Holiday in Maremma…part 2

(Continued from my April 11th post…)

We had a memorable lunch in Pitigliano. Actually, come to think of it, we ate incredibly well everywhere in the Maremma. And (much) more cheaply than in Florence, that’s for sure. Anyway, if you ever plan to visit the lovely town of Pitigliano, let me know, and I’ll give you the name of the family-run trattoria where we ate the bestpici,” which is a type of handmade pasta, similar to fat spaghetti, traditionally made just with water and flour…but in this small restaurant the pici chef added egg whites to the pasta dough to keep the pici from disintegrating when thrown in boiling water…smart, huh? 

Pici all’aglione…mmmmh, finger-licking good. “Aglio” in Italian means “garlic” and “-one” is a suffix that means “big,” so “aglione” literally means “big garlic.” And in fact this recipe calls for a thick tomato sauce made with quite a lot of garlic (= big garlic!)…Based on the family recipe we were kindly given at the restaurant, you take out the slightly crushed garlic  from the tomato sauce before it browns, then you add a hot red pepper and finally a splash of vinegar…It’s a simple recipe, but you have to know what you’re doing…Stefano, who is the best cook I know (well, on second thought, he shares first place with my best friend here in Florence), made pici all’aglione yesterday, and we went into “pici” heaven again… 🙂

When we entered the above-mentioned trattoria, the sun was still out and it was warm enough for me to have taken off my sweater. But by the time we’d finished lunch, a very cold wind had picked up and it was pouring rain. Luckily (!), I’d listened to the weather forecast first thing in the morning, so Stefano and I had stuffed our Skomer Island heavy and warm rain gear into our backpacks, even though there was no sign of a cloud when we first set out.

Covered from head to toe, the wind and pelting rain didn’t bother us. We continued our tour of Pitigliano…you can see the wet streets in two of my photos. Not a soul in sight…too cold!

By the time we left Pitigliano, the sun was out again. Weird weather! We made a quick stop at Sorano (photo no. four, zigzagging down, on the right. This is a view from the panoramic terrace, looking down toward the river), a small and ancient town built on a tuff cliff. But here’s a bit of advice: visit the smaller towns first, then go to Pitigliano, otherwise you will probably be disappointed…

The following day (Easter Monday) was an absolutely glorious, sunny day. So we decided to go to the Natural Park of the Maremma, which, by the way, was the first natural park in Tuscany: 

The trails were divided into “easy, intermediate and difficult.” We decided to take one of the intermediate, panoramic trails, called the A2 or “Two Towers” trail, which was about 6 kilometers long (= a three hour, non stop walk; it took us longer, since we stopped to take photos and/or rest).

The A2 trail takes you up a hill, through rather thick woods, all the way up to the ruins of a 12th century tower (called Castelmarino), a watch tower that was used mainly to spot pirates. As you can see, we had a splendid view of the Tuscan coastline from up there (photo no. 5).

Once you’ve rested a bit and taken in the views, not only of the sea but also of the mountains behind you, you are faced with a rather steep and treacherous descent (photo no. 6) on the other side of the hill. This “trail” was filled with warning/danger signs telling you to watch your step or else…! If you manage not to slip and fall 😉 , you will end up in a thick pine forest. Level ground…phew…relief! From there it’s an easy walk out to the beach.

And the beach…ahhhh, what can I say? Stunning. You can see the islands of Elba and Giglio in front of you. Stefano wanted to hike up another cliff to the second watch tower, but I decided to stay on the beach and relax in the sun. Off he went (this is an important point, as you will soon see).

After resting a bit, listening to the idle, mostly food-related chatter of my Italian neighbors–entire families who’d brought huge luncheons with them, from pizza to sandwiches with porchetta (= oven or spit roasted suckling pig flavored with different seasonings), mmmh, even though I don’t eat porchetta, you’ve just gotta love Italians having a picnic!–I took off my socks and shoes, rolled up my jeans and stuck my feet in the water (note: nobody else did that…Yes, the water was coldish, but not THAT cold…but Italians like their water to be quite warm…). Ahhh, bliss. I walked around in the water for a while and hunted for seashells. 

Suddenly I heard someone shout: “hey look, there’s a fox!” I turned, and there it was. A little adorable furry creature running down the dunes toward me. I rushed to grab my camera and took as many photos as I could. This is one of the best. And it’s not even “cropped,” so you can tell how close the fox got to me. 

You’re not supposed to feed the wild animals in the park. In my opinion, there should be warning signs to that effect posted everywhere. But there aren’t. I have to admit that feeding the cute fox was my first instinct, too. But Stefano and I had brought only a bottle of water and a few cookies with us, so I couldn’t have fed the fox anyway.

Just as someone nearby was throwing some bread to the fox, one of the park guards came running and yelling “nooo, don’t feed the fox!” Thing is, you don’t want the wild inhabitants of the park to get used to being fed by humans. It could be really dangerous for them. Makes sense. But this fox didn’t know the park rules and was happy to grab the piece of bread and rush off down the beach…away from the guard and toward another family, probably…

When Stefano got back from his climb, I concealed a smile and asked him how he’d liked the view from up there. He said it had been nice, but that the view had been nicer from the first tower. Trying really hard not to gloat, I asked him if he wanted to see what I’d photographed on the beach while he’d been gone. “Sure,” he replied. You should have seen the expression on his face when he saw the fox. He was so disappointed that I didn’t have the heart to laugh at him… 🙂

On our way out of the park, which included a walk through an olive grove (and there I took one of my favorite photos ever, here on the right), we encountered two more foxes. They came right out of the bushes, asking us to feed them (why else would they come so close?). If we’d had any food with us, it would have been really hard not to share it. Luckily, we had nothing with us. But both encounters meant that Stefano was finally able to come out of his “fox photo” funk. Of course, taking a photo of a fox on the beach is much more unusual than taking a photo of a fox in the middle of a pine forest (hehe, sorry, can’t help it)…

We left the Maremma in the early afternoon. But we vowed to go back there next winter to see the flamingos in the bird reserve…

P.S. Because of an increase in dumb “spam” attacks, the Healthblogs manager added some extra protection to my blog. Since then, though, I’ve noticed a decrease in the number of comments, and I’ve heard from some blog readers complaining they had so much trouble posting comments that they finally gave up. So I have a favor to ask: even if you hadn’t planned on commenting on this post (or earlier ones, for that matter), please do so, so I can check to see if the blog still has a “posting comments” problem. Thanks a bunch!!! 🙂 

Two funnies…

My cousin posted this link on his Facebook profile, and I just had to share it, even though (as you will see) it’s really an ad for…something. But I thought it was really funny:

And then there’s this video, showing a CNN reporter giggling while reporting on…”Dyngus Day”:  My favorite quote: “It’s funny because it has a Y in it…” The RidicuList, indeed! 🙂

Holiday in Maremma, part 1…

Well, Stefano and I meant this to be an Easter birding trip. But sometimes things don’t go as planned: there were very few birds in the WWF “oasis” at the lagoon of Orbetello, in southwestern Tuscany. We did spot an avocet way off in the distance, but that was about it. Not the most spectacular time of year for birding in this area, we were told. Come back in the winter, we were told. And we will! 🙂

So on Sunday we decided to forget about the birds and instead visit some of the ancient Etruscan sites. First we went to the Vie Cave (= “excavated roads”), which is an impressive road network linking an Etruscan necropolis and several settlements in the area between Sovana, Sorano and Pitigliano, consisting mainly of trenches excavated as nearly vertical cliffs in tuff, sometimes over twenty feet high, possibly serving as an effective defense system against invaders (source: Wikipedia). 

Please notice the use of the word “possibly.” To this day, in fact, nobody knows for sure what the purpose of this huge excavation project was. What we do know is that no other ancient population built anything like this. Anywhere in the world. How about that?

So if you are visiting Tuscany, and if you enjoy walking and a bit of climbing…and have an extra day (after going to Siena, San Gimignano, Pienza and so on), get yourself some sturdy trekking shoes (you don’t need to be super fit, but some of the paths can be a bit treacherous and/or steep) and go to the “Parco Archeologico Città del Tufo,” located near the town of Sovana.

A short, easy walk will take you to the so-called “Tomb of Hildebrand,” or Tomba di Ildebranda (third century BC; photo no. 1)). It’s a huge temple tomb and is considered to be the most important Etruscan monument…You can visit the underground crypt and, if you feel like it, also climb up to a sort of alcove on the left side of the temple tomb, which offers a very nice panoramic view. Yep, that was pretty. And impressive!

Oh, by the way, the tomb was named “Ildebranda” after pope Gregory VII (11th century AD), whose birth name was Ildebrando di Soana. Anyway, from this massive tomb you can visit a few other, smaller tombs, and then the trail takes you over to the excavated roads…This was the most fascinating part, for me, of the entire circuit. I particularly liked the one called “Il Cavone,” one of the biggest and most famous.

Walking along these ancient, tall, massive, narrow, winding and bending corridors was, well, a magical experience. I can’t find the words to describe how I felt, but, whatever it was, it was strong. Stefano felt the same way, too. In part, I suppose it’s because here and there you find yourself walking in the semi-darkness caused by the interlocking, ivy-covered oak trees looming overhead and casting shadows on the path even on the brightest of days…

Don’t walk too quickly…take your time…look up at the vegetation, listen to the birds and make sure to look out for the tombs cut into the rock. Amazing.

And don’t leave the area without hiking up to the Tomb of the Siren (photo no. 4), which is on the other side of the road. A short walk will take you to the part of the archaeological area called Area Archeologica di Sopraripa. Some of the tombs there date to the 7th-6th century BC, by the way. 

The Tomb of the Siren (third century BC), which you will reach after a bit of a climb, is an aedicule tomb depicting the monster Scylla (not a siren at all…) seizing a couple of Ulysses’ companions. Lovely. 

By the time we got back to the parking lot, we were really ready for a bite to eat. So we set off for the town of Pitigliano (photo no. 5). This was not actually my first visit to Pitigliano. I went there to participate in a grape harvest (vendemmia, in Italian) almost 30 years ago. But I’d forgotten how lovely this town is, perhaps “saved” by the fact that it is not a major tourist destination here. And I’d forgotten about the jackdaws or taccole (see previous post). I don’t remember seeing those at all!

But back then, of course, I wasn’t a birdwatcher. 😉

I have a busy afternoon, so I must sign off here. More soon! 

The jackdaws of Pitigliano…

Yesterday evening Stefano and I got back  from our four-day holiday in the Maremma area of Tuscany. Absolutely amazingly incredibly stunningly gorgeous. And also refreshingly non-touristy compared to other parts of this lovely Italian region (not that I’m biased at all, of course… 😉 ).

I meant to post a few of my tenthousandbilliongazillion photos as soon as I got home from work today, but I received an urgent, “must-be-done-by-yesterday” translation. Argh. I just finished it…in time for dinner…pant pant…

So now I have time only to post one of my favorite photos (of which there are many!!!). These are two jackdaws (taccole in Italian)…at least, that’s what I think they are. Whatever. I took about a billiongazillion photos of these striking, majestic creatures…incredible eyes, huh? 🙂 

Curcumin holds promise as treatment for brain tumors…

Even though I’m so amazingly busy these days–a gazillion-billion things to do–I just had to stop for a few minutes in order to post the link to a new curcumin study. Here’s an easy-to-read summary By the way, this link may take you to a page requesting that you first become a member of Medscape. If, like me, you want to avoid receiving another newsletter blablabla, just go to Google/Goodsearch/whateversearchengine and do a search for Curcumin Holds Promise as Treatment for Brain Tumors.” At that point you can click on the Medscape link. 

In case you’re feeling a bit adventurous, here’s the link to the full study:

A personal note: Stefano and I are spending the long Easter weekend in an area of Tuscany, the Maremma, that neither of us knows very well. In addition to going to the beach, yay!, we’re going bird watching at the Laguna di Orbetello (=Orbetello lagoon) bird reserve…As you may have, er, noticed, birding is our idea of fun and relaxation… 😉 (In case you were wondering about our cats, a dear friend is moving into our house for the entire period, so they’re all set.)

In the meantime, I’m building a cat tree (279 centimeters/more than 9 feet high!). I’m going to let Stefano finish putting together the top part when he gets home from work later on, but the cats are already enjoying the part that I’ve built so far, as you can see from Pinga’s satisfied little face (yes, she’s licking her chops 🙂 ). An Easter prezzie for the kitties…

Well, I may be able to put up a quick post tomorrow, but just in case I get too busy packing and whatnot, I’d like to wish everyone a verrrrrry Happy Easter! 🙂

Mad about stilts…and more…

Yesterday, at the end of the afternoon, Stefano and I decided to go to the Parco della Piana, a bird reserve in the town of Sesto Fiorentino, in the province of Florence. Our new bird watching “haunt.” 😉

It’s a great time of year for bird watching, and things are only going to get better. The Parco della Piana manager (such a nice, helpful guy named Riccardo, who’s been a birdwatcher since the age of 17) told us that just a few days ago he witnessed the mating ritual of two great-crested grebes (see photo). So we should be seeing some grebe chicks about a month (or so) from now. Nice!

Mainly because, get this!, grebes swim around with their little ones on their backs…now that must be quite a sight!

Uhm, by the way, don’t worry, my blog isn’t going to turn into a bird watching blog, but please understand that bird watching has definitely become a passion of mine (which I share with Stefano, luckily), so I will be posting a few of my best photos from time to time. I hope you don’t mind!

I also wanted to mention that I don’t use (or even know how to use!) Photoshop, nor do I have a super duper camera with heaps of different photographic lenses…No, my camera is one of those “point and shoot” ones (a good one, though!), which means that what you see is what you get. I can’t be bothered with figuring out how to use a more complicated camera. Stefano, of course, takes amazing photos with his super duper sophisticated camera. But this is my blog, so I’m going to use my photos, not his. 😉 

Okay, back to us. In addition to the excitement about the grebes’ upcoming parenthood, I was surprised to see a few little-ringed plovers and wood sandpipers (as luck would have it, I caught both a plover and a sandpiper in the same photo). I mean, you see lots of these plovers on Cape Cod (Massachusetts, U.S.A. = that’s where I come from)…but here? In Florence??? I had no idea!

We were also lucky enough to come across a black-winged stilt. Just one, yesterday, but Riccardo assured us that soon many more will be arriving and building nests (joy!!!). When I took this photo, by the way, the sun was starting its descent, which explains the golden reflection you see on the water…so pretty…

I have to admit that I prefer the Italian names for some of these creatures. A black-winged stilt is a “cavaliere d’Italia,” which means a “knight of Italy.” So romantic, no? A wood sandpiper is a “piro piro,” which is pronounced (fast!) “pee-row pee-row.” And a little-ringed plover is a “corriere piccolo.” Corriere in Italian means heaps of things, including messenger, runner and courier. And piccolo means “little.” So corriere piccolo does give the idea of a fast little running bird…and fast it was, I can assure you! Zip zip zip, right out of my lens’ reach… 😉 

Bird watching is amazingly relaxing. If you enjoy being out in nature but have never been bird watching, well, I strongly advise you to get yourself some binoculars and/or a camera (you don’t need anything fancy, in my opinion!) and go visit a bird reserve. In the beginning, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know WHAT you’re seeing and taking photos of…Stefano and I didn’t, either. We took photos of everything we spotted…and then identified all the birds later, with the help of expert birdwatchers and/or our bird watching guide. And we still need help. We don’t mind. We ask. 

After all, we haven’t been watching and identifying birds for more than 40 years like Riccardo. Our passion for birds began only a few years ago when we traveled to Northumberland (UK) to see what puffins looked like in “real life”…

It’s never too late to start something. 🙂