May in Tuscany
Ahhh, May....the merry, merry month of May! And merry it was for main man Marty and I as we ventured off for a glorious journey through enchanted Toscana/Tuscany, but more specifically the Chianti Region.
For many, those monikers are unclear...Italy, okay, but Tuscany? Chianti? Are those towns or counties or just what?? True confession here in that I, too, was unclear on much of this at one point in time. So before I launch on the esapades of May in Tuscany, let's reveal a few of those mysteries of Italian geography!
Tuscany, or properly stated as Toscana, is an incredible region of central Italy that covers about 9,000 square miles and is home sweet home to some 3.75 million people. Ten different regions make up Toscana, and each is unique in its topography, culture, food, and just about everything else...including pride! Florence, or Firenze, is the capital of Tuscany, as well as a beautiful city cram-packed with many of the world's most precious works of art. Bella Toscana -- the seat of the Italian Renaissance, the birthplace of more great wines than you can shake a stick at, the cradle of exquisitely simple and fresh food, and the place that holds the ancestral linage of many of history's greatest thinkers, writers, artists, and inventors; Toscana effortlessly steals ones heart in a manner that is nigh to unescapable (but who would want to escape a love affair such as this??).
Our time in May was spent mainly in the Chianti region of Toscana...a smallish region that takes up about 42 square miles of undulating, green countryside laced with vineyards that produce the world-reknown Chianti wine and ancient olive groves that lovingly offer up the oil of the gods. Many of the "typical" pictures one associates with Italy and/or Tuscany are of the Chianti region, and believe me....it's as pretty as it looks, even prettier! Many quaint towns and villages take up residence in Chianti, and it was here that we decided to make camp and explore, slow travel style, the beauty and charms of la bella Chianti.
Having told many friends and family I was going to blog this trip, I felt a certain push (okay...incredible pressure!!) to live up to my threats and actually blog. I wanted to share the month I was going to spend there with those who were interested, but probably more selfishly, I wanted a record of my journey....my thoughts, the things we saw, the people we met, and the joy we experienced. One remembers such a small part of the experiences of this nature, or maybe I should say the "small things" that make such an impact but are soon buried in memories that coincide with photos or more major events. So thus I made a point to tap-tap away on the little laptop we brought, and even upload to a blog I'd hastily set up before we left. Needless to say, it was sloppy at best, but at least it was out there! Now, with this handy little website, I am taking the next step and adding my writings (with pictures...for you, Ray L. --- ha!) in a format that I hope will be much more pleasing and enjoyable to spend some time perusing. So... I truly hope you'll be able to reveal in the joy, ponder the richness, smell the aromas, and somehow feel like you're right along side us/me as the journey unfolds. Si...la gioia del viaggio é dolce!
(Due to some finesse that Weebly has not quite worked out yet, this page will hold all of the May posts in reverse order...latest to earliest dates. The journey itself begins in the April 2012 archives -- right column. :)
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.
May 23, Wednesday - Oleana, San Donato, Badia di Passignano, an Etruscan Tomb, Certaldo Alto, and dinner with friends
Fog. Thick as that pea soup simile we’re all so familiar with, but maybe here we should say zuppa fragoli?? A most foggy, drizzly, and Seattle-as-it-gets-in Tuscany morning greeted me as I peered through the bedroom window. Ah well, I am in Toscana, after all, and if it’s foggy, non problema! And as to stay in tune with the day’s anima, I, too, moved slowly, if not mysteriously, to ready for the doings of the day.
Easing down the road, I pulled into my little Agip station, scooted up the stairs, and greeted Simone. Cappuccino and a brioche this day, as is the typical Italian breakfast. Besides, it was rather late in the morning and I didn’t want to go for one of the pannino type bites I usually indulge in. This morning’s latte art was a cute little bunny…just what I needed to bring a quick smile and a hearty “Grazie…bravo!” for pleased Simone. We exchanged a few pleasantries, I finished up my lovely breakfast, and it was out the door towards….I wasn’t totally sure. Bella!
My original plans for the day were to go northwest to Bagni di Lucca to meet the Facebook friends who operate Villa Rosa Tuscany. I’d sent them a message the day before, but to my knowledge had not received a reply (side note: turns out they had left on holiday. Ah well…prosimmo volta – next time!). Deciding I might just go on to Lucca and call up another Facebook friend that Marty and I met last fall, the lovely Rosanna, I hit the road holding that itinerary mostly in mind. Well, as it goes when I travel da sola, I allow myself the luxury of taking the back door to the off the beaten path back door…and it’s always rewarding, if not totally productive as far as reaching a chosen destination goes. And as such, it wasn’t too far down the highway that I quickly halted, made a U-ie, and headed down an unknown gravel path. Oh…and this occurred after I’d decided to replace Lucca with Pisa as the day had already reached the half-way point and I hadn’t called Rosanna...and the idea of climbing that leaning tower seemed most enticing!
I’d noted one of those great little brown signs (brown denotes historical) stating Castello di Paneratta was somewhere down this particular gravel path, and anything that reeks of castle gets my quick attention. I’d also seen something castle-y looking as I rounded a corner before making the u-turn, so a beeline to it was certainly called for. The first sign directed me on down the somewhat paved road, twisting and curving through lovely Chianti forest. A peaceful and mysterious drive it was, and I just knew a fog-shrouded castle awaited my visit. Fork in the road…no sign directing which direction to take (yes, good signage…until a critical point and often one is left to gut instinct!), so I opted for “up” as all good castles perch on hilltops, si? Albeit a most scenic pathway, I never found, nor even caught another glimpse of a castle…and now we were going down. Not a good indication. The GPS had never heard of this particular castle, so I decided to back track and take the other direction back at the fork. That mission accomplished, I still had not seen a glimmer of anything castle-like…but I did see something interesting coming into view, as well as a sign informing me I was nearing Olena. And what a reward it was! I came upon the Italian version of a tiny little ghost town…anyone home??...and it was incredibly intriguing. I inched along, looking to and fro, trying to decide if this really was inhabited by Italian ghosts -- or possibly something more tangible. Of the 4 vehicles I saw, only one looked loosely operational. Noting some flowering plants and a few other articles that declared a living being was probably near by, I suddenly had visions of some hermit type moonshiner flying out, waving some medieval weapon at me, and I decided I’d make a nice little turn and inch my way out. But I did this slowly, savoring the sight and taking great glee in what I’d chanced upon. How many other tourists had been here, mind you? Never did find that castle.
A quiet street in San Donato
Still thinking I had time to make Pisa before I needed to arrive at Lucio and Francesca’s home in Montespertoli for dinner, I veered back on solid pavement, leaning tower bound, but only for about 3 minutes. The town of San Donato in Poggia beckoned to my left. I’d driven by it any number of times, noted the old part of town, but never found the time to stop. Today was different, and I pulled quickly off the road and hoped I could find my way to the old town easily. Hope runs eternal--- I did not, but with a little look at the GPS map, I rather quickly scouted the right turn and found a neat little parking spot overlooking the old church and the valley beyond. San Donato is certainly not on the tourist map, but is another one of those lovely, clean, neat, and ancient towns that dot this region almost as prolifically as the vineyards. I walked from my parking spot to the first turn off that lead to the old centro storico of town. The small piazza was dominated, as all are, by the church, a civic building, and a communal well. This particular well was covered in the most beautiful metal lid, for lack of a better word, that joined sides in a peak, offering a most impressive sight. Standing along side it were 3 elderly ladies, donned in their uniform of practical, neutral colored skirt, sweater over a tidy blouse, and comfortable shoes. They chattered like chickens, all only half taking turns to interject something that must’ve been terribly important. As this scene unfolded, a fellow was cupping his hands under the ages-old water fountain, also found in all piazzas, and splashing his hair to coax it into a respectable do. No one but me around, watching a moment in time in the year 2012, that had played out how many times over the past 1000 plus years? What a lucky observer I was. I wandered the small streets for another 20 minutes, piu o meno (more or less), looking in shop windows, taking note of the typical architecture and fittings, and loving every moment of it. I think I saw maybe two other folks who were non-locals…what a lovely way to view the face of charming, rural Italy as the sun was just beginning to send the fog back to its hinterland.
As I pulled back out onto the small highway leading to the autostrada, I rethought my Pisa plans and determined a rushed drive that direction versus more leisurely road warrior wanderings was not the best of intentions at this point. And besides…how many little pull offs awaited me from this point forward until I arrived at Lucio and Francesca’s??
Checking the atlas and savoring that thrill that holding a map and making a choice can bring, I decided the next stop was towards the northwest to a spot I’d seen a photo of in one of the tourist brochures….Badia di Passignano. Other than knowing it was yet another oh-so-old church or monastery type complex, I was unsure of its story, but intrigued by its appearance. Even if the sight had left me disappointed (which it didn’t…just the fact that it was another private property type of set up where one can look but not touch…sigh), the drive up to the small village was enough to bring a wide-spread smile to my face as I took in the glorious sun-lit views while the little Punta and I winded, twisted, and undulated our way up.
Now I’m still not sure if I trespassed or not as I noticed the few other tourists all seemed to avoid going where I went (and they were Italians…guess I missed something!), and fortunately no one ran after me with a stick, but I managed to walk up a most inviting pathway lined with majestic cypress to what looked to be the old church complex. There was a sign or two clinging to the ancient wall, and while not able to decipher in full, I surmised that this is still an actively used structure, and no…tourists weren’t a part of the plan.
My consolation prize was to at least wander around this courtyard looking area that contained one parked car, gaze over the massive stone wall to the road below, sit on a wonderfully old stone bench (now just who all had sat there before me, I pondered!), and have a little fun with the timer on my tiny camera. Not a bad ending after all.
A glance at my watch revealed a morning that had somehow renamed itself as an afternoon, totally undetected by my negligent eye. What better excuse to declare it time for lunch, and I made my way back to a tidy little restaurant I’d noted on my short walk towards what qualified as town here. I was promptly greeted by the nice young waiter and shown a table in the still-enclosed garden area. How beautiful! A few others inhabited this space, and I was pleased with the anticipated glances of those wondering just why I was alone. Of course, you and I know it’s far from mysterious, but it’s a bit amusing to me to be the object of contemplation….real or imagined.
I opted for a Tuscan specialty I’d not yet tried….risotto con fiori de zucca, or rice with squash flowers. Battered and fried zucchini blossoms are practically a holy experience here, and I’d yet to savor those, so this was the next best thing. Throw in that nice glass of the local Chianti, a side of Tuscan bread, and bon appetito…down the hatch it went! Oh…and I must add that the entire passage was conducted in l’italiano…va bene!
Satiated in more ways than one should deserve at only half day (Italy certainly has that effect), I found my way back to the car, pulled out the atlas, and determined my plotted course would take me along the back roads as I meandered towards the next destination, at least planned one, of the town of Certaldo. Marty and I had not been there, and I recalled hearing it was a great place to visit. But as a Point A to Point B trajectory does not exist for this solo lady traveler, I found my self bumping and bustling over a few nicely challenging roads, exchanging pleasing glances with many a small borgo or village. Some of these “villages” are truly nothing more than a largish building or two, stuck together in beautiful Italian fashion, and providing maybe 6 to 10 dwellings. It’s always so sweet to be gifted with even just a moment of the everyday lives of these folks…tending the garden, hanging some laundry out the window, shaking a rug of the day’s dust, or catching a whiff of something delicious cooking on a hidden stove.
Delighted at each new discovery, my next find was coming upon a tiny place called La Collina. I’m sure it was once something more substantial, but today seemed to consist of several modest homes, one which looked to have been the old church whose narthex now housed a motorcycle and its owner working on repairs, and a couple of stately repurposed villas. However, what grabbed my attention in a rabid way was the small brown sign reading “Tombe Etrusca” --- Eureka! Another shot at setting foot in an Etruscan tomb!
Off to the tombs!
I pulled off the road, assessed my surroundings, and quickly figured out it was just me and the locals…again. Deciding my choice of roadside parking was not in anyone’s way, I stepped out into the warm (finally!) sun and followed the first arrow directing me towards the tomb. Now I should’ve figured out this would be a great adventure as soon as my steps lead me right through what appeared to be someone’s yard. The dog was behind a fence, fortunately, and the cat was rather unimpressed with my hello, so I ventured on, following what I guessed must be the path to the tomb. A beautiful walk, I looked out over olive groves and yet another Tuscan vista that cannot be coaxed to confine itself to words. I paused under cherry trees, branches bending with an almost-ripe explosion of little red orbs. It crossed my mind that the Etruscans most probably walked these same paths, as well, as they made their way to the tombs of their loved ones. Did they stop for a snack of sun-warmed cherries? As I wandered down what I thought must be the wrong path…am I trespassing on someone’s land?...I had to be!...I decided to retrace my steps and see if I could make sense of which way I should turn. There, not too far in front of me but on the ground out of view, was a weathered, tired sign pointing to the tombe. Well, okay…I was still within legal limits and plowed onward. v
Taking a little different route this time, I noted one more old sign, still upright, that pointed to a straight-away through the gnarled, massive olive trees-- first down a bit, then up…up a small hill to a crest. Yes…to the tomb! Excited to have found this, yet also more than thrilled just to be totally alone, wandering through a gorgeous and very old grove, I slowed my pace and tried to relish each moment. The warm caress of the sun soothed me, the bird songs serenaded me, and even the chirp-chirp of the crickets seemed to play magic in my mind. And I marveled that my feet were traversing a path ancient where many a procession had occurred – 3, even 4 or 5 thousand years ago – as those called Etruscans proceeded up the same hill to lay the ashes of their beloved to rest amongst the beauty of this place. I need not even say, but will, that there was a quiet reverence to this place and the beauty found here on this day in the 21st century.
I crested the hilltop and took in my first sight of the tomb, now open to the sky but originally enclosed with a dome covered in earth. How easily, though, I could see and imagine this place in its completeness – how I could see the intricately carved urns we had viewed in the museums carefully placed in these stone slab and brick parlors, along with riches for the afterlife. I stood in awe, truly astonished that I was here, alone, not another tourist for how many miles?...and laying my hands on the cool, grey rock that had been carefully hewn and placed by another human hand on a day no different than this day, by a person no different than you or I.
Certaldo called me onward, and I reluctantly left my quiet sanctuary, bidding the scene farewell with thanks. The road did not disappoint as it laid itself out like a grey river, flowing and free falling around hairpin turns more like Grand Canyon donkey trails than roads for automobiles. I did finally figure out one type of road signage, however. I noted a sign that read “4 Tornati” above the Z-shaped arrow symbol. Four extreme hairpin turns later, it occurred to me that I had, indeed, been warned, and a self-deprecating laugh ensued. But what a thrill, what a treat, what an experience as I made my way westward, taking in all the sweet trappings of this Tuscan landscape that had become so dear, so pleasing, and so much fun to entwine myself with as I traveled freely along.
As I continued onward towards Certaldo, my path took me forward through many a hamlet, borgo, or almost-village…all charming and forthright in their proclamation of import. As much as I would’ve loved to jot the name of each and every one, I would surely have made headway of about 5 kilometers each hour. However, one small place I passed through offered up a scene that caught my eye and enticed me to take note of the name – Pancrazio. Nothing grand or out of “the ordinary”, but as I slowed to the mandatory 50 km per hour, I took a sideways glance at a lovely garden being tenderly cared for by a couple that appeared to be almost as ancient as the building that watched over their labors. So many thoughts raced through my mind: How old were they? How long had they been married? Had they lived in this spot all their married lives? Were they possibly born here, as well? I’ll never know, but my imagination can certainly fill in the blanks. What I do know, though, is that it was touching to see them working along side each other, tending to the fresh growth that would sustain them over the summer…and tending to the other growth that had kept them together so many untold years.
I finally arrived at my declared destination and wound a rather unproductive course finding my way to what I hoped would be the centro storico. It beckoned to me from a far; a grand looking walled city perched on a craggy hillside. But I was stumbling around in this newer area and getting somewhat frustrated. You see, Miz GPS will happily find place names for her master of the wheel, but not more general areas. I had learned, though, that going to the “Local Attractions” button could usually get one at least close to the desired location.
Soon enough, I found a nice parking lot in the center of new town and noted a sign to “Certaldo Alto”, along with a road that appeared to lead up. Good enough. However, I had one item on my agenda that I had to attend to before more touristing was allowed.
I was to be the guest for dinner at our friends Lucio and Francesca’s home in Montespertoli that evening, and as is customary for “us Italians”, the guest is to bring the dolce and an after dinner beverage. I noted a very handy Pasticerria (pastry shop) right across from the parking lot and decided that was my first target. Crossing the busy street with the nerve of a local, I walked in and found a grandmotherly looking figure talking rapidly with a somewhat younger woman and a cute girl of about 8 years. I smiled, offered my politest “Buona sera”, and made my way to the beautiful array of goodies. What seemed like a long time passed, and the grandmotherly gal found her way behind the counter. Taking my very best shot at informing her I was attending dinner with friends and needed to take dessert, we went back and forth a few times, each of us not quite sure what the other needed. As her eyes seemed to finally convey understanding at what I was telling her, she pulled out a paper and asked me how many persone there would be. I told her tre, and thought “Okay…we’re getting somewhere!”. She then asked me my name and what time…was dinner? Or maybe what time did I need them? Or I would pick them up at what time?? A bit puzzled, I chalked it up to another custom I didn’t know and decided she must need a bit of time to get the little goodie tray prepared. We both smiled at our accomplishment, and I headed towards the door as I thanked her. An urgent “Aspetto!” (wait) caused me to halt in my tracks…and the nonna walked to the other side of the room and give me a business card, or a bigletto (ticket) as she labeled it. “Oh”, I thought to myself… “she wants to be sure I know the name of this cute little place!” I thanked her and made note of the hour so I would be certain to return at our agreed upon pick up time of 6:30.
I walked the steep uphill road to Certaldo Alto, enjoying the physical exertion after my mostly seated day thus far. The weather was actually warm and I’d produced a worthy spring sweat by the time I crested the hill. Other than a lady walking her dog, I was the only one on this uphill path. The view was stellar…a clear blue sky and just the slightest dusting of afternoon haze framed a gorgeous west/northwest view that featured the skyline of San Gimignano as its crown jewel. I lingered over this for a few moments while I caught my breath and wiped the sweat from my brow.
Moving along, mindful of my pastry time limit, I turned a corner and found myself on one of the main streets leading into the centro. Of course, no traffic allowed up here, and I was again amazed at the lack of tourists. They were there, but light in number for a larger town like this. Feeling the toll of the warm sun, I decided it was beer-thirty and a cold brew was just the afternoon aperitif I needed. I noted an interesting little shop offering local specialties, as well as beverages, so I made a footed u-turn and planted myself at the counter. Mind you, the very attractive Italian man with the gorgeous flowing curls and mysterious dark eyes had nothing to do with my decision for a rest stop at this particular place! I ordered my brew in somewhat botched Italian, and then enjoyed a cooling off while the cold liquid found its way down quite nicely.
Photo courtesy of blogsiena.com
A number of things were for sale in this shop, so I picked out a nice little bottle of the heavenly Vin Santo and purchased it to go along with my pastry tray that was, no doubt, being lovingly put together at that very moment. Thanking the beautiful man, I headed back out on the street and towards the centro. How delightful to happen upon the ending of a wedding! A lovely English bride and her handsome groom were chatting with the small gathering of guests and family, then made their way with the photographer for photos. I stayed just on the periphery of too close and took great pleasure in watching the festivities, secretly wishing them a long life together and marveling at the beauty of the place they choose to begin life together. As the wedding party faded into vehicles towards their undisclosed celebration, I happily wandered off the main road and lingered as I found one incredible view after another at this altitude.
Each of the towns I’ve been so fortunate to visit has a special personality and charm of their own, but Certaldo Alto
seemed to be a wee bit gifted in that department.
I was smitten, and quickly sent Marty a text that
read “You have to see this place!” The narrow
passages, old as the ages buildings, and quiet pace
here were mesmerizing. I stopped and cupped roses
in my hands that were colored so vibrant they
seemed not real. Their fragrances were unlike
any I’d ever smelled – perfumed with oils that
certainly have had centuries to perfect themselves
into something that caused me to not want to
And finally…finalmente!!!....jasmine. Sweet, creamy white, heavenly perfumed, glorious jasmine was here, on the ancient
walls of Certaldo Alto! Due to the
cold and rainy spring, this luscious
flora had held off its spring exhibition
and was just beginning to think about
changing into its finery in most all areas
we/I’d been in, which admittedly
disappointed me. May of last year
was colored and flavored in jasmine…
it was “the fragrance” of the Italian spring
in my mind, and so missing this year.
I was satiated now. The luxurious, royal perfume filled my nostrils…as the
church bells rang. Spring in Italy
Thank you, dear Certaldo Alto.
A check of the time and it was clear I needed to head downhill rather soon. I took in a view towards the city as I crested the rise where one of the old gates to the city sat. Yep, I could see the pasticerria, as well as the little tram that hauled people up and down from the new town to the old. I’ll walk, thank you! A good bye to this wonderful place and I was soon trotting down to the shop, ready to pick up the goodies.
As I wandered back in, there sat nonna, replaced behind the counter by a man who looked to be about my age, and a pretty teenage girl. I greeted them, nonna acknowledged me -- the senora --, and said a word or two to the man. I was feeling self-assured she had relayed to him that I was here, on time, to pick up my little tray of yummies. He finished helping another customer, then smiled my way. I went to the counter then hesitated, thinking he’d be pulling out a scrumptious tray to hand me, and we’d be finito. The three seconds too long pause accompanied by his “Yes?” look caused me to rapidly shift to “start over” mode, as puzzled as I was, and I repeated my story of dinner with friends, need a dessert, etc. Well, he seemed to know exactly what I was saying, thankfully, and took out a pretty little gold colored plastic tray. “Va bene?”, he asked. “Perfetto!”, I replied, and he commenced to fill it up with a beautiful assortment of lovely little cookies and such. As most of these purchases are for gifting, they are beautifully wrapped in nice paper and secured with a ribbon, this particular one being black paper with gold writing and a gold ribbon. Wonderful! I was now properly prepared to be an appropriate guest.
I thanked him profusely, exchanged smiles and expressive buona sera’s with seated nonna as I left, and felt a warm feeling of satisfaction in my very local transaction now completed. I was, however, still pondering over the earlier event, chalking it up to yet another vague protocol I wasn’t aware of.
A beautiful drive out of Certaldo took me to the town of Montespertoli, just to the west/southwest of Florence, where Lucio and Francesca make their home. It’s a mid size town and seemed more new than old, at least the parts I was privy to see. I’d come in from a different way than planned (that being from Pisa!), and a phone call to Lucio lead him to find me rather far away from their apartment. He very nicely queried as to why I came in that way….had I gotten lost?....and I told him of my day, apologizing for making him take a 15 trip each way to fetch me. You know you have a good friend when they’ll do that for you….and still greet you with a huge smile and a warm hug.
I was heartily greeted with another warm hug by Francesca when we entered their lovely apartment, and it occurred to me once again at just how special these events in life are. Total strangers a mere few months ago, over 5000 miles apart, and now we were greeting each other like old friends, sharing a wonderful meal together yet again.
Francesca had prepared a scrumptious ceno (dinner) that started with a homemade lasagna for our primi. I asked Francesca about the recipe and she laughed…something like lasagna usually wasn’t made with a recipe. You just made it like your mother made it…and her mother….and her mother…and so on. Ahhhh, how wonderful! And yes…it was delicious! The primi was followed by a fantastic spread of local cheeses from a producer just mere miles away (they were incredible!), hearty Tuscan bread, a wonderful green salad, and sautéed zucchini. Everything was fresh, delicious, and thoroughly enjoyed…a feast intertwined with much conversation and laughter. We even included Marty for a few minutes by way of Skype while he was at the hospital. Fun, indeed!
We finally wound things down about 11:30 as I had about a 45 minute drive ahead of me back to Casamonti. Stories of crazed wild boars peppered my imagination as Lucio and Francesca suggested I take the main autostrada home in the dark. It didn’t require much arm-twisting, but let’s just say that my path took a number of odd turns through dark country roads as Miz GPS was hell-bent on back roads versus the auto strada. Ahh well, more adventure capped with a safe, if late, arrival. What a glorious day, yes indeed!
And one other note: As I shifted through some items and began to notate a few things in my journal, the card/bigletto from the pasticerria slipped out. “Now just what was the name of that place?”, I pondered as I picked it up to read. “La Saletta – osteria, enoteca” greeted my eyes. After a pregnant pause, I burst into laughter as it all suddenly came clear to me. My little nonna back at the shop had decided I must be asking to make dinner reservations; thus, the number of persone, my name, and what time! Well, too late now, and I could only hope she found as much humor in our misguided conversation as I had once it was clear this senora was a no-show. At least I bought a tray of pastries from them!
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!!)
The courtyard outside our apartment
Well, needless to say, I've not blogged daily as planned! However, my excuse is fairly valid...lack of internet connection for any length of time - so there! Actually, the wonderful little cafe where I do connect is a lovely local spot in Castellina in Chianti by the name of Bar Italia. It's a simple place where mostly the locals gather for the quick cup of caffé, a brioche for breakfast, or a chance to sit with i vuoi amici and watch the game. I "discovered" it a year ago when I visited Castellina with friends Donnie and Julie, and it's been the spot for morning cappuccino ever since. I digress...
Our flight over was pretty uneventful, which is always a blessing. We did the "normal routine" of Tylenol PM and melatonin, slept as much as one can when contorted like a pretzel …in a sardine can. Arrival at Milan Malpensa Aerporto was on time, and other than the last 20 minutes or so of the flight being akin to bouncing down a West Texas ranch road, we made touch down with no complaints. Baggage picked up, rental car secured, GPS up and running…and south we drove! The GPS was a lovely addition to my earlier driving experiences in Italy, but I have to say…the robotic Mr. GPS's accent when trying to speak the names of Italian roads was pretty hilarious – which soon segued to annoyance. It was not long before our “Jack the GPS” underwent a gender alteration to become “Silvia the Italian ragazza GPS”.
The drive south was grand. Although the weather was cloudy with intermittent showers…we were in Italy!! After an aborted attempt to find a place to park in the Centro Storico (historic center) of Parma (mmm...cheese!) for a bite for lunch, we gave up and opted for the next AutoGrill on the autostrada. If you’ve never been to one of these, just imagine an Italian Bucky’s. Yeah, pretty awesome. We had to laugh at the décor of the eating area in this particular one…”The Wild West”! There were any number of burger choices, as well as….a Cavallo Pazzo (Crazy Horse) burger! Hmmm…wonder if it was made out of….ummm…nawww!!!
*Addendum: Want to more about Castellina in Chianti? Click here!
Want to know more about Casamonti and Tuscan Enterprises? Click here!
As we drove further south with familiar waypoints like Modena (mmm...balsamic!) and Bologna (mmm...sauce!) announcing themselves, the scenery began to take on the beauty that Tuscany is so well known for….rolling green hills punctuated by freshly turned earth surrounding the new growth in the vineyards, untold multitudes of spring yellow and white flowers splashed across the up and downs of the hillsides, and the silvery green splendor of the ancient olive trees seeming to greet us like old friends. Bella terra! Other spring flowers were evident, as well, and incredibly grand….the reddish orange poppies that seem to be plugged in to a a socket somewhere they’re so bright, elegant wisteria, and other blossoming trees I couldn’t begin to name. Indeed, Tuscany knows how to put on one fine spring show!
We arrived at Casamonti, the fantastically beautiful Tuscan farm belonging to our friends Ray and Anna Rita (who also own and operate Tuscan Enterprises), by late afternoon, turned off the S222 onto the beautiful and welcoming dirt road that leads to the farm, and wound our way around to park in the back area where we were promptly greeted by the 3 dogs that reside in that area. Bags unpacked, a little freshening up, then into town….Castellina in Chianti. A good walk up and down the main street felt wonderful, followed by a bit of pasta and wine in a local diner to cap off giorno uno in Italia. Tired, happy, full….la dolce vita.
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.