Abbey Tours and Pienza
We had hill town fatigue. Not only did Aaron’s back still ache from carrying our toddler in the backpack, but those quaint streets and trinket shops began to blur together. We ignored the gathering rain clouds, grabbed our one umbrella and headed off to visit two abbeys: Abbey Di Sant Antimo and Abbey Di Monte Oliveto Maggiore.
The travel gods were on our side because we navigated to Abbey Di Sant Antimo with ease. The parking lot was empty and Ada happily ran up the deserted road; the only sounds were her foot steps crunching on gravel and crisp autumn leaves. The solitude was a welcome change from our tourist laden vacation.
The round basilica with one towering cypress tree was postcard perfect from the outside, but the inside was completely covered in scaffolding. After a quick peek, we left. Our visit was short and sweet and made us eager for more.
As we drove north, the rolling hills turned steep and rugged; instead of rows of cypress trees planted along driveways, we were in a cypress tree forest. And tucked within this forest was Abbey Di Monte Oliveto Maggiore. It was an obvious tourist spot with a large paved parking lot, gift shop and restaurant. We hit the gift shop first and bought some Grappa and small jars of honey.
We walked to the monastery along an uneven brick lane, the cypress trees muffling all sound, creating an otherworldly peace . Signs requested visitors to be respectfully quiet and we did our best to muffle Ada.
Exploring the inside the monastery with a toddler was impossible but I had an epiphany: why don’t we tour separately?
Frescoes covered the walls of the inner courtyard. Although it was empty except for a German couple, the quiet was quickly annihilated by the woman yelling a one sided conversation into her cell phone. Annoyed, I quickly moved on.
I followed the wafting smell of lunch into the dining hall and watched a monk set the tables. Next, I crept up a staircase into a library, onto the pharmacy with the shelves lined with ceramic jars of medicine. I returned to Aaron and Ada completely content. After Aaron’s tour, a burly monk walked by and scowled at us; we decided it was time to leave. But not before lunch at the restaurant.
It was dark and cozy inside, empty except for a large Italian family and a tourist couple sitting in the opposite corner. A woman from the family table left her meal to seat us and the “grandmother” also stopped eating to bring us a high chair, joyfully talking to us in lively Italian; the only phrase I recognized was “bella bambina!” I was nervous about eating inside (remember Rome?) but Ada was exceptionally quiet and content playing with sugar packets.
But the man half of the tourist couple wasn’t amused. He sat at his table and outright glared at me. I assumed he was annoyed that I brought a toddler into a restaurant. And I would understand his glares if Ada was throwing a tantrum but she wasn’t, so what was his problem?
I tried to relax and enjoy my bruschetta but every time I looked at Aaron, I could see that man over Aaron’s shoulder giving me the stink-eye.
To avoid making a scene, I chose to not tell Aaron. Instead, I glared right back and made myself feel better by mentally mocking him, an obvious tourist wearing bright white sneakers and Hawaiian button up shirt. I giggled when he impatiently squirmed after the waitress had cleared his plates and then returned to her family’s table, without giving him his check. He didn’t know that he must ask for it. He was uncomfortable, agitated, indignant — I loved it.
Thankfully he left and I could focus on our berry tart, made that morning from local berries that instantly burst in my mouth. An Italian man sat down near us and entertained Ada with smiley faces and peek-a-boo. We made pleasant conversation with the delightful waitress, asked for our bill, paid and left.
It was at this abbey that I visited the dirtiest bathroom of the trip. It was a squat toilet, with heaping mounds of you-know-what. I believe it had never been cleaned. It not only lacked all paper products, the sinks were covered in years of grime. Ewww…
We wanted a break from hill towns, but we couldn’t resist flat Pienza. Plus, Aaron was fascinated that the Duomo’s altar was noticeably sliding the down the hill. Aaron carefully studied the Duomo’s construction, followed by relaxed aimless wandering and trinket buying. We ended our visit with a romantic stroll along Via dell’ Amore and enjoyed another view of Tuscany at dusk.