About Us

Contact Us


The 21st Century

Hacktreks Travel

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters
Lifestyles 1
Lifestyles 2

The International Writers Magazine
: European Travel

In Search of Tuscany
Laura Wissing

Rome had left us claustrophobic and restless. Single-file and shoulder-to-shoulder, we’d toured St. Peters, bearing the heat. We felt like the coliseum, barely standing after a stampede of tourists had trampled through. We wanted to leave the city and find a small village. We wanted to be intoxicated with the wine and the food and the people and pretend for a while that we merged there too. Our destination was the vineyards of Tuscany.

Nancy found a car rental agency in Florence. My traveling companion was successful and pretty soon, a little car sat before us and an even smaller man dangled keys in front of me. I couldn’t move. It was too easy. I reached, but hesitated. Was I just to drive out of here? Didn’t he want to keep my passport or know my driver’s history? I started to tell him about my accidents in the United States. The deer had come out of nowhere and there were only three speeding tickets, not counting the one the judge dismissed.
"So, I can just drive it?" I asked instead. I pointed at the tiny two-door vehicle.
"Problem? You want to take train to Siena?" he asked, pulling the keys back. The thought of getting back on the train turned my stomach. I pictured myself on the train, squatting above the rocking commode and hoping I was on target.
"No problem," I grabbed the keys. We shoved our packs in the back and entered the street.

Our plan was Siena, an hour south of Florence. And anywhere in between would be fine with us.
We stopped when we saw the signs for a market selling Chianti. At home, our refrigerator held wine so cheap it came in a box. We felt that we were one step above Ramen noodle eating college students because we drank with real wine glasses. Wine in the box was plentiful. Twelve dollars could last us two weeks. However, San Gimangno sold no wine in a box. It was the city of towers, the origin of Chianti.
We left our little car nosed to another small European car on a steep hill facing down from the city. As we walked toward the town, fourteen towers rose before us. A backcloth of vineyards stretched around the brown walls. The small streets weaved to the center and turned to open little markets. Walls protected within and we felt enclosed. Sunlight streamed in, sneaking past spaces left between towers, creating plays of light and shade. One moment I reached for my sweater and the next, began pulling off layers. Reaching for a rubber band to twist the hair off my sweaty neck, we searched for nearest gelato stand.

We planned to purchase gifts for friends, but Italy was indulgence. Two hours later, we wandered to the hill; carrying two new weaved baskets. Every step, twelve wine bottles clinked loudly. We wanted to drink the wine ourselves.

A picture was in order. Nancy viewed through the camera while I waved from the driver’s seat. The car purred as it began. I gently released the parking brake and mistook first gear for reverse. The car shot forward entangled with the car in front of us. We stood there, unsure of the next step. Ours was intact; the other dented and scratched. Should we leave our number? Should we call the car agency?
As we raced away, trying to stay at the same pace of other drivers, Nancy asked me, "How do you say hit and run in Italian?"

Siena slowed us. Tall red buildings surrounded us. We hesitated in front of a large hotel, tourists streaming out. Our language could be heard through the open car window, not Italian. Our stop was short.
Nancy turned to me, "Do you want to stay here?"
"No, do you?"

We tossed our only map to the back. It lay there half open upon our packs, waving in the breeze.
Our decisions became based on villages we couldn’t pronounce. Roads led to hills, weaving through fields of sunflowers. Every angle became a new perspective. Roads led in circles, but had purpose. They offered destinations. We were silent; it seemed a world of contrast. Around us, cars swerved passed. Mopeds slipped in and out. We tried to read the white blurs stating the miles to Montepulciano, somewhere between Val d’Assoo and Val d’ Chiana. We had passed the city, long before we finished reading the sign.

But past the road, the land slowed. Sunflowers turned bright yellow faces, grinning at the sun. Grapes winked from their branches. A woman pulled white linen from clotheslines. A toothless man leaned upon his fence post, brushing sweat from his brow.

We wanted to stay here. A second set of keys dangled before my eyes and I gave my passport to a short, large man called Caccitiorre. The room had two beds, draped with blue striped sheets. Our window overlooked the dirt parking area. Our car sat alone. The hallways echoed with our steps.
Our shower was large, but without curtains. Two windows faced the shower and I pushed them open, finding no screen. No cars, no people. Fields of colors of orange and red and yellow, I smiled to think of it. Farms harvesting colors. The Tuscan breeze drifted in, like a little tune repeated. I stood in the shower, bare and almost believing that I was standing in the harvest mix. The water was a baptism, a beginning, and I pretended I was home.

After the shower, we sat on the veranda. Caccitiorre brought us cappuccinos and pastries and we watched the market close. The people strode through following their fixed, slow schedule that was their day. The women called to one another. Their voices sounding like opera singers warming up. We listened, forgetting that we couldn’t understand. The men sat outside the bar. Their voices a quartet, all speaking together: the baritone, soprano, alto, maybe a tenor or two.

The market was broken by the road leading to other towns. Cars raced along the road, their view a blur of red tiled home. So fast, the drivers had to wonder if it was only a mirage. It was a strange sight: the slow movements of the market and the haste of the drivers.

A woman began climbing the steps and a car began passing another along a steep curve. And I had that fear again, that when I drive in this country, I will be swept away. That I can never go fast enough, turn quick enough, never see the sign fast enough and on the other side of the street, the woman reaches the top of the stairs.

We drove to dinner, following a sign that read, "Bella Vista." The road became dirt, hugging a small vineyard. Our car brushed branches of grapes. At the end of the long road, we found a small pizzeria. Outside, two tables had been pushed together. The party sat, laughing beneath balloons and signs of "Bon Compliance." As we stepped forward, the voices stopped. Heads turned and we stood there, feeling like an extra in a Godfather movie.
One waitress stepped forward and in broken English asked, "Where are you from?"
"We are from America," I said. She shook her head.
"Yes, yes. Of course. We can tell that." She turned to the group and began speaking to them. Laughter erupted around us. "Where are you staying?"
We tried to remember the name of the village, the name of the hotel.
"We followed the sign to Bella Vista," Nancy said. The waitress nodded. She pulled two chairs out at the long table.
"What kind of wine?" she asked. We laughed, saying white, white. This was our kind of place. They didn’t ask if you wanted wine, only what kind.

Dishes were brought. In the distance, a sun meshed into valleys. We watched like we were at a performance. A background of crickets sang like violins warming up. Wine was poured. It sparkled, bursting like stars in twilight. Dishes were moved for new ones. We tried to listen to the conversation. They spoke. The Italian words floating, cascading, and reaching. Broken English merged and Nancy replied in Spanish and I tried to laugh at the appropriate times. It was an opera of languages. In a drunken haze, we noticed the cooks and wait staff joined us. And we ate.

And a glass was raised, to the ending, the last streak of red. And I wished for an encore of this Bella Vista. The last dishes lay before us and we laughed quietly in the darkening night, only stars above us. We hesitated to leave, too intoxicated to know the way home.

© Laura Wissing April 2005

More Travel Destinations


© Hackwriters 1999-2005 all rights reserved