As Thomas opened the door, I turned to Ben and asked “where is your iPad?” He responded with a groaning “Oh, no” …
Nine hours earlier…
Originally we had planned to take a bus back to Florence and then take a train to Genova, as a result I hadn’t booked our train tickets since I couldn’t find a reliable bus schedule for Siena. This allowed us to throw our loosely constructed plans out the window and sign up for a Vespa wine tour on a whim.
I got up at 7:30 am to call the office and confirm our booking since I had submitted it last minute the day before. With pickup confirmed, I finished packing. We went downstairs a little early to wait for our driver. Since he hadn’t arrived yet I ran to the supermarket around the corner and picked up two nutella filled croissants to complete our breakfast. The ride to the Vespa tour compound was pleasant. Our driver was enthusiastic and shared some Palio knowledge and tradition with us. Before we even had a chance to really enjoy the twisting roads between major Tuscan cities we arrived at the My Tour SRL facility.
Thomas, our amazing guide, quickly took care of a few logistical matters and began to prepare us for our Vespa adventure. Just as Ben’s training finished, the rest of our group joined us from Florence. Including Thomas there were six of us.
Before I continue, I cannot recommend My Tour SRL strongly enough. Thomas was great. Patient as a teacher, knowledgable as a guide, hospitable and funny to boot. You can book the “Siena Vespa Tour Including Lunch at a Chianti Winery” through discover Tuscany or by calling My Tour SRL directly at 0039 0577 236330.
Once the five of us had proven that we could start, break, go up and down minor inclines, and turn on our Vespas we set out to our first destination. Fifteen minutes into our ride we stopped at a viewpoint overlooking vineyards and the rolling Tuscan hills. Ben and I would be switching who drove throughout the day and I got to drive us into our first town. Unfortunately I didn’t write down the name. Thomas gave us a brief tour of the small town and allotted us forty minutes to explore.
Hours had gone by since our nutella croissants, so the first thing we did was find a grocery store. While looking for the bread aisle, hoping to find some focaccia, I bumped into a free wine tasting. (I bumped figuratively, but throughout our tasting many people literally bumped the table). I had expected to receive little cups with just enough to get the taste of the three wines on display. Instead the gentlemen pulled out a full sized plastic cup and proceeded to pour generous amounts of each wine into a different cup for both Ben and I. Our eyes widened with surprise and slight dismay as we attempted to calculate how much of this wine we could actually drink on a near empty stomach. With my limited Italian I didn’t know how to refuse or protest that it was too much. Needless to say Ben and I couldn’t drink it all, but we did buy a 5€ bottle of the white wine we tried.
From the town I drove us to the vineyard. We parked our Vespas in a neat little row and headed up to the winery passing grasshoppers and butterflies amidst the endless rows of grapes. After a brief tour we sat down to a delicious and very filling lunch while sampling and tasting different wines, olive oils and a balsamic vinegar. Even though the wine portions were “small” it was still more than any of us could drink, so much of it was tasted and poured out. But I still think we got our money’s worth and managed to stay sober for the road, which ultimately is more important.
After the winery we visited a fortified town with some great views, ate gelato and spent an hour exploring before it was time to return to the compound. Eventually we found a shady bench where we met a couple traveling from Calgary. After they left we played scrabble, ate green grapes and read books until it was time to meet up with our group.
In the movies they always make riding a Vespa look so romantic, and it is. If cabbies weren’t so crazy in New York I would get one. Still there is something utterly natural about riding a Vespa through Tuscany. I loved feeling the change in the wind, from hot breezes under the sun and cool ones in the shade. I loved whisking past rows of sunflowers, grapes and olives. I loved alternating who drove because part of the time I got to enjoy being a spectator with my arms wrapped around the love of my life and part of the time I got to drive a Vespa through the endlessly beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany.
The seven hours of the tour went by fast, too fast. We returned the vespas, collected our belongings and got a ride back to Siena with Thomas. After dropping off our new friends from Florence in Siena, we asked Thomas if it would drive us to the station once we grabbed our bags. Thomas generously agreed to drive us to the train (which was a huge relief since we didn’t realize how far it was from the center).
Siena was the first city to reduce the number of cars allowed into the city center. As a result, Thomas had to park a ways down the street from our apartment. We ran up Via Roma to get our luggage, hoping to prevent Thomas from having to wait too long. Ben got the luggage while I refilled our water bottle and took the last bag. On the way to the station Thomas and Ben played songs from bands they thought the other would enjoy. We made good time and got to the train station just before our intended train.
As we pulled up I gather my things and realized that my purse was too light to be holding both iPads. I turned to Ben and asked “where is your iPad?” He responded with a groaning “Oh, no.” Turns out he had left it charging, in the kitchen, behind the couch so no one would take it. Unfortunately that also meant we didn’t take it.
It took me a moment to process what this meant. Ben’s face was turning green while I frantically searched my phone for our host’s phone number. Thomas immediately noticed something was wrong. We asked him what the fastest way back was. He point to his car. We both stared at Thomas, not comprehending what he meant. After all, this was a man who had just generously driven us to the train which was above and beyond what his contract called for in the first place. Although this was the best scenario we could have asked for, I had shut down that hope before it even fully formed.
And that is when we fully experienced the hospitality of the Sienese.
Thomas drove us back to the apartment, walked with us, and even took us to coffee after we picked up the iPad. On the way back to the center we had offered to pay for the coffee but Thomas shut us down. We attempted to thank him, but he just nonchalantly explained that he was glad he had nothing to interfere with helping us out.
Thomas turned what could have been a stressful, unpleasant situation into just another part of the already amazing day. And for that, Ben and I are eternally grateful. I hope to learn from him, because after all life happens, plans fall through but life goes on. Yes we missed our train, but instead we got to experience the kindness, generosity and hospitality of an incredible human being.
Ben and his Vespa.
All our vespas in a neat row in the first town we visited.
Small local market, still affected by tourism in the special herb selection they carry.
Rebuilt 70 years ago after WWII.
First close up sighting of grapes.
The wine cellar.
The vineyard we visited.
Notice our scooters all in a row.
Our amazing guide, Thomas.
Very tasty bruschetta.
The selection of wines, olive oils and balsamic vinegar we had with our meal.
Drinkable products of the vineyard.
This clay jug, for lack of a better word, is bigger than me.
I found the way the stone was raised to be interesting. Helps with grin seeing as the stone is almost as slippery as dusty marble. .
This is the entrance to the fortified town we visited. I don’t have a photograph of wall, but it only took two years to build.
We sat across from this church playing scrabble and conversing with the Canadian couple.