We packed up and checked out of our hotel in Caserta and headed off to the Reggia. The Reggia is a palace in Caserta that was built to rival Versailles in France. It is HUGE with an enormous garden that we only saw part of. When we entered the garden there were carriages available to take you for a ride through the garden so that you can see more, but they were too expensive for us alone ($40 Euro) and there was no one else around to try and share a ride with...so we walked for a way to see as much as we could on foot.
The grounds are so large it feels like you are walking forever before you reach any of the main part of the garden. There were people all over walking and jogging, and even cars driving through...maybe we should have done that? There are tons of fountains and huge ponds filled with fish. We didnt make it all the way to the end to see the main fountains there, but we got a book with pictures of them. After the garden we saw the "apartments" which was room after room filled with art, frescoes and furnishings. One of the coolest things we saw there was a nativity scene with hundreds of little handmade figures.
Next we began making our way towards Tuscany, taking a 2.5 hour long drive on the autostrada to Orvieto. It cost us almost 17 Euro for the drive! So we couldn't drive 2 days in Italy without getting involved in an accident! Fortunately it was very minor and not our fault. When we were driving into Orvieto, the car in front of us stopped kinda quickly and we had to stop quickly behind it. While we were waiting for the car to turn, a car came up from behind, didnt slow down quickly enough and just very lightly rear ended us. In the rear view mirror Kev could see him looking ashamed and his wife shaking her head and telling him something along the lines of "I told you to slow down!" Since he bumped us so lightly we just waved him off and he looked relieved. We were relieved that we didn't get slammed into! We parked at the bottom of the town and took the Funicular up to the top of the town. It's a very cool old town with lots of neat streets to walk around, and amazing views of the landscape below. We had lunch here, awesome paninis with pork (porchetta), a town specialty. We got some great capuccino gelato and took our self guided tour through the town, ultimatly to walk a road along the edge of town so we could enjoy the views. We then visited the very ornate Cathedral, the outside of which is covered in hundreds of biblical carvings along 4 columns, and beautiful mosaics along the top. The main attractions inside were the beautiful stained glass windows, and the room of frescoes by Luca Signorelli and Fra Angelico that depict the apocolypse and judgement day...those going to heaven and what happens to those going to hell.
The rain was coming back in as we were getting ready to leave the town. We had 2 beautiful days without rain, but now it's following us again. By the time we got back down from the Funicular, it was really starting to come down. We've been lucky so far with the rain here, every time it's starting we've been just finishing up somewhere or about to head inside. We jumped back in our car and stopped at a gas station down the road just as the lightning and thunder was right overhead. It was sooooo loud, scary!
When we went to get back on the autostrada, we had to get another toll road ticket. For whatever reason we seem to have a curse with toll booths...We were behind a car who pulled his ticket, and then tried to get another. The machine wouldnt give him another one and he pushed the button for a couple minutes and still no ticket came out. We weren't sure why he was trying to get another one in the first place...until he pulled through and we saw that the car who had gone in front of him had pulled off to the side and was out of his car walking back to get a ticket. He went back through the gate, took the ticket that we needed, and then went back to his car to drive off. We pulled up to the machine and pushed the button, but no ticket came out. The arm was raised for us to go through because a ticket had been taken and it didnt sense a car going through. So it was just waiting for a car to go through for the arm to come down and another ticket to come out. We pushed the ticket button several times, and the service button, but no ticket and no person came out. The cars behind us were honking so we finally just drove through. We were worried that the person at the ticket booth wouldn't understand our explanation for not having a ticket when we got there and were trying to come up with the story in our broken Italian. Luckily when we got there the guy was able to understand what we were trying to tell him and was able to give us the price for the distance we traveled. We were so relieved! We weren't sure if we were going to have to pay some kind of fine!
Anyway, our next town was Montepulciano where we made a quick stop to walk through the town and buy a bottle of the local wine. The hilltop towns of Tuscany are very cute and fun to walk through, but have some pretty steep streets! Next we drove on to the town we are staying in, Pienza. We had planned to check into our B&B here and then head on to Montalcino, but when we got here to check in, they didnt have our reservation and the B&B was fully booked! Apparently Hotels.com never gave them our reservation that we made online. The owners were able to find us another place to stay, and had dinner reservations setup for us at a local restaurant, so we wound up staying here for dinner, and it's a good thing! We had Pici with tomato and garlic sauce for dinner. Pici is a handmade pasta, and it was delicious! We were so glad our plans changed and we got to try this.
We drove to Montalcino after dinner, got a little lost trying to find the center of town in the dark...and had planned to taste the Brunello wine here...but the town was pretty dead even though it was still relatively early in the night. Instead, we just walked through a little and bought a bottle of Brunello for another day...we know it's supposed to be great so we are looking forward to trying it!
We checked out of our B&B this morning to head to our first wine tasting. When we got up we had planned to eat breakfast at this little bar on the corner which we had a breakfast coupon for from the B&B, however, it wasn't open until 9am and we needed to leave before then...so we went to another little place down the way and I got a pastry and cappucino there while we sat and waited to collect my passport from the woman who runs the B&B. When we got my passport we gave her the coupon back and told her the place hadn't opened yet. She directed us to another little cafe down the road and said we could get something there with it...so I wound up with 2 pastries and 2 cappucinos this morning...and it's a good thing too because we never got lunch today. Kev even had a cappucino with his pastry too!
We drove up towards the Chianti region to our wine tasting, which was at Castello di Brolio and included a tour of part of the Castle, the garden, and the winery. Castello di Brolio has a very long and interesting history, and is where Chianti Classico was born. The Chianti region was the first wine producing region in the world with the Etruscans producing wine before Christ was born. Anyway, we learned a bit about the family, how the wine came to be made, and we even saw the Baroness driving her car up to the castle. The wine was excellent, we tried a Chardonay, 2 Brolio Chiantis, and Casalferro, along with a Grappa (not a fan) and some Olive Oil. We bought a bottle of Chianti Classico to enjoy later.
Next, we checked into our hotel which is just outside of Siena. We had planned to do laundry here today, only to learn that the laundry is closed on Sundays. We asked if there were laundry facilities in Siena and the receptionist showed us where 2 were supposed to be on a map of the city. So, we got in the car, drove to Siena, found parking, and carted our dirty laundry to where the laundrymat was supposed to be...never to find it. We walked up and down through the main road filled with tons of people, and it was nowhere to be found... So, we stuffed the clothes into our backpacks and decided to see some of the sights we were going to see tomorrow so that we could do the laundry tomorrow and still get to see everything we wanted to see here. (I'm really glad I bought the roll up vacuum seal bags for us because without them it would have been an even bigger pain in the ass!)
We did our self guided tour of the city and saw the very ornate Cathedral which has the Bernini chapel, and the statue of St. Paul by Michaelangelo. We then climbed the Torre del Mangia (city tower) which was a very steep and narrow 300 steps to the top. The views up here were great, unfortunately visibility wasn't optimum today because the rain clouds (of course) were heading back in. The main square here was bustling today with people everywhere eating, relaxing, and enjoying the mens choir that was singing in the square. We were really getting hungry on our way out of the city and ended up stopping in a McDonalds for some french fries and a coke... and they were just as good as at home!
We got in our car just as the rain was really starting up, and drove over to the town of San Gimignano which is about 40 min away. The rain was still coming down when we got there and it didn't look like it would be letting up anytime soon...so we grabbed our trusty umbrella and headed out hoping not to get completely soaked. The town is small, surrounded by walls, and has quite a few towers that still remain (out of the 60 or so that were once here). We did our self guided tour here and found some great lookouts...too bad for the stormy weather! Dinner was at a little restaurant in a square outside of the main square where there were less people. They had Pici here too, so we had to order! After dinner we walked down to the main part of town to grab our gelato. I tried something different tonight- raspberry with rosemary gelato, different but good. The rain finally let up while we were eating our gelato, and when we got back to the car the city looked really cool with the walls around it, towers standing up in the air surrounded by a foggy mist.
Our drive back was dark, wet, and winding. It's a good thing Kev has a lot of experience on winding roads because it's definitely come in handy here. We passed by an accident on our way back to Siena, and it's amazing that we haven't seen more accidents with the crazy drivers here. When we arrived back at our hotel we asked about the laundry situation for the morning...turns out that it's a laundry service and they charge per item! Not what we were hoping for...so now we have to go back to Siena tomorrow and find the laundrymat anyway... Thankfully we think we know exactly where it is now, the woman who gave us directions this afternoon drew it on the wrong street on the map... thanks...