One of my most favorite experiences in life were my annual sojourns to Europe, it was a combination of business and pleasure, of course my wife planned business trip appointments and reserved accommodations way in advance. It was after our business was completed that it was time for adventure, the best way we learned to do that was by “flying by the seat of our pants.” By that I mean we never knew where exactly we would spend the night while meandering around and across European Union borders. For those of you who have been “across the puddle,” know it’s totally possible to have breakfast in Dusseldorf, lunch in Amsterdam, and dinner in Paris all in the same day!
The most memorable experiences of my life involved doing just that; experiencing the unknown. Many years ago, we wound up in Florence Italy where we stayed at a “bed and bath” in the very rural suburbs that wound up being an isolated but renovated ancient monastery surrounded by olive trees hundreds of years old. How I found the place in the pitch dark I’ll never know; the place had a creepy but charming ambiance about it and was supposedly haunted by Monks who wandered the hallways eternally at pray. Putting that aside, you have not lived until you tasted freshly pressed Tuscan olive oil and homemade sparkling Prosecco!
The following night we had the pleasure of meeting a world-famous Tuscan Chef Claudio at his restaurant. Just google “Claudio Tuscan Chef” for a wonderful online experience! This soft-spoken master chef more than delivered perfection on our palates with his simple northern Italian dishes, all the ingredients were either on his farm or supplied by local farmers nearby, he was so charismatic and devoted to what he did for a living. I commented on the selection of wines that were served with each course and his kind eyes sparkled, just like the wine I was experiencing, and he asked if my wife and I wanted to meet the young owner of the wine’s source the I Selvatici winery. Are you kidding me, we would love to!
We met Giuseppe waiting at a non-descript rotary in the enchanting Chianti region in Tuscany, he said we would never find it on MapQuest, and he was correct; I would never have found the vineyard even today with a GPS. Over a fabulously unexpected Tuscan lunch, we were introduced to his parents and even vineyard’s canine security service. The selection of their fine wines blew our minds! We became such good friends Giuseppe offered to come to America to offer his wines for my clients at our grand reopening several years ago. All these wonderful experiences happened by traveling with no real plan in mind!
To most people our kind of “haphazard planning” would be totally unacceptable, we love the mystery and discovery of the unknown by traveling off the typical tourist paths.
Besides food and wine to die for, Florence, Italy is the jewelry center of the world, at least to me! There are many manufacturers in the outlying towns and villages that have been making fines jewelry for centuries—not years, centuries!
To cruise the many small jewelry shops on the famous bridge over the Arno River the Ponte Vecchio and view the hundreds of millions of dollars (Euros) worth of gold jewelry is a sight to behold. The day we were on the bridge there happened to be a terrorist high alert in progress, the jewelers were protected by armored troop carriers and heavily armed soldiers; the show of force was a bit unnerving.
Our travels for the quest of unusual jewelry besides Italy also included France, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and even Spain. We brought the fruits of our labor home to our shop on Marco Island for over 20 years. Can’t be really be called labor if one is having too much fun, right?
Things have certainly changed and not for the better. I can’t go to Europe even if I wanted to; the domestic and foreign jewelry industries are on the ropes because the price of gold and silver here and around the world is at a premium high. My domestic and overseas sources are uncertain, and my European friends and business associates are going through some pretty tough times, as we all are.
Hopefully, things will improve and come back to some semblance of normalcy so I can continue to seek and explore and bring back exceptionally beautiful and unique jewelry to my loyal clients who expect nothing but the best from me here on Marco Island.
Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith and the owner of the Harbor Goldsmith on Marco Island since 1994 and welcomes your questions and comments about All That Glitters.