Saturday, May 16, 2015

Florence log 2 - Siena

First of all, some updates from yesterday.

I apologise whole-heartedly to the hotel for having written that there is no hot water available for drinking. I discovered in the evening - after having written the blog - that in the breakfast room there is a jug of water and a jug of coffee on a hot plate. There are tea bags and sugar there but no milk. This service is available from 3pm.

For supper yesterday, I went into the supermarket which is just across the road. The front is extremely unassuming but inside it's like the Tardis: very large and a huge selection. I bought only rolls and sliced cheese, but it occurred to me later that I could have bought a wider selection of goods. Today we bought fruit, milk, more rolls and smoked salmon. A feast fit for a king.

As usual, I woke at around 5:30am; immediately fully awake, I decided to go to the Duomo. It took me six minutes to walk there, which means that it's about 0.75km away. As expected, there was almost nobody there (apart from a few sanitation trucks) cleaning so I could take as many pictures as I wanted without anyone getting in the way. Unfortunately there was a metal grill in front of the gates of paradise, which meant that photographing them was problematic. Maybe I'll get a better shot during the Segway trip on Sunday evening.

Today's activity was an organised trip to Siena and San Gimignano. This involved a drive of about an hour and a half to Siena, which is situated about 60km south of Florence. Depending on one's point of view, the Tuscan countryside can be beautiful, but to me it seems like Britain - green fields and forests. Once in Siena, we were handed over to a local guide who told us at length about the various wards into which the city is divided. This was interesting to a certain amount, but possibly overdone. She took us to one of the ward's museums, which is in a basement underneath a church.

Whilst walking around the old city of Siena through its many alleyways, I was reminded of Robert Silverberg's comic novel, 'Up the line', which is about a tourist guide who takes groups around Istanbul - only in the past. He (and other guides) visit the same sites several times but due to the paradoxes of time travel, they have to disguise themselves and ignore previous versions of themselves; each time they have to find a new approach to their tour. Today, there were very many tour groups, and each guide had to find a different route and a different ward museum to show before descending en masse to the Piazza del Campo. 

As a result, the first part of the visit was very interesting, but the huge piazza, in which are held horse races between the wards, was packed with people. To make things worse, there was also some kind of vintage motor car rally, 1000 miglia, which also drew the crowds. The top of the piazza is filled with restaurants and stalls all selling the same souvenirs. The phrase which describes today is "More of the same". We picked a restaurant at random and shared a pizza.

After leaving Siena, we drove part of the way back to Florence before stopping in the medieval town of San Gimignano. Unfortunately, this too was filled with tourist groups, and because the options are much fewer than in Siena, it seemed totally over-run. Nevertheless, we had an interesting talk about the history of the town in the museum, reserved only for our group, then had free time to spend. We had a well deserved cup of tea in an outside restaurant, and had the piazza not been so full, this would have been delightful. We had to pass up the chance of tasting 'the best ice cream in the world', as one gelateria titled itself as we had a long walk back to the bus.

I am sure that I would have enjoyed the trip more had the sites been less crowded.

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