Monday, April 30th, Tuesday, May 1st, part of Wednesday, May 2nd: Castelnuovo Berardenga; Volterra; Country drive
Looking out on the beautiful Tuscan landscape
Three for the Price of One…
…days of notations, that is! I'm having quite a time getting this little laptop to cooperate (couldn't be me and my, ummm, skills...of course not!), then finding time to write/get online equates to sporadic posting. Oh, and of course…there’s that little issue of seeing as much of this gorgeous place as one can each day, which takes a little time! So...excuses lined up like ducks in a row, shall we...?
Monday, April 30 – We awoke feeling pretty rested, actually, after getting a good night’s sleep. Being totally exhausted helps, mind you, but we really did sleep well. Ran into town to say hello to Ray at his office and had the great pleasure of finding Anna Rita there, as well! As always, it was more than wonderful to see them both. We chatted for about 45 minutes, catching up on life. Ah, but I forget! We hit the bar first for cappuccino and brioche (more of a French type breakfast croissant, but the "go to" breakfast in Italy), then the COOP, the fabulous little grocery store chain that dots central Italy, before our pop-in at the office. I could spend hours (and buy waaay too much) in that compact yet amazing store!
We bid adieu to our friends, then headed east through Radda in Chianti (and numerous other tiny villages) to Castelnouvo Berardenga at Anna Rita’s suggestion for a lunch of tartufi, or truffles over pasta in a luscious, buttery sauce. This time of year marks the tail-end of truffle season, but Anna Rita thought we might get lucky and still find it on the menu. Score! The town itself was charming, and despite the rain that had picked up, we enjoyed a grand lunch. It was fun trying our very limited Italian on the young waiter who played along gamingly. We’d probably be given a B+ for the effort, and at least he didn’t roll his eyes or break into hysterical laughter anywhere along the way! We noted that service in most cafes and restaurants in Italy is good; the staff never seem to feel a need to rush you, nor do they push this special or that drink. Why? There is a copertta or persone charge that is basically a service charge for a seated meal, but it is a set rate clearly noted on your check. Tipping is not expected, nor the norm. Kinda nice!
The truffles we dined on were like nothing either of us had experienced…uber thin translucent slices of a small, beautifully tan and white marbled funghi delicately placed over tagliatelli pasta that's been generously tossed with shimmery melted burro…or butter, as we know it! Anna Rita said to tell them to add more butter, but we thought the amount presented was enough to make even Paula Deen think twice. The aggregate aroma teetered between something pleasing, then aversive, then back again. The taste was kinder – a memorable one that announced periodic bursts of TARTUFI!, but quickly retreated at just the right moment to softer tones of gentle wheat laced with the familiar calm of butter . Once introduced, you’ll know a truffle anywhere you meet one. But not to be forgotten amidst the grandeur of the elegant truffle is the insalata mista, the incredibly fresh mixed salads one encounters throughout Italy. A few here and there have been disappointing, but it seems when eating rural, the garden goodness was surely picked just hours earlier. Coated with a nice splash of olive oil, maybe some vinegar, then a bit of salt....simple, utter perfection!
The remainder of the day was spent driving through the countryside taking in more of the undulating beauty. Softened by gray, sometimes rainy skies, the shadows created on the hillsides were soft and almost mysterious. The occasional break of sun and light left us almost breathless as we took in the views marked by swaths of yellow flowers that seemed intent on taking over the land.
Tuesday, May 1 – Prima di Maggio! The first day of May in Tuscany greeted us with more intermittent rain and temps that this Texan calls just a step above cold! The weather has been cooler than I planned on (what was I thinking??), so my over-packing was with items intended for a Sicilian May. Ah well, it’ll warm up sooner or later!
We had our morning cappuccino and breakfast at the bar, then went by Ray’s office to visit for about an hour. After solving all of the US and Italy’s problems, we departed to the west/southwest for the hill town of Volterra. I haven’t read nor seen anything of the Twilight genre (gasp!!), but those of you who have, hold this town special for reasons other than its obvious beauty and awe. The rain picked up by the time we go there, but the little umbrella on hand managed to keep us from total saturation. Volterra is, to me, such a wonderfully “typical” medieval town…tall, ancient buildings lining narrow cobbled streets that twist and turn with almost mindless mission, narrow alleyways calling from inside a low arch, piazzas with practically visible ghosts strolling about in regality, and duomos still as grand as the day they were completed. Having arrived at the usual time…later than planned….we found a recommended spot to eat (thank you, Rick Steves) and commenced to enjoy a fab lunch of pizza and pasta, along with local vino bianco. We both noted that American tourists seem to be the minority right now. There were any number of Italian tourists (it was their Memorial Day holiday, after all), as well as Germans and French. Pretty cool, though, to be the only English speaking folks you’re aware of within earshot.
After lunch we ventured into the local Etruscan museo. Wow! It’s actually the largest collection of Etruscan items in the world, and it was fascinating. I didn’t realize what an advanced civilization they were, setting themselves up nicely to be emulated by the Greeks a bit later on. I’m not up on my Estruscan history, but I believe this highly advanced civilization more or less vanished, and is to this day a mystery in many ways. They must not’ve had a set system, sadly (and surprisingly) so, for writing or we’d know more about them. We floated about inside for some time, trying to take in all the antiquity that was resting within the walls of this smallish place. I was especially amazed with the jewelry. I dare one to find gold work as intricate and beautiful as what I saw.
By the time we were on the streets again, the rain had stopped, so we celebrated with our first scoop of gelato. I know….hard to believe it took us that long!! The wait was worth it….mmmm, mmm good!! Gelato in hand (and mouth), we wandered the streets for another hour just taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and ambiance.
The evening was capped off with a meal in a restaurant that was the home/estate of a local dottore…and known to have the best pizza in Castellina. Well, one must test such acclamations for accuracy, and I will say…it was darn good! The wine wasn’t too bad, either...
Wednesday, May 2nd – Mission not accomplished: we got up later than planned, and thus our start was delayed. Oh well! However, the sun was shining gloriously…what an incredible day!!! We stopped for cappuccino at the gas station bar this morning – can one find a bad cappuccino here? I say not. On the road south, we twisted and turned through a Tuscany that all but shouted “Am I not GLORIOUS??”. And it was!!! I lost count of how many photo stops we made, but each was well worth it. The roads throughout this region rarely claim a straight mile/kilometer….they snake and twist and undulate as much as the hills. Sometimes the land is wide open and one can see green wheat fields, vineyards, olive groves, villas, marching cypress, and distant towers forever. Other times it’s wooded and dark and mysterious and dreamlike. No matter, it’s stunningly beautiful. Today, it was in overdrive. (to be continued….battery is about to die!!)
Paula A. Reynolds
Traveler or Tourist?
All photos used in this blog were taken by the author, the author's husband or friends, or found by way of images.google.com. Photo credit is given when possible.