I love November in Tuscany.
The days can be rainy, or they can be surprisingly sunny, though always with a chill that nips straight through and makes you long for hearty soups and evenings by the fire.
But when you want to get out of the house, the best substitute for a fire in the hearth may well be terme- natural hot spas.
Bagno Vignoni is a village in San Quirico d’Orcia. It is a town of terme in the province of Siena, not far from Pienza.
As you can see, the town is so known for terme that even the main piazza is a pool of hot water.
We chose Hotel Posta Marcucci and bought a day pass to take a dip in their massive natural hot spring pools.
The pools are tiered, so if you can’t stand the heat, you can head to one of the lower pools where the water has cooled to a temperate 28C. The higher pools are around 38C. Perfect for gray November days.
After we worked up an appetite by, well, floating around and relaxing, we explored the tiny town.
As luck would have it, we didn’t have to wander far before we stumbled upon Il Loggiato and decided to stop for lunch.
After three years in Italy, this was one of my favorite meals. Unsalted Tuscan bread, new olive oil, polenta, and mushroom soup.
I don’t even LIKE mushrooms, but this was one of the best things I have ever eaten.
So here’s to chilly days and hearty Italian soups to keep you warm after a tough day of terme. Cheers!
Via delle Sorgenti, 36
Bagno Vignoni, Italia
It’s that time of year when the leaves turn color and the persimmons are ready. In Italian, the word for persimmon is “cachi” or “kaki” which, after three years, I still find funny for some reason.
Did I tell you about that one time my sister came to Rome? My big little sister (so called because while I have several years on her, she has been taller than me since she was 14).
When I asked her what she wanted to do in Italy she came up with:
1. arial yoga
2. hike a volcano
Needless to say, neither of those possibilities had ever really occurred to me, but I set out to try to make it happen. Let me put you out of your misery right now and let you know that only 50% of those things happened. Hanging from the ceiling and stretching was not to be, but we did find ourselves on a volcano- Stromboli.
The volcano is an island in and of itself in the Aeolian Island chain off the north of Sicily. It’s possible to get there by taking a ferry from the port of Milazzo (with the closest airport probably being Catania). Should you need to get off the island, say because of a giant tsunami, simply follow the helpful evacuation route signs.
Note that the evacuation route to escape the tsunami will in fact take you closer to the nearly continuously erupting volcano. Such is life and sometimes you just gotta pick your poison.
The island has a population ranging from 400 to 800 depending on the season. It has nearly uniform white washed homes and plenty of charm. To get to the town from the port, head up an incline, any incline… you’ll find it.
The center of town is the main church, which is surrounded by trekking and rental companies. There are no cars allowed on the island so ape (three-wheeled flatbeds) are omnipresent.
Or instead of the ape, you can choose motorini as your mode of transport. Here’s the mail delivery motorino. Given Poste Italiane’s inability to deliver packages from the US in less than 5 weeks, I am pretty sure that a full switch over to motorini nation-wide could improve efficiency. Or it certainly wouldn’t hurt it. Jaysus. (Ok, I’m done).
We stuck to walking and explored the inhabitable side of the island on foot in a couple of hours. The black sand beach provided a good view of the crater and we finally realized that the “thunder” we had been hearing since we arrived was definitely eruptions, timed about 15-20 minutes apart.
The volcano cannot be ignored and the inhabitants of Stromboli have embraced it. They say that the volcano symbolizes love and each eruption is a bit of passion. You’ll find heart symbols encompassing the volcano all over the island.
And who doesn’t love love? After a power nap, we were ready to scale the romantic precipice.
Those warm fuzzies powered us upward where we were treated with a gorgeous view of the village below. That is all of the livable part of Stromboli. The other side is completely barren due to, you know, the ash and LAVA.
In the above photo you can see a rock formation peeking out of the sea. That is Strombolicchio- the old Stromboli volcano that has since died and sunk into the water.
While this was a lovely vantage point, we still had 2.5 hours (!!) of a nearly vertical climb ahead of us.
I’m serious. It was straight up. This did not seem romantic any more.
Seriously, most people come to Rome and want to drink wine and eat delicious food. Only my sister would decide to trek for 6 hours up an (extremely) active volcano.
But the sunset at 3,000 feet (~900 m) was pretty incredible.
I don’t have any good shots of the eruptions because they were *&#ing unpredictable and sometimes a little too close for comfort. It was awesome.
But I definitely had that moment, that I often get in Italy when doing something slightly questionable, where I think: This would totally not be allowed in the US.
But safety regulations be damned! We had rented blue helmets! Those must be good for something! Right?!?!
It was worth that excruciating hike to stand on top of the world for a few minutes and experience something truly ancient and powerful.
But then there was a giant explosion right next to us and the guide was like: Yeah, time to go.
The hike down is in pitch blackness but is much easier then the way up. You basically slide down ash for most of it, sinking in with each step.
Tips for visiting Stromboli:
- Bring an ambitious sister, or a crazy friend, to keep you going the entire 5 hour hike.
- You have to hike with a guide. We used Magmatrek and were happy with the experience. They have a list of everything you need to bring for the hike. Listen to them. Price: 25 euro + 3 euro entry.
- You need real hiking boots. If you don’t want them, or don’t want to carry them with you, you can rent them from Totem Trekking for about 6 euro. This was totally worth it to us, but they might not be open if you are going in the off season.
- Now listen to me, this one is important: DO NOT BOOK YOUR FERRY IN ADVANCE. We did, because I am a planner. It was a terrible idea. The seas are unpredictable and our ferry was canceled. We got a refund because I can argue in Italian, but the bigger issue was that I had also booked us a driver to take us from Milazzo to Catania. I had also booked our accommodation in Catania. There was no guarantee we were going to get off the island that day. So anyways, keep that in mind. You never really know when you’ll leave Stromboli. That, my friends, is up to the Tyrrhenian Sea.
You can do Siena in a day from Rome. You can do it, but you will be tired. I know this because I did it and regretted it slightly… we probably should have stayed the night.
Siena is large enough to draw crowds (especially during July and August when the Palio is held in the very piazza you see above), but it’s also small enough to maintain its Tuscan charm. We spotted a tower and decided to pay the 7 euro to head up and get a better sense of the town given our limited time.
And by “we” I mean the Irishman, who can be spotted in the photo above. He was right, though, the view was gorgeous. Rooftops, churches, and rolling hills as far as the eye could see.
I am catching up with posts while I am back in the States for a few weeks, so we actually visited Siena in early April. What you can’t tell from the deceptively blue skies in these photos is that we got caught in a torrential downpour. At least that gave up the opportunity to duck under arches and explore the inner courtyards of Siena’s pallazzi.
As well as explore an enoteca (wine bar) of course! Chianti anyone?
You can get to Siena from Rome in three to four hours (depending on if you take the fast train or the regional line). Trains leave from Roma Termini and you will need to switch at either Florence or Chiusi-Chianciano Terme. You can check TrenItalia.com for times and fares (which range from 16 euro to 40 euro each way).
I have some Italy posts ready to share, but today I am thinking only of Nairobi.
I was in Nairobi three weeks ago, meeting expats and doing expat things like visiting the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (an elephant orphanage near the city center).
Nairobi is a vibrant city and my heart goes out to all the individuals and families affected by the terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall.
Today on the blog, we’re taking a break from Italy because it’s a big day in Ireland. It’s the All Ireland. The 2013 All Ireland Hurling Championship. (Click here to learn a bit more about the sport of Hurling).
We’ll be catching the game from Rome, but were recently in Dublin on our way to the Munster Hurling Championship.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the beauty of Rome is not just the city itself but its proximity to other lovely places- like Ireland.
Dublin is a small city, full of charm and and perfectly manicured flower pots. When you go during a record breaking summer, such as we did, it’s the perfect city for strolling. You can stroll in the rain as well, but the rare sunny days make it even more enjoyable.
But when you need shelter from the storm (/have any other excuse for a pint) you can pop into a pub like McDaids.
McDaids has a long history as a literary pub. People are happy to chat with you about the pub’s most celebrated patron: Brendan Behan. Behan was a regular, famous for claiming: I only drink on two occasions — When I am thirsty and when I’m not.
Cheers from bella Roma! Here’s hoping we’re in Dublin this time next year, shouting for Limerick.
3 Harry St,
Dublin 2, Ireland
Phone:+353 1 679 4395