Tonight we are in Arezzo, and perhaps I must backtrack a bit to catch you and me up on the events of the last few days. I think in my last email we were on the goat trails of Cinque Terra, and contemplating a move to Siena. We took a very nice train ride through the countryside to Siena and met another American couple from Oregon on the train. We hit it off pretty well, and so we spent time with them in Siena, first for a lunch on the great Campo (spaghetti carbonara and an insalata mista for me, ravioli with pesto - again - for DD), and then we strolled all over the city, visiting the great green and white marble Duomo in all its glory and really stunned at the amount of beautiful detail in just one magnificant building. We learned, for example, that it took 200 years for the inlaid marble floors of the cathedral to be completed. They are nice, but they are only a small particle of the massive decoration and detail in every inch of the place, marble sculptures, stained glass, inlaid wood, frescoed ceilings and walls, mosaic, the carved heads of all the bishops in history, the soaring domes with golden stars in deep blue paint, with the sculpted little angels looking down into the church. It was staggeringly beautiful, and we thought so much about what kind of community it would take to commit to building something that not only would last through their lifetime as a project, but also for many generations to come. Imagine anybody today proposing doing anything that would take 200 years to complete?? It is outside our realm of possibility....
We slept in a sweet little hotel in Siena, about 2 blocks from the main Campo, and woke several times in the night to the sound of the campanile bells ringing, a common sound in Italy. I love it! Yesterday, after sampling what was billed as ‘the best hot chocolate in Siena’ - it was like melted chocolate mousse - we picked up our rental car and drove off into the Chianti countryside. We got a Citroen to drive, very adorable and it has plenty of zip and plenty of room to stow our luggage out of sight, a good idea! We drove most of the day yesterday through the Chianti hills, following a route recommended for getting out of the mainstream, and we certainly did that! We were on dirt roads, winding along mountaintops clustered with acres of vines, olive trees, black cypress, and stone villas with red tile roofs. Absolutely picturesque, everywhere we turned. There were wineries about every 2 miles where one could stop and taste. We had a suggestion for an ‘out of the way’ lunch place, which turned out to be about 10 miles up another dirt road on top of a mountain, with 360 views of vineyards in all directions. We almost lost the faith getting there, as the road was so twisty and seemed to go on forever. There were Italians on the roadway picking up chestnuts who had no idea where we were supposed to go, but we kept on and were rewarded by another splendid lunch and great Chianti wine. In the afternoon we found a small village, Impruneta, with an outdoor ‘mercato’ in progress, selling everything imaginable under little tents and canvas stalls. We visited a pristine romanesque village called Volpaia up in the mountains where it appeared that time stood still over the rock walls and walkways, exquisite. Last night we stayed in a place called Radda in Chianti, a tiny walled stone town high up above the wine country. Our window looked out into a valley below studded with the usual cypress, vineyards, and stone villas. We fantasized waking up this morning and just sitting outside and painting from the wall below our room. Alas, it was completely fogged in when we got up, so we let it go.
Today we had a kind of weird day. Drove up high into the mountains above Chianti, between Florence and Siena. There were a lot of monasteries up there (including Calmoldoli) and beautiful trees and forests with turning leaves, so we though of New England. But everything was closed up for the season, and the little towns were like ghost towns in the mountains. Finally we came down to a village called Poppi where we found our fine lunch for the day. Can I describe to you - 3 varieties of bruschetta, with tomatoes, wild mushrooms, and some kind of panchetta. Next 2 kinds of ravioli, one stuffed with goat cheese and made with a green pasta full of arugula in a tomato and mushroom sauce, the next stuffed with ricotta and arugula in a different spicy tomato sauce. Then we both had beef - one with wild mushrooms, the other with red, green and black peppercorns and rosemary - accompanied by cannelini beans in oil and lemon. Finally we had the classic Tuscan dessert of biscotti soaked in Vin Santo, a sweet wine that is only taken through cookies - they don't seem to drink it. Afterwards we wandered around the little town for an hour or so to walk off the lunch and prepare to drive again, here to Arezzo.
We are tired, happy, and looking to settle down somewhere for a few days, perhaps in Cortona which is only about 20 miles from here.
So much beauty every day, our wiring is on overload that is for sure. Also, Italy is VERY expensive. Every little thing costs a lot, and the dollar seems worth not much at all. So we are trying to be frugal, but it usually doesn’t work! Tonight we have a cheap hotel (60 euros) so that helps.