Tuesday, March 17th - St Patrick's Day
Liz, Henley and I hopped in Liz's van for our last overnight trip together in Europe. (sniff, sniff) I had a few places in Tuscany left on my bucket list that we didn't get to cover on our first trip last May. The first we'd visit was San Gimignano, then Assisi, Civita di Bagnoregio and Pienza. We planned to use Montepulciano as our base town.
After driving and chatting for a good 3.5 hours straight, we reached San Gimignano. Liz had been there before with Henley and Tom, but was willing to go back again. :) Thank goodness!
Parking was pretty easy since it's still the off-season, and it was cold, and sprinkling that day. That is my kind of traveling - cool weather, and no crowds!
We walked the main street up to the main square.
Henley was a happy camper in San Gimingano!
Our first stop was for gelato! As you can see from the photo, Gelateria Dondoli won "Gelato World Champion" for several years in a row. I'm not a huge gelato fan. (gasp*! I know, I know! Who doesn't LOVE gelato?!) I O.D'd on ice cream when I was in college, so I haven't had huge cravings for anything similar to it since; however, this was no ordinary gelato. Their flavors were out of this world. I had 3 different flavors which included: blackberry and lavender, raspberry and rosemary, and a creamy saffron. They were SOOOO good! I would drive back there just for that Gelateria.
The well in the center of the main square was once the local "watering hole." You can still see the indentations on the side from the ropes used to pull up the water.
Next we walked past the Civic Museum and Duomo to the higher part of town to get some grand views. We stopped in a cute ceramics store first. I walked in through the narrow entry and turned around to help Liz with Henley's stroller. As I turned, I knocked over a ceramic vase. DOH! I'm just a bull in a china shop! I felt pretty bad about it, so I decided to buy one. She charged me about 5 Euro extra instead of the full price of 35 Euro.
Glad that was over!
Next we walked up to the Rocca overlooking the rolling hills below.
I wish I had the nerve to take a picture of the man playing a flute in the Rocca. His sound system played Peruvian music, as he played along with his flute. I've never seen someone play the flute with so much vigor! Haha!
After a quick lunch in the square, we continued our walk to the opposite end of town. Sant'Agostino was a beautiful, but anti-climactic end to the walk.
We went for round two of gelato. Liz had a chocolate, orange and cinnamon gelato. It was SO yummy! I had a cappuccino to-go! (...That I would regret drinking on our drive down to Montepulciano)
Henley really loved the gelato too! Or was he just celebrating mustache-March early? :)
After our quick 2-hour trip to San Gimignano, we drove down the Crete Senese road. This would be my second time, but a first for Liz. A first I learned on this trip I was that there aren't that many restrooms on that road! Liz is a good friend, and didn't mind stopping on the side of the road for me. :)
Traffic in Tuscany
There weren't as many flowers blooming as there were last May, but it was still pretty!
We checked into our hotel/apartment. (Which took WAY too long! There was a stack of paperwork to fill out because they didn't know what they were doing.)
Our apartment was big and spacious and close to the main attractions in Montepulciano. It was great! We ate at La Bottega del Nobile; it was ranked #5 in Montepulciano. We both tried some local specialties. I tried a pasta with wild boar or cinghiale. Liz had a yummy pasta called "pici." I was picturing a small round pasta, but it was a long, thick pasta. (and hand made!) It was so delicious!
Henley stayed up past his bedtime, and was a trooper! Liz and I got to carry him down and back up 2 flights of stairs in the restaurant. Haha! The staff and other patrons were so friendly and helpful; they were always offering to help.
We had a great and quick first day. I was SO excited for the next day because we'd both be visiting two towns we hadn't traveled to yet.
Wednesday, March 18th
The next morning we left the house at about 8:30 to have breakfast at Cafe Poliziano. They have the BEST coffee! I had been there several times on my previous trip, but had to return!
Most of the shops in town were closed until 10:30am, so we didn't get much time to look around before we were off to our next town.
The first town we'd hit was Assisi -
It was much bigger than we expected. We parked in the highest lot in town so we could start at the Roman Amphitheater and end at St. Francis' Chapel.
This old lady was feeding the birds below her window. A group of men walked by and one of the men tried kicking the birds. Haha! Men and women are the same in every country.
We saw a few college-aged kids walking around Assisi with panini's. We set out to find where they got them so we could sit and eat in front of San Rufino.
There were several groups of students. We were trying to figure out if they were studying abroad for a short spring-break program or for a year. Almost all of them were speaking English, so we assumed it was a short trip.
Henley loved the lunch break!
We walked down some steep hills to find the pink, striped church of St. Clare.
I love that Italians love babies so much. I found myself holding or pushing Henley in the stroller and slightly showing him off like we were on parade. Having a baby is almost like a free pass. People let you stand in front of them in line, and hand you free gelato. (Ok, the last part wasn't true, but it'd be awesome if it was!) The downside is that every woman, man, and child will tell you to put more clothes on your child if they think he's cold. Ha!
We stopped in a little cafe to "look" at their treats. I bought an orange cannolli and a pistachio flavor as well. They were so dense and rich, it was hard to finish them.
The next church on our walk through Assisi was the Temple of Minerva. It dates back to the Roman era.
And last but not least, we found the Basilica of St. Francis! I contemplated not walking all the way to it because we were running a little behind schedule, but I think it was worth the wait.
We stepped inside for two minutes. Henley loved the sound of his voice reverberating off the stone walls. There were only a few other people in there at the time, but they sure did give us some dirty looks. (They must not have been Italian.)
We stood and soaked up the sunshine while we listened to another group of students count-off to see if they were all present.
I couldn't resist asking this group of boys for a picture. They all looked like they were on the same soccer team and possibly all related. It was the first time anyone has practically jumped at the opportunity to have their picture taken.
And then this happened two seconds later. A gelato-eating monk?! He looked more like he was in costume than an actual monk.
We walked as quickly as we could uphill to the car.
I bet this is pretty when it's blooming.
I could see why pilgrims traveled from all over the world to visit Assisi for centuries. I wasn't necessarily coming to see St. Francis or St. Clare, but the town is beautiful and so full of history. Even our parking lot had roman ruins under them!
Our last look at Assisi as we drove away to Civita di Bagnoregio. The drive was about an hour. Our GPS took us through random little villages, and then we pulled around a tight corner to view THIS!...
When describing this town to friends, I kept calling it as an island. It really is just a hilltop, or clifftop town, but it's easy to see why someone might think it's an island!
I already loved this place!
Henley loved it too! Or maybe he just loved being out of his carseat. :) Who wouldn't want to be carried around like this though?!
There was practically no one around! It felt like a little ghost town.
I love this picture. I'm standing in an empty square at 5pm. The one and only cat around is marching toward me. Haha! Just call me, "Joey, the cat whisperer."
We were getting hungry, so we stopped at a small bruscheteria. It wasn't until we were inside and had ordered that I remembered reading reviews online about this place. The reviews were not great, and the owner came across somewhat creepy.
At one point, I did have to laugh. The owner asked where we were from. I said, "California." His response was, "Rick Steves?" Hahahaha! I guess Rick really put this little town on the map.
You could easily walk the town in 5 minutes. We tried to drag it out a bit. It was so cute! I think this is one of my favorite little towns. It's just so unique!
Our last view of Civita di Bagnoregio.
We drove back to Montepulciano through Orvieto. We didn't get to see much of Orvieto because it was so dark. (I'll save that for my next trip to Tuscany.)
Thursday, March 19th -
Our last morning in Tuscany we finally took a full tour of Montepulciano. Liz didn't even realize that there was a main square up at the top of the town. (It was quite a hike.)
We sipped coffee and ate our brioche one last time at Cafe Poliziano before wandering the streets again. Most of the shops still weren't open.
After huffing and puffing, we found the main square!
I had taken a picture here with friends on our first trip. Maybe I'll make it a tradition to take a picture here every time we visit.
We sat at another cafe after to wait for some of the shops to open. I'm amazed that most don't open until 10:30 or 11. I kept having to remind myself that this was the off-season.
Liz found a few goodies, and so did I! Girl trips are so fun!
We gathered our belongings back at our apartment before heading out. We decided we'd try and fit one last town in before leaving Tuscany.
10 minutes down the road is the town of Pienza. The town used to be Corsignano, but was transformed by Pope Pius II in the renaissance style. The pope showed this little town so much love because he was from there. It later was named Pienza after the Pope. Now, it is a UNESCO site.
Liz and I found a parking spot almost immediately, and then found a cute little recycled boutique, RI crea RE, on our way to the square. Everything in the store was recycled; the gift bags were made out of newspaper/magazine, and her business cards were printed on tea bags. It was so cute! The owner recommended that we eat at Sette di Vino in the main square. We took her up on her recommendation.
We sat in the sun and ate delicious bruschette. Henley was reaching meltdown point, but he held it together!
The main square was under construction, so I didn't get many pics of it.
This town is set in the middle of wine region, but is known for their pecorino cheese.
All in all, I really loved Pienza. I was grateful we made the effort to fit in one last hilltop town.
I'll end with ONE more picture of Civita di Bagnoregio. I think that town had to be my favorite of the cute towns we visited.
I tried not to think about the fact that this was probably my last trip with Henley and Liz in Europe this year. We've been to 7 different countries, and lots of trips! I'm so grateful to have had such awesome travel buddies and friends while living here! Hopefully, we can continue this tradition wherever we move next. :)