Italy: San Gimignano and the hilltop towns

One afternoon my mother and I walked down the dusty road that scrolled past our house to unleash a million little discoveries. We were in the middle of San Gimignano, in the middle of of Sienna, in the middle of Tuscany, in the middle of the beautiful boot-shaped country. Every five minutes, there was the surprise of foreign flowers, a house that looked a little forlorn, or a new streak of vines on the horizon. There was a wave of newborn puppies, and row after row of black grapes. The sky rolled like a cerulean snowglobe. I've never felt so small. 

In addition to the silence of the wine country wilderness, there was such an abundance of life in the surrounding towns! During the day, the streets were filled with tourists and backpackers, but at night, the locals and their children came out for twilight pizzas and gossip.  Most of these towns were walled medieval villages. The thing about these hilltop towns: they were built before cars, so the streets force you to use your feet. We used them a lot. 

There were some days when my family (I was traveling with my brother, father, mother, uncle, and aunt), and I would wake early, scarf down some yogurt and apricots, and then head into one of the surrounding towns or villages. We also took a trip into Florence to see David, because we'd have failed as tourists had we not.  Aaron and I were our own that night, and took the opportunity to eat less-than-rare filet (a great thing) and sleep in a 14th century monastery (the beds had since been updated). 

But then there were the afternoons we'd simply be. We'd maybe go for a wine tasting, or head to the market to pick up more cheese (the buffalo mozzarella GOD) and bread, and then drive back home with one hand out the window and both feet on the dash. Back at home, we'd snack on cold eggplant, drink wine, and read before we either A) got hungry for dinner B) got drunk or C) got drunk and hungry for dinner.  It was like "Under the Tuscan Sun," except none of us were divorced or Diane Lane. 

And as you can see, I took a lot of pictures, which was new and fun for me. I like to see the surprises when I look through them later on, like "holy crap, that old Italian man was wearing a white suit and eating pink gelato --- HOW CUTE!" But  there were also times when I wanted to through my camera out the window and ease through the country clunk-free. I did this a lot too. 

A region of sweet red nectar, stonefruit and cream, and the whistle of spinning bike wheels, Tuscany is a place for the dreamers and eaters. You sleep on pillows of ravioli and lean out the windows to breathe in the same air exhaled by dizzily-infatuated Italian lovers, dragging bread across white plates of olive oil, and finally understanding of Bella Notte. 

We stayed in San Gimignano, which is located about an hour away from Florence in the Siena region. Here are some of the places we visited and loved. 

Volterra // Located at the tippy-top of a mountain, Volterra is where you can witness the creation of alabaster knick-knacks and get one of the best views of the Tuscan countryside. For a casual wine tasting with a wild waitstaff, go to La Vena Di Vino. The "tastes" are more like glasses, and it costs 15 euro for five wines. Bras dangle from the ceiling and they play Hozier and Amy Winehouse. 

Florence // The Accademia! The Uffizi! Go to both these things. Also go to Trattoria di Tito for amazing steak, eggplant caprese, and free shots of limoncello to top of the meal. But make a reservation, because it gets elbow-bumpin' and grindin' in this joint. 

Siena // Perfect for twilight strolls, Sienna is known for the Palio horse race and it's numerous confectionary creations. Be sure to find a place (it won't be hard) with Ricciarelli cookies, one of Sienna's specialties. They are adorable, diamond-shaped macaroons, made from almond paste and honey, with the texture of a buttery cloud. You eat them with wine, not milk, which is such a combination of fun and classy that I could explode. 

San Gimignano // Our home! So much Chianti wine! Also location of the 2006-2009 GELATO WORLD CHAMPION, aka Gelateria Dondoli. The best advice I can give is to simply stroll the city; you will likely stumble upon accordion players, free wine tastings, and secret stairwells. Also, the risotto from San Martino 26 deserves a hefty pat on the back. If you are a white wine fan, San Gimignano is known for their Vernaccia. Its crisp and honeysuckle-y and perfect for day drinks and summer skips. 

Eat, drink andddd ....

- Stay cozy