Today involved a lot of singing Glee & holding on for dear life while traveling to our next destination.
First stop was the AutoGrill for breakfast. An AutoGrill is basically a truck stop on the side of the autostrada (which is the Italian highway). We know you’re thinking of a run down hole-in-the-wall, but it is so much more than you are imagining! There is always a coffee bar, often a restaurant and usually a gigantic store that has everything from your normal gas station snacks to actual groceries and a variety of toys. These places can be found approximately every 20 to 25 km along the road and are full of people in the morning. It seems that, in Italy, people stop & slowly sip an espresso at the AutoGrill bar rather than running through a drive-thru & drinking their coffee on the way to work. There are no drive-thrus here…with one exception to come… We found a table at the truck stop and munched on cappuccinos (or steamed milk for Kristin) & brioches (which are tasty croissants with marmalade filling).
Stop #2: McDonalds…or McDrive as it was called, as it actually had a drive-thru! We went in though to purchase our 3 Americanos for the three coffee drinkers in the group. Justine & Harvey are missing the quantity of morning coffee North Americans are accustomed to.
Fully fed and caffeinated, we were able to set off for our actual first destination. It was the longest drive we will embark upon in the area but we did a lot of it on highways so it wasn’t as grueling as last nights journey through the countryside. This is when “choir practice” began. Harvey made the mistake of pulling out his iTrip & iPod and offering them to the “kids” in the backseat…he forgot that they have iPhones full of their own music (& yes we realize this paragraph is turning into an ad for Apple…should we also mention that Kristin & Bev both had iPads in the car?). Tunes started with some “Wooaahh-o-ooo-ooooooo-o….caught in a Bad Romance” and “Judah…Judah-aha…” before dissolving into a Glee-fest.
We arrived in Spoleto and parked just outside of the city walls. In these little Italian towns it is much easier to make your way on foot than by car. The roads can be incredibly skinny & congested with cars, motorbikes & pedestrians. The hike through town took you uphill. At the top was the church. It was quite gorgeous, with large rose windows & a golden fresco.
But the main sight of Spoleto is the aqueduct. This was one of the things on Kristin’s “Must See in Europe” list: a real Roman aqueduct. An aqueduct is part of the ancient Roman’s water transport method. In a time where you lived with the constant threat of invasion it was best to live somewhere remote, often on a hill. This could make it difficult to have a constant source of water. Even if you lived by a river there was so much pollution from the waste of the city & surrounding farmland that the water wouldn’t be suitable for drinking. To solve this dilemma the Romans would find a mountain spring and run a duct & piping system all the way to their town. Because there was no such thing as pumps the system relied on gravity to move the water, meaning the entire line had to run on a constant downhill slope. This was a problem when crossing valleys, so aqueducts were built as bridges for the water. This one was incredibly well preserved, hence why Bev picked it out as the one to visit. Check out those incredible arches!
We were able to walk along the one side of the aqueduct and get a beautiful view of the valley it crosses. Can you imagine creating something so large & magnificent without the help of modern machinery? This is why the Romans are Kristin’s favorite historical time period…she knows that’s nerdy, but she is an engineer!
We next visited the hill town of Montepulciano. This was a similar place to our hill town from yesterday. The streets were tiny and always sloping up or down. The buildings were worn, but in a picturesque fashion, and the central square featured a tall, ancient clock tower & a rustic stone church. Being on a hill, it provided a full, breathtaking view of the surrounding area. So many vineyards & olive groves scattered about the hills!
Are there any other crazy fans out there that are currently screaming, “But wait! I recognize that clock tower!” Don’t be embarrassed, you probably do! Although we visited the real Volterra yesterday, today we walked around the location used to film the Volterra scenes in The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Yes, for the second time this trip, Justine got to stand in the same place Robert Pattison once stood. And being the crazies that we are, we couldn’t resist a re-enactment…although fun fact: there is no fountain in the center of this square! We were all set to go plowing through it (who cares about the local authorities) but when we arrived it was nowhere to be found. It seems they built a fountain just for filming. But back to our version of New Moon starring Kristin as charming-&-sparkly Edward and Justine as the oh-so-distraught Bella:
We drove back towards our VRBO and stopped in Montevarchi for supper. We parked in a random lot and started wandering the streets in search of a restaurante. Normally we would have stumbled upon 5 or 10 in the first ten minutes of looking, but this place is not your average tourist trap. We walked forever, asking locals, walking down a main shopping street, and didn’t find anything. Finally we happened upon the one open place in town. It was about 7:30 pm and we were starving, but the restaurant was still empty as people in Italy don’t eat until the middle of the night. We didn’t care though and just plowed on with ordering. Here’s our wine:
This place was far more quaint & local than any place we had been so far. Rather than provide us with a menu, the waiter (and possible owner) basically just told us we had to get the antipasti (aka appetizer) plate. Ok, we’re down! We ordered 2 house appetizers for the four of us to share. First came out the first photo of deliciousness (actually two times that plate). When we had finished munching of those delights a second set of plates appeared….more? Ok! They were a set of warm antipasti (as opposed the the cold set we had already eaten). Then, much to our surprise, out came the bread soup. Oh how to explain the deliciousness of the bread soup…well it tastes better than it looks…
In Italy, supper traditionally has several courses: (1) Antipasti – or appetizers (2) Primo Patti – or pasta course (3) Secondi – or meat course (4) Dolce – or dessert. Since we’d already done course #1 and the waiter still wasn’t giving us a menu but instead was listing off the choices for the next course, we decided to go all out and do the full meal deal! Of course we did the full meal deal x2 instead of x4 (aka two meals split between four people) because we could not possibly eat a full four-course meal alone!
For the Primo Patti course we chose gnocchi with white sauce and ravioli with zucchini. We may have jumped the gun on eating the gnocchi before photographing, but you get to see it all quartered up (Justine’s quarter is missing). We each got 17 gnocchi…Justine got 18 for actually counting them all out…Bev only ate 15 of hers so Harvey ended up eating 19…it was madness! In the end, only Kristin ate her allotted 17. But you are probably wondering how it tasted, rather than exactly how many we ate. The answer would be heavenly, for both dishes!
Pork was the meat course of the day. It came with some yummy mashed potatoes and was dripping with delicious meat juices! So succulent & tender!
We all decided upon Tiramisu for dessert. It was the most Italian choice, plus it’s just so yummy. There was a great balance of lady fingers & custard between the coffee & creamy tastes.
The extravagant meal was perfect for our family Thanksgiving dinner in Italy. Though we all greatly missed the pumpkin pie!
Love, Luck & Long Meals,
K&J + B&H