We checked out of our B&B this morning and lingered around the pool for a few hours resting, blogging, reading, and of course researching our next steps. We then headed toward the small town of Volterra with a stop in San Gimignano. BUT first, we had to fill up the tanks (fuel and stomachs), so we stopped at the greatest gas station ever. Unassuming from the road, this gas station has a full espresso bar, a full real bar, and a counter with fresh breads, meats, and cheeses where they'll make whatever sandwich your little heart desires. Thrilled with our lunch of fresh ham and cheese sandwich on baguette, paprika chips, unidentified Italian candy, and Fanta, we were not homesick for American three day old hotdogs from the warm roller machine.
Surprise, surprise, we were again following the recommendation of Rick Steves to spend a couple of hours in the larger town of San Gimignano and stay in the smaller, quieter town of Volterra. He did not steer us wrong. San Gimignano is built for tourists. The main attractions are beautiful old Tuscan squares and buildings with flowers spilling out of the windows, seemingly endless shops selling tourist wares, and world-renowned gelato. Obviously we had to patronize Gelateria Dondoli, a shop that has twice won the gelato world championship.
We did enjoy a small dose of culture by visiting this museum which houses a very impressive small-scale replica of the town as it was in the 14th Century.
And after a little more wandering, we drove 30 minutes over to Volterra, a town that feels much more authentic than San Gimignano.
Staying here was definitely the right decision for us. This town feels completely unaffected by any tourist influence, yet it's still friendly and welcoming. Walking around, you could tell most of the folks were locals just living their lives - walking dogs, pushing baby strollers, running errands.
We loved our centrally located hotel called the Albergo Etruria. It's basic and economical, but once again, run by the kindest people. Of course our room was at the very top of four steep staircases and of course there was no lift. When the nice man showed us to our room and realized the stairs had worn me (Sarah) out, he apologized profusely and immediately brought a bottle of cold water. He asked if carbonated water would be OK since that's all he had, because of course he only had fancy water. You don't have to ask me twice! Fifteen minutes later, he called the room to check on me, and the next morning, his colleague asked if I felt better because his coworker had told him about the situation. It was not nearly as big a deal as they made it out to be, but they were just that nice. If only more people in this world would be so kind!
We had dinner at a small family-run restaurant called La Carabaccia. They only have a few items on the ever-changing menu each night, depending on what's fresh and available at the market. The recipes have been passed down in the family for generations. Hirsh had tagliatelle with rabbit, while Sarah had prosciutto and melon salad and Tuscan vegetable soup.
After dinner, we wandered around the small town and soaked up the local vibe. We happened upon a play being performed on an outdoor terrace with an expansive view of the valley below. We didn't understand a word of it, but it was really neat to be in the middle of a neighborhood with the locals enjoying a fun night out.