We were up and at it pretty early this morning. We had to be on our way by 9:00 am so the maid could clean the apartment for the next guests. First thing first. A final visit to the Holy Vivoli. We were greeted with warm smiles, due cappucini e due coronetti. The ladies tried to make small talk with us, even going so far as to offer compliments on my hair. We could not bring ourselves to say goodbye. God love them for making our brief stay in Firenze memorable. When travelling so far from home it sure is nice to have someone glad to see you. So what that it was our 57th and final time having coffee with them.
We dashed back to the apartment, grabbed our luggage and took off for the Hertz car rental. Dragging fifty pound suitcases for a mile along stone streets and sidewalks is quite an accomplishment and we are pretty sure someone should give us a trophy for having done it. But we remain humble.
We were given the keys to our sporty Fiat 500 and a map with instructions on how to get to the Autostrada A1 without violating the ZTL and getting a big fat ugly ticket. (The ZTL is the restricted zone within the historical center of Florence. You must have a permit to enter within the restricted zone, but there is nothing to actually stop non-permitted cars from doing so.) We managed to avoid the ZTL. BUT we did not avoid the 2013 World Cycling event that was taking place in Florence. Several main streets THAT WE NEEDED TO BE ON were blocked off and we kept having to detour. I have to say I am very proud of us. We held it together. We did not panic. At one point, I’m pretty sure we both wanted to stop in the middle of the street and start crying but we did not. No, not us! G-man, who is solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, put the window down and asked IN ITALIAN a police woman for directions to get to the autostrada. Yeah, that’s right. He grabbed that bull by the horns and wrestled it to the ground. Within minutes, we were on the autostrada headed toward Montepulciano.
Let’s pause a moment and discuss driving in the city in Italy. All I can say to describe it is “rubbing is racing,” boys and girls. At one point, we were stopped at a light. Our side of the road was three lanes. We were in the center lane. To my right, there were TWO cars side by side. Yep. Three lanes and we were four across. If it weren’t for the fact I was white-knuckled and unblinking, I might have had the presence of mind to grab my camera. But no, I was scribbling out a living will on the back of the rental car agreement.
Meanwhile back on the autostrada, there we were zipping along toward Montepulciano. We had some leftover airplane survival snacks we munched on during the trip. Our heads were on a swivel. Just one adorable Tuscan villa after another with little castle-looking things to break up the monotony. Insane. Does everything have to be so breathtaking? Can you tone that down just a bit? Give a girl a break for heaven’s sake.
Ok, so we made it to Montepulciano with no problems. We parked in exactly the right car park closest to our apartment. I’d like to say that bit was planned, but it was luck. Montepulciano is a walled city and you can’t just go buzzing around in it in a car. We park, leave our luggage (another accidently brilliant idea) and head into the main gate to meet the keeper of the key of our new digs. Montepulciano is not only a walled town, but it is a hilltop town. Our new flat is very near the main gate which happens to be at the bottom of the hill. As a matter of fact, the back wall of our flat is part of the wall. Yeah, no biggie. Our home for the next two weeks is over 600 years old. Ok, Ok. Let’s get past the age thing. This place is on a H I L L. You are either walking UP or DOWN. Nothing level. Ever. The restaurants with outside seating have tables with short legs on one end and long legs on the other. Everything is built to be on a slant. And now you know why I’m glad we left the luggage in the car.
So, we meet with the keeper of the key. She speaks not a word of English and, because we say “va bene” without an American accent, is completely convinced we understand everything she is saying. Yep, we’re that good. She is a fine co-conspirator, though, and walked with us back to the car to drive it INTO the forbidden zone. Now imagine a FIAT 500 with two full-size suitcases, a small carry-on-size suitcase and a large camera bag in the back. We had to put the backseat down to get the luggage in the car. That was not stopping Signora Ljuba! She wedged herself in the back of the car and proceeded to direct us from there so as not to encounter the police but get the car inside the walls to unload the luggage. What a rebel! Mission accomplished. We unloaded the luggage and returned the car to the car park undetected.
The flat is rather amazing. It is three times the size of the one we had in Florence. You could actually live here full time. It has two bedrooms, a bathroom, a good sized living / dining room, and kitchen. It is the top floor of a three story building. Apparently, the building had been a single family house that belonged to the current owners’ great grandfather who was some kind of official in Montepulciano. In the last few years, they renovated and created two apartments, one on the second floor and one on the third. Our third floor apartment has a wonderful high ceiling with exposed beams. The two bedrooms are on the back side and have views overlooking rolling Tuscan hills. The large living / dining room is in the center. The kitchen and bathroom are on the front side with windows overlooking the narrow street. Really, the street is about twelve feet wide. I promise pictures are forthcoming!
Once we settled in and adjusted to the amazingness of the apartment, we went exploring. Again, my vocabulary is lacking. Imagine narrow winding cobblestone alleyways with old stone buildings on either side, one after the other. Adorable little wooden doors, little balconies loaded with flowers, just winding on and on. And everything is on an incline. (We’re going to have the best glutes ever!)
We happened upon a wonderful little spot for lunch. It was situated on an exterior wall of the town off the main drag. The view – amazing! The food – slap your mama. To wet our appetites, as if we needed to, we had melted pecorino drizzled with honey and sprinkled with walnuts. All I can say is – stop what you are doing right this minute, go home and whip that up. Angels! Trumpets! They are following us to every meal! Sadly, I did not think to take pictures of the food because we were too overwhelmed by the view. See attached. They could have served us leftover hot dogs and we would have been ok with it. But, alas, the food was delicious as expected. For lunch, we shared a plate of pici with spicy tomato sauce. Pici – picture extra fat spaghetti noodles. If I can keep my wits about me, I’ll take a picture next time. Stop complaining and look at the view, will you! In case you were wondering, yes, the pasta was divine as expected. Really, we just haven’t encountered bad food. I don’t think it exists here!
Ok, so the highlight of the day, because obviously the day has been short on highlights. We met up with Jennifer Criswell for appertivo at La Bottega del Nobile. Jennifer is an inspiration for us/me. In short, Jennifer was an attorney in Miami, decided her life belonged in Italy, quit working as an attorney, moved to NYC, started writing and walked dogs to keep herself clothed, fed and housed. After saving up enough to make the move, she came to Montepulciano where she published her first book, “At Least You’re in Tuscany.” Read her book. You, too, will be inspired. When we decided on Montepulciano (Orvieto was actually the first choice but the flat there was unavailable), I sent Jen a Facebook message, told her we were coming, and asked if there was anything we could bring her. After having read her book, I felt a need to contribute to her effort to make a life here. If we could bring her anything that would make her life easier, we were all for it. Yes, I say “we” because G-man had a suitcase full of tampons and Advil liquid gels, too. He said if anyone checked his suitcase, he would get looks of sympathy from them. So there is the background. We met Jennifer and I felt like I was meeting an old friend. She is so open, so down to earth. We ran our mouths for a while over wine and cheese and capocollo (some kind of Italian cold cut delivered from the gods to my mouth, yes sir!). We talked about our hopes of eventually coming to Italy and the realities that Jennifer has dealt with. Then, Jennifer invited us to her flat so we could get an idea of what we could afford to live in on a realistic budget – as in, no we have not won the lottery thank you very much. We were pleasantly surprised! She has a real size living room, a real size bedroom, and a very decent kitchen. The woman bakes! Enough said. And this jewel of a woman offered us homemade muffins to have for breakfast. Not just any muffins, but made-by-her-hand-pear-with-crystalized-ginger muffins. Stop! And if that weren’t enough, she agreed to meet the next morning for a trip to the grocery store.
G-man and I walked back to our place with the pleasant feeling of, yes, this is do-able. A future in Italy seems more and more possible with each step.