Friday, November 9, 2012

Tuscan Adventure, Part II

After leaving Pisa, we headed towards Siena for a two-night stay. Again, we detoured along the way to check out a small town that we read about in our guidebook... This time, our detour was for another medieval village called San Gimignano (pronounced: San-Jimmy-Nya-No). This town originally had over 70 towers dotted throughout its landscape. Each time a new family took power, they would build a tower taller than the last family's. The towers were used for protection and sometimes escape - they would use a rope ladder to climb to their ally-neighbor's nearby tower in case of emergencies. Only about fourteen are still standing today...

Again, this was a place that hasn't changed for many, many years. The city center was also surrounded by walls and there was only foot traffic throughout. They also had several ancient wells in the city center (see top picture). It was pretty incredible!

Also... world-champion gelato. YES! Supposedly people will wait 1 1/2 hours or more to order theirs. Lucky for us, the weather was a bit chilly and the line was short. (Of course, it's never too chilly for gelato.) Yum! So overall, our stop at San Gimignano was well worth it! And I'm not just saying that because of the gelato. Truly, it is an amazing little town!

We drove on to Siena and saw the famous town square, Piazza del Campo, as well as the Duomo (cathedral) after dark, so my pictures are pretty crummy. Siena is famous for their bareback horse races, the Palio, which take place in Piazza del Campo right in the center of town. The crazy race draws crowds of thousands who gather to watch and cheer on their favorite horses. There are basically no rules in the race - a horse can win without its rider, riders can whip each other and other horses, etc. It's an intense race - an obsession for the Sienese! Also an obsession: statues of Romulus and Remus, the twins who according to legend, were raised by a she-wolf. These secular statues are even found in front of the cathedral!

Saturday morning we set out with our guide/driver, Anna, headed for a private tour of the Chianti region, including a visit to an Etruscan tomb, a castle-turned winery, a stop in a still-living medieval town and stunning views on small backroads... We loved it. Hiring Anna was worth. every. penny. We were spoiled to have her all to ourselves, which was the result of lucky timing since no one else scheduled for the day. And she was wonderfully patient with Eva, which was a huge blessing. Interested in hiring Anna for yourself? She works alongside Roberto with Tours by Roberto: I am already heartbroken that our schedules won't match up for our upcoming trip to Florence...

Our first stop with Anna required driving on some dirt roads. We wound our way past groups of old men with shotguns on the lookout for wild boar. (Cole was beyond excited to see hunters. Anna was nervous to see them! Ha!) We walked through the woods to an Etruscan tomb and Anna explained so much to us in regards to the age, layout of the tomb, artifacts that would have been left inside, how the families used the tombs, etc. The Etruscans planted a Cyprus tree atop each tomb (which would have looked like a small dirt hill) because the tree worked as a perfect timepiece, creating a sundial on the mound, a sacred and symbolic gesture about the circle of life.

Next, we drove to an old castle that was renovated and is now used as a winery. Rocca di Castagnoli was fantastic! Neither of us had been to a wine tasting or visited a winery before, so we were excited to learn more. Anna personally led us on a tour through the winery/castle and also through our tasting session. She made us feel so comfortable, even though some of our questions probably sounded ridiculous to her... (She spent 3+ years working at a winery and giving tours, so is definitely an expert in the field and very knowledgeable about the wine-making process, from vine to glass.)

Not winning any mother-of-the-year awards for this one, but the kid was getting bored!
Wine barrels are appropriate jungle gyms for babies, right?!? (:
After the tour of the winery/castle, time for tasting! This was in the old "stable" area of the castle.
Probably our overall favorite - a Super Tuscan blend. Delicious!
We were excited to have some of the wine we tasted shipped home to Kansas! YAY! If our families are nice to us, we will share the love at Christmastime. If not, we will drink it all ourselves. Ha!

Ok, so this blog post is getting long. Hang in there... or just browse the pictures if I'm boring you to pieces! After the winery, we stopped for lunch and finished up our day at a real-live medieval town, Vertine. Today, there are about 20 residents, plus four cats and one dog in the town. They obviously knew Anna. Even the dog seemed to recognize her! There aren't many little villages like this remaining - with actual residents, since most have been converted into B&B's or resorts. The tall tower on the right still had a little hole where they would stand guard in medieval times and watch (your right side) to see if you were carrying your sword. This is also why we shake right hands today... it started as a sign of peace long ago and the tradition stuck. (Another little tidbit of knowledge from Anna!)

This little hilltop town had an incredible view! 
Nothing is straight! Years and years of additions and added supports result in buildings like this! (:
 Saturday evening we were exhausted after a long, eventful day! We made our way into Siena for dinner and ate at da Divo for dinner... I had done a little research and this restaurant had wonderful reviews. The interior is made up of Etruscan tombs - it was a pretty cool experience! We'd highly recommend it!

You can sort of see the rock walls in the back of the restaurant... 
You're probably wondering what Eva's favorite part of our trip was? Well, this is it... climbing on the headboard at our hotel! She was one happy baby when we unstrapped her from the stroller! Oh!! And she cut her first tooth on Saturday - and took it like a champ.