Under a Tuscan Sun

Perfect weather and sights!

One of the things that we always expect to happen during our vacations is that the weather is perfect!  So far, Tuscany has delivered just that with gorgeous, sunny days that are not too hot and nights that are cool enough for comfortable sleeping.  With this weather, every road trip has been a pleasure and today’s was no exception, as we headed into the direction of Montepulciano.

Driving through the landscape, it is just a joy to behold all the gently rolling valleys and cross the hills that separate them.  The winding roads give a clear indication why Italians would love their supercars, as these roads are made for powerful, highly maneuverable vehicles.

Our first stop was in the small town of Pienza, which is simply gorgeous.  Its small, highly walkable center is filled with little restaurants, such as the one in an alley where we ate a  fantastic meal in an atmosphere where the owner enjoyed our presence.

Little streets and a beautiful church (go check the labyrinth) really show why Pienza is a world heritage site.  Among towns, this is a relatively new settlement, as the entire town was rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance city by Pope Pius II and named after him.

Montepulciano is the larger of the two towns that we visited today.  Sitting on a limestone ridge, this town is a hill climb in just about every direction, as streets are steep each and every way.  The medieval fortress is very much in evidence in many sections, as the heavy walls dominate any time one gets closer to the edge of town.  Wine merchants are everywhere and many indicate that they ship acorss the globe.

On our return trip, I stopped to get some landscape shots, such as the last image in the series; plenty of work to do in editing images when I get home, as these landscapes are just beautiful to see.

A Day in Siena

Hills, beauty and tourists!

As Siena is about 45 minutes by car from where we are staying in Colordesoli, it clearly is a must visit on our list of hill towns.  It is a well-known stop on most tourists’ travels throughout Tuscany, as it generates in excess of 160,000 visits per year.  Even during the pre-season, it was clearly very busy, as can be seen in the image of the Piazza del Campo.

We found a convenient parking lot near Santa Caterina; parking lots are well-indicated, if you come into Sienna from the west side with signage that shows how many spots are still open in the parking lot.  A short uphill trek from our parking lot, got us to the escalators into the center of town.  These escalators took us up about 9 floors to within a 100 meters or so from the Siena Cathedral.

This catedral is another example of the usage of black and white marble in construction, just like the one in Volterra.  Our first stop was the Piazza del Campo, famous for the Palio horse race, which is run twice a year (early July and mid August); I can only imagine what a madhouse it will be during those races.

Sauntering around the streets that surround the Piazza del Campo, it is easy to keep your bearings, as many of the streets have little alleys that lead back to the main square.  Lots of these streets have great shopping opportunities and fantastic leather products of excellent quality.

Siena is also well-known for its cuisine, and I have to say that it lived up to it, as lunch was truly outstanding!

Overall, I think that Siena was well worth the visit, particularly, as the crowds started thinning out after lunch.  A lovely city with great food and good places to visit!

A Day in Volterra

A quintessential hill town

During our vacation in Italy, one of our driving goals is to get some time to relax and not hurry from location to location in an effort to get as much viewed as possible.  Rather, spending some quality time in a smaller number of locations, which gives us a better feel for what these places are really like (and were like).  As we’re focusing on hill towns in Tuscany, that means we have to make some decisions about which ones we want to visit; one of these choices was between San Gimignano and Volterra, both of which are well known towns.

Volterra became our first choice, as it is eminently walkable in relaxed fashion and has a great variety of points of interest.  We parked in the free lot (#3), which does require a considerable number of steps to be ascended in order to get into town.  In town, there are lots of quaint little streets, each with their own character and occasional vehicular traffic (locals only!).

The Basilica on the main square is beautiful in its construction of alternating rows of black and white marble, and impressive to see form the inside.  It’s located next to the town hall, which is a rather lively piazza with lots of places to have an espresso or shop for alabaster ware.

After a delicious meal at Torre del Porcellino (I enjoyed my wild boar!), we sauntered over to visit the Etruscan excavation, which is an active archaeological site.  Pay to enter and you also will get access to the Roman amphitheater at the other side of town.  The excavation is of a site with several temples and surrounding houses, and also includes a descent (8 m) into a cistern from Roman times.

The Roman amphitheater is also very impressive, as it leans back against the old town walls and well worth the visit.

The atmosphere in Volterra was very relaxed and provided lots of great shopping for leather and alabaster carvings.  The gelato at Isola del Gusto was fantastic!

Tuesday Photo Challenge – Street

Taking it to the streets

Welcome to Week 58 of the Tuesday Photo Challenge.

This week’s theme is inspired by some of what I have seen in Italy this week, in particular in the smaller towns that are here in Tuscany.  As many of these towns have rather interesting street layouts due to their geography, I’m going with the theme of Street.

My challenge to you is to share something that you enjoy about a particular street or streets, which should give you plenty of latitude in providing something truly creative.  I expect that there may be some unusual posts with a theme like this, as this can clearly range from beauty to the people on the street to an intergalactic highway.  The choices are yours!

Here’s One of the streets that caught my eye this week…

Streets in Chiusdino

Chiusdino is a small town close to where my wife and I are staying in Tuscany.  It’s filled with streets like this, where you have to traverse stairs to get to your front door.  Movers must have an interesting job in towns like this!

The full rules of this challenge are in TPC Guidelines, but here’s the tl;dr:

  • Write a post with an image for this week’s topic
  • Please tag your post with fpj-photo-challenge (if you’re not sure about how tags work, please check out this WordPress article about tagging posts)
  • Create a pingback link to this post, so that I can create a post showing all of the submissions over the week (note: pingbacks may not appear immediately, as my site is set up to require approval for linking to it; helps against previous bad experiences with spamming)
  • Have fun creating something new (or sharing something old)!!

Very much looking forward to all of your great images!  Should be a fun week!

A lazy Sunday in Tuscany

Relaxing doesn’t have to be hard work

Sometimes, vacation is all about doing as little as possible, rather than visiting every possible point of interest in the area.  This Sunday, started with a wonderful time to relax during the morning, as we slept in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast on the back porch of our AirBnB place in Colordesoli.  As we didn’t have any firm plans, the decision was to find a gas station that was open and then get some lunch.

The little Fiat 500 was pretty low on fuel, so gas first!  As I wasn’t used to how gas stations are operated in Italy, I mistook no human presence for the station being closed.  As I stopped by a station that, according to Google, was open 24 hours a day, I was still somewhat befuddled by the machine set up.  Luckily, a friendly motorcyclist was helpful and showed me the basics and the tank was soon filled!  After that we stopped by a trattoria for some delicious lunch and were treated to some free dessert.

Roaming around, we stopped by the Abbey at San Galgano, which was a rather interesting locale to visit and photograph.

A trek up the hill next to the abbey got us to the Eremo of Montisiepi, which is a beautiful round structure that was built over the site of the hut where San Galgano spent the last year of his life.  In the center of the round, is San Galgano’s sword, which has been stuck in the rock for over 800 years.

After visiting the hermitage, we stopped by a lovely little wine bar down the path for a bit of sustenance after our trek uphill.

Tuesday Photo Challenge – Round Up 57

You won’t believe all these places!

Welcome to the 57th round up of the Tuesday Photo Challenge!

Wow, wow, wow!  You have travelled all over the world and lots of places that I would love seeing.  The variety of images and posts is nothing short of mind-blasting!  There’s lots of viewing and reading in these posts and I enjoyed it all!

Thank you for your wonderful participation!!

I thought I’d share this image with you that is from yesterday…

Chiusdino in the Distance

This view was from Sunday’s drive through the hills of Tuscany, as we were closing in on the beautiful little town of Chiusdino.

The following were this week’s participants in the challenge with links to their posts:

  • Xenia managed to presage this week’s topic by posting a wonderful Haibun and photos in Whippetwisdom, all about passing places!
  • Wow, ladyleemanilla all the places that you have been to!  And so many great photos.  There is a challenge in recognizing all of them…
  • pensivity101 shares a great photo from Comberton Quay and thoughts of canal boat travelling.
  • Stella truly is a world traveller, as demonstrated by the photography in her entry in Giggles & Tales.
  • Candace shows us some fantastic images of her travels to really cool places in her post in Netdancer’s Musings.
  • Miriam’s post in the Showers of Blessing highlights the wonderful aspects of a family visit.
  • The blog might be called Watching the Daisies, but Bridgid’s post this week focuses on much more than daisies in her report on the Keukenhof, which is magnificent!
  • This week’s entry from theonlyD800inthehameau takes you to one of the places that is on my bucket list: Petra!
  • Miriam takes us Out an’ About on the Taloongi Trails, which certainly is a travel adventure, particularly when Doug overestimates the ground clearance of his truck…
  • Une Photo, un poéme goes on a pilgrimage to a fantastic monastery in Bulgaria in a wonderful post!
  • Bullyboy first takes us to a site representing the Dravidian culture in India in his first post in Travel387 and then takes us to Ooty and area in his second post in Travel387.
  • Ron’s post in Progressing Into Solitude provides a view of what reminds him that he is travelling… a bit eerie!
  • Judith takes us to Thailand in her travel post in Nature Knows Best: what a wonderful holiday!
  • Marie went to North Pole and provides us with a great post about Alaskan Spring in The New 3Rs: Retire, Recharge, Reconnect!
  • George tells us about his travels in and around Greensboro, NC, in his post in the Alchemist of the Woods, which experience is very different, depending on the season!
  • Justine provides us with a view of a town closer to my residence in her post in Justine Taylor Photography.
  • Debbie gives us a wonderful post in ForgivingConnects, filled with the happiness that comes from forgiveness.
  • Khürt takes us camping in the Poconos in his post in Island in the Net.
  • Grace goes to visit Grandma and does a repair job in her post in Following Him Beside Still Waters; nice flowers!

This is another great set of images, posts and participation! Thanks to each of you for taking the time and being creative! Tomorrow’s theme is already written and scheduled! See, if you can guess what it is 🙂

Il Castello di Giulio II

Warrior Pope at this best!

Saturday was our travel day from Ostia Antica to Colordesoli, up in Tuscany. Before we left Ostia Antica, we wanted to take the opportunity to visit the papal castle of Julius II, as it is open for visiting during the weekend.

I mentioned Julius II in a previous post; he was nicknamed ‘The Fearsome Pope’ or ‘The Warrior Pope’ likely due to his rather active foreign policy.  He was elected to the papacy unanimously in 1503, due to a bit of backroom dealing, in which he made the Borgias believe that they would get lots of money as a result of his election.

However, upon getting elected, he stated:

“I will not live in the same rooms as the Borgias lived. He [Alexander VI] desecrated the Holy Church as none before. He usurped the papal power by the devil’s aid, and I forbid under the pain of excommunication anyone to speak or think of Borgia again. His name and memory must be forgotten. It must be crossed out of every document and memorial. His reign must be obliterated. All paintings made of the Borgias or for them must be covered over with black crepe. All the tombs of the Borgias must be opened and their bodies sent back to where they belong—to Spain.”

He very much became his own Pope and was ambitious in building, as much as striking out into foreign lands.  His building projects included the destruction and rebuilding of the St. Peter Basilica (it wasn’t big enough before) and the commission of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo.

The castle in Ostia Antica is not huge by castle standards, but nonetheless very impressive.  It is clearly set up for battle, both inside the castle and taking on any siege that may be laid upon it.  Canon and gun ports are everywhere, and they even used the residual heat from gun fire to warm that water for bathing.  In its more recent past, the castle has also been used as a prison, as evidenced by prisoner’s markings on the walls of cells, counting down the days till their death.

The guided tour of the castle is full of information, and even though our tour was in Italian, a couple of our fellow tour participants were nice enough to provide us English translation of a number of tour highlights.  So, if you’re in Ostia Antica during a weekend, check out the Castello de Giulio II!