Greve in Chianti, Certaldo, and Vinci

We started and finished this day later than usual. After our experience of the crowds in Venice and Pisa, we had decided not to go to Firenze but to see what else we could find within easy driving distance of Pisa. We had a choice of heading north toward Carrara, home of the marble used by Michelangelo, or south into the Chianti district. After some discussion, we eventually chose the latter.

Because we did not anticipate a long day we allowed Joel to sleep a bit later and I fed the parking machine to allow us time for a reasonably leisurely breakfast. I enjoyed the continental breakfast with cake – a luxury I expected to end in the near future. Joel tried the bran cereal but found that was not to his taste.

After breakfast we sorted ourselves out and then went down to the car at about 9:30 am and pointed TomTom toward the town of Greve in Chianti – selected because it appeared to be one of the nearer locations on the map in our guide to Tuscany and had some claim to interesting attractions. TomTom led us out of town and onto the toll-free FI-PI-LI secondary motorway that links Firenze, Pisa and the port of Livorno. We followed that road until we were close to Firenze and TomTom directed us off onto a country road that wound through the hills into the Chianti district. By 11:00 am we were among the rolling hills of Chianti and conscious that we were running short of fuel. We stopped and bought sufficient to get us by at a town along the road through the hills.

Just before 12:00 we arrived at Greve. On the way into town we had noticed the sign to the leather goods outlet. At the information point we discovered that the morning session closed at 12:30 pm and decided to check it out as our first priority. About 30 minutes later we walked out with Majella and Joel both carrying bargains they had picked up at 50% discount. Majella had bought a stylish leather handbag with a sticker price of €195 and Joel had bought a distinctive blue wallet. I had considered a wallet but decided that none of those on display had what I needed  to replace the one I was already using.

Shopping completed, we drove on into town, parked at the top of hill above the centre of town, and walked down looking for lunch. We bought a small crusty loaf of bread, a pack of small sausages made from wild boar (a local specialty), a punnet of blackberries (about half the total cost of our purchase), a small can of beer for me and cans of chino for Majella and Joel. Just up the street we spotted a small park area with a couple of benches in the shade and sat there to eat our picnic. Joel enjoyed the sausage but did not care at all for the chino. It had a strangely familiar, somewhat bitter taste that Majella and I both thought we recognised but neither of us could identify it. The label listed chinotto as a key ingredient but that meant nothing to us. When we checked at night on the Internet we found that chinotto is a small bitter citrus fruit (we supposed it might be like a cumquat) and that the drink is very popular in Italy.

We visited La Cantine at Greve in Chianti to sample some of the regional wines. Joel had to settle for a sample platter of salami and cheese.

After our picnic lunch we wandered back to the piazza in the centre of town and walked around it looking at the shops that were open during the siesta period. Much of what was on display had some connection with wine or food, key attractions of the Chianti region. Majella had spotted a sign advertising a wine museum and we followed that out of the square, back in the general direction of our car. The wine museum, La Cantine di Greve in Chianti, was in a large cellar beneath a a building that housed the supermarket and other stores. We entered down the wide staircase and looked briefly at some of the displays of wine making paraphernalia before venturing into the main area. There it was possible to taste more than 100 different wines using an ingenious system in which tasters buy a smart card for a value starting from €10 and use it to access measured samples of wine from card operated dispensers. The price of each sample is governed by the value of the wine. We saw samples priced from €0.60 (a €8 bottle) to €5.40 (a €120 bottle) but stuck to the lower end of the range. To keep Joel occupied while we tasted wine, I used €3.80 of our €10 card to buy a tasting plate with salami, prosciutto, cheese, bread and a couple of olives. Majella restricted herself to one wine so that one of us could be certain of being fit to drive and I tried 4 or 5, all of them good though different from the typical Australian red wine. Almost an hour later I retrieved the balance of value on my card and we left after a very pleasant interlude.

From Greve we pointed TomTom toward Certaldo, which was in the general direction of Pisa and promised a view of an old hill town. We drove for about 40 minutes along some narrow, twisting country roads with sweeping views of the countryside and occasional villages or small towns, before Certaldo came in view. We were lucky to find a parking space near the tourist information office which was in the newer part of town on the plain below the old hill town. We took the funicular to the top of the hill and wandered through the old fortified town which had been inhabited for centuries, dating from the time of the Etruscans. Once we had walked up and around, snapping photographs as we went, we paused for gelati before heading back down the funicular to be on our way. We sat on a bench in the shade to eat our gelati. Nearby an Italian woman was treating her granddaughter to chocolate gelati – not a good choice on a very warm day when the little girl was wearing a white dress. A good bit of chocolate gelati finished on the white dress. Fortunately that seemed to be more an amusement for the woman than a concern.

From Certaldo we headed toward Vinci, the town of Leonardo da Vinci. We had seen a sign to it on our outward journey from Pisa in the morning and resolved to check it out on the way home. It was close to 5:30 when we left Certaldo and it took us most of an hour to cover the distance to Vinci. By the time we arrived the museum was closed for the day but we were able to wander around the buildings and check out some of the items in the souvenir shops that were still open.

We left Vinci at about 7:00 pm and headed back toward Pisa, about 50 km away. We arrived in the stazione piazza adjacent to our hotel just after 8:00 pm. At that time parking was free (no cost) but no spaces were free (available). We set off to look for one not too far away. Thirty minutes later we were still caught in traffic, some way from the hotel, so we decided to park, eat and worry about parking near the hotel later when we thought some spaces might become available. We walked in the general direction of the restaurant where we had eaten on our first night in Pisa, hoping to find another. We found nothing until we got back to the same street where we had found l’Arciere on our first night in Pisa but, not wanting to repeat ourselves and with Majella anxious to eat, we selected the alternative eatery in the street. That turned out not to be such a good choice. The menu was not exciting and the ambience, especially once Majella detected the smokers at the next table, left something to be desired. Joel selected pepperoni pizza with Coke and pronounced that good enough. Majella had lasagna which was not all as hot as it might have been and I had spaghetti al ragu (meat sauce) which was acceptable, though not especially exciting. Majella and I shared some white wine but she had to limit her consumption in favour of driving back to the hotel.

Once dinner was over we walked back to the car and then drove to the hotel. It was close to 10:00 pm and the traffic had cleared. We were lucky enough to find one parking space free in our usual area on the piazza. We occupied it and headed off to our room. Once there, Majella asked me about the distance to drive to Sierre next day. I thought I recalled the Google Maps estimate had been around 6 h but decided to check it using TomTom. For some reason, TomTom was reluctant to cooperate. After spontaneously rebooting several times it froze and I was unable to switch it off or reboot it. Lacking the straightened paper clip or pin needed to access the reset button, I had to cut a fine strip of stiff material from one of the blister packs my medication comes in and use that to reset TomTom. Eventually I removed the tracking software, thinking that might be causing the problem, and managed to get TomTom going again. By that time Majella was fast asleep and had no obvious interest in the answer to her question. I turned in too.