Bellissimo, Italia!

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“You seem different this time…as if you’re looking forward to this one more than any other trips. Why is that?”

This question came from my husband while driving me to the airport at 3:30 a.m. Destination: Italy.

“I do feel differently about this trip,” I said, “because I’m different. The things I’ve endured this past year–the death of my mom, caring for my blind dad, watching Anne care for Jerry on hospice until his death (only seven days before I left)–all of these things have changed me.” Why?

If before I was grateful, now I’m filled to the brim with gratitude. For physical health. For financial means to fund the trip. For a family capable enough to care for themselves, and who support my creative endeavors. For forever friends like Anne whose actions remind me this is what love looks like.

Because you and I know any of these things could change before the sun sets on this very day.

photo cr: Randy Blasquez

photo cr: Randy Blasquez

And that’s not all–going with my sista/cousin Nancy, whose dream for the past fourteen years has been an Italian adventure--fills me with excitement. It’s a gift to experience someone’s dream through their eyes.

Rome's normal parking! photo cr: Susan Basham

Rome’s normal parking! photo cr: Susan Basham

And adventure it was! — On the third day we left Rome for the medieval town of Siena in Tuscany. Our Italo train started and stopped inexplicably several times–we were told there was an accidente up ahead and the digital banner flickered “This train will be 55 minutes late.” When we finally arrived in Florence, we exited the train bays to complete mayhem—people yelling, waving tickets in the air, forming lines that were 100 people deep. What was happening? Nothing out of the ordinary, really…the trains in Italy had gone on strike, leaving us stranded in Firenze!

How to get to Siena now? Sketchy wi-fi meant we could make no phone calls or texts, but a helpful currency exchange girl told us the fastest way to Siena was the rapido bus—only one hour! Off we trudged to find the bus station, wheels clacking down bank after bank of stairs (everything is a hill and 987 stairs), pulling art supplies in one suitcase and everything else under the Tuscan sun in the other! My arm, still recovering its strength from my recent accident, was waning at a rapido rate.

After standing in the wrong line for 30 minutes, we switched lines and managed to secure tickets. An irate bus driver slammed the luggage carrier before Nancy could load hers– leaving me to board and her to wait for the next bus! When I arrived in Siena, I parked myself under the bus stop awning to wait, but no cousin!  As evening drew near, a flood of buses arrived. In the chaos we missed each other and she ended up taking a taxi to the hotel and arriving before me. When I managed to find a cafe owner who spoke enough English to give me their wi-fi password, I received her cryptic message: “Get a taxi to the hotel. You cannot walk!” And how right she was about that. Siena is full of winding cobblestone streets, with hills that ascend and decline in ways that make it impossible to pull heavy luggage very far.

photo cr: Merle Cook

photo cr: Merle Cook

A gentleman greeted me at the reception desk at Palazzo Ravizza, so sympathetic to my “bad bus” story he poured two glasses of wine for us before I even checked in! This is Italy! Grazie! We met up with the other painters who were already there, anxious to begin our week at Dievole Winery in Vagliagli, Tuscany, where painting, culinary and photography workshops were to be held simultaneously.

photo cr: Susan Basham

photo cr: Susan Basham


What a sensory experience it was, as the photos will attest. Many were taken by the lovely Merle Cook, who was attending the photography workshop. She had ditched her heavy telephoto lens and equipment and was shooting with an iPhone 6! The results were phenomenol, which speaks to the talent of the artist and not the fancy gadgets!

oxen on the nearby farm photo cr: Merle Cook

oxen on the nearby farm
photo cr: Merle Cook

The grounds of Dievole Winery were movie-setting perfect. Every sense became heightened, as if the volume was turned up just enough to magnify everything to magical. Traditional Tuscan food was prepared by Monika who is working on her fifth Michelin star! They were preparing for the olive oil harvest, which happens between October 15–November 15, and you can choose a day you’d like your oil to be cold-pressed, bottled and shipped off the next day. The Dievole olive oil won first place this past year in the world! I’m giving away a bottle to a lucky subscriber in November, so if you haven’t subscribed yet, the time is ripe! I mean right!

Most importantly, old friendships were renewed and new friendships began. I look forward to keeping in touch with many, and am hopeful our paths cross again.

The cottage where Nancy and I stayed. photo cr: Merle Cook

The cottage where Nancy and I stayed.
photo cr: Merle Cook

The gates at Dievole. photo cr: Merle Cook

The gates at Dievole.
photo cr: Merle Cook

After 8 days in Tuscany, we spent one more night in Rome. Our last night left us caught in a heavy rainstorm with no umbrella, realizing we were lost. Suddenly a crazy guy came up behind me and grabbed my butt! Scared me to death as I thought he was trying to rob me! I screamed at him “NO! NO! DO NOT TOUCH!” I possibly scared him more than he scared me–and off he ran! We were on high alert, as many people told us these kinds of stories: “I returned to my hotel in Rome to discover my purse strap had been slashed seven (attempted) times!” The slash-free travel bags are a must, and I grew to love mine which even had a side water-bottle holder (kudos to my husband, who researched and purchased so many great items!)

The Travelon bag with water holder

The Travelon bag with water bottle holder

Many thanks to Michael and Linda, owners of the fabulous Il Chiostro, for making everything exceed everyone’s expectations. Where else can you be serenaded by some of New York’s finest professional singers (Linda and Michelino) while eating pasta? Check them out here.

Check out Dievole Winery here. They ship wine and olive oil all over the world. I’m awaiting six bottles of olive oil, cold-pressed on my chosen date of October 26th!

You can view and purchase the gorgeous artwork of our mega-talented and fearless workshop leader, Randy Blasquez, here. Love this amazing woman!

Feature photo cr: Randy Blasquez

SUBSCRIBE to receive posts to your email! A lucky Subscriber will be chosen in November to win this bottle of Dievole olive oil!

♥♥ Wishing you all good things,




And the winner is.......

And the winner is…….

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  1. Lynn StenderLynn Stender10-31-2016

    Loved reading your artical Susan ! The photos were wonderful. It truly is a magical place. I am so glad you got to share your trip with you cousin Nancy, a bond of memories you will always have!
    Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family, regards to Randy and all of the painters on the trip you might see!
    It was a great group!
    Warm regards
    Lynn Stender

    • SusanSusan10-31-2016

      So good to hear from you, Lynn! Thanks for those kind words, and I’ll pass on your good wishes to the group. Tell Tom I still think we should’ve won the table decor contest — after all, we found the ceramic pig! ha 🙂

  2. Meagan HornMeagan Horn10-31-2016

    Gorgeous pictures! Makes me want to hop a plane right now!

    • SusanSusan10-31-2016

      And your day will come, when we will kidnap you and whisk you away on a girls’ trip! Right now, enjoy those baby darlings. This is also a sweet, precious time in your life. But I know you know that. 😉 XOXO

  3. Alicia (Peachy) FeuerAlicia (Peachy) Feuer11-01-2016

    Dievole is my favorite vacation with Michael, Linda and Micholino.
    All the guests doing their work shops were so friendly.
    Great food and wine, friendly and helpful workers at Dievole.
    Cannot wait to go back next year for my fourth cooking class. (Couldn’t get it right the first three times so I will of for the fourth.
    HA HA HA

    • SusanSusan11-01-2016

      Peachy, you are hilarious!! I understand going back for the fourth time — after all, it’s hard to get risotto just right, isn’t it? heehee Have a great Thanksgiving! XO

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