Our last day in Tuscany was very full. In the morning we went to San Gimignano, a little medieval village on a hilltop. And it certainly was a charming place. The bus parked in the bus carpark with the other buses at the bottom of the hill and we walked up, through the gates, into the town. Have you noticed a pattern here?
The town is famous for its towers. Each powerful family tried to outdo the rest by building a higher tower, so in the distance the little town looks like the CBD of a modern city. Eventually everyone agreed that no tower could be higher than the church tower. This link will tell you a little more about the city’s history – and show you a landscape photo of the towers on the hill.
There’s no doubt these places were very much like castles. Often you’ll find two sets of gates close together with an enclosed area between them, That was so you could trap the enemy between the two and drop boiling water, or fire, or faeces down on them. Apart from the entrance gate this town has two main squares, with gates between them. One – the most important one at those times – has the well which supplied water to the town. When we visited both squares were chock full of market stalls, and tables and chairs spilling out from cafes and restaurants. And people.
Walking up the hill we passed craft shops, food shops (many displaying wild boar, which seems to be a speciality in these parts), souvenir places offering Florentine leather goods at much better prices than in Florence itself. Needless to say, the streets were full of tourists.
However, if you kept your eyes open to read the signs, you could nip away from the throngs onto places with panoramic views over the surrounding countryside.
Roberto wasn’t driving our bus today. He was ‘out of hours’ so another fellow did the driving, though Roberto did come along, too. We set off down the motorway and through several of the many, many toll points. It costs a bit to drive on Italian roads. Then we veered off into the Tuscan landscape, all rolling hills and golds and browns. It reminded me a little of Australia.
One thing we didn’t see much of at any time in Italy was livestock out in the fields. It was so rare that one of us would say, “Oh look. There’s a cow.” We never got a good explanation. But we were told that just about everyone in Italy takes August off. Factories close – and we knew that was true because we visited a leather factory where we were shown how goods were made, although there were no workers at the benches. So we figured the animals had gone to the beach, too.
We drove along narrow country roads barely big enough for the bus, negotiating curves and hair pin bends. I guess the drivers are used to it in the little towns. They try to leave enough space for the buses to ease their way through. But it doesn’t always work out. Our bus side-swiped a BMW. The bus driver didn’t stop, later claiming he didn’t know he’d hit anybody. Maybe he didn’t, but we in the middle rows of the bus heard the noise and felt the bump. The evidence was displayed along the bus’s side, a long scratch of black paint.
Our destination was a sheep farm which specialised in making pecorino cheese. We had lunch there, sampling pecorino of different ages. I confess I found it a bit bland and tasteless. But we had a lovely lunch of tomato soup followed by cheese, salad and cold meats. I’d count it as the nicest meal we had in Italy. We still didn’t see any sheep, although the resident donkey at least showed us his rear end as he flounced off. We were told the sheep were resting down in the gully in the shade. At least that made sense.
That evening, the last of the tour, Roberto drove us to the second hilltop of Montecatini Alto, not the one where the funiculare runs, where we were taken to a restaurant overlooking the town for what we were told would be a Tuscan feast. At a different time of year we might have seen a great sunset. The meal itself was interesting. We were served a plate of antipasto, consisting of different salamis. Nothing else. The soup was spelt mixed with diced vegetables (Spelt is a bit like pearl barley). This was followed by two types of pasta with sauces. There’s never much sauce with pasta in Italy. After that we were offered a plate of white beans, something like butter beans. The four of us declined, pretty full up on stodge by now. There were two meats courses; a slow cooked beef stew, and thinly sliced roast beef served with a green vegetable like spinach. All of this was accompanied by local wine, red and/or white. We all remarked on the absence of vegetables.
Dessert was delicious, pastry topped with custard and fruit in clear jelly, like a fruit flan.
And that’s it for Europe 2018. Unless you didn’t read about our Wonderful Trip Home. Don’t miss that. You’ll find it here.
Oh – and if you like my blogs, you might like my BOOKS. They’re for sale, you know.