Bonjour from Montpellier!
I am still trying to catch my breath from my time in Italy! There is quite a lot to touch on . The days after Rome were quite crazy and tiresome, yet so rewarding. After leaving my first of three visits to Rome, I met up with our clients that were traveling with us. All 400 of them, yes! It took me until a little after the tour to actually feel accomplished but very proud to say that they were happy with their travels and experienced some experiences of a lifetime.
As much as those 10 days with the group seems like a bit of a blur, I tried my best to make sure I stopped my brain from running crazy to enjoy each and every moment. It was not easy at times when trying to “move” 400 people or make sure they are all taken care of, but I can say I did accomplish it. I did not want to miss out on where I was. I experienced the city, the countryside, and even a bit of the water. Tours are a “taste”, as we always tell our clients, and even so, I feel like I did get to experience and feel a lot more than I expected. The “taste” does, however, have me itching to return.
After leaving Rome I headed to Perugia and Assisi where the first leg of the tour was. That evening we had a dinner that would be considered alongside the “slow food movement”. The Slow Food movement is, and I quote, “Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization, founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat”. I appreciated this as life does go too fast sometimes and I believe meals should be an experience!
The next day was Easter Sunday. I was able to celebrate Easter with a beautiful Italian mass that the choir touring with us, Mater Dei High School, sang. I did not understand a lot of the mass, but it was fun being able to follow along as best as I could. The church was beautiful and quaint. Our 400 people took up most of the seating and the locals coming in were definitely thrown off when they didn’t get their regular seats during a holiday mass. I would have been shocked, too, if I were them upon entering but they were very receptive! One big thing I learned during mass is that in Italy, there is no structure to receive communion. It is first come, first serve no matter where you are in the church! If I would have know that I would have made a run for it after the consecration but thankfully I know for next time now (just kidding). After the mass, our group went into a courtyard where we had organized a street food market. It was a perfect way to feed 400 people fast! Sandwiches, cheese, pizza, gelato – you name it, it was there! The sun was shining and it was a perfect way to “kick off” East Sunday! That afternoon there was another concert and a dinner at the hotel we were staying at – Alla Posta dei Donini and the Easter celebrations only continued. If I could not be with family to celebrate, this is the next best way!
Assisi was the first stop the next day. If there is one place that I would have loved to spend more time, this was it. The town is just so cute! The streets and houses have such character but cannot say much more as I was hardly there before we had to depart for Rome. This is definitely one place I want to be back to visit. We were headed back to Rome because Easter Monday is a national holiday in Europe and our group was able to sing mass at St. Peter’s Basilica! Yes – THE St. Peter’s Basilica!
The following day our groups attended the Papal audience. This was pretty darn cool! We arrived very early to save seats as we wanted to get as many of the 400 travelers together as possible! Thankfully it was a gorgeous day – the sun was shining and it was really comfortable. We had to save seats and sit for a couple hours before Pope Francis came out on this “pope mobile” and addressed the crowd. It was a pretty special experience to be addressed and blessed by him. After that we made our way to Florence and stopping for a HUGE lunch! Let me tell you, they are not kidding saying the Italians can eat! We enjoyed many courses, a dessert I will remember forever, and a breathtaking view.
On to Florence we went! I had a very strange sign why I knew I would LOVE Florence and it came the second I stepped out of our coach. One item I had in capital letters and highlighted to pack was my Lush face mask. Long days, big cities mixed with a tad of stress can take a toll on the skin, am I right? Well even with the capitalization and highlighting my mask was left behind in Charlotte. Yes, devastating. Anyways, I stepped out of the coach and there in front of me, shining so brightly, was LUSH!!!!!! Needless to say, that was just the beginning of why I love Florence and my face was so thankful for a mask of magnanimity treatment!
Anyways, I know I mentioned that I had a hard time figuring Rome out direction wise. Florence was WAY easier! Yes, the streets are still tight and small but just look for the Duomo and wa-lah — you can get where you need to go or at least I could! I had one morning where I was able to walk the streets, see the original David at the Accademia, smell the famous Florence leather, and see the Ponte Vecchio bridge. I even got to touch the Porcellino nose which is supposed to be good luck – fingers crossed it really does bring it Like every other place I went, my time there just was not enough but it will bring me back to Florence and I am thankful for the time I had there to experience the streets.
Our largest group, the high school students, stayed in Artimino when we went to Florence. This was slightly outside of the city and we were able to “take over” an entire town by putting the kids up in apartments. This was a highlight for them and a highlight for me to see! There are still a few people living in town but it is definitely out of the norm to have 200+. After their first night there I got to visit and roam the streets while the students were in Florence. Concluding out visit we stepped into the gelato shop in town, mind you one of the only shops in general, and the owner proceeded to tell us he was up all nice restocking since our group cleaned him out! I guess he did not take us seriously when we warned him that they will be buying gelato!! Thankfully he had a mascarpone gelato ready so I did have a little sample. From then on, down the road, we had an evening with all the groups where a concert was performed and dinner was served in the Villa Medicea. This picture of the group was taken off our company Facebook page. The shot I got was the kids being kids. It was fun to watch them just be in the grass and relaxing! That night was a relaxing sleep as we stayed where you could only hear birds chirping – nice change of pace to the cities I had been staying in.
Cinque Terre was next on our list as a day trip and thankfully the weather held up so we could proceed with taking out chartered boat out. It was all weather depending!! It gave a unique view for me, even though I had never been, since I was able to see all 5 villages from the ocean. I was able to see their locations and vibrant colors even amongst the clouds. They are breathtaking and somewhere I am thankful I was able to go to. We stopped at one Cinque Terre village, Monterosso, and then we stopped at Portovenere. Portovenere is slightly outside of the Cinque Terre villages and not considered one themselves but definitely has a similar charm. Monterosso is known for their best beaches but it was not quite a beach day when we were there so I enjoyed a cappuccino while looking at it instead after exploring its quaint, winding streets.
To conclude the trip, we went back to Rome where we had an after-hours private visit of the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel. Pictures are not really allowed in the Sistine Chapel, which I think is for the best, since no picture could ever do it justice. It was truly breathtaking. The choir, who is absolutely beautiful, was able to sing, too. This is not always allowed but it was for them and wow was it moving. If you would like to check out videos of all the performances they are posted on the Incantato Concert Tours Facebook page. You will not be disappointed! As I saw in the Sistine Chapel, listening to the voices that make up one incredible choir, you could not help but feel in awe. It is such a masterpiece and those high school students were able to sing in somewhere that was designed for voices like theirs.
The time in Italy ended with a team dinner filled with antipastos, pizza, pasta, bubbles, and a cannoli. Could it be anymore perfect? As I am now in Montpellier, my travels have changed. I am here for Rendezvous France where I am meeting with suppliers on behalf of future groups for our company. These days are long and the talking is plentiful but I am thankful for it because this week I also go to Paris and this week is also when Jack joins me!!! Excited is an understatement so I appreciate anything that passes the time quickly until he is here and then it can REALLY slow down!
More from Paris unless we are too busy sipping champagne and eating pain au chocolat!