A Few Days In Tuscany

11 Jun

James and Lavinia arrived back on Monday evening after five weeks in the UK, delaying their original Friday evening return.  That caused us some extra work because we had timed all our work to have the property looking prime for their return.  Because of the amount of rain we have had recently there was enough growth in the grass that it didn’t look it’s best still on Monday so I cut them again – that’s three times in one week.  And it takes about 4~5 hours to mow all the front areas and clean the mower.  Never mind, the place really did look a picture when we had finished.

It was an early start on Tuesday – Jeremy picked us up at 0730!  We were off to Carcès for a walk from the village centre to Jeremy & Jo’s holiday rental property at Le Village du Lac via the lake (to do some small jobs) and back via the forest.  The walk started by heading up an alley to the rear of the shops and apartments to run along the irrigation channel.  I don’t know how you would ever find such a walk without some expert local knowledge.  Once on the trail there are the now familiar painted markings but they are very discrete.  We are just very grateful to have someone like Jeremy to show us around.

Apparently, these irrigation channels were built around the 1860’s.  They are still in use and near where we live there has just been work done by the local territorial authority maintaining them.  I understand that the residents all have free and unmetered access to water for private use, not commercial.  Something I must learn more about one day.

Not too far into the walk we came across a tree laden with very ripe, plump, black cherries.  It was just over the fence on private property but appeared uncared for.  By climbing onto a gate and balancing I was able to grab ample for the three of us to devour on the roadside.  They were delicious.

Jeremy enjoying cherries – can you tell?

Most of the walk to the house was on the flat, running beside the irrigation channel, before turning up the hill for the last 10~15 minutes.  The view from the house was over the lake which is actually the city water reservoir for Toulon… long story, lots of politics!  Look at a map – it is a long way from Carcès to Toulon!

Anyway, it was a lovely location and we spent about an hour around midday attending to some details before the rental season starts.  I was outside in full sun with my shirt off all this time and didn’t have any more than the slightest ever pink tinge that evening.  If I did that in New Zealand I would have been burned to a crisp!

The route back was through the forest and via a lookout point and by the time we were sitting at a bar with a nice cool beer we had covered 10~11km or so.  The beer tasted extra good.

The drive home was much more entertaining than it was probably supposed to be!  The route home is via the Carcès to Lorgue road turning off to the right at about the halfway point to get directly to Le Thoronet.  Problem.  There were detour signs and a vague road block in place.  But the detour was rather inconvenient and the road block was not very convincing so we drove around it and continued.  There was also a sign with a truck on it so it could have been that they did not want trucks and heavy vehicles on the road while they were up to something.  Strangely, there was no other traffic on the road!  Everything came clearer about 3km further on.  This time a more formidable road block that was not really open to interpretation.  However, we had now invested another 3km into following this road so it was into the ditch, around the end of the barrier and we were motoring again.  A little further along we discovered what they were doing – a machine was cutting a 300mm wide trench down the middle of the tarmac ready for a new water main to be buried.  There was still enough space for us so we continued until 200m for the end of the road where it joined the road into Le Thoronet.  At this point a white ute coming towards us motioned us to stop and pulled alongside.  Through open windows he asked Jeremy if there was a road block “back there”, pointing to where we had come.  I wasn’t sure what the best response was going to be but Jeremy didn’t hesitate.  “Yes, but we just drove around it!” Brilliant!  I think Jeremy has been living in France for too long! I don’t know what the guy in the ute said after that as we drove on but I’ll bet it wasn’t printable.

My cousin Craig and his wife Maria and daughter Emma had driven from their home in Moscow, together with another couple and their son, to Tuscany on holiday.  They met Craig’s mother, Marie, on the way and now Leanne and I were going to join them for a few days in San Gimignano.  We left home at 7am on Thursday making Pisa our first major stop.  The weather was perfect and being 2pm on a Thursday it was probably not as crowded as it will be for the next several months.  We wandered around for a couple of hours taking dozens of photos including the usual frivolous ones with the tower in them before heading off on the last leg to San Gimignano.

Managed to time it with no crowd in the foreground

I’ll just give this tower a bit of a push over…

Opps! Too far. Better move it back a bit before it tumbles down…

And one for a postcard

The route was through some fairly minor rural roads that we found were not all numbered as we were expecting from our map.  In the end we did some unplanned very minor roads that put us back on track.

The first views of San Gimignano as we came down the hill towards it were lovely in the afternoon sun.  We took a while to find our way to our accommodation because, like many of these old towns, you cannot drive to your destination.  You have to park on the periphery and walk.  This done, we found the place OK but there was nobody there, just a phone number to call.  Just as our call was answered the bells on the tower beside us started to ring and we couldn’t hear a thing.  But they got the idea and the owner arrived within 5 minutes to let us in etc.

San Gimignano in the afternoon sun

From Maurizio we found out that this place was one of 3 in San Gimignano that his family owns and he looks after.  He was about our age and spoke very good English.  Leanne asked if he had an office where we could find him if needed.  The answer was a surprise!  No, we needed to call the same number again and he would either come or send someone.  He is not always in San Gimignano because he is an ENT (ear, nose & throat) specialist at the hospital in Sienna!

He went on the plan a full three day itinerary for us of all the regional sights that we must see/visit.  He was a delight and we did follow up on most of his suggestions.

Our room was directly above the bar but it closed at 10pm so noise was not a problem

Our room was on the first floor overlooking a corner of the Piazza del Duomo and there was a café directly outside the downstairs door which was also below our window.  The location was ideal.  Our next job was to take a quick look around to see where everything was before meeting up with Craig & company for dinner at there hotel just outside the town limits.  It was a more family oriented establishment with a pool and other activities.  The sorts of things that do not fit into small hotels in old town centers.

There were identical statues in some of the oddest places all around the town

Access was sometimes a bit tight – it took a three point maneuver to get the light truck through this gap

The bell tower on the Duomo as seen out our room window

Rather than repeat a lot of information about places that you can readily search on the internet I will just include some photos that I like and leave the ‘deep and meaningful’ research to you, if you feel like it!

The front of the Duomo. Our lodgings are to the right. The archway to the left is where the truck in the above picture was planning to come out

There was a good vantage point at the top of the town. A few of the 14 or so remaining towers in the background

More towers…

Across the Tuscan countryside

We met up with Craig and company again on Friday morning and drove in convoy to Florence following the advice of Maurizio on where to find free all-day parking.  That put us at Michaelangelo’s Square above the city of Florence.  A good place to start with great overviews of the city.  We walked down to the old bridge where all the gold and jewelry merchants are and then on to the Duomo.

We had an early breakfast in the square before the trip to Florence

View from the carpark to the old bridge

View over Florence central

Scooters from here to infinity

Shops along the old bridge, Ponte Vecchia

The Duomo. All the colours are different shades of marble

The floors are amazing. I am surprised they allow all and sundry to walk all over them still

St Lorenzo was apparently never completed – the exterior marble cladding is missing. The inside is finished and beautiful but they did not allow photographs to be taken

The replica David statue

With children getting tired and slow, we left Craig and company in Florence, finished our wandering and then headed for Colle di Val d’Elsa, a village near San Gimignano.  It was a nice walk but nothing to report on.

The plan for Saturday was to visit Sienna but since it was now the weekend and great weather we decided that it would be best to start a bit earlier than usual.  Leanne and I got straight on the road and were parked and finding our way to the centre by just after 9am.  Finding breakfast was more difficult than we imagined so we ended up with a pastry and a take-away coffee in the main square.  Functional.

Maurizio had told us that in June and August each year there are horse races around the square.  Its a tough circuit.  The perimeter has sharp turns and the camber is quite steep because the entire square is shaped like a funnel.  It was a busy place with weddings beings conducted at the town hall on one side and plenty of visitors like us cluttering the place up.  We took the climb to the top of the tower for a better view.

The grey bit is the race circuit and the nine shaded spokes represent the districts belonging to the administrative centre of Sienna

Panorama over Sienna

You don’t want to suffer from claustrophobia in here – this was not even the tightest part of the climb up the tower

Duomo at Sienna

After Sienna we headed for another of Maurizio’s recommended sights – the abbey with no roof or Abbazia di San Galgano.  It had a relatively short useful life beset with misfortunes.  In the end it seems that the monks gave up and retreated to another abbey.  While we were there it was being set up for an opera performance so access was not complete.

Abbazia di San Galgano

The brochures showed the floor covered in lush green grass, but not today

Back in San Gimignano we had dinner with Craig and company and snapped a couple of group photos for the record books

All good things must come to an end so on Sunday we started in the direction of home.  Passing through the countryside near San Gimignano there were crops in flower already and it was clear that there would be a patchwork of colour as the sunflowers and other crops mature.

A field of canola, I think

The only real stop we made on the way was at Carrara to see if we could get a view of the marble quarrying.  There wasn’t too much to be seen from the road, but we tried.

The blocks of cut marble are as big as some of the machines

We arrived home at about 7pm tired but very happy with our trip.  Thanks to Craig, Maria, Emma and Marie.  Now it’s time to hit the send button!


One Response to “A Few Days In Tuscany”

  1. Jeff June 19, 2012 at 01:50 #

    You are both looking very fit and relaxed. All this walking must be doing you good! Not to mention the outdoorsy gardenning and relaxing by the pool 🙂

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