Leaving Florence was a bit of an adventure. The first few hundred miles in a rental car are always interesting, especially if you can’t read the language, there are round-abouts, the streets are narrow, and the other drivers are Italian. It was stressful and all I had to do was ride along. My dad is the master of out of the State’s driving. The original plan was for all of us to share the chore, but Italy isn’t the best place to learn how to drive a stick so I was kicked out of the rotation. Amazingly we got out of the busy city and into the countryside with only a two or three wrong turns.
The Tuscan countryside is gorgeous. I know people always go on about how beautiful Tuscany is, but the hype is deserved. It wasn’t what I expected, at least not the region we spent most of our time exploring. I’d aways pictured rolling fields of vines, kind of like Illinois with vines instead of corn, but the topography is way more interesting. In the Chianti region it’s more like the Ozarks. Old mountains and streams. Roads that weave up and down steep hillsides covered in forest except for the feilds that must have been painstakingly cleared. Everywhere you look there’s a picture to be taken. Rolling golden rows of grape vines framed by thick green forest. Stone houses and villages perfectly maintained for hundreds of years.
We stayed in a small apartment that was part of a working winery in a tiny little medieval town named Volpaia that wasn’t even on the map. Most of the village is owned by the winery and produces an amazing Chianti as well as some divine olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Sadly we lost the olive oil and mint balsamic vinegar at the airport. Somehow it ended up in my dad’s carry on baggage. Very depressing.
Our time in Tuscany was spent exploring the countryside and many of the villages that our travel agent highlighted on our map. It was wonderful and hard to give details. I’ve spent most vacations with my family sitting in the back seat of cars with my headphones on watching foreign countryside fly by while I made up stories in my head. I would have it no other way. And I’ve never seen more beautiful countryside than Tuscany.
It’s hard to remember all of the towns we visited in Tuscany, but a couple stick out in my mind.
We ended up in Volterra almost by accident. It was Halloween and we intended to go to another town renowned for being a perfectly preserved example of medieval awesomeness, but it was ridiculously crowded with Italian tourists. We couldn’t find a single place to park within a reasonable walking distance (and we don’t mind walking) and decided to try another town and Volterra just so happened to be next in line.
Volterra is an ancient city dating back before the Roman empire when the Etruscans ruled central Italy. The Etruscans were an interesting lot who loved food and wine and apparently never took the time to write down their history. All we have are a ton of amazing artifacts and funeral urns. Volterra was a great alternative, and apparently it’s the Italian town in Twilight. Didn’t know that until we got there and every shop was hawking little red “twilight” apples. I also happened to have the best pizza in existence. I just wish I had written down the ingredients.
Sienna is the other stop that bears mentioning. We almost didn’t get to experience the city because parking was hard to find. We ended up way out in a residential area a couple miles from the city center. Our time there was limited, but it was well worth the stop. The Cathedral was gorgeous and the central square was amazingly huge.
What stands out in my memories of Tuscany most is the food and wine. Pecorino cheese and prosciutto are now on my permanent favorite picnicking food list. Our last day in Volpaia we had the opportunity to go on a tour of the winery that ended in a tasting. We had the privilege of doing the tasting with a Canadian physicist who was a licensed sommelier who enlightened us on some of the mysteries of wine. I still haven’t had enough wine to tell if it’s good, but at least I know how to swirl and sniff. lol