Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Siena and the Chianti

Siena is in the heart of Tuscany, and the whole centre is a World Heritage site. From the station though, we don’t know which way to go, so Pippi and I decide to follow a woman with an orange woolly hat, which is of course a good reason for choosing a particular route. Because of her though, we do enter into the town from an unconventional side, but soon are in the mostly pedestrianised narrow streets, lined with tall dirty stone buildings. It’s quite pretty, and the roads are rarely straight, all winding back and forth and creating confusion in their deviation from what Lonely Planet suggests they do. Before long though we come across my chosen restaurant, L’ Osteria.

This small no-nonsense restaurant is supposedly so good that LP say they had to promise locals that they wouldn’t put it in the guide (they lied), but as it’s signposted from one of the main streets I fail to see that it’s too much of a challenge to discover. Anyway, we arrive at 2:35pm and their door says they close at 2:30pm. Fortunately Pippi pops in and asks, and they accommodate us. We order up a variety of dishes, including as many local specialities as we can. This is proper local Italian food.

First up, pear and honey on cheese bruschetta, and anchovies in oil. With bread, this keeps us busy until our pasta arrives, our primi platti. I should explain at this stage how Italian meals work. You have your aperitivo somewhere, perhaps a café, then you hit the restaurant. First up, some bread, some oil and balsamic vinegar, and the antipasti, maybe parma ham, olives, maybe something more exciting even. With wine, of course. Shared round. Then your primi, which is usually a pasta, freshly made, could be soup as well.

Fagiolli, or beans

Then, and by this stage you’re usually full, especially if the bread and oil was nice and you pigged out on it, out comes your secondi, your second full plate of food! This will be a meat or fish dish, though as you’ve had pasta or something for the primi, you usually won’t have much “filler” around the dish, it may just be a slab of meat.

This complete, and by now you’re unbuckling your belt and leaning back on your chair, it’s pudding time! Pudding could be ice-cream, some cake, or the one thing I haven’t found anywhere in Italy, Panna cotta. Why is there no Panna cotta here?!

So, we all have some form of home-made pasta – Dad the tagliatelle with white truffles, Pippi a bean dish, ribollita, a kind of dry (not very though) soup, and Lewis and I garlic pici all’aglione (thick typical Siena dish). Then Lewis and I have secondi too, I have Tegamate di maiale (pork with fennel seeds) which is delicious, and Lewis hare. This last batch of food was really not required though! Then, of course, expresso, not mixed with grappa and downed, as can be the way!

Our bellies weighed down and content, we head off to do a token bit of sightseeing – the Piazza del Campo, a large ampitheatresque (have you seen that word before?) public square,

then the Cathedral,

and in one of its wings, the Museo dell’ Opera Metropolitana, which has lots of medieval iconic art, with gold leaf used in abundance. The reason I chose it though was that in addition to the interesting collection, it has a decent-sized tower for us to climb! Amusingly, the safety instructions on a board before the ascent are in several languages including English and American. Yes, that is to say they’re listed separately! The only difference I detected in the text was that “queue” in English was “line-up” in American! I’m glad they “translated” that for us, could have resulted in all sorts of confusion otherwise.

Again a good view from the top, spoiled only by the grey dull cloudy sky, devoid of any sun or warmth. Pippi and Dad were wimping again! They’re going to be in trouble going up St. Peter’s in Rome!

Coming out, we had decided to pop back to the cake shop we had seen, then go to the station. Unfortunately, err, well, I got lost. After such a superb track record, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

Didn’t help that the LP map seem to bear not a great resemblance to the situation on the ground. We made it to Nannini eventually, and picked up a couple of slices of cake and a small Panforte (which is a rich cake of almonds, honey and candied fruit), the local speciality cake. By now, with the earlier navigational delays, we’re cutting it very fine for station, so have to frogmarch our way down, where we see the train coming in as we approach.

Vespas ahoy

How frustrating, I’m convinced we’ll miss it, but somehow, it’s still there, we dash in, have to cross the underpass, and hear the whistle blow, they close the doors but hurrah! We’re on! Sighs of relief and coats off as we cool down, then have a nice snooze on the way back to Florence.

The Indian in Fiesole
The plan next is to go to an Indian restaurant for dinner. We’re all still bursting full, but it’s the only chance, we’re off tomorrow. This is again a place I went to with Huey-mien all those years ago. We didn’t know where to eat, so just walked up the hill, and found this busy, friendly place, packed with locals, and with real Indian cooking being churned out using delicious local ingredients. The flavours were so good. This time it seems smaller (have I grown so much in the last six years?!) but otherwise they are still friendly, with the bright décor, plenty of locals (I can’t imagine there are many interesting places to eat in Fiesole), and we struggle through some tasty Indian food, which is easy to order just by knowing the Indian dishes, even without understanding much of the Italian explanations!

All night there’s a gale blowing, and in the morning, the whole shower door falls on me, which is bloomin’ painful. Not a good start to the day. It’s freezing down to the bus, the temperature has dropped overnight (what is it with Italian weather at the moment?!). We’re on the 7:20am bus, giving us plenty of time to make our 8:25am train. The bus takes ages as usual, but eventually we reach the station, where breakfast is the usual cappa and unsatisfying pastry. Our Eurostar train is the express to Roma Termini, no stopping along the way, taking about one and a half hours. It’s a busy train, I suspect it will have come from the north, Venice or Milan, and now whizzes along, reaching Roma Termini at 10am.

No comments: