Sunday, June 29, 2014

April 11, 2014– Montepulciano!

The Travelpod from today was written by Doug. Any new comments are in regular text while his original blog is in italics. Enjoy!

We figured it was only a matter of time, but both of us were ignoring the inevitable. My wife, she got sick :(  I woke up this morning feeling at nearly 90%, but Lizzie was no longer at 100%. We share everything, evidently.

On today's agenda, we were supposed to drive down to Assisi to see the birthplace of St. Francis. But the drive is about an hour and a half, so we didn't want to chance Lizzie feeling worse in the middle of the drive or as soon as we got there, so we laid low in paradise for another day. We feasted like royalty at breakfast once again, then came back to the apartment to relax a little more. I brought Lizzie some more green tea and hot water with honey melted in it (her request), and she got some more rest.

By noon, we were both discussing our strategy for the day, and we decided on somewhere within a 20-30 minute striking distance. After reading about several towns, I decided on Montepulciano. It met our requirements, and the birthplace of Nobile wine offers free wine tastings. Sounded like a winner, so we drove off to see the city.

The road to Montepulciano was full of ups and downs and twists and turns and when we hit a few switchbacks on the side of the hill it was on, I knew we were likely in for a climb. I drove us close, but when I thought we were within striking distance and I saw a parking spot painted in white (meaning free parking), I ducked in immediately and parked.

At this point, I admitted to Lizzie I had no idea how far the city was from here, but since we passed 2 pay lots already, I thought it had to be close. When we pulled this tactic in Siena, it resulted in walking directions that took about 45 minutes to get to our destination. I pulled up the map, and it looked like the town center was directly in front of us. Just.. up a really, really high wall.

No problem, we walk around it, and we should be golden!
I'll also note at this point that we went through Pienza on our way and I offered to stop at the pharmacy for Lizzie so we could get her some throat lozenges. We stopped, but unfortunately, they were closed. As we rounded the bend from our parking spot in Montepulciano, we found another farmacia, but unfortunately, it was also closed. It would be open in about a half an hour. Lizzie said she felt ok, so we pressed on into the city. Or at least up.


Montepulciano is another quite steep hill town. Lizzie has mentioned several times now that when we started talking about "hill towns," she didn't realize in her head that this would involve lots of vertical walking. She thought maybe we drive up the hill, then the towns on top would be relatively flat. This is not the case at all. Pienza was somewhat flat, but that's been the only "hill town" that we've visited that possesses that quality. Montepulciano wasn't quite Cinque Terre, but I feel like after that hike, we probably won't see anything quite that vertical for much of our lives unless we take up rock climbing. The hills there are quite steep, but we took it easy.


They had several interesting shops including guys that worked with copper and iron, creating very interesting works of art. Door knockers, hinges, cooking utensils... and they were hammering out their crafts as we passed by them.

We read that this town was similar to Siena in that it kept its traditional contrade from medieval times -- tight little neighborhoods -- and similar to Siena, they also have an annual tradition like the horse races where a member from each contrade pushes a wine barrel up the steep slopes of the city to the main square, Piazza Grande. All this for nothing more than bragging rights for your community. The contrade weren't quite as easy to spot as they were in Siena. We saw the flags and the statues throughout the streets of Siena, but here it was much more subdued. I'm not even sure what their mascots are, to be honest.

We made our way up the hill to the Piazza Grande. 2014-04-11-08-36-32_IMG_1630I can't imagine pushing a full wine barrel up that street very quickly. Or maybe at all. I'd likely wind up like Sisyphus, never actually reaching the top. Though I doubt I'd have to keep pushing the barrel up the hill, it'd like split at the bottom and we'd all drink wine out of the puddles on the ground. Now that I think about it, maybe I will see if I can make an appearance at that race...

The piazza looks very similar to other squares in other hill towns. They all have their own character, but they are all very similar to each other as well. I got several pictures of Lizzie sitting down today, given that she isn't quite 100%, but the photo of her laid out on the square might be my favorite.2014-04-11-08-32-06_IMG_16252014-04-11-08-32-53_IMG_16262014-04-11-08-33-28_IMG_1627

We had eaten a bit before we came to Montepulciano, so when I spotted gelato stands on the way up the hill, you know I was looking for new, interesting flavors. We passed a few places that looked great, but had all the flavors I had already tried. The shop just off the piazza had a cream flavor named after the gelato shop, so I figured I would give that a try. It's a bit like the vanilla ice cream I kept trying at until I found a recipe I really liked. It's still vanilla, but you've made it _your_ vanilla. The cream flavor was delicious -- and better than the other cream flavors I've tried thus far.


Lizzie was still feeling good, so we entered the Cantina Contucci --2014-04-11-08-35-50_IMG_1628 the winery I had alluded to earlier that gives free tastings. We walked in and checked out their palazzo and incredibly large wine cellar with immense barrels. That place doesn't mess around. They make some _wine_.


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Afterward, we headed into the tasting room and were in there with groups from Australia, New Zealand, and another couple from the US. They poured 4 glasses of Nobile -- one aged a single year, and several others that grew in different soils and were aged different lengths. All of them were like all of these hill towns -- very similar, but different in their own way. 2014-04-11-07-59-39_IMG_16162014-04-11-08-25-34_IMG_16212014-04-11-08-27-19_IMG_1624

The woman pouring the wine offered Lizzie a glass, but Lizzie said she really didn't like wine, so thanks, but no grazie.


Some people let that sit. This woman did not. She told us about how she used to dislike wine, she wouldn't even hold it with more than 2 fingers when she pulled it off the shelf. But then she tasted the Nobile wine, and it changed her mind. I'm pretty sure that since I've been with Lizzie, I've heard several different versions of this story -- either people allow her to say she doesn't like wine, or they try to convert her. Either way, it works for us. Either she doesn't get wine, which isn't so bad in her opinion. Or I get 2 glasses. Which isn't so bad in my opinion.

After the story, she poured a glass of the blue label -- I think that was the ashy soil aged 3 years. (I'm sure I just made that up, I brought home the brochure, if you're interested, I can give you the scoop on which one she selected as the "conversion" wine) I knew Lizzie wasn't going to like it. It still tasted like vino. So, sure enough, one sip, Lizzie made her "I don't like wine face" and handed me her glass.

All the same, though, we bought a half case from the winery. 4 bottles of wine, 1 of their olive oil, and 1 bottle of Vin Santo. Before purchasing, I asked how their Vin Santo was. Still convinced that she could convert my wife, the woman explained how their Vin Santo was made. I know Vin Santo is generally a sweeter wine, so it had a chance of being a winner to Lizzie. And because Lizzie was not yet converted, we got to try their Vin Santo as well. I must say it was very good, but Lizzie still made the face.

I think it might be her cold affecting her tastebuds and her ability to smell, I felt this one should be above the "sweet enough for Lizzie" bar. She said she'll try it again, but she's not yet convinced.
At any rate, the wine was delicious -- we have yet another fancy box from Italy on its way back to our home. And I'm fairly certain our budget has been blown :)  This is no problem, we have other unused envelopes in our savings accounts that will just have to be replenished later. We both agreed on what our actual limits were before we went on this journey. We have the money and you only live once.2014-04-11-08-39-02_IMG_16362014-04-11-08-42-02_IMG_1640

We made the much simpler trek back to the car. All we really had to do was lift up our feet and let gravity do the rest. I suggested we simple lay perpendicular to the direction of the hill climb and then we aren't even required to lift our feet, but Lizzie thought this was a poor idea on the stone covered streets. This is probably a wise decision considering we were carrying an expensive camera and the added disadvantage that the fitbit doesn't count rolling as any steps (I've tried).

Before we got to the car, we stopped in at the farmacia to get some cough drops -- we thought this could easily turn into another episode like at the post office where the person behind the desk doesn't speak a lick of English and I just cling to whatever words I can to try to decipher what it is they are talking about. I looked up the italian word for "lozenge" and "cough" (because cough drop showed no useful results) while we were waiting in line and politely asked "where is the lozenge" and made a poor charade of a person coughing and said the word for cough. It's like caveman speaking, seriously.

The woman behind the counter looked puzzled at first then asked "Cough drops? Are you looking for the drops or the candies?" I don't recall exactly what she said, but the point was, it was english and this was a much easier conversation than I thought it was going to be. Sigh of relief.

We took a photo with the cough drops outside the pharmacy.. note the enormous condom vending machine outside the building. Because. Well. We've seen a bunch of them outside pharmacies here. 2014-04-11-09-13-28_IMG_1647And it's an interesting custom. Probably a good idea -- better than the awkward time spent at the register with a box of condoms I suppose.

We came back to our little paradise for our last night here and I let Lizzie get some more sleep while I drove back out to Pienza to find us dinner. I went into one shop to see if we could get some pasta takeaway (fortunately, the Italian word for pasta is quite easy). They were quite busy, so I wasn't surprised they said no. On the way up the very small hill, I saw a pizza shop -- I thought I'd grab some pizza and pasta and be on my way back with it in no time. I asked the woman behind the counter if you got a whole pie or if it was just a slice and she said it was just a slice, but they were a good side, showing me with her hands. So I figured I'd get 2 slices, move on and get some pasta.

More hilarious language barrier stories. She totally said "taglia" which I had learned was slice, but perhaps she said something that sounds like taglia that really means "entire pizza" and her hand gesture that looked like a large piece of pizza that clearly made a wedge in my mind was really just supposed to show me the diameter of the pie, not the outside edge of the slice. "It's ok" was not the right thing to say, then. So, instead of pasta, we got a large calzone and a medium pizza pie. It was delicious, but I had intended on getting pasta because Lizzie requested that. So I failed her, but at least I had a funny story. And the pizza was good.

I was feeling so bad and stayed in bed the whole afternoon/evening. When Doug came home with food, I scarfed it down. He also got me some tea. I was feeling so bad.

On another side note, neither of us remembered that today was Friday. Which is the sign of a good vacation. But we both ate meat today. So we're making it up to Jesus with no carne Sabado (no meat Saturday). It was easier in those coastal towns, we'll see how we do on our travels through Umbria and on into Rome tomorrow. Ciao!

Lizzie Fitbit: 7,281
Doug Fitbit: 7,123

1 comment:

  1. Positive photos and interesting review. Thank you for sharing this travel experience with us.