Dear friends and family.

Our first 10-day Vipassana course has ended.  It has been a wonderful two weeks in the spectacularly beautiful Tuscan countryside, near the tiny rural town of Lutirano.

Tuscan country side....

Rural Tuscany….

Although it has been unseasonably chilly for this time of year, it beats the snow and freeze of Toronto. Plus, each time we walk from the teacher residence to the meditation hall we pass by the scenic beauty of the hills of Tuscany.

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Our view of the surrounding countryside from the Italian Vipassana Centre.

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The view on the way to the meditation hall.

Our flight from Canada was smooth. We arrived at Frankfurt airport early on a clear and sunny morning.

Leaving on a jet plane... on our way to Italy.

Leaving on a jet plane… on our way to Italy.

Sun setting as we fly from Toronto to Frankfurt airport.

Sun setting as we fly from Toronto to Frankfurt airport.

After a delicious breakfast of small pannini and Americanos, we boarded another plane and headed to Florence. We hadn’t given our route much thought until we saw mountains off in the distance out of our windows. We were treated to the most spectacular view of the Italian Alps! It reminded us of the Himalayas. The view was incredible. And even though Karen doesn’t love flying, she could put her fears aside to take in the magnificent view.

What? Are those mountains? Wait... not just any mountain range. It's the Italian Alps.

What the..? Are those the Alps?

Fantastico!

Fantastico!

It took us about 30 minutes to fly over the Alps. Magnificent.

It took us about 30 minutes to fly over the Alps. Magnificent.

After a couple of hours we finally arrived in Florence. Maurizio, a long-term volunteer from the Centre was there to greet us and take us to Dhamma Atala, the Italian Vipassana Centre. Driving from Florence to the Centre meant a scenic two-hour journey by car, a dilapidated little jalopy — in fact one of the same Suzuki Marutis that are ubiquitous in Nepal. We traveled over the Appenines to the other side of Tuscany and headed up into the hills.

Beautiful country side.

The beautiful Northern Italian countryside.

Old farm houses peppered the hills.

Old picturesque villas pepper the hills.

It was lovely ride to the centre.

It was lovely ride to the centre.

Dhamma Atala is a hundred year-old villa acquired in 2006 by the Italian Vipassana Trust. It’s a small, tightly-bound little centre with tons of character. It has room for about 60 students, plus servers. We were horribly jet-lagged for a few days, which made our immediate entry into the course a little more chaotic than usual, but we learned to just let things go a little and everything soon settled down. The students and servers are very lovely and charming people. Not many speak English, so we rely a lot on a server named Niccolo, whose excellent English has made him a bit indispensable. However, we have conducted other courses where language was a challenge and learned that there are many ways to communicate despite not knowing the local language. Everything went very well.

The course is over... the student's bags line the walk way, waiting to load their cars after completing their 10day course. This is a photo of the residence -where student's slept during the course.

The course is over… the student’s bags line the courtyard, waiting to load their cars after completing their 10-day course. This is a photo of the student residences.

Stairway to the meditation hall.

Stairway to the meditation hall.

Meditation hall and mini-meditation hall where the English speaking students watched their discourse every night.

The meditation hall and the mini-hall where the English-speaking students watched the discourse every evening.

Inside the meditation hall at the end of the course. It was a tight room for 70 plus people!

Inside the meditation hall at the end of the course. It was a very tight fit for 77  people!

Stairway in the old villa where our rooms are located. Karen…. making her way to the top.

At the end of the course, we got a ride to Marradi, about 30 minutes from the Centre, and boarded a train to Florence.

Getting dropped off at the train station.

Getting dropped off at the train station in Marradi. The little blue Suzuki Marruti is in the background…

Our train to Florence.

Our TrenItalia train to Florence.

Our first mission in Florence was to acquire coffee and sandwiches.

Wow. Wow. Wow.

Food here is ridiculously tasty! We are not really sure how the Italians can make a sandwich taste so good. I mean, it’s just a sandwich. Nothing special.  Just a plain sandwich. No ‘special sauce’. No special seasoning. But wow, the food here isn’t like food anywhere.  Anywhere. It will be easy for us to put on 10 pounds this week, despite all the walking.  All we want to do is eat.

Can't even wait to eat this food. Salty, fresh, tasty, yum.

Karen couldn’t wait to to shove this food in her mouth. Salty, fresh, tasty… Yum!

Gotta have gelato right?

Gotta have gelato right? Maybe it tasted better for being The Most Expensive Gelato, Ever. Ever. Still, it was pretty tasty.

There is no Starbucks. And we could care less. That’s right, you actually heard us say that. We don’t care that there’s no Starbucks. You know why? Because Italians invented espresso, that’s why. Starbucks is a joke here. The coffee is heaven. Period.  People here zip in to a coffee bar and shoot back an espresso several times a day. And that’s just the best way to live. Well, that and meditation. So like meditation and several espressos every day is the best way to live.

Oh. My. Gawd. The coffee is fantastico.

The coffee here in Florence is fantastico.

Great food + fantastic coffee = heaven for Karen and Scott.

Walking around on our first day. Getting oriented.

Walking around on our first day. Getting oriented. We found it a little easier than Delhi…

Loving the streets of Florence.

Loving the streets of Florence.

We feel so grateful.

We feel so grateful to be here. It was a totally unexpected gift.

The Ponte Vecchio.

The Ponte Vecchio.

Piazza Della Seignore.

Piazza Della Seignore. All this old stuff lying around from ancient Rome, and the medieval and Rennaisance periods. Scott looks pretty happy.

Buying cheese at an open market we stumbled upon. No English. No real tourist here.

Buying cheese at an open market we stumbled upon. No English. And no tourists. Good thing we speak cheese.

Oh.. time to get a coffee. Again.

Tired? Coffee time. Again.

Breakfast.

Breakfast.

As we mentioned in the last post, Scott’s cousin Shannon and her husband Dani just recently moved back to Italy. What great fortune for us.  We’ve been wanting to see them for so long now, especially eager to meet their son for the first time.

We’ve been here a couple of days at the Villa Romana [LINK], a hundred year-old residence for artists. The Villa is managed by a trust with a jury that makes a selection of four artists per year who are invited to live here and show their work and do research on new pieces. In 2008, Dani was chosen as a Fellow here. Then, in 2013 Shannon was chosen. It’s a very prestigious  award.

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Front gates to the Villa.

A beautiful building all on its own.

A beautiful building in its own right.  Looking down from a stairwell in the Villa.

View from the roof top of the Villa. We are very lucky.

View from the roof top of the Villa. We are very lucky.

View from the roof top of the Villa. You can see Duomo in the distance.

View from the roof top of the Villa. You can see Duomo in the distance.

The gardens around the Villa.

The gardens around the Villa.

Shannon and Danni's backyard. The gardens around the Villa.

Shannon and Danni’s backyard. The gardens around the Villa.

The villa has a long and interesting history that is well worth reading here [LINK]. Some of most famous German artists have lived here since it was founded in 1905.  We can’t wait to get in to the small exhibition here of Shannon’s work [the door has been locked… maybe it’s a big secret?]

The names of all the artists that have one this prize since 1905.

The names of all the artists that have been here since 1905. Dani is here already, Shannon will be added.

Unexpectedly, the Villa had a guest room available for us for free. So now we have a beautiful and comfortable little pad from which to launch our assault of Firenze and to visit with Shannon, Dani and their lovely son!

Our sweet little room at Shannon's house.

Our sweet little room at Villa Romana, Shannon and Dani’s home in Italy.

We have four more nights here in Florence.  And so much to see and do… most of which will involve eating and drinking coffee and thinking of ways to bring as much food and coffee back with us.

Then we head back to the centre to conduct our second meditation course.  We feel very grateful to have this opportunity to serve the Italian centre and the Vipassana organization in Europe.  After such a long sabbatical last year, we decided that we no longer want to just travel for the sake of it.  Having the opportunity to practice meditation and help others to learn and practice meditation is a real gift. This time in Florence, in between the two courses, getting a chance to visit with family, was just an extra sensual treat.

Well, with that…. we’ll close this update for now and post more in a few weeks before we fly home on April 1st.

With all our love and kindest thoughts,

k.&s.

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