Saturday, April 2, 2016

Day Seven: San Gimignano, Monteriggioni and Siena

Started out this morning taking a walk with Steve to get pastries and coffee -- it was very quiet outside early on Sunday morning! We went to a neighborhood coffee and cookie shop -- here's a picture of the nice young lady who helped us -- she didn't speak English but boy, can she understand a finger point, a smile, and numbers under 10 in English!

Here's a photo of the front of the store:

We hired a driver to take us to several places today -- his name is Roberto and he LOVES this part of the country. He was born and raised in Siena, and knows a great deal about the history of the area. 

Among what he told us was the following:

Roberto talked with us about the Via Francigena, so I quickly looked it up on Wikipedia:

From Wikipedia -- The Via Francigena [ˈviːa franˈtʃiːdʒena] is the common name of an ancient road and pilgrim route running from France to Rome, though it is usually considered to have its starting point much further away, in the English cathedral city of Canterbury. As such, the route passes through England, France, Switzerland and Italy. The route was known in Italy as the "Via Francigena" ("the road that comes from France") or the "Via Romea Francigena" ("the road to Rome that comes from France").[1] In mediaeval times it was an important road and pilgrimage route for those wishing to visit the Holy See and the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul. 

Roberto shared that the route was important in the development of Europe -- and it ran through Siena and Florence -- making this part of Italy's rich history and in the case of the Medici's --  money and art.

Medici family important in Florence -- only the Vatican has more art acquired than the medico family in Florence.

Siena has 4 Unesco world heritage sites, and is the only Italian city to have so many.

The cyprus trees where imported by the Etruscans  from Syria 3000 years ago into the area

The Romans used the cypress trees to mark/outline the paths to people's homes. You can see them in the pictures below -- makes sense now looking at the photos, and the paintings we've seen through the years. 

The views along the way were breathtaking -- it looked like all the postcards and paintings we've seen over the years, but the colors seem so much brighter here. Forsythia is also in bloom, as are the fruit trees -- a beautiful combination for our ride! Here are a few examples:

It was magical!

We then went into the walled city of San Gimignano. I found this via a Google search:

From Rick Steves: San Gimignano bristles with towers and bustles with tourists. A thrilling silhouette from a distance, Italy's best-preserved medieval skyline gets better as you approach. With 14 towers still standing (out of an original 72!), it's a fun and easy stop. In the 13th century, back in the days of Romeo and Juliet, towns were run by feuding noble families who would periodically battle things out from the protective bases of their respective family towers. Sunset's the right time to conquer San Gimignano's castle. Climb high above the crowds, sit on the castle's summit, and imagine the battles Tuscany's porcupine has endured.

Well, we weren't there at dusk -- more like 10:30, BUT it was a beautiful city!

We were given coupons to go to an award winning Gelato store in the city -- Gelateria Dondoli -- I had the 2015 award winning flavor Crema di Santa Fina -- an orange cream favored with Bourbon vanilla pods from Madagascar, San Gimignano saffron pistols and Pisa Pine nuts. My second (in my two scoop option) was what I've had every day since being here -- pistachio! One word -- DELICIOUS!

....and a happy Steve!

We walked around the town and admired the windy streets, the ancient buildings, and the compactness of everything within the walls. We tried to go into the church, but there was a mass going on -- and as we had to get back to the car at a certain time, I knew I couldn't stay for the mass. 

We loved our views:

We couldn't get enough of the sights there, and continued taking pictures:

Deb couldn't resist getting her picture taken with a wild boar (above), and I couldn't resist taking the picture below:

More amazing views, everywhere we walked:

We then got back in the car and headed to the "crown shaped" enclosure that is Monteriggioni -- A beautiful hill top fortress. I was surprised, but not really so, to see the following, as was grateful for Roberto's earlier explanation in the car:

We walked along two sections of the tower-top walk:

We walked around the village and of course I found a church to pray in:

It is a beautiful little church, with forsythia adoring the altar area and the little chapel I prayed in. I'm still praying for the things that I carried over here on my heart, and the things that have been added since being here. It has been a profoundly moving experience.

We then headed to Sienna, where Roberto was born and raised, and where he currently lives (he was born right behind the Cathedral).

Again From Rick Steves: Siena, unlike its rival, Florence, is a city to be seen as a whole rather than as a collection of sights. While memories of Florence consist of dodging Vespas and pickpockets between museums, Siena has an easy-to-enjoy Gothic soul: Courtyards sport flower-decked wells, churches modestly hoard their art, and alleys dead-end into red-tiled rooftop panoramas. Climb to the dizzy top of the 100-yard-tall bell tower and reign over urban harmony at its best. At twilight, first-time poets savor that magic moment when the sky is a rich blue dome no brighter than the medieval towers that seem to hold it high.

Il Campo, Siena's great central piazza, with its gently tilted floor fanning out from the city hall tower, is like a people-friendly stage set. It offers the perfect invitation to loiter. Think of it as a trip to the beach without sand or water. Wander among lovers stroking guitars and each others' hair. Il Campo immerses you in a troubadour's world where bellies become pillows. For a picnic dessert on the Campo, try panforte, Siena's claim to caloric fame. This rich, chewy concoction of nuts, honey, and candied fruits impresses even fruitcake-haters.

The panforte of medieval churches is Siena's cathedral. Its striped facade is piled with statues and ornamentation. And the chewy interior, decorated from top to bottom, comes with the heads of 172 popes peering down from the ceiling over the fine inlaid art on the floor. This is as baroque as Gothic gets.

For those who dream of a city with a traffic-free core, Siena is it. Take time to savor the first European square to go pedestrian (1966), and then, just to be silly, wonder what would happen if they did it in your hometown.

We could tell that Roberto is extremely proud of his hometown, and couldn't wait to show it to us. 

We started our introduction to Siena with lunch -- a beautiful little restaurant called La Compagnia dei Vinattieri -- Deborah and I had the tagliatelle with Pork ragu, Mike had the beef cheek ravioli, Donna had Osso Bucco, and Steve had a cheese plate of local cheeses:

Roberto arranged for us to have a tour of the wine cellar, which started out in Etruscan times as a tomb, in medieval times it was a water well, and now -- it is wine cellar -- here are some pictures:

After lunch we went to the church where the head and one figure of St. Catherine is kept. We weren't allowed to take pictures in the church, but I was able to get these pictures of the outside:

We next walked to the home of St. Catherine. Again, we weren't able to take pictures on the inside of the buildings, but I got some great shots walking down to the house. I now know why Siena is referred to as having a "Manhattan skyline" --

It was a beautiful space, and it was humbling to walk in the footsteps of St. Catherine. To be in a city that still captures the essence and feel as it was but yet as it is and can be. Beautiful! Here are some pictures from the area at St. Catherine's home (but not in the buildings) --

We then headed back to the car and on to the Cathedral. The Cathedral in Siena is beautiful, and yes, I could take pictures in there, but first the exterior:

And now some of the interior:

Most of the floors were covered, and parts were exposed to show the great work underneath -- this is to protect the integrity of the floors -- one was more beautiful than the other. On a sad note, the beautiful carved pulpit was covered as it is undergoing restoration, but here is the giant picture of it that is covering the outside of it:

A few more pictures of the inside of the church:
Above is busts of popes....

Roberto took us across the plaza to the old hospital -- which was functioning as late as 25 years ago. The frescoes on the walls and ceiling were beautiful! Didn't take pictures though, as this is a museum now, and the lady in the booth was staring at us as Roberto was telling us what this used to be, and when you laid on a gerny and looked up in the ER, what you saw -- BEAUTIFUL! What WAS interesting (and what I took a picture of) was this pilgrim symbol outside the door to this museum:
On the top of the staff is a shell -- this one, in fact:
How do you say -- COMPESTELA?

I thought of Mary Trainor, Kelli Grace Kurtz, Joanna Satorius, Michael Hanley -- all who have made the pilgrimage, and I offered a prayer of thanks for them.

We went back to the townhouse in Florence and had a quiet dinner in a local restaurant -- nothing fancy, but cheap and good. No pictures of that though, sorry.

It was a beautiful day, and I'm so grateful that we were able to go to these places today!

Total steps walked today -- 14,394 steps, 5.54 miles. A good day indeed.

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