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March 25th 2012
Published: May 16th 2012
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The hill towns of Italy

Home away from homeHome away from homeHome away from home

The house we had the pleasure of staying at.
We woke up at a ridiculous 3:30 in the AM. Due to good planning we were on our way to catching the 4 AM airport shuttle in time for our 6 AM flight; until Dan realized he had forgotten his passport. We were only on Victoria street; (and thankfully only halfway up at that) so had time to rush back to the hostel and grab it. We were still able to make the 4:15 bus. We zipped through check-in and security at the airport and only had to wait about half an hour for boarding. Ashley quickly passed out as soon as we took off, while Dan read most of the flight (except for a 15 minute nap while he tried to listen to a podcast).

Landing in Italy was a little bumpy, but there was a lot of wind. And sun. A lot of sun. Maybe it was only us, but we were squinting for almost the next hour. Robin and Jacqueline were there to meet us at the airport shortly after our plan landed. Dan (as ever) insisted on not standing around and we took a stroll along the road leading into the airport (to catch the ladies should they arrive while we were at the terminal). We dawdled out by the roundabout for a while commenting about the beautiful weather and some of the cars that drove by. Worrying that we had perhaps missed them back at the airport, we sauntered back to the terminal. After closer inspection and not finding them, we plopped ourselves on a curb, soaking up the rays, and waited.

The drive back to Cortona was beautiful; as beautiful as a highway drive can be. Looking out over the landscape there were fields, vineyards, crumbling buildings. It wasn't hard to envision some of the older, hilltop buildings being the only ones around surrounded by fields worked by serfs. A little bit of being transported back in time… in a Ford.

The house that Robin cat sits at feels like it's in the middle of nowhere; even though there are 5 houses within a couple minutes’ walk. You never really drive through a town, but there are shops on the side of the road. There are wee single track roads where you loath to meet other cars (although the dirt bikes aren't so bad), and across from the driveway
The girlsThe girlsThe girls

At Castiglione del Lago
(and in the yard, at that) are olive trees. The little manual gate to the house has to be closed all the time, or else the wild boars get in and dig up the yard something fierce. The house itself was open and spacious, with all the rooms spanning from the front to back walls. You walk into the cavernous entry hall where stairs at the back curl around the wall to meet the indoor balcony/walkway above your head. To the left as you enter is the living room (the old stable, with arch for the doors still), fire place and all. Through there is the ground floor bathroom, and then one of the studies.

The first day we zipped up to Cortona. 'Up' is the proper word as it is a hill town, founded at 493m. While very defensible, it makes roads very narrow and steep to climb, and one way; hopefully most people realize that (although not all do). Since it was Dan's first time in town we took a wee stroll experiencing the commanding view of the country side, and sat down for coffees. The rest of the night was chatting, eating and reading.
Santa MargheritaSanta MargheritaSanta Margherita

Up and over Cortona we found this church.

Our second day involved a lot more car travel. After a wee lie in and breakfast we went down to the bar in 'town' and got coffee. We went shopping at DeSpar for the day’s food, and then into town again before the veggie stand closed. We also grabbed some wine while there. After dropping all the foodstuffs back at the villa we drove on to Monticchiello. It was rather a small hill town but still offered great views out towards Pienza, our destination of the day. Robin and Jacqueline stopped at the town gates to admire the views there while we continued up through town. There didn't seem to be much there save for the big church and right at the top of the hill, a tower. Unfortunately it wasn't public land, seeming to be owned by a Finnish sculptor. We did encounter a friendly gatto that followed us around a little and later Dan had it chasing sticks. We took a tiny gravel road through the country side to Pienza, famous for sheep’s cheese. We planned on getting some Romano for dinner that night, but we misunderstood that cheese was not only Romano and instead ended up
Soaking up the sun Soaking up the sun Soaking up the sun

We gobbled some gelato in the campo in Siena.
with some other delicious soft cheese; that went well in our caprese salad as well as in the spaghetti carbonara.

Tuesday was another day that didn't demand an early start. We had our breakfast, went down for coffee and then off to Castiglione del Lago. We followed a meandering road up over a hill. Robin wanted to show us old abbey ruins which took us further off the main road. In the town we walked through the streets, took in the view of the lake, bought wild boar sausage, and enjoyed freshly made paninis. Off we headed back to Cortona after the sandwiches and drinks. Dan, always one for horrible, physical exertion got Ashley to agree to walk from the main road all the way up to the church at the top of town (Santa Margerhita) and the fortezza. It only took us 35 minutes to get to the top while we had given ourselves two hours before meeting Robin and Jacqueline in town for coffees (and a ride home). We walked down the other side of the hill, down a road that took us to the a National Firing Range. Back tracking we took another less marked
Spruce it upSpruce it upSpruce it up

So many fancy flowers in the windows since there's not much room for gardens.
but well used trail that stuck closer to the fortezza; finding ourselves at the receiving end of the fire range (unused thankfully!!!!) and outside the city wall. We walked for a while hoping to find where it curved back in. The path ended up taking us back toward the villa. After a while we stopped trying to find a way around and walked back up the hill to come back down on the in town side. We ran into the ladies in the main square, got some shopping done and headed back to get some much needed rest.

Siena was our destination for Wednesday morning. We woke up earlier than usual, got our standard morning coffee and were on the road. Once we reached Siena parking was a trial, with tiny, twisty roads, and intermittent signs. When we got into town we headed straight for the Campo (or giant square) and grabbed gelato. It was such a beautiful day; Dan had to zipp off his pants into shorts; something not done for years it would seem. We moseyed on over to the duomo where Ashley admired the pink marbley detail. Then the ladies had to head off to

We found him at San Gimignano just chillin'.
Furla (SOP in any Furla store containing city), and with Dan's affinity for getting lost, he wandered off. Didn't see much of interest other than the windy streets of the residential areas. We met up and headed out from Siena to go to another old abbey. While getting on the right road to get there was a little tricky it was a great place to enjoy a sunny picnic lunch. Unfortunately, unlike the last time Robin was there, a fee had been placed on going into the abbey, so we didn't end up doing that. It had an impressive exterior but was unfortunately missing the roof... From there we took the foot path up the hill to the chapel; not an easy walk but nice beside vineyards and a little forest. In the chapel was a sword embedded in stone. The saint that put it there gave up the life of a soldier to serve God. It was really neat to see, even beneath the protective plastic bubble. That evening we went and had dinner in town, pasta, pizza, and salad were on the menu that night.

Thursday was to be our relaxing day at the house. So
Looking for CortonaLooking for CortonaLooking for Cortona

On our 6 km walk from Pergo to Cortona.
we were out for coffee at the usual time, and since Dan had been wearing runners, shorts, and sport socks (not the short kinds) and missing his beloved sandals, we headed to the factory outlet stores, Val di Chiana not too far away. After much wandering around, Robin and Ashley came away with a pair of Puma's each, Jacqueline with a splatter screen from a nice kitchen store, and Dan with nada; another day of runners. We went back to the house and made plans to be back in town to head for afternoon coffee and the butchers. Figuring there must be some back road into town, Dan coerced Ashley (much more easily than anticipated) to walk over one hill, and up another with no clear path or map to get into town. We also later realized (after seeing many, many, many empty shotgun casings) that we had no clue as to the Italian trespassing laws. We had started following a road, but when that ended in a gated off house we started cutting through the olive groves/terraces. It was rather an adventure, as there were few paths and hopping between terraces entailed up to a four foot drop. We circled wide around one trailer and continued through the grove. At one point (it must have been pruning season) we ran into one man working. He looked a little surprised to see us, but made no other comment (that we understood) other than that it was hot out. We continued on and eventually came out on a familiar road, much to Dan's dismay. We clamoured on up the tiny road's switchbacks all the way to town, meeting the ladies with plenty of time to spare. After some refreshments, we finished shopping for dinner and headed back to Skype with Ashley's aunt.

Our flight out wasn't until late on Friday so we tried to make the most of the day. We woke up bright and early, had the usual breakfast and coffee, and we were off to Rome. Wisely, Robin was not willing to drive in town, so we parked at the airport and took the shuttle to the Termini. We walked all the way through to the forum in hopes to stroll through there for a few hours before we met up with Connie and Rick; friends of Ashley's family. Unfortunately, there too we found out too late
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On our last day in Rome.
that a fee now applied to what was free on a previous visit. Instead we walked a little more to Trevi Fountain, where Jacqueline waited for Connie while we went with Robin to (a now) giant Furla store. Dan walked to the Spanish steps while the girls shopped... again. Once we found Jacqueline, Connie and Rick back at the Trevi Fountain, we all shared a mid-afternoon meal, trading travel stories and chatting about home. Thus ending yet another great trip.

It was a wonderful trip that reminded us what 'sun' and 'summer' could be like. It is also our final out of country trip while based in the UK. Here the reality and immediacy of heading home hit us.


• Walking in the hills among the olive trees
• Visiting surrounding hill towns and eating their specialties: pecorino cheese and boar sausage
• Drinks during siesta (when all the shops are closed): a fancy coffee or a cold beer


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