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Montepulciano, Montalcino, Siena

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Today, we drove around Tuscany in another Fiat  Cinquecento. This time though, it was a new one, rented from Hertz. It was white, but had far less personality than our vintage Roberto had. By the end of the (very full) day, we still hadn't come up with a name for her. We missed Roberto's little backfires, but we still had a blast.

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We rode our bikes down to the Hertz place, got our Fiat, folded the bikes into their bags and put them in the back and off we went!

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We didn't end up riding them today (besides from home to Hertz and back) because most of the towns we visited were extremely hilly.

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First stop: Montepulciano 

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Montepulciano is a medieval and Renaissance town about 80 miles south of Florence and sits at about 2000 ft (and is known worldwide for its wine).

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We parked, and headed up. 

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Besides walking around and getting a feel for the town, we had a few things on our list based on some random internet research and Rick Steves' guidebook: Cesare Mazzetti the artisan coppersmith, and two wine cellars that sounded intriguing. On our way up the hill we popped into this church, the Chiesa de Gesù

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The duomo had a little bit trompe l'oeil where the little extra dome would have been, but it really only worked visually from inside the front door. 

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Continuing up the main street we saw the copper shop where Cesare sells all his stuff, but we heard that just up the way a bit is his studio, and that sometimes he'll show you the stuff he's working on and photos of his cool things like handing one of his pieces to the Pope. 

Cesare's studio:

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Cesare at work:

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Cesare chatted with us for a few minutes, showing us a few things he was working on or had just finished: a gorgeous copper sauce pan, lined with silver, a decorated copper ice container with an insert for a wine bottle…he was charming and let me take a few photos in his studio. We stopped in the store on our way back to the car and wow…the pots and pans are gorgeous! I'm not sure I'd have the guts to cook in one of them.

We continued up the hill to the Piazza Granda, the central town square. 

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The view from up here!!

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We went down into the cellar of Contucci and then tasted a couple of their wines:

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Nice wines…bought a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG 2009 Riserva.

On to the next one: the de Ricci cellar. Holy moly is this an incredible cellar! This is the entrance from the street:

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And then you just keep going down and down and down:

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The stone and brick eventually gives way to rock and it's just fabulous in here:

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Several stories high, giant barrels of wine…

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Oh, and the Etruscan cellar with the well in the center that collects water that comes in from above:

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We bought one of these: BRIAREO "Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2007 d.o.c.g

Then, a little more exploring around Montepulciano:

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Back through the Piazza Grande, tourist taking a photo:

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Okay, now back on the road. Next stop: Montalcino (home of Brunello!)

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I sounded like a broken record the whole day, saying how beautiful the landscape was…over and over and over. 

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We wandered around Montalcino a bit and stopped for a bite to eat at a spot called Alle Logge di Piazza. We had a salad, some salami and cheese (fabulous Pecorino from Pienza, the town we just drove through on the way to Montalcino from Montepulciano), and shared a plate of ravioli with a ragu di cinghiale (wild boar). This was AMAZING. 

Ravioli

Next, we headed to another spot we found doing random internet research: the Enoteca di Piazza. It's a wine shop that also has tastings (they have over 100 wines from the region) and they're all set up with a handy computer tasting system with a card, so you put your card in the slot, choose the wine you want to taste, and there it is, with the cost added to your card and you pay on the way out. 

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This is a really cool idea. However, there are so many wines and really not much information to help you choose beside price and label. The guy working there was helpful and enthusiastic, but kinda vague, so we just randomly picked one lower priced one, two medium priced ones, and one high priced one. Without the story and the farm and the passion, it's a little hard to get a feel for the wine of the region. We both really dug the idea of this place, but felt it lacked soul. But then…this view from the little table by the balcony where we sat/stood, in Montalcino…in Italy…sipping Brunello:

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So…you know…it was perfect, really.

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Back in the cute cute cute little Fiat 500 and on to Siena!

We parked down here by the psychiatric hospital and walked up up up into the center of town (toward the Piazza del Campo and the Cathedral, just like most of the other centers of town).

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There are a few super cool things about Siena. One of them is the Palio di Siena. The Palio di Siena is a horse race held twice each year, on July 2 and August 16. Ten horses and bareback riders, dressed in the appropriate colours to represent ten of the seventeen contrade, or "neighborhoods". (The 10 of 17 are chosen by rotating lottery, I believe.)

"The race itself, in which the jockeys ride bareback, circles the Piazza del Campo, on which a thick layer of dirt has been laid, three times and usually lasts no more than 90 seconds. It is common for a few of the jockeys to be thrown off their horses while making the treacherous turns in the piazza, and indeed, it is usual to see unmounted horses finishing the race without their jockeys." from Wikipedia

If you haven't seen this on ESPN 74, check it out here:

It's long, but interesting. If you want to skip to the race, move ahead to the 42 minute mark.

So yeah, we walked around and had coffee sitting there in this square. The square where they bring in dirt and make a racetrack that covers the cobblestone and they race horses. The place where they line the buildings with mattresses to protect them (or the horses? no, probably the buildings). The place where a riderless horse can win the race. Craziness.

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More cool goat wall ring things:

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Next we walked up to another super cool thing about Siena: the Siena Cathedral. (This trip is chalk full of things I studied in art school!)

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Outside is cool and all, but holy shit the inside is AMAZING. Here's my 3-shot stitched photo:

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All that black and white marble! It's so intense and so modern (designed and completed between 1215 and 1263)…you know, modern!

Look at these mosaic floors!

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And the stripes!

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And all the creepy pope heads!

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172 pope busts line this edge all the way around. It's pretty cool. Also, in case you need to know how to light a candle, they've got this super handy visual guide right there for you:

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Up in the dome, cherubs sit precariously around the edge:

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Adjoining the cathedral is the Piccolomini Library, the ceiling and walls lined with frescoes and the lower walls exhibiting illuminated manuscripts. The frescoes were gorgeous:

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Back through the square, more imagining of the horses racing through here with the buildings lined with mattresses and the cobblestones covered with dirt.

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Back on the road…we took the slower route home to savor the Chianti countryside, and decided we'd do this again on Friday (another day with a Fiat 500), hitting Pisa, Lucca, maybe San Gimignano, and maybe a few Chianti wineries. Tomorrow it's the long long day trip out to Cinque Terre for some hiking. It's 1am and I'm still up finishing this post because I know tomorrow will be a long and eventful day and I don't want to get behind. :)