April-May 2014 Trip Description Two weeks staying in Montepulciano, with numerous day trips around this most beautiful region of Tuscany. Page 1: Getting There - No Easy Task! Tuscany was the very first place we visited when we started traveling to Europe 20 years ago. That trip lasted only a week – four days in Florence and two in Rome – but it got us hooked. In the next couple of years we explored other parts of Tuscany in more depth, then branched out to other regions of Italy, and eventually to France. We have been lucky enough to be able to average at least one trip a year to Europe in those 20 years. This year we decided it was time to return to the lovely Val d'Orcia region of Tuscany. We had never actually stayed here, and wanted to base ourselves in what we think is the most beautiful landscape we've ever experienced. We'd also in the past 20 years discovered the joys of slow travel, and wanted to settle for two weeks in one place. Montepulciano was the perfect spot for a base. The medieval town is full of atmosphere, with a good selection of restaurants and shops, and offering an endlessly rewarding selection and variety of day trips nearby. Although it attracts plenty of tourists, it still feels like a real village, and (with the possible exception of market day) we never felt overwhelmed by crowds. The trip did not get off to an auspicious start. This was the first time we'd flown direct to Europe since moving to California a few years ago, and we weren't looking forward to a trans-Atlantic flight almost twice as long as what we'd been used to when we lived in Boston. We certainly were not anticipating that the first night of our vacation we'd never even get out of California. But our Air France flight ran into mechanical difficulties, and did not take off until over 24 hours late. On the plus side, the premium economy seats we had booked on Air France, in their new Airbus 380, were very comfortable, and we actually managed to sleep a bit on the way to Paris. That class also gave us priority in getting through security. Since Air France has a habit of cutting connections rather close, we were glad we could go to the head of the lines and made the connecting flight to Florence just in time. We picked up our rental car (Mike was very happy to get an Alfa Romeo for driving the twisty roads of Tuscany) and headed south to Montepulciano. We had pretty good directions from Giacomo, who owned the apartment where we were staying. But unfortunately arriving after dark made it really hard to figure out exactly where we were in the town with its steep and narrow streets, where GPS was worthless. So we spent an hour hopelessly lost, driving around and around and around, sure we had garnered at least three tickets by repeatedly blundering into the ZTL (resident-only traffic zones). It was a great relief when Giacomo told us the next day that Montepulciano has no ZTL cameras, only signs. He also told us that even if a policeman had noticed us, he was unlikely to ticket us if he could see that we were poor lost tourists. When we finally stumbled upon the Politian Apartments, the very charming Maria (Giacomo’s sister) and Gianna (the housekeeper) met us, and hustled our bags upstairs. I found myself actually conversing in Italian with Gianna, who spoke little English and just started chattering away to me in Italian. It was nice to know that all those days of practice with audio lessons, and our weekly Italian conversation group meetings had paid off. We had long ago missed the dinner reservation Maria had made for us, but she apparently had pull with Paolo, the manager at Osteria del Conte just up the street. The restaurant was full but he said he'd fit us in, and brought out an extra little table to squeeze into the crowded space. We enjoyed an excellent simple meal of typical Tuscan fare. I had a caprese salad and pici pasta with duck sauce. Mike started with grilled pecorino with prosciutto, followed by pasta with wild boar sauce, and treated himself to dessert of panna cotta with chocolate. We collapsed into bed around midnight.