May 29th, 2009
Our last day in Volterra. We got up early to pack our bags. Rhea was not in her bed. Probably somewhere on the farm - down slope with the sheep or in the barn with the donkey or chasing any of the 5 furry cats. It was a funny feeling, not knowing where she is and yet not being worried.
We bade goodbye to the wonderful people. The family that ran the farmhouse - Giovanni who fed us well and Rosita who made sure we has a wonderful good time. The tourists we met at dinner table – the Italian Tango couple, the Dutch well-read family, the brunette from California who raced BMW and trained police dogs. We heap our bags and take the winding 30KM road to San Gimignano.
The thing that makes me take my eyes from the breathtaking scenes on the drive are the precarious turns that seem to hang over vertigo inducing sheer drops.
Gradually, we see the walls of the town. Two concentric circles of fortification built to keep out Florentine invasions. Then the towers, rear their heads up into the clear blue skies. The towers belonged to feuding families. The taller the tower the richer the family, and safer they deemed themselves. Only 14 of the 60 survive to this date, some still inhabited. An amazing ancient Manhattan.
The ancient skyscrapers of Sam Gimignano
We find ourselves a ristorante with a view and order a Vernaccia di San Gimignano – considered one of the finest white Italian wines since Renaissance - to go with our pasta and crab. Then we head out.
The itinerary today is simple with a lot of planned “impromptu” time built in. We see the cathedral with a simple facade. We decide not to enter no structure – church or museum. No history. No sites. Just surface walking.
We take a small alley that dumps us into Piazza della Cisterna, the center of the town for the last 12 centuries. In the center of the Piazza is an octagonal travertine cistern surrounded by medieval buildings that, once upon a time, hosted goldsmiths of the best repute. The tallest tower in town – the Devil’s tower – so named after the owner found it to be a little taller than what remembered before leaving on a voyage.Piazza della Cisterna
We buy delicious cold gelato at the Pluripremiata Gellateria, winner of the gelato competition for two years in a row.
Artisans hard at work in San Gimignano
We wander aimlessly, turning from a tourist to a traveler, watching the local artisans blow life into empty canvasses. The ground under us is never flat, we are perpetually on a slope that suddenly changes direction. Portals decorated with the freshest colorful flowers, omnipresent and inviting to rest the rump while the eyes raked across the walls wanting them to tell you their stories.
Rick Steve calls the local rustic faux - a tourist trap. Do I really care? We just had one of the best afternoons. This is exactly what Sam Gimignano is for. Precisely one beautiful afternoon.
Italy must have the most difficult terrain for invaders in WWII. The streets too narrow to turn a tank, too many nooks for snipers to take fatal potshots, too many spots to be ambushed. Yet too beautiful to want to destroy it.
We head towards the fortified town of Lucca.
(Read on: Tomorrow we are headed to Lucca)