A Travellerspoint blog

Mushrooms and wine

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After coffee and pastry, we intended to visit some markets and vineyards. We have yet to figure out the code for finding farmer’s markets like we can easily find in Paris or Montreal. Winding up the hill away from Montepulciano, we passed a man selling mushrooms (porcini) out of a truck. We planned to catch him on the way back. At Totona, we saw signs for a Coop. Not knowing any better we followed the signs which led us to a fantastic supermarket. Suddenly we had fresh vegetables, a cheese selection worthy of the best gourmet store at home, a butcher, and more than a wine shop. We picked up a few things and headed out, back the way we came, trying to find wineries we say on the way to Assisi. We stopped at the porcini truck. The man who appeared to know no English did not understand hand gestures. It took some effort not to have a massive bag of mushrooms.
Rewinding our way to Montepulciano, we returned to our apartment, where Cindy and Sally prepared lunch. I was trying to type up notes for this blog and research ahead for our next stay in Sorrento. I still need to figure out if we need a COVID test to fly out. We are having a great trip and have mixed feelings about it coming to an end. A good hug from the dog would be nice.

After lunch, we headed out again. I had been thinking about the road of death the day before. I wanted a video, but not sure my passengers would agree. Sally was the cameraperson we headed off, but I decided to try this from memory. A bad decision. At the church, I turned right and then ignored the dead-end sign (too excited with the filming and just a brain failure) and turned down the narrow way which progressively grew smaller. When I saw the handrail for stairs, the mistake dawned on me. We backed out of the hole, turned around, and headed down the correct way to the tunnel and on. There was a great deal of laughter.

We found the right road, and within a few kilometers, we found a vineyard. Luckily we arrived to find a couple from Chicago who wanted the same. It seems that advanced reservations were needed, but since we all spoke the same language, the woman agreed to a quick wine tasting. My partners decided that I was to barely taste as the designated driver then throw the rest in a bucket.

After tasting and buying a bottle of Rose, we headed home, ready to just sit down. At the apartment, Cindy took a nap while Sally and headed out for shopping. Sally bought scarves while I bought Italian leather pocketbooks for the granddaughters.

We sat around for a while, but I was still feeling a little stressed. In the end, we opened the bottle of wine Sally bought at the wine cellar.

Later on, we went out for supper at a restaurant/wine store. The meal was perfect but since we had already had wine before supper, buying a bottle with supper was excessive. Half the bottle went home.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 08:08 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Montepulciano to Orvieto

Mr. Toad's Ride

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Before our drive to Orvieto, there was some discussion of "experiencing the road." Some of my fellow travelers think I aim for the bumps or speed up in the curves. I point out there is offend an Alpha Romeos on my tail. Even the Fiat 500s think I am slow.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, I turned to the left, not the right, our usual route and only a few blocks to the town gate. Our phone showed a narrow blue line threading through town. At the first intersection, it was clear this was an even more narrow route with very little clearance to make turns. Streets and walkways were virtually the same widths. I followed the phone map down between buildings, around corners, and down into a dark tunnel barely a foot wider than the car. We crossed a narrow street, then the path dropped down and around a blind corner. There was a lot of screaming. "We are going to die." "How will they pull the car out of that hole?" "Could they really get a wrecker in this place?" Such joy is driving is hard to find.

Orvieto is another hill town, perched about more modern parts of town. I use my phone to find a parking area on the edge of the old town, in a park-like area. Like other times, we struggled with the payment machine. I stepped back to watch the locals. They all had trouble. The machine was not taking credit cards. We collected all our change and received a ticket for three hours.
Following our phone, we threaded our way through alleys and narrow streets to the Duomo di Orvieto, the Cathedral of Orvieto, another white and green marble church with a piazza surrounded by four or five-story stone buildings. People were taking pictures of the cathedral, sitting in cafes, or simply resting along the wall. After purchasing tickets, we passed through the required COVID screening and entered.

The Duomo was built in the 14th Century with massive brass doors and a dramatic gothic facade. Across the face were stone sculptures, mosaics, a stained glass window, and bronze Lamb of God and Saint Michael. Inside were two rows of dramatic marble statues, Saints, and other people. The lower half of the aisle windows are not glass but thin sheets of tan alabaster showing up in the light as almost modern designs because of the various bands of brown. Near the entrance is a vast marble baptismal font. The Duomo does not allow pictures.

After the Duomo, we walked through the museum, displaying original elements, sculptures, and paintings replaced by copies.

After lunch, we headed back to our car with only a few minutes to spare. Leaving the Piazza, I elected to follow some women in white gowns who had been part of a photoshoot on the Duomo steps. There was no doubt they were heading in the right direction. Eventually, we figured out we were going in the wrong direction. Phone navigation is at best uncertain in the narrow streets and regularly loses track of where we are. We discussed where we parked the car, the name of the lot, and other information we should have written down. Studying the phone map, we made a wild assed guess and headed back, retracing our steps and then headed in the correct direction. We found the car half an hour late but no ticket.

Back in Montepulciano, we headed out for wine and decided to take one of the wine cellar tours offered along town streets. We found one near the Pulcinella, the bell ringer, a white figure on a bell tower who strikes the hour. People were snapping pictures.
The wine cellar didn't have an English guide available but gave us a map. The cellar was three stories below the street (opening out on lower streets) and stretched under seven buildings. We wound down steps into brick-vaulted tunnels with rows of large wine barrels, each labeled with a type and year. There were various stairs, tunnels, and rooms. In one was equipment for processing olives. In another room was the equipment for cleaning and washing wool. Cindy began to have trouble with claustrophobia, so we headed for the exit, following signs because there would be no way we could have figured out the tunnels. In one room, we found torture equipment. Cindy was eager to get up the step. Still, I was a little paralyzed by the medieval iron tortured device called a castratore. I needed wine.

Upstairs was a wine tasting with some very lovely nibbles of food. Sally bought the dried tomato relish. It was so good. She also purchased a bottle of the best wine we tasted.

Our supper plans were again at the mercy of luck. Many restaurants require reservations. One restaurant we have walked to three-night to find it booked. I had another restaurant possibility, La Biacola, a little further away. Luckily it was not full. We got a table outside under the brick vaulting over the alleyway. There was one other table free, but when two couples asked, they were turned away because they had two strollers. I walked inside to offer to swap tables because we were at the end with enough room for the strollers. The owners, after first not understanding, realized what I was offering. We moved tables, and the owner gave us a complimentary bottle of wine.
The menu was very interesting and the prices reasonable. I finally ordered a Florentine steak, a kilo-sized t-bone from a specific breed of cattle cooked only to medium-rare at best. In addition, we ordered ribollita, pici with ragu, and a lovely salad. There was some discussion about the size of the steak, but I pointed out that the couple behind us ordered the same and they obviously were smart reasonable people The steak had coarse salt on top and was cooked to perfection. It was tender, juicy, with fantastic flavor.

We headed home with a slight detour for gelato.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 08:01 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Day trip to Assisi

Hill towns are our life

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With phone in hand for navigation, we headed off to Assisi for another day trip. Assisi, another walled hill town, is the home of Saint Francis of Assisi, who took a vow of humility and poverty. Francis believed that nature was an expression of God and all animals were our brothers and sisters. He even preached to the birds. The Franciscan Order arose from his followers. One of his followers, Clare of Assisi, became a leader in her own right and founded Order of Poor Ladies and wrote her Rules for Life, the first known for a woman.

As we approached Assisi, storm clouds were on the horizon, and we snaked our way up the side of the hill towards our goal, parking. After parking, we had a good climb up steps to the street and a walk through the brick gate into another hill town of narrow streets, shops, cafes, and churches.

The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi was across town, about a mile. We walked fast, trying to beat the rain. The Basilica was on the edge of the hill town. A large grassy area in front of the Basilica had shrubby spelling out PAX. In the corner of the grassy area stood a bronze statue of Francis in armor on a horse. Francis was slumped over, probably signifying how his experience as a soldier turned his life to peace.
The Basilica was closed for mass since it was Sunday but would open back up at 1:00. We walked up the street for lunch.

After lunch, we entered the Basilica and followed the path down into his tomb in a vaulted crypt. People were in the row of benches praying. Others went forward to light candles. We were able to circle the stone tomb then out to the upper level of the Basilica with its fantastic frescos, which were big, bold, and full of life. I was stuck with the ornamentation commemorating a very humble man.

It began to rain as we left the Basilica, so we took shelter at the Basilica of Saint Clare, built about 1200. It was a simple, early gothic building with plain walls and a few preserved frescos. Over the years, much of the preservation money went to Saint Francis and not Clare.
The rain finally broke, and we walked back towards our car. Along the way, we passed a street performer standing on a box, motionless as if a statue of Saint Francis. I dropped some coins in the collection box. Saint Francis handed me a note in three languages, “I ‘ll always look for what unites rather than that which divides.”
We drove home but decided to stop at a lake. Without knowing what we would find, we left the motorway. We threaded through an industrial area, followed the lake until we found a lakeside park with a carousel, benches, etc., and cafes across the street. We had a gelato and then were back on the road.
In Montepulciano, we searched for supper and finally found a small place, Le Rime, on a sloping street with tables outside. Tables here are either blocked up on one end or have extendable legs to deal with the inclines. We started with a wine tasting, bought the best he offered, and after massive antipasti, ordered lasagna. That was a good supper. The lasagna was the best I have ever eaten, light and delicate.
A good day.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 20:22 Archived in Italy Tagged italy assisi Comments (0)

Day trip to Siena

Cathedral competition

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Today is a return to Siena. After entering the gate, we parked in virtually the same place. We walked up the hill to the Piazza del Campo, then on to the Duomo di Siena, the Siena Cathedral. After checking our vaccination records, we purchased tickets and entered the Cathedral.

The Cathedral was an attempt for Siena to compete with Florence, a one-up on cathedrals. It seems that Siena and Florence competed relentlessly. There was an earlier structure, but in the 1100s, a new cathedral was started. It was built in parts with work going on for more than a hundred years. In the 1300s, they planned to double the Cathedral, a wild dream to outshine Florence, but the black death struck Siena in 1348, and work was halted. The massive new version was never completed. Half the population of Siena died from the plague, and the city never regained its power. The cathedral was completed but part of the larger version still stand outside.
The Cathedral is constructed of alternating white and dark green marble, inside and out striped. Inside is notable for the extensive stone inlaid floors with scenes from the bible. Sculptures line the walls.

After the Cathedral, we decided on lunch on the Piazza del Campo. There was a pretty big crowd in the various cafes around the central brick fan. Some people sunned themselves on the bricks. Children played. People wandered around with maps and cameras. Horn began blaring, and four cars burst out of a narrow side street onto the piazza, each decorated, students on the roof or hanging off the side, screaming and cheering. This is one of several events we have witnessed. It is the season for graduation, and they want to celebrate. Noted right away were the rather risqué decorations, body parts, on the cars. I think people at home would be a little too prudish for all this.

After our time in Siena, we drove the winding 40 kilometers back to Montepulciano.
After a rest, we headed out for supper but were distracted by a tour of a wine cellar. We were too late for a wine tasting so headed out again, without reservations. Luckily we found a restaurant that was full outside but could seat us inside.
The day finally came to an end, and we were tired.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 20:11 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Drive to Montepulciano

Cindy's Birthday

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Today was Cindy's birthday, and we were celebrating, but Cindy kept saying that a birthday in Italy was all she needed.
We ate breakfast at our old cafe and gave it a sad goodbye. We grabbed our bags, lugged them down the three flights, and to the bus stop.
The bus driver skipped our stop and then crossed the river. We pulled our luggage back across the river and the six or eight blocks to the car rental office.

Picking up the car was easy. The office wasn't large, think your living room, situated on a narrow street with no place to park and definitely no cars. After signing all the papers and paying the 500 euro deposit, we crossed the street and into an almost hidden garage. We were given the keys to a little white Fiat Panda, four doors, and room for a few carry-on bags.

There is a little anxiety when driving in a new country. I have been fretting about parking, blue lines for paid parking, white for free parking, and yellow is restricted to something special like police, handicapped, etc. Then there is the Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL), and you will pay dearly if you enter those areas. People warned me, "You are crazy to drive in Italy." Others said it was fine. We have been here enough days to see that drivers may be a little enthusiastic but not wild or crazy. They generally keep in their lane and are polite at intersections, but if there is a conflict over who had the right away, even with pedestrians, you can bet there will be shouting. We have already seen several people jump out of cars to yell. All that being said, the real issue here is narrow, and I mean narrow streets. You will be surprised by what narrow lane they can squeeze a car, truck, or street sweeper through. I had my challenge.

We pulled into the street, navigated multiple roundabouts, and finally found a winding road through scattered settlements. In places, we could have reached out the window and touched both sides of the street. Finally, we arrive at an actual motorway, a limed access toll road. Oh crap, how does this work? We picked up our ticket and were off.
At 110 kilometers an hour, we headed to Montepulciano. The toll booth was a little confusing, but finally, I threw enough money in the hopper. We stopped in a small town for a drink and break and decided to head to Siena for a quick look, then to Montepulciano. At Siena, after winding up a long hill towards town walls and entering a narrow roman gate. We parked the car along a wall in a row of parked cars. We looked around, trying to determine if we were safe to park. I asked and was told to park only if I wanted to be towed.

We found a paid space, fumbled with the machine to pay then walked to the central plaza. The Piazza del Campo, a massive fan-shaped brick plaza surrounded by a large building sloping down to the fan's point where a large church stands. At the top of the fan is a square fountain. The Palio di Siena is held here each year, a bareback horse race between various neighborhoods. Horses and crowds all crammed into the piazza for a wild three laps, which takes only 90 seconds.
We were back in our car and finally found Montepulciano, a collection of towers and buildings perched on a hill. Montepulciano is another walled hill town, old, high, narrow, and with limited car access. We had to have permission to enter the city and park.

The owner sent us a map. We followed the road along the wall, through an avenue of cypress trees, turned at what looked like an old church, Tempio di San Biagio. We had a steep climb to a very narrow gate marked no entrance. We stopped, but someone signaled to come through the gate. I sent a message to the apartment owners. She came to direct us to a small parking lot. We pulled our bags up the hill and into the narrow streets of Montepulciano. Our apartment was wonderful.
Montepulciano is not flat with no straight lines. Cobblestone streets wind all over the place with connecting passageways of stairs and or ramps. It is a workout. After unloading, we set out for supper. We had wine and cheese at the Croce di Febo with a great view of the vineyards and olive trees below our town. Below us were rolling hills, larger hills with large stone houses, rows of grapes, and plowed fields. In the distance, we could see a large lake and mountains.
We found a place with a view for supper, tried several wines, had a cheese tray and called it an evening.
The apartment owner sent us a message wishing Cindy a happy birthday. She had just noticed it on her passport. Another great day.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 20:12 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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