Now, I would be lying if I said I didn’t worry if they would measure up to the unanimously glowing reviews on every travel site. You know, high expectations often lead to disappointment, which is the last thing I would want from traveling. Happiness, sadness, frustration, loneliness and surprises are all part of the package. But disappointment is something I never want to sign up for.
My experience with Walkabout Florence started with Cinque Terre. After it was over, I was positively sure that I would enjoy Tuscany. And I really, really did. For the sake of brevity, I’ll try to keep this short and sweet and let you enjoy the photo uninterrupted 🙂
First of all, click HERE for a detailed itinerary of what this full-day tour covers. Besides the Mediterranean ocean, Tuscany with its picturesque, desktop background-quality landscapes had been on my bucket list for as long as I could remember. It wasn’t exaggerated to say I could barely contain my excitement before it all began.
Our tour guide for the day was Michelle, who hails from Canada but fell in love with Florence when she was an exchange student and decided that she would call it home one day. And it’s been her home for the past 10 years or so. (Maybe slightly under 10 or over 10, I can’t remember with certainty. But it really doesn’t matter, anyway.) She is very passionate about Florence and incredibly funny and knows Florence and the Tuscany region like the back of her hand.
Our first stop of the day was Siena, which is an hour drive away from Florence. Siena and Florence used to be bitter rivals centuries ago, but I’m glad that they have made peace. The last thing I wanted was being trapped in a war-zone and die in a foreign country. LOL. It became more understandable why after we arrived in Siena. The town is strikingly similar to Florence in layout and architecture.
However, the main color of Siena seems to be terracotta, which I have an affinity for. I was very smitten with the way the terracotta architecture, the yellow sunlight and the blue sky complement each other. They make for beautiful color combinations. As for the exhaustive history of Siena, I’ll spare you because it’s available with just a few google clicks away. Below are some photos of Siena’s architecture and cityscape.
Siena Cathedral is a magnificent medieval church dated back to as early as the 12th century and now dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta (Most Holy Mary of Assumption), according to Wikipedia. To my untrained architecture and arts eyes, the facade of the church bears some resemblance to The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (aka Duomo) and Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. (Don’t take my words for it, though.) However, the instant I stepped inside the church, I was completely stunned by how spectacularly and intricately beautiful it really is.
To me, the interior strikes a happy medium between being ornate and simple. By that I mean it’s enchanting and opulent without being over the top at times like some we had seen in Rome. (FYI, after the Vatican, our visual system fervently demanded a break. LOL.) Piazza Del Campo was our final meeting point after everyone finished exploring the church. Of all the piazzas in Italy, Piazza Del Campo is my absolute favorite thanks to its medium size and architectural congruity. It’s hard to believe that the piazza hosts the horse-race Palio di Siena twice a year in the middle of summer with as many as 60,000 people in attendance. Next level cray cray situation. Hi, the venerable elderly!We left Siena around noon and drove all the way to Chianti vineyard, an organic family run wine estate. I was beyond delighted about the vineyard thing because I was so starving by then, and it was my first time visiting a wine farm to boot.
When I lived in San Francisco in the past, I had plenty of chances to visit all sorts of wineries but back then I was such a coward that I didn’t dare to venture anywhere outside the city on my own. Thanks God, I changed.
The most rewarding part of the trip to Chianti vineyard other than the authentic delectable Tuscan lunch was the actual drive itself. The drive was approximately 45 minutes long if memory serves me right. Everything that you have been looking at on your computer screen and dreaming about your whole life is right outside the window bus. Stunning blue sky with cotton-candy cloud, bright stone farmhouses surrounded by cypress trees and olive groves on open hillsides, sinuous routes, you name it.
I have mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of trains or buses or boats or anything that moves except for my legs, oh and bicycles (lol) when it comes to transportation, but it was the drive that I would never ever want to end. I wish we could have pulled up somewhere in the middle to snap a few good photos and let reality that we were being in the heart of Tuscany sink in. Oh on second thought, it couldn’t have happened because some very unfriendly people from certain parts of the world already covered their faces with surgical masks, long-sleeves shirts, trousers even inside the bus. I guess they were like vampires and would crash and burn if exposed to the sun. I won’t play the name-calling game, but they know who they are. It was literally out of control.
Anyway, I digress.
During the lunch, we got to taste three different types of Tuscan wine and feasted on homemade pasta, cured meats (homemade prosciutto and salami), local cheeses, a real garden salad and Tuscan biscotti. Everything was delicious, but I wouldn’t go so far and crown it the lunch of my life. I liked the biscotti a lot though, especially when it was dipped in the complementary wine. I had never tried it that way in America, so it was such an interesting experience. We explored the wine farm a bit more after lunch before leaving for San Gimignano.