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A Month in Rome and Tuscany

Author: esfeld
Email: esfeld@cyberdude.com (More Trip Reviews by esfeld)
Date of Trip: August 2001

The drive to Florence was a typical autostrada adventure: keep to the right, signal, pull out and pass and get back to the right. It's a pleasure ... it is so routine and predictable that you can make better time on a two lane Autostrada than any four lane highway in the states!! Of course doing 140 to 180 K helps immensely!!!

Got to Florence and checked into the Hotel Basilica (from charming hotels of Italy), very nice, very charming and very clean. Walked the day away seeing all the sights (my daughter spent a year of college here and was in heaven to be back and showed us all her old haunts.) August is very HOT!!! Did a lot of shopping in the San Lorenzo Market -- great buys and great fun. If you are looking for gifts to bring home for friends and family, this is the place to shop ... everything from trinkets and souvenirs to great leather etc etc.

Dinner was a standout. Had a reservation (from the States) at La Posta Ristorante via Lamberti. This is a fine restaurant and while not inexpensive (it's no Da Mario) is worth every penny. Four of us: water,antipasto, firsts, seconds, two contorni, two bottles of Badia e Coltebuno classico 95, grappa all around, cafe and dolce 320.000L (about $150.00) -- can't do that in NY!

Woke early to get to the Synagogue by nine, too bad it opened at ten!! It was a long walk, but really nothing in Florence is a very long walk. Unless it's August!! It was hot! Toured the Synagogue and ran to pick up our Uffizzi tickets (again reservations from the States are recommended) and did all but two rooms. Then off to Piti Palace and Boboli Gardens. A long hike up to the top in this heat but the view is worth it.

Dinner (after scoping out two restaurants recommended by the Hotel) was at Za-Za Piazza del Mercato Centrale. This 40 year old institution is great fun and always busy -- great spot to watch the action and night life of Florence. Dined on Salami misti, ribolita and pasta. Tried to fix up our waitress with our son who arrives in a few days. Great fun, then off to Perche no for gelato the best in Florence, bar none.

I'll ignore the next day's adventure, except to caution that one moment's inattention to your surroundings is all it takes for even a cautious person to be taken. After lunch in Lucca we drove to Pisa, saw the tower and went to the train station to drop the kids off for their side trip to Cinque Terre. While my daughter and I were off in the station someone helped themselves to my daypack from the car window while my wife and son-in-law were distracted. Thankfully it contained no identification (passport etc), tickets or money, and while I lost a digital camera it did not cause a cessation of the trip. Be careful at stations and major attractions!

Two days later my wife and I go into Pienza & I was enthralled by the aroma of Pecorino. Had lunch at Osteria Sette Di Vino in Piazza di Spagna & to make a long story short if you don't go there and have the grilled pecorino con lardo you will have missed one of the great gastronomic experiences of Tuscany. All the food is great and we went back for two more lunches and even drove there for dinner one night but this dish (and the faggiola con cippola) is outstanding. It only has three tables inside and five outside ... even if there is a wait, it is worth it!! Be sure to tell Luciano that Stephano from New York sent you We're now fast friends.

Picked the kids up at the Buonconvento station ... on time!!! And went to the TNT Pub in Bibbiano for wine pizza and rock & roll!! It's the local hangout for young and old alike. The Italians keep their kids up late and take them everywhere. Figuring that Siena would be a madhouse (Palio is on Thurs) we took the train into Siena (a bus goes right up the hill into town) and watched them prepare the grandstands and lay down the sand track for the race. we had decided to stay home and watch the actual race on TV (the house had Italian TV and English Satelite TV as well) Went to La Compagnia in Torrenieri for dinner. Zak from Tuscan house has this on his favorite list and our hosts recommended it highly. Best pizza in Tuscany ... had a great dinner. I started with pizza and then Picci alla porcini (a regional thick pasta) and maille a frutta that was outstanding! Four of us wined dined and grappa'ed for 125.000L (abt $60.00).
This was supposed to be our time with the baby and his parents so we had a few days in the house alone. The kids went to Rome. Our youngest son flew into Florence. Trained to Rome and spent two days with his sister and brother-in-law and then drove up to meet us at the house. We went back to Siena & now the day after Palio and the Campo was back in business. We ate lunch and shopped away the day & just as we were headed back to the car I stop short because I hear drums. We follow the sound. After Palio, the winning Contrada marches around Siena behind the winning horse twice a day in their medieval outfits & it is quite a sight.

From this point on the trip took on a new flavor. Our son became a white road freak, and at every turn (no pun intended) he would take the white road turn. we discovered some wonderful castili vintners and towns, some with a population that made Murlo look like Chicago. We took him back to San Antimo Abby to hear the monks chant a service. Back to Pienza to meet Luciano & back to La Compagnia in Torrenieri for dinner (where we met the cashier from our Coop in Buonconvento and her friends) at which point our son said "this must be the hot spot if this is were the locals come to eat." I for one, believe him. We became regular habitues of the TNT pub in Bibbiano and stopped in every night after dinner for cafe and lemoncello & they got to know us by name!

On the road to Murlo is a sign for La Befa a town with a population of 22 but surprisingly the most beautiful B&B I have ever seen. It is called Il Palazzotto and is run by an Italian artist & it is in the middle of nowhere but might just be worth a trip. We hit San Gimignano (very crowded and touristy), kind of like Coney Island in Tuscany. We hit Cole val d'Elsa and then sat at Bar Il Palio in Siena to finish off the afternoon and wait for the rain to stop(our first day of rain).

Dinner was at La Logge in Siena. Another outstanding dining experience. My son is in the restaurant business and a friend (note to Pauline: he owns your favorite in NY Da Vittorio) recommended this among others. The meal would take a report of its own! Suffice it to say with two bottles of an Argiano-Brunello 95 it was a meal to remember. We had a two day adventure into Chianti country with two outstanding highlights. One was at a winery on SS 408 just south of Gaiole & Rocca Di Montegrossi the proprietor and the facility are fantastic and worth a trip (email me for directions etc) & yes, we bought a bunch to take home & the Osteria del Castello (recommended by the vintner) at the Castello Brolio was closed so we drove like crazy to find food again! We found Lo Sfizio di Bianchi in Gaiole by chance. It is run by the nicest lady in Italy and we had a great lunch before heading back south.

To put an end to this novel ... our last few days were spent back in Florence. A lovely suite at the Hotel Grand more than made up for the bad dining experience at Osteria Cingiale Bianco. Long story short, we arrived for our reservation and were seated in an alcove. It was warm ... we ordered ... it got hot. We started eating ... it became unbearable. We complained, they ignored us & we walked out (yes we paid for what we ate). The concierge at the Grand was very surprised and also upset. He had made the reservation.

We left our son in Florence after showing him around and shopping some more at the San Lorenzo market. BTW, at the end of the market is the Food Market a wonderful two story affair not to be missed. My wife and I had a farewell dinner at Da Mario the night before we left and said our goodbyes to all the wonderful people who recognized us daily in this super little town.

On our last day in Tuscany we were on the road at 7AM for a 1PM flight out of Rome. Got to the airport in plenty of time, returned the car to Hertz and checked in only to find out (at 1PM) that the flight would be delayed nine hours. Lunch was on Alitalia, and then they sent us to the Hilton & we showered and rested awaiting a call. I got nervous so we went back to the airport (6PM) to find out that the flight would leave at 7PM (no call from Alitalia). We left at 8PM. It was a long day when we finally got back to NY. After 32 wonderful days in Tuscany I am certain that I have left out a lot, but this gives you a small taste of what we experienced and loved. We will be going back soon. Any questions?

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