On Saturday, May 20, we were still coming off of the amazing high from the day we spent with Fabrizio, but we had to head back into town, as we had scheduled a cooking class in Montepuliciano with a lady named Barbara. This was a group cooking class where we would learn to make two different types of pasta and tiramisu. When I put the address to Barbara’s house into Waze, it told me that it would take 27 minutes to get there. So we started the morning off with a very small breakfast at our farmhouse (we were still full from Fabrizio’s dinner), and then headed to the cooking class. Once on the road, it was saying that we were 53 minutes away. Google maps sent us a different way where we were stuck on a 1.5 lane dirt road that was taken over by more than 20 cyclists. This was not an easy road to drive and we were constantly having to swerve to miss other vehicles speeding towards us. I tried to go fast to make up any time possible. Lindsey texted Barbara to say that we would be arriving around 20 minutes late and she stated that she would try and start late, but that there were four other people joining our class that had already arrived. We had finally made it to paved roads, but they kept winding throughout the mountain and city. Lindsey stated that she was starting to get car sick, but that she could make it. I assured Lindsey that it didn’t matter to me if we canceled the class and lost the money we had already paid using credit card points, if she didn’t feel up to it. She finally relented and stated that she just wanted to head back to the farmhouse. We texted Barbara and told her that we apologized, but that Lindsey ended up getting car sick and to go ahead without us. Then, I was able to pull over for a minute, let Lindsey relax and then find a new route back to our farmhouse that didn’t include the dirt road. Once we made it back, we took a two hour nap and woke up refreshed and ready to start our day over. Lindsey didn’t want to get back into the car, so we ended up going on a 2 mile walk around our farmhouse and see the sights in the Tuscan country. After our walk, we sat outside and watched a storm roll in. It was beautiful to watch, but as the storm got closer, we headed back to our room. We had the window open and realized that it was hailing. I have now seen hail on two different continents. After the storm rolled through, we took showers and headed downstairs to eat a delicious dinner at the farmhouse (pasta with mushroom and pork ragù, veal on top of a bed of fresh vegetables, and then an amazing cooking ice cream with raspberry sauce and cookie crumbles for dessert). Our bellies were full (once again) and we were ready for bed to try again tomorrow.

On Sunday, we woke up and decided to take a pasta cooking class at our farmhouse with the Chef. She was amazing! She taught us to make tagliatelle and picci pasta, along with cantucci (almond biscotti). As Lindsey and I made the pasta, we realized none of the sizes were the same. The Chef reminded us that our pasta was “rustic” and that it would still taste delicious. Once were done making the pasta, the Chef said that she would set up a nice lunch for us outside and would prepare our pastas with different sauces. This was absolutely gorgeous! We started off with our picci pasta with tomato and garlic sauce topped with fresh Parmesan cheese. We kept thinking that maybe she traded our crummy pasta for some that she had made in the kitchen, but as we were eating, we definitely found many rustic pieces that we had made. Then, she served our tagliatelle pasta with a wild boar ragù and it was fantastico! We were so full that we just couldn’t eat everything. Then they served us some tiramisù and our cantucci (almond biscotti) for dessert. We could hardly touch dessert, but they packaged up a nice bag of the biscotti that Lindsey is coveting. For dinner, I didn’t want anything heavy, but Lindsey had her heart set on going to this local place in Montepulciano that is run by young guys that were friends in school. I agreed and it was great! We ordered the small meet and cheese board and I had water, while Lindsey had two glasses of rosé. This was the perfect meal for us. We got back in the car and headed to the farmhouse to call it a night and begin planning our next adventure.

Have you ever had a day on vacation where everything worked so great that you do not feel that you deserved it? Today was that day for us!

When we first knew that we were going to come to Tuscany, I wanted to have a guide at least for some of the days. Just someone who could really get us imbedded into the region and culture. For a lot of it, we were looking at what we could get via credit card points and through that I found this guy (Fabrizio Fe’) that was offering four-hour curated tours of Tuscany. We sort of went back and forth on what we wanted to do and I sent him an email looking for more information. We sort of forgot/put off making a decision until a few weeks before our trip. By that time when I looked at his services he had added a 12 hour Tuscan tour! The tour starts with him picking us up at our place, we would then see some sights, go to two vineyards, and conclude with him making us dinner at his house in Montepulciano. Twelve hours is a massive commitment to spend with a guide, and we were hesitant to take it. However, when I saw his blooper reel on his website, I knew this is someone I needed to meet.

I emailed back and forth with Fabrizio before I trip so that he could get a sense of who we were and what we liked. We made plans on the price, date, and time. Today, we had an early breakfast and at 9:30 AM we met him at the front of the farm house. This guy has a massive smile and from first glance I knew that this was going to be a great day. Before getting in his car, he checked with us to see if we had issues with car sickness (we both took medicine for it before we walked out) and he indicated that he will drive slow so that we don’t have any problems. The car ride was just like connecting with an old friend. We talked about everything, some Italy related, others about our pasts. He hit me right away with a great fact, the entire Val D’Orca area (think of it like Nappa Valley) is a Unesco World Heritage location. What this means is that they basically take a snapshot of the entire area and say that nothing can change from that point on. Purchased a new tractor for your olive farm and want to have it covered in a shed? Nope! If the shed was not in place in the past, you can not add it now. He joked that before Google Maps it was easier because people would just start announcing when the inspectors were coming by and people would hide anything that they changed.

We made our way to Pioggi Grande vineyard, which was hand selected by Fabrizio based on a number of criteria. First, the vineyard must be multi-generational. He wanted to make sure that he is bringing people not just to a vineyard that has good wine, but that it also has history and a story to tell. The second, is that the vineyard produces a limited supply annually. This means that the product that we try will be special and each grape means something. Finally, he wants vineyards that are off the beaten path and does not supply to large groups. We passed a few of these vineyards that had access for large buses and there is just no personal touch that you can provide when there are 70 people showing up.

This vineyard was run by a woman named Giullitta. Apparently, one in three vineyards in the area are run by women, which I think is amazing. This is in the Castiglion d’Orcia, and for the most part they just work with different blends of the sangiovese grape varietal. Oddly enough, they also have some grapes that make some white wines, which is very rare for this area. We tasted around six wines, all of them were very good. The prices are crazy reasonable and we really enjoyed the stories about the vineyard and how they came up with the name. At the end, they provided us with the price sheet and the shipping cost and I was blown away with how reasonable it was….so we bought six bottles.

We left Pioggi with a little more smiles on our faces and Fabrizio took us to Bagno Vignoni which is a small town (really there are only 22 residents) and is home of a natural thermal spring. In the middle of the “town” there is a large Roman bath and from the stories that Fabrizio told us, this is where the Romans would come to relax and talk business. Apparently, it was open for locals for a while until people started to drop trash and bottles into the pools after they drank a little too much and they banned people from going into it. There are additional hotels and spas in the town that you can pay 20 euros for some time in their thermal baths, and there were a lot of people at our farmhouse that visited and really enjoyed it. This location has the hottest thermal spring in all of Tuscany (it comes out at 126F!).

After we left the thermal springs we headed towards another vineyard. This one is called Innocenti (sounds like innochenti in Italian). This was another multi-generational vineyard. However, it is in the Montalcino region which means that it is known for a wine type called Brunello. This has a lot of regulations on how long the wine has to stay in the barrel and the bottle. The plan at this place was to have a light lunch, and try some wines and olive oil. They prepared a meat and cheese plate for us, then served us some olive oil. The olive oil here is amazing, however, every now and again we get some that just tastes off. Apparently, what we are missing is to add a little salt to the oil, which is not not something that they take offense to. The olive oil here is remarkable, it is very easy to add to just about anything. They bring us a bunch of wines to try while we eat. The first two were just their normal sangenovese wines. Then they brought out the big guns, the brunellos. They bring out a 2016 brunello and it is remarkable. We kept talking about how much we enjoyed the wines and I think that since we bought some at the pervious vineyard, Fabrizio was able to convince then to let us try some of the older vintages. They brought out the 2013 vintage and we were in love. Lindsey and I mentioned that we love to guess the prices when we do wine tastings/classes at Total Wine, and apparently they have never heard of this before. I see Fabrizio running back to the room to grab paper and pencils. They refill all our glasses and we start to guess the prices. Fortunately, just before we left for Italy we did an “Under the Tuscan Sun” wine class at Total Wine and through that we learned that some of the Brunello Reserve wines are extremely expensive. Armed with this experience and knowledge, we start to put down numbers. I think the highest we guessed was $200 for the 2013 Brunello Reserva….it was $69! The ladies at the vineyard enjoyed seeing how close we were to the new vintages and how far away we were for the “good stuff.” As the time wound down, it was once again time to pick and choose what we wanted to purchase. We ended up with 18 wines, 2 bottles of EVOO, and a bottle of reserved grappa.

After we left the winery we drove through the country side and made it to two of the locations where they shot the movie “The Gladiator,” followed by some gelato in Pienza. When walking through Pienza there was a market there that the nun’s were putting on. From there, I was able to get some limoncello and Lindsey got some soap. The nun’s were so cute and happy that we were buying things from them, they sent us on our way with their blessings and we headed to Montepulciano.

We did a quick tour of Montepulciano, which is where Fabrizio lives, and then we headed to his house. He has an amazing apartment that is basically on the cliffside of the town, facing the setting sun. We meet his wife, and she starts making the pasta for our food. We have some prosecco and conversations and then Fabrizio makes up some mozzarella and tomatoes with a truffle and balsamic vinaigrette. Then followed the tagliatelle pasta his wife prepared with a pork cheek and beef ragù sauce. He then served us some raw sliced fennel drizzled with olive oil and topped with smoke salmon that even Lindsey enjoyed. For dessert, it was simple but amazing. He cut up an orange, sprinkled some date sugar on it and then drizzled a chocolate liquor on top. It was so light and full of flavor, that it surely will be something that we make at home.

The evening carried on far past the “planned” time that we were supposed to finish. The conversation was so easy and as he told his wife, “Today, I did not have to work,” confirmed that this was a great time. At the end of the evening, I tried to arrange the payment. However, he stopped me saying that I can send him the payment tomorrow or whenever I wanted. We ended the evening like we started, full of conversations on the way home and not at all feeling like we had spent the last 14 hours hanging out with someone we just met.

Thanks Fabrizio for an amazing time, and ruining all future guided tours I will have for the rest of my life 🙂

Lindsey and I have been using an app on our phone that in theory is supposed to get us more acclimated to the Italian time zone. Fortunately, we have also been working many early mornings to get ready for such a long trip away. This app tells you when you should sleep and wake as expected, but also when to get out into the sunlight and when to have any caffeine. We have tried to be really responsible with sticking to the app, while at the same time not taking away our time with the kiddo.

On the day of our departure we both got up really early in the morning (2am for Lindsey and 4am for me). We said our goodbyes to Jennifer before she heads off to school and then eventually make our way to the airport. Our plane fortunately it just about half full, and once we got into the air everyone started scurrying around like rats trying to find the best place to sit amongst all the empty seats (seriously, there were 9 full rows of four seats empty). Our plan, well our app’s plan, was to eat the provided dinner and then sleep until we land. Dinner was normal airplane fare and within no time we were bedding down for at least 6 hours of sleep….or not! No matter how hard I tried, I just was not able to get comfortable enough to fall asleep, and that is with a window seat. I would guess I got around two hours of restless sleep. Lindsey got around the same, and we were both worried that our first few days in Italy we would be zombies!

We zipped through the Amsterdam customs in no time at all and got into our connecting flight to Florence. I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep (remember we had been up since early morning still), but the little KLM Cityhopper plane was one of the most comfortable planes I have been in. We both, against our best efforts, fell right asleep only to wake up with a message from the captain telling us that there was some wind issues in Florence and it was possible that they may not be able to land. They made a few passes and then one attempt to land only to have to quick pull back up. I looked over to Lindsey and say, “They are going to make us land at Pisa…”, just seconds before they get on the announcements to say the same thing. To me, as the planner of the trip, this was just going to throw everything off. Not only are we going to land at the wrong airport, we are also both deliriously tired and are in no shape to make any major decisions.

We land at Pisa, another tiny airport, and while we are working on getting our luggage they announce that they will have busses arriving shortly to drive us to Florence! It was a 10 minute wait for the buses to arrive and once they showed up everyone rushed to get to the bus as if they would get there faster. Little did they know that there were two busses and once the first bus was filled up they would use the second bus. Lindsey and I were in the back of the line so we ended up getting into the second but with about 10 other people. The best part was that the seats layed back almost fully horizontally, and with no one sitting behind us, it was not looking good for trying to stay awake. Sure enough, 2 minutes into the ride I am in a coma, with Lindsey not lasting much longer. It took an hour and a half for the trip, and I was able to wake up shortly before we arrived at the Florence airport. Our plan was to spend one night in Florence so that we could get some rest before driving out to the Tuscan countryside. However, by the time that we got to our hotel, we were pretty well rested and ready to go out on the town.

There are some items on this trip that were planned a while ago when we first decided that we were going, flying and this hotel were the first two items. I had totallly forgotten what we booked and for some reason I thought it was just some random choice that had the earliest check-in policy. In reality we booked (or at least was given) a full suite! This bad boy was huge and had a massive four poster bed with a large fresco with inlayed gold trim painted on the ceiling. It was far too opulent for these two Texan’s and may have set a poor standard for the rest of our trip.

We decide to have a bit of a walk around Florence, again, we are really bad at planning. We basically walked out the door and headed down the street, with no idea what it leads to. We end up stopping at this little cute bar for an apertivo (it is like an early dinner snack). Hands down one of the best little charcuterie board I have had! In addition to the food we both had an aperol spritz. It was a little heavy on the aperol side, but by the end it mellowed out and was just what we needed. We ended up making our way to the Duomo, which was massive and amazing. We have tickets for it later in the trip, but I wanted to see what we had in store for ourselves. We ended up walking further away and managed to get to a massive church just as it was closing. As we were leaving I was thinking to myself that I would have to show my parents the pictures and they would tell me the name of the church, for us, it will remain a mystery church that was very neat to see.

We finished up the evening at a random restaurant where I was able to get some amazing grilled duck with celery jam and Lindsey got a really amazing pasta dish that I forget the name of. It had pecorino cheese in it, which is the main cheese for the region that we will be spending much of our time in. We closed out the day with happy hearts and big smiles that our newest adventure was able to begin as planned, although slightly altered.