Monday, October 29, 2012



We took the train to Florence, rented a car there, and prepared to drive to Siena.   I was delighted to see that we were given an adorable little black Fiat at the rental agency.  We had our detailed National Geographic map of Tuscany, a map from the rental company, and very detailed turn-by-turn Google maps and instructions.  We decided there was no need for a GPS navigator (and by the way they charge you 500 Euro if it's stolen).  Unfortunately, we discovered that leaving Florence is hard to do - very hard to do!

We headed out and missed our second turn.  Since it was a one-way street, retracing our steps wasn't so easy, but we were fortunate and after just a few blocks were able to get back on the right street.  At this point George said, "We should have rented a navigator."  We headed across the Arno, then went through a round-about and couldn't decide if we had taken the correct exit.  We turned around, did the round-about again and took a different exit.  After a few blocks we realized we were lost.  Our maps didn't cover this part of Florence.  So we stopped at a gas station, where no one spoke English, and headed in the direction they pointed.  We found an auto strada, but the signs all said it lead to Piza.  We wandered around a little more and stopped at a second gas station.  Again, no one spoke English, but a guy reassured us the auto strada was "that way" so we headed out again.  This time we got on the auto strada even though the signs didn't look like we were going the right way.  Sure enough we were headed back across the Arno and into the main part of Florence.  We exited and somehow managed to re-enter the auto strada going back where we came from.  Again, the signs leading right said Piza so I told George we should keep to the left.  Guess what, by keeping to the left we exited the auto strada and found ourselves once again on city streets.

It had been nearly an hour since we left the car rental agency.  I started to cry.  George reassured me that it would be all right.  We stopped at a third gas station.  I decided to not even get out of the car.  George came back with more sketchy directions and at that point he realized his wallet was not in his pocket!  He had taken it out and put it on the car seat in order to pay a toll - if we ever got on a section of the auto strada that had a toll booth.  Now his wallet wasn't there.  We frantically searched all over the floor, between the seats, in the back of the car.  Just as we were about to totally melt down, I found it wedged down next to my seat!

We pulled ourselves together and headed back toward where everyone said the auto strada was.  We started to get on - heard a honk - and a giant semi-truck nearly ran us down!  Seriously, we had run out of entry lane and this truck went zooming past and it seemed like it missed us by inches.

But hey, we were still alive, the car wasn't even scratched so we kept on going and lo and behold this time we were headed in the right direction - only three gas stations, a lost wallet, tears, a near fatal collision with a semi truck, and an hour and a half later we were on our way to Siena!

During the Middle Ages Siena was a powerful city-state that rivaled Florence, Venice, and Genoa.  When the Black Death hit the city in 1348 two-thirds of the population died.  Siena never recovered and eventually was conquered by Florence. It resulted in a centuries-long downturn.  There was no money for redevelopment of the city center - which means its medieval buildings stayed pretty much the same.  Today it is listed on Uneso's World Heritage list as the living embodiment of a medieval city.

We pored over the directions for entering Siena and even found free parking, quite by accident.  Things were lookin' up!  And here George is in Il Campo, the heart of the city.  We sat down at a nice little cafe right on the campo and enjoyed our usual lunch of pizza.

Il Campo is shaped like an amphitheater.  This is the spot where the historic Palio horse race is run every summer.

This is the Fonte Gaia - or Fountain of Joy which marks the square's high point.  This is where the people of Siena got their water.  I love the way the pigeons tip their beaks into the stream flowing from the wolf's mouth to get their drink!

Across the square from our cafe is the city hall with its 330-foot tower.  The museum in the city hall has wonderful frescoes including a stunning Maesta (Mary enthroned) by Simone Martini done in 1315 and Effects of Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

Next we strolled through the old city streets to the cathedral area.  

Beside the cathedral is the Duomo Museum.  It contains the cathedral's art.  The original Duccio stained glass rose window is on display.  It was made in 1288. Until recently it was located above and behind the Duomo's altar, but now we can get a real close-up at this window.  

Upstairs is Duccio's Maesta, done in 1311.  The panels were once part of the Duomo's main altarpiece.  This is really a major piece of art, but none of the pictures I've seen of it begin to do it justice. The museum had thoughtfully provided seating in front of the exhibit so we could sit down, relax, and enjoy the beauty.

After the museum, I took a few minutes to pop into the Duomo.  I had seen pictures of the wonderful striped interior, but didn't realize that there were many wonderful marble inlaid pavement panels throughtout the church.

Here is a picture of the interior of the dome:

We left Siena in plenty of time to get to our agritourismo well before sunset.  We didn't want to count round-abouts, and drive down little graveled roads in the dark.  We stayed at Fatoria Voltrona. There seem to be many of these farmhouse holiday places in Tuscany and they really are a lovely place to spend a couple of nights.  

This is the view from our window

This is the front of our building.  In the foreground is the little terrace area where they served us the most wonderful four-course dinners two nights in a row - panzanella (bread and tomato salad), pasta, roast chicken, and tiramisu.  George and I just had one order and split the whole thing and left the table stuffed each night.  Oh, and dinner also included a 3/4 liter bottle of the chianti this farm produces.  It was lovely!

The resident cats!

The next day we drove to Volterra - a lovely hill town that is known for its alabaster. More than 2000 years years ago this town was an important Etruscan city.

Here is George at the Etruscan arch - Volterra's most famous sight.  It was built in the fourth century BC.  In June of 1944 the Nazis were planning to blow up the arch to hinder the Allied advance.  The townspeople ripped up the paving stones and blocked the archway to convince the commander that there was no need to blow up the arch.

Here is one of the little restaurants on a quiet side street.  Notice how they have used wooden platforms to even out the hilly street and create a little outdoor place to eat.

Here is George eagerly anticipating his pizza - and celebrating the fact that we actually found a parking spot for the car on market day!

After some enjoyable shopping for alabaster, we headed home to Fattoria Voltrona.  We were home in time for a nice walk through the countryside before dinner.

You can tell George likes Tuscany!

The surrounding vineyards

George near the olive grove

The neighboring village with the setting sun shining on its buildings.

The next morning we got up early, took a few final pictures of the sun coming up over the hills and left for Florence and then home again to Milan.  What a wonderful weekend!

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