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12 Nights in Cetona - week 2
Saturday, September 14
Sunny and warm.
Today we would have been changing houses according to our first plan, but instead we had extended our stay in Cetona to save everyone having to do a move for five nights. I was happy that we changed our plan because we got to know Cetona a bit better with the extra days.
We awoke to bad news. Robert's father was dying. Robert spent the early morning on the phone figuring out how to get to Canada. They decided that Robert would leave Italy on Sunday and they would go ahead with their original plan to go to Florence, but Paula would just stay one more night in Florence without him and then come back to spend the last few days with us.
We drove Paula and Robert to Chiusi for the 10:13 express train to Florence. It was 20 minutes late and crowded - they didn't get a seat until Arezzo. (But this is still the best way into Florence from southern Tuscany. The train ride is just over an hour. A few days later, we drove to Florence to pick up Paula, and got stuck in heavy traffic on the autostrada near Florence. It took us two hours from Cetona to parking in Florence.)
Our house was being cleaned today, so we planned a nice day out. First we drove to Citta della Pieve, across the valley from Cetona. We look out at Citta della Pieve from the house. We have always wanted to visit this town, where Perugino was born, to see the Perugino fresco Adoration of the Magi in the Oratorio Santa Maria dei Bianchi. We drove across the valley, over the autostrada, through Chiusi, into Umbria, then up a mountainside to Citta della Pieve. We parked in a big log just outside the town walls.
Luckily we passed the church first thing - there were no signs for it. There was an old man sitting on a chair outside the church, reading a newspaper, and we could not figure out if he had anything to do with the church. Turned out he is the one you buy your ticket from. He takes you inside the church, pulls out a big book, writes something down, takes the money and gives you your tickets. Then he went back outside leaving us in a small room with a magnificent Perugino. We were the only ones there. After 15 minutes or so with the Perugino, we spent an hour exploring the town. It is a nice town, lots of stores, a less touristed town. Many of the streets are narrow roads and always in shade. I took note of this because this was one of the towns that Barb from Kentucky was considering to buy a house. A market was going on, so we walked around looking at things. Nothing very interesting at the market. It was quite crowded.
From here we drove to Panicale, where we spent two weeks in 1999. I was hoping to meet an American from San Francisco who has a part-time house here, but I had misplaced her phone number! I felt disorganized and always late for most of our time in Tuscany. We went to Gallo's caffe to see Aldo Gallo. I have a page about his caffe on the web site and we try to visit on each trip. It was nice seeing him and Panicale again.
From Panicale we drove to Castiglione del Lago for lunch at Fontana. We had eaten there on our 1999 trip and Steve remembered how good the fish had been. We had a very nice lunch sitting outside with a view of the lake. The restaurant was almost empty. Walked around the town - literally - we followed a path that went outside the city walls around the town.
Drove back to Cetona for afternoon sleep, then back in the car to meet Gary and Zak (from TuscanHouse) for dinner in Pienza. The back road from Cetona, by La Foce, to Pienza takes 40 minutes. It is slower if you take the main road through Chianciano Terme.
Met Gary and Zak at Latte di Luna (they call it "Latte"). Had a fabulous meal and we all talked nonstop! We were sitting inside and it was noisy in the restaurant, but the food was excellent. Gary and Zak are the kind of guys who are charming, entertaining, smart, and keep you laughing all the time. The owner of the restaurant knows them well - even has their photo with him on the wall!
Sunday, September 15
Sunny and warm.
After all our running around yesterday, we wanted a day near home. We had our usual breakfast at caffe in town. Then we walked around Cetona. Cetona is a small town. We walked from the piazza, up to the end of town and then circled back towards our house. Visited a small church with a Perugino. At one point, after walking for 10 minutes and looking at all the beautiful houses, we stopped and I explained to Steve that I thought we could follow the street we were on right back to our house - I was pretty sure we were at the opposite end of town from our house, and we could keep going to complete the circle. As we were standing there talking, I realized we were right outside our front door!! The town was smaller than I thought. So we were home.
We called and reserved Sunday lunch at Ristorante Daniela in San Casciano dei Bagni. We have been to this restaurant several times, two other times for Sunday lunch (once on our first time in this area, on another trip we went there with Bruce and Mare from Seattle). This year they added outdoor seating - which now makes it the perfect place for Sunday lunch! We had an excellent lunch and enjoyed the sunshine. The restaurant was full.
I made a note of what we ordered. I started with Bruschetta, Steve with onion soup. Then I had gnocchi with cabbage and truffles, Steve had swordfish. We shared some grilled porcini. House wine and bottled water. For desert we both had gelato (I had "After Eight", Steve had "Coffee and Cream") and coffee. The price was 75 euro (service included). Not cheap, but it was a very good meal in a lovely setting.
We walked all around San Casciano after lunch and found a bakery (down the hill from La Bottega). We spent two weeks near this town in June 2000 and never knew about this bakery! Went into a church with fresco. Then drove home and spent the rest of the day there.
Monday, September 16
Warm and sunny.
Today we drove to Florence to pickup Paula (Robert flew to Canada on Sunday) and see Nancy who was living there. We were going to take the train from Chiusi, but Paula said their train was delayed and it ended up taking nearly 2 hours to get to Florence, so we drove. Breakfast at the Autogrill! The drive was fine until we were near Florence, then the autostrada was one big traffic jam. We should have taken the train.
We stopped for breakfast at a small Autogrill, just before the Arezzo exit, because the large Autogrill just past Chiusi can be very crowded and slow to deal with. Driving from Cetona to Florence was 1 hour, 35 minutes (to the Sud exit from the A1 - another 15 minutes to get to the parking area).
We took the first exit into Florence and parked on the north side of the Arno, in the pay parking spaces along the road just outside the historic center. We wanted to park near the train station, recommended by people on the message board, but since the A1 was barely moving (3 lanes of slow traffic), we took the first Florence exit. From the parking area we walked to Santa Croce and met Paula there (much calling back and forth on cell phones).
We did a few Florence things before meeting Nancy for lunch: Santa Croce, Piazza Signora, Doumo. Then back to Santa Croce to meet Nancy.
We had a great lunch at Ristorante Francescano, owned by the same people who own Baldovino Trattoria, and on the same block. The food was excellent. I had small thin fried polenta squares topped with porcini, ravioli with ricotta, zucchini and tomato sauce, grilled radicchio. Steve had onion soup and bread, baccala (fish), french fries.
We left Nancy, with plans to meet her at her apartment later in the afternoon, then went to San Lorenzo, found some gelato, bought mints at Gilli on Piazza della Repubblica, found an interesting kitchen store, got Paula's bag from her hotel (got a tour of the hotel - Hotel Casci on Via Cavour, very busy main street, but the hotel is quiet and nice - a good budget choice), went to Nancy's apartment, for a visit. Nancy was living in an area we had been in a few trips back, just on the outskirts of the main tourist area, a lovely location. (Nancy since has moved to Santa Fe.)
We found walking around Florence difficult. The streets are either full of crowds of people or you are walking on very narrow sidewalks with cars whizzing by. Paula decided that she like Rome much more than Florence, and we agreed with her. We have not spent much time in Florence, just day trips and three nights on our 1999 trip - and probably should spend more time there to see the art - but although Florence is beautiful, I do find Rome to be more enjoyable. Both cities get to me after a few days because of the heavy exhaust fumes.
We left at Florence at 7pm, had dinner at the Monte San Savino autogrill, got back to Cetona at 10pm. Way too much driving and too long of a day for us. But worth it to have a quick Florence trip and see Nancy's apartment before she left Italy.
Tuesday, September 17
Warm and sunny.
Another long driving day. We had breakfast in town, left Paula behind (she did not want to come) and headed out for the A1. Our plan was to drive to Citta di Castello and see where Judith lives, then all go for lunch with Margie an Michael who have a home in Montone. It ended up being a much longer drive than we thought from Cetona to Castello, so we did not have too much time to spend at Judith's. I think the drive took us almost 2 hours.
We did get to see Judith's house, which was fun. She lives in the countryside, in a restored borgo. We followed her into Castello, parked and met Margie and Michael at the restaurant Mon Ami, in the center of Castello. We had a wonderful lunch that Judith had ordered ahead for us. This was our second time meeting Judith, our third time in Castello and our first time meeting Margie and Michael.
After lunch, Judith headed home and we went to Montone with Margie and Michael. We saw their beautiful house (read my review). It is a top quality, but still very comfortable, vacation rental.
They took us around the town - drinks in the main piazza, then we explored the stores and even got a tour of a lovely new hotel. La Locanda del Capitano - www.ilcapitano.com.
My question for Margie was, what is Torte al Testo? I saw it listed on signs in Umbria, but did not know what it was. She told me it is a typical Umbrian dish, stuffed bread.
Montone is a good village to be based it. It has several restaurants, several caffes, all the shops you need, a pizza by the slice place, a good hotel, several good vacation rentals. My only complaint about Montone is that I do not think the location is ideal for a first visit to Tuscany/Umbria. There are too many things you will probably want to see that involve a long drive. However, for a second plus visit, it is a good location. The town is lovely and you can explore the less touristed places in northern Umbria.
Left Montone at 6:00pm and were home by 7:45pm. The sprawl that you drive through around Perugia is really horrible and is a shock after seeing all the perfect hill towns of Tuscany and Umbria. Dinner at home.
Wednesday, September 18
Warm and sunny.
After all our days of driving, we needed some time off. Spent the morning in Cetona and had lunch at home. This was our last full day in Cetona.
After lunch we drove to Montisi (past Pienza) to get olive oil. We bought oil from this place last year and loved it. It is organic olive oil. La Romita, Via Umberto I, 144, Montisi - www.romita.it. The oil is expensive; 114 euro for 5 liters of the November oil, 72 euro for 5 liters of the December oil.
Then we went into Pienza for a last visit - coffee, books at the great bookstore, gelato. We even made it to Montepulciano because Paula had not been there yet. Parked and walked around the town.
Drove back to Cetona and had dinner at Ristorante Osteria Vecchia (our second time on this trip) and had a lovely dinner. Pauline had Bruschetta al Pomodoro and tagliatelle al porcini; Steve had spelt soup and pici with duck (see, he is not a vegetarian); Paula had grilled vegetables and pasta with chickpeas. We all shared potato, salad, 1/2 bottle of wine and water. 57 euro
Thursday, September 19
Sunny and warm.
Today we left Cetona. Instead of bringing the car up the very narrow and steep street to the house, we just rolled all our luggage down to the car. We usually parked in the main piazza, even though it was pay parking, because it was so convenient. If you buy a ticket in the evening, it stops counting after 8pm and the extra money you put in gives you time in the morning. So you can park at night, and prepay for a couple of hours in the morning.
Sacha and Beppe, the owners of the apartment, came to say goodbye. We all went out for coffee. Then we headed south to Pitigliano, but first we stopped in San Casciano for one last coffee at our favorite caffe and to get some fruit and water to have on our drive.
Pitigliano is well preserved town in the Maremma area of Tuscany (the southwest corner). Driving there you go from Tuscany to Lazio then back to Tuscany. There is a good guide book for this area which you can only find in shops in the area - The Hilltop Towns of the Fiora Valley: A Guide to the Etruscan and Medieval Centers of the Maremman Hills.
We drove to Pitigliano and parked on a street just outside the historic center. We walked all around the town. Found a beautiful church with a famous carving on the outside (the book told us about this). Tried to visit the Jewish Synagogue, but it had just closed for the afternoon.
Found a restaurant and had a nice lunch sitting outside. Trattoria dell Orso.
After lunch, we walked around the city walls from the outside. We took the steps near the entrance to the town down under the aqueduct to the Medici washing area. It was locked but you could see in. Then we followed a very nice and well maintained trail around the town at the level below the houses where the rock ends.
On this path we walked by a construction site. They were renovating a house way up in the historic section and had a truck parked on this road below. There were long tubes running from the house - down the side of the house, down the rock - to the truck. Rocks and dirt came shooting down the tubes to the truck. When a large rock came, you could hear the noise of it falling down the tube, then it was propelled out of the tube, only keeping in the truck because they put a wooden barrier on the side for it to bounce off. We waited until we heard nothing, then ran past the truck.
On this lovely path you walk under the town but above the vegetable plots. It was hot and sunny on one side and then cool and shaded on the other. It is about a 45 minute walk but it took us longer because of constant stops to look up at the houses. A very nice way to see Pitigliano.
We drove from Pitigliano, down the switchback road to the bottom of the valley, then took the small road to Sovana. Just across the river is a small parking pullout. From here you can access some Etruscan ruins. I wanted to see the Etruscan walkways. I had read about them in the book about this area.
We parked and walked along the path. There were a few official tourist signs, but most had been torn down. But the path took us directly to the Etruscan walkway. It was magnificent. It is a long path, carved out of the stone - like a tunnel, but open at the top. The rock walls are maybe 20 feet high on either side. They were quite long and there are many of them in this area. These are well worth seeing. There was no one else out there and it was fun to walk along these pathways that were made thousands of years ago. This was my favorite Etruscan thing - maybe even better than the painted caves of Tarquinea which we saw on another trip.
After Pitigliano, we headed south into Lazio to get to our next vacation rental in Vetralla. We drove along the western shore of Lake Bolsena. It seemed like all the car dealerships of the region were located along that road. Not very pretty, although I could see there were some interesting small towns at the lake's edge.
We got to Vetralla around 6:00pm. Our directions to the apartment in Vetralla from Mary Jane, who manages it, were to phone her when we were in Vetralla. We found our way there and were on the busy and narrow main street heading into the center of town. I phoned her. She said to look up to see the church and park there. We could not see anything looking up but we pulled into a small piazza when we saw a church and we were there. Her boyfriend Fulvio was waiting for us. We had met him the year before.
We unloaded the car of our immense amounts of luggage and bags. We had arranged before to all go out for dinner, but Mary Jane was too tired from a day in Rome, so we were left on our own. All the shops were closed (Thursday is their early closing day, so they only open in the morning), but we walked around and found a van selling vegetables. (Later in the trip, we found a large Coop just outside of town that is always open.) We had a simple meal in the apartment.
Paula was flying home the next day and we were dropping her at the airport and then spending the weekend in Sperlonga, so we got ourselves organized for that. We left most of our stuff in the apartment and traveled with an overnight bag.
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