But we do miss our friends and that sense of belonging to a group larger than the three of us. We, of course, have friends here whom we truly enjoy and spending time together is fun. But, this is different than the comfort that takes time to develop and become real which exists with people you have grown to know over years of sharing lives. So, it was with great joy that we had dear friends from San Diego spend last week with us.
And--these friends didn't wait for the glorious time of spring to come to the Chianti--they braved coming in winter--a time when so few people travel that many restaurants and stores close for holiday. A time when it is cold (but not so much this year which is the warmest in 260 years), when the leaves and color are gone, when even market stalls close.
They actually came to see us--not Tuscany--what a friendship that is--one to treasure and we do.
We did do some day trips, exploring familiar places together--Lucca, Cortona, Firenze and little places around here--Volpaia, Montefioralle, Badia a Passignano, Castellina in Chianti, introducing them to the fun of exploring wonderful white roads.And I learned somethings--like the huge San Lorenzo Market is closed on Monday's in winter. It was quite a shock to walk from the SITA station and see vast empty streets where normally there isn't space to walk. At first I thought that somehow we had lost our way to the familiar. Even many of the stalls in the Mercato Centrale were covered over and empty--it was all quite weird. Jan and Keith have been to Firenze but not the market which I knew they would enjoy--maybe next time. But, of course, in Firenze there is always much to do--if not one thing then another. We went to the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo, wandered, ate and watched the countryside on the bus ride back.
Lucca was Lucca--not with as many people as summer but, because it is a living town with real stores and many live-in inhabitants, it was active and busy even in the rain. Stores and restaurants were open for business.
But lovely Cortona was a different story. The streets that are so jammed that movement is hard the rest of the year were eerie and quiet. Store after store was closed. Few restaurants flaunted menus as the doors were locked and shuttered. Our footsteps echoed.
Alex, a friend of mine, owns a shop in Cortona,
Il Girasole, but it was closed. Fortunately, we were able to call her, and, when we told her we were waiting right outside the door, she graciously left her home to open it for us. What lovely things she has! Much of her inventory is repro- ductions of Etruscan jewelry and pottery but she also carries beautiful linen items with authentic renaissance Florentine designs and soft cashmere stoles from the Chianti Cashmere Company. Jan and I didn't resist buying things--jewelry, linens, Etruscan artifacts--after all, Alex had opened up just for us!
Cortona is home to my most favorite pasticceria shop in all of Italy. This is because of their totally wonderful meringue cookies filled with nuts--they are beyond delicious! Needless to say, I was more than happy when it was one of the few stores open that day.
So, when you go to Cortona, you really must indulge yourself, just have a salad for lunch. And if you are a chocolate lover, you may want to sample the ones filled with creamy chocolate. Um, Um Good!
With all that we did, I suspect their favorite was the meal at La Cantinetta di Rignana. What a wonderful meal that was--everything about it was "perfetto"--the ambience of the restaurant, the delightful personality of all of the staff and the marvelous food. It was a great evening. The restaurant is hidden in the hills and valleys of Chianti--you must take a white road to reach it, and yet people travel kilometers to spend an evening there. Just read about their cucina on the website and you'll make this a destination. To read more about it, check KZ's blog KZ in Toscana.
Jan and Keith left us early Thursday morning and it has seemed quite quiet since then--it is fun to have a full house with conversation and laughter. We will see them again in August--not here but there.