Today we toured hill and valleys, and flats and mountains. We started off close to home in the medieval hilltown of Petroio. Nothing was open yet and the town is rather isolated, so we did a drive-through. You leave the main road and are reminded what the town is known for-pottery. There is a big factory there. I was worried that it wouldn’t be very picturueque until we turned the corner and there the road continued under a canopy of trees. Lovely. The village is small and the streets very narrow and one way. The town is just as a preserved village should be. There was one spot there you were making 90 degree turns in the space for a single car. You miss the buildings by what feels like inches. Pretty proud of myself for handling that drive.
We drove on to Trequanda passing other hilltowns in the distance. There were orchards of olive trees and we spotted workers beginning a harvest. Boris wanted to make a stop in Trequanda due to the military history and the remaining castle fortress which was unfortunately under renovation and not open. No parking close by so I dropped him off in town and parked at the bottom of the hill. Things were pretty quiet and I felt like all of Boris’ words were echoing through the town square particularly when he chose to announce that this was still a very communist city. By the looks we got, I not sure they get many visitors.
The church’s black and white ashlar facade created a chromatic effect unusual in the area. The interior was simple and there was a charge to light the paintings (unless you had a flash which was permitted). Boris spent most of this time in the information center and picked up a few books and a bottle of the local wine. I reminded him that if he buys it he carries it, but I always end up taking it. I get dirty looks from people thinking “that poor man and that young woman is making him carry all the packages.” (I added the “young” part.)
From here we went to Sinalunga, passing the first hitchhiker we had seen in years. There are lots of wineries in this area and we drove on two-land roads through the vineyards. The lower town of Sinalunga is unremarkable. When we reached the upper town we found that the central section was cut off by a large market. Parking was remote. I couldn’t seen get Boris close enough to drop him off. I don’t mind running the gauntlet through the market, but it looked pretty cheesy and path looked treacherous for Boris. He learned his lesson yesterday and wisely said lets skip it. We could see the top of the duomo in the distance; it was even more impressive looking up from the lower town.
It was 11:30 am and we had already blown through Boris itinerary for the day, so we headed to Arezzo, which was on the list as a separate trip later in the week. We didn’t get on the Autostrada (A1) but crossed it and rode through a flat area of Tuscany with lots of farming. Attractive, but we have been jaded by the beauty of the valleys and hilltowns. We saw the snow-capped mountains in the distance as we drove to Arezzo, but didn’t actually stop in the city, instead turning east to go through the mountains to Sansepolcro, enclosed by the Alpe di Catenaia and Alpe della Luna. The city is the birthplace of Piero della Francesca (for art enthusiasts) and the Buitoni pasta company (you have seen it in our stores). The art you have to drive in for; the butuni factory you can’t miss as you enter the city.
A tree-lined avenue showing its fall color lead to the old walled-city. Passing through the Fiorentina gate, we found the old city rather quiet and headed in. I made a quick stop in Chiesa di S. Agostino, just inside the gate. Apparently there had been a market earlier in the day and they were just beginning to take down the stalls. I watched a vender as he pulled in the very large canopy that extended out from his van. He had machinery on top that would pull it in to fit in a rather small space the length of this van. Unsold merchandise went inside the van and he was off. This “canopy van” was not unique; many of the vendors had them.
When we reached the main square, Piazza Torre Di Berta, it was “break time”, that midday siesta still enjoyed in many parts of Italy. Shops, museums, offices, ect are closed so the workers can have lunch, often going home for several hours. Anytime between 1 and 4 pm you might have a problem getting to enjoy your planned excursion. The best thing to do is go with it and have your lunch then too. The restaurants, bars, and quick stops shops are all open. Italians don’t have a big morning meal, but they do have a long lunch around 2 pm and dinner no earlier than 8 pm. If the restaurant you are at is open before 8 for dinner, it caters to tourists.
The Duomo, just north of the main square, was open so I walked around it while Boris set off for the tourist office (which of course was closed). We met again to have lunch outside the Duomo and wait for the Museo Civico to open at 2:30. The clean up on the main square was in full swing and we watched the venders pack up, the street cleaner come through, and the trash collector pick up what was left (and we also had a lovely view of the Cathedral). In spite of it being a cold day, the bar had tables outside in the full sun and it was wonderful. It wasn’t until the end of our meal when the sun had moved on that we again felt the chill. (Bars in Italy are also a casual type restaurant; I confess; I had pizza again.)
After lunch, we toured the museum, also north of the main square and just off Piazza Garbialdi (although the entrance is off Via Niccolo Aggiunti) and saw the famous works of art originally in the Duomo. Boris said The Resurrection by Piero della Fancesca has been described as the “perfect painting”. I know nothing about art, but I liked the painting. Jesus’ expression was odd, even severe, but he had perfect abs (a long walk to Jerusalem can do that for you). It was those “guarding” the tomb, off course fast asleep and in medieval garb, that drew my attention. The museum actually had several pieces that I liked included a multi-paneled gold altar piece with a bald Mary, also by Piero della Francesca. Bald Mary (considered to be wearing “a transparent veil”) is what caught my eye, but it is the work itself that keeps your attention.
Boris was tiring out, so I finished the museum on my own and we went back to collect the car. It was about 3:30 at this point and we had an hour and 20 minute drive back to the house. We should have turned back. He was tired, the sky was cloudy now, and we were going to be coming in a different way. Well, we didn’t. We were relatively close to Michangelo’s birthplace in the mountains so we went for it. My conditions were: we could make the turn around in 40 minutes or less, I would not have to drive in the dark, Boris knew exactly how to get back, and he would not later claim it was too dark to read the map. I was very specific. I said these things several times. (You can see what is coming.)
We set out passing through Anghiari. Boris was thrilled and gave me the complete history. Anghiari was the site of a famous battle between the Florentine army supported by the pope and Milanese troops who had recently won in Sansepolcro wanted to expand the Duke of Milan’s holdings in Tuscano. The walled city sat right on the edge of the hill looking as if it is going to fall off any minute save the high city walls. We made it to Caprese Michangelo and did a drive through to see the church he was baptized in and the small hamlet of buildings almost completely surrounded by walls. Again the view was better after you left and looked back up. Headed back to Anghiari, we saw a lovely lake, which Boris said was a dammed part of the Tiber River.
We reached Anghiari and I really wanted to capture a picture of the city from below, but both routes we tried took us a different way and you could see the darkness coming with the clouded sky. There was a section of the highway were I thought I spotted more hitchhikers on the way out. When we got close, I changed my opinion of the mini-skirted, knee-high boot wearing young women, one of whom was sitting in a white plastic chair as if this were a frequent hangout. Boris said they were gypsies. Gypsies? Not what I was thinking. On the way back, one of them was there again. Boris came around to my way of thinking.
Once back near Arezzo we got on the Autostrada and realized how far we had come. We exited at the familiar exit from the first day. We were now under a quarter of a tank and I spotted a gas station and suggested we stop, but Boris said to wait until one was convenient. (He means on our side of the road.) Big mistake. You always stop because many of these small communities don’t have stations or they are not open late.
Then we got to THE INTERSECTION and Boris told me to follow the road to Montepulciano. I told him it didn’t look familiar. Came to another roundabout. I said I didn’t remember this many roundabouts. He said the first right. We went under a bridge. I told him I didn’t remember the bridge. Boris confessed he wasn’t sure which way. I pull over and he gets the map. We go back. He takes us another way. Thinks it is also wrong. I suggest the map. He says it is too dark to read it. Of course, because now it is dark and we are very low on gas and of course we have not passed another gas station. Finally, I pull into a small community grocery store. Remind Boris about the conditions of me driving in Italy and that all have been broken. He does the unthinkable for a guy. He goes into the grocery store and asks directions. Thank God for his Italian lessons. Yes, we found gas and made it home. No, I was not happy.
As we drove in, what is happening-a market!! Ah, the way to Natasha’s heart-shopping. Can I be won over with meat, cheese, and vegetables? On this occasion yes. That and not suggesting I cook tonight. He admitted at dinner he knew he couldn’t ask about cooking dinner and that he knew I would blog about this. Its called venting Boris! We ate again at La Botte Piena and had an even better meal. Boris had two super beers (each about 3/4 the size of a bottle of wine). Spotted this wonderful jack-o-lantern on our street and felt festive.
Come on. I am in Italy. It was a great day.