Laura's vineyard and San Gimignano
Today we move our base from Chianciano Terme to Montecatini Terme, which is between Florence and Lucca up north. We say goodbye to San Remo's Mamma, who seems the driving force in this kind hotel.
The highway takes us towards San Gimignano. A petrol station after Siena has one toilet and there is a long line of Japanese who arrived before us. Some of our gentlemen with a light errand explore the bushes behind the building, but must step carefully because some with a more pressing need have turned the area into a minefield. Disgusting!
The bus stops some place outside San Gimignano. We are going to visit a vineyard Fattoria di Fugnano, and ahead of us it is a 45 minutes walk on a gravel road.
The road is lined with wild flowers and blackberries, and there are fields with vines and olive groves on the steep slopes. Around a bend the hilltop with San Gimignano's towers breaks the grey horizon.
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There is a light rain, but nothing serious, and workers are planting new vines in a field. Growing vines in Tuscany is a risky business. Not because it is dangerous, but because the rigid rules in this region forbids irrigation.
So if there is a drought the farmer can just watch and pray. If the new vines survive it will take several years before they yield. Growing vines and olives is a slow return of investment.
Laura welcomes us at the farmhouse. She is a young, beautiful and lively woman, and her English is excellent. In fact she is a child of the city and grew up in Palermo in Sicily, but then she inherited the vineyard and now everything is very different from city life.
Her husband is a clever oenologist and they make red wine, white wine and olive oil. The farm is on the old pilgrim's route and Laura shows us the old chapel that her grandfather restored.
We taste their wines and have a delightful lunch with pizza slices, foccacio bread, bruschette and cheese. The white wine is a delicious Vernaccia and they have but a few bottles left from 2003.
There are two reds. The first is "ordinary" Chianti: light, pleasant and not designed for long life. The other, "Donna Gina", is their top wine and really good and shows promise for the years to come.
Even if it is still young and a bit edgy, I like it much better than the Brunello we had the other day. "Donna Gina" was Laura's grandmother, and her portrait as a young woman is on the label.
We also taste their grappa (grape spirit) and it is much better than some of the harsh stuff I have tasted earlier. One of the Norwegians pours a generous glass before he realises that it is grappa and not white wine.
He is usually a quiet guy always hiding behind his camera lens, but suddenly he gets quite sociable, talking and laughing instead of taking pictures.
Laura has told us about the life of a vine grower, which isn't always easy with the many rules that often conflict with common sense. It is a risky business, so I guess visits like ours and a bit of agri-turismo offers a much-welcomed supplementary income.
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The trip back to the highway and the bus is shorter and quite steep. Solveig from Norway accepted a lift with the wine we bought.
San Gimignano towers on a hilltop protected by a city wall. Nothing seems changed for centuries. San Gimignano was a thriving city doing well in the silk trade until the plague arrived in the 16th century.
The black death did not stop at the city gate. Commerce and life was brought to a standstill and never recovered. The city has been frozen in time ever since with its 13-14 pretentious towers.
The place is crammed with tourists and the shops along the main street are all useless shops, except maybe the gelateria (ice cream shop) at Piazza della Cisterna, which with no false modesty claims to be world famous. There is also a café at the piazza and we settle down.
The café has only one toilet, and you must stand in a line, but unashamed they want 2 € for an espresso and 4 for a doppio. The Norwegian girls, Solveig and Nina arrive and settle down too. Nina wanted the older Solveig to walk faster, but Solveig answered that after the vineyard visit she wanted to walk in "intoxitempo," so they decided to sit down.
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We go for a stroll and get a bit lost in the side alleys, but it is impossible to get real lost because sooner or later you will bump into the city wall.
TG waits for us at the parking lot a few minutes walk from the city gate. He has been shopping in COOP for tomorrow's picnic. The parking lot is not really for parking, but rather for loading and unloading bus passengers, and the buses are allowed to stay a few minutes only.
TG had asked us to be back precisely 20 minutes past to avoid any traffic jam, because most companies leave on the hour or half past. That was in fact a wise request, because precisely as predicted by TG we see other buses waiting whereas we leave with no delay. To underline the perfect timing a heavy shower begins the very moment Ido starts the bus.
We arrive at Montecatini Terme at half past five. We'll sleep for three nights at hotel Boston. At seven there are welcome drinks in the lobby and dinner starts at 19:30.
The first dish is pasta and the second pork roast with mashed potatoes and green beans. Dessert is a caramel pudding. The food sparks no ecstasy, and I find myself unable to swollow the caramel pudding - the first vibrating spoonful kind of swells and turns into wet cement in my mouth.
Only the wine saves us from trauma. Actually I ordered an ordinary Rosso di Montepulciano, but got a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. It costs a noble 4 € more, but never mind - it is excellent and comforts the disappointed palate.
After dinner we go for a short walk and sit down close to the hotel to have a coffee and a brandy at "Bar Colombo". It is nice here, but there are also many mosquitoes, as Helle discovers next morning with the forensic evidence visible and itching.