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La Toscana Part 1

Living La dolce vita

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Having been on the road for 2 months with our longest stay in one place being 7 days we were keen to unpack all our gear and settle into our "home" for the next month; which given that we have 1 suitcase each didn't take very long and we were off to have a couple of drinks at the bar cleverly spied by Ian from our bedroom window (in truth you can't miss it). The bar/cafe is little more than a large room with a bar, a few tables, a couple of poker machine type things and the ubiquitous coffee machine, we ordered a couple of red wines and nodded hello to the 3 or 4 older gentleman before finding a seat. After a couple of wines we thought it best to explore our new home and hopefully find some dinner. As it turned out Wednesday night was a very quiet night in the town and we were out of luck with finding dinner or indeed anything open at all. Luckily we had pasta, garlic, chilli and Aldo's olive oil.
We awoke early on our first morning in Tuscany to the sounds of banging, doors slamming and loud voices; it was really early, even the birds were still in bed. Cath clambered out of bed, grumbling, only to find upon opening the shutters that the market was setting up, directly outside our window. Somewhat appeased by the thought of meandering through a Tuscan market, she returned to bed to snooze for a bit longer before making coffee and setting off to explore the town and market. The market at Lucignano is a fairly small one, just a few fruit and veggie stalls, seafood merchant and a few clothing and haberdashery stalls, but the town has a number of shops including 3 butchers (all with their own locally made specialties), a seafood shop, wine cellar and small but well stocked supermarket, so within an hour we were at home cooking up brunch, whilst listening to the locals catching up on the week's events and no doubt gossip. The market and town close down in the afternoon for siesta; from 1:30 until 4:30 the streets are empty and quiet, even the church bells don't ring, so not wanting to disturb local customs we too had a siesta. By 4:30 we were well ready to explore some more and after a quick meander through the streets around our apartment we left the walls via the piccolo gate and found ourselves at another wine bar/cafe overlooking the hills surrounding the town. It was a classic Tuscan vista, soft pale afternoon sunlight just peaking over the hills in the distance with olive groves, grape vines and fields ranging in colour from straw through deep russet to vivid green, like a rural patchwork quilt. Naturally this called for a glass of the local vino and before long we were seated on the terrace next to a group of young local lads who appeared to be toasting what we assume was a newly engaged couple; a lovely site to see young guys sipping Prosecco. We sat and watched the sun set over the hills turning the sky from bright orange to umber before heading home for dinner. Cath was thrilled to have local ingredients to cook with in a well stocked kitchen and of course their was vino, Chianti to be exact.

Lucignano is an ancient Tuscan hilltop walled town, built in the typical style with concentric circles, connected by small passages leading to the top where the ever present church sits in judgement of the townsfolk. As each generation takes over, they make their own additions and subtractions to the buildings, to the effect that stone leads to brick, leads to concrete, leads to render and then all back again. It is a higgledy piggeldy process which nevertheless results in a pleasingly rustic appearance, which manages to retain a semblance of the medieval times from whence it came. Our particular home takes up part of the ground floor and then climbs to the second floor without actually having a first floor, quite a remarkable feat, which we didn't notice for quite a few days. As the apartment door is situated on the second laneway uphill, it is only a two storey building, however as you proceed to the other end and gaze out our bedroom window over the first laneway going up hill, you find there are in fact two floors below you. Confused? We certainly were. Another of the delights to be found, is our washing line, a rope between two pulleys, which is accessed from the kitchen window. As the washing machine, which hides in one of the kitchen cupboards, finishes its cycle, the washing is taken straight out the kitchen window and attached to the rope, which is then pulled along for the next piece. Everyone has a similar affair and it is a rare treat to wander along the laneways observing nonna's gussets, pappa's socks and mamma's corsets waving gaily beside all manner of laundry.

All of the lanes and paths are cobbled in one way or another; small stones, large stones, flagstones, pavers, the occasional brick section and on the steeper downhill slopes, large cobblestones with chiselled indentations to help avoid slippage. Many of the locals, both within and without the village drive minuscule three wheel cars, such as piaggio, which are little more than glorified motorbikes with a double axle at the back and a little tray on top of this, mounted behind the front cabin, which in most cases has handlebars, rather than a steering wheel. You can often hear them grinding and wheezing as they tackle the steeper grades, the drivers dropping down through successive gears, until the poor little things are screaming for mercy. We both find them endlessly delightful to see!

By Saturday we had determined to visit Florence, our nearest major city. This necessitated a bus ride to Arezzo, which affords us an opportunity once again to admire the countryside. It seems that every possible hill has been terraced and tamed into accepting at the least an olive grove, if not a small orchard and of course a gentler slope is naturally filled with a vineyard. As we've mentioned elsewhere, the Italians are diligent in all areas of horticulture. It is very rare to find a plot of land that has not been subjugated into producing something and you can bet it has been cleaned, pruned and fertilised to a tee. The small towns? Well not so much. You do pass some tired and run down areas, that provide an unattractive contrast to the pretty villages, but these are the exception rather than the rule. From Arezzo, which we considered to be a distinctly unattractive town (but more on that later), we boarded the train for Florence, where we were booked in for a stay on Saturday night. As we have mentioned this train trip before, no need to recap. Florence duly arrived and we left the station armed with a google map on our phone and marched off. It was a good opportunity to see a different side of the town, about which so much romantic literature has been produced. Each turn took us into less and less pleasant surroundings until after negotiating more blind turns than the average football match, we finally arrived at our digs. The pictures we had seen of the accommodation showed a beautiful terrace leading to a glorious vista of a well treed park. What we got was a nondescript three storey building, sporting a ragged Italian flag, beside a railway line. We had arrived an hour early, thanks to our exhaustive practice in high speed marching drills, much to the discomfort of our host. Adamo was a nattily dressed little Italian chap who gave us a run down on what to see and where. He showed us around the accommodation. The promised fresco on the ceiling was invisible, the private bathroom was in fact to be shared with half a dozen other people and our room had a less than delightful view of the railroad, with the city centre off in the distance. No matter, we left our bags with Adamo and armed with his directions ploughed back into the city.

We are sure that anyone who has been to Florence must have encountered large crowds and our experience was no different. The place was awash with tourists. But who could blame them? As we emerged into the Piazza del Duomo, we were both completely awed by the Catedral Santa Maria del Fiori. It was raining, we were beset by hawkers, the crowds were large, but nothing could take away from the spectacle of the cathedral. It is an incredibly ornately carved building predominantly in green, pink and white marble, that together with the Baptistry of St John, decorated likewise, absolutely dominates the piazza. Beside it stands the Campanile de Giotto, a similarly carved tower. The three buildings are simply stunning and we both wandered around them almost in a daze. It is impossible to describe them, so all we can say is look them up, although pictures really cannot do justice to their beauty.

From the piazza, we strolled on through various other piazzas, admiring countless statues, including a copy of Michelangelo's David, to the Ponte Vecchio. It is really quite lovely and terribly romantic. Ian was somewhat disturbed by Cath's extreme interest in the jewellers shops, but he managed to negotiate her away with promises of lunch at a nearby restaurant that Adamo had recommended to us. After a few false starts, we finally found the place and were ushered to a table by the maitre'd. The following meals can only be described as excellent, the wine as playful and the desserts as tantalising. It is hard to describe the quality of the pasta, suffice to say "Nobody does it better". After lunch we wandered up to the Piazza Pitti which really does bring back to one the epic nature of Florence; the age and authority are unquestionable and you are left in no doubt of the power this feudal state once wielded. As marvellous as it all was, the rain had set in once again and so we elected to head back to our base. What ensued was a rather farcical journey on the wrong bus, then the right bus followed by the wrong path and then finally after some detours, the right path back. After that it was decided a good lie down was in order before heading out for dinner. Dinner was a fairly plain affair at a local pub, Hops, before a quiet night.

We arose early the next morning as we were determined to beat the rush to see the real David at Dell' Accademia. Sure enough we were in the top twenty of the queue waiting to get in, with only half an hour to wait. Cath popped over to a cafe to grab coffees and blackberry tarts, while Ian held our place in the queue. We were feeling very pleased with ourselves until unfortunately three vacuous American teenage girls joined the queue behind us. The conversation amongst them went "Like I said, like ,like we were like, like going to have our assignments like late, and I was like I don't really like , get it like you know what I mean." etc. etc etc. We were both ready to throttle them but fortunately the doors opened and we were, like, on our way... The statue of David has no doubt been written about extensively, so let's not go on, but it truly is a masterpiece and when one considers the basic tools used to create it, Michelangelo was a genius. Oh and you know how you can tell a good picture by the way the eyes follow you around the room? David's willy, poor little thing, seems to do the same....

From Dell' Accademia we headed for the Uffizzi Galleria, but sad to say, we had dallied too long and were disappointed to find a queue the size of ten roman legions already in place. We determined to return to Florence another day and headed for the station where we boarded the train back to Arezzo. It turned out to be our good luck though. The bus back to Lucignano was a couple of hours away and this afforded us the opportunity to find some lunch. Crossing the road from the station we headed into the city and found to our delight, the beginnings of a market. Arezzo has a famous antique market on the first Sunday of March and the Saturday before it, as it is advertised. As we followed the stalls up the hill, the mundane semi modern buildings gradually gave way to more and more ancient ones, until we found ourselves in the medieval heart of Arezzo. It had been hiding from us! With each stall we climbed higher until the last vestige of modernity was gone and we found ourselves in a lovely park at the top from where we could see the beautiful valleys that surround the city. The usual suspects were all there: olive groves, vineyards, villas, pencil pines, straw fields, birch forests and of course countless villas rising up to command their patches of earth. Many photos ensued until we finally wandered back through the cobbled laneways to grab an indian kebab for lunch before boarding our bus home. The difference between an Indian kebab from the Indian kebab shop and an ordinary kebab? It's made by Indians... We finally arrived home weary travellers and allowed ourselves the rest of the evening off.

Posted by Seantiel 06:24 Archived in Italy Tagged florence arezzo

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