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Tuscany road trip winter 2010
 
 
(Click on the images for a larger version.)
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The two-week vacation to Italy allowed Eliot to become extremely relaxed and comfortable with his nonna and nonno. So Ilaria and I took the opportunity to attempt our first trip without Eliot.

Previously we rode the train to Florence, the biggest city in Tuscany. By taking a the car this time, we planned to visit the smaller towns and see the hillside farms, vineyards, and olive groves.
 
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We didn't start with the best weather.
 
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But we did have a rainbow.
 
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Our first stop was Orvieto where the Umbria jazz festival was underway.
 
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It was raining off and on, but the rain held back long enough
 
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to get a
 
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good look
 
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at the
 
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city
 
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and the Cathedral of Orvieto.
 
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Orvieto sits on top of a large hill (a butte to be precise).
 
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To reach the town you need to take a
 
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funicolare.
 
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Like many of the towns in Umbria and Tuscany, the city is on the hill and the valley contains all of the farms, vineyards, and olive groves.
 
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This cat has a nice view.
 
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Our base for the trip was a small hotel in Chianciano. It was pooring rain when we arrived that nite. When we told the innkeeper, we were just having sandwiches in our room for dinner because we didn't want to get wet again, she gave us a bottle of house wine for our meal.
 
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The next morning we drove to nearby Montepulciano.
 
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From the base of the town,
 
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we had nice views of the
 
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vineyards.
 
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Inside the city center, we visited
 
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a winery
 
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and spent a long time talking to the
 
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head wine guy
 
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who
 
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wanted us to sample his wines.
 
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He was super nice, but at 9AM I wasn't really in the mood for wine.
 
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Montepulciano was one of my favorite towns of the trip.
 
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A classic
 
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little Tuscan town.
 
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It's a pretty small place
 
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to live
 
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but a beautiful place
 
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to visit
 
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and
 
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relax.
 
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We left
 
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Montepulciano
 
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and drove through vineyards and olives on our way to
 
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Cortona where we parked next to an Etruscan wall.
 
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Cortona is another hillside town with windy, steep, and narrow streets that you wonder how anyone can drive home on. It had this
 
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nice little church,
 
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whose simplicity I much prefer to the frequently over-the-top marble/paintings filled catholic churches that pervade Italy.
 
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In Cortona, we saw some relics of St. Francis (I still think deifying random stuff from dead people is odd).
 
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And I ate the
 
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best sandwich of the trip (Porchetta), which we bought at a farmer's market.
 
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One of the reals jewels of Italy is that even in these small towns you can find
 
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some of the most important artworks in the world.
 
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After Cortona we drove to
 
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Castiglione del Lago.
 
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I really liked this
 
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walled
 
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city.
 
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Outside of the walls were many
 
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olive trees
 
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and a large
 
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lake.
 
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A pretty spectacular
 
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setting for a town.
 
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Castiglione del Lago was really small and definitely worth the couple of hours we spent walking around, then we headed to
 
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Citta' della Pieve. After the blend of a beautiful walled city on a lakeside setting, I initially found Citta' della Pieve underwhelming. But in the end I really liked the city
 
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that contains one of the
 
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narrowest
 
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streets
 
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in Italy.
 
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pretty
 
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narrow.
 
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It also contained one of the world's great artworks,
 
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a painting by Perugino (who was born there)
 
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housed in the chapel of the town's cathedral. In the chapel are the robes of the town's religous fraternity
 
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which feels like something from the Da Vinci Code.
 
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Outside of the city was
 
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a little
 
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castle.
 
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Getting out of the city was a bit of an
 
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adventure, because we got lost and spent a lot of time on dirt roads on our drive towards
 
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San Casciano dei Bagni
 
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where we took a
 
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short walk and had a hot chocolate and a little dessert.
 
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That night we went out to dinner at a restaurant close to our hotel. Ilaria really liked her pasta, but to me it tasted surprisingly similar to Chef Boyardee.
 
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The next morning we made a quick stop at
 
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Chiesa di San Biagio (at the base of Montepuciano)
 
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and then we drove from the classic Tuscan landscape
 
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to the more rustic "badlands"
 
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landscape
 
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near the
 
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Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore.
 
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After leaving the Abbey via the castle's drawbridge
 
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we drove to the classic Tuscan city,
 
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Siena.
 
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We only had the morning to spend in Siena, which isn't close to enough time to adequately explore this historic city,
 
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so we explored the main sites
 
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like Piazza del Campo, the famous square where they hold the twice annual insane horse races (Palio di Siena).
 
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The square
 
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is a great place to hang out
 
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but I actually preferred just wandering around the old streets.
 
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Our last stop in Siena
 
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was the famous Duomo.
 
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They initially planned to make this cathedral much larger than even
 
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St. Peters in Rome.
 
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But the expansions never progressed that far.
 
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Even at its current size,
 
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it's really difficult to take a decent picture of this massive church because it's crammed into all of the surrounding buildings with no free land to step back and observe the church as a whole.

It was definitely worth taking the time to stop in Siena; I just hope we have time in the future to go stay there for a day or two and fill in the details we skipped over on this trip.
 
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Next we drove to a Tuscan city where they make
 
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one of the most prestigious of all of premium wines made in Tuscany.
 
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The whole town of Montalcino
 
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is now a tourist stop with
 
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a singular focus
 
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Brunello di Montalcino.

This most famous wine of Montalcino is sold in every store and restaurant. The whole town is a promotion for the wine. I ordered a glass to share with Ilaria over lunch. It was my first taste of Brunello di Montalcino. Not a life-changing experience, but certainly one of the best wines I've tried.
 
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Overall Montalcino was like a smaller version of Montalpulciano, but with too many signs advertising the sale of Brunello di Montalcino, it felt very American.

As we headed for home, we stopped by one last site.
 
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Bagno Vignoni is a town where the main square is
 
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actually a
 
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medieval
 
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thermal bath.
 
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Then we followed the rolling hills of Tuscany
 
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all the way home
 
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where our arrival brought tears of confusion and joy to Eliot who had missed us. We had a fantastic time driving around Tuscany and Umbria (thanks for watching Eliot Nonno and Nonna!), but we were happy to all be together again.