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I took my final trip of the semester on Saturday to Tuscany.  I woke up at 4:30 AM (after getting an only an hour of sleep) to catch a bus to take me to the train station so I could catch a 6:15 AM train to Florence.  I got lucky and caught a night bus at 5:00 AM which had me at the train station by 5:15 AM.  It was way too early, but the night buses in Rome run even more sporadically than the normal buses do – now that’s saying something.

I had an hour to get some breakfast, so I had an espresso, orange juice, croissant, and doughnut.  I ate my breakfast and watched the train station come alive with tourists of every nationality, social class, and different reasons for their travel.  After my breakfast, I got on my train and we arrived in Florence before I knew it – I love bullet trains.

After arriving in Florence, I checked into my tour and got onto the tour bus.  The tour started right on time and I sat next to an older woman from New Zealand, Sue.  We got to know each other quite well throughout the day.  She was on a six week tour of Europe after selling her vineyard back home.  She visited some family in England and decided to see Europe while she was over here.

Our first stop was Siena. Our tour guide was very concerned that I would not be able to keep up with the group tour as Siena is very hilly and wanted to call me a taxi to take me to the city center.  That would have meant that I would also have missed the tour!  He said he needed to keep the tour moving and couldn’t wait for me.  He was also afraid I would get lost and not be able to find my way back to the bus.  After about two minutes of telling him that I was a study abroad student who traveled across Europe the past semester and I would be fine, he still was very concerned.  I finally told him that he could leave me behind in Siena if I missed the bus and I would find my way back to Rome or Florence.  He reluctantly agreed.  Lets just say that I think he was impressed when I rode the five escalators to get into the city with no problem.  I would say I impressed him again when I was constantly in the front of the pack navigating the hills of Siena with more ease than most of my tour group.

Siena itself was a beautiful city.  It reminded me a lot of Split, Croatia and the older part of Barcelona – both were built by Roman emperors, so I was not that surprised.  Our first stop was one of the gates of the city.

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Then, we saw the oldest surviving bank in the whole world, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena.  It was located in a beautiful courtyard.

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After the bank, we passed by a few cars that were decorated in a style that looks very “redneck.”  Apparently, Siena has a huge student population and they hold “car battles” at the end of every academic year.

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Then, we went to the most famous part of Siena, Piazza del Campo.  It is one of the nicest squares I’ve been to in Italy.  It is sloped down towards the Siena government buildings and people can lay out on the square and sunbathe or just talk.  It is so inviting!

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Then, we went and saw the world famous Duomo di Siena.  It was absolutely beautiful and reminded me a bit of a smaller scale Florence Duomo.

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Siena itself was absolutely beautiful!  I wish we had more time in the city to explore it and “get lost.”  I feel like there is so much I did not see.

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We left Siena about 45 minutes after our tour ended and headed to an organic wine farm, Fattoria Poggio Alloro, just outside San Gimignano.  We got a tour of the vineyard, stables, and wine cellar.  It was quite interesting and so beautiful.

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Then, we had lunch and a wine tasting at the wine farm on their terrace overlooking the Tuscan countryside.  The food was even better than the view!  They started us off with a garlic bread and a white wine.  Then, they brought out handmade pasta in a meat sauce and served a Chianti along with it – it was the best pasta I’ve had in Italy.  After, they brought out a platter of cheese and salami and served it with another red wine.  Then, they gave us biscotti and an aged dessert wine.  That wine was so sweet!

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After we ate, I went and bought the first two bottles of wine we had so I could take them home.  The bottles only cost a total of 11 euros!

Then, we took a 10 minute bus ride to San Gimignano.  We had an hour to explore the town which was very unique.  It earned the nickname “Medieval Manhattan” because it had over 72 watch towers in its prime.  The watch towers were built by the rich – the richer you were, the taller your watch tower could be.  If you became poorer, your watch tower was cut down to an appropriate size.

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San Gimignano was another hilly town and it was a pleasure to walk around it.  There was a gelato shop, Pluripremiata Gelateria, that won the World Gelato Championship two times in the past five years, so the gelato was amazing!  I had a chocolate and a tiramisu and it was the best gelato I have had in Italy!

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After San Gimignao, we had an hour and a half bus ride to Pisa.  I fell asleep out of exhaustion!  When we arrived in Pisa, we boarded a tram that took us into the city center.  The three main attractions in Pisa are right next to each other in the Piazza dei Miracoli – the Leaning Tower, the Duomo del Pisa, and the Baptistry.  We had 45 minutes in Pisa which was just enough to take your cliche picture and climb the tower (if you wanted to, I did not).

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After, we got back on our tram and had a quick tour of Pisa.  We then got back on our bus and went back to Florence.  Once we arrived back in Florence, I hopped on my train and made it home by 11:00 PM and immediately fell asleep!  It was a great trip, but a busy trip.  It was a great way to end my semester full of travels!

Note: This post was originally published on May 14, 2011 in a blog entitled “Romeing Around Europe” which chronicled my study abroad experience.  


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