Friday, August 31, 2012

Day 4 Afternoon: Siena

Siena is famous (although I'd never heard of it!) for it's horse race called the Palio.

The city is divided into seventeen sections and they are very territorial. Until recently, they weren't even allowed to marry someone from a different section. (Think Romeo and Juliette only not in Verona).

Each section grooms one horse to race for it. Since seventeen horses won't fit in the square where they race, they divide the race into two dates. One is held in July for half the horses and the other in August. We got there three days after the last race.

As you can see there isn't much room between the buildings and the posts. Ten thousand people cram into into center. They can't really see much but just being there is a thrill. The apartments around the square are even rented out so people can watch from the windows.

There is so much pride involved. Each section has it's own flag.

And the lights are decorated to match.

The residents take it so seriously, that the horses and jockeys can't even live nearby because they might get poisoned or bribed by a rival.

The race itself isn't so much about winning as about preventing their arch enemy from winning and, to that end, it gets quite violent. The race is televised on Italian TV but they aren't allowed to show the really gruesome parts because animal rights groups are up in arms over the abuse to the animals, and rightly so. But tradition is so strong they haven't been able to change much, yet.

Anyway, for days afterwards the winning section celebrates by wearing their flags like scarves with pacifiers on the end to symbolize a new beginning.

After getting over the horror of this ancient ritual carried on to this day, Dottie and I walked around until we found a shady outdoor cafe where we had some lunch. We weren't too hungry so ordered light. I had a Caprese cool and refreshing.

Dottie had a fruit salad.

In spite of the beautiful buildings

and artwork

we were happy when our bus picked us up and headed back to Montecatini. To stay awake, I tried taking some photos through the bus window.

The peaceful Tuscan countryside was the perfect antidote to that disturbing bit of ancient history carried into the present.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Day 4 Morning: San Gimignano

After a good night's sleep, we boarded the bus for a short ride to the ancient village of San Gimignano (Jim in YA no).

It was a beautiful day with temps in the nineties but not too humid. The sky was blue but hazy in the distance so in some of the pictures it looks cloudy. It wasn't. I don't think we saw a cloud all week.

Marisa (Ma REE sa) (We all had a hard time pronouncing that middle syllable with a rolling R but it was so pretty when we heard other Italians doing it.) suggested we get gelato from her favorite shop. They had the most unique flavors. I chose blackberry lavender. So refreshing and not too sweet (I'm not big on sweets). So, this was a welcomed cool down.

Window shopping was fun. Just look at these mysterious meats!

I guess they wanted to prove the wine was aged!

The sweetest children's clothing. Made me wish Kylie was little, again!

Narrow streets, old stone buildings, outdoor cafes. It was like stepping into the middle ages and I loved every minute of it.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Days 2 & 3 of our trip to Italy

The waiting game!

Our flight out of JFK wasn't until 9:40 pm so we stayed at the hotel until check-out time at noon. I was busy making phone calls.

First, I tried our tour company, Brendan, but all I could get was a menu with nine options, none of which fit our situation. I left a message on one, anyway, with a request for a call back so I'd know they got the message.

Next, I tried our booking company, Vacations-to-Go. I got a live person, this time, but was told that our rep was off that day. Instead, they redirected me to her manager. I related our problem and he said he'd get back to us.

He did. He got hold of someone at Brendan and was told that our tour group would be leaving for Tuscany from the Rome hotel at 3:30 the following day and they would advise our tour director so she could wait for us. Our flight was scheduled to arrive around noon so we should be able to make our way by taxi to the hotel on time.


So, we headed over to the terminal. Unfortunately, we couldn't get our boarding passes until 6 so we had to wait all afternoon in the check-in area.

We read.

We people-watched.

I roamed around taking pictures. This was the only keeper:

It's part of a bronze statue overlooking the security check point.

There was a small food court so we had a bite to eat. I had a mushroom Swiss burger with caramelized onions.

Then we waited some more.

Once we got through security, we found seats in our gate area and waited some more.

Eventually, we boarded and took off only about a half hour late.

It was a typical flight with crying babies, announcements in Italian and broken English we couldn't understand, plugged toilets, generic food, and fitful dozing. (I'm saving my money, starting now, for business class on our next overseas flight!)

We arrived in Rome about 12:30 and went through a cursory passport check then on to baggage claim.

And guess what! No luggage! We waited and waited. Nothing. Almost everyone else got theirs but not us and about three other people.

Over to the Alitalia desk we went where we spent about a half hour filling in claim forms.
Just as we turned to go, one of the other women, who'd also lost her luggage, spied hers on the carousel. So, we went to check for ours, too, and there it was! Another flight had arrived and our suitcases were on that one.

Even after all that, we still made it to the hotel, where we were supposed to meet up with our tour group, by 3.

We waited about 45 minutes but they didn't show up. We didn't have international phone plans so had to ask the desk clerk to borrow his phone. While Dottie tried calling Brendan, I emailed the manager at Vacations-to-Go but, of course, by this time it was Saturday and he was not at work.

But, Dottie was luckier and managed to speak to someone from Brendan in London who said she would contact our tour director and have her call us.

She did and informed us that no one from Brendan had contacted her about this and they had no plans to go back to the hotel after sightseeing and were halfway to Tuscany by this time. She said we'd have to take a train to meet up with them in Montecatini.

Well, we were not happy about that! But, she came to our rescue by having a friend of hers collect us from the hotel and take us to the train station to help us navigate the complicated procedure. Neither Dottie nor I had ever taken a train before.

Thank goodness because we never would have made it on time to catch the high-speed Eurostar to Florence. Once there, we had to switch trains for a regional one. This one made plenty of stops but never announced where we were so I had to get off at each stop to figure out which one was Montecatini.

But we did find it then took a taxi to our hotel. Marisa, our tour director was in the lobby with hugs and dinner and drinks.

Then Dottie and I sat on the piazza enjoying the balmy night air, slowly relaxing, ready for our vacation to finally begin.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Day 1

This should have been a warning.

See that fire truck? We were waiting to take off from Logan when we smelled something burning. Immediately, fire trucks surrounded our plane. 

We waited. And waited. Then it was announced that everything was fine. We took off.


Then the pilot came on to announce that the landing gear wouldn't retract so we were heading back to Boston. But first we had to circle awhile to unload some fuel.

Dottie took this photo of me. I look fairly unconcerned, don't I?


The pilot came back on announcing that we were diverting to JFK, instead.

Once there, we collected our luggage then stood in line for over two hours to get rebooked. The best they could do is tonight at 9:40. Not great but, at least, we should get to Rome in time to meet our tour group for the bus ride to Tuscany.

Then we stood in line, again, for another hour to get our hotel vouchers.

Then a line to get on the hotel shuttle.

And another one to check into the hotel. While standing there, I glanced around and noticed the name of the cafe: Tuscany!

So, we did make it to Tuscany, after all!

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Hello Monday

Hello beginning of a new week.

Hello going to bed early now that Olympics are done.

Hello getting ready to leave for Italy on Thursday.

Hello early morning dew.

Hello sun flaring over a building in the Old Port.

Hello nice motorcycle ride.

Hello weird design elements on new bridge.

Hello sticky bun and fruit and nut granola bar from this bakery.

Hello warm days and sunny weather.

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Monday, August 6, 2012

Good Morning

Good Morning spot of red on Queen Anne's Lace.

Good Morning Kylie playing on the rocks at Diana's Bath.

Good Morning busy beach days.

Good Morning bouquet of kitchen utensils glimmering in the sun.

Good Morning big win on Slotomania.

Good Morning orange bokeh.

Good Morning, my friends!

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