The sun started to set just as we drove the last ten minutes to our lodging for the night near San Gimignano…at the same time that I was trying to help Drew navigate our car using Google Maps. The leaves on trees, grape vineyards and farm fields were starting to turn red, yellow and orange in this Tuscany region of Italy; needless to say, I was a bit distracted. I would ask Drew to stop every so often on narrow roads. It’s a wonder the cars behind didn’t honk at us.
Yes, Tuscany, your reputation is well-deserved.
My husband and I wrestled with the decision whether or not to drive through Italy. Today, our fourth full day in Italy, was the moment of truth. The train could have gotten us here efficiently. Was it worth the worry of fines if we speed or drive accidentally into a ZTL (so far not materializing)?
A million times yes; renting a car at the Rome airport and driving it three hours to Tuscany has been worth it. (Note: it was wise not to drive in Rome. After Tuscany we will return our car before going on to Venice for the last leg of our Italy stay.)
An employee at our Tuscany lodging, Agriturismo Cesani, had called us a little before 7 p.m. and asked when they might expect us. Elana, the only English-speaking staffer, was leaving for the night. When we arrived, she assured us we would see sunrise from the little patio just outside our covered porch. And sunset up here (as we saw) would be breathtaking too. Cesani is a beautiful and restful place, fifteen minutes away from the hilltop city of San Gimignano.
Earlier in the day, before we left Rome for Tuscany, Drew and I bought some food from a small neighborhood grocery store for breakfast. Two men in white coats over their polo shirts waited on us behind their glass counters, filled with bread, cured meats, and cheeses. I love this about Italians–Europeans in general–they dress respectfully for their clients. Even Uber drivers here dress in suits.
“Do you speak English, signore?” I asked one of the grocery employees.
He shook his head, but that didn’t stop him from helping us out in a charming manner. We bought two thin slices of ham, a wedge of cheese, an orange, grapes and olives.
We brought the stash back to our Airbnb down the street and dressed the table out on our patio with a table cloth, plates and utensils. I popped a grape in my mouth and exclaimed with pure pleasure. It’s probably one of the best-tasting grapes I have ever had. The ham was delicate and light, the cheese sweet like parmesan, and olives a great contrasting saltiness to the rest of the food. Now I know how Remy the rat in Ratatouille felt when he ate that berry and cheese together.
After we arrived at Agriturismo Cesani, I changed for dinner into long pants.
My earlier sundress was fine for the afternoon spent in Siena, a hilltop town along the way to San Gimignano. Without warning, what started out a hot afternoon turned into a brief thunderstorm.
We had left our umbrellas in the car and would have waited the rain out, but we were anxious to get going. So we bought an umbrella from a friendly shopkeeper. Together, we crossed the town square, now empty of the people who had been basking in the sun just an hour earlier.
Fortunately, the weather soon cleared again. Siena is pretty, one of its claim to fames being a horse race held twice a year, the Palio di Sena, in their town square. Ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in the appropriate colors, represent ten of the seventeen contrade, or city wards.
That, and its picturesque city, rich in medieval history, is swathed in a lovely terra cotta color.
As Drew and I made our way back to our car, I looked around in wonder at Siena’s beautiful stone residential buildings some 2,000 years old. I glanced all the way up some four stories and a cute elderly couple smiled at me as they people-watched. I waved and they waved back. I pointed my camera at them and motioned if I could take their photo, but they retreated shyly.
The night had cooled so for dinner in San Gimignano, I changed into long pants, a long-sleeved blouse and my light coat. Besides, I wanted to dress a little nicer. We drove ten minutes into the city proper and tried a restaurant recommended by our Agriturismo hostess. It had an open-air terrace and specialized, as many of the area restaurants did, in the region’s cuisine.
Drew and I shared a hearty Toscana soup to start with. Then he had a pork tenderloin while I had their Pici Senesi con briociole di pane, carbonara al fungi porcini e petto a’anatra affumicato (Broad spaghetti Siena style with crispy bread, porcini mushrooms carbonara and smoked duck sauce. Ha ha, can you tell I love foreign menu item names?). Then we shared chocolat chocolat, a rich chocolate mousse dessert.
Beside us, I caught snatches of English from a couple. As our dinner slowed down, we conversed with them. They are an American couple from Minnesota who had saved up their vacation to travel through Europe for four weeks.
After our wonderful dinner, we wandered the mostly empty and lovely lit streets of San Gimignano. Tourists reportedly pack it during the day. It was nice to enjoy the medieval hilltop town while it was quiet and uncrowded.
I told Drew that the main character in the romance I will be setting in Italy, Her Billionaire Spy, stands no chance in resisting love with the guy I’m pairing her with. The culprit: the romance of Italy.