Two things struck me immediately. The first thing I noticed was that Tuscany was filled with more American tourists than I remembered. Whether we were in line waiting to pick up our rental car, on the train to Lucca, or sitting at a local wine festival in Greve, Americans were everywhere. I almost think we saw more Americans than we did Italians. Or at least it felt that way since our dining companions at even the most tucked away restaurants were fellow Americans. The other thing I noticed was the sheer beauty of Tuscany; it was more spectacular than I remembered. In many ways the scenery, filled with rolling hills, vineyards, and stone buildings, was so idyllic it felt like a cliche. If you've ever seen a calendar of Tuscan scenes and wondered whether they are real or not, trust me--they are.
We packed a lot into our long weekend. Of course it wouldn't be a trip to Pisa without standing in the shadow of the City's famous Leaning Tower. But as it usually the case, the best parts of the country are those outside of the urban areas. We took the train to the walled city of Lucca and despite the rain, spent several hours walking along the broad wall and meandering through the narrow cobblestone streets and alleys that are quintessential Italy. With our little rental car (Sidney said it was like his Cozy Coupe), we set out across the Tuscan hills to Siena where I finally climbed to the top of the Torre del Mangia in the Piazza del Campo. My fear of heights prevented me from doing it the first time I visited but this time I was determined to accompany Sidney and Glenn to the top. The famous Palio di Siena horse race takes place in the square twice a year but during our visit it was pleasantly tranquil (except for the other American tourists) providing Sidney with ample room to chase pigeons. We visited the famous wine town of Montepulciano where we of course sampled the local beverage. In Greve in Chianti we happened upon a local wine and food festival and joined the locals (and American tourists) in drinking wine and eating massive plates of fresh grilled meats and beans. Just outside of Greve we walked through the narrow alleys of Montefioralle and dreamed about what it would be like to have a retirement home in this hilltop village. In between all of this we took in miles upon miles of rolling hills covered with vineyards, olive groves, and cypress lined lanes leading to hilltop villas. Avoiding the highways we drove along both paved and dirt roads stopping to take pictures and just enjoy the views along the way. The whole experience was just so relaxing.
I loved Tuscany the first time but love it all the more now. Seeing it through Sidney's eyes, complete with water fountains, "pretty" fields, and yes pigeons, gave me a whole new appreciation for the region. I will never get tired of the scenery, the food, or the gentle feel of Tuscany. Once again, I can't wait to go back.