We wend our way northwards through Tuscany, one night and morning in Montalcino (very touristic, didn’t really grab us) and one night in Siena, which is also touristic but very beautiful too. The stories of the Palio, the mad bare-back horse race they hold each year in the main square, are very evocative.
There is a very long escalator from the station all the way up to the town centre, but even then nearly all roads go either steeply up or down. I try to imagine the city centre’s layout as we stroll through the narrow streets and alleyways, but it is difficult to keep one’s bearings as the roads bend in gentle curves this way and that. The main square is shaped like a big shell and the Duomo, just 100 mtrs from the square, is black and white striped and with impressive ornamentation. There is a queue to get in, so we skip that one and carry on getting lost in the ups and downs of the roads.
Our next stop is San Giminiano where Frank goes on a hunt for the tower which was used in a film called “Queen of Hearts”, where Frank played the part of a wedding photographer. The film opens with a scene where a young couple gets chased through town by the jilted groom who had been arranged by the parents but dumped by the bride in favour of her true love. They run up a tower and, no other escape route available, they jump off the tower. Luckily for them, that very minute, a hay cart passes by underneath and they manage to survive their fall, elope to the UK and run an Italian restaurant for the rest of their lives. Anyway, back to the tower. Frank doesn’t know which one it was and is spoilt for choice in San Giminiano. An icy cold wind is blowing through the roads as we aimlessly amble about town, so eventually I abandon Frank and his search and return to a hot stove and my violin practice in Emma.
From San Giminiano, we head up to visit Laura at Pimpinella who we met in November last year, picking up some very nice fresh fish and sepia along the way in anticipation of another BBQ on the lovely slab of volcanic stone from Sicily.
We get there late and although no-one is at home, it still has a welcoming feeling – the tibetan silk flags are flapping, fairy lights surround the house and there is a star-studded sky, with a full moon rising beautifully over Monte Sole. It is lovely to arrive quietly, absorbing the calm of the place and coming to rest with each other after a long day’s drive.
The next morning I jump out of bed early and take my violin outside to practice in the warm spring sun. Before too long, Laura, her son Angelo and Louisa, the feisty Neapolitan cook, arrive and together, we prepare an enourmous feast of a BBQ with fish and sepia, various salads and roasted Radicchio. The following day, more people arrive: Laura’s daughter Gaia and her boyfriend Nicolai, Jack who is repairing one of the buildings, and Matteo, an agronomy graduate with an interest in permaculture who has recently arrived at Pimpinella and is going to work in the garden, possibly also developing his own projects in some of the fields that currently lie fallow.
We spend a couple of days at Pimpinella’s, making use of Laura’s fantastic knowledge of medicinal plants to do a kidney and bladder cleanse, as well as using her internet and washing machine to catch up with the various back-logs.
Laura takes us on a stroll to two neighbouring medieval villages. We walk along ancient roads and climb through the brambles, picking medicinal herbs in the undergrowth and having deep conversations about life and love. Some of the herbs are extremely bitter raw (as you can see from my face on the photo!), but in the evening Laura makes a delicious cooked dish of all the findings of our walk.
The following day, we all depart in different directions: Since our last visit, Laura has bought a campervan who she calls Freedom, and while we travel up north, she sets off towards Assisi with her twelve year old son Angelo for an Easter holiday.
Fast-forward through Austria where we don’t really stop off other than pausing to cook some lunch and load up some firewood and admire the mountains, and by 7pm, we cross the border into Germany to visit Anthony, an old friend of mine who lives in the Achental.
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