On our first full day in Italy, Andrea and I decided to go visit the medieval hilltop town of San Gimignano. Before heading out of Mercatale we went to the Banca CR Firenze to exchange some travelers checks for Euros. This process took over an hour because they needed all of the information from our passports and our current address to establish an account number in the bank, but the exchange rates were far superior to any of the conversion outlets. We even ran into the man who helped us find Greppi di Silli the day before and said hi and thank you again. We then went to the COOP supermarket next door to get some fruit and juice for our breakfasts for the rest of the week.
Following the market, we got in the car to drive to San Gimignano. We quickly learned that, in Italy, they don't have the periodic signs reminding you what road that you are on that we have in the States. The directional signs at the roundabouts generally only point you as far as the next city, so navigating becomes an exercise in playing connect the dots on the map.
After we arrived at San Gimignano, we had to find a parking spot. Since San Gimignano is at the top of a hill, parking was scarce and the first two lots we found were full. We followed the sign down the hill to a third lot only to find that it was so full as to be in total gridlock, with cars unable to get in or out. So I attempted a three point turn on the little narrow road using the entrance to the lot to help. Only the back wheels slipped on the soft shoulder and next thing I knew, we were stuck; high-centered on the side of the road. Fortunately a number of people were kind enough to help push us out.
Once we got the car unstuck, we went and found another lot that did have available spaces and then set out hiking up to the city. San Gimignano is famous for its numerous medieval towers. At one point there were more than 70 although only 13 still stand today. We entered the town through the main gate and then our first stop was the famous torture museum. We then walked into the Piazza la Cisterna and had lunch at a small cafe in the plaza.
Following lunch we continued to wander around the city. Our first stop was a tour of the Collegiata. We then wandered back into the Piazza la Cisterna for an afternoon gelato before walking around more of the town. We saw Santo Jacopo, a 13th century church built by the Knights Templar, and Sant Agostino, another 13th century church as we toured the city. We then went and toured the castle fortress that made up one side of the town wall before climbing to the top of the tallest tower in town, the Torre Grossa.
We left San Gimignano around 6:15 to get back to Greppi di Silli for the welcome dinner. Unfortunately the road that we had taken to San Gimignano was closed by the police on the way home so we had to figure out a different way home. We raced into Greppi just in time for the start of the welcome dinner.
The welcome dinner at Greppi was incredible. We had a number of courses, all paired with wine from the Greppi vineyards. While we were there, we got to talk to a number of the other guests from places like England and Germany. It was a fitting end to a wonderful first full day in Italy.