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Passport to Italy: Siena Day Eight

After our long and tiring day in Florence, we really needed a day to rest. So that is exactly what we did. We slept in a little and took our time at breakfast. We decided not to wonder far from the B&B, so we went back to Siena. We didn’t have a lot of time to explore the city last time because of our tour and our cooking class. So we spent the afternoon just walking around.

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Look! No people! 🙂

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View from the only playground we saw in Italy! I am sure there are more, we just didn’t see them.

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Pretty rooftop garden.

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Fruit stand. Aren’t those grapes gorgeous? We bought some for our lunch later that day.

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This was a very unique looking shop. It is obviously a meat shop; all their meat was hanging in the window. It is hard to make out, but it was really neat.

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Chocolate store, yum!

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One of the prettiest gelato shops we saw in Italy. Gelato is amazing, by the way! Tiramisu was my favorite flavor!

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Randy with his gelato. He looks like a little boy, to me, in this picture. So adorkable!

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These rings were all over the city. This is where they tied up their horses back in the day. See how over the many, many years the ring as worn into the stone wall?

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We took this picture to give you an idea how steep some of the hills are in this city. Siena is a very hilly city but not too bad. All those years walking around Appalachian State University paid off! 😉

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Here is the baptistery. It is on the back side of the cathedral.

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Pretty fountain in the main square, Il Campo.

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A neat little street.

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Another local peeking her head out the window, watching the world go by.

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After exploring Siena, we picked up some more mozzarella cheese and deli meat and had another picnic in our room.

For dinner we had Franco and Frances (the B&B owners) make a dinner, al fresco, for us. They have several gazebos around the property and they all have spectacular views. Ours was a view of Siena and their olive trees.

They gave us complimentary champagne for our anniversary. Isn’t that sweet? We saved it for this night.

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To start, they served their own sun dried tomatoes, olives and tuscan bread covered in garlic and their homemade olive oil. Also, the same platter of different cheeses that they serve at breakfast. And a platter of different meats; ham, boar, prosciutto etc.

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Next, a bowl of homemade pasta and sauce. This was my absolute favorite pasta I had anywhere in Italy! It was fantastic!

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For dessert, we had biscotti cookies and Franco’s homemade vin santo. We called his vin santo “liquid gold” because of it’s beautiful color and it tasted awesome!

Enjoying our champagne.

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Our view.

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Siena at night. Isn’t it beautiful?

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Well, this was, sadly, our last day in Tuscany. We really didn’t want to leave. We just loved Tuscany and we absolutely loved Frances’ Lodge. We will definitely be back just because of their hospitality, their food and their views! If you ever plan to visit Tuscany, stay here. You will not regret it!


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Passport to Italy: Siena Day Five

Our fifth day in Italy was October 17th – Our 4 Year Wedding Anniversary!

We had a wonderful night’s sleep and got up bright and early.

The first thing we did was look at our view. Isn’t the fog so beautiful?

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Their garden.

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At Frances’ Lodge you fill out a form every night on what you want for breakfast the next morning and slide it under your door. When you get to the breakfast room, your breakfast is waiting for you.

Now their breakfast was amazing! I mean, the best breakfast ever! You could get just about anything you wanted for breakfast. Eggs (any way you liked them), fried bacon (which was the best bacon I have ever put in my mouth), fruit, different cheeses, slices of meat, all their homemade jams, local honeys, homemade yogurt and granola. The list goes on! Everything we ordered was fantastic! We filled ourselves up to the brim every morning here!

This was our view every morning. You can see Siena in the distance.

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My sweet hubby!

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The innkeepers here at Frances’ Lodge were a husband and wife team that lived here in the farm villa. They were the nicest people ever. They made you feel so comfortable there in their home. Even though there were other guests, we felt like we were the only ones there. Every morning they asked us where we were going and they would give us hand drawn maps and give us turn by turn directions. We never got lost when we used a map from them. I was so thankful for their maps and directions since I was the navigator! 🙂

This day we went to Siena. Siena was about a 5 minute drive from the B&B. Siena, according to travel guides, is the best preserved medieval city in Tuscany. The square or Il Campo, is beautiful and unique in its shape. It has a fan-shaped square instead of the standard square or rectangle shape. Il Campo is known worldwide for the famous Palio run here, a horse race run around the piazza two times every summer.

If you look at the pavement in the square you can see nine sections. The nine sections of the fan-like brick pavement of the piazza represent the council and symbolizes the Madonna’s cloak which shelters Siena. The square is dominated by it bell tower.

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People come here and just lounge around the square. It was a very calming atmosphere. No one really rushed around you or pushed you out of the way. They just strolled around the city and mingled with others.

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Siena’s cathedral, in my opinion, was the prettiest of all the churches we visited. I have never seen so much detail in one place. Built between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure, the cathedral is in the form of a Latin cross with a slight projecting dome and bell tower. The exterior and interiors are decorated in white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes, black and white being the symbolic colors of Siena.

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This day we reserved a tour to take inside Siena’s cathedral. I reserved this tour months in advanced and got one of the last slots. Unfortunately, the only thing left was a tour in Italian. But the tour guide was very friendly and did her best to translate for us in english. We still learned a lot and had a great time with other people in the tour group.

We took the Gate of Heaven Tour because the mosaic floors in this cathedral are only unveiled for two months out of the year; September and October. I wanted to do this tour because they take you up in the cathedral to see the floors from up above.

The 56 etched and inlaid marble panels were designed by 40 of leading artists between 1369 and 1547. Completion of the designs took six centuries, the last ones finished in the 1800s.

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The oldest designs are those in the center near the entrance – the Wheel of Fortune and the Sienese Wolf Surrounded by Symbols of Allied Cities, which dates back to 1369, but they have been maintained and redone throughout the centuries when it wasn’t customary to protect them. Some of them have parts that are pretty worn out. Each panel has its own story.

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Beautiful city of Siena.

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I love how the ceilings have stars on them.

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The greatest sculptors of every epoch worked in the Cathedral of Siena: Nicola Pisano executed the Pulpit from 1265 to 1268; his son Giovanni authored the sculptures on the facade; Donatello created the statute of John the Baptist, Michelangelo sculpted Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Saint Pius and Saint Augustine for the Piccolomini altar, and the art of Gian Lorenzo Bernini is represented by the Mary Magdalene and Saint Jerome in the Cappella del Voto.

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The front of the facade contains a stained-glass depiction of the Last Supper, executed in 1549 by Pastorino de’ Pastorini, a student of Guillaume de Marcillat.

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After touring Siena’s cathedral, we had to leave quickly because we needed time to get to our cooking class. I reserved a cooking class through Jul’s Kitchen. I stumbled across her blog about 2 years ago and I have been following her ever since. I told Randy two years ago that if we ever go to Tuscany, I wanted to take her cooking class. Wish granted! 🙂

The cooking class took place in Jul’s house. The same house her grandmother grew up in, her father and now her. She emailed me her address and we mapped it out in mapquest. Directions were easy enough, or so we thought. (This is where a GPS would have come in handy!)

We left 45 minutes early to give us plenty of time to find her. Finding a city in Italy is easy, it is finding a house or building that is difficult. Mostly because once you get into the city, there are no road signs to be found. We spent 1.5 hours trying to find Jul’s house! We stopped 3 times to ask for directions. No one really spoke english so all our directions were in Italian. It wasn’t so bad, you can understand a lot by watching hand gestures. After driving around for 1.5 hours I started to cry. We were 45 minutes late to our cooking class. Finally we drove by a house and I recognized Giulia and her dog walking around outside.

I yelled to Randy stop the car, that is Giulia! I rolled down the window and said, “Giulia?” She smiled and said yes. I can not described how relived I was at that moment. I apologized profusely and explained that we go so lost. I was terrified that we would not be able to do the class because we were so late. But she laughed and said, ” No, no! We will cook fast!”

Giulia lives in the most picturesque house. It is surrounded by rolling hills and cypress trees. This is the view that everyone envisions when they think of Tuscany. Her house was just as perfect as the view. Her kitchen was perfect with a large wooden table in the center to work on, mason jars lined her shelves full of spices and flour and a large window overlooking her garden and the rollings hills. *Sigh*

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We started cooking right away. We put on our Jul’s Kitchen aprons (which is included in your cooking class) and started slicing up apples. We first made our dessert, which was apple cake. Kind of like an apple upside down cake. Then we diced up some root vegetables for roasting, sliced more apples and onions for our meat and then we started making our pasta. We made pici, which is like a thick spaghetti. Very easy to make and taste so good! I don’t think I will ever buy dry pasta again!

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While cooking we talked, laughed and learned about our different cultures. We learned about Tuscan cooking; like, Tuscan cooking is about the quality of food. They use very simple, fresh ingredients that they grow themselves. Also, taking time to cook their food, building up the flavors and enjoying the aromas. No microwave food here!

After cooking, we all sat together at her farm-house wooden table. We ate family style, passing the food around and pouring the local red wine. In her dining room was a bookshelf full of cook books. For the longest time we talked about our favorite cook books, our favorite foods and cities we visited and what foods we ate there. Giulia has an obvious passion for food, as do Randy and I. It was so nice to talk to someone from another country who enjoys and loves food as much as we do. The food was so delicious and Giulia was an absolute delight.

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After stuffing ourselves it was time for our time to end. 🙁 Giulia hugged us both and sent us off with her cook book, filled with her recipes that she has been around all her life. It was so much fun to learn how to cook from a real Tuscan native. But the best part was making a friend while we there. If you ever go to Tuscany and want to take a cooking class, go to Giulia. It will be the highlight of your trip, just like it was for ours!

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Passport to Italy: Siena Day Four

The morning of this day was a rough one. If you recall, the night before was the night we stayed out late and attempted to drink with Europeans. So we woke up exhausted and had headaches; but nothing that two cups of espresso couldn’t fix!

After drinking our last cup of espresso and eating our fantastic breakfast, we said goodbye to Davide. 🙁

We got onto the vaporetto back to the airport on mainland Italy. Here we picked up our rental car. We got a Fiat 500. It was adorable and just big enough for our backpacks and ourselves!

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Now lucky us, Hertz did not have any GPSs for us to use. So all our navigation was up to me… using a gazetteer. I know! I have a horrible sense of direction so you can only imagine how tough it was for me to navigate in a foreign country. So all I can say is that the only time Randy and I argued on this trip was when we had to drive somewhere. Just like back home! Haha! 😉

Our arguments went something like this: Randy is driving down the road and I am frantic trying to figure out where we are. I am scrambling through piles of maps and trying to decipher the road signs. Then we pass a road sign.

Randy: “What did that sign say?”

Jama: “I don’t know you were driving too fast.

Randy: “I am trying to keep up with traffic!”

Jama: “You are not Italian! Stop driving like one!”

Randy: “Its your job to navigate and mine to drive!”

Jama: “I would if I could read the signs! How can I when you are zooming pass them oh and to top it all off they are all in Italian!”

So yeah, this was our conversation almost every time we got into the car.

But when we knew where we were going the drive was quite nice.

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One thing that kind of surprised us was how many tunnels there were on the autostrade (which is basically an interstate). We probably drove through about 20 tunnels on the way to Siena.

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The autostrade was a very rough road with lots of potholes and construction. Which is interesting in a small car with hardly any suspension going about 80 to 100 miles an hour! But we had a good time, mostly. 🙂

After driving for about 4 hours we finally made it to Siena. We stayed in a bed and breakfast right outside of Siena called Frances’ Lodge.

Frances’ Lodge is on top of a hill with the best view of Siena anywhere. It is a farm villa that has been in Franco’s family (the husband/owner) for generations. It is a rock house surrounded by lemon trees, fig trees, pomegranate trees, olive trees and more! Not to mention all the beautiful roses! They are everywhere! Unforunately, most were not in bloom but the gardens were still beautiful.

As soon as we arrived Franco was at our car greeting us and gathering our luggage. He showed us to our room and explained everything we needed to know about the hotel. As soon as we dropped off our luggage we ran outside to see the view. The sun was setting when we arrived.

Our view from our room. That tree to the right is over 100 years old. Just amazing!

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Coolest window ever. It was double hinged so it opened like a door and it titled in from the top. It is really hard to explain but it was really cool.

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Our room.

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View from our other window.

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Our double-headed shower. Amazing! Because of this shower we want to redo our entire bathroom!

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View from the gardens.

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Siena is out in the distance with the sun setting. So romantic and just beautiful!

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One of Frances’ beautiful roses.

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And another.

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As you can see our view from this B&B was spectacular.

For dinner we went to a restaurant on the innkeepers’ recommendation. The restaurant was in an old wine cellar.

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I loved the lace doilies in the plate!

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Good wine! And I loved the walls! Mixture of wall, brick and rock!

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We got the grilled pork. Very delicious! It also came with something similar to collard greens. They were seasoned very well and a piece of boar sausage. It was all awesome!

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Tired from a day of travel and fighting (haha), we went straight to bed after dinner.

That concludes our fourth day in Italy. Stay tuned for day five!