Day 11 - Travel day to Sienna
After breakfast, our bags were loaded into the taxi and we headed down the hill to the train which took us back to our bus. We stopped in a town called Lucca on our way. The historic downtown area is surrounded by high walls called ramparts built in the 16th and 17th centuries to keep out invaders. Most people in our group rented bikes to ride on the trails on top of the walls but we chose to just wander on foot. While there, we toured San Michele in Foro, a Roman Catholic basilica. A basilica is different than a church or cathedral in that it has been granted special privileges by the pope. Many basilicas contain the dismembered remains of important religious figures called relics. We walked by Puccini’s home and San Martino Cathedral. Like many other places we had visited, there were talented street musicians singing and playing accordion, guitar and saxophone. Heading by bus back to Florence, we visited The American World War II Memorial and Cemetery. It was a sobering reminder of those Americans who died in Italy and were never brought back home to be buried. In fact, many buried there have never been visited by a family member. We were grateful for the opportunity to personally pay tribute to them. We got back on the bus and continued on to Siena, a hill town in the heart of Tuscany. Siena is a “living museum” brimming with some of Italy’s finest Gothic architecture. The public square, called Il Campo or Piazza del Campo, is home to the famous Palio horse race which takes place twice annually in July and August. Seventeen contrada or different neighborhoods in Siena fiercely compete for the honor of winning which results in a great community celebration in that contrade. It’s a rough and tough race where the jockeys are permitted to push and shove each other. Sometimes the horses cross the finish line without a jockey and may still be declared the winner! Donald took us on an orientation walk then turned us over to a local guide named Annalisa who led us on a fascinating tour around the streets of Siena explaining all about the Palio. The horses are actually blessed inside a church before the race. We visited The Museum of the Contrada which was filled with Palio memorabilia. After a glass of prosecco with the group on our hotel veranda, we walked to the outdoor community dinner hosted by the most recent winning contrade named The Forest. How lucky to be there on this day to enjoy a dinner with the locals. The food was all prepared and served by volunteers and it was wonderful. The wine was local and with dessert we were served an Italian dessert wine called Vin Santo. It was very nice walking around Siena at night.
Day 12 – Day two in Siena
Donald led us to a stained glass workshop owned by two brothers. We were shown the process involved in creating stunning stained glass windows like so many we had seen in the churches. It was a very interesting demonstration then we were introduced to a local guide named Roberta. She led us on a tour of the magnificent Duomo di Siena. We got lucky again in our timing because the marble & graphito mosaic inlaid floors in this church are only exposed for viewing eight weeks a year and we were able to see them. On our own for the rest of the afternoon and evening, we roamed around the streets of Siena taking in the culture and scenery like locals dancing in the streets to American swing music. We dined at Compagnia dei Vinattieri.