April in Tuscany

I’m sitting in the corner of Radda’s old village square at a bar called Palazzo Leopoldo. 

Cooper’s suggestion that I find a shady spot was a good one. The midday sun floods across faded yellow walls and sunflower pots, proving April in Tuscany sparkles with its own touch of timeless elegance.

A pleasant soundtrack of Goo Goo Dolls and Mary J Blige has turned into a string of ballads by Ed Sheeran – a fellow fan must be running this joint!

The light in Tuscany is as they say: golden, warm and soothing. 

The sunsets are spectacular and saturate with pretty light the rolling hills, olive groves and vineyards (which at present are stripped, a new season on the way).

It’s really warm in the middle of the day and a nice change from chilly England (that said, we’ve had nice days recently but I’ve been inside at work)!

Where I sit and write now – first draft on paper – I’m positioned by an old Roman fountain. I spotted a young artist perched by a flower pot sketching the fountain just the other day and thought how charming the scene was; now I’m here and feeling all creative too.

I don’t really mind if no one reads this – the space, the channel, the craft, it’s for me.

I guess right now though I’m bordering on an Under the Tuscan Sun cliché, but that’s ok too.

Three notepad pages down already, and they’re still playing Ed Sheeran. Lucky streak for me!

Last time I wrote like this was in my treasured travel diary from my first life-changing adventure back in 2000 which was to the USA and Canada.

I remember sitting inside McDonalds as freezing snow fell upon Times Square outside. First snow I’d ever seen.

A melodic Backstreet Boys tune played on the radio there (also good by me, at the time), and it was my first experience as a traveller being alone but not feeling lonely. 

It’s a bit like that here too (although Cooper’s not far – he’s wandered off towards the scenic viewpoints on the outskirts of this pretty place to record a little something for YouTube).

Drops in temperature happen here too – overnight from around 4pm; but it’s light until 8pm.

Our villa is in Montebuoni, which is a ‘resort’ in the Tuscan hills, about 15 minutes’ drive from the nearest town of Radda in Chianti, and next door to an impressive winery, Castello di Ama.

We were staying here with To Tuscany in a cosy villa named La Stalla. Montebuoni is set amidst hilly vineyards and includes pool, tennis courts and a number of beautifully restored villas, some of the original buildings date back to the 1500s.

We discovered that during medieval times, this whole area that had been popular for wine and olive producers, was mostly abandoned due to ongoing wars between neighbouring cities Florence and Siena. It was unsafe to live here until the 1800s when things calmed again and people returned to the area, only to gradually regenerate it to its former glory.

Now the fields that stretch as far as the eye can see offer a patchwork of organised plantations that make the land look particularly charming and well kept.

I can actually see why many Italians were drawn to develop businesses in far north Queensland during post-war migration periods because the climate and land in that part of Australia feels quite similar to the Tuscan region; Tuscany’s landscape is larger though, but I felt some similarities and I remember quite well the Italian influence of my childhood in places like Cairns, Atherton and Mareeba (Australia).

Iconic Italian Cypress trees point skyward and line the property around where we are staying; grassy spaces with wildflower patches are everywhere around us and we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to scenic picnic spots.

La Stalla’s most important feature for me was the peace and quiet. 

The large, homely property sleeps four or five, and when we arrived on Monday I actually fell asleep on a bed in a little patch of sunshine that was streaming in through the window.

A bird sang sweetly outside, the wind gently swept across the trees and I couldn’t resist dozing in the warmth and stillness of it all.

No east London sirens, no deadlines, and happily no Wi-Fi.

I think we don’t realise the impact of city life until we remove ourselves from it. 

I find the city’s energy and opportunities intoxicating but here I’ve remembered the pleasure of slowing down, just being and indulging in imagination; well, that and a bit of red wine (Chianti, of course) and cheese.

And when I say ‘a bit’, I quite possibly mean a lot.

You do need a car in these parts (automatic, and with a GPS or reliable phone data package for Google Maps is highly recommended).

There are many villages that would be difficult if not impossible to reach otherwise. You can visit wineries of all shapes and sizes, most family-owned and operated.

Gorgeous Siena is about 45 minutes’ drive away, and yesterday we parked there and took a train to Florence (find the car parking facility at Siena’s train station for about €2.50 for the day, which is vastly cheaper than anywhere else, and for trains visit trainline.eu).

Florence is beautiful.

If it weren’t for all the tourists it would be perfect.

It’s a small, romantic city in which you can walk around – everywhere takes about twenty minutes.

Florence is where the Renaissance began, breaking the shackles of the Dark Ages and shedding light once again on creativity, learning, passion, pleasure and the arts.

The city was famously managed by the Medici family in the 15th Century, and their mark along with that of the artists, musicians and papal folk that influenced during this time is still bright and bold.

Find a view – whether up the steep hill to absorb all that Piazzale Michelangelo has to offer, or from a cool rooftop bar position; breathe in the past and present indulgences of Florence.

There’s tours of all sorts here, and we’d strongly advise researching ahead of time to avoid the queues which can quickly become tiresome.

As for me today, I’ve recovered from the hustle and bustle of that big Italian draw-card and am happily hanging about within Radda’s romantic walled city with pen in hand, coffee at the ready.

It really is beautiful in these parts and while I don’t understand the language I find it soothing to listen to its rhythm in the voices of those around me or on the radio.

Signing off … I’ve got a date with Cooper at a winery.

Ciao for now.

PS if you’d like more Tuscany, we captured some beautiful photos that are published here on Flickr.

Italy

Technology and learning – future travel trends

Guest contributor Dan Whitehouse explores how technology is impacting on learning for travellers, and looks at what might happen in the future…

Technology is having a significant impact on how travellers learn about the places we are visiting.

In the past, we were quite reliant on tour guides to learn about the history and significance of the places being visited. Now, travellers can get all this information on a mobile phone right over the internet. Not only that, technology allows travellers to get accurate street directions in the new places they are planning to visit.

This is surely a step up from when we had to stop at the local gas station and ask the clerk behind the counter for directions. Often times, the clerk didn’t speak English and a weary traveller would become lost and annoyed. Technology has added convenience to our experience because we can find any location on a mobile phone and even discover new locations in the area we’re visiting.

Twenty years ago, nobody could have predicted the kind of learning tools that travellers have today.

It is hard to imagine what technological innovations there will be in the future to help travellers learn even more than they do right now.

One possibility is that we will be able to travel and learn about various places in the world without even leaving our homes.

Imagine a virtual reality program where people can actually purchase tickets to go on a tour through a virtual simulation of a real-life location. People who haven’t got the budget or mobility to travel to exotic locations will no longer have to miss out. If they can get their hands on a virtual reality headset, they’ll be able to travel anywhere in the world without having to worry about airports, hotels and car rental.

At the same time, anyone can learn about a foreign location too, with more access than just being ‘broadcast’ to via a book or other media. 

As for those who will still travel for real, holographic tour guides will likely replace human tour guides.

One of the biggest inconveniences with tour guides now is they are always booked and people have to schedule a tour weeks in advance.

But with the holographic tours of the future, a 3D computer-generated tour guide will be able to show you all the sights and explain them to you the way a human tour guide would.  

This will be set up through a series of holographic devices that are placed in different areas of a tour, and some areas of the world are experimenting with this tech now!

Guests can walk to different rooms or locations and see the holographic tour guide appear.

Of course, this might make it harder for human tour guides to get a job, but by then hopefully there’ll be other options that our brains are better equipped for, and we’re probably also better at conversation (at least for the time being).

What do you think?

What’s your view or prediction on how travel and learning will be impacted by smarter tech? Let us know in the comments. 

By Dan Whitehouse

Dan’s writing from Into Forward, a technology and future-trend predictions blog. Into Forward uses a special blend of machine learning and search data for all their trend predictions. The site shares details on ‘the next biggest thing’ in technology, the markets, green tech and more.

 

Travel and terrorism

Earlier this week an awful event took place in central London which has had me fielding queries and concerns about travel and terrorism and indeed about how safe our lovely London actually is.

You would have caught the news about a man who drove a car onto Westminster bridge and into a crowd of 50 people before stabbing others outside Parliament. He killed four people, including a police officer, and seriously injured numerous others.

As someone living and working in the city, I can attest to the fact that no matter where you are in the vicinity, it is unnerving to know what’s unfolding.

My work’s security team shared advice with staff and let us know that we were welcome to stay inside if fearful of travelling at the end of the work day.

During the afternoon we didn’t know if anything further would occur, and the insensitive, irresponsible Twitter users sharing photos of the dead from the scene in central London were not helping!

A number of my colleagues were also visibly shaken because memories of the 7/7 bombings of 2005 are still all too close-to-home – one of the bombs exploded on the no. 30 bus directly outside our building and with catastophic results.

Over the 24 hours to follow the events in Wesminster, Cooper and I received numerous calls, texts and messages on social media from apprehensive family and friends who were unsure of what to make of it all.

Now none of this is to diminish what has happened (and continues to) in places not too far from us in the UK, including France, Belgium, Tunisia, Syria… unforunately the list goes on.

But when things like this happen on your doorstep, there’s no escaping the truth about the nature of conflict and hate in today’s world.

That said, the next day, life continued.

We were all on the buses, tube and trains in order to show up at work on time. My friend Jackie and I even ran into this young hero from the day before in the lift in our workplace.

‘Keep calm and carry on’ was a slogan developed by the British government back in 1939 as World War II loomed.

The famous phrase was intended to raise morale in those dark days, and has found meaning and international fame in our contemporary landscape too.

Back in 2005 after the transport system – the beating heart of this metropolis – was attacked, people came back outside and stepped onto public transport in record numbers. They went on determined, just as they did after the many devastating air raids during the war.

Londoners will not be held to ransom by crazy people. None of us should be. I’m inspired by this tenacity.

The topic of travel and terrorism is raised in our circles quite a bit. People worry about us being in a city where terrorism a real threat.

But actually, terrible things happen every day, even in sublime and seemingly unsuspecting locations like Queensland, Australia, from where we hail.

It does upset me that the media makes a real meal out of influencing people towards a fear mindset.

Even before any details were available on the Westminster attack this week, the news had labelled it a ‘terrorist act’.

Can you tell me they are not trying to sell papers and seek ratings by inciting fear across the globe?

I’m seeing the same on this very day about a cyclone striking the eastern coast of Queensland and am trying not to worry too much myself, but it’s hard not to when the images, language and stories being shared are drumming up worst-case scenarios.

As for travelling here to Europe?

London is one of the safest places we’ve travelled to. We feel entirely safe living here, walking around and getting about.

Sure, there’s the risk of terrorism but that’s everywhere these days, especially with misguided individuals taking it upon themselves to wreak havoc on behalf of organisations they’ve often only seen represented online or in the news.

My point is, don’t let a disillusioned few stop you from being curious and getting out there to travel and explore.

Be mindful, sensible and don’t take unnecesssary risks, certainly. But whatever you do, do not choose to stay at home if adventure beckons. That’s letting the bastards win.

Responding and contributing to fear energy only magnifies it around the world.

I’ve read helpful advice on this that encourages us to acknowledge what’s gone on, reflect or meditate on it in our own way and send kind thoughts to those who have been affected.

You can do something positive to counteract the fear by showing up to your own life with determination and light, and inspiring your family, friends, kids and colleagues with that spirit.

Let’s not feed the beast.

And if you’re finding news or social media reports too much or too upsetting – turn them off! There’s never any urgent new updates you need; the reports are merely the same dire tales told in different ways.

Caring makes you human. Focusing on traumatic media stories though, only breeds fear and certainly does not help anyone.

Keep calm, carry on… and travel, I say.

If more of us appreciate first-hand the world and its many different perspectives we might eventually conquer the small-mindedness that leads to ignorant and evil deeds.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.