San Gimingnano and Siena

Author: , May 20th, 2013

Our dear friend, Bella (Dolly Goolsby) is on the go again, this time in Italy. She has graciously allowed us to republish her travel blogs. Enjoy!

Tuscany - DollyWe are seeing so much, and traveling around the Tuscan countryside, visiting the hill towns, then cooking wonderful Italian meals nearly everyday. We did have a free Florence day on Friday. Everyone did their own thing, saw what they wanted to see, then shared our experiences with each other at dinner Friday night. I was going to write a blog post then, but we had to get up early again Saturday morning to go on another adventure, so I am falling behind in my posts. Now I want to tell you a bit about San Gimingnano and Siena then next post I will tell you about Pisa.

Tuesday morning, we got on a bus that took us to San Gimingnano. I have been there several times, as it is the easiest hill town to go to from Florence, but I never get tired of it. One enters the city through a stone archway in the city wall, and then proceeds up the street to the main square. Of course, you will pass many shops that sell products of the area: sausage made from the wild boar (cinghiale), wine, ceramics, alabaster, olive wood products. But to me, these things, wonderful as they might be, are not the attraction in San Gimingnano.

Rather, the beauty of this old city, in my eyes, is in the hilly streets, the ancient churches, the towers, the absolute breath-taking views of the Tuscan landscapes from some of the vantage points. San Gimingnano is truly a lovely place to visit. Yes, there were crowds of tourists in the most easily accessible areas of the town; therefore, I preferred to explore some of the less visited areas, escaping into the back streets, up cobblestone streets, around another ancient wall, stopping to talk to a cat in the back streets, saying “Buongiorno” to a man who was walking his dog.

At lunchtime, all of us met for lunch. We found a lovely ristorante that had an open terrace with another view of the countryside.

We had just finished our lunch and were waiting for the check, when it started to rain. But we had already had a full day, so we made our way back to the bus stop, buying a few goodies along the way, then came back to Florence. We were all pretty tired, but the rain had stopped by the time we got back, so it turned out to be a nice day altogether.

Thursday morning, the sky was pretty threatening again, but Siena was on our agenda, so off we went again to the bus stop. We arrived in Siena, and of course, it was raining, but not so hard that we couldn’t sight see. We all got to see the Duomo, and toured the inside of that. Once again we had to walk up cobblestone streets, down old stone staircases, around narrow passageways, to see the old city.

Kiri and Patrick wanted to climb up to the top of this tower, but it was closed because of the rain.

We finished our visit to Siena with lunch in a lovely restaurant.

The rain stopped for a brief moment, then started up again, making our trek back to the bus station wet and miserable, but we had enjoyed our visit to Siena, in spite of that.

The weather in Florence was great… No clouds, no rain. After we had a chance to rest up. And clean ourselves up, we walked to Il Latini for dinner. I love that restaurant. Our waiter told us what was on the menu that evening, and we elected to go with a “sampler” menu. We were brought plates of prosciutto and melon, some kind of sausage, pate on toasts, caprese salad. This was followed by dishes of penne pasta with a rustic meat and tomato sauce, small gnocchi with a sauce made from rabbit, ravioli with a fresh tomato and basil sauce. We each chose our own entree. Some had prime rib, some a roasted veal chop, or half a roasted chicken.

Of course, we had to have some of the good red wine with our meal, but we weren’t done yet. They brought a sampler of several different types of desserts, plus vin santo with cantucci to dip in the vin santo, a sparkling moscato to go with the desserts, and limoncello to finish the feast.

We only got a picture of the outside of the restaurant while we waited for it to open up. We were far too busy eating to take pictures during dinner, much to my regret.

My thanks to Kiri, for the pictures on this blog post.

Saturday was another long day, but fun. That adventure will be in the next blog post.

Till then, arrivederci

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Tuscany Day Two: The Bell Tower of Siena

Author: , July 1st, 2012

Siena, Italy

Siena Fruit StandWithin 15 minutes of leaving Monteriggioni, we arrived on the outskirts of Siena, and found parking about a kilometer from the storico centro. We walked up a street that resembled many others here in Italy – a little old, a little run down – until we reached the historic city wall.

Siena WallsThen things changed – old became historic, while run-down became shabby-chic.

We followed the narrow winding street through the historic center for what seemed like miles – past shops displaying multicolored scarves, gelaterias with twenty different flavors, and buildings painted dusky rose, peach, and mango yellow.

Siena AdWe passed churches of both marble and brick, cute little fountains with unicorns and cherubs, locals, and tourists in singles, couples and groups from Italy, other pars of Europe, and many other places around the world.

Glimpse of Central Piazza, SienaFinally, we arrived in the middle of the historic part of Siena, and were rewarded with glimpses down a ramp through an archway of the Piazza del Campo, Siena’s large central piazza, where the Palio, an annual horse rase that pumps competition like blood through the arteries of the city, takes place once a year.

Siena DuomoBut pleasure denied is pleasure increased, so we bypassed the piazza to take in another site first, the grand Duomo of Siena. It’s a beautiful structure that brings to mind the Cathedral on St. Mark’s Square in Venice – with a marble facade and a tall tower in the back.

Antica Osteria da DivoFrom here, we followed the street back to the restaurant we’d chosen for lunch on the advice of our innkeeper.

Called Antica Osteria da Divo, this restaurant occupies what was once an ancient Etruscan crypt – the Etruscans were a people that predated the Italians on the peninsula – and is actually built back into the heart of the rock.

Antica Osteria da DivoWe sat at a table back in one of these caverns, and it was fascinating – just a little musty, with white rock walls that bent up and over our little table like walls of ice.

To start off, we ordered a mixed appetizer of bruschetta, toast and various thin-sliced Italian meats.

Antica Osteria da Divo Lasagne

After we finished these, Mark had a beautiful little lasagna that resembled a stack of skinny pancakes, and I had a fascinating ravioli dish – stuffed with potatoes, green beans and cheese, and topped with a pomodoro sauce and thin (and delicious) slices of asparagus

Antica Osteria da Divo Bread

I asked if this was a typical local dish, but the waiter said no, chalking it up to the creativity of the chef. Apparently the pasa here is made by hand to order, so it takes awhile to arrive, but it’s super fresh.

The “pane” plate was really good too, a nice spread of five or six different little types of bread.

Antica Osteria da Divo BathroomI thought I’d take the chance to show you what a typical restaurant bathroom looks like in Italy – there’s often just one sink area for men and women, with separate water closets opening up off the main room (and when I say room, I mean broom closet), and space is at a premium.  It’s a bit of a claustrophobic experience for Americans who are used to larger spaces.  We just chalk it up to Italian charm.

Piazza del CampoWe skipped dessert in favor of a little merenda (afternoon snack) later, and headed back to the Piazza del Campo. The clouds had moved in and the weather took a bit of a cold turn – even though our weatherman, Marco, had assured us we’d have good weather all day. Poor Mark was shivering the rest of the time in Siena.

Marco in the Piazza del CampoThe central piazza is a broad, paved, curved space with a narrow road wrapping around the whole thing. Once a year, the the street is covered up in dirt, and the Palio is run here, with each of the “contradas” (quarters) of the city contributing a rider. There’s great competition to win the race, and the winner is accorded great honor, especially in his own quarter.

Climbing Siena's Bell TowerThe campanile (bell tower) looms over the central piazza. For just 8 Euro, you can climb to the top of the tower, but it’s not for the claustrophobic or faint-of-heart. Only a limited number of people are allowed up at a time, for a maximum of 15 minutes at the top.

This was the first of two towers we climbed today.

Piazza del Campo from the Bell TowerThe climb started at the courtyard at the bottom. You climb an old brick staircase, and come out on a landing that leads into a locker room, where you must leave any backpacks or purses. You also buy your ticket here.

Then there’s a short flight of stairs and another landing with a view of the piazza below.

Siena ViewYou enter the tower itself, and the real climb begins. The first three or four turns are in a very narrow, low passageway – you just breathe slowly and climb and get through it.

After this, the tower opens up a little, winding seemingly endlessly around a central opening, up and up and up, with occasional holes to let in the sunlight.

Siena Bell Tower BellWe finally reached the first top – the first because there were two more up higher, accessed by steep stairs/ladders. The views from all three levels were fantastic… we only wished the skies had been blue.

The bells here have had their clangers removed, and they’ve been left sitting below the bells where anyone could take them – except that they probably weigh a ton!

We descended the tower and made our way back out of the city, hampered by a wrong turn on the way out of the piazza, but finally we reached the car.

Dolly Travels: Florence, Siena, and Lucca

Author: , May 22nd, 2011

Gay Friendly Tuscany Bed and Breakfasts, Hotels, and Vacation Rentals

Our dear friend, Bella (Dolly Goolsby) is on the go again, this time starting in Paris. She has graciously allowed us to republish her travel blogs. Enjoy!

It has been a busy week for the two travelers. Sharon arrived Sunday night to join me here in Florence for 2 weeks. We just walked around Florence on Monday, letting Sharon get her bearings, and reliving some of the memories of previous visits.

Since the weather was still pretty nice, on Tuesday we took the bus to Siena, a new adventure for her. We started with lunch at one of the many restaurants on Il Campo, the went to the Duomo.

I have been to the Duomo several times, but it is another one of many sights I never tire of seeing. After wandering in the little streets and alleys for a while (as I was lost but didn’t want to admit it), it was time to catch the bus back to Florence.

We spent Wednesday going to San Marco museum, then took the bus up to the little town of Fiesole, that gave us a great view of Florence.

We had lunch there, came back to Florence, and later in the late afternoon, we gathered up some stale bread and went to a park to feed the ducks. I got yelled at by a woman who told me the pieces of bread I was throwing to the ducks, were too big. I didn’t understand everything she was saying, but she indicated that big pieces of bread would choke the ducks.

If you have never had the experience of trying to break up 5 day old Tuscan bread, you simply will not understand that it is impossible to break with your hands… The task is much like trying to break up a brick. I had already done the best I could with it before we went to the duck pond, by cutting and banging it against the counter at home. So now I had to put the pieces on the ground and stomp on them to please the bread Nazi lady. I was afraid not to!

After I had stomped the bread to smithereens, some little kids came running up, wanting to feed the ducks, so I ended up giving the pieces to them as it is always fun to watch kids doing things like that.

After that pleasant experience we came back home, had a quiet dinner and retired for the night.

Today we took the train to Lucca. We had a great time, walking on the wall around the city, going to the amphitheater, looking in the shops. We had a very nice lunch, then waddled our way back to the train to return to Florence.

We are hoping the good weather continues, as we are planning to go to Viareggio on Saturday, then Cinque Terre Monday and Tuesday. We are having a good time, seeing the sights, eating and drinking well, and just enjoying being in Italy.

So, Ciao for now, and I will write again soon.

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Postcards From An Italian Adventure – Siena

Author: , July 23rd, 2010

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Our dear friend, Bella (Dolly Goolsby) is on an extended adventure in Italy. She has graciously agreed to let us republish her travel logs. Enjoy!

Sienna, Italy

Monday, July 5th

Palio, Sienna, ItalyHi, everyone,

Good morning, everyone,
I have not written for a week or so, therefore, thought I had better let everyone know that I am alive and well. I have been staying in Florence, for the most part, except for a day trip to Siena last Wednesday. I will start with that trip.

Siena is a lovely hill town, about an hour drive south of Florence. Twice a year, On July 2 and August 16, Siena has this big event, called the Palio. It takes place in the main town square, the Il Campo. The race is a competition between the 17 contrade (neighborhoods) of Siena.

This race has more significance to Sienese than I can describe in the blog, so you might want to go online and look up “Palio” and read more about it. For the race, dirt is brought in to make a track around the Il Campo. Bleachers are set up around this track, but the poor people who cannot afford the bleachers, like me, pack into the inside of the Il Campo to watch the race.

Palio Trials, Sienna, Italy

I did not go for the actual race, but went two days earlier, to watch the trials. These are held twice a day, for the three days preceding the actual race, but done the same way, and the same fervor.

The riders wear the colors of their contrada, and the horse will have some of the colors in its bridle. The riders ride bareback, make 3 loops around the track, and that is the race. If a rider falls off and his horse continues to run, the horse can win without a rider.

It was crazy, but fun. The entire race lasted a minute, but the pageantry before the race was fun to see. I was glad that I got to see it, and also glad that I went for the trials and not the real thing, because eve at 9:00 in the morning, the crowd was a bit crazy.

Fountain, Sienna, ItalyAfter the race, I did my touristy thing. The big fountain in the square, called the Fountain of Joy, is beautiful. There are usually pigeons walking down the noses of the wolves to get a drink of water. I thought it amazing that, right after the race, there was not a pigeon in sight.

I toured the Duomo and the Duomo museum, had lunch on the square, then headed back to Florence.

I am going to go back to Siena on Friday, and take a wine tasting tour through the Montalcino area, home of Brunello wine. That should be fun.

I am going to close this post now, and write more later, about Florence and my new duckling, Amanda. I have to change apartments today, so need to get packed and ready to go. I am just moving one floor down.

In the meantime, keep me in your thoughts and keep in touch with me.

Ciao for now


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