Getting up the next morning, I was not surprised to see two empty beds where the crazy Kentuckians had once slept. But I had no time to dwell on their absence. Rather I had to prepare for my own. But of course, like a normal person, I planned to return back to Florence at the end of the day.
I was off on this sunny day to San Gimignano (though Kug will tell you that that was a mother of a word for me to say correctly for the longest time) and the Chianti region. Being in the heart of Tuscany, I did want to experience a sip of the wine country that made this place so well-known so when the opportunity to take a day tour came along, I grabbed ahold and rode the wave.
All in all, after considering my options, this tour was a great value. You left early, went to San Gimignano in the morning, had a nice lunch in the Chianti region and ended the day in Siena which was a place I had been told I must visit. As far as bang for your buck goes, this sucker packed a punch! Less that $50 for a whole day’s activities? Sign me up!
While Siena had been on my mind, San Gimignano had all but avoided it until Hannah mentioned that she had stayed there when we were traveling together in Naples. What really stuck with me was her mentioning that they have the best gelateria in the world. I thought she was exaggerating, but lo and behold, upon my arrival, the tour guide made sure to mention that the gelato from Gelateria Dondoli has been officially rated the best in Tuscany. It has also proved best in the world in past years, but I’m not one for semantics. Any gelato is good gelato in my book. Especially in Italy. Ironically enough this was my first gelato experience in this country. It seems like, knowing me, this is the first thing I would do, but strangely enough it took me more than a week to get around to this scrumptious little treat. In my mind, I was just waiting for the best option, and by golly if this wasn’t it.
Everyone is of course familiar with your typical gelato flavors; you’ve got your chocolate and vanilla, a couple sorbets, stracciatella and a coupe nutty ones like hazelnut and pistachio. Gelateria Dondeli has those, of course, but in addition they offer a whole range of crazy flavors like nothing you will ever have in your lifetime. Hannah told me that she had tried the raspberry rosemary and the chocolate Grand Mariner, but I had my sights set on the prize winners. The flavors that made this place famous. Blueberry ricotta and saffron cream. If your mouth isn’t watering now, you must be devoid of tastebuds. Together, these two whimsical taste sensations combined in a flavorful swirl of sugar, spice, and everything nice. It was the best gelato I’ve ever had, and I’m not just saying that because they have the certificate to prove it; it really was amazing. And it’s not too bad starting the morning off with a little sugar kick. If only they had this gelato in the states; it’d be my new coffee.
After enjoying my tasty Tuscan treat, I took to the streets of the town to see what else this quaint little village had to offer. Aside from it’s hand crafted and artisanal wares, it was your perfectly picturesque Tuscan town. Unable to afford any of the aforementioned artisanal goods, I opted instead to admire at the breathtaking views. It looked just like the menu at Olive Garden, rows and rows of vineyards and olive trees as far as the eye could see. I could’ve spent all day just admiring the scene set before me, but before I knew it, it was time t get back on the bus and head to the next stop: the winery.
If it wasn’t enough just to see the vineyards, I got to taste them as well (so to speak, that is). Although the lunch was nothing to rave about, the experience was unforgettable. The sommelier of the vineyard we visited was quite the charismatic fellow. Obviously used to pandering to what the tourists want to hear, he explained to us all the story of the Chianti and San Genovese grape and told us how Tuscan wine has become such a frontrunner in the wine markets of today. Wine tasting in Tuscany is something many of us vino enthusiasts dream of doing, and I’m very happy to say that I have finally achieved that level of “wine person” status.
After getting my drink on at the winery, we were back on the bus heading to Siena. Now, as I mentioned, I had an anthropology professor that was from Italy. When I asked her for her thoughts on my own Italian itinerary, she suggested that I take a day to check out Siena. Originally that had been the only place I was planning to take a day trip to, but when this tour opportunity came along, I figured why not see a little bit more? It was a great choice, and a great way to squeeze a few extra things into your stay in Florence, or wherever your trip may take you. But I digress.
Back in Siena, we were given the opportunity to take a guided tour of the town with a local tour guide. She was very friendly and so fluent in English that I could’ve sworn she had adopted a British accent. She knew all kinds of neat and interesting information about the town and was able to make it interesting for everyone on the tour, not just the history buffs. One thing she told us about that totally blew my mind was the Palio di Siena, a massive horse race that takes place literally in the center of town. Now, having been standing in the “arena”, I’m here to tell you that watching horses race around in such a compact space would definitely ignite some sort of latent claustrophobia (if such a thing exists). But, she assured us that this race happens every year and it brings a massive crowd! It is hard to remember the exact figures, but it’s thousands of people! And, while this may not sound like a lot, once you get a sense of the space we’re talking about, it’ll feel like millions. This race, though it only happens twice a year, is obviously the highlight of Siena’s cultural scene; all the souvenir shops, city streets, and even the medieval buildings are all marked with evidence of the Palio di Siena.
If you don’t go to Siena for the race, definitely go for the cathedral. I tell you this is one of the most magnificent facades I have ever seen. I have seen my fair share of grand cathedrals, and this one still ranks at the top of the list; it really is absolutely stunning. I was so mesmerized by what was happening on the outside of the church that I never made it inside (also, the line was really long)! But finally, I pulled myself away. As the sun began to slowly start creeping down in the sky, I used my remaining minutes in Siena poking around the shops and walking down the busy little streets. Walking along, something shiny caught my eye from a store window and as I approached to get a better look I realized that I had found the most beautiful Italian leather purses in all the land! Even though I knew they were all totally out of my price range, I had time to spare so I went in anyway. After all, everyone knows window shopping is a total rouse. But of course, the inevitable happened: I fell in love, with a gorgeous purse. Standing there, holding the most beautiful bag in the world, I began to negotiate with myself about how I might possibly be able to take this purse home. I felt like a little kid trying to convince their parents that they need a dog; “I’ll walk it”, “I’ll feed it”. Only in my case it was more like “I could put it on my Visa, credit card debt isn’t a bad thing really..” Eventually, me, myself, and I decided that I needed the purse (although I suppose you could’ve have guessed how this story was going to end, I’m a girl and we’re talking about a purse here!). Yeah, it set me back a pretty penny, but it was a pretty purse so I consider it a fair exchange.
Getting back on the bus for the last time, I conversed with my fellow tour goers about the tour, what they did in Siena, what they liked the most about the day, and whatever other prattle you may think of on a bus with strangers. Feeling the slightest twinge of buyer’s remorse, I asked my fellow men and women what they thought about my spendy purchase. Resoundingly, the response was very favorable. Not only to the quality and craftsmanship of the handbag, but also to the indulgent appropriation of funds. Money, of course, you can always make back. But, the opportunity to live this day again sets with the sun over these rolling Tuscan hills. So, in short, carpe diem and carpe handbag!