Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Report 107: Two Weeks In Tuscany
By Andy from Pennsylvania, Fall 2001
Trip Description: Andy and his friends spent two weeks in Tuscany in September 2001.
Destinations: Countries - Italy
Categories: Small Group: 5 to 9; Foodie Trip; Wine Trip; Independent Travel
Page 1 of 4: Prelude to a trip
From Pauline: This trip report was submitted by Andy from PA. It was first published on the AOL Italy - Florence and Tuscany - boards. Andy asked me to also post it here. Andy and his friends spent two weeks in Tuscany in September 2001.
When I made the announcement at the New Year's party welcoming 2000 that Phyllis and I were going to rent a villa in Tuscany for 2 weeks in the fall of 2001, I got a yes from 20 people. The final number would be 8 people - 4 couples - all of whom were my classmates from different schools. The first question was where, what and when to rent. Although I had used the AOL caribbean message board for trips to St. Martin, I had never used the AOL Italy board for info. I have to say that the information available on this board was invaluable for every phase of this trip. I also used Google extensively for info about ATM's, Italian websites, etc.
We finally decided to use either Parker Company or Tuscany Now for the villa. Both had great brochures and everything was online. Early on it became apparent that the single bed or double bed was the bed of choice in most rentals. We wanted either a queen or king bed with a full bathroom for each bedroom. Although this cut down our choices substantially, there were enough villas around to fill the bill. We chose the Villa il Quadro in San Gimignano from the Parker Company. A 4 bedroom, 4 !/2 bath villa with queen beds.The trip would be from 9/15-9/29-2001. It was decided that since 2 of the couples had not been to Italy before they would spend the first week in Rome and Venice then meet us the 2nd week. As it turned out, the 3rd couple got sick and could not go at all. I kept the Villa anyway. The Parker people were very informative and helpful as is their website. We also rented our car from them at a price that was at least 10% lower than I could find anywhere else.
During the year that ensued I became the best customer of Travel Smith and Magellan. I bought microfiber washable pants with secret pockets, lightweight reversible sweaters, coolmax short sleeve golf shirts, moneybelts, travel toilet tissue, over the shoulder travel bags, etc, etc. My wife got the same things. Although we had been to Italy several times, we always went by train and never drove. I used Mapblast and Michelin to get directions to everywhere I thought we would be going. The directions to the train station parking in Florence was right on the money as was the directions to Montelcino. The other directions were not needed as the road signs were sufficient.
I also printed everything from the web I could find about the different towns, restaurants, festivals, autostrada, vineyards, open air markets, itineraries. I ordered maps of Tuscany and Siena Province from TCI- the Touring Club of Italy. I got 500,000 lira from my bank, put money in both of our ATM accounts, got some travelers' checks-just in case. We were really set to go on September 14th, then came - SEPTEMBER 11. I happened to be on line at 9 o'clock when AOL put the news on about the first plane and I put the TV on and watched the 2nd plane hit. What a nightmare! Of course that was the end of the trip- we were supposed to go on 9/14- and now all flights were grounded but who wanted to go anyway. After the initial shock, Bush said to get on with our lives since to go into a shell would be what the terrorists wanted. I had to convince Phyllis that if we could get off on the 14th we should go. She didn't say yes until the morning of our flight assuming the flight would ever get off the ground the Philly airport having just opened again.
We got to the airport at 2:45 for our 6:00 USAIR flight. The scene inside the terminal was out of a Fellini movie. There were a thousand people inside in 1 line that snaked around 20 times. The domestic flights were mixed in with the international flights. Some people had been there for 2 days trying to get out to their destinations. Some people tried sneaking in front and were almost killed. There was no security inside to take care of the crowds.
We waited in line for 3 hours and finally made it to the gate and was told that our plane was delayed- it was coming from Puerto Rico- PUERTO RICO??????. It actually did come- 2 1/2 hours later- and we were off 1 hour after that. We could finally breathe easier except the couple in back of us coughed and sneezed the entire 8 1/2 hours in the air. Oh well, at least every seat had its own little movie screen.
Saturday 9/15- Rome airport We got in at 12 noon and by 1 we were pulling our luggage towards the Avis desk. Boy what a walk that was. They gave me a Ford Focus Station Wagon with stick shift. WHERE IS REVERSE? They kept telling me to pull up the shift- actually you pull up the collar on the shifter. After 10 minutes we were off to the A1. The green and white signs were easy to follow but just in case I had 5 different printed directions on how to get out of the airport. After an hour we were on the autostrada and stopped at the first Autogrill. What a treat. Home made lasagna, 1/2 bottles of wine. Just like the Pa. and NJ turnpike- RIGHT!!
I loved driving at 150 kms- like going to work everyday on I-95. We got to the Poggibonsi exit off the Siena/Florence superstrata and the excitement was palpable. I stopped at a gas station and bought my first telephone card- carta telefonica- because we would have to call the owner of the villa from San G. to show us the way. As we left Poggibonsi, there was a large supermarket that I would become very familiar with over the next 2 weeks.
We were supposed to stop at the Esso gas sign in San G. and call the owner. The only place to call was in a bar and Phyllis went in to make the call. When she came out I asked where the phone card was- she didn't know it comes out after the call. Naturally when she went back in, it was gone. Our first, but not last, 10,000 lira carta telefonica. The owner was Alessandro, a 30ish fellow who came with his girlfriend-Chiara- to lead the way. Around the circle at San G. and then to the right of the wall down a side street and on to a white road. 1/2 mile down was the driveway lined with olive trees to the villa. The view of San Gimignano from the side patio was spectacular- the entire walled city without any obstruction. Any photos taken from the wall of the city toward the valley would have our villa in it automatically. To the right of the villa were vineyards nestled in the valley and way out was a large castle-like structure on a hill. A picture postcard of Tuscany.
The villa was exactly as the brochure depicted it. The kitchen was small but well equipped with a 3/4 size fridge, a 3 burner stove with oven and a dishwasher. A large dining room that we never used except to keep our maps and books on the table, a powder room and clothes washer -the dryer was a rope outside. A large sitting room with a fireplace and a TV room with cable and sattelite TV. Upstairs- actually the 1st floor- was a small sitting room with a table and the phone and then 4 bedrooms. Since we were the only ones there, we got the pick of the litter-the largest bedroom and bathroom. The bathroom was all tiled with a sink, toilet, bidet and shower. The shower was a curtain pulled across the room and a hole in the floor. One of the showers in the other bedroom had the shower head above the toilet. This was OK if you wanted to go to the bathroom and get washed at the same time. Outside the villa other than the fabulous views were fig trees with ripe figs, pomegranate trees, apple tress, olive trees and scorpions. I came face to face with my first scorpion when I moved the outside table closer to the edge of the patio and he/she? was underneath the table. A reminder NEVER to go around with no socks or shoes inside or out.
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