We finally managed to take a week off at last! This isn't an exhaustive live of places visited or things done in each location, but just a enough to set a tone!
A fortified ancient town with an impressive amount of art on display! We stayed up in the hills in a beautiful old manor house (part of agriturismo), surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, and some donkeys designed to keep the insects away (they bring in the birds...)
We couldn't resist a short detour to Pisa... Let's just say that it was hot, tourist dense, hot, and oh, did I say hot? It was impressively stuffy and the lack of oxygen was quite staggering. I enjoyed taking photos of the people more that the architecture itself, I'm truly fascinated by the cliché factor and the selfies (more of that later).
Lost in the hillsides on the way south to San Gimignano, I'm not sure whether we missed half the town or if it is truly as small as it seems, but we came across two stunning churches. The main one overlooks the main square, and as with all Tuscan churches, is simply beautiful. The other one on the other hand, sitting a little further down the main road, is unique! Easy to miss from the outside, a large wooden door opens out into a large open space, patchwork paintings on the walls and an original wooden ceiling sitting high up above you.
Magical by night! We simply fell in love with this place. Also known for its high towers overlooking the Tuscan hillside and winding cobble streets opening out onto large squares which are not overrun by restaurants and shops. The town comes alive by night, musicians playing instruments for the sunbaked onlookers lazing around the fountains, steps and cobbled ground.
A gem in the Tuscan hillsides! One thing you will notice visiting any of these locations is the presence of the Torture Museums! Apparently some kind of chain concept with a mission (present the horrors of torture through the ages in the hope that we don't repeat the same mistakes), we decided it may be worth the detour. The experience is quite cringeworthy and creepy. You wince as you realise the utter agony inflicted depending on the tool or machine. I'll spare you the photos!
Il Giardino dei Tarocchi
The Giardino dei Tarocchi, or Tarot Garden is the joint creation of Niki de Saint Phalle and her husband, Swiss painter and sculptor, Jean Tinguely, based around the mysteries of the tarot. A magical place where they let their imagination loose, combining her feminine, sensitive ways with his masterful, dirty, metallic and, quite frankly, creepy creations. You get to walk around or inside these structures covered with mirrors and ceramic mosaic (22 in all), and witness the freedom of mind of the two artists. It makes for something quite unbelievable and the sheer manual work that went into the buildings and garden is immense.
Anytime of day or night is suitable to visit this town, it is in its own league! It's a place you hear about your whole life... which may increase expectations and thus increase the risk of disappointment once on location. But it certainly delivered! We didn't visit during any epic events such as the medieval horse race, Palio di Siena, which must make the experience even more breathtaking. We managed to pack into a single day the Piazza del Campo, the Palazzo, the Duomo, a couple of museums... it's not recommended to do so much at once, but that was all the time we had... Just an excuse to return one day!
I guess we should have known better than to visit in July! People came and went in flocks, the queues were of the longest I've ever seen (besides Disneyworld perhaps). After paying for grouped tickets to visit separate landmarks, we didn't even attempt the long lines for the Duomo or its Cupole (which has fixed visiting hours). Once again, we had a marathon two days visiting Michelangelo's Davide, the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffize Galeria and more. Besides taking in the sights and viewing more renaissance art to last me a lifetime (please don't take offense, but there truly are hundreds of pieces to digest!), I was fascinated by the people around us, from those asleep in the corners to the sheer quantities of selfies taken with their backs to the artworks! Sigh.
Thanks for looking :)