Now in the penultimate chapter of my account, I will actually deviate away from the urban pleasures of Florence to the much different atmosphere of Siena. Compared to Florence’s constant trams and traffic, the city of Siena was practically silent. Stretching fairly high up over some awesome views of both Tuscan landscape and the magnificent city itself (see pictured), it is an ideal retirement destination. ￼
However it was apparently not all that quiet, for the main piazza, in which are several al fresco dining establishments, the cobbles were spattered with confetti. I speculated – as this was Ash Wednesday – that perhaps Shrove Tuesday the day before had merited some festivity in the city.
With the ideal to stuff myself again in the evening at another different restaurant, I restrained myself under advisement from our supervisors from indulging in one of the fine-looking places forming a perimeter around the piazza. Instead, not necessarily to go for a cheaper option, I went with my party, led ostentatiously by a sweetly imperious lady named Jade, whom I jokingly dubbed Lady Führer (to be fair, the word in German means leader or guide, positions this woman was acting in), in search of a gelateria to seek out some of Italy’s world-famous ice cream.
It is true when they tell you that it does not come better than that in Italy: the smooth texture and the wholesome flavour; the true “creaminess” of the confection is beyond anything one can find in England or anywhere else. The price-to-size proportion: that is an entirely different kettle of fish. For two euros, either a one-scoop cone or a one-scoop tub. The latter was the size and depth of a tea light candle. For a mere three euros more, the capacity of confectionary one received was at least trebled. That was a price I did not feel like ignoring. Raspberry was my flavour of choice, and although as I mentioned before the ice cream was the perfect consistency but also had an element of sorbet about it. It was as if the two forms of dessert had been melded together into one delectable delight. Indescribably flawless!
Following our trek around the Sienese marketplace I finally picked up a present for my sister: an Italian leather handbag of amazing quality. I will not go into too much detail on that, but subsequent to that we reconvened with a larger portion of the party at a fountain (see pictured) in the garden entering into Siena, whereat we had a small group photograph (see end of article) upon my suggestion to commemorate the visit.
The second half of the day’s excursion took our party to the neighbouring hill town of San Gimignano. The town’s name is taken from its bishop Saint Geminianus, who defended it from invasion by the Hun army led by the notorious Attila midway through the fifth century.
San Gimignano’s main feature as we were told was its towers (see pictured), which history tells was a demonstration of superiority both socially and financially, i.e. the higher the tower the more important the family who owned it. Rumour has it that in order to combat the system, each house would add six or seven feet to their tower in the dead of night to fix the superior position.
It was in San Gimignano that I was faced with a delicious deal in a small winery. You will be lucky to meet an Italian person who is not a self-confessed oenophile, and as such the country’s viticulture is very important to them. Thusly, when observing the streets of this very uphill village, we came across many wine shops, each accompanied by their own special deal on wine. It turns out that one of the best-considered white wines is native to San Gimignano, made from the Vernaccia grape. The wine is simply called Vernaccia di San Gimignano, and knowing I still needed a present for my mother at home, I bought two bottles for ten euros; one of the aforementioned white, the other a Chianti.
While having to wrestle with one of the college supervisors to keep my purchases safe, I locked these bottles away and it was within minutes again that we were one our way down the road toward the next restaurant we would test. Now we were back in Florence, only three of us: myself, Marvin and English Ryan, ended up ultimately cheaping out. Not on purpose mind you: we went out with the intention of – if possible – finding somewhere even more exceptional to the currently-unrivalled meal we had had at Il Portale. Literally just seconds away from that aforementioned restaurant was another, recognisable by an entire wall covered in wine corks. This establishment was called Pizzeria dall’Oste (“of the East”). Going under my philosophy that price is indicative of quality, we entered.
We observed that our competence with the Italian language had flourished since being in the country; when ordering we found ourselves using less (if any) of our native tongue. This was just as well, as only half the menu had been translated, with poorly-spelt English too. Opting against an antipasto and a pizza too, I decided on Spaghetti alla Carbonara, which is something my own mother makes half-decent attempts at concocting at home in England (a WeightWatchers recipe, mind you). That is to say, she employs vegetables to add substance to the dish. Why she bothers, when she could just do it properly and present the spaghetti completely swamped in a creamy Parmesan sauce and small pieces of bacon. While I did not think so, Marvin, who had the same thing, suggested the dish required more seasoning, in particular salt. But why they should add salt when there is bacon in a dish I do not know!
This Carbonara was enough to satisfy even my swollen stomach. The Italian weather must have affected me awfully, as each time I have eaten in a Florentine restaurant, I have declined the dessert menu – a very irregular event I must insist!
To conclude, I can say I would not dare eat at Pizzeria dall’Oste more than once a month. While I would never snub its service or delicious food, I would class the establishment as the sort of place one would go to eat when they had money to spare. Or special occasions. After all, with one course and a drink at nearly fifteen euros, a person on an average wage would do badly to make it a weekly haunt.