Saturday, June 2, 2012

Under the Tuscan Raincloud

Naturally, my careful planning for months had not included plans for multiple days of rain in Umbria and Tuscany.  On the first day of serious rain, we checked the weather for various towns within a 90-minute drive from our base of Bevagna, and it looked like the weather in Norcia was sunny.  So we headed to the Valenerina, a gorgeous section of Umbria filled with richly forested hills, and drove all the way to the much-lauded (in our guide book, anyway) Piano Grande.  The Piano Grande is a vast plain that stretches throughout an entire valley between the mountains.  As it turns out, weather forecasters in Italy are about as good as weather forecasters in France.  Here was our drive through the Piano Grande
Woohoo vacation!

But if you are going to drive through freezing cold rain, you at least deserve a good meal afterwards.  In Norcia, which is particularly famous for their pork (butcher shops all over Italy that specialize in pork products are called "Norcerinas") and is also in the heart of truffle country, we made the most of a truffle-filled lunch that included truffle-crusted bruschetta and fantastic truffle-topped tagliatelle. Baby Oil enjoyed himself as well.
We like to start 'em young on truffles.  Go right for the good stuff.

I can also tell you that the butcher shops of Norcia smell so intensely of ham that it is impossible to spend more than a minute inside - I'm not sure I can articulate the intensity of the cured meat smell though it makes me shudder a bit to recall it.  And no, I am not a vegetarian (though I don't eat pork) but even for a meat lover it is a lot to handle.  After digesting our truffles and wanting to escape the pork-fest, we ventured back to the Piano Grande since the sun had peeked out.  In other words, we drove 25 minutes back up a mountain so we could take the following photo, then drove back down.  Awesome.
Piano Grande - check

It was also gray for the day we went to Montepulciano.  Which you may know either as one of the most famous towns in Tuscany and home to well-respected Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, OR through their other claim to fame touted in many a tourist shop-window, where scenes from the vampire flick New Moon were filmed.  Yes, the part where Edward decides to out himself as a vampire because he thinks Bella is dead.  Well, if Edward had shown up on the day we were there, he would have been totally SOL with that plan.  No sun at all.  Totally vampire-friendly weather.
Montepulciano Town Square.  (Though I was really more of a Team Jacob girl)
Eventually though, we got our sunny weather.  And we pretended that one day of sunshine was all we needed.  That day, we pulled over to the side of the road to take photos QUITE often.  But truly, you really can't get enough of the rolling hills, the endless vineyards, the silvery-green olive trees, and the ubiquitous wildflowers that blanket large swaths of the countryside in yellow, red, and purple.

So yeah, we spent 15 days in Italy.  They were good days.   I'll leave you with our list of the best gelato we ate - though hardly representative of the quantity we consumed:
  • Cinnamon, at Pianegiani in Todi (Umbria)
  • Limoncello, at Cafe Royal in Amalfi
  • Ginger, at Perche No in Florence
  • Lemon Caviar, at the Florence Gelato Festival (yeah, you read that correctly)
  • Banana, at Bottega del Gelato in Pisa
  • Licorice, at Gelateria Gambrinus in Perugia (Umbria)
Italy - you owe me some sun.  But I'll take my compensation in gelato, thank you very much.