The Barbarians Take Tuscany!

4 May

After a whirlwind two days in Venice, we were ready to relax and take things a little bit slower. We settled into our farmhouse, sent the kids outside to explore and made a plan for the day. I had A-Mason race events organized for the big cities- Venice and Florence. In between though, I had done little more than just read some background on the towns and area around where we were staying. We decided to make this day Fortified City on Hill day. Rick Steves, who as everyone knows is my spirit animal, recommends Volterra as his favorite hill town and blasts San Gimignano for being too touristy. (Although Rick, and you know I love you, whose fault is that? Europe has no more back doors!) We decided to try both out and see what we thought.

We drove through the hills of Tuscany and I have to say it was far more pleasant in the daytime and without all the tunnels. Lucy still felt a little sick, but I wasn’t doing too bad. Patrick, on the other hand, was in driving heaven. I think his perfect vacation would be driving twisty mountain roads for days on end. Maybe. Maybe just an hour or two of that would do actually. The scenery was unbelievable. All the tall cypresses, ancient farmhouses, vineyard rows on hills, all the stereotypical things that you’d picture in Tuscany. It’s a stereotype for a reason.

San Gimignano is a fortified medieval city up on a hill with about a dozen towers still standing where there once were about 70. The skyline as you approach is unreal. You have gorgeous countryside and then you spot one of the taller hills and it’s capped with towers. As we were admiring the towers on our approach up the hill, Lucy had had enough. She shouted at me in time for me to throw back a paper bag which she immediately threw up into. Y’all. It. Smelled. Nasty. As we drove into the parking lot outside the city walls, I was hanging my arm out the window, holding the swiftly deteriorating paper bag as far away as possible. We parked over a grate, so I drained the bag over it, then threw the bag away. Let me just say that puke drippings baking on an iron grate for a few hours creates a pungent surprise when you return to your car.

As we entered the city, the kids pretended they were barbarians looking for a way to attack. There was only one way in and the city gate was wide open, so our vandals were in luck. The entrance opens up onto a narrow pedestrian street that leads the way into the center of town and top of the hill, with stairs and paths leading up to other paths and buildings. Despite all the touristy shops lining the street, you could really get a sense of what it would feel like in its prime. Before heading up, we decided to grab some lunch. Pizza by the slice is cheap and available everywhere, so we grabbed some (mine was rosemary and potato and was yummy) and sat on the steps of the Museum of Torture to enjoy. Guys, Italians really LOVE torture. I had no idea. Every small town we visited on this trip had it’s own Museum of Torture. It was seriously weird.0180ccf65ca7f758c2b00983259ef04d0cf6ab2a7c

We veered off the main path and walked one of the back roads along the city walls. The views were incredible. After a while, we decided to head up to the center of the city. The way to get there included a dark tunnel that the kids were thrilled with. It was the perfect sneaky place for barbarians to attack from. They darted in, hugging the walls close and poking their heads around corners before waving the rest of us through.

IMG_6536IMG_6537In the city plaza, we checked out an old cistern, then walked up the steps to Santa Fina church. In the gift shop, there were great books for kids like Dante’s Inferno for Fun. I almost got it, but then decided that scarring my children for life probably wouldn’t be the wisest idea. Plus, then instead of Star Wars, they’d run around the house playing Circles of Hell and that would get old and scare the neighbors

There were interesting paintings inside the church, but we didn’t enjoy them much because the kids decided to be really obnoxious today. They were running around, refused to whisper, and were all glommy hanging on us. Bad decision on their part because shortly after we left the church, we passed a gelato shop that proclaimed they were the world gelato champions and were part of Italy’s national gelato team (that’s a thing? and also, who do they compete against?). So the obnoxious kids didn’t get any gelato but Patrick and I did and it was pretty amazing. Patrick got passion fruit and raspberry with rosemary and I got gorgonzola walnut. They were so rich and delicious. We also popped into a shop to pick up some dried pasta to make for dinner back at the farmhouse. Rhett liked the pasta that was “shaped like scissors.” Yes, sweet boy, those are scissors.012ef530e46488585d0ba16ed4e4739c87f3dc4d4c

We wandered back down the hill to our car and that horrible, horrible smell and headed for our other destination, Volterra. Unlike San Gimignano, Rick Steves couldn’t stop singing the praises of Volterra. I liked both cities though. Again, the drive was just amazing. The only downside of the drive was that the kids were seriously obnoxious. At some point we just made them be completely silent, otherwise we were going to be leaving them on the side of one of those picturesque roads. As we were driving, we came upon a random red O on a hilltop. Never quite figured out what that O was all about, but it was a nice view. We sat on the hill for a little bit while the kids pointed out which places were sheep hexes and which were forest and wheat hexes. They play Settlers of Catan every Sunday night with the missionaries and it’s kind of spilled into reality for them.


Anyways, we made it to Volterra and headed into our second walled medieval city of the day. I had prepared a walking tour that Finn was supposed to read and lead us on, but we got a little turned around and entered through the wrong city gate, so it took a while to get our bearings. (We were supposed to enter under a 2300 year old Etruscan arch. We saw an old looking arch and were like “here it is!” But it was just a random ancient arch.) Plus, did we mention that the kids were extra obnoxious? Also, although the roads were as narrow as you’d imagine, every now and then a car would race by sending everyone scattering.

There were some interesting Roman ruins and baths that we looked over. Finn thought that was cool, he’d been reading up on the Roman Empire before we came out. We walked up to the central piazza where the medieval town hall was, passing Volterra’s Museum of Torture on the way. There were a bunch of red carpets rolled out, but they weren’t for people, they were for racecars. Apparently we’d come on the day that there was a road rally that seemed to start there in the piazza and then try to kill as many tourists as possible before continuing on down the hill. We watched the cars drive off and decided to head out. Patrick and I were sick of the kids, tired from the last few days, ready to head back and relax at our farmhouse. As we walked back past the town hall though, we heard drumming coming from somewhere in the tiny town. A minute later, a marching band in full medieval regalia marched by, complete with traditional flag throwers.

IMG_6549We turned around and followed them to the piazza and were front and center for the show. It totally lifted our spirits and the kids were enthralled. The band stood in the piazza and played while the flag throwers took turns performing and sometimes worked together to throw the flags. They started with the clear JV throwers, but even they were pretty good. By the time they got to the real ones, they were juggling seven or eight flags each. Lucy especially enjoyed it. When it was over, she kept saying “that was so AMAZING!”

We decided to end the day on a high note. We headed back to the farmhouse and put the kids to bed, then relaxed for a bit. It was a long day but a really good one.



3 Responses to “The Barbarians Take Tuscany!”

  1. LeAnn Mason May 4, 2015 at 2:31 pm #

    This totally reminds me of when I was a baton twirler for my high school marching band. I was also a French horn player and drummer, not at the same time, although this video shames me. I should have tried harder.

  2. liz johnson May 4, 2015 at 2:50 pm #

    I can’t believe I didn’t push harder to be your nanny on this trip. I missssss you and this sounds amaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaazing. Like, so many vowels AAAAMAAAAAAZIIIIIING.

  3. Dorothy K. May 4, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

    Awesome as usual. I have to share the flag throwers with my daughter who was in tall flags in high school and college. Continue to have fun and share your adventures with those of us who are at home.

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