With a bit of a heavy heart we say so long to the Cinque Terre and head into Tuscany. Our first stop is San Gimignano, a town that’s kept a lot of it’s charm and history. It was a very important stop on the trade route in the 13th century. Today, it’s a very important stop for tourists. Lots of them. It reminded me a bit of Carcasonne in the south of France. Not sure exactly why, maybe just the feel of it. There is a park at the top of the town that commands some fantastic views of the Tuscan country side. Those views are worth it alone. It has some beautiful pottery and like Venice and Florence, leather goods of all shapes and sizes. We grabbed a sandwich and ate it at the town square. I’m sure it would be a very nice spot to stay in the evenings with fewer tour groups around.
From there, it was a short hop into the town of Siena. You know that colour in your old box of crayola crayons “Burnt Siena”? Well, this town is where that comes from. The name originates from the local rock that is used to build a number of the buildings and in the evening, they are a wonderful brown, particularly striking against the blue sky.
We spent the morning with a local guide that took us through her town. Siena was a very important stop along the trade route and is famous for it’s Palio which is a horse race that is held twice a year on July 2nd and August 16th. There are 17 districts (contradas) in Siena that participate in the race (10 at a time). Each contrada is represented by an icon of some kind; goose, porcupine, unicorn, etc. These races are a crazy spectacle in which 20,000 people cram into the town square to watch jockeys and horses race three laps around the track. The winners get a banner and more importantly bragging rights for the year. This race has been going on for centuries and is something that the locals are totally nuts about. It’s common for fist fights to break out between local contradas in the build up to these races, however it’s interesting to note that the crime rate in Siena is basically zero. Anthropologists have studied this and are trying to figure out why even with these friendly rivalries, that Siena is essentially free of a lot of problems found in other urban centers. It’s quite fascinating. We got to have a look at the “turtle” contrada. They have a chapel and small museum (that few people get to see), related to the history of their participation in the Palio.
We wound up our tour with a visit to the Basilica. It contains many important works of art and took 200 years to construct. Eight different generations of builders worked on it.
Deanna decided she needed to do something with her hair. The humidity was not agreeing with her and she asked the guide if she knew somewhere to go. She directed us to the shop where she gets her hair done. They didn’t speak any English, but Deanna was able to convey what she wanted and 40 minutes later came out with a very cute hair cut that she (and everyone in the tour group) really liked.
We stopped at a local grocery store and picked up some prosciutto, cheese, crackers and some salad and headed back to the balcony at the hotel for a little picnic lunch.
We wrapped up the day with a visit to a stained-glass shop. Like the mask maker in Venice it was amazing to see true artists at work. This shop is owned by two brothers who have been making stained glass for over 25 years. They had a number of pieces in various stages and they were amazing.