The A1 is a large highway and driving on it is much like driving in the states (except for the tolls). The roads in Tuscany, however, are a different story. These roads are curvy and one lane each way (sometimes only one lane period).
Now there are a few ways one can drive on these roads. The first is at a leisurely pace, taking in the scenery and enjoying the view. The second is to treat the roads as if they were a video game and/or the autobahn.
Guess which way Mama drives and which way Papa drives? Papa was behind the wheel as we left the A1 on our way to Montepulciano (our first stop out of Rome). Needless to say the Jesus Handle was put to good use.
Montepulciano is a medieval hill town known best for it’s wine. Apparently it is also the place where some of the Twilight Saga was filmed (thanks Tracy for that little tidbit, and no, we didn't see any vampires -- sparkling or otherwise).
We were using Montepulciano as a place between Rome and Radda in which to stretch our legs. And if we partook in a little wine while stretching? Well you know what they say -- when in Rome ...
We took the first Montepulciano exit off the A1. This exit, apparently, was not for the actual town but rather for a gas station. Gas stations off the Autostrada are like pit stops; you pull over, fuel up and peel back onto the freeway.
We didn’t need gas so, after a few choice words, shot straight back through to the Autostrada. The next exit led us to a pay booth; this was promising as it meant we were leaving the A1 (aka we were in the right place). The tolling station took credit cards and was quite simple to use (a miracle in and of itself).
Then we were set free in Tuscany. We followed the blue directional signs (when going slow enough to see them) to Montepulciano.
We parked outside the city walls in a pay-to-park area. It took some time to figure out the parking machine. Turns out we needed coins which, thankfully, another tourist gave us in exchange for bills. The machine may have taken credit cards but, for the life of us, we couldn’t figure out how to use them (this will be a theme -- stay tuned).
Finally time to wander the streets. We were foot weary and our wandering was accompanied by a litany of complaints -- tired, hungry, sore, bored (seriously, bored? I mean c'mon!). If you can think of a complaint we heard and subsequently ignored it. Have children. Will march.
It was just after noon and we decided to browse the shops before they closed (many shops close from 1 pm to 3 pm for lunch and siesta). Restaurants, thankfully, stay open.
The town was full of artisans. One artist that caught our eye was a man making mosaic reproductions of Van Gogh’s famous works (he doesn't seem to have a web page). Van Gogh is one of Little’s favorite artists (she studied him in school last year). The mosaic pieces were prohibitively expensive, otherwise, we would have purchased one on the spot.
As far as the kids were concerned lunch couldn’t come soon enough. At 1:00 pm, on the nose, we sat down to eat at a lovely outdoor cafe. Two loud, boisterous and gabby Italian women sat a couple of tables away. They were laughing and gesturing and waving their cigarettes about as if they were on display. And indeed they were. I daresay even the waiter was pleased when they finally went on their merry way.
The food was fresh and delicious; seafood linguine, crab linguine, ravioli with pistachios and pecorino cheese. The children ate with nary a complaint. Mama and Papa, of course, had a half liter of vino -- just enough to calm the nerves. The meal was rounded off with two espressos -- drunk with a touch of sugar.
And then time to explore some more. We found a wine cellar advertising free tours. Suddenly we were underneath the city -- deep and dark, musty and sweet, oak barrels stacked all around. The cellar opened onto a tasting room.
More vino? Why yes! Yes please. Even the boy got to taste. We left sated.
Our parking meter was running out (we'd paid for three hours). Alas it was time to leave.
From Montepulciano we followed the blue directional signs to Siena. We were scheduled to be at the Siena train station early the next morning. Our thought was to find the station to avoid early morning confusion. But, as we pulled into Siena, we saw blue directional signs for Radda, our final destination. Tired and worn we decided to skip the station and make our way home.
We had reservations at the Chianti Cashmere Goat Farm.
Following the Radda signs we found our way to the farm, checked in and promptly fell asleep (it was 7:00 pm).
This wasn't the last time we'd end up skipping dinner. The food here is filling and plentiful. Believe you me we didn't go to bed hungry.
The next morning we had an early wake up call (we had a train to catch) thus it was good to get a good night's sleep.
Next on the dock? A vintage steam train ride. Stay tuned.