Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Day 7: Pienza and Montalcino

The morning of the end of our first week in Italy was clear and bright with a lovely view of the valley below where our agriturismo was perched. We headed in to Montepulciano to attend the Thursday morning outdoor market (it was packed with locals and I found some fun gifts to bring home to the family) before visiting the nearby towns of Pienza and Montalcino. Both are  small hilltop, walled towns to the west of Montepulciano.

Pienza is a lovely small town that really had no tourists (no English-speaking ones, anyway). We walked around and found the highest point with good views. November 1 is a holiday in Italy, so there were not a great deal of things open, though we were perfectly content to wander the winding cobblestone streets.

We headed next to Montalcino with the plan to get some lunch. We are slow-learners and continuously ran into the issue of looking for lunch too late in the afternoon when many places close to get ready for dinner. This often led to my becoming somewhat panicked, which I was good at keeping hidden (Nathan disagrees.) We were looking for pizza and the agreement was that we would stop at the first pizzeria, no deciding needed (deciding often held us up quite a bit in actually getting to our meals in Italy).

We found a little cafe as we walked that had crispy pizza ready to eat. All you needed to do was indicate how big your square of pizza should be, they'd weigh it, and it was yours to stuff in your face. Unfortunately, we found our cafe just in time to get behind two construction workers who practically cleaned them out of pizza. There was enough for one more person, so I got a sandwich instead. It was decent. But I wasn't hungry anymore, so we were both relieved.

Montalcino is best known for its Brunello, an extremely expensive wine that is made from a red grape grown only nearby. Needless to say, it's a very wine-centric town, so there are enotecas (wine bars) everywhere. Nathan and I were, sadly, nonplussed by Montalcino, as he is not that into wine, and I cannot be right now.

We headed up the hill to the Fort, basically the only official tourist attraction in Montalcino, where Nathan got seriously peeved to be asked to pay €4 to climb up to the parapets, the highest point in Montalcino. No matter how many times I pointed out that charging to visit things is normal in Italy (and really pretty much any and every tourist location), he continued to be majorly bent out of shape to find out that things weren't free. I think I need to take him to the Willis Tower (formerly Sears) so he can put this in perspective.

On the way back, we headed to the grocery to buy supplies for dinner. We had a little kitchen in our place, so we bought some tomatoes, ravioli, cheese, and spinach to make our own dinner. Nathan also came across the digestif, Cynar (chee-nar), made from artichokes, which he bought "to sip" after dinner. It smelled like it might taste okay mixed with Coke, but I was not fully convinced. This may have been the first alcohol I was not disappointed to miss out on.

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