Cinque Terre Stories and Tips

Into Tuscany: A Most Romantic Roundabout

Oh, boy! Tuscany! We, of course, did not want to take the highway through to San Gimignano and therefore opted to take the little yellow roads outlined in our map... country roads. We were headed from five peaceful days of knowing pretty much where we were going to suddenly being map-reading challenged. Between Oliver and I, we couldn't have found our way out of a paper bag!

As best put by Oliver, 'If we have decided we have no idea where we're going, we better get enough gas to get there...'

After a full evening of driving and getting lost, we finally found our way to San Gimignano. It was just like the pictures in the book I'd read about it. Medieval, beautiful plazas, great architecture, terra cotta red in the setting sun. We parked the car outside the city wall and wandered in, starved for a good meal (as if we hadn't eaten well in a week). Oliver knew just the restaurant and we figured we could find a room after we were midnight.

Lo and behold, the whole town was booked solid for the night. We had to go back to the car, inebriated, arguing about whether to pitch a tent (me) in the next field, or find a hotel room (Oliver). We drove around and around, backtracking toward villages where we'd been, still trying to find the correlation between the map's instructions and the actual roads on which we were driving. There seemed to be no comparison.

After intense discussion (I refused to knock on the private doors of those offering rooms, not at one o'clock in the morning. For what!?), we drove toward a campground in Volterra, finally broke our way into it, pitched a tent in total darkness and slept until dawn, which is when we paid the minimal fee for having slept there.

Right across from us had been a lit up church. We decided to explore that before breakfast. It was San Guimo, built in 1628. It used to be a cloister and the statues are from the 14th-Century.

It was our last full day in Italy. Since we had gotten so incredibly lost the day before and the first attempt to find Siena failed (ALL the roads pointed to Siena!), we decided to simply head toward Austria again, through Bologna, Modena and Verona to Brennerpass at the Tyrolean border. We took all country roads, seeing the ruins, the fields of poppies, the typical Italian architecture.

However, before leaving Volterra, we explored the village, wandering into shops and awed by the prices of some things, tempted by others (like a gorgeous marble chess set). At an extremely busy and packed coffee bar, Oliver and I were lucky to find a little table where we had sandwiches and cappuccino for breakfast. Italian dramas played out right before our eyes. It was as if all the locals had just been let out of some sort of coffee fast. Everyone rushed in just before 10:30 (probably to order the last cappuccino allowed for the day, according to Italian tradition). The baristas rocked and rolled, the owner warmly welcoming everyone with a quick wit and flashy smile. There were women lined up waiting to talk to him, while I guessed that he'd once had an affair with one of the women working behind the bar with him. The way she looked at him disgustedly while he flirted shyly was the mark of pure jealousy. Oliver and I laughed, amazed by the Italians and their loud, vibrant, easy-going ways.

We were in great spirits out of Volterra. Oliver and I stopped to photograph poppy fields and gorgeous landscapes (amid pesky, relentless mosquitoes; otherwise by this time, I was ready to throw Oliver into one of those fields and ravage him...control was slipping fast).

The road out was very romantic except trying to find the conveniences. The day we tried to find a hotel for the night, we could only find restaurants; when we searched for restaurants, we could only find hotels. It was maddening. But, we were pretty easy going until Oliver felt a surge of panicky hunger come on. Then I could see he was standing on the precipice, wishing he were at home with a plate full of speck, bread and cheese! We opted for pastries at a bakery to tide over our overwhelming hunger and drove on. I guaranteed him that the next big(ger) city we drove to would surely have a restaurant. In Mirandola, we did indeed find a nice restaurant as well as a spring festival. It lifted our spirits and we found a hotel not too far from Verona without trouble.

The next morning, Sunday, we had to make it back to Dornbirn. Things had also changed between us. I had made a decision which would leave me in Dornbirn for another eleven weeks...

We drove through Chianti country, stopping in Castellina de Chianti where Oliver joked about the Italian toilets (just holes over which even women have to squat): 'I wonder how they read their newspapers...' We stopped at a restaurant which sported a glorious view of wine country, but it was closed (north on A1 from Poggobonsi in Castillina de Chianti). Next time. For there will be many opportunities in the future...

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