Sunday, 21 September 2014

Tuscan Trails: Parting Thoughts

Montecatini's City Hall, where the mayor's office is on the second floor
Soon it was the end of our seven-day tour of Tuscany, and on the last evening together we shared email addresses and took pictures with new friends.

In total there were 31 people in our tour group, seven of us from Canada (and Hong Kong), the rest from the United States, mostly from New Jersey...!

Verdi resided here in the summers (balcony)
Two other women from the US were also Chinese, originally from Shanghai. On the first day they started chatting with us and soon were adopted them into our little sub group.

We had one evening free in Montecatini, the small town we were staying at, and following the recommendation of one of our tour members, we tried to find the restaurant he said had very good pasta.

After strolling a few blocks we found the place, which had a large outdoor area in the front, and indoor area in the back. We approached the restaurant, and immediately I could sense the staff tensing up, seeing such a large group of Asian people tromping up to their entrance.

I asked for a table for nine inside (as there were smokers outside), and they pointed to two tables, one for five people, another for four. At first we agreed, but then asked if the tables could be put together.

There was a flat "no" and so we started walking out. They made a last-ditch attempt to suggest we eat outside where there was one long table, but I said there were smokers. It was too late for them to remedy the situation. Granted the space inside was a bit hard to fit nine people, but they could have tried.

Prawns with vegetables
So we continued on in our quest to find a restaurant.

We wandered into the area where the hotels are cheaper, mostly pensiones, and many had seats out front for guests to sit and chat amongst themselves.

One of the hotels we stopped at had a restaurant attached to it, looked like a fine-dining place, and it was still early so it was empty. I walked in and saw the head waiter put his jacket on and straighten it stiffly, while the other staff stared at us. It didn't seem like a good sign.

I asked if they were open and immediately he replied they were all full for the evening.

Right.

This is a town of 20,000 residents, has 200 hotels and as our tour guide told us, has 100,000 visitors during the tourist season.

A very hearty pappardelle with duck ragout
None of us in our group said the R-word, but it was definitely on our minds.

After walking a bit longer, we got tired, and hungry. We finally settled on another hotel restaurant in the same area, and this time a young woman warmly welcomed us to the empty dining area that was also part of the lobby. Nine people was no problem and she quickly put tables together.

We made it easier for her to do separate bills by sitting with our respective families, and she was very friendly, smiling and laughing with us. Although she made a few mistakes with our orders, no one minded -- we were just pleased to have a friendly server.

In the end the food wasn't amazing, but we had a good time and generously tipped the young woman who was overwhelmed by our gratitude. She had no idea what we had been through earlier.

On the whole though, the people we met on the trip were friendly and nice. It made us wonder if they knew the difference between people from China and Chinese people from elsewhere.

Chinese President Xi Jinping recently warned his fellow citizens to behave themselves when traveling abroad. One wonders what they have done in Montecatini to result in us getting strange looks?

Nevertheless, I will not forget the fantastic Tuscan scenery, from the hillsides covered in olive trees and grape vines, to the picturesque coastal scenes in Cinque Terre, but in particular the fresh food! That is something even the best Italian chefs can't replicate in Hong Kong! Take me back!

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