Tuscany: A Lazier Pace of Life

I HAD to take a break from the madhouse that is the Florence-Venice-Rome triangle. And Tuscany was the place to do it - two days in San Gimignano and another two in Siena.


Tuscany: A Lazier Pace of Life

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

The magnificent views of the rolling sun-drenched Tuscan hills, the many vineyards, the medieval stone buildings, the Il Palio in Siena, and last but not the least, the GELATI. ${QuickSuggestions} Eat lots and lots of gelati. Take romantic evening strolls on the cobblestone lanes of the town. Watch glorious sunsets while sharing a bottle of wine. Catch the Il Palio in Siena. ${BestWay} The towns are very well connected by bus. Remember to buy the ticket BEFORE boarding. They are usually sold in tabacci stores and at tourist information offices. Validate your ticket once you board the bus. Within the towns, walking is the best bet. Since these are hilltowns, expect some uphills and downhills.

Podere Santa Elena

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

It was our guardian angel that led us to the Santa Elena. We were looking for a place to stay INSIDE the walls of San Gimignano. However, everything was booked solid. But, a lady I was talking to on the phone, Barbara, suggested another place OUTSIDE the city walls as her hotel inside the walls were fully booked. We were desperate so we took it. Barbara picked us up from the gates and drove us to her guesthouse in her jeep. Stunning views. From our ultra-luxurious room, you can see the towers of San Gimignano all lit up at night. The rooms are SUPER beautiful - decorated to the max, double bed with rich brocaded sheets, an antique dresser, a TV, an armchair, gorgeous shower, tiled terra cotta floors - omigosh, I was speechless. We were paying about $30 CDN per person for this, and we get all this?! The area is pretty quiet and remote. An evening walk took us around vineyards and an expensive snooty restaurant. Barbara and her family were having a party - we got a fabulous family atmosphere, little kids running around, and constant offers and invitations to join them. The next day, Barbara drove us back to San Gimignano proper. I was sad to leave.

To find the place - I don't know the address or the number, but check out Let's Go for a listing for 'Gianni.' Call that number and ask for Barbara or ask about Podere Santa Elena. OR if you're in San Gimignano, take the main gate and go straight. On your left there will be a bakery with blue chairs - that's Barbara's bakery - super yummy and super friendly staff (stored our backpacks for the day). Ask about the guesthouse there. Has pics posted outside.

Podere Santa Elena

Tuscany, Italy

A Gelateria in Piazza della Cisterna

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

The BEST gelati I've ever tasted in Italy was here in San Gimignano. I liked it better than the ones I tried in Florence. It's located in Piazza della Cisterna. Directions: Approaching the piazza from the main gate, it's on the LEFT-hand side. It's small, award-winning, chockful of different flavours. My favorite one is banana, watermelon, and the creamy dolce amaro. Yummy. There's also another gelateria in Piazza della Cisterna - this one is on the immediate RIGHT-hand side as you approach from the same direction. I didn't like this one as much, but it's fairly decent.

Get your gelati and eat it sitting down on the steps of the cisterna.

A Gelateria in Piazza della Cisterna
Piazza della Cisterna, 4
Tuscany, Italy
0577-942244

Siena's Il Palio

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

Siena's Il Palio is THE festival in Tuscany. It's held twice per year. We went to the July 2 festival. The Palio is mainly a bareback horserace by ten representatives of ten different 'contradas' or 'districts' in Siena. There are no rules - you can whip your opponent, slam into them, tickle their horse, whatever. The aim is to careen around the Campo three times, and whoever wins gets the 'palio' or 'banner,' and - more importantly - BRAGGING RIGHTS for the year.

Many practice races are held in the days leading up to the Palio. Siena itself comes alive with many outdoor parties, midnight revelries, and rowdy chants of parading youth, cheering for their contradas. This is not an activity concocted solely for tourists. This is as local as it gets. Different contradas are represented with different banners/animals. Choose your favorite, get adopted by the locals, and party along with them all through the night.

Historic Centre of Siena

Siena, Tuscany

Il Palio Part II

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

The trial races on the days leading up to July 2 are heavily attended as well. To get to the Campo, either follow the many signs, or simply follow the crowds. Expect security to be tight. Siena's Campo is one of the most beautiful squares I've ever seen - there is something very serene and harmonious about it, inspite of the fact that it's a crazy madhouse when we were there. Feel free to sit on the bleachers. On the day of the race, these bleachers are NOT free, and often have to be reserved. But go for them during the trial races. Or, you can choose to park yourself within the fan-shaped area of the Campo, and see the action up-close. Out of the 17 contradas in Siena, only 10 get to race. After the trial race, fans would jump the barricades and trail after their horse/rider, singing and chanting along the way. During the actual day of Il Palio, Siena was impossibly packed.
Historic Centre of Siena

Siena, Tuscany

Medieval San Gimignano

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

San Gimignano used to be a pretty powerful town in Tuscany. It used to be a major cloth producer, which explains the many towers inside the city walls. Long time ago, cloth would be hung from these towers. Nowadays, only about thirteen towers remain. San Gimignano is a hilly town, lots of uphill and downhill cobblestone roads. But don't let this deter you. Part of the fun of exploring the town is getting yourself lost. Far from the main piazzas, you'll see the real San Gimignano - quiet, residential, and all so charmingly REAL.

During the day, the town is attacked by visiting daytrippers. They swarm around the Piazza della Cisterna (where the well is) and the Piazza della Duomo (where the church is). At dusk and in the evening, when they all leave, San Gimignano echoes with medieval magic. And early in the morning, its eerily deserted, save for the occassional street sweeper. Check out the city during these times - you won't regret it.

There are some spectacular views of the surrounding Tuscan hillside. Follow the map given by the tourist office. One of the more easy-to-find ones is just outside the main gate. Sit on the ledge with a bottle of Chianti and think again how very lucky you are to be here. I did that probably about a MILLION times on my trek across Europe. And a lot of those moments happened in Italy.

The other gate, Porto San Mateo, isn't as tourist-travelled. Just across the street from the gate is a sitting area which provides for a spectacular Tuscan sunset. I never realized that you can actually SEE the sun set - that you can actually see it going down - and it happens so fast. There are many benches there, as well as a payphone (in case you want to call a special someone back home and share the moment, or you may just want to call home and make everyone JEALOUS).


Why You Shouldn't Lose Your Camera Here

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

Of all the places I could have lost my beloved Pentax camera - why did it have to be small-town Italy, on a Saturday night, before a Sunday that was a major festival? Needless to say, I never did find my camera again.

I was on the bus from Siena to San Gimignano. My camera was in a shopping bag, along with a pair of slacks I bought. I hung it on the bus armrest, and of course, promptly FORGOT about it. After about ten minutes in San Gimigano, I realized my dumb mistake.

If you lose something, the best bet would be to go to the Tourist Office in San Gimignano and have THEM call around for you. Most people in small-town Italy - those who are not associated with the tourist trade - do NOT speak English. I found that out the hard way. I was reduced to standing by a payphone in a tabacci in Poggibonsi (which everyone calls the P-town), desperately calling the bus station, Campo Staggia, and desperately imploring people around me, 'parla inglese? parla inglese? per favore, parla inglese?' If there is one good thing to come out of this - it's the fact that in those desperate five hours, I picked up MORE Italian than I did in five days. Desperation made me shameless - I'd try out any words that I think might do, and if that fails, I'd go play a one-person game of charades.

It was an experience. SURREAL, at that time. Imagine being surrounded by curious locals in a tabacci shop in Poggibonsi during the Saturday night passegiata as the store owner explained my pathetic plight to them. The locals would then nod their heads sadly, commiseratingly, and then shrug and say the Italian version of 'c'est la vie.' That or you get teenage boys trying to pick you up at a time when you are utterly close to tears.

So I lost my camera. Had a good cry that night. And the next. And, a few days later, promptly bought a new one in Rome.


http://www.igougo.com/journal-j1436-Tuscany-Tuscany_A_Lazier_Pace_of_Life.html

©Travelocity.com LP 2000-2009