Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Italia: Day 4 - Chianti Country

We spent a good chunk of our second morning in Firenze procuring ourselves a vehicle.  And by "we," I mean "the helpful staff at In Piazza della Signora" - they were total all-stars when it came to playing Italian Phone-Jockey for us!  Tip: Apparently some {ie: one's you've heard of} rental companies require customers to carry an International Driver's License?  We still don't know what in damnation that is.  Go with a local company instead. All they'll ask is if you've ever driven a robo-tronic car before or some shit like that. {Tip within a Tip: "Only at Universal Studios, McFly" is not the correct answer to that query.} 

On our jaunt to the rental company, I got my first daylight view of the Ponte Vecchio and the love locks left along the railings.  

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Look at that keeper - better lock him down. Har. 
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  By 11:00 a.m., we were all buckled up and ready to roll in our {robo-tronic} SmartCar.  

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Getting out of the city was... challenging-ish... but doable with a decent map.  Which we didn't have.  But we powered through with the crappy photocopy handed to us at the rental place plus a city map in one of our guide books.  Once you wind your way towards the outskirts of Florence, there are very lovely royal blue signs pointing you towards different destinations.  We were headed to Greve in Chianti - the unofficial "capital" of Chianti country - which is located about halfway between Florence and Sienna. The plan was to take the scenic S222 highway to Greve where we would lunch and visit the tourism office {which was supposed to have a great map of all the surrounding vineyards}, then make our way towards Sienna, stopping to taste where we pleased.  Making advance reservations at wineries would have been another way to visit Chianti, but this "go as we please" style suited us more!  

We arrived in Greve after a gorgeous drive... and an interesting encounter with not one, not two, but three "ladies of the night"... except, in the morning... gyrating on the side of the road... attempting to entice drivers into, I don't know - a little post-cappuccino/pre-ragu mid-morning delight?  'Twas very strange to see gold lamé hotpants against the backdrop of quaint 14th century pastoral walls.  Very strange indeed.  I kinda wanted to go back and take a photo with them, but reminded myself we weren't wandering the Canal Shops amongst the street performers at the Venetian.  And so, we pushed onward.  

Greve's pretty darn cute, what with it's quaint piazza cafes... 
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and it's cock statues...
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and it's... other cock statues. 
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Apologies.  That one was just too easy. 

Anyhoo, we quickly sniffed out the tourism office only to find out it had closed... from November 2010 until "Spring 2011."  Wonderful.  And oh so convenient!  

To continue our journey of little ironies, we lunched at a pizzaria... which for some untold reason was not offering pizza at lunch.  

There was brie with truffled honey to be had, though.

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THANK GOD SOMETHING WENT RIGHT.

After the No-Pizza-Pizzeria, I bought a lot of hand-painted pottery.  Such is my life.  Then, we popped in the Le Cantine Enoteca {= wine bar} because there were about 1,804 big red signs telling us we had to.  I think we were both expecting some super lame tourist trap, but this place was Gloriousness. 

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Words cannot express how much I want this poster. 
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Here's how you get down at Le Cantine... First you pre-purchase a five, ten or twenty Euro credit card looking doo-hickey.  Then you peruse the wares {over a 100 different bottles for tasting, divided by region, plus (free) olive oil stations}.  As you can see in the photo immediately above, each of the bottles are hooked up to this nifty dispenser-apparatus. When you spy a bottle that tickles your fancy, you insert your card into the dispenser and push the button that corresponds to your selection for a taste!  Tastings vary anywhere from .30 to 4 Euro, depending on the price of the bottle.  

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Pretty genius, eh?  Someone needs to run with this concept in the States - it was too much fun!  It was also lovely to be in a non-awkward/pushy tasting situation... the staff was definitely on hand to answer questions and make suggestions, but no one was eyeballing you, judging your reaction or your technique or rushing you along.  Two Very Enthusiastic Thumbs Up!

ETA: Apparently Texas is the only place on Earth where we do not have these types of wine bars {save for Jerry World... why am I not surprised?}.  Now I feel like a Wine-o Imbecile.  

After knocking around at Le Cantine, we got back on the road towards Sienna to hit a couple vineyards.  At Montagliari, we met a wonderful Finnish couple who vacation in Tuscany every year.  Their very first trip many years ago lasted 2 weeks, and now they've worked their way up to two months!  After discovering that they drive each year {which includes 48 hours on a ferry} with their dog, I'd say they well-earn their long holiday!  We chit-chatted with the vintner until his wife politely ran us off... they had tickets to a show in Sienna that evening and needed to freshen up.  Sharing a drink in their home and their overall hospitality was an experience we won't soon forget.  

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Unfortunately, I do not remember the name of the second vineyard we visited.  {Just look for the Blue People.}  It was a much flashier affair - bigger production, modern interiors, etc.  But, good wine and gorgeous views.  And a statue tribute to The Boom.  

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After a terribly rough day of wine-tasting, fresh-air breathing, and gorgeous-views-viewing, we headed back into Florence along the speedier Autostrada {A1}.  We only got to see Sienna from a distance, which was a bit of a bummer, but we wanted to be sure and back in time for a shower bath and a rest before dinner.  

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Getting back into Firenzie at 5:30 in the evening was flat-out challenging - no "ish."  Florentines might have honked.  Evs might have raised his voice.  I might have cried.  But we made it in one piece. 

There was a gelato celebration for that mini victory.  

After a full day of Chianti tasting, I was able to sweet-talk a pliable Evs into reservations at Ora d' Aria... a ristorante that is undoubtedly much more "foodie" than my little ragu-eater prefers.  So, after a quick disco nap, we trekked over to the very end of the Santa Croche area for dinner.  

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Oddly, the address listed in all of my dog-earred reviews led us to an East African restaurant with a badly broken window.  Hmmmmmphf.  We later found out that Ora d' Aria had moved... practically across the piazza from our hotel.  Unfortunately, we didn't discover this until the next day, and completely missed our reservations.  Instead, we made our way back to Piazza della Signora to Frescobaldi - a chicly packaged wine bar that was also listed as recommended in one of the guide books.

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Grilled Artichoke Salad
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Kate: Handmade Pasta with Lamb & Mildly Stinky Cheese of Some Delectable Sort
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Evs: Pumpkin Ravioli with Brown Butter & Sage

I actually thought the food was delicious but the service was distractingly terrible.  And it seemed most of the dinners were of the tourist variety... which is fine, but the whole thing felt a little contrived.  So, sadly, no Top 8 meals on Day 4.  Luckily, vino cures all... and there was lots of that, indeed!  

Tomorrow... Museums, More Museums, and... a Piazza-Crawl?  

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Erin and Haughty by Nature wanted some specifics on the Travel Uniform... The camel pull-over is from Ann Taylor Loft, I think last winter.  My very favorite legging of all time are Lululemon WunderUnders.  I wear my long black pair {non-shiny; look like very thick, stretchy cotton} both as "fashion leggings" and as workout gear.   They keep everything nice and "snuggly tucked in" and are worth every single penny of their $78.00 price tag!

21 comments:

  1. Seems like a fantastic day! There actually are a few wine bars like that in NC-- one is called Uncorked. They are so neat! There is nothing better than drinking wine in Italy, however :)

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  2. I am loving these recaps! I went to Italy when I was a senior in high school, so any wine we had was whatever table wine was served to us (eager to drink legally) 17 and 18 year olds. I do remember how terrible all the drivers seemed to be in Italy, though... I can't imagine driving there myself! You two are brave!

    Another travel attire question: where is that orange scarf from? LOVE.

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  3. I'm such a research on the internet before I go type girl, but I'm starting to think I need to expand to some guide books!!!

    We have wine tasting like that in our local Whole Foods. We also have a wine bar near us that carries wine from a nearby vineyard that also has tastings like that. I love getting the card and swiping it for a sample of a couple before I settle on a glass to enjoy.

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  4. What a wonderful experience! I really love the idea of a prepaid card and self-service wine tastings (although sometimes I also like talking with the people at the tasting).

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  5. I know I keep saying thos, but our trips were scarily identical! If only I had been a week later. . .

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  6. Your trip continues to sound {and look} amazing! I have a serious craving for some vino with that bliss-inducing brie/honey concoction after reading this, and it's 7am here!

    There are some wine bars in California that use the same sampling technique {"enomatic dispensers" - how fancy, but who are we kidding: it's wine squirting} as the one you visited - not many, but a few! Here's one not too far from us: http://www.cafeugo.com/winebar.html Maybe they'll make their way to TX soon!

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  7. Um, I think I just slipped into a coma upon viewing the "brie with truffled honey". Oh goodness - such tastiness has never even crossed my mind.

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  8. kate! we have a wine store (cleverly named "The Wine Store") that has that same concept of a store credit card and tastings. AND it was started by 2 Wake guys. next time you're in charlotte....lisa :)

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  9. "A little post-cappuccino/pre-ragu mid-morning delight" = AMAZING!!!!

    That quote is a gem!

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  10. Those vineyard photos are breathtaking!

    And it sounds like there are a lot of self-serve wine bars across the country, but we also have one in little ol' Dallas. Unfortunately, it's stuck in Cowboys Stadium- Dee Lincoln's Bubble Bar. Definitely worth checking out if you are ever at a game though.

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  11. Seriously love these recaps! You also are making me wine for lunch! Can't wait to hear more!

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  12. I love all your travel updates! So much so, that I took your advice and booked The Cottages of Napa Valley for our honeymoon :-) I'm really excited! I liked your blog over at mine when I was talking about it.

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  13. There's actually a wine bar that has a set-up like that in Grapevine called Tastings. You buy a little gift card (reminds me of Dave & Busters) and when you find wine you want you can buy a 1, 3 or 6 oz. pour.

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  14. We actually stayed at an agriturisimo in Greve for five days. I still count 3 meals there in my top 5 of all time. I hope yall got to enjoy the food and stop in for some wild boar prosciutto! I'm loving the recaps, it is making me want to add a page to my blog w/ our own recaps (something the hubster has been asking me to do for a year now).

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  15. OMG brie with truffled honey. So much vino. I want to go NOW!

    I also love Lulu Wunder Unders for leggings; they're perfect.

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  16. There's a wine bar like that in Lubbock, of all places. It's at least 5 years ahead of its time for that town.
    Have you tried Hue Leggings? They're sold at Nordstrom. Superb! Only $25!!

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  17. I lived in Florence for a summer in undergrad, and Santa Croce is my favorite church in the entire world. Please tell me y'all went in...

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  18. Love the stripey + orange outfit. Is that a dress?

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  19. I didn't read through all the comments but there is a self serve wine bar in Uptown called Cork! There is also one in Grapevine (I live in Ft Worth, so that's the one I go to) that is called Cork it!

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  20. What a great read! Thanks for sharing your trip. And of course, the clothing tips. Very nice.

    I am hunting some of the wine preservation and dispensing down for you in Texas and will get back to you.

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  21. doing nothing, in italy, in the sunshine, while drinking wine? a perfect afternoon in my book.

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happy little comments!