Friday, June 27, 2014

April 9, 2014–Siena!

The Travelpod was written by Lizzie and Doug on this day. Anything from the Travelpod is below in italics. Any new comments are in regular text. Enjoy!

Hi there…Lizzie here. Doug has a food baby and is unable to sit up currently so I will start the story for today.
We slept late and it was lovely. We got up and headed to breakfast provided by our fabulous hosts. What a spread! It was the BEST breakfast we have seen so far. It was Italian and American and awesome. Not only was it a great spread, but tasted fabulous. Our hosts are amazing.

Then we headed back to Siena for our Tuscan Tasting Tour with the Tuscan Wine School (

(doug taking over)
While I cannot deny the presence of this food baby and the strong food coma that's about to follow, I will deny that I was unable to sit up. I took a shower (including some extremely odiferous flatulence at no added cost), and managed to sit somewhat upright in bed as I told Lizzie to bring me the blogging device.

Update from yesterday – I’m still not 100% yet, but I do feel significantly better. The fever broke and I think I consumed about 4 gallons of water over the course of the night. Nevermind the adverse side effects of pressure on the inner walls of my bladder roughly every hour, I had to flush out the system. It seems to have helped at least a little bit.

As Lizzie mentioned, our lovely hosts here at Fonte Bertusi put out an AMAZING breakfast spread for us this morning. 2 loaves of freshly baked bread, prosciutto, cheeses, multiple kinds of jam, multiple kinds of pastries, cereals, juices.. as I write this, it sounds an awful lot like a continental breakfast you get at the Hampton Inn in the states. It’s ever so much better, though. We’ll plan to bring the camera with us in the morning to show you what Manuela, Andrea, and Eduardo are capable of.

I wanted to eat all of it, but I didn’t want to start the day with a food baby.. that’s reserved for the middle of the day (pre-riposo) or for dinner. Breakfast needs to help get the day started, but you can’t want to take a nap immediately afterwards. That’s counter-intuitive. Right, so we’ll bring the camera tomorrow and hopefully amaze you.

I also renegotiated my Lenten sacrifice with God. I clarified that I gave up coffee, but that coffee does not include espresso or cappuccino. I’m not sure that He responded, but I think I’ll have to make it up to Him somehow.

We made our way back to Sienna today for a "Savor Sienna" walking tour. We showed up in true Lizzie style – 30 minutes early! 2014-04-09-03-52-57_IMG_1350We met our guide, Sarah, and she gave us both a glass of wine as we waited for the other 4 to arrive. 2014-04-09-04-11-31_IMG_1351

Lizzie emptied her glass into mine, then thought – how are we going to get home if you have to drink both of our wines? I assured her I would not get “nipples drunk,” but to play it safe, she mentioned to our guide that she only likes sweet wines. And I have to drive us home.  No sneaking around that one ;)

We waited around a while – the others were running late, so we gave them 15 minutes and learned about our guide. She’s originally from Sweden, has lived in Italy for almost 19 years. We also learned a little about Sienna and its 17 neighborhoods. They have an annual horse race in the main square and all 17 neighborhoods come out to support their horse and rider. Each has a mascot, we happened to be in the panther neighborhood at the start of our journey. There are all kinds of animals they pick as mascots: pigs, bees, rhinos, elephants, turtles, unicorns.. they each have their own color and they hate each other when the horse race comes around (in July). We might have to pay another visit to Sienna some July in the future.

The others never did show up, so we started the walk without them – we got our own personal guide for the day! Our first stop was to walk down to the old market square to a little deli named Gino Cacino (kuh-CHEE-no) after the owner – Georgio, who goes by “Little George” Georgino. So it’s shortened to Gino. And Cacino is another nickname – Cachat being a type of cheese, so Cacino means “Little Cheese.”  2014-04-09-04-43-04_IMG_1356

Quick side story – when Lizzie and I were walking back from the La Spezia train station, there was a woman on a bridge overlooking a few ducks. She was very excited and started pointing at the water and said something very fast in Italian. All I really caught was something that sounded similar to the word for duck (anatra), but… cookier: anatralino. What is that, a little duck? So I looked over the bridge, sure enough, little duck babies swimming in the canal. So I laughed and explained to Lizzie what I was laughing at. That the Italians just make up words by adding –ino or –lino to the end of regular words to make them mean a smaller version. So I found it entertaining to find further evidence to support my theory in a man that sells the little cheeses.

Back to savoring Sienna: We walked in and Sarah explained a bunch of different meats and cheeses to us. What was common to this area only and what was more common throughout the country. 2014-04-09-04-31-33_IMG_1353We had a sample plate put out for us that included 3 types or porcino (sheep) cheeses – all at different points in the aging process and all aged differently. One was fresh and soft, another aged in olive oil and black pepper, and the last in walnut leaves. I must say I enjoyed the non-aged softer cheese more, but the flavors in the other cheeses were delicious. 2014-04-09-04-31-39_IMG_1354We also had some Tuscan salumi – aged meats. A prosciutto more common to this area (rather than the parma prosciutto we had most other places, this was coated in black pepper before aging), a salami, and two other meats I must look up the name of later. All of them were delicious.. the latter two were actually made similar to a hogs head cheese, and reminded me of scrapple from when I was a kid in Pennsylvania. Same concept – use _all_ of the meat on the pig.2014-04-09-04-45-27_IMG_1359

Along with the meat and cheese, we tasted a mustardo. It’s basically like a chutney, but with mustard in it. We had one made with figs and truffles that was fantastico. 2014-04-09-04-45-02_IMG_1358We polished off that jar and bought two more on the spot. We also asked if we could have un assagio (a taste) of an extremely soft cheese that Lizzie had her eye on called stracciatella.

THIS WAS SO FREAKING GOOD! I want more of it right now.2014-04-09-05-01-31_IMG_1361

Same name as the chocolate chip gelato I had in Venice. I was curious what it was and it looked delicious. We spread it on the bread as we waited for the other four members of our group to join us. Sarah got a call at Gino Cacino’s from the company that told her the others showed up (LATE!), so she told them to come down to meet us at the little cheese shop, so in the meantime, we made the most of our time there by eating more. That was like liquid heaven.

Cheese that was liquid at fridge temperatures. Turns out it was started in Naples and it’s a form of mozzarella. You don’t press it and squeeze all the whey out of it, but rather let it stay in the gooey liquid form. It was incredibly good.

Our other 4 didn’t make it to the shop in a timely fashion, so our guide switched up our walking tour a bit. We went past the area that we met so she could pick up her work cell phone and see if they were still waiting there (they weren’t), and kept walking down to the pasticceria. 2014-04-09-05-23-12_IMG_1364

This was _definitely_ Lizzie’s bag. We tried two sweets – Neither of which I can remember the name of. One was a pastry made with almond flour, eggs, and sugar. It was very sweet, very soft, and very good. The other was very similar to a fruitcake, just better. Again, I’ll look these up and plan to fill them in later. We picked up a package of each before we went on to the next stop, so I’ve got a package to reference. I’ll fill in these details before we eat everything.2014-04-09-05-23-17_IMG_1365

From there, on to the café for some espresso (not coffee). 2014-04-09-05-37-32_IMG_13702014-04-09-05-37-47_IMG_1371

Lizzie abstained because she doesn’t care for coffee, but I definitely partook. I must say, their house blend was the best espresso I’ve ever had. Maybe it’s the lack of coffee I’ve had in the past few weeks, but I truly think it was just that good. It was 80% beans from Brazil, 20% beans from Tanzania, roasted and ground in-house. Another interesting side-fact: our friend Sarah left for an African safari to none other than Tanzania 2 days before we did. Guide Sarah, Tanzanian beans.. weird coincidence.

From there, we went back to the shop for our final tastings. Our guide explained the custom behind Tuscan bread – this bread is made without salt. On purpose. So needless to say, the bread itself does not have very much flavor. For a while, Lizzie was wondering why all of our bread in Florence was so bad, then we learned from Rick Steves that this is on purpose. Sarah confirmed this and sprinkled a little “magic salt” on top of the bread.. basically salt with a blend of Tuscan herbs. It definitely made the bread much more appealing. (No real surprise here, I think they should just forgo tradition and salt their bread, but then again, my country is only 250 years old) Evidently, salt used to be very expensive and that’s partially how Venice became so rich. Trading gold for salt. Someone lost big on that deal in my opinion.

We also sampled olive oils the way that the official judges do. You warm it up in a shot glass in the palm of your hand, the other hand covering the top of the shot glass to seal in the aromas. When the oil feels the same temperature as your hand, remove your hand and inhale the aroma. Then take your shot of olive oil, depositing it as close to the back of your tongue as you can. Hold it there and suck air into your mouth to aerosolize the oil. This will bring out the pepper flavor in the oil. 2014-04-09-05-54-46_IMG_1375I can say that olive oil from this region tastes so much better in general than the stuff we get at the grocery in the states. If you taste it without the aerosolizing business, it’s clearly grassier and more peppery than what we get back home. That’s why I’ve adopted an olive tree from and get olive oil delivered to my door straight from Italy 4 times a year. It’s just that much better. I caught wind of this from Shawn, and I don’t think I’ll ever look back. It makes a huge difference in whatever you’re cooking.2014-04-09-06-03-31_IMG_1377
We also tasted some limoncello – which was _much_ better than the stuff we had in Riomaggiore. Still strong, but much more flavorful. I don’t know if it’s the lemons or the sugar that was used, but this tasted much more natural. And we got to sample some chocolate made with red wine and one made with pine nuts, 3 different vinegars (two were balsamic and again were better than anything I’ve had in the states, and 6 different honeys (lavender, acacia, eucalyptus, chestnut, rosemary, and a tree I can’t remember off-hand). So much to enjoy, so much to retain.
We hit the end of our tour and I made the quick decision to buy a few more things to ship home to us for a personal care package. We got a few wines, some balsamic vinegar, some honeys, and some olive oil. I can’t wait to enjoy it at home as well.2014-04-09-06-35-59_IMG_1379

After our tasting, I mentioned to Lizzie that we failed to taste one thing in Sienna. Gelato!

On our way to get gelato, we stopped and visited the main church in town. I was “churched out”. We did not go inside, but admire the outside. It was a very beautiful church. 2014-04-09-06-53-32_IMG_13802014-04-09-06-55-17_IMG_1385

Then we walked by the baptistery and crypt. Check out the size of these doors on the baptistery…


So we went down to the main square past a gelato stand that was highly recommended by our guide.

Good call, Sarah. I got a tortufa al rum and cioccolato fondante – that’s rum truffle and dark chocolate. Wow. It nearly edged out Florence for the best gelato I’ve had so far, but Perche no? still holds the title with that chocolate, rum, and orange gelato.

We hung out in the main square of Siena– this is where they have the major horse races in July – “Palio di Siena”. 2014-04-09-07-10-18_IMG_14032014-04-09-07-16-19_IMG_14152014-04-09-07-57-07_IMG_1421

This is a typical example of a “road” in Siena. You can’t tell the grade, but I assure you- it is severe!

Not long after that, I started feeling worse quickly. So we made a quick pit stop to get some food for the road back home and high tailed it back to Sienna for our own riposo.

I felt better back at the home base, but couldn’t fall asleep, so I took a short stroll outside in the fresh air and watched the sunset over the hillside while Lizzie got some sleep. It really is quite serene here.2014-04-09-11-11-29_IMG_14372014-04-09-11-13-46_IMG_1440

I woke Lizzie up to come see the sunset and she made us reservations at a little restaurant next door to our accommodations. It was up one long driveway, down the highway about 100m, then back down another long driveway. We spent much more time going down the driveways than on the actual road.


Dinner was fabulous, although we both ordered more than our bellies could hold. Again. It’s so hard to make a decision when everything looks so good. I just want to try it all.

Random video of DB. He did not realize I was videoing him and then he gives me “mean eyes”.

mean Doug eyes….

After dinner, a little border collie was patiently waiting outside the door with a tennis ball for us to play with him (or her.. we didn’t look that closely and it was kinda dark).


We complied in part to work off the food baby, in part because the dog was just so friendly. After playtime and saying ciao to our new found friend, we took the long driveway journey back home. Another successful  day in Italy. Buonanotte!

Lizzie Fitbit: 11,298
Doug Fitbit: 10,635

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