Fog had settled in to the Tuscan valleys and hills giving them a mystical feel as we started our day. Our tour guide/driver, Carlos, arrived at our hotel right on time and six of us were on our way to the medieval town of San Gimignano.
The town of San Gimignano sits high on a hill and is nicknamed the town of a hundred towers. Until the thirteenth century, the town had 72 towers. Only fourteen are standing today. Why so many? Wealth and prestige and war.
San Gimignano is located between Florence and Siena and for 400 years was caught between the two cities in a war that raged for control of the Tuscan area. Our guide told us that Italy was a country made up of regions but not really a nation until the nineteenth century thus the regions were always fighting over who controlled what. In the walled town, the towers were a means of early warning and defense. Of course it didn’t hurt to have a lot of money to build your own tower and just like today, size did matter.
The early tour was good and bad in that we arrived early enough before the major tour buses but too early to get into the church which didn’t open until it was almost time for us to head back to the minibus. Carlos dropped us off at the arched entryway which was still open to traffic to allow restaurants and shops to receive deliveries. As soon as tour groups began arriving, the entry was closed to cars and trucks.
Carlos had given us some direction for our self-guided tour and we followed his suggestion. We had visited this same town once on a precruise excursion from Rome and it was beginning to come back to me.
Lots of shops were opening and pulling out their wares for display. We continued our way up the main avenue and soon arrived at the piazza in front of the church. Since it didn’t open until ten, we wandered around the outside and back to the walled fortress which is mainly now just a garden behind the church.
I went up on top of the wall to take a picture of the “scenic” view but found mainly a view of rooftops with antennas and satellite dishes sprouting from their tiles. I passed on a picture.
The garden is nice and always makes me think of the Garden of Gethsemane although I’ve never been there. Maybe it’s the olive trees that grace the garden. The artists were just beginning to set up their easels as we moved back down to the piazza. A little café across from the church was open and we opted for a cup of coffee and a sweet roll. As we sat there, I suddenly remembered we had done exactly the same thing on our first visit. De ja vu again.
The fog rolled in and out as we drank our coffees and sometimes clouded the tower next to the church. I hoped we would be able to get a picture of the town from a distance on the way back if the fog would lift.
I had promised a post card to a friend and needed to buy one. We stopped in a shop that had some beautiful picture postcards and were waiting in line to pay for our small purchase while the young couple in front of us were waiting for the clerk to figure out what was wrong with her cash register. We struck a conversation and discovered that they were from Pennsylvania and on their honeymoon.
“Wow,” I said. “Our honeymoon was at a state park in Ohio.”
The two looked at me with sympathy and the bride said, “I’m sure it was nice.”
I looked from one to the other smiled and said, “We started out at a state park but since then he’s given me the world.”
The groom looked at his bride and said, “Maybe I should have started out smaller.”
On the way back to Siena our tour stopped at a winery for wine, olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting. Of course Bob got himself in trouble when he asked if any of their wine came in a box. Good olive oil is amazing—and expensive but not nearly as expensive as the balsamic vinegar they were selling. Guess I should check into what makes that so.
Having had a plate of cold cuts, bread and cheeses with all of our tastings, we skipped lunch and decided to walk to the Basilica of San Domenico where the sanctuary of Saint Catherine was. We were on a mission of sorts. Someone had asked us for postcards of the thumb. I wondered if we were really going to find such a thing. Was this a joke?