September 26, 2012

Our Tuscany Driving Adventure Continues in Siena

After our short visit to San Gimignano, we settle back into the car to continue our drive to Siena, a reasonable 50 KM away, where we will spend the next two nights. The drive proved to be pretty uneventful, which is always a good thing. Easy roads, easy drive. I like it!

Our GPS leads us right to the hotel, which is pretty sweet. We unload our bags and get checked-in. I inquire about where the parking is and the hotel desk clerk gets out a map. His english is limited and we all know just how limited my Italiano is, so together, we come to an agreement on where I need to park the car. Turns out, I have to park the car in Switzerland. So far, being the designated driver and valet parking lot attendant isn't exactly working out for me. While the rest of my fellow travelers settle into their rooms, I'm off on another adventure with the car.

I find the car park pretty easily, but it's definitely far from the hotel; probably about 1-1/2 miles away. The road in which I must walk back on to the hotel has NO sidewalks nor really any shoulder at all, so I'm pretty much playing a game of avoidance with the steady, oncoming traffic. I need a drink!

I arrive at the hotel all hot and sweaty and spot a small bottega right next door to our hotel, so I pop in to purchase a cold beverage. I have definitely earned it! And voila! they have a nice cold Corona in their cold case. Sold!

The hotel has a nice outdoor patio (with a pool!) so we all convene outside to enjoy "cocktail hour". In addition to my Corona, we have some cold white wine (another bottle of the Vernaccia from San Gimignano). Dad is a happy camper that they have ice (for his cocktail of choice) and they give him his very own bucket of it! (Dad has not stopped talking about how our apartment in Venice featured a countertop ice maker).

As we're sitting on the patio, we notice some other hotel guests arriving and they're parking THEIR car in a lot right behind the pool! WHAT? Why did I have to park in Switzerland? I decide to go inquire as to how I can become a member of this special parking club.

Turns out, that was exactly where I was supposed to park and the lot next door to Switzerland was where we would park if we wanted to take the outdoor escalator up to the center of Siena. Think of it as their version of "park and ride". So now I understand and I have to now make the trek to retrieve the car and park it where it should be (for free). Somehow I missed this part of his parking explanation earlier that involved a nearby parking lot for hotel parking, and the faraway parking lot for city excursions.

So I return with the car, once again all hot and sweaty. Soon it was time to pile into the car and set out for our dinner reservation at 7:00 PM. We plug the restaurant information into the GPS and according to the GPS, it should take us about 7 minutes to get to the restaurant.

Did I mention that Siena is a walled city and that our hotel is outside the city walls?  Did I also mention that I had limited knowledge of Italian and that I did absolutely NO research on Italian road signs, etc. before the trip in which I would be driving a car in Italy and seeing NOTHING but foreign road signage?

It is now dark and I'm trying to follow the GPS map to our restaurant. We make a few wrong "exits" in roundabouts and through a series of errors, finally get ourselves headed in the correct direction. I feel like Chevy Chase in "European Vacation" where it takes them hours to exit out of a roundabout in Paris.

We are finally "inside" the walls of Siena and continue to follow a windy path designated by the GPS. It looks somewhat like this: (notice the blue line; this is what Google maps shows as the route from our hotel to the restaurant) but I think that is the route if you were to fly into the city with your helicopter, not drive with a vehicle on a road (and I use the term "road" loosely).

This road is taking us UP and DOWN very narrow, cobblestone "roads" that aren't much wider than my hallway at home. We are also dodging pedestrians, scooters and other vehicles. We are also doing hairpin turns where one side is a wall and the other side of the "road" is the cliff. This was not a relaxing drive and we had NO idea when Mr. Toad's Wild Ride would come to a stop.

At one point during our drive, we come to a "T" in the road where a policeman is standing and he directs us to stop. He comes up to my window and says "Buona sera, or something like that" and says "road is closed" - luckily for us, our GPS was directing us to turn right, in the opposite direction of the closed road, so we continue on. It might have been kind of him to point out at this exact time that we were actually driving in Siena somewhat illegally. In my attempt to keep a close eye on the GPS turns in the road, I hadn't noticed that we were actually driving in a "Zone Limited Traffic" and that you had to have a permit to enter this zone (for residents only) and that it was patrolled by cameras and that I was most likely going to receive at least one (if not multiple) tickets at some point in the future for a steep price of 100 Euros each (I'm not sure exactly how many times we entered/exited the ZTL).

Through some miracle, we actually find the restaurant; I ask April to go inside and inquire about parking and this is when we learn that we're actually NOT supposed to be arriving by private vehicle (the maitre'd has a look of horror on her face when April inquired about parking and then tells April about the cameras). She also told April there was NO parking ANYWHERE. So I leave them all at the restaurant (Dad wanted to go somewhere else and I yell "NO, WE ARE EATING HERE!". I told them I would return. Now that I have found the restaurant, avoided cliffs and collisions, I WASN'T LEAVING! So I drive up the street and remember seeing several blue "P" signs for parcheggios (parking garages) and set out to find one.

So far on this trip, I have made several restaurant reservations based on endless hours of research and recommendations from various travel and food blogger boards that I read. And so far we have eaten at NONE of them (with the exception of the restaurant in Venice, in which we had canceled the dinner reservation, but then ate lunch there somewhat by coincidence).

Typically, we have canceled our dinner reservations because someone-who-will-remain-nameless in our travel party is usually too tired to want to leave the apartment again for a meal, especially when said travel party includes someone who doesn't mind cooking.


So I find a parking garage and by some small miracle it's actually fairly close to the restaurant and I find my way back. We are escorted to our table and we have one of the most delicious meals of our trip. BTW, this restaurant is rated #1 for Siena restaurants on Trip Advisor.

The restaurant is La Taverna di San Giuseppe and is housed inside a building that's 2,000 years old, and is very charming inside. We really wanted to see what was down the "caves" at the end of the room.

At this point, I don't really even remember what I ate, but it was delicious, as was the wine. We enjoy a nice leisurely dinner and then I break the news to Dad that the parking garage is UPHILL. But we make it back, stopping several times so we can all rest our aching calves.
The parking garage was actually pretty close to the city gate, so we find outselves outside the wall pretty quickly and on the road to the hotel, which this time, was a very short trip back. I must admit, I was pretty relieved to have the car safely tucked back into the parking space and looking forward to going to bed.
And that's a wrap on my first day driving in Italy.

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