Saturday, June 4, 2011

Tuscany travels

Over the past two days, we've done our fair share of traveling outside the city of Florence.

On Friday, we had a trip with the students to the towns of Siena and San Gimignano. We boarded the bus at the train station (which we got totally lost in trying to find our way there). It's about a 90 minute ride to the town of Siena.

Siena is famous for two things: the birthplace of St. Catherine and the Palio races.

Here is the church where the relics of St. Catherine are held (her head and a finger - no she wasn't beheaded or anything, just that's all that Rome was willing to part with, as she was considered an important figure in religious history)

The palio races are held twice each year. It is a horse race, though not the type of horse racing that we might have in mind - Kentucky Derby it is not. The town of Siena is divided into 17 different sections, and each race, 10 of the regions are selected to participate. Why only 10? Well the ring for the race is not big enough to hold 17 horses plus the 35,000 people who come to watch. While there are professional jockeys, they ride bareback on horses. Anything goes to win the race - you can push off another jockey, whip at another horse. Many of the jockeys fall off their horses and that's ok. All that matters is that the horse crosses the finish line. The winner receives a painting of Mary (the race is dedicated to her) and of course, bragging rights for the region of the city that wins!

Here's a look at the area where the race takes place. Crazy to imagine all those people and 10 horses racing in such a small space!

Every town has a cathedral, and this one is no exception.
The amount of detail that was put into these buildings is simply amazing!

Then we were off to San Gimignano. A traditional hill town, the region is known from its wine (and according to my last post, its world famous gelato). After walking all those hills (and pushing a stroller with a 25 lb toddler uphill) we earned our ration of gelato that day!

The next day, it was off on the train to Lucca, which is another town in the Tuscan region. Lucca is a much quieter town, less touristy than Siena or San Gimignano, which was nice. We wandered around the city and took in the sights. One of the most distinguishing features of Lucca is that there is a wall that surrounds the city, which was built to ward off attack. And apparently it worked, as i don't believe the city ever came under a serious siege. Today, you can rent bikes and ride around the 2.5km perimeter.

Here's some of the sights.

And at the end of the past two days, we all were very tired!

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