Sunday, February 10, 2013

On to Pienza

So, here's a funny story. After my last post, which really was based on dim memories, I found my little notebook in which I had kept notes about our trip. Really, the notes totally sucked. They were something like this "Walked long way. Yummy dinner. Spicy Sauce. Had cold. So tired." In some instances, the notes are completely illegible, or they are so brief and nondescript it is as though I woke up in the middle of the night and jotted down a few words that in the morning were supposed to remind me about my dream, but it really just says "squirrel...golf balls...flboud" and is not very helpful at all.

And, I've since lost the notebook again. Gah!

But, it did remind me of a few things. It reminded me of what I had eaten for dinner. David had chicken, and like the rabbit he'd had another night, it was full of all kinds of teeny tiny little bones. I had beef stew and on the side I got fried baby artichokes.

I don't know what I expected from the artichokes. But they were awful and I hated them. They were like, deep fried. I think in my head I was picturing sauteing...which is not what I ordered. They really reminded me of the deep fried veggies you can get at the State Fair and if I wanted that I'd just go to the State Fair. I'd say it was one of only three real food fails while we were in Italy.

I also realized that I had not mentioned the beer place in San Quirico. When we were in Montalcino at the Fortezza, we had two bottles of a locally brewed beer shipped home to us. Well, here was where the beer was from! They did free samples of their two styles and then she showed us around. So, at the link they refer to the "plant" which makes me think of something at least the size of the Surly Brewery in Minneapolis, but really...I think the whole place would have fit in my apartment. It was a micro-micro brewery.  Good stuff though. We've still got two bottles waiting to be drunk. We have plans to have a beer dinner with my sister and brother and their spouses.

But, back to our trip. Sunday and we were off to Pienza. It was only about a 5 mile walk. We had a lovely breakfast and as we were getting our stuff together to head out, Paolo showed up! Paolo was one of the other people from the tour company who would drive our stuff around. He's also Giacomo's dad. He was super friendly and we helped him get the stuff out to the van and chatted a little bit. I told him about my cold and he said that Giacomo also was feeling under the weather. He asked if I felt well enough for the walk and I said I was. So, off he went and off we went. We headed back to the same shop as the day before to get sandwiches, some fruit, and water and then we bid farewell to San Quirico.

We saw these little signs around San Quirico and perhaps in Pienza as well. Remember, we were walking along the same route that pilgrims took to Rome back in the day...way back, like...medieval times.


It was just a gorgeous day. I can't believe who lucky we got with the weather while we were in Tuscany. The sun was shining, the temperature was perfect, not at all what I had expected. This is just outside San Quirico. This is my "Look at all this beauty!" pose. It happened often. I just could not get over how beautiful Tuscany was. As I sit here, with tiny piece of ice falling from the sky, it all seems so long ago.


Ahhh...cypress trees. These trees are sort of everywhere in Tuscany. And I'm sure you've seen them in mist any picture you have seen of Tuscany.


Later in the morning, we came upon a herd of sheep. Our walking materials gave us some advice on dealing with sheep dogs, but we were lucky that this particular herd had no dogs protecting them. I think there were fences instead. The walking materials made sheep dogs sound very protective and more than a little dangerous, suggesting an alternate route if you could not get by.

We could hear the bells on their necks clinging as we watched them move around in the valley below. These are not sheep for wool, but rather for their mile, which is used to make Pecorino cheese. One of Pienza's specialties is Pecorino cheese, and there were many shops in town selling it.


Don't I look happy? Even with my cold. The weather always warmed up enough for us to take off our jackets as we walked from town to town. I had forgotten to buy sunscreen, but we had picked some up at the pharmacy in Montalcino and we made sure to slather our faces and ears as it was so sunny everyday. I'd really expected sort of rainy, gray weather, which is why I look so happy.


I was really looking forward to seeing this church! This is the Capella de Vitaleta, and it is one of the most photographed churches in Tuscany, most likely because it seems to have been plopped down in the middle of nowhere. There is a farmhouse next to it, but it did not appear that anyone lived there. You can't go inside the church, and the windows are quite high so you can't see inside either, but it really was a lovely scene. I haven't been able to find any information about this church...just photos.




There was one other couple taking photos when we got there so we stayed out of their way and had a little snack. Then we took advantage of the self-timer and my little tri-pod!


And then we continued on our way...off into the sunshine.


Just another view. As David gets smaller and smaller.


Anyone interested in renovating an old Tuscan farmhouse? I had bought a magazine at the U of M bookstore before the trip, and it had  a lot of information about renovating old properties.


This one was in, uh...pretty bad shape. The floor seems to be missing....


But this would be the view you wake up to everyday! I think this was about a mile outside of Pienza.


Oh yeah, here is the downstairs.


Just outside Pienze is the Pieve de Corsignano, or the Parish Church of Corsignano. You'll need to translate the page at that link (if you are using Chrome, it will ask if you want to translate it). I believe this church dates back to the 12th century. Pope Pious the II was baptized in this church. He was originally from Pienza and after he became Pope he set out to completely remodel the city and renamed it Pienza.

He didn't touch this church, and it is quite simple inside, with exposed wooden beams, rough stonework.

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This is an original piece of Etruscan pottery above the door. If you have time to search flickr or another photo sharing site for more photos, I recommend it. There were some pretty interesting carvings.


The view over the valley. Again, you can see my lovely using tree branches to frame the photo!


Another view of the church. We just sat there and enjoyed the nice weather and had a snack before we continued on into Pienza. We right outside town at this point, but it was all uphill from here.




So, we got into Pienza, and were at a little square, outside the city gates (I think I've mentioned before that all these little Tuscan towns are surrounded by walls and there is usually a "main gate" that heads into town). There were quite a few people milling around, perhaps having finished church. There were two little cafes that seemed to be quite busy. The hotel we were first supposed to stay in was closed for the season, but Giacomo had written out directions to a different hotel. At first I felt like we were walking off into the suburbs (I'm sure it was less than a quarter mile from the square where we'd been), but we did head off to a more modern, less picturesque part of town. I was a little bummed at first, but it turned out the hotel was really nice and really...not that far to go.

There was a bit of a misunderstanding when we got there. Not a problem, of course, because only two rooms were booked that night, but the receptionist wasn't really sure who we were. She was so friendly though and she even carried my very heavy backpack up the stairs.

I'm not really sure what was going on in this picture, but there's David. Holding up the ceiling or something. One thing I like about some of these hotels in Europe is that the lights can only be on if you have your key card in a little slot by the door...so you can't accidentally leave the lights on. Well, I guess you could, but then you would be locked out.

I had a lovely shower before we went to explore the town! I didn't mention it, but we had a very nice shower in San Quirico as well. We seemed to have gotten past the bad shower experiences (foreshadowing...)


At this point in the day, we were pretty hungry. I actually can't even quite remember now if we had gotten sandwiches before we left San Quirico or if we had decided we would eat when we got to Pienza. I'm guessing the latter because we went to one of the little cafes we had seen and each ordered a pizza. Not sure we would have eaten so much if we'd had sandwiches earlier. Theses little pizzas were really quite good. I think mine was some kind of ham with cheese and truffle oil and David had some other kind of ham. They really hit the spot.


And then it was into the old-school style Pienza. Right through this gate!


Pienza has many little shops and artisans. Rick Steve's says that it's totally given over to the tourist dollar and feels a bit greedy. I didn't necessarily notice that, but it was also November and there were less tourists around, but definitely more than we had seen in the other towns.

Pienza is the birthplace of Pope Pius II. It was originally named Corsignano, and he was originally born as Silvio Piccolomini. After he became Pope he decided he would transform the city of his birth.

I thought Pienza was completely charming. We weren't able to see the Palace because it was closed for two weeks while we were there (bummer), but we were able to wander around the Duomo which is on the Piazza. Here's the facade.



And here's the Piazza. The bell tower was closed as well. Booooo!



So, the Duomo is built on the side of the hill (all on clay and sandstone) and it is totally leaning and it seems like the area with the alter is just going to break off. As you step towards the alter, it almost seems like the floor is supposed to lean down, and then you see all the cracks. These run up the walls as well. In some places, there are metal "clasps" that seem to be holding it all together. Overall, it is lovely inside, even if it does have what I think is the creepiest painting of the baby Jesus ever, which I have decided not to include. I don't want to seem disrespectful.



While we were in Pienza, I felt a little like I didn't know what to do with ourselves. I'm not a big shopper, and with the Palace being closed, we were left with few other options. One can only wander around a cathedral for so long. They did have a little museum we wandered around in and saw more relics. Lots of relics. Everywhere in Italy, relics.

So, we wandered all around the little windy streets of Pienza. And this is what it looked like. See, charming! And there were bicycles parked here and there, cats wandering about, flower boxes.


We also found gelato! Yay! I was so happy. This was nice for my sore throat and my tastebuds.



As I mentioned before, there were a lot of cheese shops. We wandered into this one and picked up some Pecorino. The woman working there was not the friendliest. She didn't seem to eager to answer our questions about the cheese. Oh well. There are grumpy people everywhere.



For dinner, we decided to go to Trattoria Latte di Luna. The receptionist had recommended someplace else, but this place looked so charming. If you look at their website, the picture in the bottom right hand corner...we sat at that table against the wall.

This was definitely a family run place. The owner came over and talked to us a little bit, and then introduced us to his daughter who makes the semifreddo and also runs their Facebook page. They had a nice little crowd in there. We had the house wine and I had the pasta with a spicy sauce (yum) and David has lasagna. It was all very good. And then the owner brought us shots of limoncello to end the evening. He seemed like such a nice guy. It was a good way to spend the evening.


And here is the gelateria from earlier!


After dinner, we called and talked to my mom and sister and the Little Guy for a little bit. As I recall, with my cold and stuff I wanted to talk to my mommy.

Another wonderful day in Italy. We only had one more day of our walking tour left, and it was to be a doozy. 8.5 miles to Montepulciano....the last 5 miles mostly uphill. Would I make it? Would my health hold out? I'll let you know!

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