23 February 2012

In the land of sunflowers and wine: Part 3

If you missed our Italian adventures so far.....you might want to start at the beginning.

Click here for Part 1 - When in Rome
Click here for Part 2 -  We get engaged in Siena

So to set the scene,  here we were all loved up and wow! now engaged to be married but with a whole lot more travelling to come! And so the adventures continued....

What a lush sleep – lovely comfy beds and a warm room. I woke up and wondered why I felt so happy and excited and then remembered and couldn’t believe it all over again!

We got up leisurely, found a place to have pizza for breakfast (I know – can’t believe I’m eating pizza for breakfast but when in Rome…… or Italy generally as the case may be!). We then managed to put some money on Mark’s mobile so was able to send some text messages to people to tell them the good news. I tried calling Mum and Dad again in NZ but got no reply so have sent an email instead. Caught the bus out to the B&B we'd booked, and we are sharing a bathroom with others and breakfast was not included like we thought it might be, but we’re pretty used to having to find our own breakfast by now. What I did manage to do was trip up the marble stairs with my pack on and have got a bruised knee out of it as well as feeling like a complete tit!

We caught the bus back to town, went and looked in the Swatch shop – Mark is very keen on the 007 Bond Collection, and once he’s made up his mind (a lengthy process at the best of times!) which one he wants I’m going to buy it for him as an engagement gift. Update: we visited the shop again later in the day but no decision reached as yet!. We also went back down to the Square (the scene of our magical moment last night) and took some photos in the light of day. 

The square is famous throughout Italy for the Il Palio bareback horse race (shown on the right) that is held in July each year. Ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in appropriate colours, represent 10 of the 17 contrade (districts), and the event is even broadcast live on Italian TV. The race itself circles the Piazza del Campo (the square) on which a thick layer of dirt has been laid three times and the race lasts no more than 90 seconds. It is not uncommon to see a few of the jockeys be thrown off their horses while making the treacherous sharp turns in the piazza, and it's not unusual for an unmounted horse to finish the race without its jockey -  I imagine it must be quite the spectacle to see!

We also walked up to the Duomo - very unusual in that it is black & white striped marble – totally unlike any other cathedrals we’ve seen so far. 

We then sat back down in the square with lunch, and went up the Tower. Had to wait after buying our tickets because they have a timed entry – this is because the stairs are so narrow and the area at the top is quite small that they only let so many people up at one. Wow, GREAT views from the top – over the whole city and countryside – and we got some nice photos looking down on the square as well – 450 odd stairs – so once down again thought we’d better try some Italian-style gelato – mmm mmmmmm! 2.60 euros got us 3 large scoops in a tub – out of this world! Chocolate nut, melon and strawberry – delicissimo!

Then we lay down in the square in the sun for a bit soaking up the rays and people watching. Went for a wander, did some emails at an Internet café – more breaking the news to everyone etc. Finished off with another stroll Sienese style, totally feel like we're fitting in with the locals now, before heading back out to the B&B. For dinner, we went to a lovely pizzeria only 50 metres down the road which has totally restored my faith in carbonara – the food was great, all the locals were eating there too which always a good sign. The service was a bit slow – waited 25 minutes for the bill after the meal but otherwise no complaints! What a lovely relaxing day – again just what we needed. Have been engaged for a day – wow I still can’t believe it!

Mark had a bit of a bad stomach in the night and for a while this morning – he thinks it might have been something he ate – it would be a shame if it was the carbonara as Mark reckons it was one of the best carbonara’s he’s had.

We didn’t particularly enjoy sharing a toilet with the other rooms especially when I woke up bursting for a pee and later Mark was in a bad way and had to wait for ages for it to become free. We gingerly made our way to town and Mark seemed to perk up after that – we sat down and had a cappuccino and a flat Coke for Mark and decided to catch a later bus to make sure that Mark would be OK to hold on during the hour’s ride. Went back to the Swatch shop (3rd time lucky!) and bought Mark a totally different watch (not a James Bond one after all). It’s a golfing one – Sergio Garcia and is lush – gorgeous metallic blue, cool strap and very stylish! So we both have something for our engagement and something to remember Siena by! Caught the 11:20 to San Gimignano – the rain set in on the way there, a very light drenching rain and not much visibility. And it was sooo cold when we got off the bus in SG. Walked up through the town, found a fairly quiet and dry corner to have soup/rolls for lunch – it was the first food we’d had today so we were ready for it – desperately needed something to warm us up. We then went for a wander through the many lanes – SG is a gorgeous, small walled town of only 7,000 people and is famous for its 13 towers dating back to the 12th century which symbolised the power of the town’s various noble families.

We came across a lovely picture of SG in watercolour, actually 3 different sized ones which we liked the look of – but had to go away and think about the logistics of it. It had continued raining all the while but looked to be a bit less misty – so we climbed the Torre Grossa (biggest of the 13 towers) and were surprised by quite good views over the area. We were the only crazy people up there (everyone else was sensibly out of the wind and rain). We spotted a good vantage point which we wouldn’t have known about had we not climbed up, and went off there next to snap a good shot of all the towers. Hot drinks were the order of the day after that, and then we finally made up our minds to get the picture of SG. It was the biggest one there – 22 euros, and is going to be our birthday present to each other and a lovely reminder of our trip which we can get framed and hang in our house (when we finally get one!)

We then caught the 16:40 back to Siena and luckily it stopped near our B&B in Stellino so we didn’t have to go all the way back to town. We'd been so thrilled with last night's meal that we went back to the same place for dinner – I had pizza, Mark had calzone, and it was another very cheap meal. Mark’s currently watching the Liverpool v Bayen Leverkausen Champions League match – Liverpool are leading at the moment, I’ve got a really tickly throat so hope I won’t be coughing all night. Today was my last day of being 24, can’t quite believe I’ll be 25 tomorrow – it feels not long ago I was 21!

Day 9 SIENA - FLORENCE and our combined birthdays! 
As expected we didn’t sleep the best as my throat was really tickly and I was trying hard not to cough! Woke up in the end at about 8am – we got up leisurely and checked out by 10am. Caught a bus to town, wandered down to the square with takeaway pizza for breakfast – our last time in the famous square where it all happened – of course we had to have one more look around and commit it to memory before we left. Went to the internet café – had quite a few replies back from people with congratulations etc and we sent a few emails back. At first we couldn’t find the place to catch the bus back to the station but didn’t realise they left from a different place - luckily we figured it out in the end. Got on the 13:29 and were in Florence by 15:10. We are literally 10 minutes walk from the station in a small tourist house – only 5-6 rooms (supposedly we’re only sharing our bathroom with one other room). Quite a sweet room, its all antique furniture, mahogany style and with a high ceiling. Down a fairly quiet street too (nice after being on a main road with traffic noise the last 2 nights!) It started off really cold and grey today but the sun came out and was really quite nice and sunny by 3pm.

As soon as we had checked in, went straight out again for a large Coke at McD’s – feeling dehydrated and then off for a wander through Florence. We thought we’d better try and take a few pictures of the city while we had blue skies – walked past the Duomo – amazing from the outside but we are saving the inside and climbing the tower till Friday. 

Walked through quite a big market covering about 5-6 blocks of one street – loads of leather goods and latest style gypsy clothing as well as sunglasses, football shirts, aprons, shoes and other niknaks. Wandered down to the river – saw the copy of Michaelangelo’s famous ‘David’ statue – to be honest its not all that – probably many people wouldn’t agree but both of us feel that we’ve almost had our fill of museums and arty stuff already on this holiday – think we both prefer buildings from the outside and the views more than anything. Bought some more camera films – how have we gone through 4 already!

Saw the Ponte Vecchio from afar (famous bridge with jewellers shops on it) and then went up Piazzale Michaelangelo where there are wonderful panoramic views of the city FOR FREE! Although we will probably still climb the dome in the Duomo – its higher than the campanile – bell tower – a fact which we could only spot from up high on our vantage point. 

Wandered back along Ponte Vecchio – we have taken a shot of the bridge in shadow and were arguing about when would be best to catch it in sunlight but we think one morning will be the right time. Bit of a sprint on home then for bursting bladders (far too much Coke at McD’s) and then I did some washing in the handbasin while showering. We’re badly in need of a few more sets of pants/socks.

Mark's brother James called briefly to wish us all the best and congratulations (he’s been away in Amsterdam for a few days until today). We then went out for a Chinese – which wasn’t all that but we wanted something a little different as it was our birthdays after all. A nice day but both felt it went by pretty quick and it always strange to a) be sharing a birthday with each other and b) to be away travelling for it.

Feeling a bit queasy now – probably the greasy Chinese food, i.e. our bellies are used to pizza/pasta only – but hopefully a better sleep in store tonight. Looking forward to Pisa tomorrow depending on the weather!

Check out the drowned rats in Pisa in Part 4 coming soon...

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