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San Gimignano, The Town of Fine Towers

"As a matter of fact, I'm writing a book. My memoirs: Letters from San Gimignano." ~ Tea with Mussolini

sunny 20 °C
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The tiny, walled town of San Gimignano is high up on the rolling hills of Tuscany. The hilltop towns were built so the enemies could easily be seen from a far. There is also evidence that Attila the Hun and his Hun army lived in this part of Italy. When trying to take over a castle at Silvio, the Saint Geminianus intervened to save the castle. The church that was built on the site was named after him and the walled city of San Gimignano grew around it.

The skyline of San Gimignano
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During the Black Death in 1348, more than half of the population of San Gimignano died. After this period, the growth that the town was experiencing stagnated. The town submitted to Florentine rule and many of the towers were reduced to the height of the houses. Today, it is still very much the same Gothic and Medieval town from centuries ago.

San Gimignano has also featured in many movies, such as Tea with Mussolini, and it is not hard to see why.

Scenes from Tea with Mussolini in San Gimignano's square
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THE TOWERS OF SAN GIMIGNANO

San Gimignano is not know as the 'Town of Fine Towers' for no reason. During the Middle Ages, rival families keen to show off their wealth, started to built towers, the one higher than the other. By the end of the Medieval Period, the town had a total of 72 towers. The town council then ordered that no tower be built higher than the tower of the Palazza Comunale and this seemed to end the rivalry. During the ages most towers have been destroyed by war and natural catastrophes. Today, only 14 towers remain, but these Medieval skyscrapers are still an impressive sight to behold.

The Palazza Comunal (Municipal Palace) has been the seat of authority for San Gimignano since the 13th century. Next to it is the highest tower in the town, the Torre Grossa (Great Tower). It stand at 54m. Climb the tower for amazing views of the town.

Torre Grossa
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Eating gelato on the steps of the Torre Grossa
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Views from the Torre Grossa
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FATTORIA POGGIO ALLORO

After enjoying the sights of San Gimignano, we headed towards Fattoria Poggio Alloro, a wine farm just 5km outside of the town. Here we did a tour of the cellar and met some farm animals. We also attended a great class where we all made our own pasta. It was then cooked and served to us for lunch. During lunch we also tasted the Vernaccia wine, which is made solely from the grapes in this region.
Check out the farm here: Fattoria Poggio Alloro

Fattoria Poggio Alloro, making and eating our own pasta
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The view of San Gimignano from the farm's restaurant
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Next stop: The Cradle of the Renaissance, Florence

Posted by Anja Fourie 23:43 Archived in Italy Tagged food italy wine pasta san_gimignano making_pasta Comments (1)

Karoo Christmas

"I could see for miles, miles, miles." ~ Bon Iver (Halocene)

sunny 30 °C

Beautiful nature, delicious food and family all around describes our Karoo Christmas perfectly.
I'm keeping the words to a minimum and letting the photos tell the story.

11:00 am
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18:00 pm
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Posted by Anja Fourie 01:56 Archived in South Africa Tagged mountains food rain drink scenery christmas farm swimming tan eat karoo touwsriver Comments (0)

The little town of Wagon-House-Cliff

Arniston, South Africa

semi-overcast 25 °C

The first half of our Saturday we spent at Agulhas, before returning to Arniston. At Arniston we went to the hotel to warm up with Hot Chocolate with a beautiful view of this dangerous ocean in front of us. Arniston is a tiny coastal village.

1. The hotel and beach view
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2. Me, being extremely excited about something
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Arniston derives its name from the Arniston ship that sank there in 1815. She was part of the British East Indian fleet and was rounding the Cape to return wounded soldiers home to England from Ceylon. A chronometer was a very expensive instrument at that time. The Arniston didn’t have one, so her Captain had to rely on the other ships in the fleet to know where he was. When a storm separated him from the other ships, he had to rely on his own intuition to navigate himself home. When the captain rounded Waenhuiskrans, he thought that is was the Cape of Good Hope and started to steer the ship north. This meant that he ran the ship ashore onto the rocks at Waenhuiskrans. Of the 378 people on board, only six managed to swim ashore. They started to make their way to Cape Town when they realised their mistake. They were found on the beach by a farmer’s son. A memorial was erected on the beach by the wife of Colonel Giels. Their four children died on that fateful day.

3. Arniston memorial
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The inscription on the memorial reads: Erected by their disconsolate parents to the memory of Thomas, aged 13 years, William Noble, aged 10, Andrew, aged 8 and Alexander McGregor Murray, aged 7 (the four eldest sons of Lieut. Colonel Andrew Giels of H.M. 73rd Regiment) who, with Lord and Lady Molesworth unfortunately perished in the Arniston Transport, wrecked on this shore on 3rd May, 1815.

4. At Arniston you can also do some whale watching
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While at the hotel we decided to take a walk to the nearby cave. Arniston’s other name is Waenhuiskrans. This is an Afrikaans name which literally means “Wagon House Cliff”. The reason the town was given this name is because the cave that can be found here is big enough to house an entire wagon and its oxen. This is a limestone cave and can be found to the right of Roman Beach, which is about 2km south of Arniston. The cave can only be accessed at low tide as the cave is under water during high tide and thus very dangerous.

5. On our way to the cave
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6. Steps down to the cave
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According to the pamphlet we got at the hotel, it is best to plan your trip to the cave at sunset. The reason for this is that the darkness of the cave makes the colours outside even more spectacular which means that sunsets seen from inside the cave must be amazing. When the last ray of sun sinks below the horison, a green flash can be seen. This 2 second flash is caused by the dispersion of the blue light. Unfortunately we weren’t there are sunset, but the cave was still pretty spectacular. It really is as big as described with the prettiest rock formations inside. The roof is spectacularly grooved as a result of the water erosion. At the far side of the cave, the rocks and sand are still wet. Kelp was also lying here and this is proof that the ocean does completely fill this cave at high tide.

7. Almost there
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8. The Cave
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That night we made dinner back at the house and then decided to go out for a drink. Arniston has no pumping nightlife and this we found out on the Saturday night. We wanted to go out for a drink, but finding the hotel closed for a private function, we had no choice but to go home. There are no other bars or restaurants open in this little town that time of the night and it was only nine o’clock!

9. Dinner time
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The next day we decided to explore the white washed and thatched roof houses of Kassiesbaai. This is a 200 year old fishing village and it has been declared a National Heritage site and South African Monument. At some of the houses you can enjoy a traditional meal consisting mainly of fish. An arts and crafts shop is also set up. Most of the residents here still make their living from the sea.

10. On our way
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11. Welcome to Kassiesbaai
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12. Arniston harbour
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13. Cute cousin playing on the anchor outside the hotel
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After that we headed back to Roman’s Beach again for some ice-cream. At this ice-cream stand you can only choose between strawberry and vanilla or a strawberry/vanilla mix. If you don’t like any one of these flavours, then you’ll just have to do without ice-cream.

14. Roman’s beach: path to The Cave can be seen at the far right
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15. Ice-cream on the beach
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16. Soft lime stone at the beach makes for interesting sand art
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After that our weekend at Arniston was finished. After lunch and some careful packing, with me still managing to forget things, we headed back home.

17. A Goodbye sunset
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Posted by Anja Fourie 15:22 Archived in South Africa Tagged food beach memorial ship cave south_africa ice-cream arniston Comments (0)

Barcelona!

"In Barcelona you will eat the best fish of the Mediterranean. Add to this the true art of preparing dishes, which I do not hesitate to call philosophic and Homeric." - Salvador Dali

all seasons in one day 29 °C
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With a population of approximately 3 million people, Barcelona is the most important city in Catalonia. It is also the administrative capital of Spain and the largest city on the Mediterranean Coast. In the early 1900’s the Nationalist party, led by General Franco, banned the Catalonian language. In 1975 Franco died and with the crowning of King Juan Carlos I, the Catalonian language and culture has been allowed to flourish again. The people in Barcelona are immensely proud of their Catalonian culture. Barcelona is also famous for being the host of the 1992 Summer Olympics. Montserrat Caballe, who famously sang the theme song of the '92 Olympics with Freddie Mercury, is from Barcelona. Barcelona is also the home town of the famous Surrealist artist Salvador Dali, Spanish soccer player Gerard Pique and Pablo Picasso moved here when he was 14 years old.

"Barcelona - How can I forget, Barcelona - Such a beautiful horizon." - Montserrat Caballe & Freddie Mercury (Barcelona).

Las Ramblas is a very popular area of Barcelona. Las Ramblas is in fact a series of short streets with different names, hence the plural name of Las Ramblas. It is a 1.2km long stretch of tree-lined boulevard that stretches from the waterfront right to Plaça de Catalunya, which is the Catalonian Square. This street is the centre of activity in Barcelona. It is very crowded and a lot of people just walk up and down, eating ice-cream, watching the human statues and drinking sangria. In Spanish rambla refers to an intermittent stream of water flow.

“It is the only street in the world which I wish would never end.” - Federico García Lorca (Spanish poet).

1. Las Ramblas
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At the beginning of Las Ramblas stands the Monumento a Colon. This is the Columbus Monument and stands at the place where Christopher Columbus returned to Spain from his voyage to the Americas. This was his most famous trip and the monument is a reminder that Columbus returned to Barcelona to report to Queen Isabella about his trip. The monument is a straight-up column of 60 metres with a decorated base of angels. Black lions flank the steps. A favourite photo moment seems to be to climb onto the lions. I almost tried to jump on a lion when no one was looking. In fear of flashing my bum or breaking my arm, I decided not to. The kid before me was crying so hard when his dad didn’t help him off and he had to jump off himself. Those lions are high. I suspect he may have broken something.

2. The Columbus Monument and Lion Climbers
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But, I quickly passed all of this to make my way to the Sagrada Familia. As Antoni Gaudi is a famous architect from Barcelona and this is one of his most famous works, this is probably what you have to see when you go to Barcelona. The walk is quite far, but instead of taking the subway, I walk to the cathedral and enjoy the scenery. Barcelona is a big urban city with a lot of beautiful, old buildings. It reminds me a lot of Cape Town. The difference is that the roads are much wider, where Cape Town has a lot of narrow one-way streets. The result is that you get this open feeling even though you are in the center of a big city. It's still early in the morning and shopkeepers are setting up for the day. A man is repainting the door to his shop after graffiti artists / vandals used it as a canvas for their Spray Can Expressionism.

I finally reach the cathedral after a 45 minute walk. The cathedral was started in 1882 and even though Gaudi died in 1926, it still isn’t finished to this day. I find it so ugly that I don’t even want to stand in the queue that stretches around the block. Just because something is famous, doesn't mean that it needs to be admired by all. I start to make my way back to Las Ramblas.

3. Outside the cathedral
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On the way back I walk past a little church. It is much smaller than the Gaudi cathedral, but it has a lot more charm. This is the church of San Francis of Sales. This is considered the masterwork of Juan Martorell Montells. He was Gaudi’s teacher and I am much more impressed by the master than the student. Yet again, a beautiful church that most tourists overlook. No entrance fee and no queue. Every time I am amazed how all these little churches on my trip brings me a sense of calm and how easily all the sound from the city outside is blocked out. All I'm hearing is the choir practicing in a room somewhere. No cars and no people. Just peace.

4. San Francis of Sales Church
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On the next few blocks across I walk across the Plaça de Catalunya. This is generally considered to be the city centre and the place where old and new meet. Most of the important streets of Barcelona meet here. Here are some beautiful statues of women, which seems to have a Greek influence. They are surrounded by beautiful fountains. I stand around a little and watch the kids, including the little Messi, chase the dozens of pigeons that crowd the square. As this is the home of FC Barcelona, the red and blue colours of the team can be seen throughout the city.

5. Placa de Catalunya
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6. Little Messi and his pigeons
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The shopkeeper I passed earlier today is still painting his door. Graffiti is scribbled everywhere, even on statues and buildings that are supposed to be part of their heritage and history. I rightly believe in freedom of expression, but vandalising beautiful old buildings does put a frown on my face. Today at the Plaça de Catalunya, graffiti actually made me laugh a little when I saw one of the female statues received a black spray can full of hair on her nether regions.

6. Artistic expression about body hair?
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7. La Deessa by Josep Clara
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I buy Stracciatella gelato and indulge in the heavenly hazelnut flavours. While eating I notice a group of photographers surrounding a couple. They must be someone famous, but I had no idea who it was. Every move they make sends the paparazzi into a frenzy, so I also jump into the crowd and try and take my photo. The combination of ice-cream in the one hand, camera in the other, shortness and ten other photographers pushing me around, made my first and last paparazzi moment a bit hard.

8. Some famous couple with the demon human statue
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9. Floating human statue
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I walk down Las Ramblas and sit at the Columbus Monument, eat my ice-cream and soak up some Vitamin D. I reflect on the brilliance of Barcelona. There are still tourists here, but they seem less than in Italy and the Spaniards are friendlier by miles. For lunch I buy a Falafel Shawarma at a little place for 4euro.

With Shawarma in hand, I walk through the St. Josep La Boqueria, a fresh produce market place. A variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and smoothies can be purchased here. The colours of the fruits and vegetables are so vibrant that they look like fake plastic food.

10. St Josep La Boqueria and its bright food
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I walk past H&M and have to pop into this massive 5 level store. The store is so crowded, with a million girls pushing each other out of the way and pulling clothes from racks like beasts. The reason: You can buy very cute dresses here from as little as 3euro. That is less than what my lunch cost! Exiting the store, it suddenly starts to rain. Totally unexpected to me, but the locals are ready and whip their umbrellas out. The good thing is that the rain leaves as quick as it came and clears up in less than 10 minutes.

11. Rainy Barcelona
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By that time I was exhausted and the time had come to, unfortunately, head back to the shuttle bus and leave magnificent Barcelona behind.

12. Last walk down Las Ramblas
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Next stop: Ibiza

Posted by Anja Fourie 05:00 Archived in Spain Tagged food barcelona olympics fruit spanish cathedral gaudi clothes meat lions sangria falafel la_boqueria smoothie las_ramblas plac_de_catalunya montells h&m freddie_mercury montserrat_caballe Comments (1)

Florence and Pisa in one day

"A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see." - Samuel Johnson.

sunny 29 °C
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When I got up this morning we were docked at a beautiful little town called La Spezia. La Spezia has a small harbour which made it another tender dock. This meant that the little shuttle boats had to take you to shore again. The entire town is set against a steep slope into the mountain. La Spezia is one of Italy's main commercial harbours and hosts one of the biggest Italian military industries, OTA Melara.

For 6 euro, a little train will take you to the town centre as the harbour is at the bottom of the mountain and a little way from the attractions of La Spezia. At La Spezia's station, I buy my train tickets for Florence and Pisa. I will be travelling in a lopsided triangle. From La Spezia to Pisa, from Pisa to Florence and from there back to La Spezia. The next train leaves in 10 minutes and after a hour we are in the centre of Pisa. I buy a bus pass for 1,10 euro. It takes me the Field of Miracles.

1. Even the McDonald's in Italy is stylish
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2. Entrance to the Field of Miracles
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The bus stops right at the square in front of the Square of Miracles. From outside the wall I can already see the Tower. I wish I had time to see more of Pisa's architectural wonders, but the Piazza dei Miracoli will have to do for now. It is also known as the Piazza del Duomo and is a walled area which contains the four great religious buildings of Pisa. This square has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The first thing you see when you enter the square is the large Romanesque dome of the Battistero (Baptistery). The other two buildings are the cathedral (Duomo di Pisa), and the Camposanto Monumentale (cemetery).

3. First sight of the complex
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4. The Field of Miracles
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That famous tower hides behind the massive cathedral and as you round the marble steps of the cathedral, the Campanile, the loose standing bell tower of the cathedral comes into full view. We all know this as the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Torre pendente di Pisa, or simply Torre di Pisa). The tower seems smaller than what I imagined it to be, but it is still magnificent in real life. Not a fan of the cliche, I decide that the tower can hold itself up for once and I just get some regular tower photos. You are allowed to enter and climb the tower once again as they have found a way to keep the tower from leaning. To gain entrance you just need to hand over your life savings and probably be weighed as well. Italians don't want any fatties to tip over their precious heritage.

5. Sinking base of the tower
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6. Me, myself and Mr. Leaning Tower
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Unfortunately my time in Pisa is up and I take the bus back to the station, just in time to catch the 12:00 train to Florence. Florence is an hour away from Pisa and 2 hours away from La Spezia. Florence is bigger, busier and dirtier than calm Pisa. I get a map to orientate myself and decide to walk down Via de Panzani towards the Piazza Giovanni.

"Everything about Florence seems to be colored with a mild violet, like diluted wine.” - Henry James.

Somewhere I take a wrong turn and end up at the Capelle Medicee. The Medici family was a very influential and important family for Renaissance Europe. They commissioned thousands of works of art which helped keep the Renaissance alive. Catherine de Medici (1519 - 1589) was the wife of Henry II of France and she ruled after his death. She was to the 16th century what Queen Victoria was to the 19th century. Her three sons were three different kings of France and her daughter in law was Mary Queen of Scots. It is believed that without her France would not have become Europe's first nation state.

7. Capelle Medicee
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Walking around the corner of the Capelle, you see the giant cathedral looming at the end of the street. It takes your breath away before you even get to the Duomo Piazzo. As you round the corner the massive cathedral and it's brilliance cannot even be described. The cathedral is topped by Brunelleschi's dome and it is the third biggest Christian church in the world today. It really is magnificent and you cannot seem to tear yourself away from this holy sight.

8. Duomo Piazzo
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When you walk up a side street it takes you to the Galleria dell' Accademia. This is where the real David by Michelangelo is housed. I am dissappointed at the very long queue as this means that with my limited time I will not be able to see the David. It is almost time to catch the train back to La Spezia, so I just decide to slowly make my way back to the station. As I'm walking through the beautiful streets of Firenze, my stomach starts growling. For 10 euros I get to eat an amazing multi-layered lasagna with a roasted chicken and vegetable salad. The lasagna is amazing and I never want it to end. But this is Italy after all, the birthplace of pasta.

The 15:53 train takes me back to La Spezia. The train ride will take about 2,5 hours which means I will only arrive in La Spezia at about 18:20. This doesn't leave much time to get back to the harbour to catch the last shuttle boat which leaves at 18:30. I don't worry about it just yet.

The train stops at La Spezia at 18:19. There are no taxis at the station. The little train I took up to the top is nowhere to be seen. I look down at my sandles and decide that I'll have to make a run for it. I've never been much of a runner, but the adrenaline pushes me down the hill like a mad person. Italians jump out of the way. The 25 minute walk has to be completed in 10 minutes.

I am unsuccessful. I arrive at the harbour at 18:40. I have about 500m still to go, but my legs are weak and my chest is burning. I can see the shuttle boat is already half-way towards the ship and they are packing up their gazebo. I run faster than I've ever ran. The officer sees me and screams for the shuttle boat to return. It's actually a scary thought when you think that the ship waits for no one. Laraine meets me in the room and freaks out that I almost missed the last boat as those who miss the ship's departure, have to make their own way to the next stop. The ship waits for no one.

Next stop: Rome

Posted by Anja Fourie 10:11 Archived in Italy Tagged food bus train italy pisa florence cathedral david leaning_tower la_spezia field_of_miracles Comments (2)

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