Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Today was a touring day. Of all of the places I have traveled I think Siena has to be one of my favorite cities and now I add to that list the little medieval village of Castellina in Chianti Italy. Castellina is the small village that is only 5 minutes away from Mimma's. This little gem of a place has one main church in the city center. I went inside today and it was lit by candles and a the sunlight coming through a few keyhole windows. In other words, no electricity. The floor was made of old terra cotta tiles and the benches where made of wood smoothly worn with time. It was a quiet cool place to sit and reflect and pray.

I did a little shopping at the Tabacci. This is an inexpensive place for general supplies and attached to it was also a nice kitchen store with quality products. At our cooking class we used a knife called a Mezzo Luna. I bought one at the kitchen store as well as a grater and wooden chopping block stand. I found a nice painted ceramic plate for olive oil when served with bread. Lots of little other things but those were the finds. Then on to a few more stores. On the cobblestone streets I made my steps a little more carefully back to the car. Before leaving Castellina I bought a Caprese salad for a take away lunch.

Siena was only a short drive away but I made it longer by stopping at the pull over areas on the side of the road to take pictures. The scenery was so beautiful in every direction. The countryside changed from lots of vineyards and olive groves to open fields of hay and still some vineyards-Tuscany wouldn't be Tuscany without vineyards. Along the drive between all of the towns there are vineyards that have aperto signs that means open for wine tastings. And speaking of the drive between towns, I have never seen so many curves and winding roads. In this part of Tuscany there are only 2 lane roads. The curves and the hills make the drive between the towns a little longer because of the stops and turns and slower traffic-although I must say they do drive fast here and take the curves at a fast pace. You can certainly tell the locals from the tourist by the way they drive. (A few days ago on our way to Montevari a car pass 4 cars at a time on a 2 lane road.) When driving from village to village or hamlet to hamlet you really have to watch the road signs. Sometimes the road is more or less turning between buildings rather than turning at intersections.

Finally arrived in Siena. Mimma told me to park at the stadio (stadium) and to get there she said to look for the sign of the football she said You know? then she drew a soccer ball. Oh, yea, that's what they call soccer here. After getting a little lost trying to find the city center, I arrived and parked just inside the city walls. When I say walls, I mean Walls! The old city is surrounded by brick and stone walls that are the height of a 4 or 5 story building. I started walking toward the Piazza del Campo or city center. Streets that are sloped downhill lead to the Piazza but along both sides of the narrow streets are shops and shops and shops.
The Piazza is grand in every way. It is horseshoe shaped and speaking of horses that is what this town is known for. Two times a year they have a horse race in the middle of the city in the stone courtyard and the race is called ll Palio. Jockeys are from each of the different areas of the city so it is a claim to fame if the horse wins from your Contrada. The title is proudly held and vied for by all the towns people year by year.
In the Piazza today I found a seat in the shaded portion of the 6 row wooden grandstand that surrounds the Piazza. Outdoor cafes are all along the courtyard as well as souvenir shops and Gelato shops too. And yes I had Gelato while I sat and did a little people watching. Tour groups with their director holding above her head an umbrella so as to be seen weaving through the crowds and families on holiday and the locals filled the walkways around the Piazza. Mostly I heard voices that were Italian, German, or French but also there were quiet a few English speaking tourist. I met people from Virginia, California, Washington State, Missouri, Texas and Tennessee.
One of the most interesting sights was a young woman beggar. She was a gypsy and that is something familiar to several areas of Italy. We have been warned to be leery of them because they are expert at being a pick pocket. On the seated area above the crowds I was far enough away from her yet close enough to watch her "work" the crowd. She was dressed in a long brown skirt with a band of silver sequins along the hem. She had on an orange and green shirt and a necklace of plastic snap together beads in bright colors. She had long brown hair that looked like it could use a good wash. She was a young girls but it was hard to judge her age. Maybe late 20's. She was holding a baby that was dressed in a pair of footed pajamas in soft yellow and the baby had a white thin blanket draped over it's head and down the length of the body. I couldn't tell if it was a baby boy or girl. She had the baby in her arms supported by a sling made of fabric that was tied around her neck. She would walk among the tourist as they were in the center square and hold a paper cup and ask for coins. Many people looked at her and instantly shook their head and turned away. I know this is a scam but it was still hard to watch the disappointed look on her face. She was a good actress. She moved quickly from tourist to tourist asking young students, men, women young and old. One local she asked was pushing a baby stroller and she said No! and strolled her baby on by. She walked around with the baby on her hip, left the square and in 15 minutes or so she was back again. Later when she left another gypsy lady came by with 2 children, maybe 3 and 5 years old. She had a paper cup and was dress similar to the other gypsy girl. This beggar went up to 2 different sets of tourists who were having lunch at the outdoor cafe and both of these gave her a coin. Then the waiter walked over and stood near by with a look but not saying a word as that may look bad on the restaurant and the gypsy and her children left without confrontation.(I don't know if this is the case in Italy but years ago when I was on a trip throughout India we saw beggars everyday, several times a day- from old men, to families begging as a group, to orphaned young children who were standing on the corner beside the traffic lights. The young kids, 8, 9 or 10 yrs old would come up and tap on the window of the car and plead for money. One time it was an old man and our terrific guide and friend Sara (through our "rolled up and locked" car window) she pointed out that the man had leprosy. Another time a young girl holding a sleeping baby approached us near a park and pleaded for money for food for her baby. This sounds harsh to turn away, but Sara explained it to me that these beggars are part of a "ring" or gang of sorts. They have a boss to report to and are paid very little but they have very little in life so it is $$$. They are then "assigned" a corner or territory from where they are to beg. It is life threatening to the person or the "boss man" if the beggar goes to a different street or city corner. Those that look the worst, the youngest, the saddest, or have a baby usually bring in more $$. However, in some cases they give the baby drugs to make it sleep or look less alert and lifeless so the tourist will feel sorrow and give money. But again, the money does not go to the sad looking individuals but rather to the "beggar boss and his ring". Ah... sad indeed. This is a day to day life existence for a few for the food and for some to buy drugs,or other vises. This makes us realize that we are fortunate Americans.
Now on to another topic.

After people watching for about 2 hours or more, I started my walk around the city Piazza. The outdoor cafes lined the sidewalks with large umbrellas to shade it's patrons. The souvenir shops set as many wares as possible out on the sidewalk to lure in the tourists. Dress shops hung blouses and dresses and hats from their doorways. Expensive shops had lavish window displays to catch your eye. Prices marked in euro trick me into buying but then I remember the added price once it is put on my credit card for the difference in the dollar and euro. Thank goodness it is not as bad as it was a few years ago when I was in London feeling "American poor" to their rich Euro. However, along with a few souvenirs I did buy a nice an antique silver spoon to add to my collection.

As I was nearing the top of the hill I saw a young priest in his robes standing at the side door of the church. I took his photo from afar but I think he saw me anyway. He started slowly strolling the length of the side portico and I still couldn't resist snapping a few more photos.
Many other kind of photos later on my walk back to the stadio to get my little strawberry car and I am on my way leaving Siena...Ciao.

I stopped at Tre Porte which means 3 doors in the center of Castellina just as the last of the sunset time and was seated at a table by the window overlooking the valley. The stone wall and open window with oak shutters were just what I needed to end a long day.
For dinner I ordered and antipasti-starter of "Il percorino al forna col meile" which is a fried percorino cheese with honey. For Primi Piatii-first course I ordered
"Gli spaghetti alla chitarra con pesto fatto in casa" which is spaghetti chitarra style with basil parmesan cheese and pine-nuts. Claudio Ravinetto is the chef that I talked to after dinner to tell him it was a delicious meal. He told me he also has a one day cooking class that he does here at the restaurant and at hotels in other parts of Italy particular for Americans tourists. The meal was wonderful!

I am late in returning to the villa as it is now 11:15 at night.

What a fantastico day,

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