Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hiking Buonconvento to Montalcino

Hi Knittah,

The first leg of the hike was from Buonconvento to Montalcino. To preface the post, I should explain that Eliza arranged the trip through a US-based company with local Italian "coordinators" who were available for SOS calls to send you a taxi or whatever if you found yourself hopelessly lost. We weren't following a defined trail, like the AT or whatever. It was much more inventive than that. The company provided us detailed notes explaining each little bit of the walk.

For example: "Soon, you come out into the open at a large umbrella pine. Note on your immediate left the field divided by a hedge. Follow the farm track which you'll find running along the left side of the hedge. You should also see a crenellated castle tower straight ahead and then at 11 o'clock as you follow the farm track. The tower is set within a row of trees which extends considerably further to the right than to the left. You want to make your way to the far right end of the row of trees. While doing so, you pass through a windbreak, then between two fields and eventually, the path curves along a wooded area and hedge on your right."





Two other Americans were taking the same route at the same time. Bill and Barbara live in Salt Lake City and have hiked in many exotic locales, including, for example, Bhutan. We did several of the hikes together and shared some delicious meals.


And after much more walking...the promised land:



And so we reached Montalcino and Eliza got a room with a view:


Monday, April 27, 2009

Botswana Update

Hey everyone!!!! Our gifts are winging their way to Botswana, and I have new information for you.

The program that uses our gifts is part of the University of Pennsylvania's partnership with Botswana. You can read about the program here. The program also has a Facebook page.

I would like (with your agreement) to change our deadline for the next collection. Winter came early to Botswana, so I don't want to wait until our fall, their spring to send more gifts.

So our new collection deadline is June 19th! We've been asked especially for sweaters and scarves in all child sizes. Laina also suggested that we make shawls for the volunteers who work with the children, and Dr. G said that would be very welcome.

Email me with questions or for the address to send your gifts. And there will be prizes again!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Heavenly Val d'Orcia

Hi Knittah,

After Florence and Siena, Eliza and I took the train to Buonconvento to begin the hiking trip. Buonconvento is in the Val d'Orcia (Orcia Valley--Orcia is one of the rivers) near the southern extreme of Tuscany. [Note to movie lovers: apparently the Italian parts of The English Patient were filmed in different parts of Val d'Orcia]


It's gorgeous. It's been designated an "Artistic, Natural, and Cultural Park" intended to promote the local economy consistent with the traditional way of life and environmental protection. As part of that, they're promoting "the nature train," the use of the train line from Siena as a way for bicyclers and hikers to get around, jump on, jump off and go, get back on somewhere else, etc.




The terrain was remarkably varied over the course of the walk--some volcanic rock in some places, limestone, sandstone, marble quarries, and then apparently very different soils, some suited better to crops and some to wines--I mean, grapes.




(don't you just want to move in?)

I never did figure out any of the crops (besides the hay and the grapes, duh). Like, what's this:


For wine-lovers and foodies, the valley is known for the Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino, and I think a bit of Nobile from Montepulciano, as well as olive oil, honey, and cheeses.

And for yarn (or lamb?!) lovers, there were sheep. A few. Actually, I only saw two small flocks. But they wear bells! (which you can't see in this photo because man do they need a shave)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Hi Knittah.

After a couple of days in Florence, Eliza and I travelled to Siena for a day/night. Siena apparently was a rival of Florence during the middle ages and is the scene of the famous (infamous?) Palio, the crazy horse race around the piazza. Take a look at the piazza (and then watch the opening 10 minutes of Quantum of Solace) and you'll see what I mean:




The piazza is a great place to hang out, watch people, and, as it turns out, eat gelato and knit (not, however, at the same time):


Wandering about the town, we came upon this shop, filled with imaginative possibilities for D&D or your other favorite RPG, although I don't imagine that was the intent...




We visited the market with Americans from Portland, OR, Mary and Nina, whom we had met over breakfast at the hotel. Here's Mary:


In honor of Knittah's gardening efforts:


The flowers were gorgeous:




The place was packed, mostly with locals and precious few of us tourists, who had a bit of a hard time navigating the crowd and booths:


Monday, April 20, 2009

The young

It was fascinating observing Italian youth in Florence and Siena. There were school groups all over Florence, many Italian.

Now, as context for this post, Eliza and I don't hang around teenagers much (at all?). There's a high school nearby, though, and Eliza will see them walking to school from their cars. And then there's late spring, when you're at a restaurant and suddenly feel under-dressed when you turn around and see decked-out girls and boys pile out of limos for prom night. The girls always seem older and more put-together than the guys. They seem to put more effort into it.

In Tuscany (at least, in Florence and Siena), it seemed quite the opposite. The girls just seemed "normal" (the usual low-rider jeans (I think that's what the kids call them now?) and such but nothing much beyond that) while the guys seemed to really be making a lot of effort. There were snazzy jackets, ball-caps in stand-out colors, and these huge sunglasses. In particular, there was this thing happening with the hair, where they'd gel the hair around the crown of the skull so it stood straight up. (do they do that here now, too? to the same extent? if so, we haven't seen it) Apologies for the awkward photos, a byproduct of surreptitious photo-taking of moving targets.




You can't really make out the hot pink sunglasses in this one:


The sunglasses are a bit more apparent here:

The contrast with American teens (or what Eliza and I recognize with American teens) just seemed really dramatic.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A roof with a view

Hi Knittah!

Eliza and I are back from Tuscany. We spent a couple of days in Florence before continuing on to Siena and some of the hilltowns in the south.

Because one should have a view upon one's first visit to Florence...we almost got one. Our hotel, south of the Arno, about a block from the Ponte Vecchio, right next to Pitti Palace, had rooftop terraces with lovely views of Florence's city scape and of the Boboli Gardens (alas, not of the Arno).


View from La Scaletta


The rooftop terrace proved to be a sanctuary, as Florence is, erm, a bit busy and crowded in high season, it turns out. It was amazing to be sitting a stone's throw from urban chaos and instead be listening to birds singing. Below is the scene on Ponte Vecchio, about a block from the hotel:


Views along the Arno:



We spent a lot of time people-watching. Here's the view from lunch over in Santa Croce:

Lunchtime in Florence

And sitting in the Piazza della Signora, we were visited by some...unique tourists:


Apparently Italian restaurants have to serve you some food if you're drinking. They presented the following selection when we ordered a glass of wine:


And yes, those are corn nuts. I know.

The gelato, however, speaks for itself:


It turns out Florence is a fashion center, the home of Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo (or however that's spelled) and Roberto Cavalli. It even has fashion police: (get it? fashion police? ...never mind)


Fashion Police

But here's some men's fashion for you. I liked these suits:

Men's fashion

Ferragamo occupies a full block of Florence, in a beautiful building. I appreciated the juxtaposition of the sacred and the profance:


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

I'm Back!!!

Yay! I can finally access the blogger dashboard again, which means I can start posting here again! (Which means that when I don't post, it's due to me being a slacker, not blogger's fault. Swatchy is still disgusted with just how many posts I'm behind on...)