Tuesday, December 26, 2017


When the bell finally tolled on our departure time from Rome the exit route was a little easier than I'd anticipated. The AVIS rental office where we were to pick up the car was only a few blocks from our hotel. We were leaving on a Saturday morning so I assumed traffic wouldn't be as heavy as if we had decided to leave on a weekday. I'd arranged for the pickup at nine that morning. The rental office was set to open at 8:30. I did get there around 8:45 but by that time the office was stack about four deep. I'd left Rick and Emmy back at the hotel with the task of dealing with getting the luggage down from our room and checking us out. As I waited for my turn I noticed two other prospective renters enter the office. What I didn't notice was one of those little ticket machines next to the door where you're supposed to take a number to establish your place in the queue. Frustration was beginning to tickle my psyche. I grabbed a ticket putting me at the end of the line behind the two other people who had come in after me. By the time I did get to the counter another half hour had passed. There was a poster on the wall written in Italian but the gist of it had to do with the value of a smile. I took its advice. In negotiating with the clerk we were, of course, forced to upgrade our car, the economy car we had reserved would only hold about half our luggage. This may all seem like a bad start to most of you but having navigated European car rentals before this was still pretty much smooth sailing. I managed to find my way back to the hotel through a maze of one-way streets taking longer to drive than it did to walk. We loaded up the car and got everything in by stashing bits and pieces of luggage underneath our legs, on our laps and piled to the ceiling of the trunk making only the side rearview mirrors accessible for backing up (any of you who have been following our adventure know how adept I am at backing up). Our car did come with a built-in GPS system that the people at AVIS had adjusted to speak English. If they had left it in Italian I don't know what we would have done. We only made one wrong turn in getting out of the city and onto the A1. Once there the driving was comparable to having pulled onto the Indy 500 oval. There are lines in the road dividing it into lanes but the Italians don't think the lanes or any kind of speed limits apply to them. Some how, some way we made it to Armena and our beloved hosts and friends, the Saracenis.
Once we had made it there we dropped off our luggage and headed right into town for a quick lunch, food shopping and a little of the other kind of shopping which is very self involved circling around what we want for selves and absolutely don't need.
There's a new restaurant in town called, La Porta di Sotto.
The interior was once again only attainable in a space preserved over centuries and aged like a fine wine then dressed in a simple coat of soft grey and off-white paint.
We started out with a terrine of chicken liver pate served with pane brioche and a sweet onion compote.
I ate lite with a soup of pureed yellow pumpkin and potatoes with carasau bread and toasted mixed seeds.
Emmy and Rick had pappardelle with a duck ragu that was absolutely delicious.
We were done by the end of lunch and grocery shopping but the sunset over the hills of Tuscany were anything but finished. The skies that night put on a beautiful show over the farm's infinity pool and stretched out beyond the hills just before the sea.

The day started out crystal clear. Who couldn't feel content when this was the view out your bedroom window?
There's a magic to Tuscany in the winter. Every time we've come before it's been in the summer when many of the fields have been harvested and the gray soil has been tilled. This time the fields were smooth and very other-worldly.
Before we left for the day to do some last minute shopping in Montalcino we threw in a load of wash. These grapes hang in row after upward row in the laundry room. There were enough grapes in this laundry to make three hundred bottles of Vin Santo, a sweet thick wine made with no sugar only the nectar of the grape and served over and over again for dessert.
Montalcino is a small hill town with worldwide notoriety for its Brunello wine, a very hearty red.
We couldn't resist doing a quick walk around the village to look at what shops remained and what new ones might have popped up.  Sartoria Principe specializing in linen for both home and fashion as well as gorgeous knitted items has always been one of our favorite shops.
We also discovered a new art gallery, Galleria la Linea, with a piece by Enrico Pambianchi that simply blew us away!
This was going to be a packed day. We needed to get back to Buonconvento for the arrival of Babbo Natale, the Italian version of Santa Claus. Their Babbo seemed to have been on a severe diet prior to entering on a horse drawn cart making his way to a celebration for the local children.
We made it just in time to stand curbside with our host, Stefania, as her son, Giulio drove the cart with Santa drawn by the farm's golden horse.
A pair of semi-adept jugglers entertained after Babbo  had arrived on his cart followed by Giulio giving rides to the children after Babbo got off and retired to the side to smoke a cigarette.
After the event with Babbo Natale and before Christmas Eve dinner we went with Stefania, her sister Gabriella and her beautiful nieces Gaia & Genevra to the Abbrazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore.
We arrived too late to see their famous crèche but in time to catch a glimpse of their early service.

Vigilia is the Italian version of the Italian-American Feast of the Seven Fishes. I've been getting an education in the ways of the Catholics while here in Italy. I've learned Christmas Eve is a holy day where for the entire day you're not to eat meat (we blew that one with a brunch of prosciutto and salami).  But the big meal is the evening meal that didn't start until nine that night mostly due to our family not getting in all of our primping until then. The entire Saraceni family was present
Here's the menu and if you don't feel stuffed when you get to the end you've got a greater capacity than any of us
Course number one: an appetizer of shrimp in a delicious creamy sauce.
Course number two: Spaghetti with prawns, clams and mussels in a piccante sauce.
Course number three: Sea Bass steamed with olive oil and petite green peas.
Course number four: a simple grilled salmon with lemon.
Assisting Stefania in the dinner's preparation was the Saraceni's youngest son Giulio a classically trained chef and also a sommelier. Giulio did most of the pouring until his father took over when dessert arrived. Then Alessandro got out the Vin Santo from their private collection and took over the pouring honors.
We of course provided the comic relief.
This was our bucket list Christmas and the Saracenis couldn't have made us feel more included in their family. Buon Natale

We rested.

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