Arno River, Firenze, Italia

Arno River, Firenze, Italia

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tuscan vino.

Tuscany was a relief.  Quiet and green, it was a much needed vacation from the hectic and busy streets of Florence.  The countryside was a bit repetitive, but before you think I’m ungrateful, consider this.  Our bus driver, a Tuscan tour guide, felt it all the looked the same too.  Even with signs pointing towards Pienza, our first destination, he still drove an hour out of his way before realizing his mistake and turning around.  And then the green rolling hills and vineyards were the same for the entire hour back to Firenze.  From there, we began our original two hour drive to Pienza, a small town located south of Siena.
Pienza is known for its cheese, especially pecorino formaggio, one the best in Italy.  Aged from two to twelve months, the most famous pecorino cheese is “sotto cenere” or “under the ashes,” and is aged in such a manner to give it a wonderful smoky flavor.  Our tour of the town included a cheese tasting of four different pecorino cheeses, the sweetest and mildest aged only a couple months and the strongest and harshest aged over a year.  Our vote: right in the middle, around six months is perfect, with just the amount of flavor while still remaining soft and moist.

From there, we traveled to Azienda Agricola Bindella in Montepulciano for lunch, a wine tasting, and a tour of the vineyard.  The food was simple but eagerly received (Especially after our slight detour, it was definitely needed.  I went through two granola bars and a kit-kat bar on the bus. With all the walking here, food is essential!)  Bruschetta, fresh cheese, rice with olives and tomatoes, and some other baked goods lined the table.  And as soon as we entered, they started pouring wine.  The first, a light and fruity vino rosso (red wine) was served with lunch.  And then when a lemon torte appeared, a stronger red wine was introduced, “Bindella,” my favorite of the wine tasting.  As the meal finished, a third wine made its rounds, very dry and very strong.  At that point, my plate was empty and the strength of the wine was hard to stomach without food.
Our resort, Borgo Pian dei Mucini in Massa Marittima was in the middle of green and more green, absolutely breathtaking.  The rooms were simple and comfortable.  I was with three other girls from the program, one a classmate in my Florence Sketchbook class.  After turning in for the night (early to bed according to most standards), I left the only key on the front table of our room, expecting the girls to lock it behind them when they returned for the evening.

At three in the morning, we all woke in a panic.  Two Italian men had broken into our unlocked hotel room.  One of the girls slammed the door shut on them, holding it shut against their advances as we rushed around, looking for the key.  Once it was locked, we wedged a chair under the handle (which wouldn’t have done a thing really) and took a moment to regroup.  #1: Lock your hotel door.  It’s simple really.  But really important!  #2: Hotels in Italy don’t have fancy phones with buttons that say “front desk.”  So if by chance something does goes wrong, you have no choice but to return to bed and resolve it in the morning.  And we did.  The other girls were upgraded to a villa, and I remained in the “dangerous” room for the second night with Carmel and Megan.  And just for the record, I locked the door and no one broke in!  What a miracle.

Day two included visits to Pitigliano and Sovana.
Pitigliano is a work of art.  Completely built of “tufa”, a variety of limestone native to the region, the little town of Pitigliano rose out of the mountain, one seeming to blend into the other with little distinction.  Protected by three rivers at its base, this castle-mountain city was refined by the Renaissance art movement, blending paint and stone and Roman aqueducts to create a protected and isolated little town free from the modernity and graffiti of Firenze.  Yet there was a sense of entrapment, with cliffs on every side plunging into forest below and only one road leading out.  The castle town, while beautiful, felt forbidden and strange, almost ghost-like.  Streets seemed deserted.  Houses were quiet.  And no kids played in the road.  I was almost relieved to leave.

From there, we stopped for a short while (meaning ten minutes, no more no less!, compliments of more detours and time delays) in Sovana.  We really didn’t get a chance to explore this little town.  I saw the inside of a bar and a church, and wandered down this back street, following signs to a “WC” or “bagno.”  My impression of the town: I have absolutely no idea, but I would love to go back if given the chance.

Our final day was spent at the beach.  Men in speedos loitered around.  Rocks littered the sand.  And the weather was perfect. Carmel, Megan, and I, along with two of our friends (or perhaps only close friends on the trip), Cody and Kait Raak, ventured down a gravel path in search of a pizzeria.  On Sundays, closing times and opening times are a bit confusing.  Many restaurants are closed at the typical lunch/dinner period.  As we followed the strange signs around corner after corner in search of food, we started to question our actions: Was there really a pizzeria? Would it be open? And what kind of food does it serve if it takes ten minutes of backpacking through the woods to reach it?  However, despite our hesitancies, the pizzeria was indeed open for business, with clean facilities and good food.  The five of us split two pizzas, quite proud for finding a “local” spot.  We were all convinced other students would be boarding the bus hungry for the return trip.

As we made our way back to the beach to collect rocks and find gelato, we stumbled upon the main road of the little beach town and the rest of the American students.  They were not going hungry at all, but had at their fingertips dozens of open establishments serving food, gelato, drinks, and snacks.  Our pride was shattered. 

On this street we discovered the best gelateria yet.  For 2 Euro, I got a cone piled high with three types of gelato: Mascarpone (a sweet cheese), Cioccolato Fondente (dark chocolate), and Pesca (peach).  The combination was delicious. 

We walked home that night and had a most unbalanced meal of cheesy penne pasta, garlic potatoes, and green beans, the remaining contents of our fridge and pantry.

Me, Megan, Carmel, Kait

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