After a very indulgent day of relaxation yesterday, we spent the day touring more Rick Steves-recommended Tuscan towns. First was Orvieto. Situated at the top of a mountain, we parked at the train station and rode the funicular up. The highlight of the town is the Duomo in the main square. You can gain full entry for 3 euros per person, or you can do what we did and step inside - just shy of where they collect the money - and enjoy a pretty respectable view of the cathedral.
After all, we'd been to Florence at this point and had seen many beautiful churches. AND we have to be mindful of the gelato budget.
Our next stop in the town was a very quirky store called Il Mago di Oz where an equally quirky guy has collected all sorts of bric-a-brac and crammed it into a small space to sell presumably just to tourists who prioritize a good story over a quality purchase. If you want a toy soldier riding a pegasus, this is your store. If you want a jewelry box that plays creepy music straight out of a horror movie, good news! We thought he might put a hex on us if we took a picture inside the store, so we settled for this picture outside.
We had a filling but otherwise forgettable lunch and then headed back down the mountain.
Then we drove over to Civita di Bagnoregio. Our friend Rick says this is the most quintessential of quintessential Tuscan hill towns, with 2,000 inhabitants perched precariously on top of this cliff which has a nasty habit of eroding away and taking houses with it. We rolled up and saw the loooong walkway to get there, so we took these pictures from a distance.
We took Rick's word for it and headed back to our home base of Montepulciano. Back up the hill we went via hidden elevator and bus, and we enjoyed a lovely meal on the main square at the tip top of town. The town was hosting an arts festival and we were lucky enough to enjoy dinner and a show - the show being local arts school kids rehearsing their modern dance routine right in the middle of the square.
While the food itself was not as amazing as last night's, we spent some time reflecting on the experience of dining in Italy, and here's what we concluded:
The Italians respect every aspect of the dining experience. The meal is never rushed. The purpose is not to turn over the table to make more money by serving more diners, but to truly enjoy the quality of the ingredients that have been thoughtfully assembled into a beautiful meal. We always had to ask for the check. Very different from the time we had lunch at Clyde Cooper's in Raleigh and the waitress put a dirty wet rag on the table to signal it was time for us to leave.
Italian waiters are genuinely warm, friendly, and attentive. You can tell when people are putting on because it's expected of them, but we have never once gotten that impression here. They care about what they're doing and it shows.
The food prices here are beyond fair for what you're getting, and they're pretty similar no matter where you eat. Even at the fanciest of restaurants, the prices never seemed exorbitant.
Along those lines, the wine is all outstanding and so cheap compared to what we could get at home. We always choose mid-range wine and it always exceeds our expectations.
Finally, we have been impressed at the number of families eating together - even very late at night - and the fact that we've seen not one single child parked in front of an iPhone or iPad. We have always been appalled when we see anyone with an electronic device at the dinner table (yes, we're old-fashioned) but it's especially sad to see kids using these devices as a substitute for interacting with their families and learning to behave appropriately.
We both enjoy the simple pleasures in life and try to prioritize what really matters, and it seems the Italians do, too.