Where: In the countryside near San Gimignano, Italy
Plate of Food: I never struggle to eat in Italy – does anyone, really? Let’s not forget the epic feast in Tuscany which ended with me leaving with a new shirt.
When we arrived at our holiday home on this trip, our elderly hosts welcomed us with warm smiles and a bottle of their very own olive oil, pressed from olives grown on their land. Grassy green, rich, and fragrant. Can you imagine anything better drizzled over fresh pasta or crusty bread or ripe tomatoes? Nope.
Possibly having your very own home-made olive oil in Italy is as common as having your own toaster in other parts of the world. But to this girl it was a delicious symbol of a life full of simple pleasures. Italians really seem to have that figured out.
Later I discovered a cherry tree in their garden that was heavy with red, plump fruit. We laid on a blanket in the afternoon sun and reached out to the low-hanging branches to pluck a few cherries whenever we felt like it. How perfectly blissful.
The best: Being transported back in time as we walked through the gates of San Gimignano.
Have you ever been to a place where you actually felt time pause as your feet hit the cobblestones? San Gimignano does that for me. It is a place rich in history and full of charm; pigeons in clusters in the main square, looming church towers, narrow lanes filled with the scent of fresh bread.
I wondered if mentioning this popular village would be seen as a tourist cliché; that it is not authentic enough. Then I smacked my forehead (figuratively) and wrote about it anyway.
San Gimignano was such a beautiful, special place for me that the village still hangs on my senses like garlic lingers on your fingertips (I mean that in the best possible way!). That is authentic enough for me.
Story that needs to be told: We first drove along straight, divided highways with service stations selling good quality Parmesan cheese and espresso, then along narrow, unmarked country roads flanked by cypress trees, like sentries along the route.
We stopped at a tiny, bustling pizzeria to ask for directions to our holiday home. I approached the waiter, armed with my written address and my non-existent Italian skills. Amazingly we understood each other and the waiter knew the house, so he explained which direction to go and landmarks to help us on our way.
Surprisingly still, we actually found the landmarks and ended up outside the large gates to the house. No one answered the bell, though, so we tried the neighbours. I had another vibrant “conversation” with a woman who called down to me from her bedroom balcony while I stood in the dusty lane and shouted out random Italian words. (My knowledge goes beyond rigatoni, but only just.) She confirmed that we had the right house, but that no one was there.
With the day winding down, we drove into the next biggest town and wandered around looking for back-up accommodation. We came across a tired looking hotel which had a room, but more importantly had a friendly man working behind the front desk and he spoke English! We explained our problem and his solution was clear: “You must go to the police”.
The police? Aren’t they too busy with real emergencies? (Although in sunny, sleepy Tuscany, maybe not….)
He was insistent, so he sent us off with a written translation of our problem.
We reluctantly pulled up outside of the police station. We hovered outside the locked gate wondering what to do when we suddenly got buzzed in to the eerily quiet grounds. When we went inside the station it became apparent that no one actually worked at the police station. No hustle and bustle of dark-eyed officers (I can always hope), just a ticking clock and faded army recruitment posters.
Finally a man appeared at the front desk, took our paper and after a glance, disappeared again into the back of the building. We sat in the waiting room wondering if there had been any indication on his face that he could help us. A twitch of an eyelid? A curl of the lip? Nah. Nothing. So we waited.
Then through the doors came two men. They greeted us warmly and chuckled with the police officer, then scooted us out the door. It became apparent that the older gentleman was our host and he had brought his son along, too. No doubt for the hilarious entertainment of picking up the foreigners at the police station.
They were friendly, but kept asking us where we had been.
To which we said, “We were at the house, where were YOU?”
To which they said, confusingly, “Yes, yes, where were you?” And so on.
We followed their car back along the road to the very same house we had been to and they settled us in. I had been full of questions, accusations, exhaustion, and confusion. But one look at their welcoming expressions, the clean terracotta tiles underfoot, and the silhouette of a church tower across the valley, made all of that disappear.
I think you’ll find that you always have a better time when you let all the “stuff” disappear.
“You lose sight of things… and when you travel, everything balances out.”
– Daranna Gidel