Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Our European Adventure - Days 20, 21, 22: Sienna, San Gimignano and Viareggio

Somehow I had always assumed that the famous hill towns of Italy would be very like one another. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Even the materials of which they are constructed differ from town to town. We didn’t visit Orvietto, but the memory of seeing it from a distance, a mass of deep rose colored stone perched high on a hilltop, will stay with me and ensure that we put it high on our agenda for our next trip to this part of Italy. Cortona, I’ve already written about. It’s a softer looking town, all creamy yellow and grey stone. Sienna is not stone at all. It’s entirely made of old rose colored brick. Houses, public buildings, even the streets are brick. San Gimignano is grey stone. 
Sienna, Italy
Main square plaza in Sienna
We left Cortona and stopped for lunch in Sienna. It is a physically beautiful town but is not one I wish to revisit. It is sinking under the weight of mass tourism. Even out of season, it is difficult to navigate the lanes clogged with tourists following umbrellas.  The streets and squares are lined with shops offering really tawdry souvenir merchandise, and restaurants are overpriced.

We ate a not very good lunch in the piazza where the annual Palio (a very famous festival and horse race) takes place. The space is admittedly lovely as are the buildings surrounding it. But the two hours we spent there were enough.

Tuscan countryside
It was a relief to get back to our car and continue our drive through the green rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside.  It’s amazing how different the vegetation is here. Gone are the palm trees and the umbrella pines. Fields are planted or plowed, every inch of them, some plow lines circling hills in fantastic patterns. The sunflowers for which Tuscany is famous are now, in October, dry brown stalks, fields full of them. Tall cypress trees, row upon row, define property lines. The hills are higher than one might expect. The Tuscan “hills” are more like mountains. We curled around and up and down, through mists in the low places and brilliant sunshine in the high. 

Towers of San Gimignano, Italy
Famous towers of San Gimignano
Our stopping point for the night was San Gimignano. This little story-book town cannot help but make one laugh. It seems that each wealthy burger built a tower. The original purpose of these hill town towers was protection. But in San Gimignano, there seems to have been a bit of competitive spirit at work. Each time a new tower was built it had to be higher than the ones that preceded it. A true case of little boys playing “Mine is bigger than yours is!” The result is an absurd skyline, a veritable forest of towers. It’s a charming, fantasy-land little town.

San Gimignano, Italy
San Gimignano in the distance
We continued on our way the next morning. The Tuscan hills really are unlike anyplace else I’ve been. The fertile fields, the gentle winding roads, the colors, the occasional little towns have a feeling all their own. We stopped for lunch in a roadside inn. We sat in a garden in the sun and had ham and cheese paninis, pastries, and sparkling water. Our bill, four Euros. 

Late afternoon found us on the flat coastal plane. We were in Viareggio. Once again we were in the land of palm trees and hibiscus. 

Viareggo, Italy
Viareggio from our hotel balcony
The beach here on this part of the Mediterranean Sea is known as the Ligurian Sea. Soft cream colored sand stretches for miles. In the far distance to the north where the beach ends we can see jutting into the sea the silhouette of the Cinque Terra. We’re in a very grand hotel with a view forever and we’re taking three days to rest and regroup.


Following are my published novels. Go to my Goodreads page, to find more info and reviews.  

To purchase one of these books, just click on the book link below and select the vendor of your choice.

The Memory of Roses, Blair McDowell
 • The Memory of Roses ~ The story of a secret and how it impacts two generations of the McQuaid family.  It unfolds on the beautiful Greek Island of Corfu and is a tale complete with beautiful and passionate women, handsome and fiery men, and an intriguing mystery.

"The Memory of Roses by Blair McDowell is simply an incredibly lovely story. It’s also a love story, and a story about finding yourself, and about closure. The theme running through the book is “all’s well that ends well.”  --  Marlene, Reading Reality


Delighting In Your Company, Blair McDowell
 • Delighting In Your Company ~ Delighting In Your Company is a paranormal romance set on an exotic Caribbean island, featuring a handsome ghost and an adventurous heroine who travels back in time to solve a mystery!

"Delighting In Your Company is a unique paranormal romance that brings together island folklore, history, and mystery with an unlikely romance between the past and present that had me going through a torrent of emotions and made it impossible to put down." -- The Romance Reviews


Sonata, Blair McDowell
 • Sonata ~ Sayuri McAllister has just arrived home to Vancouver to find some shocking situations 
~ A robbery has taken place at her family home, and it is being investigated by her old flame;
~ Alyssa James who she barely knows, is about to become her new stepmother; 
~ and Alyssa’s brother, Hugh James, is a charming Irishman who is intent on bedding and wedding the rich and beautiful Sayuri. 

It’s a confusing and difficult time for Sayuri, especially when dangerous accidents happen to her father and herself – or are they accidents?

“I found Sonata to be a charming novel that left me laughing out loud in parts and gnawing nails in others. It was a delight to read.” – Night Owl Reviews


Abigail's Christmas, Blair McDowell
 • Abigail's Christmas (short story) ~ An enchanting tale of love and romance, with a magical touch of fantasy.
Abigail's Christmas is a holiday story about Abigail who goes looking for a tree on Christmas Eve, and ends up with the man of her dreams in a sleigh in the Rockies --- with a wedding in the offing! Is it real?  Is she dreaming?  Or is it just Christmas magic?

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Blair McDowell