Episode 2: In Which I Walk to Town Uphill Both Ways, but I’m in Italy so it’s Okay

In case you missed Episode 1, here’s a quick recap:

My husband landed us a trip to Italy. I decided I needed a new camera to document our adventures, quickly fell in love with photography, decided I should start a blog, and voila! Backroads Brummer was born. 

My husband, Josh, his fellow K-State student, Alex, and I arrived in Cortona by train a little after midnight. Still five miles away from our hotel, with no more cell service or data, no more buses running, and—as we learned after feeding the payphone a hearty chunk of change—no taxis, either.

So began our grand Italian adventure, the trip my camera and I had been waiting for since the moment we met in Best Buy—with the first of many uphill battles (literal and figurative), which were almost always worth it.

The ultimate reward (i.e., being in Italy) for this particular battle wouldn’t really sink in until the next morning.

After nearly 30 hours of travel—which finally resolved when a kind stranger looked up our hotel’s phone number for us—I was focused on more immediate victories: a bed (worth it), a shower (definitely worth it), and the discovery that our room did not have air conditioning.

Did I say victories?

Well, that part kind of sucked. But when we opened our windows to let in the fresh Tuscan air, we were greeted by a sprawling view of the valley below us, which was more impressive by the light of day. It’s hard to complain about that, so I guess we’ll still call it a win.

View from Cortona, Italy

The views only got better from there—though, naturally, you had to climb a bit for the best ones. And climb I did, every day, usually twice. Our hotel sat roughly a kilometer outside—and steeply downhill—from town, where the streets all likewise led up.

Panoramic view of Cortona, Italy

On my first solo venture into town, I decided to follow the streets up as far as they would go. I wound up on a rocky path that emerged in front of the impressive Basilica di Santa Margherita. 

From there, a gravel road—one that actually looked fit for vehicles, which was a rarity in Cortona—led up to an old fort, which featured historical tidbits, amazing views (of course), and several modern photography exhibits.

(It was the perfect time for a budding photographer to visit Cortona, actually. There were photography exhibits all over town at different locations, as part of the “Cortona on the Move” event taking place over the summer and fall. They often made for odd juxtapositions of history—one museum hall filled with ancient Etruscan artifacts was lined with portraits of Barack Obama at key moments of his presidency. There’s probably something philosophical there to be said about the course of human history, but I’ll leave that for you to contemplate.)

Basilica di Santa Margherita

View from top of Cortona, Italy

Anyway, it was well worth the climb, but I then made the terrible mistake of dragging Josh back up in the evening when he finished his math thing. I’m not so sure it was worth the second climb, and I’m certain it wasn’t worth the second descent, which proved far worse than going up. I was sore for days.

Despite the daily climbs (or probably because of them), Cortona itself was as picturesque as it gets.

Most activity could be found along Via Nazionale (their main street) and the piazzas, lined with ristorantes and local art shops that all spill their wares onto the narrow cobblestone streets.

Side streets and staircases lure you away from the main street with the promise of more charming sights (and they rarely disappoint), but it’s small enough that even I couldn’t get lost (though I tried my best).

Since my usual partner in crime was busy pondering the mathematical mysteries of the universe every day, I had the better part of two weeks to seek out fabulous photo ops.

On the Streets of Cortona

Archway over street in Cortona, Italy

A street in Cortona, Italy

Small sculpture of two figures outside an artisan shop in Cortona, Italy

Gallery display on street in Cortona

To be honest, though, I probably had too much time. Cortona is quite small, and I covered most of it in a few days. I arranged as many activities as I could afford—a horseback ride, a wine tour, day trips to visit a nearby lake town with a castle and a mid-sized city in Umbria.

But by the second week, the whole being-alone-and-aimless-all-day-in-a-foreign-country thing was starting to wear on me. Not enough to make me ready to go home, mind you.

We had a ton of fun every evening with all the cool mathies (as I like to call them) at the summer school. (Cool mathies—kind of sounds like an oxymoron, I know, but it’s true. The math nerds were pretty awesome). The food was likewise amazing, and vacation > work (see, I can do equations, too!)

It’s just that I function better when I have a little structure in my life, and instead of really practicing my photography, I spent a lot of time sneaking pictures of dogs.

I had the opposite problem on the weekends when Josh and I visited Venice and Florence (the aimlessness problem, I mean, not the dog spotting. On second thought, I think that was a pretty fruitful way to spend my time)—but more on that in Episode 3!


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