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Thankful for the Tuscan Sun

The first week in Castiglion Fiorentino

sunny 21 °C

Follow the arrow to our place in Castiglion Fiorentino!

Feb 29


On "leap day," we drove to the Tuscan town where we have rented a flat with a fair bit of anxiety. This was for two weeks. What would it be like? We had made the booking so long ago, and now all we had was a cell phone conversation where the owner directed us to "go to Castiglion Fiorentino, meet my father, in Piazza Garibaldi, right by the obilesk." Obilesk? But I had heard right, and soon after we found the spot and the "father" pulled up. He did not speak a word of English, not even hello. But we all managed to communicate through single words of Italian and gestures. Parking's no problem here, there's a large, free public lot, overlooking a valley. In between sections of the lot, there's a shaded playground. Great little area. He then took us to the flat, and wow, what a relief. It's a beautiful apartment, in a house dating to the 1700s inside the medieval city walls of CF. Halfway between Arezzo and Cortona, it's a classic, hilltop Tuscan town. Gorgeous.

The hill-top keep

Our second (i.e. third) floor flat is on the corner, and both sides look out on a church's belltower. One bedroom has a balcony. All the tile and paint and woodwork are interesting, especially the centuries-old looking exposed beams in the ceilings of the bedrooms. After signalling our satisfaction with the place, the father even took us out for coffee, where our awkward but warm "conversation" continued.

March 1


We drove to Arezzo today, about 20 km, despite a bleak-looking sky. Today, a Saturday, there was an antiques market on there, which meant with the streets were lined with tables of antiques dealers. Not our thing, especially when travelling with backpacks, but it added some interest. When we saw a Blockbuster video, we actually bought some bargain-bin used DVDs to have something to watch on those quiet evenings. We even got Anica Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoneix, which we watched (already) tonight.

Arezzo also has the 13th century church of San Francesco, where the inside walls and apse are decorated by frescos done by Piero della Francesca. Normally, you have to reserve in advance to see the "Legend of the True Cross" section in the apse, but this is the off-season! We just bought our ticket and walked in right away. Jenn said to Anica, "do you want to look at the brochure," but Anica surprised us by already knowing the story. She pointed out each panel, explaining "that's Constantine dreaming of the cross," etc. Apparently she'd read that section of our guidebook in the morning, not even knowing she'd see it today! And remembered it! Anyway, it's a beautiful, haunting cycle. The most famous panel is of the Queen of Sheba kneeling in recognition of the true cross.

March 2


Sunday: day of rest. When in Tuscany, do as the Tuscans do. Everything's closed anyway. Anica and I did go to the little soccer-field just down the street. Sorry, "football." I've never seen anything like this. It's an artificial turf, fully-lined, one-third sized field, with one whole side of the field bounded by the medieval city wall, and the rest netted. Open for anyone to use! We have that crazy inflatable ball that's served so many purposes, so we had fun using the field.

March 3


The big Tuscan drive today! We had a couple places in mind, but generally were heading west to the Siena area. Anica gets pretty anxious about whether we know the way or not. I guess we traumatized her that first night with the car in Madrid. We're trying to reassure her that you can't get too lost in Tuscany, and they'll always be signs to find our way back "home." We both remember our parents arguing over maps and directions. I guess it's our turn!

After a nice scenic stretch of driving, we saw what looked like a perfectly maintained fort of a hilltop. Let's go there! It turned out to be a little town inside those walls, called Monteriggioni. Maybe 700 people live there. We had a picnic in a garden/park. Perfect spot, right at noon, with the temperature up over 20 degrees now. The weather has been unseasonably warm ever since we were in Rome.

Monteriggioni's perfectly outlined town walls

The next stop was San Gimignano, known for its medieval towers. My parents always said it was the "Manhattan of Tuscany." We saw the towers from a distance, more than 10 km away, and just knew: that's San Gimignano. Anica said "from here, it looks like another world. Like the city in The Golden Compass.

Unfortunately, we ended up "torturing" Anica there, by taking her to the Museum of Torture, which one of the "kid's" guides had recommended. Anica may like some "gross" stuff, but not where people are getting hurt. Suddenly, Jenn recalled the "Unicorn Palace" music from Vietnam. Anica felt all woozy and sick and we took her out. The staff there quickly produced sugar cubes and water, saying even adults need that sometime. Whoops! So I won't get into the details of this expertly-done, very serious museum. We looked around the town of San Gimignano some more, recovering by sitting in the square of the town's well, and with a dose of gelato.

One of the medieval towers in San Gimignano

The final stop of the day was Vinci. As in "da." As in "Leonardo." They have a museum there (MUCH more kid-appropriate) where they've built some of his machines based on his sketchbook. The best part was the flying machine, displayed in an old castle, and the water-related inventions, such as his diving suit, planks for walking on water, and paddleboat.

Well-proportioned people in Vinci

The drive back, in the dark, involved a few more wrong turns, worries, and arguing about who was right or not listening. I think I was wrong, and I was not listening, if memory serves. But we made it! We were about 200 km from CF, so that's not bad for night driving. Most of the time it's too dark to check the map, and there's hardly any room to pull over.

March 4


Just down the road from CF is the much-better known town of Cortona, thanks to "Under the Tuscan Sun." We found it a very fun drive, twisting up the hillside on a nice sunny day. Then we found the internet point where I'm writing this now. We looked around some of the main squares of the town, and (this was Jenn's idea not mine this time) walked up the really long, steep hill to the top of the hill (or am I allowed to say mountain?) that overlooks even the town itself. On the way up, the path is lined with a series of mosiacs displaying the Passion of Christ, done in modernist/Futurist style. The path back down is part of the original Roman road, and at the top is a church and monastery. We ran into a retired Canadian couple from Ottawa and talked about each others' travels. "Did you walk up too?" they asked. "It must only be the crazy Canucks who will do this!"

Cortona is all about stairs and hills!

March 5


We got up early to take the train to Florence (sorry, Firenze) today, but then looked outside. The Tuscan sun was gone! So were the warm temperatures. Today it poured rain and dropped to about 4 degrees. When we did venture outside we saw snow (which we vaguely recalled the look of from our distant past) on the hilltops all around our town. A couple of hundred metres higher and the rain was hitting the ground as snow! So now, we're even more appreciative of the weather we WERE having.

Loggia and church in Castiglion Fiorentino, on a sunnier day

Feb 29


"Tuscany: Castiglion F'no. What?"

Back on the road again. The old, think-it's-the-best Austostrada. Like it was a boring drive! We stopped for lunch, and when we got to Tuscany and the road to C.F. (Casteglion Fiorentino) was in a continuing valley with montins in the distance! Our town was only 15 km away! We found the place where we were supposed to meet the guy and because early got to play. The guy who met us spoke no English but we had engouh Italian to say Cappicino, Hot Choclate and a bottle of water. He treated us out to that but I think the guys (Frans and Nutty) in Nerja were nicer and our place was by a playground and a short drive to a pretty big supermarket. Went home, had dinner (our place is 8 stars nice), G.N.!

March 3


"The Other World Town and a TORTURING Museum"

Today, luckily was a good day even though we basicaly just drove. Though we did stop at lots of places! We passed by Arezzo (a city smaller then Siena) and went through Siena before getting out of the car to have a lovely, quiet and betuifull lunch at the (prettily) walled town of Monteriggioni. And THEN we finally went to San Gimiango, which, from far away looks like the world in the Golden Compass, the different world, not ours. We first went to the torturing Torture Museum which (accroding) to a guidebook equals enough things to make kids squeal with delight. WHAT?! I couldent even make it on to the second floor! I -was-so-sick! I was going to throw up if Mum and Dad haden't sat me outside and looked sepratly.

March 4


"Cortona: The Hillside Town"

Yay! Hip-hip! Out again but not a very long drive. We parked quickly in Cortona and me and Dad did a quick run up this big rock and don. Who knows? It could of been a ruin. Probaly not though! We entered the city wall and in less then a second I knew we were in the land of hills. It, or the streets were so UPHILL! There, there was only 1 straight road! We hiked up a road with images of Jesus, Mary, etc etc...They were mosiacs, with gold. Talked to a Canadian couple, checked if the church was open, went down, went back, rested, had dinner, G.N.!

Posted by jennrob 03:32 Archived in Italy

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Jenn? Email me the details of the Torture Museum - I am going to look it up next time I'm in Italy.

I don't think, btw, that The London Dungeon is anywhere near as explicit.

I love Firenze!

by LottieL

Hi !
You are getting around quite well in The Tuscan hills. Too bad the weather turned colder but it will probably go up & down. We loved the towers of San Gimignano. Look for the Antica Drogheria (Enoteca Wine) store in Cortona--that's the picture we have on our calendar. When do you go to Perugia? It's another neat place(the elevators). Enjoy!
M&D, H&D, N&G xxxooo

by hdbutters

Torture Museum? Unicorn Palace Music ? I remember talking to you about the Women's Museum in Hanoi the photos were enough for me! Florence is the one place I saw a person loose their purse to someone on a passing motorcycle. I started to go up to see the view from the Lantern until I realized I would have to walk around the bottom of the dome on the "catwalk". Fortunately I was able to turn around. I stayed with the mother of a friend, wine for lunch everyday. Tripe for dinner!
Anica, Do you like corned beef and cabbage?

by Mum 2

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