Italy, 2001

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Part 1: Roma (Rome) Part 2: Firenze (Florence) Part 3: Toscana (Tuscany) and more Firenze Part 4: More Tuscany and Siena Part 5: More Roma

In the morning SW and I piled into the car and sped south into the Chianti region. We opted for the scenic route, down a tiny, winding road through hills and valleys almost entirely lined with vineyards. Charming and beautiful. Eventually we hit Greve en Chianti, a small town that has been entirely renovated to serve the hordes of tourists staying in the countless “agrotourismo” in the area – kind of a bed and breakfast/villa in a vineyard or other farm. The town basically served as a giant wine shop. We got a mediocre, overpriced lunch and headed out into the countryside again.
There’s a reason all of your Grand Prix and Formula 1 drivers are Italian – the get practice every day just driving to the grocery store. The roads are narrow and twisting, with oncoming trucks that take up more than their share. Everyone has a complete disregard for all traffic “laws” – stop signs, red lights, lanes, everything is viewed as a mere suggestion. Add to that the vespa vermin in the city that swarm past you whether you’re stopped or not and you have to be an extremely attentive driver. No eating a cheeseburger while talking on the phone while arguing with the kids in the back seat here! In fact, they’ve outlawed cell phones while driving.
But of course that’s a traffic law and is completely disregarded.

This shot was taken from Fortezza Medicea, a fortress on the edge of town.
There's little to see inside, but the views from the walls are worthwhile.

We finally arrived at our destination, Siena, a pretty, medieval town usually with fewer tourists than other towns in the region, but plenty to see.

The Duomo in Siena is very Gothic. The exterior is nice, but the interior is absolutely lovely.

The Duomo staff had uncovered their floors for a two-week display for the first time in a few hundred years so there were more than average the number of tourists, but I’d been to Siena twice and never seen the Duomo floors so we waited in the short line for a look.
I’ve seen etchings with less detail. There are several dozen panels or scenes in the floor done in marble inlay showing scenes from the bible, famous battles and other stories with a message that are marvelous. The compositions themselves would be interesting, but the fact that they’re done in marble is really what keeps you staring at the floor instead of the usual cathedral stance of staring at the ceiling.

Unfortunately the light inside the Duomo was too dim for a shot of the floors, so you'll have to settle for this shot of the walls and ceiling.

Siena was a major player back in the day, like 1300 AD. They were a large city-state competing with Firenze and Pisa. But then a little thing called the Plague came along and wiped out something like 2/3 of the population. Siena never recovered. Sad for them, but good for you because the town population is just now getting back to full capacity and the preservation of the medieval style is a joy to see.

They were doing some serious additions to the Duomo back before the plague hit. The cathedral was going to be the largest building of its time. They got a transept partially done before the labor all died. Now they’ve turned that wall into the Duomo museum and it’s worth seeing just for the incredible view.
In the back of one of the galleries of the Duomo museum, barely even labeled, is a door that leads down a small corridor then up several flights of spiral stairs up into the unfinished wall, finally reaching a tower that is second in height only to the completed bell tower across the piazza. The views of Siena are fantastic and hardly anyone ever makes the effort, though it is a pretty easy hike. We had the place to ourselves for a good 15 minutes.

I took this shot on the way down from the Duomo museum tower of a feather caught in a spider web.
Sorry for the size, but I had to go big to get the detail.

In my opinion if you want a place with the best quality and most quantity of things to see or eat, Italy outshines any other destination. The problem is everyone seems to agree with me and the place is overrun by tourists.
We continued touring the town, through magnificent piazza after piazza and countless pretty streets until it was time to head back. We opted for the less scenic, but considerably faster autostrade on the way home.
We dined at Sergio’s in Dicomano, the place my folks had recommended. We kicked off with a plate of cannelloni, pasta stuffed with cheese covered with a tasty meat sauce. I had a filet that was the best piece of beef I have ever had in my life. Ever. We seriously discussed ordering another one for dessert before we decided our bellies couldn’t take it, though at $9 we could’ve afforded it. A week later we’re still talking about it. I’ve had $30 steaks that couldn’t compare. The beef around Firenze is the finest in Italia, and you’ll pay a bit more for it in the city, but out in the boonies it’s cheaper and sometimes the chef is just as good, or in this case better. Fantastic.
The waiter brought some sort of dessert liqueur and a few pieces of biscotti. The liqueur was particularly nasty if you sipped it, but if you gulped it you were only left with a mildly unpleasant licorice aftertaste.

In the morning we loaded up the car and headed down the highway towards Roma, sad to leave the lazy life in the country but anxious to get back to the city and see what we’d skipped.

They wouldn't allow people to photograph the Signorelli works, but the Orvieto Duomo has an otherwise impressive interior, including these magnificent organ pipes. I wish we'd been there to hear them.

We stopped on the way at Orvietto, a small town perched on a pinnacle of rock, to pick up a couple of bottles of my favorite vino and ogle the Lucca Signorelli paintings in the Duomo. It was under renovation the last time I was in town and you couldn’t see them, so this time I was happy even to pay the small admission fee to get a look. His work is a little more comic book styled than other artists of the day. His colors are vivid and odd, fun stuff.

We had a round of gelato, admired the view from the cliffs, then continued on.

Next Stop: More Roma!

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