My days in bella Italia were winding down as I greeted the late morning of this Thursday. I purposefully slept in to try to make up for the late night before, as well as to fortify myself for the upcoming weekend of no-sleep travel. It was a glorious day – sun in full swing, puffy white benign clouds for accent, and a new warmth in the air that was certainly declaring it was time for the chill to retreat.
My agenda was to pack as much as I could so I would not be stressing over it later in the evening. Feelings of “not that much” were quickly segueing into “Ohhh no, I think this will be over the weight limit!” Making mental notes of just what I’d ditch first if need be, I worked on until I felt I had reached the manageable-for-now point. My little visitor and Casamonti ambassador, Toya the mop dog, came by and stayed awhile which always adds a little sparkle to the current events. I suppose Pepina the cat had better things to do on this particular morning.
The plan for today, after tackling the packing, was to spend a leisurely day in Castellina….strolling, dining, observing the rhythms of this beloved little town that had become even more of our Italian home away from home. I made a quick stop at the Agip station for my shot of caffe, deciding it was a bit late for cappuccino. Simone was a constant blur of busy-ness as he managed to not only keep the caffeine coming for his extremely robust noon time crowd, but to also wait the tables, deliver the food, and clean up! Might be the prime spot for a part-time job some day! Never did manage to try the food there, but it looked quite good. Altra volta….next time!
I determined another trip to Il Re Gallo for lunch would suit my fancy this day, and following our greeting, I announced “Sono da sola oggi” – I’m alone today. I was shown to the exact table Kathleen and I had dined at and was pleased to have the great view out onto the small piazza. However, this day was exploding with sun and warmth in comparison to last week’s view of biting cold, bone-chilling wind, and rain! This final noon meal surrounded by Castellina was a wonderful plate of bruschetta followed by an Insalata de Mainoia – the salad of a sailor. Oh..yeah…and wine!
As I lingered over the last crumbs of bread and swilled the last drops of my Chianti, I noted the ongoing construction of a stage out in the square. Just like last year at this time, the preparations were under way for the big Chianti festival that would begin Saturday…the day I was flying away from Milan to Texas. I was a bit frustrated at my timing, but had to snicker as I thought on my conversation with Lucio and Francesca regarding festivals and events in Toscana. Yep, they all begin the last weekend of May and really get into full swing in June and July. Note to Marty and I: let's plan on being here for part of June and hit some of those festivals!!
I made a circuitous path through and around Castellina, first wandering from the restaurant through the quiet upper piazza, then down to the main street that was bustling with more tourists and sun than I’d seen on this via in the past month. I decided to make a visit to the truly impressive little museum housed in the old civic/castle building (it has a wonderful collection of Etruscan items, all very nicely displayed), as well as climb the tower whose outline I love so dearly…the simple yet stately castle silhouette that is always first to greet us/me as Castellina comes into sight. And what a view it offers to those who commit to climb their way to the crest. A few interesting notes while perusing the museum: a die made of stone and marked with holes to represent numbers exactly as ours are today; evidence of grape vines in the Chianti/Castellina area that date back to the 6th-5th centuries B.C.; a representation of clay shingle roof construction from 4,000 years ago is exactly how roofs are constructed in Italy to this day; amazing, intricate, whimsical artwork depicting life not so different at all from ours today.
After taking my time in the museum and enjoying the castle rooms and tower to myself for the most part, I wandered back to the main thoroughfare and made a few last minute purchases, then strolled towards the east end of town to walk along the outer path that shadows the old city wall. It’s a wonderful stroll and I was rewarded with the expected but not taken for granted views of the groves to the east and the town wall to the west, all the while taking in the serenades of the birds and newly awakening summer bug choruses. Peaceful, serene, utter beauty that speaks to the core of anyone who dares to listen, and I tried to be the best of students for these short moments as I walked.
The reward at the other end of town was one last gelato…the dark chocolate fondant, of course, and the other half filled with caffé flavor. I was not disappointed. Savoring each little bite that slid easily from the tiny bright spoon into my happy mouth, I decided to walk north just a ways and check out the Etruscan tomb that was right up a hill, yet had never been explored. Why never? I’m not sure. Maybe as we tend to do in our “routine” surroundings…”it’ll always be there”…had ruled the previous trips to Castellina, but oh – what an oversight!!
The walk up the hill to the tomb was beautiful; an incline up a dirt road with regiments of towering trees holding service on each side. And not another soul around even though this is not more than possibly 100 feet from the main road in town. As always, I reveled in it.
The tomb was amazing. Fascinating. What a thrill to see it, enter it. How had I overlooked this?? It’s partially reconstructed in that the ceiling has been rebuilt and covered in earth as it originally was. This particular tomb is one of three of the most important finds in the Tuscany area, I believe, due to its outlay and size. There are four separate entrances that each contain two small side rooms and one larger end room. They radiate out like spokes on a wheel to the four cardinal directions, but do not interconnect under the ground.
This day they were a bit muddy from the recent rain, and even in the bright sunlight, the inner reaches were dark and downright spooky. I was totally alone up here on the hilltop and paused, as I had to decide to venture into the dark…or not. I tried to use my phone to light things up a bit, but to no avail. Well, I had come this far and wasn’t about to wimp out now. I took a deep breath and stepped forward, feeling like I was crossing into an Indiana Jones movie. Certainly something or someone was going to jump out at any second! Thankfully, maybe, only a few spiders scurried as I let my eyes adjust to the dark. How incredible to be there, to stand where the ancients had stood as they first built these places, then laid their beloveds to rest. They say Leonard di Vinci was a tourist here, as well, and found great inspiration for some of his designs from this very spot. How incredible to share this same awe as he had.
I wandered to each of the four entrances and made my way over the mud and puddles to peer into the inner chambers. The rooms were so emptily quiet, so wistfully cool…yet so full of some sense of immensity, of time past. I felt more like an honored guest this day, alone yet not so alone, as I stood in amazement and revere. It was hard to pull myself away, still no other visitor here amazingly, and I weaned myself by taking time to crest the tomb and sit in the cool, green clover with its delicate white flowers that blanketed the hilltop. I had a beautiful view of Castellina from here, as well, and savored the passing minutes as the day wore down.
My final path for this May of 2012 in Castellina in Chianti took me back down the main road as I savored one last gaze at my familiar haunts – the COOP, Bar Italia, the storefronts I’d grown to be so familiar with, even familiar faces both in the shops and on the street. As I came towards the end and was preparing to turn for the area I’d parked, I heard a close by “Ciao!” Noting no one else in proximity, I turned to my left and saw a man and woman seated on a bench. It took a second or two, but I then recognized the kind face as the fellow, most likely owner, at Il Re Gallo! He said something I couldn’t quite decipher, but motioned eye to eye, indicating we’d just seen each other again earlier that day. I made a hearty “Ahhhh, si…Ciao!” reply, smiled widely and waved, and continued on my way, savoring a satisfied feeling at this very common, yet very special slice of interaction on the streets of Castellina.
The last of my walk included a phone visit with Marty as we talked on the close of this adventure, as well as our excitement at being reunited back in Texas. The end/beginning of anything is an odd mix of feelings, yet it’s always – always a blessing and joy to return home, and especially to the arms of the dearest.
I returned to Casamonti in time to freshen up a bit, then join Anna Rita and Ray, along with a group of visitors, for the grand Chianina meal. This is always begun with a tour of the grounds and meat production facility, and I always learn something new each time I’ve been so lucky to be part of one. The crowning event is, of course, the scrumptious dinner made on site that includes each of the wines produced at Casamonti. The antipasto is a grand selection of the meats produced there, along with crostini of one type or another, but always including the delicious mixture of what we would call an egg salad that is the family recipe of Anna Rita’s mother. Delish! The centerpiece of this dinner is a huge serving of the meat indigenous to Chianti…the Chianina beef. Traditionally, these huge bovine/oxen animals were used not only for food, but for labor, as well. Ray told us he well remembers his Grandfather’s Chianina right there on the farm, and they were stabled in what is now the Capre apartment (or our rabbit hole, as Anna Rita always refers to it). The meat is correctly served after a brief grilling on an outdoor flame, perfectly executed by either Sandro or Massimo, and served quite rare. I am not necessarily a fan of rare, but when in Rome…or Tuscany! I must admit it truly is quite delicious this way, and I don’t get that “rare” or bloody taste from this meat that seems to permeate other rare steaks I’ve dared to tangle with. Our sides were absolutely delicious roasted potatoes dressed skillfully in generous amounts of the fine Casamonti olive oil, rosemary, and sage, and a gorgeous green salad of the freshest lettuce elegantly donned in olive oil and sea salt. Perfection! Our dolci choices were tiramisu or fresh fruit…and in grand style, our loveliest of hostesses, Anna Rita, declared we would indulge and have both!
My sweet assistant
A grand meal, indeed, and good company – what a wonderful way to savor my last night in Chianti. I lingered just a little after the guests had left, and said my good byes to Ray and Anna Rita, not knowing if we’d cross paths in the morning. Goodbyes are always laced with a little sadness, but these goodbyes have become less a farewell and more alla prossima – until next time. With the assistance of Pepina, I prepped for the remainder of the unpleasant packing process....swearing to buy a luggage scale next time....and settled in for my late night tea and writing as I tried to ease the complex feelings that come with transitions.
This week is plummeting quickly away, and my emotions have decided to grab a seat on an emotional roller coaster. The sense of hanging on to the moment, of trying to squeeze out every morsel of “being” while here, present themselves strongly; yet also, that sense of joy and excitement of returning home to my wonderful husband and my two dear sons who will both be there when I arrive is equally great. The time alone brings a specialness to it – something I have only had once before when last year Marty so lovingly gifted me with time in Italy (and Germany). The gifts of discovery and wonderment and totally selfish decision-making are something novel to me, and priceless in many ways, but the effect probably most valuable is the certainty of what I have back home. The love and acceptance and value that my husband has for me, the life we have built and are building together, the home that is ours. Nothing is perfect, but how blessed I am to have all these things…these “unthings” that are not tangible, but are priceless. I will miss Italy and the friends made here, and I will yearn to return, but I also savor the thoughts of going home and the renewed appreciation we all find after passages like this. It only solidifies the assurance of what truly bountiful blessings I have so unmeritously been given in the last 12 years.
Another chilled overnight under skies that finally faded from rainy to starry. I slept soundly under my comforter and extra blanket, arising at a reasonable hour. Teetering down the terracotta tile stairs, I set a pot of water to boil for Italian style cowboy coffee and peered out the window to what looked to be partly sunny skies. Two and a half hours, two cups of coffee, a bite for breakfast, and a lot of writing later, the skies did indeed show concerted efforts at showing forth some warmth and sun. Deciding I’d better get out there and make hay while the sun was a’shining, I dressed and set out.
I’d mulled it over the night before and decided I’d head to the southwest and possibly revisit Colle di Val d’Elsa. First, however, a trip into to town was necessary, and since it was so close to lunch time, why not grab a pizza at Bar Italia? We’ve met more than one pizza traipsing through Tuscany, but not here on this particular trip…and as memory serves, theirs are worth meeting more than once! I set up shop at a table, ordered a “4 Stagioni” pizza (each ¼ has a topping…ham, olives, artichokes, and mushrooms…all my favs!...in each section). This was paired with an Italian beer, catch up on email and blog posting, and finished off with a caffe’. Fantastico! I’ve almost decided this pizza is possibly the best in town, and I tried to convey that sentiment in Italian at the counter when I paid my bill. The kindly barista/cook fellow seemed truly complimented, as he well should. A note on pizza in Italy: it ain’t what most Americans consider a pizza. There are no size choices other than “big”…probably a 12 or 16 inch? The crust is incredibly thin, but not cracker-crunchy like those Pizza Hut ones Marty likes (and I don’t). The crust is perfection, always cooked in a brick fire oven. The cheese and tomato sauce toppings are sparingly used, as well, making it actually possible for one person to eat a whole pizza with a normal appetite on hand. A knife and fork are used, and if you decide to go at it with your hands, which is totally acceptable, the pizza slice is folded over taco-style and shoved lovingly into your happy mouth. Bella mangia!
A prolonged lunch this day, but also a lot of catch up as it’d been 2-1/2 days since I’d checked in online or updated this blog. I learned of the Bologna earthquake and was saddened at this news. Kathleen and I had contemplated going there on her last day, then sending her on to Milan by train, but opted not to. Having spoken with Anna Rita this evening, who is from that area, I wish we had. She informed me that many churches and buildings had been lost, including the large duomo that was over 1,000 years old. This does not compare to the loss of human life, of course, and I’m not sure where that stands, but the loss is sad. It’s also a reminder that so much of what we view as “forever” is truly not. Only the spiritual is, and these type of events remind us somberly of that.
Packing up my wares and heading to the Punta, I decided that it was, indeed, a good day to head to Colle di Val d’Elsa…sunny but artistically placed clouds hinting of instability in the air, an almost warmish breeze blowing, and new things to discover. Andiamo! The drive down one of my favorite roads…the one leading to Castellina Scalo…didn’t disappoint me with its enticing views. I spontaneously found a spot to turn around and wound my way back to a small dirt road I’d noted that lead to a vineyard…and a perfect spot to take some photos of this view that never failed to awe me. I was not disappointed! My little camera will never relay the sights I beheld, but I’m hopeful they can at least allude to the vistas spanning the near and distant layering of hills, decorated with a plethora of cloud shapes, the eye being lead this way and that by the pull of the patterns the vineyards create. Lush greens, striking but soft blues, and gentle browns dominate the landscape at this spot, tumbled together in patterns, shapes, hues, shades, and designs that have an understated way of absolutely shouting aloud of their beauty if one will stop and listen. It defies description. Come and let me show you.
I finally arrived at my chosen destination and secured parking in what I thought was the centro storico. Wrong. However, as most mistakes seem to be in Italia, I was treated to an experience not otherwise had. Turns out the area I’d landed in was the lower town, a wee bit newer, I’d guess (probably 600 or 700 years old), than the ancient part of town up on a high crest…which was not visible from where I was at the time I’d made my wrong decision. This particular section was a middle class neighborhood/shopping area with a main square and streets lined with the typical style of old 4 -5 story buildings. It was interesting how very modern styled buildings were inserted in amidst the oh-so-old, and I even noted some sort of very old tower type ruin incorporated into the flow of a very modernistic structure. I got clued in to just where I was when I noted that I seemed to be the only non-local (not a bad thing at all!), and not one shop selling anything touristy. My realization made me smile, and I chose to just wander a bit while I had the chance. As always, I hoped I’d somehow just be mistaken as one of the neighborhood peeps. Why? I don’t know…kind of silly, probably…but it’s just something I find appealing! Just don’t ask or tell me something in standard mile a minute Italian, per favore.
I used a bit of GPS guidance and made my way up the wound-like-a-spring road to one of the entrances to the official old town. My delight was high in finding that Colle di Val d’Elsa is one of those Tuscan gems…a truly ancient city with history oozing out of its mortar, but also an every day town with its inhabitants living a life you and I would recognize. I wandered up sweetly uncrowded streets, each one offering probably some of the prettiest hilltop views I’ve seen, unadulterated by overloads of tourist trappings. And the altitude is great enough to offer amazing views to the north and east…stunning is a more accurate description.
I found my way to the main duomo and wandered inside. Stately, elegant, and old-world regal…and uninhabited for most of my visit. The area just outside the church also contains the civic building, a Medici “medicine ball” crest obtrusively stating their domain, and across the way, an ancient building that houses the school – complete with construction paper spring flowers and children’s drawings lining the windows! I arrived at what must’ve been right after school was out and was privy to watching parents walk their little ones home, or wait as they played a last game or two with friends on the outside area of the school. I even had to step aside into a charming ally as the scuolabus (school bus – and yes, they’re yellow here, too) squeezed through the pathway designed only for those on foot and maybe an occasional horse or cart. I entered another small chapel...I was unable to determine its name or reasoning, but it definitely had something to do with death based upon the skeleton motif that ringed the walls. It also contained the only example I'd come across of the crucified Christ reposed in a "see through" casket. Hmmmm....
Tourist traffic was light this day. I wondered if it was this way all the time; was this town truly a lightly discovered treasure? Each street I went down, including a lower road consisting only of dwellings, as well as an at-once creepy but awesome tunnel like road offering numbered doorways (most likely one of those roads that had been built over through the ages and had morphed to a tunnel), was incredibly beautiful and so much a slice of life-ancient and life-right this moment. I was also rewarded with other sensory treats…the sounds of a conversation through a window, someone blow-drying their hair, a TV program blaring, pigeons coo-cooing from window sills – the smells of pasta boiling, a cake or some kind of sweet baking, faint fragrance of spring growth. The doors along these vias were fascinating, seemingly more so than other places for some reason. They surely came from some movie set? But no, doors that had held their stance for who knows how long as lives passed through, standing guard as one generation faded and another took command. As I lingered, I heard thunder in the distance, no doubt accompanying the deep blue-grey sky I’d noted. Time to move along.
I crested at the city gate, most impressive, where I’d entered and decided I’d detour to the little park to my right. No doubt it offered some sort of view worth seeing. I was not disappointed as I took a temporary seat on the city wall, carefully so as the drop down was impressive, and watched the red brick tower to the north of where I sat become magnificently backlit by the distant storm. Enamored with the scene, I sat quietly undisturbed until a group of about 6 people, Brit accents flying about, parked right next to me. I was only a little annoyed at my solitude being interrupted, and began to enjoy listening to their regal sounding talk. Funny how this accent always sounds so formal and “royal” to us less prim Americans! I got especially tickled when one of the older gents stated to his wife who was eating chocolate gelato, “Lovely choc-y on your chin, dear.” Her response…”I’ve got a hanky.” Now imagine that in your best version of PBS English accent!
The rain was approaching, so off towards Castellina I went. I stopped off at the COOP in one of the small towns on the way, Staggia, and grabbed a few items – and I also wanted to see what another one was like. Small, yes, and funny how they didn’t have all the same items as my familiar one, including the TIM phone recharge card I needed. Oh well…in to town for that later.
A quick visit with Anna Rita when I returned and we made plans for me to attend a Chianina dinner with a group Thursday night, my last night in Toscana, which meant no time available for a dinner with just her, Ray, and myself. Anna Rita is so sweet and apologized more than once for being so busy and not having as much time to spend as she’d like, but I assured her I completely understood…and was so glad their business was so healthy. Not all are here. She and Ray work relentlessly at what they do here on the farm, as well as with their rental management business, Tuscan Enterprises, and success is their reward. I would love, however, to zap them away to Texas for a time to relax and let someone else take care of them (and I know Marty and I would be thrilled to do that for them!!!). Mai dire mai – never say never!
I took advantage of the last rays of light and a pause in the rain to take another beloved walk down the roadway that connects Casamonti to the highway. Oh, how it never ceases to awe me with beauty, at once familiar, but always new and daring me to notice. I reluctantly made my way back as darkness won the race in the sky. Secreted away back in the Capre, I made a bite to eat and settled in for a quiet night under a gently falling rain.
May 20th, Sunday ~ Return to Pornanino, on to Livernano, Chiesa di Santa Maria, and an evening of cooking
One of those “I’ll sleep as late as I want” mornings, and that I did! It felt wonderful, and I relished the moments of slowness and none of that “I’ve got to get this or that done…!” hovering overhead. Which, admittedly, hasn’t been a huge problem here (I know…go ahead and hate me for a moment or two.). Probably this is what a true vacation is intended to include, but I seem to have a somewhat difficult time doing so. When I’m out of my own little fish tank, I have a sense of almost urgency to see and do and touch and taste and walk and smell and sit on anything and everything that can be squeezed in. Not that I find that a bad thing, mind you, but that the quiet, slow times are good, as well. After all, having this quaint, wonderful spot in the affectionately nicknamed rabbit hole (aka the Capre apartment, which I think I mentioned in an earlier post is the old stall area from the old farm days and beyond) at the gorgeous Casamonti is an amazingly grand place to practice some of that slow motion stuff. I’ve told Marty of how writing has become a renewed joy here, of how I love being able to sit and let it flow. My exclamation over the phone regarding this was met with a pregnant pause, then the reply, “So you’re telling me you’ll have to come for extended periods of time to Italy to write?”. Hmmmm….
After some home-cooked cowboy style coffee and a visit from Toya, I peered out to the gray skies threatening to open up, but also noted it seemed less chilly today. Seemed like a good day for getting back out there on the road, and my first stop was planned for Pornanino, the olive oil estate, for the gifts I wished to purchase since I’d received a call back from Matteo to come on out.
Taking that lovely, bumpy road as my thoroughfare the day before, absolutely washed in bright Italian sun, I was on the same path but with a completely different palette of colors, textures, and sights. I would probably prefer warm, sunny skies for 90% of my time here, but having been able to watch this pazzo maggio (crazy May) offer its variety of rain, clouds, and sun has held its own special charm. I’ve watched the gentle by appearance, but eternally feisty Miz Toscana change costumes and moods as the whim suits her fancy. Today, she felt a bit more somber and quiet, decorating the landscape with hues of steely grey and blue swirled together in that magical, winter sky way. And it was beautiful.
photo courtesy of oliveoil.chiantionline.com
Matteo was waiting for me at the olive production barn, and we entered into a wonderful conversation that spanned about an hour. What a gift these encounters are, always leaving me feeling so blessed to have the opportunity to not only be in this land, but to engage with the human element in such satisfying ways. We exchanged email information, I assured Matteo that they now had friends in Texas to visit if they ever ventured that way, and my purchase and I left Pornanino with a smile.
I ventured just a short ways down the gravel road, at Matteo’s suggestion, and rounded a sharp turn onto another unpaved roadway towards Livernano, a small, ancient village turned agriturismo. The drive, like so many, was breathtaking. I crossed a small, burbling stream presenting itself dark and mysterious under the leaden skies. I made note to return here if I was given a sunny day…my feet were aching to walk in this medieval spot. Onward up the steep path, winding through the vineyards, and I crested upon another magnificent hilltop, taking a brief drive through the lovingly restored Livernano. It was quiet, no one in sight, and I only lingered briefly. My efforts were well rewarded, though, as I made my way back down, stopping here and there to relentlessly try, in vain, to somehow absorb it all, knowing that my camera’s attempts were mere exercises in mediocrity. Even the best camera held in front of the best eye can capture only a fraction of this grandness.
I made my way back towards Castellina on the same gravel path, but took a turn off at the sign marked Chiesa di Santa Maria…the Church of St. Mary. The signage here, as I mentioned earlier, is very good…once one learns how to interpret the symbols (not hard, even for us Americans), and they are quite helpful in deciding to turn off or not. Only problem is that I want to turn off at every single one - gah! Anyhow, I drove in a light rain just a ways until I came upon what appeared to be a not-long abandoned farmhouse (oooo…a fixer-upper!! just need that pocketful of never-ending millions), with a small, neglected, simple stone block church. It intrigued me, and I noted two open doors along the side where a newer cement pad for some intended but forgotten purpose lay. Popping open the car door and umbrella, I gingerly found my way through the tall grass (assuring myself that there really are no poisonous snakes in Italy…right??) to the open doors, hoping they would lead me into the church. Swirling grayish clouds had enmeshed into solid pregnant gray as the rain picked up and the lighting grew dim, making it hard to see well inside. Alas, no passageway to the interior, but I was privy to two mysterious little dusty old rooms that appeared to be more stall-like for use in the past several hundred years, give or take. I wandered to the church door, tried to open it, but the lock was secure. A modern lock, so obviously I wasn’t the only seeker to have come this way. I took a few moments to look at the farm house, let my imagination run with just how I would restore it, including turning the fine cement pad adjacent to the church into an inviting, covered patio (the view was stellar from here)…maybe a little wine stop for travelers?...or a fantastic place for house concert type music!!....or just a private little paradise to invite our friends to. Dreaming is a fun thing and I left, as I seem to always do here, smiling.
Back on the rain coated main road, I chose to head to the north and explore a few of the turn offs I had noted but not been down. The day was quiet, not many people out due to the rain – a perfect day to continue my diesel driven expedition as a modern day explorer. I found myself going down paths to once-upon-a-time villages now redressed as rental rooms or wineries or restaurants with names such as Pietra Fitta (the largest of these run, and by appearance still inhabited by residents…beautiful old church at the crest – with a very tight turn around radius that I inched out of when I found the dead end!), Querceto, Casuccia, Carpineto, and Monestero. When I purchase Chianti back home in Texas, I always check to see where it was produced. I have a feeling I’ll be recognizing a lot more of these names!
Home again, the rabbit hole awaited my return like a little lighthouse in the dark of the drizzly evening. Time to decide what to prepare for an early dinner, so I rummaged to see what was available to use as my culinary puzzle pieces to hopefully create a nice product. Toya and Picina must’ve sensed this, as they both made an appearance about the time the package of prosciutto hit the table.
Feeling well-fitted with enough to create from, I embarked on the simple, yet joyous task of preparing food here in Tuscany. At one point, as I chopped away, I stopped, saying aloud, “Ha! I am IN TOSCANA, cooking real Italian food in Italian style…in an ancient place…under this Tuscan sky!!! Oh WOW!!!”
My creation for this night, now named
Pasta alla Capre
in honor of my abode:
Sliced leeks (I used 2 smallish ones)
chopped garlic (I always go heavy...3 or so large cloves for this)
Place in skillet with ample olive oil and sauté until softened but not mushy
Add a splash of red wine, balsamic, chopped tomato, fresh chopped rosemary, and fresh basil –
allow to simmer until reduced to a nice viscosity. Salt and pepper to taste.
Prepare fresh tortellini (I used spinach and ricotta tortellini) by boiling water, dumping pasta in, then turning fire off. About 4 minutes later, it will be perfect.
Drain tortellini, cover with the reduced veggie mixture, top with torn fresh basil and parmesan…pour a nice glass of Chianti, maybe add a few crispy breadsticks, and…Buon Appetitol!
I was able to have a long conversation with Marty while I ate, so it was almost like I could share the meal with him. Again, food by God’s design, is to be shared and enjoyed with others to receive its full function and joy. I told him I would attempt to recreate this for our first meal together when I returned home.
Day One solo…or Giorno uno da sola. I’d returned to the bed upstairs the night before, having spent the prior 5 nights happily in my little cocoon downstairs. I must admit…a real bed felt good, but it’s funny how I tossed and turned much more than I did in my cocoon. Something to be said for that swaddling thing, possibly?
I made a slow morning of it, and decided to nix the idea of a separate breakfast and lunch -- packed a few snacks, and swung by for cappuccino and a sandwich at Simone’s. It was surprisingly quiet, but normal for a late Saturday morning I was told. I queried if Simone was from Castellina, and found out he actually lived in a small village closer to Firenze by the name of Montefiordelfi. He was born there and had lived there most all of his life. I commented on how unusual that is for our country, and how I found that a nice thing. He concurred, but said it also cannot be a good thing. Yes, the ying and yang, the two sides of everything. I suppose the secret is to be splendidly aware of that, and make the most of all angles.
Today presented itself as a spectacularly beautiful, even warmish, spring day! I even dared to put on a short sleeve dress…the staple of my ill-packed wardrobe. Setting out on an only partially predetermined course, I was thrilled with the idea of traveling on any road that struck my fancy. I’d hoped to swing back by Pornanino, the olive oil place, and maybe pick up a gift or two…placed a call, left a message…and decided what the heck, take the gravel road that way anyhow and see where I ended up. No return call from Matteo, but oh, what a drive. I stopped more than once, got out, gazed across the green, patterned hills and valleys, and listened to the quiet, punctuated only by happy birdsong. The small spring flowers seemed to boast extra loud today in the warm sunshine…the pinks, lavenders, reds, fushias, purples, yellows, and whites were so beautiful - sometimes integrated, other times wanting to be undisturbed in their color-scapes. As I made my way down the road, I noted any number of off roads, none terribly freshly worn, some looking as possibly a chariot were the last to lay tread there. These intrigue me…they must go somewhere, or at least did. Where do they lead now? I’ve not dared go down any unmarked ones for not wanting to trespass, but I do admit I’ve been terribly tempted.
On this first day alone, I was keenly aware of the beauty that solo travel can offer. Not that I don’t love traveling with Marty or friends – that is splendid in many ways and for many reasons – but being gifted with the chance to travel alone for brief periods has opened my being to what an experience it can be. Thank you, my extraordinarily generous husband and love, for gifting me in this way. This style of experiencing things allows, at least for me, a liberating of emoting that I wasn’t aware of until my first go at it last year. Not to say that I somehow suppress my emotions…maybe I do more than I realized?...but I find that when alone and unobserved, I find almost immediate, even surprising, risings of emotion that sweep over me like the yellow broom flower in full Tuscan bloom. It’s a freeing experience. I don’t want to convey that I am somehow suppressed when with others – totally untrue – nor do I wish to be any sort of hermit vagabond. It’s just that these slices of solo travel offer a new, reframed perspective. But I have also found that it would most likely be a short-lived thing if I extended it more than a week or two, most likely. Rich experiences, joy, emotion, food, and all of life’s other gifts are best shared with those you love.
One of the typical "thoroughfares" through a tiny village
Passing Pornanino and not having received a call back from Matteo or Francesca, I decided to go on to Gaiole in Chianti and follow some of the castle/village itineraries outlined in the pamphlets Kathleen and I had picked up a few days prior. The back roads and gravel paths were particularly empty this day, most likely due to the yearly road race of some sort that was going on. Folks will line the country roads, finding spots to view the spectacle, as well as take pictures. The short time I spent here and there on the more major Tuscan roads was filled with exciting moments as sporadic lines of Ferraris, Alpha Romeos, BMWs, Porsches, and other fast cars zoomed by me and my little Punto. It got especially adrenaline producing when a corner was rounded, and there was one of these speedsters…in my lane! Yep, a good day to stick to gravel roads.
I rattled along at a nice slow, country road pace, thankful for the chance to do this, as well as noting again just how free of cars or others these roads were today. Not that they’re ever busy by any sense of our definition of the word, but that they were notably free of the occasional passer by. I stopped at a small bridge crossing a stream. Hearing the burble of water, I had to get out and see what I could see. Below was a beautifully clear stream, rolling and tossing itself over rocks as it passed through a canopy of pine and other trees. It was a sweet sight and a soothing sound to behold. I watched for a bit, yearning to somehow wet my toes. As I thought on it, I marveled at the fact that so many had come to this same point for hundreds, probably thousands, of years, foraging it on foot or horseback, stopping to drink, rest, maybe bathe. I was here this day, just as someone else had been yesterday, 500 years ago, 1000 year ago, and beyond. And we were all somehow connected by our brief moment of appreciation of this small stream of clear, life-sustaining water.
I continued on gravel roads, some paved roads and found my way to places like Lecchi, a beautiful, small village with geranium graced windows and roads only one very small car could barely traverse. Mental note to come back here and explore some day. Other roads took me to Poggo San Polo, an ancient village with a church, closed this day, and Castello di Ama, the old castle turned winery in the hamlet of Ama.
Walking up to Catello di Tornano from the parking area
Back on a paved road, I saw the sign for Castello di Tornano, another castle noted in the literature, and made an abrupt turn to wind my way there. All of these castles and strategic villages are located on hilltops. Where else can you keep an eye on your enemies? For us modern day seekers, it sure affords a grand drive to the destination. Tornano didn’t disappoint as I wound up the steep hillside through countless, artistically laid out vineyards and was greeted by the imposing tower. However, as I discovered, imposing is no longer applicable to this ancient stronghold that originated sometime in the 1100’s. It’s been carefully restored and is now the most amazing get-away, something you’d expect to see in the travel publications or a Bride’s magazine ad. The interior is beautiful, decked out in enough antique, castle appropriate fittings to make one feel assured of truly being inside a castle, while the grounds boast of a gorgeous, organically shaped pool, shaded seating areas, and views to die for. I met the young fellow at the reception area, chatted a bit, and with his most gracious offer and accommodating attitude, I was invited to roam about all I wanted. I wandered inside the main area, first checking out the bathroom. The fittings were incredible…I even took photos as I envisioned something like this for a bathroom redo at home! The public rooms were warm, stately, and inviting, no doubt designed to provide an optimal holiday to the guests. As I climbed the tower, I noted several doors for rooms converted to suites. How cool of a stay would that be? The view at the top was grand, a panorama of 360 degrees of beauty. However, I paused to note that those who stood here 800 years ago certainly saw the view through a different lens as they were constantly on one side or the other of besieged.
Moving along, I noticed that just as Friday, the morning clear sky was being taken over by dark grey, and rain was moving in. Sure enough, a gentle shower began and the ambiance took on that mysterious air that such change brings. I headed towards Gaiole proper, determined to find the elusive Spaltenna church that Kathleen and I had given up on. Several turn arounds, a real good study of the map, and I thought I had it figured out. The GPS was of no help…no entries found…nor was signage anywhere that I could see. Following my instinct, I wound up a town street, turning in the direction that I had seen the tower from while coming towards town. At the final critical turn, lo and behold…a sign announcing this way to Spaltenna. Odd. Generally, the signage is pretty good for all these old sites. Anyhow, I found my way to the old Romanesque church, parked, and walked to its entrance. Open today…that’s good. I wandered in, again alone as most of this day had been no matter where I was. The church was not of anything notable, at least visually, and I think its import was more in its history, styling, and something along the lines as the mother church for Chianti. I was glad I had finally garnered a visit with this old dame. Back out in the drizzle, I headed downhill. (Note: I later learned this is actually a 10th century monastery that has been redone into a nice hotel and event center.)
The next leg of the pamphlet itinerary lent itself nicely to my position, so I continued on, up another lovely road to a hilltop village called Vertine. Small but imposing, its medieval wall greets your arrival in a way that is at once inviting, but also quite imposing. I pondered for a moment as to whether I should park and wander in, or just gaze. Rain and a late afternoon caused me to err on the side of just gazing, making note to come back again, and I continued on. A small cemetery just down the road caught my eye, so I stopped. Italian cemeteries, as I think I mentioned before, are walled just as the ancient towns were, and are often somewhat elaborate. This particular one was simple but elegant, and seemed almost forgotten, even if cared for. I looked upon it for a moment, wondering if its inhabitants were countless generations of the small village behind me, and thought on our very short walk here on this planet.
A beautiful and old fig tree stood just outside the cemetery walls and caught my eye. It was loaded with figs, not quite ripe. Its beauty and life were a poetic juxtaposition to the remains so close by, but also a lovely reminder that life is cyclical…we have our moment here, we produce fruit, we leave behind seeds, and we pass on to our spiritual lives to live again.
Bar Italia on the inside
I puttered on down the gravel road that was briefly mine this day, just as all the others had been, and eventually eased out onto the pavement towards Castellina. By the time I arrived, the gray had cleared, the sun was shining warm, and I enjoyed a bit of time on the steps of Bar Italia in the sun with a Diet Coke, the passer bys, and some internet catch up.
A quick trip to the COOP for lettuce, a phone charge card, and some prosciutto, and I was headed home to Casamonti. I put soup #2 on to warm, took a pot of it over to Anna Rita who was hosting a tour group tasting, poured a glass of Chianti, and sat in the sun a bit more with resident guest greeter pooch, Toya, and the lovely black and white kitty, Pepina. They were anticipating their treats from the Texas lady, of course, but we did enjoy time just sunning as they took their turns getting scratched. Not to neglect anyone, I told Toya and Pepina it was the fowls turn, and we fetched the rest of the corn tortillas in the fridge and commenced to feed the worrisome red hens, the stoic lone goose, and the always talking ducks. Little did all these creatures know the treats for them were an only thinly disguised ploy for the huge treat the experience was for me!
May 18th, Friday ~ Kathleen departs, old & new Siena, Santa Maria delle Scala, an evening walk, and soup
Kathleen and I both greeting the morning with more “I can’t believe a week has passed.” comments as the morning sky dawned cheery turquoise blue, a fitting arrivederci of a Tuscan cielo. We made time, but less than the past two days, for our new morning ritual of tea, a crostini or two, and lots of talk. Reminded me of the days of my girlhood when my mother had a friend or neighbor “for coffee”. Ashamed we don’t have more of that in our modern lives.
Cutting things short, we amazed ourselves that we were out the door at precisely our preplanned time. One last swing by the gas station for a Simone cappuccino, a small bite, and Kathleen’s farewell. I also noted with subtle joy that the somewhat friendly, but you’re not quite sure type about of affect silver haired gent who runs the station actually saw us walk up, acknowledged us as less than strangers, and smiled. Love the little things such as this that insert more of the daily rhythms here into my Castellina routine.
A little caffeine under our belts and still running on schedule, we made a quick stop by Ray’s office to print out Kat’s ticket and check-in info, as well as say good byes there.
The drive to the train station in Siena was with GPS steerage - of course - and true to form, the little satellite brain took us precisely there. What a stress reliever that thing is (most of the time!). Still scratching my head on why I didn’t insist on one for last May’s European adventure. Anyway… We found parking quite easily, then I accompanied Kat in to give here the Italian Trains - 101 primer course with ticket purchase, finding your platform, etc. We enjoyed the irony found in Kathleen’s mention of a few farfalle (butterflies) in her stomach, despite the fact she’s taken a bus to the depths of Mexico numerous times. Everything was set, so we sat at the platform and visited for a few more minutes before I departed. Warm hugs exchanged, safe travel declarations made, and final waves procured, Kat headed to her platform and I headed out of the station…not certain of my first stop on this new and final leg of the month of May in Italy.
I walked a bit around the artistic fountains that create demarcation between the bus and trains stations, watching people come and go, most dragging one kind of a bag or another, as well a their personal story for travel this day. Finding myself, unbeknownst earlier, at the “Galleria” of Siena…a mall!...I figured it was worth a gander. Although of a smaller version and less glitz, this place qualified for a mall. I strolled about, just taking it in. Other than a Game Stop, I didn’t recognize any store names; however, I could’ve taken place names of our retailers in the states and easily slapped one on most every store to fit its expectations. American pop was piped in on the sound system…common here, we found. I also noted one of those penny spin gravity things designed to lure coins from Mom’s purses world over, I would guess. Here, one of those devices is called a Imbuto Gravitatzionale. Say that fast three times! There was also a bigger grocery store called PAM (wonder if those are initials like our HEB?), along with a smaller version of a Best Buy. The grocery store was too dangerous (for my purse, that is), so I opted to slip into a little accessory store – after all, I really did need a belt for those jeans that sag a bit, non e’ vero (“it’s not true?” - vernacular for our “Right?”)? Found a great little leather belt, not very expensive, made in Italy…success! Oh, and um…a couple of pairs of earrings – but on the sale rack. Unlike that totally awesome bracelet that came out with me, too. But I digress…
Marty had suggested I check out the international language school supposedly right across from the train stazione while I was there, but my best intentions could not locate it within something walkable, so I opted to cut my losses and head towards il stadio to park for a jaunt into old town Siena. Ms. GPS guided me, sure enough, but coming from the reverse direction, I managed to make enough premature or late turns to get things “recalculated” numerous times. Turned out fine, though, as we ended up coming in on a nice glide path from the angle I was familiar with. If one has never driven these convoluted roads in ancient cities, it’s hard to describe how intersections randomly come together at the oddest angles, and ya better not make a mistake if you’re responsible for the yield. There’s been a time or two that I’ve just greased through one of these on a wing and a prayer!
Got myself parked without a hitch and began down the now familiar path on foot into Siena. It was another busy day here with the usual hustle and bustle this city has, but at a comfortable, exciting level. I noted several new shops I hadn’t even seen before, despite walking past them how many times? One is an incredible market, I later found out, that has been around since about 1901. It’s kind of a farmer’s market type place, and my stroll through it was amazing. I refrained from buying anything, but again…great damage could’ve easily been done to my pocketbook…and my weight.
My first goal was to make my way to Il Campo, easily done by either going downward on most any major street, or by following the mainstream of the crowd. Being a “local” (lest you forget, I am the one asked for directions by tourists, after all - ha!), I found my way just by knowing where I was going. Which was soooo cool!! A bee line for the tower, and I found myself at the door, once again, to that little trattoria with the bushy aquarium plant curtains…and this time aperto (open)! Announcing to the bushy eyebrow owner I was “Sono da sola” (I’m alone…just me), I took a seat at the same table Marty and I had dined at, and answered the first question one is always asked…water and wine? Si, va bene…del’aqua frizzante e vino rosso alla casa, per favore.” I watched as the wine was poured from a straw wrapped bottle by way of a funnel into a smaller decanter, then to my glass. I imagined it was from their family stock, but regardless…it was wonderful. And yes, it’s true…wine is cheaper than water in most places in Italy. My meal was that wonderfully thick pici (pee-chee) pasta in a Bolognese sauce…because they’d run out of the cinghiale (wild boar) sauce. With cheese. I added an insalata mista and commenced to enjoy a wonderful meal in this quaint place once again. Oh, and topped off by my newest bad habit that will be hard to replicate back home…caffe’ doppo pranza (coffee – the strong, 2 tablespoons worth Italian version that I now love – after lunch).
Face mostly wiped of the delicious sauce enjoyed for lunch, I made my way along Il Campo, then through the narrow, up and down streets to the Duomo piazza and found the entrance to the Santa Maria della Scala. This structure was the old hospital, and when I say old, I mean old. Beginning its life as a place of healing, this ospitale was built and began serving the Sienese in the 1300’s. It’s a huge place and the first few cavernous rooms, including a sanctuary bigger than most village churches, are neck-bending, mouth-gaping wonders of arched ceilings sporting that medieval art that never ceases to thrill. The main ward certainly provided its inhabitants a nice upward view. I found myself entirely alone in the sanctuary and took advantage of such a precious gift. A group of noisy school children were somewhere in the building, but their raucous chatter faded soon. I sat and let my mind clear as I gazed at all the wonders before me. The feeling of the presences of so many over ages past seemed to swirl about me as I allowed myself to marinate in this place so old. The quietness was grand -- such a switch from the hurriedness of the streets. I gazed at the glazed brick floors, so old and worn that the ages seemed to have melted them together in places. The feet that had trod on this very spot, just as mine, had stood and looked at what I was beholding. The shared vision, although we can’t speak together of it, was experienced. I thought on so many who’d undoubtedly been here seeking a miracle…or seeking comfort….or just seeking. We all walk such a similar path, no matter the millennia we happen to be present in. I sat for a period and allowed the spiritual presence found there to wrap itself around me in a sweet way. Getting up to continue on was hard to do. I gazed up close at one of the confessionals, not sure just how old it was, but knowing it had seated countless hundreds of years of those seeking to repent and be forgiven. The wood was worn where hands had gripped in kneeling prayer. I know many a tear had seasoned this wood, seeking to find rest within. The priest’s seat was worn, as well, from the years upon years of being seated here, listening and hopefully offering wisdom and encouragement, as well as their brand of forgiveness.
I wandered from area to area, certain I was nigh upon the uscita (exit), but no…a whole ‘nuther section to behold met me each time. My estimated hour or so visit accumulated to something more akin to 3 or 4 hours, all of it marvelous. I wandered down countless stairways, finding myself down under incredible labyrinth type rooms, nooks, crannies, and spaces only the ghosts know the original uses for. It was ingeniously done with wooden floors to somewhat guide your path, but the creative minds behind this allowed the ability to twist and wind and turn where you think maybe you shouldn’t, but yes…it’s okay. The lighting was just right, as well….dark enough to lend a spooky feel, yet remain safe. I have to admit – the museum was very sparsely visited this day, and many, if not most, moments I was totally alone. The creepy factor got especially high when I entered the small, dark, ominous St. Catherine of the Night chapel. Glad my rational adult speak gray matter took over and kept the shivers down to a minimum!
The Santa Maria della Scala currently houses two major and incredible permanent exhibits, all creatively and wonderfully presented in the hinterlands under the main building. One is a massive collection of Etruscan artifacts and other early period items, all found within a short radius of Siena. I especially enjoy looking into the eyes of the figures atop the funerary urns and wondering about who they were, what their stories were, and really, how common their lives were to ours. Looking at the everyday scenes depicted on the graciously designed earns and pottery also brings such enjoyment…it’s just like a postcard from the past. One in particular made me giggle out loud – it was a young man showing his bicep muscle to a halfway impressed girl. Some things never change!
The other collection is really amazing in the world of religious artifacts…well, okay – relics. Yes, the body parts thing once again. This collection was procured in the 1300’s from Constantinople and brought to Siena. I read a lengthy history on this, and it was fascinating but too long to include here. Basically, some really rich dude figured he’d garner Siena some power, as well as secure his afterlife (in his mind) by the purchase. This brought some serious high-fiving to Siena, and the popes used it to sway the populace in different ways until a more secular vibe took over the area. Interesting reading easily found on the internet, I’m sure. But on to the macabre…there were any number of bones, fingers, and things I couldn’t identify (probably for the best, although I swear one was someone’s thyroid) encased in the most amazing gold & jeweled jars and boxes. The artwork was splendid and almost allowed one to forget what they were encircling. I’m really kind of thankful the Methodists decided somewhere back when that this was a tradition best left behind. (see this link for the whole story)
At the end of my time in this incredible place, and still in the darkish vault-like hallways, I began to look for a way out. No luck. Try this way again. Hmmmm. Starting to feel like I was in some Hitchcock-ish novella, I retraced my tracks to an Uscita sign I’d seen, then towards some large old wooden doors…but no sign on them, no indication that one could indeed exit here. I noted a thread of daylight between the doors that sliced the dimness, and decided this would be my exit, official or not…and found my self in the back lot of the museum, but in daylight and ready to make my way in the vibrancy of the Sienese streets once again.
The drive back was sweet, as always, bringing a transition from the harried streets of the city to the curving, sensuous roads and views of Tuscan Chianti. It’s a wicked gentleness driving these roads, much like the land. Wild, rocky, steep, treacherous….but gently sloped and cultivated over the ages, offering the greatness of oil and wine and wheat. The roads are the same, offering a satisfaction found through their ability to challenge yet nurture, albeit with an investment great…as the people who’ve tamed this land know so well.
Back “home”, I quickly dropped my day’s accoutrements, changed shoes, and headed out to walk the entire length from the roadway to Tremonti, the farm adjacent to Casamonti. I have no idea if the road ends there, but it was calling me to walk at least that far. The sky had cleared to that Tuscan blue, and it was a glorious dusk. I walked past more olive groves, assured that they were of the oldest kind due to the thickness of the trunks. I observed the withering culled branches tossed aside after the spring pruning. A luscious spider web caught my eye, and I thought how wonderful a part of Creation that this small creature had found the useless and made it entirely useful and important in the system of life. The birdsong accompanying me was grand, as always. The cuckoo joined the chorus this night, as well.
The turn off to Casamonti and Tremonti also notes that this road/strada is part of the via Romea…the road to Rome. I want to know more on this!! I thought much on my walk this evening…my feet were treading the same dusty path that how many had trod before? The pilgrims that traversed this same spot – did they gaze upon these same olive trees? Did they hear the same birdsong? And I thought on the olive trees as they seemed to personify before me…I was just one of so many they’d watched pass by, a brief encounter in the extraordinarily short walk we humans are given on this terre firma.
An old rock wall borders parts of this road, veering off in directions on less traveled paths that wind into the olive groves. The old original roads, I presume? I’ve noted that some of the roads I’ve traveled…well, many, actually…are bordered this way. I’d imagine these denote the oldest roads, but I don’t know. I wandered off my gravel road walk to one of these and followed the crumbling wall a bit. Wouldn’t you?
At Tremonti, I reversed course and walked back to Casamonti and on down my familiar, tree lined, beautiful road to the highway. The sunset was again of the brand further up than spectacular as it eased beneath the higher hills and mountains to the west, cloaking itself with the precious hues of purples, pinks, and blues. This moves one, as most sunsets do, but how so more? I’m sure there’s a healthy dose of romanticism with this particular setting, but being alone here now twice, I am overcome with these moments of saturated emotion, sensory overload that is at once precious, overwhelming, joyful, and painful. On my way back, I noted that the same critter-startle sounds in the flora along the path I walk are all in the same spot, and that they no longer make me jump even if the little creature living there can’t say the same. Patterns. Predictability. It makes me smile.
Back to the cozy rabbit hole in this night that’s taken back its chill, I commence to prepare another soup to share with Anna Rita and Ray for the weekend. A nice bag of legumes, a jar of tomato sauce (Italian style, of course!), sautéed onions and garlic, some thin sliced ham, and freshly chopped carrots and zucchini meet up in the pot and begin to dance to the flame. I add fresh rosemary picked outside my door, along with some peperoncini, dried oregano, a few bay leaves that traveled with me from Rockport, sea salt, and pepper….and yeah, some more of the taco seasoning I brought! While it simmers, I tidy things up, do a little writing, and randomly try out some Italian radio stations on this great little 1980’s radio. The night is tidy and sweet.
The morning view from the Capre apartment at Casamonti
Thursday arrived…Kathleen’s last full day here. We both marveled at how quickly it appeared, but doesn’t one always do this when things are so grand? It had been decided the night before that today would be one of slow mode – we’d sleep in, take our time, and make the day spread out locally with time spent in Castellina. Twist my arm.
The morning ritual of tea and talk had its rightful place, and once we found a good “the end” moment, we were dressed and out the door to Simone’s caffe’ counter for that amazing cappuccini he does so well. Feeling the need to do some connection to the world on the other side of the ocean, we decided we’d park at the Chianti Bar, make lunch of it, and enjoy their free wifi. The day was incredibly beautiful, practically spring like in this most unspring like May in Tuscany, so tables were set up outside. We opted, however, to hang with a couple of locals inside and make use of the tables and lack of glare. A sparse lunch, a lot of catching up via email and social media, and before we knew it an hour and a half had passed.
I’d hauled laundry with me, so I made my way to the neat little lavandaria (knowing how to use it this time) while Kathleen cut herself loose in Castellina with recommendations to see the very nicely done civic museum (some really cool Estruscan stuff), as well as the Rocca Comunale (the old fortress) and the view climbing its stairs affords. She took my advice and had one heckuva time up there!
I busied myself with a quick walk into the main street of town while the dirt was being scourged from my clothing and found many a tourist enjoying this great day. A couple of gifts scored, I hurried back to get the drying underway and sit for a bit. While I was waiting, I dug through a stack of magazines and came across a day minder book of sorts for 2011, totally empty…one of those advertisement type publications. I was thrilled…paper!...and a nice means to record each days notes for later expounding upon. One other bit of entertainment for my wait was a pair of ladies who came in buried under giant comforters. I had such fun watching them carry on in conversation spewed so fast I really couldn’t keep up with it, but with more than enough inflection, exclamation, and laughter that I could probably fill in the blanks on what was amusing them. An older, suspendered gent came in and added to the fun by asking questions that only caused the ladies to rise in levels of volume and exclamatory replies. Bella!
Clean clothes folded and tucked into the car, we reunited and found our way to the Via Volte for a stroll. This is Castellina’s quaint medieval walkway that morphed into a virtual tunnel over the ages. Originally an open-air merchant street along the east wall, it was eventually built over as buildings were added and stacked upon each other in grand Italian style. It’s amazing to see the various configurations of arches that support untold tons of bricks, rock, and humanness. Reaching the end, I told Kathleen she was forbidden to go back to Texas until she’d had some of the finest gelato I’ve ever met…found at the little gelateria that Roberta had referred Marty and I to last week. I’d venture to say that 1.) the walk was worth it, and 2.) she had to agree with me that it was worth every single calorie.
From there, we wandered back to the main street and found our way to the modern but very nice walkway that the town has added along the entire length of the east wall. The view from there overlooks a villa or two, vineyards, an orchard, olive groves, and the endless vista of beautiful Chianti. A wondrous sample of spring wildflowers lined the walkway, the crickets offered a fine concerto, and lulling birdcalls rounded out the spectacular-ness of this ethereal countryside amphitheatre.
Despite true hunger being a more remote than real experience, we decided to head on to Dei Dottore for a last meal of their wonderfully thin but tasty pizza. The view from the hilltop window rewarded us splendidly, as did the satisfying meal (which we somehow managed to find room for...).
Once back to the rabbit hole, we had enough daylight left for me to decide a walk was a good idea, so I tennis-shoed up and made my way down the welcoming dirt road. The late day here is always spectacular, always satisfying, always endearing. The sun bows out gracefully to the west over the soft and multiple layers of Chianti hills, to then make its final curtain call behind a rugged peak of far-away mountains of which I’m not sure the name. Beautiful hues fill the sky, and whether it’s of a simple monotone variety, or of a meshed palette of the most beautiful Michaelangelo-esce pastels, it is relentless in its mission to inspire and awe. The now familiar bird chorus accompanied my walk, as did the sight of the Cinta Senese pigs going about their late day pig business. I stopped more than once to try to absorb it, to somehow incorporate it as more than just a glancing moment on this particular day. I noted a very tangible sense of change as I reflected on Kathleen having to leave, and knowing I was just a mere week behind her. It was a juxtaposition of feelings and emotions…missing home and my husband, eager to reunite, but also sad at having to leave this magical place.
Our early-ish rises (by vacation standards) put aside, Kathleen and I opted to just sleep until we decided it was enough. That, of course, basically put a stamp on this morning, declaring it “slow travel” mode. But how nice to rise late, ease ourselves into the day with tea, nibbles, and lots more talk over the table.
We finally pulled ourselves away from the comforts of the table, dolled up, and hit town…first for a stop off at Ray’s office. Oh, I must insert here the experience – a good one – with the public toilet. The stories of toilettes/WC/bagno in Italy abound, and most are true. Being of the most creative nature, Italians have also designed any number of ways to flush a toilet, as well as configure a public restroom. However, the one in Castellina looks more like a huge, gun-metal grey can or space module with a panel of buttons and instructions that surely confound a non-native speaker. I was able to assist Kathleen a bit to figure enough of it out, the coin was inserted, and whoosh…the can door very StarTrek-ishly slid open. Kathleen stepped in, pushed a button, and the door began to slide closed. I hollered in my best female friend fashion, “Is there any paper??” A somewhat alarmed “No!!” could be heard through the metal, and I managed to last-minute abort the door closure as I dug for my tissue. Well, that lead to another round of coinage and such, but the door finally shut again with success. Exiting with a huge grin, Kathleen expounded on this wondrous invention that not only automatically dispensed the tissue, but also totally sprayed the area down with disinfectant once the user exited. We told Ray about our amazement at such toilet technology, and he commenced to tell us the story of how this device detects weight when you enter; a means to keep any toilet criminals from trying to get in 2 or 3 for the price of one. He then told us of how an unaware mother sent her 3 children in to use at the same time, and the first participant flushed…thus signaling the can that the job was finito. Well, the disinfectant sprayed down all 3 kiddos in a goopy mess, and there was a bit of upheaval in town over the merits of this high tech method of germ fighting!
Visiting done, we headed across the road to a local little spot called Il Re Gallo, recommended highly by Ray, as well as Matteo of Pornanino. We entered, were shown a table, and had the hardest time deciding what to order. Final answer was a beautiful plate of antipasto, followed by a shared dish of tagliatelle with the wild boar sauce. Mmmmm! And yes, the lunch Chianti. The food did not disappoint...bravissimo! It was wonderful to dine on these delights, looking out the window from our cozy table at what had become a gray, blustery, and very (very!) cold day.
Our path this day lead to Gaiole in Chianti, one of the 4 cornerstone towns in ancient Chianti. The drive didn’t disappoint (I don’t think that adjective is allowed, nor necessary, in this land) and we found the very quiet little town. The main area is rectangular in shape, and was the ancient market place for the entire area. Its origins are probably Etruscan, so many, many years of shopping have occurred on this spot. The kind lady at the little Tourist Info place gave us some good literature, and we decided to head out and visit the Castello de Meleto, a forceful looking structure dating back to end of the 12th century, built for the Ricasoli family. Their name pops up with many castles around here…they held some great real estate in the day!
We signed up for the tour, met the young lady who was our guide, and were then joined by two older gals from France, and a young Italian honeymoon couple.
The castello was converted to a villa somewhere in the mid 1700’s, and the popular French trompe d’oeil style of faux painting dominates the somewhat tired looking, yet still regal interior.
The gem of this structure is the little theatre, one of a kind in the castles of this land…and it was grand! I’m not clear on whether this was added in the earliest days…probably not…but it just reeks of glossy, gaudy 1700’s style and appeal. The stage and its well-worn wooden floor, original backdrops still in place, and all the side trappings intrigued me to no end. It was as if frozen in time, the wear of the years showing, but the majestic underpinnings still very evident. Having had my feet on what I thought were old stages, I was lost in time as I placed my hand on the stage floor and let the ghosts of theatre past come alive. How many rehearsals had taken place here -- how many shows that brought laughter and probably a few tears to the audience, tucked nicely into the small balcony, which was also coated in glamour. There were scratches and small chunks of wood missing on the stage floor. I could just envision the act that caused that…maybe some grand sword fight where the actor accidently gouged the floor, or a prop dragged quickly away by a hurried stage hand. The rest of the tour wandered out, but I managed to stay a few more minutes in the silence, totally surrounded by this almost “dream sequence” feeling/vision of a stage full of lively actors and a raucous audience taking it all in.
We ended our tour in the tasting room (all these places produce wine, and most of it is very nice), tasted some of their products, and enjoyed a little visiting with the tour guide and the young couple. I tried out a little Italian on the guide, and complimented her on her command of English. She’d apologized several times to us, saying this was only her 2nd week at this job, but she really was quite good. I also told her I have a new appreciation for learning a foreign language, and I’d come see her next year and we’d converse in Italian. Boy, why do I set my bar so high?? ;-)
Enough touring accomplished this day, we followed the road back to Castellina. A stop off at Bar Italia for a little refreshment and wifi time, then a visit to the COOP, and we were soon bumping down the beloved dusty road to Casamonti. I prepared a fresh bruschetta and salad, along with some delectable prosciutto paired with a nice glass of Chianti, and we dined at the little table until we were full to the brim. That “Eat, Love, Pray” thing really does fit this lovely country – can’t figure out why that character in the book ever decided it was time to leave Italy for other countries foreign.
I failed to mention in the last couple of blogs of just how warm it had gotten…finally. It was downright hot Saturday, and we had the shiny sheen of sweat to prove it! However, during the night an anticipated cold front blew in with a vengeance that would make a Texas weather man proud. The wind howled like a tropical storm, and I would’ve sworn I was on a sailboat as it whipped and groaned through the open window of our once-balmy room. Add in the flapflapflap of the wind-beaten curtains and some lone rope out of view but banging in the wind, and it truly did feel like a nautical experience! The temperature dropped something like 25 degrees with this frontal passage, which is quite unusual for Italy in general. This May “cold” weather is another unusual thing, and there is more predicted for the month. Brrrrrr, and I sure wish I’d have packed more weather- appropriate!!
I let Kathleen sleep in a bit, and once ready, we hit the road south to Castellina in hurricane force winds, light rain, and intermittent fog. The drive met us with patches of misty fog, heavy rain, and more wind. However, it also afforded us a look at the Italian countryside dressed in a different fashion….the grays and blues of clouds, rain, and fog.
We made a stop at the Florence American Cemetery and quietly made note of the incredible sacrifice of our solders in WW II. This sacred site is incredibly beautiful, and immediately has a profound effect on the visitor. There were few, if any other than us, on this cold, blustery day, but we were grateful and humble to be guests at this resting place of over 4,000 American solders who perished in WWII. The grounds here are immaculately cared for, and all the land, upkeep, and facilities are granted and paid for by the Italian government. (The images I've posted are from my visit there in May 2011...a very sunny, warm day!)
Pulling into Castellina with the last gray rays of daylight to lead us, we were finally greeted by the glowing porch light at Casamonti/Capre. Wearily, we unloaded our belongings, then found our way to the often-visited Dei Dottore for a pizza and ensalata mista dinner. Oh, and let’s not forget the Chianti! Cin cin to a another beautiful day in lovely Italia!
May 2 – continued….
Oh dear, typing something two days later can be quite the challenge for this vagabond of middle age status! I think I shall skip ahead to yesterday (!), Thursday the 3rd, then I’ll take a little time to recap Wednesday, May 2nd . Most likely a strong hit of espresso will assist in that endeavor. J
So…allora….Thursday, May 3rd, presented itself as yet another gloriously sunny day with temps on the cool side. Highs have been in the mid, maybe upper, 60’s with lows in the 40’s at night. Here, the government mandates when heating and cooling can be used, and I believe it’s the end of March when heating is a no-no. I have acclimated, though, and also found it a lovely excuse to buy the cute little black Italian sweater.
Despite our very best…honestly…intentions, we didn’t make it on the highway until late morning. We have vowed to change that habit…tomorrow. Anyway, the road awaited and we took the Autostrada a portion of the way to pick up a little time. The autostrada here is a nicely divided 4 lane highway, easily marked once you figure a few of the signs and protocol out. This is my 3rd time to drive in Italy, and it feels “normal” once I get my Italy goggles on. Marty’s enjoying his first round of it, and has only nearly killed us a couple of times (wink-wink). The main thing to remember is 1.) stay right unless you plan to go 30+ miles faster than the speed limit, and 2.) keep ALERT! There is no such thing as a shoulder, either on the Autostrada, the country roads, or anywhere else…at least that I’ve encountered. I’d dare to say that the wreck stats here for reasons of distraction are dramatically lower unless one has a death wish.
Andiamo (Let’s go)...! We found our way to the beautiful hilltop town of Montepulciano, famous for the exquisite nobile (NOH-be-lay) wine. Again, the scenes along the way were dramatically spectacular. One can look any direction and be instantly rewarded with seemingly endless vistas of rolling emerald green punctuated with lighter and darker hues, seas of the spring yellow flowers, and the soldier lines of cypress marching up and down the hill crests, usually leading the way to and from a hilltop villa. There were enough clouds of puffy white to add interest, and it seems the wheat (the majority of the green fields) were just beginning to show the first kisses of gold along their tops when the sun shone just right on them. Sheer beauty.
At the top of the windy, twisty road that lead us upward, we crested at the town of Montalpuciano and found the free parking area (thanks again, Rick Steves), then wandering up into the centro storico. Another gorgeous example of antiquity, this town offered all the rewards aforementioned. And a plus…seemingly relatively few tourists. Now I hesitate to glory in that because I hope it’s not an indication of the downturn facing Italy, as in so many economies these days. We’re all in the same boat, but I think Italy may be a bit ahead of the US. However, this isn’t the big tourist season yet, so it may be the norm, of sorts. We decided to hit the desired restaurant early, and it was a good thing. This spot (name eludes me at the moment) was incredible, both in food and ambiance. Tiny and intimate, it was secluded in yet one of hundreds of little spots that make up the inner spaces of these marvelous, medieval buildings. The walls were old stone, the ceilings terracotta tile with rough hewn timbers holding them up, the staff efficient yet attentive, and in the back within view, the tiny kitchen and the roaring brick oven that seemed to contain enough flame to be the entrance gate to hades. The flame, however, was merely the vehicle to sear the absolutely HUGE slabs of beef they famously serve here.
We choose the vino della casa (the house wine), a rich and pleasing nobile, a dish of panzanella ( rustic Tuscan bread salad with tomato and basil) and pici pasta con cinghiale ( a pasta that reminds me of giant worms covered in a rich, meaty wild boar sauce) to share, followed by a stuffed, roasted chicken dish. This was probably our best meal yet! Everything was subtly powerful in flavor, texture, and delight…just right. We added a dessert of tartufi gelato (truffle ice cream..yep!) …oh, and some limone gelato (lemon ice cream), too. All told, the food and ambiance alone would equal a memory to behold, but then…a French couple were seated at our table (this place is small, so all seats are used). We exchanged a smile or two, then he asked if my meal was good…in English. We started talking, and lo & behold…our talk lead to discovering we have mutual friends in Texas! Can we say small world?? Turns out this fellow is a long-time blues music promoter, and thus knows a few of our fellow music friends. Our talk lead to much exclamation over such things, much laughter over other things, and even the kind sharing of the Mrs. of her meal…a plate of what looked like empty bones, but were actually goat ribs. That lead to a lot of joking and laughing amongst our table and the one near by. She even insisted we sample her dessert…a biscotti type small cookie called cantucci dipped in vin santo, a lovely sweet wine. How sweet and wonderful to meet friends you never knew you had! We parted, Facebook info exchanged, then headed out to explore the town.
Our wanderings took us to the main piazza, a climb up the clock tower (and some joking in Italian with the ticket fellow…he actually seemed to appreciate Marty’s attempts at humor, all spoken correctly!), then on to the renowned Contucci wine cellar off the main square.
We met the “famous” Adamo Contucci and did a tasting. He spoke no English, and we managed quite well. At 75, this fellow was warm, lively, friendly, and much fun. He is a Contucci, the family that over 800 years ago created the famed nobile wine. The cellar, underneath the family home (built in the 1200’s), was amazing. Dark, chilly, with huge oak casks lining the walls, it was all it should be. This nobile created by the Contucci’s was revered by ancient popes….one was said to have bathed in it. We tasted 4 or 5 (surprised we could walk out…the servings were generous), and commenced to purchase for taking and shipping. Our new friend Adamo wouldn’t let us pay for the opener we wanted to buy…un regalo da il nostra amico (a gift from our friend)! We took some photos with Adamo, hugged and kissed, and left with our rich wine and our even richer experience.
A bit more walking around town, the purchase of my sweater (all conducted in Italian…yeeee!), then off to find the car. The drive home was splendid….more country roads through small villages, tiny almost/or were villages, and scenery to die for. We came across the famous “This is Tuscany” scene most all of you have seen…the little chapel with a cypress on either side, sitting on a hilltop. Had to stop for photos, of course, and a waxing moon was pinned just high enough above to add the final touch to what will be some amazing shots. Bella, bella!
We decided to revisit the pizza trattoria right outside of Castellina for a bite, then headed home…late again….to undo the day.
May 4th – Friday: Since I have a few more minutes here, I’ll keep going!! We slept in really late today, by decision, got up and headed into town to wash clothes. A very nice do-it-yourself lavanda was found, and after finally noticing the “How to” in English, in huge letters, on the wall…we got some washing done. Really wish I’d brought more than one pair of jeans to fend off the chill, but ah well. I’m currently sitting in our favorite little spot, Bar Italia, sipping a Corona (it’s Italy…why not have an early afternoon nip…of Mexican beer?? LOL!), and working on media catch up. Castellina is at its day pace of locals going about business, the cute old people sitting and watching or strolling the street (always dressed to look nice), the intermittent tourists (or big groups when a bus comes through), and life in general at business. This bar is more local than not. And all “bars” here mean for coffee, although you can always find the stronger stuff, too! They truly are the social center of town. We always find the older gents sitting watching a game or reading the paper together, the working folks coming in for a bite or espresso, and the tourists, like us, popping in now and then. Nice rhythm to the place, and it feels good. The workers here are the same 2 or 3…they probably get amused at us.
Our plan after leaving here is to stay more local…a slower paced day…and see a few spots not far from town. AND… we have vowed to go to bed early and get up early (sounds familiar, doesn’t it??) !!! Cortona is on the map tomorrow, and we’d love to get our little car on the road before 8 or 9 nel domain mattina (in the morning tomorrow)!
A couple of notes of random nature: we bought some cherry tomatoes at the COOP, from Sicily, that were like nothing we’ve ever tasted. The brightest red globes attached to green stars linked to stems that looked to be made of green velvet. Almost hard to believe they were real. The first bite presents a crunch/pop/ burst of flavor that is startling. Needless to say, they didn’t last long.
Another thing that is pervasive and always amazing to me is the antiquity beneath our feet, at our hands, everywhere. To walk the same stones that people walked a thousand or more years ago, to touch the same wall or brick or seat. To look upon the same views, gaze at the same painting, rest myself on the same stone bench in the piazza that others did for so many years…it’s an experience that is incredible for lack of better words. And you know, people are so much the same. The Etruscan museum in Volterra illustrated that so finely….people are, well – people. J
Time to finish my Corona, then hit the road with il mio marito (my husband)…adventure awaits (and something pretty good for lunch, too, I imagine!).
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.