Milan - Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Big City! We found a perfectly located hotel just off the square near the Duomo on an alley containing the oldest vegetable shop and wine store in Milan. It rained just about the entire two days we were there. No, it was pouring. That didn’t take away from the beauty of the Duomo or the Galleria a bit. We did quite a bit of walking and window shopping. The city was full of well dressed people wearing fine leather jackets and shoes.

Check the few photos we took due to the rain.

 Cinque Terre - Friday, November 21, 2003

The Cinque Terra consists of five villages clinging to the rugged Ligurian Coast. Most folks visit here to hike from between the five villages along a windy coastal train. The small village of Vernazza was our base, the fourth of the five towns town going up the coast. We got off the train after emerging from a long tunnel and found the town spilling down the hillside towards a beautiful little cove. We spent a few days in this village sampling their infamous pesto, white wine, and fresh local fish. It was a bit rainy out, so we only hiked one day. VERY NICE hike though of course we were caught in a downpour before reaching the train station to return to Vernazza.

 Firenze - Monday, November 17, 2003

Florence is all about museums, architecture, old churches, and small windy streets filled with all kinds of shops. Of the two days spent in the city, we managed to squeeze in a visit to Michael Angelo’s David, Campo de Fiorno, and Forze caste for a great view of the city. It was fun to wander in the city market and found a screaming deal on a couple of leather coats.

 Country Drive - Wednesday, November 05, 2003

The rain went away! We spent a long afternoon driving around the countryside south of Siena with Jules & Brent. The leaves are changing, the air is cold, and it is very peaceful here. Our destination was the well-know town of Montepulciano and the lesser known Montalcino. Each town has their own famous wines and were equally interesting. We had a picnic at sunset near the old fort in Montalcino before driving home.

 Asciano - Tuscan Hill Town - Sunday, November 02, 2003

Home base for two weeks is Il Molinello, a 14th Century Etruscan farm complete with 3 yellow labs for us to play with and a very skittish truffle pointer to hunt down the famous fungus. The farm is 30 minutes SE of the well-know town of Siena. This puts us in a perfect spot to sample the wines of Chianti, Montepulciano, and Montalcino. Dotting the countryside are ancient walled villages, vines, olive groves, wheat fields, and farm houses. Our peaceful base is quite a change from the craziness of the past several months of travel by train. We actually have a kitchen with free veggies from the expansive garden, use of washer, comfy wine cellar, and intermittent internet access.

Alessandro and Elisa own the farm and live here full time with their extended family. There's a lot of love here and good smells from the kitchen. Elisa & Alessandro purchased the farm 6 years to slow down a bit from a busy life in Siena. Elisa is a part-time employment lawyer and Alessandro is a biologist turned farmer studying to be a sommelier. They also own and manage a booking service for a group of Agriturismos (working farms) in the area. They get tons of help raising their two young kids from Alessandros parents and Elisa's grandmother. Everyone seems to have a job around here to keep them busy. We even managed to help out one day moving a bunch of firewood.

Staying on the farm is much cheaper, nicer, friendlier and infinitely more comfortable than hostels and pensions. Having a home base is good for working on b-school essays. So not much going on around here. Sightseeing later in the week....Our thriftiness the past month has enabled us to rent a tiny car for a week or so. It feels like quite a splurge to have our own wheels, but necessary given the recent rain and cold weather. Riding the mountain bikes to the market isn't too comfortable when the rain is coming down sideways (did that).

Upon picking up our rental car, we connected with our honeymooning friends Julie & Brent in Siena. This is the same couple we hung out with while visiting NYC this summer. It was great to catch up with them and hear all about their California vineyard wedding over a relaxing Sienese dinner. We invited them back to the farm a couple of days later for a wine tasting.

Alessandro turned out to be quite an inspiring and enthusiastic guide through the differing Tuscan styles of red wine. We sampled five types of delicious wines. A visit to this region though the eyes of a sommelier taught us the subtle differences in characteristics, taste, and quality. This was the most fun and educational wine tasting experience we've ever had.

Most Italians grow up drinking wine with meals. They don't go out to the local bar for wine; rather, the local bar is where you'll find people drinking cappacino and playing cards. So it's not suprising that world famous Chianti wines are made for eating with foods. For those of us who tend to drink wine without consuming a meal, the taste of Chianti can seem sharp and overwhelming. Now we know why! Apparently the trend (mostly outside of Italy) is toward more drinkable wines that don't need the food accompaniment (thanks to Americans). That's our little factoid for the day!

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