Tag Archives: Il Palio

The Best of Italy – Part 4

Assisi marked the beginning of some crappy weather. If it wasn’t cold and rainy, it was hazy, killing any morning or evening light. Looking back, I don’t know how we even managed to get decent shots in Assisi given the weather. Early one morning, while picking through the scraps of the continental breakfast at our hotel, the sky opened and sheets of rain streamed across the city outside. I didn’t know what to make of it, but one in a gaggle of elderly British ladies (their chins covered with croissant crumbs) summed it up best: “Oh, it is literally chucking down rain! Really, just chucking.” She exclaimed it in a peeling high pitch that — had she said “Spam” — would have been utterly Monty Python-esque.

Anyway…Assisi is oddly zen. The air is very still, there is a true, respected silence nearly everywhere you go, lots of birds flitting about. If there is one thing that defies the sacred/holy aura of Assisi, it is the pure gluttony of Umbrian cuisine. The butcher above (his name is Sergio, PSC model-release has been pending for weeks) sliced samples of prosciutto, capocolla, salumi…all sorts of cured meats. We also noshed on pastries, drank too many cappuccinos, drank seemingly buckets of local wine, ate pasta at lunch and dinner — really, how the Assisians have their cake and eat it too — the Father, Son and the Holy Spirits, literally — is quite the coup.

Bearing west across Umbria, we passed Lake Trasimeno — where Hannibal’s legions slaughtered some 30,000 Roman soldiers in three hours in 217 BC — and carried on through meadows of blooming mustard to my favorite place: Siena. Really can’t think of a place I like more. Every restaurant is outstanding; the Medieval buildings are black, ashen and they scrape the sky; the Duomo (above) is a riot of elaborate, gaudy, wonderful religious art; and the countryside surrounding it is nothing short of sublime. The best meal of the trip was in Siena — gnocchi, sausage and tarragon, real simple — partly because of the ambiance: a neighborhood tavern adorned with Il Palio photos from the 40s, 50s and 60s, and not a fanny-pack in sight.

The tower above is Torre di Mangia, which crowns the city’s lively urban center. We watched kids chase pigeons (so flipping irresistible), old men dressed in six layers under a 60-degree sun, and some slimy Euroteens with Euromullets and Euroshades trying to pants each other as if that impressed the nearby Eurochics.

The rainiest day of the trip happened to have the best photography. It started with a fiery, foggy sunrise in Chianti (above left and below):

This was followed by the clouds literally chucking down rain in San Gimignano, followed by bursting sun at noon just as we reached the tower’s top:

Followed by another three hours of it literally chucking down rain (which was dealt with by finding a pay-per-sip wine bar in Greve in Chianti), followed by a splash of evening sun just as we were rushing back to the hotel in Siena. At the Badesse exit we had the following conversation as the sun drenched the tree tops around us.

Hailey: “Should we pull out?”

Kevin: “Nnnnnnno. No. I really need to go to the bathroom.” (three words: pay, per, sip)

Hailey: “Ok….you sure?”

Kevin: “(hesitation) Yyyyyyyyyyeah. Yeah. I’m sure…….(hesitation) NO! EXIT! EXIT!” After nearly making our Fiat Panda roll from exiting the highway, we drove through a glade of trees, got lost on a random winding road, and popped out onto this magnificent view:

To round out the trip, we traveled south to Montepulciano in the Val D’Orcia — an insanely green and lush farming area — and a little Etruscan city on a plateau known as Orvieto. If you’ve heard of these two places, you are probably like me: you first heard about them at the liquor store. So, needless to say, we spent our last two days sipping too much of the nectar. Here’s my parting shot — taken from the cliff edge of Orvieto.

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