Leaving Rome and onto another hill town called Orvieto which was one of the places the medieval Popes used to spend summers. The town is high up and to get there we had to take a funicular which is a cable car up a short ride and then the public bus to the center of town where a very impressive duomo stood. This duomo is made of two different coloured stone, limestone and black basalt which makes it all horizontally striped. The front facade is a couple of hundred years newer but still 15th century I think and very elaborate. We walked around some of the small narrow streets to an open air market where there were even cages of live chickens! Lots of ceramic shops too and I bought a little water jug at one of them. The air that morning was cool and clear and a relief from the congested air in Rome and Sorrento.
We spent the rest of the morning and afternoon on the motorway, arriving in Sienna late afternoon. After climbing the steepest hill yet to get from the hotel outside of the city walls to meet a local guide, we were led on a walking tour of Sienna.
Siena is a city made up of 12 districts and are very territorial! Some are enemies of others traditionally and you are not encouraged to marry across district lines of your enemies’ areas! The city was very nice and I enjoyed the architecture and the walking tour. We inspected the duomo which was really extraordinary. The floor of it is covered in mosaics, or ‘pavements’ but due to damage and the prevention of further damage, they are usually covered in boards most of the year. They are only uncovered for a couple of weeks a year and we lucked out here because they were uncovered when we saw them! They are I think 13th or 14th century workmanship. There is a lot of beautiful artwork in the duomo and the libraries are lined with frescos that are extremely bright and clear but which have never been restored. They look as fresh as the day they were painted which is amazing for their age which is early Renaissance, 15th century. So much of the frescos and mosaics we saw in duomos was damaged over the years or in the process of being restored.
After leaving the church we arrived at the Campo, the shell shaped piazza where the famous horse races take place twice each summer. We were left there and Denise and I checked out the souvenir stores and then made our way along a shopping district street. We found our way back to the hotel and had a late dinner in the hotel restaurant which was pretty good.
The next day, driving through Tuscany from Siena to San Gimignano, Pisa, Lucca and Florence was lovely! The rolling hills are beautiful and you will see a group of farm houses and buildings on the top of a hill with the orderly rows of the vineyards sweeping down the hill and the olive tree groves covering another side of the hill and of course, some of the trees starting to turn colour, mostly gold though ivies climbing buildings were often red or a red-pink.
In San Gimignano there are 13 old defensive towers above the city and we did get a spot for a really good panoramic view of the misty morning Tuscan/Chianti countryside. We kept noticing boar’s heads in some of the butcher shops and found out later that the local specialty is sausage made from this beast! We sat in the central square by the old fountain for awhile before making our way back to the bus for the ride to Pisa. The countryside flattened out near Pisa in the Po valley.
Pisa. The tower really does lean!!!! There really isn’t much else in Pisa other than that one square with the church, baptistery, cemetery and tower and boy oh boy is it the winner of theprize for tacky souvenirs! Booth after booth of souvenirs line the square and the streets surrounding. Little towers on everything you can think of. A cup and saucer, the cup is made to lean so the tower looks straight! Two foot leaning towers THAT LIGHT UP. And the vendors were pushy too!
We also had a side tour of another old Tuscan town called Lucca. We were led from one lovely old church to the duomo along the city walls. Lucca is mostly a pedestrian city in the historic center and was historically quite a rich and independent city. By the time we got back to the bus we were all exhausted and decided our brains were about to explode with all the information! I think we are beginning to get tired of travelling and taking in so much info every day.
We made our way to the hotel near Florence. I say near because not only was it not central, it was in another town about a 30 minute bus ride away! However it was next to a train station where you could get the train right to the center of Florence! This was also disappointing that we were that far away from the center of the city.
Florence! Too bad that it was the end of our trip because I know I didn’t appreciate it as much as I would have had we started there. It was a case of information overload and homesick as well. Three weeks away is a long time with so much to do and take in. First thing in the morning we went to the Piazza Michelangelo where there is a reproduction of David and a fabulous view over Florence where we had a group picture taken. Then to the center of town where we had a look in a leather factory and then met a local guide for a walking tour around the main squares of Florence, the political centre and the religious centre by the duomo and saw the bronze doors on the baptistery which are only reproductions as the originals are being restored. Denise and I escaped before seeing the duomo museums so we could go to the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David which is so beautiful and so real looking you would think he would step right down off the pedestal. We left there, found a bar and had a light lunch and made our way past the San Lorenzo market to the Uffizi Gallery about 1 p.m. Good timing as we didn’t have to stand too long in line. We bought our tickets and a lovely book on the gallery.
We went through the Uffizi Gallery although the best rooms are closed for restoration Which meant we didn’t get to see the paintings by Michelangelo, Rafael, Rubens, among others. We did see Botticelli and one beautiful one by Leonardo da Vinci though his main room was closed too. I did go into the Santa Croce church which has a lot of tombs and memorials to Italy’s top genius’s like Leonardo, Rossini, Michelangelo, Galileo and I also saw one small one to Marconi. Santa Croce is quite old in its origins too. Denise was really getting tired and though I felt like I might have my second wind I didn’t want to leave her to wander alone and go across the Ponte Vecchio so we found our meeting point for the bus and waited for about an hour, resting our feet and chatting to the other tour members as they arrived back as well. Most of us went back to the hotel tired that day. The meals in that hotel were cafeteria style and we felt rushed. There were several groups in the hotel and the staff in the restaurant seemed a bit cranky trying to move everyone along so the next group could get on with things. We just wanted to go home by this time!
And so our tour ends. An early start in the morning (about 5:30 a.m.) and a long drive cross country to Treviso airport outside Venice where we dozed part of the way on the bus. We flew back to Gatwick on another crowded charter flight and were bussed to the hotel after saying goodbye to some of our favourite fellow tour people. We had dinner with another couple and flew home the next day.