Just a quick entry with some photos, on my way off to dinner. Since the post about Bellagio we’ve done more exploring around lake Como, but I won’t touch on that just here.
Here there are a few snaps of our last day in the house at Nesso, and then a whirlwind summary of our travels through Tuscany, where we were based in Florence for a week.
Before leaving Nesso we had the barbecue that we had promised ourselves, up in the perched gazebo above the little second kitchen. View of the lake, great steak and sausages and salads and beer: perfect. After a bit of recovery we walked down the hill to see if we could find the ferry wharf and the “Romanesque” bridge over the waterfall. First attempt was a hot and bothersome fail, because after descending most of the way to the water we were blocked by some road works that had the whole path blocked. So we climbed back up to street level and set off for another way down. The second way did (eventually) get us there, and the view was as spectacular as we had hoped. So, all boxes checked at lake Como!
Stopped in Cremona briefly on the way to our hotel in Regio Emelia (in Rubiera). Seemed more tired than we remembered it, but that probably wasn’t helped by getting lost (heading in totally the wrong direction) when we got out of the car. Didn’t climb the campanile this time, but did go into the duomo, which I don’t remember doing the last time. A bit over-decorated, for my taste.
Our day-trip from Rubiera was to Parma, which was lovely. We visited the Teatro Regio de Parma, which was apparently very famous and had hosted many events. The guided tour was only in Italian, so a lot of it went over my head, but I caught the fact that it seated over one thousand (six per box and the aisles) and that it had been well used by all of the greats. Not as fancy as Opera Garnier in Paris, but at least as large. We were too late for the morning opening of the Duomo, so we occupied ourselves by having lunch in the piazza and then wandering out to the Parco Ducale via the Parco San Paolo (I think.) Got back to the Duomo to find that the famous Correggio fresco “Assumption of the Virgin” was completely dominated by the over-the-top decoration and frescoes of the rest of it. Even worse than the Duomo in Cremona, to my eye. Luckily it was a “no foto” site.
Arrived in Florence (Firenze to the locals) in time for a late-afternoon walk into town to see the sights. The walk turned out to be a bit further than we had expected: more like 35 minutes to the Duomo than 20, and perhaps most of an hour back once we had reached the Arno and Ponte Vecchio. We were sore and tired that night! Still, the heavy rain of the dreadful drive south had given way to a sparkling and sunny late afternoon, and everything looked beautiful. Well worth it. The next day Greg and I went to the Uffizi gallery while Cath and Pam went to the leather markets at San Lorenzo. They were still going when we had finished, so we joined them and watched some shopping.
The next day we made a day trip to Sienna, which turned out to be extremely lucky timing. The weather was perfect: warm and sunny for a change. We parked fairly close and walked into town, and as we got to the main piazza we heard drums and that turned into a parade. Sienna is a town comprised of seventeen (?) “contrada”. You might be tempted to think of these as suburbs, but here they are much more than that: each contrada has a flag and an emblem or totem, and each of those has a baptismal font. People belong to their contrada in a cross between a nationality and a football team. Cath had a plan that we should try to find all of the baptismal fonts, but on this particular day it seemed that much more was going on. The parade was by the “giraffe” contrada: they were wearing their red-and-white colours and waving their flags to the drum beat. What’s more, it turned out that our plans intersected: we ran into their parade three more times during the day (they seemed to keep going all day): they were marching around to each of the other contrada’s fonts as some sort of show of force. This got even more interesting at the “tortoise” contrada’s font, just as we had found it and photographed it, the “giraffe” guys showed up again, but were seemingly rebuffed by some “tortoise” stalwarts who stood around their font, and at the border to their zone, waving their own flags. Very macho, if not for the tights and pointy red shoes and hats… After a long day’s sight-seeing, we decided to head back to the main piazza for a drink: it would be touristy, but at least something would be open, and we would be able to sit. Well when we got there we must have found the very last vacant cafe table, and as we were served the piazza continued to fill up. Something was definitely happening, and all of these people were waiting for it. There was even some sort of TV presenter guy nearby, occasionally talking into a professional video camera, and interviewing people. Then the “giraffe” guys entered and did another full circuit of the piazza. That wasn’t the end of it, though. There was some trumpet fanfare, and windows opened on the main building, and a contrada flag (not the giraffe, but I can’t remember which) was brought out and hung on a mount outside, and a section of the assembled crowd went wild: just like a goal at a football match. That pattern was repeated another half a dozen times. Apparently what was being announced were the houses/contrada that had been accepted into the annual Palio (horse race around the piazza). Only ten of the seventeen make it in, and the giraffe guys weren’t among the chosen. The race itself is in July, I think: must try to watch it. Anyway, that capped off a wonderful and unexpectedly entertaining day.
Another day trip was to Montepulciano, which finished with a search for the little-known Cappella di Vitaleta, half way to Montalcino. Pam had taken a lovely photo of it on her previous trip with Cath, and it is one of the “iconic” images of Tuscany that is often seen in brochures and such. The season wasn’t quite right though: the yellow-flowering fields weren’t in bloom and the sky was full of storm clouds. We did find it though. (Actually, before we escaped Montepulciano we were caught in the rain without our umbrellas, so had no alternative but to spend some time in a wine bar, tasting the local produce. Hard work!)
The next day in Florence was “see the sights” day: we climbed the campanile, visited the Duomo and Battistero (both very tastefully designed and decorated: beautiful.) Also visited the basilica Santa Croce, which is the site of the tombs of luminaries like Michaelangelo, Dante, Galileio and Marconi. By this stage we had figured out the bus system, so we didn’t have to slog into town on foot. We were also able to hop on a bus to take us up the hill to San Miniato al Monte (where the priests sing vespers in gregorian chant style) and to the Piazza Michaelangelo, which has that fantastic view over Florence.
Yesterday we made a trip to San Gimignagno, which was as beautiful and touristic as predicted. Those photos are still on the cameras though, so will have to wait for another entry.
Today we left Florence and Tuscany behind us and returned to the province of Emilia-Romagna, spending a lovely day in Bologna before reaching our hotel. Will have to leave that for next time too.