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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Tour of TUSCANY - a day trip from Florence

We had managed to do a day tour of the much written about Tuscany region through Walkabout Florence. The intention being to get an essential experience of the region and the tour helped accomplish just that.

We toured Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa along with lunch at an organic vineyard. All three were beautiful little towns, but unfortunately very heavily touristed again. 

Being Wednesday the day we visited, it was the market day of Siena and we got a glimpse of the local life, as the locals purchased fresh produce of fruits, vegetables, meat and fish. Also, street food and garments were on display to attract both locals and tourists.


But one thing we noticed was that there were no new buildings, skyscrapers or complexes. Locals still preferred to go traditional by visiting the weekly market for their supply of groceries.

We saw the oldest surviving bank of the world called Monte dei Paschi di Siena with several branches across Italy even now. 

Monte dei Paschi di Siena Bank
A unique feature of the city was that it was divided into 17 contrades (neighbourhoods) each practically self-sufficient with a mayor, church, museum, fountain and even a flag and their distinctive colours. As we walked from one neighbourhood to the next, we could see that even the street lamps took colours of the respective contrade it was located in.  


Mobile photograph depicting the colors of the "Caterpillar" neighborhood
Our local guide explained that the concept of contrade was taken very seriously such that when a child is born, the contrade is decided depending upon the mother’s / father’s or contrade in which the child is born, post which even a civil baptism is conducted by the mayor and this just as your mother/father could never be changed during your life. There were extreme rivalries between certain contrades which got extremely serious during Palio, the annual horse race event. During Palio occurring on  July 2 and August 16 for which preparations take place throughout the year on the main Piazza del Campo, a beautiful shell shaped square, infact one of the most beautiful I had seen during our trip.



We were also taken to the famous Siena cathedral, which had extraordinary work both on the exterior and interior with its exemplary fa├žade, beautiful mosaic, exquisite stained glass windows, striking sculptures by Donatello, Bernini and Michelangelo including a self–portrait for one of the work. The central symbolic colours of black and white marble were found across the church.




Post which we visited a vineyard called FattoriaPoggio Alloro where we were given a small tour of the wine making and were explained how that since they used the term agriturismo –“agricultural tourism”, they were permitted to use only copper as a pesticide and  the ingredients of all the dishes on our lunch menu besides cheese were sourced fresh from the farm, including extra virgin olive oil.

Our lunch was simple yet hearty comprising of fresh bread, pasta in a tomato/beef sauce, cold cuts and a fresh salad with tomatoes and greens. It also included 4 types of wine – 2 red, 1 white and a dessert wine. For dessert, we were served with biscotti , hard biscuit which was to be enjoyed by dipping into the dessert wine.

We enjoyed over lunch the scenic landscape dotted with the symbolic Tuscan cypress, olive trees, grapevines and cross–cultural conversation with our fellow tour companions.

We next visited the small walled medieval hill town of San Gimignano and relished on a gelato from an award winning gelateria called Gelato Dondoli which cooled us instantly. The streets were lined with several kinds of shops selling souvenirs, food products among many other things.


Unfortunately, the summer heat was at its peak at the time hindering us to enjoy and imbibe completely the beauty of this little town.

Next, we headed to our last stop-Pisa and lo behold, even after seeing numerous photographs of the leaning tower, getting a glimpse in actual left me spellbound.

The main attraction of the town is Field of Miracles, which was breathtaking with the collective view of the Cathedral, the Baptistery and the Bell Tower (Leaning tower).


We also had tickets to the climb the top of the tower and the ascent of 296 stops was extremely steep and slippery. On reaching the top, the view was quite spectacular but having said which, I enjoyed the tower more from the outside standing below.


We reached back extremely exhausted but contented with this essential experience. Maybe in the coming years, we would hopefully get a chance to savour this region at a relaxing and gradual pace.

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