Monday, September 30, 2013

Our Last Day in Siena

The storms continued through the night with the worst one about 3 pm which rattled the windows and shook us awake with its intensity!   But we were soon back asleep and actually didn’t wake until 8 am so we made up for the lost hour during the night! 
Mary and I headed out the door, prepared for rain, about 9 am.  Off to find the bus that would take us across town to the train station so that we could purchase our train tickets for the next week.  We accomplished that pretty easily with the help of directions from our Rick Steves book.  After booking tickets for the trip tomorrow to Cortona; we also booked the tickets to Assisi; to Rome; and to Naples.  After our week in Sorrento where we hook back up with Bonnie and Jane who will be spending the next week in Sorrento in a hotel; we will all move into an apartment for a week before heading to Rome for our final week.
That accomplished we starting looking for the bus back into the old center of town.  We were finally given directions to go into the very modern shopping center across the street and follow the directions.  We entered and immediately saw a large electronic store; we stopped to check on a cheap Italian cell phone and ended up purchasing a Nokia basic phone.  Then off to the TIM cell phone shop to purchase a sim card with time on it.  That done we were told it would not activate for two hours.  It’s now twelve hours later and it is still not active!   Two trips back to a nearby TIM shop who said to give it more time and or go back to the shop where we purchased the card.  We’ll do that tomorrow morning when we go early to the train if it is not working by then!  Electronics:  wonderful when they work but very aggravating when they don’t!
Back to the day’s journey we did finally find the bus stop after many stops for directions in sign language!   Back in the center we went to the apartment and found that everyone was up and they were ready to start the day.  We decided to split up and meet back at the apartment by 7 pm for dinner.
Mary and I headed for the San Francesco church; about a ten minute walk.  They had closed for lunch just as we arrived; closed from noon to 3:30 pm.  So we didn’t get to see the inside of the church but we saw activity in the cloister area and walked in.  The families were gathered around the teenagers who had just been confirmed and they were wearing green leaf crowns on their heads with red ribbon braided in the wreath.   A serendipity moment that made our walk worthwhile.
We then walked back; stopping for an ice cream cone on the way, and continued to the Il Campo where we walked completely around the edge of the center following the area that is covered with dirt for the race track during the twice yearly Palio Race.  From the far side you can see the top of the Duomo.   The City Hall tower was enticing but we decided not to climb the three hundred plus steps for the view and use that energy when we are in Rome to climb to the top of St. Peters.  Enjoyed the interior of the city hall but also passed on the Museum.  We later discovered that Jane did make the climb and took some wonderful photos.  Bonnie did the Museum during that time.
We stopped by the Laundromat which Jim and I used on our past visits and then decided to stop for a grand Cappuccino at one of the little tables under the awnings with views of the center of the Il Campo.   There were tons of people all over the brick center until it suddenly started to rain!   The area cleared immediately and the umbrellas came out.  The rain had arrived and lasted on and off all day; but only rain without the effects of thunder and lightning.  
Back to the apartment for early packing in preparation for our move tomorrow.  A short trip to the grocery store for supplies and a trip out to find help for the new cell phone.  I did manage to find someone who switched the language to English…that was a big help…but still no activation! 
Bonnie and Jane arrived during a downpour and we were soon on our way to dinner.  They selected a wonderful little restaurant in the St. Catherine S. Domenico Piazza.  We enjoyed our meal and slowly walked home to finish our packing.  It’s been a long day and my night prayer will be for activation of the new cell phone by morning.  I don’t want to deal with another Italian on this issue!!
We will not have ready access to wifi in Cortona so I’m not sure when my next post will be…maybe tomorrow and maybe on Wednesday.  Hope you enjoy the slideshow: 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Rain, Rain Go Away…Jane wants to play

Our morning began early as Mary and I crept out the door at 7:00 am to walk the short distance to Saint Catherine San Dominica Basilica.   We were prepared for rain but so far the streets were dry.   We caught the last minutes before dawn with our cameras before entering the church.  There we wandered in the vast empty hall that was devoid of chairs or benches except at the far end near the main altar. 
We first visited the relics of St. Catherine:  a mummified thumb and then her head which has been enshrined in this church since 1383.   I took an up close photo but I don’t think you really want to see it as parts of her face are missing.  The head is not mummified.  Until I saw the photo I didn’t realize the actual condition as you are viewing it from a distance.  She died in 1380 and three years later the head was removed and taken to Siena as a relic for the place where she spent her life.  She is known as St. Catherine of Siena. 
Mass began at 7:30 am and was over by 8:30 am.  We walked around the church to see the seventeen flags of the various Contrade Neighborhoods and then walked back towards our apartment.  But, instead of turning left at the corner we turned right and went to see the area where the party was held last night; and continued until after 2 am.  It’s a large area near springs that are the oldest in Siena.  I’ve photos of the area and the springs in the slideshow.  Soon we were trying to get up behind the springs as Mary was sure that was the brick wall where she and her husband had taken photos on their visit in 2005.
Suddenly she said, “Look…there;s spaghetti spilled here; just as she put her foot into it!”   Suddenly there was a very strong odor and we knew is might have been spaghetti but was the result of too much wine and someone had lost it!    Back to the springs to wash Mary’s shoes!
We then continued back up past the church and on past the area for the tourist buses to park.   Yes, even with vicious storms expected today the buses were exploding with hundreds of people descending on the city for the day!    It was already beginning to sprinkle off and on lightly. 
We decided that the top of the Fortezza Medicea was where they’d taken their photos in 2005.  So on we trudged under the tall walls looking and looking for a way up to the top.  We were two-thirds of the way around before we found the entrance; but we did and were successful in achieving our goal.  We had fantastic views of the countryside and the city; including all three major sites in one photo!
Walked all the way back to the apartment and still arrived before 10:30 am as the girls were just beginning to start their day!   Minutes after we entered the apartment the thunder and lightning began and the rain began to pour in sheets so heavy that it covered the entire street and became rivers coursing down through the town.   
At one point we even had hail.  We saw one woman slip and fall as she walked over a metal grille in the street; it was dangerous territory  out there and we stayed safely inside of our little haven watching through the windows as the tourists hung on to their umbrellas that were turning inside out in the wind and rain.  Our shutters blew shut and rain blew in our open windows until we battened down the hatches but we were basically safe and dry!
We had rain for the best part of the day and about 3 pm we started to realize that the cupboards were rather bare and dinner was going to be slim to none.   It stopped raining for short stretches and I thought that I could get out and back between two storms.   I put on short pants with my sandals, a plastic poncho over my coat and carried my umbrella. 
Out I ventured and made the short trip up to the main street at the top of our hill; there I found a pizza store that was closing in half an hour.   I’d originally thought of going to see the Baptistery before getting food but changed my mind and got enough pizza for our dinner.  Then across the street for some dessert and a bottle of wine before heading back down the hill on the slippery stone street.  It was starting to rain again and I was ready to go home!
We enjoyed our dinner and then the skies cleared and it looked good outside.   More people were venturing out so Jane and I dressed for rain and headed out to the area of the Fort where Mary and I’d gotten such good photos early this morning.  We had a great time sloshing through the mud and huge rain puddles before we arrived for some wonderful photos for Jane.  Then on the way back we checked the grocery store and were amazed when we found it open on a Sunday!   Usually all stores are closed from Saturday noon until Monday.  Times are changing! 
Home again, with chestnuts that Jane picked up on our journey; she said that English schoolboys would love to have found the thousands of them that the rain had knocked out of the trees today!    Arrived safely before the next storm arrived.  We enjoyed our dessert and then played several rounds of hearts before finishing up our computer work and calls home.
Hope you enjoy the slideshow: 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

San Gimignano

Today we went by bus to visit the Tuscany Hill town of San Gimignano that is known for its fourteen remaining towers.   We left the apartment about 10:30 am…and walked to the bus station; easy to find now that we know the town!   And, it really is only a ten minute walk from our apartment!
Once there we purchased round trip tickets for our hour plus ride to San Gimignano.  The bus made stops along the way and at one point picked up a large number of students and then dropped them off again down the road. 
We arrived at the gates to the city about noon and started our slow trek up towards the main plaza and the Duomo.   We saw many tourist shops offering just about anything you’d want to buy along the way.  We kept our purses closed except for some post cards that the girls purchased during the day.   About 1 pm we did splurge as Mary treated us all to ice cream from the “World’s Best Gelato Shop”!   I enjoyed a scoop of White Chocolate and a scoop of Lemon!   A tasty treat that held off the hunger pains for several hours.
We spent some time visiting the Duomo that has frescos covering the walls of the Old and the New Testament.    No photos allowed but I got you two for the slideshow!  

We then took the walk up to the highest spot on the hill and enjoyed the three hundred sixty degree view of the countryside.  Then started the trek back down the street.  We saw a group of what appeared to be air force academy students; tourists from all over the world.  One gentlemen talked to us about the America’s Cup; he was from New Zealand and reminded us that there were six (I think) from New Zealand and only one American on the team that won!   We all had a good chuckle with them over the event. 
We decided to part ways and Mary and I headed back for the bus stop about 4 pm; hoping to catch the 4:55 pm bus.  We stopped for a sandwich to eat on the bus and found a large group waiting at the bus stop. It was about thirty minutes before a bus arrived and the crowd continued to grow.  A yellow bus arrived; we needed a blue bus. 
  We asked if he was going to Siena…si…he said.  I was the last person on the bus as they pulled me in the doors were squeezing my arms but I hung on to outstretched arms and was inside when he pulled away from the curb!   There was not a spare inch on the bus; a true can of sardines.  A man got up for Mary so we finally got her into a seat.  About twenty minutes later; the bus stopped in Poggibonsi; I remembered the town from the trip there.  Most everyone got out and a group of about ten who were also headed for Siena sat quietly.  The driver said, “every one going to Siena get out.”   We had to transfer to a new bus.  When asked how long he said five minutes; we looked at the electric board showing departures and pointed to it; there was no bus scheduled to go to Siena for over thirty minutes.   Then he said; “One Hour”.  
It was nice to have a group that we knew were also headed for Siena; and some of them spoke English.  Sure enough, about half an hour later the sign posted a bus for Siena at 6:30 pm.  And it finally arrived and again was packed but we managed to get seats. 
What was scheduled to be an hour long trip took us from 4:30 to 7:30 pm.  But we were finally in Siena and walked to our apartment.  Bonnie and Jane left two hours later than we did and had a very similar adventure with having to transfer at the same spot!   But that’s what makes traveling fun; never being absolutely certain of what your next move might be.
When Mary and I arrived home we saw that we are directly across the street from a meeting place for the local contrade (neighborhood) called the Oca (Goose).   They were out in the street with their scarfs and having some mysterious meetings.  We hung out of window that we kept dark and tried take some photos.  Later we heard a drum beating and that indicated a parade of banners.  But we only caught a glimpse as it was going away from us.  Now it’s nearly 11:30 pm and the parade returned with drums and they are now holding a very loud party with music about a block away.  These stone walls bounce the sounds up and down the canyons!  Bonnie and Jane have put their clothes on and walked down to see the party.  Mary is already asleep and I stayed with her.  I’ve seen the parties before when they were celebrating the Palio when we visited several years ago.  It’s a new experience for the girls!
Hope you enjoy the slideshow...seems to be working tonight: