We managed to have everyone up and with a fair bit of prompting, dressed, breakfasted and ready to go by 7:30. We have to be at the meeting point for our tour of Tuscany by 8:15, the walk takes about 20 minutes and I wanted to allowed to extra time for stops on the way or lagging feet. I'm following the paper map and we soon found ourselves at the Duomo. As we had some spare time, we walked around and took photos as the sun was just coming up and it was in beautiful light. It was pretty quiet to which was a bonus. Tourist stop over, we continued to our meeting point, the train station. This is a common meeting point as the tour buses aren't allowed in the city centre and once we'd had our names ticked off and the rest of our group arrived, we set off on the walk to our bus. While we were waiting, we saw heaps of people wearing pink t-shirts, some with numbers pinned on the front and the trams stopping nearby were packed with people, most wearing the pink shirts. There must be something athletic on today. We were at the front of our group so when we arrived at the bus, scored the front seat for Joe and G and Jenni and I were one back on the other side as the guide needs the front seat. Good spots.
We set off for the hour drive to Siena and on the way, Duna, our guide, told us some history of the city. It was a city of 55,000 before the bubonic plague struck in the 1300s and is now a city of 54,000 so hasn't grown in that time. Banking is one of the big industries for the city and so is the university which has been there for hundreds of years. Tourists also contribute greatly to their economy.
After driving through some beautiful countryside, we arrived outside the old town and left the bus to meet our city guide Bernadetta. She conducted the tour of the city and explained how it is divided, how each of the 17 contrada (areas) have their own symbol, church, social club etc. She also explained about the Paleo, the horse race between the districts and how important it is to the community and the winning contrade. She showed us the oldest continuously operating bank in the world and took us in the Piazza deal Campo where the horse race is run. We went on to the beautiful cathedral and she explained more about the building and its history before setting us loose for free time. We found the chocolate shop we visited last year and had some tastings. Delicious. I also tried some of their truffle sauces and salt and they were also delicious. Then on to a gelato shop for the kids....€3.50 for the same size cup with one flavour as we could buy in Rome for €2 with two flavours. It's a captive market I guess. We wandered around a bit more before heading to the meeting point. The scene was set for the day as 2 groups were late and didn't seem to care. Then off to the bus and the farm where we are having lunch.
After a 30 minute drive, we arrived at the farm and were taken on a mini tour of their wine-making area, the vineyards, the cattle they use in making their pasta sauces and the olive groves. You can see from this their main products are olive oil, wine and their restaurant. I'm not sure how wise it is to show people the cows that are going to be used in the pasta sauce served at lunch.
We were seated in the restaurant and out came the food....a local version of garlic bread (it was cold and the kids weren't fans), pasta with bolognaise sauce (they kept topping up if you wanted more), grilled veges and cheese for Jenni and me, salami, prosciutto and cheese for the kids, followed by an almond biscuit. Lunch was accompanied by various of their own wines and the almond biscuit by a liqueur wine. All very delicious and Jenni and I may have enjoyed a few too many wines....not really but I'm not a lunchtime drinker.
Before we were let loose to take photos and have a bit of a walk before we left, Duna and the staff came out singing happy birthday with a slice of chocolate cake and a candle for Joe. Duna knew it was his birthday next week and wanted to arrange a surprise for him. He was a bit shell shocked.
Back on the bus and off to San Gimignano. The kids had decided they wanted to go to the Museum of Torture and as I went last time, said I didn't want to go again. They were happy to go on their own so Jenni and I had a coffee while they zipped through. They reckoned they saw it all however it must have been at a fast pace. They set off to the second Museum of Torture and Jenni and I finished our coffee and strolled up to meet them outside. San Gimignano is such a beautiful town...lots of tourists but so well preserved. We kept going to the piazza and lined up for the world's best gelato at Gelateria Dondoli. I had a flavour with pine nuts and my second scoop was raspberry. Delicious and less expensive than Siena and had two flavours.
It was time to walk back to the meeting point outside the village. You guessed it...some of the gang were late again even though we had to wait a while for our bus. One of the others had to ring her husband to tell him to get there in a hurry or we'd go without him.
Off to Pisa, about and hour and half away so a good opportunity for a snooze after Duna gave us a bit of background about the area. Another walk from the bus to the Pisa area and I zipped to the ticket office to buy our tickets to go up the tower. We then spent 30 minutes trying to get photos of the kids holding up the tower. Some are better than others. Then it was off to the line to go up the tower. The kids spent quite a while trying to roll a coin across the ground floor however we had to give up in the end or we would have still been trying when it was time for the bus to leave.
It's the weirdest sensation climbing the stairs that are on a very noticeable angle. On one side you are leaning towards the outside, when to move around to the other side, you are leaning onto the centre wall. We reached the top and enjoyed the view over Pisa. Sunset had just started when it was time to descend so I was able to snap a few photos. Back to the ground floor and the coin rolling...yay, Georgia succeeded. Off to the meeting point and yes, you guessed it, someone was late again.
Back to the bus and a snooze on the way back to Florence. We arrived at the bus station about 8:45pm, walked to Maccas for dinner (it was very busy) and caught a taxi home. Our taxi driver had a bit of an attitude as he didn't think we were doing Siena justice by going on a tour that was only there for an hour and a half. He's right, however, it's all very well if you have all the time in the world. He also thought it was a waste of time going to Pisa...not exactly Mr Cheery taxi driver. We fell into bed about 10:00pm after a very big day. The kids were planning a bit of a party as they reckoned they could take advantage of their drunk grandmothers (not true). We only had a couple of wines with lunch. I think they were asleep before we were.