Night Location: San Gimignano, Italy
Song of the Day: I'm too sexy - Right Said Fred
Mumisode of the Day: "Should we turn this man off?" referring to Dad's continued refusal to follow the Navman's advice.
So here we are on our final night in San Gimignano, a gorgeous medieval walled town in the heart of Tuscany. We have absolutely fallen in love with the town. We are staying in a renovated farmhouse that has been converted into apartments. Amber and David are in the loft, where their bed lies underneath the original terracotta tiles. Very charming. The town is filled with leather bag shops where the girls have all bought bags of various shapes, sizes and colours. It is also home to our favourite pizza so far on the journey, a little hole in the wall so to speak, where you buy your pizza by the slice, fresh out of the oven and eat it sitting on the stairs of the duomo watching the other people walk past. We have also eaten gelato from the winner of the world gelato competition. It has some very unusual flavours including mint (David's favourite) and rosemary and raspberry.
The internet here has been slightly dodgy and so here we are persisting with it on our last night because who knows where we will find internet next. The last few days have been fairly packed.
The transit from Rome to San Gimignano was a little extreme for two reasons. Firstly, the Italian airport link train has extreme stairs up into the carriage, that really are NOT made for transporting baggage. Amber was responsible for hoisting the luggage up into the train to Gemma and then climbing up the ladder/stairs to be followed by the rest of the group. The luggage was then thrown down the ladder on disembarkation.
While we were waiting for our hire car at the Rome airport, we were able to observe another American family of six with six pieces of luggage each, all trying to cram into a people-mover with varying success. This comforted us significantly. We are able to pack our car with ease in comparison.
The extreme aspect was Assisi, the town of the day, the home of the patron saint of Italy, St Francis. The extremity came as unfortunately, we seem to have the great skill of parking in the carpark that is either the farthest away from the site we are visiting, or one that is the farthest in height from the site we are visiting. The carpark in Assisi was both. We walked down a huge hill, so far down that one-fifth of the way down we paused for lunch. We then continued down and down, and continued down. The basilica itself was incredible. Perched on its own rocky wall, it has an amazing vista over the valley below. The church is lined with 12th century frescoes. You can walk down into the lower church and see the tomb of St Francis. On the way back up the hill, Gemma had to pause for a lemon gelato. Amber and David powered their way to the top, and Dad came last on his shortcut.
The highlight of the first day in San Gimignano was the climbing of the terre grosse (large tower)with 218 advertised steps, 197 as counted by Amber (bargain). The view from the top was incredible. However, the best view was of Amber's bra as the wind blew her T-Shirt over her head as she ascended the ladder at the top. She was mortified. We took photos of the tiny dots of Mum and Dad below, and then some of Amber 'falling' off the wall with David anchoring her down.
Saturday we ventured off to Volterra, where we made two abortive attempts at parking the car. The second attempt, also in a zone where we were likely to be towed, involved Dad shimmying over the gearstick and out the passenger door as he had parked against a hedge/cliff edge so as to get off the road. We decided not to tell him that it was a no-parking area until he had exited, head first out the door. We decided to move on.
The next town had a far better parking situation. As David pointed out, the parking area was three times larger than the town itself. NO exaggeration. We had packed a picnic lunch, and instead of venturing up the hill with the food, we decided to eat it at a conveniently placed table at the exit of the carpark. It caused quite a sensation for passers-by. We don't think picnics are done here very often, as this was the first picnic table we had seen in Italy. Interestingly, there were three more inside the town in more picturesque locations. Very odd town: picnic tables and ginormous parking area. Also, no toilet inside town at all. After Mum asked, we were advised to return down the hill to ginormous parking area, where the town facilities are located.
Our day then took us to Siena, where we pulled up under a tree in a car park where no-one could exit the vehicle. It was decided that before any limbo out the boot was attempted, we should check that we were in the right location. Particularly as Mum had made the comment "Should we turn this man off?" after Dad had continued to ignore its directions. When we asked Navman, he informed us that we were 4km from our desired location. As we pulled in to the next carpark, there was a mutter amongst the group about a repeat of Assisi, as we were at the base of Siena, and could see the huge duomo looming high, HIGH above us. Luckily, the carpark contained a lift, and then led us to an area where we ascended at least six escalators to the top. Our luck had turned!
The main square of Siena was fabulous. It slopes down toward the town hall, and everyone was out enjoying the sunshine. As luck would have it, they were awaiting the junior competition for flag-throwing. Not sure if you are aware or not, but it is a big thing in Siena to wave your suburb's flag in a particular routine and then toss it high in the air and catch it again, all to a beating drum. This is a competition that is taken very seriously and they obviously start them at a young age. (Flag throwing was featured in the 'Amazing Race', a hilarious episode).
Next in Siena was the duomo. It was really impressive as the marble mosaics on the floor were uncovered for their annual viewing and they were just incredible. The group made the effort to climb up and see the 'panorama' of Siena (only 131 stairs this time, although very steep and spiralling). Finally, we ate dinner overlooking the main square at sunset, watching the moon rise up over the bell tower.
Today has been spent in Florence, another harrowing experience with the carparking. As we entered the local zone traffic area, which we were not supposed to do, Amber warned us that you get fined 90 euro every time you pass a camera, of which there are many. Thankfully the cameras are not operational on Sundays, just like many of the main tourist attractions, shops and barbers of Florence. David and Amber missed out on climbing the dome, while the rest of us missed out on the library.
We made up for this by spending a small fortune on afternoon tea, where we were consoled with a fruit tart (the best of Amber's life), della nonna (custard cake) and sacher torte, along with cappuccino freddo and ciccolata calda (surprisingly HOT chocolate).
The highlight of the day, came after this. Florence is home to Michelangelo's 'David.' David had his photo taken with 'David.' Amber also purchased him a 'David' apron, featuring the lower half of the statue. David was then made to pose as 'David' on Michelangelo's piazza. There were many pictures, hilarious. Very fitting with todays' song, 'I'm too sexy'. (I'm too sexy for my shirt. I'm a model you know what I mean, and I do my little turn on the catwalk - above Florence).
Gemma, Amber and David returned to their favourite pizza place for dinner. David wished to stand by the pizza stand as he said it would be too far to come back for the next slice. Amber convinced him that just around the corner was OK. He is in love with the funghi pizza. Next was the return to the world famous gelato, where we froze sitting on the cisterna steps with massive (not extra-grande) cones.
Tomorrow we are off to La Spezia via Pisa and Lucca where we plan to ride bikes around the town ramparts at Lucca. Gemma and Amber are a bit concerned about riding on the correct side (right) of the road. Could be a few collisions!