We have completed our fifth week in Greti/Greve/Chianti/Italy. It has started to feel like home. We are getting used to the store hours and restaurants. We feel comfortable with the villa, pool, and tennis court. We have not met any Italians, but that is the result of our language inadequacies. The Italians we come in daily contact with our friendly and interested in us and are a pleasure to deal with. There are minor frustrations still, but even those are becoming less. For example, we needed gas the other day to go on a road trip and learned that the gas stations, like other shops, also close between 2 and 4 PM. It is also hard to get used to no grocery shopping on Sundays or Wednesday afternoons. But, we have adjusted.
Next, are a few of our “Impressions on Italy and the Italians.” First, almost every restaurant gives you something free. It may be a glass of Prosecco, as an aperitif to start the meal, or a lemoncello to complete the meal, or it might be a small appetizer as you start your meal or some chocolate or other type of small dessert at the end of your meal. It is a pleasant gesture that we would like to see more of in the U.S. restaurants. Second, Rita is not used to seeing rabbit on the menus and in the grocery store. The rabbits stare back at you with big bulging eyes in the meat case at the grocery store. It is a little unnerving.
Third, the Italians, like the French, always serve the shell on their lobster, mussels, oysters, shrimp and langoustine. They do this in order to show the customer that the shellfish is fresh. But, it is pretty darn hard to cut those shells off. Usually, the restaurant is NOT willing to remove the shells in the kitchen. So, we have eaten very little shellfish. Fourth, the daily diet of the Italians seems more restricted than other countries we have visited. Dinner always starts with salami or ham, or fried zucchini flowers or some other appetizer, followed by a pasta, followed by meat, (very little chicken and no fish), and dessert. The Italians seem to pass on the cheese course that is so common in France. And… there is no such thing as a “Caesar salad” or garlic bread, or cheesy garlic bread or any garlic bread for that matter and last…. this is for all of you white sauce lovers… there is NO ALFREDO sauce in Italy… that is all American.
The pharmacies in Italy are wonderful. The Pharmacist is very highly regarded here, seems to be just as highly regarded as a doctor. Not only are drugs subsidized and therefore less expensive than in the U.S., but also, there are always two or three clerks in white jackets, referred to as Pharmacist/Doctors, willing to give you medical advice for free. And, they will sell you a prescription drug with out having to have a script, if you tell them what ails you and what you’ve used before.
The season in Greve is changing from summer to fall. The weather is slightly cooler, the nights are pleasant and most importantly the green, scrawny grapes we have been watching for five weeks have now turned a beautiful purple and the grapes are large, round and bountiful. The extra upper grapes have been cut away so that lower grapes can become larger. In fact, 6 kilos of grapes may be cut away to make the remaining 2 kilos of grapes better. This coming week, from the 11th to the 14th is the big 4-day wine festival in Greve. One of the biggest festivals held in Chianti. We are excited about attending the festival and tasting the Chianti wines. In addition to the red wine, we have found a few white wine grapes in Chianti.
We ate a great dinner at “il ristoro de lamole” in Lamole. It is on a mountaintop near Greve and is the Number 1 restaurant in Chianti, if not for its food, certainly for its view. You have to drive up the mountain with numerous hairpin turns on skinny-ass roads with NO guardrails to get to the restaurant. But, once there you can see for miles across the beautiful Chianti valley all the way to San Gimignano. The presentations were as lovely as the food tasted. We (meaning I) relied on GPS to get us there. That was a mistake. She (GPS is a she when it’s wrong!) took us to the wrong side of the mountain. To make up for loss time, I drove like a mad man, and not only did I make Rita sick to her stomach, she could barely unclench her white knuckled hands from hanging on to get out of the car, so we had to wait for her stomach to return to normal before she could eat. That was the first and only time I drove, and haven’t driven since!!! Rita drove home, to say the least.
This week we took a 4-day road trip. This time we went south to Siena, by way of San Gimignano.
Siena is a beautiful city which hosts a horse race every year called the Pallio. There are no rules except the rider must finish. Although the race had been run for this year, we visited the square where the race is run and could not believe a horse race could be held at such a small location. It is a very small venue, particularly when it is packed with spectators.
From Siena, we drove to four mountain top villages. The first was Montalcino, which is known for the famous Brunello di Montalcino red wines. These are first class Italian wines.
From Montalcino, we drove to Pienza. Pienza produced two popes, Pope Pius the II and his nephew Pope Pius the III. It also was used for a few scenes as a “location” in the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” starring Diane Lane. Diane Lane gets divorced, moves to Cortona, Italy and rehabilitates an old villa looking for the answers to life and love. So, we took some photos of the locations used in the movie.
From Pienza, we drove to Montalpulciano. The scenery between these two towns is like a postcard. Unlike northern Tuscany, which is green rolling hills and vineyards; southern Tuscany is brown and green rolling hills with mostly crops of wheat, corn, hay and some scattered vineyards and olive orchards.
Finally, we drove to Cortona to spend the night, but ended up spending two nights. The villa used by Hollywood in the Under the Tuscan Sun movie is located in Cortona and of course we had to take photos of it.
Our last day in Cortona, we visited Santa Margherita, a church and convent on top of the mountain overlooking Cortona. The original church was sacked during a war and then a “new” church built in 1288. The church’s simple beauty and the statues, which we found inside, surprised us. The body of Santa Margherita can be seen in a glass casket which is on the alter at all times. She died in 1297! It was very impressive, but a little ghoulish. Rita wouldn’t take a photo of it, said it was sacrilegious.
While we were in Cortona, we stayed at Villa Marsili. One morning we were having a late breakfast, around 10:30 AM, and Rita looked at the clock on the wall and asked me if it showed the right time. I looked at it and said it only shows the right time, twice a day. She looked at me puzzled and asked, “What did you mean?” So, I responded that the clock was not real; it was only painted on the wall, (in 3D, though). Rita really does not wake up until after breakfast!
I have been riding my bike every morning. I have not been able to pass even one Italian bicyclist until today because they are so fast! I saw him up ahead. I pulled out to pass him. I blew right by him as I heard someone shout out to him in Italian: “Time to come in Mario. Pre-school starts in 30 minutes!” Yes, he must have been three years old! By the way, I have noticed that Italian bicyclist approaching you from behind do NOT give you a heads up they are going to pass you. In the US, at least on the Monon Trail, everyone always gives you a heads-up by saying something like: “On your left”. I have almost been run into several times by other bicyclists. It could be that my hearing is just sooooo bad that I can’t hear them pedaling right by me!
We have been getting a lot of use out of the tennis courts. Rita finally won a set from me after, what… 5 weeks? It was only one, and of course, she hasn’t won again since. LOL!!!
This weekend we are resting up. We have the 4-day Chianti Wine Festival to train for. Then, on Saturday, we have some guests visiting from Fort Wayne and are looking forward to seeing and talking to someone other than ourselves!!!
My daughter Angela, and granddaughter Jada, have completed their move from Indy, with their 8-day road trip with two dogs, and are now settling into Portland, OR. A wedding is already being planned for June 2015. Congratulations to Angela and Jada, and, of course, “Fuzz” McPherson, her fiancée.
Birthdays this month include my niece Meredith, and Rita’s daughters Melissa and Stephanie and Melissa’s husband Bob Weaver. Stephanie and her husband Ben are also undertaking a move from Austin to Connecticut where Ben will be continuing with ESPN after receiving a promotion. They are house hunting this weekend. We wish all happy birthdays and a good move and good luck finding a house in Connecticut.
That is all the news we have for now. More later as we are going to Prato, Italy for the unveiling of “Mary’s Girdle”, the name for Mary’s Sacred Belt, the city’s most revered relic,which is only displayed 5 times a year. Should be quite interesting!
Love you all and miss you. –Norm & Rita.