Italy, Day 14
(Spoiler Alert! You might want to start with Day 1 to follow this trip from the beginning...)
Our first morning in Pienza we awoke at 8am and went down to the restaurant for (complimentary) breakfast. I was tickled to find some of my favorite cookies — buttery shortbread pastries built for dunking — freshly prepared for us.
While Italians are not big fans of the meal, breakfast is our absolute favorite. In fact, Zan and I even enjoy it for dinner once or twice a week. So after two weeks in breakfast-free Italy, the sight of a menu offering "American-style" options like eggs and yogurt was rather emotional.
After our meal, we wanted to explore the village a bit.
Note: This might be a good time to admit that I did not do a ton of research prior to this trip and am guilty of Googling my way through much of this vacation as events unfold. There, I said it. What a relief.
I did know prior to booking La Bandita that we were located near Siena. And while it is also nestled in the picturesque Val d'Orcia region of Tuscany, Pienza is far enough removed for most folks that it doesn't attract the typical legions of tourists. So while we had many surprises on the trip this, and the fact that we were standing in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, was no accident.
We also knew that the city was historically significant (see previous paragraph's confession) so back at our hotel we did a little internet investigating. We learned that the town was originally called Corsignano and was the birthplace of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini who was born into an exiled Sienese family. He later became Pope Pius II and had the entire village rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town. It is the first example of urban planning and spread across Italy and eventually throughout Europe. It was amazing to see the city so intact centuries later. It's streets and shops were immaculate and the parks and greenery meticulously manicured — ideal indeed.
With a makeshift map we drew in or hotel room of the surrounding Tuscan countryside, we laced up our sneaks for a 4 mile mid-morning run. We walked passed the main piazza, beneath the stoney arch and through a small park to begin our descent into the valley. We ran along a path lined with perfect cypress trees then left the pavement as we turned onto rustic trails winding endlessly into the distance.
There are not enough words in my vocabulary to describe the land in a way that would do it justice. To say it was breathtaking is, at best, lazy and unimaginative. It was the type of panorama that inspires painters and poets to do their best work. It would have the same effect on Zan over the next few days as he'd wake and retire each day, all along snapping his camera wildly. It was the muse we had dreamed about before beginning this journey and here we were, moving out into it with the sun on our faces.
Like many other movies filmed in the area, the hillside of Pienza was chosen by director Ridley Scott for his most moving dream sequences in The Gladiator with Russel Crowe. We jogged through the very same wheat fields and rows of cypress made famous by the film.
Back at the hotel we met some friendly Americans who pretended not to mind that we were sweaty and stinky. We chatted for a bit than took an amazing shower (sans the friendly Americans... shame on you!) back in our amazing bathroom.
That afternoon we walked Pienza's narrow streets, peeping into it's cheese, leather, clothing and home decor shops. This was a better way to discover the city than via Google, hands down.
Dinner reservations were made for us at Trattoria del Fiorella for 8pm. We were seated upstairs in the small, family-owned restaurant where our waiter proudly explained that everything was fresh and local. The pasta, he shared, was made each day by his mama. Si, grazie.
We ordered zucchini soup, grilled pork, artichoke and scratched our "pasta made by mama" itch. The house wine was amazing and our chocolate mousse cake and espresso were some of the best so far. Do I sound like a broken record yet?
We strolled slowly back to the hotel where I could work on the blog a bit and Zan could sneak in another hour or so of night photography around town. After some time, he returned beaming and exhausted and ready for another dream day in Tuscany.
We looked at some of the images in bed that night. The poignant images captured the slower, gentler pace of life here. Yet, while they showed glimpses of a town preserved perfectly in time, they also captured the modern traveler weaving in and out of it's nooks and crannies. The photo above of the children lit by their iPads in front of an iconic Renaissance church says it best. It also remains one of my all time favorites.