Travel(tuscany)

30 05 2009

Tuscan Adventure

 

Driving over the narrow cobblestone streets of the beautiful town-center of Siena, is anything but pretty. It’s like pushing a fat sausage through a keyhole. I totally regret the Red Bull I drank, because I thought I needed to be alert and focused as driving through Florence required. Now I’m jittery and I go about a mile an hour because of the hordes of people. The tourists in their tacky outfits right next to the car and the locals dressed immaculately a couple inches in front of me, talking loudly to each other and acting like they don’t have a care in the world.

My friend says he can’t wait to get to our hotel and drink a bottle of Brunello, the great local red wine, to calm the nerves. I need a couple tranquillizers at this point. But will we ever get there? I am this close to getting out of the car and missing out on one of the most marvelous towns in the world. Could a near nervous breakdown be worth it?

We decided to go to this part of Italy, because it catered to all of our needs to have a fabulous vacation. The food is known to be one of the best in the world, as is the wine. The scenic beauty rivals the best of any other European country, and the cities and small towns are extremely picturesque. Also, definitely in the central and eastern part of Tuscany that we are covering, the art treasures are just breathtaking.

We started our trip in the most famous Tuscan city, Florence. A place known for the piazzas, palazzos and all round great history. We stayed at the Grand Hotel Villa Medici, walking distance from the city centre. The Medici family was one of the most powerful families in Tuscan history and this former 18th century villa had many memories from that glorious time. The rooms were decorated with priceless antiques and paintings from the family’s rich history. The lobby had thick red carpet with embroidery patterns and huge impressive chandeliers. The reason that we chose this hotel was because it was the only one in the city center with an open- air pool. The water in the pool with a surrounding lush garden was unfortunately extremely cold, so not wanting to risk a cardiac arrest diving in, only our feet went in the water for our entire stay there.

We began our sightseeing at the heart of Florence, the Piazza del Duomo consisting of the Duomo, the Baptistry and the Campanile.  The Baptistery, one of Florence’s oldest buildings is very impressive inside with its colorful ceilings, but its engraved paneled golden outside door is simply jaw-dropping.  The tall and narrow Campanile is extremely picturesque as well, with its green, white and pink marble exterior.

After eating a couple scoops of delicious gelato (who could resist those melting glaciers of color), it was time for some exercise so we decided to climb the stairs of the Duomo. And exercise it was on those narrow humid steps. We were happy we were there in the relatively-cool April and not in the middle of summer. It was all worth it in the end though after having such a fantastic birds-view over the city and it’s surrounding green hills.

We like to consider ourselves “foodies”, so that evening we had to try Enoteca Pinchiorri, often described as one of Europe’s best restaurants. The whole ambience with the very formal waiters and the richly decorated tablescapes was enough to make one feel queen for a day but the food even surpasses that. We had the tasting menu consisting of the freshest raw fish, buttery pasta with strong perfumes of thyme, succulent roasted pigeon and scrumptious desert courses. After diner we were also allowed a small tour of their impressive wine cellar, and by that time we were in heaven. It is certainly a special feeling being around bottles of wine that are worth more then a new sports car. 

If seeing teenage Asian girls with colorful outfits and wicked hairdos shrilly giggling at what might be the first penis they have ever seen does it for you, the Galleria dell’Accademia is where you have to be. Other then seeing the real version of the David by Michelangelo in his full glory, for us it was not worth the long waiting time to get in.

Hardly a one trick pony and more then worth its wait was the famous Uffizi, with an enormous collection of Renaissance paintings. That said though, there are only a certain amount of Madonna with child paintings one can see without being under-whelmed.

It was time to get outside and enjoy the beautiful sunny day. We walked to Florence’ oldest bridge, the Ponte Vecchio. It is amazingly cute with overhanging shops on either side where in the olden days the merchants had their ateliers and stores. Unfortunately this day the stores are noisy tourist traps with overpriced jewelry, linen and souvenirs.

Later we admired the great piazza’s (squares) Florence is rich in. Our favorite was the piazza della Signoria with its collection of statues. It’s like a museum and a tanning salon in one.

We ended the day at the lush Boboli gardens, at the other side of the river Arno. This park with it’s ancient cypress trees and adorable little sights is itself worth a visit, but the best part is the overlook from the surrounding Forte di Belvedere where you get the best possible view of Florence’s city centre. You see all the famous buildings in one snapshot.

The next day it was time to leave Florence and make our way to the Grand Hotel Continental in Siena, the heart of Tuscany. Getting there was not easy. Between the erratic Italian scooters and confusing traffic circles in Florence; the lush vineyards, olive groves and beautiful landscapes that made it hard not to stop on the way; and the before-mentioned narrow streets of Siena where we miraculously squeezed our car through, I don’t know which one made it the most difficult. It’s safe to say there is a reason that in the centre of Siena, cars are only allowed to get to your hotel and drop of the luggage.

Standing on the balcony of our hotel, a renovated 1600’s palazzo, all our nerves were quickly replaced by pure awe. With the brisk wind blowing in our faces, we were surrounded by a sea of red rooftops and rose-colored brick buildings. Things are still the same here as hundreds of year ago. It was a magical feeling. The rest of the hotel was very impressive as well, with the frescoed ceilings in our room, use of marble in the high ceiling dining area and private wine cellar for hotel guests.

Siena is a small city of steep medieval alleys that make it a great, but also tiring place to walk. We walked through the town in less than 2 hours. It is hard to believe that in medieval times, Siena was actually the more powerful city over the now much larger Florence. Its architectural style is feminine compared to the more masculine Florence, resulting in buildings and ornaments that are rounder, less square. We saw distinct small multi-colored houses, grand Villas and leftovers of the original ancient gates that used to protect the city. The centre of the town is the fan-shaped piazza del Campo. It is an uneven square surrounded by a white towered palazzo, yellow and red colored buildings some in Byzantium architectural style, little knick-knack stores and bustling cafes. The square was quite empty when we saw it, but every year it hosts a horse race between local competitors cheered on by thousands of spectators.

With some of the world’s richest harvest readily available to local chefs, it should come as no surprise that the culinary scene of Siena is so alluring.

Our most memorable meal was at the little known Cane e Gatto, or cat and dog. With its charming layout, unique art- and antique-filled dining room and only 6 tables, we knew this place had to be special. The old maestro was still running the kitchen with the help of his wife. There were no menus, which made it even more feel like eating at the home of an Italian family. While the place might have looked like an old thrift shop, the food was anything but old and dusty.

We feasted on a hearty cauliflower soup, creamy papardelle with local mushrooms and delicious moist roasted beef. After an exquisite meal we ended the evening in style by visiting the Siena Duomo. We definitely saved the best for last, because this church has got to be one of the most spectacular in the world. 

Red, black and white marble, filled with facades of saints and engravings that from a distance look like dripping wax, it is almost to magical to be real

Tuscany was everything we were hoping for and more. This area really does seem to have it all. The food is phenomenal, the landscapes are truly breathtaking and many of the wonderful little towns are museums in and of themselves. Traveling here during spring is also highly recommended. It is less touristy, not to hot to climb steep stairs or walk around and everything is in full bloom. A couple small nervous breakdowns here and there were so worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 uscan DSCN2343DSCN2384

Advertisements

Actions

Information

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: