Siena, for the lack of a better title….

Day 2 in Siena.  Today we tackled some other big sights of Siena.  Since we were all churched, duomoed, Madonnaed and Baby Jesused-out, we went for the politics—Siena’s Il Campo is the location of the traditional city council and governmental area.  But first, let me give you a picture of a relic.  These things are ultra creepy and rather weird (maybe it’s because I’m not Catholic).  This relic skull was in the Duomo Museum,  

but today we went to another church—San Domenico— where Siena’s patron saint: Saint Catherine is revered, along with your usual menu of spiritual forces.  But the thing that tipped the scale for me was this:

This, people, is Saint Catherine’s mummified head and her thumb which is prominently displayed and made into an altar in the church.  (These last two pictures are not mine, I retrieved them from flickr)

All right, back to the subject at hand…. So, we headed for the old civic center of Siena which has a 330 foot clock tower and an adjoining civic museum.

We waited in line for nearly 45 minutes to climb the tower—they only allow 25 people in at a time and I really felt like I was a car at a lengthy stoplight.  People behind me were crowding up at my back, tailgating me.  I was starting to lose it, and then finally the heavens opened up and we were allowed to come in.  We climbed and climbed and climbed…..

Until we reached the top, where we were met with the best bird’s eye view in Italy (according to me and Mr. Rick Steves)

We managed to find our hotel room off in the distance, thanks to Tom’s clothesline of laundry hanging out of our hotel window and stared at the ants milling down around the fountain.

On our way down, I peered into a window and saw the clock’s mechanics:

After we climbed the clock tower, we went into the adjoining Civic Museum which had some excellent secular art and governmental allegory and while poring over the frescos in there, I found some sixteenth century graffiti!

Bell at top of the tower:

The baroque exterior decorations of the Siena Duomo.  They crammed every single artistic and religious convention on this poor building:

Back to Florence tomorrow! Ciao.

Which Crayola crayon does this place remind you of?

After Pisa, we made our way south to Siena, where we are at the moment. We’re staying at this really nice hotel with a view to die for.

Siena is, by far, my favorite Italian city.  The tourist crowds are not overwhelming, and we’ve eaten really well since we’ve been here and the sights of this place are really neat.

There was thunderstorm on the first night we were there and Tom took some AMAZING pictures.  Here’s one of them:

Today we saw the Duomo, the Duomo Museum, and the Baptistery.  Lots of iconic and classical artwork.

Floor mural depicting Siena as the center of the universe with the other Italian cities revolving around it.

Floor mural depicting the cycle of Fortune: observe Lady Luck balancing precariously on a ball and rickety boat to demonstrate the instability of fortune.

The baroque interior decorations of the Duomo.

John the Baptist: he always looks scruffy and grumpy.

Then we climbed up the walls of the unfinished church which had a stellar view of Siena.  The tower that juts out of the cityscape is the clock tower of the main square: Il Campo.  We sat there last night people watching.  It’s a neat spot to hang out while digesting your excellently excuted Italian meal.

That’s it for now.  We’re in Siena for two more days and leave for Florence on the 1st of August.  Then we’re catching a flight to Estonia on the 2nd and it’s ”Ciao, Italia!”

Excuse us while we lapse into tired tourism….

Where did we go next? Here’s a picture to clue you in:

Not sure yet? Here’s another one:

Yes, we just HAD to go to Pisa!  The site of the most famous building in the world.  It did not disappoint, and definitely lived up to its claim of fame.  The leaning tower is like an off-kilter wedding cake and it’s not the only building that leans.

The Baptistery and the Duomo also tilt a bit.  You just have to really look at the picture to see it. The whole Campo Miracoli (Field of Miracles) exudes a charming personality and really allows you to rise above the travesty of tourists milling around below. 

Look at all the amateur mimes ”holding” up the tower. Well, when you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em….

The next day, we took a side trip to Lucca, one of the only cities that still has their medieval walls intact.  We took a bike ride around the ramparts.

Pisa has this mural painted by Keith Haring who died of AIDS in 1989. This mural expresses the vitality and joy that pulses throughout the world.

One more funny Leaning Tower picture…..

Of shimmery vampires and clock towers

Our next vacation, which happened about 48 hours after our trip to Cecina Mare (don’t ask me why we did this, it’s just the way it worked out), we stayed overnight at Volterra, the very city that Stephenie Meyer picked for her thrilling and breathless climax to her second book, New Moon.  Volterra is a remote and mysterious hill town with oodles of history, dating back to Pre-Roman times. 

I had a cold while we were there, so I didn’t enjoy my time there as much as I could have.

But, onward with the account:

Volterra is a real medieval town that still has most of its old city walls defining the city perimeters.  The streets were super narrow with odd twists and turns.  Volterra was founded by the Etruscans, then it was twice as big as it is now. 

We stayed at this 500 year old seminary, called Seminario Vescovile Sant’ Adrea still being used to train priests to their holy ways.  The halls were vast, religious and rather creepy at night and during the day.  I wanted to cartwheels and flips down the hall.  Some doors were even bricked up (see the door to the left of where I’m standing in the picture below). 

Nice Italian view behind me.

The clock tower in Volterra where all the vampire action happens. Alas, due to my cold, I did not get to act out the scene where Bella runs across the square to save her monstrous beloved from revealing himself to the crowds, thus condemning himself to certain death by the vampire council.  Rather incoherent? Read the book.

The black and white stripes behind the tower is Volterra’s Duomo.

Dragon lamps inside the Clock Tower.

Alabaster carving is a specialty in Volterra.

This is the Etruscan arch: see the blobs of stone that jut out from the arch? That’s what happens when you leave a statue outside for 2,000 years. It was really cool!

Roman amphitheatre that was uncovered underneath the town landfill in the 1950’s.  WTF???? How can that happen????

Cute cat surveying the tourists down the street. 

Our evening in Volterra:

Then we went back again to Ponteginori and finished out our WWOOFing stint there.  It was long, hot, and rather tedious.  I devoured book after book during our afternoons there.  But there were some high points there:

 Our hosts had a pony that had lots of sweet personality.  Here she is flirting with Tom.

Full moon on our last night at Podere Oliveto.

The lights of Volterra from Podere Oliveto.  It reminded me of a crown decorating the horizon of Tuscany.

Then we left, not without a whole lot of GLEEEEEEE in finishing our WWOOFing adventure in Tuscany.  Next is……

Cecina Mare; the little beach town that could…

Cecina Mare! Cecina Mare!  We will dream of you always!

We got a hotel room for one night that was a few meters away from the water and in the middle of all the beach action at Cecina Mare.

Here we are enjoying our balcony lunch with bread, grapes, olive pesto, cheese and thou:

The water was divine, the beach was rocky and sandy and crowded, but despite it all it was a great place to swim.  Refer to my earlier post for a more detailed version of our time at Cecina Mare.

Notice all the septogenarians wearing binkinis; that and the topless tanning were the most eye-popping parts of being on an Italian beach.

(Just for laughs, compare my lily white skin in the above picture with the beach picture of all the Italian people.  I was FISH BELLY WHITE and got a lot of stares, especially when I put on sunscreen.

When we were there, this radio station hosted a big concert; it was BAD! But everyone milled around like Lady Gaga and the Jonas Brothers were performing. Campy, cheesy, and saccharine to the hilt.  I like my music with a bit of granola, thankyouverymuch.

(When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza piiiiiiiiiiiiie……)

We had to check out of our hotel at 10 am, but we still had a full day at the beach ahead of us, so we decided to rent a beach spot. The beachside resturants claim a portion of the shoreline, set up chairs and umbrellas. 20 euros gets you two lounge chairs, an umbrella, use of the showers and bathroom and a close proximity to the beach.  We got real lucky here, people.  In this picture, this was the last available spot in all the hundreds of chairs, despite its apparent emptiness.

People rent these spots for the whole summer, way ahead of time, whether they’ll be there or not, just so that they can always have a spot if a trip to the beach strikes their fancy at any moment.  The guy who worked the office told us that the area we were in, some families had been renting the same spot since 1962.  The funny thing is, about two days later, we saw an article in the paper that was protesting the ”pay-beaches” (as they’re called) because they dominate the shoreline to a point that it makes it almost impossible to spread a blanket out and have a nice day at the beach without forking over euros for it.

However, we were in heaven with our umbrella and chairs.  We swam out to a ridge of rocks:

and generally had a peachy time at the seashore.

Then we had to go back to Podere Oliveto for one more day……

WWOOFing in Tuscany = HEAT!!!

So when I last left off updating the blog, we had just left steamy Florence and made our way west towards the coast and then 30 minutes inwards towards the Italian wilds to where we’d be WWOOFing for the next two weeks.  We blithely packed our bags and skipped off to the bucolic hinterlands.

On our way there, we spotted a cheery sunflower field; these dotted all the fields in rural Tuscany.  They were all facing the sun and all the flowers lost their petals at the same time about a week later.

We disembarked the bus at this tiny little town that had everyone staring at us (most likely because of our heavy backpacks and just who were those weirdos in Ponteginori?????), called our WWOOF hosts and waited to be picked up and arrived at Podere Oliveto. 

We met them, very nice people from England that had been lawyers in Hong Kong for most of their adult lives and now were retired and living the dolce vita in Tuscany.  Here’s Tom enjoying our first sunset there.

The next morning we got up at seven, ate breakfast and slathered on the sunscreen and got to work after a short orientation of the place. About 30 minutes later, we were dripping wet, seeing spots in our vision, weak-kneed and already tired.  It was f*cking HOT!  The sun beat down with a cruel intensity and it was enough to make you wilt instantly from the all the solar energy being poured down on you.  Here’s the olive grove we worked in during high noon: observe the brightness of the light and turn off your A/C and turn your oven on and sit right by the stove to get an interactive experience of  what it might have been like for us worker ants down there.

It was really hard for us for the first three days, but after we learned to wake up at 5 am, start work at 6am and be finished by 11:30, it got better.  We also worked on other projects that had us working in the shade, so things did improve.  But despite the cruel heat, we had wonderful accomodations:

This is the outside of our lodgings.

And the inside of our lodgings:

(Ignore Mr. Fabio sitting on the couch.  I’m not sure how he got in the picture).

A picture of the grounds:

We worked for five days, doing garden and grounds work.  On the sixth day, we went off to Cecina Mare, a beach town for our two day break…..

Will put in our other Italia pictures up when I get the chance.  Stay tuned!

By the way, Tom and I will be coming back on the 26th of August and we’ll need to find a house for us to move in.  If you see of a place in the Hyde Park area or close by, let us know!

Gelato, yet again….

Gelato, yet again….

The Duomo.

David came along for the ride.

David came along for the ride.