We rise, pack and discover Mr. Moo (Becky’s equivalent of Pinky) went AWOL sometime during our previous three days. She’s not happy but we manage to calm her and travel downstairs for breakfast about nine. Rick’s there, just finishing and while we eat he heads back upstairs to get his troops moving.
We leave in two taxis for the rental car place (Avis on Via Sardenga) about 9:45. The girls wait outside with Stephanie (she never obtained her IDP which left Rick as the only driver on their car), while we go in to fill out the paperwork. While we’re waiting we strike up a conversation with another customer, who laughed when we teased Rick about being from Paterson, NJ. Turns out this other customer’s mom was from Paterson too. He lives in Rome now and has for fifteen years. As he puts it, “I work for the Big Bad Fox (i.e., Fox News).” I’d never heard it called that before but can understand why. He’s a nice guy, picking up a rental to show his visiting father the area outside Rome.
It doesn’t take long to get our cars. Rick reserved a manual so he gets an upgrade to a larger Citron with a CD player. Our automatic has only a tape player. We give Steph and Rick the Beatles CD we brought and we’re all on our way.
Only one wrong turn later (followed immediately by an illegal left, we’re heading for the GRA. It takes longer than I expect but on this Saturday, traffic is light until we merge onto the A1 splinter from the GRA. We lose Rick in the merge and it’s not until we get to almost the real A1 toll booth that we find each other again.
We hit some mild traffic off and on and we make decent time getting to the Val Di Chiana exit. I brought Rebecca’s directions (should have brought Pauline’s; live and learn). Anyway, we get hopelessly lost going through Sinalunga looking for a mysterious road sign to Trequanda.
Through town, up mighty hills, down mighty hills, retracing every step at every fork at what should have been our “straight through town” adventure. We even asked a man walking along the road if this was “La strada guista per Trequanda?” To which we got some lengthy directions in Italian as a reply. Now while I’m sure that that road would have taken towards Trequanda eventually, if we interpreted his directions correctly, it wasn’t the road we wanted and I felt guilty as we pass him on one of our many backtracks.
Finally, Chris traces our route to the second fork where we went left instead of right. He takes the right branch, high-fives all around to the honking of Rick and Steph’s car behind us when we finally see a sign for Trequanda!
We follow the road to Trequanda, turning left towards Montisi just before hitting the historic center of town. Once we hit Montisi, we turn and follow signs for Castelmuzio down into a valley then again climbing up to the top of a hill.
Now I’m thinking, maps don’t do this area justice because maps are just lines; they don’t show hills, inclines and switchbacks, not good for a person with mild vertigo or for driving at night, no streetlights.
We arrive at Villa Nell’Oliveto right on the main road to town and Rebecca greets us at the door to the complex, which also houses Rebecca and Mark’s home as well as the offices of InTuscany (Aside: I believe the offices have since moved and the property put on the market).
We open the big green gates and pull both cars into the driveway where two large dogs, an older tan toothless one, and a large white “unstable” one greet us with their barks. We walk down the stone path amid olive trees and clucking hens to our home for the next week.
Rebecca gives us the lay of the land. I can see right off the bat this would be a great summer rental as there’s a beautiful pool, brick barbecue, and wonderful, shaded outdoor dining area but in the dim light of the waning day and the threatening sky, I know we won’t get to use it.
The downstairs of the house contains two double bedrooms, both with in suite baths and another double with two twin beds, perfect for Becky & Sammi. Additionally, there’s a large dining area, small seating area and kitchen with a pizza oven and potbelly stove, fire already roaring. Which reminds me now, the air outside smells of wood fireplaces and chickens and while the chicken scent feels harsh at first, I find it along with the scent from the wood stove homey.
Upstairs is reached by an outside staircase not an inside staircase. It contains two double bedrooms, a bathroom and a large seating area, with a mini-fridge and wet bar. Also, the television is upstairs while the CD player (and a huge assortment of books) is downstairs.
The house is filled with fresh flowers in each room, large bouquets of lilies, small daisies, and a flower similar to a hyacinth but as Rick says, more robust. Rebecca also leaves her guests a large welcome basket filled with innumerable goodies, farm fresh eggs, grass still clinging to them, candies, three loaves of bread, a loaf of raisin nut bread, butter, milk, pasta, tomato sauce, olives, biscotti, orange lemon carrot juice, which the kids end up loving, olive oil, two bottles of unmarked wine, cheese, prosciutto, coppa and paneforte. Rebecca brought extra for us because of the holiday and our inability to get to an open market. Add to all this two cans of tomatoes, pasta, a half-pound of proscuitto, and a wedge of parmegianno reggiano we bought at the salumeria across from the Del Senato and we’re all set.
We divvy up with Rick, Steph and Al taking the upstairs and us downstairs, saving the extra bedroom for Kris and Antonio, Rick’s sister and her Italian beau. Kris is taking language classes in Perugia; she and Antonio, who is from Bergamo, will be joining us on the weekends.
As we unpack and get settled but after I’ve scrambled some of those incredible eggs for Becky and Sammi and sliced some bread and butter for Alison (one of her staples), the girls want to explore the town. We’re not crazy at their going off on their own initially but they’re antsy, so we suggest they ask Rebecca’s daughter, Lucia, to show them around, which they do.
We get everything put away, sort out the laundry and start a load, of course this is after cleaning the kitchen because Chris couldn’t wait to get into one of the bottles of wine we’d bought in Rome and somehow managed to smash an entire bottle all the kitchen.
The kids return after receiving the nickel tour of Castelmuzio but decide to head back to the park on their own. Meanwhile, the adults drink some wine and nibble on some of the snacks both provided and brought. Eventually, we wonder what has happened to Rick’s sister who should have arrived by now. Finally, about 5:30 she calls. She’d lost my cell phone number and the directions. Antonio and Kris spent the day in Siena and were approaching Sinalunga from that direction. We direct them as best we can and continue to wait for their arrival.
In the meanwhile, Rebecca has phoned, it turns out our dinner reservation for the evening has fallen through, so we decide to take our chances with the only other restaurant in Castelmuzio (actually on the outskirts on the road leading to Montisi). We make an 8:15 reservation and continue waiting.
Finally, about 6:30 Kris and Antonio arrive bearing gifts, some cake-like bread with prosciutto baked in; it’s still warm. They also brought some cinghiale sausage and a bottle of rosso di Montalcino – yum. We snack some more, drink some more and about eight o’clock, the nine of us head to dinner.
Once clear of Castelmuzio, the road becomes freakishly dark. We stroll along toward some lights not far ahead and within a few minutes we arrive at the restaurant.
The restaurant is on two floors and we’re seated downstairs. Chris orders a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino (forgot to get the name) and it’s pretty good. We share some antipasti to start and for my primo I have ribolitta and share a mixed grill with Stephanie. We also share a spinach soufflé type of dish. Sammi and Becky have gnocchi, which they love and Al has some pasta. Chris has pasta con funghi and some other secondi, which I fail to note. The other end of the table is too far away to know what they have but for dessert Chris and Kris both enjoy some tiramisu while the girls get ice cream (Sundaes for mine, plane scoop for Al, due to her peanut allergy). Café for all the adults. The food is good and the menu typical but the service really stunk – way too inattentive.
Sammi’s tired so we leave while the others finish dessert and pay the bill. It’s freaky, just the two of us walking along that road in the dark. Soon the others arrive and we all turn in.