Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Best of Tuscany

The second day of our free weekend Catherine, Meagan and I experienced the Best of Tuscany Tour with Walk About. We met at 8 a.m. to hop on a bus full of strangers who were ready to see the sites.

Our first stop was Sienna. We toured an old hospital and saw the world's oldest working bank, as well as the square where the famous horse races take place every year.

World's oldest working bank

The square

We also saw the tail-end of a medieval-fashioned parade. The tour guide said we were lucky to have seen a glimpse of the parade. Each neighborhood has a mascot and competes with each other. The turtles were celebrating their victory.

This rivalry ties into the horse races where only a select number of the neighborhoods get to compete each year. It's a mix of religious and cultural activities occurring twice a year.

The neighborhoods' representative flags

After Sienna, we stopped at an organic farm, which was probably the highlight of my trip. Rolling hills filled with vineyards surrounded us and filled the landscape. We could even see our next stop on a hill in the distance. We got a complete tour of the farm.

We saw the vineyards, the winery and some of the farm animals, including albino cows native to the region.

Don't ask how, but Catherine and I got a little off track. We accidentally started following another tour, so we saw the animals twice and had to run in the winery really quickly.

Funny story, though: The guy working at the place was fixing to close the door on me. I stopped him before he shut the door and apologized for taking so long. Then to my surprise, English came out of his mouth. Not just English. English with a thick southern accent. I haven't heard that in a while. He asked where I was from. He was from a small Texas town. When I said I was from Arkansas, he said, " like north Texas?" Oh my, that's the first. I couldn't help but laugh.

After visiting the animals again, it was time for a home grown organic lunch and wine tasting. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We had wheat pasta, cold cuts and cheese, salad, toast and four wines.

I liked some of the wines, but only in sips. Dipping biscotti into dessert wine was probably my favorite. I learned how to properly taste wine: swirl in cup for oxidation, then smell and taste.


After our lovely lunch we headed to San Gimignano, a small, quaint medieval town with excellent artisan shopping. I purchased hand woven towels and ceramic salad tossers, with a matching spoon rest.

More importantly, I tasted champion gelato.

Who would have thought this little village would have the best gelato? Our tour guide told us to make sure we tried it. We were warned there were two who claimed the title. One displayed the sign "World's Best Gelato," but the real victor was the shop with the "World's Champion Gelato" award.

It was delicious, creamy, cold goodness on a cone. I got mango, lemon and grapefruit sparkling champagne (yes that's a flavor.)

Our last stop was Pisa. We didn't have much time in Pisa, so Catherine and I decided to take the cheesy leaning tower pics and then climb the tower. It was almost 400 steps.

The journey to the top was crooked, slanted and jagged, not to mention slippery. The stairs were dented in the center, and the passageway was so narrow that you couldn't even fit a backpack through.

We made it to the top and took in the gorgeous view of Pisa. We saw the Duomo and the Tuscan landscape. I highly recommend climbing the tower if you get the chance.

Sic 'em Pisa!

After Pisa, our journey ended as we headed back to Florence. We rode a "choo choo train" to the bus (yes that's what the tour guide called it) and took in the beautiful scenery back home to Firenze.

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