Italy, October 28

Friday, October 28th

I got up bright and early to catch some shots of the Tuscan farm valleys at sunrise. Although the sun had just come up, the proprietor of our VRBO was already busy picking saffron.  Safron petals laying on the hill in morning light was not a scene I was expecting.

Saffron petals on a Tuscan hillside at dawn

Saffron petals on a Tuscan hillside at dawn

While everyone else was getting ready for the day, Tom and I spent some time playing around and getting to know the local chickens.

Tommy and the Chickens

Tommy and the Chickens (was the name of my garage band in high school?)

Our first Tuscan excursion was to Montalcino.  Here’s another town on top of a hill, and it was even colder than we were expecting.  We were all freezing so Gabbie got a big shawl, and Tommy got a new sweatshirt.  These we got from street vendors because there was a marketplace setup through a lot of the town that day.  It would have been nice to get some sort of Italian-looking sweatshirt, but all they had was a Spongebob Sqarepants thing and the Born to Ride one we ended up getting.

Inside, we showed all the employees pictures of that one time our daughter was blessed by the Pope.

Inside, we showed all the employees pictures of that one time our daughter was blessed by the Pope.

We had some excellent croissant and coffee at a café in the square of what looked like a small castle and then visited the humble Chiesa di Sant’Agostino.

Interior of the chiesa di Sant'Agostino in Montalcino

Interior of the chiesa di Sant’Agostino in Montalcino

At the other end of the town, we went into the Chiesa della Madonna del Soccorso.  It was during our visit here that I had the leave the family in quiet contemplation while I returned to the car to pay for more parking.

The Chiesa della Madonna del Soccorso as seen from across the street

The Chiesa della Madonna del Soccorso as seen from across the street

For lunch we found the place recommended by a woman from Tennessee who was staying at the same farmhouse as us in Buoncovento.  Also per her recommendation I had the risotto with cinghiale, which is wild boar and a word that is harder to pronounce than it looks.  The dish was fantastic.  To go along with yet another great meal, we sat directly over an ancient well on top of which the ristorante was built.  It was cool but a little disorienting to walk over it.  After lunch, we walked around Montalcino Castle.

I guess this is the front of the Abbazia di Sant'Antimo because it's where the entrance is, but it seems like the back.

I guess this is the front of the Abbazia di Sant’Antimo because it’s where the entrance is, but it seems like the back.

On the way back to Buoncovento we visited the Abbazia di Sant’Antimo, a 9th century Romanesque abbey that was, at one time, a Benedictine monastery.  It was beautiful inside and out.  It was also very quiet and almost empty.  I don’t know if we got there between tour buses or what, but the place almost felt desolate.

And I suppose this is the back of the Abbazia di Sant'Antimo even though it looks to me like it would be the front.

And I suppose this is the back of the Abbazia di Sant’Antimo even though it looks to me like it would be the front.

This was a shorter day than most of the others, and we got back to the farmhouse in time for the sunset and some swimming out back.  I constantly had the song The Fool on the Hill stuck in my head but with the lyric “the pooool on the hill . . . “  After the sunset swim, we drove back into Buoncovento to shop for dinner.

The farmhouse we stayed at in the Tuscan countryside and the pool behind it.

The farmhouse we stayed at in the Tuscan countryside and the pool behind it.

On the way back to the farmhouse, along a small, dark road, I turned onto the wrong gravel road for our farmhouse.  It was close, but one too early.  Sitting at a closed gas station were two Carabinieri.  I don’t know if they were stopping everyone or just us because of my wrong turn, but the officer motioned for me to pull over, and he started talking to me.  You can look them up online, but the Carabinieri are like the super police in Italy.  In additional to supervising the general population, they have authority over the regular police and the military.  And they’re so cool looking.  Their cars are cool, their motorcycles are cool, and their uniforms are super sharp.  They are named after the weapons they carry – carbines.

“Buonasera,” he started out.  “Buonasera,” I replied.  He then said something in Italian, to which I replied “Io non parlare Italiano (I don’t speak Italian).”  In spite of nodding his understanding, he proceeded to ask me a long question in Italian.  Because I picked up on the Italian word for “where” (because I know how to ask “Dove e il bagno?”) and the context of the situation, I assumed he was asking me where we were going.  Claire was screaming-crying at the time, right behind my seat, so that added to the ambiance.  Fortunately there was a sign right in front of us that pointed to the road I should have turned on in the first place.  I pointed at it a few times, and eventually he let me go.  That’s the story of how I was stopped by the Carabinieri on a dark road at night in Italy.  Awesome.

Sunset over Tuscany

Sunset over Tuscany

That night, I cooked dinner.  Granted, it was just two kinds of pasta, a ragu sauce and a pesto, but still – I cooked an Italian meal with local ingredients in the kitchen of a farmhouse in the Tuscan countryside.  Mark that one off my list.

Next:  October 29th (Tuscany, Siena)

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