I think that we have finally figured out what it is about Tuscany that is so enthralling, so inviting, so delightful.
what we did today was almost nothing, and I think that may be the key to really getting the most out of Tuscany.
when I say we did almost nothing, what I mean by that is that we stayed close to home. home being our agriturismo just 4 kilometers outside of Pienza, a small community of 2,000 people in the heart of Tuscany.
our agriturismo is essentially a farm house that has been converted into 6 or so small apartments. we have a small pool, which is not heated. we have a hammock. we are surrounded by kilometers of fields, of agriculture. the only exception to this is the long gravely driveway into the farmhouse from the main road. we have a breakfast room where all the residents like us gather in the morning. each apartment has an outside patio with a table and chair or two.
the single greatest thing about where we are staying is the lack of noise. the lack of the cacophony of city sounds. no air conditioners. no emergency vehicles. no street banter. no late night carousing. this is in the rolling farm country of the province of Tuscany.
what hits you first is the clean air. your first instinct is to take a deep breadth. and, then, you also become aware of the aroma of manure. yes, this is farm land.
when you are here you feel relaxed. you want to curl up and read a book. you want to take a nap. you want to contemplate.
so, today, after having our breakfast we decided to take it real easy, as opposed to our other days when we have been going from site to site, or experience to experience.
what does “real easy” mean? well, after breakfast we returned to our apartment for a “rest” for the next two hours. for some of us, this turned into a morning nap. for others of us, it meant lying in bed reading a wonderful novel about Positano, our next stop in Italy.
then, around 11am PJ and I got in the car for a day trip to Pienza, the nearest town to us. (Tom unfortunately is on his back today, having something not agree with him. see upcoming blog)
both of us have been to Pienza before, having had dinner there two nights ago. but, on the previous visit we had just strolled through the town, and had not followed the Rick Steve’s self guided walking tour. today was our day to do the town the right way.
we knew, however, from our previous time there that we really liked the community. its scale, its feel, its ambiance. Pienza does not have the hordes of tourists that many of the other classic Tuscany hill towns experience.
finding parking is always a challenge in the Tuscan communities, and it was for us today. but we managed. we meandered through the town, reading out loud about the sites with the anecdotes and the history as outlined by Rick Steves.
what sets Pienza apart from other communities is that this was the home of Pope Pius II. therefore the name of the town. he reshaped the community to reflect his vision of the world at that time (the middle of the 15th century). thanks to him, it is very much a Renaissance town, with great architecture, gorgeous vistas, the use of natural light in almost a lyrical way, and the main square (piazza) that is to die for — maybe the most symmetrically designed one in Italy.
and, most importantly, not many tourists. AND, most of what tourists there are, are Italians. what a relief from the crowds of non Italians in Florence, Venice and Cinque Terre.
the other thing that makes Pienza so great is that there are no cars in the old city part of town. just people walking and going about their daily business.
after our stroll through the beautiful alleys and byways of the old city, we stopped for lunch. this lunch was a little unusual for us in that it was a sit down in a very beautiful, first class restaurant. this was not what we have done most days — namely, stopping in shops to pick up some bread, then going to other shops to pick up some cheese and salami. and then finding a bench to sit on to eat our lunch. no, this was real sit down affair.
in other words, we took time to relax and reflect and enjoy and savor our mid day meal. we were not grabbing our bread and cheese on the run, as we have been doing most other days.
this lead to a delightful conversation with the table next to ours. we met a couple from Staten Island in New York City and their friend, of Italian ancestry, who grew up in New York, but now is a minister in Winnipeg Canada. all three are true New Yorkers.
we had more fun talking with them.
after lunch, our first priority, as you know by now from reading my blog, is to find a gelatoria. we found one, with the assistance of Rick Steve’s guidebook.
let me tell you, we have had a lot of gelatos in the last 10 days in Italy, but nothing — nothing — compares to the gelato that we just consumed. it was out of this world. wow!!
as if that was not enough, we then come outside to lick and gradually consume our cones of gelato, when we meet a woman sitting on the bench in front of the gelatoria who is consuming her gelato. we start up a conversation that lasts for the greater part of an hour.
Carol is an Irish girl, in her mid to late 40’s, who has lived in Italy for the last five years. she is alive and engaging and a stitch. we have a ball conversing on a wide variety of topics. she is also enjoying the repartee.
she had PJ wrapped around her finger very quickly. to give you an example, she asked what our ancestry was. PJ, so enthralled with the conversation, and knowing that she was 100% Irish, tells her that he is 100% Irish. the implication of course being that he and she are soul mates.
I, being the rookie in the conversation, am stupid enough to take the question seriously and answer honestly. I told her that I am 12.5% Irish. in other words, I am worth something, but not very much.
long story, short. we had a delightful conversation with her. she was so insightful about what it was like living in Italy.
after we said goodbye to Carol, we returned by car to our farm house for our afternoon nap.
awaking from our naps we head to Pienza again for a delicious meal at a hole in the wall restaurant with only seven tables. after dinner we are the last people to get a gelato from our favorite gelatoria (see above). then we amble over to the town square to join 400 local residents enjoying an outdoor performance of something. we have no idea what it was. we recognized that it was a parody on Zeus, with Mercury and others heavily involved. it was all in Italian, but it was great fun. the cast was made up of some professional actors but the majority of the cast were local amateur thespians.
not a bad day.
to summarize, today we ate, slept, strolled, ate, conversed, slept, ate, took in a play, slept…. you get the idea.
what a wonderful day under the Tuscan sun.