Central Italy

Trip Start Jun 19, 2008
Trip End Oct 11, 2008

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Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Friday, August 15, 2008

          Since our last posting, we spent two more days lounging in the Cinque Terre. We ate the delicious "Pesto Fresco" that the region is famous for, munched on scrumptious and cheap focaccia bread, and enjoyed the view from our guest house's honor system wine bar. We melted in the heat on a "free beach" one day, literally inches from overweight, under clothed and definitely under washed European tourists. The next day, we rented a kayak and paddled over to Vernazza from Monterosso beach, stopping along the way to swim in the cool, super-blue Mediterranean and sunbathe in an isolated little bay. During our 4 days at Monterosso, we hiked 12 kilometers up and down mountains, paddled 8 kilometers of turbulent sea in a kayak, and walked up the 130 stairs to our guesthouse about 20 times... Hopefully we worked off some of the delicious pasta we've been feasting on. The Cinque Terre was a great vacation from our vacation. We highly recommend it to fellow foodies, beachbums, and hikers.
           From Monterosso al Mare, we made our way over to Volterra in the heart of Tuscany. We slept in an 800-year-old seminary that has cheaply opened its many vacant rooms to travelers.  There are still a handful of students attending the seminary, but this massive building seemed entirely empty. Huge lofty hallways echoed even the smallest whisper and we sat listening to priests-in-training work on their Gregorian chants. On top of that, Patti and I couldn't help but feel that we were being stared at by the dozens of cardinals and popes that were frescoed over each room. Kind of a creepy/intimidating place for us sinners, but it was cheap...
              Volterra is an ancient Etruscan city built over 3000 years ago. We walked through the Puerta Al Arco, an arch dating back to the 4th century BC. This city is filled with artists and is famous for its alabaster carvings. We checked out an alabaster exhibit and browsed the dozens of artsy little shops in town. Alabaster looks a lot like marble but it is much softer, and the people here carve it into lamps, busts, eggs, etc. We also went to the Museum of Torture, a truly revolting display of the terrible ways people used to hurt each other. Most of what we saw there is unspeakable, but highlights included actual executioner's axes/blocks, an inquisitioners' dagger shaped like the cross (something tells me Jesus wouldn't like that too much) and an actual rack from a medieval dungeon. Did you know that if you get the guillotine that you are CONCIOUS for 10 (probably more like 3) seconds after your head gets chopped off? Facts like these had us literally feeling sick and we went to a park to lounge, read and get it out of our minds. Once we recovered our appetite, we dined on great Tuscan pastas, Italian cured meats, and pizza. 
              After 2 days in Volterra we left for Cortona, Tuscany (the town inspiring the Under the Tuscan Sun book and movie). All we can really say about Cortona is that the food is delicious. There are definitely not 2 days worth of sights to see, but we stuck it out and wandered the hilly city, walking up and down its main street about 20 times. Cortona is perched up on a hill, offering beautiful panoramas of the Tuscan countryside (and little else unfortunately). I guess when you travel for this long you are entitled to a little boredom.
                  I now sit in my Best Western hotel room in Siena (our nicest hotel room this entire trip), writing the blog on my failing laptop. We haven't been posting as frequently because the laptop is slowly dying, tormenting us with the dreaded blue screen of death. It's pouring rain outside and we figured out that the same guy that stole my GPS in Portugal also snatched Patti's raincoat. Bummer. So we sit watching the lightning, hoping the ailing laptop won't crash as we write this blog. Tomorrow we go to Siena's Palio, a bareback horse race famous for its lack of rules. We will crowd into a tiny square with 15,000 other Italians and tourists and watch the horses race around the square. Each Sienese neighborhood gets a horse and they actually bring them in their cathdral to bless them for the race. We'll wear one of the horse's colors and cheer like we actually know what's going on (if it ever stops raining). Wish us luck! More when we get to Rome in a few days.
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