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This is the converted farmhouse where we spent our week in Tuscany. Its called "Cagnano de Sopra". We had one of four apartments. Its near Castellina in Chianti, you guessed it, in the Chianti region. You are looking at the "good" road in. We initially arrived via the "back" road, which was really scary. Renting part of a house or villa has advantages and disadvantages. The concept of exploring a region by taking day trips works well here, partly because the countryside is so scenic, but also it avoids having to pack and unpack frequently. There was plenty of space in the apartment and there were patios and a pool, but it turns out we hardly had time to use these facilities. Its fairly secluded, since this was still a working farm. I think next time we will probably stay in one place just as long, but in a hotel. It would be a little less primitive and cheaper too.

Our apartment had a living room, a bedroom, a bathroom, a small kitchen, and an ocassional cat or bat (but not both at once). Keeping in mind that we were on the second floor, I was quite startled to suddenly see a cat wandering accross the bedroom floor. Turns out she had climbed onto a leanto roof and then in through the bedroom window. The Italians don't believe in window screens. A few days after that, we got home in the dark and a bat had made its home in our room. I chased it around the room with a broom until it finally went out the window. Did I mention that Italians don't believe in window screens?

It wasn't until the fourth day of our stay that we got to actually use our pool. We chatted with some nice people from New Zealand and from the UK staying in the other apartments. I was in the pool when they told us about finding a scorpion in the pool a few days earlier. I looked around and sure enough, there was another one at the bottom. I think he froze to death. They must have pumped the water from a very deep well.

Laura is picking a peach here. There were also lots of grape vines, olive trees and date trees around the farm. We never met the owner, but we were greeted by the owner's wife. She spoke French, but hardly any English. She was mostly not around. When we had no water, I had to try to tell the old woman caretaker, who knew absolutely no English. I said "no aqua" several times and she seemed to be saying it was being fixed. It was.

Panzano is a small town between the more major towns of Greve and Castellina on the Florence - Siena highway. This is a gateway to the old part of town, on top of a hill. That is a two-way street by the way.

Siena is one the most famous cities in Tuscany. The streets are so convulted that we got lost walking back to our car. This was in spite of taking notes on the street names and having a decent map! This view is from the outskirts of town.

The Pallazo Publico and the Torre del Mangia on the Piazza del Campo in Siena. There was some repair work going on the front of the tower. They cleverly painted a copy of the covered up clock face on the cover.

This is the view of the Piazza del Campo from the tower. Siena normally holds the Palio twice a year. This is a big festival culminating in a horse race around the piazza. As part of the year 2000 celebrations, they held a third race on the very day we arrived in Tuscany, but we just couldn't make it, what with jet lag, not having slept in about 30 hours, and arriving in a strange country. This photo was taken two days later and they were still washing down the dirt that was put down for the horses. That's why the street is wet on the lower left. In the distance is the Duomo (cathedral).

The Duomo in Siena. The inside was just as fantastic.

A typical courtyard in Siena. There's usually a well inside.

A typical street in Siena. It was while walking along a street like this that we came upon a store that rented computer time on the Internet. Laura (believe it or not) suggested stepping inside and sending a few emails back home. So it was that we sent emails halfway around the world from inside a 600 year-old building. This is one of the things that I really liked about Italy. There seems to be an ability to blend the new in with the old without destroying the old.

Monteriggioni is a small fortified town that is still lived in. Unlike most of the Tuscan hilltowns that we saw, this one has not outgrown its medieval walls.

The simple village church on the piazza in Monteriggioni.

This is a view from the hilltop town of Montalcino. Near here, an older Italian couple, also tourists, were taking a picture. Through hand motions, he indicated that I take a picture of them with a similar scene in the background. Just before clicking the picture, I said "fromaggio". For a moment, no reaction from the couple. Then they started laughing. I'll never know if they laughed because I said "cheese" or because they were wondering why the heck I would suddenly say "cheese".

The piazza in Montalcino, Tuscany.

Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy.

San Gimignano is a town in Tuscany that is famous for its many towers. Only a few are left now, but the town is still amazing. Quite a few tourists here too.

A Street artist in San Gimignano. There were several of these in town. Prices were very reasonable.

The streets are kind of narrow in San Gimignano, like all the hill towns. That doesn't prevent two-way traffic for cars and trucks though.

This is the "Ponte Vecchio" (literally "old bridge") in Florence. It is closed to traffic and filled with jewelry stores.

Loads of tourists in Florence. We had lunch right in front of the duomo in Florence. I expected this place to be kind of a ripoff, lousy food at high prices, but it wasn't. The price was a bit higher but the food was very good. The waiters did chase away people who just wanted to sit and have a drink though. This was the only place that we saw this. They also chased away the occasional gypsy. One woman begging was holding a baby that looked suspiciously like a doll.

The duomo in Florence. Spectacular on the outside but kind of plain inside (but huge). We only spent one day in Florence which was good and bad. There's way too much to do in one day and you have to plan ahead (make reservations) for things like the Ufizzi Gallery. On the other hand the place was really overloaded with tourists. Also, this is a big city with the usual problems, traffic, parking, etc. And it was hot and smelly even in September. In general, we preferred the countryside.

Dramatic action figures.

Cortona, Tuscany, one of the oldest and highest of the hill towns. It was also made more famous by Frances Mayes book "Under the Tuscan Sun". These are the stairs to the Etruscan Museum that had Etruscan and other artifacts. We then walked up to an old Medici Fort that overlooked Cortona (already very high) and the surrounding flat valley. The streets were some of the steepest yet. Amazing that people live here. Had lunch at a sidewalk cafe, sampled the "Nobile" wine of nearby Montepulciano. It was very good, but I wonder if it will be so good at my kitchen table back home.

Rooftops in Cortona.

A typical street in Cortona. They drive cars here! On a different street I saw a car with an "I love NY" bumper sticker.

Things are steep in Cortona. Look carefully at the stairways to get to the two doors.