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Book Review: Tuscany and Umbria: The Collected Traveler Edited by Barrie Kerper

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Tuscany and Umbria: The Collected Traveler offers the future traveler lots of cultural and historical information on this region in central Italy. Do not mistake the book for a travel guide with maps, prices and four star restaurants; rather it’s an opportunity for travelers to become immersed in the history, atmosphere, food and wine of Tuscany and Umbria in preparation for his or her next adventure.

The Collected Traveler is an anthology of short articles from writers about their personal experiences traveling and living in Tuscany and Umbria. It also contains numerous annotated bibliographies to help the reader dig deeper into things Tuscany. In addition, Kerper conducted interviews with several celebrities who vacation and live in the region, and offers their insights to readers. It contains some information about restaurants, places to stay, and venues mentioned in the articles and interviews.

Going native provides one opportunity for travelers to experience a location. They may opt to rent a villa, a home or a room for a couple of weeks rather than staying in a motel. In “My Italy” Erica Jong tells of her marvelous experiences renting a villa in the Italian countryside with her extended family. On the other hand, Mary-Lou Weisman in “Welcome to Our Rented Nightmare,” takes a humorous look at renting a home using only a brochure for information. Of course, no one would dream of doing that in the age of the Internet. In the glossary, Kerper gives a list of Italian rental terms to aid in reserving accommodations.

Frances Mayes describes the Tuscan town of Camucia. It still offers traditional market days. Several streets close, and vendors sell their wares from wagons or the trunks of their cars. Fresh vegetables, pecorino, porchetta, panino, prosciutto and bunches of grapes fresh from the vine tempt a shopper to spend her hard earned Euros.

Additional articles give the reader a taste for the essence of Tuscany. They tell about Florence, Lucca, Sienna and many other locations. For centuries the pleasant weather and fine wines have attracted authors to the area, but Tuscany also has her own authors such as Dante. Dan Hofstadter writes of Tuscany from the vantage point of classic authors like Byron, Shelley and Dickens.

Tuscany and Umbria boast a rich history of conquest. Readers learn that in ancient times this region changed hands many times, from Etruscans to Romans and then the Medici family. In the more recent past, the region suffered much destruction during World War II.

William Zinsser’s, “Sienna in Three Acts,” touches the reader with a sentimental journey through Sienna in recent time. While on leave in Sienna, he experienced the end of World War II, and the elation of its residents. Shortly after the war, he took classes in Florence learning the culture of Tuscany. He used this knowledge throughout his life. In the early 1990s, for his seventieth birthday, he returned once again with some friends to celebrate and reminisce.

Tuscany’s primary tourist destination, Florence or Firenze, draws over two million visitors per year for its cultural exhibits. Michelangelo’s David brings some of the largest crowds. His exquisite detail and beauty has lasted for over five hundred years, and he still causes schoolgirls to giggle and swoon. In addition to David, Florence has many churches, frescoes, museums and artifacts to entreat visitors. Kerper provides examples of some of the common ones, as well as sights off the well-worn travel agenda.

While many people know of Di Vinci’s Last Supper or Cenacolo, few know of the nine others in Florence. Louis Inturrisi’s, “The Last Supper Seen Six Ways,” provides the reader an itinerary and description for visiting them in a single day.

Kerper briefly describes Umbria, pages 175 to 235. Umbria started out as an Etruscan stronghold, conquered by the Romans, then the Goths. Several kingdoms in the Middle Ages passed her amongst themselves until 1540, when Pope Paul III offered Umbria the protection of the church. G.Y. Dryansky’s, “The Hills of the Sublime,” treats the reader to a cross section of Umbrian sights and culture.

One of the hardest things to conquer when traveling abroad other than jet lag and language barriers is knowing where and what to eat. Although, experiencing new food is a good reason to travel. In the section, “La Cucina Italiana,” the reader learns about Tuscan cuisine. For the most part it is simple food bursting with tantalizing tastes. S. Irene Virbila tells the reader about garlic bread or Bruschetta. Faith Willinger educates the reader on everything olive oil. In this section, Kerper also provides information on eating out in Italy or eating local, definitely handy information for the novice traveler in Italy.

On page 399, Kerper gives a recommended reading list for eating your way through Tuscany and Umbria. These books provide recommended places to eat, foods to try, and recipes. Read these books while planning the vacation.

Tuscany and Umbria expose tourists to cultural exhibits, pretty scenery and over three thousand years of history. Travelers have the opportunity to sample a fantastic array of fresh foods and Mediterranean cuisine in a friendly atmosphere. Kerper prepares future travelers and offers experienced travelers new insights with an insider’s view of traveling in the region. Grab a bottle of Chianti, and enjoy learning about Tuscany and Umbria. Use the book to plan the vacation of a lifetime.

Barrie Kerper edited the book. She’s written twelve books on travel, and she will publish another one in July 2011 on Paris. She also has a blog, The Collected Traveler. She has logged many miles of traveling around the world, and filled the pages of four passports.

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About Bruce G. Smith

I'm a part time writer with a few articles published here and there. In addition to writing, I'm into nature and architectural photography.