Bella Toscana

SEPT. 17 - TUSCANY - We've been staying exclusively in larger Italian cities such as Florence and Parma, but have tried to plan the occasional day trip to smaller towns. Indeed, how can one spend a long visit in Italy without visiting the Tuscan countryside? Last Saturday, we did just that, traveling by bus to the medieval hill towns of Siena (famous for its "Palio" horse race) and San Gimignano (called "the Medieval Manhattan" for its many towers).

What I loved most about Siena were the ups and downs of the town's hills, which gave the narrow, cobblestone streets even more character than those in Florence. And the cathedral was by far the most stunning that we've seen yet (and probably will see). Impressive marble mosaics (including one of Hermes Trismagistus, a mythological personage who figures prominently in Michelle's research) covered the floors, beautiful paintings and sculptures decorated the walls, and gorgeous frescoes and gold leaf highlighted the lofty and awe-inspiring architecture of the dome and ceilings.

For charming Tuscan villages, one can't do better than San Gimignano. Many of the medieval towers in this old hill town still stand; in fact, the town is little changed from its heyday 600+ years ago. As one strolls down the town's main promenade or ascend one of its towers for a breathtaking 360-degree view of Tuscany, it's easy to imagine oneself walking back in time.

Before catching the bus back to Florence, we stopped in San Gimignano's Museum of Torture, where many gruesome devices used by the Inquisition were on display. In the museum's guest book, a previous visitor had suggested the instruments be used on Osama Bin Laden, a sentiment I can relate to.

Next: The Best and Worst of Naples

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