At Sea-1

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At embarkation. Wonder if they will take photos of at disembarkation. They better have a wide-angle lens to include us after the full 30 day cruise.

Rotterdam is a relatively small ship. At 60,000 gross tons, it carries @1400 passengers, which is two-thirds the size of the newest Holland America ship, the Koningsdam, which is 99,000 gross tons and carries 2650 guests. Some of our passengers will be disembarking in Barcelona after 14 days, while others will join us in Barcelona for the next 16 days ending in Rotterdam. We are surprised at the number of passengers on board for the full 30 days. It promises to be a superb shared experience.

We found the way to our cabin, 3391, located on the lower promenade deck near the aft elevators and stairwell. As expected, we have a view across, and quick access to, the promenade which encircles the ship. It will make checking the weather easy and allow the outdoors to be just three doors away. Perfect! Storage is not an issue, we have plenty of closets and drawers, but we need more floor space if we’re going to live here for a month!

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One simple solution is to opt for the twin bed arrangement.

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Moving around will be much easier after we unpack and store the luggage under the beds.

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The refrigerator we ordered is using up leg space under the desk, but who wants to drink warm chardonnay???

Which brings us to a great problem-solving solution. Delivered to our cabin before sailing, this beverage card solved the biggest issue facing one of us in the month ahead:

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At Sea-2

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Horseback riding is available onboard, but appropriate dress is required.

(See below)

Strange, the Rotterdam doesn’t seem like an older ship, but the riding attire seems somewhat dated.

Seas are calm, temperature around 70 degrees. We are about halfway to our first port in Funchal, Madiera, a Portuguese island off the western coast of Africa. The captain better speed it up. We are all gaining weight quickly from all the inactivity. I’m thinking Mah Jongg does NOT burn many calories, especially wine calories.

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Funchal, Madeira

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After 8 days of an extremely calm sea, the captain found the island of Madeira, belonging to Portugal, and we docked at Funchal, the second largest city on the island. Madeira is uphill, no matter in which direction you head. Our tour of only six per van, prearranged on Cruise Critic by Jacqui, was in a Mercedes Vito with plenty of space and excellent views from within.

Our first stop at the city market was, as markets always are, an introduction to the local staples: fish, meats, fruits, vegetables and, in Funchal, beautiful arrays of flowers of unusual species not seen growing naturally as here in Madeira.

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These are two species of Protea, of which there are scores of examples.

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The market seafood area was filled with fresh choices and AMAZINGLY clean.

 

It was a day of astounding views as we climbed to the 6,000 foot level and ended up above the clouds. The island is lush and green with flowers everywhere, even though the peak season of color is another month or so away.

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Our Rotterdam can be seen far below in the center of the photo as we climbed to the top of the highest point. In a short time, the village, and our current home, would be obscured by the clouds.

Lunch for our 3 taxis was shared at a local restaurante, and consisted of beef kabobs on 4 foot skewers, hung in the center of the table, one skewer for each couple, and the local garlic bread (amazingly fresh and unique), corn fritters, french fries, and a salad of carrot, tomato and beets with olive oil only. I’m not sure we had exercised enough to deserve such a feast.

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Our descent took us past the local golf course:

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This practice putting green was the flattest area of the entire 27 holes.

Our day was full, our bellies were full, and our ship was departing at 5P. By 4:15 we were back in time to board and prepare for yet another day at sea, Sunday, April 9. It will be our last day at sea before reaching the continent and our first port at Cadiz, Spain, from which we will venture to Seville. We heard onboard that passengers on Holland America Koningsdam, having left Fort Lauderdale on the same day but are scheduled to arrive 1 day earlier at each port until Cartegena, ran into 2 days of VERY rough seas. Location, location, location. Guess it’s all about location.

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The good news above all is that it will no longer be necessary to set our clocks FORWARD an hour almost every night. We are now 6 hours ahead of the US eastern seaboard. Losing an hour a day so frequently produces a very short overnight and loss of sleep. The Queen is still looking perky, but it’s very early in the trip.

Cadiz, Spain to Seville April 10, 2017

Each evening after dinner, the creatures continue to invade our living space.

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Monday, April 10, required us to rise before dawn for our adventure from Cadiz, Spain, to Seville, about an hour and a half away. Our Holland America tour bus arrived on time at 10A in Seville, and our tour guide, Francesco Soriano was waiting as we left the bus. He proved to be invaluable as the day was busy with both the Alcazar and Seville’s magnificent Cathedral, third largest in Europe, after St Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London. Semana Santa, southern Spain’s Holy Week processions, clogs the streets with participants arriving from all over southern Spain’s Andalucia region.

The Alcazar, dating from the 10th century and built by the Moors, was rebuilt in the 14th century for the Christian King Pedro I, but even the rebuild was done by Muslim workmen. The intricate tile floors and decorative walls reflect the craftsmanship of some 300 artisans required to complete the task.

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We stood in the room where Columbus, returning from the New World, waited to meet Queen Isabella. Simple furnishings probably graced the rooms, so as not to compete with the intricate details of the floors, ceilings and walls. Note the open door on the upper balcony. It allowed music from below to reach the upper floors. An early example of an amplifying system, I suppose.

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The gardens are magnificent, as were the garden’s permanent residents.

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The peacock and duck on the left are inseparable friends, unless food is involved. The peacock looks like he is the eventual winner.

The Cathedral of Seville is built on the site of a mosque built of brick which was torn down in 1401. The high altar, protected by a Renaissance grille, is the largest ever made at 65 feet tall with 44 scenes from the life of Jesus and Mary. It is carved from walnut and chestnut and covered with a staggering amount of gold leaf. It took 3 generations to complete (1481 to 1564). Baby Jesus in the manger is in the bottom row, middle, and the Crucifixion is at the top, a dizzying height.

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The Cathedral is the final resting place of the remains of Christopher Columbus. He was buried in northwest Spain, where he died, then moved to a monastery in Seville, then to the Dominican Republic, which was his request, then to Cuba. When Cuba gained independence from Spain in 1902, he was again moved to this final resting place. In 2006, DNA samples confirmed the validity of the remains.

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His casket is carried by 4 kings, representing the regions of Castile, Aragon, Leon and Navarre. Leon has a cross with a pike end, piercing a pomegranate, the symbol of Grenada, the last Moorish-ruled city to be recaptured, driving the Moors from Spain in 1492.

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A typical sarcophagus found in the Cathedral, this one holding the remains of an archbishop of Seville.

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The baptismal font is large enough to be a reasonably-sized hot tub.

With the crowds gathering for Semana Santa, and the area around the Cathedral becoming a pedestrian-only sanctuary, Francesco secured the last taxi allowed in to the area, which allowed us to ride quickly back to our bus and return to the Rotterdam.

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Two tough days, and the Queen is still looking reasonably perky, although the hair has been replaced by a hat, due to the high winds that normally inhabit Cadiz.

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Malaga, Spain April 11,2017

With a very early start, Malaga, Spain, proved to be a most interesting day. Our choice for the port included a Holland America tour to the Gibralfalo Castle, a Moorish fortress overlooking the city, and the cathedral built between the 15th and 17th centuries, and a secondary Cruise Critic tapas tour engineered by Nick, a fellow passenger from Alaska.

Malaga itself is believed to be the oldest city in western Europe, probably settled around 1100 B.C. by mariners arriving from the north of Africa. Cadiz, Spain, visited yesterday, is a century younger, somewhere around 1000 B.C. The city is amazingly clean and was bustling with visitors for the Semana Santa. It was Tuesday of Holy Week.

Arriving at Gibralfalo Castle, we found the tour to be on rough cobblestones, with steps unavoidable. Judy opted to wait at the entrance and enjoy the photos at a later date. The views over the city below attested to the castle’s strategic location to defend against invaders.

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Rotterdam was in view at the docks below, as was the still active bullring, with the best seat in the house being from above, although similar to a bleacher seat.

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Inside, the fortress was like a garden, although fortifications were plentiful.

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Returning by bus to the city, a recently discovered Roman theater was our next stop, obviously still in the excavation stage.

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With a unique altar including a glass-encased statue, the cathedral sits very near the grandstands erected for the Samana Santa parade (procession), as it will end there.

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Note the decorative maroon balcony hangings lining the entire route.

Leaving the tour, we joined our tapas tour right behind the grandstands. What a unique lunch we had at three different bars. Just the nine of us had more food to share than we needed, but the choices were delightful. Summer soup with seafood, snails, jamon (ham) and cheese sandwiches and others too numerous to mention. When the plates were empty, we just moved to the next bar.

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Note the jamon hanging just behind Brian (on the left), the multiple wines and liquors just behind Nick, and especially Amanda, our guide for this memorable event.

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Finding a cab back to the ship was a challenge as, by now, the streets were pedestrian only to accommodate the crowds. We missed the parade by a few hours, but we were part of the throng gathered to enjoy this unique Andalucian observance of Holy Week. How unique it is! Our legs were barely functional, and Rotterdam was a welcome sight!

Cartegena, Spain April 12, 2017

Today is a very short port day in Cartegena, Spain, with arrival at 7A and departure at 1:30P. It is a walkable city, but out of four shared legs, none were functional. We had total muscular failure, having spent over 8 hours walking Tuesday in Malaga. Guess the tapas tour to 3 restaurante was our limit for any 24 hour period.

Today, out of our @1150 passengers onboard, about a third never left the ship. We had lunch outdoors by the pool, visited with friends leaving the cruise tomorrow in Barcelona, and caught up on overdue laundry. A very much needed relaxing day. Onboard friends Sam and Barbara from Atlanta will be visiting Hilton Head first week in May, just after we arrive back home on April 30. We already have plans to meet this delightful couple for a dinner during that week, just to continue the laughs we shared onboard. We spent time also with Ron and Marie from Holland, MI., sharing some vino and a couple of dinners onboard. Unfortunately, they too, will be leaving the cruise in Barcelona. We will miss all the new friends we met onboard and hope our paths cross again soon.

Lunch by the pool was relaxing. It was 72 degrees, the retractable top was open, and tacos were served on deck. Does it get any better??

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Obviously, the tacos were dismissed, and their place was taken by a kiwi tart, with custard and a strawberry with whipped cream. Can’t find that at home!

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Saying goodbye to Cartegena was easy. We never saw enough of it to make leaving difficult.

Barcelona, April 13, 2017

Arrival in Barcelona completes the first 14 days of our month-long voyage, and is the end of the cruise for some and the beginning of a 16 day cruise through Western Europe for ourselves and others. This morning we bid farewell to those who shared this especially calm and warm crossing.

Having visited Barcelona previously at the end of our 10 day Mediterranean voyage with Katherine and Jim, our friends from Tallahassee, FL, our only goal this trip was to see the INSIDE of Gaudi’s Familia Sagrada, the amazing masterpiece of this architectural genius. The exterior photos will have to suffice for now, as our camera has decided to have a malfunction of the battery door, and tape will be required to allow further use. Inside photos were taken on my cellphone, but I lack the connection to download them to my laptop for publication. Suffice it to say, for now, that the inside is worth the wait.

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This is an enlargement of the sculpture on one side of the Nativity Facade. Note the birds in the sculpture framing the scene.

Inside, the windows are beautiful:

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One of the side wall windows extols morning colors:

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The opposite wall evening colors:

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The altar is dramatic, in typical Gaudi style.

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The surrounding pillars blossom into trees above.

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The view to the rear is almost as dramatic.

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Note how the pillars morph into trees, and high above, the discs on the two pillars shown are medallions of 2 of the 4 gospels. The other 2 are nearer the front altar.

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Even the floor is unique.

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Above the Nativity Facade entrance outside is a sculpted nativity scene, detailed here:

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The entire scene so wonderfully detailed it could be studied for hours.

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Construction began in 1883, with Gaudi exclusively devoting his time beginning in 1911. In 1926 he was hit by a tram and killed. Construction continues today with completion scheduled in perhaps another 10 years.

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Marseille, France April 14, 2017

Today is the first French port on our tour around the Mediterranean and Western Europe, having broken our string of four consecutive ports in Spain. We will return to this beautiful and welcoming country later in our travels. Our tour today will take us out of Marseille to the quaint and former capital of the Provence region, called Aix-en-Provence, a 45 minute drive into the French countryside.

Spring has found this area of France and the fields are green and the people are out and about on this sunny and 72 degree day. A carousel nearby will be much busier when we return to our drop-off spot some 3 hours later.

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The welcoming fountain is a centerpiece of the wide avenues and sidewalks.

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We find Aix to be pedestrian-friendly with wide avenues filled with residents, visitors and students. 40,00 of the town’s 135,000 inhabitants are students and spring break finds them out and about, especially along the tree-shaded Cours Mirabeau. A fountain in the center of the street dates to 1743, and produces water at a constant 73 degrees.

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The Cours is lined on one side with shops and banks, while the other has multiple cafes inviting a quiet stop to take in the scenery. The young French girls prefer their skirts quite short, which adds quite a lot to the scenery.

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The croissants with apricot marmalade were a delight, but we soon noticed a sweet shop across the street with the name “Bechard” over the entry. Rick Steves advises NEVER to pass Bechard’s without iinvestigating. The windows, both inside and out, were an unbelievable delight to behold.

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The Easter chocolate display was especially inviting. How do the residents stay thin with this temptation on the main thoroughfare??100 4462

A few purchases later we waited for our transport and our return to the Rotterdam in Marseille.

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The wind-blown look adds to the illusion of motion, despite being weighted down with bags of chocolate and almond paste calissons, lavender-scented soaps and packets of lavender scents.

Monte Carlo, Monaco April 15, 2017

Arrival in Monaco on Saturday, April 15, proved to be an eye opener. The obvious display of wealth (and the hidden numbers learned later) is astounding.

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The Rotterdam may not have been the most expensive ship in port. The harbor and marina is quite a greeting.100 4566

New construction is everywhere, most of it owned by the Grimaldi family. Prince Ranier, who married Princess Grace Kelly, was a Grimaldi, the ruling family of Monaco. Outside of Vatican City, Monaco is the smallest country in the world, less than 1 and a half square miles, and also the most densely populated. Apartments are everywhere, including new construction which will only ad to the density.

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This new complex has caused quite a stir for 3 reasons. First, its height has caused many complaints as it’s location has blocked the view of the sea for many residents. Second, it’s shadow causes many residents to lack sun for two or three hours a day. Third, the top two floors comprise the penthouse. The complex was completed 2 years ago and the penthouse is still on the market. The price?? Three hundred million euros! By any monetary standard, that’s a LOT of cash!!

Our tour today was first to the top of a nearby mountain to take in the view of Monaco, then on to Nice, France, only a half hour away, by the great (highest) corniche, and the middle cornishe, and a return along the lower corniche at sea level. Along the way we saw the homes of Elton John and Sting, and former homes of Tina Turner, Greta Garbo and Errol Flynn.

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The Rotterdam in the harbor is dwarfed by the towering apartments and surrounding mountains. Sorry about the dates on the photos. My camera battery door is still acting up and I’m tired of resetting the date each time it malfunctions.

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Architecture on the homes is relatively ornate, and the views over the Mediterranean come at a very high price. Homes like this and quite a few apartments rent for around 30,000 euros A MONTH!

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The village of Eze and also Villefranche have beautiful bays with beaches teeming with people in the summer.

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Nice has pedestrian-friendly streets with plentiful transportation by tram and bicycle in an attempt to minimize congestion.

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Bicycles are free for a half hour. Put in a two euro coin to release the bicycle, and if it is returned even to a different location within 30 minutes, the two euros are returned. How do it know?? Keep the bicycle longer at a rate of 5 euros per hour. It sure beats walking.

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Judy even got photobombed by a passerby.

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The city is clean, architecturally beautiful and new construction must blend with the old city to minimize the shock of new additions.

Our tour, thankfully, only lasted four hours. We were happy to return to the Crow’s Nest on board for cocktails before dinner. Yup, it’s time to eat again!

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We will stay in Monaco until midnight, but that’s well past the time we will see our latest stateroom creature, and retire for the night.

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I HATE snakes, especially where I’m sleeping.

Livorno to Siena and San Gimignano April 16, 2017, Easter Sunday

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The stonework is beautiful, and the carvings and statuary attest to the talent of the artists.100 4626

The interior uses the same stone as the exterior, and the result is certainly unusual.

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The view to the rear main entrance is even more amazing.

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Side altars are mostly carved statuary.

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Even the floors display marble artistry.

Returning to the van, we drove another half-hour to San Gimignano, known as the Manhattan of Italy.

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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.

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Note the Moorish influence in the architecture over the gate, even in Italy.

The approach into the city is narrow and all cobblestone. 100 4652

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?

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Outside the gates, an outdoor restaurant commanded an outstanding view. 100 4641

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!!

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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.

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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.

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Even after 9 hours, the Queen looks to be ready for tomorrow and Umbria.

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