Saturday, May 8, 2010

Travels in Tuscany

I'm writing this post while speeding from Rome to Naples. We are behind on the blog, but with good cause. We are on vacation and are busy having fun. I am sure you think I am the one eager to post, but you have to know the truth. Ian is the main force behind this blogging thing. He definitely feels a need to keep the girls informed. I seriously feel a need to sleep when not doing as the Romans do. (The reason she needs to sleep, is because she runs around like a crazy woman during the morning, day, evening and night. There aren’t a lot of things left to see in Italy.)

Anyhow, back to Sienna. Woke up to a dreary, rain soaked morning in Sienna. Since we had spent a good portion of the night before roaming the dark streets, we weren’t too anxious to roam those same streets in pouring rain. But we decided we should at least make a visit to the Church of San Dominico dedicated to Saint Catherine. Who is Saint Catherine? We didn’t know, but I liked her name and thought it would make my mom happy to have me visit a Saint named after me. :-)

So after a quick breakfast, where we eavesdropped on an aristocratic woman spewing big words about how terrible the Catholics were and all religions in general were about money and power, we headed out in the rain. (It wasn’t really eavesdropping, we were in a small outdoor breakfast atrium and she was a loud American.) Armed with our trusty umbrella #2, we made it to the Sanctuary of Saint Catherine only to wonder what all of it was about. There wasn’t much in our guide book about this place and all of the little signs were in Italian. So we made a quick round of the place, squeezing past 2 large Italian 7th grade school groups, and back into the street.

That red stuff is orange juice by the way. Colors don't quite match up on the food here.

We found the church at the top on the hill just inside the ancient wall that surrounded the city of Siena. The bells were ringing in the bell tower, but it wasn’t on the hour or half or quarter past either. Who knows what they ring the bells around here for, but they are going off pretty frequently. So we went inside another huge cathedral. Woo-hoo. The place was packed with many tourists seeking shelter from the rain. The high points of this church were its relics (we are learning some Catholic terms here). The relics included the actually thumb and head (yes HEAD) of the very Saint the Church was named after. And all of the hoards were pressing to get a good look and try to snap a photo. The man “guarding” the head was getting very angry with all of the idiots who didn’t read the signs. He kept shouting “NO PHOTO!!! Lady- no photo, no photo. Mister. NO photo.” Saint Catherine didn’t mind having her picture taken though so I don’t know why he was getting so worked up.

The relics thing is a bit odd here. People line up to see a thumb or skull or some bone fragment that is supposedly from some important ancient saint. I’m a little skeptical.

Eager to hop back into the Panda, we slogged back to our hotel and loaded the car. We made it out of Siena with out any near death experiences this time. We were taking the scenic route through Tuscany and had planned to stop in a few medieval towns along the way. As we started driving the rain started to let up and clouds cruised by. Not that it was all blue and sunny, but it was better than we expected.

It was truly a real scenic drive. Not just a pretend one. We drove by Montalcino on our way to Pienza, where we planned to stop for lunch. Pienza was just as cute as all the rest, except fewer tourists and narrower streets. It was very small and I wanted to wrap it up and bring it home to California in my suitcase. We were lured into a store because of the choking smell of fresh leather. Every kind of leather product was sold from key chain characters to shoes, bags to leather covered scooter helmets. Because the guy behind the counter was so friendly, and because he said his father designed everything in the store, we decided we should pick up some handmade leather goods. A pair of shoes for me and a belt for Ian. Super spiffy.

By now we were starving. Although the croissants that morning were the best yet, we were running on empty and needed to refuel. So we asked the sales man to recommend somewhere quick. We went to the small place he said to go (we’ll never actually know if it was the right place) and ordered some crap to eat. It was crap, but the place was so small it was like we couldn’t get out of there without feeling bad. But luckily I had a melt-down so Ian asked for the crap to go so we could leave and eat where I wanted to eat. I don’t care if I sound high maintenance, it was worth it.

I confirm that it was a high-maintenance moment, but to her credit, the food really was bad. We hadn’t had any truly bad food in Italy (except for the translation problems at the beginning) and it was worth the move to the other ristorante.

We ended up eating at a place we thought was closed, but the owner happily invited us in. I had read about this little place in my book and was looking forward to trying some of their specialties. Pienza is known for its Pecorino cheese, and this restaurant made all kinds of crostini’s featuring pecorino. I ordered mine with pear and Ian had his with plum and prosciutto. And a side of steaming, sauteed vegetables and we were in our own private little heaven. It was great!

A little more shopping in Pienza and then we were off. Drove through Montepulciano, but didn’t stop. We were headed for the Autostrada and one tinier town on our way to Rome. Cruising down the highway, and still getting passed like crazy, we missed the exit for Civita, our last detour before Rome. No worries, we’ll just get off at the next one and go back. Only problem- the next exit wasn’t for another 30 minutes. Ian was unwilling to backtrack, and I gave in because we really had seen plenty of little towns. But this one was, I’m sure, the cutest of them all. Oh well.

In my defense, we didn’t really “miss” the exit. There were two small towns by the same name, and we blew past the one we really wanted to go to, but the navigator (I won’t name any names in order to protect her identity), didn’t realize it until we were well past the exit. I had enough driving by that point and I was determined to make it to Rome.

We were quickly getting into the suburbs of Rome. I knew they were building a temple in Rome and it was on our way into town. So I googled it and then mapped the route out on Ian’s phone. With my mad navigating skills and Ian’s mad driving skills we made it to our intended destination. Only problem was – we made it to the site of the future temple. The construction has yet to begin. And I am sure it is going to be the cutest of them all. Oh well.

It was a really nice chain-link fence and field, well worth the driving detour and countless u-turns in Roman traffic to get there.

I’m going to hijack this post from Kitty, because we’re three days behind now, and she takes too long and gives too much detail (which I’m sure you like).

The rest of the drive to our hotel in Rome went way better than I expected. Kitty did a great job navigating through rush hour traffic, right to the hotel. I was anxious to see the hotel. We splurged a bit on this one and were expecting some fanciness. It wasn’t too imposing or impressive from the outside, but the lobby was really nice. Then the porter led us to our room, opened the door and… wait for it… showed us what had to be a large closet. With a bed that nearly went from wall to wall. I could lay on the bed and touch both sides of the room with my toes and fingers. Nice!!! We were a bit disappointed since we’ve had such great luck with hotels up to this point. Oh, well, it’s not like we’re spending much time in our hotel anyway.

We next returned the rental car to the Hertz dealer “right up the hill.” We spent the next half hour driving at night (many illegal maneuvers) all over the [freaking] city trying to find the drop-off location. After finally finding it, we walked back to the hotel (Kitty was a bit frustrated with me on the walk back but a great dinner, at about 10:30pm, fixed everything.)

Ah ha! The real reason Ian hi-jacked this post. So I couldn’t give details of the incedent that lead to me being “a bit frustrated with” Ian. I can laugh now, but man- our first night in Rome was a doozy. We were seriously wandering lost, but still laughing about the craziness of the driving. And then…. Well, I’ll really spare you the details. But the hot foccacia with arugula (my new favorite), tomatoes and olive oil was ah-mae-zing and made everything all better.

Then back to the hotel to crash sometime after 12:30am.

Ciao Ciao

The Washer
The Loader


Tyler said...

I'm in line waiting to see Iron Man with Ashley. Well she's not in line...she got cold and went get a sweater. Your post gave me something fun to read while waiting. I'm proud of myself that I made it over halfway through (your posts are so long. I'll bet mom loves that.)

Sounds like you guys are still keeping a neckbreak, bit enjoyable pace.

Keep it up. And bring us something fun when you come home. Perhaps a finger of an old dead saint.

Chris said...

Tyler's right. I do love every word. I laugh a lot and can hear each of you. Dad and I really need to see Italy again. You need to picture us doing all those same crazy getting lost and turning around things, only it was 40 years ago and we were 27, and we were driving the old black Citroen.

Michelle said...

Ah, reminds me of a little spat between Brent and I while stuck in traffic trying to find our way in Rome--it's impossible to find your way when the street signs are quaint little plaques hidden on the sides of buildings. Quaint yes, practical for tourists, no! We too had a much better time when we ditched the car and fed the cranky driver and navigator a little panini :-). Love love love that city! So glad to hear about your adventures.

The Carters said...

Tyler, how was the new Iron Man? I watched the original Iron Man over the shoulder of the guy in front of me on the train to Naples from Rome.

Meesh, I can't imagine you and bp in any sort of argument... unless it involved scubadiving and tiny bubbles.