The Journey Home

I write this as we sit in the Frankfurt airport on Wednesday morning awaiting the loading and departure of our flight to London Heathrow.

Shortly after 9:00 this morning we said our farewells to Keith and Helen. Keith threatened to check the car to make sure that we weren’t trying to make off with Alba. Alas Alba needs the wide open spaces and wouldn’t be happy in a city lot. We were sad to leave Boggioli and Tuscany but at the same time looking forward to heading home.

Our drive to Florence was uneventful save for the cattle that had got loose at the top of the driveway (the same cattle I photographed the other day). Perhaps they were trying to come with us however someone was already herding them back into the enclosed field. The GPS took us on a bit of a tour of Florence but we ultimately found the rental car return near the airport. We only had a few minutes to wait before the shuttle came to take us to the airport.

We arrived with lots of time to spare. For a short time it looked like we might have been bumped to a different flight through Zurich (with a cash incentive thrown in) as our flight was over-booked. In the end, though, we were put on an earlier flight to Frankfurt which still worked out OK. You have to like Lufthansa – they still serve real food along with complimentary beer and wine!

It is now a day later and I am sitting in the SAS/Air Canada Lounge at London Heathrow Terminal 3.

Our arrival at Heathrow yesterday went very smoothly. By the time we got through Customs our bags were right there. The train to Terminal 5, where the Sofitel Hotel is located, was waiting and departed about a minute after we boarded.

We checked into the hotel then headed back to the Terminal 5 Underground station where we caught the Piccadilly Line to Hammersmith. Conveniently located across the street from the Hammersmith tube station is the Swan Pub where a couple of pints of London Pride and delicious fish and chips awaited us. Then it was back to the hotel for desert and a port before retiring for the night.

Today (now Thursday) our check-in for our flight and pass through security has gone without a hitch and we are now relaxing and waiting for our departure gate to be posted. Hmmm I see there is no line-up at the draught taps …

It’s now about 5 hours into our flight. For dinner we had an appetizer of scallops with couscous, pureed peas, and Crab Timbale accompanied by a Vermantino from Sardinia and a green salad with balsamic vinegar and oil dressing. The main course was rack of lamb, broccoli and roasted potatoes along with a tasty Malbec. A cheese plate was a great companion to a glass of port followed up by apple pie coffee and Grand Marnier.

It seems like a good day to watch a couple of classic films I have never actually watched before. At the moment I am watching Some Like it Hot. Earlier I watched The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. I don’t know about the good but bad and ugly describes this classic from Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti western days, before he started directing and actually starring in some pretty good films, and long before he started talking to empty chairs!

It has been an amazing month. I’ve developed a whole new respect for Chianti Classico and developed a new friend in Vermantino. Brunellos and Vino Nobiles will be permanent residents in my cellar. But above all I have wonderful memories of incredible scenery, delicious food and warm, hospitable people.

Well back to Some Like It Hot before I get too maudlin!

Home again. We’ve picked up Risa from the kennel. Tonight it will feel good to sleep in our own bed again.

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Tuesday, October 9th

Once again our luck held …

Abbazia San Galgano

It was pouring rain when we left Boggioli this morning.  I mean “get drenched running to the car” pouring rain.  It rained hard all the way to Siena and beyond until we almost reached San Galgano.  As we approached, the rain let up and by the time we parked the car it had stopped completely.

Abbazia San Galgano

Abbazia (Abbey) San Galgano was built between 1218 and 1288 by the Cistercian monks.  It was the first Gothic style church built in Tuscany.  In 1786 lightning struck the bell tower which then collapsed onto the roof of the church.  The remains today are still beautiful although a rainy day probably is not the best day to pick to tour a roofless building.

Sword in stone, Hermitage of Siepi

Just up the hill from the Abbey is the Hermitage of Monte Siepi where Galgano lived as a hermit.  The story goes that Galgano, the knight from Chiusdino, embedded his own sword in the rock as a sign of peace.  The round chapel was built around the sword.  The chapel dome with its concentric circled of alternating colored stones is quite dramatic.  There is some belief that this was actually the origins of the story of Excalibur and King Arthur.

Hermitage of Siepi

We stopped for lunch in the out-of-the-way village of Montalcino at the Ristorante Da Vestro.  Our lunch of bruschetta, Ribollita, pasta, and house wine was absolutely excellent.  We capped it off with homemade flan and espresso.  During lunch we started talking to the couple with their son at the next table.  They were from Boise, Idaho and were on day 2 of a month in Tuscany, having just been to Abbazia San Galgano as well.  We shared with them our favorite places to see.

Castello Brolio

On the way back to The Barn, just south of Gaiole I noticed the signs to Castello Brolio that I had seen before on several trips where we had driven this route.  I had read that the castle is quite beautiful so I quickly detoured onto the road leading to Brolio.  The castle was built in 1000 A.D. and since 1141 has been owned by the Ricosoli family.  Baron Bettino Ricasoli, known as the Iron Baron, lived here in the late 1800’s.  The baron is credited with developing the formula for Chianti.

Castello Brolio

The castle certainly lived up to expectations.  Fortunately by the time we got there the rain had quite and the sky was clearing.  I walked around the outside of the castle through the vineyards that grow the grapes for Brolio’s wines before buying a tour ticket and entering the castle itself.  The castle was immense and the views from the ramparts were breathtaking!

On the way back to The Barn we drove through Montegrossi and onto the “shortcut” one last time.  We arrived “home” by about 5 pm.  It really had been a special final day in Tuscany.

Monday, October 8th

It’s Thanksgiving Day and we are spending it in Tuscany! 

Morning coffee with Alba

We have so much to be thankful for:  wonderful friends, great family, and good health so we can travel to and enjoy beautiful places.

Montegonzi – Castillo at top and white building below is Osteria di Montegonzi

We made a quick trip into Montegonzi for a couple of grocery items that we need for dinner.  The little shop is located at street level above Osteria di Montegonzi, in fact pretty much the entire business district in the village is located in that building.  We found what we needed and returned to Boggioli.

It’s a beautiful sunny day, perfect for sitting outside reading.  Later in the afternoon I take a magazine down by the pool and stretch out on one of the chairs.  Keith had advised us earlier in the day that the pool would be getting drained for the end of the season tomorrow so it was nice to enjoy it one more time, even if it was too cold to go for a swim.

Susan using a mezzaluna

Helen and Keith arrived for dinner at 7 pm.  They came bearing gifts: a beautiful rose, a bottle of their extra virgin olive oil vacuum packed and bubble-wrapped for safe transport home, a signed cookbook written by Helen’s friend, and a bottle of an Australian shiraz cabernet to enjoy on our last night.

We enjoyed sipping Prosecco on the terrace as the last of the sunlight disappeared behind the hills.  Dinner was wonderful.  Susan had prepared an absolutely delicious, perhaps somewhat unconventional, Thanksgiving Dinner.  We started with a tomato and bocconcini salad and moved onto roasted chicken, broccoli, bean salad, and Greek-style potatoes all accompanied by a delicious 2007 Brunello Riserva.  Desert was pears baked in a very tasty sauce accompanied by a glass of vin santo.

Thanksgiving Dinner with Helen & Keith

Helen and Keith are a wonderfully warm and interesting couple.  They have added so much to our enjoyment of Tuscany.  This was their first Thanksgiving Dinner as Italy doesn’t have any similar kind of harvest celebration.  We thoroughly enjoyed our evening with them.

Sunday, October 7th

The solitude of Boggioli was what we craved today after all the travelling we have done over the last 3 weeks. It was a cloudy, cooler day today: perfect for relaxing, reading, and reflecting.

Earlier this afternoon I went for a stroll out behind The Barn through the olive grove, pausing frequently to listen to the wind rustling the leaves of the olive branches or to drink in the views out over the valley.

At one point I briefly caught the aroma of fresh cut wood. Several stacks of wood had been cut to dry for winter heating. Oddly it evoked memories of another farm from many years ago and thousands of kilometers away. As a boy one of my favorite times was the annual fall corn roast at my mother’s cousin’s farm near Seba Beach. The shed stacked full with wood to fuel the cookstove for the winter had the same wonderful smell.

Looking out across the valley to the blue-tinged hills I thought back over the past 3 and a half weeks. We have been to so many places but have seen so little of Tuscany. At about 3.5% the size of Alberta, the size of Tuscany would be roughly equivalent to a strip 60 km wide from Edmonton to Red Deer. There is so much to see and experience and we have only scratched the surface. Around every bend of every road (and there are an infinite number of bends) there is another Castillo, another vineyard, another valley, another village on top of another hill.

My biggest regret in writing this blog is that I do not possess the skill to use words as a brush to paint the beauty of this country. Nor do I possess the artistic eye to truly capture with my lens the awe that the ever-changing landscape evokes. But I will take with me some incredible memories of this truly remarkable region of Italy. And I take comfort in knowing that one day we will return.

The olives lining the branches are starting to ripen. While the grape harvest is nearing completion, the olive harvest is several weeks away, reminding me yet again how much more we have to see in Tuscany.

We still have two more full days before we head to Florence to start our trip home. We have invited our hosts, Keith and Helen Richmond, to share Thanksgiving Dinner with us tomorrow night. It will be a Canadian Thanksgiving Dinner Tuscan Style … we just don’t really know for sure what that is going to be. But I do know that we do have a bottle of a delicious 2007 Brunello Riserva to go with it.

Saturday, October 6th

Gateway to Arezzo

Podere Boggioli is located within the Province of Arezzo.  On this beautiful, sunny Saturday it was time to finally visit the city of Arezzo.  About an hour’s drive from Montegonzi through Montevarchi brought us to the outside of the wall around the old city.  We lucked into a parking spot steps away from one of the gates into the city, Porta San Lorentino.

Naturally the first order of business after such a long drive was an espresso and pastries.  We found a café about two blocks from where we parked and enjoyed our coffee while watching the owner preparing sandwiches behind the counter of the deli.  This stop also garnered me some change to go back and plug the meter for some additional parking time.

Antique market

We continued uphill to the Piazza Grande.  The first weekend of every month the square and many surrounding streets are filled with a giant antiques market.  Offerings ranged from beautiful to trashy.  We certainly were lucky to have chosen this day to visit Arezzo.

Refreshment and a view

Past Basilica di San Domenico was a beautiful park with a row of food vendors on one side.  I bought a glass of beer at one vendor … it was a hot day after all!  We spent a few minutes wandering around the park and enjoying the view of the valley from the edge of the park before descending into the square again.

Arezzo

We wandered down countless streets filled with antique vendors past several more churches and piazzas.  Eventually we found ourselves back at Porto San Lorentino and our car.

Lunch stop

On the drive back to Montevarchi we stopped for a light lunch at Trattoria La Querce.  The food was good and it was very pleasant sitting on the vine-covered terrace.

Wine stop in Montevarchi

Soon we were back on the road again to Montevarchi.  While we have been to Montevarchi several times for grocery shopping or to catch the train, we had not as yet explored the historic old city.  We found a parking spot and then enjoyed a glass of wine at a bar beside the parking lot.

Performers in Montevarchi

A couple of blocks away we came upon the main square where there was some kind of music festival going on.  A stage was set up on one side of the piazza with some seating set up in front of it.  We spent some time listening to the music and watched the young performers dance.

As it was getting later in the afternoon it was time to return to Boggioli.  Another day of enjoying Tuscan gems was complete.

Friday, October 5th

There’s a sound coming through the window.  Something has wakened me.  It’s still dark and I lie in bed listening.  There it is again.  It’s become more constant now.  I haven’t heard the sound before but I know what it is.  I get out of bed and peer out the window into the darkness.  A moment later my suspicions are confirmed as I see black shapes moving about next the shed behind The Barn.  Wild boars.  Snuffling and snorting as they munch on whatever they have found.  I find a flashlight and aim the beam of light towards them.  Red eyes glint in the dark.  I can see them clearly enough now.  There are about 6 or 8 of them grazing beside the shed and among the olive trees.  I watch them for a few minutes then head back to bed and back to sleep.

It’s Friday morning and as we had been warned, the power went off about 8:30.  We finished breakfast and about 10:00 set off for Greve in Chianti.

Piazza Matteotti, Greve

Greve, unlike most of the other towns we have visited, is actually a valley town and therefore relatively flat.  It originated as a market town and now is the unofficial capital of the Chianti region.

Giovani Verrazzano statue

The main square, Piazza Matteoti, surrounds a statue of the explorer Giovanni Verrazano.  Anyone who has run the New York Marathon will be familiar with the bridge that bears his name.

We stop in a well-known and quite large butcher shop, Macellaria Falorni.  The ceiling is lined with countless cured proscutti hams and other meats hanging row after row.  There is quite a large selection of meats, wines, knick-knacks and artifacts.

We wander around the square a bit then duck into one of the outdoor restaurants for cappuccinos and some crostini mixtas.  After our snacks we continue exploring this picturesque town.  To our disappointment the wine museum is closed and available for tours by appointment only.

Piazza in Panzano in Chianti

Soon we are back in the car and heading back the way we came to Panzano in Chianti.  This is a more traditional hilltop town.  We find a restaurant with a terrace that commands an incredible view over the valley.  This looks like a great place for lunch and we find a table right on the edge of the terrace.

Susan at restaurant, Panzano

Lunch is great and the view is spectacular.  It is so relaxing just sitting and sipping our wine and a post-lunch espresso that we decide to linger a bit longer and skip our third planned stop of the day, a return to Castellino in Chianti.  After lunch we follow the street uphill to a medieval church at the top.

Hauling grapes

We pass by a small winery with a tractor and its trailer stopped on the side of the street as crates of grapes are unloaded and carried inside.  Further along is a school yard with the happy sound of kindergarten aged kids being kids.  The top of the hill, just beyond the church yields a beautiful panoramic view of the valley around the town.

View from Panzano

We arrive back at The Barn around 4:30 which gives us time to relax, enjoy the late afternoon sun, and get ready to go to Osteria di Montegonzi for dinner.

Oteria di Montegonzi

Once again dinner at the Osteria was spectacular.  We started with an appetizer of chanterelle mushrooms in a cheese cream sauce.  For the main course Susan had Guinea Hen and I had a spicy beef dish, all accompanied by a great bottle of Vino Nobile de Montepulciano.

Susan at Osteria di Montegonzi

Thursday, October 4th

The woods at Boggioli

A grocery shopping trip into Montevarchi was the highlight today on what was otherwise a rest day.  It felt good just to have a morning to sleep in, relax around The Barn, then have a leisurely drive to and from the Montevarchi Coop (about 20 minutes away).

Oscar … catching some rays

This afternoon after we had some lunch we went for a short hike through the woods accompanied by Alba.  She seemed to love the chance to have some company and to go for a run.  Oscar, on the other hand, seemed content to visit us by sleeping on the table on the terrace.

Wednesday, October 3rd

Sometimes the best luck is dumb luck …

Montepulciano

There it was. Rising from the top of a hill, shrouded in light blue mist. Our first glimpse of Montepulciano. We had driven an hour and a half to visit this beautiful town known for the wine produced in the area: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

We found a parking space and walked up the hill to the Information Center where we obtained a free street map. A little further uphill we passed through the large stone-arched gateway into the town. We continued uphill along streets lined with shops including lots of enotecas selling Vino Nobile di Montepulciano as well as pecorino cheese.

Interior of Church of St. Augustine

Coming to a small piazza in front of a church we paused to rest for a moment. I checked out the interior of the church. It was quite beautiful in its simplicity.

Further up the street we stopped at a pastry shop for cappuccinos and a cream-stuffed pastry. Back on the street we continued our climb until eventually we came to the other end of town. The little piazza there was, of course, in front of another church. We turned and started back down the street the way we had come. After a couple of blocks we veered left onto another street which began another ascent to the Piazza Grande.

Piazza Grande, Montepulciano

We entered the piazza past a 3-member band playing on the corner. Susan sat on the steps of one building while I strolled around the square taking pictures. The piazza was quite pretty with the Duomo on one side and the town hall at right angles to it. Other buildings completed the other two sides of the square.

In the city hall I paid €3 to climb to the rooftop viewing area. The last couple of flights of stairs were an extremely narrow circular stairway.

View from top of city hall

The view from the narrow gallery down onto the piazza and over the rooftops to the countryside beyond was breathtaking.

Upon my descent Susan and I found a table at one of the restaurants on the square and ordered pizzas for lunch accompanied by glasses of Vino Nobile. After lunch we journeyed down further downhill streets until we again passed through the stone archway.

Back in the car we plugged “La Foce” into the GPS and set off for what we hoped to be a garden tour. After about 20 minutes of following instructions from the GPS we ended up on a gravel road in front of some building that definitely did not look like the Villa and gardens we were looking for. La Foce only offers tours of the gardens on Wednesday afternoons at 3, 4, 5, and 6 pm. As our guide book did not list La Foce we did not have an address we could enter into our GPS so we pretty much gave up on the tour and decided to head straight to Pienza which was to be our last destination of the day. We soon came to an intersection where the GPS told us to turn left but the sign said Pienza was to the right, so we turned right ignoring the GPS. No sooner had we turned than we saw a sign that said “La Foce 4”. Through pure dumb luck we had found La Foce! 4 kilometers later we turned into the parking lot for the gardens.

La Foce gardens

We arrived about 10 minutes before the 4 pm tour was to start. The gardens at La Foce were beautiful. When Antonio and Iris Origio bought this estate after the 1st World War they hired English architect Cecil Pinsent to design the main gardens along with restructuring the house. The gardens are probably best described by an excerpt from the above website:

La Foce gardens

“The garden grew gradually, between 1925 and 1939. The house is surrounded by a formal Italian garden, which is divided into geometrical ‘rooms’ by box hedges with lemon trees in terracotta pots. Travertine stairs lead to the rose garden and a winding wisteria-covered pergola bordered by lavender hedge. Gentle informal terraces climb up the hill, where cherry trees, pines and cypresses grow among wild broom, thyme and rosemary, and a long cypress avenue leads to a 17th-century stone statue.”

View from La Foce gardens

The views from the gardens over the Val d’Orcia are stunning. The tour lasted about an hour and we were soon on our way once again to Pienza.

In the mid 1400’s Pope Pius II had the village of his birth rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town. His dream however never really got much beyond the main square but there is a definite difference in architecture compared to other towns in Tuscany.

Duomo, Pienza

Pienza is also known for its Pecorino (sheep) cheese. We stopped at one small shop and tasted several types before purchasing some. At another shop we bought a bottle of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

As it was getting late in the day we decided to stop for a quick drink before heading home. We found a little bar on the edge of town with a table outside facing west, into an incredibly beautiful sunset. We sipped our Proseccos and watched the sun go down on another amazing day in Tuscany.

Sunset, Pienza

Our surprises were not done with yet though. On the way back down the lane to The Barn we saw a small herd of wild boars beside the road. While there are lots of wild boars in Tuscany we had not seen any until tonight.

Tuesday, October 2nd

Alba “on guard”

The mornings now have a little Fall crispness in the air.  The word from back home though is that we sure aren’t missing anything on the weather front there!

By now my morning routine has become somewhat established.  I head downstairs, light the gas stove and put the kettle on. Next I open the heavy wooden doors that cover the entryways into The Barn letting the morning light stream in. Some mornings Alba stops by to say good morning. I fire up the laptop then head back to the kitchen to measure a couple of scoops of coffee into the bodem and pour in the boiling water.  Then check the computer to see if it has internet access so I can check email.  Next it’s back to the kitchen to push the plunger down on the bodem.  Pour a cup of coffee.  Ahhhh the day can begin!

We returned to Radda in Chianti today as it is not far and we really liked it the first time we visited.  I’m getting familiar enough with the main routes by now that I didn’t need the GPS at all for our journeys today.

Partway up the driveway to the main road we encountered one of Keith Richmond’s employees doing a little grading of the roughest part of the road.  We look forward to a smoother ride down the driveway when we return.

Road narrowing between 2 buildings, Montegrossi

At the top of the drive we turned right and took the “shortcut” road I have talked about before.  This time we stopped for a few minutes in Montegrossi to take some pictures, including a couple of where the road narrows  between two buildings to barely wider than one vehicle.  The little hamlet itself is actually quite pretty.

Montegrossi

Once in Radda we parked in the free parking lot we found last time and walked up the hill to the main part of town.  We spent about an hour and a half wandering the streets checking out the shops and even making a few purchases.

More shopping in Radda

At about 12:30 we got seated in La Perla del Palazzo restaurant and enjoyed a great lunch accompanied by a bottle of Chianti Classico.

Susan at restaurant

Following lunch we purchased a bottle of vin santo from a little enoteca (wine shop) located just off a tunnel in the bowels of a medieval building … very cool!

On the road again, we stopped by Le Miccine  winery to buy some more Vermentino and a bottle of their Chianti Classico Riserva.  This is the winery operated by the young woman from Montreal that we first visited a couple of days after arriving in Tuscany.  We chatted for a while with Paula Clark and her mother Rita before setting off once again.

Our next stop was Gaiole in Chianti for cappuccinos and to use up a bit of time as the Coop in Cavriglia doesn’t open until 4:30.

Grocery shopping in Cavriglia was next on the list then the drive home.  It was a nice day revisiting some now familiar spots.

Monday, October 1st

It was a dark and stormy night …

The loud claps of thunder and bright lightning flashes passed during the night and we were awakened by sunlight streaming through the window.

September has flown by with most of it spent in this beautiful country.

Susan relaxing on terrace

Today we had another “take it easy” day.

Oscar grabbing a nap

I finally got caught up to date with posting my blog … we’ll see how long that lasts!  Susan did some laundry and some reading.

At 5:00, as promised, Keith provided us with a tutorial on olive oil.  He explained in some detail the process from harvesting the olives, through the pressing, then the centrifuging to remove the oil, and the bottling.  While they do try to separate out the leaves, twigs, etc. from the olives before they are pressed, invariably there are still some mixed in when the olives are pressed.  It is actually the chlorophyll from the leaves that gives the olive oil the greenish tinge.

Extra virgin olive oil seminar with Keith

Boggioli’s extra virgin olive oil is organically produced.

We then moved on to the tasting of several oils.  The first was an example of a “bad” or undesirable oil.  On the nose it smelled a bit like machine oil, a bit like the old “paint-by-number” paints.  Surprisingly it had very little flavor.  The second was lighter both on the nose and on the tongue.  Although it had a bit more flavor than the first one it still didn’t have a lot of flavor.  The third sample was a Boggioli oil.  It had a lot more aroma to it: a bit like cut grass with a faint hint of almond.  The taste was very interesting. The immediate sensation was of a fairly light oil then suddenly it hit the back of the throat with a bit of pepper taste.  This is fairly common among Tuscan oils according to Keith.  I was much longer on the finish than the first two oils.  It was quite a tasty oil.  Then Keith brought out a two year Boggioli oil for comparison.  It still had the aroma of fresh cut grass but not as pronounced.  The peppery taste was not as strong as with the younger oil: in fact it kind of snuck up on you.  However it was still quite a good oil.

Keith & Susan discussing olive oil

Who would have thought we would be sitting around tasting olive oils like you might sit around tasting wines!  It was a great experience and we learned a lot.

For dinner we went back to Borgo Forra.  This time we tried their mushroom soup and a couple of different pizzas, accompanied of course by a very nice Chianti Classico.

Who know’s what adventures tomorrow will bring.  But we can pretty much count on it being another wonderful day!