October 2nd 2015

The Wayfarers' Marina Graves tells us about her first day on a Walk in Tuscany... My first field trip ever and where would I be sent to? Italy, more so Tuscany. Lucky me. If there are still a handful of people left who have never been to Italy I guess I'm just one of them. In my head I was picturing medieval towns full of architectural treasures, narrow cobbled stoned streets, cypress trees, dark-haired Italian men racing on scooters and gelato paradise. Having traveled quite a few times I came to a conclusion not to have any expectations from a new country or place, to let it be a raw experience. I knew my adventure was going to be a good one. In the heart of Italy, so full of history and ancient beauty that I brought a camera to take the best shots, boots to conquer Tuscan hills and ears to listen. Getting out of the train at Siena railway station I was going to meet my group of fellow walkers and to be honest, being a shy person by nature, I was a bit nervous. The questions were running through my head: Are they going to like me? Am I going to like them? Will they be nice? Will they be fun? I guess they were thinking the same questions and were a bit nervous themselves, spending a week with complete strangers. palio Together we got into the van and went up the winding street, to experience our first hilltop town - beautiful Siena. Siena and Florence share a bloody history of wars and hate. Even today it feels like the rivalry is still going on between them and even you might find that you prefer one city more than another. If Florence is the birthplace of Renaissance, in Siena you will clearly see a surprisingly distinct Gothic influence. This is an absolutely charming medieval town and was largely unspoiled by the large modern buildings. I would say Siena is the most fascinating place to see in Tuscany. As with any famous travel destination, the town is busy with tourists during the day. It becomes a fantastic place to spend a warm Italian evening, enjoying wine in a small family run restaurant. Wander the streets while looking at ancient buildings with the layers of centuries on them you wonder what it was like here hundreds of years ago. Siena was just like I wanted an old hilltop Italian town to be, postcard perfect; cobbled, winding, narrow streets, linen hung to dry over the balcony, little wine shops selling local wine with homemade prosciutto and cheeses. Siena is divided into 17 Contrade (neighborhoods) each of which plays an active part in the life of the city and Sienese people are proud to belong to their Contrada. Each one has a name and a flag and every Sunday one of them parades to promote and support their community. We were lucky enough to have witnessed a Giraffa (giraffe) Contrada's parade. For some rather odd and most likely historical reason even today the participants are only men. I am sure the mothers are watching closely. contrada giraffa The Campo is one of the most remarkable squares in Italy. The whole town was built around this square and the famous Palio horserace which has survived as perhaps the most spectacular annual festival in Italy happens here, and of course the whole city participates. Large in scale and ornately decorated inside and out, Siena's cathedral is one of the finest examples of Italian Gothic architecture. The cathedral itself was originally designed and completed between 1215 and 1263. Duomo's interior has unique black and white striped campanile and floor mosaics. I've seen many cathedrals in my life, but I must say this one struck me. You just don't expect such glory and uniqueness when looking at it from the outside. Despite my worries, the group got along right away. We were joking all the way through the tour of Siena like we had known each other for years and were trying to sneak away to get ourselves some gelato on that hot Italian afternoon. I did not know what to expect, but I had a feeling it was going to be a great adventure in a company of great people! Discover Siena and highlights of the ancient Via Francigena with us on our Pilgrims' Way Walk in the heart of Tuscany.

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