Under the Tuscan Sun

Trip Start Apr 03, 2007
Trip End Jun 16, 2007

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

My roommate this morning was a nice young man from Brazil.  He's living in Italy for one year (been here 2 months so far), learning Italian.  He has relatives that live here, so he's staying with them.  I told him about my travels, and he also wants to do a backpacking trip throughout Europe, so I gave him a few pointers.
I checked out of the excellent Ostello San Frediano and lugged my pack back through the streets of Lucca.  I wanted to take a bus back to the station, but the manager at the hostel told me the busses don't run on Sunday mornings.  One thing I've learned about Italy, is that Sundays are lousy days to travel on - way less busses run, most shops are closed, and even the tourist information stations close up (if not all day, at least really early, like 2:00 PM).  In the town square, the Italian Croce Rosso (Red Cross) was having some kind of festivities, they were out in all their gear and had tents set up.
At the station, I had to wait awhile for the train to Florence.  I bought a sandwich for breakfast and hung out to wait for my train.  One thing I've noticed here in Italy is that very few men wear shorts, even in the hottest part of the day.  Not sure exactly why that is, but many of them also wear jackets too.  It's no wonder there's so much B.O. here.
The train finally arrived and I was bound for Florence.  This was one of the nicer trains I've been on since I've been in Italy.  (The trains around the Cinque Terre were the rattiest, most worn out trains I've ridden on this trip -- seats had writing all over them, parts of the armrests and tables were missing, and the windows looked like they hadn't been cleaned since 1995).  Once again, I found myself in the zoo that is Florence train station.  I found the bag check and checked my big pack so I didn't have to lug it around with me as I searched out what I needed in Florence.  I had wanted to spend a few hours looking around Florence, then head out on the bus to San Gimignano, the "epitome of a Tuscan hill town" (as Rick Steves puts it).  Unfortunately, since it's a Sunday, the last bus left at 6:40 PM (any other day there'd be a later bus at 7:50 PM).  Since I already had a reservation in San Gimignano, and I didn't know how long it would take to get around Florence, I didn't want to risk missing the bus, so I decided just to save Florence for later and head off right away for San Gimignano.
The tourist information place closed at 2:00 PM, and the travel agency at the bus station was closed all day (gotta love Sundays here), so I thought I was going to be in trouble if the bus ticket counter didn't speak English.  Luckily, it was a really nice guy who knew enough English to help me get my ticket as well as point out the change of busses in Poggibonsi and gave me the bus schedule.  The schedule uses a holy cross to represent Sundays, and a couple crossed hammers to indicate work days (incl Saturdays).  The bus pulled up, and I piled on, along with a whole crowd of hot, sweaty people, and for about 15 minutes before the engine started up, it was a hot, stuffy, crowded (every seat taken, one guy stood for most of the way), B.O.-laden experience.  Finally, after what seemed like forever, the bus started up and thankfully the A.C. came blasting on with refreshingly cold air and we got on the road.  It wasn't too long of a ride and I got to see what the Autostrada is like.  About 45 minutes later, we pulled into Poggibonsi and a few people got off (the rest headed on to Siena).  Two of those that got off with me were a middle-age couple from Brisbane, Australia.  We passed the 40-minute wait for the bus to San Gimignano talking about traveling.  They have traveled quite a bit in the past and are currently on a 3 month stint now.  I didn't know this, but apparently there is a big water shortage in Brisbane, and they're on very strict rationing (no watering lawns, etc).  They're quite concerned about global warming.  They're heading to Venice next and said, "We want to see it before it's under water."  They gave me some good tips on Southern Italy, since that's where they were and are heading north.
I went to go use the W.C. in the station, and for the first time (in Europe, at least) I ran into the "hole-in-the-ground squatter" type of toilets.  I had run into these when I was in Malaysia and Thailand, and had heard they had them here in Europe, so I finally saw that, yes, they do have 'em, but I think you have to get a bit off the tourist path to find 'em.
Eventually, the bus came and we headed off for San Gimignano (this bus was much less crowded).  It was only 11 km, so we were there pretty quickly.  San Gimignano has a great setting: perched right atop the highest hill around, it has views of all the vineyards and farmlands in the vicinity.  It also has some really neat old walls and 14 (out of at one time 60) medieval towers sticking up above the city.  The place I'm staying is a nice little B&B right off the main walk in town (there's no cars allowed inside the town).  I decided to splurge a bit and go for the private room (my first one since Bayeux) for a few days.  San Gimignano is quite central in Tuscany, so I will day trip it from here to Florence, Siena, and probably Volterra.  It's a nice big room with a balcony (overlooking a private courtyard), a modern bathroom (with bidet, of course), a small TV, and a decent size collection of books.  Most of the books are in Italian, but a few are in English.  Some of the more odd books included here are: Programmare l'Amiga Volumes I and II and some Italian Soundblaster 16 manuals.  I mean, I can understand why someone might want to read one of Mario Puzo's books while on vacation in Italy, but I don't think there's a great deal of travelers that bring their Amigas with them when they come to Italy (I could be wrong, there's a lot of Amiga buffs out there).  I turned on the TV for awhile.  All the stations here are in Italian.  Most of them were pretty boring talk stuff, where nothing happens except people talking.  There was some sports news stuff, for about 10 minutes they covered sailing.  I don't know about you, but I don't ever remember seeing sailing on American sports news.  I guess it's just not dynamic enough to capture American audiences.  I gotta admit, 10 minutes of watching boats cut through the water was about all I could take before I started to fall asleep.  They do have MTV here, first it was some Italian dating show, then they had on "Pimp my Car", in English with Italian subtitles.  I wonder what image Italians must have of Americans if they're watching "Pimp my Car" and "Dukes of Hazzard".
I just spent the evening wandering around the town.  There's some really nice park areas up near the top, surrounded by what was apparently a castle-like fortress at one time.  From there are the best views of the Tuscan country below.  For dinner, I stopped in for some pizza at a little pizzeria, then headed to my room for a nice quiet sleep (no cars or noisy tourists here).  Tomorrow, I head out to see Siena.
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