We got up early, had a breakfast of pastries, fruit, and coffee on the patio at our B&B and then got in the car to go to Volterra. Volterra was beginning their week-long renaissance celebration, so we wanted to get there in time for the parade and flag throwing. This festival did not disappoint. I don’t know that I could ever go to a renaissance festival here in the states; this one was way too authentic.
It was amazing to see the young people of Volterra completely wrapped up in their centuries-old traditions, like the palio in Siena. We walked around the town quite a few times, and were amazed at the costumes, the food, and the entertainment. People of all ages dressed up and demonstrated candlemaking, fortune telling, toy making, salt-curing meats, medicine and healing, music and dancing.
There was even an executioner – who swung his ax and posed for pictures while people placed their necks and hands in the stocks. We each got a salami and pecorino sandwich on crusty bread and sat on the steps of an old building watching the flag throwers and all of the people.
After that, we drove to Montepulciano. We had a Rick Steves’ Italy guide book with us and decided to head to Montepulciano to see what other wines we could find. My husband tour out the section on Montepulciano and stuffed the pages in his pocket so we didn’t have to carry the whole book around. First, we stopped at a sweet shop, appropriately called La Dolce Vita, and bought fresh fruit popsicles, which we ate while enjoying the breathtaking views of the hillsides of Montepulciano.
We ended up following Rick Steves’ advice and found the Contucci winery. In his book, Rick Steves mentioned the winemaker, Adamo, and we recalled seeing him on an episode of Rick Steves’ show. We wandered around the winery, walking among old barrels and dusty bottles all by ourselves, and then finally came upon a dark room in the corner of the building where Adamo and a younger assistant stood pouring wine.
Adamo walked us through four tastings as best he could with his little English and our nonexistent Italian. When he moved, I saw that the very same Rick Steves book was hanging on a string on the wall behind him. I tapped my husband on the arm and pointed it out.
Adamo saw me gesturing at the book and took it down off the wall. He started thumbing through it, and I knew exactly what he was doing – he was looking for the page on which his name (and photograph) appeared. I told my husband to pull out his pages and show the old man. They produced the pages simultaneously and the old man laughed, pointed at himself and declared that he was “Famoso!”
As we paid for our two bottles of wine, I attempted to speak my first Italian other than “Hello” and “Thank you.” I shook Adamo’s hand and told him “Piaceri” – I realized afterwards that I messed it up and should have said “Piaceri di conoscerti” to say “Nice to meet you,” but he got the point, returned my sentiment, and added a “Ciao, bella!”
As we left the winery, we heard drums and horns in the distance. We rounded the corner to a square and saw flags flying high in the air. It turns out that Montepulciano was preparing for their palio and festivals at the end of the month, so all of the contradas, or neighborhoods, were practicing their routines and selling commemorative shirts and flags on their streets. We thought it was funny to have stumbled on another hill town in the midst of all of their festival preparations.
When we returned to Siena, we sat down at an outdoor cafe to have dinner and were surprised to hear singing. A group of people had congregated near one of the streets that angled down into the Piazza del Campo, and they were all singing loudly. Banners and flags were raised and this group of people marched around the square, singing loudly.
We weren’t sure what was going on, but realized that they all had on matching flags and scarves. A quick Google search let us know that this was the contrada that had won Siena’s palio a few days before, so they were celebrating by coming down to the square and singing. It was quite a sight.
For dinner, we shared a plate of pici con pomodoro, a thick, hand rolled spaghetti in a light tomato sauce. We each got a rosemary steak and roasted potatoes for our second course. Even though we were stuffed, we walked around and found a gelateria that looked good, and then, like everyone else, we sat on the bricks in the square and talked and ate and watched the people go by.
It was amazing that even at well past ten o’clock, hundreds and hundreds of people and kids were lingering in the square and having a good time.
Coming up: Cooking Lesson