a tour of Tuscany
Old habits die hard, and the temptation to venture out from the cozy Tuscan farmhouse to explore the Italian countryside proved too great to resist. S and her family visited San Gimignano, Lucca, Siena, Pisa, and Florence, the hour-long car rides proving perfect for Junebug’s naps.
San Gimignano is the epitome of a Tuscan walled town – visually striking and perfectly preserved. At the center is Piazza della Cisterna, home to a gelato shop that was so good that it merited a second visit on the family’s final, rainy day in Tuscany. S liked imaging this square in olden times, lined with inns and taverns for the town’s guests, the children fetching water from the well. As in many Tuscan towns, the City Hall with its 200-foot-tall tower is San Gimignano’s main attraction. Back in the day, building a tower taller than one’s neighbor’s was a popular way for prominent families to flaunt their power and wealth. Nowadays, visitors just stroll along the cobblestone streets, take in the magnificent vistas from atop the City Hall, and sample the pecorino cheese and cinghiale (wild boar) sausage at the local shops.
Siena was S’s mom’s favorite town when visiting Tuscany in her twenties so she offered to spend the day with Munchkin on the playground, allowing S, her dad, and her former German exchange sister, who joined the family for four days, some time to explore. Stretched across a Tuscan hill, Siena is one of Italy’s best-preserved medieval cities, with red-brick lanes running every which way. The town is an architectural time warp, where the present feels like the past. Most Italian cities have a church on their main square, but Siena’s gorgeous central piazza, Il Campo, centers around the city hall and a tall municipal tower (which of course S and her family had to climb). And if Il Campo is the heart of Siena, the Duomo (cathedral) is its soul. Sitting atop Siena’s highest point, the white and dark-green stripe church is lavish, though admittedly less so inside.
Hidden behind imposing Renaissance walls, Lucca’s cobbled streets, elegant piazzas, and pristine promenades make it a perfect destination to explore on foot or bicycle. There is a 2.5-mile track that runs atop the city walls, but though the 4-person bicycle cart looked tempting it was also a bit unwieldy. Instead of riding along the city walls, S let Munchkin burn off some energy at a playground before finding an excellent restaurant for lunch (Osteria Baralla).
The visit to Pisa was, frankly, underwhelming. Munchkin was excited to hear the story of the tower that sunk and almost tipped over but there wasn’t much else to see or do other than stare at the leaning tower. The weather was also lousy, the damp November chill penetrating to one’s bones. S tried to position Munchkin into a photo to make it look like he was holding up the tower, but gave up after a few failed attempts and instead sought refuge in a café that served some seriously decadent hot chocolate.
On the other hand, two days in Florence were hardly enough to do the city justice. At one point, Munchkin spilled water on himself, insisted on walking around pants-less, and then threw a massive tantrum and tried to run away. S’s mom was a saint and entertained him while the rest of the group went to see The David at the Accademia and wander the galleries of the Uffizi. Junebug happily slept through most of both museum trips. The Mercato Centrale lunch visit was not quite as successful, which S found particularly disappointing given her affinity for markets and new foodie scenes. However, she did get to attend services at the Great Synagogue of Florence, which dates back to the 1880s and used to be one of the most important synagogues in Europe. Munchkin enjoyed the playground on the synagogue grounds and later in the day got to ride his first carousal.
S had felt a slight trepidation at the outset of this, her first trip with two kids. There were the expected meltdowns, of course, but no worse or more frequent than during a typical weekend at home, which bodes well for our future travels.