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Tuscany A November Sojourn


10+ Posts
By Kim from New Jersey, Fall 2003
Our gang, and another family spend a few nights in Rome and then a week in a rental in Castelmuzio, Tuscany. There are seven of us, four adults and three girls (ages seven and ten).

This trip report was originally posted on SlowTrav.com.


Okay – so I can’t use the excuse that I’m catching up on all I missed while we were away. Nor can I use the holidays as an excuse for being to busy to write. What does that leave me, nothing. It’s time to sit down to tell the tale.

I find my notes pretty fuzzy for the first few days, heck as far as I know, maybe for the entire trip so I’m going to wing a bunch of this from memory. I apologize upfront for any SBS (Sieve Brain Syndrome) I may have.

Let me start with the background. Our players include me, Chris (my husband of many years and the bearer of the brunt of all my tantrums), Becky (our eldest, age 10) and Sammi our youngest (age 7). Well, that’s our family anyway. One day into our journey our friends Steph, Rick and their daughter Allison (age 10) join us.

We know Steph and Rick through our daughters who met at age three in nursery school. Steph is actually the only mother to introduce herself to me as we waited for our kids outside the school at afternoon pickup. We soon began carpooling, since we live a bit more than a block a part, and became friends. Rick and Chris became friends by default.

We’ve planned this trip since Chris and I returned from our June 2002 trip (see Kim’s Family Extravaganza – link to the right). Rick traveled through parts of Italy as a young man, Steph and Al have never been. I promised myself that I wouldn’t do another trip for “virgins” (i.e., the big 3 with all the same sights) but instead plan a trip we want to take and invite any virgins along with us. Steph’s the virgin on this trip and in only this way does she qualify as one ;).

One note on the weather, we expected rain for the first three days but it never was consistent – just spotty showers, which we somehow managed to avoid. Temperatures in Rome were in the 60s, in Tuscany, a bit cooler maybe high 50’s. Tuscany was sunny every day but Friday – perfect touring weather.

Okay – so that’s enough background. On to the show.


The Gang

Tuesday October 28 - We Depart​

Originally we’re scheduled to fly Continental out of Newark to Rome today. However, about six weeks ago, I noticed that Becky’s name was spelled incorrectly on our e-ticket, so Chris called to straighten that out (we’d booked four tickets using frequent flyer miles – Chris travels an awful lot on business).

Imagine his surprise when the agent informed him we were all scheduled to depart on October 29. Now, October 29 is our anniversary and I had this issue with being in Rome on my anniversary. I wanted it! After much haggling, arguing and requests for supervisors (I wonder how far up the food chain we finally reached), Continental agreed to put us on a Delta flight out of JFK with Continental picking up the difference in the car fare between Newark and JFK. JFK requires us to travel the Belt Parkway (I believe Ruth (aka Boleskine) refers to this as the Devil’s Highway), but I’m comfortable with the fact that on a Tuesday afternoon, travel shouldn’t be too bad.

At 12:15 I pick up the girls from school. They are missing three days of school, but I always rationalize that with they’ll learn more in Italy anyway. Why only three days? Because NJ teachers have this crazy thing called Teacher’s Convention every November for two days in Atlantic City (don’t ask me why they can’t hold their convention during the summer when school’s not in session; it’s one of the mysteries of life). Couple that with the fact that Election Day falls during the same week and our schools are polling places, and therefore, must close (because we can’t have all those strangers roaming the hallways while our children are there) and our district decided, “Hey, for two more days, let’s give them the entire week off.”

I’m not complaining mind you. Having a random week in November off is good for family vacations and most of my town gets to migrate to Disney World without fear of large crowds. We though, migrate to Italy.

So I grab the kids, bring them home to pack their backpacks, and we wait impatiently for Yousef. Yousef’s our man with the car; he does all of Chris’s airport runs and when we’re going for long vacations (especially flying out of one airport and returning to another), we use him too. This is the part I hate, the waiting.

Finally, about 1:00, we’re off. Our ride is uneventful except for Yousef’s usual teasing of Sammi (he always teases with his thick Pakistani accent, that we’re going to leave Sammi with him while we go on vacation; she always just laughs). The Devil’s Highway is clear and we’re at JFK by 2:15.

Now to check-in - not so smooth. After we bring our bags to security for a search, a small line behind us grows ever longer as we try to check-in. It would be fine if we are willing to fork over $2000+ to the agent to purchase our already paid for tickets but we have a bit of an issue with that. So he leaves us for a good 15 minutes, as the line grows longer and longer, to walk all the way down to the ticket office to determine why we shouldn’t have to pay again. Finally, he returns and informs us that Continental entered our information into the system incorrectly but we’re good to go now. See, this is why you get to the airport early, not for security but in case some nameless faceless shmoe doesn’t do his job correctly the first time.

Now, we’re off to the gate to wait. And wait. And wait some more. This is the problem when you get to the airport early. Chris takes the girls to Chilis (in the airport) for some dinner while I sit by myself and stress out. I’m not a good flyer.

Finally, we board and the drill begins. Yes, I’m sure there are plenty of you parents that will shake your heads at what I’m about to tell you but tough. Just after the plane takes off, I pour out two doses of Robotussin PM one for each girl, take two Tylenol Sleepy Times myself, blow up my neck pillow, and cover us all with blankets. We’re out by the time the beverage service starts and don’t wake until just before the breakfast service. To me, that’s perfection.

After this, everything runs pretty much down hill. We get our bags, we’re through Customs and Immigration hitch free, and when we arrive outside Claudio from Roma Limo waits for us. I had hoped to see Sandro again, but Claudio’s quick and efficient loading us into the car. On the way into Rome, we talk about children and raising them in Italy, and economics (I think Claudio leans towards Communism). His English isn’t great but it’s way better than my Italian, and we have a nice chat.

We come in through a scenic route, past St. Paul Outside the Walls (San Paolo Fuori Le Mura), the Pyramid of Gaius Cestius, the Circus Maximus and onward. Cool ride and more sights to add to my ever-growing (never shrinking) list of things I want to see.

We arrive at the Del Senato pretty early; early enough for the Piazza Della Rotunda to still remain empty. Of course, our room isn’t ready but who really expected it to be. We drop our bags and that’s when I discover that the Robutussin leaked all over my healthy bag. Bummer. I run to the bathroom, and clean up as much as I can. Yes, it was in a Ziploc bag, but genius here didn’t close the bottle appropriately (stupid child resistant caps), nor did I seal the bag appropriately (the seal looked purple to me). Anyway, I fix that up, and we head across the piazza to enjoy our first cappuccino of the trip.

Two cappucini, two ciocolati caldi, two cornetto con crema, two bombolini and some twenty euro later, we’re off for a stroll. Sitting will get you every time.

As usual, we stop in the Pantheon, which houses some sort of Modern Art exhibit but with two kids, we don’t get time to enjoy, and then the fountain to all partake in the water of life. After that we head over to the Piazza Navona.

I don’t have major plans for us today. I’m sure I did on our “itinerary” but now I’m content to just wander. We spend some time in the Piazza, checking out the chochtkey stands, quizzing the kids on the fountains, which they seem to enjoy, and then we move on towards the Campo Dei Fiori. Along the way, we spy a hat store, which has some beautiful items in the window. Chris admires a few but opts not to make a purchase. Next door, we find a leather store in which we also spend some time.

In the Campo, we examine every single stall and the kids buy small travel umbrellas. Becky buys a solid color and Sammi a leopard print; that should give you some insight into their characters.

From the Campo, we depart along the Via Giubbonari towards the ghetto. I’ve never been to the ghetto and as we stroll in that direction, we stop in a wine store to purchase a couple of bottles of some wine Chris read about from Maremma. I’ll have to ask him if he remembers the name.

We browse some Judaica store windows, and stumble upon the ruins of the Portico Ottavia and the Teatro di Marcello, which the kids love running around. We walk around the synagogue too but do not enter.

On our return, we walk past a wonderful store. I’d equate it to a 5 and 10, a Woolworths. What originally draws us to it, are the smart car cast iron models in the windows. Becky wants one, so we go inside and browse all the odds and ends. I love this junk. She buys her model for 3.5€ and we’re off. Oh – side note, I took a picture of the Game of Vita, which we often play at home as The Game of Life. Regret 1. Wish I’d bought that silly game.

Now we turn in our big loop and head to the Largo di Argentina where we watch the cats for a while and find one that looks just like Pinky. I should mention, that while Pinky did accompany us on this trip, she spent a good deal more time in the room than our previous trip, thank god.

Now it’s back to the hotel to get to our room and a bit of freshening up but our room is still not ready. You know what that means, time for our first gelato. Who care’s that it’s not even lunchtime yet.

Becky and Sammi have Carmello (?). Becky likes it but Sammie doesn’t, bummer. I go with banana but it doesn’t seem fresh to me. I’m a bit disappointed but not too much.

We return to the hotel, where they’d been trying to get through to Trattoria Lampada for a lunch reservation for us but without much success, so we opt for Pasquales; yeah, big sacrifice there. 1 large beer, 2 coca-colas, 2 slices plain, 1 slice funghi, 1 slice artichoke and 13 Euro later we’re feeling pretty good.

Funny though, the girls ran upstairs ahead of us and as we join them, Sammi gives me the “Mommy, look at that man” look in her not to subtle way. It turns out to be Peter Kilby, but Sammi was a bit hesitant to approach him, not sure she recognized him. He’s in Rome for the day with a family from Arizona, who’s staying in Tuscany. We catch-up briefly and comment that we’ll see him tomorrow, before we gobble down our pizza.

While we eat, it pours outside. We wait for it to let up then head back towards the hotel, but again completing a big loop by walking towards and down the Corso. Chris wants to find a store that sells soccer jerseys, which he claims to remember from our last trip. I of course have no such recollection and as predicted, we can’t find the store.

We get back to the hotel as the rain starts again. Our room’s still not ready, 10 more minutes when the girls realize, it’s pouring outside and we’re 5 seconds from the Pantheon! I’m glad we brought them along.

We dash into the piazza, without umbrellas, and head towards the Pantheon leaving Chris behind in the lobby. Every umbrella hawker in the area swarms us as we make our way through the crowds, but we ignore them.

Inside, we get to see the rain float down through hole. With the bright daylight in the background, it almost appears as if it’s snowing, which would also be pretty cool to see. Again, we run into Peter, and he quips, “Stop following me,” before we head back to the hotel and finally our room.

Our plan is to nap until about 4:00, shower, then head over to Santa Maria Della Concezione and Santa Maria Della Vittoria but at 4:00, the girls are still sleepy so we opt to let them relax more. As a compromise, after we shower and dress for dinner, we stroll over to Saint Ignazia, so I can get a church fix and see the famed “fake cupola”.

Along the way, we stop for our second gelato. The name of the place is Fiocco de Neve (I think, whatever the translation for Snowflake is – that’s the name of the place). Chris opts for, okay everyone say it with me, Limone, Becky returns to Carmello but adds some Straciatello, Sammi opts for the signature flavor, Fiocco de Neve, and I get Bacio. Though, I get the “tasting” cone, a tiny thing for 50 centissmi but the perfect size not to fill me up.

Next, we stop in a jewelry store and purchase two Coliseum charms, one for each of the girls. Finally, we head off to the church and again, I’m struck by how many unassuming churches we walk by daily here that have cool things to check out. This one’s no different and all though the girls don’t seem as impressed by the illusion of the “cupola”, I am. Though, I do concede it would probably be more impressive in bright daylight than the night sky, which we’re currently seeing it through.

We notice two other things, currently a mass is conducted in German, and on Sunday at 11:00, they have a mass in English. After the girls light candles in the chapel of St. Jerome, we head back to the hotel.

We return to the bar and Michele, who after a moment remembers us (pretty good for 16 months later and all the customers he has had...or pretty bad ;)...anyway, we start with prosecco for me, a Tuscan red for Chris and of course 2 coca colas for the kids. We toast our anniversary and Michele brings us the usual assortment of olives, chips and some mock chex party mix kind of thing.

While we sit and enjoy our drinks, I ask everyone for their best and worst parts of the day:

  • Becky – Teattro Marcello
  • Sammi – Rain in Pantheon
  • Kim – Teattro Marcello
  • Becky – Saint Ignatus
  • Sammi – Waking from Nap
  • Kim – disappointed in the synagogue (probably should have tried to get a tour).
Chris won’t play because he says the day’s not over. He’s such a party pooper.

After drinks, we head to Ristorante Abbruzzi for dinner. It’s located at the end of Piazza di SS. Apostoli. We’d dined there our first night in Rome during our June 2002 trip and enjoyed the unpretentious, casual atmosphere as well as the unassuming food. It’s also the place Becky found a pearl in her clam.

Chris and I both start with fettucini con porcini. Becky’s bummed that they don’t have clams this evening and both girls order pasta a burro for dinner. For our secondi, Chris enjoys veal con porcini and I love my pollo arosto con patate – roast chicken and potatoes, so basic yet so good. For dessert, I have fragola (aka strawberries), Becky has a chocolate torte and Chris Tiramisu. Sammi holds out for gelato on our walk home but we don’t pass any place and she loses out, bummer. With dinner we have a bottle of house red (5.50 €) and a bottle of aqua fizzante (5.00 €) – for a grand total of 76 €. Not cheap but not too expensive either.


The Girls in the Ghetto

Thursday October 30 - Closed, What Do You Mean Closed?​

Last night was rough. Sammi had night terrors and I wasn’t sleeping well either – too much stress, I think. So for once I sleep in. Chris actually gets downstairs before me but I join him shortly after eight for a cappuccino. We return to the room, Becky’s still moving slowly but Sammi seems surprisingly energetic. They finish dressing, and we head back downstairs.

Sammi enjoys some cereal, can’t remember what Becky has but eventually she heads out to the lobby to wait for Steph, Rick and Allison, who arrive shortly. They look exhausted.

It’s a lovely day for late October (sunny and the 60’s) and after freshening a bit in our room, we head out for a stroll pretty much following the path we chose yesterday. First stop of course, the fountain – Rick drinks with gusto, Allison hesitantly and Steph not at all. I’m sure she broke out the Purell to wipe all over Al when we weren’t looking. :D We take them to the Piazza Navona, past the chotchkey stands, where in addition to now losing the girls, we lose Al and Steph too. Then down towards the Campo Dei Fiore. Chris stops again in the hat store and purchases a beautiful Fedora, which he wears for the rest of the trip. Rick also spies a backpack for his elder daughter, Cassie, in the leather store, which he likes. All other backpacks will be compared against this one until he finally returns on our last day in Italy to purchase.

In the Campo, we purchase some grapes to nibble as we continue our stroll to the Ghetto and the 5&10. Al loves the smart cars so we purchase two more models, one for her and one for Sammi. Our last stop, a Judaica store, where Steph and I purchase a mezzuzza for a friend back home who has just moved into a new house. All our “chores” done, we head back to the hotel. Luckily SRA’s room is ready and they head off to nap while we kill some time.

Let’s see free time in Rome, hmmm… guess it’s time for more gelato. Sammi once again gets snowflake, Becky tries dolce de canella (btw – is that cinnamon?) and I try riso in a mini-cone, which I have to say, I’m not crazy about.

After gelato, we hang in the Piazza della Rotunda on the steps of the fountain while Sammi and Becky sketch the Pantheon and I try sketching a balcony of our hotel. Funny thing here, two American college-age girls stop by and ask me, “Can you tell us where the Pantheon is?” I just smile and look to my right. That was better than the time a woman in NY asked me if I knew where the McGraw Hill building was, as we were standing right in front of it (and yes it said McGraw Hill in big block letters right on the building).

After sketching, it’s off to Taz D’Oro for Chris and I to try some famous espresso. Yum. Still haven’t made it to Sant’ Eustachio though.

About 1:00, we meet Peter and SRA in the lobby of the hotel and head over to Pasquale’s for lunch. We get an assortment of pizzas, plain, artichoke and a new one to our mix, zucchini, which is fabulous. Chris and Peter also enjoy bowls of pasta carbonara. A bunch of coca cola’s, water and beer, 31 € later, we’re done.

SRA are taking a tour with Peter this afternoon while we head to the Palatino. We walk via del Gesu and stop at a gelateria somewhere along via Aracoeli, nothing great but the girls enjoy their straciatella and Chris, believe it or not, opts for coconut instead of limone.

Up the Campiodolgio, and down into the Forum we stroll. This time we stroll through the Forum on the road to the right, towards the Temple of Saturn as opposed to the one on our left, towards the Curia. The girls love skipping from rock to rock as we go – hey whatever amuses them.

At the Arch of Titus, just before the Via Sacra, we turn to our right and towards the Palatine. There’s a ticket office here where you can buy a combo ticket for the Coliseum and the Palatine for 10 € with no line. It’s less for EU citizens and the ticket agent seems disappointed that we’re not.

I love the Palatine but it’s here that I keenly feel the absence of my Blue Guide, which I couldn’t find before our departure. It has a wonderful map of the Palatine in it and would have been a great resource for what we’re seeing. Instead, we just enjoy the peace and quiet and the beautiful views as we stroll among the ruins.

Sammi has a wonderful time running from place to place but Becky’s loses steam. After spending a good chunk of time there (see my pictures), we head back down to the Forum, which is actually closing. I didn’t realize the Forum closes, but the PTB have spread a huge green gate across the Via Sacra allowing people to exit but not enter.

We walk over to the Coliseum, which has also closed, and decide to climb up the Via Degli Annibaldi and head to San Pietro in Vincoli so I can finally see the Moses.

We climb, climb and climb, and finally arrive at the church to find….it’s closed! Oh man! They’re filming something inside, so for the next four weeks the church is only open in the mornings. Major bummer.

Now we’re tired, and I’m cranky. We had back down towards the Coliseum and opt for a cab to take us back to the Piazza del Gesu.

From the piazza, we meander back to our hotel and decide to stop at Enotecca Corsi; unfortunately, it’s not open. We continue and stop at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva where we again view the Risen Christ, light some side chapels to admire the artwork and let the girls light some candles.

When we leave the church, thirty minutes has passed, so we meander back towards Enotecca Corsi, which is now open. Chris and I each enjoy a glass of wine while the girls play with some of their toys. The Enotecca has a nice selection, okay prices but not much room to sit and enjoy a glass of vino in the evening. Next door, the restaurant that opens for lunch has plenty of space.

We finish and head back to the hotel to shower before our usual pre-dinner drinks in the bar with Michele.

Michele puts out his usual assortment of delectable munchies while the girls draw. Becky sketches a picture of a bowl of fruit and Michele proudly hangs it behind on the bar. He then proceeds to carve a fish and a mouse out of a radish; they’re very cute and the kids have fun playing with them.

We strike up a conversation with a mother and daughter who are on the tail end of a trip through Italy. They traveled to Milan, Lake Garda, Venice, La Spezia, Cinque Terre, Bologna, Parma, Lucca, Pisa, Florence and now Rome.

Chris asks them, “When did you arrive in Milan?”

The mother replies, “The sixteenth.”

Chris, “Of September?”

She answers, “No, October.”

Ouch, in two weeks they visited all of those locations. I think I’d be a blithering idiot after that. They did admit that the packing and unpacking was getting to them. You think?

After drinks, we head towards Picolo Arancia via Scanderberg by way of the Trevi Fountain. Everyone throws coins and it’s not long before hawkers swarm us. Stephanie seems especially attractive to men selling flowers.

Eventually, we tear Steph away from her admirers and navigate through deserted streets to the restaurant. After one or two miscues, we find the restaurant but are not sure how to enter. A table of people sit pressed against the door as if it’s no longer in use but as there is no other alternative, we enter that way, and squeeze past them.

We’re led to a long table in the back of the restaurant, which is more crowded than any restaurant I can remember seeing, and are seated tightly together.

Allison and Sammi order Farfalle and spaghetti respectively. Becky orders the vongole but it comes with mussels, which she passes down to the adults. After, she’s still hungry, so she orders a plate of farfalle ai burro too.

For the adults, we share two bottles of the house red, a Montepulciano di Abruzzo, just okay, and some water, both fizzante and senza gas. For our antipasti we start with an assortment of meats, carciofi a Giudio (artichokes) and fried zucchini flowers. The zucchini flowers are delish, the artichokes are okay and the meat good. I have Fettucini con porcini, Steph gets pasta with fresh tomatoes, Chris tries Braciole and Rick gets pasta with eggplant. All our dishes are good.

We skip dessert tonight and decide to try and find some gelato on our way back to the hotel. As we return, we split up into two groups, Becky and I heading in one direction with everyone else going a different route. Becky wants to lead me back by memory rather than navigating with a map, and I’m game for an adventure.

We return to the hotel with no sign of our companions. We wait a bit in the piazza, then decide to get some gelato (Straciatella and cannela for Becky, and can you believe it, I skip it), still no sign of the rest of the gang.

Becky finishes her gelato, I’m getting worried, when they finally turn the corner. Steph takes Al upstairs to go to bed while we join Rick (Cannella), Chris (limone, of course) and Sammi (fior di latte) for gelato. After they finish, we head to the bar for a nightcap, frangelico for me and sambucca for the gentlemen. Michele gives Chris and Rick some Italian cigars to try, hard draw but not a bad flavor. Eventually we meander up to bed about 11:30. Sammi stirs during the night with some coughing but I’m able get her back to sleep with some simple back rubbing.

Favorite Parts
  • Sammi – Skipping Rocks on the Palatine Hill
  • Becky – Finding our way back to the hotel after dinner without a map
  • Kim – Exploring Palatino Hill
Worst Parts
  • Sammi – Nothing was bad today
  • Becky – Worrying about Daddy and Sammi when they got lost after dinner
  • Kim – St. Piero in Vincoli closed

Our Girls at the Trevi

Friday October 31, Halloween - Vatican, St. Maria Della Concezione​

We rise about eight this morning and head down to breakfast. Sammi has trouble rising, she’s exhausted and still recovering from her cold/strep. I promise her this afternoon we’ll return to the hotel after lunch, and she can rest.

Peter meets us in the lobby about eight forty-five, and joins us for breakfast as we wait for Steph and Al to rise and eat.

Before our tour of the Vatican, Peter takes us to two churches off my radar in order to see some Caravagio’s and Rafael’s. Peter’s always doing stuff like that. At first it bothered me, now I enjoy it. Being with him is always a surprise, so much so, that for our next trip (to Montalcino) we just told him to plan a day for us, completely at his discretion.

Our first stop is the French national church, San Luigi Dei Francesi (between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona). Peter points out the Caravaggio’s and tells us the story of his life. Never having been a big fan of Caravaggio’s work before this, I still love to hear the story and enjoy learning about the painting from someone who knows a bit something rather than reading it from my guide book.

After San Luigi, we walk to the Portuguese national church, Sant’ Antonio dei Portoghese. My notes are completely sketchy here and I do apologize, but if memory serves, while this church is usually closed we did stumble upon a moment when we were able to enter and viewed some other Caravaggio.

After the church, Peter points out a jewelry store with some beautiful designs, unusual. Actually, they remind me of Etruscan designs and while we don’t purchase anything both Rick and I consider it. Should have remembered the old adage for our travels, when you see something you like, buy it then because you may not see it again.

We catch two taxies and head over to Vatican museum. Funny same starting and ending point and one was six euro and one seven euro, oh well. Still a deal, to keep the kids’ feet intact.

No line this mid-Friday morning. Cost us 10€ for the adults and seven euro for the kids. We’re on limited time not because we only hired Peter for a half-day tour but because we have two ten year-olds and a seven year-old in tow.

Peter continues his theme and we visit some specific paintings by Caravaggio and Rafael through different points in their careers. We also spend some time admiring the statues of Apollo and some guy from Troy and his two sons, killed by a serpent sent by Athena. Hey! I just googled this and found Laocoon! So is this the statue that such a debate took place over on the Slowtalk message board? I need to go read that thread again. Okay, so the sources that I found actually lay the blame for the deaths on Poseiden as opposed to Athena.

We make our way through the Tapestry room where Peter points out Jesus with the eyes that follow you. Totally freaks Sammi out.

Next the Map Room, did I know that the top is south in these maps?

Finally, ta da! The Sistine Chapel and surprisingly the line is not so bad. Of course, once you get inside, you could be molested just walking from one end of the chapel to the other. Actually, it’s like late night at Sigma Chi, if you lift your feet off the floor, you won’t fall.

Aside: I’m trying to read my notes and there’s a comment that says, “Donkey ear guy and popes’ sec.” Also something about Michaelangelo’s face in skin. Okay, you can see a face in the skin being held by the guy at Jesus’s feet; I’m thinking Michaelangelo painted his own face there. The donkey ear guy, I’m thinking is Minos, according to this site, The Web Gallery of Art.

Peter gives us a ton of more information but honestly, it is too crowded to write, and I know I don’t remember. If ever I win the mega-millions, I’m going to get one those private viewings of the chapel and take my sweet time.

As we’re leaving, I mention to Peter the rumor I heard about the two different exits from the chapel. With your back to the Last Judgement, there’s a door on your left that leads back into the museum, through which most individuals leave. On your right, another door used less frequently by large groups. We attach ourselves to a group of Japanese tourists and voila, we emerge right in St. Peter’s Cathedral, saving the long walk back through the museum, and around the walls of the Vatican.

Peter says ciao to catch his train back to Montepulciano (well, probably Chiusi), and we head into the Cathedral with our new guides, Becky and Allison. Becky raises her umbrella and herds us around as Allison begins her monologue. First stop, the Pieta, where Allison informs us, “Here’s some dead guy being held by that lady.” After obligatory oohs and ahs, we head across the cathedral, where we find “The first sumo wrestler.” (AKA Jesus in his loincloth). Next stop, a mathematical equation, “P plus X” (i.e., The tomb of Pope Pius X). We continue on like this until one of our guides points out a mosaic and says, “Hey, that’s the same painting Peter just showed us in the museum by that Raf guy.” Ah, yes, we’re so proud.

After spending some time in the Cathedral, we head into the Piazza where I demonstrate for everyone the column trick, pretty cool. By now though, we’re all getting tired and hungry and decide to head over to Taverna de Gracchi for our lunch (and first Buon Ricordo plate).

We walk over to Via del Grachi and head back towards the Tiber. We walk and walk and walk and well, you get the picture. Finally I stop and ask a man where’s the restaurant, and while he gives us one answer another passerby disagrees. They argue but our original man says to keep going and we do.

So we walk and walk and walk, and finally decide, two more blocks or where stopping in any old place. Luckily, it’s on the next block.

Gracchi is much bigger than most of the restaurants we’ve frequented here, with small intimate tables up front and larger rows of tables in the back, where we sit. It’s empty when we arrive but fills up shortly. I’m thinking this place probably serves many local business lunches and wonder what kind of dinner business they do?

On our way to the back we pass a colorful display of fresh fruit and a varied selection of fresh fish. We’re presented with our menus, but Steph and I already know what we’re getting; we’re here for plates!

The Buon Ricordo specialty is homemade spaghetti-like pasta with zucchini, zucchini flowers and tiny shrimp. Chris orders amatriciana, Becky clams, Sammi and Al spaghetti, but Rick, Steph and I all get the specialty. All that accompanied by a bottle of Avignonese Nobile, coca colas, and followed by cappuccino and espresso came to 175 euro. I think it’s pricier than many other restaurants but the foods delicious (Aside, Chris still talks about their amatriciana), and most importantly, we have our first plates!

After a problem with our credit card, yeah they forgot we told them we’d be in Italy, the restaurant calls two taxis for us. Steph, Rick and Al head towards the Coliseum, while we return to the Del Senato for Sammi’s promised rest. I have to say it again; given her illness of a week ago she’s been a real trooper on this trip.

We offer the girls some gelato before we return to our room for our rest but neither one seems interested, go figure. After reading and some faux snoozing, Becky and I head downstairs to the lounge area while Sammi and Chris do some real snoozing. We talk, read the IHT and grow a bit restless, so we decide to head over to Santa Maria Della Concezione, to see the Capuchin Crypts.

Sammi and Chris opt to skip it, so Becky and I head out on our own. The rain just having ended, we can’t find a cab around. We stop in a Tabacheria on our way to Corso and purchase two bus tickets, deciding to give that a go. Just as we get to the stop, the 175 pulls away. Becky exclaims, “That darn bus!”

We wait, and wait and wait some more as many other buses come by but not the 175. After checking the posts, I notice that another bus stops in the area (maybe it was the 95), so we jump on that one instead. We get off at Piazza Barbarini and hoof it the block to the church.

The entrance to the crypts is upstairs and to the right, halfway up to the church. Somehow I thought the crypts would be underground but I think I read somewhere, that at some point in time the entrance was street level (could be wrong about that though). The monk sitting at the entranceway asks for a donation. A ten euro note already sits in the basket and that’s it. I’m thinking ten euro is probably too much for the two of us and guiltily give him six, though I’m thinking that’s probably too much too.

The crypts are cool and macabre and a bit gross. Again, somehow I pictured a lengthy display rather than the five or six rooms it ends up being. We’re out of there in fifteen minutes, after reading what my Rome in Detail says about the bones and their creators.

We cross the street to catch another bus back to the Del Corso; it pulls in just as we do and Becky says it stops at Del Corso, so we hop on though I’m concerned it stops at Del Corso up near the Piazza del Popolo and not the other end where we need to get off. Eventually, I ask a woman and she says next stop, just as we pass San Silvestro and things begin to loom familiar to me. We’re back at the hotel within an hour and fifteen minutes from our departure.

During our absence, Chris and Sammi ventured out for gelato, so now Becky must have some, another round of Canella for her. Later it’s showers then drinks downstairs where Dotty and Chris, the mother and daughter from the previous night, join us. After nibbling on Michele’s assortment of picky foods we say our good-bye’s as we’re off to Tuscany in the morning and they’re returning to California the day after.

For tonight’s dinner we return to Abruzzi. They welcome us back jovially (I think that’s Chris’s favorite part of returning to the same restaurant over and over, well any same business establishment over and over, he feels like it’s his “Cheers.”)

We’re a noisy group as we enter and a lone woman sitting at the next table gives Stephanie a standard eye-roll. Stephanie responds with a wave of her hand under her nose indicating the stink of smoke from the woman’s cigarette; see we all have little annoying habits.

Tonight for dinner I start with prosciutto and melon; it’s a large order with plenty of meet and a quarter of a melon. Becky shares the meat with me and Sammi the melon. I skip the primi tonight and settle on the Osso Bucco with mashed potatoes. The meat’s not as tender as I like but it still tastes delicious. Chris has his amatriciana again. Chris is nothing if not consistent, followed by veal with porcini. Becky has a big plate of clams solamente but she’s still hungry so follows with a plate of pasta. Sammi has pasta and three winning games of hangman against Rick. Allison settles on the chicken because she’s already sick of pasta. Rick has the Veal Abruzzi, which he says is good and Steph, like Allison has the Roast Chicken. Both Rick and Steph share a plate of spinaci for a contorni which they say is good but surprisingly at room temperature. We all skip dessert but Rick, Steph and Chris enjoy some of the complimentary sambucca after dinner. Tonight’s meal for the seven of us came to a whopping 105€ - again, not too bad.

After dinner, it’s gelato for everyone at the little shop next to the Del Senato. Wish I remembered to get its name.


Our Vatican Tour Guides

Saturday, November 1 - Where’s The Sign for Trequanda?​

We rise, pack and discover Mr. Moo (Becky’s equivalent of Pinky) went AWOL sometime during our previous three days. She’s not happy but we manage to calm her and travel downstairs for breakfast about nine. Rick’s there, just finishing and while we eat he heads back upstairs to get his troops moving.

We leave in two taxis for the rental car place (Avis on Via Sardenga) about 9:45. The girls wait outside with Stephanie (she never obtained her IDP which left Rick as the only driver on their car), while we go in to fill out the paperwork. While we’re waiting we strike up a conversation with another customer, who laughed when we teased Rick about being from Paterson, NJ. Turns out this other customer’s mom was from Paterson too. He lives in Rome now and has for fifteen years. As he puts it, “I work for the Big Bad Fox (i.e., Fox News).” I’d never heard it called that before but can understand why. He’s a nice guy, picking up a rental to show his visiting father the area outside Rome.

It doesn’t take long to get our cars. Rick reserved a manual so he gets an upgrade to a larger Citron with a CD player. Our automatic has only a tape player. We give Steph and Rick the Beatles CD we brought and we’re all on our way.

Only one wrong turn later (followed immediately by an illegal left), we’re on heading for the GRA. It takes longer than I expect but on this Saturday, traffic is light until we merge onto the A1 splinter from the GRA. We lose Rick in the merge and it’s not until we get to almost the real A1 toll booth that we find each other again.

We hit some mild traffic off and on and we make decent time getting to the Val Di Chiana exit. I brought Rebecca’s directions (should have brought Pauline’s; live and learn). Anyway, we get hopelessly lost going through Sinalunga looking for a mysterious road sign to Trequanda.

Through town, up mighty hills, down mighty hills, retracing every step at every fork at what should have been our “straight through town” adventure. We even asked a man walking along the road if this was “La strada guista per Trequanda?” To which we got some lengthy directions in Italian as a reply. Now while I’m sure that that road would have taken us towards Trequanda eventually, if we interpreted his directions correctly, it wasn’t the road we wanted and I felt guilty as we pass him on one of our many backtracks.

Finally, Chris traces our route to the second fork where we went left instead of right. He takes the right branch, high-fives all around to the honking of Rick and Steph’s car behind us when we finally see a sign for Trequanda!

We follow the road to Trequanda, turning left towards Montisi just before hitting the historic center of town. Once we hit Montisi, we turn and follow signs for Castelmuzio down into a valley then again climbing up to the top of a hill.

Now I’m thinking, maps don’t do this area justice because maps are just lines; they don’t show hills, inclines and switchbacks, not good for a person with mild vertigo or for driving at night, no streetlights.

We arrive at Villa Nell’Oliveto right on the main road to town and Rebecca greets us at the door to the complex, which also houses Rebecca and Mark’s home as well as the offices of InTuscany (Aside: I believe the offices have since moved and the property put on the market).

We open the big green gates and pull both cars into the driveway where two large dogs, an older tan toothless one, and a large white “unstable” one greet us with their barks. We walk down the stone path amid olive trees and clucking hens to our home for the next week.

Rebecca gives us the lay of the land. I can see right off the bat this would be a great summer rental as there’s a beautiful pool, brick barbecue, and wonderful, shaded outdoor dining area but in the dim light of the waning day and the threatening sky, I know we won’t get to use it.

The downstairs of the house contains two double bedrooms, both with in suite baths and another double with two twin beds, perfect for Becky & Sammi. Additionally, there’s a large dining area, small seating area and kitchen with a pizza oven and potbelly stove, fire already roaring. Which reminds me now, the air outside smells of wood fireplaces and chickens and while the chicken scent feels harsh at first, I find it along with the scent from the wood stove homey.

Upstairs is reached by an outside staircase not an inside staircase. It contains two double bedrooms, a bathroom and a large seating area, with a mini-fridge and wet bar. Also, the television is upstairs while the CD player (and a huge assortment of books) is downstairs.

The house is filled with fresh flowers in each room, large bouquets of lilies, small daisies, and a flower similar to a hyacinth but as Rick says, more robust. Rebecca also leaves her guests a large welcome basket filled with innumerable goodies, farm fresh eggs, grass still clinging to them, candies, three loaves of bread, a loaf of raisin nut bread, butter, milk, pasta, tomato sauce, olives, biscotti, orange lemon carrot juice, which the kids end up loving, olive oil, two bottles of unmarked wine, cheese, prosciutto, coppa and paneforte. Rebecca brought extra for us because of the holiday and our inability to get to an open market. Add to all this two cans of tomatoes, pasta, a half-pound of proscuitto, and a wedge of parmegianno reggiano we bought at the salumeria across from the Del Senato and we’re all set.

We divvy up with Rick, Steph and Al taking the upstairs and us downstairs, saving the extra bedroom for Kris and Antonio, Rick’s sister and her Italian beau. Kris is taking language classes in Perugia; she and Antonio, who is from Bergamo, will be joining us on the weekends.

As we unpack and get settled but after I’ve scrambled some of those incredible eggs for Becky and Sammi and sliced some bread and butter for Alison (one of her staples), the girls want to explore the town. We’re not crazy at their going off on their own initially but they’re antsy, so we suggest they ask Rebecca’s daughter, Lucia, to show them around, which they do.

We get everything put away, sort out the laundry and start a load, of course this is after cleaning the kitchen because Chris couldn’t wait to get into one of the bottles of wine we’d bought in Rome and somehow managed to smash an entire bottle all over the kitchen.

The kids return after receiving the nickel tour of Castelmuzio but decide to head back to the park on their own. Meanwhile, the adults drink some wine and nibble on some of the snacks both provided and brought. Eventually, we wonder what has happened to Rick’s sister who should have arrived by now. Finally, about 5:30 she calls. She’d lost my cell phone number and the directions. Antonio and Kris spent the day in Siena and were approaching Sinalunga from that direction. We direct them as best we can and continue to wait for their arrival.

In the meanwhile, Rebecca has phoned, it turns out our dinner reservation for the evening has fallen through, so we decide to take our chances with the only other restaurant in Castelmuzio (actually on the outskirts on the road leading to Montisi). We make an 8:15 reservation and continue waiting.

Finally, about 6:30 Kris and Antonio arrive bearing gifts, some cake-like bread with prosciutto baked in; it’s still warm. They also brought some cinghiale sausage and a bottle of rosso di Montalcino – yum. We snack some more, drink some more and about eight o’clock, the nine of us head to dinner.

Once clear of Castelmuzio, the road becomes freakishly dark. We stroll along toward some lights not far ahead and within a few minutes we arrive at the restaurant.

The restaurant is on two floors and we’re seated downstairs. Chris orders a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino (forgot to get the name) and it’s pretty good. We share some antipasti to start and for my primo I have ribolitta and share a mixed grill with Stephanie. We also share a spinach soufflé type of dish. Sammi and Becky have gnocchi, which they love and Al has some pasta. Chris has pasta con funghi and some other secondi, which I fail to note. The other end of the table is too far away to know what they have but for dessert Chris and Kris both enjoy some tiramisu while the girls get ice cream (Sundaes for mine, plane scoop for Al, due to her peanut allergy). Café for all the adults. The food is good and the menu typical but the service really stunk – way too inattentive.

Sammi’s tired so we leave while the others finish dessert and pay the bill. It’s freaky, just the two of us walking along that road in the dark. Soon the others arrive and we all turn in.


Views from Villa Nell'Olivetto (not so nice on the weather)

Sunday November 2nd - Arezzo and the Plate Hunt Continues​

Today I’m up real early. I put on my walking stuff and stroll through town, then down the hill on the road towards the S146 and Pienza. It’s an incredibly crisp morning and I take lots of pictures. On my return, I stop at the bar (below Carmalengo) for a cappuccino. When I return, Rick is awake and eventually my kids and Chris.

We decide that Rick and I should be together because we’re both early risers and Chris and Steph, since they both like to sleep in. I guess opposites do attract. Anyway, Rick, Chris, Becky, Sammi and I head back to the bar for some breakfast. We get assorted Danish and some capucinni before returning to the house to gather the rest of the gang.

About 10:30, Chris and I hit the road with all three kids. Steph’s still prepping and I don’t even want to go into what I think delayed Kris and Antonio ;) (ah not to have children banging on your door). Anyway, they’ll catch up with us later, the advantage of having two cars.

We navigate to Arezzo easily and follow signs for the train station. We find the parking lot just past the station and at about 11:15, it’s only half full. We put money in the machine (enough to get us until 5:15) and leave the receipt in the window. We call Kris to tell her where we parked but there’s no answer.

As we start to walk into the older section of town (and towards the monthly market), Becky needs a bathroom. It’s really perfect timing because we’re right by the bar at which Rain and I had stopped on our 2001 trip, the one with the incredible hot chocolate. We head inside and get some kinder eggs for the kids and Pringles for Al (she missed breakfast), some hot chocolate for me (actually Becky and I share) and an espresso for Chris. I love the hot chocolate here; it reminds me of warm chocolate pudding and when my Mom used to let me lick the bowl.

After we finish, we head to the market. Stall upon stall of every item imaginable for as far as the eye can see. The girls are in all their glory as they check out every single vender. The girls find a clarinet for what they think is 3.50 euro – no that’s 350 Euro ;). Our phone rings, it’s Kris, they’ve arrived and are making there way towards the market.

Chris darts back with the kids and pawns them off on the other adults as I make my way to the Church of San Francesco to pick up our tickets for the fresco viewing. Two problems, one it’s cash only and Chris has the money; two, I forgot the reservation number. Chris returns in time with the moolah and they’re able to find our reservation via our last name. Phew.

We divvy up the tickets and continue our stroll through the market. I find a watchmaker and enter looking for a new strap for my watch. The watchmaker gives me a big smile when I enter. He speaks no English and me very little Italian; we both grab our dictionaries at the same time, laughing. He can fix it subito for twelve euros. It’s a deal.

We drop the others at the church for their viewing of the frescos while Sammi and I continue to shop. I find a stall with a duck wine decanter similar to the one Chris and I didn’t buy (and later regretted) during our trip in 1999. We also find a stall selling old tools, something for which Chris has a passion.

We return to the church to gather the troops and head across the street to Buca di San Francesco for lunch (and our second plate). Uh oh, they’ve lost our reservation. I pull out my e-mail confirmation and Antonio speaks to the matre’d and finally we’re seated. I’m thinking they didn’t lose it but had a mix-up on the name because they did have a table for nine already made in the center of the restaurant with a reserved sign on it and no one ever showed up to claim it.

There’s bottled water and wine (a bottle of Noveau and house) already on the table. Giving to Steph’s preference for lighter, fruitier wines, we open the Noveau feeling pretty confident that she’ll prefer that (she does). Antonio speaks with our waiter and arranges a sort of tasting for each of us. We start off with Bruschetti Tipica Toscana, one with paté and one with a bean puree, delish! Then we each have a small bowl of ribollita, also delish. Next a small bowl of parpadelle with rabbit and duck, yummy. For our secondi, Becky and Sammi have gnocchi (Becky ends up with a second order because she’s so hungry). Al gets the roast chicken, and she too ends up with a second order. Steph and Rick and Chris and I order two of the Buon Ricordo specialties, a mixed grill (meatball, braised beef, tripe, which I’m not crazy about), and Antonio has some other meat dish. Kris skips her secondi but the waiter serves her a tiny plate with four beans on it, very funny. For dessert we barely manage vin santo and cantucci. The bill came to about $275 for the nine of us and we got our second plate!

After lunch, we continue to stroll through the market. Chris and I purchase the duck decanter for 55 Euro and Chris checks out the tools. He doesn’t buy any but Becky gets a tiny china cup with March (her birth month) painted on it for ten euro. Kris and Antonio depart while Chris and I pick up some stuff in a salumeria. Kris needs to catch a train back to Perugia and Antonio needs to return to Bergamo for work on Monday.

About 5:00, we head back to the cars and the lot is packed, filled with cars and people driving through looking for open spaces. I never realized the market would continue so late on a Sunday.

As we head out of town, Rick makes a wrong turn in front of us. We track him down in a slow speed but crazy chase through the outskirts of Arezzo but we catch him, flash and honk him and head back on course.

Just after we get on the Bettole Siena Raccordo, we see a sign for Sinalunga/Trequanda. That must have been the sign we missed yesterday, blocked by some construction equipment. Now all of Rebecca’s directions make sense and we’re home by 6:30.

The kids shower and hang out while we make them some pasta for dinner. The adults nibble on the sausage and stuff we bought in Arrezzo. We all turn in relatively early.


View From My Morning Stroll

Monday November 3rd - “Dei” with Peter Kilby​

This morning Rick and I are once again the first ones up and decide to go for a walk. We follow the same route I took yesterday, traveling all the way to the bottom of the hill and about half-way up to Santa Anna. It’s another beautiful morning, clear and crisp. We decide that Friday, we’ll hike to Santa Anna and let the others meet us there with the cars.

We return, shower and dress, and head to the bar for breakfast where we enjoy capuccini and croissants. On the way back we notice that the small Coop is open, so we stop there for fruit (the woman behind the counter picks it out for us), paper towels, dishwashing detergent, cookies and orange juice.

Back at the house, the girls have gone to the chicken coop and return with one egg, only it’s marble, not real. They were so excited but Rebecca tells us they keep the white egg their to trick the chickens into laying eggs. Becky returns the marble egg but later that day she and Al will return to retrieve two real eggs.

Our caravan pulls out of the complex about 9:50 and head to San Biago where we’re meeting Peter Kilby. Peter is waiting for us when we arrive. He takes us on a tour of San Biago, first by us crouching on the ground and peering through some “basement” windows where we see piles of bones strewn about under the church. Inside the church we find a stark building with incredible acoustics. If you stand on the circle, you can hear the ricochet.

Afterwards, we get in our cars with Peter riding along with us leading us to DEI. We’d first heard of DEI back before our first trip to Italy. DAMarkwood on the AOL boards came home from her honeymoon trip reporting that their wines were BWEH (Best We Ever Had). At the time, we were beginning to develop an interest in wines and managed to track down some bottles. Eventually, we ended up with several bottles of their wine in our “cellar” (really some racks in the basement), and Chris has always wanted to visit. Peter’s friendly with Catarina Dei (who runs the winery) and set up our tour and tasting.

When we arrive we meet Antonio and also briefly Caterina’s father (who later enjoys watching our kids play outside while we enjoy tasting some wines). Antonio gives us our tour in English, with occasional Italian smattered in and Peter translating. It’s a relatively small operation (makes Verrazzano seem huge), but wonderful.

We learn about the Rosso (aged for two months in barrels), the Nobile (aged for two years), and the Reserve (aged for three years). These wines are made from sangiovese (80%) and another grape (20%). We also learn about the Santa Caterina (Cabernet/Syrah/Sangiovese), which is aged in much smaller barrels and only made during years of good harvests. Which is something else we found interesting, in years of bad harvests, the grapes get bumped down, so your nobile or rosso can actually end up being pretty good.

We taste the Nobile, the Reserve and the Santa Caterina. Antonio accompanies the tasting with some soft pecorino and bread to clear our palettes (as if I could tell). We end up buying four bottles of the Santa Caterina, which we think our friends will enjoy because of the soft tannins, four bottles of the reserve and two bottles of the rosso (for the house).

When Antonio mentions the 97 being their best vintage, Chris tells him we have two bottles at home. He smiles and takes Chris to a “back room” where they have a small separate stash of some of the 97s. He offers Chris the 97 reserves instead of the 99 reserves, which of course we jump at. Antonio also tells us the Reserve and the Caterina can age up to fifteen years. Somehow I doubt they’ll last that long in our home.

We gather the kids, who have discovered the dog (and old friendly German Shepard) and his doghouse (an old wine barrel), and head back to San Biago. Peter gets his car and we head to Montechiello along some major switchback roads. I’m white-knuckling it while Sammi is not doing well at all. Now I’m wishing I listened to Grinisa’s advice and swiped some of the barf bags from the airplane. We finally arrive just as Sammi threatens some projectile vomiting but once we get her outside on some stable ground, she perks up within minutes. We head to La Porta for lunch.

Peter has a quick lunch of a glass of wine and some polenta with cheese then heads out. We settle in for the long haul. Becky and Sammi enjoy some gnocchi while Al enjoys Pici. We, the adults, start with a salad containing Pecorino, truffles and bruschetta. I have pici with duck sauce, delicious. Stephanie, Rick and Chris have Pici con ragu. As we eat, we discuss how good the polenta that Peter enjoyed looked so we order one to share amongst the four of us.

After lunch, Daria, the owner, places a bottle of Grappa di Brunello on the table. To me it tastes of tobacco, grape and turpentine (well what I’d imagine turpentine to taste like), definitely an acquired taste.

Once finished, and well sated, we stroll through Montichiello. Not much there but with two restaurants, I could stay there (if it weren’t for those switchbacks). As we’re walking around, we stumble upon a man picking olives; he gives each of the girls a small olive branch. And somehow, don’t ask me how, Chris ends up trying and un-cured olive – yuck! But then again, what can you expect from the man who also tried baby formula?

There’s a park along the outer walls at which the girls play for a while as the adults sit and enjoy the views. Eventually, we hop back in our cars and head back via a different and easier route, which comes out by Pienza. No one feels like stopping so we head home.

Later, it’s pasta for dinner for the girls again and the adults head to Carmalengo for dinner. We leave Becky and Allison in charge and practice dialing our cell phone from the house phone. We’re a five-minute walk away, so we’re all hoping this works out.

We’re the only ones in Carmalengo when we arrive (it’s upstairs above the bar). We order some bruschetta to start. I skip a primi but Chris has Pici al Ragu and Rick has a gnocchi baked with cheese. For secondi I have Straccitella (sp), a beef dish cooked with wine and peppercorns; it’s very good. Chris has some other beef dish and Steph, who also skipped a primi, and Rick have some type of stewed chicken dish – also good. As usual we get wine and water.

While we’re waiting for the primi, the phone rings once but we have bad reception and can’t hear anyone on the other end. Rick and Chris take off for the house, and of course their primi arrive while they’re gone. But they both return quickly as it turns out, Sammi was a bit frightened and wanted to talk to us, so Becky called. By the time Chris and Rick arrived, she’d already calmed down.

Eventually, though no one’s smoking upstairs the restaurant seems to get a bit smoky from the bar downstairs. I wonder if that’s still an issue now that there are no smoking laws everywhere. We make the short walk back to the house and to bed.


Girls Outside La Porta

Tuesday November 4 - Traffic, What Traffic?​

Today’s our big trip day; we’re heading to Florence so Steph and Al can see the David and for some leather coat shopping for Steph. But first, the girls head to the chicken coop, and success, fresh eggs, which we cook up for breakfast. These have to be the best eggs I’ve ever eaten!

We hit the road about 8:15 and reach the A1 in about 25 minutes. The drive is pretty good until we get to the Val di Arno where we run into thick fog and subsequently traffic. Then, once the fog clears we’re still in bumper-to-bumper traffic from Firenze Sud to our exit.

Once off the A1 we follow signs for Firenze, then Porta Romana, then we’re through the gate and to the left for ample parking. From there it’s an easy walk to the Pitti Palace. We stop near here at a bar for some breakfast and a bathroom. Next, we’re off to Guilio Giannini e Figle for journals. Afterwards we make a b-line for the Accademia and our reservation. Of course, on the way a bird poops on my shoulder - yuck. Becky thinks it hysterical (actually, it is pretty funny) and I let her take a picture of the poop on me as a commemoration of the event.

We view the David (again). This time he has some scaffolding to his side but you can still see him clearly. For the first time I notice he has an oversized right hand and what appears to be a crack in his left hand. Steph sketches him but he looks girlish.

After the Accademia, we head to the Centro Mercato where we run into Judy (Divina Cucina), and I deliver to her some magazines. We talk to her and her students for a bit then continue strolling through the market.

We buy some raspberries which the girls devour in five minutes, strawberries, which later get smooshed, and the vendor gives us each a taste of some tiny melons akin to canteloupe, they’re sweet and juicy so of course we get a couple of those and top it off with some oranges. Downstairs, we buy some baguettes that eventually get trashed when smooshed with the strawberries, a type of focaccia and another rustic loaf.

After the Centro Mercato, we head to the Duomo. Rick, Chris and the girls decide to climb while I show Steph around a bit and we treat ourselves to 3.50€ cup of cappuccino but it feels good to sit and rest a bit.

We return to the Duomo just as the gang exists. Next up, we shop for some watercolors from those artists behind the Duomo. Sammi purchases one for her teacher, and Becky and I both get one for us.

Everyone’s starving and wants lunch but no one wants to trek over to Marione (too far a walk). We end up stopping in some pizza place along the main drag. Can you say, “Rip off?” The pizza’s greasy and not that good. I have pepperoni – spicy, and Napoli (anchovies & capers); the kids get plain and I can’t remember what the others choose. Anyway, it ended up being 47€ for the seven of us (at Pasquales we paid 30€ for a similar amount of pizza plus two pastas and drinks and beer). Wasted calories.

After lunch, we meander over to the leather market, rub the boar’s nose, and head to NOI where Steph buys an incredibly beautiful black leather jacket (soft like butter). I’m pretty sure she’s paying more than she expected but it’s gorgeous and should last her a good long time. While I’m helping Steph spend her money, Chris takes Al and Sammi for gelato (Becky passes).

They need to hold onto the jacket for a bit to shorten the sleeves, so we decide to do some more exploring and agree to return after five to claim it. We head over to the Piazza Della Signora to check out the fake David but scaffolding blocks it. We hover around the piazza, watch the human statues, take some pictures and then meander on to Santa Croce.

They charge us 4€ to enter Santa Croce; I don’t remember paying last time. Plus, for some reason to me, it didn’t look as magnificent as I remembered; not sure if it’s the lighting, if some artwork has been removed or if it’s that same old issue, you can’t recreate memories. Nevertheless, we find the tombs of all the dead people we want to see and then head out. Which reminds me, is Marconi actually buried in Santa Croce or is that just a plaque commemorating him?

Now we head to Verrazzano for a late day snack but of course stop at Vivoli’s on the way for Becky’s straciatella and my noccio. At Verrazzano, we share a bottle of ’99 reserve with a mixed cingiale platter and some foccacia sandwiches. We relax for a bit then head back to NOI to pick up Steph’s jacket.

Across from NOI we spy a small alimentary where we buy more pasta for the kids. It’s getting late now so we make our way back to the cars via the Ponte Vecchio, to Via Romana to Piazza Passo and the car. The machine to pay is busted, so we head to the shack to pay and get tokens, it ends up being 12€ for eight hours – not too bad.

It’s easy getting back to the highway just follow the signs for the A1. We get stuck in some major traffic due to an accident, which delays us at least 30 – 45 minutes. A quick stop at the Coop in Sinalunga to replenish supplies and we’re home about 8ish.

The kids get their usual pasta, as the adults nibble on some cheese, and the melon we bought earlier. Then exhausted, it’s off to bed early. I’m glad Steph and Al got to see Florence on this trip but because of the distance and possibility for traffic, I wouldn’t recommend it as a day trip from our area.


On Top of the World

Wednesday November 5th - Olive Picking and Montalcino​

I’m too tired from our previous day to rise for my early morning walk, so I decide to sleep in. Eventually, we all head to the bar for our capuccini and pastry. The others head back while I use the Internet access to catch up on my blog.

When I return, I find everyone helping Mark and the workmen picking olives. Al & Becky have baskets around their wastes and look real official. I pitch in and we spend a couple of hours picking olives. Mark has two properties, the other one does not have olives this year (bad harvest due to spring rains and wind) but this one has a decent amount. He says it will take about three or four days to handpick all of the olives here. There’s a press down the road, on the outskirts of town that later the men and kids check out.

After picking, we decide we’re hungry and pile into the cars and head to Montalcino. We travel using the dot-to-dot method, via Montisi, San Giovani di Asso, Montalcino (on the SS2 for just a moment). We park near the Fortezza, not in its lot but just behind and below it; it seems to be free parking.

We walk around trying to find a place for lunch; most of the stores are shut tight for siesta. We pass a small storefront (Trattoria Sciame) that has some decent smells emanating from it, so we go in and ask for a table for sette persone. The woman behind the counter tells us five minutes and shortly thereafter, a group of workman (indicated by their coveralls and orange vests) leave and the owner seats us.

We order some bruschetta with olive oil and I get an order of anchovies with chili, oil and parsley – it’s delish, especially sopping up what’s left of the sauce with the bread. I have cinghiale stew over polenta, Steph and Al have roast chicken, Chris has pici con ragu, Rick has vitello in brunello, Becky and Sammi both get pici ai burro. The French fries at other tables look fantastic, so we have an order of those too but luckily we have the card that Alice Twain helped us prepare because when we give it to our server, she tells us the fries are made with peanut oil, so unfortunately, Al can’t partake. The rest of us do though and they’re fantastic. We have bottled water, vino della casa, two gelati, espressi and capuccini and the bill comes to 112€; not too shabby and decent food too.

We walk around town, meandering in no set pattern since many shops still seemed closed for siesta. We view some ceramics then head up to the Fortezza for Chris to do some Brunello tasting but it’s crowded (I think a tour just arrived) and somehow smaller than I remember. We head back down into town and stumble upon Osticcio instead.

Osticcio is a find; incredible views and what looks like a great selection of local items (cheeses, meats) and of course wines. We’re all stuffed, so opt to do only Brunello tasting – two glasses. You can do two or four. You can also do a tasting of their other items.

I end up with a ’98 Nardi and ’98 Fulighi. Chris gets ’98 Nardi and ’97 riserva Il Paradiso. Rick gets the ’98 Fulighi and ’98 Il Paradiso. It works out nicely because we share a bit and get to taste four different brunellos. Okay, here are my notes in my non-wine person speak:

Fulighi – Not much of a nose – sweet; no meat on the bones

Il Paradiso Riserve – Franco American Spaghettios on the nose, mellows as it sits but it still had a tomatoey thing on the uptake.

Nardi – Berry and Vanilla scent; woodsy taste.

The Nardi ends up as our favorite. We buy five bottles, some Nardi, some Lisini then stroll about town a little more. We stop at a pasticceria where I buy a lemon torte for dessert that night and try to stop at the local Coop but being Wednesday, it’s closed. As we’re leaving the Coop, we notice a line, six people deep at the gas station and fearing “they know something we don’t” like maybe a strike, decide to fill up at a gas station on the way home.

When we hit Montisi, we split – Steph and Rick take Al and Sammi head home while Chris, Becky and I head to Sinalunga to the large coop to buy some stuff for dinner. We stop in Trequanda first, hoping to catch the famous butcher but unfortunately, he’s closed.

At the Coop, I show Chris and Becky how to use the produce section. Becky gets a kick out of pushing the buttons and I can’t tell you how many times, since we’ve been home, that I wished we had a similar setup in our local markets. We do run into trouble though with the apples because it turns out they’re by count, not by the kilo. A nice lady stops though and shows us what to do. We also buy some ground beef, ground veal (didn’t see any ground pork), onions, pepper and sausages.

When we get home, I take the celery, onion and carrot from the welcome basket and mince them, then soften them in a bit of olive oil on the stove. I add the ground veal and beef and brown them, add some whole tomatoes, breaking with a wooden spoon and some herbs left in the kitchen, just before we’re ready to serve, I add a bit of whole milk from the fridge. Not the best Bolognese I’ve ever made but it serves us well in a pinch. We serve it over some of the pasta from the welcome basket, open a nice bottle of red and we’re good to go.

The kids had eaten earlier, so they bathe while we eat and then we all have some of the lemon torte or some cookies for dessert. After dinner, Chris puts up a load of laundry and we hang out a bit, talking before we head to bed.


Becky Olive Picking

Thursday November 6th - Off to Siena​

I wake about seven today but don’t feel like walking. Rick does though, and he heads to Petroio on his own. When he returns he says he saw a terra cotta factory along the road and stopped to watch them a bit. In the meanwhile, I hang clothes outside to dry then Chris, the girls and I go for capuccini and pastry, followed by a trip to the local Coop to see if they have any cereal Becky would like. Did you ever meet a kid who doesn’t like Frosted Flakes?

When we return, Becky decides to go to the coop, as in the chicken coop, for eggs. We walk down to the pool, then I Sammi and I follow Becky quietly as we tip-toe to the coop because the big white dog “is watching us.” The coop is in the dog’s fenced domain.

The nest holds five eggs. We take three and leave two in case Allison wants to venture there later on. Back at the house, I scramble them for the girls as Chris toasts them some bread for breakfast.

We gather our things and set off a little after ten to meet Cristina in Siena. Mark tells us of two possible routes, back roads via Asciano or towards Sinalunga and the Siena Bettole Racccordo. He warns of the first route because those prone to motion sickness may not be too comfortable, and the second route because of the possibility of creeping along behind a truck in those areas where the road is not yet two lanes.

We opt for the second route until about Montisi. It’s a crisp, clear, gorgeous day and Chris promises to go slow so we pull over to let Rick know we changed our minds and are going with the scenic route. Of course, with all three kids in the back of our car, I’m not sure how well this will work. How did that happen anyway?

Now it’s just a matter of playing dot-to-dot driving. We navigate Montisi, Trequanda, Asciano, then pick up signs for Siena. The route has incredible vistas and must be spectacular in the spring and summer when crops of wheat and sunflowers grow in the fields.

We wind through some towns (Abra, I think), but there’s always a blue sign saying Siena when we need it. We even pull over to shoot some shots of Siena in the distance and hope for another closer view but never find it.

Eventually our route drops us briefly on the Raccordo. From there we follow signs for Siena Est. I see other signs for different portas but I tell Chris to keep going following sings for Porta Pispini and when we physically see the prota, we turn right along the outside of the walls. At one point we had gone under an overpass, which Chris assumed was the walls, and he kept wondering how we were driving inside the city walls one minute and outside the next. I explain to him, sometimes they’re city portals and sometimes they’re just overpasses.

We drive along the Via Peruzzi for a few minutes following signs for San Francesco. Finally, we see the lot on our right. Coming from this direction, you pass the exit to the lot first. We pull into the lot and notice it’s at least two levels, one covered. We park on the top since our car baking in the sun is not an issue on what must be the coolest day yet. Earlier, Mark told Rick and Chris that the temperature is going to drop today. And later, Cristina confirms it when she says they’re expecting a five-degree drop in temperature that night. They both turn out to be right.

Anyway, we leave the cars, taking our parking ticket with us because later we will have to pay at the cashier by the escalator before returning to our cars, and we search for those same escalators. Chris goes down to the lower level of the parking deck and Rick walks up the road, towards a gas station and a bend in the road, which we can’t see around, just north of us. He gives us the “thumbs-up”, and we catch up to Chris who had been heading in that same direction after seeing a sign on the lower level.

There’s a bathroom at the bottom of the escalators, which Becky and I both use. Then it’s up up up through the city walls, which Chris points out to the girls but to which the girls seem completely unimpressed. Then we pop out finally (after several different escalator rides) into an alley, at the top of which is the Church of San Francesco.

We don’t have time to pop in though because we must meet Cristina in a few minutes by the fountain in the campo. We follow the signs for the Campo through the winding streets and our phone rings just as we enter the Campo. It’s Cristina. We see her a few seconds later behind the fountain as there’s a wedding in front and Chris waves our contraband of Nestle Chocolate Chips in the air so she’ll recognize us.

Cristina’s not how I pictured her but I definitely like this way better in her cowboy boots, jeans and flannel shirt, by the way, I’d kill for my flannels right now. She looks how I’d look on any fall morning.

Cristina starts by giving us a brief tour of the campo. She points out the wedding party in the center, toying with the groom. We’re unsure if they’re about to get married or just finished getting married in the city hall. She also mentions how the Sienese walk around the Campo in the direction the horses run, clockwise, while most tourists (at least Americans) walk around the Campo counterclockwise, in the same direction our horse races are run. Just another way for us to reveal we’re Americans (as if opening our mouths weren’t enough).

From the Campo we meander through the streets to Cristina’s Contrada, the Selva. We see the church, but unfortunately cannot enter, the fountain used to baptize new members, the small social club, the area where the horse is kept before the race and various other points of interest all the while, Cristina tells story of this and previous Palios. By the way, I never knew that the flag the winner receives is the Palio, not really the race.

As we walk, I’m completely disoriented by the directions but that’s okay. Eventually, we enter the piazza, which houses the Duomo. It looks magnificent as the bright sunlight glistens of its windows.

Cristina takes us inside, and we meander around. Some of the floors are uncovered – they apparently cycle through the floors so theoretically, if you visit at different times of the year you should see the different pictures. However, on August 15, all the floors are uncovered in honor of the holiday. Cristina also points out the heads that run along the ceiling peering down at you like some ancient watchers. It gives me a chill. These are the heads of Popes, but now I wonder, through a specific time or do they add a head each time a new Pope is elected?

We stroll to another area. I’m not sure if this is a baptistery or not and will check my manuals but it’s an intricately carved piece of marble, with horses and faces. Cristina puts money in the box and lights it up, fantastic, even Sammi seems fascinated by the effort.

After the Duomo, we stroll looking for a place to enjoy some lunch. Unfortunately, the place Cristina originally mentioned is closed, so we head back towards her Contrada, to Antica Osteria Da Divo, which we passed earlier in the day and had some wonderful aromas emanating from it.

They lead us through the main dining room and down some steers into the buca (cave or basement). It’s a bit muggy down there but they have some fans circulating the air so it’s comfortable. Much to Becky’s chagrin, they seat us at two tables, which we’ve dubbed the kid’s table and the adult’s table. Where the only ones down here, so at least we don’t have to worry about the kids being rambunctious.

The food is delicious, we start with three antipasti, which we share, bruschetta with various toppings, mixed meats, and some sort of salad with mushrooms in this phyloey-dough type of tower (a bear to divide among the five of us). Chris orders a Ross di Montalcino (yes which one escapes me), which we kick and I believe ordered another. As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, I think when we order the second, they were out, so the owner brought us two other bottles from which to choose. We let her decide which to serve (hmm….or that could have been before the first bottle – oh well).

Anyway, the girls order gnocchi (for Becky & Sammi) and for Alison, pici. It took forever for our food to arrive, which didn’t bother the adults at all but the girls started to get restless. We try to tempt them with dessert, as we waited for our primi but nothing appeals to them (too fancy). Yet, somehow, they manage to pull themselves out of their doldrums so we can enjoy our meals.

When our meals arrive, they’re delicious. I have parpadelle w/ cinghiale, Steph has a lasagna verde, Chris and Cristina both have pici I believe with lamb and bread crumbs, and Rick has some sort of ravioli. Actually, Rick’s ravioli does not arrive with the other dishes and he has to track down the waitress to get his dish but once it arrives, like all the others, he declares it delicious.

After lunch, we stroll through Siena some more, stopping to buy some promised gelato for the kids. At this point, we unfortunately part ways as we return to the Church of San Francesco and the car park, and Cristina return home to her family.

We make another bathroom break, pay for parking (about 7 €), and walk back to the cars. For the drive home, we opt to take the Siena-Bettole Racordo rather than the winding roads. Unfortunately, it’s not 2-lanes all the way and several times, we are stuck behind slow moving trucks.

Coming at Sinalunga from a different direction, we manage to find our proper turn and wind our way home.

A relatively early evening for us, we feed the kids first (another alternate shape of pasta – though by this time Al rebels against pasta and opts for a bowl of Frosties with milk), while we nibble on some snacks that Steph and I picked up from the local coop (it’s open from 5:30 – 7:30). We had walked over to get some bread, which unfortunately they were out, but we did manage to come home with some olives and another wedge of Parmigiano Regiano, not to mention two more bags of those cookies we love, as well as a large birre for the guys.

About 7:00, I start on our dinner first browning those sausages I’d bought the previous night. You have to love it when the sausages don’t cook down at all. While the sausage browns, I sliced those two large peppers and some onions. Added them to the pan to soften, then we mixed it all together in a pot with the jarred tomato sauce from our welcome basket and the remaining can of whole tomatoes I bought in Rome. It simmers a way for a while and about 8:30 we sit down to some pasta w/ sausage and peppers – yum. Dessert is some left over cantucci and lemon tarte from the night before.

We turned in relatively early after another great day.


Siena Duomo

Friday November 7th - Pienza in the Rain (and Happy Birthday Rick)!​

I wake around seven this morning but our room remains relatively dark. As my habit on previous mornings, I creep from our bed and part the curtains that cover the large French doors of our bedroom to peer out onto the olive groves. No workers yet. Dark gray clouds swirl outside and while it's not raining at the moment, it appears imminent. This is more the weather I expected from our trip.

I throw on my walking clothes (including long underwear) and wait outside in our sitting area, updating my journal, hoping my walking buddy will appear. He doesn't. It's his birthday, so I'm guessing he's getting a little birthday surprise and decide to head out on my own as the church bells ring out 8:00.

As I leave the house, I feel a slight mist but nothing major so I shrug it off and continue. Originally, if this morning had been nice, we talked of hiking over to Santa Anna but I doubt that's going to happen.

I stroll through town, nodding at the garbage man as I pass and when I get to the fork in the road, I bear left for Petroio rather than right, down the hill, towards Pienza. Rick walked to Petroio yesterday and said it was nice - the sign says 3 kilometers, I figure just over 3 miles round trip and decide to go for it.

I didn't bring my camera and around the next bend in the road, I immediately regret my decision. I spy this religious building of some sort, stark and gray but enticing. I approach the gate, no one is around and I peer into the courtyard. It's the town's graveyard filled with hundreds of colorful flowers, in stark contrast to the gloominess around me. Relatives left the flowers on Sunday, the Day of the Dead, for those who went before. Stephanie and I both commented earlier in the week that it's a wonderful tradition.

I continue my walk as the slight mist turns to mostly mist and as I finally approach Petroio, to the sounds of their church marking 8:30, rain. I don't hike up into the town which looks ancient and gloomy because I'm getting wet, and because, well, I'm a wimp. It seemed like a steep climb.

Other than the rain, one car honks me and dozens of other cars pass in both directions, the walk is relatively uneventful, though I must say the scenery again is magnificent. Oh and while the other direction led straight down (and then back up) this walk had both up hills and down hills, in both directions, so never too strenuous at any point in time. Oh and there's also a fabulous view of Castelmuzio upon the return, which of course, I didn't get because I forgot my camera!

When I return to the house as our church chimes 9:00, I see Chris pulling Rick's car from the parking space. He sees me and smiles. Apparently, Becky grew concerned that I hadn't returned when the rain started, and insisted Chris go and look for me. It's a good thing I returned when I did because Chris would have gone in the entirely wrong direction towards Pienza. We pull the car back in, and return to the house, where Becky waits with a large dry towel and big smile for me. Rick appears shortly thereafter wanting to know if I want to walk - uh been there done that.

After I change, and dry off we head over to the bar for our morning capuccino and to catch up on our blog. If it had to rain, it couldn't have come at a better time, because we planned to take this day slow.

After breakfast, we decide Rick, Chris and I would head into Pienza to purchase some supplies for lunch while Stephanie stays at the house to pack and hang with the kids. Unfortunately, because of the rain, there would be no more olive picking today.

It's an easy ride to Pienza, through town, down the hill, up another hill, down that hill, through some flats and a left turn onto the 146. When the 146 turns left towards Montepulciano, we stay straight and manage to find some free parking along the outer walls.

We walk from one end of town to the other. Our first stop, a butcher (Macelleria) that has a huge roasted pig in the case - finally the famed porchetta sandwiches!! I have her wrap two for us to take home.

Then, we stumble upon a hardware-type store. I guess it appears that he was and mostly is a hardware seller - or purveyor of everything but foodstuffs and at some point at time, decided to stock a few touristy items as well. What draws us to the store was a display of pasta rollers in a basket in the front. We think it would be funny to purchase a pici roller for Stephanie since Alison seems so addicted.

We go inside and peruse most of his wares; it’s really an amazing store. We grab one of the rollers from the bin and go inside. We ask the man if it’s a pici roller and he shakes his head “Tagliattelle.” He goes outside and grabs another roller, a pici roller. When we told him we want two he has to go upstairs and get more from his stash.

Rick buys the Pici roller for Stephanie. I buy one too. I also buy a boom boom milk pot (something to heat milk on the stove. It has an attachment that clamps onto the top with which you can froth the milk, once warmed, for cappuccino), an olive wood handled cheese knife and a ceramic canister that I now use to hold my kosher salt on the counter top. It has the same design I’d seen (and purchased) on my day trip to Montalcino two years ago and I love. I’m sorry now I did not get more pieces.

After he wraps all our purchases and we pay, we continue strolling through town. Cheese stores and salumeria are everywhere but we stumble into one (who’s name I unfortunately forget), down one of the side streets at the opposite end of town.

There’s a lone woman in there and she seems happy we’ve stopped by. She opens a bottle of the Novella for us to try and while it’s a bit too fruity for us (and almost effervescent), we buy a bottle for Steph, since it’s right up her alley. We also taste several different types of Pecorino before settling on the stagianato (sp) and some cinghiale sausage. She’s a wonderful and gracious host and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend her establishment if only I could remember the name :(.

Outside I run into a latteria to pick up one more container of milk, which should last us today and tomorrow. Milk’s sold in quarts (i.e., litre), not larger sizes, so we’ve frequently run out. While I do that, the guys run back to the salumeria to ask her a location of un forno (a bakery). She gives them directions and we head outside the walls (I think the bakery is actually within the outer wall that runs along the road that runs alongside Pienza – does that make any sense?)

Anyway, we head over there and wait in line behind two other customers. The second customer, an older gentleman, is placing a large order for some festivity he and his wife are hosting. Obviously she sent him to handle this task but he’s flumming it. Chris totally emphasizes, and lucky for the man, the girl behind the counter walks him through the party, how many people and his options. As they talk, I watch the workers in the bakery next door, spread foccacio (but it’s called something different here, beginning with an St), into pans; it smells wonderful in this place. We end up with some of the rosemary foccacia and another rustic type of loaf.

It’s raining pretty good now and we’ve been gone a bit more than an hour, so we decide to head back. The town’s grown more crowded since we arrived and someone immediately stops and waits for our parking space as we pull out.

I want to find a rosticcerria in the hopes of getting a chicken for Alison for lunch and think I remember one across the street from the gas station where we filled up earlier in the week. We turn down the road towards Montepulciano (S146) and find the gas station, but the restaurant I remember, isn’t open so it’s back home.

When we arrive home, Stephanie’s downstairs reading while the kids play upstairs. We fill her in on our adventures and I can tell she’s sorry she didn’t go instead of Rick.

Rick starts another fire in the stove, and we spend most of the next hour or so packing then fixing the girls lunch and finally setting lunch out for the adults. The porchetta’s amazing; we divided the sandwiches in half and with all the other food, we’re quite full. We also open a bottle of Brunello Chris bought in Montalcino on Wednesday which we’d hoped to serve at Rick’s birthday dinner on Friday night before we found out that we couldn’t get one of the local women to cook. Oh well, it still didn’t go to waste.

Later in the day, while Chris and I relax, Rick decides to take Stephanie back to Pienza for a stroll around. Alison stays with us. It’s all a very relaxing day albeit rainy day.

About seven o’clock Chris and Antonio finally arrive. Poor Antonio, driving down from Bergamo hit a ton of traffic near Florence. It’s a bad area normally, let alone in this miserable weather. Throughout the early evening you could hear the wind howling outside and I dreaded our ride down the mountain to Pienza for dinner.

Antonio and Chris freshen up, we pop open some prosecco and toast Rick’s birthday then head to La Pergola for dinner. La Pergola’s on the S146 just before you reach the walls of Pienza (if you’re coming from the west) it’s on the right hand side. I believe the sign actually says Jolly Café, La Pergola.

The restaurant’s not crowded and they seat us at a table for 9. We shove the kids at one end, so we can have some adult conversations, though I’m not sure Becky’s too happy about being relegated to the “kid’s area.”

Now don’t be upset, but like all our previous trips, my note taking fell off near the end of our journey, and I don’t have specifics on what everyone ordered. One of the nice things about La Pergola is they offer pizza in the evenings which I thought would be a boon to Sammi who, since our first trip, had wanted pizza for dinner as opposed to lunch and never managed it. Yet, tonight, she orders the pici instead and Becky has the pizza. Go figure. Alison also has the pici, which looks delicious. As a detriment to La Pergola, the regular menu is a bit limited in that I only remember three choices for primi and three for a secondi, so if you’re not an “open eater” you may want to skip this place.

I start with the tomato bread soup for a starter; the name escapes me. I really hoped for one last chance of ribollita, especially on this miserable day, but this did the trick, thick and delicious. I believe Stephanie and Rick also have the soup. For my secondi, I have a ravioli stuffed with the meat of the local pork (similar to the chiannini beef but only pigs) it’s indigenous to this region. Chris has pici con ragu to start and some sort of filet of that same pork for his secondi. Which reminds me, the English translation on the menu had the maiale wrong, for some reason the menu translated the dish as octopus (or maybe squid; now I can’t remember) anyway the waiter clears up the confusion. Stephanie and Rick both have a thick fillet of steak for their secondi and Stephanie still proclaims it the best steak she’s ever had. Unfortunately, I do not recall what Antonio and Kris have. Though they graciously treat us to dinner, and Antonio handles it in the Italian manner, he arranges to pay the bill without us knowing he did.

We skip dessert that night since Kris brought from Perugia a tiramisu, which is supposed to be some of the best in Italy. We return home to enjoy some espresso there, along with the tiramisu and watch Rick open his presents. Shortly thereafter, we turn in – another relaxing day.


Our Birthday Boy and his Bride

Saturday November 8th - Back to Roma​

Saturday morning, we’re up early for our departure. Chris and I shower dress and load our car before we wake the kids. Rick’s up early too but as usual Steph and Al sleep until the last possible moment.

Kris and Antonio had arranged to stay in the house one more night, since no one was renting during the next week, Rebecca and Mark seemed most open to the idea for an additional fee. We let them sleep as we creep to the car, for our 8:15ish departure.

We drive back towards the S146 and take that road all the way to Chiusi Scala basically not going up the hill towards old Chiusi (on the left), and following signs for the train station. Where I expected the station to be before Chiusi, it’s really after, coming from the west. We fill the cars at a gas station along the road near the A1 and other than incredible amounts of fog, have little problem reaching our destination.

The Avis station is located right across the street from the train station. It couldn’t be better located. It is closed though when we arrive, and as we prepare to get back into the cars to move them to a lot around the corner, a man arrives and opens the office. He tells us to leave the cars and a few minutes later we’re done and head across the street.

Chris and I try to use the machines to purchase the tickets but for some reason have no luck, so we opt to go to the window, which has no line. We purchase seven first class tickets but cannot get seat reservations. First class is $12.00 more total than second class and I hope that we have better luck finding seats in first class.

I stop for a cappuccino and cornetto then we head to the track. We waited outside for a good twenty minutes (the train is about 5 minutes late) then pile on board. As I feared, there were no seats, and the seven of us, and our luggage stand crammed inside a narrow hallway that runs along the first class compartments. Eventually, three different gentlemen in three different compartments give up their seats for the girls. And really, it wouldn’t have been bad but the train runs into two delays (at the Orte station – the train stops at Orte and Orvietto), and one outside the Orte station, which makes us about forty minutes late and makes the entire experience last almost two hours.

Finally, reaching Termini – a bit tired and cranky, we hop in some cabs with the help of gypsies who then of course insisted upon a donation, though we never asked for their help to begin with, and returned to the Del Senato.

I cannot get over how crowded Rome seems this Saturday compared to our mid-week visit the previous week. People cram the Piazza Della Rotunda so you can barely walk.

We drop our bags in the hotel, freshen up a bit and head over to Pasquales for lunch. We hope to meet Peter there for a farewell meal but he never shows. Later we find out his clients that morning weren’t in the mood for pizza so they visited a different establishment instead.

We share artichoke pizza, pizza with mushroom and sausage and the zucchini pizza, which I think is now my new favorite and leave after a passing shower finishes, then off to Della Palma for gelato. OMG ! I can’t believe all the flavors; we pay first then go to place our orders. This time I try the pignolli and the white chocolate, love the second but am not crazy about the first. Sammi isn’t crazy about her fior di latte and since Alison can’t find a flavor at Della Palma that appeals to her, we make a second stop at the gelato store next to the hotel.

After our fortifications, we are off to do some shopping. Our first stop is the jewelry store near the Portugese church, S. Antonio dei Portoghesi, that Peter had pointed out to us the previous week. They had some interesting gold pieces that reminded me of Etruscan designs (and made me wish again we’d visit Cortona and Deborah’s friend Alex’s shop). Unfortunately, the shop is closed and almost looks as if it had no intention of reopening, ever.

Next stop, the leather store on the road that connects the Piazza Navona to Campo dei Fiori. Rick spied a knapsack there for his other daughter, Cassie, who couldn’t join us on this trip. Once purchase made, we head back towards the hotel. Rick and Chris head off in search of something, oh, now I remember. There’s a print that hangs on the wall opposite the elevator in the hotel that shows all the buildings surrounding the Piazza Della Rotunda but in one long print. Both men (and me too) love this print and they’re searching for it in some local stores but to no avail.

Meanwhile, the girls go hunting for Nomination charms and for a store Becky and I passed on the way to the bus last week, which had some ceramics I love. Our first stop for Nomination charms at the store just outside the piazza proves fruitless. They’re closed for siesta.

Next, we find the store with the ceramics but I dally and again, to my regrets once home, didn’t purchase the platter I saw and loved. The owner of that store directed us to another jewelry store on Via D. Caravita (on the right just before you get to Del Corso), where we are able to purchase charms. Becky buys the Pantheon and Sammi one that says Roma. I finally get my bracelet with a sole Pantheon charm. Al and Stephanie also buy charms and I buy a bracelet for my niece for her birthday with four charms.

Once we complete our purchases, we head back to the hotel for our own afternoon siesta.

After showers and baths, Sammi rushes us downstairs to the bar for our final night of drinks where she hopes Michele will again ply her with potato chips. Unfortunately, the few tables in the bar are filled and we must adjourn to the not so nice backroom area. Chris tracks down Michele and he serves us our drinks and amuse bouche back there while we talk, read the IHT and drink. Eventually Rick joins us and before long, the girls, who have been checking every few minutes, inform us that our usual spot on the couches has opened up. We grab our stuff and high tail it to the bar area where we settle in and enjoy another round.

About seven we’re joined by Deborah and Gerry (aka TravelswithDeb from AOL, Debra on Slowtalk). They’re staying at the Nazionale in Rome for two weeks after snagging some great deal on the Internet. She spies us lounging in the bar and seems to know immediately it’s us – wonder why ;).

It’s funny “meeting” people you’ve “known” for an extended period of time; it could be awkward or great fun. I’m happy to say meeting Deborah and Gerry was the latter. As a matter of fact, Gerry’s quite the hoot and I wish Deborah would convince him to post. Steph and Al join us too and eventually we head over to L’Orso Ottanta for our dinner.

This is our second meal at L’Orso Ottanta and if you love a large antipasti spread this is the place for you. They seat us at a slightly cramped table in the back of the side room (as opposed to the back room where we sat on our first visit). We tell them, antipasti della casa per sette persone and ordere vogole solamente for Becky and pasta for Al and Sammi.

Well the Antipasti della Casa is amazing. Let’s see if I can remember everything:

Fresh Mozzarella Prosciutto Suppli Pasta Meatballs Marinated Cauliflower Marinated Artichokes (a bit tough in spots)

Ah see – I’m forgetting already - ….hmmm…..actually I’m blending memories of our first meal and this one.

Fried Eggplant (I think) Assorted roasted peppers Some sort of celery salad Mushrooms

Ah heck – it’s all good. We sit and eat and talk and eat and drink and eat some more. Though no one orders dessert, we linger after receiving the bill and the waiter asks us to vacate as they have people waiting; that’s the problem when a restaurant gets popular.

We stroll back to the Piazza della Rotunda, partake in one last gelato of our trip and say good-bye to Deborah and Gerry. Lucky dogs, they still have more than a week left of their trip but we’re departing the next day.


Pinky and Her Clams

Sunday November 9 - Homeward Bound​

Up early, about six this morning. Pack up what little we took out for a single night’s stay in the hotel, wake and dress the kids and head downstairs. Sandro sent a huge van for us this morning – plenty of room for the seven of us and our luggage. Our two sleepyheads join us downstairs a bit after seven and we head off to the airport.

The streets were empty and we drive past the wedding cake, past the Coliseum, the baths of Caracalla and arrived at the airport about 7:45 for our 9:50 flight.

Check-in is simple but I set off security twice; once because of my under-wire bra, which the female security agents completely understands and the second time because one of my rugrats stuck a gold led pencil in my carry-on and it looks suspicious on the x-ray machine, those buggers.

Once through security, Rick heads to the VAT refund area to get his money back on Steph’s coat – they give you the option now of crediting your credit card which is much nicer than the time I was in England 20 years ago. I received a check in pounds two months later then had to trek into the City to get it converted. I think by the time all was done, I only made about ten bucks back.

We take the tram to the terminal, have some breakfast, stock up on some chocolate eggs to bring home and board pretty uneventfully. Continental has the screens in the seats now so the kids and I play video games, watch television and the movie Uptown Girl all the way to Newark. No one sleeps. We arrive home about 3:30, talk to my parents and Chris and I begin planning our next trip, solo – Onto May 2005!

Chris’s Favorites
  • Siena
  • DEI
  • Climbing the Duomo
Becky’s Favorites
  • Bird Poop on Mommy
  • House and getting eggs from chicken coop
  • Siena
Sammi’s Favorites
  • Climbing the Duomo
  • Chicken coop
  • Chocolate Eggs
Kim’s Favorites
  • Picking Olives
  • Siena
  • Early morning in Castelmuzio
Rick’s Favorites
  • Climbin Duomo
  • Olives
  • Pasquales
Chris’s Regrets
  • No time in Montepulciano
  • No tartufo bianco
  • Lack of …. Well I’m not putting that here but there were circumstances beyond my control
Becky’s Regrets
  • The number of stairs in duomo – ouch
  • Not behaving better in the Church of San Francesco (Arezzo) - forgot to mention she had a bit of a meltdown here
Sammi’s Regrets
  • We didn’t get to stay longer
  • Not seeing Moses
Kim’s Regrets
  • Didn’t get to see St. Catherine’s Head
  • Didn’t drive – I should have
  • Not seeing Moses
Rick’s Regrets
  • Not visiting a terme
  • Not seeing catacombs
  • Would have liked to seen Colosseum w/Peter

Pantheon at Night

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