Sunday - Montalcino
We only walked about 6 miles today but that's okay. It was a really good day, thanks mostly to good old Steve D. and good luck.
We woke up to the sound of church bells and had breakfast (for the 2nd day in a row sitting behind an American couple who were visiting their son who was newly engaged to a gal who was also studying abroad: both kids from the Chicago suburbs). We walked over to the car rental place, where I discovered my second kinda f-up of the trip (I won't go into the first one, it's too tedious): my dad gave me 2 car rental vouchers he got thru work but I was never able to discern over the phone or online how much they were worth, if anything, at Maggiore. I also knew that renting the car early got you a better rate, so I paid when I reserved. Turns out, of course, that had I not reserved early and used the vouchers I could have saved more money. Oh well.
We got our little Fiat Panda and aside from a moment of confusion about how to use the safety ring on reverse, Steve was great on a stick shift--he was worried he'd forget how to use it. While we were leaving the city and I was trying to figure out how best to use the GPS we had that stereotypical moment of You Are Not Divorcing Me Because I Am Divorcing You First! But we finally got figured out where we were going and were on our way to Chianti country. Predictably the scenery was gorgeous and we enjoyed some Italian radio on the way.
We headed to Montalcino, an old castle city about two hours away from Florence. I had been there before. I am jaded but I think that when you see one of those charming walled cities you've seen them all, but I read in my guide that this weekend was the Sacra del Tordo, or the Festival of the Thrush (the bird,). It sounded fun and weird and hence a good reason to check it out. Things looked dire when we started heading up the hill and saw cars parked along the highway miles before we even got to the town. There was no parking IN town, so we went another mile or to ABOVE town, and still, cars all along the road. I was pretty much ready to quit and just go find lunch somewhere and figure out another plan. "Let's drive back down and maybe someone will be leaving a really good spot" I said aloud, because if you say it aloud, it might come true.
Well, it did. We found a spot and even though Steve was freaking about driving manual and parallel parking on a hill, I knew he could do it. I checked with a carabiniero that we were OK to park there and we climbed up a few flights of stairs to the city. We stopped at the Fortezza (fortress) because my friend Amy (and the guidebook) had said there was a nice enoteca there to have a bite and do a tasting of Brunello. Brunello is possibly the best (and most expensive) wine to come out of that part of town, so I was down. Steve had spaghetti and I had bruschetta (I overdid it the night before and need something simple) and a tasting of 2 Brunellos. I bought 1 bottle, which at 25 Euros seemed like a pretty good deal compared to $80 at home.
Leaving the fortress, we saw a LOT of drunk Italians. Montalcino is, as I remember it, mostly a touristey town most of the time but it was like their Pierogi Fest or something. The city was full of drunk-ass Italians who were pounding bottles of wine like they were $2 Miller Lights, eating from food tents and wearing crazy hats. It was fun to see that Americans haven't cornered the market on being drunk idiots.
Steve and I walked around the town a bit, which was adorable (we petted a very noteworthy-looking Borzoi. Tuscany has been great for dog-seeing and we even spotted both an Italian and regular greyhound although their owners didn't seem as excited as they should have been to meet fellow-owners.) We suddenly heard some drumming coming down the street and pulled ourselves into a doorway to witness a parade walk down the narrow cobbled path: drummers and archers and what looked like duchesses and dukes and ladies in waiting and so on. We celebrated this with some gelato.
After enjoying the gorgeous views of the area off the mountain and I had one more glass of Brunello, we started getting ready to go until we heard an announcer voice behind the castle. We headed back there and saw the archery competitions that followed the parade. We didn't see too much of them but I was really excited: not only had we made it to Montalcino and found parking, we actually witnessed the parts of the fest that it was famous for. I didn't eat a char-broiled thrush (I didn't see any available) but that's OK. You can't always get what you want.
We drove back and Steve handled the Sunday traffic like a champ even though our stupid GPS lady seems to be a little behind the times. We found a parking spot behind our hotel and were greeted by three little kittens curled up in a ball in front of the door of our hotel (they're pretty aloof, though).
Not too many restaurants are open in town on Sunday nights but our front desk guy recommended a place, the Pizzeria Antica Porta, just down the square from us. We figured it might be some touristey piece of crap and Steve was kind of worried when we were the only costumers in there when we first entered, but we needn't have worried. By the time we left it was packed, but more importantly, it might have been my favorite meal of the trip. Steve had a pizza and we split an insalata mista (with carrots strips! And different types of greens! Did you know that arugula is "rocket" here?) and some delicious breadsticks. I was on the fence over whether to get an eggplant/burrata/prosciutto pizza or gnudi and the waiter recommended the gnudi. I was a little worried because I really had a taste for pizza, but I had held onto a gnudi recipe for a long time and trashed it on account of it looking like it was too much of a pain in the ass, so I figured I should try it. Oh god! It was so good. Gnudi is sort of like a dumpling made of spinach and cheese and flour, and mine was covered in slices of buffalo mozzarella and a roasted tomato/meat sauce. YUM. We shared a tiramisu for dessert.
It's only about 9 PM here but we figured we'll turn in early for once. We only have the car for one more full day and then just another morning so we want to get as much done as possible tomorrow. Ciao!