Not only have our first few nights in Italy been a whirlwind as we were moving from hotel to hotel and getting lost for hours on end, we were pretty museumed out after Greece, Barcelona and Rome, so we decided that for the rest of our time in Italy, our primary focus would be food and wine. And what better place to start than in Tuscany.I am no Frances Mayes restoring a 17th century Tuscan farmhouse, but we got to stay in a 17th century Tuscan farmhouse, on an olive farm no less! We spent ten days eating, drinking, and relaxing in a tiny village called Loro Ciufenna located south of Florence and east of Siena. Although the owner was not onsite, we were well taken care of by Enzo the groundskeeper, the gentle Italian grandfather we never had (not The Godfather kind). He was there every morning at seven to pick olives with his crew, greeting us with his warm smile. Although Enzo does not speak a lick of English and our command of the Italian language is embarrassing to say the least, we were able to communicate with each other with simple words and hand gestures. We even picked olives with them to make olive oil. Every other morning was spent shopping for fresh foods at the local markets in various nearby towns, such as San Giovanni and Castelfranco which all seem to be medieval towns with a castle. We also ventured further out to other towns like Il Borro (quaint little wine village owned by the Ferragamo family), Siena (one of my favorites), Volterra (where the Twilight royal vampires are from), and San Gigimano (medieval tourist trap).
Florence was for us just another tourist trap with lots of historical sites and museums. We didn’t bother paying the entrance fee to see Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia. When we came across the famous Duomo (cathedral), possibly the 100th I’ve seen, I muttered, “Jesus Christ, another god damned duomo.” With his eyes practically bulging out of their sockets, Justin asked, “Why you have not spontaneously combusted when stepping foot in a cathedral is beyond me.” I responded, “Well if Catholic priests can have their way with altar boys, then I can surely say ‘Jesus Christ’ once in a while.”
What is most unforgettable about Tuscany is the cuisine, which is all about fresh local ingredients and surprisingly friendly to vegetarians. Our favorites are ribollitta (Tuscan bean soup drizzled with olive oil) and pici (thick spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce), and of course gelato and pana cotta for dessert.
Italians drink caffe (coffee) like water. Consuming at least one to three a day, we’ve never had so much coffee in our lives. Choosing from caffe (espresso), caffe macchiato (with hot milk), macchiato freddo (with cold milk), caffe Americano (with hot water), latte (milk stained with coffee), and cappuccino (my favorite - but only to be had in the morning), coffee options seem endless. The coffee here is so rich, even the ones at gas stations taste better than Starbucks. Customers usually stand at the counter, drink their coffee and leave. Some cafes have two separate prices, one for sitting down at a table and one for drinking at the counter which is usually 1 € cheaper. And the cioccolato caldo (hot chocolate) is to die for – so rich and creamy like melted liquid chocolate! As for water, even though tap water in Italy is safe to drink, everyone only drinks bottled water (with or without “gas”). Restaurants don’t even serve tap water. In fact, Italy boasts the highest consumption of bottled water. Then there’s the vino. When wine tasting in Chianti, we learned that Chianti wines are made with at least 80% Sangiovese grapes to be considered Chianti Classico which has an emblem of a black rooster on the bottle. In Italy, drinking wine is also meant to accompany a meal, rather than on its own. My favorite is vin santo – amber color dessert wine as a digestif at the end of a meal.
Smoking is quite a prevalent hobby here; everyone bloody smokes! While airports have smoking lounges, people still smoke in non-smoking areas at restaurants. We even tinkered with the idea of taking up smoking while in Italy, but thank goodness it was just temporary insanity. Arrivederci!