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Published: October 5th 2010
After the trans-Atlantic flight, the sights of Florence and the isle of Elba, we continued our exploration among the tranquility of the Tuscan countryside, where time definitely slows down amidst a stunning backdrop.
Pienza is a place that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. The entire surrounding valley was included on UNESCO’s World Cultural Landscape. Pretty heady stuff when you get right down to it.
Stick your head out of our hotel and it is easy to see why. The colors and the contour of the landscape flowing so gently, it is a scene right out of movie. More on that later….
Our temporary domicile was conveniently located so that when we crossed the street we were within the walls of the old town, which like the many others we have encountered is seriously high on the cute factor. The many wine and cheese shops draw you in with their wonderful smells. Your nose will tell you that you are upon a leather shop before you look up and see it. There are a few local art galleries and many trattorrias, which tempt you with their Tuscan menus. As with all towns in this
region, the main square included the local cathedral.
To Americans like us, there is something delightfully decadent about sitting in the middle of the afternoon with a fine local red wine and local cuisine simply watching the comings and goings of the locals and the tourists. We have taken advantage of this opportunity more than once with great results. This town does not allow any cars within the walls, so it even quieter than most with its exclusive pedestrian traffic.
Once you have sat down at a table, the table is yours for as long as you want it. There is no hustle to turn the table over as in the States. It is customary to ask for the check, rather that have the waiter make multiple attempts to give it to you. We find this refreshing as well. Of course you pay for the privilege of keeping the table with a small service fee or cover charge of a few Euros in some places. Well worth the price of admission. It is not uncommon for non- Americans to spend two or three hours dining. They experience their meal and their friends.
idea here is to simply slow down and take it all in….how un-American can you get? The mere activity of watching the daily interactions of the locals is utterly fascinating despite the fact that we speak little of the language. The locals are quite friendly in spite of the fact that the almighty tourist dollars yells so loudly.
This area of Italy is very agricultural. The economy is dependent on grape vines, olive trees, sunflowers and some tourism. We would like to come back when the sunflowers are in bloom. It is fall now and the harvest is almost complete. Many of the fields are currently being plowed for winter wheat.
Other outings included a trip to a local abbey, where MJ delighted in the happenings of a Sunday catholic services in Italian with Gregorian chanting and the wafting scent of incense.
We’ve encountered few people between the ages of 20 to 30, as this area is not very affordable nor easy to get to by the hostel crowd. Biking is quite popular due to the gentle hills and valleys (and not so gentle hills and great valleys). The average Italian motorist here does have a
maybe just a snack
tendency to drive quite close behind you, but on further review, you see very few damaged vehicles.
All destinations seem to be only 20 or so kilometers away, but take 30 to 45 minutes to reach due to the winding, narrow roads that traverse the valleys. But when you’re not in a hurry, what’s to mind?
One thing that we have been surprised by in addition to the graffiti that we have seen is the fog. Many mornings while in Tuscany we have woken up to fogged in hills and valleys. It offers a simplistic beauty and we have enjoyed watching it burn off and uncover the surrounding beauty. On a couple of days it has not lifted until almost noon.
Another day trip took us to the delightful town of Cortona, which perhaps is better know to Americans for its role in “Under the Tuscan Sun.” It is another walled city up on a hill due to the pillaging and what not from the middle centuries--another lovely Italian town with charm and charisma. We were there on a Saturday and took in the local markets and vendors, who undoubtedly have been setting up shop here for
Lounging on Sunday afternoon
2 Italian gentlemen reading the paper
many centuries hawking everything from clothing to cheese to meat and jewelry from their trucks and vans.
We had a quick stop in Orvieto to hook up with Bob and Lois, where we dodged some rain drops and had an incredible meal at Palumbo’s, which is run by a small family and frequented by the locals. MJ had the wild boar, which she found scrumptious.
The real question is why aren’t all Italians fat? We have yet to have a bad meal or even a mediocre meal. From what we can see most eat three meals a day and the evening meal is often three or more courses. Italian food and wines come with a lot of hype and we can now tell you that it is well deserved. We can certify that our taste buds have danced at each meal. No ordinary or average cooking going on in this country!
Tuscany is known for its beautiful countryside. Whether we are driving the twisting, roads to explore or sitting on a balcony enjoying the views we have not grown tired of the beauty the landscape holds. It is difficult to find the words to describe what we
have seen. We’ve heard so much from so many about why they like Italy that we thought we might feel some disappointment—we have not.
The next morning we turned in the rental car and found ourselves on the fast train to our last stop on this voyage, the classic city of Rome…..
If you are reading along-- we'd love to hear from you!
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