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As the Wind Blows

Week 16: Tales from Tuscany – Siena and San Gimignano

ITALY | Wednesday, 6 July 2011 | Views [501]

Flags for the race!

Flags for the race!

I had never heard of either of these two towns until I booked this day trip. It sounded like a lazy way to see two towns in one day, so naturally I was inclined to go. Of course being the naive and unworldly person I am, I didn’t realise how hilly the region of Tuscany is, so any day trip that doesn’t involved tasting Tuscan food (ie visiting wineries and eating and drinking wine all day) will involve a reasonable amount of walking.

Siena was preparing for its annual horse race when I paid them a visit. If your mind just had an image of the Melbourne Cup flash through your mind, well let me alter that image. This is bareback horse riding around the main square, which is really fan shaped, with a race track covered in sand. Everyone’s packed into the middle of the square (think Twilight: New Moon when she’s at Volterra – also in Tuscany, but I didn’t bother to visit it) and there are no rules for the race except nowadays the riders are not allowed to whip the horses. Other riders on the other hand, well there’s no rule about not whipping them. And the winner is the first horse that crosses the finishing line, regardless of whether or not there’s a rider on the back. I honestly wish I had been there to see the race, because it would have made the place more interesting.

Instead I learnt all about the history of the town and its battle with Florence to become the capital of Tuscany. More interestingly the guide told us about how when children are born they are automatically placed in one of sixteen ‘tribes’ depending on which neighbour they are born in, and they will stay in these tribes for the rest of their life. (A bit like AFL, except it's literally the place their born in regardless of which tribes their parents are from.) These are the tribes that are represented in the horse race though, due to space restrictions, only 10 tribes can compete in the race and these are selected at random. The cathedral is quite nice, though most of the floor and hence the stories in marble had been cardboarded over because the winning horse and the rider come into the church after the race to venerate the Virgin. Notice how everything in Sienna seemed to link back to the race?

San Gimignano is a gorgeous little medieval town in Tuscany that has the world champion of Gelato Shops for 2007/2008 and 2009/2010. And it is well worth the visit! I had the Visanto Eggnog and Grapefruit with Sparkling Wine which was incredible! I forgot to try the saffron flavour which was our guide’s favourite flavour. What I’ve learnt from my gelato consumption over the week was to go for the sorbet/fruity flavours when it’s hot, just because it's so refreshing! There was a gelato shop in Florence (which I forgot to mention in the Florence entry) that made their gelatos from fresh ingredients daily and you could really taste the difference between that and a fruit flavoured one I got in Pisa. I’m not a foodie but I could taste the difference.

This little town has the most towers of any town in Tuscany and with all the crows that are attracted to the towers, it really adds that medieval feel. Not to mention the narrow winding alleyways with lots of little shops everywhere and mini cobblestone piazzas. I’ve been told that San Gimignano is a tourist trap, but don’t let that scare you off because although there are more tourists than locals, there aren’t that many people there in general so you can really just kick back and relax! Well you can relax after climbing the steep hill to the gate of this walled little medieval town.

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