Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Report 420: A Week in San Gimignano
By Maggie from UK, Spring 2000
Trip Description: Six friends: four menopausal females and one very tolerant married couple explore San Gimignano, enjoying the town, the countryside and nearby Siena, whilst imbibing the delicious Italian ambience.
Destinations: Countries - Italy
Categories: Small Group: 5 to 9; Sightseeing; Independent Travel
Page 1 of 5: Six go off to San Gimignano
Tuscan Holiday - A Week in San Gimignano
Sue, Kate, Caroline and Margaret (narrator) stayed in San Gimignano in the apartment ‘Panorama’ from the La Bella Toscana brochure. Their friends, Janet and John, stayed in Le Vecchie Mura apartment. Saturday 23rd of May
Pisa airport was predictable. We turned left as in the instructions and arrived on a very sunny, deserted platform. Our 'biglietti' refused to make sufficient contact with the stamping machine and there was nobody to advise us whether the train intended going in the direction of Poggibonsi. We took a chance - one double seat each - and relaxed.
The train duly set off, passing through lazy, allotment patchworked suburbs before emerging into Tuscany with swathes of bright red poppies and green paint-box landscape. We stood up reluctantly as the train slowed at the first station to be thwarted by a male figure which leapt up from the end seat, frantically waving his arms and yelling 'No, no!' We sat down again.
Empoli smelt of real coffee and we fell into the station buffet and downed glasses of aqua minerale (con and senza gas), whilst Caroline crunched on a large Cox's apple, the last vestige of our travel pack-up.
The chap in the ticket office was convinced that the train left for Poggibonsi at five o'clock - everybody else thought 5.07. They were right. Perhaps he couldn't be bothered with the detail - it was hot and still and unimportant.
We met an American couple who must have thought we were straight out of E. M. Forster and had been waylaid on our way back to England. We deposited ourselves languidly in an empty carriage as the heat stroked and caressed us. The ticket collector poked me back to sudden awareness, wagging her finger and pointing to my Marks and Spencer's 'footgloves' resting on the opposite seat. I stuttered 'Scusi', rearranged myself and frantically produced the ticket for four. She queried whether the other three were the hypnotised figures draped soporifically on the adjacent seats. I nodded, without offering any excuses for them, and she wagged her head in resignation and moved off.
Poggibonsi was as stolid and welcoming as its name. We waited in the sunshine, backs to the station wall, for the final leg of our journey. Two Italian males posed to east and west of us and discussed the day's events. We weren't half as impressed as they were by our apparent indifference.
A group of locals squabbled on the station forecourt as we sat at the front of the bus, waiting for the driver to extricate his head and shoulders from the front window of a yellow Fiat and get back on the bus. I confidently announced that we needed to get off at ‘L'Albergo Le Colline’ but he showed no 'conoscenza' - neither did anybody else who boarded the bus, yet they all discussed it animatedly as we left the town behind and climbed the road towards the rising towers. Two kilometres on, he slammed on the brakes, yelling 'Dietro! Dietro!' and pointed with great satisfaction to the bushes on our right. We fell off the bus into a grassy ditch - and a rainstorm,- and the remaining occupants of the bus, who no doubt by now had formed various theories of Englishwomen abroad, pressed their noses against the windows to watch the driver, (probably also relieved to be rid of us), lift up the side of the bus and retrieve our luggage. We chanted 'Grazie' in varying tones of dismay (Caroline plumped for Muchas Gracias), and I fumbled to unzip my case to extract the umbrella I was sure I had packed somewhere, only to scatter female unmentionables onto the wet verge.
Caroline meanwhile, always at her most resourceful in an emergency, had produced an instant pac-a-mac and was waiting, shrouded in an enormous translucent yellow binbag with hood. As Kate hurried across the road to optimistically examine each cypress tree 'after the lay-by', Sue battled to hook various items of luggage over her fast disappearing torso. For one nasty moment, when all her limbs were fully engaged, I had the dreadful fear, as one item of luggage still sat snugly on the verge, that we had unloaded somebody else's bag - but no, Sue slung it over her shoulder and we headed for wherever.
The ‘Bella Toscana’ caravan, as suggested in the instructions, was, to our relief and amazement, 'at the end of the track, after the green gate'. The welcoming committee seemed to be on their 'half-day off' and the remaining three people, huddled in the caravan, did not seem overwhelmingly pleased to see us, considering our relieved delight at seeing them. Kate signed everything in sight, handing over wads of lire to pay for towels and bedding, whilst Caroline appeared to be making unnecessary overtures towards the chap at the back of the caravan, who had a colourful flowered shirt, a very prominent paunch - and a large bunch of car keys dangling from his pocket! He took us as far as a car could comfortably travel into the narrow-streeted hilltown and we duly conveyed our appreciation: 'Muchas gracie!' enthused Caroline, who was truly getting the Italian flavour now. We were all beginning to realise that we were somewhere very special and within two hundred metres we had arrived. Boy, had we arrived! The view opening out from the back of the apartment said it all. It hadn't been flippantly called 'Panorama'. Tuscany wasn't a canvas, a picture in a brochure or a Prime Minister's hideaway: it was a feeling - combined with the unrolling greenery and cuckoo-filled headiness that assaulted us deliciously, as we stepped out onto the flower-filled terrace. We couldn't believe our good fortune. We were the adventurers who squeezed into beds next to communal shower cabinets and made coffees in cupboards in Venice; who crept round cold, rather dirty apartments in Florence, convinced that the last occupant had died rather too recently; and yet, somehow, we had managed to book a piece of heaven, just for us, for one whole week in San Gimignano. According to reincarnation beliefs, we must have unwittingly atoned for many previous misdemeanours to have deserved this!
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