This was a very full day. We were supposed to go ballooning this morning but it was canceled--too windy.
A quick change in plan and we headed to Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci... about 15 miles west of Florence. We enjoyed hilltop views along with models of Leonardo's inventions: a life size replica of his human powered flying machine, various military weapons, tanks and bridges, hydrometer, cranes, a bicycle and even his design for a wind-up car. A high point for me (besides actually being up on a very high point) was the ringing of the huge bells in the church tower during Sunday mass. I shot a video of them but recorded it at double speed without sound (duh). Those bells looked like they would shake the tower apart as they swung in and out of the tower... no, wait. This would be impossible because Leonardo invented and installed a device that neutralized the swinging effect of these bells. We saw it in the museum. Leonardo--what a brain. Imagine him walking onto the set of Shark Tank trying to get them to invest in one of his inventions... Would they bite?
All in all, it was one of the better museum experiences so far. After that a stroll to a tiny piazza for some gelato. .
The Renaissance town of Lucca was our next stop...
We drove under the arched Porta Elisa and through the fortress walls and found parking right away... but as long as I use my handicapped placard I don't have to pay for parking. Very nice of Italians to do this. Lucca is a beautiful city surrounded by very thick fortress walls. There is even a moat... dry nowadays.
A stroll up Via Elisa (I told Lisa I picked this street just for her) revealed a friendly renaissance feel... Juliet and Romeo could have been better off here. Villa after villa, balconies, a huge tree topped tower, secret gardens and very narrow passages gave us opportunities for lots of pics. Lucas loved the mailboxes mortared through the front walls and the giant Nutella bottle in a snack bar. There was the sound of water running through their canal and many beautiful fountains--all with potable drinking water. I liked the door knockers... we even found a shop selling nothing but brass knockers, mail boxes and other decorative hardware.
We saw a tiny, little pizzeria (about 4 feet wide by 8 feet deep) and bought some pizza a taglio (slices) and sat on marble church steps snacking watching all sorts of people walking by: priests, starlet wannabees, nuns in full habits, grubby-tight-pants regazze trying to look the part of successful playboys, babies with huge Bugs Bunny balloons and dogs of all sorts--fat, underfed, happy, or way to old to be walking. There is some great people-watching in this town.
This is a very touristy town (mostly Italians from what we witnessed) but it still had a relaxed pace. Everyone was in their strolling mode--their passeggiatta. We finally made it to the Piazza dell' Anfiteatro in the center of town.. an oval piazza built over the top of an ancient amphitheater (it's still under there). Although pretty, because of the curved buildings surrounding the perimeter, the place was tourist-kitchy with tourist menu cafes. We walked the long walk back to the car with my knees and feet complaining the whole way. Still, this is Italy and I've just walked back in time through the Renaissance, had a fantastic slice of pizza, took loads of pictures ... and I just discovered my new favorite town.
After driving out of town I drove to something I knew would impress Lucas and Lisa.... a huge, miles long Roman aqueduct. Heck, I Was impressed. The thing was massive, beautiful and went on for miles.
Next we drove through lots of traffic toward Pisa. The traffic was wicked, stop and and do, and made me wish I had an automatic transmission. Yikes.
The first impression was how big a city Pisa is... and how popular a tourist spot it is. The streets surrounding the Piazza Miracola were packed with cars, people and vendors hawking all sorts of tourist junk. We found parking a block away in a city pay lot... luckily the handicap rules made me save 40 Euros (about 50 bucks... For only an hour and a half!) I smell tourist trap!
We were all impressed by the amount of tilt of the Tower... it really is a lot! If you stand at the base of the side that's leaning, the top of the tower leans almost 13 feet out over your head!
We were also blow away by the Baptistry and Duomo because of the decorative sculptures on their facades. Most entertaining was watching people go into all sorts of contortions with hands, arms, legs and backs while taking the typical "I'm holding up the tower" photos. I even took one of Lucas holding the tower up.
Ok, so we hit the road, wanting to head back early because lo and behold, our hot air balloon ride was rescheduled for the next morning--at 7am! Nasty traffic from weekenders driving back from the beaches to their homes around Florence caused us to get back to Mormoraia at 10:30pm! We aren't going to get enough sleep and we have to get up at 5am to get to the take-off field in time. I was a bit nervous about arranging to send my little family up thousands of feet in a balloon basket, but the guy I booked is one of the best in the world who has trained many other balloon pilots.
This has been one long, wonderful day...
Well, we did it! My Kindle's alarm got us up at 5am and we got ready as quick as possible to get on the road for our hot air balloon flight over Tuscany.
I had programmed the location in my GPS before we left the States, and as we drove to the location, I spied their storage building that I had seen on Google Earth's ground view. We were actually a little early for our flight and the balloon crew hadn't arrived yet. A phone call and a few minutes later, Gianna pulled up to the side of us in her BallooninTuscany.com shrink-wrapped Range Rover and waved for us to follow her car to the launch field about a quarter mile away...
We pulled off the road and parked our Fiat 500L under a tree in a small spot under some trees and unloaded our still-tired bodies. Gianna's bright, outdoorsy smile greeted us and said (in wonderful English) to jump in her car for the drive to the launch site. We went on a tumbling roller coaster of a ride through the woods, spilling out into their hidden field. That's where we finally met Gianna's husband, Stefano, the burly, smiling Maestro of Ballooning, having just arrived with his balloon trailer in tow.
He made us feel confident right off... his cigarette and smile seemed to go with each other. His generous frame spoke of loving life and pasta. He spoke English charmingly well, having had lived and worked as a photographer in New York City back in the early Eighties. Having my studio in Manhattan for over 25 years, I was surprised we never ran into one another. In another age you could picture him as the aging flying ace putting all the younger pilots though their paces. In reality, it is Stefano who has trained most of the current crop of competing balloonists that you might hire in Italy. Personally, I was happy to be flying with their Maestro--although Lisa had been ballooning before, for Lucas and myself, this was our first flight.
Stefano, Gianna and a young assistant-pilot, Roberto (he prefers Robert) Trandafir, set up the balloon methodically... first the basket, then pull and stretch the balloon along the ground, straighten out the lines and cables, then the burners, fire them up, test the flame, begin inflation... The first test blast of the burners spooked all of us. The thing sounds like a jet. The whole process took about 25 minutes.
We then climbed aboard--Lisa did a great job getting her aching knee on board, Lucas climbed right over, and Babbo climbed up and slid in. Before we knew what was happening, Stefano had us up and away within seconds. In a minute we had already risen higher than any trees and were enjoying a misty Tuscan sunrise.
I can't describe the peacefulness of it... the gentlest motion you can imagine... the occasional sound of dog barking or a hunter's shots far below.... the far off layers of high mountains in northern Tuscany with the white marble mountains of Carrara looking like snow... the Towers of San Gimignano off in the distance... the textures and geometry of vineyards and olive groves... the hovering and drifting wisps of smoke as farmers all around were burning their olive tree prunings. You could smell the smoke even from up high. We were looking down on chic villas and peasant farmhouses... A real bucket list item checked off. What a wonderful experience--I'm glad we could give this to Lucas.
While in flight, we had interesting discussions with Stefano... finding out he was a photographer in Manhattan for a short time in the 1980s; discussing the Italian concept of being "furbo" and cheating the system (which he disagrees with); hunters in Italy--we passed over 3 hunters in their large treetop blind, with their pigeons sitting on a rail, waiting calmly to be released in flight--only to have these so-called "hunters" shoot them. Stefano said it's the reason song birds and most other small game are becoming scarce. "They shoot anything for this sport of killing. They will even kill hawks." He told of times when he was young when there were many more birds, rabbits and foxes in the fields. Stefano exudes a zest for life, confidence in his craft, and a strong connection to the land and customs of Italy and a desire to share it with Voyagers like us
A real show of a balloonist's choreography. After about 1-1/2 hours, Stefano hunted for a landing site... he aimed toward a field and we saw Roberto down below with the chase car & trailer driving through three fields trying to get to us as we descended. Interestingly, we also saw a farmer's car come racing into the field, jump out and confronting Roberto. We heard the yelling from 500 feet up. Stefano told us that this is one of the problem farmers that doesn't like any balloonists landing on his fields--always claiming damage to his crops and looking for money. Traditionally, balloonists will offer the farmer Prosecco or a round of cheese and all is well. In fact, this landing field was bare--already harvested--no damage would be possible. Roberto talked him into letting us land in peace. He drove off just as we were coming in for the landing.
Then Stefano did something that amazed us... He took note of where Roberto would enter the field, then skimmed the tall grasses to slow the balloon down, then up a bit, then skim again... seemingly timing the chase car's arrival. He then proved his skills by not only putting the balloon down in exactly the field he wanted, but by actually landing the basket right behind the balloon's trailer (so Lisa could climb out easier right onto the trailer's bed!) It was a balloonist's well thought-out choreography. Obviously, Stefano knows his stuff--and cares about people. Bravo Maestro!
The other reason I chose Stefano and Gianna as our balloon hosts was because, unlike the folding tables in the landing field with cheap wine, cheese and fruit, we were driven back to their 600 year old country home for a brunch with a quality Prosecco. Sausage, prosciutto, cheese, fruit, amazingly thick millefiori honey (tasted like jam), a Tuscan raisin bread, a rustic Tuscan loaf of pane, focaccia, orange juice, and more...
All this, plus great conversation, 4 little dogs for Lucas to play with, and a tour back in time--of their house... with the most amazingly authentic Tuscan kitchen!
Overall, this was one of the best experiences of my life. There wasn't much wind, so we didn't travel all that far, but we went to an elevation of nearly 2700 feet and had amazing views. Lucas and Lisa feel the same. Mille grazie, Gianna and Stefano!
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Copyright 2014-2017, Jerry Finzi/Grand Voyage Italy - All Rights Reserved
Today we got up early and ate breakfast at Mormoraia's little cafe. An anemically flat egg frittata, some pastries including chocolate cornetti (basically, a crunchy croissant), cioccolato caldo (hot chocolate) for Lucas, cappuccino for Mom and blood orange juice for Babbo. Not a terrible breakfast, but not worth the high extra charge they added onto our bill.
Our original plan for this day was to go early to Fiesole, a beautiful hilltop village that overlooks Florence. As we got off the autostrada, we slowly got into the streets of Florence, noticing what an interesting, beautiful, but very crowded city it was. Driving along the streets on the south side of the Arno, we found ourselves at a very crowded and buzzing Piazzelle Michaelangelo, a broad piazza with parking and a replica of the David. I planned heading up there anyway, so we stopped for our first look at Firenze.
As I pull toward a parking spot, this shifty looking guy starts directing me toward the parking spot. I had read about guys like this in both Rome and Florence. They act as if they are an official parking attendant and shake you down for directing you into a space. Some will even ask for cash payment for parking. As I got out, sure enough he confronts me jingling some loose Euro coins in his hand, looking for a tip. I asked him where the ticket machine was (usually there is a kiosk to get your parking ticked for your dashboard.) He said the parking was free but still outstretched hand looking for a payout. I told him he was crazy (in Italian) and gave a stern look and he magically disappeared. Not too bad. Just use that old Manhattan street attitude with some Italian expressions and you can't go wrong!
Lucas was the one who first noticed the sign saying that parking was indeed free. So, the city gives tourists this one and only lot to enjoy a great view overlooking Florence and the low-lifes come out of the woodwork to scam us.
Anyway, we took our first pics of the broad view of the River Arno and the huge terracotta done on the Duomo... pretty breathtaking. The piazza is also home to many kitschy caravan vendors selling their useless nonsense to tourists. We bought a cook's apron with the genitalia of The David in correct anatomical position for a friend of ours. He'll love it.
We then drove up toward Fiesole after a ride through the absolutely insane Florentine traffic. People literally go through red lights and stop signs here... and slowly but steadily force their way into or through traffic. It's the responsibility of the OTHER driver NOT to hit them. It took me a while to get into the flow of this way of city driving. I've driven all my life in Manhattan and even in Paris, but I've never seen drivers this crazy!
When we got to the very narrow one lane curvy road heading up to Fiesole's heights, we were met head-on with car after car racing down around every bend! Parts were so narrow I was forced to back up until it was barely wide enough for the oncoming car to squeeze past us... literally with inches between us and the wall on one side and our cars on the other. Now I know why Italians are in the habit of parking or even driving with their mirrors pulled in! After one guy passing shouted something to me I realized their is some sort of odd pecking order on who has to back up and who gets to stand his ground. God! (Note the photo below... the arrows show who has the right of way). In hindsight, Tommy took us us the wrong road. It turned out there was a much wider road going up to Fiesole that would have been a lot easier on my blood pressure.
We made it up to Fiesole, but first had to park the car in a handicapped spot... I have my U.S. handicapped tag with me which is recognized by European countries by international treaty. Lisa was nervous about this working so (sigh) I reluctantly changed to another pay spot on the same block--a very tight squeeze, on a hill, with a stick shift!
After asking a poliziotto if my handicapped placard was OK, I went back to the hilly spot where I was wedged between two cars on a street so narrow the mirror had to be tucked in... and waited and waited for no cars on the street so I could handbrake and first gear out of the spot and immediately put it in reverse to get back into the handicapped spot that I was parked in originally! Thanks, Sweetie! (Is the sarcasm coming through?)
Applause and deserved respect from Lucas and Lisa on my stick-shifting prowess and we were finally off to see the Roman and Etruscan ruins below one side of town...
Roman baths, temples, alters and a huge amphitheater. Fiesole is alive with history: It was an Etruscan settlement in the 8th century BC; The Romans built over the Etruscan remains; The town once was a rival of Florence itself until being conquered by them; Leonardo da Vinci experimented with flight from its steep hillside; in the 14th century, wealthy Florentines built some of the best examples of Renaissance villas on its hillsides overlooking Florence. Their Etruscan museum was wonderful. We had a great experience time-traveling down there.
Afterwards we had lunch in a ten seat little trattoria...Vinandro. Wild Boar Stew stew for me (amazing!), Pumpkin Soup for Lisa and a classic Saffron Risotto for Lucas. He got in a little trouble by saying it was better than Dad's risotto. This was the best meal so far in Italy. (A Later Note: Looking back at the end of our Voyage, this lunch at Vinandro turned out to be the BEST meal in all of Italy, in my opinion).
Then we trekked up a very steep hill that challenges my poor knees to see the belvedere overlooking Florence. We were all so breathless and hot from the effort that the view was anti-climatic. The villas and gardens up in this section were obviously for the wealthiest citizens of town. Amazing. Residents of Fiesole are pretty well-off, I must say.
A big change to our plans after a family meeting: Believe it or not, we decided not to go into Florence afterwards. Here's the reasons... We heard from a family at lunch that Florence was "shoulder to shoulder" thick with tourists; the lines for seeing Michelangelo's David were one to two hours long (we weren't able to book tickets ahead--I tried); parking on the outskirts and then taking a bus to the historic center was going to be a real hassle (and the word was out about pickpockets); we didn't want to torture Lucas (or my knees) with long lines, heat (it's been pretty hot here) and hours stuck in stuffy museums.
Besides, we've been having a great time off the tourist path in the smaller hilltowns. OK, so I don't fulfill a life long dream of seeing "The" David, but my sweet boy will be happier and having more fun today if we don't drag him around in that Florentine tourist soup.
Besides, I've studied the David statue and many other great works of life in detail during my life. I've already seen the Pieta in person... and the Mona Lisa... and Monet's lilies, and Winged Victory... and the Birth of Venus... and The Thinker... and so many other thousands of the Masters' works. It's like this: I don't need to actually meet Paul Simon or James Taylor (wait, bad example... we did meet James) to appreciate their music. Art can be appreciated from afar in thousands of photographs. (Check out the David HERE). I'm not really into putting our little family in great discomfort for the sake of a hard and fast "must-see" list for Italy. I'm trying to be flexible so we come out of this Grand Voyage happy, fulfilled and without regrets...
What's next, I wonder?
More photos to come...
This morning was great... beautiful weather and a quick breakfast at Cosona apartment, packing up the Fiat Large, and then crossing the road to the main villa to say goodby to our hostess--a very interesting experience. They live in the huge 400 year old villa... we were staying in the converted, old olive pressing building. The villa has a huge courtyard, statues, well head, masonry dog house and even a tower. She led us past room after room in this vast place with 16 foot tall ceilings... overall the look was chic but lots of deferred maintenance. Amazingly, her "office" was a teeny phonebooth-size closet with laptop, phone and credit card machine. Huh? What a waste of what we would call a castle. I would want an office fit for a Duke if that were my villa.
After leaving Cosona, we drove further north in Tuscany toward Agriturismo Mormoraia a former convent (thus the name meaning The Whispers) turned into a B&B agriturismo complex with their own vineyards, winery, olive oil, tasting room (the cafe below our apartment) and pool. We selected this apartment because the rooms have million dollar views of San Gimignano's raised towers and the vineyards.
So, I punched in the pre-programmed favorite on Tommy (our Tom Tom unit with Italian maps) and off we went. (I had programmed Tommy full of everyplace we were staying or needed to go along with dozens of points of interest). As we drove through the Tuscan landscape we passed more hills, valleys, gorges, bridges, hilltowns and then vineyards galore as got further north. We got there... passing by San Gimignano's towers... we thought we were there... but no. The place was deserted. It sort of looked right... pool, view. But, no. This isn't it... no matter how Tommy insisted in his robot voice.
We pulled over and checked the emails... the confirmations. We tried texting. I phoned but got an Italian robo-voice telling me that it was not working. We asked a carabiniere for directions... she was wrong. Lisa suggested using the GPS to find the last road in the written directions. We found it--a narrow gravel hill that sloped down into a valley--and started to drive down into it, about half a mile. When I came upon deep tractor ruts molded into the hard clay soil, I decided to back out. Our little Fiat didn't have enough ground clearance. With nowhere to turn around, I shifted the Italian-made transmission into reverse (lots rougher than the stick-shift in the one we test drove in the States), and started backing out. At this point, Lucas and Lisa were both melting down and the stress level in the Fiat was thicker than the bolognese I had last night! Babbo (Italian for Daddy) screwed up. Impossible! Sorry guys.
We actually went back to San Gimignano to go through the step by step directions one by one... and finally found it! As it turns out, their lat/long coordinates were off by 1-1/2 kilometers. And when I mentioned their staff later on, they didn't seem to care and were barely apologetic.
In typical Italian fashion, the reception office was closed for lunch until 3pm! Great. It was only 2 pm. I had a stressed out Mom and a melted-down, grumpy, hot, tired, hungry kid on my hands. I got out the remains of our last fridge's contents from our cooler and slapped together a fool's lunch: two kinds of cheese, sliced tomatoes (happy that I brought my French Laguiole Picnic Knife in the carry-on), some cookies and bottled orange sparkling water. We sat under this beautiful shady arbor on the grounds and refueled.
In short order we all were back to normal. We checked in and saw the amazing view out our windows. The WiFi stinks, the TV is not working, but is has clean beds, kitchen, a laundry across the courtyard (more on the laundry later). The place is pretty fancy to be honest... tailored--not really our taste but catering more to pseudo wine snobs. As it turned out, there was a considerable extra fee if we wanted a tour of the winery, the vineyards or to see how they made olive oil. In reality, the bottle Lisa bought from Mormoraia (what? No free samples?) was terrible and acidic.
Interesting that although they make their own wine and olive oil, we were given no samples... and the kitchen didn't even have any olive oil and was missing pantry essentials. No cutting board? No chef's knife? Cosona was much more accommodating--in typical B&B fashion, they supplied us with all kitchen essentials, coffee, sugar, salt, spices, olive oil, etc. This place feels more like a hotel looking to make money at every turn. Restored and designed for la touristi. We discovered later that the owner lived in a large city in the north and only spoke to his staff by phone.
Anyway, I hope the WiFi sticks around long enough to post this... then off to San Gimignano to see the towers close-up and to have dinner. But still, Mormoraia is centrally located to head out to discover the Tuscan countryside, Pisa, Florence and more...
We rested up for a few hours in our new apartment... well needed after today's ordeal of finding the place. After photographing the view from our window as the setting sun changed its look every few minutes, we headed out to San Gimignano for dinner.
The ride to town is short--only about 8 miles--but pretty hairy with lots of curves and hills. And the Italians like to race around every blind curve crossing over the line (if there is one) or hug my tail as I (pardon my safe driving) downshift through a downhill hairpin turn. These people (men & women alike) imagine themselves as race drivers in the grand prix. Today we saw an example of what must happen to some of these speed demons... a huge upside down 18 wheeler on the downhill side of a mountain road. It looked as if they just left it there many months ago. Weird.
We parked in a pay lot under the walled side of the village... there was an elevator up to the historic center. Cool... and a nice break for my knees. A slow stroll took us slowly up toward the center... where we found an adequate restaurant with a table next to tall windows framing a wide view of the valley below. As we dined, the lights twinkled in the valley far below us. We then walked up to Piazza della Cisterna with half a dozen of the towers on all sides. Imagine that there used to be almost 100 towers but only 14 remain standing.
An amazing gelataria called out our names. I had mezzo ciocolatto, mezzo coco (half chocolate, half coconut). Lucas had chocolate and orange. Lisa had chocolate caramel. We enjoyed the cool air and gelato. Italians think it's winter... to us it's a refreshing night.
We sat on the steps of the gorgeous marble wellhead in the center of the piazza... a guitarist played soft music in front of us. A wonderful finish to a long day.
Today's word of the day is
Buongusto (one word, BWONE-goose-tow) means good taste or tasteful.
Cattivo Gusto (cat-TEEV-oh GOOSE-tow) means bad taste.
The alarm went off on the Tom-Tom to alerted us of speed cameras as we entered the town limits of Buonconvento. Good boy, Tommy. You see, many towns have speed cameras or sensors as you come into them, and as you leave. If you get through the Zona Limite di Velocità too fast, you'll be ticketed. The camera gets your tag number. It's automatic. You will not have a traffic policeman pulling you over. Even if you have a rental car, the summons will find its way to you in the States. So, immediately when I heard Tommy's speed zone alarm go off, I slowed down. A local road hog was having none of this. He drove inches from our rear bumper. I pulled down a side street just to get rid of the nut. Mind you, all this happened within the speed zone!
Visiting Bagno Vignoni--an ancient village within the commune of San Quirico d'Orcia in the provence of Siena--was an incredible look back into history. Picture a huge shallow swimming pool built around a bubbling hot spring. The bathing pool (100 wide and 160 feet long) was built in the 14th century with both Renaissance and Roman architecture surrounding the bubbling, watery piazza. On cool mornings steam will rise from the pool creating an even more magical ambiance.
I thought Bagno Vignoni was on flat land, but to get there we had to drive up winding switchback roads with breathtaking views of the Val d'Orcia far below. There were amazing views from our car park just at the edge of the Bagno Vignoni hamlet. So many hilltowns! (Will we actually get tired of this the way I got tired of castle after castle years ago in the Loire valley in France?)
A short walk downhill from Bagno Vignoni's formal pool is a more ancient and natural hot springs area with wonderfully cared for paths, picnic areas and even a nice cafe. People have been getting the therapeutic benefits of these hot mineral springs for thousands of years. Unlike other Tuscan hot springs (like Bagno san Filippo), this one isn't warm enough for soaking in the winter but is still a popular place for locals to have a free swim in summer with temperatures as high as 125 F degrees. There are mineral lined troughs and canals that carry the waters along and a large bathing pool at the bottom. There is also a paid resort in the village with all the options and comforts of a chic spa. One interesting historical note: During the middle ages, the thermal springs' water jets were harnessed to provide power to grain mills in the grinding of flour. The year-round regularity of these pressurized water jets gave a unique opportunity to operate mills all year long.
Some thoughts about this southern Tuscan region...
There is so much to see here that I fear we won't have enough time... which leaves a question in my mind about where to go next. By design, our Voyage is part planned, part free-form (follow our noses). There is the nearby town of San Quirico d'Orcia with a castle keep on its Rocca (rocky prominence); Nearby Montalcino offers wine tasting with its famous Brunello; you can meditate with the Greogorian chants at the Sant'Antimo abbey; the legendary Sword in the Stone at the roofless cathedral and Abbey of San Galgano; enjoy the mountain air and views of the 5600 foot tall Monte Amiata; the natural park of the Maremma hills and coastline are to the east; and even Lake Bolsena, a large volcanic lake between the southern border of Tuscany and Umbria. Many Voyagers opt to head toward Florence, Pisa and the northern parts of Tuscany, but we are falling in love with the richness, history and nature of the Crete Sinese and the southern parts--the Off the Tourist Path places. So, when planning a visit to Italy, be flexible... just about everywhere you might go there is beauty, history and many things that will feed your soul. --JF
We walked around a bit, took photos, pondered both the ancient Romans and Popes enjoying their communal baths here--and then we were hungry for dinner...
There were some nice restaurants surrounding the baths, but in typical "we don't need your business" style, dinner wasn't served until 7:30! It was around six. So, they close for at few hours at lunch (so THEY can go home and have THEIR lunch and snuggle with THEIR wife) exactly during the time most tourists want to eat. As my Dad used to say... they are real Lu-Lus! Will we ever get used to the Italian way of doing things? Many restaurants are closed for 3 hours during what Americans consider a peak lunch time period, and many don't open again until 7:30 or 8:00pm, well past Americans' dinner time!
Anyway, onward to find dinner. The sun was getting low in the Tuscan sky. Lucas wanted us to go "home" and cook but we'd have to shop first--a difficult thing to do when not all hilltowns have a supermarket or alimentari that happens to be open when you need something.
(Another mystery: While even most small villages will have an alimentari (grocery stores) and perhaps a butcher, bread baker and other specialty food shops, it's nearly impossible to find out when they open for business. I can't tell you how many times I came across alimentari closed up tight with their metal garage type doors at all times of the day.
So, even if you find a small grocery or food shop with its hours posted, that won't help if you're just passing through a town. My suggestion is to take advantage of such shops when you see them open, buying supplies like bottled water, cheese, bread, snacks, etc. ahead of time. Don't wait until you need them. A small foam cooler in your trunk will help keep things fresh while on the road.)
We pointed Tommy to take us to a medieval walled town--Buonconvento--I had already entered as a favorite destination. Within a half hour or so we were parking outside the old town walls.... appetites ready to go.