I had one of those big birthdays this year: one with a zero at the end.
I am one of four siblings. Whenever one of us is having one of those big birthdays the other three pool together for a special gift.
My birthday present this year was amazing.
The bar for future gifts has been set very high.
Not only was the gift thoughtful and absolutely relevant to me and my interests, it was also extravagant in terms of its potential but risky in that it could have fallen flat. There was a long buildup. Anticipation was a big part of it as was uncertainty and excitement. Plus, it took me to one of the most beautiful parts of Italy, layering my passion for travel on top of it all!
Way back in the last century there was a very popular designer in Toronto by the name of Sofia Verna. Her stores were called Ms. Emma Designs. Judging from an informal poll of women I've spoken to about this trip, many still have some of her clothes in their closets. After a decision to move to Italy and a problem with a cheating employee when trying to manage them from afar, the stores were closed. However, Sofia continues to sell online.
So what was the gift exactly? I recently took up sewing again and my sister thought it would be amazing if I got to meet Ms. Emma and spend some time at her studio. So she did a search, discovered that she was in Italy, and contacted her. It was a little bold but then, what was there to lose? The request was simple: next time I was in the area (I do get to Europe at least once a year) might I stop by and spend some time learning from her? Sofia said yes and the gift was in place. A big, grand gift but I was still not entirely sure when I might be able to take advantage of it. Even so, the prospect was wonderful!
As many of you know who have read Planning a Road Trip Around the Adriatic: Slovenia, Croatia & Italy and Travel Plan vs. Reality: European Road Trip, circumstances took me to Italy recently, only several months after my big birthday. And I met Sofia.
Paradise in Umbria
This trip was actually my honeymoon. And, as I must say whenever I write about it, fear not, I will continue to travel solo. But given what I do, it makes no sense to gain good firsthand travel knowledge and not share it. So I do.
My husband, Simon and I took the overnight ferry from Split to Italy and drove to a tiny village in Umbria near Sofia's home. It's hard to describe just how small this village is. The plan was for Simon to stay in the village and read while I visited Sofia. The invitation had been just for me. However, when Antonio, Sofia's husband, arrived to pick me up he would have none of it. Simon was invited and off we went, following Antonio in our car, climbing the hills to their idyllic Umbrian farmhouse.
Now, I must confess to a bit of angst about this visit. I am an introvert. I had no idea what Sofia was like. Would we get along? Would the conversation be stiff? I mentally prepared a few questions to have on hand. It was, as I have said, a dive into the unknown which could go well, or not.
It went well. It went very well! Sofia was an absolute delight. Her warm hug said it all when we arrived. And Antonio and Simon got along really well, as if they were old friends.
We started with a tour of their property which they had bought about twenty years ago. It had been a subsistence farm at the time. They transformed it into an Italian farmhouse with studios for Sofia's textile art and painting. They planted a vineyard, a kitchen garden, and have a hothouse for their tomatoes. There are guard geese and pasture animals to keep the grasses down.
And then there was lunch. Simple, delicious, Italian food starting with cut watermelon, a plate of prosciutto, melon, and cheese, and another of bread and olive tapenade. We then had pasta with a tomato sauce Antonio made from his garden.
The meal was perfect and the conversation even better. The plan had been that Sofia and I would have a light lunch and then she would show me around their part of Umbria. That light lunch lasted about 3 1/2 hours and provided the additional pleasure of an interesting, dynamic conversation.
My visit with Sofia will stand out as one of my best travel days ever. It fed my mind and all my senses. Exploring her studio and textile art was a visual and tactile (one can't love fabric without touching it) delight. Thanks to her, I have started to be a little more adventurous in my own projects. Enjoying the views, the fresh smell of the countryside, the sounds of the animals, the taste of the food–it was all perfect. I thank her and my siblings (my sister especially) for making it happen.