Here is a timeline of our 2007 trip to Tuscany, the source for the material on this website:
Il Borghetto / San Gimignano
Arriving at the airport outside Florence, we picked up our Smart Car that served us well for the next week. Finding our way to San Gimignano proved to be fairly straight-forward and I found Italian drivers in general drive exactly like I do. Great! Dealing with a toll booth, however, turned out to be quite a challenge in diplomacy… Once we arrived at our villa, we were stunned beyond belief at how spectacular the view was from our apartment – and how wonderful the accommodations were. Located only a kilometer or so outside San Gimignano, Il Borgetto is a fully restored Italian villa, owned and operated by a local family. They were wonderful. We went shopping, stocked up on the necessities, and prepared our own breakfast every day with the appliances in our full kitchen. Paninis and Italian coffee were to be our breakfast every morning while we sat on the deck and took in the amazing view. San Gimignano is a delightful walled city on a hill and we spent many afternoons – and the occasional evening exploring it’s streets and shops.
The day after we arrived, after doing a bit of research, we headed out for Volterra. It’s a short hop around winding country roads to this classic walled city, which lies roughly half-way between San Gimignano and Siena. We had a great time photographing the passageways, exploring a torture museum (they have two of these) and taking in a parade and festival of some kind in the process. It was cold and a bit windy, but you don’t really notice this when your surroundings are as breathtaking as Volterra.
Perugia – and the annual Euro Chocolate Festival was our original reason for this trip. My wife had been wanting to attend this event on her birthday for several years and so the next day we were off to Perugia. It’s a bit of a schlep from San Gimignano, but when you’re ripping down the highway in a Smart Car and steeped in the history and natural beauty of the Umbrian countryside, the time really flies by.
If you keep your eyes open, sometimes you’ll spot a real gem. and San Lucignano is exactly that. As we’re winding our way through the countryside on our way to Cortona, we spot this little walled city on a hill and decide to investigate. What a treat. Middle of the week. No tourists. No kids (all in school). Not many people at all, since most everyone is at work. This allowed us to explore with no hindrances and their little church is the real jewel in their crown. Beautiful, quiet little town, which yielded some gorgeous images..
And the best meal we had on this trip. Which is saying a lot, since we only had one mediocre meal the entire two weeks and most of them were exceptional. The Trattoria La Grotta turned out to be the best place we ate on the entire trip, and came with it’s own fun story after my wife got herself locked into the bathroom, being freed by the manager to a standing ovation from the patrons. Lovely views from the parking lot at the outskirts of the city.
Castellina in Chianti
This is a lovely little town with a gorgeous cemetery. The thing we found so fascinating about Italian cemeteries in general was the photographs affixed to most of the monuments. Weatherproofed photos are attached to each headstone, so you can actually get a connection to the person interred below. I think this is such a nice touch and we’re starting to see this approach employed occasionally in Texas as well. There is an Etruscan grave site near the current cemetery that I found very interesting. You can go down into the tunnels to get a better idea of the methods employed hundreds of years ago to bury their dead at this location.
Radda (in Chianti)
Another interesting small city. Radda has amazing views from the perimeter of this hilltop city. The typical assortment of interesting passageways and a large monument outside the city gate that, if I could read Italian, would likely have been more interesting…
We now know our way around Siena a LOT better than we ever thought we would. This is due to our return trip from Perugia a couple of days ago. On our way back, I decided to detour through Siena rather than take the highway back to San Gimignano. In retrospect, this was not a particularly good idea at rush hour on a Friday… After circling the city as a snail’s pace three times. Yep. Three times, with the “hey! Didn’t we go past this gas station before!?” statement being uttered more than once… Finally, I exited back the way we had come in, made an exit / U-turn / re-entry to the highway and got the hell away from Siena.
Going back a few days later, it was easy to find our way around. The main plaza is a very cool place for people watching, a good place to eat, and you can see a lot of very interesting historical buildings all from this same vantage point. Siena is a large, interesting city with a lot to see and we spent most of the day there. The photo of the man jack hammering is from Siena. The old man leaning next to him is kibitzing while the younger man works….
After a week in the villa, we turned in our Smart Car and settled into our hotel in Florence. This is an amazing city and an opportunity to see more art in one city than you will ever see anywhere else in the world. With more art per square foot than any other place, Florence is an art lover’s wet dream. There are three versions of Michelangelo’s David in Florence. One overlooks the city from the parking lot on the hill overlooking the Arno river. The other is outside the Academie in the square near the Uffizi Palace. The “real” David, however, is inside the Academie along with “The Prisoners”. The Prisoners, my favorite example of art in Florence, is a collection of incomplete statues by the Master, himself: Michelangelo. They have been dubbed this, because it appears they are trying to escape from the marble that encases them. Michelangelo did not outline his sculptures on the stone, but rather chiseled away at the rock until it revealed the creation within. They are each unique and remarkable – and worth every euro of admission to the Academie.
The other very interesting exhibit in this museum was the musical instrument series. Various types of instruments are rendered in precious metals, fine gemstones and similar materials, producing amazing, sparkling works of art in vivid colors.
The highlight for me in Florence is the Science Museum right off the River Arno, just down the street from the Ponte Vecchio bridge. The thing that fascinated me about this museum was not only what these brilliant minds discovered hundreds of years ago, but the instruments and implements they invented to explore our environment, the heavens and our bodies. Think about it. They had to invent the tools to explore areas they did not understand. I was so impressed. Another very cool display here: Inside a glass egg about 5 inches high and 3 inches in diameter is Galileo’s finger, flipping off the world for all time. I love it.
Florence is a beautiful city with gorgeous cathedrals and no shortage of shopping opportunities. I was fascinated to find an enormous, ornate Jewish Synagogue in Florence. Right at the end of this same street is a Chinese restaurant. I don’t have to explain the significance to some of you.
At 6 am one morning, we boarded the train in Florence, bound for Cinque Terra. If you’ve never been in a train station before dawn, let me tell you it’s an interesting place. It’s fascinating who shows up there at that time. The photo of the man in khaki with the backpack by the glass doors, for instance. He’s asleep. Standing up. With his forehead against the glass. You may notice the exterior restroom building in one photo in the General gallery with “stuff” wedged in on top of it. This is the bedding used by the homeless. They store it there during the day and take it out at night, lining themselves up in a row near the wall of the station. They look like RR track ties.
Off to Cinque Terra. This idyllic destination consists of five fishing villages right on the water. They are quaint, colorful and gorgeous. you can take the train from village to village or walk over the mountains to get from place to place. One of the most popular destinations in Italy, this was a clear favorite for us and I could have spent a week there, studding the history, architecture and inhabitants of these sleepy, Central Italy towns..