A walk in Tuscany
05.03.2017 - 10.03.2017
Sunday is a special day for Italians. They respond to the call of the bells and attend mass, enjoy a large dinner and by the evening, the men are ready to get out of mamma's hair and enjoy the camaraderie of their friends at a local bar, where they can enjoy the football and a friendly game of cards. After our adventure in Florence, we determined to have a few easy days; certainly Sunday evening was going to be shared with the locals at our local bar, the Bar Tabacchi. This name is not given lightly. The counter behind the bar is stacked with piles of various cigarette packets of every denomination and associated paraphernalia. No one is allowed to smoke in the bar of course, that is except for the publican. He seems to have a fag permanently hanging out of his mouth, unless he is in the process of reaching for another...
We strolled down the hill, round the corner and entered the bar to find all the locals gathered around a large projector screen, watching the football, Lazio vs Bologna. Ian decided to try out his burgeoning Italian language skills and approached the barmaid. "Mi piacerebbe uno whisky and...(he turned to Cath, who indicated that she'd happily settle for a grappa..) "and a grappa" he finished lamely. The barmaid looked mystified. Immediately reverting to English he asked "Could I have a whisky and a grappa please?" Somehow she got it and said "No whisky." Ian opted for a brandy instead and we retired, somewhat shaken, to sitting behind the old boys gathered around the screen, to watch the football. It was then we noticed that not one patron in the bar was drinking alcohol.... "They don't drink on Sunday" Cath whispered in explanation. We quietly finished our drinks and exited the bar, lesson learned. An early night then.
Although we had decided to rest up, this didn't mean we were allowed to do nothing. The next morning Cath announced that she would make a picnic lunch and we could walk to the nearby village of Rigomagno. Armed with food and drinks, we set off down the hill from Lucignano. Down, down and down. It was a surprisingly long way, but eventually we were on the flat, pacing away and only pausing to leap off the side of the road when another lorry came thundering by. There was no roadside path, so it was either the road or the rather spongy ground in the olive groves beside.
The countryside up close is just as pretty as it is from afar. The villas surrounded by their productive fields are scattered along the way, looking sleepy in the early spring. Most trees are yet to come into leaf, but there is an air of expectancy, fruit is just a little while away. It was also lovely to hear the twitter of birds and fat bumblebees bumping and buzzing. Eventually though, the gradient took on a more menacing note. We started to climb up the hill to Rigomagno. One in four, two in four and then four in four. Damn if we couldn't have done with a couple of donkeys to ride. We struggled on manfully and finally made it to the top, where we found.... nothing. Apparently, Rigomagno had been razed in the 17th century for not supporting Siena in war and had paid the price. The locals however didn't take it lying down. After the Sienese had left they rebuilt the entire place, unfortunately without a store or inn of any kind. But the unkindest cut of all for two completely exhausted walkers was that there was no bus home! So it was that we walked all the way back down, down and down the hill, where joy of joys we found a small cafe bar, La Trombone and the actual town of Rigomagno. The afternoon found us sipping a couple of glasses of vino rosso, waiting for the bus, which arrived two hours later to take us home. And so it was, that Tuesday was a very, very lazy day. One of the privileges of long term travel is days spent doing not much, a quick walk to the shops, cooking a meal, reading a book and naturally sampling the local vino and fare was par for the course.
After doing nada on Tuesday, we headed for Siena on Wednesday.
The bus trip to Siena was a typical Tuscan picture which included very large villas dotted along the hillsides. As we entered Sienna the ancient red bricked walls loomed above us as the bus wound it's way toward the top of the hill, thank god we didn't have to walk all the way up another hill. We had been a bit excited and exited the bus a couple of stops before the top, having read that the town is a car free zone, so a small climb and we were standing at the cross roads between the Centro Storico and the market. As always Cath became very excited at the thought of a market and we veered away from the historic centre into the bustling crowds. We seem to have a knack or maybe it's a nose for finding market day in Italy. Sienna is the cultural and logistic capital of the province and it was obvious from the size of the market; hundreds of stalls selling clothes, homewares, flowers and finally food, food and more food. Cath was instantly in love; salami to the left, formaggio to the right, porchetta in the middle (not to leave out fruit and veg but really who cares when there is salami, cheese, bread and porchetta?) Did we mention the porchetta? You could smell it for miles and the mouth watering aroma would draw us back later for a panini filled with freshly roasted pork; heaven when eaten in a Tuscan park, in the sun and paired with a Peroni. After sampling a number of salami, Cath made her choice and Ian managed to drag her away to get some culture, in the historic centre.
If Florence is the grand old dame of Tuscany, Siena is the pretty sister. Think meandering streets (not overflowing with tourists), mini piazzas filled with frescoes and statues hidden behind pale pastel walls all winding toward the top and just before you reach the top of the town, the enormous Piazza del Campo. We were so lucky to have arrived in Siena on a warmish, spring day and there were couples everywhere laying on the pavement enjoying the sun. Again it is to hard to describe the beauty, google it. We spent some time enjoying the sun and taking photos before we headed into a tiny covered alley, ever upward toward the Cathedral. The arrival of spring had obviously brought the joie de vivre out in the Italians and everywhere there are flowers, especially mimosa, which we had mistaken for wattle. It turned out that our day in Sienna coincided with International Women's day and as tradition apparently dictates, the men were out in force buying vibrant yellow garlands for their women. What nice chaps they are?!
Now we are not normally given to paying to go into churches, in fact Cath maintains she went to mass often enough as a child to have earnt the right to go into them for free! But we just couldn't resist the urge to see this one. Much like Florence, it is a black and white marble striped building with an ornate marble entrance; apparently stripes were big that century - but not quite as imposing, more lady like than the powerful Catedral Di Santa Maria Di Fiori in Florence. The entrance fee to the Duomo di Siena included a tour of the dome, both inside and out, entrance to the attached baptistry, crypt, museum, the piccolo library and finally the unfinished part of the church, the Facciatone. It turned that the tickets were well worth it, the church is, to put it simply, a marvel from floor to ceiling. Regardless of belief it is amazing to see such intricate and detailed work in every corner and as our guide pointed out, even the bits that would never be seen by anyone but the workers (and now us) were made to be beautiful. We were very careful moving past the 700 year old stained glass! It was a little scary walking around the outside of the building and both of us had wobbly legs, but that was nothing compared to what was to come at the Facciatone. It is a a five story facade, which was supposed to be the outer wall of the completed cathedral but due to the black plague, work was never completed - again google it, it is worth a look. We knew we were climbing it, we knew where we were going to end up, but nothing quite prepared us (not even the four hundred very narrow winding steps) for what we would be in for at the top. We scrambled out onto the top of a portion of a not completed building, just barely wide enough for a person to stand on with a wall just over knee height the only thing between us and the flagstones below. Now neither of us are great lovers of heights, but the view, oh my the view. Across the terracotta rooftops, to our left the Chianti hills and beyond them the snow capped Italian Alps, to our right the Montagnola (more hills) and of course in the middle the picture of Tuscany that lives in all our heads; it was enough to forget our fears and simply enjoy the vista. After all those steps, a quick visit to see the rest of the sites on the tickets and tummies grumbling we were off in search of the aforementioned porchetta panini before heading for home.
On our arrival back in Lucignano, Cath was determined to find a hairdresser she had located on Facebook and we were off down the hill to make an appointment, not expecting that the appointment would be within the hour but it was and after a short break at home she was off to try and get a cut and colour using her improving Italian language skills. It turned out that the hairdresser, Ana, was learning English and between that and Cath having some school girl Italian they managed to have quite a nice time, for 3 hours! Oh and fortunately, Ana's friend who had been to Australia on holiday turned up and they had a lovely chat while Cath turned blonder than ever.
We were due for a couple of home days and of course we must attend our local market day on Thursday's, so we shopped up a storm stocking the pantry and fridge, dropped Ian's vintage hat off for dry cleaning and spent some time planning for our upcoming weeks in Italy including a trip to Rome, hiring a car to discover more of Tuscany and considering where else we might want to see: Venice? Naples? Milan? So many to choose from. We call these days work days and they are becoming a very enjoyable part of our lives as we learn to "slow travel".
Friday was a lazy day, catching up on some calls, whilst keeping an eye on the clock. We had dinner planned for eight at a highly recommended local restaurant Il Gocchino. A delightful meal of a complimentary small soup, a little like pea soup, followed by Aperitivo: antipasti for Ian, a pecorino flan for Cath. As expected, they were both delicious. Primi: Ravioli with pear and pecorino for Ian and Spaghetti with artichokes, prosciutto and parmesan for Cath. Secondi: we shared bistecka, essentially a monster T bone steak, cooked to perfection, with mini roast potatoes and finally Desserti: 6 types of chocolate with a glass of cognac for Ian, whilst Cath had the most amazing chocolate ball, over which the waitress poured a coffee sauce. As she did so, the ball started melting to reveal biscotti and vanilla ice cream within. All this surrounded by berries and chocolate sauce. Wow! A couple of coffees rounded out this extravaganza and then we struggled out the door. A great meal, but it came with a price tag: €142 . One can't help but being equivocal about Trip Advisor recommendations, which this was. It had been listed as very reasonably priced. Perhaps the two glasses each of wine were rather expensive? Or maybe we were just a wee bit piggy? Così è la vita....