Day 6: Tuscany- all packed in 

We had a busy day ahead, as our two day trips had been packed into one plus two other excursions.

We started the morning by heading to Siena, with a small guided tour and then free time for lunch. It was small, high wallls and buildings made the lanes cool to walk through, and I was looking forward to returning with Greg. We were greeted on our walk to the city center by a scene apparently in the opening of James Bond Quantam of Solace. The square in Siena is famous for their twice a summer horse race of insanity,  called Palio-, on July 2nd (yes we missed it by days), and August 15th, where they bring in sand and gates, etc. It was originally a Renaissance festival to celebrate  the Virgin Mary. (I swear I couldn’t get the visual of all these horses racing like little sperm out of my head…) and originally, on the August 15th date, even prisoners would be released for day to watch the race. Here I had a great idea for a period action film, ala Three Musketeers or whatever, following both a prisoner preparing for his escape and a jockey preparing for his big race, culminating an an exciting plot climax that I haven’t thought of yet. Dave Franco, call me. 

Each of the 17 districts of Siena rotates anually in the 10 available spots and then they go all out in a dangerous, barebacked race with 30,000 people packed in the middle of the track, and people are hurt every year. It seemed insane and very undesirable, to be honest, even as a moderate horse racing fan. 

Each of the districts is represented by a different animals, with their own colors and flags, and the competition is fierce.  In the weeks leading up to Palio there are [still practiced to day] different ritual competitions, like ladies singing the most profraine and filthy insults at one another in the square and fist fights among young men. One of the students said “It sounds kind of like the hunger games.” This year apparently Giraffes took the July race but August is yet to be determined. 

Amy and I peeled away from the group as soon as lunch was called and found a tiny panini stand with €3.50 fresh sandwiches and sat on the stoop to eat them. I 
It was hardly enough time to find a place to order, eat, a bathroom and then back to the group! I was definitely looking forward to my return to explore at a slower pace. 

Next we boarded the bus and headed back up towards Florence, for a stop at San Gignomano.  It’s another small mideival town, that was very sweet and apparently known for the best gelato. So of course I partook. Amy and I also hiked up to the top of a bell tower that overlooked the valley and then it was time to meet up again for our planned olive oil tasting! 

We drove out of San Gimignano a little ways and pulled into an olive and grape orchard. On a Quick tour we learned they were a small vineyard producing their products organically- and then came time for the tasting.  We sat in the garden on shaded benches and sampled (and students purchased) away. I found out later that Elena- our tour guid-  was very displeased with the place, as apparently  they charged her/Exporica for what we thought was a lovely afternoon but is typically free at other establishments!


We drove back into the city for dinner and then had to hurried to get to the museum of the Accadameia to see the david before they closed. Students 18 and Under were free, but they required to see each of their passports as proof, and each of us chaperones had to pay our own entrance. It was more than worth it for me, but I definitely didn’t remember having to do so at any of the museum or palace tours at the last time. This meant, in fact that this David visit had not been planned as part of our tour package but Elena added it on, just knowing we were interested. (Had it have been planned, our entrance would ave also been factored into the total trip expense at the beginning etc.) To be clear, I don’t mind paying my own way into one of the world’s most famous exhibits, but it was interesting to discover so much was being planned “on the fly.” 

Once we were in the David, the museum was small, the late entrance made for minimal crowds, and it was even more grand than I imagined. 

That evening, the teachers gathered. Our double-town day trip left most of tomorrow free. We had a leather “workshop” at 9:30 and then that was it. We brain stormed different activities that each teacher could provide- but also trying to limit cost. (Some museums charged even to students.) We came up with a rough plan. Each teacher would do an activity that interested them, garden walk, Santa Croche, Galileo Miseum, etc) and then in the afternoon there would be free time, before heading back to the hotel for students to pack up. 

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