San Gimignano, Italy
When I woke up from my nap it was dark out. I slept a little longer than I wanted to but it was ok. I was hungry, though, so I left the hostel and ventured out back to the city center, a little excited to see it at night when I wasn’t stressed out. It was a nice night as I walked and I seemed to be the only person walking into the center as I passed couples and older people walking past me towards the exit. My shoes clacked on the misshapen bricks and I listened to them in juxtaposition to the ancient medieval architecture that inhabited the city.
I emerged in the Campo to find it quiet still, but not without its stray diners sitting outside drinking wine. It was about 10pm. I wasn’t starving, but I was hungry so I was happy to see that the pizza place I went to earlier was still open and I got a slice and a bottle of beer that was 9% alcohol. I took it outside and sat on the edge of the scallop and had a really great time just sitting there.
I didn’t linger that long because the next day I had to be up and at the bus stop, where I’d met Rocko that morning, to meet with another tour guide and other tourists for a tour of San Gimignano (Jim-een-yahn-oh) and a wine tasting in Chianti country. That was at about 1pm but I wanted to get up early and go to the top of the Tor, the huge tower that stood at the opposite end of the Campo as you enter it, which sports a giant clock and bell that can be seen for miles. With a soft buzz from the one beer, I began to walk back and soon found myself caught in a drizzle. By the time I got back to the hostel I was pretty wet so I took a shower. Before I went to sleep I read and reviewed what I’d written before my nap and I think I was pretty happy with it. I went to sleep and thought about one thing or another until I started trying to fall asleep, but about 10 minutes later something really succinct came to me about my time in Europe that was brought about by thinking about my parents. I turned the lamp on and fumbled for my black book I’d been writing in and wrote what is the best monologue in my London film. Some of the best stuff comes when you’re just lying in bed thinking at night and me, a real dumb sucker for anything “romantic” or thematic or archetypal, got a real kick out of writing something that encapsulated the whole film alone, at night, in the middle of Siena.
The next morning I made sure to get up early and get to the breakfast, but it was little more than cold cuts and small croissants (Europe, am I right?). I had some nifty expresso though, after which I traversed back into town via the public transport bus I still didn’t pay for. It was about 9 or so I reckon and I spent the first hour of my day just walking around the city in the morning. It was a vastly better day than before and I was eager to see Tuscany from the top of the clock tower. But first I got some gelato. I forget what flavor, but I went back to the Campo and sat down against something you tie your horse to and basked in the day. I noticed some locals making fun of me for eating ice cream at like 9:30 in the morning and it only made me feel a little self conscious.
Indulgences aside, I headed for the Tor and paid the 6 euros or something it was to climb to the top. There are three levels that offer astounding views of the surrounding countryside, and each are accessed by walking up extremely narrow, ancient, dark stone staircases. When I got to the very top the view was really spectacular. The city of Siena below me looked like something out of a children’s book, the medieval stone and shingles of the roofs joined with the twisting serpent of the streets made the whole place look timeless. The country outside of the city was equally rustic and a sight to see. Rolling hills, shades of green and all that great stuff abounded. Vineyards and olive trees dotted the pastures as far as the eye could see, I’m not kidding. It was Italy.
When I climbed down from the Tor the day had gotten even better and because it was still early, the Campo was relatively sparse. I found into an outdoor restaurant and sat in a table overlooking the Campo and got an eggplant parmesan and a glass of Chianti, which was a really really great. I finished and went to find my tour. This time proved more fruitful, for as I waited by the same cafe I was at the previous day, I noticed a big white van on the street a few feet away from me with three or four people crowded around it. I watched it curiously for a few minutes before I decided to go over and see if it was for the tour. Sure enough it was and I was greeted by the leader of the expedition, whose name I can’t remember. He was a short, genuine little Italian man. Jovial and quick to laugh (mostly at his own jokes), he had a thin layer of black hair, a black goatee and glasses. He was an expert on the history of San Gimignano and he knew his wines and olive oil also. I was the only one there so far, but he informed me two others were coming. There were, however, three more Italians behind him, who I learned were training to be tour guides. They were coming with us on the trip. I hopped in the van and awaited our other passengers, happy to be where I had to be. There were only two other people who were to accompany me on the trip: a young married couple where were American also. They were nice and the whole van talked happily throughout the trip.
We set off and left Siena to drive through Tuscany. The countryside was beautiful to look at and as we wound up and down the hills our guide pointed out vineyards and olive trees and the Americans and I learned about Chianti wine and olive oil. We stopped a few times on the road and got out to take pictures and our guide kept insisting that he was our paparazzi for the day. We drove to a very small town and got out to walk around. We passed through a tunnel that housed wine casks centuries old and we were receptive to the guides’ history lessons about Siena and Florence. The other Italians didn’t talk much, but their English was far inferior. After the brief but bona fide visit back in time to ancient Italy, we got back in the van and continued our trek. Before San Gimignano we were to stop at one of the oldest Vineyards in Chianti country and attend a private wine tasting.
Once we arrived to the vineyard we were introduced briefly to the owner and our guide called him by his name. The main bar area of the inside of the wooden house was rustic and quaint, but we didn’t stay long before we were guided through heavy wooden doors behind the bar to descend a few steps to a back room. A large wooden table was waiting with plates full of cheese, crackers, fruit and salad as well as seven or eight empty wine glasses. Then a woman came from an opposite door and introduced herself and the history behind her wines. She was maybe 30 and pretty with blond curly hair and a rich accent. She instructed us on how to hold wine glasses properly, how to appraise them before tasting and how to taste them. She gave us a blank piece of paper and told us to try each wine with each of the bits of food and write down what we thought best paired with what we drank. She filled our eight glasses with eight different wines about 1/5 of the way up the glass and the tasting began. It was interesting and each wine was more different than the last. After a while she left and the two Americans and I were left to enjoy the rest of the wine. There wasn’t a lot in each glass but by the end of the sampling I was definitely a little drunk, as was the woman I was with. The wine instructor came back and gave us sheets of all the wine we drank, including an original white truffle oil brand that we had tried as well (which was delicious – white truffles are only legally allowed to be harvested by official people who make truffle oil and they have to use dogs to find them in the ground) and she told us if we wanted to buy any of what we just drank, simply fill out the card (including a wine we sampled that, our instructor said, she gave us just because we were a good crowd – yeah right – that cost $400/glass). Nice move asking us to buy things after eight glasses of wine. I bought a bottle of the truffle oil for my folks and the other two bought some wine and we exited the back room to rejoin our guides in the main bar room. I was drunk and we weren’t even in San G yet, but we left and we were on our way.
En route our guides pointed out scenes of interest including a town that was home to one of the Italians in the back. They explained to us that San Gimignano used to be the cultural center and the crossroads of Italy. It was known for its saffron, I think. We got closer as the roads twisted and turned and eventually we pulled into the town just as the last of the clouds were leaving the sky. We got out of the van and walked around, going into wine, cheese and taxidermy shops. We went into what our guide said was the best gelato place in Italy, and there was a picture of Judie Dench and Maggie Smith. I got gelato with saffron in it to see just how reputable the towns cash crop was. It was good.
The town wasn’t overly exciting but it was quaint and, as far as I could gather from my short time thus far in the country, very Italian. We were there for only about an hour and a half until we left, back for Siena. The sun was setting as we drove back and it was dark by the time we rolled back into the place I had met our guide. I said goodbye to everyone and promised to keep in touch with the other adventurers and walked back into the city of Siena to have something quick to eat. I was getting a little late but I made a point to sit in the Campo for a little and soak it all up before heading back to my hostel. The next day I had to catch a train for Florence at 10am or so.
The next morning I had to get in touch with Alexa, the girl who I was to be staying with in Florence, to remind her of what time I’d be getting there. I managed to use the computer at reception to get on facebook and message her back and then I headed out on foot the the station. It was a beautiful day and I walked down the hill the city was perched upon down to the train station through a mall mid way between the hostel and the city center. I looked up at the train arrivals and departures and realized I could take an earlier train. Confident that that was what the information actually meant I hastened outside to get the train waiting and felt more confident in y decision as I hear “Firenze” over the load speaker accompanied with the platform I was on. So I sat back in the empty car and waited to be whisked off to Florence.