will be uneven. Forgive me for that, because that’s the thing: they’re still worth a thousand words.

Learn more about the series or read the first post!

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