Tuscany, Wandering

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Yesterday, after a wonderful breakfast outside, overlooking endless rows of grapes, we left our base of the farmhouse near Montepulciano and headed into the countryside, letting the Fiat Panda point us to where it wanted to go. We wandered north, close to Siena, stopping along the way to buy groceries at a local market and eating a picnic lunch in a park in the tiny hamlet (far off the tourist path and with a name I have to look up when I get back to the States). Walking through the town, we happened into a tiny, empty 13th-century church containing exquisite art – and no tourists in sight.

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After that, we tasted (and bought) some wine at a local estate and moved on to Montalcino, where we ate sorbetto and walked the town, taking in the views of the valleys below in the changing colors of the afternoon light. Next, it was over the mountains and down to Pienza for a late dinner (gnocchi with pesto for Kath and lamb for me).

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Today, we made a beeline for Siena to experience a larger town. With any town containing more than 2000 or more people, a particular pattern occurs: You park your car outside the city walls and walk up, up, up into the city, and then when you have seen what you have come to see, you try to remember where you parked your car so you can go out the right city gate. The larger the city, the harder this is, as the car parking areas are more crammed with cars, you have to park further away from the city walls, you have to walk further uphill once you get into the city to get to the central square, or piazza, and it can be more confusing to get out.

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We saw many interesting things in Siena, including the Duomo (they started a major expansion in the 14th century, but the plague stopped them and they had to later incorporate their work in the surrounding buildings) and the St. Katherine Church. After spending the day in Siena, we drove down to Montepulciano for dinner. The walk from the car park up to the Piazza was exhausting, though, and we couldn’t really enjoy a lot of the excellent architecture for being so tired of walking up and down the very vertical town.

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Tomorrow, Florence!

See all of our photos of southern Tuscany

From the Amalfi Coast to Montepulciano

The Amalfi Coast left us wanting more. From tiny towns stitched into the steep, rocky hillsides that plunged into the blue sea, to the island of Capri erupting from the water like a dagger toward the sky, to roads hugging the mountains curving around crevasses and dropping into terraces of green, we took away indelible scenes that we will remember.

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We spent our first full day here looking around Positano. We had to take the bus over from where we were staying, up on a hill in Priano (the next town over), and we strolled the V-shaped Positano, taking it all in. Unless you are on the main road, everything along the Amalfi Coast is vertical, which means a lot of walking up and down, moving from stairs to moderate hills, and then back to stairs again, with every step down meaning another step up. You begin to quickly estimate the exhaustion level of every destination as soon as you spy it. On the good side, there is an incredible view waiting for you in almost every place you would stop to catch your breath.

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The next day, we headed to Positano early to catch the ferry to Capri. The ferry ride over was calm along the coast, but as soon as you rounded the corner to the Bay of Naples, the water become very choppy, even with almost no wind and clear skies. Once in the harbor, we took the funiculare up to Capri Town and found a supermarket. Gathering enough for a picnic lunch, we sauntered up the hill, looking for a shady place to eat, one with a view. Two exhausting hours later, we found ourselves above the town, looking down on the harbor and the distant mainland. We should have take the bus, or at least brought a map with us, but the view was stunning as we ate on the stairs in the shadow of a mountain, under the gaze of Mary, built into a grotto near the location of a late-1800s sighting. We wandered around Anacapri for a couple of hours and then took the bus back down to Capri and then walked down the hill to the harbor for the trip back to Positano.

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Our 12th anniversary was the following day, so we took it easy. We explored a beach in Priano and ate dinner in a very nice place, located just down the hill from our hotel (Casa Columba).

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On the drive to Tuscany, we made a stop south of Naples to check out Herculanium, a Roman town buried in scalding mud when Vesuvius exploded in 79 AD. Herculanium is more preserved than the more famous Pompeii, so there is more to see. It is also a smaller site, something you can see in a couple of hours, which is all the time we had to spend.

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Many of the frescos were still visible. Some of them looked touched up, but others had to be original to the period. Perhaps most amazing was the charred 2000 year old wood, visible throughout the town, like in old staircases and in beams stuck in walls. Some of these ancient charred timbers were still holding up doorways. They let you wander all over the site, pretty much, and you can get amazing close to some very old things.

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We made it to our Tuscan farmhouse, on a hill several kilometers from Montepulciano, before sunset and then headed to a nearby town for dinner. We are the only guests here, and it feels like we have a manor, surrounded by vineyards and gleaming towns on the rims of hills across the surrounding valleys, all to ourselves. I hope our fortune holds, as we head into surrounding country around to explore and discover.

See all of our photos of the Amalfi Coast, Capri, and Herculanium

A Sight Beyond Words, While Stuffed with Pizza

I’m writing this from the comfortable confines of a small hotel on the Almalfi Coast, in central Italy, located in the tiny town of Praiano, roughly in this location. It took us about 24 hours, door-to-door, including a few hours in Montecassino so I could check out the terrain of the WWII battle there that I’ve been fascinated with since reading the excellent book, The Day of Battle by Rick Atkinson.

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We are in an exquisitely beautiful spot, and I’m enjoying a free wifi signal from a nearby house under a perfect blanket of stars, dimmed only by the light from my laptop screen.

I’ll post some photos soon, as we pass the next few days exploring the area. For now, we are just exhausted from the trip and looking to get our strength back tomorrow.