Wandering and Wondering

Monday, June 11, 2007

Toscana

I've just arrived in London after spending my final couple of weeks in Italy travelling around Tuscany with my parents. Keeping with the Italian spirit, we hired an Alpha Romeo 166 as our means of transportation. Our first stop was a little town called Panzano, midway between Florence and Sienna in the heart of Chianti country. We stayed for 4 nights at a nice little bed and breakfast with a view over the rolling hills full of vineyards. The following photo was taken from a vineyard looking back towards Panzano in the distance:

Chianti


Using Panzano as a base, we did a couple of day trips around the area. On the first day we visited the hilltop towns of San Gimignano and Volterra. San Gimignano is famous for its many medieval towers, the tallest of which we climbed to get the following view over the rooftops to the fields in the background:

View from one of the towers in San Gimignano


Volterra was also an interesting little town to visit, and is surrounded by some beautiful countryside:

Tuscany


The next day we did a day trip to Sienna. The Duomo in Sienna has some of the nicest artwork that I've seen in all of the churches in Italy:

Painting inside the Duomo of Siena


We were also lucky enough to see a free exhibition in the Children's Art Museum, which is located just underneath the clock tower in Piazza del Campo. The museum was hosting an exhibition of African art featured in children's story books. Made a nice change after all of the renaissance art that I've seen in Florence, and was all the more interesting given that I'll be travelling to Africa in a month or so.

For our final day in Chianti, we went for a drive to some of the smaller towns and villages near Panzano, including Rada in Chianti and Volpaia. At a winery just outside Rada in Chianti I saw the following cat who had just recently given birth to kittens:

Mother cat and kittens


On the drive back to Panzano we came upon a herd of goats that was wandering on the roadside. I was about to get out of the car to take some photos but there were a number of guard dogs who started bearing their teeth as a warning. I had stopped the car and had the window down, and one of the dogs jumped up and put his front two paws on the door, so that my face was only a couple of feet away from his teeth. I took that as a sign to quickly put up the window and drive off. It was only later that I realised how dangerous the situation could have become, because the dog could have easily jumped in through the window, and I would have been in quite a bit of trouble. The thing which put me off guard was that initially the dogs looked quite friendly, because they were wagging their tails and weren't growling. I think I'll have to be a bit more careful in Africa.

After "Chianti Classico", the next most famous wine in Italy is probably "Brunello", which is produced in the region around Montepulciano and Montalcino. We found a bed and breakfast about 8km from Montalcino near the small village of San Angello in Colle. Here is the view from my room:

View from the window


After checking in we spent the afternoon lazing by the pool which was situated in the middle of an olive grove:

Sunbaking in the Olive Grove


The next day we did a trip out to Montepulciano and Cortona, another couple of hill towns. Perhaps it was the rainy weather and the long drive, but I was a little bit disappointed by Cortona, and I think that San Gimignano, Volterra and Montalcino are more worthwhile places to visit. On the drive back, however, the weather started to clear up and a nice rainbow appeared:

Tuscan Rainbow


We spent the following day exploring Montalcino and the small town of Castelnuovo dell'Abate, which is where the Abbey of Sant'Antimo is located:

Abbey of Sant'Antimo


At our Bed and Breakfast there was a family of robins nesting in the rafters above the door. When we arrived back after the day's outing, all 6 chicks were in the nest while their mother was out searching for food. When she found some, she would fly back and deliver it straight into the mouths of the waiting chicks:

Robin Opera


Feeding Time


After another day of rest in Montalcino, we headed down to the southern-most part of Tuscany near Pitigliano where the gentle rolling hills give way to more mountanous scenery. The town of Sorano is perched above a cliff:

Clifftop town of Sorano


The Bed and Breakfast we stayed at in Pitigliano wasn't all that good (especially when compared to the place we stayed at in Montalcino), so we only spent one night there before driving to Piombino on the coast and catching the ferry to the island of Elba. As well as lots of nice beaches, Elba has some quite big mountains. At around 1km above sea level, the tallest is Mt Capanne and has a cable car to the top:

At the top of Mt Capanne


We were hoping for some sunny weather so that we could spend some time lazing on the beach, but the cloudy skies made us decide to head back to the mainland and spend an extra couple of nights in Volterra. Our Bed and Breakfast was just on the outskirts of town, so we could go for a walk along a small farm track through the fields of wheat:

Wheat Field


After Volterra we dropped the car back in Florence where I said my goodbyes to my parents who headed down to Rome and then back to Australia. I then had 3 days in Florence to say my final goodbyes to the city I'd called home for 4 months before catching the train up to Milan and then catching my flight to London. At the moment I don't have any fixed plans about how I'm going to spend my next month or so here, but I've been looking into a few photography courses. Other than that, I'll probably just take it easy, catch up with a few friends and enjoy the city.

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