ITALIA!! Parte Seconda

Imagine walking through a luscious a sunflower field with your overjoyed mother and your newborn son. Rolling golden hills all around. An eternal blue sky above. Stillness interrupted by slight, tickling breezes. I swear I've had that dream before.

Dreaded train strike of yesterday behind us. We must move forward. But first we go sideways. From sea to country.

Now imagine the first day of this leg: Rolling away from Chiavari on the dreaded train. Baby in stroller. First get the mother on the train. You have to move fast. Baby is strapped in, NOW, you say, as she turns to grab the handles and you hold bottom wheels. Baby on. Now the luggage. Both of our suitcases are like oversized trunks. Once they are on, we both clutch for carry-on bags and purses. Check. I step up and in swiftly as the door closes harshly 7 seconds later. We smile at each other. Then quickly, turn around and grab a whole section, maybe a whole row so we don't have to talk to anyone and can take up all the room with our luggage and baby and baby gear. Sometimes we are lucky with this. Sometimes we are not. We piss a lot of people off, but we don't care. Most of the time, people are cooing over the bambino, the angelo, my beautiful boy. 

Pouring rain. Pisa isn't even our final destination, but we will stop and have lunch by damn. And we will see how that tower leans. We negotiate a place to put our bags for a couple of hours, get hassled by men selling umbrellas in the station, refuse them angrily, and then go back and say yes we'll take one by not a euro over yata. We walk madly through Pisa, try to take it in through the pouring rain, cross a river, see more beautiful churches and then my mother is frantically playing with her guidebook. There's a great place to eat. 

But it's closed and thank goodness. Because her second choice, was my second favorite meal of whole trip. I am so angry I don't know what it was...some kind of polenta-pizza dish. The restaurant was famous for it. It was really close to the tower, and I am upset I don't remember the dish nor the restaurant. Some day I will have this info for you, I promise.  I could eat 7 of these, but I settle for one and we maneuver our umbrella/stroller contraption to move on to the tower, which, sure as hell, leans. We take some pictures, none of the holding up of the tower, just the holding up of the baby in front of the tower in the rain. Hustle we do back through town to the train station.

Next stop is Florence.

But we are not going to Firenze. Just a stop on the way to Siena, our base. We wait for our train and when it comes, we try not to rely on the kindness of strangers but inevitably, we must. Sometimes those strangers are jerks demanding money. 

Somehow it is communicated that between mother and daughter that we must get off on the next stop to catch a train to Siena. We get off, with all of our gear, and after one second on the platform, we realize it's not our stop. We look at each other, back at the doors which are beginning to close. The train is gone. 

My mother goes to talk to someone while I nurse the screaming baby and sit on our bags. A train comes and I ask, Does this go to Siena?! 

Yes! Come on, we will help you. I was just curious and have no intentions of leaving my mother who is the unofficial captain of the boat, but as soon as it rolls away, she strolls up. She tells me that was it. I know.

So we wait yet again for another train. 

 The view from our room. We could see the Campo and the Duomo from both windows. Tuscany was sunny and wonderfully warm.

othing else much needed to happen that day. We ate a delicious pasta dish nearby the hotel. Got some gelato and woke up the next morning moving fast.

I learn what cafe latte americana means at breakfast as my mother beckons me out of the basement dining room. The plan: san Gimignano and a wine tasting, a half day tour with a driver and all.

My baby loves a good ride. Whole reason this trip worked. 

 

San Gimignano was a charming medieval step backwards in time. It was gorgeous really. Cobblestone roads, a square with a cistern in the middle. I can imagine all the old goings-on here. We drifted into a cathedral so gorgeous once again it took our breath away.

We roamed into a monastery looking for something else but found it to be lovely.

Then wondered into a toy store where my mother bought my baby a passy attachment, and then went back up past the cathedral onto a hill to scope the beautiful view of that side of Tuscany. Wouldn't be the last view but was the first and therefore the most shocking. 

I think this was the Sant Agostino cathedral we went into.

I will admit here that in our race to get back to our driver, we missed the best gelato in the world apparently. If you go to San Gimignano it's the gelateria with Tony Blair on the wall. I know this because I plan to go back and taste that award-winning gelato we missed out on. 

Wine tasting was delicious. I bought some wine and olive oil and balsamic vinegar. 

We were back in Siena before we knew it. Checking out the Campo, the Duomo and what we called "the main drag" which so happened to be where our hotel was and all the action.

We were at the Duomo.

This was a blur of a day. We had errands like getting sandals fixed and finding a purse for my mom. But some really wonderful things stick out to me: people lying in the Campo in front of the centuries-old tower like it was a beach, the Duomo in all its splendor (decidedly my favorite cathedral in all of Italy, just look at the black and white marble, the gold facade), and then the children's choir that broke out singing right when we were staying at said splendor. 

 

The Duomo in Siena was more breathtaking to me than St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome (I'll get to that in Part 3). It was the black and white marble that hooked me. I loved this beatific marvel of a marble place. 

We stopped at a little cafe in an alleyway off the main drag to get some bruschetta because the cheese and crackers and olive oil from the winery wasn't holding my breast-feeding, walking fool-self over. So we picked up my shoes afterwards and went to the hotel to bathe Lyle resourcefully in a bidet and to meet the babysitter (Lucia, a cook in the hotel kitchen, who was wonderful). 

We ate at yet another place that served many courses and was so good. I ordered poorly as usual but still it was so good. We walked across Siena afterward to the opera, which piqued my interest big time in this fine art. I have made opera a part of my future somehow I hope through my love of what happened in that little church that night.

We roamed the streets looking for chocolate cake at 11 o'clock to no avail. Then we gave in and slipped quietly into the hotel room, bidding Lucia gratizie. 

The next day was a racy morning too. We had a private tour to see the Val d'Orcia which a gorgeous valley closer to the sea and southwest of Siena. Our driver was awesome. This sounds so generation Y American, but he sounded just like Mario did. 

He took us first as we requested to Sant' Antimo which is a monastery in the valley. The monks were chanting and beginning mass with incense when we slipped in. I slipped back out to change Lyle's diaper on the centuries-old stone wall like it was Disneyland and slipped back in. The chanting put him right to sleep in the pew beside me. I didn't understand a word of it obviously and I'm pretty sure it was in French anyway. But the singing, the chanting intuit sunny room was an experience I came for. 

the view from outside Sant' Antimo.

We drove on to Bango Vignoni Terme which was a thermal bath area before it became a hotel spa town. St. Catherine of Siena bathed here apparently. 

Where the hot water spring still flows.

It was a lovely town and would be nice to stay in if you stayed at the hotel with the spa. Right up my alley. Another note, there was a secret little grotto that I loved and I had a great cafe latte at little espresso bar. 

Next we were off to Rocca d'Orcia, which is simply the big rock in the middle of the valley that you can climb. I did this alone because my mother thought it best she stay with the baby. 

Sensational panorama. Can't even get into it. I did some sun salutations and personal praying/meditating. Right there under the maiden sun, beaming and joyful. I'll never forget that feeling. 

We were on our way to a town called Pienza after that, for lunch. It was the brainchild of a rich pope who wanted to make the perfect town. He did a good job. Pienza was a little pleasant picturesque poppy of a place. Plus, plenty of Pecorino cheese, their particular specialty. Sheep's cheese it is. 

My lunch at this place, the name of which goes unremembered, was just Pecorino cheese melted or fondue. And then chocolate espresso cake. Talk about a digestion disaster. But I was living! This does not happen every day, mind you! I admit this is bad behavior of a nutrition consultant, but I am also a culture-sucking citizen of the world. 

 

Little shops, jasmine growing on the walls. Little alleyways. I loved this town. 

hen it was onward. We had to leave that picture little pony of place and get back on the road. We stopped for a few postcard looking pho-ops. The driver was very a obliging in our major tourist tendencies and tactics

Someone's family chapel out there.

Acted like we were playing a part in Gladiator. Recognize?

Ending up finally in that sunflower field. With my sun/son, and my mother who is also sun to me. It was a triumphant ending to a glorious day. 

The next day were off for the last leg: Roma. Get ready. 

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