Sunday, August 13, 2017

Trip to San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy (July 2017)

San Gimignano is another medieval hill top town in Tuscany. This town is famous for high stone tower houses that are UNESCO heritage sites. The town used to have 70 of them, but now only 14 are standing. The towers were as high as 70 meters and people lived in the towers. They look like a medieval version of skyscrapers. A medieval Manhattan...?

Why would they build these tower houses? Power. It is power that the rich sought to demonstrate with high tower houses. The higher the more powerful they feel or they perceive.

So if there is a war and the people who won it normally destroy the tower houses of the defeated.

In Monteriggioni, towers of the town wall were thus destroyed by the people from Florence when they won the battle with Siena that built the town walls.

The town was quite attractive with cobble stoned streets and relaxed people who stroll around the towns, except tourists who are normally in a hurry.

If you look outside the town, you can easily find a typical scenery of Tuscany with vineyards, olive trees and cyprus trees lined up, like this one.

There are many ceramic arts produced in this town. It was obvious.

Leather products are also famous in Italy. Traditionally Italy has been producing and supply fine leather products. These days many hides are refined in Morocco, but final products are still made in Italy. 

Wild boar is another symbol for Tuscany. Wild boar as called cinghiale in Italian love to feed on grapes in the vineyards. So people hunt wild boar during November to January. Boar meat is so popular that one dish called "Pappardelle Cinghiale" is known as Tuscany's national dish. So Tuscan wild boar has the double honor of being a local emblem and a local delicacy.

Tuscany is famous for its own biscotti, called Cantuccini. It is used as a dessert every where. It goes well with wine or people eat it as a snack or a dessert.

Rooster is every where in Tuscany, particularly black ones. Black rooster is a brand of Tuscany's famous Chianti classic red wine. But there also is a legend about Florence tricking Siena with a black rooster crowing in the middle of night so that Florentine knight can start running a horse to go further than Siena's knight based on a white rooster that crowed in the dawn. Well... anyway, rooster must have been a favored bird for the people in Tuscany.

Italian ice cream is called Gelato or Gelati in plural. They are serious about gelato. They compete and they put their honor at stake in this competition. It is quite rewarding commercially. Certain gelato parlors had a very long line of people waiting to taste their ice cream. It is not just ice cream. It is gelato after all.

Normally, the line would be this long.

But, if you win a contest, then the line would be as long as almost 100 people willing to wait in line.

I was explained that there are ways to distinguish good gelato from bad ones. Bright colors are no good. Natural colors cannot be that bright. Artificial color must have been added. Also, if the ice cream is piled up above the case, then they must have added chemical ingredients to keep the ice cream from melting. Good gelato must be kept in stainless cases and covered. With these two tips, we were able to screen out a lot of ice cream parlors. I think I was not so discrete before.

In San Gimignano, I spotted an Italian brand scooter called Vespa. It is famous and popular. But this one was 1965 make. People were looking at it intensely taking photos. It is not my style, but Vespa is running all over in Italy and other Europian cities. As a scooter rider myself, I took a look at it. It look quite new and charming. It must have been well maintained.

Wine Tasting, the best experience ever., took place in San Gimignano. We visited a vineyard called Tenuta Torciano. It has been operating for 300 years over 15 generations without losing independence. They sell only directly in retail, avoiding sales to distributors or wholesalers. But their prices were pretty high compared to other wines being sold at other retail shops. Their grandeur wine tasting for free must have been factored in their retail pricing.

Grapes were still small but will grow ripe to be harvested in September.

At any rate, we tasted a total of 10 wines and olive oils along with cheese and biscotti. A wonderful experience. We left with our mouths and stomachs all content. - Jeffrey

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