The World’s Best Gelato at San Gimignano, Tuscany


“Remember guys, the world’s best gelato is at Gelateria Dondoli. I repeat,  Gelateria Dondoli. The gelateria across them claims that they have the “the world’s best gelato”, but Dandoli had won the title back to back since 2006.  Also, Dandoli has been making homemade gelato with the freshest ingredients for generations and is the favourite of the locals, so make sure you get your gelato from them.”  Alice, one of the tour guides, was saying over the megaphone as our tour bus was approaching the parking lot in San Gimignano.  A little later, while we were leisurely licking our gelato from Gelateria Dondoli , we saw a couple walking towards that gelateria from across the street, the one Alice said was falsely claiming they sell the best gelato in the world.  The couple looked confused and unsure. The gelateria also had a sign that says, “ The World’s Best Gelato” on their door.  After the couple read the sign, they entered the shop and ordered a gelato.

“Look at who didn’t get the memo,”  I remarked. Sandeep chuckled and nearly choked on his gelato.


Earlier, after having our breakfast at the Machiavelli Palace, where we were staying in Florence, we proceeded towards Firenze Santa Maria Novella railway station to meet with our tour organizer. It was drizzling a little when we went out of the hotel, but fortunately, it was just a short walk (340 meters) to the train station. The other tourists that belong to our group were already there. After sticking blue stickers on our tops, and a blue flag on his backpack, the tour organizer, led our group towards our bus. Our double-decker tour bus was scheduled to leave  Florence at 8 am and then return at 8 pm.


The sight of the parked trains as we walked past it on our way to the bus parking lot evoked the thrill of adventure in me. I thought of all exotic and exciting places it could take me.  I skipped a little to catch up with Sandeep and held his hand. He looked at me, squeezed my hand and smiled. He understood. My heartbeat accelerated at the realisation that I was finally going to see the Tuscan countryside!  A life long dream.


And I was not disappointed. Our seats at the top of the double-decker bus gave us a great vantage point of the rolling hillside as we traversed the winding roads towards San Gimignano. I felt like I was inside an Italian oil painting with yellow glazing. It was autumn then, so the trees had pastel yellow leaves. And yes, I could see Tuscan villas atop the hills flanked by cypress trees, surrounded by sprawling olive orchards. I marvelled at the rows and rows of olive trees carpeting the small hills with gentle slopes that extend a long way into the distance.  I’ve must have eaten thousands of olives by now, but it was the first time I saw an olive tree. The sunlight itself that hits the foliage has a natural filter that turns everything golden.  The images of Tuscany I saw from photographs and painting, it seems, do not look that way because of a camera filter nor because of an Impressionist interpretation, the whole place glows golden naturally especially a few minutes before sunset.

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I remarked to Sandeep over and over how soft the sunlight in Europe is, and wondered how there are no harsh shadows captured in the photos. Sandeep then explained to me how Europe is angled away from the Sun slightly, thus casting subtler rays as opposed to Asia and the Middle East, where the sun rays fall directly with intense fury.  Sandeep loves to do physical demonstrations while he is explaining something and he loved for me to listen attentively. He made two balls with his fist to illustrate the sun and the earth, and their movements. I nodded hurriedly as not to miss any scenery from my bus window. Though, I was half-listening also as a quiz might be imminent after the lecture.

We disembarked from the bus once it was adequately parked at San Gimignano.  I saw one modern supermarket near the parking lot, which was looking a bit out of place in that medieval-themed town.

Before we entered the fortified medieval town of San Gimignano, Alice reminded us where our meeting place was and at what time we have to come back.

“There are public restrooms inside, but better use the toilets in the cafes. You have to order something though before they will let you use the washroom.” Alice advised.

I began to wonder how much commission Alice gets from this “helpful advisory”.


Sandeep and I are fond of Alice, though. She was pleasant and charming in her black flower printed summer dress, which kept billowing in the wind. She did look flustered as she tied a black puffer jacket around her waist to prevent the wind from lifting her skirt, and exposing herself to us.  She disappeared while we were getting off the bus then the next time we saw her she was already wearing a black stocking under the dress. She stopped fussing over her skirt after that.



Once we entered San Gimignano, we were transported in time. Save for the modern shops along the streets the town looked properly medieval, with its cobbled stone streets, brick walls and terracotta rooftops. In between the shops were romantic looking cafes, with ornate street lamps, outdoor sitting areas and tables covered in a damask tablecloth. Pinocchio seems to be the town mascot probably because the author of The Adventures of Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi, was from Florence. I saw little Pinocchio souvenirs in most of the shops. One shop was especially stern, warning curious tourists with a sign that says, “Do not take photos if you are not buying anything.”  The lavender dolls inside the shop were quite cute though, but the sign intimidated me so much that I was scared to even check them out.



We climbed uphill to reach the town centre, passing by the church and the towers. A mass was being held in the church and tourists were only welcome to go inside if they are going to attend the mass.

 As we climb up to Piazza della Cisterna, I panicked suddenly looking at a medieval pedestal in the very middle of the area. It has two wooden posts supporting a massive stone beam in the middle. The raised stone-table-like platform under it looked especially sinister to me, and the thought of what it could have been sent a chill down my spine.

“ I can’t go there, honey. That looks like a guillotine.” My imagination went on an overdrive.

I remembered how scared I felt inside an old church in Vigan where lots of people died because of an epidemic. I could feel the darkness in there even before I knew what happened there, which I learned later. While inside that church, I suddenly felt I could not breathe, and I had panic attacks. I started to feel the same dread as I looked at what I thought was a guillotine.  My mind started wondering how many people would have died there.


Sandeep approached the structure and laughed once he saw what it was.  He waved for me to come. I hesitated, then I looked. Well, it was only a medieval well. That’s what I get for watching too many violent medieval films. Did they even use a guillotine in Italy? Wrong country, wrong century.


The “Historic Centre of San Gimignano” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also where Dandoli gelateria is located. Sandeep and I decided that finally, it was time to taste the real world-class gelato.  I fought my way in to get inside the gelateria where the other tourists from our groups were ordering on top of each other heaps of gelato.


My one regret was that I did not experiment with the choices of gelato. I was intimidated with how exotic the ice cream looked. The names as well were mostly in Italian, I was not sure what I would be getting so I got the safest choice; a tiramisu for Sandeep and I.  The gelato did taste divine, so much better than the gelato we had in Florence.


After licking the last drop of the delectable creamy goodness on my lips we went on exploring the rest of the area until we reached an archway,  that seems to be the exit of the walled town. Sandeep was especially awed by a group of elderly gentlemen chatting idly on a bench nearby.  Sandeep remarked how well dressed they were in their caps, jackets and suits.


There was still some time to kill before our appointed meeting time, so we wandered inside a souvenir shop on our way back. The store was manned by a Geppetto look-alike, who blushed profusely when I asked if I could take a photo of him.


Sandeep got a miniature yellow tractor, and I got a vintage-styled olive oil cruet. Happy with our loot we stopped by for a cappuccino in one of the cafes.

We almost missed a lookout with the most scenic panoramic viewpoint in the world had we not seen the sign in a narrow alleyway that says ” the most beautiful panoramic viewpoint in the world this way”.  The four-story building that Alice mentioned earlier on the bus was alongside it. Alice mentioned before that in these homes, the kitchen often caught fire, so the kitchen was eventually placed on top of the building to prevent the whole house from burning down.

The panoramic view of the Tuscan countryside viewed from that lookout point was postcard perfect.  Exactly how one expects Tuscany would look like. I think I have seen that scenery in a variety of images before, the villa, the cypress trees, and the olive orchards but to see them in life is an image I will cherish for the rest of my life.















Cappuccino and Cheesecake at Piazza Del Campo, Siena Italy


“Honey, you look like Michelle Yeoh in this photo,” Sandeep remarked while reviewing the photos he took of me at San Gimignano. “I look like an inflated Michelle Yeoh,” I replied after glancing at the photo. “Michelin Yeoh,” I added.

Sandeep immediately understood that I was referring to the Michelin man. He laughed heartily as he is always amused at my self-deprecating jokes. Among the things I like about him is that he always gets the most obscure references I use in the jokes I make. It is a relief that I don’t have to explain anything to him, and the punchlines always hit home.


We were then on our way to Siena on a double-decker bus. I chose our seat on the top part of the bus earlier when we left Florence. I wanted a full view of the Tuscan countryside as we pass it by.

“Siena used to be a very wealthy city before the Black Death killed a large part of its population and before the Medici conquered the city.” Our German tour guide narrated in halting English over the microphone. She took over for Alice, the pretty olive-skinned Italian who initially led the tour.

It was a good thing we got the Tuscan day tour package from Florence itself. The walk-in booking was cheaper at 40.60 euros each. When we were booking it online, the website was charging us 90 USD each for the same tour. The package includes a visit to San Gimignano, Monteriggioni Castle, lunch at a winery in Chianti and then finally a walking tour in Siena. It’s a 12 hour day tour that starts at 8:30 am from the Santa Maria Novella train station.

I was not really excited about Siena when we book the tour, I have not heard of that city before. I thought it was just one of those minor cities they add to the pad the tours. We chose it over the leaning tower of Pisa because the meeting time starts at 8 am rather than 6:30 am.

It turned out Siena was a pleasant surprise for me, and the visit to the city quickly became my favourite part of the trip.

Part of what drew me to India was the intrigue shrouding its historical monuments. Siena has the same appeal to me. As we explored its historical centre, walking on the cobbled streets in between imposing gothic structures really take you back in time. You’ll begin to wonder how the place would have looked like during its Golden Age.

Our tour guide led us to Piazza Salimbeni, in front of the statue of a scowling Sallustio Bandini standing guard in between the first banking houses in Europe. He was a Sienese priest and one of the first Italian economists.

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While standing in the middle of the square, I can’t help but be intimidated as I gazed upwards and saw the marble heads of famous Italian men, poking from under the roof of Palazzo Spannocchi, all glaring down on me. I felt so small and insignificant. It disturbed me to see Leonardo Da Vinci and Dante Alighieri looking so pissed at me. If I were a peasant there in those times, I would be terrified and trembling in my boots every time I am made to stand in that square.


Our tour guide asked us to follow a blue flag held by a tall guy from our group, so we don’t get separated and lose our way. There were several tour groups along with us. We even got mixed up with a group of Japanese tourists with a Japanese tour guide. Their flag was red. We also came across a group of university students who made fun of us. One of the students raised the bottle of beer in his hands, walked ahead of his friends and shouted, “Follow me if you wanna have a good time.” Everybody laughed and cheered. I told Sandeep jokingly that it would be more fun to follow that group.

What really captured my heart, though, was Piazza Del Campo. I was bewildered, then awestruck after immerging from a dark alley and seeing the medieval square with its lofty clock tower dominating the bright blue sky. It’s difficult to capture its immenseness in the photos. You have to be standing there to witness its splendour.


I had an intense desire to cross the enormous shell-shaped piazza to reach the coffee shop at the opposite side of where we were standing.

“Twice a year horse races are held here.” Our guide’s voice crackled in the headphones in my ears, interrupting my thoughts.

In the restaurant next to where we were gathered, there was a television where the video of the race was playing in a loop. It seemed like a grand affair. The shell shape area in the middle of the piazza was filled with people cheering as the horses race around them.

After 15 minutes, the guide moved on, and we followed, but I was getting impatient. I wanted the walking tour to end already so we can linger leisurely at Piazza Del Campo. We even skipped climbing up the tower of that beautiful gothic cathedral so we can return right away to Piazza Del Campo. I was glad Sandeep did not mind.


Sandeep indulged my wish and ordered us a cappuccino and a latte on that café that I was looking at earlier. I wanted to stay longer, so I ordered a cheesecake, which was quite delectable with a hint of citrus on the after taste. We paid 6 euros for the cappuccino and latte, 7 euros for the cheesecake.



I sighed while I sipped my cappuccino. Ahhh…it was like being in a delicious dream that you did not want to wake up from.


A cold wind blew a few minutes later, knocking down the wine glasses of the two young girls in front of us. The glasses shattered into pieces as it hit the ground, snapping me out of my reverie. As Sandeep paid for the bill, I felt a twinge in my heart at the thought of leaving Siena so soon. I wanted to stay for a day or two or for the rest of my life.

I left a piece of my heart there at Piazza Del Campo, and the longing to go back haunts me constantly.