BACK TO TUSCANY We returned to Tuscany on May 20, flying from Palermo to Pisa after a sad goodbye to our friends and the crew of La Coveta. The drive from Pisa to Il Palagio in Panzano was smooth and we took the long route so we could see more of the Tuscan countryside. We were not disappointed. Tuscany is covered with many shades of green, brown, orange and blue sky. Betsy suggested we should start counting how many times a day we have to stop and say “wow” as the scenery just takes our breath away. The Luconis were waiting for us and had dinner waiting when we arrived at Il Palagio.

The next day we slept late and didn’t get out of bed until 8:15! Unfortunately, since almost every place closes in the countryside from noon until 4 pm and reopens afterwards, we learned that you have to start your day early here if you want to get any errands done. We drove into Greve, the next large town, in order to do some shopping and visit the internet cafe to check on email. Then Betsy made a great Italian lunch of salad with delicious fresh tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, fresh lettuce and basil covered with olive oil and real balsamic vinegar. It was great. This is a picture of us having lunch on our deck overlooking the valley in Panzano.

On Saturday, the 22, we drove to a few towns to get more of the flavor of Tuscany. We visited Volpaia, a very small put picturesque village high on a hill. It is famous for its wine and olive oil, but we didn’t really go crazy about the wine. We did bring some olive oil back and have enjoyed it every day.

We then drove to Radda, a larger town with more local industry so it was more densely populated. We had to wait in the car for about 15 minutes for a passing torrential rain storm. For all these small towns in Tuscany you have to leave your car on the outskirts and walk on the cobble stone streets. One of the qualities that makes the area so appealing is the scale and speed of everything. There are not skyscrapers or even tall apartment buildings. In fact the tallest is often no more than 2 or 3 stories high and always of brick or stone with all shades of plaster in various stages of pealing.

After a short walk through Radda, we drove on to Castellini in Chianti, now our favorite town in the Chianti country. It is in between sizes of the previous two, but is filled with lovely shops and beautifully colored shutters and umbrellas at café’s. We had a delicious dinner of the thinnest pizza you can imagine along with a glass of wine, then walked around for a while and returned to Il Palagio. On Sunday, we decided to slow down a bit. We started off at the market in the town square where we bought chicken and vegetables for dinner. It was beautiful with colorful kiosks with all sorts of produce, meats, poultry, plants and even some of the usual flee market odds and ends. Betsy took this picture of the flowers stand at the market place.

For the rest of the day, Betsy read her book and I worked on my writing. We had a quiet evening and watched “The Italian Job” on DVD on my computer.

The next day we drove with the Luconis to Sienna. Our goal was to find Certosa di Maggiano, the hotel where we decided nine years ago to come back here for this trip. To everybody’s surprise (mine as well) we found our way there directly. It was as beautiful as we remembered and just as unaffordable. Standing in the gardens and looking out at the valley below, we were able to recapture that moment of paradise we experienced so many years back. Here is a picture of some of the building and grounds against the blue Tuscan sky.

We then drove towards Sienna and walked into town. Sienna is a must see stop for anybody in this area. The narrow streets are crowded with visitors from all over the world and all ultimately lead you to il Campo, the historic piazza in the center of town. It is rounded at its outer edge and then curves downhill towards the town municipal building in the center. Every year on two occasions during the summer, the contradas or precincts around the town compete in a fantastic horse race around the Campo. The honor of the contradas are at stake and it is an exciting event, we are told. We may miss it this year since it is in July and August when we will be either in the Bay of Naples sailing or at Lake Como.

This picture is taken from one corner of the Campo to try to give you a feeling of the size and shape.

We tried to visit the Duomo, which is all marble and Fred tells us contains a collection of the first hand written music, but it closed just as we arrived. The façade is covered with countless marble statues and reliefs. After reading The agony and the ecstasy, the story of Michaelangelo’s career, I could appreciate the effort and time that went in to creating this masterpiece.

We drove back towards Panzano and stopped in Castellini for a spectacular dinner at the restaurant “Gallopoppa”. This was a real dining experience. The food was the best yet in Italy (except perhaps for John’s cooking on La Coveta) and the atmosphere was cozy. The service was impeccable. This was a great day.

May 25th is important in Italy because it is Pinocchio’s birthday and is widely recognized in Tuscany where the character was created (not by Walt Disney to my incredibly naïve surprise). We drove into Florence to have lunch at Villa San Micheli, an ancient estate high in the hill overlooking Florence in the town of Fiesoli. Just driving up to this place with a view overlooking the entire ancient city, was worth the trip. The frescos in the main building were mostly painted by Michaelangelo and the interior design and accommodations were straight from “Town and Country” or “Architectural Design.” Elegance and tradition are the best words to describe this place. The meal was wonderful, once again, a dining experience. Because of the cost, it’s probably not someplace we are likely to visit again soon. We strolled the gardens, all the time looking back down over the town of Florence below. This picture looking back towards the villa and some of the gardens gives a limited view of the magnificence of this place.

We stayed in Florence after a harrowing trip through the rush our traffic while the Luconis went back to Panzano. We met our nieces, Lisa and Beth Greenblatt and decided they needed some Tuscan countryside for a break from there whirlwind tour of Italy. We brought them back to Il Palagio, stopped for dinner on the way and they stayed for the next day, returning to Florence on the bus on the next afternoon.

The morning of the 26th was special. We awoke and celebrated the fact that Betsy made it. Nine years ago, we never thought we would see this day together, so it was quite special for us. We enjoyed birthday breakfast with Lisa and Beth.

Then we drove off to Montelcino to visit Brunello country. Montelcino was startling. It’s a town built high on a mountaintop overlooking a very different countryside than in the Chianti region with mostly planes and low rolling hills and fields below. We had a great lunch overlooking the land below at Enoteca Osteccio, a wine shop owned by a fellow named Tullio who is a friend Rob Esposito, a friend of Michael’s from college. We had a great meal, then returned to Il Palagio in Panzano after briefly losing our way passing through Sienna. Sue brought over a birthday cake of panforte, a famous Sienna pastry and we sang tante aggure to wish her a happy birthday.