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Posts Tagged ‘San Giovanni Valdarno’


San Giovanni Valdarno, street food - Porchetta

I need to tell you about the place we are staying, San Giovanni Valdarno, and the nearby town of Arezzo, which we visited on Sunday.

The train from San Giovanni Valdarno to Arezzo is just a 30 minute ride east, and we have to walk through town to get to the station.  Since there was a ‘Feste’ on in our little town we made ‘un passiegato’ past all the food and wine stalls.

A favourite food of ours from previous excursions to Italy in the Pannini Porchetta.  Vegetarian Alert!!  Delicious slices of roast pork on the perfect crusty roll or sliced bread, with a bit of the ‘crosta’, or the crusty crackling.  Cooked ‘al forno’ in a wood over with only salt and pepper for seasoning. Sometimes the simplest things give the most pleasure.


San Giovanni Valdarno - The normally uncrowded Corso Italia during the 'Feste'

Arezzo - Cafes line the Piazza Grande

Arezzo - Trattoria Il Saraceno

The normally quiet streets were transformed for the duration of the Feste (somehow loosely linked to a religious feast of pardon for our sins). We finally made our way to the station after many tasty diversions and encounters with classmates and teachers from Il Sillabo, our language school. The trip to Arrezo, though short, takes you through the Arno Valley and via farms and vineyards. The region produces a great many items made by master crafts-folk; wines, cheeses, small-goods, pastas, breads, etc. We see the word ‘artigianato’ often and this indicates a product made by the hand of a master.

Despite bombing during World War II, we found that Arezzo had all of the charm of more famous villages and hill towns (think Siena, Montepulciano, San Gimignano)  and less of the tourists.  It is a stylish town and the citizens fill the cafes and trattorias.

There are numerous churches in Arezzo and the 14th century church, Chiesa di San Francesco, contains Piero della Francesca’s fresco cycle of the Legend of the True Cross (1452-66). These beautifully coloured masterpieces cannot be photographed.

There is also an Archaeological museum and a Roman Amphitheatre just at the beginning of the town near the station, but we just ran out of time.  Forse, un altro volta!

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Yesterday afternoon, Annie and I went to Florence on the train. San Giovanni Valdarno, where we are studying, is only a 30 minute train ride away. We were fortunate to have the father of one of the school’s administrators give us a commentary on the church at Piazzale Michelangelo, Chiesa di San Miniato al Monte. Oracio told us much of  the history of the Basilica and spoke only Italian, so it was a real challenge for our language skills. The church dates to the 11th century and what really captured  me were the unfinished frescoes showing just the outline of the figures in a red chalk or red earth, and the original inlaid marble floor in the centre of the nave depicting the signs of the zodiac. I could not get a good photo of it but there is one on Wikipedia.

Frescoes at Chiesa San Miniato al Monte

We had taken the bus up the hill, but walked back down the hill to the Arno river, across the Ponte Vecchio then proceeded into the city centre via the most incredible gelateria GROM – http://www.grom.it/ita/.  Annie and I shared a coffee and yoghurt flavoured ‘coppa’ and it was truly a culinary bliss point.  We are returning tomorrow and we are NOT sharing.  It may be our lunch…

The last time I stood on the Ponte Vecchio was in 1980 with my oldest girlfriend Beth Parsons Forsythe.  Yesterday I was so happy to stand there with my big sister Annie.

Ann and Lou on the Ponte Vecchio

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We have arrived in the Tuscan town of San Giovanni Valdarno for two weeks of Italian language study at ‘Il Sillabo‘. But not before first stating out with family in Rome.

What can I say about Roma? It is crazy and hot and crowded and charming and noisy and beautiful and well, you get the picture. It’s an enigma. There are 11 million people inside the big ring road that surrounds Rome but the suburbs are spread way outside that ring. Finding parking is an art form at which our 20-something cousin Giulia is already an expert.

Thanks to our lovely cugini (cousins), we have been taken to some of the main sites and, more importantly, to some of the local joints.

You would think that Rome’s water supply would have been sucked dry by now, but not so. There are fountains on the streets of the old city and ancient quarter where you can drink freely. Locals and tourists alike stop to drink or to refill water bottles.

Maybe there’s something in the water that makes the coffee so good. I don’t know…it’s just different. So, ‘when in Rome’ and all that…

It's just different, the coffee.

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