European Vacation Fall 2013 – Tuscany

Tuscany Tuesday, October 1

The third of five posts from our fall vacation to Europe, this entry captures our wonderful day in Tuscany. We could not have dreamed of a better day to explore the Tuscan country side. On Tuesday, we took in the Tuscan cities of San Gimignano, Chianti, Siena, and Moneriggiani from our base in Florence. set us up on a full-day bus tour of the Tuscan countryside and these historic cities.

San Gimagnano

San Gimignano was a delightful surprise. It is a fortress city on  a hill in a beautiful Tuscan valley. When you enter the gates of San Gimignano, you are taken back to Medieval times walking through the narrow, cobblestone streets, bolstered by shops of all kinds, and complimented by eight red brick towers built by the wealthiest families of this ancient city. Our guide explained that the towers were built by richest families to show off their wealth. He who has the highest tower wins.

Before we entered the city, we marveled at the Tuscan countryside view but when we reached the pinnacle of the city atop a medieval observation tower, we were treated to yet another level of beauty of the entire panorama of the Tuscan valley below. Another treat of this charming city was the gelato store that lays claim to the best ice cream in the world. Of course, we had to try it. Without question, it was the best we had ever tasted.

Be sure to click the bottom right thumbnail to see our video of the panoramic view. Pardon the wind noise.

Chianti for Lunch

Deb and I will admit neither of us are wine experts but we have tried our share of wine. Our lunch was in a vineyard where the original Chianti Classico is made.  Yes, they had some of the best Chianti we have tried. No, we didn’t bring any home because they were a little too proud of that wine at €33.00 a bottle with a minimum order of six to ship it home. We will have to stick to our memory of the best Chianti. You will have to trust us.


Our next stop was Siena. Siena is a Midieval city in southern most part of Tuscany. Their modern claim to fame is the horse races held once a year around the shell shaped street in the middle of town. Of course the races have been going on for centuries. If you haven’t been there, it’s hard to visualize the bravado of these nutty people that race every year for the prize of hanging your banner in the square for the remainder of the year. You see the street is lined by three foot high concrete pillars and the jockeys ride bare back clock wise around this nine sided, shell shaped course that has a forty or fifty foot change in elevation. The winner is decided by the first horse that crosses the finish line three times. That’s right, the rider need not finish the race and often don’t. See? They’re nutty. Oddly enough, Siena also holds claim to the first bank in the world. Go figure, nutty people invented banking. Some behaviors have not changed.

These nutty people take this beautiful town
…and turn it into this
….to do this.
Same people who started banking
..believed she-wolves raised their forefathers
…and goofed engineering like this
On our ride through the Tuscan country side, we learned the significance of the black rooster found on authentic Tuscan wine bottles. You see, Siena and Florence had been at war for hundreds of years. After fighting for control of the rich countryside for centuries, they decided the best way to settle their differences was to see who’s rooster would crow at first light. The Florentines decided to improve their odds by withholding food and water from their rooster two days before the deciding event. Sure enough, Florence’s black rooster crowed loudly before Siena’s white rooster even made it out of bed. From that point on, black roosters were affixed on top of every authentic Tuscan wine bottle.


Out final stop was on our route back up to Florence to another fortress town called Moneriggiani. Only 42 people inhabit this small hillside village. Our guide tells us that they must be descendants of the original inhabitants because no one would want to live this isolated. From the cars parked near the small home, it appeared no one is hurting for cash. They had everything from BMW to Mercedes and Porche. Apparently, tourism is a booming business in their town.

We had a fulfilling day visiting Tuscany. I couldn’t get over how much the Italian country side reminded me of Northern California with really old cities. By the time we boarded the bus for the last time, it was getting dark. As we road back into Florence, our guide pointed out Sting’s villa high atop a hill between Siena and Florence. We thought about stopping by but figured they wouldn’t have enough food for us all. 🙂

Tomorrow, a walking tour of Florence, then we’re on our own for the remainder of the day. Hopefully, we will find a nice Tuscan place for dinner.

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