Hold up that Leaning Tower of Pisa!

“We’re both farmers,” I tell Serena, as we check in at the Agriturismo Costa Etrusca in the Tuscany. We’re spending the week at their resort and small farm near San Vincento, on the Tuscany coast.

The leaning tower was constructed as the belfry of the cathedral complex on the Campo dei Miracoli, in Pisa.

“And you come to stay at a farm!” she exclaims. Of course. Farmers like nothing better than to visit other farmers. “I just have a little farm,” Serena says. It’s an olive farm, as so many of the farms around here. Flanked by low mountains with stone quarries, olive groves cover the gentle hills that stop just short of the Mediterranean Sea. Sitting on the patio before our apartment, we can see the ocean including Elba Island. Beautiful!

Fishing nets in the harbour of San Vincento. Fishing isn't an important industry anymore though.

Serena is going to buy an ordinary bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and let us compare its taste with their own olive oil. I’ll let you know what the difference is. Last week, Grandpa Robert and I took our three month old grandsons to the farmer’s market in Baden, Switzerland and met Mr. Lehmann, a Swiss who spends his summers growing olives in the Tuscany. On his information leaflets I read that 44 percent of people can’t tell the difference between good quality olive oil and poor. I hope I pass the test. Quality has a lot to do with the procedure of pressing the oil, and taste also with the variety of olives. It is like wine, apparently. There are many varieties, so a wide range of taste. And I’ve just always bought whatever was there on the shelf. Well, I’m in for a lesson!

Will this be spring cereals, or sunflowers, or canola? One of the few open fields around San Vincento. Most are covered in olive groves.

On the way down we stopped to visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It took us a long time to find it – it’s not nearly as high as I supposed it was. But it was worth the confusion. How that tower can lean like that for a thousand years and still not fall is beyond me. It gleams light in the sun – all white marble from the nearby hills. Or was. Most of the columns have been replaced by marble from a little farther away that is more resistant to weather and climate.

We also drove by the Barilla pasta factory. I would see Barilla pasta in the Italian shopping center in Edmonton, Canada. I can buy it in Schleitheim too. Pasta means wheat – and wheat grows on some pretty steep slopes on the Italian hillsides! Robert told me that the first hillside combines in Schleitheim came from Italy. I know why now!

We’re going to go visit a farmer who also grows wheat on Thursday afternoon. He’s one of the few who speaks a little English. Serena says he’s a large farmer who grows a variety of crops, so it should be interesting.

But enough about farming. When you are in the Tuscany you’re supposed to go visit medieval towns like Florence and Sienna. We’ll do some of that too. Today it’s rainy – just perfect to visit the Roman baths nearby.

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