Sienna, San Gimignano & Pisa

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September 18th 2013
Published: November 6th 2017
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Today I took a tour though the Tuscan countryside. First stop was Sienna, A lovely town not far from Florence. Sienna and Florence have had many wars over the years, the last one was about 450 years ago, but rivalry between the two is still very much there. The town is divided into 17 neighbourhoods, each with its own coat of arms, as we entered each neighbourhood the guide pointed out the coat of arms displayed clearly on the walls. Every so often we would come across a public building which had the Medici coat of arms, from the time the family took control of the city. The guide never failed to point out the arms of "the enemy" Sienna is most famous for its horse races, Il Palio which are held twice a year. The horse and riders from each neighbourhood race three times around the city square. They dress in full medieval costume, with flag bearers, knights in armour the whole works. On riding into the square the riders are given a whip by the police chief, which can be used on the horse or each other, whatever works best. They ride bareback and some of the corners are quite tight and as the guide said, sometimes the jockeys"fly." It is not unusual for a riderless horse to win the race. This is still considered a win for the neighbourhood.

The walking tour ended at the Duomo, another magnificent church. The duomo had huge pictures on the floor made from inlaid marble. They were truly beautiful and very clever. After the tour we had free time to explore the city but not nearly enough. After exploring the Duomo, I made my way back to the city square and stopped at a patisserie the hotel receptionist had recommended. They were great but very slow, and I almost missed the bus waiting to get the change for my coffee and cake. I could see the tour group gathering so I headed into the cafe to expedite the process, only to be confronted with a cashier who was very grumpy and I swear slowed down just because I kept nervously glancing at my watch. As I charged across the square to join my group, the poor guide had been calling out for Miss McGrath for some time, so now everyone knew who I was. Opps

Our next stop was an
San GimignanoSan GimignanoSan Gimignano

That is the terrifying Torre Grosso behind me
organic vineyard in Chianti, called Fattoria Poggio Alloro. We took a brief tour of the farm. They have vineyards, olive groves, beef cattle called Chianina, barley & oat fields and veggie gardens. They have a restaurant where all the food is grown on their own farm and its all organic. The only thing on the menu they don't make themselves was the cheese, which comes from sheep milk. Not bad but a little dry for my liking. They gave us all a fine selection of their wine to sample over lunch. Damn nice if I do say so myself.

The next stop was the medieval town of San Gimignano. This quaint little town has been preserved as it was back in the medieval days (although the plumbing and power supply are much better now) It is referred to as Medieval Manhattan, back in the day it had 72 towers. The Lords of the town used to fight by climbing to the top of their tower and throw stuff at each other, arrows, rocks, garbage, faeces, whatever they could find. Pity the poor peasants below if the Lords aim was no good. There are only 14 towers left and one
San GimignanoSan GimignanoSan Gimignano

Award winning Gelato
of these, Torre Grosso, is open to the public to climb, which I stupidly decided to do. The first two fights of stairs were stone, no dramas. But inside the tower itself the old staircase has been replaced with a metal stair well, complete with grated steps so if you looked down you could see all the way dooooowwwnnn. I actually made it most of the way to the top, but the last staircase was really just a glorified ladder with handrails. That's where I stopped. The height was already starting to freak me out and I knew that while I might be able to get up the ladder, there was no way I could come down the same way. 152 stairs and I couldn't bring myself to take the last 10. The floor I was on had big windows so I could still see the view, so I took a few happy snaps and started the long climb down. I think it took me longer to get down than up as I was fighting panic attacks the whole way. Even when I got back to the stone steps I was still freaking out. Fortunately by this point an Aussie couple had come down behind me, she could see I was distressed and calmly talked me down the rest of the way.

Upon reaching the bottom I decided to reward myself with a well earned gelato. Distressing moments require comfort food and San Gimignano does have a world championship winning gelato store. Yes, there is a world championship in gelato and I can verify San Gimignano's deserves the title. Nom nom nom nom

The final stop for the day was Pisa. The bus pulled up just outside the city gates and we all boarded a little choo choo train for a ride to the Duomo and the leaning tower. (Correction Tschu tschu train) It surprised me to find out that they knew that the tower was sinking after they built the first two levels, but they kept on going. And it only took them 200 years to complete the building of a dodgy tower. That's some pretty bad project management! I had thought tickets to the tower were part of the tour but apparently we were supposed to pre book, so I didn't get to climb it. Not that it bothered me much, I was kinda over climbing towers by that stage. Instead I took some happy snaps, visited the duomo and the baptistery. The baptistery has an unusual dome. If you stand in the middle and sing, the notes will come back to you so you can sing along with yourself. One of the monks demonstrated for us with a few bars of a Gregorian chant. It was really quite impressive. I so wanted to follow up with a rendition of Janis Joplin's Mercedes Benz, but thought it might not go down so well

When I returned to the hotel I opened up the windows to let some air in. The sounds of Florence night life started drifting though the windows, its really quite nice. Before long I could hear Vavldi blaring down the street, which is unusual. I went down to investigate and found a street performer dressed as Charlie Chaplin entertaining the crowds. He was pulling people from the crowd and getting them to perform in his act. At one point he pulled a little girl from the crowd. He put her in a street urchins outfit and taught her the Chaplin walk. She couldn't have been more than three or four and she really played it up to the crowd. Just too cute for words.

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20th September 2013

nom, nom, nom

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