Thursday, November 02, 2006

Update: Siena & The Tuscany Hill Towns

After 3 days in Florence, Penny, Virginia & I headed out on a 2 day excursion through Tuscany (Linda & Kristen went to Rome on Tue afternoon). We saw a lot, but it went way too fast. Tuscany is very beautiful. I’d love to go back sometime and rent a house for a month and just hang out.

Anyway, we splurged and for 2 days we had a guide with a van. We set this up with Luca at Hill’s & Roads. He runs a small tour outfit and set up a customized tour for us. The first day Carrado picked us up in Florence at our hotel at 9:30 am. I’m surprised he found us; those alley ways they call streets are pretty narrow. It took a little round about driving to get out of Florence, I’m really glad that I wasn’t driving.

Here is a picture of the view from Montefioralle. It is typical Central Tuscany Scenery.

We headed south through the Chianti Hills, our first stop Montefioralle. This was just a quick stop to see some of the country side, as you can see from the pictures, it’s very green. Lots of grapes, lots of olives, lots of small farms. Then we drove down to Greve in Chianti. We stopped for a cappuccino and then walked up to see the views from the church. A bit more driving around and sightseeing (Radda in Chianti), there are towns or walled estates on the tops of most of the hills. Though the farther south we got, the farther apart the hills are. We stopped for lunch at a hill top Osteria, sat outside under the trees and had a great lunch, and of course a carafe of the local wine. In fact the restaurant is located on a working vineyard; they were just harvesting the last of their grapes so the place was very busy. I wish I remembered the name of it. I’d love to go back for lunch again.

Pictures taken in Tuscany (24) It is titled 0063 Tuscany Hill Towns.

After lunch it was time for a time for a wine tasting. Way out in the hills someplace is a large estate, Dievole. We got the grand tour and tasted several of their wines. They make some award winning wines. I’m not a huge fan of Chianti style wines but I really enjoyed the tour. Dievole has been in operation since 1090. That’s a long time. The story is on their website, it’s pretty interesting and they have some really nice photos.

2 Towers in San Gimignano

Then we were off to San Gimignano for sunset. Of course San Gimigano ( ) is off to the west a way, so we had a bit of a drive. Again, way up on the top of a hill is this walled town with quite a few towers. There used to be many more, it seems every family had to have their own tower and they all competed to see who could build the tallest. San Gimigano is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, so it was very crowded with tourists. It looked to me like most of them came & went on bus tours, so it would be much quieter at night. We didn’t have a lot of time, but we walked around and took pictures for a bit. Again, just a taste, when I get my month or more in Tuscany, I’ll come back and visit and spend an evening or 2.

Pictures taken in San Gimignano (9) It is titled 0064 San Gimignano

Well we’d had quite a long day by this point, so it was time to get to Siena. In evening traffic it was about a 45 min trip. Corrado got us up into the old town and dropped us off at our hotel. What a relief it was not to haul luggage on and off the train. Though train travel is much more comfortable than airplane travel, luggage is really a pain. Especially since most train stations DON’T have elevators. So it’s down the steps, into the tunnel and back up the other side to get to the trains’ departure spot.

Anyway, I digress. We arrived in Siena about 7 pm. We stayed at the Hotel Cannon d’Oro (which I found on line, but also in Rick Steves’ guide to Italy 2006, referred to on this trip as our bible). It’s in the old town and the building is over 800 years old. Think about how many times it’s been renovated! We checked in, it was a nice room with private bath, dropped off our luggage and went out to see the sites and have some dinner. Walking through Siena is interesting. In most of the walled towns, the buildings are 3 or 4 stories tall. In Siena they’re all 5 or 6. This makes the roads/alleys seem narrower to me. I couple of times I though, I don’t want to be here around all these brick & stone buildings in an earthquake.

We walked down through the main ‘square’ (in Siena it’s much more oval than square). the Campo and found an outdoor restaurant behind the civic museum. Good food and we got to talking to a couple who sat at the next table. He was originally from Lebanon and she is from Turkey. They were very nice but we ended up talking politics. It is rather amazing how little attention most of us pay to what our governments’ policies mean for other people.

The next day we we’re getting picked up at 2:30 pm, so we had the morning to explore Siena. We didn’t get to see much, mostly the Campo and the Dumo (main cathedral), but both are pretty spectacular. Siena really needs another few days of exploration, so I’ve added that to my travel list :-).

Frescoed Ceiling from the Library in the Dumo in Siena.

The Campo is huge, and the home of 2 famous horse races each summer. I’m not sure I’d like to be there with thousand of other people all packed in, but I’m sure the races are spectacular to see. The Dumo is pretty spectacular too. It’s floor is all carved & inlayed marble. Some very complex scenes, built into the floor, and took about 400 years to complete. We were very lucky, most of the year the floor is covered to protect it from wear & tear. It is only uncovered in Aug through late Oct every year, I’m glad I got to see it. The interior is pretty complex. We could take photo’s but only with the flash off, so some of my photo’s are a bit blurry. But the 3D inlayed wood in the choir seats was impressive. So are all the frescos. And I really liked the library. The walls & ceilings are all frescoed and they exhibit some old illuminated books. These line the 2 long walls, they’re pretty bit. Probably 3 feet tall, the pages are beautifully decorated.

Pictures taken in Siena (25) It is titled 0065 Siena.
Our 2nd day of touring started at 2:30 pm when Aliosha was our driver. He had a degree in Political Science and has gone back to school for one in Art History. He really loves the art works and knows a lot. Too bad he had such a bad cold and felt horrible the whole day.

He started by driving us through the Crete Senesi Hills, very different from what we’d already seen. The soil in this area is all clay; some wine & olives are grown but mostly wheat. The harvest was over and the fields had all been turned, waiting to be planted, so it was a very dry and rather desolate looking. Then we stopped at the Mt. Oliveto Abby.
It was founded in 1313 and has some very famous frescos. Aliosha knew all about their history and the 2 painters (who didn’t like each other) who created them. He was great to listen too. And it was very quiet and beautiful on the Abby grounds. I guess they have a very nice restaurant, so here is another place to go back to when I have more time.

Then we made a stop in Pienza, what a wonderful sunset view from up on top of the hill looking down over the wide valley. And finally off to Montepulciano. We drove up to the top of the hill and walked around the square. Montepulciano has a very old Dumo too, but they never got around to facing it in marble. It’s still all brick & stone. It’s interesting to see what these other churches look like under their marble facades. Anyway, we walked down through the town after sunset. We stopped in this little copper shop where everything is hand made. It was all very nice. Penny broke down and purchased a wine chiller and had it shipped back to Anchorage. Then we walked on down through town closer to the parking lot and stopped for dinner. After dinner and some more local wine, Aliosha drove us to Chiusi where we had a hotel booked. We got in pretty late, around 11 pm if I remember correctly. The Hotel La Sfinge was great, ( ) another very old building. We had a big room with a nice tile floor. The ceiling was old dark beams with whitewashed brick. Though it was quite a hike up the stairs with all of our luggage. Very few of the older buildings have had elevators added. I left the window open and in the morning we woke up to the smell of fresh bread. There is a bakery next door! I’d like to go back for a few days and check out the National Archeological Etruscan Museum. The owner was very nice and drove us to the train station the next morning. We we’re headed to Rome to meet up with everyone else.

PS, we had a very nice tour in Florence; we set it up with Walks in Florence. I forgot to put their web site address on my previous note. Here it is if you want to set up your own tour, or check out their information about Florence:

PPS, a note about our bible. It was a bit of a joke with all of us, but we did carry our Rick Steves’ guide book everywhere. W saw it carried by a lot of other people, and they weren’t usually the backpacker type. In fact we’d compare notes with people we saw carrying all over Italy. It’s very well laid out, and the info is easy to use and pretty timely. Occasionally we find a small error, but it really is a great reference guide. Since Penny is retiring in Jan, we decided a perfect job for her would be as a fact checker for Rick Steves. Then she could travel around and try out all the hotels & restaurants, etc. Sounds like a great way to spend a year or 2, too me :-)

No comments: