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Tuscany: places to see, places to eat, places to avoid

May 10, 2009

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Did you ever notice how empty guidebooks become if you opt to skip the museums, churches and other organised rock formations of cultural or political significance. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like visiting museums and galleries but when you decide to indulge in the vernacular side of a place, the supporting institutions of travel industry like guidebooks have prescious little to offer. But then again, does one need any prescribed pointers if the aim is on experiencing the place?

Genuine? Local? Nostalgic?

Genuine? Local? Nostalgic?

Vernacular sights - one for me, one for Tamara who loves firemen. Especially when they turn on the siren and lights.

Vernacular sights - one for me, one for Tamara who loves firemen. Especially when they turn on the siren and lights.

Unexpected surprise - click on the links below to see the context.

Unexpected surprise - click on the links below to see the context.

Click here for context. Or here for close -up.

However vernacular my preference for the “atmosphere of the place” is, I am aware it can be a rather conservative and elitist venture. After all, much of it depends on the criteria by which you come to find something to be “genuine enough” and in the process it is hard to avoid pre-conceived scripts vistas and stereotypes that can arouse a comforting mix of nostalgia, adventure and connoisseurship indulgence. 

Typical? Yes. Genuine? Oh yes.

Typical? Yes. Genuine? Oh yes.

Images we came for.

Images we came for.

Images we didn't come for. But there were plenty of these. Cigaretes were optional but sunglasses were a must.

Images we didn't come for. But there were plenty of these. Cigaretes were optional but sunglasses were a must.

Travelling with Tamara has certain advantages. First of all, people act and communicate differently (more openly) to you when you are travelling with a small child. And secondly, you are attentive to a whole range of different things which make you experience and appreciate the place in a different manner and soon you find yourself rating cities by the number of playgrounds instead of galleries.

If you are ever in the region between Florence and Sienna, I’d recommend you the following:
Unless you are a desperate tower lover, avoid San Gimignano at all costs. It has become a typical tourist trap and you are much better off if you head for Voltera.

San Giminano - what you see is what you get.

San Giminano - what you see is what you get.

Voltera is able to absorb more visitors, plus if you walk the steep narrow path up the hill, you will be awarded with a pleasantly relaxed park (with playground) where the grass is simply too inviting to resist. After refreshment, I’d recommend stopping at chocolateria/wine/cafe place called L’Incontro on Via Giacomo Matteotti. It looks a bit on the posh side, but really has genuine feel to it. Coffee is great and I’d go again for one of the frozen desserts.

Voltera. With a magnificent castle for a backdrop, the park looked a bit like those idylic arcadia paintings.

Voltera. With a magnificent castle for a backdrop, the park looked a bit like those idylic arcadia paintings.

But if you really want to suck in the cute walled city on the top of the hill thingy that is not crowded with visitors, go to Certaldo. Take the funicular to the top of the hill, check the artisan shop, the view and have a coffee with rice and cream filled pastry at Cafe Boccaccio on Via Boccaccio.

Guess the name of the main street on the top of the hill?

Guess the name of the main street on the top of the hill?

There is also a fine gelateria on the square with Boccaccio statue as you descend back to the city whose most famous son you must have already have guessed by now.

I don't know what Isabella Roselini had but I went for for salsicce al vino bianco and I'd do it again. The hip little place is in San Casciano V.P.
I don’t know what Isabella Roselini had but I went for for salsicce al vino bianco and I’d do it again. The hip little place is in San Casciano V.P.
What did Casanova do when he grew old? On offer in the eatery above.

What did Casanova do when he grew old? On offer in the eatery above.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2009 7:53 am

    I suspect that you’re right about the guide books and thanks for writing this article. It confirms what various friends have been telling me about Italy.

    Numerous friends told us how disappointed they were with Florence. As a matter of fact an Italian friend even recommended that we miss Tuscany altogether and spend our time in Umbria instead. Less tourists and more “genuine”, she said.

    The painted roof amazing for a retail space. you’d never see anything like it here in Australia.

    Q. “What did Casanova do when he grew old?”

    A. He was a librarian

  2. May 12, 2009 11:50 pm

    I guess your friends are right – you really could avoid Tuscany and not miss that much unless you are really fixed on particular places. Last year we re-visited Macerata (in Marche region) and both landscape and townscape (small walled cites) was way too similar that it would pay off to crowd in Tuscany. Little or no tourists, genuine, way cheaper, even the realestate. The latter was way cheaper than in Slovenia too. And probably only an hour or two further South.
    https://grasswire.wordpress.com/2008/02/07/macerata-part-deux/

    If there is anythingyou don’t know on Casanova ;) I’d suggest browsing through Larry Wolf’s “Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment” on his mission to Russia. The book is an interesting read in itself, have to make a post on some of that sometime.

  3. May 13, 2009 2:05 am

    I’ve read “The Story of My Life” (Penguin Classics) by Casanova and it’s one of the reason why I want to go to Venice. I want to look up at the Piombi (The Leads in English) and imagine him escaping along the roof line.

    Thanks for the info about Macerata, I can’t believe I missed your post about the place. Have you driven up the east coast of Italy, north from Pescara?

  4. Dom permalink
    May 13, 2009 4:06 pm

    I love the surprise picture. And in Greece, both the sunglasses AND cigarette are a must.

  5. May 16, 2009 9:52 pm

    Razz: No, we just drowe straight to Macerata via Bologna and back. The bits of coast we saw were not really inviting by our standards – things looked a bit pale compared to Croatian side of the Adriatic. But we heard many trustworthy people praise Sardinia.

    Dom: We have a phrase in Slovenia – that someone smokes like a Turk. I guess five hundred years is a long time even for Greeks :))

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