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June 22, 2006

Day 7-8 Hills to Water

As much as I would love to stay in Montepulciano forever, it's time to say goodbye. Don and Libby were off to Venice, while Ben and Kathy headed to Assisi, and I decided to skip Florence for Cinque Terra. With one last look at and from Relais San Bruno, we were all off on our ways.
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So I made it to Lerici. Found my hotel and got settled in. However I wasn't much in the mood of exploring. I think I just missed Tuscany too much and as I left, it felt like a reality check to a count down of days to come home. As much as I got so excited about the food and couldn't wait to come home to experiment, it's sorta depressing to leave and to find out the vacation was almost over.

I took the day very easy by an mild hike around town, love the colors of the buildings! Checked out the fish market and what I wanted to do the next day and pretty much just chilled at the balcony at the hotel to smell the breeze and enjoy the water view.

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June 15, 2006

Day 4-6 Just couldn't get myself to leave...

Thought about leaving this day to Florence for the public market. However everyday when I drove past the church that was just around the corner of Relais San Bruno, it was so hard ;) to convince myself to stay one more day for the Sunday mass. It was a gorgeous day. And the mass that I attended, must be a mass that after sunday school. There was a full section of kids. It reminded me when I was a kid. Went to mass and then played with all the friends afterwards at the playground.
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However much I would love to just stay in Montepulciano, this would be my last day. So I had taken it very easily. Just strolled around town, okay...did some damages in shopping at Maledetti Toscani, which was a fine Italian leather products shop and of course to buy that wheel of pecorino cheese and all sort of cured meat! Lounged at my front porch one last time to pretty much just smelled the air, then went back in town again to watch the sunset before dinner. I fell in love with Montepulciano. Too bad a Furenzu wouldn't work over in Tuscany, while everyone would be just like me to go there for the rustic Tuscan cooking; I would definitely try to think of a way...to move there?
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For my last dinner in Montepulciano, Alberto had arranged for me to go a good friend of his, Pier's restaurant-Borgobuio Ristorante. Not only I met Pier, I also got a grand tour of the kitchen and the tomb under the restaurant by chef Alejandro Martinez. After dinner Pier had invited me to join him and his staff for a drink at his bar around the corner of the restaurant. There I met a friend of Pier, who's an artist and displaying his work in a gallery in Cinque Terra, where I was going the next day. It just turned out to be another wonderful evening and making unbelievable connections.

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*More pictures on Flickr.

June 14, 2006

Day 4-6 More of Tuscany

Finally a feeling of home...or did I just wanted to make that home!? This was the first night that I had a really nice and comfy bed to rest on, with a down comforter. Woke up early as usual but very well rested. I totally took my time to get up and get ready. By the time I walked into the breakfast room was already past 9:30AM. However it didn't matter because I wasn't the last one.
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Then the funny thing was to find out there were two couples who checked in the same day as I, one stayed on my left side and one on my right; and they were both from California also! Not only that, but all of us covered the bay of SF! Don and Libby were from Pleasanton, me right in the middle of Emeryville, and Ben and Kathy were from Novato! So hopefully very soon, we'll have a reunite at the restaurant!

Starting out with a nice breakfast, Alberto then told me he had already arranged lunch for me at La Porta, located in a small town close to Montepulciano called Montechello. When I sat at the terrace looking over the rolling hills of Tuscany, reading the menu that La Porta offered, I knew I was at the right place!

My only wish was Viv was still there, so that I wouldn't look too bad if I really ordered the whole menu. Well I still ended up ordering 3 dishes and matched each with wine that the owner recommended. I was hoping I could make it there again the next day to try the rest of the menu that interested me, but of course Alberto had other plans for me. Guess I just have to make it back next year! That Tagliolini al Tartufo(Tagliatelle with truffles) was so simple but really out of the world and sure was the best truffle I tasted!
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After 3 sensational courses and 3 glasses of wine, I was just glad the ride back "home" was only 15 minutes. All I did before my dinner was lay right by the pool and being under the Tuscan sun! Of course with the hospitality that Relais San Bruno offered, Alberto brought me another glass of wine already as soon as I found my spot under the sun. Could life offer anything better than this?

After showered and changed, with no doubt; Alberto already had my dinner reserved at Ristorante il Rossellino in the town of Pienza. While Don was also a wine lover, and heard of the wonderful dinner that I had the night before, he and Libby decided to join me for dinner. We of course then invited Ben and Kathy. I thought my restaurant was small, il Rossellino was half of my size and could only seated about 16 people. We were very lucky that Alberto could arrange for all of us to fit into this little restaurant, and met the owner Enzo. Ristorante il Rossellino was a little different from the two wonderful meals that I had. This definitely had more of a home cooking touch to it. It sure was a nice change before another big restaurant meal that I was going to have the next evening! Really nice touch of how Alberto arranged the dinners, so I wouldn't get overwhelmed.

Last but not least, I must thank all my dining partners, who were all so kind to share all their dishes with me!
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*More pictures on Flickr.

June 10, 2006

Day 4-6 Under the Tuscan Sun!

This got to be the highlight of my entire trip! Since we arrived so late in Tuscany from Assisi the night before, we just found any hotel we could to spend the night. The next morning, we drove to Montepulciano.

We tried to call around to find a "country" home for me to stay, but not much luck. Therefore I decided to just spend the day in Montepulciano, then drive back to Pisa with Viv and I might spend the rest of my trip in Cinque Terra or Florence. However fate changed everything!

IMG_3080.JPG Our first stop was at a ceremic place, Abracadabra; where I wished to find my cuppacino sets, but ended up with really nice platters! The owner, Remigio; was definitely a very charming guy, and all the pottery were made by his beautiful wife, Sabrina. After I got a really good bargain from Remigio(or at least that's what I thought!?), I asked him for recommendations for wine tasting. He walked me up to his friend's place La Dolce Vino, where I met Christian and Vali.
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We had a really nice tasting with Christian. He was very kind to open more than 8 bottles for us. During the tasting, I was asked how many days was I planning to stay. Unfortunate I wasn't able to find anywhere I desired, I told them I was leaving that evening. Vali was so sweet, not only she called around, she also called the wine association. Finally they found me Relais San Bruno! When we arrived, I knew I was in heaven, and this was where I started my "vacation"!
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As soon as we stepped out of the car, Alberto; the director of San Bruno was already there to greet us. He led us to the lounge, served us drinks, introduce the Relais to us. While we were relaxing on the swing, he already got us checked in. This was what I called service which I experienced in both Asia and Europe, but I hate to say, US still has a lot to learn about that! Alberto also made a reservation for us at Le Logge del Vignola, where I finally had a great meal in Italy! Also thanks to Christian, that he found a red eye train for Viv to go back to Venice, she could stay and join me for this fabulous dinner! Following were all the courses that we had, yes that's right, 4 desserts, and all the wine that matched with our courses. Just tell me I can go back anytime please! ;)
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*More later...
** More pictures on Flickr.

June 4, 2006

Day 3-Assisi

Finally we were in a collage town, Siena; where we found an "internet point", and paid 75 Euro to get online for a total of 2.5 hours between the two of us. I just couldn't believe it's so difficult just try to get online. Was I really taking what we have back home for granted: free internet/wireless at hotes, coffee shops, practically anywhere? Or is Italy really that 3rd world? Well, I got internet when I was traveling in China too!? Though students have discount at the internet point, it's still very expensive! While the world is changing so fast even doing research in library is mostly being done on computer, I just really wonder how the educating system is in Italy?

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We also picked up some cured meat, bread, marinated eggplant, cheeses...etc, then got on the road to Assisi in Umbria. Looking at all the farm houses, country homes on top of each rolling hills, I got excited. This is what I envisioned, and this is what I was looking forward to.
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In about 40 minutes away, we were getting a bit hungry. Looking for some spot to stop for our picnic lunch, we found that it's not like here along the freeway where you see "vista point" or "rest stop". Then we saw water! So I took the next exit, and just headed toward the water. We found a camp site! Perfect! And there's where we had our lunch, and a nice rest before heading out again. We really was lucked out! We saw a huge black cloud moving toward where we were while we were having lunch and just as we finished, it started to rain and rained hard! Thank goodness that I downloaded the Italian map to my GPS-TomTom the night before we left to Italy, it was so easy to drive around and have the GPS to recalculate the route and bring me back to the freeway.

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We arrived in Assisi in mid-afternoon. It's a beautiful town. So clean and well maintained. Walking through the town, it made me feel the residents are all very proud of where they live and take really good care of their residences. Almost each house has beautiful flowers displayed in front of their entries. Doors and windows are all made with quality wood. It just very pleasant and peaceful just to walk around.
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Then of course we have to visit each and every single pastry shop. However I hate to say I still like my French pastry better. Seemed to me the Italian has a sweeter tooth. Well the pastry and the colors of them made a nice picture though I think.
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We were ready to check out a restaurant that I really wanted to try: La Fortezza. Only we found out they don't open on Thursday, the owners were having a private feast as we walked in though :( We then went to Il Frantoio. It was nice but I have a feeling La Fortezza would have been what I really wanted. Oh well...maybe next year! I would say I had the same experience like the night before, great and impressive appetizers but sort of disappointed entrée. And the pasta that Viv had wasn't even cooked through. I found that even it was a quite established restaurant, the presentation of the dishes looked more like home cooking or a smaller restauant type. Had a great wine list though! At least I finally got some good service. I wasn't sure if it was because I had introduced myself as a restaurant owner?

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* More pictures on flickr.