ASSISI, UMBRIA Home of Saint Francis, Assisi is one of the most beautiful towns we have visited during our time in Italy. It is not a short trip from Lucca, Italy, but it is a scenic one by train. We only had the day, so we once again, as done on previous travels, relied on the free walking audio guide by Rick Steves to show us the highlights. To minimize travel time, we purchased bus tickets at the train station T stand in Assisi that took us directly into town. We started by walking around the old amphitheater and then went inside the Cathedral of Saint Rufino. From there we headed to the Basilica of Saint Clara. Unfortunately the Basilica of Saint Clara, which houses her and her sister Agnes’ remains, was closed at the moment of our visit but we took the time there to learn about the life of Saint Clara, who gave up wealth to become a follower of Saint Francis and devote her life to God. Then we continued on to the Piazza del Comune where we visited the Temple of Minerva. Following a brief lunch break, we finally came to the main highlight of the visit which was the Basilica of Saint Francis, which now holds his remains. Inside the Basilica are works of art relating the story of Saint Francis as well as many other Biblical scenes. Since the scenery surrounding Assisi boasts of stunning landscapes, we chose to take the approximately 30-minute walk, instead of the bus ride, to the train station to enjoy as much of the scenery as possible. I highly recommend the walk.
While Siena is accessible by train from Florence, my girlfriend and I decided that we would rather spend a little extra money and take a tour bus with a guided tour. We went with a company I had used before called Come and See Italy. This tour would take us from Lucca to Siena where we would have a guided walking tour and then some free time. The guided tour was decent as she talked a lot about the Siena neighborhoods that compete in the annual Il Palio di Siena. Il Palio is a horse race that occurs in Piazza del Campo every July 2 and August 16. The walking tour finished at the Duomo just as the magnificent church bells were starting. Since we had some free time, we decided to check out the inside of the Duomo. This is a must see as the inside of the Duomo boasts works of art by Michelangelo, Pisano, Donatello, and Bernini to name just a few. As we headed back to Piazza del Campo, we found a nice little spot for lunch called 4 Cantoni. Our Come and See Italy tour would conclude with a short stop in San Gimignano on the way back to Lucca.
SAN GIMIGNANO, TOSCANA
There are two things I love about San Gimignano: the views and the gelato. After spending the morning in Siena, we headed to San Gimignano, the final stop. Here there was no walking tour or guide. We were shown how to make our way into the town from the parking area and then left to our own devices. We wandered and found some amazing scenic overlooks, took lots of pictures, and then headed to our main San Gimignano target, which was the “World’s Best Gelato.” We knew that we had found the right spot, because there was a long line outside Gelateria Dondoli. This did not discourage us, and we were rewarded. The line moved fast. The clerks inside were almost too efficient. There were dozens of flavors, and it was hard to pick what we wanted in a timely fashion, but I don’t think that either of us were disappointed by our choices. We sat in the shade with a beautiful view of the many towers that make up San Gimignano and savored every delicious moment. Afterwards we still had some time left before we had to head back down to our bus, so we wandered the streets some more and took in all the magnificent towers that have stood for hundreds of years. It is a stunning town.