54Day Six in Florence: Aka The day I went on a gourmet taste of Tuscany tour!

So, this was a full day- rising at 6.30am, for a delicious breakfast at 7.00 and then being ready for pick up at 8.20.

The car was punctual, taking us into the city centre, where we met up with the other four people who would be making up our group, as well as the enigmatic Enzo, our driver for the day.

I should say right now, that the two couples we spent our day with were absolutely delightful- two sets of Americans, one from Texas and the other from Chicago.

I think that, when you’re spending the whole day together, it’s important to have a really nice vibe and atmosphere, and I really think that the day wouldn’t have been such a lovely experience had we not been with such nice people.

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So, the first stop on our itinerary was about 50 minutes away- the beautiful and historic city of Siena.

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Once there, our guide- a local- met up with us and gave us the tour.

Basically, Siena is a really, really awesome place. Better suited to a novel than reality; in the city centre there are seventeen fractions. Each of these fractions have an emblem and shield and when you’re born into a family who live in one of these fractions, it’s with you for life.

No jokes here folks; it’s like the sorting hat in Harry Potter. It’s SO COOL.

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And everywhere- on the walls, on the lamps, on the plaques; it’s obvious which fraction you’re in. They all have their symbol and their colour scheme, and it was just really interesting to see how this sense of identity is truly pressed on the people who live there. They’re proud of their emblem, they really are.

By all means, check out more info on it here; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contrade_di_Siena

I really had no idea such a thing existed in this day and age, but I’m really glad it does.

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By chance, we happened to be visiting during the week of The Palio in Siena. What is this Palio I speak of?

Voila: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palio_di_Siena#The_race_today

For those who would like a less Wiki’d summary: basically, it’s a horse race between the fractions.

A horse race with no rules.

There’s shoving. Cheating. Doping. Bribery. Bribery. So much bribery. And 80,000 people crammed into the town square, buying seats at extortionate prices to watch the 90 second race.

It is, as our tour guide repeatedly informed us, not a game. It’s serious business.

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So, after our guide left us, we had about an hour to wander around. Obviously, I put this time to good use and bought a necklace with Murano glass.

Managed to resist ice cream though. I do get brownie or actual brownies points for that, right?

When we met back up with our driver, we headed to a little village high up in the mountains, called Montalcino.

There, we were led to our restaurant, and had lunch on the patio overlooking the rolling valleys below.

And the food? Well unlike our day trip to Bratislava, this time the food included in the tour was actually nice.

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To start we had a plate of antipasti; melted cheese, vegetable paté, garlic butter and tomatoes for me.

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And a similar, meatier version for the Carnivores.

Next up, it was a simple, but seemingly bottomless plate, of spaghetti with tomatoes and a little more of parmesan for our sprinkling pleasure.

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Fresh, and enjoyable, and with a meaty ragu for the others.

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I should mention that there was also a lot of wine. I think it’s best if you just assume from here on out, that at pretty much every stop, there is wine. Wine to be sampled. Wine to be sniffed. Just wine.

After lunch, we hopped into the minibus for all of two minutes before stopping at our next location: a winery.

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Here, a lovely woman talked us through two of the wines produced by their vineyard. Now, I don’t like wine, but it was interesting to taste the difference between a four star and five star bottle of wine. Especially since pretty much everyone in our group actually preferred the more mellow, and marginally cheaper four star red.

After the winery, we clambered higher into the mountains still, to a little town called Pienzo.

Here, we went to what I would like to call, The Cheese Shop of Joy.

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We got to sample the most gorgeous, mature, deep, pecorino cheese, as well as some other absolute beauties and I just about died from the blissful overload.

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Sadly though, I decided against buying a big wheel of something ridiculously pungent, and instead purchased a nice, big round slab of panforte for my brother.

After leaving, we stopped in the countryside, to take photos with a stunning backdrop.

mum me 1

Back in the minibus, we rode for about 35 minutes until reaching out next and final stop- Montepulciano.

Here, we had a tour of a huge underground wintery. Seriously, it was a labyrinth, former prison, and still had instruments of torture lying around for all to see.

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Once back on people level, there was of course, more wine tasting, as well as spice infused oils, charcuterie and cheese.

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We also managed to snaffle a tasting of panforte and fig panforte too. Happy times.

We had about 40 minutes to take in the town, so the parents and I found a nice, super modern café, and had a drink. I tried barley coffee; which is bizarre in that it tastes neither of barley, nor coffee.

Fortunately, it was nice all the same.

Back in the minivan, it took just over an hour to return to Florence, bringing us in at about 7.30pm.

The perfect time for ice cream.

We went to my beloved Perche No! Which, by the way, translates to Why Not?

And why not indeed?

We each had a selection, including rose, tiramisu mousse, chocolate mousse and raspberry.

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Ahhh.

And then, on the way back to the hotel, I stopped in at the The glorious Pasticceria where I bought the sandwich; actually called La Palagina.

I bought a selection of the most beautiful pastries I have ever eaten. Yes. I mean it.

Seashells filled with a thick cream- similar to that of a custard cream biscuit filling, but oh so thicker and obviously fresh- filled cannoli, filled boats with a nutella like hazelnut chocolate ganache, cantuccini, etc etc.

Glorious. Glorious. Glorious.

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And you know what? These eight came to €3.35.

So, that was basically dinner and the end of a very long, very enjoyable day Six.

Stay tuned for Day Seven in Florence!

Places mentioned:

Perche No!.

Via Tavolini 19r, Florence, Italy

La Palagina. {The glorious Pasticceria mentioned}.

Via Santo Spirito, left hand side heading towards the arch, absolutely tiny.

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