These are ewe’s milk cheese; Pienza is famous for this local farm product. It is called pecorino. Italy has wide variety of cheese, all with specific names to indicate the variety. The cow milk cheese is hardly consumed in Tuscany region, pecorino is famous here. The huge size of these blocks of cheese attracted me; I held one in hand to assess its weight. My thoughts raced to the luggage that had increased over the days spent in Italy, pity I had to leave it behind.
Other than eating these, the blocks of cheese have one more use in Pienza. Visit the place on first Sunday of September and you can witness the cheese rolling competition. Participants roll the cheese block to see whose cheese rolls the farthest.
Pecorino should be taken out of the refrigerator about an hour before being eaten, in order to let it regain its natural softness and to open up its taste. It is excellent when flavoured with some good olive oil. Pecorino can also be served as a dessert cheese, with honey dripped onto a very thin slice but this is not a particularly successful combination. Since the mature pecorino is much sharper tasting, it is generally sliced into thin shavings to be eaten alone or with sliced cured meats.
Pienza, a small town in the scenic town of Val d’Orcia was our next destination. In 2004 the entire valley of Val d’Orcia was declared as UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, it was included in the World Cultural Landscapes. The town is also famous as birth place of Pope Pius II. He redesigned the entire village and rebuilt it as an ideal renaissance town, used it as retreat from Rome.
We were there in early spring, the flowers were not in full bloom, and the vast plains were green. The view from Plazzo Piccolomini was spectacular; this was the home to Pope Pius II and his descendants. The Duomo, centuries old, had plenty of signs of old age like cracks and fissures in walls and floors. Yet the interiors still have a charm and ambiance of olden times.
We spent more than an hour here, just loitering around. After the day’s long drive from Pisa to Gimignano to Siena to Pienza, we felt a lot relaxed here. The place wasn’t crowded; it was a good decision to reach there by car, trying to reach there by train can be an exercise. As I was leaving the place I felt sad. Will I be able to visit this place and other places left behind for the second time in my life?
The tiny wild flowers of Tuscany were just blooming in mid April; I couldn’t help but focus on them. They were of so many different colors and sizes, some at grass level and some in trees. During our drives we halted at many places just to soak in the beauty and take shots, this slowed our journey but I did bring back some colorful memories.
I have no clue about their botanical names, but that hardly mattered.
Siena’s Cathedral built in 12th century is yet another fine example of Italian architecture. This monument too is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally the construction was started with the intention of building it as the largest cathedral, but the project was abandoned as it ran out of money.
The façade is beautiful, filled with detailed carvings, and mixes of various colored marbles have been used. The arches over the doors had those kinds of carvings as if they have been twisted like ropes, very similar to the type I had seen in Florence cathedral. The gargoyles looked like they were about to leap out of the walls. The large central mosaic, the Coronation of the Virgin, is the work of Luigi Mussini, made in Venice in 1878.
The interiors were equally mesmerizing. Sorry, no photographs. The circular window has stain glass panel which depicts The Last Supper. The gilded dome glows like golden sun. See more pictures in this wiki link.
From Pisa we set off for San Gimignano well known for its fourteen towers, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. This medieval town was once important as pilgrims halted there enroute to Rome, Vatican and then Jerusalem. The towers were built by warring wealthy families of the eleventh and thirteenth centuries to establish their power and dominance. The town once had 72 towers, of which only 14 stand tall today having resisted the deteriorating effects of time. These were the skyscrapers of medieval ages and they are visible from miles away even today.
Gimignano soon lost its importance and in its decline it preserved its medieval ambiance. Thankfully the changing society outside hardly affected the architecture and atmosphere within the town's walls. It was worth spending >one hour here, roaming aimlessly along the twisted narrow lanes. The place still reflects the eleventh and thirteenth century prosperity and the old crumbling walls plead with you to linger on there for a longer time.
The Town of the Towers, San Gimignano is most well-preserved medieval towns in all of Italy.
A couple of weeks back I had three purple water lilies adding beauty and romance to my little balcony garden, yesterday there were three yellow hibiscus. Three bright yellow ones, with deep red centers, set my heart dancing to a self made tune… tra… la… lala… la. What a beautiful return for the very less time I spend with these plants.
I got the plant from nursery three months back. Quite often I get single blooms, sometimes two blooms together. And when this thin skinny plant, but with healthy leaves, gave three together my happiness knew no limits. Yellow Hibiscus is the Hawaii state flower and is known as the pua aloalo in the Hawaiian language.
From Lerici we set off for Portovenere. Portovenere is a part of UNESCO World Heritage site “Portovenere, Cinque Terre, and the Islands (Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto)”. These villages date back to the later Middle Ages.Tourists usually ferry from Lerici to Portovenere and also to other little fishing villages along the bay of the Ligurian Sea. The compact settlements look colorful, clinging on to edges of the steep slopes of the mountains.
Luckily we got a parking lot along a hillside main road, lucky because it was a Sunday and there were tourists in large numbers, thanks to the irresistible picnicking weather. We got mind blowing views of the harbor of Portovenere and the sea below from here. Portovenere is famous for its sea food and wine, though we missed out on the first one, we very sensibly picked up a sample of the second one only to lose our senses over it later.
At a distance were the islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. The vast blue sea soothed our eyes. The lucky tourists were there in their white sail boats and they made awesome pictures for me.