Today we decided to venture out to nearby Siena for the evening - its too hot (38-40c) to be out and about with the kids during the heat of the day, and for us the time is much better spent cooling off and relaxing by the pool.
From our villa, Siena is roughly a 20km drive - initially through scenic hills which make for some exciting driving with blind hair-pin corners, narrow stone wall lined roads and stretches of tree lined avenues. Winding down from the hills takes us through a number of small townships and into a valley with paddocks full of sunflowers and others with freshly cut hay.
Driving into Siena was fairly straightforward and we followed our instincts and headed toward the train station and shopping centre to find car parking. Once in Siena the driving became a little more hectic but still manageable.
After missing the turn for the shopping centre car park there was a decision to be made - pull a u-turn right here right now or keep going and find a roundabout. We decided to find a roundabout - considering we were travelling in convoy with a 9-seater van. Unfortunately however for some other travellers, they did not make the same decision. As we rounded the round-about we saw their car pull a u-turn right in front of another oncoming car. The outcome was inevitable - and fortunately for us we were far enough away to avoid any involvement.
Entering the underground car park was a breeze in our small Fiat 500L, but a little more technical for those in the larger 9 seater van - we made it in however without a hitch.
From the shopping centre we headed up (and up, and up, and up) the length of escalators and travelators that take you up to the walled city of Siena.
We headed in toward the centre of the city to find the Piazza del Campo. We found a nice restaurant on the edge of the Piazza and settled in for a refreshing few glasses of wine and a lovely dinner. By this time the heat of the day had passed and a lovely light breeze was moving through the Piazza - making for a wonderfully enjoyable evening.
After dinner we continued to explore the streets of Siena. The cooler air of the evening made this much more enjoyable, and the streets looked lovely in the light of dusk.
We wandered up to the Siena Cathedral (the Duomo), a spectacular black and white marble cathedral right in the middle of Siena. Unfortunately it was closed at night so we couldn't go inside, but the architecture of the building from the outside was exceptional.
By this time the kids were ready for home, so we walked back through Siena and headed for the shopping centre that would lead us back to the card.
Heading home from Siena was a challenge to say the least. Navigating in near pitch darkness for 20km in the Tuscan countryside means you need total confidence in your TomTom - something we didn't have.
We started out well and the road seemed familiar, although only having travelled it once it was difficult to tell - although when the lines on the road disappeared and the TomTom started recommending washed out goat tracks with a 45 degree incline as 'the best route' we started to have our concerns.
Trusting to our own instincts we decided against the recommendations of the TomTom and doubled back to a main road. From here we were able to find our way back to more familiar areas before we resumed use of the not-so-trusted TomTom. While I am sure the TomTom would have got us to where we needed to go, I think it failed to recognise the Fiat 500L wasn't equipped with a 4x4 pack.
Now travelling confidently through familiar areas we were well on the way to home - then TomTom recommended a right hand turn. Moments after taking the turn we recalled we had avoided this turn on a previous occasion in preference for a better road - however in the pitch dark of night this decision was not so simple to make. We travelled along the road, and while rough we eventually guessed where it would lead us to and were confident we were still on the right track (and it was a track).
Eventually we re-joined the main road again and continued confidently on - until we rounded a hairpin corner and a cat darted across the road and... thud... went under the car before any of us realised what had happened. We continued on and eventually made it safely home - over an hour after we had left Siena...
Needless to say a few beers were required to settle the stress levels from the drive home. We all decided that maybe we should impose the 'Cinderella Policy' and make sure we are home before dark next time - although where would the fun be in that...