Monday, June 4, 2012

Travels in the Countryside

Since we don’t have a car ourselves there are many parts of Tuscany that we haven’t been able to get to on our own.  However, by coincidence, it happened that in one week we went on three separate trips to see the Tuscan and Umbrian countryside with friends who have cars.

Our series of adventures began when we went to Perugia to visit Federica, our friend and former Italian teacher.  We took the train from Arezzo and met her at her apartment for lunch, which was a delicious combination of Ribollita made by Federica’s mother, a cake made by her mother-in-law, and a soufflé that she herself made.  When the meal was over she said,“Dove vorreste andare?” (“Where do you want to go?”). We were quite surprised.  We had expected she would be returning to work after the meal and that we would be making our way home.  Instead, Federica said she had the afternoon free to give us a tour of Umbria.  Presented with infinite options, we had a hard time choosing until Gabriella suggested we visit one of Federica’s favorite places, so we went to Lago Trasimeno, about 15 minutes away.  We stopped first at San Feliciano, a lovely little town that doesn’t feel at all touristy even though the whole area around the lake (which is about the size of Seattle’s Lake Washington) is a heavily touristed area.

After a nice walk along the lake and up into the old part of town, we went to Passignano, which definitely felt more touristy.  It also has a beautiful centro storico (historical center) and a nice park alongside the lake. We found a beautifully situated bar where we had a drink together before Federica took us to the train station.  We arrived back in Arezzo feeling contentedly full after an afternoon of delicious tastes and spontaneous experiences.

Three days later we took the train to Montevarchi where we met our friend Cristina.  She picked us up at the station and drove us to her house in Montegonzi, a tiny village of about 100 people.  After a short tour of the town we went back to her house for lunch, which included Ribollita made by Cristina’s mother (do you detect a theme here?  We’re becoming like the Italians who always talk about food!), ample cheese, wine, bread, and sausages (which Cristina got specifically for Henry - he was in Carnivore Heaven!).  To our amazement, Cristina cooked the bruschetta and meat over the coals in the fireplace.  

Afterwards we went on a drive through the countryside to Gaiole, one of the main towns in the Chianti region.  It poured with rain in the afternoon, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the lush greenery of the countryside.

Our heads still swimming with images of Chianti and Lago Trasimeno, the next day we went with our friends Lauro and Angioletta to Pienza and Montalcino.  They had wisely organized the day so that we could eat lunch in Montalcino, which is the home of Brunello wines, reportedly Italy’s best (and most expensive).  We found a restaurant where when you order a glass of wine, instead of bringing you one full glass they bring you two half-full glasses of the same type of wine but from different vintages or wineries.  This way you get to sample more wine, and, presumably find it harder to resist the temptation to buy a bottle (or more).  As a result of this clever scheme we were able to taste 6 different wines and they were all delicious.  Believe it or not we didn’t actually buy any to take home!  After lunch we battled the wind and rain for a brief walk through the town, a stop at the Abbazia (Abbey) di Sant’Antimo and then headed back to Arezzo.

We feel very, very fortunate to have such wonderful and generous friends.  It is these great friendships that make it hard for us to contemplate our pending departure at the end of June.

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