Saturday, May 13, 2006

Day 10: San Quirico d'Orcia

After another very nice breakfast--today with Maureen and Franco--we sit out in the garden to enjoy the warm weather before taking them on a tour of the town. We are in the La Collegiata church (the one with the intarsia choir stalls) at the same time as an Italian tour group and when we ask the caretaker if we can go in back of the altar to see them up close, he says no because he doesn't want to let the big group go back there. We tell him that we will wait until they leaves and he agrees....but after about five minutes, he wants us to leave. On the way out, we notice that the church also contains the tomb of a German prince who died in San Quirico d'Orcia on his way back home Rome; he had attended the Jubilee of 1450. The tomb is marked by a life-size sculpture of him with his faithful dog resting at his feet.

We take a leisurely stroll through town and the garden, stopping to look in the beautiful linen store on the way back to the hotel. While in the linen store, the first cars of the Mille Miglia come into town so the shopping is put off until tomorrow. The Mille Miglia (1,000 miles) used to be competitive car race but a bad accident involving spectators several years ago ended the race. It has been revived as tour of classic cars that follows a set route through Italy over four days. Crowds line the route--in towns and in between--as the cars drive past. According to a poster I saw, this year it started in Brescia and wound its way down the east side of Italy to Rome and back up the west side. Both San Quirico d'Orcia and Pienza are on the route this year and while we are shopping, the begining of the parade of cars comes through the main street of San Quirico. Lots of people are watching, some waving paper flags with the names of various car manufacturers represented in the Mille Miglia. Some of the cars are old touring sedans, others look like old race cars; many of the drivers are dressed in old driving costumes. We watch for a while, until it is time for us to head for Pienza where I have an appointment to visit a hotel.

We drop Maureen and Franco at the pool in Bagno Vignoni where they plan to "take the waters" and, as we approach Pienza, we are caught in the middle of the line of cars preparing to drive through Pienza. So we are waved at by the people lining the road and we wave back. When we reach Pienza, we are able to disengage ourselves and head for the hotel. The Hotel Piccolo La Valle is a small, modest hotel just outside the walls of Pienza. It is neat and clean and has the great asset of dynamite views over the valley....a good value for staying in Pienza. We see some of the rooms--small but nice--and particularly admire the rooms with balconies and a view.

Our next task in Pienza is to buy some food for our picnic lunch. We buy bread at the bakery that we have been to on previous visits, pick up some fruit and vegetables at the "fruttaverdura" in town, buy a nice hunk of salami at another store and some more cheese, a bottle of wine and some olive oil (to take home) at yet another one. We retrieve our car from the parking lot, pick up Maureen and Franco after their swim and set up our feast in the hotel garden. Both the food and the company are great--even though no one is "interested" in the wine, the bottle gets finished without difficulty.

While eating lunch, I have to make the final decision about where to eat dinner tonight and--after much agonizing--decide to return to Il Tinaio where we had had such a good meal three nights ago.

After lunch, I am on the telephone trying to nail down our social calendar for the afternoon and turns out that we will miss Zak and Gary from Tuscan House but Bill Sutherland, who runs the cooking school called Tuscan Women Cook in nearby Montefollinico and posts on Slow Travel, invites us all over for a glass of wine at his house. He and his wife Patty are transplanted Texans and live in a Tuscan dream house on the edge of the small village. We have a nice time talking about his school and cooking and he asks Maureen to autograph his copy of her Dictionary of Italian Cuisine that he has in his library. He was very pleased to meet her and it is always nice for us to be able to connect a face with an e-mail address.

When we are back in San Quirico, Marian (from Slow Travel) and her brother and sister-in-law have arrived. Their apartment is just around the corner from the hotel and next door to Il Tinaio. She invites us to come up for drink before dinner and to admire the very grand apartment.

The apartment is indeed grand, with large rooms and high ceilings and big windows overlooking the main street. We have some wine and cheese and discover that Mark, her brother, went to the same college we did (Hobart and William Smith in Geneva NY) and, was in the same class there as Diana's sister Josie and, in addition, went to high school in the Bronx with Josie and her cousin Bencie. If that wasn't enough, it comes up that a good friend of his at Hobart was Tony Capuco from Sea Cliff who was a good friend of my brother Burt.

Dinner at Il Tinaio is a big success. Everyone enjoys the food and Maureen and Franco are quite taken with the very serious but friendly waiter who was happy to explain all the dishes in great detail and seems so committed to his work. Among the best dishes are the onions marinated in a zesty sweet and sour sauce, assorted crostini, pici in duck sauce, gnocchi in walnut sauce, tagliatelle with zucchini flowers, the tagliata of chianina beef with rucola, beef brasato (stewed) and the pheasant. The wine--a red from Montepuliciano--was well received.

Everyone has a good time as well as a good meal and all are happy that it is only a few steps back to our rooms.

Tomorrow we leave San Quirico d'Orcia and will celebrate Diana's 63rd birthday with lunch at the Locanda dell'Amorosa in Sinalunga.


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