Losing Our Way to San Gimignano

Today’s simple goal was a 45 minute drive to San Gimignano, a medieval hill town known for its numerous towers. A simple goal for people who can navigate and not be misled by perplexing road signs. We are not those people. And we spent the majority of the day lost within the hills of Tuscany.

Most roads lacked names or numbers when intersecting another road. Instead, there are  arrow-shaped signs  pointing to different towns. Mixed in with the town signs are other signs advertising wineries, spas, hotels and restaurants.  Trying to read a map and then quickly scan a dozen signs to see if it’s the same road as the map promises, is a head-spinner.

After getting lost while driving through Siena, in a moment of  hopeful frustration, we trusted one of those road signs that said San Gimignano with an arrow.  It was a lovely drive on a single lane road that cut through hills dotted with villas and cypress trees. And we did arrive at a town. But we soon discovered, it wasn’t the town the sign had promised.

With relief, we parked and studied the guidebook, trying to decipher where in San Gimignano we were. We couldn’t see any of its famous towers. Instead, we were parked in front of a massive stone wall, which I imagined must be the La Rocca,  the remains of a fortress just outside of town. We expected to cross the drawbridge into a grassy park like area with views of the city.

Our jaws dropped when we crossed the bridge and instead of grass — we were on the main street of a narrow town completely enclosed behind the imposing stone wall. This was not San Gimignano! Where the heck are we? The guidebook in the car explained it’s a cool town called  Colle di Val d’Elsa,  a hill town and south of our destination.

Over an hour later, we finally arrived into San Gimignano and immediately transformed from frazzled drivers into tranquil tourists. Our first stop was lunch, which we ate at an outdoor café next to Piazza del Duomo. I watched Ada chase pigeons in the square while Aaron ordered delicious paninis. We sat next to a family from England; our children made spit bubbles at each other while the parents enjoyed lunch and tourist watching.

For several hours, we happily wandered the open streets, buying trinkets, marveling at the impressive towers and arches.  We grabbed a slice of pizza-to-go and started our way back home.

I doubt I can read a map to save my life. Throw in a driver who makes impromptu decisions and why we’re not still driving in circles on dirt roads in abandoned corners of Tuscany, is pure luck.

Once again, we lost our way. And to make it more interesting, we had night creeping up behind us. Aaron took a wrong turn, put us in a lackluster town and due to road construction we were blocked from turning around. Instead we followed a country road  that gradually led us off into nowhere.

The sun sat low against the dusty yellow hills creating a blinding golden horizon.  Without warning, our straight road made a drastic left turn. The brakes locked, we skidded and thanks to the sports car handling, Ada kept her pizza in her stomach.  White faced Aaron muttered uhhh, that was close. And he was right.

Aaron carefully continued on while I frantically searched my map for a small  squiggly line to match our small squiggly road.  The sun had finally set and fog barreled down on us. I wished we had blankets in the car since I was sure that’s where we’d be sleeping. Only after we crested a small hill did the fog break for an instant and there against the black sky was our beacon of hope – the outline of Montepulicano. We laughed a hysterical we survived! laugh and a happily continued on to our apartment.