Siena, San Gimignano & Pisa, Italy
It was raining when we woke up at our farmhouse/campsite just outside Rome, so we decided to have a lazy morning and stay in bed until it stopped. It didn't stop. Reluctantly we rose and got ready, but we still didn't leave until midday, by which stage the downpour had become a light drizzle. Not long after departing blue skies emerged, and stayed with us all the way to Siena.
The guidebooks didn't warn us that Siena was situated on top of a large hill, and of course we had unknowingly parked down the bottom of it. Many sets of stairs and a few steep climbs later, we found the centre square, which was oddly more semicircle-shaped than square. It was reminiscent of an amphitheatre, with the surface gradually rising up as it spread out. Uni students were lounging about on the hard ground, and we thought we might join them to soak up the afternoon sun. That was until we spotted a municipal officer, whose sole job it seemed was to prevent people from lying down on the pavement. As this was what everyone was doing, she had a busy day. If she had to ask someone twice, she hauled them off to her office. It was quite entertaining.
Siena appeared to be entirely composed of tall, brown-brick buildings lining narrow, hilly streets. There was only one main street of shops, where we picked up a few supplies – sausages and potatoes for dinner, a particular type of rice that Danny likes, oats (the first time we had seen oats in Italy, and we had searched high and low for them), a wine glass to replace the one we broke months ago (a water glass had been our substitute since then), plus a fantastic fruit and walnut bread that was popular here. We also visited the Duomo (Cathedral) that was decorated with an off-putting black and white striped pattern (naturally, Danny liked it). Other than that we didn't find much else to see or do.
Fortuitously, we came across a car park next to a sports field that was filled with roughly a dozen campervans. A handful looked like they permanently lived there, but we were thankful for the free set-up without the fear of being moved on or the struggle of having to search for a place to spend the night.
The following morning we drove to San Gimignano, another small Tuscan town on a hilltop, not far from Siena. Up until now we had been fairly lucky with the weather in Italy while sightseeing, but today it poured down. It was absolutely treacherous, which was a pity as San Gimignano appeared to be a beautiful town. Like Siena, it was filled with narrow streets lined by brown-coloured buildings, but it didn't seem as claustrophobic as our previous destination. Nearly every store on the main street stocked wine and/or cured meats and cheese - Danny couldn't ask for anything more. There weren't many touristy sights, so we wandered through the markets, where Danny procured his beloved porcini mushrooms, and visited the wine museum, which was a great place to wait out the rain. The museum was entirely in Italian and didn't interest us at all, but that didn't prevent Danny from taking full advantage of the wine tasting. He managed to sample seven wines – three whites, three reds (mainly Chianti) and a dessert wine that tasted more like a sherry. I didn't overly enjoy any of them, but Danny was satisfied with the offerings. Strangely, the museum didn't actually sell any wine.
One of Danny's goals in this region was to find a bottle of Chianti Classico in the traditional straw flask, which he managed to do in the (approximately) tenth store we looked in. During all this searching I spotted stracchino cheese, an Italian specialty that is sort of mixture between mozzarella and goat's cheese. Without hesitation I bought a piece, and we rapidly scoffed it down. It was incredible.
Continuing with our food and wine theme, we headed out for lunch (yes, all that wine tasting took place in the morning). Danny was keen to try risotto in Italy before we left, so we found a small restaurant that listed mushroom risotto on their menu. His verdict? Disappointingly average. I ordered fettuccine ragu, which was basically pasta in a bolognese sauce. This one was full of tomatoes and tasted way better than my first bolognese experience down in Sicily.
The views from town over the Tuscan countryside were fantastic. Because of the rain, dark clouds hung low in the skies and steam rose from the ground. We almost didn't believe it was the same Tuscany that we passed through near Florence only a couple of weeks ago. Both of us agreed that this scenery was way more impressive than our first tour of the region.
From San Gimignano we drove to Pisa. Danny was tired when we arrived (nothing to do with the wine of course), resulting in him staying in the car while I checked out the sights. The sights, I discovered, consisted of the famous Tower, an adjoining cathedral, a baptistry, and that was it. Luckily for me, the rain had disappeared and blue skies had emerged, which suited me perfectly as I ran around taking tons of photos of these three buildings.
We presumed there would be long lines to climb the Tower (it was recommended we book in advance), and our initial plan was to rise early tomorrow to wait in line. However, when I walked by the ticket office they had spaces available for all remaining time slots today. I dashed back to the car, grabbed Danny and we both walked straight in. It was a strange sensation walking up a spiral staircase that was leaning; it made us feel like we were dizzy, even though we knew we weren't. The viewing platforms both halfway up and at the top emphasised how great the lean was - it was difficult to fathom how the building remained upright. The views weren't anything exciting, although we did glimpse a bit of a sunset. The whole experience lasted about 20 minutes, and was somewhat underwhelming. I was expecting a colossal structure, but the Tower really wasn't very tall. With that attraction ticked off our list, we prepared for tomorrow's journey to our final destination in Italy: Milan.