Monday, November 30, 2009

Italy Day 5 - 31st August 2009

It seems a long time since I was in Italy last August but seeing as I'm in mid Florida with temps in the 80's, it's actually a lot easier to think back to that trip now than it would be if I was still in wet, freezing Leeds. Sebring is 5081 miles from our Day 5 destination, Siena, but this is where we pick up the story........

Well actually just before I get to day 5, I need to put up a photo from day 4 as I'd mentioned how we were required to wear swimming caps when using the awesome outdoor pool at the Hotel Santa Genoveffa. Yorkshire Pudding had asked if there was photographic evidence of me wearing my water polo type cap and thanks to Daphne's hubby, Stephen, here it is.

I'm the one with the wide white stripe on my cap closest to the camera and Daphne is to my right. I'm wiping away a tear from my eye due to the shame of being on camera wearing such a cap. As my face is not visible, I could remain incognito but my feeling is that as my body is not visible either, the photo can be published !

Back then to Day 5...........

After a quite unsatisfactory breakfast, we headed up SS223 from the hotel in Paganico towards Siena and soon stopped off at one of the many vineyards that provided most of the stunning views in this part of Tuscany. Never having seen a vineyard up close and personal, it was a special, if not life changing, moment for me.

Onwards and upwards and we were soon entering the partly walled town of Siena and what a breathtaking place it was. Easily our favourite town in Italy. Ok it was only day 5 remember !!

We parked at the bottom of the town as tourist cars were discouraged from entering the town as such. An excellent idea and one that we discovered in lots of the smaller towns in Italy which made sightseeing much more of a joy. It was particularly refreshing in Siena as it was a classic Tuscan hill town with very steep, narrow streets and negotiating them in a car, even a small Italian car, would've been miserable for both drivers and sightseeing tourists.

Of course that didn't stop the occasional mad Italian scooter rider from whizzing past us like Barry Sheene inside the hadron collider. After 3 days in Rome, we knew how to weave too !

It was another hot morning and although nearly noon, the sun was casting harsh shadows across the tall narrow streets making exposure difficult.

I'm talking photography here people !! Honestly, some of you are just Sun readers in disguise !

The street walls were festooned with colourful flags and banners which gave the whole town a wonderful festival feel. Of course Siena is the location for Il Palio and we had just missed the 2nd race by a couple of weeks. Mind you, much as we'd have loved to have witnessed the event, I think we liked Siena so much on our visit because it was so quiet and the streets leading to the famous Piazzo Del Campo were so empty of tourists.

Anyway after a short walk from the car park, we 'entered' the piazza and it simply took our breath away. That and the steep walk ! It was a huge square and I'd simply never seen anything like it. I did try a couple of panoramic shots but without a tripod to provide a level stance, they didn't here is a wikipedia link with a couple of good panoramas that show the views we came upon.

Photos don't really show the steepness of the slope from the top edge of the piazza down to the bottom where sits the Palazzo Pubblico (town hall) built in 1297 with it's magnificent bell tower, the Torre del Mangia, completed in 1344.

Listen, I'm going to be asking questions at the end so pay attention.

After a pizza in the piazza (!!), we went into the Palazzo Pubblico and lined up for the trip oop'tower. Now normally Stephen doesn't 'do' towers as by nature, they tend to be tall. He was werry werry brave and joined us in the climb to the top of the Dome of St. Pauls in Rome but this tower was a different proposition - being that it was narrow and you got views of the outside on every turn of the spiral staircase. Not good for someone with acrophobia.

But he made the climb and although he wasn't too keen on looking out from the top, he stayed with us and when we were ready to return to terra very much firma, he was off down those stairs like Quasimodo with diarrhea. Quite appropriate really as being a bell tower, there were huge suckers at the top and if anyone had thought it funny to 'set them off' while we were next to them, it would've been like being inside Keith Moon's drum kit.

In the photo looking down on the piazza, you can see it looks like a dart board with the 'wedges' running away from the houses and shops along the top rim. What is harder to see from this image is that if you placed a ball at the top and let gravity take it, it would be going like a Beckham free kick (one of the good ones) by the time it reached the bottom. It's that steep.

But the Torre Del Manglia isn't the only bell tower in Siena. Oh no. Not only does Siena Cathedral (Duomo Di Siena) have a large dome, but it too has an impressive bell tower. The cathedral was completed in 1263 (I'm noticing a marked closeness with all these dates) and the startling black and white stonework is at odds with the rest of Siena, which is as uniformly coloured as most other Tuscan towns.

I think the crane at the left is a modern addition but for once, it actually merges in sympathetically with the building it's working on. You can also see a line of tourists, or as much of a line as you'll ever find in Italy, waiting to enter the Cathedral. We decided to give this a miss as it was just too hot to be in the direct sunlight and we were still knackered from the climbs up and down the other tower. I think being asked to climb one more tower would've driven Stephen to taking the most direct route down from it.

Back in the piazza we stopped for a final rest before leaving the town. Near the top edge was a lovely fountain (which you can again see in the photo looking down from the tower to the piazza), the Fonte Gaia, and we joined with dozens of pidgeons who were also enjoying the waters......a bit more literally than we dared to do.

Rested and refreshed, we set off back to the car park at the bottom of the town. Again we passed lots of wonderful narrow streets complete with banners left over from Il Palio, although maybe they're always like this. I also liked a wall unit which cast an unusual light onto a basket of flowers and the combination of light and flowers along an otherwise dark and deserted street just stopped me in my tracks for a moment.

We left Siena singing its praises. Not a good thing really if you've ever heard any of us singing. But we just loved everything about it and when reminiscing about the trip, it's still up there near the top, if not at the top, of the list of our favourite places in Italy.

The plan then was to go to Florence (ha !) via a little side trip to another famous hill town called San Gimignano and so we headed out of Siena, northwards on the SS222 and when we got to Castellina In Chanti, we stopped for the day at the Hotel Salivolpi, an overpriced road side establishment with a pool that closed at 6pm, just after we got there. Dumping our bags, we walked back down into the town for supper but it wasn't the most exciting town in Italy and we had to settle for a restaurant that didn't even open till 8pm.

Back at the hotel we drifted off to sleep just before midnight to the not so idyllic Tuscan sounds of fireworks, dogs barking and more of those mad scooter riders belting down the otherwise empty SS222 that was right outside my open window.

It had been a long, tiring day......we slept like babies !


Daphne said...

What a glorious reminder of a really wonderful day. And I loved all your comparisons such as "like Barry Sheene inside the Hadron Collider" and "like being inside Keith Moon's drum kit"!
It's near-freezing in Leeds tonight, so it's just the night to bathe in a bit of virtual Tuscan heat. Thank you.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Two points:-
1) The pigeon at fountain photo is great and would be nominated for a prize in THE BLOGGING WORLD ANNUAL PHOTO COMPETITION if such a competition existed.
2) You "slept like babies"? You mean you were in cots in your all-in-one romper suits over your "Pampers" disposable nappies?

Milo said...

I love Italy, LOVE IT! Such a dreamy place to go on holiday. The food, the ambience, the landscape, the buildings, the culture, the wine...

rhymeswithplague said...

My vote goes to "like Quasimodo with diarrhea." It just doesn't get better than that. Puts me in mind of Alec Guinness descending the Eiffel Tower in The Lavender Hill Mob, it does.

About your photos: Magnifico! Fabuloso! Stupendioso! and lots of other made-up-to-look-like-Italian words. You really ought to put together a book about your Italian trip.

I don't know whether you have yet been introduced to an American television program called "Challenge" on the Food Network (yes, Virginia, there is a Food Network), but you look remarkably like the fellow who led the Giant Gingerbread House Competition's winning team to victory the other night. Are you moonlighting on the side?

Keeps those postcards coming!

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