Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Under The Tuscan Sun

San Gimignano

1. Leaving Lake Como with regret
2. Getting our groove, 105 near Bologna
3. We establish our new Tuscan base in the Hotel Leon Blanco in San Gimignano
4. San Gimi a village of towers
5. More of San Gimi's towers
6. Doors and more doors
7. A crafstman restores centuries old artwork
8. At times, the nav takes you down unpredictable streets

San Gimignano
We established a base to explore the Tuscan Hill Towns in San Gimignano, an awesome medieval town with 14 of its historic towers still standing. In ancient times the towers were a symbol of wealth as well as a defense mechanism. The town has sold its soul to tourism but you can't deny its beauty and at this time of the year was relatively peaceful. This was a long drive from Como so we spent the rest of the day recovering in the sidewalk cafes of the piazza. Once you've had an Italian expresso, all is right in the world. We had a great evening dinner in a tiny local trattoria. The owner seemed proud as all get out when we requested a bottle of Brunello from nearby Montalcino. The wine was a boomer and practically climbed out of the glass to assault your nose with aroma. It was quite an experience!

On Tuesday we decided to tour the surrounding hill towns of Siena, Cortona, Montepulciano, Pienza, Montalcino and Montereggioni. Our plan was to start early and make the big loop, ending back at San Gimignano in the evening. An agressive schedule as we were to later find out.


1. The scooter is king!
2. The only Airedale in all of Europe
3. Can't remember who this guy was
4. Another wine lover
5. Piazza il Campo - the heart of Siena. They actually have a horse race around this piazza twice a year.
6. The city hall tower (Torre del Mangia)
7. A wedding (or christening perhaps?) we stumbled upon
8. Inside the duomo, we found this Michelangelo

Our first stop was Siena, a lifelong rival to Florence. We spent about two hours here with a cappucino on the piazza and a tour of the duomo (cathedral) which was loaded with great art and sculptures. A walk back to the parking lot via the old town and we were soon on our way to Cortona.


1. The City Hall (Palazzo della Comune) on the Piazza della Repubblica
2. Piazza della Repubblica
3. Piazza della Repubblica
4. Lunch overlooking the piazza
5. The best pasta I've ever had (center bottom)! Orecchiette al Fumo - 6 Euros!
6. The menu
7. Where's Marcia??

Cortona blew any chance we had of staying on schedule. This was one of the highlites of our trip and we all fell in love with this sleepy little hillside town with awesome views of the Tuscan countryside. We had a fantastic lunch overlooking the piazza and we're all still talking about it. I've never had pasta like this in my life. I'm determined to find the recipe for this. There was a great leather goods store where the girls bought handmade purses and Andy bought a dynamite overnight bag in buttery leather. Cortona has been made famous recently by the Francis Mayes books and the subsequent movie 'Under the Tuscan Sun'. No one wanted to leave and the pictures just don't do it justice.


1. On the Piazza Grande
2. View of the Tuscan countryside
3. Palazzo Comunale on the Piazza Grande

We were late getting here after our euphoric visit to Cortona but just had to stop as a result of a fine Nobile de Montepulciano wine we had back in Como (thanks Keith, a spendid recommendation). The town has become famous as a result of its wines but it sure was a tough hike up the top of the mountain from the parking lot (they don't call them hill towns for nothing). A highlite was a classic opera singer who decided to practice just as we were walking down this cobblestone street by her window. The sound was eerily bouncing off the walls and was a joy to hear.


1. The narrow town lanes of Pienza
2. Dinner at the Ristorante dal Falco

Pienza always had to be a must stop. My good friend Keith in England claimed to have the best meal of his life in a little restaurant called Latte di Luna. The restaurant is famous for its roast suckling pig and homemade ice cream. We arrived just after dark with everyone primed for a fantastic meal. As luck would have it, the restaurant was closed on the one night we managed to stop by. A quick walk thru town found us a great value meal at the Ristorante dal Falco. Our waitress was an absolute twin of the Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova complete with Russian accent which made it even more enjoyable for the guys.

With time running late we could no longer afford Montalcino and Montereggioni and will have to save them for another visit. The drive back to San Gimi, roaring thru the switchbacks of the Tuscan countryside, the cypress trees silhouetted against the nighttime sky, with a million stars overhead and the cars truly in their element just begging to be pushed, was pure magic. This entire day will stay in my heart forever. I am in love with Tuscany. Tuscana, mio amore nuovo.

Back in San Gimi around 11 PM left us just enough time for a brandy at the one outdoor cafe still open. We reflected on how fortunate we are to share this experience. Tomorrow we're off to the Dolomites and the Italian Alps as we try to get as close to Munich as possible. There is sorrow in the sense that our trip is coming to an end.


Keith said...

Thanks for the mentions Rich although I'm absolutely gutted that you'd made it all the way to Pienza only to find the restaurant shut.

I'm really enjoying your travelogue which is brightening up a dreadful return to work after 2 weeks vacation. Keep it coming.

David said...

Rich, I agree with Keith. Your pictures and accounts are great.

I'm starting to do some quick calculations. E.g., if I cash in all my chips now, how many days/weeks/months/years/decades can I spend exploring Italy by day and mingling in the piazza by night?

Una nuova bottiglia di vino rosso, per favore. Grazie.


jeff said...

Looking at the tach, you still have a few 100rpm ... Hammer down!

Indyrich said...

You were not half as gutted as we were. It looked like the perfect place to have our celebration dinner. I'll have to go back some day--Maybe if you and I do Monza next year I'll stay a little longer.

They talk about the unlimited speed autobahns but sections where you can do that are few and far between. I think that there is just as much construction going on in Italy as there is on the dreaded Dan Ryan. 130 was tops but no photo evidence to prove it!

I'd love to pick up a place over here, we'd need about 5 partners to do it though. I've found my calling -- its to sit in the piazzas, sipping my vino and contemplating life.