TOURRS

No, that’s not a typo!

Two Rs are intentionally included to make the name of this fascinating new idea and company memorable. In fact, we think it’s about to revolutionize the way we think about travel!

Here’s the skinny:

Coming Soon!

Coming Soon!

We love new and engaging experiences, go on vacations, travel the world, plan long weekends away, but usually end up seeing and doing the same things as everyone else—paying dearly for packaged tours with “hundreds of our closest friends.” We ride crowded buses or plod along the streets, thoughtlessly following a guide’s flag or umbrella. Imagine that you could tailor your own precious moments exactly as you want for a personalized, one-of-a-kind TOURR—tapping into the insider knowledge of someone who lives and breathes that location everyday? What if you could customize your own itinerary whenever and wherever you want?

But TOURRS is even more than that. In addition to creating your own custom itinerary, it allows you to use your own insider expertise to offer a unique experience to someone else. Basically,  you become a tour designer, making money by sharing those special places that you’ve visited with others. How cool is that?

On a Friday in June we were offered a prototype TOURR in the San Diego area to test the idea—it was fantastic! Ours was a driving tour, but of course, they can also be designed for walking, crawling, horseback or whatever. We were given a packet with a unique itinerary that matched our interests (a little like Mission Impossible), along with maps and directions to guide us from point to point. It was our personalized scavenger hunt.

Pannikin Coffee &Tea

Pannikin Coffee & Tea

The first stop was an incredible coffee shop/restaurant that we probably wouldn’t have found on our own—an old Victorian train station in Encinitas called “Pannikin.” The place was buzzing with activity as the locals arrived for coffee, pastries, and heartier breakfasts. We love architecture, food and people, so the first stop was a perfect match and an unforgettable start for our customized adventure.

Another Universe

Another Universe

From Encinitas, we drove along the coast through beautiful La Jolla, to arrive at the Scripps Aquarium. From cliffs overlooking the Pacific, we admired the incredible work the institute does on a regular basis—researching and protecting creatures of the sea, as well as the environment that impacts their lives. Everyday, they engage young and old alike in the fascinating story of our underwater universe. It was definitely an inspiring part of our day.

Floating on Air

Floating on Air

By then, it was lunchtime, so we followed our breadcrumb itinerary to the nearby “Torrey Pines Gliderport,” perched on the 300-foot high Pacific bluffs. Cool breezes lifted the sails of brilliantly colored para-gliders into the air where they hovered above the distant beach below. We learned that the gliderport had been there for some 85 years and that it operates completely and silently off the grid.

San Diego Harbor Skyline

San Diego Harbor Skyline

What a wonderful itinerary! But because TOURRS is completely flexible, it allows for deviations too. We wandered at our own pace and took de-TOURRS as our interests unfolded. With no group to follow or schedule to be kept, it was truly a personalized, customized experience. So in the spirit of adventure, we took a side trip to Solana beach to check out the “Belly Up” concert venue we had heard about. Nearby artists communities hold particular interest for us, so we explored those as well. The drive along the coast was fantastic as we headed south, toward our evening cruise around the San Diego Bay. As new residents in the city, we had no idea that the bay was so large and diverse.

Ironside Fish & Oyster Restaurant - Little Italy

Ironside Fish & Oyster Restaurant – Little Italy

But our adventure, wasn’t over yet. Our last designated stop was in the neighborhood of “Little Italy,” where we had dinner at an incredible  open-air restaurant called “Ironside.” Since the eatery was recommended by a local TOURRS expert, we expected that it was going to be tried and true. We were not disappointed. Delicious!

Now for the feedback:

After having experienced a TOURRS itinerary, participants are invited to candidly rate the adventure and make comments. We were sold on the idea, and have since decided to join the growing list of special tour guides around the world. Why not share our favorite hideaways and secret itineraries with fellow adventurers?

You too can find the little-known hidden gems of the world, while trading a few secrets of your own through TOURRS. The way to travel and enjoy the world is about to change!

 

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Monastery Magic

IMG_6534

Monastery Entrance

High in the Appenine mountains of Tuscany, in the middle of a dense forest of fir and beech trees, rests the majestic  Benedictine Monastery of Vallombrosa, founded in 1038. It is a magical tribute to the power of spirit to move mankind. After many changes over the centuries, it remains to this day as a model of fifteenth century grandeur—for all to enjoy. The peaceful setting has been an inspiration to countless visitors over the years.

IMG_6514

Inside the Basilica

Our friend Sabrina told us of a fantastic forno (bakery), near the monastery, and of the crystal clear water that flows from the mountain springs. Committed to follow every lead that comes our way, we set out on a Sunday morning to see what we could find. The mouth-watering bread eluded our best investigatory efforts, but we did taste the cool water straight from nature herself, and enjoyed a springtime tromp around the enchanting forest. The beautiful bells rang from the tower as the Sunday service ended, signaling permission to enter and wander through the inspiring basilica with its rich history.

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Cheryl Buying Elixirs

Because of the altitude, Vallombrosa stays cool throughout spring, and as a result, doesn’t officially open until the middle of June. That inspires us to return for a detailed tour of all it has to offer. However, the pharmacy is open, and well stocked with secret remedies from centuries past—many of them made on site by the monks. So, of course, we had to grab a few elixirs of our own, to cure what ails us, and to honor the wisdom of the ages.

IMG_6551

Ristorante Santa Caterina

From there, we took the enthusiastic advice from the pharmacy monk to stop at Ristorante Santa Caterina, only a couple of kilometers away for a deliciously hearty meal—guaranteed (Always remember that a monk would never steer you wrong). The meal was incredible just as he promised, and the people were a delight. We were lucky enough to get “l’ultimo tavolo” (the last table), since everything else was reserved well in advance. It was our lucky day, as the jovial hostess declared.

When we return for the grand tour in June, we will definitely arrive hungry!

 

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Cat Woman Saves the Day!

irresistable face

irresistible face

A strange thing happened while taking our yard clippings to the local collection site for recycling. Upon arrival, we heard a loud chorus of birds somewhere on the ground around the bins, but they didn’t fly away when we approached. It was more like mournful yowling. Between the sack of grass clippings and under nearby rubble, we squinted to see the face of a small kitten. Then we spied another one. Wait! There was a third. A fourth. We were up to five and still heard sounds coming from the nearby woods. A lone kitten stood in the tall grass, crying. We heard another one, but couldn’t see it. Then, crouching down to peer under some leaves and branches we spotted the last kitten. There were seven frightened crying kittens. Four were softly striped in gray and white. Two others had markings that were more vivid. And number 7 was a two-tone. No mother cat was to be found. They had been abandoned—left to die.

We picked up each kitten and put them safely into a deep box found in the cardboard bin. They seemed momentarily happy to be piled in together, but soon, their hunger became the focus and they began wailing again. So we stopped by our friend’s place to ask for advice. Unfortunately, she was not hopeful since August is the vacation month in Italy, with stores and agencies mostly closed. We knew that we couldn’t keep the kittens, because they needed to be fed and cared for—we didn’t think our 17 year old dachshund could help.

Cat Woman

Cat Woman

We were feeling a bit desperate since we know little about cats, let alone week-old kittens. We started asking anyone who would talk to us while holding a box of kittens. The local bus driver had no suggestions, nor did the cleaning lady at the nearby hotel. However, there were hints that the vet in the small town of Caldine might be open. But only until one p.m.—the universal lunchtime in Italy. To our relief we found her, but she was not optimistic, either. Shelters for cats are rare in Tuscany and she couldn’t take them. Then WHAT were we to do with them? As a last resort, she flipped through her calendar to find a name and number jotted in the margin, of a woman who might be able to help—but it was a long shot!

All 9 of us went home to think about it.

play time

play time

We had one phone number and one chance. We called. To our surprise, she just happened to have a mother cat that had just finished weaning her litter, and would still be able to nurse. The helpless kittens couldn’t eat on their own, and desperately needed a mother’s milk. She could hear their hungry pleas in the background, and asked us to bring them to her as soon as possible. So into the car we climbed with our box of cats, and drove for 45 minutes to the designated location, where we met the “Cat Woman.” She was very soft-spoken and kind-hearted. Strangely, the kittens stopped crying as soon as we met her.

hopefully they grow up doing what cats do best

hopefully they grow up doing what cats do best

We hadn’t anticipated any of the events that transpired that day. But sometimes, circumstances require us to change our plans, modify our behaviors, step in when needed. You know how that goes. It was certainly a sobering experience, because if we hadn’t found them, they would not have lived through the night. Nature can be harsh, and there are many night predators around here. Abandonment is a very serious and sad thing, no matter who we are—that moment when all seems lost and one feels utterly alone. But, as it turned out, our story had a happy ending. The kittens are safe, their tummies are full, and they are growing stronger every day. There will be 7 cute little kittens on their way to new homes very soon—hats off to the “Cat Woman.”

By the way . . . we wrote some music about abandonment—not just kittens, but people too. You can listen by clicking here on Taken in—music

 

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Racing takes a turn: Cappello Cup

Indy 500

Indy 500

Sure, there’s the Indy 500. Then there’s NASCAR Racing. Even Formula Racing. But none of them compares with the racing event held around June 1st in Tuscany. That’s the day for the annual world-class er . . . locally celebrated Cappello Cup. In early summer, we were indeed fortunate to be introduced to this unique event, and will definitely make it a regular part of our summers here. They don’t race for fame or fortune, but rather, just for the sheer fun of it. You gotta love it!

Soapbox Derby

Soapbox Derby

Our friend Federico stopped by to help us out with a tough project. As he was about to leave, he casually mentioned the upcoming Cappello Cup, scheduled for the very next day, on Sunday. He thought we might enjoy it. He described something that sounded a bit like the Soapbox Derby, but with one major difference. In the US, Soapbox Derby entrants are no more than 17 years old. The Cappello Cup is just the opposite. Entrants start at 18 years of age to compete using their own home-made cars. Beyond that bottom age group, anyone who wants to enter can do so—even if they are 80, 90 or 100+. It’s fair game for any “kid at heart.” We liked the idea, so made plans to go.

racetrack neighborhood

racetrack neighborhood

The next morning, filled with enthusiasm, we got an early start with camera in hand. Cappello is a beautiful hour-long southeast drive for us. As we approached the rather small town perched high on the side of the mountain, we saw officials standing at the turn-off.  The roads were wisely blocked for race day. So we drove a little beyond the street and parked along with several other race fans. A modest crowd was already beginning to gather. With excitement, we joined the others and began the uphill walk on the winding road (which actually was the race track).

creative cars

creative cars

The event was exactly as Federico described it: only gravity-powered cars lined the street—designed to the whimsical specifications of each owner. There didn’t seem to be any particular guidelines, except that they all had four wheels. Correction: come to think of it, there were some three wheelers mixed in. It was a highly creative mishmash of ideas ranging from big wheels to tiny wheels; bulky box-shaped cars to open metal frames; either one or two passengers; playful bright colors alongside the more serious black and white; and whimsical paper entry numbers taped on the front . . . or somewhere on the car. Curiously, most of the cars were driven by older adults—big kids determined to play away the day.

We were thrilled when the first cars came roaring down the hill from the starting line located at Cappello centro. It was a hoot to see the various racing creations zip by, running with pedal to the metal on a full tank of gravity. The track was probably a mile or so long, and had its fair share of steep inclines and somewhat dangerous turns. It was no course for amateurs or the fainthearted—quite impressive and loads of fun!

crowd prior to going viral

today’s modest crowd

The Cappello Cup is an annual event and a must see for sports enthusiasts, or just folks with a bit of residual childish whimsy coursing through their veins. One day, the competition will surely rival other global sporting events. Roads will be blocked for miles around, and people will have to be bussed in, with assigned seats on the bleachers lining the track. There will be no more lounging on the grass, two feet from turn #9, or picnics with the family on a blanket by the finish line. So, we suggest that, with some urgency, you plan an early summer trip to Tuscany. In Cappello, you’ll enjoy the magic of small town fun, and witness this marvel of mankind’s playful creativity. Surely, within two or three years this secret will go viral. So while the crowds are still modest, join in the small town fun. Maybe we’ll see you there!

Following is a short video to whet your appetite!

 

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The Old Watering Hole

plastic water

packaged water

In 1980, the average Italian drank 50 liters of water per year. Today that number has soared to 200, as bottled water has become more plentiful, affordable and more habitual—which is a good thing, right? Well, the shadow side of all that water consumption is the abundance of plastic bottles, not to mention those nasty carbon emissions from both production and delivery. So Tuscans, particularly Florentines, have decided to offer ultra-filtered water for free!

small fraction of our quota

small fraction of our quota

Wednesday morning, we refilled the gas can for the lawn mower. As it was placed back into the trunk of the car, Simone glanced inside and noted that we had 6 empty glass bottles in a handy carrier. “Ah, going to refill your water bottles?” he asked. Yes, in nearby Caldine was our answer—our regular spot. “There’s a better place not far from here. It’s a natural spring called, Acquinvogliolo. The water is always cool, fresh and delicious, like no other. It’s a little-known sorgente (spring), where water flows from deep within the cool Tuscan hills.”  Buonissima! Always up for a little adventure, we focused carefully on his directions to the semi-secret location. We were off and running.  At the tiny town of Olmo, we veered right onto via Acquinvogliolo. As we approached the end of the road, we turned to each other and shook our heads. We had failed to find the spring, even with Simone’s expert directions. We were baffled, so decided to save the search for another day.

Sorgente Acquinvogliolo

Sorgente Acquinvogliolo

Friday morning we sipped coffee and munched pastries at our favorite Caldine bar. In casual conversation we asked our friend, Tomasso, if he knew where the sorgente was. No. He did not, but immediately turned toward the kitchen and called to his colleague. Now, that fellow just happens to be a mailman in the neighborhood, and knows every little twist and turn of each street and country road. With great detail, he described our route. He disclosed that there is another entrance to via Acquinvogliolo that is easier to drive. Sure enough, our efforts were rewarded this time as we were soon in a delightfully remote spot, tucked between woods and a beautiful old olive grove. The spring is as it has been for nearly 2000 years. Evidently, the ancient Romans had used it as a refreshing stop along their well-worn route through the Italian countryside. A plaque mounted on the top stone, dates its origin back to the 1st century.

crystal clear water

crystal clear water

Since we had just refilled our bottles in Caldine, we needed at least one empty one to fill. So we traded giant gulps, guzzling an entire liter of the regular old “ultra-filtered water.” Once emptied, we refilled the bottle, but this time, with the nature-fresh, crystal clear acqua right out of the ground. With the nectar of the gods captured in our bottle, we headed for home where we would conduct our own”official” taste test. The water was indeed delicious, just as Simone had promised.

Tuscan tradition

Tuscan tradition

Since that day, we’ve mended our ways. No more processed, or even ultra-filtered water for these would-be Italians.  Instead, you’ll find us relaxing under a shady tree, basking in the cool summer breeze, sipping fresh spring water—all the while serenaded with songs of chirping birds. Goodbye to lines at the local purified water station. Hello to the magic of nature’s healthful offering at the nearly-hidden watering hole. We’ve joined all those who frequent this idyllic spot, in a centuries-old Tuscan tradition.

 

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Passionate Innovation

Ferruccio Lamborghini

Ferruccio Lamborghini

Ferruccio Lamborghini decided to create super sports cars to compete with Ferrari, which already had a 16 year head-startan almost impossible challenge. He was 47 years old at the time, and already a famous Italian entrepreneur. People thought he was crazy to risk his fortune to build specialty cars that were clearly an unjustifiable extravagance. But the strong-willed businessman was already a proven success. He reasoned that if he could amass a fortune making tractors, why not sports cars? In November of 1963, he unveiled his first masterpiece—the 350GT. The rest is automotive history.

inside Lamborghini

inside Lamborghini museum

Personally, we have little interest in fast or fancy cars, but we do have a fascination with expressive Italians motivated by passione—the spark that engages the heart and soul of a person to go beyond the ordinary. We’re intrigued by how their dreams change the world. For us, that’s an engaging idea worth pursuing! So we decided to go directly to the Lamborghini factory and museum in Sant’Agata Bolognese, a couple hours north of Florence, to see for ourselves what the Lamborghini story is all about.

fighting bull logo

famous fighting bull

What was Ferruccio’s secret? Well, it really wasn’t a secret at all. He was determined to become the symbol of “excess” around the world and everyone knew it. How? By simply going further than anyone else—at all costs. His refusal to “settle” earned him respect and recognition. He insisted on doing more and better than any other competitor. He truly operated “outside the box,” creating his own unique product. For Ferruccio, excess equaled success. The company’s logo—the aggressive “fighting bull,” came to life over and over again, as names of different breeds of ferocious bulls were used to name the cars, like: Urraco, Marzal, Miura, Islero and Diablo.

fierce attention to detail

fierce attention to detail

Ferrucio was so intense and insistent on how things were to be done that he developed a hands-on style, where one might find him on the factory floor, rolling his sleeves up to make a few of his own adjustments. However, as the new realities of labor unions began to challenge his autonomy, he was finally forced to compromise. That style just didn’t work for Ferruccio. In 1972, he began selling his shares of the company, and by the following year, the founder behind the creative “excess” was finished. In fewer than 10 years, the fire that had ignited his passionate dream simply flickered out. However, the legacy of his innovation continues to echo around the world.

Countach

Countach

The company carried on without Ferruccio’s leadership, and despite many fits and starts over the years, still thrives to this day. Fifty years after its inception, Lamborghini has once again been reinvigorated with a strong vision for the future. After Ferruccio, they went on to create amazing innovations like the famous Countach, which was in production for 16 years with its dramatic wedge shape design and fascinating “scissor” doors. The seeds of innovation, as well as demand for the highest quality, were clearly passed on to those who worked closely with Ferruccio in the early days.

passionate innovation

passionate innovation

His followers learned from the master. Even his desire to think outside the box is evident in the strange name Countach. Lamborghini designers decided not to let the past constrain them, and so for the first time, deviated from the long list of bull names for their latest masterpiece. They seized the immediate expression of the famous designer Giuseppe “Nuccio” Bertone, upon seeing the prototype of his new creation for the first time. He exclaimed a single crude northern Italian word, “countach,” which roughly translates to “wow” in the local dialect (some translate as “holy shit”). In any case, his expression was a couple notches above “incredibile!” Ferruccio would be proud of how his legend has continued. He fathered passionate innovation at its very best for the entire world to see—long live Lamborghini!

 

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Time Standing Still

devastation

devastation

May 20th, 2012. In the early morning hours, the small Italian town of Finale Emilia became the epicenter of a 6.0 magnitude earthquake—shaking the heart and soul of the beautiful historic town center.

Only one year before, we visited that unique city on the northern edge of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. The town’s name literally means the end of Emilia. What a rich history of  interesting and curious things, such as the Panaro river, which was relocated many years ago from the center of town to create space for a traditional main street. In 2011 there was still talk of rebuilding the canal one day. Finale Emilia boasted an impressive Duomo (cathedral) in the heart of the city; a wonderful 14th century clock tower; and an ancient castle, Castello delle Rocche (over 1000 years old). In addition to these landmarks, there is also one of our favorite destinations—the restaurant/hotel La Fefa, located in the old Jewish ghetto. In 2011, we were fortunate enough to stay in the hotel for a few days, enjoying their down-home hospitality.

the human touch

the human touch

We returned to Finale in the fall of 2013, to see the damage that the earthquake had caused. As we drove into town, we were saddened by the devastation. Even after 18 months, there were no obvious signs of rebuilding—just enough structural support had been added to keep what was left from falling down. The grand church, seriously damaged, was stabilized by exterior wood supports. Covered with a temporary roof, gaping holes still leave the church open to the elements. The doors had long since been locked behind the scaffolding. Handmade quilts and blankets from the townspeople hung lifeless on the iron structure. They express the locals’ love and solidarity. Because of the worst economic downturn in decades, money is still not available to rebuild the lovely Finale Emilia.

time stands still

time stands still

The beautiful medieval clock tower in the piazza was completely gone. The clock face became the symbol of the destruction. Photos showed the face split right down the middle. The clock became the visible plea for donations in many shops throughout all of Italy.  Finally, the remaining rubble was hauled away, and in its place stood a simple symbolic reminder of the 700 year old centerpiece. The ancient castle remained silent, with its own crutches in place to hold the tallest remaining sections in position. Overall, the city was a mere shadow of its former self, with streets quiet and lifeless—as if in mourning. The small amount of money raised for rebuilding went to the schools first (a beautiful statement of values), leaving little for the rest of the town. But, in the middle of that sad state of disrepair, there was one glimmer of light and hope for the future: Osteria La Fefa!

Giovanna

Giovanna

The exterior walkway to the restaurant is still a bit like an abandoned construction zone, and the hotel remains closed. But once we passed through the front door, the charm and elegance of the place danced as if nothing had changed. The owner/creator Giovanna Guidetti and her son Edoardo, along with the help of many others, lovingly pieced everything back together. And the food? It was exquisite, just like before. But you will just have to go there and find out for yourself. One thing is for certain, La Fefa will not disappoint.

Edouardo

Edoardo

After lunch, we felt differently than when we first arrived. The hospitality and conversation revived our spirits. We had a sense of awe, realizing the persistence and determination that exists beneath the rubble. In a way, this is nothing new. Italians have experienced centuries of devastation, and takeovers by ruthless rulers. They understand the art of patience and what can be accomplished by fierce determination over time. Maybe not today or even tomorrow, but eventually they will rebuild—they will endure as before. Similar to the great flooding of the Arno River in 1966 in Florence, a city that appeared nearly destroyed, eventually rose again like the phoenix from the ashes. The grandeur of Finale Emilia will one day return, making it hard to imagine the stories and pictures of devastation and despair.

This story is dedicated to Giovanna and Edoardo and all those like them who will stay the course through to brighter days. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you, and your beautiful historic town. We will continue to make our annual pilgrimage to La Fefa until all of the beautiful monuments are rebuilt, and the streets are bursting with vibrant energy once again. Long live Finale Emilia!

 

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