Day 11

It was still windy and kind of cloudy when we left Monterosso, but the weather forecast promised another beautiful day. Sigh… Might just have to go back someday. We backtracked the way we arrived, back on the train for the short ride back to Levanto and the bus.

Our midway stop today was the hilltown of San Gimignano, one of most intact walled towns. Also, as it turns out, a great town to do a little shopping. We just stopped for a few hours, enough time to do a quick tour of the town and grab a bite to eat.

Our ‘lunch’ in San Gimignano was gelato from potentially the best gelato shop in the world. According to Sarah, they’ve actually been asked to stop entering competitions because they always win.

Back on the bus and a short while later we arrived at our hotel in Siena. We arrived around 4 pm so we had an hour to get settled before meeting up again for happy hour and then an orientation tour with a local guide.

A huge part of our tour was learning about the Palio, a horse race that usually takes place twice a year. It’s really an insane tradition but hearing our guide talk about it, I was actually getting a little amped up. In Siena the neighborhoods are called contradas and each contrada has a name, emblem, colors, etc like a sports team would. And every Aug and Sept, ten of the 17 contradas participate in a horse race which takes place in Il Campo, the city square. Check out Rick Steves at the Palio! I think the craziest part of the whole ordeal is that it doesn’t matter if the jockey stays on the horse, the horse is what wins the race!

 A very brief fun fact: there’s only 3 ft of foundation under this ~300 ft tower. I guess Siena is built on much more stable ground than Pisa!

Our walking tour continued into the Selva contrada, the winner of one of this year’s Palio races. They are clearly still celebrating. The huge horse banner hanging on the archway should be explanation enough. They’ve got their flags lining their streets and many celebrations going on every few days.

To finish off our exciting tour, we were treated to dinner, homemade by a couple familes of the Selva contrada. We sat at one long table in their community building. We started with an appetizer plate with a few kinds of meat, a hunk of cheese and a couple pieces of bruschetta (pronounced broos-keta). Then came a pasta with red sauce, then meat and potatoes, and finally for dessert we had this awesome chocolate-covered mound of frozen goodness. And wine, of course!

We got to enjoy a beautiful sunset during dinner and are very lucky to even get this experience. Definitely another reason to be super appreciative of the planning that goes into these Rick Steves tours and glad we chose to do it!!

Day 12

Our immersion into Siena continued today, with a visit to a stained glass workshop run by two brothers and then a tour of Siena’s Duomo.

After we finished our tour of the duomo, we had the rest of the day free. Tara, Mom, and I all agreed we just wanted a chill afternoon after a bite to eat. We enjoyed a delicious meal and spritzs at a little restaurant a few streets off Il Campo.

We went back to the hotel with full bellies and weary bodies. That evening Mom attended an optional opera performance with a few other couples in the group. Tara and I decided to go for a walk to see Siena after dark. We sought out Fortezza Medicea and strolled along its outer wall, along with many other Sienese. We happened to bump into Sarah on our way back and at her invite, went to grab a drink at a local bar before we called it a day.

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