Our last morning in Florence. Sarah enjoyed a leisurely cappuccino while Hirsh rushed around to see a few remaining sites. After all, the Firenze Card was good for another two hours or so, and he couldn't waste that value. Such is his way. He climbed 496 steep and narrow steps to the top of the Duomo, which featured an up close perspective on the art on the interior of the dome, as well as a stunning view of the city of Florence.
After lingering for a while at the top of the Duomo, Hirsh's next stop was the Basilica of Santa Croce. Being just a bit outside the tourist center, it was blissfully uncrowded. A beautiful church inside and out, it is particularly notable for being the final resting places of famous Florentines Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli. Seriously: all those people are from Florence and are now buried within 200 feet of each other. The Renaissance was crazy.
Alas, time to leave Florence. We headed to the airport to rent our car for touring around Tuscany. Upon checking out our drivers licenses and noticing we were from NC, the car rental clerk made fun of the Panthers losing the Superbowl. Ouch!
Now, I (Sarah) hadn't driven a stick shift in, oh, fifteen years. Hirsh has driven one just once when his college friend gave him a lesson. Hirsh wouldn't spring for the extra expense of actually renting an automatic (again, such is his way), so we buckled up and hoped for the best.
To say the journey through winding country roads with plenty of hills, blind curves and Italian motorcyclists driving like bats outta Hell was stressful would be an understatement. We did have some opportunities to pull off the road and take some nice shots.
We made it in one piece (well, two pieces?) to Siena, our destination for the night. Most visitors to Siena are day-trippers, and we really wanted to experience the town at its most authentic, so spending the night here was a good decision.
Our otherwise forgettable hotel was centrally located and staffed by the nicest people. We wandered out to a nearby restaurant and as soon as we sat down, we heard a loud procession coming toward us. According to our waiter, this is a nearly daily occurrence in Siena. The town is divided into 17 different and very proud neighborhoods, known as "contradas." The parade represented one individual neighborhood. For some inexplicable reason, they were wearing Santa hats and marching to Jingle Bells while beating drums very loudly. Keep in mind it is July.
Twice annually, the neighborhoods compete to win the Il Palio, a bareback horse race held in the town's central square, Piazza del Campo. Each neighborhood sponsors a horse, and the horse is the true competitor. If the rider falls off mid-race, no problem! On the morning of the famed race, the horses are paraded around their neighborhoods and it's considered good luck if they leave a "deposit" in a conspicuous location - sometimes even inside their neighborhood's cathedral! The entire city seems oriented around this centuries-old tradition, and it's taken very seriously. So the parade we saw had something to do with Il Palio pride.
After dinner, we spent some time hanging out in the Piazza del Campo with lots of local university kids enjoying date night. We won't post the photo we took of the excited young couple rolling around on the ground just a few feet in front of us. Instead, here are some lovely G-rated pictures.