22 October 2011

Side Trips Outside of Florence

There is so much to do in Florence, but this is Tuscany! (er...Toscana...it sounds fancier that way, no?) Famous for its lush, green landscape with an abundance of vineyards and sunflowers, getting out into the countryside can be refreshing for the soul after spending most of your time inside the city. The town of Fiesole is probably closest to Florence - just 5 miles outside - and boasts some breathtaking views of Tuscany, but I personally went a little further away from Florence for my side trips. A lot of cities in Italy can be reached by train, but the taxi driver that dropped my mom from the airport into Florence agreed to act as our chauffeur for half a day for the following day - taking us to some of his favorite places to visit. (Something tells me taxi drivers doing this isn't out of the ordinary...but Mario was very friendly and it wasn't too expensive to "rent" him for the day) Below are the 3 towns we visited that morning.

San Gimignano

Our first stop of the day was in San Gimignano which is known as the Manhattan of Tuscany - and it's not hard to see why (if Manhattan was smaller, with stone buildings instead of concrete and glass). We got here early in the morning, which was quite charming. Me and my mother walked the empty streets (save for a few locals going about their business) filled with magical morning light, we walked into one of the pastry shops and watched the shop-owners preparing their goodies for the swarm of tourists that surely were there hours later. The ceramic shop was fascinating as well with all of its bowls and plates for various foods and occasions that flooded into the shop's basement. It was just full of every shape of vessel, in various designs, that you could imagine! Morning was the best possible time to visit San Gimignano - it felt as it probably was centuries ago.

The outline of San Gimignano in the distance

The center point of the city - it's one open square

One of the many streets that run toward the square


The circular, medieval town of Monteriggioni was used as a front line for war during Siena's conflicts with Florence around the 1200s and was even mentioned in Dante's Divine Comedy. It was a cute, sleepy little city - full of mainly locals when we arrived (although I caught glimpses of buses making their way here as we left). Get here in the morning to see Monteriggioni as it should be seen.

Charming building in Piazza Roma


Siena is the opposite of the previous towns we visited. It's big and impressive...overwhelmingly big to spend such a short time in. But me and my mom did the best we could. We walked through some of the streets and shops, admiring the beautiful colors and architectural details of the buildings. Making our way to Piazza del Campo, it was quite breathtaking to take in its magnificent, spacious square which hosts the Palio horse race. I remember the day we visited was also the day of a very big Italian football game (what else?) in Siena, so it wasn't as packed as I'm sure it usually is, which was quite nice for us. (I'm just glad that we were able to meet up with Mario again and that he didn't run off to the game! - although I might have liked to join in the festivities...)

Piazza del Campo

  Piazza del Campo with its Bell Tower in back                              Silhouette of Siena's Bell Tower

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