Monday September 11, 2017

We’re in Venice. But I’m not gonna talk about it – okay? Just two hours ago, a couple of speeding open-top water-taxis zoomed us through the Grand Canal to a jetty-of-sorts where we clambered over a metal gate and came ashore just a short distance from our very old, very atmospheric hotel in this amazing, enduring city. But I’m not gonna tell you anymore right now, because you’ll be wanting to know about yesterday – right?

First, I need to ask you: have you read books about Tuscany, watched movies about Tuscany, seen photos of Tuscany? Well, sorry if this makes you feel jealous, but yesterday we got to sample Tuscany for ourselves!

Leaving the orange-roofed cityscapes of Florence, we motored south through hilltop vineyards, olive groves, Cyprus rows and intermittent rain to the 700-year-old tower-filled skyline of San Gimignano (pronounced ‘San-jim-in-YAH-no’ – come on, try it). Known as the Tuscan Manhattan, San Gimignano owes its trademark silhouette to rival medieval families who tried to outdo each other by building taller and taller towers, and generally showing off.

It was a treat, I tell you! And stepping back in time down those cobblestone streets, surrounded by 13th and 14th century mansions – plus more brick-and-mortar towers than you can shake a stick at – helped create yet another unforgettable highlight.

We then left the main highway and motored along ever-narrowing (unsealed) country lanes, before stopping, finally, at a ‘country resort’ for a tasting of wine plus a posh Tuscan-style lunch (ravioli followed by duck-breast followed by chocolate cake with a melting chocolate heart).

If the owners had offered us beds or couches for an afternoon siesta, we would’ve succumbed with pleasure. But when no such offer was made, we climbed back onto the coach and drove further south to Siena, the region’s best-preserved medieval city.

We explored its ancient walls, steep steps and winding alleyways … admired the Duomo, Siena’s imposing cathedral, with its striking striped architecture, marble-floor-mosaics and gorgeous frescoes … and emerged, eventually, in the atmospheric Piazza del Campo, where we did our best to imagine Il Palio: Siena’s legendary horse-race, where rival contrades (districts) compete with colourfully decorated banners. This twice-yearly spectacular has taken place for the past 300 years, and today draws bigger and noisier crowds from all around the world.

As you can probably tell, we’re having an AWFUL time – and we’re not even halfway yet! I don’t know how we’re gonna cope with another two weeks like this …

COMING UP: Unique-in-all-the-world Venice, with its onion-domed cathedrals, priceless Renaissance art, criss-crossing canals and hordes of adoring, camera-toting tourists – just like us! Dust off your piano-accordions, folks, and stand by for the signal to sing along: ‘O Sole Mio …’

PEOPLE-NEWS: Our hotly-sought-after Quacky Yellow Ducks continue to leave the nest …

  • WAYNE F won our ‘Hard of Hearing’ Award – for (i) climbing over the chain fence at the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa so he could check out the bells. Wayne was promptly grabbed by two armed guards and thrown from the Tower. (Okay, slight exaggeration. But he was growled at.) Then (ii) Wayne happened to be walking with me through the grounds at yesterday’s lunch-stop when I happened to remark to my wife (who happened to be walking in front): “This is lovely, isn’t it Darling.” And Wayne replied, “Yes, it is.” So l told him, “I was actually talking to my wife, Honey!”
  • SUZANNE ran off with her second duck, winning our ‘Duh! Technology’ Award. She came to me yesterday complaining, “I can’t get my camera to work …” and showed me her blank screen. “Have you turned it off and on again?” “Yes,” she said. “I’ve tried everything I can think of.” “Well,” I suggested, “Do you want to try taking off the lens-cap?”

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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