Tuscany: Tourist Traps and The Italian Wal-Mart

Our target for this day was San Gimignano, the city of beautiful towers. We almost experienced a major fail right out of the gate. We were on the way when I spied a walled city on the hill with towers. Possessing an inherent distrust of GPS accuracy, I said, “David, there it is! Stop!” The book we had said you had to park outside the city, so I figured this was a good spot. We fought for a parking spot, wrangled with the meter, and headed off on foot…into an Italian ghetto.

SO not San Gimmy.

After 20 minutes, David was like, “OK, this is NOT it.” And it wasn’t. So we headed back to the car and consulted Kevin. Yeah, we were still 15 minutes away. Navigator of the Year — right here, folks!

When we finally got there, we found parking fairly easily, if by easily you mean on a 45-degree slope on a hairpin curve with Fiats and tour busses whooshing and zipping by.

Crossing the palazzo to the city gates, we spied the walls of the city — they were HUGE.

San Gimignano exterior wall

San Gimignano was a hilltop fortress town, one entry before us, barely wide enough to drive a car through. The city was unlike any place we’d been (well, almost…more in a minute) in Italy. Very well preserved, no grafitti, beautiful stonework. Amazing attention to detail, everything from doorknobs to hinges to knockers — there was no sense of anyone just scraping by.

I fell in love with all of the different doors in Italy.

The main thoroughfare was lined with shops, peddling leather goods, wild boar products, wine, jewelry, etc. Seemed like every five doors there was a stuffed wild boar in the doorway wearing a sign that said, “DO NOT TOUCH!” which was very hard to obey, by the way. 😉

The roads in San Gimmy were very, very steep.

San Gimmy side-street

We climbed and meandered, peeked into doorways, snapping pics on a whim.

"I think this offers the best angle."

One other whim we followed was a trip to the “Torture Museum,” which displayed all manner of devices used during the Middle Ages and the Inquisition to pry confessions from the Devil’s so-called minions. It was a truly horrifying place! Totally regret going there.

It wasn’t until we left that awful museum that David nailed a dead-on description of San Gimmy. “It’s like an Italian Gatlinburg,” he said. He was SO right. From the rows of overpriced shops to the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” Torture Museum, it was totally a place to squeeze Euros out of busloads of Germans.

All that aside, I wouldn’t skip it. It was so well preserved, and there was so much beauty to take in, with its soaring towers and innumerable exquisite architectural details. Even on a cold and cloudy day, it was an amazing place.

We finished up our day with a visit to the Italian Wal-Mart to buy groceries.

Maybe we should rename Wal-Mart Betty?

I’ll go into more detail on Kitchen Mischief, but for now, let’s just say I had a little mini breakdown in the market, brought on by weigh-it-yourself produce. The tantrum culminated with me turning to David and saying, “This is NOT how I envisioned my Tuscan cooking experience!” After I calmed down, we worked it out, and dinner ended up being a blast. And purple. More on the Mischief. 😉

NOTE: Not all trees in Italy are olive trees as Josh discovered only moments before popping this lovely (not an) olive in to his mouth.


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