We were scheduled to check out of our B&B and rendezvous with David’s parents in Rome the next day, but persistent communication difficulties (most of them my fault) and our general TERROR at the prospect of driving in Rome led us to stay an extra day in Tuscany. My eternal apologies, Patricia & Barry!
Elena was delighted, of course. She decreed right then and there, “You must go to Crete!” I was like…uh, isn’t that like, near Greece? Turns out they have one in Tuscany, too. Except it was not-so-much Mediterranean island and more idyllic farmland. The hills here were deeply rolling, covered with the brightest green grass. We kept trying to figure out what they were growing, and then it dawned on us — hay! These were the signature golden hills of a Tuscan fall, just wearing a young, verdant coat. The statuesque conical Tuscan cedars and gnarly olive trees were stitched across the landscape (Thanks, Emily Saliers)… it really was like a living quilt. All of this, and it was drizzly and gray outside, by all accounts a dreary, miserable day. All that could not eclipse the simple, powerful beauty of this beautiful place. [sorry, looks like i didn’t save any pictures of this day. way to go, Ace!]
Our first man-made sightseeing stop of the day was Monte Oliveto Maggione. I’m not 100% sure, but I think this was a working abbey/monastery. Either that, or we wandered into a commune of transvestites with a fondness for Jesus. 😉 I say “working” monastery, because these monks make wine all day. Hell yeah, that’s my kind of sacrifice!
Sadly, we were 10 minutes too late to see the inside of the church, so we settled for a tour of the wine cellar instead. It was awesome! Dark, cavernous, huge archways, gigantic oak barrels…so cool.
The guy manning the wine shop was not a monk. His name was Lucca (he did not live on the second floor). He spoke English with a curious Australian accent. He told us all about raising/hunting wild boar, and about his love for the Big Bang Theory (the show, not the physics).
At his recommendation, we ate at a little restaurant up from the monastery. On our way there, we followed a gnarled rooty path up a hill to a tiny little chapel. The woods were eerily silent, but then I heard this sound coming from the building. It was chanting! The building couldn’t have been more than 10 feet x 10 feet, and monks were crammed in there, chanting. Cool. And creepy! So we ran off to the restaurant.
It was great — very casual, very family-owned feel. We had a really good spicy penne pasta, watched some Italian TV, and took in some interesting family interactions. A small boy came in with his dad (maybe the owner?) and all of the staff just fawned over him, like he was the center of the universe. It was a really nice slice-of-life kinda moment.
After that, it was off to Montalcino … you guessed it — another hilltop town! This one was actually really awesome. It would have been even better if it weren’t so damn breezy! It was like San Gimignano, but not as overtly touristy.
On the way out, Kevin (GPS) took us on a crazy detour, first deep into the winding streets of the city, where we had to back up, uphill, to escape an ambulance, then went the wrong way down a one-way street and were yelled at by an Italian policewoman. Then he lead us down the mountain on a dirt road to certain death. More reversing and cursing Kevin.
After that, we went to yet another Tuscan grocery store, this time faring a bit better. Bolognese was my menu, so I didn’t feel so scattered…and I had “mastered” the weigh-your-own produce thing.
We were on our way home when we realized Siena was like five minutes away. David suggested we just hit it real quick, which we did. Siena in one hour. It was really a cool place. Apparently Florence kicked its ass back in the day, and then restricted development and progress there as a form of subjugation. Tell you what, Florence did Siena a favor. It felt more like a genuine Italian town than its former oppressor. Less development, grittier, maybe. Less New York, more Italy.
Totally worth a visit. That night, I managed a pretty decent Bolognese, and we went to bed quite happy and relaxed.