Monday, August 22, 2011

Italian Adventure, Part 2

As promised (though much later than I had originally intended), let me continue the story of our great Italian Adventure...

As our wonderful stay in Florence drew to a close, we knew another travel day was in our future, but this one would was little different than the others.  This time, we rented a car, which was a nice change from the trains, which were crowded, slow and very hot. Our next few days were spent driving to and exploring the various hill owns Tuscany.   Driving in Italy is nothing short of insane, and it took some getting used.  There are very few controlled intersections, so it's a free-for-all with scooters buzzing around cars and cars trying to pass other cars and buses.  Once we were out of the city, the crazy driving subsided, and both Brian and I were able to relax.

To break up the drive from Florence to Montelcino, where our next hotel was located, we made a short stop in Siena.  Though we weren't there long, we spent enough time in the town to see just how gorgeous it was with its rolling hills and a large square (piazza).

a tower in the piazza in Siena 

the piazza in Siena 

lunch time - I don't think I ate more than 1/3 of that before it was passed off to Brian
peaceful driving in Italy 

 After our Siena visit, we finished our drive to Montelcino, a town known for its wine, and spent two nights there.  One of the first things I noticed about Montelcino was that it was much quieter than any of the towns we'd been.  That was very welcomed and it made the town feel very homey.  Unfortunately, it didn't stay very quiet during the night and I didn't get much sleep the next two nights, as there was all sorts of celebrating, yelling, street sweeping, etc. going on directly outside of our window. Despite our lack of sleep, we got up early and the next morning and took a day trip to two other hill towns, Pienza and Montepulciano.  Weenjoyed walking though each town taking in the sights and tasting wine.  In Montepulciano, we especially enjoyed our wine cellar tour and the adorable Italian man who gave us a wine tasting.  Back in Montelcino, we also enjoyed some wine tastings each night; you can stop into any shop and they will provide you with wine samples (for a small fee) and snacks.  Listening to and sipping wine with the locals was the best way to spend an evening.

Montelcino at night

the old fortress in Montelcino 
Wine Bar 

my adventure buddy checking out some local treats 
where we had our wine tasting

olive oil 

After our two-night stay in Montelcino, we traveled to Orvieto for another overnight stay in a hill town.  Along the way, we made a short visit to Civiat, a city built atop one of Tuscany's rolling hills and accessible only by bridge.  There used to be a natural land bridge, but it eroded over the years and a more permanent walking bridge is now in its place. While the hill towns were all quite similar with small shops, churches and piazzas, Civita felt unique.  It felt like you were really experiencing life as it used to be lived, especially when watching a few small scooters drive up the hill and into town to deliver mail and other supplies. Both Brian and I got a kick out of the number of cats we saw in all the hill towns, and the cats in Civita were super friendly, so I was sure to pet a few as we walked through the town.

hill towns 

Brian and me - with the rolling hills of Tuscany behind us 
the bridge to Civita 

a friend I made in Civita  - he only had one eye, though Brian tried to tell me he was only winking


We arrived in Orvieto in the early evening and rode a cable car to the top of a hill where the town was located.  We checked into our hotel, which was a religious home before it became a hotel, and found that it would be another night of no air conditioning for us.  Unlike our other AC-less nights, we knew Orvieto would be quiet and cooler.  The only problem was there are no screens on windows in Italy and there are lots of pigeons.  I had a terrible fear of waking up to pigeons in our room or pigeon poo all over our stuff.  Putting the birds out of my mind as best I could, we headed into town to explore some of  'Underground Orvieto' - there are a number of underground caverns and caves in the city.  We saw one where clay was made and on our way out, the little old man who was operating the shop took me to a viewing area to see what was below the floor we were standing on --- it was a giant cavern!  After our cave tour, it was off to dinner, where motivated by his adventurous spirit (or maybe his extreme hunger), Brian ordered rabbit ragu.  I reluctantly tried a bite, and it was pretty good, so being adventurous can pay off, I guess.

After dinner we returned to our hotel and I pigeon-proofed our room as best I could, tucking all of our things into protective nooks and hiding myself under the covers...and thankfully, there were no birds in the room when we woke up the next morning nor was there any was then time to pack up and head on out.

cable car 

 can't beat the views 

We were moving onto another town, Sorrento.  On our way there, we visited Pompeii, another one of the items on my to-do-in-Italy list.  It took us five hours and multiple trains, which were often very crowded (at one point, there were no actual seats on the train, so we were sitting in the space between train cars), but we finally got to Pompeii.  On our way into the park, vendors were selling food and drinks.  One vendor had frozen bottles of water.  This was the first time I had seen ice in Italy, and the heat of that day (it was in the low 90s) made the frozen water bottles one of the best purchases of the entire trip!

We toured Pompeii, which was interesting and had many neat sights like the ancient 'fast food' shops, wealthy people's homes, and the brothel with a painted menu on the wall.  Both Brian and I did expect to see more in the way of a city "frozen in time", as Pompeii is often referred to.  I really thought we would see more of the bodies around the city, but there were only two of them.  Before departing, we took advantage of the great views of Mt. Vesuvius, snapped a few final pictures, and then braced ourselves for another train ride.  This was a standing-room-only ride just like our last, but at least this train was one of the few we rode with true air conditioning. By the time we arrived in Sorrento, got off the train and made the long trek to our hotel, we were ready to relax. Per usual, we didn't do much relaxing and were out exploring Sorrento before long.

More on that and the rest of our trip is coming your way soon...


The remains of a temple 

Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background 

the streets of Pompeii 

warm but windy 

'frozen in time' 

all that remains 

a wealthy home 

grain grinders 

a brick oven 

the brothel menu 

Pompeii and Vesuvius 

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