Marian P. Merritt - Lagniappe

Where the Bayous Meet the Mountains

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My Italy Experience: Day 7 - Tuscany (Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa)

Day 7 - 11/07/13  Tuscan Tour

So excited! Today we woke early and had a cappuccino at a small shop next to the hotel. Hubby is a big breakfast eater and he's pretty dismayed right about now. Italians do not eat breakfast. A quick caffe (espresso) and pastry--that's it. So he's having a hard time. He's on the lookout for a McDonald's (egad! That seems sacrilegious)

I got several items including a gluten free cake from our Bed and Breakfast's buffet then walked the two blocks to the train station and boarded a Walkabout Tours full bus. Mostly Americans as the tour was in English.  We left Florence at approx 8:30 a.m., drove over the Arno and left town on the south side of Florence. Out near the Roma gate. Called the Roma Gate because it's on the road that leads to Rome.

Drove through the countryside past farms, vineyards typical Tuscan views. Beautiful. I was so captured by the sights, I forgot to take pictures! 

Arrived in Siena and parked the tour bus outside the city walls in a small residential area. We walked as a group to the meeting point where another guide provided the Siena tour--Donatello. She was a petite older woman who spoke English with a strong Italian accent. Her eyes were framed by deep and long lines when she smiled.  Her quote for the day: "Enjoy Italy don't try to understand it."  I had to repeat this phrase to Scott MANY times during our trip.

She discussed how Siena and Florence were bitter enemies. How Siena was a stopping point on the road to Rome - because "all roads lead to Rome."

Oldest Bank in the World
Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena was founded
by order of the Magistrature of the Republic of Siena
as Monte de Pietá in 1472
 Because Siena was a direct route for the pilgrimage to Rome. The pilgrims were expected to pay homage with Roman coins so the people of Siena became the first money exchangers. Thus the first established banking system.

Busts of influential Italians in the square of the oldest bank in the world.
Busts along top of building

St. Christopher's Church is located in Piazza Tolomei in Siena.
It dates back to the 11th or 12th century.
It is one of the oldest churches in Siena and can be seen
in a scene from the movie "Letters to Juliet."

Chiesa di San Cristoforo (St. Christopher Church)

Walking through the narrow streets of Siena, Italy

The tower in the Il Campo

The Piazza del Campo was amazing with bricks laid in an herringbone pattern. This site is one of Europe's greatest medieval squares and is home to the Il Palio. A horse race that is run two times per year 2 july 16 August in the square. 10 contrade horses run the race and the winner has the banner for bragging rights for the year. This is a major event and is planned throughout the year.

In the Piazza del Campo

Standing in the Piazza del Campo.
See the herringbone pattern of the bricks?

Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico.

We toured the Duomo di Siena. The beginnings of the church date back to as early as 1196.

The gate leading to the Piazza di Duomo

West Facade and main entrance to the Duomo.
Scott sitting on steps in bottom right.
Bell Tower to the upper right.

Siena Cathedral - Duomo di Siena

Upper part of West facade of Siena Cathedral.
Left "arm" is a worker on a platform.

The inlaid marble mosaic floor is amazing. It is considered one of the most ornate of its kind in Italy, covering the whole floor of the cathedral. The artistry of the floor encompassed about forty artists from the 14th to the 16th centuries. The floor consists of 56 panels in different sizes.

Close up of the inlaid marble mosaic in the Duomo in Siena
Can you believe for centuries this was WALKED on?
Now they've put small barricades to preserve them from wear.
Example of barricades to preserve the mosaics.

Ceiling of the Duomo - Siena, Italy

Main Altar - Duomo di Siena

The Dome - Siena, Italy

The Altar

Country side as we boarded the bus to leave Siena.

We left Siena at approx. 11:20 a.m. headed to a farmhouse for lunch about 5 km from San Gimignano. Wonderful setting!  Had lunch at Fattoria Poggio Alloro, one of the few farms left that is completely family owned and operated. The wonderful thing about our lunch is that everything we had but the cheese was grown and processed at the farm.
View from the Balcony where we had lunch

Fattoria Poggio Alloro's vineyards.

On the balcony with the towers of San Gimignano in the background.
Happy, happy, happy

Lunch setting. So perfect!
If you're planning a trip to Italy's Tuscany region, please include this farm on your schedule. It is well worth the drive. I would love to go back and take one of their cooking classes. Anyone want to go with me?!

Here's a link to their website:

Our menu included:

Bruschetta - They graciously gave me a gluten-free version. It was delicious!
Pasta with Meat Sauce and Vernaccia di San Gimignano
With the Bruschetta was served Vernaccia di San Gimignano, an Italian White wine made from the Vernaccia grape. This wine was crisp and dry. Although, I'm not much of a white wine fan, I liked it.

Pasta with Meat Sauce - Again I received gluten free pasta that tasted great. The meat sauce was awesome!

Scott toasting the Chianti
The wines served were:  The estate's Chianti and the Rosso. I liked the Chianti best.

Sheep's cheese with Salami and Pancetta. Awesome with their Olive oil and GF crackers. We were also served an organic lettuce and tomato salad.

Dessert: Almond crackers with Vin Santo (a dessert wine). The crackers were dipped into the wine. Wine was too sweet for me.
San Gimignano's tower along the skyline

Wonderful atmosphere. The balcony outside of dining room had the most impressive view of San Gimignano. The towers were clear against the Tuscan skyline. Known as Medieval Manhattan.

Scott and I with the farm's vineyards in the background
Left there feeling pretty good. Great food. Great wine. Fun times.  

Next we traveled to San Gimignano. No scheduled tour here. We were on our own. So off we went to explore the medieval city.
Just outside the walls of San Gimignano
On the street in San Gimignano.
Notice the stone blocks?
This Gelateria is the World Champion Gelato Maker.
They've won the award for two years.
Had Orange Grand Marnier and Tiramisu Gelato
Wow, so good. And handled the diary really well.
Must be a sign--I should live here!

I was in heaven browsing the luxury ceramic shops.

Inside the small Gelateria
Their award winning entry this year was saffron. Which is what the region is popular for and can sell for more per ounce than gold! Saffron comes from the stamen of the crocus flower. It takes many flowers to yield one ounce of saffron. 

Wonderful narrow streets with inclines. Small fortified town with the original walls from the 13th century. San Gimignano was at its economic peak during the 13th and 14th centuries. At this time its skyline boasted more than 76 towers built by rivaling families to showcase their wealth and power. The higher the tower the wealthier and more powerful the family was the train of thought. Only 13 towers remain today.
View from a street in San Gimignano

A door in San Gimignano

Hubby doesn't miss much that has two wheels!

Ride to Pisa, Italy

We left at 3:15. Off to Pisa. A one-and-half hour ride. Beautiful country with farms, pastures, vineyards, and quaint towns in the distance. Saw the vivid outline of Volterra  on a hilltop.

Along the road in Tuscany

Offloaded the bus outside the city and took a small choochoo train into the City. Pisa sits on the right bank of the Arno River near the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The Baptistry
We had a short walk to the Piazza dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) 

The Duomo, Leaning tower, and Baptistry are positioned there with a beautiful lawn in the square.

The leaning tower is actually The Bell Tower of the cathedral

Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square)

The Duomo in Pisa

Base of the Leaning Tower
Scott once again trying to figure out how!

The "Leaning" side

The Duomo in Pisa
Detailed doors of the Duomo
It was dark when we left Pisa and had an hour and fifteen minute ride back to Florence. We arrived in Florence at 7:30 pm.

Long day but so worth the time and money!

Had dinner at a nice Italian restaurant a block from the hotel--Ciro and Sons.

Brass pizza oven in center with an enclosed outdoor sitting area. Beautiful cool night. Had gf garlic bread, gnocchi with red sauce then chicken with truffles and mashed potato "florettes" excellent.
Couldn't handle dessert. Red wine cab/merlot blend.
Walked back to room...crashed.
Good day.
Loved it!
Tomorrow back to Vicenza.
Buon Notte.

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