The last few days have seemed like a dream. From the overnight train ride from Nice, France, to Firenze, Italy, to staring out the hotel window on the Tuscan countryside wearing low-hanging clouds like a favorite gray sweater, to spending way too much money on a few bottles of Brunello and a super-tasty Supertuscan in Montalcino, I can´t tell you what has been the best. It´s just all one big blur of BEST.
Night trains – um… well, it was an adventure! When I first looked in and saw the claustrophobic space and bunk beds we´d all be occupying, I about freaked. But once you get settled in your prison bunk for the ride and the train starts moving, rocking you to sleep, I sorta dug it, ya know? Boys loved it, even though we didn´t get great sleep. I´d sleep for a while, and then a stop would wake me up. Then I started thinking we must be going through mountains, and do you suppose there were sheer cliffs… right OUTSIDE MY WINDOW!?!?!?…. yeah, I´m afraid of heights, took me a while to get back to sleep.
Arriving in Firenze was easy, snagged a cab to the airport to grab our rental car, and I girded my loins for Italian drivers, and off we went. Now, can I just say briefly that my opinion has reversed on round-abouts. They really are the way to go, just blowing throw a stopping place instead of stopping would save oodles of liters of gas, and that´s pretty much how I prefer to go through stop signs. Once you get the hang of if, it really doesn’t suck. I only almost killed us once at a yield/pseudo-roundabout. Looked like a roundabout, really wasn´t, more like a slow down, look both ways (which I didn´t), but we survived it.
San Gimignano is packed with tourists through the day or until the rain starts coming down in buckets, which it´s done about every day that we´ve been here, but the nights are truly brilliant– quiet, perfect, all the old Italians sitting in the cave-like thing by the old cistern in the middle of town. This town, with all the old towers and walls is what every Renaissance Fair is aiming for and never gets close to. It sits on the top of a hill, and the view from everywhere, especially our windows, is everything it is supposed to be. Harry said, “Mom, I can die happy now. It´s like someone gave me a postcard of a beautiful place I´ve always wanted to be, and I was able to just step into it and live.” And the smells…. From the cooking to the pungent jasmine growing behind the walls, to just all that lush earth in every direction, everything about Tuscany smells fully alive and present.
I´ve also become an Italian driver… ignoring speed zones (what speed zones?), passing on hills to get around slow-moving tourists. It´s not all that bad. I only passed one super-slow guy, but I became my kids´ hero in that moment, so I am satisfied.
Siena.is.beautiful. I want to stay there forever or at least a week or two. It´s too busy with tourists in the summer, but I want to go back in October or November, when you can wander the brown city surrounded by walls, walk across the slanted, bricked beautiful center of the city, staring up at the striped tower of the Duomo without the other hundreds of tourists hanging around. My sons had a weird reaction to St. Domenic´s, which is where St. Catherine of Siena´s head is and is the basilica built in her honor. They found St. Denis in Amboise (founded by St. Denis, who was martyred by having his head cut off, who picked it up, ,tucked it under his arm, walked up the hill with it and then died, which is where they build the church) to be completely peaceful, and we spent a long time in there, all three of us, just smiling and meandering about, sitting in solitude, with the sound of chanting as accompaniment. They found St. Domenic´s not peaceful in the least. I didn´t either, but I didn´t feel that in a bad way, more like it was full of energy and presence, which is how I expect St. Catherine was. Anyway, they think the head isn´t real, I´m positive it is, and a big friendly fight ensued as we wandered the streets of Siena in pouring rain. It was lovely, and I do mean that, probably one of the memories I´ll most cherish from this trip.
Montalcino is underrated – nobody was there! Now, true that the city is pretty focused on Brunella wines, but, um, they should be. They are extremely tasty, as are those new Supertuscans. We bought ten bottles of one of them because as soon as it hit my mouth, it was like something was doing a twirling tap dance in there. Completely charming.
Now I sit here writing this staring out my window at clouds. The rain has stopped, but all of San G. is covered in clouds.
Tomorrow we are off to Umbria, to go visit Cascia – St. Rita, you know, my very favorite saint besides St. C., is there and is an incorruptible. Yeah, yeah, I know, but when you´re
Catholic, this is just stuff you do and actually enjoy and argue about. After Umbria, it is two days in Rome and then home. Home, yikes, is it time already? Yeah, I think it is.