Piran to Lucignano
27.02.2017 - 01.03.2017 15 °C
We arose early Tuesday morning, Cath was in the mood for croissants, so ducked down to the bakers while Ian busied himself in the shower. A delicious breakfast of apricot jam filled croissants and coffee and we were on our way. The air was crisp and fresh as we waited by the quayside for our bus. The multi coloured buildings provided a cheery backdrop, a little reminiscent of Tobermory, if perhaps not quite so bright, more pastel than primary colours.
The bus driver arrived and we boarded for the short trip to Koper, from whence we departed to Trieste, L'Italia at last. Trieste arrived far sooner than we had imagined, appearing quite enormous to us, considering the small towns and villages we had been frequenting. We disembarked and found our hotel no more than 150 meters away. As we were still quite early, we left our bags and ploughed off into the city.
Trieste sits on the coast at the northern end of the Adriatic and has clearly been a seafaring power in years gone by. We found a large square the Piazza Unità d'Italia by the sea, replete with impressive buildings, covered in the usual collections of statues frowning down at the tourists. As it happened, it was Shrove Tuesday and so there were many stalls set up, selling a variety of wares. We strolled along the quayside, arriving at the Canale Grande, where we finally chose a small cafe with quaint checked tablecloths. What an excellent choice!
Lunch consisted of Raviolini a Bologna for Ian, a wonderful dish of spinach and ricotta filled ravioli, smothered in a red wine and sausage mince sauce. Definitely a top ten meal for the trip and the harbinger of great meals to come. Cath had a Tagliatelli Carbonara and vowed that she would never make another as she couldn't possibly compete. Dessert was the omnipresent Tiramisu for Cath and for Ian a Crema Carsolina; both of these dishes confirmed Cath's claim that the Italians are premiere chefs. And of course the whole lot was washed down with a litre of fine Cabernet.
Feeling particularly jolly, we spilled out into the street and as we were walking back to the hotel, we heard a riotous noise, the source of which proved to be an enormous street parade, which appeared to celebrate the end of "Carnivale". It was truly hilarious to see all manner of people dancing, singing and generally acting the goat in the weirdest bunch of costumes imaginable. For the most part, the women were in dancing groups performing dance routines, but the men..... It appeared that all the men were determined to outdo each other as "Crossdresser of the Year", they wore wedding dresses, evening gowns, short skirts, skimpy tops, in one case a thong stretched to bursting - not surprising, considering they generally aren't made to carry a handful of wedding tackle. And of course trowels of makeup and false eyelashes that looked like they could whip a dozen sex slaves into submission! We had a great laugh and headed back to the hotel feeling quite uplifted. We had truly arrived in the land of la dolce vita.
Wednesday morning found us at the station, ordering a breakfast of rolls and coffee, Ian taking the first attempt at ordering, only to find (again) even the cafeteria staff are multilingual. By 9:30 it was all aboard the train for Venice, rolling across the plains between the coast on the one side and the snow capped peaks of the alps on the other. Well kept houses and of course neatly kept fields and vegetable plots rolled by. Clearly everyone was gearing up for spring.
Venice arrived in a rather dull way. The railway station is nowhere near the fabled canals and waterways, so we simply switched trains and once more continued our journey. This time we were headed toward Milan via Florence, or should we say Milano via Firenze? It is puzzling the way different languages feel the need to give different names to the various cities and towns in other countries.... By now the countryside was starting to change, the flat land gradually giving way to more undulating countryside, whilst concurrently, the snow capped peaks disappeared. The railway station at Florence was a clean, efficiently run operation and we smoothly transitioned onto the line for Arezzo. As we settled back, the train picked up speed and we were hurtling along at 120 kph in no time. How do you know when you are on a high speed train? The cows only have enough time to say "M" before you pass them. Now the countryside was Tuscany proper; gorgeous hills draped with olive groves, pencil pines, vineyards yet to burst into leaf, orchards, streams and rivers wending this way and that, and of course beautiful villas dotting the hillsides in the soft afternoon sunlight, somehow contriving to look impossibly like a painting. We were both captivated. Fortunately the journey navigated a large number of long and dark tunnels also, else we may have leapt off the train there and then.
At Arezzo, we exchanged the train for the bus and the final leg of our journey. If the vista from the train had been a pleasure, the view from the bus was even more so. From our vantage point, we were able to get a closeup of the villas and farmlets, all painted with the uniform ivory yellow which seems to be mandatory for the area, as are the green or brown shutters. Woe betide anyone foolish enough to deviate.
Lucignano suddenly loomed above as we climbed out of the Val de Chianna, which is apparently named after a local breed of cattle, raised for the famous local dish Bistecca di Chianna. What a site! Ian started singing "That's Amore" involuntarily, until Cath gave him a dig in the ribs. The village is straight out of the 12th century; belltower, church spire, castle keep and walls all conspiring together, with the crude stone construction method used in the walls, to take you way back in time. The olive trees and pencil pines, along with birches, yet to come into leaf only served to make the scene more romantic.
The bus dropped us off at the main gate, the Porta San Giovanni and we walked through agape, our suitcases bumping over the cobblestones as we made our way along a laneway and then up a steep hill to our little narrow street and finally arrived at our home for the next month: Vicolo del Pellegrino, Lucignano, Toscana. After a short wait, the grandfather of the owner, a lovely chap by the name of Aldo arrived and with not a word of English and Cath's extremely poor Italian, gave us a guided tour of the apartment, almost a house really: two double bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, lounge, hallway, entrance hall and staircase. All of this in a building that is 500 years old! Cath managed to understand enough to find out that:
the market is on Thursday, the heating is on, telephone Aldo for any problems and Aldo makes the olive oil provided in the apartment. With a big smile, a kiss on each cheek and a hearty Ciao, Aldo was on his way and we were left to settle into our new home. Ah, life in Tuscany begins.