Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Europe Trip - Toscano, The Countryside Full of Beauty

Having a wefie inside Trenitalia Train
We rached Florence Santa Maria Novella Station around 07:00 pm before the sun set. We walked to Delle Nazioni Hotel, about 10-minute walk away. It was cold and breezy and we wanted something Asian. Thanks to the modern civilization called internet, we found out there was a high rated Sichuan restaurant nearby. So we walked about 10 minutes to find the restaurant.

The restaurant is tucked in the Chinatown street of Florence. The whole street is packed with Asian restaurants and mini markets. There are some shops selling leather goods too. It was something interesting to find in the middle of a Reinassance city.

At another street, there is a row of luxury boutiques, but it was closed when we finished our dinner. So yeah, no shopping.

We planned to have our Toscano tour the day after. We did not plan to stay in Florence even though I think this city would be amazing to be explored on foot. Just because we did not have the luxury of time, we sacrificed Florence.

The next morning, we quickly checked out from the hotel and brought our luggage back to the station. We booked a package tour for a day with Walkabout Florence online. The package tour that we booked include Siena, Chianti lunch, San Gimignano, and Pisa. It cost EUR 90 (~SGD 140) per person for the whole day. For booking of 6 or more people, we got additional EUR 5 discount per person and for young adult (< 26 year old), we got another EUR 5 discount.

The tour guide named Sandra greeted us. She was very fluent in English with her sexy Italian accent. Along the way, she kept entertaining the guests with her stories and stories and stories. It was never boring! But she had one strict rule: don't show up at the specified time, see you in Florence! 

We boarded the bus and the bus departed from Santa Maria Novella Station on time. Our first destination was Siena. 

Siena is located about 80km south of Florence, one of the most medieval town of Tuscany and one of the UNESCO heritage sites. The legend of this town is still connected to the Rome's. It was said that after Romulus killed Remus, two sons of Remus named Senius and Aschius fled Rome and settled in Siena. They brought the statue of the she-wolf suckling the infant which became the symbol of the town.

However, according to history, Siena was first inhabited by a tribe called Saina in 900-400 BC. This tribe transformed the land here to a fertile one through irrigation system. The Lombards settled in Siena in the sixth century and had significant influence in governing the city. However, Siena's gothic appearance was gotten during the twelfth to the fifteenth century with the born of many great artists here.

Siena and Florence were never in agreement, causing these two cities to be in continuous war from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century. Eventually, Florence won and Siena eventually became on of the Florentine territories. To date, people in Siena still feel bitter about their loss to Florence.

The bus let us alight outside the city wall because Siena is best to be enjoyed on foot. We walked in from one of the entry points and strolled along the alley while listening to the tour guide explaining things to us. 

Statue of Sallustio Bandin, an archdeacon/economist/politician of Sienna
One of the alley

Then, we were brought to the cathedral of Siena or Duomo di Siena at the highest point of the city, which was dedicated as Roman Catholic Marian Church. It is now dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. The church underwent various phases of addition, alteration and renovation and never actually finished due to the Black Death happening in 1348. When the original structure of the church was built is still a mystery.

The main facade, the bell tower. and the dome
Posing with the gothic church
We went inside because the ticket was included in the tour package
We were then given about 20 minutes of free time before meeting the group below the bell tower of Piazza del Campo. Actually, 20 minutes were not enough for us to explore or to do some shopping, so we just decided to enjoy the piazza, which is regarded as one of the best medieval piazza. The piazza has a unique shape of a shell.

Cafes surrounded the piazza
Many people were sunbathing
The town hall

We then headed to an family-run organic farm for our lunch at Chianti. Chianti is a wine producing area of Tuscany that stretches from Florence to Siena. We enjoyed the beautiful hilly landscape with olive trees and vineyards along the way before reaching the farm.

What a beautiful world I am in

We were brought to tour the winery, the farm and the cowshed. After that we entered the dining hall which consists of 2 long tables from one end to another. It was too small for such a big group so we ended up elbowing each other during the lunch.

Winery tour
Gigantic cow inside the cowshed
It says "Poggio Alloro" Farm
Queueing into the dining hall

Even though the dining hall was a bit too small, the delicacies were not disappointing at all. We were served garlic bread as appetizer, pasta al ragu as the main, salad + cheese + salami + ham as the side, and almond biscotti as the dessert. And of course, free flow red and white wine!

As the owner of sweet teeth, I love the biscotti. The biscotti shall be eaten by dipping it into the dessert wine, and that's the best part. The biscotti gets a little bit softened, the wine immerses into the biscotti, the tastes of both blend perfectly. Delicioso!

Happy tummy!

During the lunch, the representative from the farm taught us how to shake and smell wine. She also explained each of the dishes before serving them. Apparently, the farm sold all the products at the backyard, but there was no hard selling, which was another plus point.

After lunch, we were given a bit of free time to shop or to just wander around. None of us was interested in carrying bottles of wine or olive oil throughout the journey, so we just skipped the shopping part. Enjoying the scenery was what we did and it was splendid.

I want to have this view at my backyard, amen

The journey continued to the fortress town across the farm, San Gimignano and the well know leaning tower of Pisa.

Next - Exploring Toscano in San G and Pisa

Love is in the air,
Little Feet

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