Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Che Bella Siena

Siena is a town located in the Tuscany region of Italy.  It is famous for many reasons but mostly for it's annual horse race and it's medieval and unique architecture.  It has stayed this way over the years because the city was abandoned as a central hub because of the lack of a nearby waterway.  Every great old city needs a waterway for transportation of goods, etc.  Siena doesn't have one so it was not updated with new architecture over the years.   The Florentines were able to take away power from them through treason of a single man and become the next great expanding power.
In the left side of this picture you see the Basilica Santa Domenico of which you can find the head of Saint Catherine of Siena.   Yes, the head.  (To your benefit, photos were not allowed in the chuch).  Relics, or bones or body parts, are often found in Catholic churches in honor of Saints. Our guide explained that before television and modern communication it was a way to prove that this person existed and people felt that there messages and prayers had more solidity if you could pass them along through the relics. 
Saint Catherine of Siena was one child of a family of 25.  From childhood she became anorexic as she passed along any available food to her siblings.  She remained a very small person because of this, almost child like until her 30's when she passed away.  They say before her death she was only able to chew on herbs to stay alive because of the damage of her anorexia.  She was a very influential person who had many powerful leaders knocking on her door and bowing down at her feet.  She even convinced the pope to move to Rome after exiled to France where all proceeding have stayed ever since. 
Here is a shot of the basilica.
This green and white marble tower sets Siena apart.  It's absolutely breathtaking.  The homes built around it follow the old city walls.  They simply just kept expanding and it led to these waving streets and views.
There are many hills in Siena which make for beautiful sky line.
Siena had some of the first bathrooms as you can see here that were built off the homes interior.  The only problem is the brick you see here was not originally there so, uh hum, the "goods" where just dropped onto the streets and pushed into the common areas by rain water.  It's no surprise the plague took its toll here.
This is the location of Saint Catherine's original home which of course looks very different today but the portico's are just beautiful aren't they?
Here you see some of the flags that hang all over the city to represent it's "region" or "team"
Some of these simple foods and settings really make Italy charming.
Since the streets are so uneven, the ristorante's must make even ground for diners.
Here is a photo of the most recent horse race winner!
I found lots of humor in Siena.  The people that live here must be happy!
A typical view from inside the city walls where very limited traffic is allowed.
More beautiful pottery and humor (see sign)
The beautiful duomo that boasts the famous tower seen below. 
When visiting here you see the cathedral seems to spread out into the city because the marble keeps on going into the courtyards.  The truth is that these outside walls were suppose to be inside.  The plague struck when working on its expansion and because so many workers perished it was never completed.
This area is famous for its wild pig.  Here is more Sienese humor. (Note the glasses).
This piazza when entering takes your breath away.  Its shaped like a seashell and sloped upwards.  This is the bottom of the seashell seen here.
Here you see some amazing architecture with the Siena seal and clock tower at the base of the piazza.
Spanning out into the piazza you can see the shell start to take place.  Apparently the corner seen ahead is the most treacherous during the race.  Many horses and jockeys go down here.  It was interesting for me to find out that the race is only three laps and if the horse finishes without the jockey it is still considered a win.  They consider the horse more of a racer than the jockey.  Only 10 horses out of th 17  regional teams qualify for the race that takes place twice a year.  July and August.  The entire piazza fills with people on the inside and is covered with sand to help the horses. 
Here is the top of the shell.  There is such a variety of architecture shown here. 
More fantastic craftsmanship.
The she wolf is a symbol of the city as seen above.
Here I am having an amazing lunch and Chianti wine to end my day in Siena.  The veal and chicken liver is famous in the area so I had to try it.  It was delicious but I never do feel right about eating veal.  However, as the expression goes, When in Rome.....or Siena in this case! 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pretty Portofino

I was able to spend an afternoon on the Italian Riviera in a town called Portofino. It's a small village on the water near the famous Cinque Terre in the Genoa region of Italy. It was first documented as early as the year 986. It's best accessed by water so we boarded a small boat at the port of Santa Margarita Ligura. Here you can see a statue of Christopher Columbus pointing the way to America in Santa Margherita Ligure. This is the second statue of its kind I have seen on my travels. The other was in Barcelona Spain, only on a much grander scale.
We "had" to wait here for the boat.
I was stunned pulling away and into the harbor at the number of four story yachts.
The views are, of course, spectacular and when you arrive in Portofino row homes of all the colors of the rainbow draw you in and make art of the coast line. Many of the homes are painted to look like they have elaborate wood work on the outside but in a up close view I was surprised to find they were flat stucco buildings. Not only did the number of big and small boats amaze me but the port is also lined with floating restaurants so you can enjoy a glass of wine and float along with the sailors pulling in.
There are just a handful of must see landmarks here including two churches, a castle and lighthouse. All easily accessible by foot. We spent four hours touring the village and having a leisurely lunch. This was ample time spent here and I really can't imagine spending any more time there unless you just want to RELAX. I'm not that kind of traveler these days so a four hour tour was just right for me. The view from the castle was spectacular. A perfect day!
The garden outside "Castle Brown".
From inside the castle
There was a VERY interesting art garden of which I would have loved to seen. A hanging rhino welcomes you. If that doesn't get your attention, I don't know what will.
Walking the winding streets
Standing by the harbor