Friday, April 9:  Certaldo, San Gimignano

Breakfast was plentiful, no surprise there. The pleasant surprise was that our dinner meal from the night before was very reasonably priced. Just a tad more than some of the mediocre meals we have had elsewhere. After breakfast, I asked numerous questions of Chiara about where to go, where to get our laundry done, Internet access, etc. The day began with a light mist, followed by rain showers this afternoon, but we never got really drenched.

Squared away about 10 AM, we followed Chiara’s map into the new town of Certaldo and parked the car in the municipal lot that occupies half of the central square. Across the street we bought tickets for the funicular (a very short cable-powered rail line up the hill) for the 300 meter ride up to old Certaldo. Our first hill town is laid out along via Boccaccio, in memory of the famous Italian author from 600 or so years ago. In the Church of Saints Jacobi and Filipo we saw Boccaccio’s grave in the central aisle and the skeletal corpse of someone not clearly identified in an illuminated case off to one side. It was an interesting little town and a good starting point for our Tuscan explorations. But I am enjoying it more from our balcony, illuminated at night about a kilometer or two distant. (Photo 21)

We looked around town some -- the bike shop was not what I had expected, and investigated the laundry (not until Tuesday she eventually explained to us). I had difficulty getting out of the parking lot until I read that you paid for the parking at the office at the funicular down the street (of course!) and then had 10 minutes to get your validated ticket into the reader at the exit gate. Then we set off for San Gimignano, the prototypical hill town some 13 kilometers from our hotel. It was a gradual climb up sweeping turns through vineyards, and I tried to imagine myself on a bicycle; my bicycle, any bicycle. San Gimignano is famous for its collection of fourteen, square stone towers, down from a high of seventy-two back in 1300 AD. It is also famous for being something of a tourist trap. We had to wait a bit for parking just outside the town, but it was then a very short walk to the main gate in the city walls.

We headed for the tourist information center (closed until 3 PM) and then without a comprehensive map struggled to find Enoteca Gustavo a lunch spot recommended by Chiara. It was a small place, playing California music from the late 60’s (Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, Simon and Garfunkel). Our waitress, the daughter, was about the age of my students, but as Jefferson Airplane’s Need Somebody to Love blared out, I asked her anyway if she’d been in San Francisco for the “Summer of Love” (1969). “No, the music is my mother’s, but I like it too.” She helped us with the menu in good English, the boys sampled cheeses and opted for the more flavorful, older cheese, Pat had a full plate of four different bruschetta, and I was talked into a sandwich with cheese and “lardo di colonnata” -- lard that looked like meat-deficient (non-existent) bacon. It made for a good grilled sandwich. And I ordered a Sanbitter that was as enjoyable as yesterday afternoon’s. On the way out I asked the female half of the ownership if she had been to California. “No, never!”, came her quick response with a knowing and mischievous smile.

Lunch done, we paid 5 euro to climb the Torre Grossa, the tallest of the towers, connected to the town hall on the main plaza. The metal stairways with gratings for steps wound their way along the walls of the interior of the tower, inducing more vertigo. But the view from the top was outstanding and we took lots of photos. We departed hastily, as Chiara had given us vouchers for a discounted tour of the city and we were cutting it close on the start time. (Photo 19) (Photo 20) (Photo 39)

Back to the main gate, we located the tour. The sign, which was identical to our vouchers (only enlarged), had arrows pointing to the 5 euro price, saying “discount voucher” and in handwriting said “15 euro per person.” This lead me to believe we had a 5 euro discount on a 15 euro price, rather than a 5 euro price total. Turned out I was wrong, and then I was told that the entire cost of the tour was a gift of the hotel! Chiara had written something on the back in Italian, which I had paid no attention to, nor tried to translate. The tour was good, and the boys got a feel for what a guided tour was like. We bailed out before the end, when the group paid admission into the cathedral.

Back to the hotel, we napped, did homework, wrote journals, and organized photos. After the obligatory slide shows of our photos, we headed downstairs for another dinner at Ristorante Latini. Chiara got us started and then another waiter took over. Pat read that the only white wine worth drinking in Italy comes from this region, so we tried the house version of that. Chiara said that it was produced by a friend of hers at her winery. Her friend’s husband has his own winery also. His and hers wineries. Hmmm. . .  (Photo 36)

Soup for the first course, and Pat and I had a farro soup made from grain, with white beans, an old Etruscan dish. Very good and I ended up having three bowls worth from the ample tureen. We steeled ourselves to have just one more course. The boys split spaghetti, while Pat repeated last night’s ravioli stuffed with truffles. I had “pici” a fat spaghetti noodle known to the Etruscans, covered with sausage, kale and lots of olive oil. I was stuffed. However, we must continue with the typical Tuscan selections so Giovanni sent over biscotti to dip in a small glass of sweet dinner wine and a small cup of grapes marinated in some clear alcoholic concoction. We asked Chiara what it was exactly and she said she didn’t know! “My grandfather makes it, and we are never quite sure just what is in it. He didn’t put any anise in it this time, did he?” It was another fabulous meal, and I left the table stuffed.

Tomorrow we take the train into Firenze.

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Photo 19  San Gimignano
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Photo 20  San Gimignano

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Photo 21  Certaldo, via Boaccacio
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Photo 22  Sienna City Hall