And so, we continue the exciting saga of our trip through Tuscany. I wish I had a cool scroll like on Star Wars to sort of set the stage for this episode, but I don’t, so you’ll just have to deal. Speaking of Star Wars, how in love was I with Miranda from Grey’s Anatomy when she was talking to the “concrete kid” about Star Wars? If you didn’t see it, you should look for that on reruns…it’s brilliant. Anyway…on with the story:
Day 4 – We set off for new territory today. Our destination was Pisa, but we stopped in a tiny little village called Montelupo to experience some of the ceramic art available in Italy. It’s not a very picturesque town in the sense that it’s not really that old…but we were able to meet an artisan and purchase some very nice ceramics. C. bought a couple of cool pieces, one with poppies and one with lemons. Afterward, we set off again for Pisa. Pisa is somewhat of a disappointment. Sure, there’s the tower and it certainly does lean…but other than that, there didn’t seem to be any reason to go to Pisa. You can go up into the tower for €15 but that’s roughly $43,000 USD, so it might not be worth it to relive the Galileo experiment. So, my advice, skip Pisa and buy a postcard of the tower somewhere. Or just use my picture, at right, for your own slide show.
Not to be disappointed, we set off for Lucca. Lucca is a walled city, not all that far from Pisa, but miles apart in charm and beauty. You can’t drive into Lucca unless you live there and even then it’s a challenge. This was the beginning of visits to towns where the streets are nearly too narrow for vehicles. Anyway, one of the highlights of Lucca was a wonderful lunch. Nice relaxing meal near a town square with a public fountain. It was the kind of day you look forward to. From there, we wandered the streets in search of Giacomo Puccini‘s birthplace. Found it! Rather nondescript, but as I heard someone say yesterday: “You don’t know that you’re making history, you’re just hanging out with a bunch of guys doing what you love.” I’m sure Puccini didn’t realize he was going to be a big famous composer when he was born, otherwise he might have decorated the outside of the house a little more, or put up a bigger sign.
However, even with all this, I think the big hit of the day was dinner in Mercatale. We met the chef of this small restaurant and he shared his passion for Tuscany. We also ran into some folks on a cooking tour from our town which is a serendipity I can barely comprehend. I also had the roast pigeon on a bed of cooked spinach. Delicious! The evening was spent sharing a bottle of wine with family back at the farm.
Day 5 – Our destination was San Gimignano today. After a tour of I Greppi di Silli, where we learned all about the wine and olive oil production, we headed for the “Manhattan” of medieval Italy. San Gimignano is home to 13 towers, the remnants of more than 70 towers in this city. Naturally, I had to climb the tallest one to prove to myself that I’m not really afraid of heights. This is so not true! All the way up there was a challenge because of the “open, modern staircase” consisting of metal mesh stairs. Down was pretty challenging too. Anyway…I made it to the top and was rewarded with some amazing views of the city and the countryside. However, let me tell you the reason to go to San Gimignano. It’s for the gelato. The GELATO, people! The gelato in San Gimignano is the best in Italy. They even have a banner telling of their award winning prowess. Simply put, you will not find better gelato in Tuscany. How do I know? Between the five of us, we tried 31 different flavors of gelato over the course of 10 days…so we’re basically experts. Which flavors, you might ask…
- Creme Caramel
- Mars® Bar
- Orange Chocolate
- Fruits of the Forest
- White Wine
- Dark Chocolate
- Yogurt all’orancia
- Green Apple
- Blood Orange
So, there you go. I had the Grapefruit and White Wine flavors in San Gimignano and I would fly back there today for those very same flavors. It was that good. I don’t think I can express enough how good this gelato was. Okay, enough about the gelato (for now!)
But, the day was not over. We drove to Siena via a long meandering route through Poggibonsi which is nothing. The signage in Italy is prolific, but not always useful. Also, when you get to Siena, it is not a walled city. THAT is a Medici fortress…Siena is across the ravine. And it is beautiful. It is probably the quintessential Italian city. We had a wonderful dinner on the Campo as the sun set slowly on the clock tower. I can’t say much for Siena other than that. We got there fairly late in the day, so it was difficult to see much.
Day 6 – This was a rest day…so to speak. J. and T. coaxed me into a bike ride from the farm to Greve in Chianti. Not a long ride, just 18 kilometers round trip. That’s about 612 miles. Anyway, we set off around 10 a.m., just after the rain had passed. This is what people come to Tuscany for — a bike ride in the hill country beneath a sunny sky. It was a wonderful ride downhill almost all the way to Greve (note, I said downhill and sunny.) We stopped and had lunch a wonderful little family-owned shop. We watched a few of the road rally cars zipping out of town, old and new vehicles. Some of these cars were ancient, and some looked like rocket ships. Anyway, after lunch, we started our ride back to the farm. J. and I led the way with T. following. Well, about halfway up the hill, J. calls out that we’ve gone the wrong way. Well, the two of us anyway. T. apparently knew the right direction and was well ahead of us at this point…although, he probably figured he was way behind since we were not in sight. So J. went to catch up with him and I found myself touring Tuscany on a beat up mountain bike with clouds forming in the distance. I made my way to the right hill (remember it was downhill on the way there) and started the climb. For those of you who don’t do a lot of biking, just because you’re on a mountain doesn’t mean that a mountain bike is the ideal tool for riding up. Also, if you have a desk job and have become fat and lazy over the course of the last few months while rehabbing a broken ankle, biking up a mountain might not be a good idea. Consequently, the picture to the right is my view from about halfway up the hill headed back to the farm. I took the picture because I honestly thought I would just die right there on the side of the road, and I wanted a photo to remind everyone of the last thing I saw on earth. I like the cypress trees…they’re pretty! Also, note that in this photo that the sun is fairly gone. Yes…the rain started about here and continued all the way to the farm. At one point, I got off the bike and walked faster than I was capable of pedaling. Finally, I arrived back at the farm after a couple more wrong turns. I was wet, tired, and my ass was killing me, still it was a really great bike ride.
However, the best part of the day was the meal that evening. A little restaurant about the size of my office where we went in and sat down and the guy just started bringing us food…plates and plates of it. We didn’t order, he just kept bringing us food. At some point, we finally said enough and so he brought us a huge plate of dessert. It was some of the best food we’d eaten in Tuscany and I savored every single morsel. It’s a good thing I went on that bike ride earlier, otherwise, I’d need bigger pants. The food and wine was a fabulous Tuscan memory.
Thus ends this second chapter of our trip to Italy. Final installment, Rome, tomorrow (hopefully!) and then we’ll get back to regular blogging. Hope you’ve enjoyed it thus far.
See you in the funny papers!