Easter Sunday found us in our first port in Italy, Livorno, which is the gateway to Florence, Pisa and all of Tuscany. We had contracted with “Unforgettable Tuscany”, a local tour company, to provide a van and driver for our party of 8 Cruise Critic members to visit Siena and San Gimignano. The crowds in Florence were quite enough the last time we visited, let alone on Easter Sunday, so a drive into the Tuscan countryside was a much better choice.
Our driver, Max (Maximillian), was waiting right at the gangway with a Mercedes Vito, which provided plenty of space for Jacqui and Jose, Frances and Jose (Pepe), Bill and Marci, and ourselves, with plenty of space in the trunk for the walker and various belongings, including coats, which proved to be NOT necessary.
The drive to Siena was about a hour and a half, and Max related history along the way, including the long list of celebrities he has met during his employment as a driver. Suffice to say that Elton John, Sting, Nicole Kidman, Ringo Starr, Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, and U2 were only a few of a very long list. To his credit, no personal stories were shared about any of them.
The Italian countryside is very green, considering it is only mid-April. Wysteria are in bloom everywhere, along with local colorful flowers, none of which are of the bulb variety.
Cypress trees are everywhere, and add a unique vertical look to the landscape. Houses are mostly of stone because it is so prevalent, and roofs are clay tile, because clay is also readily available. We are overwhelmed by the beauty of the Tuscan countryside.
Our arrival in Siena underscores the choice of hiring a private driver. We pass multitudes of people walking uphill in narrow streets to reach the square where we find the cathedral, known as the “one-armed lady”, because the second and matching bell tower was never added. Seems the funding ran out and it was abandoned. We were dropped off in the square, immediately on the side of the cathedral, referred to as the duomo.
Before moving on, a local pastry shop right off the square was too inviting to pass by. Tea and a pastry should fortify us enough to see the cathedral, inside and out.
Again because of the abundance of stone, the quarrys being of two different colors, the cathedral is architecturally beautiful and unusual in color, inside and out.
The stonework is beautiful, and the carvings and statuary attest to the talent of the artists.
The interior uses the same stone as the exterior, and the result is certainly unusual.
The view to the rear main entrance is even more amazing.
Side altars are mostly carved statuary.
Even the floors display marble artistry.
Returning to the van, we drove another half-hour to San Gimignano, known as the Manhattan of Italy.
The towers were built by wealthy families in the middle-ages as a defense against invaders (like Florence, who was always at war with Siena). Families found safety in the top of the tower, while the only entrance, at the base, was protected by their soldiers. With no gunpowder for cannon or firearms, hand-to-hand combat was the norm. A single door at the base could be more easily defended. Thirteen of the towers remain out of about 30-some believed to have been built.
The entrance to the city was protected by a wall and gate, which provided primary defense.
Note the Moorish influence in the architecture over the gate, even in Italy.
The approach into the city is narrow and all cobblestone.
Fortunately, a gelato shop fell right into our narrow path. When in Italy, NEVER pass a gelato shop (or a bathroom). Do you recognize that hand, partially hidden by the waffle wafer?
Outside the gates, an outdoor restaurant commanded an outstanding view.
The umbrellas provide shade for the diners at a lower level.
Our choice, however, depended on the wine list. Sometimes, a list isn’t necessary. A choice can be made just by looking inside at the walls. This was a no-brainer!!
The photos on the wall are of the famous horse race in Siena, where the race is around the square. The first horse completing the required number of circuits being the winner, with or without a rider.
More Tuscan countryside, with a stop for refreshment, brought us to the end of our 9 hour day. It was tiring, but beautiful and memorable. Tuscany really invites one to stay awhile and travel the side roads, with new views at every turn.
Even after 9 hours, the Queen looks to be ready for tomorrow and Umbria.