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Italy 2008 Archives

August 15, 2008

On The Road Again

Pantheon.jpg
Pantheon - Rome 2003

Yep, things are coming together for our fall trip to Italy! It's been 3.5 years since we've been and I'm looking forward to it.

First off, we booked our airfare last week. I had wanted to fly out on November 5th so we'd have two free nights before being joined by my bro and sil on Saturday, plus I wanted a longer vacation. But crazy airlines, flying out on Wednesday was producing fairs of $1300 while leaving on Thursday was producing fairs of $700. Yes, I could have gotten cheaper routings on Thursday on airlines other than Continental (but it was Alitalia, and I'm done with them for now), or if I had flown through multiple destinations (one stop I could handle but given the choice between a 45 minute layover at CDG - impossible - and a six hour layover at CDG - well, it was going to eat up the time we got for our earlier departure. Oh, on the return the 12 hour layover at CDG could have been fun - can you say trip into Paris but I didn't think we could foster the girls on to George that long). Anyway, last week there were rumors of fair drops (finally), so I popped on and sure enough, the flights I wanted on Continental had dropped from $1300 to $800 (still twice as much as I paid 5 years ago) but only $100 more than flying out the next day and worth it, so I snagged it.

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October 15, 2008

Itinerary - One Week in Montalcino - Background and Arrival

I'm putting together a high level packet of informatin for Andy and Katy, who will be joining us on our trip in November to Montalcino. So I figured I might as well copy the info here too in case anyone else can use some of the reference. I'll also have this in pdf format, so if anyone is interested in a copy, just let me know. Remember though, I'm just copying and pasting the stuff I'm sending it to them, so it's written as if they're my audience.

Let me start by saying that Andy really has no idea where we're staying so I started with that information. I think Katy's probably more on the ball, but she's just so excited to have a vacation where she can just show up, without any planning, I haven't felt like I needed to bore her with the details.

Where We’re Staying
We’ve rented a house outside of Montalcino in Tuscany.


View Larger Map

Montalcino is about 2.5 hours northwest of Rome and about 1.8 hours southeast of Florence. It’s a walled, hilltop town known for its production of Brunello di Montalcino wine in the surrounding areas.

We’ve rented the house through Italian Journeys via Isabella and Luigi Dusi, an Australian couple that relocated to Montalcino several years ago. The house though actually sits just outside the walls of Montalcino on the property of Enzo Tiezzi’s winery.

By the way, Chris and I drove up to Stirling NJ on Friday night, to visit Stirling Fine Wines and buy some Tiezzi wines. We got a bottle of the Rosso di Montalcino and the Brunello and enjoyed the Rosso later that evening with dinner.

If you’re interested, you can read more about Montalcino through these links:

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October 17, 2008

Itinerary - One Week in Montalcino - Sunday Nov 9

San Giovanni D’Asso

This small town is about twenty five minutes from Montalcino. We passed by it on our way from Castelmuzio to Siena during our 2003 trip. They’re known for a Tuscan white truffle (the town has more truffle hunters per capita than any other place in Italy). On Nov 8 and 9 and Nov 15 and 16, the town celebrates their White Truffle Festival. You can check out Paradox Place, for some pictures of the 2002 and 2007 festival.

We could start this day with a walk in the area of San Giovanni d’Asso. We have two choices, both from the Sunflower Guide for Tuscany.

San Giovanni – Monterongriffiolo – San Giovanni (5km/3miles/1.5 hours)

Or

San Giovanni – San Marcellino – San Giovanni (7km/4 miles/2 hours)

If we don’t feel like walking, this might be a good morning to visit Monte Oliveto Maggiore famous for its circuit of Il Sodoma frescoes as well as their shop, selling soaps, honey and wine for example, manned by the monks who still live at the monastery.

Afterwards, we can explore the White Truffle Festival and then, I’d suggest a 1:00pm lunch reservation at Ristorante del Castello. If you look at the 2007 pages on the website above, you can get an idea on the type of lunch served at the Ristorante during the truffle festival. Another alternative, we could just wing it – I do not know if there will be food booths or not at the festa.

I would say we should play dinner by ear, especially if we have that large lunch at the Castello. My suggestion, picky foods (e.g., sausage, cheese, olives), or eggs or something easy at the house in front of a fire with plenty of wine.

November 1, 2008

Itinerary - Monday November 10 – Montepulciano and Avignonesi

We have nothing on the agenda until noon (well, this has just changed - meeting Dorit for breakfast) in Montepulciano, about 45 minutes away. So we have some options here – one, obviously, is to sleep in and have a lazy morning. Another will be to head out and stop in Pienza along the way for a stroll through another small town with some great shopping, known for their Pecorino cheese. Here, though like everywhere, we run into the issue of shops being closed, as it’s Monday morning and many stores are closed on Monday morning … though I wonder if this will be less of an issue in Pienza as it’s visited by more tourists than other areas.

A third option would be to head into Montepulciano this morning and explore that town (which while not large, population about 14K+) is much larger than the town in which we’re staying, Montalcino (at about 5K+ I think).

We have a reservation at noon at Avignonesi winery. We’re going to spend an hour touring their facility and then at one o’clock, they’re going to make us a full Tuscan lunch with wine. The cost for this is €70 per person inclusive. They make a Montepulciano Nobile wine (deep red, good with meat), as well as some other Tuscan blends, a merlot and the local Vin Santo – a famous dessert wine. Theirs is supposed to be fabulous though I’ve never tasted it. You can see more about their wines here: products.

After lunch though, especially if we do not get to in the morning, I would enjoy walking around either Montepulciano or Pienza, or both. Again, because of the large lunch I anticipate we’ll be enjoying, I would suggest dinner at home, something simple or at the very least, playing it by ear, a light meal in town perhaps.

November 5, 2008

Tuesday November 11 - A Day With Peter Kilby

As you know, originally we had hoped to do some outdoor activities on this trip – some combination of hiking and biking but as the events of the last three weeks unfolded, we’re thinking we may need to limit my activity a bit more (we’re still hoping I’ll be up for a hike by the end of the next week; besides the pain it’s the unexpected exhaustion that’s the real issue).

So as a bit of a treat, we’ve hired Peter Kilby to do a tour with us. Originally we’d hoped to at least see him for a meal or drinks, but instead decided to hire him for a full-day tour. And it is a full day!

We present a bit of a challenge to Peter because we’ve visited the area several times, but he’s put together an itinerary that hits on places we haven’t been but that I had hoped to visit.

We’re going to meet him outside the Church of San Biaggio. From there:

1st stop - Chiusi, the Etruscan museum & the Duomo there.
2nd stop - Castiglione del Lago
3rd stop - if around lunchtime he knows a great 'truckers' stop opposite the Lake Trasimeno.
4th stop - the Celle di S.Francesco behind Cortona (we’ve been here before but had hoped to return).
5th stop - if I’m up for it, we’re going to head out to Perugia.

So you can see an incredibly filled day.

10-Day Forecast

I know that the forecasters are drastically bad at predicting the weather but I hope this forecast is right. The first two days in Rome, we don't care if we get rain but look how gorgeous it's supposed to be in Siena next week (1 hour north of Montalcino).

10_day.jpg

November 6, 2008

We Have Arrived

Just waiting to check in. There is Internet in the lobby!

November 7, 2008

Rome Day 1

On lobby computer and do not know when, or if, they will kick me off. So highlights and remember, different keyboard so forgive any typos.

Flight - uneventful. I slept from dinner until breakfast (thank you Simply Sleep). Chris did not.

Got to hotel about 930 but room not ready. Headed over to Piazza della Rotunda for our first cappucini and cornetti con crema. Paid 12e but sat on the piazza. Chris got fidgety so we headed to pantheon. still cool. Then to see if our favorite wine bar, Nicks, was still there. It is not. Then got some charms for Sammi and Becky (which it turns out they may already own). Then to AS Roma store and then to the Ara Pacis. Both a bit bleery-eyed by then and we did not stay too long - wonder what we missed.

Headed to pasquales for lunch ... mmm... then our first gelato (I think grom in nyc was better) back to hotel. Chris fell asleep mistakenly, for about 15 minutes, then we hit the road again, up to the Borghese for our 3 oclock reserveration. Got lost in park but eventually found map at zoo and made it to museum at 2:50 to get our tickets and get in. Such a great museum - love Berninis David, Chris loved the Rape of Persephone (had to tell him the story behind it).

Later, found a new wine bar to hang, also enjoyed a drink (actually a water for me) on the Cesaris roof-top deck. Very nice.

Then off to dinner, where we got ripped off by cab (more later) but enjoyed another good meal at Checchino dal 1887 (I think that is the year). Got another Buon Riccordo plate - yeah.

Returned back to piazza della rotunda, had one more gelato - pistachi and bacio for me, fiore de latte for Chris - got it at Nice Ice near Hotel Pantheon. More expensive e3 each but darn good. Then returned to Cesari and collapsed into bed.

November 10, 2008

I Forgot

Something I forgot we did on Day 1 in Rome, after popping into the Pantheon, we strolled around the corner and did another pop in, this time to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. I love this church, so unassuming on the outside and so magnificent on the inside. We strolled through, admiring the artwork and checking out both San Sebastian and the Risen Christ again, not to mention a quick hello to Catherine of Siena. Now I always thought that Saint Sebastian was started by Michelangelo and finished by one of his students and the Risen Christ was a Michelangelo, but Chris says, that according to Tony Da Roma, at our Day 2 lunch (entry to follow), they’re not. Whom to believe? We also snuck into the side corridor (hey, it was open), to see the chapel where Galileo faced the Inquisition and lit four candles (Chris did) for various people.

Day 3 – Off to Tuscany


On Saturday morning, we had an ungodly wake-up call at 6am after pretty much tossing the night away. Gathered our bags (had to bring them down ourselves, which meant Chris had to, in two trips), and met our driver who was taking us back to the airport. A first for me, ever, our driver was an older female, probably late 50s, early 60s and the kicker, she insisted on lifting our heavy bags. I felt so lame. The ride cost 55euro and the hotel had arranged it for us the previous day.

She dropped us at the corner of the parking garage from where we found an entrance after a bit of scurrying around that took us to elevators that took us to the fourth floor, where we found the Europcar pick-up but not the office. So, through the habit-trails that connect the parking garages, the Hilton and the terminals, into the middle section where all of the rental cars are located in a single, small room (no wonder it gets so crowded and lines trail out of it). No one was there but the employees, and we quickly arranged to get our Alfa Romeo 159.

We hiked back to the pick-up area, where they gave us the keys, and thank god the woman at the counter reminded me to ask them for a ticket to get out of the parking deck because they initially forgot to give me one or assumed she had. Anyway, off to the car to stow our bags before we went back to grab a quick espresso and meet Katy and Andy.

Now you may remember that we did a test run, based upon the info on the Auto Europe site, to figure out how much luggage each couple could bring. Well, I’m here to tell you the site is wrong (it indicated two large, and two small cases would fit – it also said that the trunk was comparable to a Toyota Camery); it’s not. Only half that (i.e., our luggage fit). So we went back into the small pick-up office, and asked for a car with a larger trunk and after briefly scolding us about the importance of ordering the proper-size car at the time we make the reservation, she gave us an Alfa Romeo wagon. I do not know if we will get charged more as this is technically an upgrade, but I will be writing AutoEurope to have them update the info on their site.

We threw our bags into the back, headed over to the terminal to get an update on Andy and Katy’s flight (it landed 20 minutes early), grab an espresso, run into our driver who was waiting for her next pick-up, and headed back to the rental car office where we had agreed to meet A&K. Of course I got antsy, and went back to the terminal (Terminal B by the way), to try to find them, but no go. We must have missed each other somehow, so Chris eventually came to retrieve me, and we were on our way.

Navigating out of the airport was easy peasy and it wasn’t long before we hit the A12. I had two alternative routes to get us to Pitigliano, one a “scenic” route that would have taken us about 2h45m and the other “less scenic” at 1h45m. I opted for the less scenic. We made a quick pit stop at an AutoGrill (first time for us all), where we learned again to pay first, then get our food (carrot muffin for Andrew – who knew they had carrot muffins here?, Cornetto con marmalleto for Katy, Pan au Chocolat for me and Bombolini for Chris), then our cappucini, less than 10euro later, and refreshed, we hit the road. Andy also picked up a huge bottle of water here, and me, well, I finally saw that “Pocket Coffee” everyone raves about and grabbed a box of those – yum.

The driving was smooth and pretty – up the A12, north of Tarquinia (if memory serves), where we turned in land, along the 312, I think, (beautiful views of Lake Bolsena from here but Chris didn’t pull over for some photo-ops) to the 74 and onto Pitigliano. It didn’t take us near as long as I had expected on those single lane roads and Katy napped only briefly as we drove.

Now arriving at Pitigliano from this direction is not as dramatic as I had expected until the very last moment. You drive through the “modern” area of town and it’s not until the very last turn when you’re on the walls that you actually see the older version. Chris has a rule too about driving through the walls, into old cities, he doesn’t but this came upon us so fast, we really had no choice, nor did I see any blue P’s for parking along our approach. Luckily though, there was a small parking area a moment after we navigated down, into town and luckier even still, a man was just pulling out. We snagged his spot, fed the box for the meter, put the ticket in the windshield and set off to explore the town.

It wasn’t long before we stumbled upon the “ghetto” or Jewish section, though no Jews remain, we found a “Jewish” bakery, where I bought some cookies, and another store that sold local kosher wines (no thank you), but where I did buy a local cake typical for Rosh Hashanah (a little late now), but I’m going to go have a small piece in a moment, with some espresso that I’m currently brewing.

An aside here, we have no Internet at the house, no Wi-Fi we can steal, so I’m typing this up on Chris’s computer, saving it to a USB key and taking the key with me as we go out. If I’m lucky, I’ll find an Internet café during the day, and just copy and paste this entry into the blog, and you all will get to read it sooner, rather than later.

Anyway, after walking through most of the town, taking many pictures of views, cats (which by the way Chris spoke to, much to the amusement of some of the other Italian tourists there), and other things, we made our way back to a restaurant for lunch.

I have the name somewhere (I think I took a picture of the sign) so I’ll fill that in later, but it’s a basic place, nothing fancy, where we ordered an assortment cinghiale salumi, and some tomato bruschetta to start. We followed that with four pastas, tagliatelle with funghi for Katy and Chris, Tagliatelle con ragu for Andrew, and Parpadelle con cinghialle for me. We washed it all down with a litre of house red that they literally, poured into our pitcher from this huge jug, and some fizzante. Four cafes later and maybe 50+euro, and though still bleary-eyed, Katy and Andy were ready to hit the road.

We piled back into wagon, which by the way, was packed to the gills (I believe a bag sat between K&A, and I had one at my feet), and navigated our way to the SS2 and then on to Montalcino, again not taking nearly as long as I had expected. Also, note, I was using the dot-to-dot method of navigating the entire time (basically taking note of all the towns between our start and endpoint, and then just following signs for those towns, clicking them off as we went by, as the road number signs are not all that common).

Once we hit the town (after a longer nap by our back-seat passengers), we parked in Piazza Cavour, called Allesandro and within five minutes he met us at the piazza to lead us to our house.

Ah, yes, and our first oh shit moment of the trip. Because, he really did turn onto that narrow, dirt road that runs next to the church, and down behind the walls of Montalcino, with two steep ascents to get to that house in the middle of the vineyard. Hmm… maybe I’ll just have Chris let me out at the church from now on and walk down.

Allesandro showed us around the house (though he has no idea how to use the washing machine) he showed us everything else. Then Enzo Tiezzi stopped by. Mr. Tiezzi owns the house and it’s his vineyard on which it sits and apparently, as he showed us, we really are sleeping over the wine as the cellar is in the basement of the house (when they told us the cellars were below the house, I thought they meant below it on the hill, not literally below it). Mr. Tiezzi seems sweet though the communication is minimal at best, he did invite us to stop by during the week for a bit of a taste of the wine (his office is below the house too), and he left a bottle of Rosso on the table. I gave him our passport form for the police and he hit the road shortly after Allessandro.

We unpacked the car, unpacked our bags, chilled for a few moments and then three of us decided to head into town while Katy napped. The walk up is a little steep but not too bad, though at night, well, let’s just say it’s a good thing we brought flashlights with us and that the moon is not new. We walked back down to Piazza Cavour, then took a right down via Mazzini into the Piazza del Popolo, where we bared to the left and somehow ended up in Osticcio for another plate of salumi, some pate and crostini, and three glasses of Lissini 2006 Rosso, followed by yet another round of café (which they presented to us in individual electric pots, with this cream and sugar concoction – something different), about 45 or 50euro later (ouch – can’t remember how much though), we hit the road to get to the coop before it closed.

We passed by Sciame on the way, which isn’t Sciame any more but L’agnolo and also discovered they opened a salumeria/cheese shop just down the street too with the same name. We asked the owner about their opening nights/times (they’re closed on Tuesdays) and made a note to pop in at some point to make a reservation. Oh, we also bought some Pecorino from him.

In the coop, bought two bottles of water, juice, café, cookies, cornetto, eggs and yogurt (couldn’t find the TP), and less than 10euro later, with one wrong turn, we were headed back to the house in the dark. We pretty much made a circuit of the upper half of the town.

As we arrived back in the house, we made a discovery, we couldn’t get in without a key, so a silent prayer that Katy had awoke, which she had and was just coming out of the shower. Mental note, if we go out separately, we’re going to have to hide the key somewhere.

Katy looked pretty human now, refreshed from her nap and shower but it was Andrew’s turn to crash (and Chris). Both sacked out for a short while (so why is it I’m the one recovering from surgery and the only one who hasn’t needed to nap?), then woke, showered and much to Chris’s chagrin, we headed out early for dinner.

Now don’t get me wrong, when I say early, I don’t mean at 7 or 7:30 even, I’m talking about 8:15. You see, Chris likes to eat late, and made our dinner reservation at Grappolo Blu for 9:00 but honestly on their first day, that just seemed like torture, to me, for K&A, and secondly, I’m not napping! I want to eat earlier. We’ve been having “discussions” about this and have decided to ask Isabella’s opinion this morning, when we meet with her for our tour, to see what she suggests would be an appropriate time for dinner.

Anyway, it was no problem for us to be seated at about 8:30 at Grappolo as they were expecting us and weren’t filled (oh, and as it were, when we finished there was only one other table left then too and they were done, just talking with Luciano, the owner). So for dinner, let’s see, Chris had the tagliatelle con funghi e tartufo (tartufo oil that is), which was better than that afternoon’s tagliatelle, he followed that with guanciale in brunello sauce (which they describe as beef cheeks but I always thought were pork), Katy had the conchigle with peas and prosciutto followed by a salad with apples and nuts, Andy had the ravioli followed by the rabbit in brunello sauce, and I had the sausage with cannelini beans and a side of steamed spinach. It was all good. For dessert A&K both had tiramisu gelato and Chris and I shared a lemon and pignoli tart, oh and two grappas for A&C. All this got washed down with two bottles of fizzante, a bottle of Carpazo rosso 2004, which had surprisingly mellowed, and a bottle of Carpazo brunello, 2003, which made the Rosso look like the little brother it is. I think the entire bill came to about 150euro.

We trekked through the dark, back to the house, scanned the TV for a while (only to find Italian channels – poor Andrew is going through withdrawal, but Chris seemed to enjoy the show I dubbed “Italy’s Next Top Stripper”) and then finally hit the hay.

Day 3 – Off to Tuscany


On Saturday morning, we had an ungodly wake-up call at 6am after pretty much tossing the night away. Gathered our bags (had to bring them down ourselves, which meant Chris had to, in two trips), and met our driver who was taking us back to the airport. A first for me, ever, our driver was an older female, probably late 50s, early 60s and the kicker, she insisted on lifting our heavy bags. I felt so lame. The ride cost 55euro and the hotel had arranged it for us the previous day.

She dropped us at the corner of the parking garage from where we found an entrance after a bit of scurrying around that took us to elevators that took us to the fourth floor, where we found the Europcar pick-up but not the office. So, through the habit-trails that connect the parking garages, the Hilton and the terminals, into the middle section where all of the rental cars are located in a single, small room (no wonder it gets so crowded and lines trail out of it). No one was there but the employees, and we quickly arranged to get our Alfa Romeo 159.

We hiked back to the pick-up area, where they gave us the keys, and thank god the woman at the counter reminded me to ask them for a ticket to get out of the parking deck because they initially forgot to give me one or assumed she had. Anyway, off to the car to stow our bags before we went back to grab a quick espresso and meet Katy and Andy.

Now you may remember that we did a test run, based upon the info on the Auto Europe site, to figure out how much luggage each couple could bring. Well, I’m here to tell you the site is wrong (it indicated two large, and two small cases would fit – it also said that the trunk was comparable to a Toyota Camery); it’s not. Only half that (i.e., our luggage fit). So we went back into the small pick-up office, and asked for a car with a larger trunk and after briefly scolding us about the importance of ordering the proper-size car at the time we make the reservation, she gave us an Alfa Romeo wagon. I do not know if we will get charged more as this is technically an upgrade, but I will be writing AutoEurope to have them update the info on their site.

We threw our bags into the back, headed over to the terminal to get an update on Andy and Katy’s flight (it landed 20 minutes early), grab an espresso, run into our driver who was waiting for her next pick-up, and headed back to the rental car office where we had agreed to meet A&K. Of course I got antsy, and went back to the terminal (Terminal B by the way), to try to find them, but no go. We must have missed each other somehow, so Chris eventually came to retrieve me, and we were on our way.

Navigating out of the airport was easy peasy and it wasn’t long before we hit the A12. I had two alternative routes to get us to Pitigliano, one a “scenic” route that would have taken us about 2h45m and the other “less scenic” at 1h45m. I opted for the less scenic. We made a quick pit stop at an AutoGrill (first time for us all), where we learned again to pay first, then get our food (carrot muffin for Andrew – who knew they had carrot muffins here?, Cornetto con marmalleto for Katy, Pan au Chocolat for me and Bombolini for Chris), then our cappucini, less than 10euro later, and refreshed, we hit the road. Andy also picked up a huge bottle of water here, and me, well, I finally saw that “Pocket Coffee” everyone raves about and grabbed a box of those – yum.

The driving was smooth and pretty – up the A12, north of Tarquinia (if memory serves), where we turned in land, along the 312, I think, (beautiful views of Lake Bolsena from here but Chris didn’t pull over for some photo-ops) to the 74 and onto Pitigliano. It didn’t take us near as long as I had expected on those single lane roads and Katy napped only briefly as we drove.

Now arriving at Pitigliano from this direction is not as dramatic as I had expected until the very last moment. You drive through the “modern” area of town and it’s not until the very last turn when you’re on the walls that you actually see the older version. Chris has a rule too about driving through the walls, into old cities, he doesn’t but this came upon us so fast, we really had no choice, nor did I see any blue P’s for parking along our approach. Luckily though, there was a small parking area a moment after we navigated down, into town and luckier even still, a man was just pulling out. We snagged his spot, fed the box for the meter, put the ticket in the windshield and set off to explore the town.

It wasn’t long before we stumbled upon the “ghetto” or Jewish section, though no Jews remain, we found a “Jewish” bakery, where I bought some cookies, and another store that sold local kosher wines (no thank you), but where I did buy a local cake typical for Rosh Hashanah (a little late now), but I’m going to go have a small piece in a moment, with some espresso that I’m currently brewing.

An aside here, we have no Internet at the house, no Wi-Fi we can steal, so I’m typing this up on Chris’s computer, saving it to a USB key and taking the key with me as we go out. If I’m lucky, I’ll find an Internet café during the day, and just copy and paste this entry into the blog, and you all will get to read it sooner, rather than later.

Anyway, after walking through most of the town, taking many pictures of views, cats (which by the way Chris spoke to, much to the amusement of some of the other Italian tourists there), and other things, we made our way back to a restaurant for lunch.

I have the name somewhere (I think I took a picture of the sign) so I’ll fill that in later, but it’s a basic place, nothing fancy, where we ordered an assortment cinghiale salumi, and some tomato bruschetta to start. We followed that with four pastas, tagliatelle with funghi for Katy and Chris, Tagliatelle con ragu for Andrew, and Parpadelle con cinghialle for me. We washed it all down with a litre of house red that they literally, poured into our pitcher from this huge jug, and some fizzante. Four cafes later and maybe 50+euro, and though still bleary-eyed, Katy and Andy were ready to hit the road.

We piled back into wagon, which by the way, was packed to the gills (I believe a bag sat between K&A, and I had one at my feet), and navigated our way to the SS2 and then on to Montalcino, again not taking nearly as long as I had expected. Also, note, I was using the dot-to-dot method of navigating the entire time (basically taking note of all the towns between our start and endpoint, and then just following signs for those towns, clicking them off as we went by, as the road number signs are not all that common).

Once we hit the town (after a longer nap by our back-seat passengers), we parked in Piazza Cavour, called Allesandro and within five minutes he met us at the piazza to lead us to our house.

Ah, yes, and our first oh shit moment of the trip. Because, he really did turn onto that narrow, dirt road that runs next to the church, and down behind the walls of Montalcino, with two steep ascents to get to that house in the middle of the vineyard. Hmm… maybe I’ll just have Chris let me out at the church from now on and walk down.

Allesandro showed us around the house (though he has no idea how to use the washing machine) he showed us everything else. Then Enzo Tiezzi stopped by. Mr. Tiezzi owns the house and it’s his vineyard on which it sits and apparently, as he showed us, we really are sleeping over the wine as the cellar is in the basement of the house (when they told us the cellars were below the house, I thought they meant below it on the hill, not literally below it). Mr. Tiezzi seems sweet though the communication is minimal at best, he did invite us to stop by during the week for a bit of a taste of the wine (his office is below the house too), and he left a bottle of Rosso on the table. I gave him our passport form for the police and he hit the road shortly after Allessandro.

We unpacked the car, unpacked our bags, chilled for a few moments and then three of us decided to head into town while Katy napped. The walk up is a little steep but not too bad, though at night, well, let’s just say it’s a good thing we brought flashlights with us and that the moon is not new. We walked back down to Piazza Cavour, then took a right down via Mazzini into the Piazza del Popolo, where we bared to the left and somehow ended up in Osticcio for another plate of salumi, some pate and crostini, and three glasses of Lissini 2006 Rosso, followed by yet another round of café (which they presented to us in individual electric pots, with this cream and sugar concoction – something different), about 45 or 50euro later (ouch – can’t remember how much though), we hit the road to get to the coop before it closed.

We passed by Sciame on the way, which isn’t Sciame any more but L’agnolo and also discovered they opened a salumeria/cheese shop just down the street too with the same name. We asked the owner about their opening nights/times (they’re closed on Tuesdays) and made a note to pop in at some point to make a reservation. Oh, we also bought some Pecorino from him.

In the coop, bought two bottles of water, juice, café, cookies, cornetto, eggs and yogurt (couldn’t find the TP), and less than 10euro later, with one wrong turn, we were headed back to the house in the dark. We pretty much made a circuit of the upper half of the town.

As we arrived back in the house, we made a discovery, we couldn’t get in without a key, so a silent prayer that Katy had awoke, which she had and was just coming out of the shower. Mental note, if we go out separately, we’re going to have to hide the key somewhere.

Katy looked pretty human now, refreshed from her nap and shower but it was Andrew’s turn to crash (and Chris). Both sacked out for a short while (so why is it I’m the one recovering from surgery and the only one who hasn’t needed to nap?), then woke, showered and much to Chris’s chagrin, we headed out early for dinner.

Now don’t get me wrong, when I say early, I don’t mean at 7 or 7:30 even, I’m talking about 8:15. You see, Chris likes to eat late, and made our dinner reservation at Grappolo Blu for 9:00 but honestly on their first day, that just seemed like torture, to me, for K&A, and secondly, I’m not napping! I want to eat earlier. We’ve been having “discussions” about this and have decided to ask Isabella’s opinion this morning, when we meet with her for our tour, to see what she suggests would be an appropriate time for dinner.

Anyway, it was no problem for us to be seated at about 8:30 at Grappolo as they were expecting us and weren’t filled (oh, and as it were, when we finished there was only one other table left then too and they were done, just talking with Luciano, the owner). So for dinner, let’s see, Chris had the tagliatelle con funghi e tartufo (tartufo oil that is), which was better than that afternoon’s tagliatelle, he followed that with guanciale in brunello sauce (which they describe as beef cheeks but I always thought were pork), Katy had the conchigle with peas and prosciutto followed by a salad with apples and nuts, Andy had the ravioli followed by the rabbit in brunello sauce, and I had the sausage with cannelini beans and a side of steamed spinach. It was all good. For dessert A&K both had tiramisu gelato and Chris and I shared a lemon and pignoli tart, oh and two grappas for A&C. All this got washed down with two bottles of fizzante, a bottle of Carpazo rosso 2004, which had surprisingly mellowed, and a bottle of Carpazo brunello, 2003, which made the Rosso look like the little brother it is. I think the entire bill came to about 150euro.

We trekked through the dark, back to the house, scanned the TV for a while (only to find Italian channels – poor Andrew is going through withdrawal, but Chris seemed to enjoy the show I dubbed “Italy’s Next Top Stripper”) and then finally hit the hay.

Some Thoughts on Traveling with the Cancer Cross on my Back


Just some random things I thought I’d mention. First, the not lifting things is frustrating, not just for me but for Chris. While I skipped bringing the laptop because of it, I think Chris didn’t re-adjust what he brought and has therefore really carried the burden of things.

Most days, I’m just fine but at night, it gets worse. Let’s face it, even though I’m in Italy, it’s always there – waiting. It’s hard to keep those thoughts compartmentalized. I’m reading a book about dealing with Cancer (description and title to follow later – it’s actually pretty good – something like the 5 Lessons I Didn’t Learn from Breast Cancer). She talks about denial being your friend but I’m finding something else helps, forgetfulness, or at least imagination/pretending in that pretending your healthy and aren’t facing months of chemo and a new definition of normal (because, let’s face it, life will never be “normal” again). Anyway though, as much as I am enjoying the book, not a good read right before bedtime.

My boob is healing nicely though, if anyone is interested. The pain has mitigated in both the boob and the arm (didn’t expect as much pain in my arm as I am having), and for the last two nights, I haven’t had to sleep in a bra (did I mention that before?). Also, Chris and I have switched sides of the bed which also helps.

Don’t worry folks, I’m getting plenty of anti-oxidants in my wine ;D.

I’m not sleeping as soundly/deeply as I would like.

I’m not eating as much but I’m not sure if that’s a result of the cancer cross or my changed dietary habits. I’ve been sticking pretty much to one course at our meals with either a shared antipasti, salad or some sort of veggie. Alternating having pasta at one course, and protein at the other has kept me from feeling deprived.

I don’t care that I’ve been walking around in my hiking boots and may be striking a “bruta figura.” I have fucking cancer, so I could give a flip what anyone thinks about me; I want to be comfortable.

I didn’t get to prepare for this trip as much as I would have liked as the three weeks pre-trip were consumed with something else. So my Italian sucks as I never had the chance (or took the chance) to refresh it, I forgot all my jewelry, I forgot some directions, I have no perfume, I have no watch, I never cleaned my fountain pen, I forgot to call the Lepinsky’s to arrange carpool next Sunday (which of course, now I need to do from here), well you get the idea. Complete loss of focus.

November 12, 2008

Day 4 – Dinner – L’Agnolo


In years past, one of our favorite restaurants to visit was Trattoria Sciame. We stumbled upon it during our 2003 trip and returned a couple of times during our 2005 trip. Since then though, it has changed names, now going by L’Agnolo. There’s a salumeria just down the street from the restaurant with the same name. I’m not sure if they changed owners, or just passed it on to the next generation, because we saw the original owner (from 2003, 2005), in the salumeria and again, later in the evening at the restaurant. Anyway, we popped in here on the early side – about 7:40 for dinner. (Oh that reminds me, we asked Isabella what would be an appropriate time to have dinner out in Montalcino this time of year, and she said 8:00 – later in the summer).

We started with an order of aciughe con pesto (anchovies in a sauce of garlic, oil, and parsley) which were amazing – these also had some crushed red pepper for a little kick – real good.

Then, we each started with a primi followed by a secondi – for me, a vegetable and bean soup, for the other three – tagliattele with a truffle mushroom sauce that they all loved – the portions were huge – much bigger than we expected and filling. Yet, we all had secondi coming too. For Chris and I, wild boar stew with polenta (we could have shared a single order), for Katy, roast chicken and for Andrew, a fillet with a mushroom sauce – his steak was cooked perfectly but he wasn’t expecting the “gravy” and said because of that, he wouldn’t order it again. The rest of us were all satisfied. We also made the mistake of ordering some fries, which we had remembered as being fantastic in previous years, but were now just fries. Washed this down with some vino della casa (think we had enough brunello today), some aqua fizzante, and three limoncelos (Katy passed), and I believe the bill came to about 110euro. As always, good, basic food, in a simple restaurant, nothing fancy. I’d return, but I wouldn’t order as much.

Day 4 – Cocktails

After we returned to Montalcino, we walked over to the café next to the restaurant Porto al Cassero (think that’s the name), and decided to share a bottle of wine and some snacks. It took Chris a moment to communicate to them what we wanted, and at first the girl seemed a bit snippy as we struggled, but when they didn’t have the wine we originally wanted in the year we wanted (2001), Chris chose another, from a smaller producer, in 2001, she seemed to warm to us (who knows maybe she liked the producer we chose). Anyway, they brought our wine, and a plate of salami and cheese on which we snacked.

Eventually returned, and asked in Italian, if we would like to try some different Brunellos from some smaller producers from some different geographic zones around the area – of course we agreed! She brought a glass each of four different brunellos, all from 2003, and we passed them around, noting the differences. Then she returned again, asking if any of us spoke Italian, to which I replied a little. She spoke slowly and clearly to me, using their wine list as a guide, explaining about the smaller producers in the area, and how, because they are small, and aren’t exported to other countries, their wines are not as well known, nor marked up as much but still good wines. It was very interesting and I was glad I was able to understand her. Eventually though it was time to move on, and we thanked them for our education (they didn’t charge us for the tastings), knowing we’d be returning there.

Next, we did a bit of our own “passegiatta” but you all should know where our focus lies and it wasn’t long before we ended up at another wine store just off the piazza (Enotecca di Piazza I believe). Great selection and at least one of the sales girls spoke English, and after asking a few questions, she showed us where they had another location at which we could try 75 different wines from Tuscany.

We made our way over there, stopping at a ceramic store along the way where Andy tried to purchase a ceramic chandelier, thinking it was a bowl in which he could serve chips and dip. :D. We’re returning there though Wednesday, because they did have a wine canister I want.

The other location of the wine store, reminded me of Union Square wines. They have tons of different types, hooked up to machines. You get a card, and put it in the machine and press a button, selecting which wine you like, the card makes a tally, as each grouping of wine can have a different price. At the end, they know what to charge you based upon what is on your card.

Andy and Chris partook in the tasting but Katy and I just plopped on a couple of stools, taking sips of wines they thought particularly interesting. At the end, Andrew ended up buying a Brunello Reserva from 1997 (can’t remember the producer), and one from Pian Macina (I think), which are funky because they only make 2500 a year, don’t export, and each bottle is numbered (like a work of art). We may go back for more of these because it’s such an interesting concept.

San Giovanni d’Asso or Bust (well, really just a bust)

Chris had been hyped to go to this truffle festival ever since our 2003 trip when we missed it by a day. He loves truffles and it’s one of the reasons why he enjoys coming to Italy this time of year. So after finishing our tour, we hiked back up the hill to the top of the town, then back down the hill to our house, hopped in the car and decided to head over there late in the day. Isabella thought the activities would still be going on into the evening, so we thought we’d give it a go.

Navigating over there wasn’t too difficult, again, used the dot-to-dot method, and while we were worried about parking, it wasn’t bad. We didn’t park anywhere near the festa, but at the base of San Giovann’s hill, near the train station, along a side road.

Now the question was, how to get to the top of the hill. Chris approached an officer directing traffic and surprisingly to me, he spoke English, and told us there was a shuttle bus running from the circle to the town, cool. We headed over there and hopped on just as it arrived (turns out it went down, past our car, and to the train station for pick-ups along the way, so we didn’t have to walk to the circle, but who knew – at least that way, we had a seat).

It was all of a five minute journey (including the aforementioned stops) to the top, and he let us out in the middle of the town, as there was a “parade” going on in front of us, with flag tossers and music.

Now basically, at one end of the town is an exhibition tent where you can buy jewelry, cloth items, taste and buy olive oil and wine – basically an eclectic assortment. Just outside this tent was another “covered” area, where there were chafing dishes, and dishes with antipasti, crostini, and wine that you could also purchase, but no where did we see any truffles or smell any truffles, and honestly, while there were tons of people milling about, walking up and down the street, it felt as if we arrived too late for lunch and too early for dinner. There was someone selling these huge fried dough thingy’s (giant, giant zeppoles or donuts) but Chris of course, found the only other English speaking woman there and she had no idea what they were either when we asked.

After checking out that area, we walked through town which was maybe only a bit bigger than Castelmuzio (i.e., pretty small), but every shop was open, with their wares spilling out on to the street, oil, honey, cheese shops, house wares, a gelato place and a couple of small trattoria closing up from lunch. There was one little stand (outside a salumeria), selling porchetta, so we bought a sandwich that Chris and I shared (Andy thought it needed mustard). Finally, we found the association, and Chris popped in (actually we all took turns), where they were selling truffles, just truffles, and it seemed everyone was doing as we were, just popping in, seeing the prices (starting at 280 euro for a small one) and leaving. I wonder if anyone bought any?

Andrew ended up buying a soft pecorino con tartufo and that was it. Chris was disappointed that he didn’t see random food vendors selling pasta with truffles but I don’t think that’s how this works, and it wasn’t long before we decided to hit the road. Following the crowd a this point, we found a path and some stairs that dropped us pretty much at our car, without having to walk on the winding road down the hill. The old steam train was there, getting ready to leave it seemed.

As we were leaving, we noticed that it had gotten more crowded, with parking becoming a premium as people were arriving in a steady stream. Not sure if we just timed it bad or if we missed something, or if we just don’t get it, but while it seemed a bust to us, people were flocking to it.

Day 4 – Montalcino Tour

Originally, the plan for this day was to head to San Giovanni d’Asso for the white truffle festival. Then Chris decided he would like to see the Church of San Pietro in Pianello, home of the UFO painting. So before we left, I contacted Isabella Dusi, author of Vanilla Beans and Brodo as well as Bel Vino (by the way she’s working on a third book now), and asked if she still gave tours. She does, but requires a donation to the church to help pay for the restoration – no brainer. So we arranged to meet her at Fiaschaterria between 9:30 and 10:00, and then figured we’d head over to San Giovanni afterwards for lunch (but if you saw previous entry about complete loss of focus, you should know at this point, I forgot to make a lunch reservation, which ended up being a good thing).

Anyway, at about 9:25, we headed up our hill, into town, and then down the hill to the garden square, hang a right and into the Piazza del Popolo (we’re pretty familiar with this route now).

We noticed a small group (of four people), sitting in the corner, chatting, but since we expected Isabella to be on her own, didn’t expect one of those people to be her (of course one was). Anyway, we went outside and had some cornetto and cappuccino all around. Shortly later, a gentleman approached us after hearing us speak English, asked if we were waiting for Isabella, said his wife knew me and said that was Isabella inside, and they would be joining us on our tour today – no problem. Oh, and as I’ve now discovered on this trip, if someone says they “know me” it’s got to be from SlowTrav. His wife turned out to be Fur Kids Mom from the SlowTrav forums, www.slowtalk.com. They had moved to Pienza in August.

We finished our breakfast and took off. Now our tour did not just consist of Pianello or the church, but Isabella does a complete program in which she gives a fabulous introduction to life in Montalcino, a bit of its history, and describes the life as a member of one of the four quatiere in town. It really was a fabulous experience as we slowly walked around town, listening and asking questions. Eventually, we did find ourselves at San Pietro, and lucky for us at the exact right moment and here’s why. You see, there are three huge paintings in the church, who’s artist escapes me now, but when I get home, I’ll let you know. One of those paintings if famous for having a UFO in it. I kid you not. So you’re saying, okay a picture of a UFO – not so strange. A picture of a UFO in a Catholic church, maybe a bit more strange. But how about a picture of a UFO in a Catholic Church and this picture was painted in the early 1600s? How about that UFO looks remarkably liked Sputnick launched by the Russians in the 1950s? How about the fact that the UFO is being held by Jesus on one side and God on the other? I kid you not!

Now here’s why we were there at the most fortuitous time. Last week, they removed those three paintings from the walls in order to begin restoration. In a few more days, visitors will probably not get to see them but not only did we get to see them, we got to see them as they were lying on their sides, on the floor, up close and personal – I’ve never been so close to any type of artwork (well, that wasn’t hanging in my parents’ house), let alone one that has such mystery behind it – pretty cool. Oh, and another strange tidbit about this painting – there are five others, done by different artists, all around Italy, all painted within 20 years of each other and they all have some sort of UFO in them (not necessarily our Sputnick clone). Isabella swears there’s even one, that when you look closely, looks like it has a window and a little face inside of it – funky!

After we finished the tour, we stopped by Bar Alle Loge, for a glass of Carparzo 2003 Brunello and some snacks and a bit more discussion – it really was a great morning that led into afternoon, as we finally departed about 2:30pm. So it was a good thing I forgot to make lunch reservations for us at San Giovanni d’Asso because we would have left this tour early.

November 17, 2008

We're Home

Strange as it seems and feels, we're back. You know, it was weird, while we were in Italy, the world on this side of the ocean seemed like a dream (all be it, a bad one right now). And the world over there seemed real (like if I just stayed in Italy, nothing bad was happening or would happen). Now we're back, and it feels like Italy was all the dream already.

Anyway, flight home was easy peasy though long (watched three shows on Chris's computer, a CSI, a Closer and the pilot episode of Fringe, which by the way was real intense). Got through immigration (no problems), Customs (almost problem), and home (no problems). Went out for Mexican last night (yummy spicy food and margaritas), then to book club, and managed to sleep from about 9:45 until just about 5, then dozed to six.

Seeing the oncologist today at 11:00 but until then, I'm sifting through mails, catching up on e-mails, paying bills, laundry - you know the drill.

I'll be posting more stories and pictures during the week, so stay tuned!

November 18, 2008

Day 5 - Avignonesi

Well, there's nothing like some incredibly horrible news (not related to my health, don't worry), and jet lag to get you up at 3:00am. So I took Pauline's advice, and wrote up another entry to take my minds off things. I still need to upload my photos (and Chris's and Andrew's) from the cameras but will do that later today and may go back and pepper some of these posts with them. Anyway, here's part of Day 5 at Avignonesi.

After meeting Dorit and her friend, who had been staying in San Quirico, for breakfast at Bar Alle Logge (by the way, Dorit, you missed Chris by five minutes), we hit the road for Avignonesi. Now, I have to say, we left a bit late as two of our party, who shall remain nameless (A&K), slept in, just a bit – let’s call it delayed jet lag.

I actually arranged today’s activity through our SlowTrav Classified (#3311) which I no longer see listed (but I’ve contacted IB to see why it’s no longer there). Anyway, you can get the info off Avignonesi’s web site – Common Table. We headed out in the direction of Montepulciano, and me, not realizing how far out the Fattoria, Le Cappezzine is (it’s past Montepulciano Stazione and Valiano), we arrived about 15 minutes late. But no worries, the other couples (two other Americans staying near Siena), got lost in the “Black Hole of Siena” and arrived late too.

Shoot – see this is what happens when you don’t take notes, I do not remember our guide's name but she was a lovely young woman who speaks excellent English (well, her and the big white sheep dog from the Maremma that tagged along as well. Her name I remember, Bella).

We started first in the vineyards between the property and the main house, identifying two different methods for growing the vines, the more traditional and a newer method that allows the vines to grow almost like an individual bush. They produce less grapes this way, though more concentrated, but can have more vines within the same area, allowing for the same yield in production.

After the vineyards, we hit the wine cellars, saw the lovely oak caskets (yes, I now know the difference between Slovenian oak and French Oak - the big ones are Slovenian ; D – though this may also be the winery we visited that used American oak, yeah I think it is), then we saw the room where they dry the Vin Santo grapes. Avignonesi is a bit famous for its Vin Santo but we’ve never tried it (can you say expensive? It goes for over $100 for a 1/2 size bottle) and had hopes for a sip today, but no such luck. Anyway, after learning about the 10 year process it takes to make their Vin Santo, I guess I do get why the high price tag. That’s an awful lot of time and space invested in something that won’t pay off for ten years.

After our tour, we got down to the serious business, lunch. Let me just go on record, right here, right now, this was one of the best wine-meal experiences I’ve ever had, no let me correct that, probably the best.

We entered the small dining room, where two long tables were set for four each (our two groups toured together but after the antipasti, dined separate). At one end of the room, a fire roared, and there were some chairs gathered all around it. There we sat, enjoying a cool fruity sauvignon blanc (who knew an Italian winery made a sauvignon blanc – oh, and I really enjoyed it; it would be great in summer), while we munched on salami made from Cinta Sinese pigs, Pecorino cheese from Pienza, some of the best foccacia ever (a nice change from the saltless Tuscan breast), and a bruschetta topped with some just harvested greens that were amazing.

Now, let me tell you a pet peeve I have about some wine dinners, the tiny, un-refilled pour. I’ve been to a few where the glass gets barely a two-ounce pour and never shall the wine be seen again. Okay – I get the whole moderation thing, but don’t charge me over $100 for a wine dinner, and barely give me eight ounces of wine over the course of the evening.

Happy to say, not so here, almost to the point where it was too much. The moment someone emptied a glass, it seemed as if the Chef (chef and server all in one), was back, refilling – poor Chris, of course, he being the driver, had to pace himself, but I’d say the other three enjoyed a bit much.

Anyway, after our co-mingled antipasti in front of the fire, we went to our separate tables where we were served a pasta dish along with their Chardonnay – sort of strange pairing but that was a strong Chardonnay and could handle the tomato and cauliflower sauce on the pasta (cooked perfectly by the way). About halfway through the pasta course, the Montepulciano Nobile made an appearance. Now Chris and I love the Nobile, a blend predominately of Prugnolo Gentile (aka Sangiovese) but as we learned over the course of the week, Andy and Katy prefer the “Super Tuscans” or cabernet blends, though we’re anxious for them to visit next week so we can introduce them to an older Brunello (now that they’ve been drinking young ones for a week, we want them to see what they can become).

After the pasta course, we were served a pork roast dish, along with some of the best roast potatoes (large chunks of caramelized potatoes) and a salad that were all good. With this course, they served another bottle, their Desiderio, a Merlot-Cabernet blend, grown in the “Cortona” province (literally though, right across a dirt road from the Montepulciano province where the nobile grapes are grown).

For dessert, they served an espresso-flavored crème caramel along with a dessert wine, not produced by Avignonesi but distributed by them (bummer again on the lack of Vin Santo but I get it). The dessert wine was pretty good though, an orange-honey flavor that I enjoyed.

Lastly, we had espresso and some of their grappa made from the remains of the vin santo grape, that I had hoped would be a bit sweet or that we would like, but again, no such luck on the grappa. It still is not my favorite beverage though I can stomach it now.

Finally, over four hours after arriving, we rolled out of there, stopped by the store to make some purchases (bummer, no olive oil yet, they’re just starting to harvest), and after playing with two of the local basset hounds (adorable), we hit the road. We all felt this entire afternoon was well worth what we paid and probably one of the best experiences of the trip.

November 24, 2008

Day 2 - Rome

I think I totally forgot about day two.

So after a pretty exhausting day on Thursday, I was feeling it when we woke Friday. We did manage to sleep in though. I have to say the double-shudder system at the Cesari (shudders outside the windows, closed windows and then another set of shudders inside) not only blocked out noise but light. When we woke past eight, we thought it must still be around five in the morning, it was so dark in our room.

We showered, dressed, and headed to the rooftop bar where we enjoyed a nice, if standard (at least it seems to us) Rome hotel breakfast of assorted meats, cheeses, yogurts, pastries, cereal, juice and cappuccino or espresso upon request. Chris needed to check his e-mail from work, so I was more than happy to sit and rest and write in my journal in the breakfast room (it was a bit too chilly to sit outside this morning), and then I too headed down to the hotel lobby’s computer to check my e-mail.

Eventually, we did make it outside and decided to walk down the Corso, to the Victorio Emanuele monument (aka the Wedding Cake), named such, I think, for the steps and stark white marble used to build it.

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