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2 July 2009

Travel to Pisa to see the famed Leaning Tower, one of the buildings that make up the Campo dei Miracoli (entrances are not included). Continue to Florence, capital of Tuscany, for an upgraded dinner. Lay your head down for a night's rest at the villa in Siena.

Pisa is hot. Hot and humid. Hot and humid and full of West Africans trying to sell you "genuine" faux name brands of watches and purses or one of the 20 hats they have on their heads.

We checked out of our hotel in the morning and drove about 20 minutes to an auto rest stop where we had lunch at a buffet. Very confusing trying to figure out the system, but I'm sure it's quite logical when you know what you're doing.

Then on to Pisa, where Antonio parked the coach with the rest of the buses and we hopped aboard a special shuttle that took us to the road to the leaning tower and all the other buildings. Ian told us we were about to have an "around the corner moment," which it certainly was, rounding the corner and seeing the Baptistry, the church, and, of course, the famous leaning tower.

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What all the photos don't show you are the zillions of vendor stalls across from the Tower. It reminded me of our first trip to Windsor castle where the very first thing I saw was a Burger King (or my brother in law's experience climbing the Arc de Triomphe and seeing a McDonald's). No American fast foods, but just about everything else you can think of. And isn't Pisa just the very first place that comes to your mind when you think of buying African masks or pictures of Edridge Cleaver?

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We walked up to the tower, a bit of a schlep, where Ian gave us the background. Apparently they had been monitoring the "lean" starting in about 1900 and discovered that the degree of tilt had been increasing, so they began righting it to the tilt of 1900 about 18 years ago and now it is stabilized. You can go up in it, but I didn't want to tempt fate!

Sadly, we didn't have time to go IN any building. I think Ian wanted to get the hell out of there. I was sad that there was glorious organ music coming from the church, and I never even got to peek inside. Char's favorite moment in Pisa was when she passed some students. She was wearing her Cal Berkeley visor and the students gave her a thumbs up and said "go bears!"

Back to the stop to wait for the shuttle, all the while brushing off the West African vendors like flies. Then back to the bus, which Antonio had wonderfully air conditioned, and then we were off to Siena.

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Our arrival in Siena was greeted by torrential rain, lighting, and rolling thunder. The road to Casafrassi is narrow, dirt, and even in the best of conditions not wonderful for a huge bus. What's worse is that it goes on seemingly forEVer. But Antonio did a masterful job, even in spots where I was sure we were going to tip over the edge and roll down into the vinyards below.

Casafrassi is a 4 star hotel and it is magnificent. Not so much opulent but peaceful and just beautifully rustic. It is a working winery (so we will have a wine and olive oil tasting tonight...and the sign says we will also taste "salami, lard, ham and bacon." I can't wait to sink my teeth into some of that gourmet lard!)

There is a huge beautiful pool, and amenities such as back massage, full body massage or something called "lymph cleansing." I think I will pass on having my lymph nodes manipulated!

Jeri and I have one of the smaller rooms, but it has a gorgeous view overlooking the whole valley and a dove was sitting on the roof outside our window when we opened the shutters.

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Jennifer, our tour organizer, had been feeling bad all day, so Ian and Antonio took her (by bus!) into Siena to find a doctor. Unfortunately this was the day of a huge festival in Siena, so the town was kind of full of people and vehicles, but they did manage to get her some medical attention and returned in time to get the rest of us in to Florence for dinner

This was an "upgraded dinner" (I think that just means that ACIS pays for it) in a little cafe not far from the Palazza Vecchio.

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Antipasto (I skipped the pate)

After dinner, Ian walked us over to the Palazza.   Jeri was thrilled to be standing where thw "Light in the Piazza" was set (she played the run of the show in Boston).

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This may be my very favorite photo of the whole trip.

It's pretty impressive and the huge Duomo is apparently only a couple of blocks away but because of the way the buildings are laid out, we didn't see it from the piazza level.  However, there are lots and lots of statues around. More marble penises than you can believe.  I can just see some of our American fundamentalist legislators running around Florence with duct tape and maple leaves!!!  If you can't handle nudity, you'd better stay out of Europe entirely.

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But, with Ian, time is always of the essence and once the history had been explained, we had to rush off to meet Antonio and the bus. I was sad because they were preparing an operatic performance of Dante's Inferno for the piazza in front of Santa Croce church the following night and rehearsal was in progress. I would love to have spent at least 5 to 10 minutes listening to the guy who was singing, but no...time to move on. Since I am always the last in the group anyway, staying behind for a few minutes is never an option for me.

I have to admit that I am walking much better, but so is everyone else, so I am still the tail end of everywhere we go. Everyone is SO good to me, and so conscientious and patient (and if they are complaining about my inability to keep up, it is not within my earshot.)

When we boarded the bus again, Ian asked Antonio to stop at an overlook so we could take in the view. It is breathtaking. Breathtaking on two accounts...first just the beauty of it all, and secondly looking at the piazza and seeing where we had been and how far I had walked to get to the bus. I was damn proud of me! (Walt will appreciate that it was a real Mauldin moment!)

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Maybe for the average walker it doesn't look too far from X to X, but
I was really impressed that I had done it.

There was another hour back to the hotel, in the dark, which was even more scary, but Antonio was equal to the task. Our beds were so comfortable I was even able to sleep almost all night without stabbing pains, though we are at the point of the trip where I am starting to long for the recliner at home, a glass of ice cold water, and a dog in my lap!

It's hard to believe we are nearing the end. This has been a really wonderful experience, which I suspect is going to seem even better in retrospect!!!


Villa Casafrassi
Casafrassi, 40

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Converted Tuscan farmhouse surrounded by vineyards and woods, ten kilometres from Siena and 50 kilometres from Florence.  We will be here 3 nights.


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My second favorite photo of the trip


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