Our trek to Tuscany started out with the theft of my daypack (bummer), so before jumping in the car, we needed to make a pit stop at the police station in the Florence train station to file a police report. We would have done it in Rome, but we would have missed our train and that would have been even more annoying. Our experience at the police station was odd - we knocked on the door because it was locked and a policeman stuck his head out of the door asking what we wanted. Abby explained as best she could that my bag was stolen and we needed to report it. The policeman looked at us for a moment and told us to wait outside. He came back with someone who spoke English and we explained what happened again. He also stared at us and told us to wait. He then noticed that Abby is pregnant and finally asked us to come sit down in the small station. Pregnancy wins again! The whole process to file a report was quite simple; I was handed a template to fill out with information about what happened, a description of the thief (which I clearly didn't have), the contents of the bag, the date/time, and my signature. They took a copy of my passport, gave me a stamped copy of the report, and sent us on our way. We were in and out within 10 minutes! Of course they said, "If we find, we call you." Sure, I'll hold my breath.
Ok, we were finally on our way to our next home, the condo of my mom's best friend, Jane, deep in the Tuscan countryside, near the small towns of San Sano and Gaiole in Chianti. This beautiful farmhouse was so isolated that it didn't even show up on Google Maps! For the first time in a long time we could not rely on technology to get us where we wanted to go, we had to follow written directions the old fashioned way. I couldn't help but reminisce about getting directions in New Hampshire, "Turn left at the big tree, and if you reach the red house you've gone to fahhhh. It's wicked confusing." We drove through lush green hills and barely-budding grape vines, down dirt roads and through towns so small you'd miss them if you blinked. As we got out of the car when we had arrived, our jaws dropped in awe of the surroundings - fields and trees and hills and wildflowers...it was stunning and wonderfully quiet! We were all going to sleep very well here! We picked up a few necessaries at the market in Gaiole (eggs, strawberries, pesto, bread, and proscuitto - the breakfast of champions), and grabbed three pizzas at the take away spot down the road. We stuffed ourselves in the giant kitchen and drifted off to bed early.
After a delicious and relaxing breakfast the next morning (how lovely it was to sit in such a beautiful place and eat such fresh food with two of my all time favorite people), we started our Tuscan exploration. Off to Siena! Just about an hour away (actually, everything seemed to be about an hour away), was the gorgeous city of Siena, home to a striped duomo and the famous Palio horse race. No, we didn't get to see the race (it's in July and August), we did wander around the fan-shaped square that it takes place in. As we approached, we heard rhythmic drumming and people cheering - there was a small rally taking place in the middle of the square and participants were all holding flags of various countries, including the US. We have no idea what it was for, but we liked the excitement! We walked through the small streets and alleyways, up the hills (can I take a minute to say that Abby is a trooper?! She walked all over the place with us, up stairs, down hills, everywhere, and was awesome! Such a strong lady!) and made our way to the stunning striped duomo. We took our time as we explored the interior, taking in the blue domed ceilings detailed with gold stars, tombs, paintings, and carvings. We had yet to see a church that used the floor as part of the decoration as well- elaborate mosaics covered the entire footprint of the cathedral, the most interesting to us being that of Romulus and Remus feeding from the she-wolf of Siena.
After the seeing the duomo, Abby practiced her magical pregnancy powers again and gained access to another restricted bathroom. I'm definitely going to have to remember this trick! We stopped at a grocery store to pick up more supplies for home - more pesto, more proscuitto, lots of cheese, and wine (hey, when in....well, anywhere! Wine is always necessary!)
As we were about to leave, Ab and I noticed a baby clothing store and couldn't resist going in. Since I'm missing her baby shower, I couldn't pass up the chance to get Minerva something that her mom had loved and picked out from Italy. So 45 minutes later Minerva had a couple outfits and we were on our way home. I thoroughly enjoyed having a full kitchen to use and whipped up some bruschetta pasta for dinner. Yum!
Our mission for the next day was simple - wine tasting! We set out for the small hilltop town of Montepulciano. This little place offered many more hills than Siena, but was much sleepier and more quaint. The cobbled streets were lined with the different neighborhood flags of all different colors. Ceramic stores where merchants were hand painting designs, small clothing stores that would interest those adorable little old Italian ladies who all look the same, and restaurants that smelled like basil and garlic opened right onto the streets. We opted for a late lunch and, when we asked to be seated, the server said "We close in 45 minutes, I'm not sure you'll have enough time." Our puzzled looks must have told her that 45 minutes would be plenty of time, and she offered a solution, "Ok maybe just for a plate pasta but no salad or desserts?" Sounds perfect - one course of delicious pici pasta is all we wanted anyway! We quickly gobbled up our lunch and headed to the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano for some wine tasting. We sampled 7 different wines of the region in the small cave-like room below the main square, the 7 comprised of the Rosso, Nobile, Nobile Reserva, and Vin Santo. Shortly after our tasting experience (we didn't buy any this time), we were walking the perimeter, taking in the gorgeous views over perfectly green Tuscany when we heard drums. We set off to find them and see what was going on. Tracking down a moving drumline in Montepulciano was not easy; with multiple levels, streets just below other streets connected by small staircases and alleys, I felt like I was in Labyrinth! We finally found them at the town square where we had been earlier. We joined the gathering crowd and sat on the church steps to watch their performance. We discovered that we had caught the closing ceremony of the Peace Run, "global relay which promotes international friendship and understanding" according to Wikipedia.
The drummers played intense and dramatic beats for the flag bearers who threw their flags in the air in long choreographed dances. It was really interesting to see this medieval ceremony! Before heading home, we indulged in another homemade pasta meal - the pici pasta is too good to pass up! That evening I reflected on how lucky I am to get to have this time with Abby - to feel Minerva kick and roll around in there is incredible. My best friend is going to be a mom! She claimed that pregnancy doesn't suit her. While she may not be comfortable, she sure looks stunning and is not afraid to take on some adventures. I'd say it suits her quite beautifully and she is doing an amazing job. I just can't believe she came all that way so I could talk to her tummy!
After a day of rest and relaxation, we took Sunday to literally do nothing but watch movies and do laundry, we were ready for more wine tasting, this time in Montalcino! We visited two wineries, Antico Poggio (which was like Napa in terms of pricing - taste 5 wines for 20 euros.... ouch), and Tenuta Fanti (which was like Paso Robles - get a tour and taste 7 wines and olive oil for free, in a private setting!). You can guess which experience we liked more. We bought 2 bottles at Fanti before visiting the famous Abbey of Sant'Antimo across the road. Our host at Fanti gave us a tip - if we could get over there by 12:45 we could catch the Gregorian chants! Talk about a neat and unique experience - to sit in this abbey that dates back to the time of Charlemagne, listening to the soothing chants was something else. Ready for lunch, we drove to the even smaller town hilltop town of Montalcino, which was even quieter and sleepier than the last 2! We devoured our lunch wandered around the old fortress just as the rain came. We stood under the trees watching the pouring down rain fall from ominously dark clouds for a few minutes before deciding we'd had enough. We drove to another grocery store to pick up more proscuitto ("you really want 30 slices?" Yes please!), popcorn for more movies, and other supplies.
For the last day of our Tuscan exploration, we drove out to San Giminagno, home of vernaccia, for more wine tasting (surprise!). Some may think it odd that I took a pregnant lady wine tasting for three days. I just think she's supportive of my passion!
All week long, as we came and went, we passed giant statues of a man and women bending over and sticking their faces in bushes near the road. Little did we know that, during our exploration of San Gimignano the next day, we'd end up at the winery of the family who owns these odd structures! During our drive through the home of vernaccia, delicious white wine, we randomly decided to pull into a winery with a small wooden shack and a sign that said "wine tasting". The son of the owners poured us as much wine as we wanted from all of their wineries all over Italy. I pointed to a bottle and said "let's try that one!", and he swiftly poured us a taste and showed me documentation explains the winery and the grapes that grew beneath those statues! We went to one other winery that day before heading into the town.
San Gimignano may be small, but it was bustling with tourists! It was certainly the most crowded town we'd seen in Tuscany. We really went to the area for three reasons: 1) to try vernaccia - check! 2) to climb the highes tower (of the original 72 towers of the old walled city, 14 remain. You can climb the stairs of the highest one for unbeatable views), 3) to try the world championship winning gelato. We spent the afternoon knocking the last 2 off our list. The gelato was, indeed, delicious, but I think I actually preferred Grom in Rome. The views from the top of the tower, though, lived up to the hype- it was gorgeous up there!
We made our way back to our isolated paradise one last time, stopping for dinner in nearby San Sano for dinner at Grotto Della Rana. This cute little restaurant had hand written menues and an adorable elderly man who served my wine. The food was the best we'd had in Italy and the people were lovely! This was our favorite meal during our entire Italian adventure! After sharing tiramisu it was time to head back to pack. In the morning we had to take Abby back to Florence so she could start her long journey back to California.
Getting up early, while difficult, usually has its perks. The last morning we piled into the car as the sun was coming up. A heavy mist hung right on top of the vines and inner wen the trees as we drove through the winding county roads. As the sun rose, the rippled clouds turned from blue to pink to orange in a matter of minutes. Every so often we would reach a clearing in the trees and look down the hills into the valley where we had been staying- the bright green trees, hot pink sky, and stark white mist looked like a painting. It was the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen.
We got Abby to the train station in plenty of time. I hugged her tight before she grabbed her bags and headed off. The next time I'm with her she'll have a 6 month old! I still can't believe it! I'm so grateful for this trip with her and I can't wait to meet little Minerva! I turned quickly to get in the car as she walked away- I didn't want to cry on the street!
We returned the car and spent a few hours walking around Florence. Since we had our packs with us, we weren't allowed to go inside the duomo, but we did see the golden doors and the huge and detailed statues, and walked along the water and across the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. Florence is pretty, but it seems to be a shoppers paradise. Neither of us really love to shop, and we don't have room for any new stuff anyway, so we went back to the train station and waited for our train to Riomaggiore in Cinque Terre. The ocean was waiting for us, and I was eager!
Tuscany was phenomenal! Thank you, Janie, for your generousity! We loved every second of our stay in your gorgeous home!