Friday, October 14, 2011

Final Days

Nathan and I had the goal of restocking our cantina (wine cellar) with wine and oil while in Tuscany. Since we'd noticed a number of "Vendita Diretta" (direct sales) signs on the Radda to Castelnuovo Berardenga route, we took a day to retrace the steps, with stops including Poggiobrandani (a winery that has been owned by the Brandani family for eight CENTURIES - that is not a typo!) and the Barone Ricasoli winery (owned by the Ricasoli family for nine centuries - yowsa!). Baron Ricasoli actually came up with the original formula for chianti classico wine in the 1800s. Barone Ricasoli is the world's oldest, running winery still in original family hands, so what a treat to visit. Our winery day was a lot of time in the car, more than we'd expected, but we definitely added to our stock. No olive oil purchased, but our final stop was at a winery with the best balsamic vinegar I've ever tasted. At the time, I coughed up my taste at mention of the 40euro per bottle price tag, but now, I have to admit to regretting that we took a pass. I have dreams about that balsamic vinegar.
Castello di Meleto - a winery we visited with a swanky tasting room
A visit to Monteriggioni made the lists of both Aunt Lisa and me, so after our wine tasting extravaganza, we headed over to this walled town to take a gander at their towers still standing. I was looking forward to comparing this town of 14 towers to San Gimignano, with it's 17. Dante speaks of Monteriggioni (in Inferno), and, for those more up to date with modern culture, I've recently learned that Monteriggioni is a town featured in a video game called Assassin's Creed. I do not know anything more about this video game, mainly because the last video game I played was on an Atari - the first model. Monteriggioni is an easy town to visit, with parking outside the walls, a nifty money-making set up wherein visitors pay too much to walk on a pathway that parallels the top of the walls to take some nice, pictures of the countryside, and a couple of cafes staffed with waiters tired of tourist season and ready for us all to go home. Still, there are several shops with more interesting wares than the usual tourist fare, and I got to sit and watch an older couple who live in town sit on their front stoop, the woman knitting and the man hailing his friends as they walked by. Monteriggioni was a quicker visit than expected, so we headed on to San Gimignano, where everyone in our group could make the comparison.

For me, San Gimignano wins, hands down. Monteriggioni is quaint, charming, and probably deathly quiet by 7:00 pm. San Gimignano is a town for the tourists nowadays. Everything seems to be geared toward the almighty tourist euro, but that doesn't detract from the power of wandering through the hilly town, tall towers coming into view with every curve. And the views (free) from the fortress wall at the edge of town are divine!

Nathan in thought
Our final day, we realized that we still hadn't spent any reasonable time in Siena - the closest, real city to our hamlet! We headed in that direction, first stopping at the Parco Sculture del Chianti. This place had been on my list all week, and little did we know, it was only a five minute drive from our rental apartment if we took the dirt road short cut. All wheel drive tires are awesome. The sculpture park was the brainchild of an art-loving couple who purchased their country home and proceeded to create an outdoor art park featuring the works of artists from all over the world. Some of it is neat, some weird, and some I just plain didn't "get," but I love their vision. Finishing the outdoor park, we headed across the street to the "gallery," which turned out to be the couple's home. Their home is an art lover's haven, with gorgeous and/or interesting work at every turn, all in a home filled with light pouring in from windows overlooking the countryside. I fell in love with a particular painting, which may become our "Italy" art piece...even though the artist is from South America.

Gorgeous Baptistry in Siena
Our final, Tuscan adventure took us into Siena, where Nathan's aunt and uncle explored the Duomo, and Nathan and I got gelato while walking around, enjoying Siena's atmosphere. Heading back to the Duomo to meet them, I realized that I'd never been into the Baptistry. Our timing was perfect since we saw them walk into the entrance as we walked across the piazza, so I popped in as well. The Siena Duomo's baptistry is a riot of frescoed ceiling work, black and white striped columns in marble, a bronze font, and inlaid marble floors with several designs, including a Celtic knot pattern that took me straight back to Ireland. I marveled anew at the sheer volume of priceless treasures that fill Italy's towns, from the smallest of villages to the largest of cities. We ended our day and our Tuscan trip with a final walk through Siena's Il Campo - one of the best ways to end a week in this beautiful, magical region that calls so loudly to authors, artists, movie-makers, historians, and travelers.

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