The next morning Pedro and I were told to eat and drink anything from the house that we wanted, and we were served bread, fruit, sliced meats and cheeses, juice, and coffee. I put my avocado into their fruit bowl because it was still not ripe. Manja was intrigued by the avocado, and we explained that we had carried it all the way from Oregon because it was still not ready to eat. Avocados are now forever linked to us, in her mind. 😊
The night before we had presented our gifts in thanks for the room and board and tour guide services. First of course was the new old Nikon that I used to use. I bought it in 2011 but it’s still in great shape. Soon after I upgraded to my new Nikon, I found out Manja wanted a new camera and it was serendipitous. I promised my old one to her, which is an upgrade from her old camera. We also gave them a ceramic coaster with Mt. Hood on it (my favourite volcano), a sticker in the shape of Oregon with a Bigfoot silhouette on it, a box of smoked salmon from the Columbia River, and our most personal gift: honey from my bees which had been harvested just weeks before. I had searched to find honey jars that would meet TSA’s strict rules of 100 ml or less. I bought four and filled all four with honey. The TSA agent was delighted, saying, “Oh, you got the right size! I just hate taking these things away from people.” The first jar was presented to the kind man who helped us on the plane on the way over. The second jar was for Marco and Manja.
Our first stop that morning was to an ATM to get some Euros. I can’t believe I used to go to the trouble to exchange money before I traveled, when it’s so easy to show up empty-handed and just pop my card into a machine and viola. Then we all settled into the car, Pedro in the back with bestia once more, and began our journey. Our drive was through the Tuscan countryside, with its rolling hills and wide yellow fields divided by stands of green trees. Tuscany reminds me much of northern California.
Manja took us to the tufa towns of Pitigliano and Sovana in Tuscany. We had not looked them up and did not know what to expect and were ready to be surprised. When I got my first look, I was not surprised, but astonished. We crested the final rise and on descent into the canyon got a look at the town of Pitigliano rising from the top of a tufa mountain. I actually gasped out loud and started gesturing spastically to pull over and saying something like, “Oh! Oh! Ah!” while Manja smiled and made her way to the wide spot along the narrow road that she had been planning to stop at anyway.
This area was occupied by the Etruscans until their assimilation with Rome by 27 BCE. Both the Etruscans and the Romans used tufa (a volcanic rock made of ash also called tuff) extensively in their construction because it is relatively soft and easy to carve. Etruscan remains can be found in Pitigliano in the form of cuts into the rock that could be roads, quarries, or water conveyances, but no one really knows. They may have also built the Vie Cave, a network of deeply carved channels between villages and an Etruscan necropolis of the region. It seems logical that the channels were part of a communications network, but again, this is not certain. The entire old city of Pitigliano perches atop a tufa outcropping which serves as the foundation to all of the town’s structures.
After taking a few photos, we continued down the hill and across a lovely bridge, then up tight curves into the mountain city and found a place to park. We walked into the city beneath the eye-catching Medici Aqueduct, then made our way to Il Noce, a restaurant where we had reservations for lunch.
The restaurant was exceptionally lovely and our food was outstanding. We were seated outdoors on a wide garden patio completely covered in grape vines and with a view of a neighboring mountain community. I have to include photos of the food too, because it was not only delicious but beautifully presented. Pedro had a pizza and I asked for mushroom pasta with truffles, because I had never tasted them.
After lunch we explored. I am perpetually delighted by narrow streets of old towns, and took dozens of photos of them. We wandered to the edge of the city and peered into space from balconies perched at the edges of cliffs, we peered into tiny shops, we admired flowers and flags and laundry and balconies.
Finally we made our way back to the car, distracted one last time by a cemetery. Manja waited outside respectfully, with her bestia, while Pedro and I walked inside and reported that it was a lovely cemetery for her to visit on some future dog-less day.
There are three tufa towns in the Maremma district. The other two are Sorano and Sovana. We made our way to Sovana next. We parked outside the village and walked in, passing a row of bins helpfully labeled so that it was easy for tourists to discover where to put which recycling materials or organic waste, etc. The final bin was labeled “?” We laughed all day as we imagined the things that could qualify for that bin, including things that are still alive, or radioactive waste.
Sovana was a thriving Etruscan city in the 6th century BCE and is famous for its fierce resistance to Roman assimilation – though of course it eventually succumbed. Even after being colonized, the villagers stubbornly clung to their own culture, including their own art, language and writing, until the 1st century BCE, which was uncommon for Roman colonies. Sovana is much smaller and less developed than Pitigliano, and especially appealing for that reason. It also retains much of its medieval character, which makes it unique. The village is arranged around a single small street encompassing a single gorgeous square, with St. Peter’s Cathedral at one end and the fortress La Rocca Aldobrandesca at the other.
The Church of San Mamiliano is named after a saint who supposedly left a hidden treasure. This legend was turned into a story about a lost treasure on the island of Montecristo – possibly you’ve heard of it (wink). In 2004 renovations were approved to include archaeological exploration, and a vase was found, buried below the church, containing 498 gold coins.
After making our way to the Cathedral, we stopped in the central square to get our first gelato of the trip. Pedro’s best friend lived in Italy for a while, and she had been insisting to him for a month that he desperately needed to eat gelato in Italy. We complied, and the gelato was delicious, naturally. After finishing our treats, we walked to the ruins of the fort.
After all the walking around under the Etruscan sun, climbing many narrow passages in villages perched on mountain tops, we were ready to go home. We wound through the gorgeous Tuscan countryside once more, with a stop at San Martino sul Fiora where Manja knew there was an especially photogenic church. After admiring the church, we found our way to a vista point across from the church and goofed around with Pedro’s panoramic photo option on his phone. To make a panoramic shot, you aim your phone at one side of the view and slowly move it to the other side of the view. The camera makes it all into one long photo. I stood on the first side, and when I could see Pedro’s phone was no longer focused on me, I took off at a sprint! I ran behind Pedro and over to the other side of the view, and set myself up and waited for the phone to move to where I was. We had to do it about three times to get it right, and I was giggling and slipping on pine needles in my sandals while I ran. It must have been entertaining for Manja to watch.
We arrived happily tired and hungry. Marco served us for dinner exactly what we wanted: the remainder of the pasta with ragù, and more tiramisu. Our intent was to get to sleep early to continue our jet lag recovery, but that is not exactly how it went. :o)