O Sole Mio
Diary from a tour with art and culture in Tuscany in Italy
October 6 - October 21 2001
Saturday Oct. 6 at dawn we started the drive towards Arlanda (Stockholm airport) Veils of mist over the landscape.
The flight went over the Alps, and the view was fine as is was clear. The mountains lay there under us, black or forested with snowclad tops and valleys where the rivers streamed down. Landing at the airport outside Roma where our guide Ki Månsson-Gallone met. A bus tour along the coast on a highway where Nerium was at blossom on the central reserve. Maremma - fairly flat land with grazing gray cows but we already saw the mountains ahead. From Grosseto to Siena the road went uphills, the road was surrouded by forests and passed several tunnels. When nearing our goal we saw Siena ahead on the top of a hill. Our bus had to serpentine upwards to our hotel high up on one of the three central hills in this town.
Sunday Oct 7. A walk up and down round in this hilly town with a local English-speaking guide. At first he told us about the greatest event of Siena, the yearly IL PALIO. This town is divided in 17 districts contrade, each of them has it's symbol. The districts compete agains one another in bareback riding at two occasions during the season. At the last competition the Dragon district had won, and as we just were in that district he pointed out the Dragon colors and banner everywhere.
We passed Piazza Salimbeni with a statue of one of the medieval princes, he told us many parts out of the history of this town, he pointed out details in the buildings and the architecture, coats of arms etc. In Piazza Tolomei there is a pillar with The She-wolf and the twins Romulus and Remus on the top. According to the legend Remus founded Siena, and statues of that she-wolf one could see at many places of the town.
Going down the main street Banchi di Sopra and then upwards towards
the cathedral which dominates one of the hills of Siena. A magnificient building with a fantastic front in different colors of marble and gothic decorations and many statues. Even the pavement in front of the church was in fine mosaic pattern. Inside the dome the floor was worth seeing with varied exellent marble mosaic, but most of it was covered to avoid to be worn out by all the tourists, who visit the dome and especially the pulpit by Pisano, one of the most beautiful treasures in history of art.
Then we walked down to Il Campo, the wellknown square formed as a shell. At the square you find
the town hall Palazzo Pubblico. On the front you may observe the arm of the town in black and white. The famous clock tower is one of the towers which give the town it's caracteristic silhouette when you advance towards it among the hills. Inside there are many fresks. One serie showing how the inhabitants live when the gouvernemnet is good and when it is bad was the most interesting in my opinion.
In the afternoon we strolled around. I admired the fronts of the houses and
views from streets going along the edges of the hills.
In the evening R turned on the TV and inspite of just finding an Italian channel we understood and were struck of the evil news - USA is sending bombs over Afghanistan!
The impression of this first day of Siena: a fascinating town but laborious because of all the hills.
Monday Oct. 8
A bus tour through an undulating landscape where the hills are covered by fields and the villages are on the hilltops. The characteristic contours of the cypresses accompany the villages. When following the small roads we entered a pastoral landscape with hills and valleys where the roads went uphill and downhill all the time, and new views appeared all the time. The small villages on the tops of the hills often were surrounded by walls. This is Etruscan country. Our first goal was the old Etruscan town of Volterra. 550 metres above sea level. Our bus stopped outside the Etruscan gateway. We admired the view from the parking lot over the surrounding valley.
Volterra is a charming old town with narrow streets. We visited the pinacotec and the Etruscan museum. There you can see lots of the decorated sepulchral urns with motives from the daily Etruscan life more than 2500 years ago. The Etrurian, the people with a high culture living in Etruria long time before the Romans entered the scene.
The weather was hot, heat wave. But we had the only rain shower during our time in Italy - lasting 10 minutes ---. We had lunch in a cosy restaurant where they served Tuscan food.
After lunch we went to San Gimignano, a town which you can see from far away due to the thirteen towers. That town apperad as a nightmare for me and R as my bad leg did not like the long uphill street swarming of tourists. The crowds made me dizzy, and R had vascular spasm. The square was very beautiful but my camera did not manage to get a good photo.
When returning to Siena I observed some details in the fields, many were covered by faded sun flowers waiting for the harvest. The green was a bit withered after a long hot summer, the fields lay reddish-brown newly ploughed. The roadsides had few flowers this time of the year.
Tuesday Oct 9
Towards Florence in the misty morning. The road went through a forested landscape, sometimes changeing into wine-cultures, olive-cultures, sunflover-cultures and ploughed fields.
Florence - a town where the lover of arts can turn mad because of there is too much to explore.... Our first stop on the guided tour was in Piazza della Santissima Annunziata where she told us about the House of Foundlings and the medallions in blue and white enamel, showing babies in arms. The front of the church Santissima Annunziata is beautiful, totally symmetric, like all the buildings around this beautiful square.
We did not enter the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore as the queue was too long, but admired the marble front in three different kinds of marble and the Baptisteria with three highly decorated doors by Ghiberti. We then visited a small chapel for self-inflicted poverty (!) with wall-paintings from the fifteenth Century, and some other places before we entered Piazza della Signoria, where Palazzo Veccio and Loggia Orcagna are. Fast walk between the two wings of the Uffizien Galleries where the beggars were dressed up as historic persons.
After lunch we visited the Uffizien Galleries with great collections of medieval paintings earlier belonging to the Medici family. Many madonnas with the child---.
Hot weather, R did not feel weel. We sat down at a café in Piazza Signoria and then slowly walked along river Arno towards the bus at Piazza Piave in Longarno. R really did not feel well. Bus drive to Piazzale Michelangelo where you have an amazing view over the central parts of Florence.
This tour to Florence felt like a short introduction to things you would like to see - next time. You ought to stay for at least a week and se one place each day. There is so much to see if you are interested in art history.
Wednesday Oct 10
My husband did not feel well and had great trouble with vascular spasm during the night. We were worried!
The program was a tour to Chianti. Roads through nice landscape, not like that we had already seen, undulating hills, fields and small villages, cypresses, olive trees and welldone wine-cultures where the Chianti grapes are grown. The blue grapes often were not harvestted yet. The square Tuscan farmhouses are built of sandstone. The estates have magnificient manor houses. Our planned stop was at Aiola, a wine estate with large grounds of olives and wine. We got four different kinds of wine to taste, one dry white wine, a rosé wine, a red wine (Chianti Classico) with the logo del Gallo Nero (the Black Rooster) and one dessert wine (Vin Santo). We were told about different qualities and how they make them. Why are the olive trees so small in Tuscany? Because they want to be able to pick the olives by hand!
Like many other goals for Tuscany tourists Aiola is situated on a hill with a large view over the surroundings.
Then the bus drove by winding roads through an open land to Radda in Chianti. We had fresh squezed oranges but then just rested as R was so tired...
After the tour we were helped by Ki to go to the emergency at the hospital. They kept him over night. Not what we had expected on a vacation trip ---.
Thursday Oct 11.
One month after the terror attacks in USA. In the news they are talking about Antrace = Anthrax in Florida. A new way of spreading horrors?
The town walk in the program of the day went to the Library of Piccolomini with wonderful fresks, but after that visit I went home - too tired to join the group any longer.
Ki as an interpretor accompanied me to the hospital where we had the possibility to talk to a doctor and he told us that R had had a small cardiac infarction and had to stay in hospital for at least eight days... Then I strolled around in town noticing lot of details and all those vespas--
Meantime Ki had managed to get the information that the insurance can pay for my staying at the hotel until R is able to go home.
We went to the hospital together and R was very satisfied that I stayed. We explored the possibilities to go to the hospital by bus and such things. Then I was able to go to the hospital without knowing any Italian! Ki is an angel!
Friday Oct 12
Sunny day and the bus went southwards to Pienza. In the neighbourhood of Pienza the earth in fields were grayish white - this area is called Crete.
Pienza is a village where in the fifteenth century the Piccolomini family built a magnificient square with a dome and some palaces.. But the rest is a nice original village.
The tour then went by the town Montepulciano in rural land to the castle of Banfi, highly situated like most places in western Tuscany. We had an excellent luncheon with many kind of wine. R should have been with us!
The view from the castle was enourmous. To the south the high mountain Monte Amiata and in the valley downhill is the river Orcia.
In the evening Ki and I went by bus to the hospital and found that R was moved from intensive care to peri-intensive care in a ward together with four Italian men.
Saturday Oct. 13
Last breakfast with the group. They left six pocket books in Swedish and two journals with crosswords for my husband and me - very nice to think about us - having somethng to read in a country where everything printed is in Italian - a foreign language for us.
And so - I was alone in Siena - made a phone call to tell them at home that they could not expect us home tonight ---.
At midday I went by bus to the hospital for a visit. The routines are different from those in Sweden. You do not only need your personal toilet things, you have to use your own pyjama, own clothes, own towel, own toilet paper, own cup and spoon for the coffee ... I had to buy a lot of things for him when I had returned to town.
In the evening a new Swedish tourist group arrived to the hotel, thus I had the opportunity to speak Swedish at breakfast time in the hotel.
Sunday Oct. 14 A nice sunny day again. I went out in town to see if there were some open shops as I needed to buy some underwear for myself - I had not brought such things for more than a week. Hard to find things in the correct size - Italian women seem to be smaller than me... Then I went to the hospital with the things I had bought for my husband.
Monday Oct. 15 A starlit night, bad sleeping. Thinking about how my husband is going on ---
Strolled around among palaces, patrician houses, squares and beautiful narrow alleys in this amazing old medieval town. Spent some time reading on the balcony. Some hours at the hospital with my husband, all the allowed time. Tried to get some information for him from the staff but did not manage - difficulties with the language -- no English speaking staff there that day.
Tuesday Oct. 16 Joined a tour to Florence with Swedish guide.
We visited the cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, especially the dome is very interesting, both from architectural historic aspect and for the famous decorations of The Last Judgment.
After luncheon I strolled around by myself, visited Piazza Republica, the marketplace Mercato, Piazza San Marco, Santissima Annunciata, The Baptisteria, the cathedral of St Croce. Sitting down in a church, lighting a candle, trying to find some piece. Saying prayers for our wounded earth in these days after September 11.
Back in Siena I immediately went to the bus for the hospital to see my husband those few minutes left of the visiting time. They had not made that angiographia we had expected to be done that day.
Wednesday Oct. 17 The moving market was built outside the hotel - as every Wednesday in Siena. Strolled among the stalls but there were too many people. I felt very dizzy. Instead I went to the castle Fortezza and walked on top of the walls all around the whole castle, enjoying the stillness and the view.
At the hospital I did hardly meet my husband at all as they took him to angiographia. But in the afternoon a nurse called me at the hotel and asked me to come in the evening to help him with his evening meal, as he was not allowed to sit up. But he did not eat much, and I understand - the hospital food was not very tasteful, a thin broth with rice.
Thursday Oct. 18 Early in the morning I went to the hospital as I had been told that I should have an opportunity to meet his doctor. The doctor showed me a scetch of my husbands coronary vessels, pointed out where the narrow parts are and talked about which operations he recommended. But when they began talking about to keep him in Italy until they had made an operation, I could not stand that thought. Stay among people who did not understand what he said, and that bad hospital food, and medical staff who he hardly could speak to - no! When the doctor had understood that our insurance could pay for a medically guided transport home to Sweden, we decided to let SOS Insurance arrange that. In the afternoon I got the message that the transport was arranged next Sunday. A doctor should accompany my husband all the way from Siena to his hospital in Sweden.
Friday Oct. 19 Strolled around, visited the hospital, took some photos of the hospital as I wanted to let my husband see the building where he had spent so long time in Siena!
Saturday Oct 20 Went downhill to Casa di Santa Catarina, had a quiet time there in prayer in that Sanctuary. Beautiful fresks and Renaissance ceilings, and roses flowering in the yard.
When visiting the hospital we met the doctor who should accompany our transport home to Sweden. When I left the hospital I really felt very releaved, thinking that this must be the last time I walk along those endless corridores and over the atrium yards - a very wonderful feeling -- last time -
Sunday Oct. 21 A wondrous thunderstorm began at half past two in the night, lightning after lightning and rumble at some distance. The long heat wave was over - finishing with this splendid weather in the night. Soon the rain was pouring down - masses of water from heaven.
And so the long way home began, transport with SOS-assistans to Sweden. Ambulance Siena-Milano (Melpansa)and then SAS-flight to Stockholm (Arlanda). There the Hudiksvall ambulance for my husband. Everything ready and arranged, no troubles for me at all, just hang on. A wonderful organisation!
At the Arlanda airport our son met up with our car, and then he drove me and our bagage to our home in Färila.
A wonderful northern light in the sky when we came home. At home at last!
This trip to Tuscany did not altogether turn out into what we had expected. But what a wonderful organisation this SOS-assistans! And what help I had from our guide Ki. My gratitude is great!
Some links with information about Tuscany
Map of Tuscany
Tuscany hidden places
Text by © Ingegerd 2001