The evening of our “escape” from the horrible accomodation we headed into San Gimignano for dinner. It is a medieval town situated on a hilltop with 13 towers. There were originally 72, but only 13 remain. When seeing it from a distance it is like seeing a modern city centre with skyscrapers, but it’s really old towers. It’s a really strange sensation. Inside the town walls it’s all medieval stone buildings and narrow alleyways. We ate at a restaurant on one of the two squares in the town, the Piazza della Cisterna, so named for the 13th century well in the centre of the square. Grooves have been worn in the edges of it from centuries of ropes rubbing against them while pulling up buckets of water. As the sun slowly went down the colours of the stone buildings kept changing.
Next day it was back to San Gimignano to explore further. We found some places with breathtaking views of the Tuscan countryside, and then Andy and Tommy went into a torture museum. That was of no interest to me, so I went to look inside the Cathedral. All the walls and ceiling were painted with fantastic frescos, although in a couple of places you could see that they were covering up other, older frescos, which was frustrating. What were those frescos of, and why were they painted over? Andy and Tommy then decided to climb the tallest of the towers, the Torre Grossa, while I wandered around and browsed in the shops. They said there was a fantastic view from the top.
The rest of that afternoon was spent driving through the countryside, and then back at the hotel relaxing by the pool.
On our final day of sightseeing we decided to go to Siena. Before we got there Tommy saw some signs pointing to Montereggio, which was one of the towns in his Xbox game Assasin’s Creed, so he was keen to see how it compared to the representation in the game. It was another medieval walled town, but very small (only 2 streets) and very unspoiled. But the town was getting ready for a medieval re-enactment event that was started at 5pm that day. There was a stall where you could exchange your Euros for “Grossi”, and other stalls all had prices in Grossi. It was very frustrating, as it looked like it would have been great fun to stay and experience the event, but we had to be back in Florence that night. I know there are medieval re-enactments in Australia, but not in a real medieval town.
After looking around there (which didn’t take long, because Montereggio is not big) we were back heading to Siena. We found Siena, but had no idea where we were in relation to the old part of the town, or where we could park. Over the years I have been to lots of towns and never had so much trouble before. Eventually we had to ask a policeman where the old town was and where we could park. We made our way to the Piazza del Campo, the semi-circular town square where twice a year the famous horse race, the Palio, takes place. The Piazza is completely surrounded by Palazzos. One is a public building, but all the rest were private residences.
The next thing to see was the Cathedral. First part to view was the Baptistry, with more lovely frescos. Then the crypt. That was incredible. There had been so many different phases of building that you could see Gothic arches cutting through Norman arches, barrel vaulting cutting through old frescos and so on. At one place the floor was clear so you could see down, and you were looking at a column going down about 20 or 30 feet to another room below. It was like a giant archaeological site.
The Cathedral itself was spectacular. Once again, all the frescos, but black and white stripped marble columns and off the nave a room that they called a library, with the most incredible ceiling, and lots of medieval music manuscripts. The notes were shown on a stave, but without any indication of their length (i.e., whether they were crochets or quavers etc).
After that it was time to head back to Florence, return our hire car, and check into our hotel for our last night. The next day we caught a train at 8:22 for Rome to get our flight back to Sydney.
Rome airport was the most chaotic, disorganised and badly equipped airport I have ever been to. The flight from Rome to Bangkok was long and tedious as there was no individual entertainment systems, and watching a movie on a screen at the front is hard at the best of times (people keep standing in the aisles and blocking your view), but it is virtually impossible for me, as I am too short to see over the heads in front of me. Luckily the flight from Bangkok to Sydney was better.
And now we are home and back to reality... whatever reality is.