The morning started off pretty rough: we woke up at quarter after seven and had to be at our tour a block away at half past. We forgot our rain jackets and umbrellas even though heavy rain was forecasted. We would be drenched thoroughly twice before the end of our tour. We met the rest of our party at the Burger King near the train station on time, didn’t leave Florence until eight, and didn’t arrive in Pisa until 9:30.
Our guide gave us only 45 minutes to explore the Baptistery, Cathedral, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We were drowsy and cantankerous. This really put a damper on the whole rushed affair. There were tourists lined up trying to take a picture “leaning” against the tower. The famous Leaning Tower was interesting, but it was a shame we didn’t get to climb its topsy-turvy-ness.
The first rain came over us on our way back to the bus. Street sellers bombarded us with plastic ponchos and umbrellas, though we stubbornly declined, trying to save a few dollars out of stupidity. We rode the bus for another two hours (oh joy) to a little hilltop restaurant. They served us an abominable meal of bruschetta, pasta, and tiramisu, though our breakfast-less stomachs couldn’t complain. My little brother could make better Italian food with his eyes closed. The wine they served was less than average; the white was particularly horrendous. I honestly wish I could remember the name of the place, just so I could advise all of you to never go there. (Note: I actually was able to find the restaurant after doing some digging. It’s called the Trattoria Borgo di Racciano, and had some pretty excellent reviews on Trip Advisor. Perhaps we had bad luck.)
After the tasteless meal, we drove another ten minutes to San Gimignano (Read: Jimmy-Gee-Non-Oh), a beautifully well-preserved town of 10,000 people. It was perfectly picturesque in the middle of the Tuscan hills, and would’ve been brilliant if we had more than an hour there. I tried to snap as many photos with my camera as I could in that short hour. The UNESCO World Heritage Site originally had over 50 tower-houses, a symbol of its power and wealth, but now only 14 remain. I would definitely recommend this town if you’re looking for an authentic Medieval feel; it’s so untouched by the modern world.
On our way out of the enchanting Italian Hill Town, a torrential downpour hit. We made it back to the meeting point after going from stoop to stoop, trying to stay out of the rain. Our clothes and hair were drenched and I was doing everything to keep my camera dry. No one had an umbrella to spare. The rain was dripping into my eyes and off my nose, and my fingers were pruning. The rain was not letting up as we stood cold and wet, waiting for the bus to arrive. When it finally came, we did our best to wring ourselves out before clambering aboard. In our seats, there was nothing dry enough to soak up the moisture. Our horrible tour guide just laughed. We would not be dry until we returned to the hotel six hours later.
Another two hours would pass before we reached Siena. The sky finally severed and let the sun shine through, though we shivered under the shade of the buildings along the small streets. Here we met another guide, a better guide, who spoke endearingly of Siena. She told us about the three types of stone we would encounter (limestone, sandstone, and brick), the centuries’ old rival neighbourhoods (each being their own city with their own government, flags, and coat of arms), and of course, the Palio horse races. Every year, each neighbourhood within Siena picks a horse and blesses them in the church, with the hope of winning honour for both them, the horse, and the jockeys who ride them bareback in Piazza del Campo. The winning district gets to display their flag proudly until the next winner is crowned. In the square, you can find Fonte Gaia, the Fountain of Joy, in the center of it all.
We followed the guide to the Siena Cathedral, which was extremely well-kept and absolutely divine. The black and white colours of Siena were displayed prominently. The Corinthian, medieval, Romanesque, and baroque architecture styles somehow blended harmoniously. My favourite part of the church was a section off to the side that had delicate and intricate hymnals on display from the time before the printing press. Outside is the Contrade Lupa, a statue of a wolf with Romulus and Remus, twins of Roman mythology. The church itself was meant to double in size, but the expansion ceased when the Black Death tore through the city. Two outer walls exist to this day and serve as a reminder of the once great Siena.
We spent our last half hour here warming up at Nannini, a café in Piazza del Campo with excellent steaming cappuccinos. Quite agreeably, Siena is a unique and interesting city just waiting for all travelers to discover and enjoy, teeming with medieval history.
The two hours back to Florence were long and damp. Upon arriving at the Burger King, we caved and picked up a few juicy burgers to take with us back to the hotel. That night, we each took a turn in the shower to take the chill out of our bones after our very rainy adventure.
P.S. We booked this tour, and our other tours (aside from those with Royal Caribbean) through Viator, a website that has a wide variety of tours from different companies. You can click the word and follow the link to see the exact tour we chose. I, and other people on our tour, definitely complained as the food was terrible, it was not 14 hours as advertised (it was only 10 and most of those hours were spent on the bus), and our original guide was uneducated and obviously did not want to babysit us. The sights themselves are nothing short of amazing.