Tuscan country side

Trip Start Jun 01, 2010
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Trip End Mar 11, 2011


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Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hello mom, dad and all you fans and followers, we are quite a few days behind on the blog so I have to make up for that with one big post. I will cover our stay in Chianti / Poggibonsi in this to make up for some lost time. Feel free to leave some comments or 'like' our travelpod blog,.. here it goes...

Today we head out to Poggibonsi, where? Yes Poggibonsi. This is a place somewhere between Florence and Siena in the middle of the Chianti area. We got ourselves a sort of 'farm house' in the countryside for a couple of days in a place called 'Antico Brogo San Lorenzo'. So we check out of our hotel and say goodbye to beautiful Florence. We drag our luggage along the streets for 10 minutes to reach the car rental agency. Here we pick up our little car for the next days. We were given a Lancia Muevo, a little and utterly ugly styled car. But it brings us to where we have to go, and it had a little diesel engine, so it could probably drive us up and down Italy without refueling. Not that that is the plan, as Poggibionsi is only an hour out of Florence.


It took us a bit to find the place as we had to drive on some unpaved roads and the address was not in the GPS. But after a phone call we were directed in the right direction and soon after we checked in to our farm house. The owners were welcoming and showed us our apartment, number 9. The whole complex used to be a pilgrimage hostel back in the middle ages. The buildings of the complex date back to the 12th century. We were given a lovely 2 bedroom apartment, with full kitchen, living room, fireplace and bathroom with jacuzzi. Although the place was old, it was comfortable and equipped with AC and a full kitchen. And I almost fitted in the classic wooden bed. We were greeted with a nice bottle of prosecco to celebrate our honeymoon.


After settling in we headed out towards the town of San Gimignano. This town was high on the list of must sees that Ben, an Italian and ex colleague of mine gave me when I asked him for tips on a visit to Tuscany. And indeed it was a special sight. Nowadays men compensate certain shortcomings with the size of their car or boat. But in medieval days, they used towers for this purpose in this town. Once there were around seventy towers in this little hillside town. Now only around 17 of these survived the tooth of time.

Before exploring the town we first stranded on a little square where we had a lovely lunch. I had some beef stew and Linda ordered a wild boar. Soon we swapped plates as the boar was more to my likings and the beef more to Linda's. After our lunch we walked through the town snapping some photos and admiring the strange spectacle of the towers of San Gimignano.
 
We found a famous gelato store on one of the squares. It must have been famous as they had some poster on the storefront, mentioning that the place was featured on some Japanese travel show. We did not find any reference in our 'Lonely Planet' though. We both ordered a nice little icecream, and it was indeed fantastic. I asked for some special chocolate that they had hidden in the back of the store. At first the girl behind the counter walked to the normal chocolate. But I said, no no no, this one right here. So she scooped me some of the brown gold. It was utterly delicious. I don't think I have ever tasted better chocolate ice cream than this one.


On our way back we stopped at a supermarket to get supplies for our apartment. At first we could not find the place so we headed back to the farm house. The owner had to go there himself as well so he was kind enough to lead us to the supermarket. Back at the apartment, Linda cooked up a fiery hot Spaghetti Al Olio. We enjoyed our home cooked meal and had a nice evening together in our medieval apartment.


After a good night of sleep we awaken in the Tuscan country side. Another lovely day. It's hard to believe that it sometimes actually rains out here. But it must as the countryside is lush green. I go downstairs to make some breakfast for us, some yogurt with cereal and Tuscan honey. As we enjoy our breakfast on the balcony, we can see the hills and vineyards surrounding us. Life is good here in the country side, but we do feel a bit lost without our internet connection.

On booking.com, this place was listed with internet availability in public spaces. So we thought, that would work, just go to the reception with your laptop and check mails and things there. But public internet actually means that we have to share the computer of the reception as they don’t even have wireless. And on top of that, the reception closes around 22:00 as the people go home then, and they are also closed for a 3 hour lunch break. This definitively would not work for us. In the evenings we would be disconnected from all forms of communication. Yesterday we spent some time in the evening at the reception behind their computer. Jacolpo the owner of the complex had given us the key to the reception after insisting that we needed a connection that evening. I needed to check some mails and send work back and forward to Bermuda as I am working on a project for one of my clients over there. Yes it's not all play on our trip, sometimes I actually have to do some work as well. But with the luxury of doing it from the prettiest places on the planet.

Anyway we needed to fix our communications void, so we decided to find a solution. Near the supermarket we found an electronics store that sold telephones and SIM cards. We got ourselves a data SIM from WIND, a local Italian provider. This costs only 25 Euros (including the costs for the SIM) and gives us 100 hours of internet access. We can plug this SIM in our data USB stick from T-Mobile and get connectivity that way. The card is a bargain compared to the ReadyBroadband we got in the States. But it was quite an exercise to get a data SIM here in Italy. They had to register my (copy) of my passport, and go through pages of administration. But in the end we got ourselves a SIM card that would be activated the next day, viva technology!


With our connection problems solved we headed out to the town of Voltera. This is one of the many medieval walled towns of the region. All of these towns were built on top of a hill because the whole area used to be a battlefield in the old days. The cities of Siena and Florence fought their battles here in what is now the wine county of Italy. We parked the car outside the walls and conquered the many stairs up into the town. Wild boars and pigs are a big thing in the region and on one of the towers of the Palazzo Pretorio on the main square we found a little statue of a pig sticking out of the wall. This is one of the signature 'attractions' of this medieval city. The other one is that it is related to the Twilight book series and maybe even the television series. We did not know this before we headed out here we never watch these shows, but still an interesting 'fact'. We found out later that it is actually Montepulciona where most of the shows were filmed, but Volterra is the stage for the books.





On the way back to the car we stumbled upon some roman ruins, These turned out to be the Roman theater.















We headed back to the house as we did not want to be home after dark. We have a BBQ planned, so we need some daylight to see what we are doing. Back at the apartment I gathered all the necessities for the BBQ. We had a little grill outside the house, but I had to improvise on a grill top. While Linda was preparing the fish that we had bought the day before I popped a bottle of vernaccia (San Gimignano white wine) and lighted the fire. A good twenty minutes later we had a lovely white hot BBQ and our fishies stuffed with fresh herbs were happy in their tinfoil cocoon filled with lemon and olive oil. Next to the fishies we had some corn marinated in Tuscan honey and olive oil, as this is one of my honey's favorites.

The next morning we were woken up by gunshots. It sounded like an Iraqi battlefield in the hills of the Poggibinsi area. It was hunting season, and the local heros were hunting for wild boar. The boar are now kind of a plague in the hills as they have an appetite for sangiovese grapes. So the government has made them outlaws and every man with a gun has a license to kill.




After our breakfast we headed out to Siena. It was a very pleasant drive through the hills of the Chianti as we avoided the highways. We drove past the towers of San Gimignano again and we stopped somewhere in the hills for a sandwich with porchetta meat. There was this little cart on a scenic hill top where a friendly girl sold her farm's specialties. Outside a couple of locals enjoyed a sandwich and drink.

In Siena we parked the car outside the walls again. We explored the city, which is a lot bigger than the little hill towns we visited before. We learned that there are two camps. The ones that love Siena and the ones that love Florence. And it is not expected that you like both. It is an ancient rivalry between the two powerhouses of the past. We think that we are in the Florence camp,.


Not that Siena is wrong in any way, it has a very pretty square, a pretty cathedral, an unfinished Duomo and all the other things that a self respecting Italian town should have. It's just that Florence has a different feel to it. The square (or better half circle) in Siena is lovely. It is here where they have Il Palio, the world famous horse races. Two times a year thousands of people will come here to cheer for their parish as the races are an ancient battle between the different parishes of Siena. Only the winning parish is allowed to show their flags in Siena for half a year, and then the races start over again. We had a lovely and simple lunch at the square, just a pizza to share and a big brochette of various grilled meats.


After exploring the town of Siena we drove back through the gorgeous Tuscan country side to the farm house. We had made dinner reservations at the restaurant on site, Casa Bandini. So in the evening we went 'next door' as the restaurant is located next to our house. We were the only guests in the restaurant, that worried me a bit. But we decided to stay as we felt kind of obliged to have a meal here. The restaurant is nicely decorated and has a chic feel to it. Jacolpo is the chef, and his wife, who also helps him running the apartment complex is the waitress, sommelier and maitre d. We ordered some primi, for me a tomato with mozzarella and for Linda a pasta with meat sauce. The food was good, but a bit unbalanced. There was enough cheese for three appetizers in my dish. For secondi I ordered a rabbit and Linda ordered a beef carpaccio. The rabbit was cooked nicely, and the carpaccio was ok. but the presentation was poorly executed. For dessert I had a classic, almond cookies with sweet white wine dip, and Linda had a tiramisu. And we closed the meal off with espressi and grappa. The whole meal was good, but the price of it all was a bit out of proportion to the quality of the experience. One big plus was that we only had to walk 10 meters back home where we had a lovely evening together.

Another lovely morning again, I had picked up some bread and Nutella for breakfast and we had a nice and quiet morning. I had to work a bit and Linda, the google queen, clicked around on the internet, researching the best of the best as usual. For this afternoon we booked a wine tour of the Chianti area. We did not find it a very responsible idea to go and drive around after tasting so we joined a tour. We did something similar in Napa (also on the blog, many many days back) where we had a great experience.


We booked the tour with www.myitalytours.com after a recommendation from the girl at the reception. Promptly at 13:30 a little tour van drove up to the Casa Bandini where we were waiting outside in the sun. Manuel, the driver was very friendly and welcomes us into the van. There was one other couple from Australia in the van and we had to head out to Siena to pick up some others. Manuel thought he drove a Ferrari and was Michael Schumacher, as he soared over the little country roads and over the autostrada towards Siena. So all the pick ups took no longer than half an hour. I would not mind if he drive a little slower and took a little longer, as the ride was a bit uncomfortable and at some points even scary. The engine noise and the rattling of the doors made it almost impossible to have a conversation with our fellow travelers. But after everyone was picked up we headed to the Chianti countryside and Manuel relaxed his driving a bit.


Our first stop was a small little tourist town called Castellinga in Chianti. Another pretty town, this time there were no walls left but the walkway that used to be under the wall was still there. We walked around a bit, had an espresso and half an hour later we headed on to our first tasting of the day. We stopped at a little Agriturismo farm. The owner is an old lady and she opened the gates to her empire and welcomed us with open arms. She had all the components of an Agriturismo in house, they had some apartments, made wine, olive oil and they even cured meats. This last one was actually what the place is famous for. The woman raised traditional Chianti pigs (black stripe) and cured them in house. We were allowed a tour of the curing fridges where the meats stay for two to three years. After the tour we were all seated around a table and the tastings began. First we had a kind of Rose wine as appetizer. Thereafter a blend of sangiovese and cabernet souvignon grapes, third a true Chianti Classico 2009, so at least 80% of sangiovese and last a reserva, strangely also from 2009. Everything was served with purees and bread that was made on the farm by the old lady. Honestly, the wine was not brilliant and the reserva needed at least 2 more years in the bottle. So we did not buy any bottles. But the whole experience was very nice and Linda ended up buying a little jar of spicy tomato puree.


After our first tasting we made another short stop in a town where we had a little gelato. Our second stop was at a bigger winery. This one is owned by a Dutch guy and makes around 600.000 bottles of wine a year. You can see that it is a very commercial enterprise as they even make Rose wines, which sell great in Germany and Holland, but an Italian would not touch it as it is not traditional. We got a tour of the wine cellars and the whole production process. Again we were seated at a table and were presented with some of the wines of the estate. We ended up buying a nice sweet white wine. Our mission is to find almond biscotti and recreate a dessert we had earlier this week at Casa Bandini.





We were brought home early in the evening. One of our travel companions had to make photo stops at every hilltop that she could find along the way back to Poggibonsi. This became a bit annoying after the 5th or 6th stop, bit further than that the tour was an enjoyable experience.

We had some prosciutto meats in the fridge, so Linda cooked up a fantasy spaghetti for dinner which turned out to be very nice. We popped another bottle and enjoyed la Dolce Vita. Tomorrow we continue onwards to Perugia, so for now we enjoy the silence of the Tuscan countryside (with our mobile internet connection of course :) )
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Comments

schumigirl1956 on

I love the photos and also the location.

jeroenandlinda
jeroenandlinda on

thanks.

Debra Kolkka on

Great post and great photos. Siena has only one n.

jeroenandlinda
jeroenandlinda on

Thanks!, but what do you mean my Sienna has only one?

Debra Kolkka on

There is only one n in Siena.

jeroenandlinda
jeroenandlinda on

Ah thanks, think i fixed all of them now :)

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