TuscanyPosted: March 30, 2011
The next stop on the reminiscing tour of my holiday 20 years ago was Tuscany! Beautiful, superb, light filled Tuscany. It’s not difficult to see why this area of Italy attracts so many tourists and has filled so many books. Tuscany meets all the superlatives that have been heaped upon it. It is quintessentially the Italy that I most think of. Fine long days, fresh country produce, green, productive, rolling hills, almost looking like lawns of green moguls! A gently, undulating patchwork of paddocks and fields, dotted with straight rows of storybook pencil pines.
The word Tuscany is derived from Etruscans, the race who settled in Tuscany, before Christ! Before the Romans! Dating back to 2500 – 2700 years ago. Etruscan settlements were frequently built on a hill —the steeper the better—and may have started the Roman and Medieval trend. Villages surrounded by thick walls, streets a maze, small and winding, anything to make live difficult for an attacking enemy. Their communities were advanced intellectually and socially, developing art, music, food, architecture, engineering and religion.
Siena and San Gimignano, two Etruscan towns, were where I most wanted to savour. We arrived in Siena in time to park the car, pick a restaurant, and program Tom Tom Ezmeralda to lead us to walk there for lunch. (It was a fantastic recommendation from the Lonely Planet, “typical” and delicious, me ordering a classic bean and 6 vegie soup and Tony ate Tripe!!!)
The city is beautiful. Its feel is different to the many of the older villages we have visited. The streets are wider, the buildings are more often brick, a gorgeous red hue colors the city. Of course, its streets still duck and weave and lead to a city center, the Il Campo. It’s a large sloping area, surrounded by shops and hotels, a town hall and a church. It is most famous for a spectacle we will miss this year, but certainly hope to return to see. Il Palio is held twice a year in July and August. In honor of the Virgin Mary there is celebrating, pageantry and, why not, a horse race!!!!, around the sloping, stone paved Il Campo. Sounds dangerous doesn’t it? The square becomes packed with people, we have seen the photos and there is not even standing room. 10 horses, representing surrounding town districts, line to race! The jockeys, in the usual colorful array of jockey silks, the horses, BAREBACK!!! The race, three times around Il Campo at full speed, takes only a minute or two, but the tension and excitement is edible! It’s all about the horse and it does not really matter if the rider falls off. The first horse to cross the finish line is the star. Many of the surrounding restaurants have amazing photos of the day on their walls. It looks wild, fun and out of control.
After browsing the wonderful shops, buying books and maps, visiting a Museum of Torture!!! (quite fascinating but much to gruesome to describe here on my pretty blog!), we decided to up stumps and camp at the foot of San Gimignano.
As is custom in this off peak season, we had our choice of parks and camped in the small carpark outside the cities main gates. People live in Siena, being a student city it is full of life, vigor, young people. San Gimignano, whilst we are not sure of the number of people actually living here, closes down at night and opens again for the tourists the following day. It’s a real live city within a museum, or perhaps the other way around. And, its divine. Once again, originally an Etruscan village, everywhere you look is beauty, perfectly clean, perfectly organized, perfectly preserved, with stunning views over the Tuscan countryside. I enjoyed our evening stroll, reliving my visit of 20 years ago, looking out across the lush productive land, from the same spots, feeling the same dreamy sense that life is good!
The next morning we walked back through the city early. We wandered down the back streets and Antonio spotted a couple of local men, washing down their prosciutto with a red wine vinegar, half to remove the salt and half to preserve the meat. They happily agreed to a photo which considering they were probably out early to avoid the hoards, I was most grateful. It was market day, always a good situation for us! As we wandered from town holding our lunchtime, fresh, gourmet goodies bags, the tourist buses were arriving. Its on the tourist day trip agenda from both Siena and Florence and yet, is still one of my all time favorite spots in Italy.