Italy Recap #4: Tuscany
We woke early the morning of our 3rd full day in Florence in order to meet a tour group and head out to the Tuscan countryside. One of the best moments of the day was walking past the not-at-all-crowded Duomo in the morning sun. Yay for more sun flare shots!
We had decided early on in our trip planning to avoid renting a car. We’d rented cars on our previous international travels, and while we had great experiences with car rentals, it was also challenging at times to find our way in another country (and, occasionally in another language!). We had heard that Italian cities were especially difficult to navigate, and we weren’t really sure what to expect from Lil. The idea of one of us driving while the other tried hard to navigate AND entertain the toddler seemed overwhelming. Like I said in my last post, it was Lil’s vacation, too, and my guess is that she’d rather spend it freely moving on a train than strapped down to a car seat. Also, it’s quite easy to nurse and otherwise feed and diaper change on trains without the hassle of trying to find a nice place to pull over and stop. And the trains in Italy were, for the most part, clean, on time, and easy to navigate. I’d probably take the trains again, even if I didn’t have a toddler with me.
Probably the biggest drawback of not renting a car was having to haul all of our crap for 3.5 weeks. We should have packed about 1/2 of what we did, although I’m not quite sure what we’d leave behind… we used everything we packed, packed everything in only one suitcase, a backpack, and a large diaper bag. We also carried a poster for Jason’s work presentation in Milan and a stroller — both of these were left in Rome.
A smaller drawback to not having a car was that our options for exploring the Tuscan countryside were pretty limited. I wanted to see Siena for sure, and was really intrigued by San Gimignano, with it’s many medieval tours. We could have rented a car for the day for something insane like $300. We could have taken the 1.25 hour each way bus trip direct from Florence to Siena and skipped the smaller San Gimignano (in retrospect, this is the option we should have taken). Or we could hop on a tour and take a day trip out in to the countryside — this is the option we chose.
Our first stop on the tour was Monteriggioni. It’s a cute little (LITTLE!) town, with a fully in tact city wall. We opted to spend a few euros to climb the city wall. The church wasn’t much to look at, there were a few little shops, but we spent most of our short time there just walking. It’s cute and worth a stop if you’re in the area (with a car), but not sure it’s somewhere I’d spend a ton of time/energy trying to get to.
Our second stop was Siena. Here’s where I mention that our tour was conducted in 4 languages, and that our guide’s English annunciation was so unclear that we had a difficult time telling which language he was speaking. We mostly ended up tuning it out, especially since our toddler often asked for our attention at the same time as the guide spoke. This is one reason that guided tours + toddlers = not a great combo.
Another reason is that there was no actual seat for the toddler on the bus, so she sat on my lap the entire time. Because bus seats are so close together, and because the people in front of me insisted on putting their seats back, Lil’s head would smack into the back of the seat in front of us whenever we’d go over a bump unless I was completely hugging her into my body. And those of you with toddlers know how interested they are in remaining hugged into their mama’s bodies for extended periods of time, especially when, once again temperatures are topping 100 degrees and the air conditioning on the bus isn’t super-effective.
And if either of those reasons isn’t compelling enough to convince you to avoid tours with your toddler, also keep in mind that these tours have a rigid schedule and they expect you not to deviate from said schedule, regardless of how hungry your baby is or how bad her diaper smells. 8 1/2 hours on tour is a long day, and especially long with a toddler who isn’t given an opportunity to take a proper nap.
Having said all of these things, Lil was amazing (truthfully, Jason and I aren’t organized tour types, so it’s possible that we were more inconvenienced by all of the above than Lil was). Happy (except in the minutes leading up to lunch), well behaved, and charming. Many of the other people on the bus commented on how sweet she was, and she was making friends with everyone — waving and laughing at them. We learned the baby signs for “please” and “thank you” from some sign language interpreters on the bus who saw her use sign language (frantically signing “MILK MILK MILK MILK MILK” which was her best sign at that time, now I’d say that she uses “please” more often since she knows it’s a good way to ask for anything).
Siena was really cool. Officially colored crayola’s burnt Siena, I thought it was a much more charming town than Florence. Possibly it would have been cool to stay here a night or two.
Our guided tour led us into town, towards the Duomo. We could barely hear the information being given on the audio guide — it was super-static-y, we weren’t paying full attention to the audio because we were paying attention to Lil, and we had to lag behind just a bit because we were hauling a stroller and didn’t want to run into anyone’s ankles.
The Siena Duomo was A.MAZ.ING. Seriously so amazing.
And then my camera battery died and I didn’t think I had a replacement. FAIL.
We ditched the tour in the Duomo because Lil was hungry and J and I were STARVING, and we weren’t getting much from it anyways. I would have liked to look around the Duomo more, but our collective hanger needed to be answered with copious amounts of pizza.
After lunch, we walked the city, did a little shopping, and finally met back up with the group. Our next stop on the tour was a random vineyard. The wine was okay, nothing we were super-impressed with, but then again neither of us are super wine connoisseurs anyways. Also, we were jaded because the tour company gets a kick back from the vineyard, and we thought it was a scam that they held us hostage in an unairconditioned room for over an hour while trying to get us to buy stuff.
At least it gave Lil an opportunity to get a little shut eye. And gave me a chance to discover that I DID have my spare camera battery with me.
Our final stop was just a few minutes up the road from the winery: San Gimignano. This made us especially annoyed about stopping at the winery since we were given only 45 min to explore the town that was the reason we took the tour in the first place. Sigh. This post is seeming really angry, isn’t it? I don’t mean to be ungrateful for the experience, but there were many things that make me wish we’d have just done Siena on our own and skipped the rest of the day.
Although, the views from San Gimignano were really beautiful.
San Gimignano seemed a little like a tourist trap to me, but we were dropped off in the touristy part of the city, and only really had enough time to walk down the street filled with tourist shops, take a few pictures, and grab some gelato.
This series of Lil at the well with the sun in her hair might be my favorite from the entire trip. So the day wasn’t completely a loss. :)
And, the medieval towers were pretty cool. Many of them had these metal statues of people on them, which we were intrigued by.
And Lil was in “THERE DOG!” and “THERE KITTY!” heaven at this shop that featured very realistic looking fake pets. She was frantically pointing and panting (dog) or pointing and leaning her head to the side (cat).
I love those little curls on the back of her head.
And here’s Lil and I at the end of a long day of Tuscan adventures!
Up next: we head to Venice!