Italy, Day 13
(Spoiler Alert! You might want to start with Day 1 to follow this trip from the beginning...)
The next morning we arrived at breakfast to find that the young Korean girls had been replaced by a mother and daughter from Russia. Conversing with the duo was less than natural so yeah, we were ever thankful to have our Canadian friends at the table. Ironically, the Russians were from Chelyabinsk, the city that was recently hit by the meteorite. You know, just your typical breakfast banter.
We had packed the night before so getting ready to leave was fairly smooth and quick. We opted to grab a couple "sandwiches" for our trip at a local bakery then walked to the station. Fabio recommended we take a train from the major Firenze (Florence) station to the Firenze Rifredi station which proved to be a great tip. From there, we boarded a second train that would take us to the small Tuscan town of Chiusi. This would be as far as the trains would carry us to our destination in Pienza.
Our layover in Chiusi was brief but we were able to get a quick slice of pizza at the station. We laughed as we had to admit that bus station pizza in Italy was far better than pizza most anywhere in the South.
Waiting for the bus, we met a women whose son used to live in NYC but now resides in Abu Dhabi. Together, we relied on some helpful teens to be sure we were on the right bus. Grazie! Our bus ride to Montepulciano was fairly smooth.
Note: Since I'm trying to impress you, I should probably mention that one of the movies in the Twilight saga, "New Moon" was filmed there. Si — that Montepulciano. Not a Twilight fan? Well, I think the name is just a lot of fun to say, so there.
When we arrived at our stop we were too late for the morning buses to Pienza so we had to wait a couple hours for the next. We ordered espressos at the station and I caught up on blogging while Zan photographed the local Italian men playing (presumably) concurrent games of poker.
Perhaps it was kismet, but on that day the station was the hot spot in the city. Teens came to play foosball and hang out while families flocked in droves to visit the street carnival set up in the parking lot of the station.
Amazingly, Zan and I were able to resist the "dolcidea" or "sweet goddess" truck situated front and center as we watched life unfold. As we quietly observed, I started to wonder if the love of carnivals ran deep in the Italian culture because, if so, it really explained a lot about my mom's obsession with them.
Our bus to Pienza finally departed and, thanks to my newly acquired quasi-Italian / iPhone translation app, we were safely on board. After the half hour trip, we jumped off at what appeared to be the center of town. We entered the historic area of Pienza through large stone arches and walked to very near the end of the street before arriving at the entrance to our modern oasis in Tuscany.
Wooden doors sat open to reveal a luminous ancient hallway, its arches bathed in a soft light. The front desk was just to the right where we were greeted enthusiastically by Francesca and Martina. After realizing that we were the crazy Americans who took the bus to Pienza, Martina gave us a jovial high five. Si, il bus... that's how we roll.
We knew prior to our trip that La Bandita Townhouse was owned by an American couple and that John was a former music executive. As Francesca led us around the property, the sincere high five started to make more sense... Plated records garnered while working with Christina Aguilera, Maroon 5, The Strokes hung casually in the lounge area alongside books on travel and philosophy and a well-stocked honors bar. This was the kind of place intended for those types of folks who, well, just don't typically opt for the bus.
We were shown to our room which was minimal and modern with a bathroom that was gigantic compared to our previous airbnb accommodations. As we gathered our clothes to be laundered and sipped Italian beer and sparkling water from complimentary in-room bar we felt quite at home in our new spot. After a refreshing shower we simply walked downstairs for dinner reservations at their restaurant at 8pm. Suddenly, traveling in a foreign country became all too easy.
There were only a couple guests when we arrived at the restaurant so we opted to sit at the bar and watch the kitchen staff at work. Our original high five would prove to set the tone for all our interactions with the staff — everyone was warm and genuine and we visited comfortably, as you would with old friends.
It was clear John encouraged the staff to be relaxed around the guests and they really seemed to love their jobs. As business owners, this was not lost on us. We work hard to make our employees feel valued as individuals and to create a place where they can not only love their work but truly feel the ownership. It takes effort — and the right mix of people — to create something special like this. It not only gave me respect for our host but made me proud to think that our trip was possible thanks to the great team we had built back at Social.
That evening we talked intently with Dario, one of the chefs, about Gordon Ramsey, local herbs and Jiro Dreams of Sushi. After our meal he shared a small plate of gorgeous looking black raviolis made using squid ink before preparing an artful dessert that included a strawberry semifreddo, deconstructed tiramisu and chocolate torte.
We also met Francesca's boyfriend at the bar who we learned is a sound tech for some of Italy's most famous touring bands such as Elisa who did a remake of "Ancora Qui" for the last Tarantino film, Django. This would prove to be a great soundtrack for blog writing during our stay (it's also good to set the mood for blog reading so check it out.)
It was getting late so we took photos of staff and hugged Dario goodbye as he was off to the other La Bandita property to 'chef' for the week. We headed up to our room but first, in ceremonious fashion, stopped at the library to take an obligatory photo together in front of the large map of Italy. (I mean c'mon, it was obviously hung there for that very reason so...)
After only a few hours in another glorious city in the boot-shaped country, we knew that our trip to Pienza would easily surpass are wildest expectations. With a beautiful day behind us we climbed into the Best. Bed. Ever.