A trip to Italy, May - June 2002
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Travel to Italy, May - June, 2002. Lake Orta, the town of Orta San Guilio, the island, Isola San Guilio, Sacro Monte, Tuscany, Vineyards, San Gimignano, Siena, Impruneta, Cinque Terre, Monterosso al Mare and a castle in Umbria overlooking Lago Trasimeno and Tuscany.
Page two, Tuscany and Umbria. See how Christine ships heavy pottery home by airplane!
The trip to Florence from Monterosso al Mare was uneventful, we changed trains in Pisa and in Firenze we went directly to the International/Advance purchase window line to purchase our Eurostar tickets for the Firenze/Milan trip next Monday. It was a long line. There are many windows for purchasing tickets on the day of travel but not many for International/Advance purchases. Most of the people in line were Americans and luckily, there was only one line for three windows. I know the other people in line were Americans because no one had the slightest idea what they wanted when they got to the window. They would stop at the window and look around, probably looking for the menu just like at McDonalds. Several times a window would be available and the next couple in line would be so busy talking that they would just stand there. Then, there would be an Italian who would come along and just walk up to the window as if there was no line. Anyway, we finally got our tickets and reserved seats for the trip to Milan next week and walked to the Eurocar car rental office a few blocks away. The office was packed and I got the impression that they were just delaying the processing until they were able to get cars as people returned them. It took us an hour and a half to get our car and by the time I got to the desk I had memorized her routine and the directions she gave to get out of town: "Drive down to the tower, turn left, cross the river, take the road after the 4th light and follow the signs to Siena." The only nice part was that the obnoxious lady from South Africa, who was running in a relay race across Italy, and had to have her entire party with her in line, was only only waiting to fill out the paperwork so she could just stop and get her car the next morning, she was told, they would be happy to fill out the paperwork when she came back the next day!
We drove south out of Florence but I didn't follow the instructions I had memorized to the letter so we really went west and then back south finally finding the intersection where we could drive to Impruneta, about 6 miles south of Firenze. In Impruneta we stopped at a Ugo Poggi Terracotte Factory and Christine proceeded to order some terracotta pots for our garden. The owner, Lorenzo, had never shipped to the USA via FedEx (he had shipped via ship, surface, etc.) so he said he would be happy to pack up the pots and take them to FedEx to see what it would cost. We agreed to come back in a few days to conclude the arrangements. Yes, it cost a lot. Here we are at the terracotta pot factory. Here is Christine with the pots.
After the terracotta factory we stopped in Impruneta for coffee. Impruneta is famous for a painting in the church that has miraculous powers and the church is supposed to have a piece of the true cross. Actually, I was reading the book Galileo's Daughter and during Galileo's life there were supposed to be about 52 churches in Florence with a piece of the true cross. We have not seen any pieces yet. There was this really big pot in front of the church, Christine wanted it but....
After coffee in Impruneta we drove through the heart of Chianti country to the vineyard we had booked near San Gimignano. At the vineyard we were greeted by Marjorie who escorted us to our room and then quickly brought up some chips and wine for a little refreshment. It had been raining all day and it continued to rain until around noon the next day. This was our room and these are 2 views from the room, View One and View two. This is the lounge and this is the breakfast room.
There are many good restaurants in the area but we like a place in Poggibonsi called Emilio's. Emilio's is a small trattoria that has a cliemtel mad up of primarily working men. We had a great meal with good red Chianti for 19.45 Euro. They don't have menus but the food is excellent. Christine was the only woman in the place and she asked the owner why there were no other women and he said all the customers were "communisti" which we later found out meant workers.
Marjorie talked with us during breakfast and brought us up to date on the vineyard. Here is Marjorie with Christine.
After breakfast it started to clear and it rained just a little as we drove up through Radda in Chianti, Greve, Panzone, etc. stopping at wineries and stores. Christine was looking for some balsamic vinegar. You can get a very good bottle of Chianti for around 7 Euro. We were looking for a place to eat luch when we saw this nice little restaurant across from the church in Panzone. The town was almost empty but the restaurant was full. The owner apologized and we left. Most restaurants are only open long enough to have one seating so there is no reason to hang around a wait. As we were walking away an American came out and asked if we would like to sit with them, a very nice gesture that we really appreicated. So we met Mike and Sandy from Covington, Kentucky, who were staying in Panzone. They had been traveling around Italy and were on there was to Lake Orta where we had been. We had a a nice lunch and some good converstation with them. I asked a German lad at the next table to take our picture but he sort of moved as he pressed the shutter. Here it is anyway. It will be awhile before everyone gets used to the "digital shutter delay".
We had some Tuscan soup and wine. Here are Mike and Sandy paying their check as they left.
On the way back we stopped at the Villa Vignomaggio where Much Ado About Nothing was filmed. It is a hotel and they don't let you just walk around so we didn't see much. On the way back we stopped in Poggibonsi for some dog biscuits for the vineyard dogs, Cleo and Fibi.
We asked Francesca (with Christine in this photo) at the vineyard to book us a table in San Gimignano but after we were seated and looked at the menu we decided we didn't like the place so we thanked the man and left. We walked down the street to the Restaurant Castello where we had eaten before and had a good meal and some house wine. As we walked back to our car we stopped for gelato.
Wednesday is market day in Siena and we left early to make sure we didn't miss much. It was going to be a long day as we had planned on staying around until dinner. We purchased a copper pot (how were we going to get that home?) a belt and Christine bought some pants and several tablecloths. We go to Italy for our shopping. Later we bought some wine from Montalcino and some Etruscan candle holders. We had lunch near the Church of San Domenico where we stopped to see Saint Catherine's head. We spent the day exploring Siena, shopping and sitting in cafes in Il Campo having coffee and later some wine until it was dinnertime. At one time Christine felt a headache coming on so she walked over to the Pharmacie and bought some effervesent aspirin, returned to the cafe where I was sitting, got a glass of water and in a few minutes, felt better. We really enjoyed sitting in Il Campo just watching the people. Here are several photos of Siena.
As the day wore on and the tour buses started to leave the crowds became smaller and the locals came out for their evening walk, the passiagiata. At one point during the day a man in a suit with a red hat came out and entertained the people at each cafe with comedy, moving around the piazza. After several stunts, he would pass through the cafe area accepting "tips". He was very good and had several props he would use on unsuspecting tourists. At one point he had one of those retractable dog leads with a clip on the end. He attached the clip to someone's backpack and let the lead out as he "walked the unsuspecting tourist". People at the cafe would be laughing and the "tourist" would look at the people in the cafe with surprise. Most people took his antics in stride. A few just wanted to "get away". It was great just to sit and watch.
We booked a table at the Il Tamberino where we had eaten on several previous trips. We were hungry so we got there just as they opened and were the only customers for awhile. We were tired but still had time for some gelato and a walk around Il Campo before heading back to the car and the vineyard.
We met the other guests at breakfast, Bas and Emily from Holland, a couple from France who work in China and Joachin and Monica from Germany Here is another photo of Joachin and Monica. Then headed back to Impruneta to finalize the purchase and shipping of Christine's terracotta pots. We shipped by air and the pots arrived home the day after we did. We met a couple from the state of Georgia who were visiting there daughter who was studying in Italy. They had pictures of some very large pots the mother of the woman had around her house in Florida. They wanted to sell their pots and were interested in the value as the pots came from Impruneta. They were quite pleased with how much the pots cost. As we left Impruneta we stopped in the same bar for coffee as we had earlier in the week.
On our way to Umbria we stopped in a nice little family run Trattoria in a very small village, the Trattoria Le Cernacchie in La Panca. We were the only guests and the owner, his wife and daughter welcomed us. When we were seated he poured us a glass of some bubbly wine. Christine had some soup and I had ravioli asperagus with cheese and some wine. Here are two more photos of the trattoria, Photo One and Photo Two. We told him we would be back for dinner in the Fall and he told Christine to make sure to call and book for dinner as they are usually full but for lunch you did not have to call. This place was in the middle of nowhere. The food, ambiance and the view from the window were all worth the stop.
We were on our way to a castle in Umbria. The owner had told us to stop at a certain hotel and telephone him and he would come and show us the way. We were unable to find a public phone that worked with the calling card I had and we were early anyway so we drove around looking for the castle. How hard is it to find a castle that is on top of a hill? Well, we soon saw the castle and eventually found the road to it. It was everything we could want. It was on top of a hill in Umbria, overlooking Tuscany to the west and Lago Trasimeno to the south. According to local legends, Hannibal (about 217BC) camped here before he defeated the Romans at the Battle of Transimeno and Charlemagne (about 802AD) ordered a local lord to build a castle here to watch over the road from Tuscany to Perugia. The castle is well fortified, you can walk the walk around it, there is a church inside, a great hall and three apartments. We had the smaller apartment with a queen bed and a loft with another single bed, a sitting room in one of the towers and a very well equipped kitchen. The owners had put some juice, coffee, bread, etc. in our apartment so we would be able to have breakfast the next day. Our apartment had a great shower too! This was a special place. The views were fantastic and several times we walked outside the castle with a bottle of wine and just sat on a stone bench. The castle was only about 10 minutes from Cortona in Tuscany which became our our sort of "hangout". Here is the main gate open and closed and here is one of the views.
The owners, Claudio and Franca, could not have been nicer. Claudio took us on a tour of the castle, the church, the dungeon, the wall and he introduced us to Piccolo, their very friendly dog. Here are Christine and Claudio in the church.
We were given a large key for the castle gate and an electronic key for the iron gate across the road on the way up the hill. We drove into Cortona and stopped at the Coop in Camucia, the town at the bottom of the hill below Cortona. At the Coop we did some grocery shopping remembering to put on plastic gloves when you handle the fruit and vegetables. There was a German couple staying for two weeks and an English couple with two boys about 4 and 6. We hardly ever saw them and the boys were very quiet. We drove to Cortona for dinner and stopped at a wine bar for a drink and snacks. We had a Vino Montalcino Il Lecco red wine for 7 Euro for two glasses. We soon discovered that good red wine could be purchased with a snack for as low as 2.50 Euro even at an expensive hotel. Wine is sometimes cheap in Tuscany. We walked into a little courtyard and were fortunate that they had a table available so we sat down. The place was the Grotta Trattoria and I would advise booking a table whenever possible in late May early June. There is usually only one seating in a restaurant or trattoria so if you see a place during the day that interests you, book a table for the evening. We had some wine, an antipasta plate, some bruschetta with various toppings, local meats and salamis, a ravioli pomodoro and fettucini with mushrooms. Of course we finished with gelato somewhere. Then, back to our castle.
A great nights sleep. Such peace and quiet at 350 meters about the world in our castle. We made our own breakfast and hade istant coffee. We had bread, melons, bananas and it was nice to eat in our pajamas.
We first drove to Assisi and visited the Church of Saint Clare, then the over to the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi which was several levels and quite large. It was very crowded so Christine did some shopping for ceramic stuff and we drove to Perugia. Now Perguia is up on a hill and you have to park at the bottom but they have escalators inside the hill which quickly take you to the top of the town. We ate at a sidewalk cafe and decided that we had enough sightseeing for the day. We went back to the castle and rested until it was time for a glass of wine. We again went to Cortona and this time stopped the Hotel San Luca for a glass of wine and a wonderful view. Here are three views from the Hotel San Luca Veranda, View One, View Two., and View Three.Our wine and snacks cost 4 Euro for 2 glasses. Most of the restaurants were booked for dinner so we had pizzas at the wine bar La Saletta on the main street. They were very good. We each had the pizza Margarite which is thin crust pizza with cheese and pomodoro and we strated out with a shared bruschetta. More gelato, a walk around town and back to the castle.
The next morning I got up and started breakfast. I learned how to use the Italian stovetop espresso maker and it was very good. We drove to Cortona intending to visit the Etruscan Museum but found out it was Market Day so we changed our plans, bought some fruit, cheese, salami, wine, etc. to eat for dinner at the castle. Some man had roasted a whole pig a John had a pork panino sandwich for lunch. It was fun shopping with the locals. Here are some pictures of the market, Picture 1, Picture 2, Picture 3, and Picture 4. John went and sat on the steps of the Corona town hall wondering why no one else sat on the steps only to discover everyone else was waiting for the bride at a wedding to walk up the steps. When the bride and groom showed up Christine watched as she ate a mozzerella cheese and tomato panino. We bought a good bottle of Montalcino red wine for 10 Euro at the wine shop and a cheaper bottle for 3.40 at another. They were both good. We also stopped at a bakery for some cream puffs for our dinner dessert, we had a lot to carry but it was fun.
Back at the castle Christine went for a long walk and I rested after the shopping ordeal. When Christine returned I made Italian coffee and we sat on our porch and drank it and read our books until it was cocktail hour. We started out with peanuts and wine outside the castle on a stone bench overlooking our domain and progressed to our meal of cheese, fruit, salami, tomatoes, yellow peppers, apples, and cucumbers which we set up on one of the tablecloths from Siena in front of the church. We were alone all evening. We had the good 10 Euro bottle of wine with dinner. We had coffee and dessert on our balcony. I went to bed and Christine sat up in the tower reading.
On Sunday we had breakfast, I was getting quite good with the Italian espresso maker, made one pot which was enough for one full large cup for Christine and then made another for myself. We had decided to eat at the castle again on Sunday night, Christine wanted to cook. Well, remember this....everything is closed on Sunday and we even drove to Arezzo looking for somestore to buy some pasta and sauce, no luck, anywhere, no how. We went to Cortona to the Etruscan Museum, very nice. Then there was a Corpus Domeni procession, mostly women as the men do not seem to go to church. We ate at the Restaurant Locanda overlooking the main piazza in Cortona, the Piazza Republica. Later, back at the castle, everyone left and we sat outside with a bottle of wine and just enjoyed the view. We drove into Cortona and again stopped at the Hotel San Luca for a glass of wine but we couldn't find the waiter. Christine decided to take matters into her own hands and went to find him only to discover he had discovered the wine himself and was a little drunk. She said she wanted two glasses of wine and he said okay, brought them out to us on the veranda with some olives and he only charged her 2.50 Euro, we had paid 4 the previous night! We walked around town looking for a place to eat as we had not booked a table anywhere. We found a table at Osteria Teatrica where the service was a little haphazard, we never got the side dishes we ordered and tehy were not on the bill. I had some ravioli with porcini mushrooms and Christine had some fettucini ragu. It was good but had we known we could find a grocery store open we would have booked a table somewhere else.
Breakfast and ready to leave the next morning, Franca and Claudio said goodbye and gave us a map of the area as it was in the 1700s. We said we wanted to come back and Franca told us they were booked until September. We have since booked a full week in September. The dog, Piccolo, whined when he saw us leaving with our suitcases, that made us feel sad. The drive to Firenze was about an hour and because of the luggage (we had made a lot of purchases and the extra suitcases that we carry inside our suitcases had be put into service) I dropped Christine at the train station and I dropped the car off. We could easily have gotten on an earlier train but we had reserved seats on the 1415 Eurostar to Milan and getting on an earlier train would have cost another 8 Euro each. We decided to just sit around and watch the people. Italy was playing in the World Cup in Korea and a large screen was set up in the center of the station. Every once in awhile a roar would go up and people would run to the screen to see waht was happening, even people who were working somewhere, they would just leave their workplace and run towards the screen. Soccer, or football as it's called, is very popular in Europe.
A Milan Centrale Train Statione we caught an Intercity train to Gallerate and then a taxi to our hotel Cervo near Malpensa Airport. We met a couple on the Intercity train from England who were going to Stresa to stay at the Hotel Borromeo. The Hotel Cervo was very nice with Air conditioning and a nice room. We made arragements to get to the airport the next morning for our 1015 flight and went for a walk. No much in the area so we came back and went to the bar for some wine. We ate dinner at the hotel and it was excellent. I recommend the Hotel Cervo if you are leaving from Malpensa on an early flight and don't want to worry about traffic as you are only 1 or 2 kilometers from Terminal 1 and the hotel has it's own shuttle. The taxi from Gallerate to Hotel Cervo cost 20 Euro.
We got up at 0630, had breakfast (included) and went to the airport to await our flight. The flight home on Alitalia was good and we immediately started planning another trip. Life is good.