After a day and a half in whirlwind Venice, we picked up our car from the roof of the parking garage and headed down to Tuscany. My mother arrived just twenty-four hours earlier, so it seemed like a perfect day to get as much boring autostrada driving done as possible. She napped and we promised to wake her if things got more interesting.
We made it right about to the border of the Toscano region when we were ready to retire and spent the night in Pistoia, a not-oft visited city with some really striking striped architecture within their walled Medieval center. Surrounding the city were tree nursery after tree nursery after tree nursery. We must have approached from the correct angle, because I had read that Pistoia gets less attention because of its 'industrial surroundings." Maybe some people really hate the fog of oxygen a skyline of baby trees give off. Who knows.
The main square was filled with 20somethings having drinks and aperitivos (the free snacks that come with drinks). We mulled over doing the same and maybe ordering an antipasti platter or something, but the loud music and lack of chairs turned us down a quieter street, to an outdoor table where a man named Luigi served us pistachio lasagna, tagliatelle with trout sauce, local white wine and other goodies. It was nice to find out that 'crostini toscana' on New York menus is exactly the same thing as in Tuscany: an inch-thick layer of liver pate on a giant piece of toast.
The next morning, we began a drive I've been looking forward to since I started researching some sights for my mom's visit. The SS222 stretches from Florence to Siena, winding mostly through the Chianti region. There was breathtaking scenery in every direction and our weather couldn't have been better. Rolling hills were topped with terra cotta roofed estates and cypress trees stood guard over olive groves and vineyards. The best part was that it went through towns like Greve in Chianti (above), where we stopped to stretch our legs in the best way possible; a casual stroll around gathering picnic goods.
Like most of our meals in Italy so far, our picnic lunch was a stand up affair. We used a big flat rock as our table and stood around in a triangle, happily picking away at our feast. Marinated artichokes were compared with 'tuscan-style' artichokes - the latter were just the hearts, soaked in extra virgin olive oil and had the consistency of grape leaves - a ball of steamed turnip greens, eggplant in tomato sauce, olives, prosciutto, hard wild boar sausage, mustard and a crusty loaf of bread completed the meal. The spot was right between a woodsy nature trail and a vineyard, directly in the sun. We decided to save two pears and hard cheese for breakfast. After more driving and pull-off photo sessions for my mom - who, needless to say, refrained from napping - we parked the car and ourselves in Radda in Chianti for the night. The sun was still blazing and made my mom's Campari Orange and Merlin's Aperol Spritz look prettier. (They've become their signature drinks, while I stick with white wine). Radda in Chianti is perched up on a hill and consists of narrow little streets, some of which are covered stone walkways from the 1300s. As we waited for 'la pausa' to end and the reception at our inn to open, we explored nearby Volpaia, an 11th century fortified village. It was one of the most tastefully restored places I have ever been. With no one around except a few construction workers and the wine tasting room, two restaurants and gift shop all closed, it felt like this surreal little ghost town. Walking back to our car, a group of five Americans showed up, presumably for the 2pm tour.
It being the off-season, our innkeeper, Leonardo, upgraded us to our own cottage overlooking some of the most famous Chianti vineyards. He explained all the work we'd seen being done in the fields. Every twenty-five years, the vines are completely switched out - something, he explained, which was very very important. The rotund overseer gave us a big Buon Giorno when we drove in and out, as ten or twelve fitter men toiled away.
That night, we gave into a pizza craving all three of us have been feeling for days. It was a much easier decision when we noticed that the only place open in town was Pizza Pie. A supremely friendly man made me my very own "small" pizza to go alongside mom and Merlin's prosciutto e fungi pie. It was thin and fresh and accompanied by another local bottle of white wine and some nice, big salads. In other words, we made the right decision.
As we drove back to our cottage, we learned that the Tuscan moon is just as pretty and almost as bright as the sun.