We had come to Europe for my youngest brother’s big birthday bash in Maremma, a remote coastal area of Tuscany. After three weeks of train travel, we are ready to unwind – little knowing how dynamic the week will be!
Following my online booking with Italia Rail, I receive only an unfamiliar PNR code, to be entered in a machine at the Florence railway station. We scurry around until my daughter saves the day, navigating the touchscreen like a champ. Next we have to find our departure platform and validate our ticket at another machine. Connecting through Pisa, we have fifteen minutes to repeat the procedure. One minute after we board, the train pulls out. Whew!
After skirting the Mediterranean for much of the trip, we reach the little pink Orbetello station. A causeway, bisecting two lagoons, leads to Maremma, a bulb of land protruding into the sea. The interior has vineyards and a national park, but our route takes us through Porto San Stefano.
Our taxi climbs the hills above the harbor. Then, with the Mediterranean far below, we follow a winding road to the 1920s villa where we will pass the next week.
Not only a birthday, this gathering is also to be a merging of families, from Boulder to Australia. The miracle is that instead of getting on each others’ nerves during such “forced” togetherness, we bond in a really deep way.
The days are organized around wonderful meals, complete with tomatoes from the vine.
In between, we hike down to the rocky beach.
The bay is small and friendly, conducive to exploring.
We swim, snorkel, and kayak – meditative and calm until the wind rises and tips me over. We laugh and carry on. I conjure up stories around a mysterious cave.
After a steep climb back up the hill, we recuperate around the pool. Here, the lap-swimming contest heats up. We also have a treading water competition, singing crazy songs, and making it almost to one hour.
My eldest niece and her new husband organize other competitions, a plank event (with the winner going three minutes!), a charade-like “bowl of nouns,” tennis, fuzeball, ping pong – and beer pong. A novice, my husband is the surprise victor, along with his teammate, the grad student groom.
Everyone competes with good humor and, despite the arduous schedule, we even have time to read. Although amid such beauty, it can be hard to focus on the page.
The high point is my brother’s birthday blowout.
We toast him and each other, grateful for his generosity in bringing us all together. Including our new friends, Zeus…
And Signore and Signora Donkey.
The week passes too quickly. Filled with memories that will last a lifetime, we bid each other arrivederci. Then it is off to the Orbetello train station.