Sunday, January 27, 2013


So, let's see...I think it was Saturday at this point. Today we would do a ring walk to Bagno Vignoni and then back to San Quirico D'Oricia. The total distance was maybe 8 miles or so. I'd read a little bit about Bagno Vignoni and knew that there were thermal pools there so I was looking forward to heading out. Breakfast was lovely. There were quite a few other people there, including a couple with a little baby. The same woman who had checked us in the afternoon before was there getting the breakfast items out, and she just loved that baby. He was pretty cute. Breakfast was the usual - cereal, milk, yogurt, bread, meat, cheese. Croissants. I always tried to really eat a hearty breakfast, since there was a long walk ahead of us.

Enough of the breakfast talk. David and I had seen a few different food shops in town and needed to check one out to see if we could get lunch to go. We could have eaten in Bagno Vignoni, I suppose, but we were sort of in love with the cured meat in Italy on crusty bread. Below is David at the little shop we stopped at. The woman working was very nice, and we managed with a combination of English, Italian, and pantomime to order sandwiches, tell her we were going for a walk to Bagno Vignoni, and I think we may have discussed the weather. We also got some paneforte to take with us.

Well, the walk was beautiful. Like, really exceptionally, beautiful.

Exhibit A:

This is really from the end of the walk, but as I was scanning the photos to include here, this one just begged to be first. Although, perhaps I should crop the power lines out.

Exhibit B:

This is very early in the day. As you can see, I sort of have a thing with using trees as framing devices. Look! you can see our shadows at the bottom there.

So, here I am. Happy in Italy. Lodging is plentiful. You can also see that it was nice and warm (shorts and least for those of us walking 9 miles) and that I obviously cared very little about how I looked.

I honestly don't have a whole lot to say about this day, at this point anyway. It was beautiful, we were enjoying ourselves. We had views like the one below.

Then we came to a split in the road. We could walk a few hundred yards one way to get a nice view of this castle, but it is privately owned so we were not able to go there. I am pretty sure this is the same castle. There appears to be some history there. Perhaps we could go there someday.

There was also a WWII memorial park near the split in the road. Our directions took us back that way. It was a nice little wooded area, very peaceful.

Why look! It's another shot of the castle. This would be a good time to tell you that we were walking through the Val D'Orcia, which I think is really one of the most beautiful places on earth. Sure, thats a little sappy, but wow. It really was amazing.

We kept walking. I ate an apple.

Eventually, we came across this little stream, and then a larger river. Which I am pretty sure was the Orcia River (I am actually writing this on a Friday afternoon waiting for my husband to be done with work so we can go get beer and wings. So, since I am also in my office, I don't have all my notes and stuff. I just really want to get this post done.).

These are the remains of the "new" bridge. I'm not sure how long it was actually in use, but as you can see it is no longer in use.

It replaced a travertine bridge that was destroyed by the Nazis during WWII. You can see the remains of the bridge in the photo below. I'm not really sure where these bridges went. There is not a newer bridge there now, so people must be getting across the river some other way.

It was around here that we decided to have our lunch! Here is my sandwich. It looks sort of plain, but it was very, very good. David, unfortunately, dropped half of his in the sand. This was very sad so I shared with him. Can't let the guy just get by on clementines.

Eventually, we go to Bagno Vignoni. This is a large, calciferous formation. There is also a mill inside, but more on that in  a it. There was some crazy guy climbing around up there...not like, rock climbing but in the "I think I'll ignore this fence and just climb all over and tempt fate" kind of way. It freaked me out. I pictured him plunging to his doom.

So, there were some pools, which I believe when the weather is nicer, people swim in them (I've seen photos). I dipped my hand in, and it was pretty cool. It was not swimming weather.

We eventually had to get up to the top of the "mountain", which is where the town is. At this point in the day, I was really just kind of tired and wanted to be back at our hotel. That was a good 4 or so miles away though. Maybe 5. So depressing.

But, apparently inside this mountain, hill, calciferous formation...whatever you want to call it, is an old mill. I had no idea about this. Nothing I had read before the trip clued me in to this. They seem to be restoring it and you can't go in, but you can take little peeks here and there.

Pretty cool. Although I probably didn't appreciate it as much as I would have because I was tired and grumpy. Grumpy!

It really is a lovely little town. This is the main pool in the center of town. It's of 16th century origin and is the original source of the water that comes from an underground aquifer. I read all that on Wikipedia.

Look what a cute town it is. Look at those happy people having lunch. If I'd been in a better mood, I may have wanted to check out some of the towns and tried to find some gelato. But, as I've mentioned, I was a grumpy butt and just wanted to continue on and get back to San Quirico.

We stopped a little ways out of town and sat under a tree and ate our paneforte. That allowed me to appreciate this view, and I think the chocolate fortified me a bit. I felt better. Yeah for chocolatey/hazelnutty treats.

So, our walking directions informed us that we could wander around a little village/castle just a ways past Bagno Vignoni. Here it is. I couldn't quite figure out what the deal was with this place. As you can see, there was some construction happening. We saw, I think, one guy doing some sort of carpentry work. There was a historical marker with some information. And it was obvious there were people living was almost like it was a tiny, tiny town with no shops or anything. Just houses. I felt like I'd wandered into some gated community and shouldn't have been there. I don't know. Maybe people don't live there, but we saw flowers and such which made it look inhabited.

Well, we were off again. We found another little rest spot where we took a photo.

We were now back on the part of the walk we had already done. There was a guy out power-walking in spandex that passed us a few times. Sexy.

Outside the city walls of San Quirico is a trebuchet. David thought this was pretty cool.

And here is the main square in San Quirico and the bell tower. The little shop to the left said they had gelato, but they didn't. There was place in San Quirico that supposedly had the best gelato ever, but it was closed the entire time we were there. One of the bad things about travel in the off-season.

And here is the bell tower at night. I was trying to be all artistic and stuff.

We had dinner at Trattoria al Vecchio Forno. Really nice servers, good food. Honestly, I don't remember it too well. For some reason, I didn't take a lot of food pictures here or write down what we ate. As I recall, it was good and we enjoyed it. The table next to us....there was obviously going to be some big event because there was a dozen roses on the table.

I really think this was the place where a review I read complained that they didn't have a menu in English. I'm not sure this is something worth complaining about. First of all, it's Italy. Sure, lots of tourists, but I don't think there is any obligation to print menus in other languages. Second of all, there are these things called travel guides, and dictionaries, and any traveler with any sense, going to a country where they don't speak the language, would bring something with him....even if it is just a list of common food items.

I actually heard a good trick once. Learn the words for the foods you don't like - then you can avoid those things and not have to remember as much. Would have saved me from ordering shrimp in Spain.

After dinner, I convinced David that we should head down to the pharmacy vending machine. It was mostly condoms and diapers (now that's odd), but they did have cold medicine. I got some nose spray stuff because by this point I was kind of stuffed up and I wanted to be able to sleep. The pharmacy had been closed whenever we had been near, so...this was the best I could do. I thought the whole thing was pretty nifty.

And that was the end of our day. The next day we would walk to Pienza!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mud and Mist

Another sunny day in Tuscany. Look at all that mist.
Friday morning it was time to head to San Quirico d'Orcia, which for the life of me I still have not figured out how to pronounce. Giacomo told us at one point, but I forgot. I really had trouble with any Italian word with  "c" or a "g" in it. The walk to San Quirico would be about 8.5 miles.

 I was a little sad to leave Montalcino. There were other restaurants I wanted to try, shops I wanted to visit. This means I will just have to go back there someday. I'd also really like to visit more of the enotecas. All for next time.

So, I haven't mentioned this yet, but the day before, I had started to feel a bit of a sore throat. Often times, this is how a cold starts for me. Sore throat for a few days and then the miserable congestion starts. One of the nice things about the Scotch the night before was that it numbed the pain. I was hoping that my throat was sore because I was dehydrated, but when I woke up Friday morning and it still hurt, I knew that wasn't the case. After breakfast (there was only a table set for us, so I am confident we were the only guests in the hotel the night before), we left our luggage in the lobby and hit up the pharmacy.

I'd managed to buy sunscreen there the first night, and the pharmacist was so friendly. The morning pharmacist was equally nice! I had learned how to say "I have a sore throat" in Italian and she then pantomimed if I wanted a spray or a lozenge (I wasn't sure about that...she looked to me like she was putting on lipstick). I opted for the spray and we were on our way.  Well, sort of. We had to make a quick pit-stop at the fortress to use the restrooms (free and very clean. It is important to know theses things when traveling overseas). 

Friday morning was market morning, and what a market it was! You could buy everything there...laundry detergent, toilet paper, shoes, clothes, curtains, table cloths, as well as fruit, vegetables, meat.  It was like a Target store outdoors. We wandered a long, back to the gate at the opposite end of town, and then were on our way.

It was very misty that day. It really was beautiful. I have another photo from two days earlier of this same spot. In this picture, Tuscany seems to have disappeared.

The mist was our constant companion on this walk. At times, it made it hard to see where we were going, but we managed. We skimmed the directions and also noted that we were not supposed to encounter any dogs that day, so we were happy.

Much of the walk was through  some fields with a very muddy road. It was very muddy. Some of the fields contained vineyards, some appeared to have been recently tilled. We also saw this lone cypress tree. Hello, cypress tree!

We also took the opportunity to take a nice little romantic picture. Awww....

This is one of my favorite pictures of the entire trip. This farmer was tilling his field. The air had that smell of fresh dirt. We had passed many farms along the way, and occasionally would see a farmer, but for the most part, we didn't run into too many people.

As I've mentioned, it was VERY muddy. This is the bottom of my shoe. I guarantee you it looks exactly like the road we were walking along. We stopped every now and again to scrape mud off of our feet, using rocks, fences, whatever we could find. All the mud was a little over the top.

We saw these signs several times on our walk. Turns out, we were walking the same route that many pilgrims walked in the past, the pilgrimage route from France to Rome, although many consider the starting point to be in Canterbury. Canterbury tales, anyone. It's the Via Francigena. Here's another link. So, we were walking the same route as many others. I wonder what they thought of the mud? It is pretty amazing to think of all the history that there is in Europe, and just how many thousands of years it goes back.

When we got close to San Quirico, we decided to take a little break and eat the paneforte we had purchased that morning at Pasticceria Mariuccia in Montalcino. This was amazing. We also bought some paneforte at a grocery store in Florence, but it was nowhere near as good as the paneforte we bought at small bakeries in Tuscany. This was very rich, and I was glad we had only gotten one slice to share. I'm not 100% sure if what we got was the panefote nero, the pan pepato, or the torta maria. Now that I look at the website, I'm not so sure.

We had this lovely view with San Quirico in the distance as we ate. I could have sat here all day. It was warm, the sun was shining, we could hear the church bells in the distance.

But, we really did need to get on our way. I was anxious to get to our next hotel, and then hopefully find someplace where I could get some gelato (would be good for my sore throat.

So off we went...and below you see the entrance to San Quirico (from our direction anyway). The town is surrounded by a wall and we went through the gates, up some stairs, and then followed the main road. I loved the directions the tour company gave us. When you get to the top of the stairs, there are 5 streets, and you take the third from the left. I don't know why I liked that, but the directions were so easy to follow.

This church would have been the first thing any pilgrims saw when they entered San Quirico. This is the Collegiate Church of San Quirico and I really can't find too much about it online. But you can read a little bit about it in this article about San Quirico. I also found this nice little artcile about San Quirico.

We arrived at the hotel and a very nice woman helped us to our room, brought us some bottles of water (we must have looked thirsty), and then let us know to come back at 3:00 to check in officially. It took quite some time to get that message across. All I understood was they needed our passports. But, we figured it all out, I had a nice shower (yay!) and then we were off to explore San Quirico!

It was actually still nice and warm. I was happy because I got to wear my lighter coat and was thus not too terribly bitter that I dragged it all over Italy and hardly ever wore it. It was a very small town, but we saw some cute little food shops, a teeny-tiny microbrewery, and lots of places to eat. There was also a visitor center and outside was a map and more information on the Via Francigna.

And here is one of the other churches in San Quirico. This is the church of Santa Maria Assunta. It is one of many church named for this saint, and I couldn't find too much information on it. It was built in the 11th century, as I recall it didn't seem to have any electrical light in there, and it was very cold. It did appear that services are still held in there, so maybe there are lights.

Behind the church, is the Horti Leonini. This article has some information, as well as general information about San Quirico. If you can read Italian, you can read the first article. It's a lovely garden, and as I recall, it was partially destroyed by the Nazis during WWII, as were many things in Italy. The statue you see below is of one of the Medicis...Cosimo III, I think.

Alas, we did not find any gelato. But I look cute, regardless, no?

We had another room with a view. This time of the sunset.

We had dinner at Tratorria Osenna. This was probably the only place where I had trouble ordering. I wasn't really sure how to convey that we wanted to share the appetizer and primi and confused the waiter and it was really awkward. But, it all worked out in the end.

I was sort of on a bruschetta kick. This was very good...and I think that crostini on the background has some sort of mushroom thing.

Here's my hubby. It was a cute little restaurant. They also have a really nice garden, but of course it was too cold for that.

So, this was the primi. Raviolo with mushrooms.

And I had some sort of beef salad for dinner. It wasn't what I expected when I ordered it, but it was very good.

David had this beef stew, and it was amazing. I wish I'd had this.

And...that's sort of it for that day. We would be in San Quirico for two nights. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The day of the dog....

Hey! It's Thursday and now it is Thanksgiving! Well, not now...but on the trip. We celebrated by having this for a snack in the middle of the day! My sister thinks this is totally gross. When I posted on Facebook about having Turkey jerky and Craisens she said, "Gross. Just go out for a nice meal." Yeah...well, we did do that. And I'll get to it...soon.

But first, we woke up Thursday morning and we had the most amazing view of the sunrise. I ran around the room like a kid on Christmas morning. And took a million pictures. I share just one. It's a beaut, isn't it.

So, the first order of the day was breakfast. Croissants! Ham! Juice! Cereal! Yogurt! Cheese! It was pretty nice, and cappuccino made to order. There was even a special little place set for us. It was a very nice breakfast. You can imagine my surprise when I read a review of the hotel on Trip Advisor and someone complained...that there were no eggs. Seriously? This is Italy...not Iowa.

Whatevs. Okay, so this photo below is of the Piazza del Popolo. The piazza of the people. It was really more of a widening in the street. Some of our walking directions mentioned the Piazza and we walked through it and I didn't even realize it. We are standing along the main road looking back at the clocktower. Somewhere along there is the little pizza shop, an amazing bakery, the pharmacist, other little shops.

Alright, so now that I've shown you a little bit more of Montalcino, let's talk a little bit about our day. If you follow me on Facebook, you know that we have dubbed this the day of the dog. But, it started out pretty amazing. Today was about a seven mile walk...we walked from Montalcino to Castelnuovo dell'Abate, small town near the Abbey Sant'Antimo

The walk was beautiful. We were mostly walking on trails. We were always happy when we saw these little markers...then we knew we were on the right track. Believe me, there were a few times we weren't exactly sure. We did occasionally walk on paved roads, through fields, back roads in the middle of no where.

Below you see the lovely view we had for lunch. We found a tree that had sort of a bench underneath, so we stopped there to enjoy our lunch. Before we had left, we stopped at an alimentari in town (a little grocery) and bought two sandwiches, a couple apples, and some bottles of water. All for like, $4. The sandwiches were big too...just some crusty bread with the most amazing cured ham. That was all you needed. 

Our lovely spot overlooked Villa a Tolli, which is a little hamlet of Etruscan origin. The link appears to maybe be for a hotel or something in the hamlet. I'm not sure. When we went through, there was not a soul in site.

There is our lunch tree. This was really the perfect place to sit and have lunch. We never again found such a perfect lunch spot while out and about on our walks.

We continued on our way, having an amazing walk. We saw some fighter jets in the sky! Not much else to say about that, but it was pretty cool. Tuscany was amazing. So many cypress trees, rolling hills, vineyards everywhere. It was everything, EVERYTHING I expected it to be.

Eventually, we came to a farm. Our directions notified us that there would be a large, unchained dog, but if we kept walking it would not follow us. We saw the farmer and someone was talking to him and we saw the dog run towards us. We were not worried. It seemed to be a friendly dog. We made a point of not interacting with it, so as not to encourage it to follow us.

Lot of good that did us.

That dog followed us. And then he'd run off into the vineyards and be gone. And then he would reappear! He be gone for 10 minutes, and then all of a sudden, there he was! We weren't really sure if we were still on land owned by the farmer that owned the dog. We assumed at some point he would turn around and go home. We ignored didn't matter.

Can you spot the dog in the picture below? This is almost all the way to the Abbey. He was still with us.

Oh, there was also this beautiful scenery.

So, here is the Abbey. Which I didn't really get to enjoy. Because of the dog. 

At that point, the dog really sort of latched on to us. Until that point, he had sort of been running through fields sort of adjacent to us, but not really "with" us. When we go to the Abbey, that all changed. He tried to follow us in. If we sat down, he came and sat at our feet. It was...annoying. This was not our dog. He had followed us for about 2 km. It was obvious he had no idea where he was or how to get home. There was no leash, and since he was following us around, we looked like irresponsible dog owners. Which we would NEVER be!

David called Giacomo to ask him what to do. Apparently, this had never happened before. The dog had never followed anyone else. Giacomo said he knew the farmer and would call him to tell him where his dog was. But what were we to do in the meantime? We were supposed to catch a bus back to Montalcino. Would the dog try to get on the bus with us? I felt at this point our only option was to find a building with a door into which we could go and hide from the dog. 

We'd already had lunch and our little guide book pretty much said that the two restaurants in Castelnuovo dell'Abate weren't all that, but what choice did we have? We had to get away from this dog! We chose to go to Osteria Basso Mondo, which wasn't probably the best choice becausen it didn't have a realy door. Just those fringy things hanging from the doorway.

As I stood there, with the dog, a woman who worked there came out and started chatting with me. In Italian. Which I did not understand. And I was kind of grumpy about the dog. I tried to convey that this was not my dog. I also stated several times that I didn't speak Italian. She was nice, but eventually she went back inside. David and I ordered a cappuccino and some ice cream sandwiches. We like an hour before the bus came, so we lingered and read a book about learning English, which was pretty interesting, actually. At one point, the dog tried to enter, but the woman shooed him away.

When we left the restuarant, he was gone. I don't know what happened to him. I hope he made it home and didn't get hit by a car. Because he really didn't seem to understand cars.

We actually caught the bus right in front of those steps you see in the picture. It was only about a ten minute ride back to Montalcino. We had a nice little chat with a woman waiting. She had a cute daughter. She spoke very bad English; we spoke very bad Italian, so we got along very well.

We got back to Montalcino and wandered around and looked at churches. Here is one of them.


And here is another. This church has a lovely park next to it, and a great spot to overlook the valley below.

 See, I got this great panoramic photo. Sorry about all the white space. I can't make it go away.

And here is David in front of the little alimentari where we bought our sandwiches. Yum!

And here is me in front of the hotel. I'd been shopping! See my bag...

So, it was Thanksgiving so we wanted a special dinner. Actually the first thing we did was Facetime with my family. They were all playing Catchphrase. So, we joined in from Italy, which was kind of fun. Then I was sad because I missed my family and my dad was about to sit down with a glass of Scotch and I really wanted some too. Sigh.

We decided for dinner to go to Taverna Grappolo Blu. It had been recommended to us by the hotel, and it had good reviews in our guidebooks and online. So off we went! There were some French people there, enjoying dinner...and us. Later in the evening, an American couple came in with their baby. I know they were American because whens she lifted the baby up, he had a turkey on his butt. We also talked to them later and we all wished one another a Happy Thanksgiving and it was all, "yay America!"

They also had a turkey dish in the menu, but chose this instead. I think it is tagliatelle with mushrooms. I could be wrong. It was very good.

This is David and his rabbit. Rabbit has a lot of bones in it. Lots of little teeny, tiny bones.

For whatever reason, I didn't take a lot of food pictures this night. But this is my dessert, which I hated. I ordered it because it is the traditional dessert. Biscotti wit dessert wine. You dip the biscotti in the wine. I should have known better because I've never had a dessert wine I liked. But, I powered through. The biscotti was very good. And...they do not dip biscotti in coffee over in Italy like we do in America.

It Italy, you never have coffee with dessert. Never. When you have finished your dessert, then they will ask if you would like coffee. I asked for Scotch instead. The waiter looked pretty surprised. But, I'd seen it on the menu and I really, really wanted some. I knew that back home my dad, sister, and brother were all enjoying some Scotch. I ordered the Highland Park 18-year. The waiter brought out the bottle to show me and then poured me a Scotch, neat.

It was awesome. Loved it. I really want to get a bottle for home. I know it sounds crazy, but it will always make me think of Italy. I should do that.

So, if anyone reading this would like to purchase me a $120 bottle of Scotch, please do so.

Oh, here is David outside the restaurant. It was so charming.