On a drizzly Thursday morning, J and I caught a train from Monterosso to La Spezia. We tried to find awnings on the walk from central station to the car rental counter.
After some paperwork, a new grey Fiat Punto was brought out of the garage, and I took the driver’s seat for rushed self-encouragement.
“You can do this,” I told myself. “You can drive a stick. You can drive in the rain. You can avoid smashing into Italians or Italian scenery.”
I stuttered into first gear and the next as I pulled into the obstacle-filled street. The standard transmission lobe of my brain was quickly reactivated.
J guided me through the urban turns towards the country highways. We traveled along hilly roads and in river valleys. It was rainy. Due to dire restroom and hunger needs, we stopped at a random restaurant in the middle of nowhere. The meal ended up being the best meal in Italy so far: faro soup, green salad, gnocchi with pesto, slow cooked lamb in olives with mashed potatoes. Bowl of bread. Sparkling water to drink. €20.
After entering the Autostrada, or toll highway, it was a swift and simple drive from Lucca to Florence.
We exited, paid our €5.70 toll, and headed southward. The windy road passed through small villages and became alarmingly narrow. Cars enjoyed passing, drifting over the center line in the curves, and tailgating. Hairpin turns always seemed to reveal an oncoming car. Villagers wandered the narrow or nonexistent shoulder.
An old stone bridge.
Me and my Punto.
Our AirBnB apartment was on the lower level of an hundreds year old hilltop estate in San Donato in Collina. It was a little mildew-smelling, but otherwise perfect. The windows overlooked the vineyard and olive grove filled valley, and on a clear day we could see Florence.
They provided a free bottle of local wine.
Our first night, we bought essential groceries from the handful of small shops on the main road through town. We walked up the hill to enjoy the sunset, then returned to make dinner: pasta.
Approaching our apartment.
The main house our apartment was attached to.
Earthworm greeting, perhaps brought by one of the cats.
Tracks towards olives.
Sunset with Florence in the distance.
On Friday, we drove down the hill to the closest supermarket called COOP. It was packed with elderly people, and some of them sang.
We unloaded our haul and went for a walk to a crumbling monastery five kilometers away.
The air was crisp and the wind blew fiercely. The structure had scaffolding around it, but it looked like the restoration had been abandoned.
To get a better view, we ascended the hill. But the woods remained dense and we saw more and more spent shotgun shells. We turned back.
We made dinner at home with our bounty of groceries: pasta, bread with cheese, and vegetables.
Our COOP supermarket haul for €45.
Pink postal box.
Walking road to the monastery.
Olive pruning ladder.
Another trail view.
Trail marker in the shotgun shell woods.
A view of Florence and the old monastery.
Danger: fallen wall.
Walking the perimeter.
Old tool shed.
Looking at the tiny town of San Danato. Our place was the grey building in the middle left on top of the hill.
Saturday, we drove the famous Chianti Route 222 from Ponte A Ema to Siena. The scenery was wonderful: rolling green hills of olive trees, dormant grapevines, and broad beans. Little smoke signals sprung from every estate as piles of vine trimmings burned.
We drove without stopping except for a short break in a quaint hillside town. We had a lot of road to cover.
Ready for new grape vines.
Woman walking home with flowers from the market.
Secure parking spot.
J and the Robocop toilet.
Vent and rail.
Closed castle museum.
Some of the only laundry I haven’t seen hung from a window.
Siena was filled with tourists but still a charming Medieval-feeling wonderland of shadowy alleyways, aged brick buildings, and sloping streets.
Parking was a challenge, but after some exploration, we found free street parking near the train station.
J and I enjoyed wandering around and seeing where paths took us. There was rich detail and photo opportunities in every direction.
We timed our trip at the wrong time for a full meal, so we ate rustic pizza, gelato, and panforte.
Under the walkway and dreaming.
Italian Bill Murray.
Arch and circular window.
A woman walks her dog.
Stacks on stacks.
Amazing looking cheeses.
Looking up in the courtyard of Palazzo Pubblico.
Legs of ham.
Lined with heads.
The whole floor was carved marble illustrations.
Another dome view.
Library floor tiles.
Old and newish.
We left Siena with enough daylight to take another route back through the hills. I enjoyed the drive and took the turns with more gusto.
On Sunday, we drove to Florence. The traffic became dense and intimidating the closer we got, but we found free parking in the crowded Piazzale Michelangelo parking area. It’s probably the most scenic parking spot in town, as the hillside view overlooks the entire city across the river.
My energy level was low for both exploration and photos. We crisscrossed town between some of the main sights, stopped for artisan pizza and gelato, and went back to Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sun set.
But we decided against it. It would be another hour in the crowds, and then we’d have to drive the crazy roads home in the dark.
Wicked pipes of the east.
Basilica of Santa Croce and bubbles.
Red bike diaries.
Buildings along the river.
Man crossing into the light.
Man coming home.
Massive brass budget.
Parking entrance to a government building.
View from Piazzale Michelangelo.
Another view, pre sunset.
On Monday morning, we relaxed at the apartment. We drove to Fiesole for lunch/dinner, but a wrong turn sent us 18km (€.50) in the wrong direction on the autostrada. We exited and took a meandering route through the hills back home. We cooked pasta and vegetables for dinner instead.
Cool old car parked on the property.
One of many abandoned and overgrown farm houses.
Another abandoned house.
Underpass after a hectic stretch of town.
My pee stop.
On Tuesday, we left the apartment early and drove efficiently along the autostrada to our destination.
San Gimignano is a small walled medieval hill town in the province of Siena, Tuscany, north-central Italy. It’s famous for its medieval architecture, especially for the preserved tower houses.
We climbed to the top of the main bell tower to enjoy the windy view of the region.
Like the other towns in Tuscany we visited, this town was wonderful to wander. And afterwards, it was fun to wander back via car.
Field of greens.
Scenic phone company worker.
Our first view from the town.
High road or low road?
A main street out of history.
Walking the perimeter wall.
Nearing the top of the tower, in the head bonking zone.
An epic view.
Surveying for gelato.
The view of San Gimignano from a one lane dirt road with blind curves in the hills.
On Wednesday morning, we began our three hour drive to Venice.
J in the olive grove.
Goodbye San Danato.
It was sad to see the red slash through the San Danato sign, but I looked forward to a future with roads paved in water.