It seems odd to start with my favorite town, but I'm determined to tell this story as chronologically as possible so as to satisfy my self-diagnosed OCD habits. I was already very excited to come to Siena; I had done a project on a neighborhood in Siena in high school and, having learned so much about it, was itching to see it in person. Siena is a hill town of many neighborhoods, each with its own "mascot" (i.e. an eagle, a panther, a shell, a duck, etc.), and each with its own sense of neighborhood pride. Why? Well, Siena is the town in Italy in which the Palio, a huge horse race, takes place. You're going to want to click that link.
Siena delivered to me exactly what I had expected. We were given a guided tour by our professor of the main areas of Siena - the entrance to the town (uphill, representing the strenuous path to paradise), the main square (Piazza del Campo, where the Palio is run), and the duomo.
Piazza del Campo
Inside of the Duomo of Siena
It's strange; I spent no more than five hours walking around this little town, and I somehow feel the most connected to it than I have to any other. We didn't have our best food here (that's coming very soon), nor was it the most beautiful sight we saw. It just has character. As we left, I stopped in a little tourist shop and picked up a scarf of the neighborhood I researched: Pantera. I have a hard time spending money on myself, but this I felt was absolutely necessary.
I'm a little Panther, short and stout
Our next stop was Arezzo, another little hill town where we stayed for the weekend. After a quiet night there-- oh, wait, we didn't have a quiet night there. No, instead of going to bed and catching up on many hours of sleep, we ventured out into the town to find a little bar to fill with 37 Americans. I don't know whether the problem was that we couldn't find one or that "bar" in Italian means "café," but... we ended up at a café. That doesn't mean we didn't treat it like an American bar. It was a night that we will all remember (as will many passersby carrying video cameras), complete with loud music, colored lights, and table dancers. Yup, table dancers. In a café.
The next day, we got up early in the morning (some of us had to be dragged) to take a tour around Arezzo. We saw not one but four different churches, including the Duomo of Arezzo, where we actually attended mass.
Candles for prayer in the Duomo
After mass and a meal of pizza topped with truffles, we got on another bus to traverse the hills of Tuscany and take us to our next destination: Castel del Trebbio, a small, tiny, miniscule 39 room castle situated on top of the hills that is well known for - you guessed it - its wine.
This has more or less become my signature pose.
I was overwhelmed at this place. The scenery around the castle is indescribable, and the castle itself is beautiful. We received a history lesson from our tour guide about how the business came to be, which includes love on a train, not enough time, and a thank-you card in the form of a castle. Where's my castle? Hmm?
We then went down into the cellars of the castle, where they make the wine and olive oil.
Barrels upon barrels of Chianti
And then - the culmination of the weekend - we got to taste the wine. We tried four wines: first, the standard white they make at the castle, then a Chianti Classico, followed by a Chianti Ruffino, and finished off with a sweet dessert wine in which you dip biscotti. I can't choose my favorite, but it's a two way tie between the Ruffino and the dessert wine.
What do you do after a wine tasting? Why, buy more wine, of course! We all cleaned out our bank accounts at the castle's gift shop (you're welcome, mom!) before sitting down to a delicious dinner of pasta, pheasant, and (surprise!) more wine.
The dinner was deceiving, though; little did I know that I would have to wait until the following Monday to have the best food I've had thus far. On Monday we left Arezzo to go to Pienza, a very, very small hill town known for one of my God: Pecorino Romano. That's right, in my house, we pray to the God of Pecorino Romano, and if there's no Pecorino Romano in the house, we go out and get Pecorino Romano, even at four in the morning. I'd never been partial to the hunks of Pecorino before, but I wish I had bought a wheel of it and a jar of honey to dip. You'll think I'm crazy until you try it.
Me, cheesing and cheesed in Pienza
Our final stop on the tour was in Umbria at a little town called Orvieto. I'm not quite sure for what Orvieto is known around the world, but I'll forever associate it with some of the best food and wine I've ever had. We were basically given free reign to walk around Orvieto on our own, and we spent most of this time eating lunch at a little restaurant that we happened upon. Amici, I have been searching for the perfect dish of homemade tortelloni stuffed with (surprise! I don't remember) and radishes since I got here (c'era un piccolo scherzo), and I finally found it in Orvieto.
I know you're supposed to have red sauce with red wine, but whatever.
You had better believe I cleaned that plate. How could I not? Would you look at it??
So, amici, that was my weekend in Tuscany. Sorry, Sperlonga - I'll be honeymooning here instead.