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June 28, 2014

Oh what a busy day! We had to wave good-bye to our fantastic host Gianluca and his family as we prepared to go from being 100% spoiled in Tuscany to self-sufficient in Cinque Terre. We left the four house complex that was built in the 1400’s and restored by Gianluca between 1999 and 2007 to take a round-about way to Cinque Terre. First, we stopped in Montepulciano, only 10 miles away and later Siena, a bit further.

As with every Tuscan town it seems, Montepulciano sat up on a hill, was home to many churches, a palazzo, restaurants, and a variety of stores including a famous copper store. Each town, including Montepulciano is laid out with a parking area upon arrival with a posted map and a water closet nearby, all very convenient when we were otherwise feeling constantly lost.

We started our walking tour strolling up a hill, enjoying the view and eventually making it into our first church, Chiesa del Gesu. It began construction in 1691 in the baroque style, was changed shortly after, and finished construction in 1730 under the supervision of three different architects.

From the church, we continued up the hill to the palazzo. Aside from the surrounding park, which didn’t allow futbol, the site wasn’t open so we continued up the hill.

IMG_4803 futbol

We passed by the torture museum which was advertised on billboards in all the small towns, as we got enough of a taste in the entry before we visited the cattedrale constructed in the 14th century on the Piazza Grande. It was adorned with flowers as it was being prepared for a wedding. No pictures were allowed inside.

Across from the cattedrale stood the Griffin and Lion well built in 1520. We have seen several throughout the region along with cool old water fountains. As we continued strolling around the streets, we stumbled upon an historic winery, De Ricci. It was free to tour, so we wandered through the dark tunnels storing giant barrels of wine. By now, it was time for lunch, so we ventured back toward the parking and found a trattoria. I tried Pici with pepper and Parmesan, one of Montepulciano’s famous dishes, and it was spectacular. Heidi had the gnocchi.

With a three hour drive to Cinque Terre and a one hour drive to Sienna, we were a feeling a bit pressed for time as we needed to meet Lorella, the lady from whom we rented our apartment. So off we went. As we weaved down the hill through the countryside, we noticed a few bystanders on the roadside. Shortly thereafter, we were waved to the side of the road and a bike race of fifty cyclists came storming through with support vehicles and all! How cool was that!?! Those boys were breathing heavy as they climbed that hill. It turned out it was the Italian National Road Race Championship. Of the 124 riders that started, only 49 finished. Vincenzo Nibali won. The race has been run since 1905 with the exception of the years during WWI. I found it kind of funny that such a big race didn’t even have the roads blocked. Here is the link in cycling news: http://www.cyclingnews.com/races/italian-road-championships-2014/road-race/results

IMG_4837 cycling

After a few interesting turns, we finally made it to Siena and parked by the stadio (this is the best place to leave the car and walk). We enjoyed the nearby fountain, passed by tourist stands, popped our heads in a few leather stores, took a look at St. Catherine’s head in St. Domenico Catherine Basilica, and followed the signs to the Duomo, as this cathedral was supposedly the one to see compared to all others. We only went to the cathedral and library as we didn’t have time for the crypts and baptista, but it was beautiful.

The black and white exterior was magnificent, both near and far. The marble murals on the floor, the carvings beneath the windows, and the paintings that covered every ounce of the church were lovely. Even the wooden chairs were ornate. I’m certain every nook, color and image had a meaning, but we were just there to take in the grandeur before we moved on to Cinque Terre. Sienna deserved more than 1.5 hours, but at least we made it.

In Cinque Terre, we parked on the outskirts because cars aren’t allowed on the interior and rolled our bags through the parking lot and down the street until we reached the stairs. We climbed a few until we reached a sidewalk and found the address, 85. More stairs…ok…to a courtyard, where a couple questioned, “Are you looking for Lorella (in Italian)?”

Si, we replied.

They pointed to a narrow, stone staircase that curved up the hillside and said, “La Scala”. Ok, we could barely fit…but up we went. Lorella met us and commented, “Just a few more steps”. Really!?! We climbed four stories of stairs from their basement to our “penthouse suite.”

And we were blessed with a penthouse view. Our patio looks out over the whole town as the sun sets on the harbor! The two bedroom apartment was quaint with a small kitchen and bath. Another building included a separate kitchen that we will never be using!

We opened the windows, enjoyed the sunset, and set out for 9:30 dinner reservations at the most popular restaurant in town, Billy’s. We had a fantastic waitress who would not tell us her name and joked with us despite not knowing much English (though it was more than our Italian). We had the antipasto seafood sampler which included octopus, cuttlefish, shrimp fritters, a crab cake, two types of anchovies, two types of tuna, and some things we didn’t know what they were at all…12 things in total.

We also opted for the fish of the day, sea bass, and to our surprise she brought over a plate of three dead fish for us to choose from. We pointed to the one in the middle. It was the smallest. Thirty minutes later, the whole thing was presented on a platter. After she watched us attempt to filet it, she came over and helped!

Suddenly, we started making friends. A couple from California asked where we were from and gave us tips about hiking from town to town, and a table full of fun Italian ladies called us over once the free Limoncello and bitters were served. What a fun night until we couldn’t get the gate open to our apartment, “Oh, just force it,” Lorella said. We kind of felt bad to call her after midnight…but what a fun day and night! We’re ready to tackle a hike tomorrow…ETB

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