Wednesday - September 7
The vineyard alongside the farm where we were staying is
not owned by Alex. The owners will not be picking for a
couple more weeks, but they were getting ready while we
were there by dropping off the red baskets along the rows
of vines to collect the grapes.
Today we went on a wine tour with Alex and the family from Venezuela. Alex first bought a vineyard in 1977 and planted many of the fields himself, grafting plants from the U.S. to native plants. He explained that in the 1800s a fungus killed many of the Italian vines and they found that they could save the variety by grafting this special vine from the U.S.
He took us to the winery he built. He sold it in the 1990s but has clearly stayed in contact with the current owner and seems to have total run of the place. He is extremely knowledgeable and gave us step by step instructions on the entire process of making wine. Here we saw the big stainless steel tanks where the fermentation occurs and then the big barrels used for storage and aging. It was very interesting. Frankly, I didn't understand some of the more technical aspects of the process, but Dick seemed to grasp it all. While Alex no longer owns a vineyard, he does own 25 acres of olive groves and recently sent us pictures of the harvest and the making of olive oil. They don't harvest olives until October, but that would also be fascinating to see.
After the tour Dick and I stopped at a little roadside restaurant where locals were eating lunch. We shared a big salad with greens, tomatoes, olives, tuna fish, and mozzarella cheese and also a deep fried mozzarella cheese sandwich. We weren't really sure of what we were getting as the menu was totally in Italian, so it was a bit of a surprise and way too much food to eat.
Dick wanted to go back to Montipulciano, but I wasn't interested so he brought me back to the farm before he went off. I decided to go over to the apartment of the Venezuelan family as they hadn't taken a camera to the winery and had asked if I could share the pictures I took. We ended up chatting for a couple hours. Listening to them talk about their home country was quite enlightening. They are clearly not fans of their President. It was also interesting to talk about the teenage girls' schooling. They both spoke excellent English with no accent at all. The family speaks Spanish at home, but they all speak English and Italian as their family background is Italian. Mom's (Maria's) parents are friends of Alex and Ingrid.
Later Dick came back and then we went into Montipulciano for dinner about 8:00 P.M. We had a restaurant in mind, but when we got there it was closed. As we were walking up the hill looking for another place we ran into our Venezuelan friends and they invited us to join them for dinner. They were going to go back to the farm and pick up Alex, so we got into our car and followed along. This morning Alex's wife, Ingrid, went to Rome to visit with her nephew, but got sick with an intestinal problem and they put her in the hospital for overnight. Alex kept calling her on his cell throughout the evening. We weren't sure where we were going and it was out in the country so we stayed close. This was also a local place and no tourist would ever find it. We were first shown to a table near a television, but Maria insisted that we move away from the TV saying you can't talk if that is on. She was right, but it was interesting watching her take charge even though her husband and the kids were already sitting down watching what I remember to be a soccer game. The restaurant had an appetizer and salad bar - the first time I had seen anything like this in Italy (or even Europe, for that matter). Everyone picked out whatever they wanted and then ordered dinner. Dick and I both ordered crab pasta. So did Maria. I couldn't finish mine, but she put away her whole plate in record time and then started eating off her husband's plate and one of the girl's plates. She's a skinny little mite of a woman, where does she put it? After dinner they all decided they needed to stop at the gelato place. This was in another little town - I really couldn't say where. We just kept following the tail lights in front of us. There didn't seem to be much in this little town except the gelato store, but it appeared to be a local hangout. There were several teens hanging out there sitting on plastic chairs on the sidewalk in front. Alex chatted with all of them and we all ordered cones or little cups of gelato. The food for the evening was pretty ordinary, but the company was delightful and we had a fun time. We didn't get home until 11:30P.M. which is a bit later for us then we would have preferred, but it was worth it. The Venezuelans are leaving tomorrow morning at 6:00A.M. for Rome, so I guess it's really late for them. But, hey, they're young and the late hours don't seem to bother them. As I got into bed I could hear music playing somewhere. I can't really hear the tune, just thump, thump, de dump, etc. - you get the idea. My goodness, it's after midnight, can't they turn it down?
Thursday - September 8
Today we have decided to go to Siena. We followed Alex's super directions in his little map book and had no trouble getting there. Once off the autostrada we followed signs to the soccer stadium parking lot by following little soccer ball signs. After finding a parking place we followed signs to the Ill Campo, Siena's main square.
It is here that the famous Palio horse races take place on July 2 and August 16. For this event people pay to sit on the bleachers or view it from a balcony on one of the surrounding buildings. Others can cram into the center of the square. While the atmosphere must be fun for this event, you couldn't pay me to participate.
Surrounding the square are restaurants, apartments, and offices and it is dominated by the City Hall and its 330 foot tower.
From here we walked to the Duomo. This structure dates from 1215 with many of its major decorations being done during the years 1250-1350. Both the inside and the outside are simply magnificent with colorful art. Inside there are both Michelangelo and Bernini sculptures. The frescos and stained glass are outstanding and even the floors are decorated with marble inlays depicting stories from the Old Testament and other patterns. Many of these are roped off to deter people from walking on them and damaging them. Unfortunately, my camera does not take good pictures inside so I can't show much of this.
One picture that didn't turn out too badly is of the
decorated music scores and a statue of a Roman copy of a Greek statue called the Three Graces.
Another one shows the impressive dome of the church.
After leaving the church we went to a nearby museum. I can't remember the name of it, but it had no elevator. We climbed several flights of steps and looked through the exhibits on each floor. Finally I asked an attendant how many floors there were and, while he didn't speak English, he held up 15 fingers. We weren't finding the exhibits all that interesting and were definitely not interested in climbing another 12 or 13 floors so we left and went in search of lunch.
We went back to Ill Campo and found a table at one of the restaurants, San Giovanni Di Grazia, overlooking the square. It was way overpriced and they charged a cover charge for the ringside seat, but we were hungry and thirsty so we plunked ourselves down. Dick ordered a pizza with ham, olives, and artichokes (which was very good) and I ordered a salad with greens, green beans, white beans, shredded carrots, hard boiled egg, and cold potato quarters. It had a mayonnaise dressing on it. Of course we shared a bit of each other's lunches. Dick had a beer and I had a coke in addition to a large bottle of water. Dick also added a cappuccino.
After lunch we went back up the steep ramp and up the steps to the Baptistery. It was small, but very pretty with a large baptismal font in the center. Once again, I took pictures, but they didn't turn out.
There was certainly more to see in this lovely town, but we had exhausted ourselves and decided to go on home. This is one of the small streets as we walked down the hill toward the parking lot. San Domenico Church is in the background. The heat is continuing and it, plus the hills, does sap whatever energy reserves one has.
We got home about 5:30 P.M. and after relaxing a bit we went back to Montipulciano to our favorite restaurant, Trattoria Diva E Maceo. This time I ordered the potato ravioli again and Dick ordered steak and French fries. Of course we shared. Both were good, but I do believe the lamp chops were better then the steak. We didn't have any bruschetta tonight, but did share a tiramisu. We both had wine and Dick had some coffee. We found it interesting that the bill tonight was less then the bill for lunch this afternoon. We had a lot more food tonight (and it was better), but that's what you get for a "ringside" seat. It was also surprising, as hot as the temperature was during the day; in the evening I needed a sweater due to the breeze that was blowing.
Friday - September 9
This was our last day in Tuscany. We didn't want to plan any road trips for today, but looking back perhaps we should have. There are so many wonderful places to go and lots of towns and cities we didn't get to. I guess it's always a good idea to leave something for a return trip. I'm already making my list.
We started the day with a big breakfast, trying to clean out the refrigerator. We had ham/cheese omelets, orange juice (that was red), toast, and fried potatoes. After showering I tried organizing and packing whatever bathroom things I could.
About this time Alex stopped by and told us that the post office had called and Dick's International Drivers License had arrived. He didn't have time to drive to Aquaviva so he gave us directions and written permission to pick up this letter that was addressed to him. The tow truck driver had sent it registered mail and Dick had to show his passport to prove who he was. We found the post office in the general place Alex had said, but he called it a large orange building and to me it looked like a small brown building, so of course, we drove right past it. After asking someone, we were successful in our errand and retrieved the errant license. Now that we are leaving tomorrow, Dick will be legal, once again, to drive the car.
Our next errand was to fill up the gas tank in the car so it would be full to return to the rental car place. This proved more difficult then picking up someone else's mail. The one other time we got gas there was an attendant present to help fill the tank and take the money. Unfortunately, this time we were only able to find no attendant gas stations. The system they have is to put money (cash - no credit card) in a machine (you guess how much you need) and when however much you have paid for is reached, the pump shuts off. The machine doesn't give change and we only had a 50 euro bill. So we left this place and drove back into town. We went to the pizzeria where we had gone the first day for lunch and grabbed a couple sandwiches, cokes and that broke the 50 euro bill. Now back to the quest of filling up the gas tank. The first place again had no attendant, but Dick managed to put some gas in it. It wasn't enough to fill it though, so we went to another place hoping to find an attendant and be able to fill it up. No such luck, but we did add some more. Even though it is still not registering full we were done with this silly activity.
We went back to the farm and finished our packing, leaving things out for tomorrow morning. We then spent the rest of the afternoon reading. We had told Alex that we wanted to take him and Ingrid (obviously she is home and feeling better after her bout with food poisoning) out for dinner to pay him back for all the extra things he did for us. About
8:00 P.M. we all went in Alex's car to another place the locals go. It was called Pesce D' Orochius, or in English, The Golden Fish, and was located on Lake Chiusi, about 45 minutes away. It was a very nice evening. Dick and I shared a pasta dish with clams and then for dinner a fried fish of some sort that Alex recommended. He also ordered some white beans to share and three small carafes of a white bubbly wine. Dick and Alex both had a gelato for dessert and Ingrid and I ordered a limoncello poured over lemon sherbet. That was really good - I think I'll try that at home! After dinner we took a stroll along the lake. It was dark so we couldn't see much, but it was obvious that it's a pretty place during days with nice weather. There was a sand beach and we could see a dock that must have been used to tie up boats. On our way home we drove through the town of Aquaviva and the mystery of the nighttime music was solved. They were having a three night music festival with live bands. As we drove through town tonight at 11:30 P.M., people were still arriving with lawn chairs and blankets in hand and even pushing baby buggies down the street. Cars were parked all over and more were continuing to look for parking places. Alex offered to stop if we wanted to go to the concert, but we all declined. I'm sure he was kidding, but who knows? Well, I guess there will be more thump, thump, bumpety bump echoing through the hills tonight!
Next up is Florence and the end of our trip to Italy.