Siena, Il Palio Firenze and those Tuscan hills

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Where I stayed
Villa Montarioso & Casa Sant’Ansano
What I did
Palio & explore Tuscany

Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Monday, August 15, 2011

After a rather long but uneventful drive we checked into our hotel which I believe now is at other times accommodation adjunct to the seminary next door. Perhaps visiting priests and luminaries get these rooms or other religious for retreat purposes. Anyway, apart form the absence of air-conditioning and good lighting the bedroom with living room and separate bathroom are extremely good value for money. I wish were staying here for the next 8 days as I'll be surprised if our apartment 20k away in Rosia will be as good...fingers crossed.

After unpacking and showering we stepped out to drive into Siena, 4 k away. We met a french couple from Metz and after chatting we all decided ot go in in their car and save the fuel. Not knowing anything about the Palio or that tonight there was to be a rehearsal they happily came along with us. It really was eventful and while I understood there were to be 3 races we were quite tired from standing in the centre for almost and hour. It was exciting lively (tense for me with such a big crowd and us in the middle without an escape) and colourful. I hope my camera video gives some of the feeling in the air. The Palio has a long and complicated story and rather than repeat here what I learned tonight this says it all....  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palio_di_Siena  and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGF5P0QtnnE shows exactly what it was like last month. My videos are not as good, though they are mine without the commentary in the background.

The Piazza del Campo is magnificent in itself but accommodating a small race course is truly amazing. The old town, I'm sure, hold lots of treasures we will want to see but not tomorrow. Seeing the rehearsal was enough for us and we won't venture back again tomorrow. I'm sure the 'real' Palio will not be different or better only more crowded.
I was expecting to see some more fireworks on our way back to the car after dinner, celebrating the Assumption, but there were none.

In the morning we'll go and unpack in Rosia where our hostess has already promised to have a coffee ready for us. After that, with the top down we'll find somewhere to drive to which is going to be less crowded and typical of Tuscany....I hope.

16 Aug- Arriving in Rosia before our apartment was ready we popped off to the supermarket where we spent about 40 minutes in the check-out queue. A good start. After dropping off the groceries we headed off on a route recommended by the manager. First cross country to San Gimignano then to Volterra and back to Rosia with a little variation to avoid going over the same way.

San Gimignano was so crowded and all the car parks were full so we parked some distance away and walked up the hill to the walled village. I must be getting jaded because it was all pretty much same old...same old except for the gellataria boasting the world champion ice-cream maker for 2008. Having missed the ceramics in Vietri we succumb in this place and bought a little to take back to Bangkok. I wish we had bought from the artist in Vietri since what we bought today is factory produced (small factory per the vendor). 

Is it only Italy...no ...shopkeepers everywhere have a pitch and a con. He said we could save 20% VAT if we shipped back to HKG. On doing the numbers it's really 16.8% more than which goes into UPS who probably give him a kick-back as well. Unless you're spending E000's the tax saved will be exceeded by the freight. I guess lots of people jump at this without doing the numbers. I can only assume they don't care about money and really love the items bought costing next to double to be shipped back home. I think the philosophy of the town is ' don;t come as we can't provide parking...just send up the money...".

In Volterra which is smaller and nicer we got into town discovering all parking inside is for residents. However on exiting we did find a legitimate place to park for only E1.2 per hour. We made the most of the hour and saw lots as well as enjoyed a pannini, latte and shared a beer served by a friendly English speaking young Italian woman.

All in all not a bad day's outing as we drove through the famously alluring Tuscan hills in the early evening light. Back home we turned on the TV to glance at the real Palio being contested while enjoying cheese & tomato on crackers washed down with Chianti. 

17 Aug - After breakfast into Siena. Sadly no tennis courts between here and Siena...can't be right. After failing to get anywhere to park in Siena and unwilling to walk up the hill for 1 or 2 k we returned to Rosia frustrated and me angry. 

We'll try again this evening and tomorrow we'll go earlier to Florence. If we again have problems parking or doing what we want to do we'll report back to our landlord and take our leave of Tuscany

They can cope without us as we can be happier without the mess we have found Italy to be for tourists like us who are not accustomed to what is required of a tourist in this country. You need a lot of forbearance and tenacity to get what you want. Not being a person who will queue for a long time to gain entry to anything, I resolve there is very little worth queuing for on this planet that I haven't already seen. If I miss something so be it. I can live without the stress and frustration.

We live in a large city and have spent time is larger and smaller citiesall over the world but have never had to suffer the lack of facilities or conveniences one must endure in the place as a 'normal' tourist. I suppose 5 star travellers don't have to put up with Italy's hopelessness and incompetence and lack of hospitality. No doubt the time to come is in winter when they will kiss your backside to get your custom. Here at our apartment they understand our frustration since they too suffer it when they want to get into Siena and have to park, like tourists, down the bottom of the hill. 

You can understand the privileges afforded a resident but not the absence of facilities for visitors or the shortsightedness in not building covered parking above or under ground and then offering free or even paid bus transport up to the town. It's got me beat how they must think. It's also got me anti Italy and the city authorities and to a lesser degree the inhospitable Italians we keep running into on the roads and in towns and villages. Perhaps they too get sick of the tourists in their country.....but not the euros we spend and put into their pockets.

With the advice of our hostess we returned to Siena at 1730 to give it one more chance. We got straight into the recommended car park and then walked to the escalators and were up at the Duomo in 45 minutes after leaving Rosia. Today entry to the Duomo cathedral was free and in we went to look at this marvellous example of 12th century work and the additions made over the following centuries by many including Donatello. The floor mosaics were almost as interesting as the contents of the library which houses many books all hand written and decorated as the monks used to do on folios about 2 feet by 2 feet.(I still can't say it in centimetres).

After that we returned to Piazza del Campo (post- Palio) and purchased the foulard (scarf) of the August 2011 Il Palio winning contrade  Giraffa (Giraffe) for my favourite daughter-in-law. With that goal achieved we celebrated with a coffee and set about for Rosia getting home to start our belated 1800 cocktails (and dinner preparations).

We'll forgive Siena and give Firenze a chance tomorrow but lave Rosia after lunch so as to arrive late in the afternoon when hopefully many have left the city and the car parks. 

18 Aug - This time the recommended car park in Florence was full and we had to search. After eventually finding one we walked along the Arno past ponte Vecchio to the Santa Croce basilica (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_Santa_Croce,_Florence) and went in paying Euro 5 each for the privilege. 

We were returning just to get a picture of Alighieri's empty tomb and had forgotten about the other heroes honored there. This church is mighty big inside and out and after seeing almost all of it we headed for the Duomo stopping for lunch at Il David which sits in the piazza that accommodates a whole bunch of sculptures (Piazza della Signoria) including one of David (not Michelangelo's original but a copy),  Grand Duke Cosimo by Giambologna, Ammannati's Neptune Fountain, Cellini's bronze Perseus (with the head of the Medusa) and Giambologna's Rape of the Sabine Women. All these next to the Uffizi Galleries with their own crowds. We went through the Uffizi in 1996 and though it would have been good to see all the wonderful art again, we were just too tired for it all. In fact we also didn't go inside the Duomo this time either.

After lunch we went straight on to the Duomo via a shop where we got Susan a new bikini for Valbonne.

  Firenze is just too much...more churches than Adelaide and more to see than in the Louvre. I'd have to admit not only I now prefer newer (fresher) art, my body is also too old for the queuing and standing around hour after hour. I thought we saw plenty including a vast number of buildings badly in need of a paint job. Everything retail was overpriced as one finds in all tourist places and when we finally got back to the car at 1830 we were well and truly ready to take the autostrada back to Siena and just rest.

In fact I think we'll declare tomorrow a rest day in preparation for watching the rugby on Saturday.

19 Aug- No long trip doesn't have it's 'housekeeping' days. For us it was today. After a late breakfast and early lunch we drove to the nearest M-B workshop only to then have to go elsewhere to get the Freon gas tank for the air-con to be refilled. There's a leak somewhere and we'll address that after we get to Valbonne later this month. After the gas refill we then washed the car (sort of). We get to done properly inside and out when in Valbonne. After 8,700 km the car needs some attention. One might even go so far as to say our 18 year relationship also needs some attention after so long together 24/7. In the first 16 1/2 years Susan had a lot of time without me and a lot of freedom to spend it how she pleased. The last year and a half have hobbled her to me and sometimes I suspect that's not all that comfortable for her.

Today's other feature was no photos.

In many ways we can't wait to leave Italy and every day I have been searching for towns in which to spend our last 2 days before joining our family in Valbonne on 25th. I keep coming back to Genoa since every other place is either exhorbitantly expensive ( and we reckon the place is not that special e.g. Portofino or Cinque Terra) or same old same old (a la Lucca). As I sit writing and drinking the remains of the Laphroaig, Susan is watching a coupel of men play tennis.

Where can I see the All Blacks beat the Springboks tomorrow?

20 Aug - Rugby day!  Went to Siena only to discover Sky decided to show 5 Nations and football rather than a top rugby match. We'll go back later in the evening when it's cooler and watch the reply at 2145 and some US tennis from 1900 til then.

We came back however with a new perspective on the Duomo captured in a new photo.

So hot today we must find and buy a proper sunscreen for the windscreen. The big umbrella and a towel are not good enough.

In the end when about to go back I felt so tired and Susan agreed to stay home and go to bed instead.

21 Aug - Late breakfast, nothing planned then out of the blue at midday Sandra and Rick Walters called (Skype) from Paris and not previously knowing we were in Siena gave us their friend's address near Perugia and suggested we stop by and send their best wishes. It looked like a simple 3 hour triangular drive across via Arezzo to Caipori 7 then down to Perugia and back along the foot to Rosia. Three hours after leaving we found Caiporri 7 (with the help of the Carabineri in Citta de Castellano) in Fabbrecce (the village in which Caiporri 7is simply a street). Of course, not having Fabbrecce or a phone number from Sandra made it a wee difficult. In the end it was like chasing the Holy Grail. However, finding Jean and Ugo Tori in their lovely hideaway and to see Jean's studio and her current commissioned piece for the local judge was worth the search, not to mention the welcoming cuppa and exchanging of tales of old Hong Kong.

At 1700 we left for Perugia and reached at 1730 and took the lift up from the car park into town. Unless we missed a lot, it's not a big 'old town' at all and with not much to see by 1830, after coffee and pannini, we were driving away back to Rosia via the foot of the triangle and Castigione del Lago. With the top down and a cool (now only 31.5 C instead of 38.5 C when we left) if not dry dessert breeze we sped down the highway into the north-west and a setting sun and were home for Susan to watch tennis at 2005.

 22 Aug - Only a day to go and we can leave Rosia. I should not have booked for so long and Rosia should have been more interesting. Lay by the pool, go to the supermarket, watch Bloomberg report Gaddafi's fall, markets fall, oil fall, gold rise and treasuries rise and occasionally old tennis matches. Too too exciting a day. Anyway, off tomorrow to Genoa to see if it's simply a big dump or not. I fear the former like Marseilles and Naples and Birmingham and Chicago and .............
 
 
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