Lean on me

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October 5th 2014
Published: November 16th 2014
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I've fixed itI've fixed itI've fixed it

See, no more lean, magic!
Whilst pondering how to write up my many recent travels, I thought I'd follow some good advice from Dylan Thomas "To begin at the beginning:", so I shall attempt to begin the task of documenting my 'Around the world in 29 days' adventure.

Another famous Celtic writer once said 'The best laid plans of mice and men...', and I found myself in that position a bit this year. Originally asking for a few months unpaid off work, it ended up being whittled down to just one month off, clearly I am so important they can't survive without me (a-hem). Plans were then to visit Russia, but things had to be postponed on that front too, probably just as well in this political climate. However one thing was not going to change and that was the wedding in Tuscany of my good friends Vicky and Charlie, and even better, I was lucky enough to be a bridesmaid to boot.

So at the end of August, I setup my out of office, switched off the Blackberry and most importantly, remembered to wash out my mug to prevent a mouldy reception on my return and headed home ready to start a whole
Duomo and towerDuomo and towerDuomo and tower

That's the cathedral to you non-Italian speakers.
month of lots of lovely, lovely travel.

First up was 5 days in Italy for the wedding, a few of us flew into Pisa on the 29th August. Finally I was going to see the famed tower. I was meant to go and see it when I was on a school trip but we ran out of time, so I was keen to finally tick it off the list. We headed into Pisa on the red bus to drop our bags off at the hotel and headed straight out for a bit of tower hunting. Pisa is rather small so within five minutes we had found the tower in all its leaning glory.

The tower is located in the Piazza dei Miracoli (previously known as the Piazza dei Duomo), the square contains the Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistry, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Camposanto Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery), in other words, a lot of marble. And true to its name, it most certainly leans, by 3.99 degrees to be precise. Of course I don’t normally have to go as far afield as Pisa to see a leaning tower, closer to home the church tower in my parent’s
The crowds poseThe crowds poseThe crowds pose

It is most amusing to watch people try pose for their Leaning tower photos.
village in Lincolnshire is noted for its impressive leave as well http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surfleet. But travelling to Lincolnshire (unless you are a fan of cabbages) isn’t quite as glamorous as travelling to Pisa, so I will spare you tales of the flatlands.

The tower and buildings in the square are very pretty but watching the tourists pose for photos by the tower is very amusing, each of them trying to be more original than the last but mostly not succeeding, still it is a bit of fun I guess, we were all far too mature for any of that business, a-hem..

We took a stroll inside the cathedral and then into the Baptistry where every 30 minutes or so a man gets up and starts singing for a minute to demonstrate the acoustics. I suggested to my companions that perhaps I could also demonstrate the acoustics with my rather famous version of ‘Livin’ on a prayer’ but strangely that was vetoed for some reason, hmm, can’t think why.

After a walk around the rest of the buildings, the museum and bumping into about three other groups also heading for the wedding the next day, we then walked down to
Duomo doorsDuomo doorsDuomo doors

The front of the catherdral
take a look at the river. Pisa pretty much covered!

It is of course a very pretty little Italian city, but very small, so with the sights under our belt we did what all good British tourists like to do, and headed for the nearest wine bar. So we tasted the local fare and then headed off for a nice dinner where I had my first taste of Aperol Spritz, currently a fashionable cocktail in the trendy bars of London. Post dinner and it was time for another Pisa perambulation, for we all needed a post-dinner gelato and so searched for a suitable vendor. My flavour of choice is usually mint choc chip, but I opted for pistachio for a change and have now decided to elevate it to first choice on the Official Gelato Scale of Deliciousness, and boy is it delicious, I ended up only eating pistachio for the rest of the trip, yummy. We had one last drink and the headed back to the hotel via the tower for a last look before bedtime, still leany.

Saturday morning and it was time to drive to the wedding venue, so a few of us headed, after
I can see right up your noseI can see right up your noseI can see right up your nose

One of the many statues in the Camposanto Monumentale, that's the Monumental Cemetery to you.
another quick look at the tower post breakfast (still leaning) to the airport to pick up some hire cars. What can I say about Pisa airport car hire? Probably not something I should put down in print, suffice to say, if you do ever hire a car from Pisa airport, do LOTS of research before hand and pick your company wisely, it is all a bit of a mess and a few of us had some issues, in the end we all managed to get out cars after much kafuffle. Finally the convoy left Pisa, stopped at a hypermarket to pick up some supplies i.e. a car boot full of Prosecco (and more pistachio gelato) and headed out to Tenuta di Sticciano.

As we approached the venue, we turned off the main road and started down the small road, which then turned into a dirt track in parts and some extremely steep hills, not the most fun place to drive when you have a boot load of fizz, I was expecting to hear the sound of corks a-popping at one particularly bumpy section. Thankfully we arrived, fizz intact and checked in. The venue was nestled perfectly on the top of a Tuscan hill with beautiful views in all directions, olive groves and vineyards surrounded the property and the typical cypress trees dotting the landscape. The venue consisted of a large farmhouse and many smaller villas dotted around the property along with a bar and a couple of swimming pools, and it was just for the wedding party for the next few days, we all made ourselves at home pretty quickly and allocated our ‘party house’ straight away, i.e. the one where the shared booze was kept. The day finished off with a pizza evening around the pool which gave all the guests a chance to get acquainted and it started off the wedding celebrations in fine style.

Sunday was a free day before the wedding on Monday, so some people opted to stay by the pool and instigate Pool Olympics, which by all accounts were very competitive and quite raucous, this does not surprise me one bit knowing the people involved, but a group of us decided to get in the cars and drive to Siena for the day for a bit of Italian culture, oh and some gelato. Driving back up the track to the main road

The Duomo from the cemetary
was a bit of a challenge, even without having a car full of fizz this time, my hire car wasn’t very powerful and it struggled to get up one of the hills causing me a bit of embarrassment as I nearly rolled back into the car behind me, opps. Still, the convoy headed out to the open road and we made our way to Siena. My interesting fact of the day was the paint colour ‘Burnt Sienna’ was named after the colour of the bricks of which Siena is famous for, I regaled my fact to all who would listen that day, weren’t they lucky people!

We finally found somewhere to park and then headed into the centre of the city, as promised there were many beautiful buildings built of the famous brick and the colours did not disappoint. As well as the bricks, Siena is also famous for the ‘Palio di Siena’ which is the horse race held twice a year around the square, Bond fans among you will remember it featuring at the beginning of ‘A Quantum of Solace’, so if it is good enough for Bond, it is good enough for me. However the race wasn’t on that weekend, so we had to make do with a procession of dandily dressed men with drums walking around the streets instead. The competitors in the race are from the seventeen ‘Contrade’ (City Wards) of Siena, ten compete in each race. Siena is a delight for the vexillologists (geek alert), each Contrade having its own flag representing the different professions in each area. Each flag has an animal associated with it, some are very cool animals such as dragons (the Bankers), the unicorn (the Goldsmiths), the Lupa or She-Wolf (the Bakers), so being a bit of a keen vexillologist myself I decided I needed to buy a flag so pondered which one to get. I narrowed it down by deciding I’d pick the lamest of the animals and went for the one with the caterpillar on, in farness it did represent people in the silk trade in the Bruco contrade so it is quite apt, but it isn’t quite as impressive as a unicorn. After exploring the city we stopped for some lunch and then a post lunch gelato (more pistachio, mmm) and headed back to the venue for a swim, some dinner and a bit of a pre-wedding party.

Monday, wedding day! The wedding wasn’t until the afternoon and so after a nice lie in I reported as instructed at noon to start the transformation into bridesmaid. Being a bridesmaid is a very nice job indeed, you get to have your hair done, makeup done, wear a pretty dress and generally have lots of fun all day, so being a bridesmaid in Italy was even better as you get to do it in an amazing location. The ladies of the wedding party spent the next couple of hours being pampered and preened, such a tough life indeed. The hairdressers even managed to transform my unruly mop into a style the Grecian Goddesses would have been proud of. It was a bit strange having the photographers photograph all the preparations, but at least the photos were getting progressively better rather than worse. Finally we helped Vicky put on her dress, in which she looked absolutely amazing and then it was Showtime!

The ceremony took place outside overlooking the beautiful Tuscan scenery, and I felt very honoured to be part of the day. Once the service had finished, the bride and groom had photo duties and where whisked
Give us a song, spot the singing manGive us a song, spot the singing manGive us a song, spot the singing man

In the Baptistry, they seem to have hired someone to sing every half an hour to demostrate acoustics, I'm sure that looks good on his CV.
off to stand under some olive bushes or something, the rest of us got stuck into the fizz and canapés and I enjoyed lots of nice compliments on my pretty frock and fancy hairdo. With my red hair, blue dress and yellow bouquet I felt that day I was the colours of Tuscany, as I said, it’s a good gig this bridesmaid lark.

Dinner and speeches followed, all extremely amusing and funny, we bridesmaids were described as ‘resplendent’, with which I fully concur and a good laugh was had by all. Dinner descended into disco chaos, for some reason all the men decided to become pirates and put their ties on their heads (this is the level of sophistication of people with whom I associate) and I have to confess there are a few pictures circulating of me and some pink flamingos dancing.

The party continued into the small hours and as the official disco finished we all moved to the designated ‘party house’ to continue the fun, finally I got to bed about 5.30am, I felt as a good bridesmaid should not go to bed before the bride, however the bride was staying up all night as she was having far too much fun, which is as it should be. In all a fantastic day and one to remember, good fun was had by all.

Unsurprisingly I didn’t surface until midday on Tuesday and then managed to make it to the pool for the rest of the afternoon, a little bit broken but in good spirits, and there were quite a few people suffering a lot more than I was. Suffice to say not a lot happened on the Tuesday, some people started to leave and those of us who stayed managed a BBQ in the evening and enjoyed one last Tuscan sunset washed down with one last Aperol Spritz.

And so it was time to leave Italy and head back to London, the weekend was great fun and I would have been very sad to leave, if I wasn’t about to head off for another few weeks of travel and fun, but that is another story…

Additional photos below
Photos: 40, Displayed: 30


What the???What the???
What the???

Yeah, I don't really know either.
Get the party startedGet the party started
Get the party started

One of our classy boxes of wine, who knew you could by 10 litres at a time!
Tenuta di SticcianoTenuta di Sticciano
Tenuta di Sticciano

The beautiful location for the wedding, and it had its own vineyard, nice.
Oh Siena!Oh Siena!
Oh Siena!

One of the many flags representing the Contrade of Siena. This is the Drago Contrade, originally representing the bankers of Siena. One of the more impressive animals on the flags.

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