October 31, 2019 Sienna IT

If you are following our destinations you will notice we have headed south.   The drive was pretty uneventful, the last 45 minutes were thru some pretty rugged hills that are the home of the famous Chianti grape.  Tomorrow is a major holiday in Italy so the traffic on the autostrada seemed a little heavier than normal but still moving well.  

We arrived at the campground in Sienna around 11:30 and after checking the weather decided to head right downtown.  When we bought our bus tickets at the campground office the lady warned us to make sure we stamp our tickets as soon as we got on the bus as they have monitors and they are mean.  In Europe you can buy tickets in bulk and it is your responsibility to stamp the ticket when you use it, this is also true on the trains.  We have gotten used to this and have only forgotten once and of course we were checked.  The conductor on the train let us off with a polite lecture about using the stamp, sometimes it is good to be perceived as a clueless foreigner.  We were checked by monitors both going to town and coming back so they really are strict in Sienna.

Five streets come together in this intersection in Sienna.

Sienna has been on our must see list for the trip and while we had last minute thoughts of skipping it we decided this morning to double back and I am glad we did.  It is a mountain city and has maintained a great deal of the old world feel to it that we like. 

View of Sienna from the bus stop.

It is known for two things the gothic era town hall with a large tower, and of course it’s cathedral.  We came across the town hall first and it is indeed impressive.  But for us the Piazza in front of the hall is more impressive.  In addition to the town hall the Piazza is surrounded by 6 and 7 story brick buildings.  Unlike most Piazza’s it is not flat but kind of concave.  

The town hall which is the center of the main Piazza in Sienna.

The Piazza is used to stage a twice annual horse race called the Palio of Sienna which is pretty wild.  There are 17 neighborhoods in the city which in the past were organized as battalions for the defense of the city.  10 of them are selected at random to take part in the race.  The first thing is that the Piazza is not an oval nor level so the turns are angles which makes them a lot more intense.  The next thing is that the jockeys ride bare back which makes for a much more precarious perch on the horse.  The jockeys are allowed to use their whips on their horse, but also on other horses (not the jockeys) to “disturb” them.  Finally it is the horse that wins the race not the jockey which means if the jockey falls off sometime during the race and the horse carries on without him and crosses the finish line first it is the winner.

The Piazza where the race is held.

Our next stop was the cathedral.  We have seen a lot of cathedrals over time here, but Ton and I both said wow when we saw the Cathedral in Sienna.  It is not the largest cathedral, but the front is beautiful with intricate carvings and colored marble.

The intricate Cathedral of Sienna.

Having knocked out the two main attractions in town we just wandered up and down roads and alleys for a while taking in Sienna.  We both agreed that it would be easy to spend a few days here, but we are running out of time.  

The town symbol of Sienna.

October 30, 2019 Lucca IT

We woke early to catch the bus as there were only two options, one at 8:15 and the next at 11:10 which we thought was too late.  As I was getting things organized outside we ran into the owner of the Agritourismo, Andrea and he asked what I was doing up so early.  When I told him he said that he could have his father drive us in at a more civilized hour and we happily took him up on the offer.

The sign for the campground we are staying at in Lucca.

Ton did some research on the comic book festival in Lucca and it goes back to 1966.  It is the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world with 90,000 tickets sold each day and the festival apparently sells out the 450,000 tickets in hours each year.  It is a much larger event than we expected. We figured the people watching would be interesting even though we do not have tickets.

The people watching was fun.

Arriving at one of the city gates all of the tents we had seen around the city yesterday had long lines leading into them with fans of different cartoons and comics looking to score the latest merchandise.  We wandered the streets pretty aimlessly and Lucca is a great site for this kind of event as the long narrow streets with frequent piazza’s allow it to absorb the people effectively and allows the participants interesting places to stage photos.  

This guy loved having his picture taken and insisted on handing me his weapon.

A lot of the participants were dressed up in costume, though Ton and I are not the right age to identify most of the characters people were dressed up as.  We did have fun trying to guess.  Eventually we climbed up on the wall that encircles the old city and it turns out it is an unofficial promenade for the people in costume to walk and see what other people were wearing.  We ended up walking completely around the city.  We found one exhibit that was open to people without tickets, it was based on the video game Resident Evil so we got to go in and interact with a bunch of zombies in Raccoon City.  

One of the zombies and a guard at the Resident Evil display.

In between all of the characters we also continued to admire Lucca.  After a while we needed a little break so we went to a restaurant Ton had her eye on that has been in business since 1865.  Our waitress was a young lady who spoke English well.  She asked if we were here for the cartoon festival, we told her no, it was a happy accident.  She apologized and said that Lucca is a beautiful city and while the festival was really good for the local economy she is happy when it is over because it was just a little too weird, and to illustrate her point she had to run up to the cash register to ring up the bill of a zombie with his intestines hanging out and a knife in his back.

The view of the Hoben Oak trees on top of the tower.

We returned to François just before the rain that had been threatening all day hit.  I am writing this a little early today because we are heading up to the farmhouse for a 4 course Italian dinner, I will write about that tomorrow.

October 29, 2019 Lucca IT

Today we headed south back into Tuscany.  It was a short trip so we were able to complete an important task which was a stop at Lidl to fill up the cupboards which were pretty bare.  

After stocking up we headed out to the outskirts of Lucca to an agritourismo site.  Like France, one of the camping options in Italy is on farms.  In this case we are on a vineyard with 14 spots dedicated to campers.  When we pulled up to the site there were no campers in site, but we were immediately met by the owner Andrea who asked if we had reservations.  He said I know it looks crazy but we are full.  It turns out Lucca holds the Italian equivalent of Comicon and it is this week and 500,000 people are expected.  But in true Italian fashion with a twinkle in his eye he said we can stay for two nights which was exactly our plan, so it turns out there is no problem.  I then asked him about the bus into town and he said the schedule was posted, but he would give us a lift into town if we could leave soon.

Early arrivals for Lucca Comics and Games Festival.

Lucca was a treat.  It is an old walled town with the walls still intact.  It has suffered little damage over time and has been a settlement since the Romans so it is full of interesting buildings from many different eras.  We wandered the town for a few hours and were rewarded with small revelations around every corner.  There are no spectacular buildings in Lucca, just a bunch of medium sized churches and palazzos with really interesting features.  

One of the towers that Lucca is famous for.  This one has tress growing on the top of it.

While it caters to tourists, (Italian Comicon), it is not overrun with tourists like a lot of the places we visit.  Tomorrow we are going to give Lucca another look and take in the sites of Italians dressed like superhero and comic book characters in a town that goes back to the Romans.  It should be a treat.

Street scene in Lucca. We really enjoyed the atmosphere of Lucca.  

We tried to take the bus back to the campground, but the bus runs on a pretty irregular schedule.  Google told us the next bus was not for 2 and a half hours, the bus stop seemed to imply there was one an hour sooner than that.  We gambled on the bus stop sign and lost, so we decided to take a taxi. This turned out to be a good idea as a major thunderstorm rolled in just after we got back knocking out power in the area.

October 26, 2019 Florence IT

After our quick view of Florence yesterday we headed back in today with a plan for a walking tour of Florence.  It is another beautiful Indian Summer day, low 70’s and sunny.  

Florence is beautiful and an easy city to walk around in.  We hit all of the tourist highlights.  Because of the weather the city was teeming with people, but everyone seemed in a good mood.  We had thought of visiting the inside of the Cathedral but when we arrived the line was far too long so we moved on.

Exterior of the cathedral, we never made it inside.

Our next stop was the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge).  We had gone by yesterday to get some photos but Ton was not happy with the results so she wanted a reshoot.  (She is turning into a real professional.)  After getting some good shots we headed up hill on the far side of the river.  It was much quieter and we really enjoyed walking thru some interesting but less busy neighborhoods.  We headed up to the Piazzo Michaelangelo where we had a great view of the city.  On the way up we made a short detour into a very beautiful rose garden that we both enjoyed.

View of Florence from the Michaelangelo Plaza.

 

A copy of Michaelangelo’s David.

Our next stop was the Florence Market which is always a highlight for Ton in every city.  The Florence Market did not disappoint, we wandered from stand to stand for a good hour, and ended up with spices, pasta, and a kilo of parmesan cheese which we have optimistically vacuum packed, but I suspect will not make it home.  The upstairs of the market is a food court unlike any we have ever seen.  There are 50 or more food stands with an eclectic mix of Italian and non-Italian foods.  We were tempted but had two restaurants we wanted to check out for lunch.

A colorful stall at the Florence Market.

The first restaurant was right outside of the market but when we got there it was clear we were not the only one who had selected this restaurant.  The other restaurant on the list was a 20 minute walk away but when we got there it had already closed for lunch.  Now we were really hungry, we discussed going back to the food court at the market but neither one of us wanted to double back.  

As we were walking down the street Ton saw a place offering a two course meal with wine for €10.  It seemed too good to be true, and I was skeptical but Ton talked me into it and it turned into one of our best meals in Europe.  There were 6 choices for the pasta plate, and 6 choices for the meat plate.  We each picked different ones and shared and they were all good.  It also came with a carafe of wine that was a solid Tuscan.  In the end for €10 we had a memorable meal.

When we finished our meal we both had gone into a food coma, so we decided to head back to the Hilton for the day.

October 25, 2019 Florence IT

At the beginning of the trip Hilton informed us that we had to use points by November or we would lose them, so we are spending the next two nights in luxury at a Hilton Hotel near Florence, François is parked safely in the parking lot.

The drive over was relatively uneventful and we arrived early.  We had hoped to see a grocery store on our way to the hotel, but did not.  Since we were early we tried going to one near the hotel, but after wandering around for awhile (and possibly blundering into a ZTL) we could not find it so we headed back to the hotel and checked in.

We headed downtown to give Florence a preliminary look and were really impressed.  We just walked the streets but Ton killed the battery on her iPhone in about two hours she took so many pictures.

Street scene in Florence.

We walked down to the river to see the old bridge which is quite interesting as it is one of the few bridges to survive that continues the medieval tradition of having stores and dwellings on them.

The old bridge with shops built along either side.  The shops are high end jewelers.

We then came upon a Medici Palace and wandered in to check it out and decide if we would return and pay for the tour tomorrow.  We took a walk around the Cathedral and decided we definitely would return for the tour tomorrow.

The interior of the Medici Palace.

Having walked for awhile we decided to have a dinner of pizza and watched some Rugby on TV.  Florence makes a very good first impression.

October 31, 2019 Sienna IT

If you are following our destinations you will notice we have headed south.   The drive was pretty uneventful, the last 45 minutes were thru some pretty rugged hills that are the home of the famous Chianti grape.  Tomorrow is a major holiday in Italy so the traffic on the autostrada seemed a little heavier than normal but still moving well.  

We arrived at the campground in Sienna around 11:30 and after checking the weather decided to head right downtown.  When we bought our bus tickets at the campground office the lady warned us to make sure we stamp our tickets as soon as we got on the bus as they have monitors and they are mean.  In Europe you can buy tickets in bulk and it is your responsibility to stamp the ticket when you use it, this is also true on the trains.  We have gotten used to this and have only forgotten once and of course we were checked.  The conductor on the train let us off with a polite lecture about using the stamp, sometimes it is good to be perceived as a clueless foreigner.  We were checked by monitors both going to town and coming back so they really are strict in Sienna.

Five streets come together in this intersection in Sienna.

Sienna has been on our must see list for the trip and while we had last minute thoughts of skipping it we decided this morning to double back and I am glad we did.  It is a mountain city and has maintained a great deal of the old world feel to it that we like.  

View of Sienna from the bus stop.

It is known for two things the gothic era town hall with a large tower, and of course it’s cathedral.  We came across the town hall first and it is indeed impressive.  But for us the Piazza in front of the hall is more impressive.  In addition to the town hall the Piazza is surrounded by 6 and 7 story brick buildings.  Unlike most Piazza’s it is not flat but kind of concave.  

The town hall which is the center of the main Piazza in Sienna.

The Piazza is used to stage a twice annual horse race called the Palio of Sienna which is pretty wild.  There are 17 neighborhoods in the city which in the past were organized as battalions for the defense of the city.  10 of them are selected at random to take part in the race.  The first thing is that the Piazza is not an oval nor level so the turns are angles which makes them a lot more intense.  The next thing is that the jockeys ride bare back which makes for a much more precarious perch on the horse.  The jockeys are allowed to use their whips on their horse, but also on other horses (not the jockeys) to “disturb” them.  Finally it is the horse that wins the race not the jockey which means if the jockey falls off sometime during the race and the horse carries on without him and crosses the finish line first it is the winner.

The Piazza where the race is held.

Our next stop was the cathedral.  We have seen a lot of cathedrals over time here, but Ton and I both said wow when we saw the Cathedral in Sienna.  It is not the largest cathedral, but the front is beautiful with intricate carvings and colored marble.

The intricate Cathedral of Sienna.

Having knocked out the two main attractions in town we just wandered up and down roads and alleys for a while taking in Sienna.  We both agreed that it would be easy to spend a few days here, but we are running out of time.  

The town symbol of Sienna.

October 30, 2019 Lucca IT

We woke early to catch the bus as there were only two options, one at 8:15 and the next at 11:10 which we thought was too late.  As I was getting things organized outside we ran into the owner of the Agritourismo, Andrea and he asked what I was doing up so early.  When I told him he said that he could have his father drive us in at a more civilized hour and we happily took him up on the offer.

The sign for the campground we are staying at in Lucca.

Ton did some research on the comic book festival in Lucca and it goes back to 1966.  It is the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world with 90,000 tickets sold each day and the festival apparently sells out the 450,000 tickets in hours each year.  It is a much larger event than we expected. We figured the people watching would be interesting even though we do not have tickets.

The people watching was fun.

Arriving at one of the city gates all of the tents we had seen around the city yesterday had long lines leading into them with fans of different cartoons and comics looking to score the latest merchandise.  We wandered the streets pretty aimlessly and Lucca is a great site for this kind of event as the long narrow streets with frequent piazza’s allow it to absorb the people effectively and allows the participants interesting places to stage photos.  

This guy loved having his picture taken and insisted on handing me his weapon.

A lot of the participants were dressed up in costume, though Ton and I are not the right age to identify most of the characters people were dressed up as.  We did have fun trying to guess.  Eventually we climbed up on the wall that encircles the old city and it turns out it is an unofficial promenade for the people in costume to walk and see what other people were wearing.  We ended up walking completely around the city.  We found one exhibit that was open to people without tickets, it was based on the video game Resident Evil so we got to go in and interact with a bunch of zombies in Raccoon City.  

One of the zombies and a guard at the Resident Evil display.

In between all of the characters we also continued to admire Lucca.  After a while we needed a little break so we went to a restaurant Ton had her eye on that has been in business since 1865.  Our waitress was a young lady who spoke English well.  She asked if we were here for the cartoon festival, we told her no, it was a happy accident.  She apologized and said that Lucca is a beautiful city and while the festival was really good for the local economy she is happy when it is over because it was just a little too weird, and to illustrate her point she had to run up to the cash register to ring up the bill of a zombie with his intestines hanging out and a knife in his back.

The view of the Hoben Oak trees on top of the tower.

We returned to François just before the rain that had been threatening all day hit.  I am writing this a little early today because we are heading up to the farmhouse for a 4 course Italian dinner, I will write about that tomorrow.

October 29, 2019 Lucca IT

Today we headed south back into Tuscany.  It was a short trip so we were able to complete an important task which was a stop at Lidl to fill up the cupboards which were pretty bare.  

After stocking up we headed out to the outskirts of Lucca to an agritourismo site.  Like France, one of the camping options in Italy is on farms.  In this case we are on a vineyard with 14 spots dedicated to campers.  When we pulled up to the site there were no campers in site, but we were immediately met by the owner Andre who asked if we had reservations.  He said I know it looks crazy but we are full.  It turns out Lucca holds the Italian equivalent of Comicon and it is this week and 500,000 people are expected.  But in true Italian fashion with a twinkle in his eye he said we can stay for two nights which was exactly our plan, so it turns out there is no problem.  I then asked him about the bus into town and he said the schedule was posted, but he would give us a lift into town if we could leave soon.

Early arrivals for Lucca Comics and Games Festival.

Lucca was a treat.  It is an old walled town with the walls still intact.  It has suffered little damage over time and has been a settlement since the Romans so it is full of interesting buildings from many different eras.  We wandered the town for a few hours and were rewarded with small revelations around every corner.  There are no spectacular buildings in Lucca, just a bunch of medium sized churches and palazzos with really interesting features.  

One of the towers that Lucca is famous for.  This one has tress growing on the top of it.

While it caters to tourists, (Italian Comicon), it is not overrun with tourists like a lot of the places we visit.  Tomorrow we are going to give Lucca another look and take in the sites of Italians dressed like superhero and comic book characters in a town that goes back to the Romans.  It should be a treat.

Street scene in Lucca. We really enjoyed the atmosphere of the city.  

We tried to take the bus back to the campground, but the bus runs on a pretty irregular schedule.  Google told us the next bus was not for 2 and a half hours, the bus stop seemed to imply there was one an hour sooner than that.  We gambled on the bus stop sign and lost, so we decided to take a taxi. This turned out to be a good idea as a major thunderstorm rolled in just after we got back knocking out power in the area.

October 26, 2019 Florence IT

After our quick view of Florence yesterday we headed back in today with a plan for a walking tour of Florence.  It is another beautiful Indian Summer day, low 70’s and sunny.  

Florence is beautiful and an easy city to walk around in.  We hit all of the tourist highlights.  Because of the weather the city was teeming with people, but everyone seemed in a good mood.  We had thought of visiting the inside of the Cathedral but when we arrived the line was far too long so we moved on.

Exterior of the cathedral, we never made it inside.

 Our next stop was the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge).  We had gone by yesterday to get some photos but Ton was not happy with the results so she wanted a reshoot.  (She is turning into a real professional.)  After getting some good shots we headed up hill on the far side of the river.  It was much quieter and we really enjoyed walking thru some interesting but less busy neighborhoods.  We headed up to the Piazzo Michelangelo where we had a great view of the city.  On the way up we made a short detour into a very beautiful rose garden that we both enjoyed.

View of Florence from the Michelangelo Plaza.
A copy of Michaelangelo’s David.

Our next stop was the Florence Market which is always a highlight for Ton in every city.  The Florence Market did not disappoint, we wandered from stand to stand for a good hour, and ended up with spices, pasta, and a kilo of parmesan cheese which we have optimistically vacuum packed, but I suspect will not make it home.  The upstairs of the market is a food court unlike any we have ever seen.  There are 50 or more food stands with an eclectic mix of Italian and non-Italian foods.  We were tempted but had two restaurants we wanted to check out for lunch.

A colorful stall at the Florence Market.

The first restaurant was right outside of the market but when we got there it was clear we were not the only one who had selected this restaurant.  The other restaurant on the list was a 20 minute walk away but when we got there it had already closed for lunch.  Now we were really hungry, we discussed going back to the food court at the market but neither one of us wanted to double back.  

As we were walking down the street Ton saw a place offering a two course meal with wine for €10.  It seemed too good to be true, and I was skeptical but Ton talked me into it and it turned into one of our best meals in Europe.  There were 6 choices for the pasta plate, and 6 choices for the meat plate.  We each picked different ones and shared and they were all good.  It also came with a carafe of wine that was a solid Tuscan.  In the end for €10 we had a memorable meal.

When we finished our meal we both had gone into a food coma, so we decided to head back to the Hilton for the day.

October 25, 2019 Florence IT

At the beginning of the trip Hilton informed us that we had to use points by November or we would lose them, so we are spending the next two nights in luxury at a Hilton Hotel near Florence, François is parked safely in the parking lot.

The drive over was relatively uneventful and we arrived early.  We had hoped to see a grocery store on our way to the hotel, but did not.  Since we were early we tried going to one near the hotel, but after wandering around for awhile (and possibly blundering into a ZTL) we could not find it so we headed back to the hotel and checked in.

We headed downtown to give Florence a preliminary look and were really impressed.  We just walked the streets but Ton killed the battery on her iPhone in about two hours she took so many pictures.

Street scene in Florence.

We walked down to the river to see the old bridge which is quite interesting as it is one of the few bridges to survive that continues the medieval tradition of having stores and dwellings on them.

The old bridge with shops built along either side.  The shops are high end jewelers.

We then came upon a Medici Palace and wandered in to check it out and decide if we would return and pay for the tour tomorrow.  We took a walk around the Cathedral and decided we definitely would return for the tour tomorrow.

The interior of the Medici Palace.

Having walked for awhile we decided to have a dinner of pizza and watched some Rugby on TV.  Florence makes a very good first impression.