Every traveler – of the world, of life – knows that the best parts of a journey are the parts you don’t plan. The moments that come out of the blue, that just happen, and end up becoming the highlight and a memory you will always try to hold onto. Like people and places and a hundred other small things are ingredients, and sometimes as the hours slip by you find a combination that makes a particularly wonderful recipe.

As travelers, we also hope to see the land’s culture outside of the museums and tourist landmarks. To break bread and share stories with the people, to see close up all the similarities and differences between us as well as the freckles on their faces. To clasp hands. To step over their doorstep and drink tea together. To stop up the thoughts that put my way of life as the best, but just to listen and take in.

We got to do all of this and more for two brief days in the countryside an hour from Turin/Torino, Italy – smack dab in Tuscany.

Tuscany has always been especially beautiful to me. I still remember sitting in a doctor’s office, maybe 5 years ago now, flipping through a travel magazine and coming across an ad that had a typical Tuscany photo – a sprawling white house on top of a hill filled with vineyards and cypress trees. Everything was washed in sunset warmth. I asked the receptionist if I could take the magazine home, and I still have the photo tucked away in my room. From then on, I’ve wanted to see Tuscany.

Obviously two days – all the time we could afford between leaving Rome and heading north to Paris – was just enough to dip in the tip of the toenail of our tiniest toes in, but it was a great taste (literally).
First off, Turin gets tops in Couchsurfing. In the beginning we were hoping we could spend our few days close to the now-popular Cinque Terre or somewhere on the west coast, but research into hostel prices and CS requests didn’t produce anything. So I sent out requests to Turin, where our bus to Paris was leaving from anyways, and not only did we hear back overnight, but we had three invitations, so had to choose! O life’s dilemmas. We chose to stay with a guy in the country Thursday night to Saturday morning, then to travel into Turin and spend the night with another couchsurfer there so we’d be all ready for our Sunday morning bus.

On Thursday we used rideshare to get from Rome to Casale Monferato, a small town an hour from Turin. The other three people in the car only spoke Italian, so we didn’t talk, but they were obviously jovial and easygoing people, and it was entertaining during the ride just to watch them talk and joke. They dropped us off right in town at the train station, where our host Cristhian picked us up. He was born and raised in Italy, though he’d traveled all over, and now lived a simple life with his 5 month old cat. His house was a skinny two story whose front windows looked into his overgrown, jungle-like garden, and the back windows onto fields and the train track. He made us some tea and we talked until it was time to leave for a folk dance he invited us along to. Apparently it was a once a year event.

We met up with a few of his friends along the way, who were from the UK and Gemany and Italy, and carpooled to a tiny town called “Rinco.” One part of the drive was especially beautiful, where we puttered along a ridge in his old car and could look down on the hills and lights of scattered houses on both sides. Lovely, Italian cypress trees.

In Rinco they had a large, white tent with a stage and a hardwood floor set up, and the band (made up of accordions, a bass, some sort of woodwinds, and one other instrument I did not recognize) was already playing away. They played a variety of songs, but a lot were native to that region, of Southern France, Northern Italy, and Eastern Spain, collectively. They told me the name of the region but it didn’t stick in my mind, being in Italian.
Olivia and I hung shyly on the side for a while, sitting in the chairs and just watching. None of the dances were taught but everyone seemed to know what to do, like they’d learned the steps from birth, which they probably had. There were also people that seemed clueless but were just having fun and laughing, which made us feel better. After we watched for a few dances, like standing on the diving board eyeing the pool, Cristhian came over and convinced us the next dance was an easy one. And once we caught on, it was.

We danced for almost three hours more, taking breaks only for the really hard dances or to use to the nearby water pump. Most of the dances were in groups, in circles, but we never lacked in men to lead us in (they were all at least above 35 – don’t get any ideas, Mom). One in particular seemed to enjoy dancing with Olivia, while another grandfather seemed to like dancing with me. He didn’t talk, just smiled at me, his eyes almost hid by wrinkles.  When the dance would end and the next one was announced, he would immediately strike up the pose, holding my hands, and smiling at everyone else that meandered into position until the song started a few minutes later. At the end of one dance, close to midnight, I suddenly found myself next to him and in a line of people with their arms around each other. The grandfather suddenly straightened and puffed out his chest, now my height, as everyone sang heartily a few songs in Italian.

And thus ended our first Italian folk dance! Before we left we exchanged info with some of the other young people there, who were actually from Germany and on vacation. The next day we met up and went to the swimming pool, then walked around the town. Per Cristhian’s orders we invited them back to the house for dinner. It turned out that that day was the birthday of Cristhian and the British lady we’d met at the dance, so we had a celebration that night with about 9 people in all – which completely filled Cristhian’s tiny dining space. Every spot on his oven was also full, and we enjoyed a dinner of homemade ravioli, cooked zucchini, figs, red wine, and fig cake for dessert. Even the cat joined the party, moving from lap to lap as he wanted. The party stretched on until midnight when people dissipated in groups.

We enjoyed one more breakfast and conversation with Cristhian the next morning, before taking a bus straight into Turin, where we spent the night at the flat of another CS and his girlfriend. They were very welcoming (and Miyazaki fans!) and served us – what else? – pasta for dinner.

Unfortunately we did not get a chance to spend more time with our hosts or to really see the city of Turin, which I’ve heard is beautiful, as we had to catch a bus the next morning for a 12 hour ride to Paris. From Sunday to Sunday, we’d gone from Bologna to Rome to Turin to Paris. Whew!

Written on the way from Paris to London
Soundtrack: Needtobreathe. Always and ever Needtobreathe.
And Death in His Grave/John Mark McMillian, Remember What You Believe/Mumford and Sons, All of Me/John Lennon