Wednesday, September 12

Today we went to Siena.

We started by taking the scenic route, but after driving through Pogibonsi several times we decided to get on the Autostrada.  We finally got there after an hour and a half.  It was way better than San Gimignano. It is much bigger and there are more churches so the stores seem less "Woodfieldy".  The biggest tourist attraction is the Piazzo del Campo, the main town square, and the clock tower, the Torre del Mangia.

First we climbed the 400 (aarrgghh!!) stairs to the top of the bell tower. From there we could see the entire countryside and the wall of the original town.  Then down...not so easy.

next we went into several churches. The neatest was in the Duomo Cathedral which is the only church where the entire floor is covered with marble inlay pictures of biblical scenes, etc.  The amazing thing is that many of those scenes are only uncovered once a year - in September!! So we were very lucky to be able to see them.

Then we had a nice lunch of linguini with rucola and shrimp salad with radicchio and asparagus. Oh...and some very good gelato.  many more stairs and lots of walking. Then we got back on the A2 and made it directly back to Montaione.  And of course, another dinner. We ate at Carpe Diem. Wayne had linguini con vongole (clams); Wendy had linguini with pesto and tomatoes. Then we shared steak with porcini mushrooms and white beans. Then a "delicate almond cake".  It was just a neighborhood spot, but very down-to-earth and delicious.  What was more memorable was when the waitress took our United Airlines credit card. She asked if we were Americans, then went on to express her condolences for the tragedy.  This was the same sentiment echoed at our hotel; they said it was our home away from home and would be happy to provide anything we needed.  All of these people did provide some solace to us.

Thursday, September 13

Today we visited two smaller towns in the region. We took the SI-FI Highway (yes! Siena - Firenze) back toward Siena, but turned off and headed to Monteriggioni. The roads here are great! The autostrada is very nice and here, too (as in Florence) people are good drivers. The country roads are two-lane and very windy (as in switchbacks); first up then down, but there was very little traffic so the driving was wonderful. And we passed by many fields of sunflowers - some yellow and pointing their smiling faces skyward; others withered and sere with their heads bowed down. And many, many vineyards with purple grapes hanging heavy on the vines. 

So Monteriggioni (built in the early 1200s!) was like San Gimignano, a walled "city", only smaller, less crowded, less touristy, and fewer stores. So it was more in its "raw" state. There were lots of signs explaining the history and architectural details of the walls and towers.

Then we went back through the countryside to the Etruscan town of Volterra (basically, several thousand years old!). A large walled city complete with piazzas, churches, and an internet café! This town was recommended by our hotel as the perfect place for a picnic...and they were so right! The gardens (in the shadow of a medieval castle) were beautiful. We bought some paninis, grilled veggies and some pastries. And, despite the tiny ants, the picnic was very romantic.

Then we drove back through the countryside (we've put on about 400km already!).

Dinner was at Casa Masi, a Tuscan farmhouse about 10 minutes (in the other direction) from our hotel. It was a really pretty room.  We had mushroom soup (Wa), ravioli filled with mushrooms in an onion sauce (We), veal with lemon sauce (Wa), roasted squab in a sweet wine sauce (We). Dessert was the mixed platter, which included chocolate-dipped strawberries, cheesecake, apple tart, chocolate mousse, and cake with pine nuts. overkill? You bet!!!  But fun and tasty.

Friday, September 14

before breakfast we walked around the old part of town. Really quaint, but it still is a town - people live and work there! We went to an open air market, which included not only the normal fruits and vegetables, but also fresh fish, roasted chicken, cheeses, clothes and books! They have this market once a week, so again we were lucky to see this slice of real Italian life.

Had a lovely breakfast and then checked out of Palazzo Mannaione. Once again, the staff was just fantastic. In every place we've stayed everyone has been so nice.

So we took the two-lane through to Poggibonsi (now a very familiar way to go) and then on the autostrada to Siena to catch our train to Rome.  Here is where the word "harrowing" comes into play. We needed to drop the car off at Avis before noon (or pay extra), and our train is scheduled to leave at 12;20. It's 10:51 - no problem, right?  uh-uh. Siena is the worst for finding your way around by car!!!  Like all of the Italian cities, the streets are marked (if at all!) by a stone slab carved into a wall of a building on the corner. So it is nearly impossible to come up to an intersection and see the name of the cross street! We had a map (provided by our hotel) of the street where the Avis drop-off location was, but we had no idea how to get to that street or even what street we were on once we left the autostrada! D'oh! That was a blunder! So we stopped to ask a caribinieri (who no spoke English). He drew a line on our map and pointed. We followed it and after a while ended up.....somewhere! So we asked another polizia and he said left, right, left. Next thing we knew we were headed toward the on-ramp for the autostrada!!!! Yikes! So we pulled over and jumped out and asked a pedestrian (who luckily was Canadian) and she pointed and said "Stay right". We drove and did and found the correct street!!!  AAArrrgghhh!!! it was 10 feet from where we were after polizia #2!  We drove down the street (it was only 2 blocks long - no wonder we couldn't find it!), and still couldn't see the Avis place! So we asked another pedestrian and he said "Go back 300 meters". We blocked traffic and made a U-turn and drove back and there it was: a tiny store-front with only a little "Avis" sticker on the door!  Sheesh!  We were looking for a good old American huge-lot-rental-car-return center! We parked - again blocking traffic as it was a narrow street - and ran inside and....nobody there!!!!!!!!! "Buon Giorno", we shouted. After un minute someone came in the front door....the employees were having coffee at the bar next door!  What time was it? 11:55!!! One hour to find the place!!!! We said "Here's our key, please call a taxi".  One came a few minutes later. Luckily, the stazzione was only a short ride away, and Mr. Taximan knew the way, so we got there at 12:05 and made our train! Whew!!!!!!

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