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Just The Two of Us...We Can Eat It if We Try


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Just The Two of Us...We Can Eat It if We Try​

By Kim from New Jersey, Spring 2005
Chris, my husband, and I spent a bit over two weeks in Italy. Arriving in Rome, spending a night in Abruzzo, driving to a masseria near Ostuni for six nights, a night in Frascati, then a week in an apartment in Montalcino, followed by a last night in Rome before departure. We pretty much ate our way around the country enjoying a bit of history and scenery too.

This trip report was originally published on SlowTrav.com.

Thursday May 12 - Departure​

Bags are packed; documents printed; a twelve-page copy of the girls’ schedule lies on the counter for my mom; meals in the freezer and we’re off. Yousef picks us up at 1:00 for our 5:40 departure from JFK. We’re leaving early because you never know what traffic you’ll hit on the Belt Parkway and other than a brief scare, when Yousef pulls over on the Turnpike because he fears something wrong with the car and I have visions of missing our flight and vacation, we’re at JFK by 2:15.

Flying business class has its advantages and one of them definitely is the ability to bypass the long lines at check-in and go right to the first class check-in line; subsequently we’re checked-in, through security and alone in Delta’s first class lounge by 2:30. Within thirty minutes the lounge fills with other passengers as we sit and sip red wine (Chris), and water (me) waiting our departure. We call home during the wait because I forgot to mention to my Mom that she needed to pick up Sammi from school (cello day) and other than that, nothing much happens. About 4:30ish they put out a nice spread of crappy airport food and about ten to five, after security (men with those funky earpieces) has flooded the lounge, we decide to go board rather than hang around to find out what dignitary is about to arrive.

We get right on the plane (it doesn’t suck going from lounge to plane) and the flight attendants bring us some champagne (doesn’t suck either). Chris checks out the movie selection but it’s disappointing at best. We’d thought we’d be seeing Sideways on our flight but it turns out it’s only for people going to Greece or Turkey or some such destination. I end up watching Coach Carter, a predictable feel-good basketball flick, while I eat dinner.

The dinner menu is fine. They mark which entries they believe to be good if you want to sleep and which entries are good if you need to stay up at work. Contrary to my plan I go with the steak, a working entry, only because I have an issue with eating fish on planes (lingering remembrances of Airplane or Airport or something like that). Chris opts for veal (i.e., tortured baby cows – sorry I just saw that South Park episode the other night) and we both have an assorted appetizer plate and green salad. I skip dessert because at this moment, the sleeping pill and red wine I had before dinner kicks in and I’m ready to catch some zzzs.

Hours later, as we descend into Fuimicino, Chris wakes me as they’re clearing away the breakfast service, which I seem to have slept through. Luckily, the flight attendant brings me some Danish and coffee before everything must be stowed for landing. Chris downs his Red Bull; he believes Red Bull cures his jet lag, and we’re good to go.


Chris Waiting in Lounge

Friday May 13 - On To Abruzzo​

We land about twenty minutes late after a completely unmemorable and uneventful flight. Who can ask for more than that? We find on this Friday morning immigration to be a zoo, masses of people funneling into a few gates. EU citizens have it easier as they take a separate route to our right and whisk through. As we approach the gates, a man calls out for US citizens only, and while I’m hesitant to give up my spot in line, Chris pulls me over behind the crowd that has now formed behind the US-friendly man. We’re also allowed to whisk through after a cursory glance at our passports but no stamp :(.

What I thought would take us at least an hour has only taken about twenty minutes and our bags wait for us at the baggage claim. Chris grabs them quickly from the conveyer and we head past Customs (no stopping) to the waiting area. A man holds a sign with our name and another family’s name. He bids us to wait so we move behind a pillar hoping it will block the swarms of people around us from bumping into us. Tour groups abound, collecting their participants, Globus, Collette and cruise lines from Civitecchia.

Our man grabs us and navigates through the mass of bodies to the entrance doors where Sandro awaits. Turns out he’s Sandro’s father who was awaiting his own passengers, the second name on the sign, while Sandro finished his first run and returned for us.

Chris and I decided to rent our car from a location in the EUR for two reasons: 1) with the airport surcharge, even with the car ride to the EUR we’d still be saving about $100 2) We’d heard horror stories about the pick-up (i.e., lines) at the rental car places in the airport, although this really had more to do affecting our arrival date, Friday instead of Saturday since those stories all pertained to Saturday pick-ups.

Anyway, we catch up with Sandro on the brief ride to the Sheraton EUR, where we’ve rented our car. It also happens to be the location of Sandro’s (i.e., Romalimo’s) office and Sandro is friendly with the EUR representative. Sandro chats with his friend, and we have the paperwork and keys in less than five minutes. We both agree; this is one of the great values (i.e., the cost is worth the time/aggravation savings) of the trip.

We have a quick cappuccino in the hotel lobby bar with Sandro and then head out to the lot where Sandro retrieves our car and moves our bags from his car to our new Alfa Romeo 156 rental, which Chris names Claudio. Next, Sandro hops into his car and leads us to Viale Christopher Columbo and gives easy directions from there back to the GRA in the direction of Napoli and then to the A24. We hit a bit of traffic on the GRA but nothing dramatic.

Temps when we left the EUR were about 20 but as we drive through some of the most magnificent mountainous vistas of Abruzzo, we see temps drop as low as fourteen and go through several bouts of rain. It’s easy to understand why some of the mountains still have caps of snow in May.

Chris drives the entire way and does a marvelous job over mountains and through tunnels as long as ten kilometers. Overall, the going to the end of the autostrada is pretty easy or normal highway driving but the road from the autostrada to Atri has me groping the “oh s***” handle and holding my breath. Along the route though, I manage to summon enough courage to let go of the handle and call Vechia Silvia, a Buon Ricordo restaurant, to make lunch reservations.

Moving down from Atri towards Silvi isn’t so bad but the fun begins when we get lost. We see a sign for Le Macine but whiz by it too fast to tell if we should have turned left there or need to make the next left. We end up doing the latter and climbing to Silvi Paese where we find signs for our lunch destination but not our Agritourismo.

We retrace our steps, go past the same sign but do not see a left turn anywhere. Again, we retrace our steps and decide to take the hard left about ten meters before the sign. We then see another sign almost immediately between two smallish apartment buildings for Le Macine and make a second hard left down a white gravel road. Moral of the story, if coming from Atri and you see a big brown sign for Le Macine, you’ve gone too far.

We drive for a minute or two and face an oncoming school bus which smooshes us off to the right as it passes. Finally, we are there.

Le Macine is made up of at least three buildings that we see and a fourth in the middle of renovations. We find the owners in the restaurant building and they take us to our room. It’s small but with a nice little balcony with an amazing view. There’s no television here, no safe, basically a simple room but for 90 € for the two of us including breakfast and dinner, who can complain? With getting lost, it took us under three hours to get to La Macine from the EUR.

We drop our bags and hop back into the car to head to Silvi Paese and Vecchia Silvi for lunch. Since we’d already been to the town once, we find it easily enough, park and walk to the restaurant for lunch.

There’s only one other patron in the large establishment when we arrive and no one else joins us for the meal. I notice a piano there, and wonder if they do a large dinner crowd and/or have nightly entertainment.

Since Vecchia Silvia is a Buon Riccordo place I already know what I’m having for lunch. We both start with the house antipasti, a mixed plate of cured meats, stuffed tomato, stuffed mushrooms, crispy sautéed onions, bruschetta topped with a parsley pesto and another with tomatoes, all accompanied by a basket filled with at least ten different types of salami with which comes a cutting board and knife for us to help ourselves. It’s all delicious and costs about seven euro per person.

For our primi, Chris has tagliatelle con porcini and I have the BR speciale – timbale of scrippeli. I’d liken it to lasagna made with a tomato sauce, akin to Chris’s grandmother’s (sweet more than savory), with tiny meatballs and cheese. It’s delicious but I can only eat about half because I am full. The waiter returns and seeing that neither of us has finished our dish asks if we didn’t like it but I pat my stomach and ask him how to say “full” in Italian. I believe he says, “pieno.”

With our meal we have a nice bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, which is the house wine, a bottle of fizzante and follow with two café for a grand total of 55€ (the BR meal accounts for 16 of that). I can easily recommend this restaurant if you’re in the area; we’d give it one star.

After lunch, we stroll around town a bit but most stores are closed for siesta. We do stumble upon a dog that looks remarkably like my friend’s one-eyed, deaf, almost toothless dog, Harley (she adopted him that way; there must be a special place in heaven for dogs like that and their adopting owners). Anyway, after scratching the belly of Harley’s twin, we have a companion for the rest our stroll.

Soon though, we say good-bye to the twin, and head back to our car to return to Le Macine. On our way, we stumble upon another dog, this one sleeping in the middle of the road. No matter how much we creep near, or yell from the car, he does not move out of our path until I finally snap a picture of him. I guess siesta counts for dogs too.

At Le Macine, we nap in some lounge chairs by the pool for a while then decide to head to Atri for a stroll. Atri’s not far and it’s a lovely small town with a historic center. The cathedral looks beautiful but has huge holes in the façade as if someone plied marble from the base. Chris thinks the town looks relatively new or at least recently restored and wonders if perhaps it was bombed sometime during WWII.

We enjoy our first gelato, limone for Chris and nocciola and chocolate for me. We continue our stroll, and then head back to Le Macine stopping at a supermercato along the way for some wine (a cheap Montepulciano d’Abruzzo) and plastic cups with which to drink it.

When we return to the Agritourismo, we enjoy some wine on our patio before showering for dinner. Unfortunately, our tiny shower has lousy water pressure but you can’t have everything.

It’s nice walking out of our bedroom and across the courtyard to the restaurant at eight-thirty for dinner. There’s no menu, dinner is the same for everyone. We start with bruschetta topped with tomato and fresh mozzarella. Then some sautéed chicory bitter but good. It’s served with polenta bread (think cornbread). For our primi, we have the local pasta, thick like Tuscan pici, in a sauce of tomato and something else, mint I think. Our server also put a small bowl on the table of minced chilies, which we find out you can mix with the pasta. We do and it gives a nice contrast to the mint. For our secondo, they serve some sort of braised meat on the bone; to me reminiscent of short ribs. We finish with a poached pear in a cream similar to zabaglione, two café and Chris has a grappa for which we pay an additional euro and we’re done.

Fully sated, we stroll the short distance back to our room and bed. During the night, I have some trouble sleeping and spend an hour or so reading Grapes of Wrath but eventually do fall back to sleep.


View From Balcony at Le Macine

Saturday May 14 - I Know It’s Around Here Somewhere​

We’re up about eight-thirty or so, dress and head across the courtyard for breakfast. They present us with a basket of assorted breads, jam and honey. When we ask for cappuccino, we’re given something more akin to American latte, warm milk and espresso that we mix together; we like it. After breakfast, we settle our bill, pack-up Claudio and hit the road. Le Macine would be a good place to stay with the kids to explore the immediate area and/or spend some time at the beach.

Today is one of our two big driving days. We’re heading from Silvi to Ostuni with a stop at Castel Del Monte along the way. We drive down from Silvi Paese, through Silvi Marina and within fifteen minutes or so, we’re on the A14 heading south.

There are some beautiful vistas along this route and you have the distinct impression of descending from great heights because you are. It’s amazing how mountainous Abruzzo is and yet how flat Puglia appears in comparison. It’s even cooler to see the heights of the Gargana jutting to your left as you continue the journey south.

After about two plus hours we see our exit for Andria but once we’re through the tollbooth, the Via Michelin directions that I’d printed from the Internet let us down (as in nothing we see corresponds to those directions). Luckily there’s a sign for Castel Del Monte, which we follow. It’s not long though before we arrive at a fork in the road with no sign for the castle and nothing that looks familiar on our Via Michelin directions. Our choices are left towards Bari or a right towards Andria. I make the executive decision to go towards Andria since I know Castel del Monte sits on a hill about fifteen kilometers from Andria in the opposite direction of Bari. Big mistake!

Our route takes us through downtown Andria, a small, modern, bustling city with some major league congestion as we try to follow the Castel Del Monte signs like Hansel and Gretel trying to follow a trail of breadcrumbs. Eventually, we emerge on the other side of Andria and some roads that at least correspond to our Michelin directions. On further thought, I agree with Chris’s thinking that if we followed the road to Bari, maybe we would have bypassed Andria and picked up a different trail to the castle but who knows?

We wind our way through the country and arrive at Via Castel Del Monte but there are some police blocking the road. Uh oh. Turns out not to be such a big deal it just means rather than driving directly to the castle, the local authorities direct everyone to a parking lot off the 170A (the road we’re currently on) at which point a shuttle will bring us to the castle.

We continue barely 500 meters down the road to the lot, pull in and pay three euro for the privilege of parking there and taking the shuttle. At least it’s a large air-conditioned bus that waits (temps for today are in the low twenties and sunny). By the time we park (it’s not that crowded) and Chris uses the restroom (a Johnny-on-the-Spot for which we pay 50 centismi), the bus has departed.

There’s a small mobile snack shack here with plenty of tables around, some under a tent, and I believe this to be the “trattoria” referred to by others and decide to enjoy some panini and beer while we wait for the bus’s return. We pay 10€ and get two panini with prosciutto, tomato and mozzarella and two cold Perroni, which go down way too quickly. As we finish, the bus returns and we climb aboard.

We do not have to wait long before we depart and within a few minutes we’re atop the mount. I have to give you an aside here. This is one of the Swabian castles of Frederick II, the Wonder of the World. Well, before I understood who Frederick II was or where he was from, I somehow got it into my dyslexic brain that Swabia was in Africa; I think I confused Swabian with Swahili and Lt. Uhura on Star Trek. And I could never understand how someone of African origin ended up being a Holy Roman Emperor! Duh!! Swabia is part of Germany. Well, at least that’s all cleared up in my idiotic brain. Now back to our show.

As we climb up the mount in the bus, I can understand why the authorities want to limit the amount of traffic to the top since the road is narrow and winding but judging by the cars in the parking lot up here, they must let some people drive up at some point during the day.

When we depart the bus, we spy the trattoria, bar and enoteca to which the others must have really been referring but it’s too late; we’ve already eaten, oh well. The panini were good nonetheless.

We walk up the path to the structure; it’s incredible, especially since they’ve restored the full marble façade some thirty years ago. We stroll around the outside and note several families enjoying picnics, good idea. Then we head inside.

It’s three euro each for us to enter, the ticket agent cannot change our twenty and we used all our change for parking and the bathroom. The next people come in to pay but they have a twenty too. Finally, we scrape together a euro to go along with the five we already have, made of 50 centismi and ten centismi coins and we enter. I’m not sure how long it took for the people behind us though.

Some of the rooms within the castle have descriptions of the castle’s history and renovations in multiple languages, so we read all the English ones we can find. The castle has gone through several iterations but lay completely abandoned and pillaged for many years before being restored during the latter half of the last century. Once we’ve visited each room on the ground floor, we head upstairs.

After touring the entire place, I think I agree with the historians who do not believe this to be a fortification, the arrow slits are too deep and there’s no outer perimeter (e.g., moat or wall) or a hunting lodge. The layout does not lend itself to a “separate” or private bedroom concept since you must go from any bedroom to the stairs by going through the next bedroom. I agree with those that think this was to be some sort of monument or astrological folly on Frederick’s part.

After we spend about an hour at the castle, we return to the lot next to the trattoria to wait for the shuttle. We do not wait long before it arrives and we return to the parking area. We enjoy a quick café and then it’s my turn to use the “restroom,” which I must now admit is quite clean and probably worth the 50 centismi especially after seeing the facilities at Ostia Antica, the Lucca train station, and Monte Oliveto Maggiore.

We hop in Claudio and attempt to follow the now suspect Via Michelin directions from here to Ostuni. We do pretty well until we get to the S96 where we’re again given two choices of directions to take (neither mentioned on Via Michelin) and of course, choose the wrong one. Only because of what happens later in the day do I want it known here that it’s Chris who chooses the wrong direction at this point in our journey. Anyway, after a few kilometers in the wrong direction, we find a place to make a u-turn and in a bit we’re back on track.

It’s a relatively uninteresting ride from here; I must say I find the landscape here to be a bit more industrial and not as pretty as our morning ride. It’s not long maybe another hour to ninety minutes before we reach Ostuni and what I hope will be the only major screw-up of the trip occurs.

Via Michelin has Il Frantoio listed in its guide on-line and before departure I used the “directions to this location” option rather than getting directions from Il Frantoio. Big Mistake!! Let me say that again, Big Mistake! Well not to bore you with all the gory details of how many times we drove around Ostuni, through Ostuni, above Ostuni and below Ostuni, lets just say a lot.

I must also note at this point that Chris, given the circumstances, remains surprisingly calm as we navigate down streets that dead-end forcing us to back-up to turn around, streets covered with cobblestones (a definite no-no in Chris’s book of driving), and past several businesses with the name Frantoio (turns out Frantoio means olive press), just not our Frantoio. Though, I am ready with several retorts if he should lose it.

He asks several times if we should stop and ask someone for directions and I say sure but he never actually pulls over. Man thing. I’m just shocked though for the thousands of signs for every Masseria, restaurant, and agritourismo we see, we see not one for Il Frantoio.

Finally, on about our one-hundredth lap around town, we see a big sign for Frantoio and follow it to this industrial complex, which obviously isn’t the place. Now, I must also mention at this point in our farce, Chris suggests we just call them and get directions, at which point I realize I do not have a phone number with me. I’d assumed incorrectly that the phone number was on the e-mail confirmation they sent me; it wasn’t. Not to mention, there’s a problem with our phone. Apparently, TIM does not have it registered to me and therefore we cannot load more time onto it and we must appear at a TIM store with my passport to fix this issue but we have yet to do that (I wanted to do it in Atri this morning but Chris wanted to hit the road). I’m not sure that TIM ever had my registration information since I bought the phone from Cellular Abroad three years ago but they want it now.

Anyway, Chris wants to use our precious few minutes left on the phone to call my Mom in the States and have her get on my computer to find Il Frantoio’s number rather than asking someone here for directions. That’s enough. I tell him to pull into a supermercarto we spied next to the industrial complex housing one of the other Frantoio and I go in to ask for directions.

We try to communicate our needs with the manager at the desk near the entrance but we make little progress. Finally, Chris asks if they have “un libro telefono?” Which he does and together, after searching three different sections, we find the number for Azienda Agricola Frantoio at SP872 on the S16 (we’d been on that road earlier but didn’t make it down that far). He calls them and explains he has two lost people looking for them and proceeds in rapid Italian of which I’m getting about every fifth word to explain it will be difficult telling us where they are because we do not speak Italian. After much going back and forth, he hangs up rights down the address and motions for us to follow him.

Through this entire fracas, Peter Kilby calls and Chris speaks to him for a bit but I’m afraid he probably came across as rather short. Anyway, we hop into Claudio and our benefactor hops into his car and for the second time in two days someone leads us to “la strada giusta.”

I ask Chris, as he works furiously to keep up through the winding cobbled streets of Ostuni, “What did Peter have to say?”

He replies, “Not much. We couldn’t talk long so he said he’d call later in the week but when I told him where we are, Peter replied, “Oh Purgatory!” This isn’t looking well for my choice of destinations.

Eventually, we’re through town and on one of the roads to which I directed Chris on our third or fourth circling of the town. Our benefactor pulls over, gives us the address and phone number and tells us to go to the kilometer marker 872 to find the place by pointing to the current kilometer marker, 879. We were so close earlier just didn’t go far enough.

We thank our man profusely, hop back into our car and drive off. About kilometer marker 875 we see a sign for Il Frantoio 200 meters ahead. Chris gives me a high five and prepares to turn. As he does though, I comment, “Yeah but the address says 872.”

“We’re turning,” he replies.

We drive down a white gravel road through olive orchards with the biggest flippin’ olive trees you’ll ever find until we come to a gate completely blocking our path. Luckily, a car pulls through in the opposite direction, so we move aside and then sneak through before the gate closes. We park in an area with other cars, in front of what appears to be a stable, get out and ask a passerby “Il Frantoio?”

“Si, si” and she motions us down the stairs.

We arrive at big green gates standing ajar within white walls that open onto a beautiful courtyard studded with small tables surrounded by cushioned chairs. This looks like the pictures I’d seen.

Some people linger about and there are children running and playing. It’s not long before a woman, whose name escapes me, rushes over to greet us. She grabs a key from inside the large white building to our right and takes us to our room, Gelseno (I think); all the rooms have names not numbers here because as we find out later, Armondo, the owner, believes his guests are people, not numbers.

Our room must be one half of the two bedroom apartment because in front of us is a small kitchen with a fireplace to our left, table for four in front, sink, stove and small under the counter refrigerator to our right. A door to our right, closed now, must lead to the second bedroom. Across the room also stands a hutch containing lovely serving pieces, dishes, glasses and underneath in the sealed wooden doors, some cooking pots. The room smells of burned wood from the tiny fireplace and immediately reminds me of our week in Tuscany in November.

Almost behind us and next to the entrance door (double doors actually with a screened storm door in front) is the narrow bathroom. It contains all your necessities: sink, toilet, towel warmer and smallish shower, which actually would not be so bad in size but for the sloping ceiling that cramps all six feet of Chris but does not squish my five-three frame.

Our bedroom door stands across the kitchen from the entrance door. It leads into a decent size room, with a cathedral ceiling that must reach twenty feet in height. It contains a hutch in which to hang our clothes, one drawer at the bottom, a bed (two twins pushed together), desk with television (no English language stations), a small lounge chair and along the far long wall, opposite the entrance, shelves, which hold various books and other decorative items, and also serve to hold our folded shorts and tops. It’s not grand or palatial but it beats most double rooms in the cities and will work more than nicely for us. I’m already thinking that this area, along with the second bedroom would do nicely for the girls and us.

Chris drives Claudio down to the green gates and we unload him. I unpack while Chris returns Claudio to the parking area and it’s not long before we’re settled in for our next six nights. We head out to the courtyard to relax, read and people watch. Within a few minutes, Armondo, introduces himself and offers us a welcoming drink. I’d noticed him when we first entered, sitting with what I assume to be his family at the far end of the courtyard, and also assume the children playing about, are his grandchildren.

Of course we accept and about five minutes later, Angela introduces herself and sets down a tray containing a small pitcher of white wine, a bowl of fresh local almonds, some local green olives and these small donut shaped crackers, which are truly addicting.

We relax and begin to unwind from the past two days of travel. Chris decides to go for a run so he calibrates the GPS watch I’d bought him at Christmas, and heads out to the S16. I relax and read, observe the French couple sitting at the next table (later in the week we find out they’re actually Swiss), and watch the children play.

Eventually Chris returns, after having run about seven miles and while he showers, people begin to arrive dressed to the nines. First two older couples and then more and more people, several generations, the youngest of which seems to be ten. I assume they’re here for the extravagant dinner that Rosalba, Armondo’s wife and partner, is preparing for that evening. They all know each other and at some point migrate from their end of the courtyard to mine.

I’m surrounded by them; swarmed. One or two even help themselves to my little snack of almonds. What can I do? I smile and offer more of the snacks. Finally, one of the older ladies asks if I must pay for these and I manage to convey that I do not know but she should feel free to help herself anyway. She declines as the group moves into a room in the large white building behind me.

I hear a man speaking at what I think must be some sort of wine or olive oil tasting arranged by this group before the dinner until I hear several hallelujahs. At that point, the French (really Swiss) man and I look at each other with wonder and both shrug our shoulders. Finally, I ask Angela what’s going on and she tells me they’re celebrating a 50th anniversary. The room into which they moved is a small chapel and they’re renewing wedding vows.

It’s not long before they finish and swarm out engulfing me again. Chris returns and they all eventually meander back to the other end of the courtyard. Chris sits and enjoys more of our snacks and tells me a funny story. Apparently, down the road, at kilometer marker 872 sits Azienda Il Frantoio, the one to which our benefactor earlier must have spoken to, not our Frantoio but the directions worked nonetheless! Good thing Chris was adamant about turning at mile marker 874 and not 872.

Around 8:30, Armondo summons everyone to dinner by ringing a bell outside the dining room. In the summer, they serve these meals in the courtyard, which must be beautiful, but since we still have cool evenings, we dine inside. At the doorway, Angela, now dressed in full Puglian folk garb, greets us and leads us to our table, marked with a small place-card. We join two other couples, David and Margaret, and Terry and Terry’s wife, but her name escapes me now. Both couples are English though they did not know each other before this evening.

David and Margaret enjoyed one of Rosalba’s feasts earlier in the week, so they clue us in. David starts by explaining it’s a free pour, drink all you want, they’ll bring more. Of course, we do. We start a rosè wine but later in the evening, Armondo switches us to a big Puglian red. Once everyone’s settled and the wine is poured, the antipasti courses come out one at a time. There’s no menu. Rosalba cooks in the kitchen and you enjoy what she makes in the evening. One of the waitresses brings the dish, tells us what it is in Italian and then Armondo stops by and explains the preparation of the dish in English (or whatever language happens to be spoken at your table), and highlights whichever local organic olive oil Rosalba used in the dish’s preparation. This occurs throughout the meal. So between good conversation with our new English friends, ten to twelve incredible courses of food, several bottles of rose and then red wine, we pass an enjoyable evening.

Somewhere though, between our primi and secondi (which feels more like our sixth and seventh course), we get another new bottle of red. Only Terry and then Chris pick up something wrong with the bottle. I’m still working on a glass from the earlier bottle, so I’m oblivious. Anyway, they decide it’s corked and ask Angela for a new one. She immediately takes the bad bottle and within a few moments, brings us not only a new bottle but also all new glasses (I keep mine though since it still has the good, earlier wine). I love the service though, no fuss, no muss.

As we unwind and grow more comfortable with our dining companions, Chris can’t help but share the story of our misadventure from this afternoon. However, I feel better as David explains that the other night, it took he and Margaret 90 minutes to return to Il Frantoio from Ostuni (after having driven into the city from Frantoio) because they got so lost. Then Terry tells of a story where he and his wife, while leaving Otranto I believe, actually had to decide direction based upon the setting sun because they were so lost. Now I don’t feel so bad.

At the end of the meal, we’re given the choice of one of Il Frantoio’s thirty-five or so homemade liqueurs. I have mandarin while Chris enjoys lemon (big surprise). Armondo returns one last time with a copy of the menu for the evening:

Wine: Rosato del Salento and Jaddico Negroamaro

Antipasti (one at a time)
  • Pizzelle col sughetto, ricotta di pecora e limo (Fried bread pasta with tomato sauce, sheep ricotta and lime)
  • Borragine, salvia e lampascioni in pastella (Fried wild borrage, sage and wild onions)
  • Orzo perlato con carciofi (Pearl barley with artichokes)
  • Cicorielle selvatiche e catalogna con pure di fave novelle alla menta (wild chicories and “catalogna” with fresh fava beans pure and mint)
  • Laganari con pomodori ripieni di nulla e olive schiacciate (“Laganari” hand made pasta with tomatoes filled of nothing and green olives)
  • Agnello con patate in coccio (Lamb with potatoes in oven)
  • Insalata Mista con nasturzi (mixed salad with nasturtium)
  • Macedonia di frutta fresca (fresh fruit salad)
  • Quando il sospiro è al rosolio d’olivia (when the sigh is out, olive leaves liquor – this is really a small pastry with a cream similar to zabaglione flavored with the olive leaf liquor – perfection).
After dinner, around 11:00 or 11:30, we stroll back to our room, grabbing two of the bottled waters placed on the picnic table for guests and head to sleep (of course I don’t, and am up until two or so reading Grapes of Wrath but that’s okay).


Castel Del Monte
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Sunday May 15 - Life's a Beach​

We arrive for breakfast around 9ish served in the same room in which we had our scrumptious feast last night. This morning, the tables are set and places assigned again; you find yours by looking for your place card. One area of the room is set aside for the buffet. It contains an assortment of home-baked cookies, cakes, breads, cereal, yogurt, fruit, juice, milk, meats, cheeses and soft-boiled eggs. On each table a tray sits containing different homemade jams, honey and sugar for coffee or tea.

We find our table, order some cappuccino and dig in. Of course everything’s delicious – my favorite are the round cookies with a lemon filling; Chris’s are the coconut crescents. I also enjoy some bread with the different jams atop.

After breakfast we talk to one of the girls who works at Il Frantoio and decide to keep today simple and go to the beach. She provides us with easy directions, and a not-to-scale map to two different locations (a rocky beach and a sandy beach). She also gives us two beach towels and a ticket we can present to the beach operators good for two chairs and an umbrella. At the same time, we have her set up reservations for us for dinner at Cattedrale and also arrange for a taxi since Chris would rather not drive into Ostuni again.

The ride to the beach is easy, maybe ten minutes to Lido Bizzaro, the sandy beach open year-round. We pull our car into one of the spots covered by a canopy (a nifty trick which I wish they’d learn at the Jersey shore). We present our ticket to the man in the office and follow a younger (and much cuter) man to the beach. He sets up our two lounge chairs (we don’t opt for an umbrella) in a spot we select, Chris shtoops him two euro and we plop down.

I’m content to sit and vegetate, read, and watch the cute guy set up other people’s chairs but Chris gets antsy and goes for a walk. Chris returns and tells me of a man up a few beaches catching octopus and beating them on a brick wall that runs along a stream emptying into the sea. I seem to remember seeing some travel show that demonstrates this but can’t remember why (I still can’t).

Eventually, it’s my turn to get antsy, so I head for a walk and after passing the octopus beater, make it all the way to Torre Canne, past the Hotel Levanto (another consideration for our stay) and realize I made the better choice. The water’s not tepid but refreshing and if it were a bit hotter, I’d go for a swim.

I notice the beaches are a bit dirty and need some sprucing before the season starts. Probably no different than the beaches you find along the Jersey shore. I also notice I’m one of two women that I see this day wearing a one piece (actually, I’m in a tankini). All the others, body warranting it or not, wear bikinis. I admire that.

When I return I’m hungry but Chris doesn’t feel like dining (white table clothes and all) at the restaurant along the beach so we opt to share a panino and two beers (six euro) from the snack shack instead.

Not long after lunch, the clouds roll in so we decide to head back to Il Frantoio. Once there, we quickly change and decide to stroll around Ostuni since the threatened rain never appears. We find parking easily in the new city at the bottom of stairs that lead to Porta Nuovo.

Most stores are closed for either Sunday or siesta, which I’m not sure. Some stores, geared towards tourists, do remain open so we do a bit of window-shopping but don’t purchase anything. We find it funny how things look familiar now after being lost throughout the city yesterday.

We find Cattedrale and feel comfortable with our ability to navigate the windy streets of the old city. Finally, we snake down to Piazza Liberta, purchase a gelato from one of the many gelateria that line the piazza and roam around an arts and crafts festival taking place in and around the area.

Finally, we return to Il Frantoio, to shower and dress before dinner. Vicenzo, the taxi guy won’t be picking us up until 8:30 so we have time to enjoy another round of drinks (white wine) and some snacks in the courtyard before we depart. I’m wondering how much they’re going to charge us for our little cocktail hour but don’t ask.

At 8:30 Vicenzo arrives and drives us back to Ostuni. Few views compare to La Citta Bianca lit at night; makes me wish I had a tripod for my camera so I could do the image a bit of justice. Vicenzo begins to wind us through the old city towards Cattedrale but it’s just packed; wall to wall people with cars and scooters trying to navigate in between. We tell him we know where the restaurant is, because hearing Vicenzo’s earlier phone conversation, we know he’s attending a movie with a friend and we don’t want him to be late. So he drops us near the bottom of the old city and we arrange to meet at 11:30 at the Tabacchi, he pointed out to us earlier, near the piazza Liberta.

We climb up through the crowds, past the Cathedral and into Osteria Piazzetta Cattedrale (via Arcidiacono Trinchera, 7 Phone: 0831-335026) pretty much on schedule for our 9:00 reservation. It’s not very crowded and we’re seated in the back room. It seemed more crowded earlier when we strolled by, filled with people enjoying Sunday lunch.

We ask our server to select a wine for us; Chris uses his best Italian to describe the type he would like and finally settles with, which is your favorite? He brings us two bottles he prefers and we end up selecting the Castello Monaci – Artas Primitivo 2001 for 24€. I like that he tells us the prices of each wine he presents (the other was 18 € and the house red is 12€). I also have to tell you, we’re very impressed with these southern reds. This is the second night in a row that we enjoy two “big” reds from the south.

We start with the House Antipasti for 10€ a person. It’s not long before we’re bombarded with a bunch of dishes among them:

Zucchini soufflé Phylo with artichoke Stuffed Zucchini flowers Bacala mousse on bruschetta Little fried vegetables Some other type of fried vegie Marinated local mushrooms Burata with local ham Fresh Ricotta with almonds

It’s delicious and really could have been enough for a light meal. When our next course arrives, I’m almost filled but find room for my Orecchiette with rape and breadcrumbs, yummy. Chris enjoys baby pork with local mushrooms but can’t help picking at my plate too. For dessert, I opt for some slices of fresh melon, which has to be some of the softest, juiciest melon I’ve ever had and Chris enjoys a Ricotta Torte. Dinner comes to 82€ and we enjoy every bit of it.

After dinner we stroll about town again along with hundreds of others enjoying a warm spring evening; I wonder though, don’t these people have to get up for work or school in the morning? Eventually we meander back to the piazza and sit on some steps across from the Tabacchi waiting for Vicenzo. We watch as people stroll by but more as they drive by. I get the distinct impression that all these teen-agers and young adults are cruising, like we used to see in St. Louis near the local custard stand or in old movies from the fifties. We begin to count how many times certain cars drive by; it’s like a complicated ballet as they navigate through the streets filled with people.

It doesn’t feel like long though before Vicenzo joins the crowd to whisk us home. He charges us 25€ for our roundtrip and while worth it both Chris and I agree now that we know how to navigate to “our lot” we’ll drive in ourselves in the future.

When we arrive back at Il Frantoio, the night watchman greets us as we walk through the gate, carrying a silver tray with two digestivo’s on top. I can’t remember which ones we enjoy that evening but it’s a wonderful surprise before we head off to bed.


Kim & Chris at Cattedrale

Monday May 16 - Jolly Old St. Nick​

We’re up at a decent hour today because we’re heading to Bari. I’m a bit nervous about driving into Bari because it’s a big city and because of its reputation for crime. But I’m on a dual quest, to see the church of San Nicola and to get another Buon Ricordo plate at Piccini Ristorante.

We have breakfast as usual, touch base with our British friends, one set going to Castel Del Monte and I believe the other to Alborabello, review our maps and hit the road. We opt not to take the bypass but instead get off the 379 south of Bari and ride along the coast road into the city. The area we see as we approach isn’t in the “best shape” but probably no more than some of the worn out neighborhoods that surround many of our cities. As we get closer to the modern downtown, Chris gets excited as he sees other runners along the beach. I find this running obsession rather strange.

Parking, ah yes forget my first two quests, within a short time of driving down to and around the city, my new quest is to find parking. Where are all the lots, street level, underground, above ground? We find none. Finally, after combing some of the grid like blocks of the new city, we get back on the road along the coast, pass the old city, towards where the cruise ships dock, and find a broken down lot near the tip of the peninsula. We don’t care how much it costs, get our ticket, pull in, and leave poor Claudio behind to defend himself. The address on the parking ticket is Viale Einaudi, 15 but I’m not sure if that’s for the lot or for the parking company’s office.

After skirting the walls for about fifteen minutes, we finally find an entrance to the old city. Now I understand how Morton could get so lost. High buildings, winding streets make for a total loss of direction. Not to mention, I have no map!

We blindly stumble upon the Basilica but can’t seem to find San Nicola. I finally ask a passerby; I don’t think Chris will ever ask for directions. Our man goes out of his way to lead us to the street leading to San Nicola (third time on this trip). Once we’re heading in the right direction, you can definitely tell because the number of tacky souvenir stands increase, as we get closer.

The piazza in front of the church is mobbed as a bride and groom leave the church and then another party leaves some sort of building to the left of the church. Finally, as we look around we notice several more brides either newly wed or waiting to take the plunge. I do not know if it’s some sort of holiday or if Monday is a typical wedding day here but I’d imagine this place could rival Vegas for brides.

We sneak into San Nicola through a side door and explore. It’s a beautiful Romanesque church but with a lovely ceiling not the starkness I’m used to seeing. We find San Nicola’s crypt downstairs and are awfully quiet as a priest conducts some sort of service at a small chapel to the left of the tomb. He doesn’t look like a Roman Catholic priest but more like Greek Orthodox and Chris says the service doesn’t sound like a mass (though if the mass were in Greek, I’m not sure he would recognize it). And I seem to remember some story about San Nicola being taken by the crusaders from their Greek Christian cousins, so a Greek priest seems like a plausible possibility to me.

As we make our way to leave, we get caught by another wedding processional and have to wait for a break before we can sneak out. On our way out of the Old City, we stop at Frederick’s other castle (really some other Norman dude, then William the Bad destroyed it and Frederick rebuilt it). We also learned that one of Frederick’s wives is buried in Andria; now I wish we’d spent a bit of time in Andria to see her tomb but Chris is happy that we escaped that journey unscathed.

We head into the new city that reminds me of New York with its grid design, restaurants and plenty of shopping. We spy a TIM store but it’s closed because it’s Monday and won’t reopen until 4:00. We continue our stroll in the new city going past some pretty cool looking shops, some closing now for siesta, others closed because it’s Monday morning. Chris spies an excellent soccer store on Via Piccini but it too is closed. We also find a huge underground parking garage of course one block further up than we traveled.

We find the restaurant, Piccini (via Piccinni, 28 phone: 080-5211227), but for the life of us cannot figure out how to get in. There’s no handle on the door we see, or a bell to ring. We’re about to give up when the door slides open, (ah it’s a slide), and we ask the man leaving if the restaurant is open. He’s not an employee but turns around and yells to the hostess, asking for us and she replies they are.

We enter and she seats us in the narrow, long front room, where eventually one other patron joins us but the other businessmen who enter are seated in a back room. Again, I find this, like other Buon Ricordo places, to be large and with a very small lunch crowd.

We eye the menu but do not see a Buon Ricordo specialty and I get a pit in my stomach. I ask our server, and she explains they are out of plates and she does not know when she will receive more. Bummer. Major Bummer.

For antipasti Chris orders Calamaretti all ‘aglio con purea di fave (12€) and I get Scamorza Grille’ in salsa di Acciughe Formaggi (8€). I’m not crazy about mine; it lacks flavor but we like Chris’s. We do not have primi but for our secondi Chris gets Grigliata con pesce e crostace (19€) while I get Branzino (15€). We find my fish tastier and less “fishy” than Chris’s fish but neither dish is anything to rave about. We enjoy the house white, a slightly sweet but refreshing wine actually made from a dessert wine grape, Terre di Orazio Aglianico (16€). With water, caffè, and coperto our bill comes to 80€. For the quality of food, I don’t find this worth the price, and while Chris gives it one star (if you’re there, go), I have to believe you can do better (of course, if they had the plate I’d probably have a different opinion).

After lunch, as we stroll back towards the car (Chris doesn’t want to hang around for another hour waiting for the soccer store to open). I stop for a gelato. They don’t have pistachio, which has become my quest so I end up with nocciola. Chris passes because they don’t have coco. Of course on the next block we find a better-looking gelato place that has both coco and pistachio. Chris gets his new usual, and I lament the fact that I did not wait.

We retrieve our car and pay a whopping 2.50€ for parking there for over four hours. Chris goes into his routine, car rental $1100, lunch 80€, finding parking in Bari, priceless. We immediately exclaim this to be the best value of our trip.

We head back out of Bari the same we entered along the coastal route and other than one wrong turn when it comes time to get back on the 379, we have no problems returning home.

Once home, we change into our exercise gear. Chris runs while I walk along the SS16 but I find the road too treacherous, high car speeds with little to no shoulder along the way makes for a stressful workout for me. Not to mention, the three dead cats and one dead hedgehog or porcupine I spy along the way, I feel more worked up when I return than I did before I left. I won’t walk along that road again.

Next, it’s time for a shower and to get ready for dinner. We’re dining at Il Frantoio tonight and after Saturday’s experience, we can’t wait to see what Rosalba cooks up for us.

As we sit in the courtyard enjoying our now ritualistic pre-dinner drinks and snacks, we chat with our Swiss friends a bit comparing notes from the day and watch as a group of Americans on a bike tour arrive. Later I speak with one of the representatives from the company, as doing a bike tour is something I’d like to try. They’re from Sandquist Europe an operation run by Geoffrey Sandquist who happens to be on this tour with them. It seems like a good operation, and they must have good taste if they pick Il Frantoio as one of there hotels but Chris thinks they spend too much time (one day biking, two days off) in any location; me, I like that.

Next, after the bike tour, a group, dressed quite extravagantly that turns out to be from the San Domenica arrives to partake in Rosalba’s dinner. Armondo asks if we’d like to join the tour he’s about to give them of the facility and we accept. We tour the gardens, first the citrus grove, designed to capture heat, so on a cool day, if you want to warm up this is the place to go. Next, the herb gardens, designed to catch the winds and stay cooler, hot days this is the place. At the far end of the herb garden, you’ll find the peacocks in a pen and a small shrine dedicated to Mary that Armondo built for Rosalba, who attended school with the nuns.

Within the complex, we visit the chapel where the couple renewed their vows the other night as well as the old olive press underneath the main building. Armondo points out the different types of construction on the main building (the slanted roof from hundreds of years ago when Puglia received plenty of rain, to the flat roofs of a more recent arid Puglia). The farm has been here for hundreds of years and the buildings added to over time.

After our twenty-minute tour, we hang in the courtyard for a few minutes until Armondo rings the bell for dinner. We’re sitting on our own tonight, which is nice, but both of us later believe we should have invited our Swiss friends to join us.

Dinner again is delicious; it follows the same pattern as Saturday night. Tonight we’re served:

  • Scherzo di Cucino con patè di lampascioni (little salted bread with wild onions patè)
  • Spuma di carote e zucchine allo zafferano (Carrots and zucchini flan with saffron)
  • Fagionlini in fricassea in cesto di pecorino (Green-beans fricassee in sheep cheese basket)
  • Terrina di grano filante con melanzane e origano di San Biagio (smoked tureen of hard durum wheat with aubergines and San Biagio oreganum)
  • Nastri alla Borragine con carciofi e asparagi (Hand made pasta with wild borrage with artichokes and asparagus)
Seccondi (served with Bottaccia, Nero di Troia Torre Quarto):
  • Zampina di maiale con sponzali al cotto di vino (Pork “Zampina” with young onions at sweet cooked wine)
  • Insalata mista con Nasturzi (Mixed salad with Nasturtium)
  • Macedonia di frutta fresca (fresh fruit salad)
  • Quando lo zabaione è semifreddo
For our digestivo tonight I have mandarin while Chris has Angela pick one for him and she chooses Lauren, which he loves.

After dinner, the organization through which the San Domenico group is traveling has arranged for Puglian folk dancers to perform, so we all get to sit in the courtyard and watch, very enjoyable.

Finally, about midnight we grab our bottles of water from the picnic table and go to bed.


Chris in Bari
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Tuesday May 17 - Piggy Takes a Bike Ride​

I rise early this morning so I dress and head out in the courtyard to write while Chris snoozes. It looks like another lovely day, sunny and in the twenties. Eventually Chris rises and we head to breakfast, where I try a soft-boiled egg for the first time (delish) and we contemplate what to do.

I intentionally did not plan daily activities for us on this trip but rather had a list of possibilities and then, based upon our mood and the weather we would decide what we’d like to do. At first we thought about another beach day, however, after talking to our Swiss friends, something off our radar captures our attention. They spent yesterday, renting bikes and touring Torre Guaceto, a nature preserve along the coast about twenty to thirty minutes south of our location. In season, guided tours are provided but one of the girls from Il Frantoio calls (they also provide us with brochures) and finds out they have not started yet. She hasn’t heard of the bike rentals but we decide to trust the instructions of our Swiss friends and after our breakfast, head out.

We drive down the 379 until we reach the sign for Serranova. We drive up the hill following signs to the visitor’s center where we park in a large lot behind the building. They have about two-dozen different bikes, not in fabulous shape but they will do. The first bike I select needs air in the front tire, so Chris returns and picks out another for me (a little too big but I do fine). Oh and we have to leave a copy of Chris’s driver’s license as collateral (they originally wanted a passport but we didn’t have it with us, so they settle for the license).

Going towards the nature reserve is an easy ride, mostly downhill accept for the overpass over the 379 which scares me at first but I make it with no problem. We enter in “Zone C” and take the bikes along the beach where I find riding in the sand totally frustrating but once I get to the edge of the water, where the sand is firmer, I do not have a problem. Besides, the water splashing at my calves feels good in this heat.

We ride through “Zone C” and “Zone B” until we come upon a rocky outcrop, which blocks the path. We decide to sit and relax a bit; the water looks way too beautiful so we end up going for a swim too. Now I’m wishing we’d brought a picnic lunch and could spend the day.

Eventually, we head back the way we came and discover some paths that run through the woods and brush above the beach, so we check all those out. We find these strange rocks in the ground that look like foundations for houses at one time but we don’t know. Makes me wish the tours were running. We never do figure out how to get “Zone A” but after a couple of hours decide to return.

Chris lost his chain on the trails once and I end up losing mine on the return. Plus, apparently, my leg must have brushed a bit against the chain while I rode, because as I fix my chain, I notice I’m covered in thick black grease.

Our ride back to Serranova is a bit more difficult, three kilometers against the wind and uphill. I’m proud to say I make it the entire way without stopping to walk my bike.

When we return to the Visitor Center, they let us use the bathroom to clean up. I’m a bit sweaty and my face is beet red but what a great way to spend the morning!

The rates for the bike rental are 2.50€ for the first hour and 1.50€ for every additional, I think we end up paying about seven euro in total. If you’re interested in more information, you can reach the Visitor Center via e-mail at info@riservaditorreguaceto.it or via phone at 0831.989885.

Well, thank god we have the water bottles in the car. We each down a bunch of water and then decide to drive to Savelletri for lunch. I’d read about the Museo Nazionale de Egnazia in an article from the London Telegraph, which we thought of as a possibility for a rainy day but the article also mentioned a nearby seafood restaurant, da Renzina, with excellent fried calamari; that’s what we want for lunch.

Another easy drive up the coast along the 379, where we exit about Torre Canne, which reminds me of a Jersey Shore town, like Ocean City or Seaside, and take the local coast road to Savelletri. Da Renzina is to your right, just as you enter the town.

Da Renzina, with a nice size lot, also with canopies to cover the cars, is a large restaurant that looks like they have nightly entertainment (piano at least). When we enter, we spy a deck outside with tables and ask to sit out there. It’s covered, over the ocean and with a warm breeze, perfect.

We start with the house antipasti, which ends up being a meal in itself and would be just about enough to convince me to drive to Puglia on every visit to Italy. With it, we’re served:
  • Mussels on the half shell, served in an oreganto fashion, with a seasoned breadcrumb coating
  • Fresh Anchovies drizzled with olive oil and chilled
  • Octopus Salad (which I admittedly skip)
  • Shrimp and Calamari Salad
  • Thin fillets of spada (swordfish) dressed with olive oil and fresh herbs (tarragon I think) also served chilled
  • Fried baby calamari
  • Some sort of frittata
  • Some other fried thing that I have no idea what it is
  • Fried and stuffed mussels with something akin to a hush puppy
And then, because we made the mistake of ordering our main course at the same time as our antipasti, we also get two fritto misto’s which contain some calamari, scampi and two whole fish that I fillet for the first time, easily. If we’d known how much would come on the house antipasti, we probably would have shared a misto or maybe skipped it entirely. Oh and because we’re utterly piggish, we also order a plate of French fries that rival Sciame in Montalcino for best fries ever. All this, with a bottle of water, cover and house white, comes to 56.60 € - a great deal.

We ask if we can make reservations for Thursday night but unfortunately, they’re closed Thursday and we know on Wednesday, we’ll be enjoying Rosalba’s cooking again at Il Frantoio. A regret for this trip is that we only got to eat at da Renzina once.

While we’re dining the wind shifts from the warm Sirocco to the cool Levante. We comment on this to the waiter and he tries to teach us the names of the other winds in the area. Earlier, at the visitor center, I’d seen a map with these winds diagrammed on it and now I wish I’d taken a picture of it. Armondo also talked about the winds last night while giving us a tour and explaining how they use the different winds in the different gardens. The people we’ve met all seem way in tune to nature, at least as far as the winds are concerned. I tell Chris we need more names for our weather systems at home and he reminds me of N’oreaseter, Alberta Clipper and Bermuda High but I still want to call the breeze off the ocean in the afternoon a Levante and need a good name for the breeze off the bay in the morning that brings the nasty green-headed flies.

After lunch we stroll through town to get gelato (because as a famous philosopher once said, there’s always room for ice cream; it slides in the cracks). Most of the town is still closed for siesta but we manage to find a gelato store where I try latte de miele and hazelnut – yum. I decide I really like this town; Ostuni is too big for me; I guess I’m more a small town person and I decide Savelletri would do me fine in retirement (or for vacations).

Now we just need an apple in our mouths to finish the picture but instead decide to return to Frantoio for a nap. When we wake, still full from lunch, we decide to head into Ostuni to stroll around and find the bike store that Jonathan mentioned before we departed. We park in our usual lot, feed the machine and trek up this huge hill we believe will take us to the modern day shopping area.

Once at the top of the hill, we spy a TIM store and I enter, hoping to get this issue with the phone resolved. Chris can’t wait to see me handle this and while I do manage to convey what I need to do to the woman in the store, we realize I need my passport for her to complete the information and I left it back at Frantoio (DOH!). We leave, dejected, and do some major window-shopping as we search for the bike store. Finally, asking directions twice, we find the street and store, which does have some amazing bikes. Of course, I’m not buying any. I glance through their bike shirts but do not purchase, afraid that I’m not into those sizes, yet. Another regret for this trip, I should have bought a bike shirt.

Oh well, we now try to navigate down (and then up again) to the old city and one block off the Piazza Liberta a woman, I guess noticing our momentary confusion, automatically points us in the correct direction.

Once there, we stop in a bakery that smells wonderful and purchase mozzarella (really burata I bet) and potato foccacio and some ciabbatta. Next we stop at a store that’s a combination Salumeria and fruitte e vedura (but not an alimintari) where we purchase some spicy salame, crudo, strawberries, biscuits and those crackers we like.

We return to Frantoio, and sit in the courtyard, hoping to have a bit of a picnic for dinner. We order the house aperitif (secret recipe but delicious – reminds me of a sea breeze), and start to open our packages but the winds whip and we don’t make much headway. So we head into our kitchen and have our picnic inside while I read the IHT I managed to find as we strolled around Ostuni, only to discover, it’s yesterday’s paper, still better than nothing (and I can do the crossword).

We head off to bed, an early night.


Torre Guaceto
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Wednesday May 18 - Shopping, Dining and Hobbit Holes​

The sirocco blows almost through the night making sleeping difficult. It still blows early in the morning when I rise. Chris sleeps in, so I sit in the courtyard and write and talk with our Swiss friends (by the way, I call them this because we never did get their names, another regret of this trip). Anyway, I thank them for recommending Torre Guaceto to us and they tell me how they went to Lecce yesterday but weren’t overly impressed, which later convinces Chris that we should skip Lecce. (Of course, skipping Lecce becomes another regret later on).

We have breakfast with an Australian couple who arrived the night before, Barbara and Graham, a very sweet couple, visiting their son and daughter in-law in Milan and then traveling throughout Italy on their own.

After breakfast, we decide since it’s a bit cloudy to break our rule against two big meals a day and head to Martina Franca and Alborabello today. We check our Southern Italy map and spy what appears to be a possible route over the mountains to the Valle d'Itria by way of Montalbano and Chris wants to try to find it.

We drive up and down Montalbano and other than finding a road that heads straight for the mountains but eventually turns to dirt, we find no such route. We end up returning to Ostuni, and pick up our route by following signs for Cisternina and using the dot-to-dot method that serves us so well in Tuscany. From Cisternina we follow signs to Martina Franca, and it’s easy going.

Like every other city/town I’ve come across in Italy (except Montalcino and Pienza), Martina Franca is much bigger than I expect from what I’ve read. As we arrive into the town, we pull over and read our Blue Book entry and based upon the sights it recommends we decide to get closer to the old walled city.

Uh oh, it’s market day. How did I miss that in my planning? Well, forget the sights, there’s a market! Chris can see my eyes glaze over and the little spittle of drool form in the corner of my mouth. I love open air markets, Italian, American, doesn’t matter. Of course, with market day comes the impossibility of finding parking and the distinct possibility of winding up on some cobblestone streets, again, a Chris no-no.

We end up driving through most of the city but find nothing until we manage to navigate back towards the road on which we first entered, we park, hopefully legally, along this road and hike up into town.

As we walk, I trust my sense of direction and my ability to follow old Italian women carrying shopping bags. It’s kind of like hiking, looking for markers, if they’re coming towards you, travel up the road from which they came, if they’re walking away, with empty bags, follow them; with full bags, don’t follow – it means they’ve already done their shopping and are returning home.

As we get close to the market, I believe we’re in some sort of major square, but without any city maps I’m at a total loss, we spy another TIM store and I have my passport! Unfortunately, many people crowd the store, so we decide to stop on our way out. Of course, once where out of eyeshot of the store, Chris comments, good luck finding that again. Thanks.

The market contains stall upon stall of clothing, household items, linens, drapes, tablecloths, even seedlings and seeds. Finally, near the end we spy the food. Before that though, I stop and purchase two shirts for Becky and Sammi asking a young Italian teen about the size of Becky if I could hold up a shirt to her to see if it fits (she’s about the same height). Once I explain it’s for my daughter, she smiles and agrees as I confirm the size. Hey for a three-euro shirt, you can live with a little embarrassment.

We stroll through the market and purchase some pistachios, some oranges and ogle the other produce, nuts and olives. I don’t buy any though because we still have a few more days before we arrive at our apartment in Montalcino.

We make our way back through the market and surprise, surprise, I find the TIM store again, only this time it’s empty. Again, Chris, can’t wait to see me handle this situation but within five minutes, I’ve explained what we need to the girl inside, she’s entered my information into the computer and I’ve loaded more time on my phone, so there! I think if I were to purchase a phone from Cellular Abroad now, I’d ask them to explain how they handle registering my information with TIM, so we wouldn’t have this problem again (we’d purchased our phone before Italy required this registration process).

We head back to the car because we want to see Alborabello today too, but I think I could have easily spent the better part of a day and lunch at Martina Franca and have been happy. The drive to Alborabello is easy and beautiful; the landscape on this side of the hills, away from the ocean, is slightly reminiscent of Tuscany – except dotted by trulli houses.

As we enter Alberobello, we spot two parking lots on our right, neither full. We pull into one but aren’t sure how to pay. Chris heads off to one of the tourist shops that line the street to see if he can gleam something while I ask a woman returning to her car, parked next to ours. At about the same time we learn that the chotchkey shops with a blue “P” sign outside sell scratch-off cards you use for parking. You scratch off the year, month, day and hour of arrival and put the card in your windshield.

Once our parking payment is taken care of, and we retrieve more cash from an ATM machine across from the lot, we head up into the Trulli zone. We stop in one store along the way; they’re all pretty similar and a bit cheesy. Within the one we stop at, we purchase two tacky trulli houses that have a sparkly coating, which change color according to the humidity (i.e., weather). The girls bought these when we were in Pisa in 2002, so now they can have a trulli to go along with their towers. The owner lets us try two of the local liquors, one that looks like coconut milk but tastes good, sweet and almost floral, and one that’s melon but reminds me of cough syrup. Since we like the first, we decide we’ll stop on our return to purchase some.

As we check out the trulli and explore I’m reminded of something I believe Terry’s wife from Saturday night said. The trulli remind her of hobbit houses. Between that description which I like, and staying just outside la citta bianca (the white city), I am willing to lay odds that Tolkien visited Italy before writing the Lord of the Rings trilogy and possibly The Hobbit.

We keep an eye out for Il Poeta Contadina (I had images of us eating in a trulli house for lunch) but do not find it or a sign pointing the way. We stop in the trulli church but pass on the museum because it’s getting close to our lunch reservation, and we still have no idea where the restaurant sits. I remember seeing a sign for it as we pulled into Alberobello, so we head back down, wanting to stop in that store to purchase some of the liquor. Bummer, it’s closed for siesta.

Alberobello is kind of cheesy and I wish they somehow managed to keep some of the trulli intact as they were used in the past (maybe they do at the museum) but it doesn’t in any way replace Pisa as tackiest tourist spot on Earth. Besides, I respect them for still closing for siesta.

We find the sign and boy do I feel like an idiot. It doesn’t point in the direction of the restaurant; it points to the restaurant! Right there across the street (and on the road leading into Alberobello), sits Poeta Contadina. Okay, mission accomplished easily, we head across the street to some steps where we sit and call the girls before heading to lunch.

I feel better after finally having a lengthy conversation with Becky and Sammi but am not looking forward to lunch as much as I’d hoped; fears of Monday’s sold out plates still haunt me. We head inside and are greeted immediately by the tuxedo-clad staff; two other couples sit in the cavernous room but no one else. Again, large restaurant, small lunch business and I wonder what dinner is like.

They seat us in the back of the room, not far from the other couples and present us with menus. They start us with an aperitif, very refreshing and an amuse bouche consisting of a zucchini soufflé cut into small squares, tiny pieces of toast topped with smoked salmon and foccacia bread with roasted veggies atop.

We order the house red and while Chris makes a pit stop, they present it and decant it; you know you’re in trouble when the house wine is “decantable.” I like it, a primitivo cabernet blend, interesting and smooth and later we find out costs 30€. Another regret, we forgot to write down the name of this wine. Chris enjoys the wine so much, he tells me while we’re eating, “You have six things to remember: first gear, second gear…” Yeah right, as if there’s any chance I’m driving Claudio home. With the wine we’re each served a small plate of breads, a Pugliese bread, an olive roll, a sun-dried tomato roll and a red onion roll (all good for mopping up sauces).

Our server asks if we’d like menus in Italian or English. We opt for the Italian because we usually find it easier to understand than trying to figure out the English translation of dishes. I find it a bit disconcerting that my menu has no prices and when I think no one is looking, I make Chris switch with me. Luckily they have the Buon Ricordo specialty for 29€ but there’s also an option to get both the old and new plate for 49€; I know it’s against Grinisa’s rules, but I figure I deserve the extra plate after Monday’s fiasco.

We share an appetizer of tiny shrimp wrapped in phyllo cigars topped with crispy zucchini; very good, it reminds me of a spring roll or egg roll. For my main course I have the branzino with tomatoes and olives (the Buon Ricordo dish); I didn’t expect much from what others had said about this dish but I am pleasantly surprised; it’s tasty, light and delicious. Chris enjoys a lick your plate clean dish of Strascinate con funghi Cardoncelli (an egg pasta with local mushrooms); the pasta is shaped like round saucers and holds the sauce well. For dessert Chris orders a Gran Marnier soufflé, which isn’t what he expects, it’s more a chilled mousse than a soufflé, and I have thin crisp pastry squares layered with apples and chantilly cream served on a plate drizzled with caramel sauce – absolutely wonderful. With caffe, the bill comes to 143€ but a third of that are my two plates!

After lunch, we try to find a trulli nomination charm for the girls but no one sells anything remotely close. After a few more pictures, we hit the road using the dot-to-dot method again by way of Locorotondo, Cisternina and Ostuni. Locorotondo looks like a good place to spend some time too – another trip.

We nap a bit, Chris runs, I shower and write and we wait for what we believe will be our last feast at Rosalba’s kitchen. While we wait, we enjoy yet again the house aperitif, well for me, and a beer for Chris plus our usual snacks.

At 8:30, Armondo summons us once again and tonight we’re sitting with the Australians we met at breakfast, Graham and Barbara as well as Veronica who runs a rental agency (see link to the right) and splits her time between London and her home in Orvieto. Armondo met her at a convention in Milan and though she normally does not represent agritourismi she agreed to come down and check out Il Frantoio.

We have another wonderful meal and notice that the weeknight feasts end a bit earlier around 10:30. Today’s big group are also Americans but not sure from where and I also notice that the bike group, who will be departing tomorrow, enjoy an abbreviated form of our meal. Anyway, tonight Rosalba prepares for us:

  • Integrale con pepperoni (Whole wheat pasta with peppers)
  • Tortino di zucchine e menta (Little cake of zucchini and peppermint)
  • Fiorilli ripieni in pastella (Zucchini blossoms filled and fried)
  • Carciofi al cotto di vino e lampascioni a fiore con miele d’arancio (artichokes with sweet cooked wine, wild onions and orange honey).
  • Zuppa di ceci con tria alla borragine e tria fritta (Soup of chick-peas with “tria”, hand made pasta of wild borraage and fried “tria”
Secondi (served with “Tre Querce” Primitivo del Salento):
  • Agnello in forma con rucola e patata paglia (Lamb with rucola and potatoes like straw) – best damn lamb I’ve ever had!
  • Insalata Mista con nasturzi (Mixed salad with nasturtium)
  • Macedonia di frutta fresca (fresh fruit salad)
  • Quando il “Biancomangiare” è alle mandorle (this white puff of air flavored with almonds – yummy)
After dinner, we grab our water bottles from the table and it’s off to bed.


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Thursday May 19 - A Quiet, Local Day​

This is it, our last chance to head to Lecce -- do we do it? Well, first we have breakfast with Graham and Barbara who are heading to Umbria by way of Abruzzo today. While at breakfast, one of the girls stops by and tells us that they’re offering dinner tonight at Il Frantoio (a last minute thing). Of course we accept, but I’m a bit bummed because if I’d known about tonight, I wouldn’t have eaten at Il Frantoio last night and instead returned to da Renzina. Oh well.

After breakfast, Armondo does an olive oil tasting for the bike group before they too hit the road, which we sit and listen to. And then, our Swiss friends ask us to join them and Armondo on a tour of the property in Armondo’s antique car, so much for Lecce. We cram into the car and I feel like one of those circus clowns; you know the sixteen or twenty that pile out of the miniature Volkswagon beetle.

We drive through this incredibly large, incredibly fertile property filled with massive olive trees, plum trees, peach trees, cherry trees, pear trees, pomegranate trees, dozens of different types of vegetables, wheat, wild artichokes, wild fennel, even cork trees and massive shade trees for, as Armondo puts it, natural air-conditioning. Rosalba uses all of this produce in her cooking as well as in the products made at Il Frantoio.

After our tour, we decide to visit the baby pigs born ten days earlier. I’m glad we didn’t see baby pig on the menu. We also stop to pet the horses, and then decide to change and take out the bikes along the trails. The bikes turn out to be not in the best shape, so we abandon them back at the stables and opt for a walk instead, basically following the course of our early morning tour but stopping for several pictures along the way.

Eventually, as we try to make it to the hills (mountains) at the back of the property, we stumble upon a building with a pen holding several different types of animals (chickens, goats, sheep) all sorts of stuff. Of course at that moment, three large dogs scare the living daylights out of us as they came running down the path. They’re actually pretty friendly and we sit and play with them for a moment until some other dogs by the building start to bark. Those dogs don’t seem as friendly so we turn back. I’m still not sure if that area is part of Il Frantoio or belongs to a neighboring farm.

Well, that killed our morning pretty good and we’re both getting hungry. Breaking our rule for the second day in a row, we decide to head back into Ostuni and to Cattedrale for another meal (Chris can’t stop thinking about the orecchiete with bread crumbs). One of the girls calls for a reservation (I am so terrible with names); we change and hit the road again.

Arriving in Ostuni, after all of a five minute ride, we park in our normal lot but when I go to pay, I notice that payment is not required during siesta, cool. We approach the old city by way of Piazza Liberta, rather than the steps by Porta Nuova. Many of the stores are closing for siesta as we climb the hill to the restaurant.

For lunch, we sit in the front room and once again enjoy the incredible antipasti, only this time there are a few differences, among them we’re served some sort of bulgur wheat salad and no baccala. Chris orders the orecchiette and I have spaghetti with tomatoes and chicory, both delicious and we both think mine actually beats his. We share some of that soft and juicy melon for dessert and this with water and the house red, a primitivo, comes to about 59€.

After lunch, we stroll through the town, get some more gelato in the piazza (but nothing fantastic) and then head back to Il Frantoio. Earlier in the week (Monday, I believe), we’d asked about laundry facilities. Before our trip, I had e-mailed them and asked if they have them, to which they replied they did. It turns out, they don’t but the girls who clean the rooms will wash your clothes for you and return them, which is what we ended up doing. Only, we hadn’t received them back. When we asked about that this morning, at first no one understood what we were talking about and after some language issues and miscommunications, we finally understood that the clothes would be returned to us this afternoon. Now, they are nicely folded in two bags on our bed with a bill, which we pay directly to the maid, for 25€. Ouch.

Chris runs while I read Patricia Cornwall’s Black Notice. I’d finished Grapes of Wrath yesterday and since Chris hadn’t finished his book (I should have started with the longer one), I needed something else to read. In the common room at Il Frantoio, they have dozens of different books in different languages (including tour guides) for the guests to read. Black Notice isn’t anything great but it’s mildly entertaining.

We’re experiencing the coldest day since our arrival, only around 17 degrees, so I end up sitting in the common room reading, rather than outside in the courtyard. Eventually, Chris joins me, after he makes some purchases from Il Frantoio’s cantina (olive oil, four bottles of Negro d’Amaro from our first night, all citrus liquor, and some toppings for bruschetta. We hang until dinner.

Tonight we’re seated with a couple from Luxemborg. It proves awkward at first because we don’t speak “Luxemborg” and they don’t feel comfortable with their English. Turns out their English is wonderful and once they feel comfortable, we converse through most of the meal. We compare restaurants in the area and all over Italy – they’re major foodies (driving down to Paris for specific ingredients on occasions) and into wine even more than Chris. Funny thing, as we’re enjoying the second bottle of red that evening, the wife comments on the taste, and, yep, we end up sending another bottle back. I think we’re jinxes or something but given how many bottles Il Frantoio goes through on any given day (I’ve seen the dead soldiers after dinner – I’d say 40 – 50 a night sometimes), it’s no wonder you get a bad one now and then.

Tonight’s Menu:​

  • Crocchette di patate con mandorle o semi di papavero (Potato croquettes with almonds or poppy seeds)
  • Morbido di caprino allo zafferano con pere e composta di pre (Soft Goat Cheese with saffron, pears and pear jam)
  • Melanzane in scapece e zucchine alla menta (Sweet and sour eggplants and zucchini in mint) – with this we’re served a special wine, Le ricordanze, Semillon e Riesling, Taurino
  • Straccetti al finocchietto selvatico con purè di fave e biete (Hand made pasta with wild fennel, fava beans pure and swiss chard)
Secondi (served with Sarolo Don Carlo, Cucciguaniello, Santoro)
  • Involtini e salsiccia di maiale con sponzali al cotto di vino (Pork rolls and sausage with young onions and sweet cooked wine)
  • Insalata Misa con Nasturzi (Mixed salad)
  • Macedonia di frutta Fresca (fresh fruit salad)
  • Quando L’amaretto è un semifreddo (When bitter almonds is ice cream - one of Armondo's euphemisms or perhaps attempts at poetry instead of bitter almond ice cream; you'll find these on the menus, especially at dessert)
After dinner we’re off to bed, and to finish my book so I can return it in the morning.


The Grounds of Il Frantoio

Friday May 20 - 500 Kilometers​

We rise early this morning of our departure, a bit sad to be leaving Il Frantoio and Puglia with so much left to do and see and a bit excited to return to Tuscany and our first extended stay in Montalcino. We pack our stuff and I notice that I’m surprisingly short on underwear and must hand-wash a few things tonight while Chris wonders about the number of exercise outfits he brought; no matter. We assume they’re in the bag of dirty clothes and continue on our merry way.

Chris stops by the office on our way to breakfast to have them prepare our bill while we eat. We’re alone in the breakfast room and upset that we will not have the opportunity to say good-bye to our Swiss friends (or finally get their names) or to our new friends from Luxemburg.

Later, when Chris tries to pay the bill with our MBNA Visa, denied. No matter what they tell you, even when you call them and they say, “You don’t need to call,” call your credit card companies and let them know you’ll be away. I didn’t this trip because again, in January, I didn’t need to, ha! When Chris calls MBNA Visa, they do not appear to believe he is who he says he is because I’m the primary on the card and of course, he doesn’t remember my mother’s maiden name and must ask me. I guess they hear him ask and think he’s lying. Then he gets disconnected, as they transfer him to the Fraud unit.

This time, I call back and as calmly as I do not feel, I immediately ask to be transferred to the Fraud Department, explain our situation and within a few minutes, we have a working card and pay the bill. Can you believe, there’s no charge for all those nightly drinks and snacks? Such a bargain!

We pack up Claudio and hit the road about 9:50 am. For the most part we follow the path we took on arrival until north of Bari, where we switch off and take the A16 across Italy. I never knew Campagnia was so mountainous and so gorgeous. We see dozens of windmill farms as we drive; they appear like giant sentries atop these high peaks and really do inspire awe. I wonder, why can’t we set up some platforms off the coast, where it’s usually windy, and use that technology here?

Instead of following the Via Michelin directions, which have us exiting the A16 near Benevento to pick up the ss372 (a savings of a bit more than 30K), we decide to stay on the A16 to the A30 to the A1 so that Chris can see Mount Vesuvius, all be it from a distance. Another awesome sight and I’m glad we took the time to do it. So, other than a quick potty break at some overly crowded fake autogrill (the sign on the road said autogrill but when we pulled in, it wasn’t), it’s four hours and 40 minutes door to door from Il Frantoio to our parking space in Frascati.

We decided to stop in Frascati on Friday because, 1) we couldn’t get into our apartment until Saturday 2) We didn’t think we’d want to drive the entire distance from Puglia to Montalcino in one day and 3) there’s a Buon Ricordo restaurant here.

Getting to Frascati is easy via the autostrada and though we traveled on over four “roads” if you count the A1 sud, we only went through tolls upon entering the first Autostrada (the A14) and leaving the last (A1 Sud). All that time on the autostrada costs us 21.90€. Of course, once leaving the autostrada, trying to find our hotel becomes a tiny adventure; everything is a tiny adventure after trying to find Il Frantoio. We navigate into the city (I won’t call it a town) of Frascati, without a map, but luckily, as we approach a main square, we see a sign for Ristorante Cacciani, the Buon Riccordo place associated with our hotel, and follow it around a bend to our residence for one night. We don’t see a parking lot, but do manage to find some street parking for the moment, while we check in and see where we should leave our car.

We walk over to the building, sans bags, and press the button to be buzzed in. Reception is up one flight, on the first floor, and someone from the restaurant (they’re both family owned and run) meets us there, takes our passports and gives us our room key. She also tells us there is no lot, and we should park on the street but make sure we pay. At first I don’t see the little pay box from the window but she points it out to me and we’re good to go.

We return to the car, feed the blue parking box for our ticket (four euro which gets us through until the next morning at 9:00), retrieve our bags and cram into the elevator to our room. We find our room easily enough and to say it’s small and no frills, is a completely accurate description. It has two things going for it though, one English language station on the tube (BBC World News) and a huge balcony with a kick-ass view; the balcony’s almost as big as our room but could use a bit of sprucing up (a good sweep, and some touch-up paint on the wrought iron table and chairs). Hey, for 95 €, I can’t complain too much.

I rinse out some tidy whities and hang them on the sunny balcony, no offense to the people of Frascati, but I need one of these dry for the morning. We head out to try to find something for lunch but every restaurant, trattoria, and café we pass has stopped serving. While walking around, we stop for some photo-ops because Frascati has some beautiful views out toward Rome and some beautiful villas in the immediate vicinity.

Earlier, when we drove in, we spotted a porchetta truck near a large family-friendly park but both of us deem it too far to walk. We end up with a small gelato each and then, from the local supermarket, we purchase a small wedge of parmigiano, a small salami and three types of foccacia, mushroom, zucchini and eggplant. With this and a bottle of not so cold Frascati wine, we make a nice picnic on our balcony.

After a nap, we head out to do a bit of shopping and to explore. We’d brought with us a small “transmitter” that you plug into the ipod, program it to an “empty” FM station, and then it transmits on that band and you can receive it on your car radio. Well, even in what appeared to be the remotest parts of Puglia and Campagnia we couldn’t get the darn thing to work without a ton of static. So we’ve been on the lookout for electronics stores that might carry the tape thingy that plugs into the ipod.

Earlier, on our hunt for food, we spotted a record store closed for siesta; we head there first. They do have a bit of electronics but not what we’re looking for. Next we stroll down a couple of streets we missed earlier and I find one of these multi-purpose electronic stores crammed into a tiny space (the kind you may have seen run by an old man about thirty years ago in Brooklyn, the kind that also repaired toasters and black and white televisions). Again, Chris wishes me luck trying to explain what I want to the woman inside but I persist. Don’t get me wrong, listening to Italian stations wasn’t bad but I can’t sing to the music.

I enter, and I pull out my ipod to show her the plug, then I say “per la machina, una cassette” and mime, plugging it into my ipod. She nods, opens a small glass case, digs around and pulls out exactly what we need. Seven euro later, I can look forward to listening to music during our ride to Tuscany tomorrow, and I also get to do my “told you so” dance in front Chris.

We continue walking around and much to our chagrin we stumble upon, Piazza de Porchetta! Seriously, an entire piazza surrounded by porchetta wagons! How could we miss this earlier! I’m seriously bummed and even try to convince Chris to share one with me now, but we’re getting close to dinner and he passes.

Eventually, we stop around the corner from our hotel at a café to enjoy some pre-dinner drinks; a coke for Chris, he has a craving, and some blood orange juice for me. About 8:45, we head over to Cacciani for our 9:00 reservation.

Again, another Buon Riccordo and another huge establishment, though we get to see this one at dinnertime and it does have a decent crowd. We sit outside with a decent view of the city that Chris enjoys but my back is to it. Now somehow between ordering and our first course, we get into our one and only fight on this trip, which probably taints my view of this restaurant. I just want to say that now, so you can take most of what I say with a grain of salt.

I start with an order of cacè e pepe; it’s okay but cheesier than I expect or am used to; perhaps I’ve been making it wrong. I find it’s so rich that if I eat this huge portion, I probably won’t have room for dinner. Chris orders amatriciana, which he says is “okay,” but not as good as others he’s had. I like it though. For our secondi, I get the Buon Riccordo dish, Chicken Romana, but later wish I had passed and gotten the piseeli, fava and artichoke dish I see being brought to another table. Chris gets the polpettone, which is good but later he too wishes he’d ordered the fried octopus, which looks more like cuttlefish and zucchini flowers. With dinner we enjoyed a Chiarlo 2002 Docetta D’alba, surprisingly good considering the bad things we heard about 2002 and it’s light, a nice compromise between the white I craved and the medium-body red Chris wanted.

By dessert, whatever stupid thing we fought about earlier has been resolved. We want to share something; neither of us feels capable of finishing an entire dessert alone, besides, if you share a dessert, it has no calories. First we order a chocolate torte and some moscato but our server explains that a vin santo will go better with the rich chocolate than the moscato so we bow to his judgment and go with the vin santo. Then he returns to tell us, unfortunately, they have run out of the torte, so now we can’t decide between a crème brulee and a pastry of some sort filled with zabaglione. The waiter offers to make us a tasting plate, with a bit of each and also recommends that we change our order back to the moscato. We do and he brings out a lovely dessert for us. The brulee is more like a crème caramel, which I like better than Chris does but they’re both good.

It takes a bit of time to get our check because it seems only one young lady is responsible for tallying up all the bills and the two larger parties sitting to either side of us got their requests in first. Finally, it arrives, lacking the ten percent discount for being hotel guests but they quickly remedy and 96€ later, we’re off to the room to enjoy some BBC World News before going to sleep.


View From Balcony at Hotel Giadrina
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Saturday May 21 - Onwards and Upwards to Montalcino​

I’m up early again, around six and can’t fall back to sleep; unfortunately, there’s no other area for me to hang and write (I was afraid the scraping of the sliding door to the balcony would wake Chris) so I lay in bed and wait for him. He wakes a bit before eight and we pack and head to breakfast.

They serve breakfast in a tiny room off the reception desk, which has available seating when we arrive but fills up quickly, leaving other guests standing waiting for a table. They have your standard hotel buffet, cornetti, granola, yogurt, orange juice and cappuccino and espresso upon request. Chris finally gets the cornetto he craves and I enjoy some granola and milk.

We eat pretty quickly knowing we do not have much time left on the meter. Grab our stuff, pay our 95€ and head to retrieve Claudio. Navigating out of Frascati is a bit of a maze of one-way streets but at this early hour nothing to cause stress and within a few minutes we’re back on the Roma Sud heading to the A1 without any issues. It’s nice having some English language music to listen too.

We get to our exit (Chianciano Terme, Chiusi), without problems, enjoying the scenery and spotting an antique car along the way. Something we notice for the first time at this exit, a large multiplex like we have at home sits on the S146. I don’t know if it’s new or if we didn’t notice it off the fog-covered roadway during our last trip. We stop for gas shortly after exiting and pay over 50.15€ to fill our tank (hey this got us all the way from Puglia though).

As we wind into and through Chianciano Terme, we follow a slow moving Peugot with French plates. It frustrates Chris to no end, but I tell him to calm down; you never know--that could be Kaydee from slowtrav in front of us. Finally, just past Montepulciano, we hit a straightway and Chris zooms past. He’s really getting a kick out of having a manual again and driving on the hills and through the turns.

As we wind through the towns we also notice how many of them have signs against horn blowing. Actually, they look like trumpets with a red line through them and so every time I see one, I ask Chris, “What do they have against trumpets in this town?”

Our original plan for today was to stop at either Pienza (Latte de Luna) or Montechiello (La Porta) for lunch. Though sometime yesterday we also decided to make a quick b-line for Montalcino, to drop our dirty laundry at the lavenderia, which closes at 1:00 pm and then head back out to lunch. Why? Because I’m dangerously low on underwear for some strange reason and Chris is almost out of workout clothing, though we’re not sure why.

As we hit Pienza, we discover a zoo. Police stand in the streets directing traffic and hordes of people leaving tour buses swarm across the street. I look at Chris, and we both say, “La Porta.”

As we leave Pienza and all the way to San Quirico we notice another strange sight, people parked along the sides of the road, some just standing, others sitting in chairs and still others stretched out on their bellies in the tall grass holding cameras with huge telephoto lenses. What’s going on? We do notice some signs now too that we finally slow down enough to read, 1000 Migla, what’s that?

We figure it’s some sort of road race. We also figure we’re going to need a different route from Montalcino to Montechiello but soon that all means nothing. As we approach San Quirico, we find the town filled with people, our route to the S2 closed and forced into a turn with no detour signs anywhere noticeable.

I grab the atlas and end up navigating us on our route Castiglione d’Orcia, Ansidonia and Monte Amiata approaching Montalcino from the south via Castel Nuovo Del Abate. If you don’t like heights and you don’t like switchbacks and you don’t like hairpin turns, don’t ever go this way. For me, it now becomes the treacherous road to which all others will be compared. Heck, once Chris pried my white knuckles from the “oh s***” handle, I figure it may have cured me of my fear of these roads.

One nice thing about it though, you’re graced with some incredible views of the surrounding valley and an incredible approach to Sant Antimo Abbey. As we get into familiar territory, I look at Chris and say, “We're staying in Montalcino for lunch.” He easily agrees. On the way from the abbey to Montalcino, I call Boccon Del Vino and make a lunch reservation for 1:30.

We pull into the free lot below the fortress as we’re quickly approaching one o’clock and make a mad dash for the lavendria, making one wrong turn and asking directions from the Italian Men’s Sitting Club along the way. As we arrive, we see the owner’s son leaving on his motorbike but realizing we speak English, the owner grabs him to converse with us before he leaves. He tells us all the machines are full and they’re closing shortly but we tell him we want to leave our clothes and have them wash and fold them and we’ll pick them up during the week. He tells us that will be fine; they’ll be ready Monday afternoon, yippee! If we understand the slip we get, it will cost us 16€ for the entire load, best deal yet!

We have some time to kill, so we decide to try to find the restaurant on foot, rather than drive. I remember an establishment along the road from Siena into Montalcino, that didn’t appear to be too far from the city walls, and I’m wondering if that might be Boccon Del Vino. Rather than walk along the shoulderless road all the way, we cut through town, past the Fortezza, down to Porta Cerbaia; turns out the place I remember is Enoteca Bruno Dalmazio not Boccon Del Vino.

We hike back to the car and Chris calls for directions, “One Kilometer from Montalcino, on the road to Siena, white building, dirt road on your right.” Okay, we’re good to go. Within a few minutes we find the sign, drive up the narrow dirt road, passing the restaurant on our right, and pull into an open area that doubles for a parking lot. There, we see cars with magnetic stickers on them saying, 1000 Migla.

We walk around to the front of the restaurant, tell them we have reservations and are seated outside facing one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. We’re also next to a group of young men, enjoying lunch. Since no one else is around, we assume these are the 1000 Miglia men and ask “Que Cose 1000 Miglia?” Come to find out it’s an antique car road race, taking place through Tuscany today. So with all my research into events in Tuscany, how did this totally skip my radar?

Well, no matter, one thing I realize things always work out and giving up lunch at Latte de Luna or La Porta to sit on this patio turns out to be no sacrifice at all. Our server brings us a wine list and I love how they display each bottle’s label rather than a typed list. Chris asks her to bring us a good rosso and she returns with a Castelnovo 2002; again we’re hesitant about the 2002s but we enjoy this wine.

They start us with an unordered but much appreciated tomato-bread soup drizzled with olive oil, lick the bowl delicious. For my primi, I enjoy crostini neri, crostini with liver pate and a balsamic reduction, yum just like Rosh Hashanah at home ;D. Chris starts with pasta con tartufo bianco, also incredible. For my secondo, I have ravioli stuffed with ricotto, tonno and something green, sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts in a mild curried sauce, but Chris picks today’s winner, venison with a balsamic reduction, out of this world. No dessert but we do enjoy two cafes to extend our time enjoying this incredible view (actually reminiscent of the view from Mount Pleasant Winery in Missouri when the valley isn’t flooded). A bit over two hours and 81.80€ later, after making reservations for Sunday pranzo, we’re good to go.

We’re renting our apartment through Project International, Isabella and Luigi Dusi’s outfit, but two weeks ago Luigi let me know that he and Isabella would be out of town, on a tour, and to contact Alessandro Pierangioli for access to our apartment between 4:00 and 7:00 (but to at least give him a one hour notice). We call him from Boccon Del Vino’s parking lot and when he realizes where we are, he offers to come fetch us. We tell him there’s no need and agree to meet him at his father’s enoteca, Enoteca Pierangioli, in about fifteen minutes.

We follow Luigi’s directions to the parking near Piazza Cavour only to find parking has been forbidden this afternoon due to a festa taking place about 5:00. We turn the car around and return to the lot along Viale Piero just past the Madonna. Chris is not happy and all the relaxation garnered at lunch whooshes from his body as we trek down the hill. We get to Piazza Cavour and hang a right onto Via Mazzini, the main thoroughfare, when our phone rings; it’s Alessandro wondering about our status. We give him our local and he tells us to look for the bald man waving a bag and we spot him easily, and walk towards each other while talking on our respective cell phones.

Alessandro leads us to Hotel Giardino and Mario who has our keys but speaks no English. Together they take us to our apartment on Via del Piano. Alessandro mentions that three ladies from Boston are also staying in this building, in the apartment next to ours.

We unlock the front door, and go up a dark flight of stairs, which we can light by inserting one of our keys into a box next to the entrance, and we enter our apartment. The kitchen area sits to our left, really just a small wall with a sink, stove, oven and refrigerator/freezer behind a cabinet door; not much counter space for prep work but for as little as we intend to cook, it should be fine; Chris and I realized during planning, there are way too many good restaurants in which to eat. A kitchen table sits directly ahead of us amidst a family room area containing two large chairs and a small television that receives no English language stations.

To our left, beyond the kitchen but before the family room, a small hallway leads to a decent size bathroom with small, maybe 30”x30” shower and two bedrooms. One, on the left, serves as a study/bedroom, containing a dresser and two chairs that unfold into beds, good for children I’d say 10 and under but I’m not sure how comfortable they’d be for adults. Off this room hangs a tiny balcony that overlooks a small overgrown garden.

The master bedroom has a large king size (i.e., two twins pushed together) bed, dresser and armoire, nothing else. Cool terracotta covers all the floors. I find the apartment to be quite large and airy especially with the windows open and other than wishing for a bit more light in the bathroom (and a garbage can there), as well as the view that our original apartment offered, this should do quite nicely.

Seems to me, I’ve forgotten to mention the story of our original apartment. Originally, we were renting Ruga Alta with a lovely balcony overlooking Montalcino and “the hills beyond.” Unfortunately, a glitch occurred this past winter when I received an e-mail from Luigi telling me the owners of the building next to the one in which we were renting were beginning construction on their building sometime in March. He didn’t think the noise and dust would be conducive to our enjoyment of Ruga Alta. Instead, he offered to give us Vicolo Due, a larger two bedroom, for the same price but we were losing our much anticipated view. Such is life. I felt then and still feel that Luigi handled this situation as best as he could and appreciate his heads up on the matter as well as giving us the larger apartment for the same price.

Mario heads back to the hotel but he tells us to call him if we have any questions while Alesandro drives us to Claudio so that we can retrieve our bags. He does not return us to the apartment though because he is late for an appointment with some Japanese tourists he’s guiding around Tuscany, which leaves me wondering. If we had arrived any later, how would we know where to go to get into our apartment? As I always say, things seem to work out in Italy but it’s not good for a type “A” personality who must always feel in control of situation, or maybe it is?

We grab our bags and roll them/lug them down the big hill back to our apartment, thankful that I forgot to shut the door so we could recognize which building is ours. We haul our bags up the single flight of steps and wait and wait and wait while Chris figures out how to unlock our apartment. I’m about to fetch Mario when Chris succeeds and we’re back inside. Like our apartment at Il Frantoio, this has a “double-lock.” One turn engages one lock and a second turn engages two; if you’re not sure how many locks the previous locker engaged, well you could have some trouble.

We unpack and here the parade/procession for the festa start. Montalcino is celebrating some sort of anniversary today, I can’t tell if it’s anniversary marking their relationship with Siena or freedom from Siena; I’m thinking the former. There’s a bit of a parade with some people dressed in Old Montalcinese costumes with one group representing the town and then four separate groups representing each quartiere, Pianello, Ruga, Travalgio and Borghetto. They each play a different tune on their drums and horns as they march along. Chris turns to me, smiles and says, “I guess this isn’t a no trumpet zone.”

We stroll down Via Mazzini, admiring the many shops just opening from siesta. I can do some serious damage here. It’s funny seeing shops and cafes you read about in a book (Vanilla Beans and Brodo) and then seeing them live and in person. I wonder if any of the people we see are people we’ve already read about.

We stop at Bar Alle Loge where Chris enjoys one of the brunello wines while I crave something cold and refreshing. I tell the girl behind the counter and she suggests a lemon soda. Other than being slightly sweeter than I expected (I haven’t had a regular soda in a while), it does the trick.

We head back out to continue our “orientation stroll.” Another thing I notice, many more day-trippers fill the streets than I ever noticed on my own two previous day trips that were both in November. Not only bus tours but individual tourists seemingly from all over Europe, including Italy. As we get closer to the Fortezza, we find it more and more crowded.

We head to the Coop, much to Chris’s chagrin since he hates food shopping, but it should have reopened (from siesta) by now. We buy a couple of bottles of water, a bottle of Rosso, two juices, one orange and one the orange, carrot, pineapple blend that I love, some paper towels and some toilet paper, about 20€. Chris insists on carrying both bags home though they’re very heavy and both of us window shop along the way. His hands look crimson when we finally arrive.

We put our stash away and continue back out to explore and watch the procession, which has started again. Under the large loggia in the main piazza (Popolo), rows upon rows of long tables have been set for a town feast that will take place after the numerous speeches about to be given.

We head back to the apartment to shower, rest and watch some bizarre Italian game show which looks like weakest link (we actually do pretty good translating and answering some of the questions). Then we’re off to dinner at Grappolo Blu.

Luigi made our reservation for 9:00 before he left on his trip. We arrive and are seated within moments of our arrival. I find the restaurant more rustic than I expected with a more traditional menu than I expected but both are fine by me.

We’re seated in the back room by the bar, and when we ask Luciano, the owner, for a wine recommendation, we’re treated to a long lecture on the difference between brunello and cabernet, merlot and rosso. Way more info than we wanted but still interesting and finally we all agree (because Luciano definitely has an opinion) on a ’95 Masella (sp) for 50€, ouch. When he returns and pours our wine I make two observations, as the brunello ages even past the release date it seems the color changes too leaning more towards maroon than purple. The other thing we realize after enjoying this wine and some younger brunellos later in the week, we are drinking our brunellos way too young.

I order the acuighe with pesto to start followed by sausage and cannellini. Chris can’t decide between the manzo stinco in a balsamic reduction and cinghiale. Chris asks Luciano what he prefers and we’re about to get another long lecture on wild boar and balsamic reductions when Chris tells him, he’s had both at other establishments and has enjoyed both. I want him to get the cinghiale so I can try it and Luciano suggests that I get one and Chris gets the other and I agree, changing my order. Luciano jokes, “Tonight, for once, the man wins,” but I grin and remind him, “Only for tonight.”

Chris starts with the pinci in ragu with mushrooms and when Luciano brings our primi, he offers Chris cheese but subtly shakes his head no. Chris asks why, and he tells him that the cheese will overpower the sauce, so Chris, trusting Luciano, passes. All the food is good, though the manzo reminds me of barbeque beef, which isn’t bad I think, just unusual.

For dessert, I have some strawberries and Chris enjoys a sambucca. Luciano offers to pour a tiny bit of sambucca over my strawberries and though not a big fan, he says the flavors meld nicely, so I tell him to go ahead. He’s right; I have never enjoyed that licorice taste but against the sweet and tart of the strawberries it lends a nice flavor. Unfortunately, I do not note the final bill, but I’d guess, with that wine, about 100€.

After dinner, we’re off to our apartment and bed. Here, I’ll note one other thing that bothered me about the apartment, the bed. My wishes for the apartment are firmer mattresses (they seem like foam) and some new sheets (they have those tiny balls of material all over the, the kind some sweaters get when you wash them too much). As I lay in bed reading Bel Vino (the contents of Alesandro’s bag earlier), I fear I will not sleep well all week in this bed but surprisingly, I do.


Festa in Montalcino
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Sunday May 22 - Giro di Montalcino and Calcio​

We’re off to Caffè Fiaschetteria for breakfast this morning, two cappucini and two cornetti con crema as we sit in the sunny piazza watching the town wake around us. After breakfast, we return to the apartment and change into shorts as we decided to try to find the walking path around Montalcino. Isabella Dusi mentions this path in Vanilla Beans and Brodo and it’s also marked on the map of Montalcino we bought at the Visitor Center yesterday.

First we try to pick it up by the free parking lot below viale Roma and Piazza Cavour but the way appears blocked by a chain. Next we hike through Porta Burelli, hoping to pick it up there but we actually can’t tell if which side of Porta Burelli we’re supposed to get it, inside the walls or outside. We end up hiking down a white road where we spy a red and white trail marker (later realizing this is part of the hiking trail connecting Siena to Castel Nuovo Del’Abate). We also find the abandoned church Isabella mentions and see some beautiful vistas but no viable path. Finally, we try to pick it up as it moves along Viale Roma and we succeed.

We move along Viale Rome and then behind Madonna del Soccorso, going off road outside and below the wall that runs along Viale Piero and Viale Strozzi. Along the way, I take my sunglasses off to wipe some sweat from my face. Just then, a car passes us along the dirt road and the driver waves as he passes and we hear a crunch. Chris asks, “Were those your glasses?” To which I reply, “No, I have my glasses here.” And I hold them up to show him. Only problem though, all I’m holding is the earpiece to my glasses, the rest remain crushed on the white road. Bummer, the screw fell out leaving me with one dog-chewed ear-piece and no sunglasses. Oh well, luckily I spied an eyeglass store in town yesterday.

We come back into town by Porto Al Cassero and the fort and continue down and around the outskirts going through Porta Cerbaia and onto Via Landi down to Vicolo Gattoli where we off-road again outside the walls. You see some of the most beautiful views from this stroll as well as tackle some big hills, both up and down. We return within the walls around Via Del Mistero, hang a right and another right and two lefts making a big loop to end up on Via Castellana, another big hill up to the Opsedale, down via dell ospedadelle and rather than staying upon the course back towards Porta Burelli, where we couldn’t find the route continuation, we turn up Via Lapini to Piazza Cavour and complete the circuit that Chris dubs Giro di Montalcino.

By the end, where we conquer two big hills in a row, to the Opsedale and up Via Lapini, my face resembles a red balloon. Several Montalcinese comment along the way, especially as my face gets redder, about the hills of their city and I just smile and nod. So 90 minutes later, with two false starts, we complete over three miles.

Chris returns to the Giro to do some running now that he knows the route, and I return to the apartment to shower. Along the way, Mario stops me and tells me of a concert that evening at the Madonna. I thank him and while I would love to attend I tell him Chris has his heart set on seeing Calcio as Montalcino is playing another town later that afternoon for I believe a championship and a chance to move up a division. He laughs.

After removing my sweaty clothes, showering and re-dressing, I return to Piazza Cavour to read, write and wait for Chris. We only have one key to our apartment so when we go out separately, we must make a meeting place. He arrives not long after, after completing two laps of the Giro. I’m impressed and continue to wait in the Piazza with the Italian Men’s Sitting Club and some young families while he returns to the apartment to shower and change.

When he returns, we hike up to the parking lot, retrieve Claudio and head to our lunch reservation at Boccon Del Vino. We’re seated at the same table, where we order the same wine as yesterday but by the glass this time. They start us with the same wonderful tomato bread soup drizzled with oil. Today, for my primi I have handmade spaghetti with goat cheese and tomatoes. Chris chooses gnochetti with a black truffle sauce; both are delicious. For our secondi, Chris switches to a glass of Brunello but I stick with the rosso. He enjoys the venison again but I have sliced steak with lentils and fresh spinach, which I like better than yesterday’s secondi but not as much as the venison. For dessert, they do not have fresh fruit; instead our server suggests a fresh fruit tart made with kiwi and banana and served in a crust similar to shortbread, yummy. Chris has crème brulee. Two cafè later, we pay a bill about 100€ and wobble back to the car.

We return to Montalcino, park Claudio in the same lot at the top of the town, across and down the road a bit from the Madonna, and head to a café not far from the fortezza (I actually think it’s called Bar Caffé Fortezza) for another espresso and some water while we wait for calcio to start at 4:30.

As we sit in the café, with a good view of the route to the stadium, I expect to see swarms of people in team colors heading to the match but really, see nothing more than tourists and Italian day-trippers to the town. Finally, about 4:20 we head over and discover the stadium to be small, smaller than our high school football field with only one stand. We pay our 10€ per person entry fee and climb into the stands to get seats. Here we make our first mistake sitting on the opposing team’s side but don’t realize our error until the Montalcino side has filled. Oh well.

Size of the stadium is about where the comparison to high school football ends as I notice people leaving the “snack shack” with glasses of red wine. Trust me, we never had that at our high school games. I think, to start, the opposing team has more spirit (including one supporter that looks remarkably like Vin Diesel) but some Montalcinese youths sitting next to us atop the snack shack soon give them a run for their money in the chant department.

Chris used to play soccer in high school so he’s able to follow the action. Me, I’m at a bit of a loss only having watched soccer sporadically during the 2002 World Cup and occasionally with Chris on Sunday morning when PBS broadcasts Italian Calcio. The whole off-sides rule has me baffled and more than once I find myself cheering for a goal that never happened because the Montalcinese player was called off-sides. Chris does his best to explain things to me but in the end even he’s baffled when the score of 2-1 in favor of the opposing team sends the Montalcinese fans into cheers of joy. Later on, we run into Alessandro and he explains this is the second of a two-game series with the opposing team, and overall, Montalcino still won the match and moves on.

After the game, we head over to Bar Alle Logge for drinks. I enjoy a Rossini, strawberry puree with prosecco while Chris gets a vertical tasting of a brunello followed by a Negroni, which we both pronounce way too bitter to drink. Chris at this time also decides that it makes more sense to pick a different brunello or rosso to try each day rather than doing the vertical tastings, but only in the best bang for your buck department.

While we’re there, some of the soccer players arrive, with their groupees/girlfriends in tow. Everybody seems to be in good spirits after the win, and the opposing team’s fans don’t seem too bad either as they walk through town, led by Vin, chugging some wine from a bottle and continuing their chants. Now whether their chants are in honor of the victor or degrading the victor I cannot say.

Since we’re still pretty full from lunch, for dinner we opt to buy some supplies at the local salumeria and alimentari. We purchase some bread, cinghiali sausage, aged pecorino, pecorino calcio, artichoke puree, dessert wine, honey and some plain and chocolate covered cantucci from the pasticerria on Via Mazzini (this stuff is fabu)!

Back at home, we watch more soccer, this time Spanish championships, read, write, nibble on our provisions and about 11:00 call home to find out how the kids’ weekend went (Becky had done her first trip away from home, ever). Near the end of the conversation, we get disconnected due to lack of time left on the phone and resolve to get another TIM card tomorrow.


Abandoned Church Outside Montalcino
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Monday May 23 - Peter Kilby Leads The Way​

We’re off to Pienza today to meet Peter Kilby, a friend and tour guide, we met on our first trip, to spend the day with him but we wake to rain, so decide to stop in at Bar Prato for a quick breakfast instead of our usual spot in the piazza before we leave. I have Cornetto and cappuccino, Chris, bombolino and cappuccino and we’re good to go. While at breakfast, Chris makes me promise not to steal Peter’s thunder today. “No matter what he tells us, pretend you’re learning it or seeing it for the first time,” he says. The last few time we saw Peter, I was one step ahead of him, totally forcing him into off the beaten path places when I’m around. Personally, I like it; it’s a game and I don’t think he minds it either.

As we head out of Montalcino, the rain’s not too bad, not enough to make driving hazardous but enough to not want to spend an entire day walking around in it but it’s too late to change our plans. We’re meeting Peter about 9:30 and arrive early, so we head into one of the local bar/tabbacharia for a shot of espresso, some orange juice and to purchase another TIM card. I buy a 50€ card this time, figuring since there’s a 5€ service charge for every card, at least this way I’m reducing the percentage of the service fee by buying 45€ of time for 50€ rather than buying 20€ of time for 25€ or something like that.

I charge up the phone and we head to the piazza to meet Peter just as he arrives and the rain slows to a trickle. After usual greetings, we stroll through town and get a bit of history then I bite my tongue when Peter takes us to a deli to try some of the famous porchetta of Tuscany. We’d already visited this shop during our trip in November 2003. We decide to buy three sandwiches and enjoy a picnic later in the day as the rain has finally ceased and the sun seems to be peaking through.

We venture to our car, parked outside and across the street from the walls, drive Peter to his car, in a lot at the other end of town (where the S146 runs into Pienza from the direction of San Quirico), and follow Peter back to his house, on the way to Montepulciano. Peter gives us a tour of his home, which is just lovely and has one of the most beautiful views of Montepulciano I can imagine.

We leave his car there, hop into ours, and head via back winding roads to Cortona. By the time we arrive, it’s a warm and sunny day. We drive up and up and find parking in a pretty large lot to our left that overlooks the plains below. As we’re walking up, Peter points to Lake Trasimeno in the distance and asks if we know of the great battle that took place there thousands of years ago. Before I can stop myself, I blurt out, “Hannibal!” and Peter just shakes his head in disbelief as Chris knocks me on my back. I guess the question was meant to be rhetorical but I couldn’t help it. My TIVO tapes everything it finds on Roman History and I’d just watched a show on Hannibal before we left for our trip.

Our first stop within Cortona is the Museo dell’accademia Etrusca (admission 4.20€). A nice little museum filled with Etruscan and Egyptian artifacts, we spend some time there as Peter gives us some back info into Etruscan history, stuff I hadn’t heard before. We see the most beautiful intricately carved Etruscan chandelier that alone I feel worth the price of admission.

After our museum stroll, we’re ready for a mid-morning snack and decide to look up a friend of Peter’s who is opening a B&B in Cortona across from the Church of San Francesco. Carol, another Australian, purchased this three-story home and has spent some considerable time renovating it into a lovely B&B which would also serve well as a holiday rental for a group of three couples or a large family (in which case, she’d vacate the premises and let you use it as your own home).

The ground floor houses a nice lounge or seating area, where in the future Carol intends to provide free Internet access for her guests. Behind the seating area, you’ll find a modern newly redone kitchen and large dining area with high vaulted ceilings, and walls lined sometimes with brick and sometimes the stone from the mountain, from which the home has been dug.

On the first floor, you’ll find a huge bathroom with large tub and across the landing a large double bedroom. Both rooms have high ceilings, are nicely decorated and have plenty of space. Halfway up to the second floor, on a landing, sits a half-bathroom or powder room. A single bedroom sits on the second floor, which Carol has not decorated yet as she is still using it for her office but will be converted into a single room soon. Another double bedroom sits across the landing from the single, again large with plenty of space. Finally, on the third floor, you’ll find another full bathroom and another double bedroom with a small patio overlooking the Church of San Francesco on which Carol intends to put a bistro table and some chairs. All the bedrooms contain satellite television with some English channels.

Chris says, for him, the only issue would be the shared bathroom (a full bathroom does not accompany the double on the second floor. Though for the 95€ a night, Carol intends to charge, if I were to stay in Cortona, I’d stay here in a heartbeat. The B&B is called La Pietra Serena.

We enjoy some coffee and biscuits with Carol for a bit, talking about all sorts of things before it’s time to hit the road again. As we’re winding our way back to the car, I remember Alessandra from the message board has a shop nearby but I do not remember where in Cortona and as I walk, I peak into shops looking for her (memory of pictures from the site) but do not see a shop with a name that sounds familiar or a person that looks like Alessandra, another regret.

We hop into Claudio and Peter takes us on a trek through some incredibly windy, hilly, remote roads, from which I choose not to look down, as we head to the Cell of St. Francis, now a huge monastery. We park the car as far off to the side of the narrow road as possible, and upon first glance of the monastery, all I can think is, “Rivendale.” I’m convinced now, between La Citta Bianca, the trulli homes, and now this monastery carved from the side of the mountain made of nothing but the natural materials found here with rivers sparkling past, that Tolkien visited Italy and found inspiration for much of his trilogy’s locations here.

We visit the Cell of St. Francis around which the monks built the monastery and as much of the property as we can before they close for the afternoon. Really beautiful and someday I’d like to return to just sit and spend some more time in its incredibly peaceful surroundings.

We’re back into the car and make another stop, this time at Il Falconiere, another beautiful but extravagant property at which I can only hope to one day be able to afford to stay. Peter knows the owners and we chat with the wife and her twenty-two year old son, who I can’t believe she’s old enough to have, for a bit, enjoying some time in their salon over a glass of white wine. Again, a beautiful property, which I just recommended to some friends of my parents and if I win the lottery, will head to for a stay.

After our visit, we’re back in the car but make a quick stop at a local COOP where we buy some chips, napkins, cups, water and a bottle of Corvo for our picnic. We drive to a town along the lake where we park, find some benches and enjoy a wonderful picnic lunch. Afterwards, we walk along the lake a bit and watch some boys catch some pretty big fish before we head back to the car, stopping for some gelato along the way.

The gelato, while nothing great, fills me up completely, so when we stop at the cantina for Gattavecchi wines, on the outskirts of Montepulciano, I’m in no condition to do any tasting but Chris does and purchases some white wine to keep in our apartment. Next, we’re back to Peter’s for a bit where the men enjoy watching a bit of Independence Day on Peter’s home movie system while I use Peter’s computer to e-mail the girls. Finally, it’s time to say good-bye and head back to Montalcino.

Upon arriving in Montalcino, we try to find a parking spot near the Lavenderia but fail, so we end up in a pay spot next to the Fortezza, which is expensive and requires a 30-minute duration. We head over to the lavenderia, pick up our newly cleaned clothes, drop them in the car and since we still have time left on the meter, opt to go inside the Fortezza and have a look around.

They’ve got an amazing assortment of wines and foodstuffs but we find prices to be no better or worse than some of the other stores we’ve visited. Chris tries a 99 Brunello reserve, whose name I forget to note, but nothing he’s willing to purchase at this time. We decide we’ll come back another night and hit the road, but not before stopping in Sciame to make a reservation for later that evening.

We return Claudio to the free lot and carry our clothes back to the apartment. When we unpack, we realize those tidy whities I had are still missing and so is one of Chris’s workout outfits, probably never returned at Il Frantoio. So now we’re on a quest to buy me underwear, yikes.

We find a store on Via Mazzini and I have a harder time explaining what I need here than I did in either TIM store we visited earlier in our trip. Finally I realize the Italian word for undies is “slip” pronounced “sleep” and the clerk knew what I needed all along. I just didn’t understand. They’re eight euro each and I hope they fit since they only have large, not extra large.

Next stop, the sunglass store. Unbelievably they have the glasses I’d bought in Rome during our 2002 trip and subsequently lost and they’re on sale for 30% off, cool! I pay 60€ for them (yeah, still pricey but I love them). . Done with shopping, we head back to the apartment for a bit of rest and to watch Friends in Italian (where Chandler’s name becomes Kandler). I’m amazed that I can still follow the story though it’s been years since I’d originally seen it and it’s in Italian.

About eight we head to Sciame for dinner. As we approach, we still smell the wonderful aroma that attracted us to this restaurant back in 2003. As we enter the restaurant, I realize what about the aroma attracts me; it reminds me of the smells of my grandmother’s apartment building in Brooklyn, always someone cooking a pot roast or a stew or something. Remember, with Sciame, we’re not talking fine dining here. If I had to equate Sciame to anything in America, I’d equate it to a truck stop, basic if any décor, sometimes-gruff service, and solid basic food at some basic prices.

We find the restaurant to be warm (as in hot) and crowded, identifying German, French and English spoken in this small establishment, a far cry from the Italian road workers we first found here in 2003. We find the menu is in all three languages too. We’re seated at a back corner table and both of us order the pinci con ragu to start. We both agree that we like the pinci better at Grappolo Blu. For our secondi, I once again order the roast chicken (leg and thigh) while Chris enjoys the cinghiale stew, which he still believes to be the best cinghiale ever. As last time, we share a plate of fries (though, now we think Da Renzina may have better fries), this with a ½ litre of house red and a bottle of water comes to 45€. It’s not a long leisurely meal here either; we’re out of there in less than 90 minutes.

On the way home, we stop in at Fiaschetteria. I enjoy a thick and rich hot chocolate while Chris gets a glass of sambuca and we share some torte de mele. The piazza is much quieter tonight than compared to Saturday or Sunday but I like that. Eventually, we head home to read and sleep.


The Cell of Saint Francis
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Tuesday May 24 - Would You Like Some Bacon With Those Eggs?​

I’m up about eight this morning and as now becomes my habit, I open the windows in the family room to view my neighbors and the weather for today. Today is not a pretty site; fog sits everywhere, so bad in fact that I cannot see three buildings down and barely across the street. I’m pretty sure Chris will not want to hike to Sant’Antimo in this nor can I imagine he’ll want to drive in it either.

When he wakes, while I’m in the shower, he calls to me to tell me it’s sunny now. I find this hard to believe but I trust him and when I leave the bathroom I don my shorts and sneakers for our hike. We lock up the apartment and trot down the stairs to the outer doors only to find when we open them, thick fog! I turn to Chris, “Did you actually look out a window when you declared the sun’s arrival?”

“Well, no. It looked bright through the cracks, so I assumed it was sunny.”

Back upstairs, into pants and then once again we leave for Bar Alle Logge. Along the way, we stop at the Tabeccheria next to Fiaschetteria and I am finally able to purchase a current IHT. No apologies here, I think over a week without a current newspaper to be more than I, a regular newspaper reader since the age of 12, should have to bear. We’re off to the bar and our usual breakfast of cappuccino and pastry (today’s choices, not bombolini but something close with crème filling, yummy). By the time we finish our meal and I have devoured the paper from cover to cover, much to Chris’s chagrin, the sun has appeared for real.

We decide rather than putting our shorts back on and making the third clothing change of the day, to head to the hot springs at Petriolo and San Galgano today instead. We stop by our apartment to grab another package of dirty clothes, hike up to Claudio, and drive near the coop. I run into the lavenderia and drop our dirty bag with a promise that for another 16€, we’ll be able to retrieve our clean clothes in two days’ time. Perfect.

We head out of Montalcino on the road from the traffic circle that leads in the direction of San Colle Angelo and Grossetto (remembering from our 2002 trip that all roads do not lead to Rome, they lead to Grossetto). I’ve never been this way and must say, I find the scenery pretty, the rolling hills dotted with many brunello wineries and vineyards.

Within a couple of easy turns, we’re on the road referred to by Gloria (i.e., Casina de Rosa), as the salt road. From her description, I feared this road might be reminiscent of the road we used to arrive in Montalcino on Saturday, but while it has some good hills, it’s not as twisty as the other approach. Another pretty relatively quick route (maybe 30 – 40 minutes) and we approach Petriolo. One thing Gloria definitely had on the money, if you roll down your windows, you will smell the hot springs before you see them, man that’s one science experiment that has gone bad or one egg left too long out on the counter.

We find the area around the springs way more crowded than expected. People have campers in the open spaces and day-trippers park along the road, pulled to the side as much as possible. We follow suit, pulling a bit of the ways up the road, near a construction site, where it looks like someone is building a fancy spa for future use. Chris grabs his bathing suit and towel and we head down towards the spring.

Now here’s my dilemma, I’m not freaked by going in the water, but the truth is, I wore my short black boots today, and the sight of me, creeping over the rocks in nothing but a bathing suit and those black boots totally does not appeal to me. Nor does the idea of creeping over the rocks wearing nothing but the feet g-d gave me, so after holding up a towel for Chris to change behind, I send him on his merry way.

First, Chris sits with the others in the steamy area, while above, I try to ignore the waves of odor, like Elizabeth, NJ, float my way wondering if the stink will follow us throughout the days, permeating Chris’s skin and bathing suit. Eventually, he grows bored of sitting there, climbs into the cool water of the stream to “rinse off” and climbs back towards me. While I wait for his ascent, I entertain myself by playing peek-a-boo with a cute little boy who spent the morning at the springs with his mother. It definitely seems people in the area make a day of it at the springs, with music, blankets and picnic lunches, like we used to going to the Jersey shore.

After we do the towel trick again, Chris claiming all the while that it does not smell nearly as bad down near the water, we head back towards the car when a young German hitchhiker approaches. He’s looking for a ride to Siena and wondering if we can accommodate him. Unfortunately, we’re not heading in that direction but encourage him to check down by the crowded stream to see if someone else may be traveling in his direction. I feel bad for hitchhikers, ever since Ted Bundy, and I’m guessing assorted others, they’ve gotten an awful rap.

As we pull away from our spot, we hear a thud, thud. Chris pulls over but the tires and car seem fine, so we continue on our merry way.

I navigate us, using the dot-to-dot method and my TCI Road Atlas, and direct us towards San Galgano. The terrain in this part of Tuscany reminds me of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, though much hillier. It’s definitely not the open fields of the Val di Orcia or the Crete Senese, but more the thick pine forests of the south of Jersey or the northwest corner.

We arrive at San Galgano pretty easily and I find the setting totally desolate as in abandoned and beautiful. The abbey sits in the middle of a wide-open field with no other structures around. As a matter of fact, other than a few other tourists, we see no one from the “tourist industry” (i.e., snack mobiles).

We park along the road leading to the abbey and as we walk towards it, we hear an explosion; a minute or so later we hear another explosion. My eyes aren’t so good, but Chris says there’s a cannon firing on a timer in the field next to the abbey, probably to scare the birds away from the seedlings growing there. Eventually, we get used to the BOOM that paces our visit.

We explore the area outside and inside the abbey for quite some time. We take some cool pictures, hoping for one of those truly haunting shots, wonder at what it must have looked like hundreds of years ago, and as we are whom we are, get hungry and our thoughts move towards lunch. At first we begin to hike up towards the monastery on the hill overlooking the abbey, where Gloria mentioned a wine bar with some interesting snacks but then we decide against it opting for a full and relaxing meal instead. So, we never do get to see the infamous sword in the stone as we climb back down, hop in the car and head to Da Vestro in Monticiano for lunch.

We’d passed Da Vestro on the way to San Galgano, well at least past a sign for it, so finding it now and parking was easy enough. Again, a bit nervous as a couple of tour buses lined the road nearby but the restaurant is large, can easily handle some big groups and as a matter of fact, the outside dining area holds so many tables that with the groups inside, and a large group of bikers who we’d passed on the road earlier, a couple with their small child and us sitting outside many tables still remain vacant. I’ll note here too that the service does not suffer one bit from the large groups present.

We start with an order of pinci con ragu for Chris and pinci all’aglione for me. I find mine a bit spicy, which I enjoy; both are delicious. For our secondi, Chris orders the Braciole Maiale, which ends up being a thin steak, not the roll he always expects, as they serve at home. I get roasted baby pig (hopefully not from Il Frantoio in Puglia); we both find mine better and end up sharing these dishes. We also order a side of potatoes and enjoy some strawberries with lemon and sugar for dessert. With the house wine and a bottle of water, our bill comes to 49€ and we enjoy a long, leisurely very relaxing lunch.

For our return trip, we travel via the 223 (referred to as a superstrada but still only one lane in each direction). We find the advantage to the 223 over our earlier route to be the lack of curves.

We return to Montalcino about 4:00, about a one-hour drive from Monticiano. I nap and read because I’m a true couch potato at heart, while Chris partakes in another round of the Giro di Montalcino. After he showers, we watch Made on MTV, one of three English language programs we’ve found (the other are Punked and Pimp My Ride, also on MTV). While I enjoy the show, I still can’t decide though whether I agree with the message Made sends to teens. In one way, the message that with hard work and effort (and some serious coaching from professionals) you can succeed in anything you want I think is good but on the flip side, can someone tell these kids they’re pretty cool just the way they are?

After our English fix for the day, we head over to Bar Alle Logge for a drink about 7:00. Chris enjoys a glass of Brunello while I again crave something foo-fooish and ask the waiter to surprise me. He returns with something, whose name escapes me (along the loves of Breno) but it’s reminiscent of a sea breeze, pink with a grapefruit taste and alcohol. He also brings us a plate of some picky foods to enjoy while we sit and talk.

About 8:15, we walk over to Grappolo Blu, not because we’re starving but we do want something. Honestly, Montalcino has emptied out so much from the weekend that we don’t expect Grappolo to be crowded yet we find it packed. Luciano tells us to return in about half-hour that he should have something for us then, which is really fine with us.

We go for a stroll through Pianello, finding the church that Isabella Dusi writes about in Vanilla Beans and Brodo, as well as Bel Vino. We also find, surprising me at first, a gym – a real workout gym (ala Gold’s or Bally’s at home). I don’t know why it surprises me; I guess because I never think of people in other countries having the fitness bug that seems to exist here. They have signs up that you can pay by the hour but unfortunately I forget to note the address.

We see a big glass structure a bit further on, and decide to investigate. It looks so foreign with the old stone homes of the city, like someone plopped an art deco 70’s structure down in the middle of this town. After circumnavigating it, and guessing at a dozen possibilities (including parking garage and swimming pool) we find it’s the new gymnasium built as an addition to the school.

We return to Grappolo about 8:45 and still wait another 30 minutes before Luciano can accommodate us but we don’t mind as we end up in a nice discussion with a couple from Toronto. I think I have confirmed a theory I have about frequent travelers to Italy. After dining with Brits, Australians, the couple from Luxemburg and now our neighbors to the north, I think the common thread that all lovers of Italy have is a love of good food and wine. Okay – maybe there’s the occasional history buff but I think the majority of us are foodies at heart.

Luciano sits us in the front room this evening and we start with the Castelnovo rosso we love (they charge 18€ here for it compared to the 15€ at Boccon del Vino). We then reverse our orders from this afternoon with Chris starting with the pinci all aglione and I have the pinci con ragu. Grappolo (i.e., Maria Pia) prepares her aglione differently than Da Vestro, where Da Vestro has more of a sauce-like consistency, Grappolo’s contains no sauce but grape tomatoes and garlic sautéed in olive oil. I’m not sure which to be “correct” but we like both, though I think we prefer Da Vestro’s for the spice alone.

For our secondi, Chris gets guanciale di manzo and I get sausage and beans; both taste wonderful, flavorful and we both agree that we enjoy these secondi more than our secondi on Saturday night. We also share a salata mista, which we dress ourselves with a bit of salt, pepper and some oil and vinegar. We have two café and for after dinner drinks Chris once again gets sambucca while Luciano suggests I try a liquor from the Trento region which tastes like sambucca though a bit sweeter and not as thick. I like it better than sambucca but not as much as my usual Frangelico (of course one is licorice and the other hazelnut). We enjoy all this for the price of 67€. Before we leave, we ask Luciano for reservations for Thursday night, having learned our lesson today. He suggests we come either early or later, not during the “rush” so we can enjoy our meal. We agree on 9:15 and say goodnight.

Chris has a gelato craving, so we head over to Why Not, for his usual coconut before we head home and to bed.


San Galgano
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Wednesday May 25 - Hiking Sant’ Antimo, It’s Not All Downhill​

This morning, I rise, open the windows and feel the sun warm my face. While still early it must be in the 20’s already. Chris, as usual, sleeps in, and I write. When he wakes we pack our bag for our hike to Sant’ Antimo and head to Bar Alle Logge for breakfast. Bummer, the bar’s closed, so it’s across the piazza to Fiaschetteria and to purchase an IHT in the nearby Tabbecheria instead.

After the usual cornetto con crema for me and a bombolini for Chris with two cappucini, we plan our attack for our hike. First question, should we stop and buy some water to take with us? Nah, Chris thinks since Isabella says the hike takes about 2 ½ hours and we’re pretty fit, we shouldn’t need it for that “short walk.” Are you feeling my pain yet?

We use her notes, specifically where she says the trail starts on “a side street uphill and just to the side of Bar Terrrazzo outside the walls on the road to Grosseto. Locate an iron sign with the trail marked.” In specifics, the street lies to the left of Bar Terrazzo, as you’re facing the bar, which is near the small traffic circle above the Fortezza.

We find the paved road, which pretty quickly becomes a white road (i.e., dust and broken gravel). We discover the markers, squares with a horizontal red and white stripe. They can be painted on trees, stonewalls, fence posts, etc. Markers can also be trail signs, which are maps on metal posts. As we examine the first of these maps, we realize the trail from Montalcino is really a subset of a larger trail from Siena to Castel Nuovo Del’Abate, the town above Sant’ Antimo. By the way, Castel Nuovo gets its name from a new castle, well, not so new any more, built in the hamlet for the Abbot of the Monastery. Apparently, the castle still exists within the town but I digress.

As we meander along, I take a picture of a trail mark (I had intended to take copious notes and pictures in order to update the slowtrav.com website with this information) but realize that I haven’t charged our digital camera’s battery since we arrived in Italy over ten days ago – DOH! Well, I have one good picture of a trail mark and if I’m lucky, maybe later I’ll get one more picture of something else.

This part of the trek is supposed to be mostly downhill, according to Isabella and others but I’m here to tell you that is not entirely true. During the hike, I have two huffer puffer moments that leave my face beet red on two uphill portions but nothing I can’t make. My guide to people who would like to do this hike, if you at least walk two to three miles, three or four times a week, go for it. You should be in good enough shape. If you’re huffin’ after going up a flight of stairs, stay away.

Anyway, as we walk along this white road, I try to take notes on questionable locations, in hopes of helping others along. NOTE: we used a three-step process when no marker appears, if you’re on the path and you must make a clear decision as to which route to take:
  • If there’s no marker, continue upon the path on which you currently travel as opposed to the new path joining in (i.e., if there’s no clear indication to turn, don’t)
  • If there’s no marker, choose the path of least resistance, walk a 50 meters or so and see if you see a marker
  • Look at your current path as if you're returning from either of your two options (i.e., turn around); often a marker becomes visible for the return trip from one of your choices but not the other. Whichever has the marker visible for the return is the one you should take now.
We hit our first major question mark pretty early on as a biker passes us. We watch him try several paths and then return along the road to Montalcino. One of the options we see is marked by a wooden arrow (not the red and white trail marker), on our left, pointing into the woods with the words “Sant Antimo” carved into it. Unfortunately, since there’s no red and white marker, and since the path up into the woods looks as if it hasn’t been traveled in a while, we question its veracity. We continue on the white road for a bit (following option two from above) but when we do not see any other trail markers and the road ends at a residence, we decide to head into the woods.

We find the path narrow and overgrown for a little while but it quickly widens and it’s not long before we see a “normal” trail marker. So now we know, trail markers can also be wooden arrows with the words “Sant’ Antimo” carved or painted on them.

The wooden area is well marked and beautiful, dotted with streams, ponds and shade. It’s the first point I wish I had my hiking boots. You’re not in the woods for very long though, in the whole scheme of things, and eventually you emerge onto a dirt road. Not far, you’ll come across a stone house (on your right) and to the right of the house, as you’re facing it, lies a path blocked by a chain and a “private property” sign. There’ll be another path on your left, almost a u-turn going uphill or you can stay on the dirt road past the house (always keeping the house on your right), that’s correct (following rule number one, if you don’t see a marker on the new paths that intersect with yours, stay on your original path).

Again, you’ll come to another point where the dirt road forks uphill and to your left, stay on the road you’re on.

After a bit, the dirt road comes to a “T”, make a left. It’s here that four women hikers catch us. For a bit now, we thought we heard their voices but weren’t sure if it was other hikers or residents. We chat with them a bit as we walk. They’re on a tour put together by Girasole and have incredibly explicit directions (down to avoiding a nasty dog somewhere further along the trail).

We walk with them, me liking some other company but since we’ve been fully exposed to the sun since leaving the woods, also totally envious of the bottles of the water they carry. We hit a paved road, go left and then left again onto another dirt road. All this is well marked. According to the other hikers’ guide, this is a logging road. It’s also the second major uphill for me.

The dirt, logging road goes around a bend, no markers, and at an open field, you see another paved road. Go across this paved road and pick up the dirt path again on the other side (do not take the dirt path that comes in to your right – following rule one above).

Almost entirely from this point on (except for one or two small areas), you’re completely exposed to the sun, so you might want to remember sun tan lotion and/or a hat. We didn’t but I got my good base tan that’s lasting through the summer.

We lose our female hikers at this point as they stop often for breaks and I could tell Chris wants to keep moving. Later he tells me, he likes the hunt for the trail markers too and their directions are too precise. Personally though, I would have liked them to stick around if only for the chance one of them might have offered me some water.

Now, we’re back on paved road again. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s the road leading from Montalcino towards Grosseto. This part of the hike bothers me because after a moment, the wide shoulder disappears and we’re left walking along a narrow strip. We cross the street so we’re walking on the correct side (i.e., facing traffic). Luckily, this part doesn’t last long as after we walk uphill on the pavement for a bit, we see a map marker on a white road to our left. We check the map and realize, we haven’t gone too far, yikes.

The path pretty much flattens out at this point. The white road (and it’s really white) goes through some woods on either side but it’s very wide (and occasionally a car will drive by, maybe two or three as we walk). The road then opens up into some incredible pasturelands, with herds of sheep (to which Chris calls “Bah Ray Moo” but they don’t reply) and fields of grain blowing in the breeze like waves. You can see Mount Amiata in the distance.

There’s a fork by Il Podere Cocoo, bear to the right here but other than this (and a bear to the left at a small cement structure, don’t take the intersecting path from the right) stay on the white road though there are few markers. You’ll see them when you need them.

Eventually, you’ll arrive at a group of buildings, a borgo; at the first split, follow signs toward Fattoria La Mangia (to the left). At the second split, there’s a wooden arrow pointing to the left for Sant’ Antimo and straight for Villa Tolli. We travel to the left.

As we continue, we’re joined along the path by a dog Chris dubs Cujo. He’s actually very sweet (and big) and seems to take a liking to us as he keeps us company. At one point, he takes a swim in a stream in some woods below us and we run from him hysterically laughing as he shakes off.

He stays with us through the only “treacherous” area of the hike. It seems like a dried old riverbed on a steep decline from the hilltop down into the valley. Boulders, bits of rock and broken shale cover the way. From here you get your first views of the Abby but you really must pay attention to your footing or you could easily fall, the second place on our hike I wish I had my hiking boots.

Of course, Cujo prances around like it’s nothing and he keeps looking back at us wondering what’s taking us so long. Along this route too, we encounter some other hikers, with walking sticks coming from Sant’ Antimo. We barely exchange grunts as we pass each other. I’m also trying to figure out how we’re going to get Cujo home with us and if Fala will like him since he shows no sign of leaving us.

Once we master the decline, the rest of the walk goes quickly and after passing a field with some of the famous white cows of Chiana, we’re soon at the Abbey, three hours after we started from Montalcino with three or four missteps but few if any breaks. Within a minute, Cujo leaves us for some people picnicking in the shade; where’s the loyalty? Honestly though, at this point, I don’t care so much about the Abbey (or losing Cujo) as it’s water I crave. I did bring along a couple of oranges with me because of my blood sugar issues, and I did eat one on the path, just before we encountered the sheep, which helped, but I really want some water.

Several times during the hike, we tried to call Osteria del Bassomondo to make a lunch reservation but never got through. So we wing it, hiking past the tour buses and individual visitors to the abbey and make a final ascent to Castelnuovo dell’Abate for lunch. There’s a sign for Bassomondo as we enter the town, it’s to our left.

We sit outside at a small table at a funny angle, crammed in between picnic tables occupied by workmen and once I completely down the first liter of water our waitress brings, I feel much better.

For our primi, Chris has the pinci con funghi and I have pinci con ragu both are fine, almost delicious but who knows at this point if it’s the food or the fact that we’re ravenous from the walk. For our secondi, we both order the sausage with what we think will be beans (reminiscent of my sausage from last night at Grappolu). Imagine our surprise when we receive sausage accompanied with something that well looks, like well, I don’t know what it looks like – a large lump of stuffed derma perhaps. Turns out to be pig’s liver sausage! Hey, what did we know, beans and pigs liver both start with ‘F.’ While we eat, a beautiful Siamese cat with the most incredible blue eyes, prowls the tables; she seems to enjoy it as we discreetly feed her a bit of the liver under the table.

We ask the waitress where we can find the bus stop for the bus to Montalcino, “Dove la fermata per autobus per Montalcino?” Okay, maybe not the best attempt, but it works. She points right to the corner in front of the restaurant, cool.

We ask her where we can buy tickets, “Dove possiamo comprare il billegetti?” She tells us on the bus, cool again.

Our female hikers told us the bus stops here at 2:15 and 4:55 (which were the times we saw on a sign on the road across from the gas station in Montalcino) but our waitress tells us 2:30. Later, we realize 2:15 and 4:55 are the time the bus leaves Montalcino to come here. Being the type A personality Chris is, actually I ask him to do it, he runs across the street and checks the sign, which says, 2:25 and 4:55, so who knows. Anyway, we know we need to depart somewhere in that vicinity.

As we’re approaching 2:00, we ask for il conto because we both agree that we’re tired and don’t want to wait until 5:00 to get a bus back; we figure we can always return later with the car and we want to catch the “two-ish” bus. While we’re waiting and waiting, we see a small blue bus go by (maybe 20 seats) but it’s coming from Mntalcino. The waitress finally gives us the check, about 2:20 and tells us the bus stops across the street from the sign with the times, facing the direction of Montalcino (there’s a blue sign pointing towards Montalcino). By the way, our check for our meal, two bottles of water and two carafes of house red came to about 40€.

We head out to wait for the bus and run into our female hikers who just arrived. Apparently, at the second split, where we followed the wooden arrow pointing left towards Sant’ Antimo, they took the path that went straight toward the Villa Tolli. Our hiking map shows this as an alternate route, maybe to avoid the treacherous route, who knows? Now whether this route was that much longer, explaining the extra two hours it took the female hikers, or that they moved at a slower clip, I cannot say. Nor can I tell you whether that route has trail markings, since we did not take it.

The bus arrives momentarily, and it costs us 1.10€ per person; knocking parking in Bari out of the running as best money spent on this trip. We have the driver drop us near the gas station at the top of Montalcino, rather than at Piazza Cavour (the other possible stop) because Chris wants to stop at Why Not for gelato. We say goodbye to our female hikers who are returning to their B&B and then off to San Quirico in the morning (though some of the expressed the desire to take the provided van rather than hike it), and we head to Why Not.

Oh no! They seem to be closed. Chris asks a man sitting at one of their outdoor tables if they’re open and he says, “No.” To which, Chris smiles and exclaims, “Perche No?” It’s a second before the man gets it and smiles. He tells us they’re having trouble with their freezers.

We head towards the next gelato store, on Via Mazzini, but on the way we stop at the olive wood store to make some purchases. Chris holds up a long slim board with a curved bottom and asks what is used for. The owner replies, “Slicing salami.” Chris pretends to saw salami with it, smiles and says, “I don’t think it’s sharp enough.” She laughs. He’s on a tear today. We buy that and a large cutting board then head for gelato. As they’re out of coconut, Chris opts for lemon while I get strawberry and lemon, yum, very refreshing. While in the area, we stop into Les Barrique (enotecca/restaurant) and make a reservation for dinner that night.

We head back to the apartment where we grab a bottle of white wine, our books, my IHT and head to the benches near the Madonna to relax and sip wine for a couple of hours overlooking one of the best views imaginable.

Afterwards, we shower, and head to dinner. We’re not sure about this place; the primi prices seem in line with other establishments but the secondi prices seem high rivaling Boccon Del Vino (about 15€ a plate). Yet we’ve walked buy it every day for five days now and they always have the most delicious looking fresh pasta in the window, so we were tempted to try.

We start with antipasti of crostini with mixed toppings, mushroom, daino (deer), cinghiale and cheese and truffle. Not bad. I have ribollita, which is delicious, and Chris has the fresh pappardelle in an herb sauce. I don’t feel tempted by any of the secondi listed so I enjoy some acighe sotto pesto and a house salad (nice with arugula, pecorino and walnuts) instead. Chris gets cinghiale. With a bottle of rosso and some water I believe the bill comes to 73€, which I believe to be a bit too expensive for the food we ordered but still good tasting and good service. Well not too expensive for the quantity of food we ordered, I guess it’s just the quality and ambience does not compare to Boccon Del Vino so I resent paying the same prices for secondi but everything else is good.

After dinner, we head over to Fiaschetteria for some sambucca and hot cocoa then it’s off to bed.


Trail Marker
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Thursday May 26 - Frescoes and Food​

We wake Thursday with no clear plan on what to do. We toss about the idea of Siena, finding a hike around Mt. Amiata, and walking around Montepulciano (but somewhere along the way we must have picked up the Montalcinese aversion to Montepulciano and immediately rule out that option). In the end, we decide to visit Monte Oliveta Maggiore, go shopping in Pienza and have lunch at Latte di Luna.

First though, we have breakfast at Bar Alle Logge (no matter where we go, two paste and two capuccini costs us eight euro), then off to the lavenderia to pick-up the clothes we dropped there on Tuesday. I still believe that 16 € for all those clothes is a good deal but Chris leans towards wishing he packed more instead. Of course, Chris can only get one wear out of an outfit while, if I use a bib, I can get two or three.

We drive to Olivets Maggiore using the dot-to-dot method, San Quirico, San Giovanni D’Asso, that town Kaydee stayed in that begins with a “C” whose name I always forget, and finally the abbey.

We visited the Abbey with Pauline Priore during our 1999 trip (personally, I can’t believe we drove all the way here from Florence). However, neither of us remembers seeing the Sodoma frescos about which everyone talks. We decide there’s no way Pauline would have skipped these and they must have still been under restoration when we first visited.

We park above and walk down towards the abbey, stopping in the gift shop first. I end up purchasing some honey but pass on the bath lotion for the girls. I can’t find a fragrance I think they’ll like.

Next we head to the bathroom for a quick potty break but a tour bus has just arrived so we opt to return later, on to the frescos.

We pull out the listing I printed from Slowtrav, determine at which fresco we enter the room and begin to proceed around. Chris likes trying to translate the Italian description and then checking his guess against the Slowtrav material. We think we can tell which frescoes are by Sodoma and which aren’t because there are a few that seem to have disproportionate heads, bodies and hands while others seem to have normal proportions and more vibrant colors but given what we know about art we could be totally and completely wrong. Something else we notice, many of the women really look like men with long hair, like “big hands” from Seinfeld. I chalk this up to artists using male rather than female models but again, I may be totally and completely wrong.

I think Chris likes viewing the frescoes more than I expected he would; examining details, looking for hidden animals; they make us both want to learn more about the story of St. Benedict. I think Chris especially likes that we find a fresco that seems to be missing from the Slowtrav list. He has me take a picture of it and the corresponding description so Pauline can add it to the website.

After we’re through with the frescoes we head back to the bathroom and discover one of the grossest things I’ve ever seen. The bathrooms reek, and when I get inside I find out why; they’re Turkish toilets and obviously someone had more than a bit of indigestion and … well… missed. Gross! Chris said his side wasn’t much better, “Time to get the new monks down here to clean.”

We high tail it out of there and head back to the car, taking a different path than the one we took coming down. In the car we plot our course towards Pienza and decide to go back via our old stomping grounds in Castelmuzio. Dot-to-dot method, we travel San Giovanni D’Asso, noticing the restaurant there that I still would like to try, Montisi, and Castelmuzio. Funny how these roads used to bother me but now, after the harrowing roads we took to get to Montalcino on Saturday, I’m not bothered at all. Coming down from Castelmuzio, to the valley between it and Santa Anna, Chris spots a wild pheasant, stops the car, turns down a white road and sends me scampering about trying to find it and take a picture of it. No luck, upon hearing and seeing the car, that bugger ditched into the brush and while I could hear him I couldn’t see him.

I hop back in the car and ask Chris if he’d take a bit of a side trip and visit Santa Anna in Camprena. He’s game, and we turn off our road onto the white road that leads to the former Church. By the way, now that we know what trail markers look like, we see them all over and think about all the different hikes in the area we’d like to take.

We park before the church and walk down to the entranceway. Some bikers enjoy their lunch in the shade of the building as we enter. I expect to see workmen, having heard the church was under renovation, but no such person is around. What we do notice are signs in German all over the place. It appears some sort of German outfit has bought the church and is turning or has turned it into a B&B combined with an art institute. After we discover the room with Sodoma’s frescos, the middle one seems the best restored, we wander around the grounds and stumble upon two different classes, one in discussion, the other painting. No one seems to mind us wandering.

While we admire the view and pick out Montalcino in the distance, Chris asks if I’d mind going to Boccon Del Vino for lunch instead of Latte di Luna so we can enjoy the view and the food one more time before we leave. Sure, I’m game.

We head back to the car and call the restaurant before hitting the road. Chris tries to understand the best he can the Italian being rapid fired at him. From what he can make out, we have a reservation but we cannot sit outside. I’m figuring they must have a big party but you still get a nice view from the dining room, so we go.

About thirty minutes later, we pull into the lot, we see a large German tour bus; ah that explains why we’re in the dining room. But no, that’s not the reason either; as we approach the patio we see no one is outside due to some big winds whipping around.

Inside, a man we have not seen before greets us but when the young woman and young man who have served us previously appear, they greet us warmly and lead us to our table, the last available. A large tour group occupies most of the room and one other couple. For such a large group, they’re relatively subdued and we enjoy a peaceful lunch.

Today, we opt to share both primi and secondi. Both start with the complimentary tomato and bread soup drizzled with grass green olive oil that we love. Although I’ve already have had one soup, I opt to try the ceci soup with crispy prawns; it’s a creamed chickpea soup topped with two large lightly fried prawns. Delicious. Chris returns to the gnochetti with black truffles; also wonderful.

For our secondi, I have the lamb chops with a nut coating (I believe hazel nuts) and celery puree, very interesting. Chris has I believe the stinco with polenta, also good. Ranking our secondi we say the Venison takes first place, my steak with spinach and lentil second, the lamb chops third and the stinco fourth. Ranking the primi is harder – they’re all wonderful.

We also shared the Castelnovo Rosso 2002 as well as a bottle of water. When the bill comes Chris gives them his credit card as I thought I’d left mine back in the apartment, turns out it was in my pocket. Anyway, now Chris’s card gives us fits, but I have enough cash to cover it as it came to 89.90€ but that’s pretty much the last of our cash.

On our way back to town, we stop at the enoteca Dean mentioned as having free Internet access when you buy a bottle of wine. It’s on the road from Siena into Montalcino at the second to last curve before you hit the walls, parking is limited though and don’t make the mistake we did of pulling into the lot reserved for the busses that make the Siena-Montalcino run. It’s called Enoteca Bruno Dalmazio on via Traversa dei Monti, phone 0577849019.

Once parked, we dodge across the busy street and head inside. We both expected a cheesy place just based upon the amount of advertising we’d seen by them in roadside signs but it’s actually very nice. Chris says it has one of the best selections of wines he’s ever seen in Italy. They have two terminals near the front of the store, on high tables so you must stand to use them.

While I check my e-mail and write the girls, Chris checks through the labels and says the prices are comparable to those he’s seen elsewhere. We do not buy any though, since Chris’s card is giving him fits and I’m almost out of cash. We do buy though one of the cool double-notch openers Chris has seen and which Daphne from 3 Millennium told us about on our previous trip. I guess that’s enough to qualify for the free access, or if I understood her, access is always free, either way, mission accomplished.

We leave and as we find ourselves doing often these days, lament the fact that we won’t have more time to spend at this store nor to try its corresponding restaurant, which may be more than the tour bus stop we originally thought.

Back within the walls, we park the car, grab much of the stuff in it so we can begin packing in the morning, and hike down to our apartment. Clean clothes hung and Buon Ricordo plates in a pile ready to be packed, we head out to the ATM machine for more cash and shopping.

We stop at Enotecca Pierangioli, the store owned by Alessandro’s father, whom we meet when we enter. Chris buys a couple of bottles of the Castelnovo Rosso, some of the Florus, Banfi’s Moscadello di Montalcino, and a tiny bottle of chianti that we’re going to give to my Dad as a joke. I also purchase some dried pinci for Stephanie at home, and some other small food items (chocolate hazelnut spread and various bruschetta toppings). About 80€ later, we’re on our way.

We head across the street to the ATM. Uh Oh! The machine says we have no cash left. Now in the days of my old bank, if I’d empty my checking account, they would automatically transfer money from my savings account to cover and I’m thinking the new owners of the bank decided against this one little luxury. I’m also thinking I should have transferred funds from our “rainy” day account to checking before we left because we’re finally feeling the “tax day” pinch.

Either way, we needed to get to an Internet point and fast. We decide to hike up to the top of Montalcino, try that ATM (just in case it’s an ATM problem and not another Kim mismanagement problem), and if that doesn’t work, drive back to the Enoteca. However, as we head back down Via Mazzini to our apartment, I glance to our right into the TIM store (Via Mazzini 30) and for the first time all week, notice computers in the back. DOH! An Internet Point has been there the entire time. The room is filled with kids playing computer games but we grab a machine, log onto our different banks and do some quick moving of money. One euro later, we’re good to go.

Well the realization finally hit home, I’m not working any more so we really shouldn’t be spending all that money on those great meals we’ve been having. We should have cooked more and done more picnics. Of course, with two days left in our trip, what difference does it make? After beating ourselves up a bit over some drinks at Bar Alle Logge, where by the way they served us some lovely appetizers – frittatas and bruschetta, plus that drink I had the other night (I think Breno) we head back to the apartment to shower and get ready for dinner.

Tonight we’re off to Grappolo Blu again, after learning our lesson on Tuesday night, we made a reservation for 9ish. It’s just a moment after we arrive than we’re seated in the back room next to the bar.

After our earlier scare, we’re back to vino rosso della casa, which I have to admit isn’t anything wonderful; I believe it’s a local cabernet blend.

I don’t know about the rest of you but I love eyeing what other people order to see if anything looks interesting. Saturday night, the couple at the next table shared an interesting pasta dish with peas; tonight I see another gentlemen enjoying it. It’s the Conchiglie (shells), I believe and I give it a whirl. Chris’s reason for returning tonight has been his desire to try their tagliatelli con tartufo, so that’s what he opts for. I have to tell you my conchiglie is wonderful, it has bits of peas and I believe pancetta (though it could be guanciale but it’s so lean), and it appears as if they finish the pasta off in a sauté pan with the meat and peas because some of the pasta is caramelized which gives it a nice texture. Also, there’s definitely some crushed red pepper as there’s a bit of a kick. Chris enjoys his tagliatelli but we both agree mine is tonight’s winner.

For our secondi we both want the salsiccia and fagiole (not liver mind you) and that’s what we order but Luciano returns to tell us they’re out of the sausage, bummer. Chris orders, hmmm…can’t remember, and I’m deciding between the pheasant with lemon herb sauce and the tacchino. Luciano tells me to have the pheasant and that’s what I do. Both our secondi’s are delicious and as an added bonus, Luciano has one half order left of the sausage that he brings for us to share. Yum. Chris finishes with a sambucca but I pass on the after dinner drink then we pay (66.50€) and we’re back home to bed.


Santa Maria Olivette Maggiore

Friday May 27 - Market and Lunch​

I didn’t plan anything for today because I knew we were meeting Krista (KHB on Slowtrav) and Steve and Kathy (Kaydee on slowtrav), Kelly and Charlie for lunch. Our original plan called for everyone to meet in Montalcino for market day and then lunch but after experiencing the dilemma of finding parking on Martina Franca’s market day, Chris thought it might be better to meet somewhere else instead. We opted for La Porta and notified everyone earlier in the week via “Private Topic.”

So for us this morning, it’s our usual routine, only today we head to Fiaschetteria for breakfast because Chris likes their ciombolini (I think that’s the name, basically an unfilled sugared donut). Again, two cappucini, two paste, and we’re at 8€ for sitting outside in the sun of the piazza.

After eating and skimming the IHT (2€), we head up to the market, stopping in Sciame (it’s also a morning bar) along the way to make a reservation for that evening. The owner recognizes us and takes our name and time down and we’re off.

Montalcino, being much smaller than Martina Franca, has a much smaller market. Again though I’m left wondering how the local merchants feel about these vendors who stop into town each week plying merchandise that in many cases can be seen as direct competition. I remember reading somewhere, maybe in Bel Vino, that they’re resolved to the fact since the weekly markets go back hundreds of years, more so than any store within the walls.

The market contains the usual assortment of household items, clothing, and food though we don’t see a seafood cart which for some reason we expected. We do see someone selling lawn mowers and chainsaws, which is new, and someone else selling plants and seeds. I want to try to smuggle some arugula seeds back but Chris puts the kaibosh on that.

It’s not long before we’re done moving through the market and decide to return to apartment to pack. Always a depressing prospect but a necessary one, besides I do miss the girls and am looking forward to seeing them, not to mention Fala and sleeping in my own bed with my comfy sheets. After that nasty task is completed, we head to Piazza Cavour with our books to read on a nice park bench. It’s a great little square with some shady spots and some sunny spots that vary based on time of day.

About twelve, we head up to the car, realizing there’s not a parking space to be had in town, and glad we changed our lunch plans, and head out to Montechiello. We go via Pienza, not making the left turn on the 146 towards Montepulciano, but instead staying on the road that wraps around the town and then descends into the valley. Eventually, we make a left and follow this road up to Montechiello.

When we reach the tiny town, Chris drives up to the Port but there’s no parking so he lets me out while he moves the car down the steep road to an empty parking area at the bottom. I notice a group of people by the parked cars admiring a view but don’t think anything of it and head into La Porta to see if anyone else has arrived. Daria says we’re the first but the table’s ready if I’d like to sit. I tell her I’ll be back in a minute that I’m going to wait outside for Chris.

When I return to the Port, one of the group approaches me, it’s everyone from Slowtrav, Krista, Steve, Kathy, Kelly and Charlie. Chris joins us after hiking up the hill, and we head inside for lunch.

Daria has given us a lovely table outside on the patio overlooking the valley. We settle in for the long haul and start with some antipasti, water and vino rosso della casa. We get some bruschetta with tomatoes, an assortment of salami and an artichoke special for the day. Originally, we are going to order something else instead of the artichoke but Daria says it won’t go well and suggests the artichoke special. I ask her if she has any other daily specials we should know about and she says, “Cod, but you don’t want that.”

The appetizers are good and we all follow up with pastas. Now if memory serves, Steve and I both get the Pinci Al Algione, good but I still prefer Da Vestri’s version. I believe Charlie and Kelly have the pinci con ragu and Chris has pappardelle con cinghiale. Oh, and Krista and Kathy have the ravioli. I think everyone enjoys the dishes; no one sends anything back and that’s always a good sign. We finish up with café, declining Daria’s offer of grappa and a luxurious three hours later we part. We have a great time getting to know people we already “know.” Kaydee and gang still have the summer to look forward to and Krista and Steve are coming up on the halfway mark of their trip but we’re leaving Montalcino in the morning and Italy the day after.

We walk down to our car and I turn over our hiking map of the area to Kathy and some Judy Blume books that Becky sent along to Kelly and after goodbyes, we’re on our way.

We take a different, quicker and maybe even easier route back to Montalcino, picking up the SS2 further south of San Quirico and it works great. If we’d known that our way would have been blocked last Saturday, we probably could have taken this route instead; live and learn.

Back in Montalcino, we stop for some gelato, and make one more purchase, another olive wood cheese board for my Mom. We head back to the apartment, pack that up and relax for a bit.

Later, Chris suggests we grab a beer and head up to one of the benches behind the Madonna to watch the sunset. As we’re walking up Via Roma, we run into Mario who with his combination of Italian and pantomime tells us there’s a beautiful view from the Madonna and we show him our large Peroni, Chris’s small can of coca cola and tell him we know. He exclaims, “Ah, picnic!” And we’re on our way.

I can’t think of many, if any, things better than sitting on one of these benches sharing a beer with Chris and watching the sunset over the Tuscan hills. Our regret, we didn’t think of this earlier in the week.

Okay, we don’t actually get to see the sun sink into the horizon because we made an earlier reservation at Sciame (8:30), so we finish the last of the beer and head over to Sciame for our last meal in Montalcino.

Originally, we thought we’d dine at Boccon Del Vino but having substituted them for lunch yesterday and of course, our cash scare, we figure we’d keep it simple with Sciame. We’re seated immediately and while I know it will be too much food I can’t resist starting with some of their anchovies in parsley, garlic and olive oil. Yum. For my primi, I realize I still haven’t had any cinghiale and get the pappardelle con cinghiale while Chris gets their gnocchi con tartufo. Both are good and is it my imagination or do the portions seem bigger than the other night?

For our secondi, I get the roast chicken again, white meat breast this time, and Chris gets the cinghiale again which he still believes to be the best cinghiale he’s had. And of course, a meal wouldn’t be complete without a side of fries, though Chris still believes that da Renzina in Puglia actually has the better fries.

After dinner, the owner brings us a bottle of his limoncello which if I understand him correctly, his sister’s friend makes or his friend’s sister, one or the other. We tell him we make it at home but ours isn’t as good, blaming it on the lemons. We get all that with a bottle of water and a liter of the house wine for 54€. We’re happy campers.

On the way home, we stop for one last gelato at Why Not (aka Perche No), and it’s off to bed.


Sunset From Montalcino
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Saturday May 28 - On to Rome​

We decide to rise early this morning and head onto Rome. Maybe because once we know we’re leaving, neither one of us likes to hang around, or maybe the signs of yet another festival in town and the fear of impending crowds and parking regulations drive us away. Either way, by 8:15 we have our bags ready and down at the corner.

Chris runs the keys into Mario and comes out a few minutes later and says, “Go talk to Mario.”


“I don’t know, but he’s speaking quickly in Italian and I can’t figure out what he wants.” Just then Mario appears at the door and Chris heads up Via Roma to fetch Claudio. I give Mario a buon giorno and listen to him as he hands me a card and begins to speak. I get it. He wants me to tell my friends about his hotel. So here it goes. He owns Albergo Giardino right across from the Piazza Cavour in Montalcino. You can’t beat the location and he’s the sweetest man but I can’t vouch for the rooms, as I’ve never seen them. It’s next door to Ristorante Giardino but I think they’re related in name only. You can reach him at 0577 848257 or cell phone 338 6843163 and he’s Mario Caselli. Oh and if anyone does contact him, tell him the “runner and his wife” say, “Hi.” That should be enough to identify us, but remember, Mario does not speak English.

While I wait for Chris to bring down Claudio, I talk with the three ladies from Boston who stayed in the next apartment. Funny, we were there all week and didn’t meet them until the morning we’re leaving.

Chris brings Claudio down, we pack him up and Mario yells “Ciao Ciao” as we climb in, drive around the piazza and head on our way. It’s sad leaving and both of us comment that we could easily spend a month if not more in and around Montalcino.

Our ride to Rome is uneventful and we are both looking forward to our last night in the City. About 10:00, we touch base with Sandro and later his dad and arrange to meet at 11:30 at the airport. We run into a bit of traffic merging onto the GRA but nothing like the one to two hour horror stories we’d heard. Yet, I remember the GRA being three lanes and now due to all the construction it’s only two through most of it.

We arrive at the rental car return about 11:15 and have no problems returning it. NOTE: It appears Europcar return while still in parking garage B can now be accessed by the shared entrance for parking garage A and B – there are signs but it will be on your right as you approach the parking garages not the left.

After we drop the car, we head through the maze of tunnels back to the terminal and can’t believe the mass of people gathered around the rental car agency areas waiting to pick up. We’re both more convinced than ever that the 55€ we spent to pick up our car off-site was more than worth it (aka one of the better values of this trip).

Once inside the terminal our phone rings, and it’s Sandro. His father’s downstairs on the lower level but he says it’s too complicated to direct us so he’ll have his father drive around again and pick us up on the departure level. Five minutes later, we’re in the car and heading back to Rome.

Dio mio! I can’t believe the traffic once we approach Piazza Navona. Rome is jammed and it takes us two tries, negotiating with a parked truck and navigating some pedestrians who don’t understand that these tiny alleys are roadways too before we finally are able to pull up in front of our hotel, Teatro Pace (BTW I notice the construction next door seems to be completed and they’ve put a sign next to the front door of the hotel). We make arrangements for tomorrow morning’s pick-up, say good-bye to Sandro’s Dad, and head inside.

Our room isn’t ready yet but they’re holding our bags and tell us by three it should be fine. It’s 12:30 now, and that’s not bad, four hours from Montalcino to our hotel in Rome, including rental car return.

We had skipped breakfast earlier, so our first stop is the Bar around the corner (Caffe Tormillina on Via Tormillina) for some espresso before we set out for some shopping. First stop, the jewelry store just off the Piazza Della Rotunda where we buy four nomination charms, a wolf for me, a pantheon for Sammi, the letter “C” for Becky (‘C’ was the only fake charm she owned and she wanted a real one), and a Roma for my friend, Lisa, who was helping out my Mom while we were away. Fifty six euro later, and some beautifully wrapped packages (though I put my charm right on my bracelet), we’re on to our next stop, the AS Roma Store.

Wait, it’s almost one and we’re meeting Peter at Pasquales for lunch, so we decide to head there instead and hit the AS Roma store after lunch. Peter’s running late, and well, I’m starved, so we start and figure he’ll catch up. We share some zucchini pizza and artichoke pizza while we wait for the sausage and mushroom to finish cooking. Sometime during this, Peter arrives with the family he’d been touring with that morning in tow. We’re all seated upstairs, talking about different sites they can visit while they’re in Tuscany, their mini-nightmare traveling over (the flight was oversold and the father and son ended up flying through Munich while the mother and daughter ended up flying through Frankfurt), and politics back home.

Lunch goes quickly and before you know it, we’re saying good-bye to Peter, who has to catch his train back to Chiusi, and the family from Colorado. I still can’t believe that was our first and only pizza of this trip. We head over to AS Roma and arrive just before a group of German school children on a field trip swarm the store. We pick out two short sleeve shirts for the girls but Chris is out of luck; they’re completely out of authentic team jerseys.

Okay, we’ve had lunch, we’ve done a bit of shopping, and it’s mid-late afternoon. What time is it? You got it, gelato time! We head to Giolliti first but they don’t have Coco so we’re off to our old favorite Fiocce de Neve. Chris gets his coconut and I get bacio and pistachio. Theirs is probably some of the better pistachio I’ve had on this trip. Yummy.

On our way back to the hotel, we stop and call the girls. Sammi immediately asks if I have her charm and I tell her of course, to which she replies, “Now make sure you put it in a small bag and in a safe place.” You see I lost her charm on our way home last January. I assure her it’s safe and we head to the hotel.

We ask if our room is ready; it is. We leave our two larger bags downstairs in the area behind reception, since we don’t need anything from them for our night and bring up the wine bag and overnight bag. Our room is 209 (thankfully not high up since they don’t have an elevator). It’s a nice room maybe slightly larger than our last one with the same high ceilings and decent size bathroom (smallish shower). I empty my healthy back bag of the non-essentials and we’re out again.

Next, we’re off to the Cat Sanctuary. Yesterday, Kelly had on this adorable t-shirt from the Sanctuary, picturing all these cats holding balloons almost floating out of the Coliseum and we think it would make a good gift for the girls. We visit with the cats for a bit as we talk to a woman manning the souvenir desk. She shows us a couple of different tees, and we end up with the same one Kelly had for Becky, and one with a picture of a Pinky cat eating a big plate of spaghetti for Sammi. They’re 12€ each and for a good cause.

Now, I’m getting hot (it’s 35˚C), tired and I can’t stand the crowds. If this were my first visit to Rome, I’d hate it. It’s not just crowded with individuals but with groups that swarm and block narrow passageways as they jostle to keep up with their umbrella-handling leader. As much as I wanted to visit Villa Giulia I know that’s not happening today and opt to duck into Nick’s Wine Bar (Via Dogana Vecchia 9/10 – if coming from Piazza Navona, hang a right, and then it will be on your left) instead.

Daphne, from 3 Millennium, introduced us to Nick’s during our January trip. Subsequently, we spent every night (except Sunday because they’re closed) under the care of Lorenzo (who speaks wonderful English) and Lidia (who speaks no English). Lidia is a Sommelier but I’m not sure about Lorenzo. Either way, we’d walk in, describe the type of wine we were in the mood for and they would nail it every time. By our last night, Lorenzo just poured us what he felt we’d like – very nice. Each evening, they’d also put up a little assortment of nibbles for us too. Others came and went as we sat there but we were the only “plants.”

It’s still early when we arrive and since Nick’s is also a ‘café’, Italians still stop by for a café on the way to wherever they’re going. We each enjoy a glass of white and catch up with Lidia a bit. Finally, we decide to head back to the room to relax and return before dinner around 7:00. We tell Lidia we’ll be back later and head out to brave the crowds.

As we get back to the hotel, Chris has another Cola craving, so we stop back in our bar and he gets a cola and I get another café before we return to the room. The air conditioning is running full blast, so that it’s almost chilly but after being out in the heat, it feels good. I read and write a bit; Chris reads and snoozes a bit. About 7:00 we head back to Nick’s.

Whoa! What happened? It’s dark out and the receptionist at the Teatro Pace tells us it’s about to rain. Chris runs back upstairs and grabs our jackets. We dodge through groups of people, wondering what all those sitting outside in sidewalk café’s will do once the skies open up. The artists in the Piazza Navona scramble to get their wears packed away and I’m moving at my NYC pace in order to get to Nick’s before we’re soaked. About five minutes after we arrive, we see the lightning and here the thunder as the deluge starts.

Tonight, they pour Chris an Amarone, which until that moment, he totally forgot that he enjoys while I stick with my white wine (think I OD-ed on red last week). For tonight’s nibbles, they put a wheel of Gran Padano on the bar from which they pry some wedges for everyone to nibble, some get it with a drizzle of balsamico and some without. They also offer us some Oysters, which Chris loves but I pass.

We sit at Nick’s enjoying our wine, watching the rainfall, and listening to the great music they play (they say it’s a radio station but we could never find it on our dial), until about 8:30 when we head over to L’Orso Ottanta. Luckily, the rain has ended.

Originally, we were going to eat at Checchino Dal tonight but after the money fiasco on Thursday, Chris finally believes me that I really don’t need the fancy shmancy places. I figure we could go to a restaurant within walking distance (either Da Pallaro or L’Orso) for almost what it would cost us to go roundtrip taxi to Checchino without including the food. We opted for L’Orso because I wanted to capture some of the ‘magic’ of the multi-course antipasti of Puglia.

We make one wrong turn on our way to L’Orso (navigating without a map, I think that’s pretty good) and we arrive in time for our reservation at 9:00. Of course, reservations don’t seem to matter because they summarily ignore us and the group of four who pushed in front of us upon entering for about fifteen minutes before sitting them in the back and us in the side room. Yet they do seat the Italian couple that walked in after us first.

The front room has no guests and while all the waiters seem to rush around as if in a tizzy, they don’t seem nearly as crowded as I remember them on past visits. We sit in the back of the side room, in front of the long table along the back wall where a large group of American women from the south (as opposed to South American women) sit, laughing loudly and having a ball. I don’t begrudge them at all but of course there’s one in the group louder and “squealier” than the rest who seems to drive Chris as well as the other patrons a bit crazy.

It’s quite some time before we’re asked about our water and wine choices and more time before we’re brought some of the brick oven bread they make in the front room in the pizza oven, and even more time before our order is taken. As a matter of fact so much time, that an Italian couple and their child seated not far from us and after us, are served their risotto before our order is taken. Now, granted, in that time one of the two waiters serving our room broke a bottle of water that must be cleaned up but still….

We order the antipasti della casa and as always enjoy the cold selection of foods brought to us, too many things to name but we never receive any of the warm dishes I remember, things like fried vegetables, suppli, meatballs. Occasionally, I see other tables receive these dishes but not all of them and I’m wondering if they’ve changed the house antipasti. Finally, Chris asks for the suppli, which they do bring (and don’t tack on a charge) but nothing else.

I want the mini-strawberries for dessert but they ran out and bring me some of the bigger ones, which are still good. Chris has his parting sambucca and we’re out of there about 40+€ poorer, thinking, we should have gone to Da Pallaro.

We stop at Blue Ice on our way home for one last gelato and then hit the hay.


View From Outside the Walls of Montalcino
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Sunday May 29 - Home We Go​

We leave a wake-up call for about 7:15 as we have a 7:45 breakfast delivery scheduled and a 8:45 car pick-up scheduled for our 12:10 flight. Of course it doesn’t matter, we’re both awake at 6:30 with nervous anticipation.

In January, when we stayed at the Teatro Pace, we enjoyed breakfast around the corner each morning in the bar, simply telling them our hotel and room number to pay for our breakfast. This morning we opted for room delivery by signing up at the reception desk yesterday afternoon. I find eating our cornetto, and drinking our cappuccino rather clumsy and prefer visiting the bar as there’s really no place other than the bed to sit.

At 8:30 we head downstairs, check out and pile our bags outside to wait Sandro. He calls about 8:40 that he went to the wrong hotel, but now has the correct location and should be by shortly. He pulls up about 8:55 and once we get a man blocking the road with his car to move it, we’re on our way without a hitch.

At the airport, we again get to use Delta’s first class check-in which reduces the time we wait on line, head through security relatively pain free and are in the first class lounge by 10:00. There we enjoy one last espresso but that’s about it. They put out some nondescript food, which people ignore.

About 11:00, we head over to the boarding area, board the plane again without issue and enjoy all the food first class has to offer (including ice cream sundaes all the way home).

At JFK, we wait about thirty minutes to get through Customs; why can’t people understand you must fill out the forms before you get to the Customs Agent? But that’s nothing compared to the hour we wait for Yousef, who is late picking us up, leaving me fuming.

We pull up to our house, with some string beans in front, bouncing up and down. They resemble Becky and Sammi and by 6:30 pm, we’re sitting in a local Italian restaurant, with my parents and our daughters, catching up; our trip already feels like a dream.

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