In late September we hosted a group of 20 Americans, mostly women from California, many of whom were experiencing Italy and Europe for the first time. The link between Casa Cares and this group was Cris Gondak, who was a volunteer here, along with Antoinette and Paul, in the early 1970s when Casa Cares was a children’s home. For this edition of our news we pass the word to one of the participants:
We spent about half the days exploring the immediate area, including the farm and building of our ancient villa, Vallombrosa, the local olive press, and a cooking class conducted in an old mill nearby, followed by a delicious candlelight dinner. Two days were devoted to Firenze; the other days were spent touring the countryside and towns of Tuscany, including Lucca, San Gimignano, Pisa, Montepulciano and Pienza.
On the last night of the trip, we gathered to talk about the aspects of the trip people found most memorable. Like many Americans, these guests were impressed by the sense of history, how old everything is: “the patchwork church in Lucca,” the mosaic floors and brightly colored frescoes in the Siena duomo (great guide Roberta!), “art and history I’ve read about all my life,” the stained glass, Michelangelo’s David, the astonishing engineering feat of Brunelleschi’s dome in Firenze, the distinctive personalities of the towns and people. The natural beauty of the landscape struck many, who mentioned opening the shutters in the morning to a fabulous view, the special light, the colors of the hills, the sunsets, the joy of walking through the countryside. People loved hearing our farmer, Giordano, explain his fervor for sustainable farming; tasting the new tomato variety he developed and named a for his little daughter Dora; and enjoying the meals produced from the bounty of his garden.
Many in the group were moved by the sense of community, at Casa Cares, throughout Tuscany, in Siena where neighborhood identity is so important, and within the travel group. One person who always studies and prepares in advance did not this time, but found she felt quite comfortable with her new surroundings. People valued making new friends and getting to know old friends in a new context. These visitors mentioned the humanistic experience of Casa Cares, the warmth and the dedication to service. Over the years, many people feel that they are coming home to Casa Cares each time they return, and many in this group experienced that feeling on their first visit.