With our base in Florence, Amelie and I decided to visit the neighboring medieval town of San Gimignano and the rival city of Siena. We thought about renting a vehicle to accomplish this task, but found out that an International Driver’s Permit would be required. Some rental companies don’t mention this, however, internet traveling forums reported problems if caught without one by the police. We decided to try our luck with the local bus.
We found the bus station right next to the train station. It wasn’t completely obvious until we saw a bus turn into an enclosed parkade. Following the bus, we discovered the ticket office and quickly purchased two tickets to San Gimignano. On the bus we sat next to Jenn and Michelle, two very friendly Australian women who gave us some good traveling tips. They were headed to San Gimignano for a three day cooking class.
San Gimignano is a incredible town to behold. With its fourteen medieval guard towers, it is impressive even from afar. The town is small, yet surprisingly easy to get lost in. Its main streets were buzzing with tourists, but a few detours lead us to a peaceful park, an old fort and a panoramic view of the countryside. It didn’t take long to see everything, but there was a longing to extend the visit.
In our rush to get into the town, we didn’t ask the bus driver where to catch the bus out or buy the return tickets. The latter proved to be more challenging. We stopped at a few kiosks and stores to ask for help and everyone kept saying “tabacchi, tabacchi” while waving their hands in all directions. It took a few screaming Italians to make us realize that in San Gimignano, to buy a bus ticket, you go to the tobacco shop.
At the bus stop we befriended a couple from Oklahoma, Paul and Suzanne. Their daughter was studying in Florence and they were doing a side excursion in combination with their visit. Paul informed us that the only white wine in this region, Vernaccia, was made in this area. To the disappointment of Amelie’s uncles, we have not tried any wines yet. Paul and Suzanne kept us company as we took the “ordinary line” bus all the way to Siena. It’s on this bus ride that we learned about two types of bus lines running in the region. The “ordinary” bus line which makes very frequent stops and takes secondary highways, and the “rapid” bus line, which makes very few stops and takes the main highway.
We got to Siena a bit late and only managed to take in a couple of sights. Our first and favorite was the Torre del Mangia, or the “tower of the eater.” It provides a fantastic view of the city and the Piazza del Campo below. For people with even the slightest fear of heights and/or claustrophobia, other sights may provide a more enjoyable experience. Our second visit was the Museo dell’Opera. It is structurally part of Siena’s Doumo, but it is a separate ticket. It offers a gallery of paintings and sculptures, as well as a panoramic view from its rooftop. Unfortunately, by the time we finished this visit, everything else seemed to be closed.
We returned to Florence just after nightfall, this time using the “rapid” bus line for a much quicker trip. Luck prevailed yet again today. We had a forecast for rain, but got a pretty nice day.