A Tuscan Trip: Day 3

Colle di Val d’Elsa: We started our morning with no food. As we had arrived so late on Tuesday, we knew that we would have to head out to find food and do grocery shopping later in the day. We drove back to Graciano, the tiny town where the pizzeria was located, but were through it and into the next town before we blinked. In another 30 seconds, we were through that and into Colle di Val d’Elsa, the “big” town (population 20K, according to Wikipedia).

We ended up on top, found an open bar, and David has his first “true” Italian bar breakfast: standing up, sipping coffee and eating a sweet roll.  I ordered an Americano for him, and we found a table by the door, where we watched the locals come in, drink their cappucinos and espressos, and head on to work.

We left the car at the top of the old city walls and stood for a moment looking out over the country-side.  Lovely…

Like a picture postcard…

The gate into the old city…

Considering that this town was bombed by the Allies in WWII, it was in amazingly good shape. Incredibly clean, tidy, quiet, and ancient… each building sat cheek-to-jowl against the next…

While most retained at least some of their age and history, the difference in styles was sometimes dramatic…

Each door was a work of art…

All sorts of carved wood designs…

The massive doors were either all wood, carved in intricate or bold patterns, or they had some sort of brass or bronze doodads as part of the design.  Here is one panel in more detail…

Our little coffee and pastry breakfast was not enough to hold us long, but we passed a tiny greengrocer and bought two huge, lush peaches, which we munched as we continued down the main path.

Another door…

…and yet another…

As with all of these old cities, there is at least one bell tower…

…and one was also a clock tower…

We wandered into a church that retained some bits of fresco about the alter that dated back to the 1300s.  A quick visit to the crypt, which was a tad creepy with death-themed art and Gregorian chants echoing through the vault-like structure. Back in the fresh air, we allowed ourselves to wander aimlessly, passing through tiny arched alleys and tunnel-like passageways.  We emerged on a gravelled walkway that hugged the walls, and discovered the first of many crystal galleries.

Colle di Val d’Elsa is famous for its crystal artisans.  This shop, La Grotta del Cristallo, was being manned by one of the artisans.  Lucianno is tall, handsome, charming, and utterly sweet. He took time to explain the process and show us some different samples.  David fell in love with a very elegant yet simple tumbler, and Lucianno graciously sold him the single glass, breaking up a set to do so. 

From there, we took the elevator down to the lower part (new city) to visit the crystal museum.  The young woman said that they normally close at noon, but she would stay later for us.  We didn’t stay too long, but we did enjoy the history of all the crystal workshops and factories that were in the area, along with samples of their production, explanations of the process, and a strange display of luminous crystal jellyfish, balanced precariously on thing tendrils.

By then we were feeling quite hungry, so we took the elevator back up and started looking for one of the little cafes we had passed in the old city. But we took a different route, an appealing gravel path that hugged the walls, and by the time we got off the path, we had passed all the food places and were nearly out of the old city again.  We retrieved the car and drove back down to the new area, and started looking there.  Once again, we stumbled onto a winner.  A small family-style restaurant with pleasant service and the best gnocchi I’ve had in years.  The young waiter startled me by asking if everything was “b’seder”; since David and I had been speaking English, I can only assume that he spotted my medallion.

We wandered around in this new part of the city for a while, discovering the Coop (a chain grocery store).  We did our shopping, stocking up on all sorts of goodies for breakfasts, as well as some picnic and dinner supplies.  Navigating  a foreign grocery store can be quite fun, and we both enjoyed it.

Back at our home base, we finally took a good look around.  The main, old farm-house was where our apartment was located, but there were other small buildings around, a leaf-clogged pool (too cold to swim, anyway), a very sociable fluffy little orange kitty, and the vineyards themselves, sweeping down to the “cellars” (a lovely stone building at the gates of the property, where the wine was made).

The back view…

The pool…

Sitting by the pool in the late afternoon…

After eating only restaurant food for several days, we were also ready to cook something simple for ourselves.  Our forray into the Coop left us well equipped to do a big egg and mushroom scramble.  I introduced David to the wonders of insalata caprice with fresh buffalo mozzarella, which he had never had before. He scored a few bottles of our host’s wine, and that night we sampled their 2007 Chianti, which was amazing.  Very rich and robust; neither of us would have recognized it as a Chianti in a blind tasting.  At 6 Euro, this was a real winner, and it is a pity that there was no way to bring a few bottles back home.

Dishes done, it was time to break out the little traveling cribbage board and play a few games. My dad and I are demon cribbage players, and the trip was punctuated with some very close games and one extremely rare double-skunk (I’m happy to report that I was the skunker, not the skunkee).

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