A trip through the Chianti hills

Yesterday we went for a drive to Castellina in Chianti.  We have been there a number of times, both with others and by ourselves over the last few months, but this time we abandoned the autostrade for the backroads.

The trip from Siena to Castellina is a winding road through the lower slopes of the Chianti hills which then climbs up towards Castellina.

Everywhere you look there are classic Italian scences – even when you take a break to let Daisy the dog have a comfort stop.  “Good girl Daisy” and you turn around and this is the view.

The book of the blog

As a WordPress blogger I receive a stream of emails about changes and improvements to the way WordPress works. The vast majority receive a cursory glance and are consigned to the trash.

One that arrived recently caught my attention. A company based in Germany called Feedfabrik could take any WordPress blog and make it into a book – both as a hard copy printed book and a soft copy PDF.

Given we had just reached 100 posts it seemed only sensible to make use of this offer. To that end, for those of you interested, below is a PDF booklet of the first 100 Toscanakiwi posts. The file size is 7.3Mb.

It is best viewed with the page setting “2 Up” in Acrobat.

Toscanakiwi – The First 100

Lunch at L’Osteria del Bigelli

The lovely people who own the property we are staying at have gone out of their way to make us welcome, everything from dropping off fresh fruit collected from some of the fruit trees around the grounds to clearing trees to improve our view of Siena when we were away in Positano.

Last week they recommened a restaurant in Siena that they said served very good, very authentic Tuscan food. The restaurant is called L’Osteria del Bigelli and is siutated in the Campo in Siena.

We were a little sceptical as the standard of food in the Campo, with a limited number of exceptions, is quite poor and aimed more at speedy delivery to tourists so the restaurants can turn tables quickly rather than any real culinery excellence for more discerning customers – or even for us.

Following the rugby on Saturday morning we decided to try it out. The fact that is located next to La Birreria where we watch the Rugby World Cup matches made the decision even easier.

The restaurant consists of about 12 outside tables squeezed under large umbrellas to protect from the sun and 4 tables inside which, given the weather currently, remained empty while we were there.

We were very pleasantly surprised from the start. Jean had ravioli with cherry tomatoes and I had herb encrusted lamb with spinach. The food looked great, smelt great and tasted great. The lamb was so good I was concerned a South Island farmer wearing stubbies and a floppy hat was going to appear beside the table at any moment and say “I’ll take that mate” and walk off into the distance with it.

Washed down with a glass or two of vino the meal was superb. All up lunch cost just over €50 or about $NZ85 which is quite reasonable.

The verdict – a great recommendation, we will visit L’Osteria del Bigelli again soon.

September must be wedding season in Siena

Supporting the All Blacks has meant we have spent quite some time in Siena over the last few weeks.  Fridays and Saturdays specifically, and every time there has been a steady stream of weddings being held at the Siena town hall in the Campo.  Clearly September is when couples both local and from all over Europe get married and Siena seems to be a popular choice.

In fact it is a bit of a production line with one group of wedding goers literally going into the Palazzo Pubblica as the preceding one comes out to be covered in confetti and rice.  On Saturday we took the time (along with a number of other casual observers) to watch this matrimonial ballet and to take a few photos along the way.

One large party – an Italian wedding – seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of time over the ceremony (italian’s taking their time, that’s unusual) and the following group who were from elsewhere in Europe – I say Germany, Jean says the UK – had to wait and wait and wait.

All ended up well though, they finally got their turn, I got some photos and to see some nice old cars, and Jean got to comment on all the frocks, shoes, hats, handbags, hair and makeup.

I Mondiali di Rugby – terza parte

Saturday morning we made our regular pilgrimage to the Siena to watch the All Blacks play.  As we approached La Birreria, Jean commented “here we go again” referring to the ritual process of getting the television tuned to the right channel.

The perfect RWC breakfast - cappuccino, wine, beer and chips

But clearly we are having an influence on the bar.  When we arrived the TV was tuned in and already playing the warm up.  Chairs and tables had been arranged ready for us which meant we got to see the warmup, anthems and haka.  All things we wanted to see but usually missed.

We also had some fellow spectators join us.  A young couple from Hamilton who are in Europe for 5 weeks holiday walked in as we were getting settled.  They said they had driven an hour and 20 minutes from just south of Florence to find this particular bar in Siena. A blog they had read, written by Kiwis living in Tuscany, had mentioned it had live television coverage of the Rugby World Cup.  It took a moment for us to realise they were talking about Toscanakiwi.  Clearly our little blog has a wider readership than we thought – by at least 2 people.

So dear readers for the next big game  – the quarter final –  the drinks at La Birreria are on me.  See you all there.

Toscanakiwi hits 100

Yesterday marked a milestone for Toscanakiwi with our 100th post. Given we’ve been away from New Zealand since the start of April which means something has been posted roughly (very roughly) every 1.6 days.

Part of the package from WordPress, the people who host the blog, are statistics about how many people read each post each day and total visits to the blog every day, week and month. Since starting the blog we have had over 4,800 visits or an average of 30 per day. Through August and September the average has risen to around 40 per day and over a week we regularly get anywhere from 200 to 500 visits.

So as we pass the 100th post, we want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read our ramblings and share in our Italian adventure. It means a lot to us to know that the folks at home – and all around the world based on the country visitor stats – are interested in the odd things we get up to and the fun and games that go with living in Italy.

Through watching the statistics one thing has become clear – the publishing mantra that “content is king”. Our content is based on what tends to happen around us on a daily basis, but if there is anything our lovely readers would specifically like us to do, talk about, talk about more or explore, please let us know. In fact, you can leave suggestions on this post if you wish.

Once again, thank you all for your support over the last few months and we hope you will continue to visit in the future as we continue our Italian adventure.


Graeme and Jean

I Mondiali di Rugby – seconda parte

We were back in Siena for the second All Black game.  Once again the staff at La Birreria performed their magic and found the game buried in the Sky TV menu – as always after the usual fussing and discussions – and we settled in for the duration.

Kiwi's make their presence felt for the RWC in Siena

We were joined by a young Dutch couple who were on holiday in Siena and who were also following the RWC.  Given that the total number of rugby players in Holland is around 5,000 (including men, women and juniors they said) their rugby knowledge was very good.  They were, however, a little surprised when we had the inevitable 10am beer and wine and beer and wine and …

But clearly we weren’t the only Kiwis in Siena watching the game as the photo shows.  The flag was hanging outside the bar we had originally earmarked to watch the games at but which didn’t open early enough for us to able to watch them live.

Apparently the Kiwis had started knocking on the bar door at 10:30am and convinced the staff to open early so they could watch the remainder of the match.  I wonder if a similar approach would have worked anywhere else in the world?

What’s with the weather?

According to the annual temperature statistics for Siena, right now the temperature should be around 20C.  Obviously no one has told the climate this and yesterday, according to my iPhone weather app, the temperature by the pool at 4:33pm was a healthy 32C.

You never know what you’re going to see next around our place

Sunday was a glorious morning. Mist surrounded our place early in the morning and as it cleared we became aware of the sounds of the local hunt doing their thing across the valley.  It felt like we had been transported to England.

Post hunt relaxation

Fox hunting was, in fact, introduced into Italy around 1850 by the english and is popular in both Lazio and Tuscany.  These days they chase a scent rather than a fox but that certainly didn’t, from what we could see, dampen the enthusiasm of the participants.

I wonder what “tally ho” is in Italian?

I Mondiali di Rugby

As with many things before, we thought we had a plan for the RWC opening. We had located a Heineken RWC bar in Siena. Through the usual mix of English, Italian and sign language we gleened that it had Sky TV and would be playing the matches.

Given the time difference, the opening ceremony was due to start at 9:30am local time with the first match at 10:30am. That meant heading to Siena at 9am – and being up around 7:30am.

Now this, in itself, was a major challenge as our place doesn’t really stir until around 10am on any given day. (Correction, I don’t stir until around 10am. Jean is up and active much, much earlier.)

We arrived at the bar promptly at 9:30am (wearing our RWC/NZ t-shirts) to find it shut, closed, the exact opposite of open. This was, to say the least, a disappointment. Our plan was in tatters.

We retired to one of the bars that ring the Campo in Siena to regroup and replan. We noticed as we sat down outside the bar – on a beautiful Siena morning – that they had a TV playing behind the counter. It was tuned to an Italian news channel – but it was a Sky TV channel. Could they change it to the right sport channel? Would they?

As with many situations in Italy, our simple request was taken very seriously. A newspaper was obtained and the TV listings checked to find the right channel – 204. The very helpful waitress then disappeared for a few minutes. We waited. The TV channel didn’t change. We waited.

When she returned, she explained that they had opened the other half of the bar and tuned the TV’s in there to the right channel. She showed us to a table, made sure everything was ok and checked if we wanted anything to drink.

She was thinking Cappuccino and was a little surpised when we ordered beer and wine (nothing like that first Heineken at 9:35 in the morning).

It was quite surreal to see New Zealand and the opening ceremony on TV when the view out through the door of the bar was Siena’s Campo. The Sienese opinion of the opening ceremony – very cool.

The game? Not a bad start, but there’s still work to do. Go the ABs!

A post for all lovers of vintage Italian speedboats

It’s not often we delve into specialist areas in this blog but this post is about Riva’s Aquarama – the classic Italian speedboats of the 60s and 70s.

They defined style and cool from their launch in the early sixties and were often referred to as the Ferrari of speedboats.  In all only 768 were built between 1962 and 1996 when production stopped.

The originals now sell for hundreds of thousands of Euros, however we spotted these models in a shop window in Positano.  At €600 each they seem a real bargain.  Any takers?