Yes, You Can Do Three Cities in ONE Day!
Siena - of all the cities that I visited, this is the one that cut the cake. What are we going to do to survive when we have nothing else going in our favour? As a starter, its population has been staying the same for centuries. Unlike other cities such as Venezia, Pisa which at one stage were naval power, Siena does not have any rivers that flow through it which facilitated the growth of other industries. However, what it has got going in its favour is its location! It's on the path for pilgrims heading to Roma. So, the business people there of the time put their heads together & figuring out ways to benefit from the pilgrims. Thus, it decided to start a currency exchange service which would subsequently evolve into a bank. To these days, the bank is still dotted around major cities in Europe & its considered as one of the oldest institution in the world! That feat is not something to laugh about. Then, it also decided to set up a hospital to look after the pilgrims. It's the first of its kind to have bug-free beds & that all apparatus used for medical treatment was disinfected. Still, nothing would stop the onslaught of the Black Death. However, the hospital was still standing & it was only stopped as a hospital a decade ago & now, it's in the process to be converted into a Museum. Yes, once again, Siena has the record of having one of the oldest hospital in the WORLD! The other highlight of Siena is the Cathedral (by Pisano), been perceived to be one of the most beautiful Gothic church ever been built. For travellers, you shall be glad to know that it has been restored to its pristine condition & therefore, it is simply glorious to look at. The Cathedral is built with marbles both inside & outside & it was claimed that it took 2 centuries to complete. At one stage, it was to become the largest Cathedral in the world until the plague decimated its working population. What I have learned from the Cathedral is the word: graffiti (meaning to scratch), from an Italian sculptor of the 16th century(?) & that the tradition continues to these days. However, for the youngsters out there, graffiti has lost its meaning long time ago where the art is supposedly done with care & precision. Then, there's the Il Palio, the annual horse race (twice a year) that is partaked by 17 Districts in Siena. Only 10 best horses are eligible to enter. The race has a religious bearing, to commomerate St Catherine, the Saint who's able to convince the Pope to return to the Vatican City from France. It's very interesting walking around Siena to see the dividing line of Districts defined by their own crests. The crests are what define their identities & parochialism runs deep at this part of the world. Il Palio is held in the heart of summer & you can imagine the searing heat. Yet, people would claim for their viewing position from the Piazza (Il Campo-meaning the Field) first thing in the morning even though the race would start in early evening. The race would normally last for a minute give & take - 3 rounds around the Piazza. It's really a Catch 22 situation for the viewers because once they take their positions, they won't be able to leave but then again, they got to go to the bathroom by drinking much water to prevent dehydration. For those of us that would like to have a window seat by the Square, they could fork out a whopping amount of 5,000 Euros! Few years ago, one of the jockey was beaten unconscious once it's found out that he threw the match for a whopping amount of half a million Euros. Naturally, the race has lost its meaning now. Winning is everything now & that there would be inner politicking & bribery behind-the-scene just to win the kudo for being the best. After the match, there would be a massive celebration & that the horse would be the honorary guest! Sienese is a verry proud people & talking to them, they would brag about Siena's lack of crime & that why would they want to be anywhere else when they are already living in the best place in the planet. It's said that Sienese pregnant women would be carrying with them Sienese soil during travel. Should they need to have emergency birth, at least, they can say that the child is born on Sienese soil because it's their tradition to put the soil underneath the bed when such an incident arises. To these days, 20,000 of 50,000 people here are students and they create a sense of vibrancy to the place. The Sienese bank is still channelling the funds back to Siena to revitalise, restore, reinvigorate this proud city. So, the word to sum this place up is ATTITUDE & I love its positivity & its willingness to embrace the past & yet, looking forward to the future.
San Gimigniano is one of the oldest cities in Italia. It's formed in 3 B.C. It's nicknamed "Medieval Manhattan" for its unusual Torres that dotted the skyline. At its prime, there were more than 70 towers in there until the local Authority put a stop to it and issued a decree to say that nothing is to be taller than the Church itself. So, the 70+ towers were cut down to present day 14. Some people opted to build two towers instead of one tower because their reasoning is that the sum of two towers is more than one tower. I called this "small penis" syndrome going mad. To date, the place officially has the best Gelato store on the planet & it's known for its wildboar & truffles at the countryside. Not far from here is where the Vampire series: Two Moons was filmed (certain scenes) & also, Tea with Mussolini. Furthermore, this place is also famous for its wine & that its picturesque rolling landscape is to die for. If it's nice in winter, you will be imagine of its splendour in summer.
Pisa will forever be known for all the WRONG reasons. All its major attraction is contained inside the Field of Miracles (the Cathedral, Baptistry, Bell Tower a.k.a. Leaning Tower of Pisa). Yes, they are truly splendid to look at but most of the tourists were doing miming action, trying to take perfect cheesy pictures of them "holding" the Leaning Tower. What meant to be an educational visit to understand about Pisa's might and its eventual decline turned into a circus act. Then, people were actually queuing to get into toilets which the local authority charged a very reasonable 30 cents to get in. After taking the obligatory pictures to justify that we have done of the Big Three of Italia and after surviving the onslaught of peddlars (mostly from overseas) selling kitsch souvenirs such as the Pisa Underwear (erection picture), Homer Vitruvius, there ain't nothing left to see in Pisa. One note though, it does have the largest international airport at Tuscana. There's a strong rivalry between Firenze & Pisa. For history buff, Pisa was eventually conquered by Firenze but the most amusing story was that during the heyday before Medici kicked out all butchers from doing their trade along Arno River at Firenze, all rotten meat would flow down & ended up in Pisa with an undesirable stench. Complaints were lodged but Firenze turned the other way. However, in 1966, when there was a huge blood, gold and other precious jewellery from the shops at Firenze would flow down the same river & Pisans would claim that as their own. Talking about sweet revenge, it can't get any better than that.
For me, one of the most enjoyable aspect of travelling in Italia is listening to its many quirks and I love the small villages more than the bigger cities. Naturally, more new (mis)adventures await for me:)