Tuscan Wandering...

Trip Start Oct 29, 2009
Trip End Nov 15, 2009

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Today was our first day of more or less unplanned adventure. The cities we've traveled to all had must-see sites that we felt we couldn't miss, but Tuscany is a vast region to be explored in a road trip, surprise-me-at-every-turn kind of way. We had breakfast in front of a roaring fire in a lovely little cafe style room at the B&B. After filling up on cereal, yogurt, croissants and more delicious coffee (steamed milk again!!), we hit the road [making sure the GPS was in live mode from the gate:)].

Kate had spoken with one of the inn keepers before we left to get some local tips. The small twisting and rolling country roads of Tuscany are amazing. There are unending views of vineyards at every curve, and beautiful castle like buildings fill the horizon. We stopped in a quaint town called Greve in Chianti for some wine tasting, lunch, and a relaxing stroll through this provincial oasis. We both had Tagliatelle al Tartufo in butter sauce. It came topped with more delicious black truffles. We had some truffles last night at our Tuscan dinner, and we had to have more today. Their flavor is out of this world and we can't believe how accessible they are in Italy. The pasta was fresh, and the dish was so simple but dddddelicous!! The restaurant was off of a great little town square, across from the craziest butcher shop either of us has ever seen. I love all kinds of meat, but the smell of this place was overwhelming. It was like an ode to swine. Prosciutto and pancetta, and all sorts of other pig products hung from the ceiling, decorated the walls and filled the display cases. I thought I'd stay there for a bit to try some decadent meat, but it was a bit too much, so we did a quick loop and left. Kate had fun tasting Tuscan wines, and we hit the road again to find the next great view. Our drive took us atop beautiful ridges with more spectacular views and unreal towns from other eras. The region seemed endless, and the towns are spread out, mostly on hilltops, with medieval architecture and perfect little streets.

Eventually we found ourselves in Siena, a quintessential medieval city. We arrived around 6pm, just in time for the early evening cafe rush. The scene was filled with college aged kids bustling around, and adults of every age working their way through the narrow alleys to wherever they were headed for the night. The city has several large hills topped with churches and abbeys. We saw a van of nuns pile out at one abbey and another abbey looked just like where the von Trapps hid from the Nazis. They even had an old gate where we saw a nun usher a man (Rolf) out for the evening. The valleys between these Christian buildings are filled with tiny cobblestone streets and they provide a true labyrinth to visitors. Even GPS struggled in this area--it's incredibly confusing. Not only is there no rhyme or reason to the convergence of seven wacky streets at a time, but they are all tiny too! In one such street, we had to duck into a niche carved into the side of the building so a car could pass. It was great to wander a space that is filled with buildings that have been there for centuries, and we again marveled at the construction of these enormous structures without the aid of modern technology. While strolling, we came across a a huge square called Piazza del Campo (a Mary Harrison favorite!) where horses race twice a year in a centuries old race called the Palio di Siena. The locals take it extremely seriously as different districts of the city are matched up against one another. Piazza del Campo is known as one of Europe's greatest public squares and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

On our way home we ducked into a local pizzeria with hysterical & delicious slice-of-life flavor. This place was a hole in the wall with about six men at all times--one would leave, a new one would replace him. (They felt like the kind of guys who would mutter to their spouse: hey, I'm goin' out.) After a quick "sera" (evening), the owner would roll out dough, throw a handful of this and that on it, pour a Stella and three minutes later slide the pie on a plate. One of the six guys came in with a plastic bag. He sat at the bar and
pulled out a huge amount of fresh mozzarella (softball size) and
salami, sliced it and ate it at the bar. None of the guys really spoke to each other, they just sat down one by one and ate.  Everyone was transfixed on some Italian game show. The entire staff wore white undershirts and kind of shuffled around, but whenever we had an exchange with them, they were so kind and had huge smiles. We loved it.

Cinque Terre tomorrow to beat the rain predicted for Friday! Can't wait for this!!
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Matt Harrison on

Wow, I thought you guys were in a wine cellar until I read that it was a street in Siena! Amazing! Tuscany sounds incredible and that pasta looks delicious! Too bad you didn't get to see the spectacle of the horse race, sounds like it would be a blast to watch.... FUN TIMES!

Mom on

So happy you enjoyed Siena. That horse race is so competitive that even if you married someone outside your neighborhood you return to your family nieghborhood for the race. Love the picture of the Piazza del Campo. The littel side adventures (like the local pizzeria) will be the memory makers. Hope you're not too black and blue from all the pinching.

Mom(Cassy) on

I can't believe that I, finally, can post a note to you two- thanks to daddy. What can I say except- GLORIOUS!!! You have taken us all, vicariously, with your blogging to all your wonderful sites. Am just smiling thinking of the two of you experiencing everything from the history of Western Civ to the taste of each region and the opulence of special places. I feel that , though, this is a trip of a lifetime, it's the beginning of many more adventures. (But you'll never forget this first one) Here's to the new Zagats! Love and Happiness. Bless You!

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