San Gimignano to Cortona

Trip Start May 20, 2006
Trip End Jun 04, 2006

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

After our complimentary breakfast on the terrace, Cam and I wandered around the town of San Gimignano. It was probably 9am. The tourists and locals must have still been in bed, because the town was quiet and peaceful... a refreshing change.

San Gimignano is hugely popular with tourists. At one time, over 70 towers rose above the town, now there are only 13. Around the 13th century, rich merchants would build towers alongside their homes as places to safeguard their valuables. These towers became status symbols, with each one being higher than the one before, until a town chief forbade building higher than his own 51m tower.

In 1348, the Black Plague swept through the town of San Gimignano, wiping out much of the town's population. Only recently has the town's population returned back to what it was in 1348.

We decided to climb the Torre Grande, the highest tower in San Gimignano, before it started to get too hot. After 218 steps later, we reached the top and took in the stunning view of the Tuscan countryside. We could actually see the door to our hotel room from up there! Down below we could see a market being set up in Piazza Del Duomo.

We walked back down and strolled through the market and picked up a couple bottles of the white Vernaccia wine, the local wine of San Gimignano. Hotel check out was by 11am, so we made our way back to begin packing. We decided to bring our bags back to the car, so we wouldn't have to worry about them.
We wandered around the town's small archaeological museum and the Speziera di Santa Fina, a reconstructed 16th century pharmacy and herb garden. The pharmacy's herbal "kitchen" was a definite wakeup for the senses.

In the Piazza Sant'Agostino, we entered a shop displaying incredible photos of the Tuscan landscape. The owner of this shop is Claudio Calvani, a world renowned nature and wildlife photographer. His pictures have been featured in National Geographic magazines and have won him various prestigious awards. We purchased a couple of his calendars, since we couldn't afford his full size masterpieces.

Lunch was a few shops down, at the Locanda di Sant'Agostino, known for its 49 types of bruschetta (which was recommended in the Lonely Planet). We ordered 2 types of bruschette; one with pecorino & porcini mushrooms, the other with an olive paste, arrugula & tomatoes. It made for a very nice light lunch.

At 2:30pm, we decided to leave for Cortona. We had spent a couple hours exploring the town, trying to entertain ourselves until 4:00pm, at which time the church choir would be holding a concert at the Piazza Sant'Agostino. One and a half hours seemed an awful long time to continue wandering, especially in the Tuscan sun. It was hot!

We arrived in Cortona shortly after 4pm. After much hesitation and a lot of convincing, Cam drove the car inside the town of Cortona, in front of Hotel San Michele. We were told that we would have to leave the car in front of the hotel because an event was happening in the centre of town. We quickly checked out our room which was "airy, spacious and exquisitely furnished", just like it said in the Lonely Planet.

A short distance away (and uphill), we reached the Piazza della Repubblica, where we witnessed the locals in medieval garb - men, women and children. A band was making its way from the Piazza della Repubblica to the Piazza Signorelli. It was difficult to see because of the crowds, but I did manage to take some pictures and a few videoclips. We eventually walked to the Piazza Signorelli to watch the rest of the entertainment. Minutes later, I couldn't help but squeal with delight. The infamous flag throwing ceremony, depicted in the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun". Who would have thought that we would be in Cortona watching the flag throwing ceremony! From what I've read in various books, this event happens on the first Sunday in June. Today is certainly not the first Sunday in June. And, had we stayed later in San Gimignano to watch the church concert, we would've missed it. One word... SERENDIPITY.

We walked back to the hotel and grabbed the car. After a frustrating hour later, we eventually found parking and made our way back to the hotel - uphill. We dined on pizza at Fufluns, a nearby trattoria recommended by the concierge and stopped at a gelateria for dessert.
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