Loved our touring blitz. I call it that because we have been renting a car and taking a day out of our weekends to explore cities other than our own. Three weekends ago we skimmed Montepulciano and Pienza, two weekends ago we soaked up the festivities in Bologna (see Anthony's post), and this past weekend we fit in Pisa, San Gimignano and Volterra. No worries: the boys actually had Monday and Tuesday off this week, so blitzing some cities over the weekend wasn't a complete loss of sanity---we had two days for putting up our throbbing feet.
And these are all cities that we have been meaning to visit.
Pisa's leaning tower was insanely expensive to climb... but we are here, so we bit the bullet and bought tickets. And how weird: climbing the stairs of the leaning tower felt awkward. While climbing, we were adjusting our bodily angles, putting our hands on the walls for extra support and 'vertigo' crossed my mind more than once... but the views were beautiful. Although it is early December, we enjoyed sunny, clear vistas for our Pisa experience (FYI travel in non-tourist months. Little lines, fewer tourists, no boiling hot sun. Add a coat and you are free to roam and enjoy at a pace all your own).
One other must-mention for Pisa: the cathedral was stunning. Just stunning. We all remarked that it was one of our favorite so far in Italy---an unexpected surprise.
In Pisa we also toured the Chagall museum (temporary exhibit). WOW. I want to go back and stare some more. I wish I could own one of the paintings, so it was permanently affixed in my abode and I could stare at length.
San Gimignano is famous for its towers. If I remember correctly there were near 100 and 17 remain intact (unusual for towers to retain their height; with all the fights and family feuds, towers were regularly lopped off). Because it is touristy, we dared not expect authenticity. But in fact, it was quaint and we were wowed by its streets (esp. San Matteo), markets and stores. The boys scored: Caleb found a store with gems where he purchased an amethyst gemstone, and Anthony bought a city tile (he is collecting hand-crafted small tiles from different cities). I bought a small ceramic pitcher and a 10 euro brown knitted hat from a market vendor, James bought wild boar and wine-cured salami---plus 2 bottles of Vernaccia white wine.
The Vernaccia wine is quintessential to San Gimignano; it was the very first wine in Italy to receive the DOCG quality stamp of approval. Stamps of approval, geography, grapes and processes are all very important in Italy. We went out of our way to taste Vernaccia, and bought 2 bottles of reserve... not to be opened until grandpa's birthday (Janelle's dad) in late January. (I wrote about Chiantis, DOC and DOCG labels on my other blog, talkoftomatoes).
We were running out of time (admittedly, it was hard to leave San Gimignano, as we were enjoying it immensely), but jetted to Volterra for a quick peek at the city and for dinner. It was dark upon our arrival. What you should know: Volterra is a hilltop city with amazing walls and stairs leading to the top. The stairs weave back and forth and incorporate a park---which was closed this time of night. We mean to return to better see the city, enjoy the park and visit their Etruscan museum---we had a great first impression of Volterra.
Volterra is seemingly synonymous with Alabaster (every other store sold carved and molded stone and gems). Who knew? We walked the streets long enough to find a place to eat, and were fortunate enough to find: Da Pina. We found this adorable restaurant by walking through a store and down into a wine cellar---full of cozy tables and barrel-made bookcases. I couldn't resist having my family experience tartufo: central and northern Italy's infamous white truffle, available just during the fall and championed at many a festival... We enjoyed tartufo salami, tartufo pork, tartufo honey and bacon fat smeared on bruschetta... tartufo pecorino... it was unforgettable. Our main entrees included pasta (James), wild boar (Janelle), meat in wine sauce (Caleb) and gnocchi (Anthony).
I have a hunch we will eat there again someday.