Anil picked up a brochure in the lobby of our hotel in Florence and read about a day trip that would take tourists to Pisa, San Gimignano and Siena over the course of twelve hours. At first he thought we should take the tour, something that we almost never do, but then he was put off by the price and the early start, 8:00 am. He began looking into the distances to these three ‘must-see’ places in Tuscany, and read about them in the Lonely Planet.
He learned that they were all easy to reach by bus or train, but that San Gimignano and Siena were in one direction, south, while Pisa was off on its own, to the west. We decided to make two days trips and see all three places on our own, keeping our hotel room in Florence as our base. Ah, freedom from dragging luggage down cobblestone streets. We decided to see San Gimignano and Siena first; they would require a bus trip as they are not on the main rail line, and this would be a new adventure for us in Italy.
San Gimignano is a tiny medieval town on a hilltop deep in the Tuscan countryside. The name refers to the 11th century towers that rise above the town’s historical center. There were 72 towers at one time, built as monuments to the wealth and status of some of the residents, but only 13 remain today. The streets are narrow in summer, the crowds are daunting, but we planned to go on a weekday during late autumn, so unless we came in mid-winter, this is a good as it could get.
The bus terminal was easy to locate, it’s next to the massive train station. We had learned from our experience in Nice and stood very near the bus when it pulled into the loading bay. People in Italy don’t queue; seats on the bus are not assigned. I used my elbows and my height to get some good seats on the bus, not too far back, with a large window on the shady side of the bus. We were out in the countryside in no time and the scenery was just as it’s always been portrayed in the movies and travel posters, stunning. We knew we had to change buses in a small town, so we took the opportunity to check out the train station there and to have a cappuccino like the locals. Anil loved the name of the little town, Poggibonsi. He even asked me to take a picture of him under the sign on the train platform.
It was a short ride from Poggibonsi to San Gimignano and as we passed through the fields of grapevines, I spotted the little town high above us. I had to pinch myself that we were really here, ‘Under The Tuscan Sun’. We spent the afternoon wandering through the narrow twisting streets and enjoying the views of the valley below, stretching off in all directions. We ate our picnic lunch and then indulged ourselves with a glass of local wine at a viewpoint. It was a pricey place, but the wine was delicious, the wine glasses elegant, the view priceless.
Back out the front gates of the walled town, off to the bus stop and on to Siena. While we waited for the bus, we chatted with a couple from Vancouver. We shared travel stories and life histories (we had arrived quite early for the bus because we hadn’t consulted a schedule) and they gave us some pointers for places further south. We explained that we were heading for Venice and on into Croatia. They admired our plan but couldn’t believe that we would leave Italy without seeing Rome. That would have to wait for another trip, perhaps Year Six or Year Seven. They couldn’t believe our lifestyle; we couldn’t believe they still wanted to work.
Our bus made it’s way back to Poggibonsi where our fellow travellers got off to change for the bus to Florence, and we carried on to Siena. It was a fleeting time with fellow Canadians, but we do enjoy talking with folks from home and exchanging ideas for places to visit, foods to sample and the ups and downs of life on the move. Shortly after they left us, two young women on the bus leaned over to chat with us and told us how much they liked Siena, that it was a great place to stay, and that we should consider it the next time we come to Italy. Another chance meeting, another friendly couple.