Friday, December 29, 2017

Tuscany, Siena - a magical place

Could there be anything better than waking up on your birthday in Florence, Italy.  I was so looking forward to my day.  Ilaria from Fun inTuscany was taking us to Siena and another vineyard for lunch and a tasting.  Up we all get and head to the local cappuccino and pastry bar to start the day.  Siena is only about an hours drive from Florence, so I took a chance on a large coffee.

Ilaria had her van decorated for my birthday with balloons, hats and leis.  Getting in the spirit of it, I might be a year older I may as well enjoy it.  I popped the little hat on and proudly wore the lei in the Italian colours (I'm sure part of me is Italian after all).

First stop the beautiful city of Siena.  Parking in all of these walled cities can be a nightmare, thankfully Ilaria knew all the tricks.  She dropped us off at the Basilica Cateriniana de San Domenico, 




St. Catherine is not only the patron saint of Siena but also a co-patroness of Rome and a joint patron of Italy with Saint Francis of Assisi.  Remember the term reliquary, well they have one of St Catherine's head in the basilica.  This picture is from their website.  And yes it is her actual head.  This church is a pilgrimage site.  She was responsible for Pope Gregory XI returning to Italy from Avignon.  

I somehow missed the big sign that said no pictures below.  It is considered a very holy site, only whispers permitted and yes no pictures.  There was a very spiritual and holy feel to it.  

We continued our walk up and down the hills of Siena.  Lots of alleyways and basically no cars.

Ilaria takes us to her favourite cappuccino bar.  It's called Nannina's.  And was delish.  Ilaria not missing a chance to celebrate my birthday, brought a pastry with a candle in it.  LOL.  She was brought up in Siena, her grandmother and mother still live there.  After our coffee we stopped in to see her mother as she had to pick up another surprise for me :).  This is FUN IN TUSCANY.  LOL

We headed down to the famous Piazza del Campo (this Piazza is one of the reasons UNESCO recognizes Siena as the ideal embodiment of a medieval city) where Ilaria popped out a bottle of champagne.  The day just keeps getting better and better.

As we drank our champagne Ilaria gave us a history of the famous Palio Horse Race that runs around the square twice a year, once in July and once in August.  The town is divided into contradas (neighbourhoods) and they all wear the flag of their contrada.  The people are in the middle of the square while the horses race around the outside.
Image result for porcupine flags of the palio siena
 This is the crest of Ilaria's family.  Needless to say how could I resist buying a scarf and draping it around my shoulders to match my other decorations :)

Siena Cathedral


We were given an hour to wander around Siena before we headed off to the vineyard for lunch :).  How could I not stop in this little store to pick up my handmade Christmas Santa :)

To get to our next stop we were able to sit back and enjoy a beautiful drive through the Tuscan countryside.  At the top of this long driveway is Querceto di Castellina, an organic family vineyard.  Our hostess was actually from Napa and had met and married her husband and became a part of the vineyard family.  She explained to us about the rooster that appears on every bottle of Chianti Classico and what the DOCG rating means:
"Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG): Seeing this on the label of your wine bottle means that the wine producers followed the strictest regulations possible to make that wine. The wine was tested a committee that then guarantees the geographic authenticity of the wine and its quality. There are currently only a handful of Italian wines that qualify for DOCG status." DOCG, DOC

The vineyard was built on a hill with magnificent views.  We met 2 ladies there who were taking a week long cooking class (no husbands).  There are 4 wines to taste with our meal today.  As you can see Jim has totally recovered and is not missing a drop today.

What a fun holiday with a great group of family and friends.  Thank you to Ilaria for making our last day in Tuscany so memorable.  One last stop on the way home to find our "Gladiator" moment.  

We are all very sad about leaving this beautiful piece of Italy.  The countryside, the cities, the history, the people, the wine the coffee, the food (I could keep going on and on) are truly beautiful. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Florence - our last day and more treasures - the David

After the market we started to wander again and came upon the Laurentian Library.  What a remarkable family the Medici family were, Cosimo the Elder collected ancient manuscripts of classical authors and opened the library for anyone to read/interpret.

The building was designed and built by Michelangelo in 1524.  We were very lucky when we walked in, we were the only one there and the custodian was passionate about her work and gave us a 30 minute talk about the building, Michelangelo and the Medicis.  The thing I found most interesting that she told us was that during the renaissance everything had an interpretation.  The stairs going up to the library were a dark grey with a bright door at the top.  Hence you walked from the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge.  When you walked up the stairs you went up the middle and when you left you went down the sides showing your enlightenment.

The library itself consisted upon row upon row of pews.  On the side of the pews were the list of important books that were kept there (which I gather now can be found in their on-line library).  The seats were always filled with scholars reading and interpreting these historical works.  The floor above was laid by Michelangelo, the carpet was installed to try and keep it safe.

While we were there, there was an exhibit by Leonardi Bruni, he wrote what was considered the first modern history book of its time.  Ciao and Arrivederci being my only Italian, these books were amazing to look at.  Being brought up in Canada with such a young history I am amazed by the skills and education of this whole region.

Right next door to the library is the San Lorenzo Cathedral and the Medici crypt.  If you are listing your house today, chances are you are using the colour palette from this church.  Grey and white looked stunning even 600 years ago.

Along with the burial site of the Medici family, the tomb of Donatello is here.

What is a reliquaries you say???  So did I.  It's a little creepy actually.  It is a container for relics, which in most cases may be a piece of bone taken from the important religious leader that has died.  For some saints and popes the bones and clothing were put into these beautiful reliquaries and then transported across Europe so each church would have a little piece of the Saint to pray too.

We knew nothing about the above when we arrived in Florence, this is what makes the city so amazing is around every corner there is a masterpiece and amazing piece of history.

Next stop THE DAVID.  The first time I saw the DAVID was in Caesar's Palace - yep Las Vegas, a full replica.  It was pretty impressive.  The next time was in the Palazzo Vecchio where the original was until they moved it inside to protect it.  I'm not sure why I have always been so enthralled with his statue (as millions of people around the world are LOL).  I always loved the story of David and Goliath, he was the 2nd King of Israel and I did name my son David which means "beloved".  Maybe it had something to do with the little man taking on the giant.  When we walked in there was this large corridor and at the bottom looking down over everyone was the DAVID.  The effect was amazing.  Yes I cried, well teared up.

He looked brand new not 600 years old.  There are interpretations on everything from the size of his head, the large right hand and yes the size of his privates, I'll leave that to you to look up :)
"Because of the nature of the hero it represented, the statue soon came to symbolize the defense of civil liberties embodied in the Republic of Florence, an independent city-state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and by the hegemony of the Medici family. The eyes of David, with a warning glare, were turned towards Rome." (wikipedia)

Thank you Florence for an amazing time.  With all our wandering we still didn't see everything this beautiful historical city had to offer.