Through Vineyards and Olive Groves

Trip Start Apr 03, 2007
1
45
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Trip End Jun 16, 2007


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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Today was to have been my day in Volterra.  The local bus drivers had different ideas, though, so I had to change my plans to the more local environs of San Gimignano.  It was well worth it, though, since I got a sample of classic Italy.
 
Breakfast at the B&B was similar to the last two mornings, but this time it included a fried egg and two kinds of meats.  I headed out within plenty of time to catch the 8:45 AM bus to Volterra.  On the way out of the B&B, who did I run into but the same Aussie couple from Brisbane that I met on my way here to San G.  We talked for quite awhile at the bus stop, and noticed a blue hot air balloon float right over the town.  What a view they must have had.  Eventually, we all realized that it was well past 8:45, and neither my bus to Volterra or their bus to Siena had arrived.  At 9:15, I gave up and decided to try a later bus instead.  Bidding goodbye to the Aussie couple, I headed for the perimeter trail that goes around the outside of the town.  I had a couple hours to kill, so I stopped on a park bench for awhile (under a fig tree full of ripe figs).  About 30 minutes or so later, another couple that had been waiting at the bus stop walked up and sat down.  We got to talking and they told me they found out that the bus drivers had gone on strike, and there would be no busses until after noon.  I said, "I guess we're stuck here then.  But it's sure not a bad place to be stuck in."  How true it turned out to be.  Well, there went my plans to go to Volterra, since the only other bus I could have taken was scheduled to leave around 11:30.  The main things I wanted to see in Volterra were the Etruscan Gate (dating to the 4th century B.C.), and the Etruscan museum (supposed to be the 3rd best Etruscan collection in the world after the Vatican and British Museums').  Well, having seen the British Museum's already, and I can catch the Vatican one when I'm in Rome, so it's not such a loss.  I feel bad for the Aussie couple, though.  They were planning on seeing Siena today before heading to Venice in the evening.  Because of the strike, they probably either missed Siena completely, or barely got to see it.  I get the feeling this sort of thing is more common in Italy than in more northern parts of Europe.  The Aussie couple told me that one time they were waiting for a train, and it just didn't bother to come.  I guess there were some pretty upset people.
 
I spent about an hour trying to see if there was any wireless Internet available in San G.  I managed to find an unencrypted hot spot, but because of all the stone buildings, the signal was so weak that the bandwidth was horrible and the connection would be lost every few minutes.  After trying 3 different locations and getting the same results, I gave up on that and went to the Tourist Information to find out about hiking in the area.  They had one suggested hike, which had directions and a decent map on a single page.  The hike was 8 km (5 miles) and turned out to be a very good one.  It started out just going along the main road, but after about 1/4 mile, it veered off on a dirt road, which went along a ridge with great views of the town of San G up on the hill.  It passed through numerous vineyards and olive groves, and had all kinds of interesting brick Tuscan houses with red tile roofs.  Along the way, I spotted a large snake (it warn't no garter snake), and I don't know how many small green lizards scurried out of my way (they're everywhere here).
 
I learned something about Italian rain clouds: the sun can be shining one minute, then a big gray cloud can pass overhead and suddenly start dumping water on you.  Luckily, there were trees I could sit under for awhile and wait out the rain.  It didn't last long, since the cloud blew away, and before long the sun was out shining again.  When I got back almost to within the town, there were lightning flashes and loud thunderclaps, and rain was very clearly visible falling on the fields a few miles off.  But it was just fine in San G and I don't think it got rained on at all.  The best views were on the last stretch of a road called Via Vecchio.  At one point along the way, I just stood there and looked at the town for the longest time.  I just couldn't take my eyes off it.  I imagined what I would think and feel if I had fallen asleep in a car on the way here, and woke up right at that spot and just got out of the car.  Totally blown away.  That's got to be THE classic Tuscany view, possibly for all of Italy.
 
After dark, I wandered around town some more.  It's so nice then because the tourists all leave, and it's like going back in time - there's no cars within the town.  I went through the gardens at the top of the hill, and there were great views of all the towers, lit up at night.  Then I wandered down to the Medieval fountain.  I noticed these flying creatures that looked very different from birds, and realized they were bats.  The floodlight let me see them very clearly, constantly flapping their wings unlike birds, and occasionally swooping down instantly to snap up some bug.  My ears could barely pick up the very faint ultrasonic chirps they make.  They're amazing creatures.
 
My time here in San G is coming to a close, but it's been very restful (especially in the evenings). I'm really glad I went to Siena and Florence when I did.  Volterra can wait until I come back again in the future (after all, gotta leave something to see for next time!)

Next stop: Rome!
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