Italia: San Gimignano and Cortona-ish

My lovely Canadian tour mates got together for a reunion on Saturday.  Sadly, I can’t hop on a plane for Toronto every time I want to sip wine and swap stories about my trip.  Besides, we had the most fantastic seats for the Bruins game that night, and there was wine…though, there’s something really off about drinking wine at a hockey game.

Anyway, I’m sorry I couldn’t swap stories in person, but writing up a few more days from my iPhone journal will just have to do!

Seriously, the only thing "wrong" with these seats is sometimes the Bruins players would stand up and block our view of the action. Especially Chara. That dude is tall!

Seriously, the only thing "wrong" with these seats is sometimes the Bruins players would stand up and block our view of the action. Especially Chara. That dude is tall!

Tuesday, October 18

06:30

For the second day in a row I’m up before the sun for Cindy’s sunrise workshop.  This time, I’ve worked out some of the kinks with my tripod and figured out a few more buttons on my camera.  My efforts aren’t as good as Pierre’s, but I’m pleased with a shot or two.

We were freezing, but the smoke from the fireplace at the farmhouse definitely makes this shot!

We were freezing, but the smoke from the fireplace at the farmhouse definitely makes this shot!

11:00

We arrive at San Gimignano on a tight timetable.  Susanna tells us to meet her in an hour and a half at the base of the hill.  San Gimignano is a teeny tiny medieval town, known for its towers.  It’s beautiful and there’s lots of great shopping.  Susanna gives us printed out maps and tells us about some of our options.  With so much to see and so little time, we scatter.  But, no worries.  The town is so small, that every time I turn a corner, I run into someone else from my tour.  So fun!

So many good-looking things to photography!  (Including my lovely roommate, Franka, and our chef, Darren.)

So many good-looking things to photography! (Including my lovely roommate, Franka, and our chef, Darren.)

I make my way to the town square, where I find Cindy sitting on the steps of a fountain.  She’s experimenting with using slow shutter speeds to blur the movement of the crowds of tourists and locals walking by.  Her photos come out pretty cool.  I give the technique a try, but my best efforts are pretty sad.  Instead of cool artsy shots, they just look a little out of focus and weird.

Hmm..my camera gave me a backache.  Cindy must need to go to the gym regularly to carry hers!

Hmm..my camera gave me a backache. Cindy must need to go to the gym regularly to carry hers!

According to Susanna, San Gimignano was a popular stop for pilgrims on their way to Rome during the Middle Ages.  The constant influx of people (many of whom would leave their money behind and never return to claim it!) brought wealth to San Gimignano.  The townspeople showed off that wealth by building tall towers.  At one time, there were as many as 72 tower-houses in San Gimignano.  Now there are just 14.

At Susanna’s suggestion, I climb to the highest point of this town-built-on-a-hill, for a beautiful view of the valley below.

If you ever come to San Gimignano, definitely plan to stay for more than an hour and a half.  Beautiful!

If you ever come to San Gimignano, definitely plan to stay for more than an hour and a half. Beautiful!

13:05

No wine yesterday.  Maybe it’s time to make up for that?  Susanna makes us hurry out of San Gimignano so that we’re not late for our wine tasting with a 5th generation winemaker/comedian named Pierluigi.

On our way into his family’s winery, Tenuta Torciano, Pierluigi tells us that wine is poetry, fantasy, and love…

We sit down to a plate of meat, cheese, olive oil soaked bread, and potato chips.  Pierluigi tells us to taste each wine with each type of food.  He says there’s going to be a quiz.  I always want to do a good job where tests are concerned, so I carefully consider my choices.

Even on vacation, I can't stand the idea of failing a test!

Even on vacation, I can't stand the idea of failing a test!

After all my careful tasting, Pierluigi tells us that whichever we prefer is the correct answer.  The rest, he says, is pee pee.  He makes a peeing motion when he says it.

14:12

I (heart) ribollita.  It’s an italian vegetable soup that’s really more like a stew.  Tenuta Torciano serves it with beautiful olive oil streamed on top.  Lovely.

Yeah, I know this is a blurry iPhone photo of an empty bowl, but it was so darn good that I didn't even think to snap a pic until it was gone.  Sorry.

Yeah, I know this is a blurry iPhone photo of an empty bowl, but it was so darn good that I didn't even think to snap a pic until it was gone. Sorry.

(Oh happy day!  While looking up how to spell our host’s name, I just discovered the ribollita recipe on the Tenuta Torciano website.  I can’t wait to make it at home!)

15:27

I finally bought Vin Santo.  It will arrive in 5-6 weeks.  I hope I can wait that long!

17:30

Every day we drive past the Prada outlet, and every day Amanda squeals that she wants to go in.  Her fandom must not be denied.  After all, she even has a dog named Prada back home!

Today, Susanna’s worked it into our schedule.  She sets us loose at the outlet mall for an hour an a half.  It’s longer than most of us want to spend there, but our dinner restaurant doesn’t open until 7:00 anyway.  While Amanda rushes off to buy her new purse, some of us take a breather in the coffee shop.

I don't drink cappuccino, but that doesn't mean I can't photograph it!

I don't drink cappuccino, but that doesn't mean I can't photograph it!

Gee...even my Diet Coke seems stylish!

Gee...even my Diet Coke seems stylish!

I sneak out of the coffee shop just in time to see Cindy’s “sweet light” settling over the valley.  I rush to a couple of abandoned stone buildings next to the mall where my photobugs have been camped out.  Sadly, I arrive without much time and only manage a couple quick shots before we lose the light.  Still, they’re some of my favorites.  Just think about what I would have been able to do if I’d had the time!

More than a month later, this one still takes my breath away...

More than a month later, this one still takes my breath away...

We settle in to take some pictures of the sun setting.  Everyone around me manages some great shots, but mine are pretty substandard.  The only shot that succeeds is this picture of Maureen.

Definitely sweet, sweet light.

Definitely sweet, sweet light.

19:29

We’ve taken over a small local pizza joint for dinner.  This place clearly isn’t used to 20+ person parties of non-Italian speakers.  The locals aren’t too happy about the noise we’re making, and dinner takes forever.  Cindy tries to teach me to make a paper crane while we wait.  Mine failed, but hers was great.  Kinda like our sunset photos tonight.

Nice crane, Cindy!

Nice crane, Cindy!

19:50

Yeah, dinner didn’t suck.

Wednesday, October 19

9:02

We’re headed to a farm house near Cortona for a cooking class.  Susanna puts some Italian music into the CD player to brighten up a gray day.  She tells us to listen for a famous female Italian opera singer, but the first song on the CD is Dean Martin.  We all start singing along.  “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore…”

I amore Italy.

Pretty light coming through pretty bottles.

Pretty light coming through pretty bottles.

10:45

We arrive at the farmhouse near Castiglion Florentino, a walled city north of Cortona.  Actually, we don’t quite arrive at the farmhouse.  Moreno parks the bus on the side of the narrow mountain road.  Antonio appears in the car to take our bags and Bob up the hill.  The rest of us follow the very bubbly and energetic Marinella to the farmhouse.

Marinella was so happy to welcome a group full of Canadians, I almost didn't have the heart to tell her I wasn't one of them!

Marinella was so happy to welcome a group full of Canadians, I almost didn't have the heart to tell her I wasn't one of them!

While half the group makes ravioli with Antonio, we start making sauces and chicken with Marinella.  Marinella teaches us to cook by color.  Most of the lesson is translated by Susanna, but Marinella manages enough English to remind us that colors are very important in cooking.  How many times have I said that exact thing on this blog?  Marinella and I are going to get along just fine.

I loved the fire from Marinella's big camp stove.  Now that's heat!

I loved the fire from Marinella's big camp stove. Now that's heat!

Marinella teaches us to make chicken in verde sauce, chicken cacciatore, and pesto with sage and walnuts.  Apparently, the walnut harvest has just finished, and in Tuscany you always use whatever’s freshest.  I wouldn’t even know where to find fresh nuts back home!

My favorite is the chicken in verde sauce.  Gabriella handed out the recipe, but it’s wildly inaccurate.  Luckily, I took lots of pictures and will be able to recreate it when I get home.  Fresh and healthy, this might become one of my go-to meals.

Marinella lets us smell the sauce before she adds it to the chicken.  Cindy snaps a pic.  Gee…do you think this smell makes me happy?

To be perfectly honest, this was the second take of this photo.  Cindy missed it the first time.  Poor, poor me.  I "had" to smell it twice!

To be perfectly honest, this was the second take of this photo. Cindy missed it the first time. Poor, poor me. I "had" to smell it twice!

13:23

Sadly, I have a migraine.  I feel very sick all through my ravioli making class with Antonio.  But, not so sick that I can’t take step-by-step photos.  I was worried about traveling with so much expensive camera equipment, but the biggest danger to my camera so far has been flour.  Lots and lots of flour!

Everything you need to know about making ravioli.  Just follow the steps!

Everything you need to know about making ravioli. Just follow the steps!

Maybe a little wine will help with my headache?  Our host serves us a rose made from Sangiovese grapes.  Who knows?  I usually don’t like rose, but I love everything in Italy!

With a table this beautiful, you know the meal will be good!

With a table this beautiful, you know the meal will be good!

13:27

Yum!  Feeling better already!  The food is amazing, especially the chicken in verde sauce.  Did I mention that I loooove it?

14:27

They brought out the biscotti.  This is a good sign.  I think Vin Santo is coming!

Funny, I never looked forward to biscotti before!

Funny, I never looked forward to biscotti before!

As he pours, Antonio explains that Vin Santo is the traditional liquor of Tuscan families.  It’s only made in this region.  Grapes are picked and dried for two months.  Once wine has been made from the dried grapes, it’s put in oak barrels and left untouched for five years.  Wow.  No wonder it’s soooo good.

15:39

We were hoping to see Cortona today, but we had such a lovely time with Antonio and Gabriella that we’re behind schedule…again.  So, Antonio takes us to see another one of his properties, a nearby converted monastery.  He grows grapes on the property and has a wine cellar and tasting room in the old church.  It’s beautiful and tranquil.

The laundry is left by the tenants who rent out extra space in the monastery.  Everything here seems to be multi-purpose.

The laundry is left by the tenants who rent out extra space in the monastery. Everything here seems to be multi-purpose.

Now, a two hour drive through the Tuscan countryside listening to the random Italian opera CD Moreno found on the bus.

19:49

Time for a cooking class with Darren in the very crowded active commerical kitchen at Villa Pitiana.  There’s really not room for all of us, and the poor chefs trying to serve dinner to the other hotel guests are quickly getting frustrated.  20+ visitors is bad enough, but we keep jockeying for position as we try to take the perfect pictures of Darren’s food.  This is the danger of traveling with a bunch of photographers!

Sometimes we just liked to smell the food, too!

Sometimes we just liked to smell the food, too!

As he’s been promising all week, Darren shows us a formula for focaccia that he found on a baker’s wall in Pompeii.  It’s not at all like modern focaccia, but it’s so yummy.  Darren says you know it’s done when it’s slightly brown and sounds like a drum when you thump it.  He walks around thumping the bread for each of us to hear.

Who knew bread could be so musical?

Who knew bread could be so musical?

We get kicked out of the kitchen while Darren finishes our meal. Merriment ensues.

I must be proud of whatever photo I'm showing off!

I must be proud of whatever photo I'm showing off!

I wish you could taste these amazing dishes. I believe we ate every single bite!

I wish you could taste these amazing dishes. I believe we ate every single bite!

Darren's pretty proud of his dessert...for good reason!  Sooo good!

Darren's pretty proud of his dessert...for good reason! Sooo good!

After dinner, I finally manage a successful Skype call back to Massachusetts. It’s free, but there’s a long delay that keeps getting longer and longer. I’m a dork, so I have to take a picture of the chair I was sitting in during my first ever Skype call. These things must be documented!

Yep, I'm a dork.  But, doesn't that look like a comfy chair?

Yep, I'm a dork. But, doesn't that look like a comfy chair?

Next up: a rainy day in Lucca and then we’re off to Rome!

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