There’s promise in the air when Suzanne’s handmade itinerary says, “Today RELAX and laundry.”
Before we could hang up our feet and enjoys the spoils of the past few days’ hard marching, we hopped in the Fiat and headed for the hills or, in this case, San Gimignano, an old walled town in the mountains.
It’s a town heavy with history - and tourists. Since we discovered (through a series of uncomfortable left-hand turns) driving directly into towns like this is a terrible idea, we started hunting parking lots, which are conveniently marked with a white “P” on a blue sign. Parking besieged the town, and we took what seemed to be the furthest spot in the furthest lot. Then we followed a couple of quick-stepping Germans into the town, mainly because strident Germans always seem to know where they’re going.
It’s a beautiful town with narrow, twisty roads, looming towers, and yes, shops and restaurants. Shops that sell leather. Shops that sell bags. Shops that sell ceramics. Shops that sell shoes. The main thoroughfare framed by all these shops had a constant and mighty flow of people surging ahead, always ahead, to the next shop.
We discovered a tiny sign with an arrow pointing to a “panoramic vista,” and upon investigation it certainly was very pretty. We took a few pictures because that’s mandatory at panoramic vista locations, and then decided to get a bite for lunch.
Lunch in San Gimignano. The options seemed limitless because Attila the Hun wasn’t exactly threatening to invade any more, so now the town’s battlements and fortifications existed to defend against hungry tourists and, possibly, sell them shoes.
Back in the car we drove to the next stop of the day: Monteriggioni, the place where Renaissance Fairs are born. (Yes, I know technically Monteriggioni is a medieval walled town - and it’s an beautiful one at that - but we all play fast and loose with the history of giant turkey legs, regalia, archery, and mead; it’s as if we’ve all agreed the world’s timeline goes from togas to the dark ages to Jane Austen. Throw the Renaissance in there somewhere and everyone’s happy. Thank you all the football coaches who taught high school world history for that.)
We were lucky to stumble upon Monteriggioni’s own medieval festival, and to give them credit, it’s historically accurate, right now to the band plugging into their amplifiers.
Okay, that’s not fair. As we walked in through the town’s walls (walls you can walk on - for a price!), we saw a fairly heavy duty rock band setting up on a stage. That was one of the first hints we had about the festival. This band was called Corvus Corax, and according to themselves: “Probably the loudest unplugged band in the world. The ‘Rolling Stones’ of the Middle Ages - Prince Luitpold of Bavaria.”
Then, as we continued our walk, I saw food vendors begin setting up tables. One, in particularly, wore that plain Monty Python cap I see many Society for Creative Anachronism men wear before donning their aluminum wrapped helmets. The cigarette this guy was smoking ruined the illusion. As did the cup of coffee. And so did his shorts and t-shirt.
Really, though, Monteriggioni is history stopped in time, and you can truly get a sense of it when you stand on the walls and look out at the countryside around you. What would a 14th century farmer stuck on patrol duty say if he saw a tour bus load of eager Chinese tourists driving up to the castle gate?
I know! He’d put on some chainmail and then collapse under the weight of it. I say this because in Monteriggioni there’s a small museum of medieval armor and weapons, and you can try on some things - I think mainly for pictures than battle, but when you’re battling the weight of your new office causal wear, does it matter?
We didn’t stay for the actual festival, mainly because it wasn’t going to begin for five more hours and we had relaxation to get to. That’s what we did for the rest of the day, and it was glorious. Suzanne sat in the Tuscan shade with some wine and a book and I flailed miserably online trying to find decent parking for our stop the next day.
Next: Florence and the machine