Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday in Tuscany

First, we still do not have internet. We hope to find an internet café tomorrow.

Easter, as you might imagine, is a huge deal in Italy. Every town has been celebrating since Good Friday and the towns are full of people.

We have now been here 6 days and today was our first chance to really get out in the car and explore Tuscany. I think we put over 1,000 kilometers on the little Fiat. We drove from our casa down to Casteleogne d’Lago and Cortono. I know why most Tuscans are not overweight even though they eat a lot of pork. Every town is built around a medieval castle and these castles are all built on top of a mountain. Every step is either up or down and I mean up or down.

You can’t drive 10 kilometers without seeing a castle. They are as common in Italy as windmills in Holland. There must also be at least 5 churches in each town and every one is a work of art.

They had a passion for building in the Renaisance which nearly surpasses what we do in cities today. The difference of course is that they not only had to have purpose but art. When you walk these narrow streets you have a feel that Cesare d’Medici or some medieval Pope was here, as well plotting or conniving yet mindful of how history would judge them.

We spent the better part of the day in Montepulciano, another medieval castle, this one in Siena, Tuscany. The up and down streets once bustled with soldiers and even with the modern accoutrements of shops, ristorante and cafeterias it is easy to get a feel for the souls that lived here. Dark alley ways thrust through the sides of the streets, apparently allowing the soldiers quick access to the battlements should an attack come from the outside.

Montepulciano sits almost 2,000 feet above the city and there are incredible views of the surrounding countryside. It is difficult to imagine not only how cities like this were conquered in the 1500’s (as Montepulciano was conquered by Florence in 1511) but how much more difficult it must have been in the Second World War for the allies to displace the Nazis who occupied so many of these fortresses during that time.

After a lunch of spinach ravioli and braised beef, we walked down the mile of cobblestones to our Fiat and drove to the country side. When you leave the confines of the walled cities you find yourself confronted by lush countryside of grape arbors, farms and stone houses dotting the very open countryside. Tourist farms are everywhere and (as evidenced by the tour buses) is quite a passion here.

These tourist buses are almost ubiquitous as porcini. The farms are scrupulously clean and sport 3 hour walking tours. The Tuscan cedars line the roads leading to the farms and the views with the Tuscan sunlight can only be described as breathtaking. We drove down several old dirt roads. It is Easter Sunday and we encountered several families, dressed in their Sunday best, walking the roads, talking excitedly and enjoying the day.

Except for the concrete electric poles, it isn’t hard to imagine that the area has changed little in 500 years.

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