Pizza in Pisa and other fun tales

Trip Start Mar 06, 2009
Trip End May 07, 2010

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Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Thursday, April 23, 2009

Duff man says:
We met Barbara and Ugo's current walking tour victims in Sienna about a week back - This was so Barbara could then ask them if it was ok if we joined them on a few tours (which they paid thousands of dollars for and we paid bupkis. So we were charming (well I was) and on our best behaviour (I was) and they nicely said we could tag along. The first day of walking would equal about 12km, much of it on tracks either going down (yay) or up (boo) hills. We had a picnic in the bush and finished off with a swim at the mineral water spas.

That day exhausted the hell out of us and we really felt too lazy to go on the 10 km walk the next day but as we were guests and really enjoyed hearing about the town (Barbara and Ugo are quite passionate about what they do - which is nice and a little bit rare - they have a wealth of local knowledge between them) - we decided in the end to suck it up and go.

Montepulciano was the main stop for the day, a nice if a little touristy town with a good market, better coffee and great wine tasting. We got a bottle of special reserve rosso (red) and will send it home only to be opened on a special occasion; a birth/death/marriage or when I finally get fired (predicting late jan 2010... I'll be back just starting back at work and they will realise they were better off without me...I've had a good run)

The next day was our Tuscan cooking lesson day - at the farm house. It was a full days work for us; we needed to prepare the ingredients, clean the place, be the waiters (just like in Melbourne, no one tipped for crappy service) as well as help cook the food. (and eat all the cheese and drink all the wine). The recipe was a thick hand made pasta noodle - a local dish called Pici (Peechy to us).

I ate too much, drank too much, needed to pee way too much for someone my age and then had a siesta for a bit. It then took us about 2 hours to clean everything. Barbara gave us the next day off, so I barely got out of bed and the day after we were off to Pisa. Again, eating and drinking too much (running theme it seems, but it afforded me the opportunity to get drunk on Duff beer - WTF!!! Number 23 on my to do list for this lifetime)

Lots of red wine was also drunk, and tequila resulting in Milli spewing on the floor. I didn't want to get it on the carpet in the hotel room so quickly got her a towel and laid it down to catch most of the vomit, only to realise the next morning that the room was tiles and I wrecked a perfectly nice white towel.

The following morning we were not in a good way so we spent most of that day sleeping (after eating a pizza in pisa) and today we left for Florence for breakfast, and Arezzo for lunch, finishing the day off with a glass of wine at our favourite bar in Castel Muzio, the town a few kilometres up the road.

Duffgirl says:
We have been so lucky to stay with Barbara and Ugo as they have given us so much experience and information for both Tuscan/Italian life and even just People Life (sounds deep but not really) such as how to prune flowers and change a pit toilet. It can and will happen one day that all humans will have to change a pit toilet and then we will laugh at you Others who cannot. Actually only Shane was taught but I'm the ying to his yang so really its all one. Wow, so much shit here I should start a toilet.

Anyhoo we were able to go on two of the walking tours and they were fantastic. The first one was the hardest and we sweated and struggled through it while the over 50s in the group (all of them) marched on. Kind of sad really, we were thinking about our next stop to have a wine but they were really fit. Damn them. There was a couple who were a little more reserved, though the husband wrote furiously took many notes on the history of towns and the making of pasta. There was a single lady who at one point was on her mobile explaining to her daughter how to use her RV, and there was our favourite couple who were a retired doctor from Hong Kong and his Australia nurse wife. They were so cute and sweet and lots of laughs.

Ugo was great with the walks because apart from the historical information of the area, he had cultural and architectural information and also the local flora and fauna. So we wandered down a well and less well trodden path in the countryside, stopping to admire the hazy sunny hills and little dilapidated brick houses, then ending (a LONG time later) at the beautiful thermal spa area. I had no bikini as I idiotically threw out my old one in Thailand thinking I wont need one till a hot climate where I will buy one anyway. So I sat in the shade and read with an icy pole and aqua con gas. The pool area was all heated and nicely manicured with a business raking it in but it really was nice for the tour and similar to Daylesford. Shane was not about to get away with not swimming as easy as me. Barbara had told me the night before she had a one piece she would have loaned me but I'm too long. Yay for longness! But while Shane doesn't like swimming at the best of times- unless its Queensland water because anything else is 'too cold' - Ugo kindly offered him a pair of clean black undies he was going to wear for the water but would give up to Shane. Shane almost shuddered visibly at the idea (the little clean Virgo that he is) and despite many 'no no, I couldn't's he was forced by manners to go into the change room and try them on. Luckily his quick thinking saved the day and he returned thanking Ugo but amazed saying 'you must have pretty slim legs because mine just wont fit these! But I'll wear my pants in, thanks!'. So he did the obligatory wade in and then got out as soon as was polite because they were just button up boxers and he was afraid of exposing to all the older ladies...

We wandered round some of the little town and saw the old stone area where the mineral springs come up and people used to swim in the Etruscan times.
We went home after that and were exhausted, but were up early the next morning to go on another walk (haven't walked so much in many years and our bodies are freaking out).

We went through a few wineries this time and up a hill to the town of Montepulciano which was lovely. As they all are! Each way you look there is another postcard shot, its amazing. We left the tour at this point as they were going on to a winery and we didn't want to impose. We first and foremost went to the toilets near information and pooped happily in a toilet we didn't have to squat at. Huzzah! We then wandered around the marketplace which was similar to Croatian ones with the cheap no name clothes and scourers and tea towels, mixed in with vegies and cheese caravans. Shane almost peed himself in excitement when he saw a cheese with large peppercorns in it so we got that and carried it round for the day. (Barbara later told us its great to leave it out so it gets mould on the since then we have eaten mouldy cheese that isn't the blue variety....crazy Italians).
We ate some very overpriced deep fried food that made us feel sick after such a nice walk and so we sat and had a cup of tea to get over feeling sorry for ourselves but realised the lady only filled the water halfway up the cup and this shitted us even more. We luckily wandered up through an old archway which we realised was the gateway into the old part of the town and found a really beautiful place. There were lots of little cafes and restaurants but also book and paper shops, and ceramics. None we could afford so I took photos of here and there and we kept going. I went on up to the central piazza which had the obligatory old church (which was beautiful) and then went back down to the place we were all meeting back at. And old café with a gorgeous view of the Tuscan hills. We had a café (short black) standing up - as you do here - and once the tour group was ready we left.

Ugo kindly took us to the winery he had taken the tour group, and we couldn't say no after tasting some of the gorgeous wine there. So we bought some but it can be thought of as our new baby. And everyone reading this should buy us some baby shower gifts...or preferably you could just deposit some money into our accounts as a gift for...little Vino....and we will happily continue our travels and then little Vino will be happy when we return to him in Australia and will love the travel tales we have....all thanks to you the reader....ahem.

Driving us to pick up the tour group (as they had walked down through the town....after having walked all day....though it is a WALKING tour but if you can drive what the...) Ugo stopped past a beautiful and unusual church halfway down the hill. We were able to get out and have a look and it had a balcony (think Romeo and Juliet), a circular area and a square bit - and inside was a small square room with no one in it but candles flickering. Really different, one of my favourites!
Back home and to sleep.
The next day we had the cooking class where the tour group comes to visit the farmhouse and learn a traditional Tuscan meal, made by a local lady who lives nearby. It was really fantastic and though we worked throughout the day it was heaps of fun and we got to eat and drink as much as we wanted. We learnt to make the pasta and I have remembered and really want to make it when we get home. While doing this we munched on the cheeses, bread and large green beans. So cool and will be doing it back home whether anyone likes it or not. I'm hungry just thinking about it. I love you food. (That's for you Olga).

The pasta had a light chilli tomato sauce made and stirred through it, a big salad, roast potatoes, bread and then the others also had a rabbit dish and a chicken dish. After that we had coffee with a liquor to dip biscotti in, strawberries and then I think that was it. Rosso e bianco vino throughout. Of course. Wow, yep really hungry now.

We all went and laid about the house and gardens for siesta time and then the group went for a walk. We were pooped so stayed at home.
The next day we relaxed all day and barely left our stables living quarters. We organised ourselves for Pisa the next day.

Barbara kindly drove us to the station and despite taking a wrong turn as she was talking so much to us (very interesting to pick their brains about Italy, SBS, food, gardening etc.) we were early enough to have a coffee first. Barbara had brought up the fact that most young people in Tuscany don't want to leave home (and cant afford it anyway) but they also don't want to take over the old school farms their parents had so they are turning them into agrotourism locations instead. Not nearly as many places are real farms and making real old style food. So this generation is the biggest change Italy has seen for hundreds of years and its an interesting time to see it all, though sad at the same time. But its good they aren't all building flats to the sky here instead. Lots of the old towns are UNESCO World heritage listed. Barbara mentioned the film The Leopard that I didn't watch in Cinema studies at uni but should have (will now!) and that was about when she took the wrong turn. Oops.

So anyway we took the train and swapped and finally got to Pisa. We found our hotel quite easily as its sign was visible from the steps of the station. The room was great and big and while the bathroom was teeny tiny we celebrated for many hours over the hot water flowing freely and the toilet and shower. Perhaps not many hours but its an enjoyment that just kept giving over the days we were there.

So we had a shower and went out to explore. The city had a river running through it and old big buildings that reminded me of both Florence and St Petersburg - but more run down. There were heaps of cafes and restaurants, and being a uni town there was lots of quirky political graffiti and big beautiful universities dotted around. Lots of bicycles and young people but also lots of migrants which was good to see after so long seeing just the traditional Italian. We saw lots of Asian and African supermarkets around and about, and ate a felafel and almost cried with happiness. (Shane did, and then proceeded to keep the rest of his meal in his pocket...patting it and speaking to it softly and fondly).
O happy days!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We also bought chilli olives and dried chillis at a market and these stayed with us as we remained out...and out...and out....back to that later.
We found the leaning tower of Pisa accidentally and wandered over but the hordes of tourists, the overpriced food and souveniers and the African men selling fake handbags all over the place kind of sucked the beauty out of the building and the nearby church so we didn't stay too long. All the buildings there in the square though were made from the same white marble with green as in Florence.

It was so delicate and very ornate on the church and the tower had tourists on the top so obviously wasn't being renovated to stay leaning as I'd heard often happens. We left that area to get a cheaper coffee further from the main spot but the place we picked for two coffees and a piece of cake charged us 9 euros and we couldn't handle it. England and Italy have sucked us DRY and we aren't even halfway through our trip yet. Luckily it's the most expensive part but COME ON!!!!!!!! Un-fucking-believable.

We decided not to bother going home to go out again and so we sat and had a wine and then moved on and had another one. We had dinner and at that time a storm broke out and it poured as we sat under a large umbrella with dreadlocked Italians and a group of irritating squealy Italian girls. I ordered scallops and freaked when I realised my plate had veal scalloppine - Ev would have loved it but I couldn't eat it. So we didn't eat much that evening and proceeded on to a Fairy bar with the barman and his son. I love the fact that Italian bars and cafes provide snacks for free with people buying drinks.

So you will have chips, olives, little dip and bread slices, herb crispbread and more put out for free - FREE!!!
This became my main dinner.

We had earlier found some good places we wanted to go back to, one none other than MILLIBAR - spelt exactly the same!!!!
So we went there and I proceeded to get my licence out and show the barman (like he cared) and unfortunately he didn't care so much because while I'd been in the toilet Shane had told him this and so second hand information is never as good as the first.

I pursued anyway and said how excited I was, and he told me many people come in called Milli. Now I fail to believe him because in my lifetime there may have been a few Milli-esque people but they were either nicknamed (Milly from Emily) or else were Milly, but not spelt MILLI. I couldn't explain it to him to make him care so I gave up and sat happily drinking at my bar.

We watched part of an Italian soccer game and then left and that's where it gets hazy. Or else completely opaque. Can vaguely remember going to a fancy bar on the river and getting a wine, though don't remember drinking it. Then the next image I remember is being in a small funky bar with all Asian bar people working there. Cant remember what we drank but do remember eating the free chips.

Don't remember much else but walking home I took some photos and then that's all. I remember being in bed and vomiting over the side and then sleep. A good night!! But in bed there were no cups so I had to get up and lap water from my hand in the sink and go back to bed. Needless to say we didn't get much water and I woke up Nausea City and didn't move much. We forced ourselves down to the buffet breakfast but it was Italian buffet (or two star perhaps) and had cheese and ham and then bread and jam. We ate and drank most of the orange juice available then we back to bed. Shane later got fish burgers and chips from MacDonalds, and we sulked when we realised it cost 12 euros for two meals.

We were eventually driven out by the lack of wifi (assHOLE liars) and the crap on TV so we loped around shielding our eyes from the light and couldn't find much more. We went and had a good meal in an unassuming place, gnocchi and pizza. Then we went back to bed.
We napped and woke around 7 and decided we'd go back to sleep. We woke at 7am and were kind of excited about the breakfast downstairs but came down to find it was the same stuff as yesterday - literally.
The same last two slices of cheese we left and the same piece of ham we didn't touch. So we left pretty soon after a coffee and took an earlier train to Florence. Our idea was to see a bit as we had left early last time but when we got there it was busy and we had our bags (albeit little ones) and we didn't have time to wait in line for the galleries but had a whole day to wander. So we walked a bit and then cracked it and had a great brunch (felafel for Shane, GREAT dill yoghurt sauce, and roast vegies and salad with a zucchini slice for me) and then we left. We left early AGAIN and I vow to come back with time to wait in lines and the money to buy beautiful things from the markets there.

But we left and went to Arezzo which was another nice small town where we wandered around and had a pizza slice and wine and then took the train to Sinalunga to wait for Ugo to kindly pick us up. Going out into the fields of Tuscany we were both discussing how happy we were to be back there. No big cities with little streets bustling with people and cars, and while still overpriced for food etc the little places had cheap wine and it was just so beautiful.
Loving the Tuscany! ☺
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