Horse Races and Wine Tastings

January 22

Today was a long day!  We started in Siena.  We took the hour bus ride from Florence then met our tour guide for a foot tour of Siena.  We started at the Basilica of St Dominic.  This is where the skull of Siena’s patron saint, Saint Catherine,  is kept.  When St Catherine died, her body was split up and sent to many different locations.  Siena got the skull.  We then walked to the main street of Siena.  the main street runs north south and used to run all the way to Rome in the south and up to Canterbury in England to the north.  Main street also had many good examples of Gothic architecture which is slightly different from what we have most often seen in Italy thus far.  We also saw the first bank of Siena which is called Monte dei Paschi and is still active today as a private bank.  Next we saw the Cathedral of Siena.  This cathedral had pretty vibrant colors on the outside and an awe-inspiring inside.  The pulpit of the cathedral was highly praised by our tour guide.  She said that when a person addresses a crowd from atop this pulpit it is somehow more moving and powerful.  It had many intricate carvings on it, and one can see how this would be true.  The cathedral also contained some works by Donetello.  We haven’t seen much Donatello art on this trip so that was interesting to see.  We ended the tour in the Campo where Siena’s most famous event is held, il Palio.  Il Palio is a bareback horse race that takes place twice each summer.  Each of the districs of Siena are represented in at least one of the races and three are represented in both. The four days leading up to the race as well as race day itself are very chaotic and intense in Siena.  According to our tour guide, everyone gets a little crazy around the races!  We grabbed lunch and wandered around Siena for a bit then headed to the bus for the rest of our action-packed day.  Next we stopped at San Gimingnano.  San Giminignano is a walled medeival town just outside of Siena and is surrounded by countryside.  We climbed the bell tower of this town and saw the spectacular view of San Gimingnano and the Italian countryside.  Finally we went for dinner and a wine tasting.  the dinner consisted of a starter, a vegetable dish and probably the best lasagna I’ve ever had.  Throuout the meal we tasted 10 different wines as well as 2 or 3 olive oils and a balsamic vinegar.  the tasting was led by Luigi, the owner of the vineyard.  His family has owned the vineyard for generations and we was an absolute riot!  He spoke pretty good English and was just funny as all hell!  He taught us how to do a proper tasting of wine including the swirl , the smell and the full taste using all the senses in the mouth.  We ranked some of the wines on a scale from 0-10 with 0 being “pee-pee” and 10 being perfect beyond belief.  The ratings varied greatly between the 24 of us which was the same throughout the trip.  Everyone liked each site or duomo or piece of art or wine differently.  Luigi gave us a slogan for this phenomenon that we experienced daily on this trip:

“What’s good is not what’s good; what’s good is what you like”

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