120510 Sorrento – San Gimignamo 10 May Thursday

Today we leave ‘the best ocean view’ one could ever have.  Although the rooms are tiny, the experience of living ‘on the edge of a cliff’ gives us a new meaning.  After breakfast, we head back towards Rome via Naples.  The scenery is absolutely stunning.  There is no sign of  a drought; every thing is green.  We travel through olive groves, lemon orchards, and into wineries, all is lush and at full speed of growth.

Although we travel around 250km, time is well spent viewing the rolling hills and attractive landscape on our way to Tuscany.  Often, a village is noticed on top of a hill, and has to be included in the camera.  The highway is not overloaded, but constant with many lorries and coaches.  We stop for comfort along the way, and have lunch at a highway eating-house; short staffed but very efficient.

We divert to Siena, a very quaint village on a hill.  The parking point for the coach is teaming with other coaches from around Europe.  We have taxis waiting to transfer us through the narrow cobble stoned streets, into the cathedral square.  Here is a marvellous cathedral, Duome.  The mosaics on the floor and walls are just ‘different’.  There is a library of old sheet music, which has been preserved and is not allowed to be breathed on in case the music is affected.  The painting and mosaics on the walls of the library are in very fine detail.

We then take a stroll through the cobbled streets, past exquisite shops of great color and style.  The leather shops have some magnificent colored bags and cases in them.  We make it to a large ‘square’.

This is the point where the city’s three hills meet.  The curved and sloping Piazza del Campo takes the form of a scallop shell.  This was where the Romans built their forum.  It is the stage of the world-famous Palio, the major event in Tuscany’s calendar. The Palio di Siena (known locally simply as Il Palio) is a horse race that is held twice each year, on July 2 and August 16.  Ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in the appropriate colours, represent ten of the seventeen city wards. The Palio held on July 2 is named Palio di Provenzano, in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano, who has a church in Siena. The Palio held on August 16 is named Palio dell’Assunta, in honour of the Assumption of Mary.

A magnificent pageant, the Corteo Storico, precedes the race, which attracts visitors and spectators from around the world.

The race itself, in which the jockeys ride bareback, circles the Piazza del Campo, on which a thick layer of dirt has been laid, three times and usually lasts no more than 90 seconds. It is not uncommon for a few of the jockeys to be thrown off their horses while making the treacherous turns in the piazza, and indeed, it is not unusual to see unmounted horses finishing the race without their jockeys.

We are given 50 minutes free time and Lyn makes the most of the clothing shops – 4 pieces in one shop.  The shopkeeper is very happy.  I notice a cake shop next door and for 1 Euro, I am able to enjoy a chocolate éclair filled with liquid chocolate, mmmmmmmm.  Lyn only saw the last mouth full going in.

We arrive at San Gimignano and find our delightful accommodation at a Tuscany winery.  The bus has three shots at reversing up the hill to the entrance to the accommodation. The evening meal entree is spaghetti  – how do so many people enjoy this ‘stuff’?  We are here just the one night before venturing on to Florence tomorrow.

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