Sunday, June 11, 2006

Rome - Pienza - San Gimignano

Reviewing the photographs from our recent trip to Italy may take twice as long as the trip itself. I took hundreds of photographs, which gave me something to do, but there are few or no photographs of many of the best parts of the trip.

We drove from Abingdon to Richmond, got up early and flew to Newark and then on to Rome. Supposedly, one should sleep on the plane crossing the Atlantic. We didn't. I watched 5 and three-quarters movies during the two transatlantic flights. (I still don't know what happened at the end of Narnia.)

As we were waiting for the first of many bus rides at the airport, another bus full of what appeared to be Italia soccer fans came by, a bunch of beer drinkers and cigarette smokers jumped out, and they began singing. One song was the Ya-Ya-Ya song, of which the only discernible lyrics were "YA-YA-YA."

Plan B for travelers is to sleep once you get to Europe, but we didn't do that, either. In fact, we had no rooms, because it was 9:00 in the morning when we reached the hotel, so we took off for downtown Rome. And, we did go see the Colosseum.

There were many wild characters outside the Colosseum, mime, musicians, and one fellow who appeared to be the Gladiator from Chad's Caption Contest, and others like him, whose job it was to have their pictures taken with tourists. We saw another Gladiator between the Arch of Constantine and the Forum whose job was to have his picture taken while groping the teenaged, female tourists.

We slogged our way in the heat through the Forum to our first Roman street food. I would say that the street food in Rome is mostly lousy except for the gelato which was good everywhere. I tried about 15 different flavors of gelato over the course of 12 days, the weirdest being rose and kiwi and melon.

The next day we joined the Tuscany and Umbria tour, and the first stop was a rest area along the Autostrada. The weirdest thing there was a place where you could stash your dog for a few hours, sort of self-serve rent-a-kennel. The first real food we ate was at the Falco Ristorante in the first of many hilltop towns, called Pienza. That first lunch in Pienza set the tone for the rest of the trip - good plain food and lots of it. They kept bringing us food and we ate it. That was true in Pienza, in Monteriggioni, in Florence, in Cortona, and later in Rome.

After lunch, we had the run of the town, which is also what we did throughout the tour, scramble over these small towns with narrow streets, small piazzas, crumbling buildings, and great views of the surrounding countryside. We were told as we went into Pienza that Tuscany is sheep country and we would be able to smell the peccorino cheese in the streets, which was true in Pienza and elsewhere. I can't say that we ate a lot of Peccorino cheese or that I am sure when we were eating it, because it comes in many forms, so in some places the restaurants served grated Peccorino for sprinkling on some of the food. I ate pasta almost every lunch and dinner for 12 days, which could explain the width and breadth of my appearance in some of these photographs.

I was traveling with my wife and her parents and her sister and her sister's husband. Some of our fellow travellers were impressed that we all got along with each other, which I would not have thought to be a remarkable fact. One necessity for keeping the peace was having patience with the shoppers. Some of the shops like this one at the end of the lower lane in Pienza looked more like a hole-in-the-wall than a place to buy things.

Dana's dad is a retired dentist. In this photo from Pienza, it appears that he has brought with him an over-sized instrument from his old office.

We went on from Pienza to the hotel Il Piccolo Castello. This was a very strange building, the likes of which I had not seen before. It was of fairly recent construction, modeled after the architecture of the Middle Ages. And so, the rooms had ceilings with wood beams and very little light and not much in the way of places to stash your stuff.

At the hotel we began to learn more of our fellow travellers. Remarkably, one fellow was named Frank Sinatra and another George Harrison, fine fellows both.

The next day was probably the best day, even though the weather seemed questionable as we left for San Gimignano. The remarkable thing about San Gimignano are the towers, of which there are still something like 18 or 20 and there used to be many more.

Tourists can walk up in at least one of them, and by my count, the number of steps was approximately 190. There might have been more, but I ran out of breath and quit counting. The brother-in-law Dave Brooks and I went up to the top and I took too many pictures of the town and the view in every direction. On the way down, after we had gone down about 15 steps, Dave said to the people we met coming up the stairs, "Don't worry, you're halfway there."

From above, you can see how narrow is the main drag through the town, and how small is the old town. Indeed, Dana and I walked to the end of the main street and began wandering the alleys and at one point wandered through the fence out of the town, which seemed like a bad idea.

In San Gimignano, we ate and spent money and eventually went back to the hotel, where the next big activity was a bike ride through a stretch of the surrounding countryside. I haven't been on bike for some years, certainly not since we moved from downtown Abingdon, but I went and it was tiring but fun.

The biking was led by a gang of Italian guys, who were amused to tease Genevieve, our tour guide. In this last photo, you can see Genevieve and one of the Italian guys on bikes in the foreground. In the distance atop the hill is where we ate that night, in a restaurant also called Il Piccolo Castello, within Monteriggioni. It was a great meal.

1 comment:

Tony said...


Thank you for speaking about our Hotel in your post. We would be glad you to welcome you in our hotel anytimes.

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Hotel Il Piccolo di Piazza