Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Second Best Thing about Siena

I won't go into the story of how I was called tonto by an exceedingly rude cashier at the Cathedral of all places. What we had was a failure to communicate. What she had was the typical Italian temper. What I had was the right to defend myself as I angrily told her that I was not stupid, but she just wasn't listening to me.

We did ultimately make our way into the Cathedral which was exceedingly beautiful. The heat of the day, however, was taking its toll and it was time to do something about it...which meant it was time for our daily dose of gelato!!

We ended up at a gelato shop overlooking the Piazza and what a treat it was. They had a little balcony which we took full advantage of the picture opportunity it lent us. Just like sitting out on the Piazza, there was something magical about overlooking it from above.

We could have stayed on the balcony forever, except that there was another family waiting for their opportunity to take some pictures out there so we had to be consideration and share. It's so cool how the view changes from another vantage point.

Then as we were leaving, I had the inspiration to get some pictures of the girls on the balcony from down on the Piazza.

So much fun! Too bad we had to walk back to the car.

The gelato helped, but we were still hot and tired as evidenced by this photo in which the girls and I were taking pictures of ourselves in the traffic mirror and you can see Liz finding a place to rest.

I believe I mentioned hiring a taxi and no one protested. Instead we found the bus station and someone who was willing to tell us what to do. We were supposed to buy our bus tickets from a local shop before we got on the bus. And just like that we made our way back to the car. Even better was the easy drive back to the villa. Much, much better than Pisa...except for the part where I was called tonto.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


I had never heard of Siena until a few years ago. A couple in my bible study group mentioned they had been to Italy several times and Siena was their favorite place there. Afraid of a big let down, such as Pisa, I decided not to have any expectations.

Getting there was easy enough. It was a a little further than Florence, but not as far as Pisa which was a big positive. Like all the other cities we had been to, I parked at the very first lot I found and once again, we found ourselves walking in the direction of the "Centro". Just in case, I took some landmark photos of our surroundings. I wasn't going to take any chances of a repeat of Pisa.

Not a block away, we saw a bus stop and for some reason, I found myself suggesting that we catch a bus.

It was the weirdest ride ever. No one would look at us or talk to us. Including the bus driver and the three riders we asked about how to pay. It was as if we had the plague. So we rode on the bus like a bunch of bozos looking for a sign that would indicate it was time to get off. After about 10 minutes, the road we were on, began to look like the onset of a city and finally up ahead was what appeared to be a very old entrance to the city.

This had to be it. Not sure how close the bus would stop, we got off several blocks before the actual structure. No worries, we needed to find a pharmacy and post office, not necessarily in that order.

First up, a pharmacy where mosquito repellent was needed. Liz and the girls were beginning to get eaten alive and were desperate for some relief from those pesky things. After buying some repellent and cortisone lotion, we continued up the street and ran into the ufficio postale.

Things were looking up! Things as first were not as expected once we passed through the arches of the structure. I don't know what I was expecting, but this wasn't quite it. The buildings were beautiful, but there wasn't much around. We continued to walk forward.

Although the streets were a bit desolate, it didn't have the same feeling of oppression as I felt in Pisa.

By this time it was mid-day and the heat was rising. But the beauty of our surroundings made it easy to overlook the discomfort.

Slowly the scenery began to change and we began to see more signs of activity.

And suddenly we came upon the Piazza del Campo, the most beautiful piazza I had ever seen.

After a mediocre lunch in the Piazza, we explored the surroundings. While the girls and Liz checked out a few stores, I plopped myself down on the cobblestone and just enjoyed the moment.

It's a moment I will not forget. It's one of my most favorite moments of the whole trip. Just sitting there, like I belonged, taking in the surroundings, watching a few others who were sitting too. Some were sitting there talking, some writing, some sketching. It's a moment I wished I could make last forever.

This was my moment.

If I would have spent the rest of my afternoon there, I would have been happy, but I knew we had come to see more than the Piazza so after some more photos, we ventured out to find the Duomo.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Back to Florence

In part because we loved Florence so much and in part because after what we experienced in Pisa we felt tentative about heading to the unknown, we decided another day trip to Florence was in order.

Our drive was uneventful and it was good to head out as though we lived there forever. It was just what the doctor ordered. Since the girls missed out on climbing to the very top of the Duomo and Liz wanted to go inside the Cathedral, we started off there first. While they did this, I wandered about the area by myself, taking pictures to my heart's content.

The fashion in Italy, especially Florence was lovely. A girl could go broke!

The bell on this bike caught my fancy so I came in close for a shot. 

As I was walking away, this gentleman walked up to the bike and asked me laughingly in an Italian English accent, if I liked his bike. I laughed, why, yes, I did and as I walked away, I turned back and got a shot of him. Wished I had taken it from the front. He was quite dapper.

The green and red here caught my eye.

And even more bikes.

A self portrait as I window shopped.

We decided to check out the Ufizzi because we wanted to see Michelangelo's David. There was a line to get into the museum, but we felt the David would be worth the wait. While there, I ended up talking to two American women, sharing our experience. I must admit, it was a little fun hearing the admiration in their voice when I told them that we had rented a Tuscany...and I was driving us around the country.

I might know how to get to Florence, but I didn't know that the David is not housed at the Ufizzi so we were a bit disappointed after we finally got into the museum. The art work was beautiful, but we weren't allowed to take pictures like we were in the Louvre. Boo!!

However, we did make our way to the cafe area of the museum and found a lovely rooftop area where we could get some more pictures in.

By the time we finished exploring the museum, we were happy, but tired. We stopped to rest our feet and fill our stomachs with gelato on the Ponte Vecchio before we made the hike back to our car.

What a huge difference it was walking back to our car when we knew exactly where it was. Even though we were tired and it was about a 20 minute walk to the car, it was a lighthearted, happy walk back.

Made a little longer as we stopped for even more pictures along the way :)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pisa Pisa

Since we've been back, I've been asked about a dozen times, which city I liked the best. It's hard to choose between Florence, Siena and Venice. What I can tell them is the one place I would likely never go back to again...Pisa.

Pisa was the place that was on the bubble of the places for us to see, but after our successful trek to Florence, we were ready to push the envelope and head for the outer limits, which for us was Pisa.

It's probably not Pisa's fault that I parked about as far from the city centre as I could possibly park, but it didn't help that no one seemed to have heard of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. If we asked for directions to the Tower, we would receive blank stares. If we asked for directions to the Piazza Miracoli, where the Leaning Tower was located, we would get shrugs of shoulders. It was the oddest, most frustrating thing.

We wove in and out of streets and alleys, following occasional signs to the Centro and waves of hands from those who we could finally find who have at least heard of one of the Wonders of the World.

The city didn't seem to have the beauty of Florence. Added to that was a feeling of tension that seemed to be in the air.

When we finally came to the River Arno, we were expecting to hit pay dirt much as we had at Florence. 

Instead we ran into a British couple with a guide book desperately trying to find the Leaning Tower of Pisa who hadn't had much more luck than us. Up to this point, however, we seemed to be going in the right direction. Who knew that we would end up spending over another hour trying to make our way through a maze of streets.

I expected that once we crossed the river, we would find friendlier surroundings just as we had in Florence. But the air of tension seemed to be even stronger.

The graffiti, though fascinating, didn't help to dispel my unease. It's not that I ever felt unsafe, it just reminded me of the feeling I would feel in Iran before we left.

Still we trudged on.

And on...stopping to take numerous pictures.

Finally when we began to despair that we would never find the Leaning Tower or the Piazza Miracoli, we finally upon the Piazza.

It was so strange to be at this place I've seen in pictures and books. On one hand it was rather incredible. On the other hand, it's beauty did not compare to the Duomo in Florence and its stature did not compare to the Eiffel Tower.

Still, it was exciting. And as Liz and the girls took pictures from various angles, I went to purchase tickets to climb up the Tower. By this time it was already 2pm and first available time was 4:20pm. With two hours to spare and stomaches that were calling for food, it was time to get some lunch.

After a mediocre lunch, we were still tired from our long trek so just hung out on the grassy area that surrounded the tower.

It was a lot of fun watching tourists, such as ourselves, take the obligatory pictures of themselves holding up the tower.

Finally, it was our time to queue up for the climb up the tower.

Despite a good head talking to myself, after about ten slanty steps, I couldn't bring myself to go up any further.

While Liz and the girls made the rest of the climb up, I sat outside just enjoying the moment. By the time they came back down it was almost 5pm so we decided to head back to the car. I won't describe the next hour and a half in great detail, except to say, there came a time where we began to seriously doubt that we would ever find the car. Luckily I remembered that early on as we made our way to the Centro, we passed the Aeroporto. And luckily, I had purposefully snapped pictures of street signs near where we parked the car otherwise we might still be wandering the streets of Pisa looking for our car.

Added to our misery, we got lost on the way back to our Villa. We finally trudged our way back to the villa after 9pm far more despondent than we left in the morning. After a quiet dinner, we headed to bed tired, a little grumpy...but we were in a Italy. Things had to look up in the morning.