Tuscany in Springtime, 2018 travel blog

Sharon, Pienza

Lunch platter, Pienza

Flower display, Pienza

Rolling hills, near Pienza

Bell ringer, clock tower, Montepulciano

Storm clouds, near Montepulciano

Street party, below my living room, Siena

Procession, Contrada of the goose, Siena

Children participating in the procession

Ferrari, near my school bar at morning coffee time

Classic car, Mille Miglia rally, Siena

At school with Leanne - holding our new leather bags

Inside the impressive Duomo, Siena

Ceiling, Piccolomini library, Duomo, Siena

Ancient fountain we discovered on our walk to school one day

Enormous stone and wooden gates, Siena

Panorama, Chianti region

Towers, San Gimignano

Wine tasting, Torciano winery

Holding onto barrel for support after wine tasting!

Contrada of the Tower, elephant emblem

Contrada of the Nicchio (sea shell)

Goodbye to beautiful Siena

My two weeks in Siena have flown quickly and I am now back in Bologna about to head home, including the new 17 hour flight from London to Perth.

Last Saturday, one of my fellow students, Alberto (from Switzerland), drove Leanne and I to the towns of Pienza and Montepulciano, about 60 km from Siena. As these are both hilltop towns, there were very typical views of verdant green rolling hills covered by bright red poppies, the occasional sunflower and quite a few vineyards. The light was especially great at about 6.30 as we were leaving, with dark stormy skies really emphasising the bright green fields. All three of us just kept on saying ‘wow’ at the sheer beauty of the landscape. Unfortunately, it takes quite a bit of rain to produce these lovely green hills - it has rained most days during my two weeks in Siena - probably not surprising as it is Spring. I was very lucky to have two perfect sunny days on my free weekend in Siena.

There was a big flower festival in Pienza, so the streets were carpeted with flowers and pot plants. We enjoyed a lunch platter of local Pecorino cheese and cold meats in Pienza. Later, in Montepulciano, I had coffee and very rich and chewy chocolate panforte. Alberto was happy to drink beer in a local bar, while Leanne and I did some shopping in Montepulciano. One of the photos shows us at our school in Siena this week, carrying our new bags.

When we returned to Siena at about 8pm, our street was closed to the general public due to a very important street party being held by the contrada (district or zone). We had to explain that we were not ordinary tourists, but we actually lived in the street before we were allowed to enter. Our contrada had won the Palio (the famous horse race around the Campo (square or piazza) in Siena last year and this dinner was where the silver victory plate was paraded through the street. I took some great photos, as well as videos of the singing, from our second floor lounge room which show the tables lined up on both sides of the street. Later this week in Siena, I saw another of the contrada (Oca, which has the goose as its symbol), parading through the streets. As they walked from one district to another district, they were greeted by some representatives of each contrada they entered, all in their own brightly coloured costumes and waving the flags of each contrada - a very colourful spectacle.

And yesterday, Friday 18th, I was again incredibly lucky to be in Siena when the Mille Miglia - a famous car rally passed through. This year the race comprised about 450 classic cars, as well as some impressive modern cars. I was down at the local bar near my school mid-morning, when the Ferraris came through the narrow street. My favourite was the bright electric blue Ferrari. After class, I walked to the Campo piazza and joined with the crowds watching the vintage cars do half a circuit around the piazza. The race covers about 1800 km, travelling through 7 Italian regions and passing through about 200 towns. I seem to have a knack of choosing Italian language schools that allow me to be in the right place at the right time. Last year, I watched the Giro d’Italia cycle through Taormina and now this very historic and prestigious car race - both totally unplanned but a surprising bonus.

One day in Siena, I visited the very impressive cathedral. The black and white striped stone pillars reminded me somewhat of the cathedral-mosque in Córdoba in southern Spain. The Duomo is also home to the Piccomolini library which has brilliantly coloured frescoes adorning the walls and ceilings. While I did not visit any museums in Siena, the reality is that the whole town is effectively a living, Medieval museum. It is surrounded by walls, interrupted by huge stone and timber gates. There is always something different to discover on random daily wanderings. One such find was an amazing well or fountain that we stumbled upon while varying our walking route to school each morning.

After my final morning at school on Friday 18th, Leanne and I went on a great 6 hour bus excursion to the towns of Castellini in Chianti and San Gimignano, followed by a visit to a winery. I indulged in a burst of last-day shopping in San Gimignano - a really beautiful town that I remembered fondly from 30 years ago. The winery tour was a real highlight of the trip. We were seated in an impressive reception room at beautifully decorated tables. Over about an hour, we had tastings of six different wines (a white Vernaccia, 2 chiantis, 1 of the famous Brunello Di Montalcino (another red), a Super Tuscan red, and a luscious dessert wine). We also tasted 3 types of olive oil (my favourite was a very hot pepper flavour, not keen at all on the truffle flavoured olive oil), plus a 30 year old balsamic vinegar. All this was accompanied by individual plates of meats, cheese and crackers. The presentation was incredibly professional, and also lots of fun. The Torciano winery has been owned by the same family over 14 generations for 300 years.

And finally, if any of you were wondering, I did not succeed in visiting and photographing all 17 of Siena’s contrada districts. Unfortunately the afternoon rains that appeared with regularly poor timing (immediately after my language school had finished each morning), meant I explored closer to my apartment and the centre of Siena and did not get to some of the outlying districts. However I did pretty well, capturing photos of the animal emblems from 14 contrada, with some of the final photos showing a few more of my favourite contrada emblems.

Siena is fabulous - I cannot rave highly enough about it. My final photo is the classic skyline shot of this beautiful city.

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