This is an updated/improved version of a 2016 post… ‘Florence – Siena – Pisa (including Tuscany)’ – I’ll leave the original post as it does have a lovely recipe at the end “Prawn Ravioli with Tomato, Rocket and Lemon Sauce”…however, 1 of my first blog posts so I see there were a few problems, including photos not loading. Hoping this time my results will be a bit more professional looking😉…although my blogging is mostly for family and interested friends ie I’m not trying to make any money from it.

After 4 nights in Florence (a post for another day), we picked up a hire car and drove into the countryside of Tuscany…photos of views over Florence as we departed, as well as fields of poppies once we arrived in the countryside of Tuscany…

Departing Florence for Tuscany, we stopped to take a few photos including the two above.
We loved the fields of poppies we saw as we drove through Tuscany.

There are many places in Tuscany that you can access via train but if you do decide to travel via car, like we did on this occasion, here’s a good website below (showing big picture on an artist’s map) can be found on this National Geographic website…

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/europe/italy/tuscany-road-trip/

We had a week long stay at a “farmhouse”/villa complex called Ripostena (photos below)https://www.tuscany-villas.it/vacation_rentals/149246/.

The area is beautiful but fairly remote (closest town about 15 min away is Colle Val d’Elsa… https://www.discovertuscany.com/colle-val-d-elsa/a-day-in-colle-val-delsa.html and if you like swimming, there’s a gorgeous pool and pretty garden, with stunning views (photo below), but it was too cool to swim while we were there. However, on a few quiet days during the week we just relaxed and read etc. by the pool (sometimes after spending the morning in the town). I put my toes in the pool and the temperature wasn’t too bad in late May…if I’d taken my Sth Coast spring suit (like a short sleeved wet suit) I may have had a swim. It would have been lovely after the day before in the car travelling from Florence.

There were a number of local stone villas where we stayed in Tuscany…with a shared pool and restaurant…or it was possible to drive into the local village for dinner.

One of the highlights of our journey (mostly rail) through Italy was doing a fabulous cooking course in Siena. At the time (2005) courses like this for tourists seemed to be unheard of in Europe (more seemed to be happening in Asia) and they were inexpensive. That wasn’t the case a few years ago but might be different post Covid perhaps?

Tony on LHS at the Sienna School of Art cooking class

With our super basic Italian (mostly greetings, food names, etc), we headed to a tourist info centre in Siena; explained that we were staying in Tuscany for a week; then asked if there was a place in a 1 day class. They looked very puzzled and uncertain but promptly investigated for us (1st request for this they said!) and they were clearly delighted when they informed us that they had a class at the local Arts School.

We cooked a pea soup (LHS photo)…the Italian sounds more appealing… “Ditalini Con Crema Di Piselli” (think we got the spelling right??…maybe search for Italian pea soups??) and on RHS of photo – a herbed crepe filled with asparagus and zucchini on a bed of red & yellow peppers (capsicum we call them in Australia).

Nervously, we joined the morning class which included a couple of young chefs – one from Japan who could speak Japanese & Italian fluently + had a little English. He was such a great help as the teacher could only speak Italian…she was also great, quickly demonstrating first and then communicating with us via sign language, etc. They all had a sense of fun too so it was one of our best days ever. We sat down for a long table lunch together at about 1 pm and there was even beautiful Italian wine offered.

A fabulous day that we’ll always remember. We hope to return one day but we anticipate that the prices for a 1 day class have increased over the decade+ if other similar European courses are anything to go by.

HOW TO GET TO SIENA: We drove to Siena (a day trip) from the villa in Tuscany but there is train service from Florence – Siena (approx 1.5 hours I think). I see on the website above there’s also a bus to/from Siena to Colle Val d’Elsa. If we ever return we might take the train or the bus but stay in Siena for at least a couple of nights…it’s a wonderful place. The tourist information centre in Siena is particularly helpful…their office is in the Piazza del Campo – the main Piazza in Siena.

Villa in countryside of Tuscany
Evening at outdoor area of the villa where we stayed… Tony enjoyed a nice, cold Nasto Azzurro birra (beer in Italian)...one of the first words he learns in an unfamiliar language!

Parking was tricky in most places we visited – if there had been a train available (villa was lovely but a bit remote) we would have favoured that. However, we did enjoy the serenity and the stunning views – sometimes while dining just outside our little villa as in the photo above. The villa came with a reasonably sized kitchen; microwave etc and we also prepared our own breakfast.

There were about 6 villas built with local stone and the one we stayed in was the original/historic villa on which the others were modelled. There was also a restaurant/cafe serving beautiful, traditional food cooked by an older Italian woman…it would have been wiser for us to brush up on more Italian before we went there. However, she was very friendly and we got by ok with mostly sign language & smiles. We loved it!

We also did lots of morning walks around the local villages…stopping for a coffee along the way…

Walking around a local village…lots of walking up/down hills.

Our two half days in Siena were highlights of our week…one day doing the cooking course described above; the other looking/dining around Siena (we stayed for a light lunch). Below is a photo of the main piazza (similar to a town square…although some Italian piazzas are almost circular in shape liked this one…

On 2 occasions we drove from the villa where we were staying to Siena – the 1st visit was just to look around Siena plus stay on for lunch at a restaurant; another day we returned for the cooking course (photo above) that also included lunch.

Another great day out from our villa was visiting a wonderful hilltop medieval town called Volterra (it’s “history dates before the 8th Century BC” according to Siri knowledge on net. We did lots of walking and sight seeing, then had lunch at the “Web and Wine” cafe (photo below)…

Here’s a photo of the cafe in Volterra…Web and Wine (an Internet cafe in 2005)…the computers were on a higher level and I took the photo from that space. Today, if the cafe still exists, it’s probably know as something else?

On our travels in 2005 we were on the lookout for “Internet cafes”…so we could use their computer. In was in the days when there was no wi-fi; iPads or smart phones. That day we found a lovely one called “Web and Wine”. After a delicious lunch (fresh pasta and salad), we continued onto another historic town called San Gimignano…unlike Volterra, it was crowded with tourists in 2005 but things might be very different post Covid 2020?? The most interesting thing about San Gimignano is it’s many “tower houses” consequently it has a spectacular skyline…worth looking up Net for some photos as for some reason we didn’t get any photos that day – I think the road in/out was far too busy to stop.

Seeing we’re now in our 60s (me early/Tony mid 60s) I don’t think we’ll be travelling overseas beyond New Zealand until there’s a vaccine. However, I still enjoy blogging as so many wonderful memories and hope the next generations also have the opportunity to travel like we have.

Tuscany – Venice

On our last morning at Ripostena Villas, we chatted over breakfast on a warm day with others guests (from Farrer in Canberra…small world!). We then needed to drive back to the outskirts of Florence where we returned the hire car and departed via train for Venice. Tony writes in his journal “a lot more traffic on the road on the way back” but we had left early so we even had time for a coffee before a very relaxing train trip onto Venice. Just before boarding the train, we saw the people from Canberra running along the platform…once they found their seat they told us they got caught up in the same heavy traffic. We hate that kind of stress and whenever possible, try to avoid similar situations by departing sooner rather than later…we found the traffic stressful enough without a huge rush at the end.

Another reason why we try to travel by train as much as possible…if we want to see out of the way places, there are often guides and others who can take us in a small group (usually a comfortable/modern van) or with a personal driver/guide (if price is right) – usually for a half day trip, so we can still make the most of the town or city where we’re staying. With my spinal/back issues, I’m not keen on long days out (particularly with lots of driving) so Tony sometimes does that on his own.

Once in Venice, finding our hotel wasn’t as relaxing…worked out ok how to get by railway station to hotel (via water ferry) but once in the centre of Venice, it was difficult to find our small hotel (we seemed to walk up/down hills dragging our suitcases behind us). Now with goggle maps etc. I presume it would be a lot easier!

Even when we stayed in Venice (outside peak season) in 2005, it was often so crowded with tourists from cruise ships although was quieter in the evening – it will be interesting to see what happens Post Covid. We decided never to stay in the centre again (maybe a town in the near vicinity) plus maybe return in early or late winter. With Covid do wonder if we’ll ever get back…oh well, know we’ve been lucky to do what we have so not complaining.
One of my favourite photos in Venice…and here’s a 4+ min National Geographic video “Beautiful destinations” link below…

And one last photo from Italy that many children seem to also find fascinating…the leaning tower of Pisa. There’s also a 2+ minute video from Net here… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z32MJED24Nw

There are many other short videos on the Net that children/teens (adults like me?) might also find interesting and if you’re not wanting too many technical details, many videos just a few minutes.

Leaning tower of Pisa…parking was tricky when we visited so perhaps think of going by train? It’s possible to get to/from Siena or Florence just for the day as well although Pisa could be an interesting place to stay??

Now for some recipe ideas as usual…

VEAL SCALOPPINE

8 veal schnitzels (about 800 g); 1/4 cup plain flour; 2 tablespoons olive oil; 20 g butter; 2 tablespoons lemon juice; 1/4 cup dry white wine; 1 clove garlic, crushed; 3/4 cup chicken stock; 2 tablespoons drained baby capers, rinsed; 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley.

METHOD:

1. Coat feral in flour; shake off excess. Heat oil and butter in large frying pan; cook veal, in batches.

2. Add juice, wine and garlic to pan; bring to the boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, until liquid is reduced by half. Add stock; simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat; stir in capers and parsley.

3. Serve veal topped with sauce, and accompany with mashed potato and roasted cherry truss tomatoes, if you like.

Page 50 from “World Table – Recipes from Around the World” (The Australian Women’s Weekly”

Some of the light and easy Italian salads they feature in this book might also go nicely with the Veal Scaloppine eg. Caprese Salad (ingredients are Roma tomatoes; bocconcini cheese; basil leaves and EVOO); or Panzanella salad…(ingredients are…250 g slightly stale sourdough bread; 2 large tomatoes; 1 small red onion; 2 Lebanese cucumbers – approximately 260 g); 1 cup basil leaves; red wine vinegar; garlic. Of course these salads can easily be found on Net along with one of our favourite Italian salads…Fennel and Orange salad – our favourite link below later.

Veal Scaloppine…not as many people are eating veal these days so perhaps a “minute” steak ie thin steak or even chicken (if you’re anti beef…as a few of my friends are) although sure Italians, particularly chefs, would find that suggestion preposterous!…a good word “preposterous” to use with kids & have them guess meaning??😉