We enjoyed our guided tour out to two old towns in Tuscany, and the
views of the country-side that we saw from the bus to and from our
destinations. The tour first took us to the town of Sienna, which is
one of the oldest towns in Tuscany, having been an ancient city
settled by the Etruscans, with stone buildings and walls before Rome
was more than a camp. Sienna is built on three hills, and has very
narrow streets running between old brick and stone buildings that are
4 and 5 stories tall, so the streets are in shade for most of the day.
They have an amazing Duomo (cathedral) with many elaborate stone
carvings on the floor, and the usual assortment of statues and
illuminated manuscripts, ornate gilded patterns on the ceiling, etc.
The central piazza of Sienna is very large, and shaped like a big
sea-shell. They have a horse race around the square every summer, in which the 17 different districts of the town each enter
one horse to compete. 40,000 people cram into the middle of the
square and the horses run around the outside. It sounds crazy, and
very hot. It is odd to think of living in a building that is 800
years old, or even 400 years old, like some of the people in Sienna
Our tour then took us to San Gimignano, which is a very well preserved
medieval town. Partly it is so well preserved because it was
abandoned for hundreds of years after the black plague killed most of
the people in the town. It is famous for the tall towers that still
survive, packed in relatively densely.
While both towns were interesting, we felt rushed. I think this is the nature of any guided tour, but it seemed the best way to get out to Sienna. We wished we'd had more time there; as it was, we hardly had any time to explore in either of the towns. But it was certainly relaxing to spend a day not having to make any decisions about what to do and where to go, and talking to some people who were native English speakers for the first time in 10 days!