Monthly Archives: October 2014

Volterra – sweet and high

Volterra is truly a mountain town. Not touristy and very charming, and parking is easy.  Just the right amount of shopping for Sally and me, and a nice museum for the Dentons, Joyce and Margaret.  It has two specialties – first, it is the site of Etruscan artifacts and ruins, and second, local artisans create and export beautiful alabaster bowls, plates, statues, and anything else they can think of.  We had a nice lunch on the relatively unpopulated and simple town square, and I must say the food has been excellent everywhere in Tuscany.  Bonell indulged his happy travel hobby of introducing himself to strangers and asking them about themselves.  I continued my travel hobby of photographing everything and everyone.  Sally loves shopping for purses and found one in Volterra.  She says she may buy another one before we’re done.

The drive up to the town offered spectacular scenery.  We kept saying “Ooooo, look there!” and “Aaaah, pull over Margaret!”  And she did, bless her.  There were lots of windy roads and hairpin turns, but M. is a very good driver!!

Today we slept late and drove around to see the local towns.  Our lunch in Quercegrossa (this is the first day any of us has been able to pronounce that one) was excellent – way beyond our expectations.  Sally had fried potatoes a la grandma (yes, the real name) that were out of this world, and if I’d had the nerve I’d have licked the peccorino cheese which covered my spinach ravioli right off my plate.  We’ve been having our big meal at mid-day and mostly snacking at night, with the addition of hearty salads.  Sally discovered an excellent sweet biscotti with peppers, loved by all but Joyce, and we have a good supply of Italian sausages and cheeses.

We are all happy with the accommodations at the villa – a complex of old stone buildings.  Sally and Jim are in the restored barn.  Margaret is in the guest house with a tower lookout bedroom from which she can view the sunrise.  The Dentons are in one second floor bedroom of the main house, and Joyce is in the other.  I am on the third floor in a lovely room with three beds.  The other good part of that is lots of stair exercise.  Thirty-seven steps up to bed and down in the morning, half those back and forth to use the john in the night.  Less huffing and puffing now than when we first arrived.  Yay!

Tonight we are not snacking.  We have ordered another dinner from our cook:  crostini with tomatoes, grilled zucchini, pici with meat sauce, chicken cacciatori, grilled zucchini, and tiramisu.  In our experience, that meal will feed us all for two days.

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Siena again: The backways, up and down, and getting lost on foot

IMG_5153  We are arguing about which cab driver was the best – the bigger Mercedes today, or the littler car two days ago that took us on a fun-house ride better than Disney could provide. In any case, we have the way into Siena down pat.  From the train station we take a taxi into the old part of the city (the cathedral or the campo).  Rustling up a cab to get back after 4 pm is a little trickier, but we managed it both days.

Our new experience today was getting lost on foot.  You really can’t count on Italian road signs or guideposts to say the right thing.  You are going towards the Duomo, and you meet someone coming back your way who says, “I can’t find the Duomo.”  Uh-oh.  Soo, we took a tour of Siena on foot we wouldn’t have taken otherwise.  We saw teenagers pracIMG_5172ticing their flag-waving (the rhinocerouses and the mollusks (Jim says he hates the mollusks but really likes the turtles). There are 17 districts in Siena, each with a different mascot.

We also fell in love with a Sienese waitress today.  Both men were drooling, and possibly a woman or two. Bonell was able to get his favorite dish again – aubergine parmesan – and I was able to get pasta with a wild boar sauce – delicious.

We were all impressed with the art in the Baptistry and the Crypt.  No photos allowed in the Crypt, but you’ll see some photos of the Baptistry below.  Did you know, people IMG_5168 - Copycouldn’t attend Mass in the Cathedral until they had been baptized?  They went to a prayer service in the Baptistry instead.

We spend most of our evenings cooking, talking, eating, laughing and drinking wine.  Tonight was a delicious salad.

We do have some “out-takes” for private review, but I have not had enough wine to include them here.


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IMG_5008Ah, serendipity.  We were on our way to Volterra, when our Driver (Margaret) said “Hell with it, let’s go to Monteriggioni,” and turned off the road.  We thought it would be a two-hour detour at most.  Turns out this is the most charming little town, apparently undiscovered by Rick Steves, that we could possibly have imagined.  Excellent lunch with exotic wild boar and the worst wine so far (white was good though).  The osso bucco (marrow bone) was totally as good as I remembered.

In contrast to Siena, the Romanesque church is small and simple, just beautiful.  Nancy calls it “the city of cats.”  A bonus: we discovered the resident cat sleeping under a sign that said in two languages, “Do not touch. I am having some rest.  Thank you.”  No the cat was not dead.  We saw it flick an ear, and Margaret saw it get up and stretch.  It is cared for by the entire village.  Possibly it eats pigeons too – there are lots of those.  Anyway, he was not the lean and hungry type.

We loved the view from the hilltop and city walls.  We stayed the rest of the day.

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Pictures of Siena

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We won Siena!

IMG_4653 copyToday’s triumphal tour of Siena:   “The Cathedral? You have to love the beautiful colors of the paintings. They didn’t look like they were 500 years old.” – Nancy “I loved the museum and the wild taxi rides through Siena, hearts in our mouths, he wind in our hair, scattering pedestrians and motor scooters everywhere.  An Italian Disney World.” – Joyce.   Jim James says, “Wine’s good.  The villa is an ideal piece of property.  We are so lucky to be here.” “As I climbed the tower to the top I met people from Germany, Park City, Toronto, and a lot more, and I talked to them all.  I took pictures of people I don’t even know.” – Bonell.  “I loved the incredible taxi ride”; you couldn’t find a carney ride that was more breathtaking.  And then to my delight, I found a shop that smelled so good – real leather and great prices!.  I’m looking forward to returning to Siena to shop before we return home.” – Sally  “Siena is my favorite city.  The palio; the districts with mascots like snails, mollusks, fish, and unicorns; the big central square actually shaped like a D.  The gelato.” -Robin

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Categories: palio, Siena, villa

Success. Or not.

photo 2The good news: We can get to and from parking outside the Siena train station; we can buy groceries (and wine!); we have a game plan for getting into Siena tomorrow; we now have a car that seats seven – so no more getting separated in traffic; AND, our Internet is back, at least for now. The bad news:  We have done a lot of driving around, looking unsuccessfully for parking in Siena. What did we learn?  Park at the train station and take a taxi or a bus.  Do this in the morning.  As Joyce put it, “Less pissing around, more sightseeing time for us.”

Tonight we cook pasta funghi with chicken broccoletti and zucchini Toscana.  We drink wine.  We sit outside.  Life is good.

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We arrive (sigh)

RentalCarA great adventure indeed.  Margaret, sitting opposite me on our patio just now, suggests “The voyage from Hell” as an appropriate title.  It seems I, for one, can never arrive in Tuscany without a bit of drama and at least one car breaking down.  This time it was nearly backing off a cliff (one wheel half off) which made the car give up, something it was obviously ready to do from the time we left the rental agency.  But this is not the only adventure.  We lost our second car and its passengers completely, right outside the Florence airport.  They showed up at the villa hours after us, thankfully, having toured Central Italy clear over to the coast, after dark.  But we are not stupid.  We asked our landlady for four more bottles of wine to go with her sumptuous dinner.  It helped.

If you are planning to drive out of Florence, even if you have a Garmin, allow 2 hours just to thrash your way out of the city.  Plan on getting sidetracked into an Italian carney or two, doing multiple loop-di-loops while the Garmin lady says “recalculating . . .”.  Then of course it’s an hour to Siena.  And had it not been for our car giving up (well, starting to stink and smoke actually) we never would have found our villa.  We called our landlady, who came and got us.

This morning Hertz sent a tow truck to pick up their rental car.  Margaret and I have stayed at the villa to send off the car, while the others went to Siena to pick up Joyce at the train station.  Frankly, Margaret and I are glad to be here.  As the rental car glided away on the back of the tow truck, Margaret rolled her eyes toward heaven and said, “No more drama, please.”  And there has been none.  Just the dry Tuscan air fragrant with rosemary, the sunshine, the bees, the wild cyclamen, the wine.

We are here.  A good night’s sleep and a bottle of wine, roast pork, pasta and grape-apple cake.  It is heaven.

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Snug and lazy, just the thing

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A little rain and gloom today but still good deck walking–so far too lazy for the gym–walk twice a day. Wind up to 30 knots  yesterday, closed the outside decks for a while. Last night the sky cleared for a little bit and the stars were beautiful then it closed up again. Now reading in the winter garden–snug. Love to all.


to Joyce

Sounds wonderful Joyce – lazy is a great vacation word, right?

Do you know we can follow your progress across the Atlantic on Cunard’s website? There is a little tiny ship in the middle of the ocean, actually more on the GB side now, heading toward Southampton. David is following you and so am I.

Our travel time is getting close – we leave TOMORROW! I’m sure we’re all online trying to check in already, but of course we won’t be able to do that until 8:40 tonight.

Thanks for your email, and for sending pictures!!


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