Our first stop was the hill town of Orvieto. The town was built as a minor fortress on top of a big hill hundreds of years ago. It protected the serfs living in the surrounding countryside. When trouble came, they found refuge behind the town walls and attackers had a hard time fighting uphill. Some of the popes from the middle ages lived in this town, before the Vatican was built. We conveniently parked outside of the town in a nicely shaded municipal parking lot. Tall walnut trees gracefully swayed in the breeze as we walked towards the twisted lanes of the old town. After a nice pizza lunch, we wandered around the main square, which houses a huge 700-year old cathedral.
Back at the car, I immediately noticed something was wrong. Or at least I thought I did.
“Lisa, was there a dent in the roof when we picked up the car this morning?” I asked my significant and usually very observant other.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Aren’t you supposed to examine the car and make a note of the damages on that form they give you before we drive away?”
Good point. Touche. I did do that this time, I recall, although I don’t always do it. I should, but sometimes out of sheer laziness I live on the edge and roll the dice in the game of CDW avoidance. I carefully analyzed the damage form.
“Uh, I don’t see any markings on the roof indicating any damage.” I instinctively know that the major international rental car company will not let this one slide, they’ll extract every pound of flesh the can from me. Then I noticed all of the walnuts on the ground. In seeking shade to cool the car, I had navigated us to a spot underneath the walnut trees, and the breeze had knocked one loose to dive bomb the rental car. As we drove away, I thought I was lucky in a way that only one bomb hit, rather than a lot. Maybe they can pull that dent out.
Next stop, Montepulciano! Say that five times fast, I dare you. Another cool old hill town to walk around. We parked in a lot down the hill from the main entrance to the town. The roads seemed impossibly steep around parts of the town to carry your groceries home, but the views from the town walls of the valley below were fantastically beautiful. We wandered through small stores and art galleries, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine spreading across the main square and ancient alleyways. After devouring a chocolate chip gelato, it was time to proceed to our final stop of the day, Sienna.
Driving across Tuscany is a sublime experience. It is so tranquil. The late summer flowers were blooming, the grape vines were turning brown, and it is easy to be patient driving 40mph behind a delivery truck on a narrow country road. At least for a while, then impatience takes over and one wants to yell “turn right already!” at the top of one’s lungs out the window to the crows who watch from the power line overlooking the road.
I knew I didn’t want to attempt to drive into Siena. You can do it, at least part way into the town, but it’s much better to park somewhere else and take a taxi. We stayed at a hotel in the countryside with a nice view of the Siena hill. The next day we joined the horde of tourists who flood the town every morning like a tsunami, only to recede back to their gigantic tour buses in the late afternoon, leaving behind their flotsam of empty wrappers and spent euros. Much has been written about Siena, if you want that information, go read Rick Steves’ guidebook. In a nutshell, we came, we saw, we ate, we shopped, we left. Check that one off the list.