Alison Larkin Embroidery

Historical Embroidery in Full-size and Miniature

First Visit to Italy/Tuscany!

Last week I was on holiday in Siena, Italy, with my friend Margaret. It’s my first proper holiday ‘alone’ since losing Chris. The fact that it is Siena is the more poignant since he came here as a student while studying Italian as subsidiary subject to his French degree. How on earth Chris and his pals managed I’ll never know: This place is anything but wheelchair-friendly!

Siena is built on hills – serious ones. Some of the roads are VERY steep, and i don’t think I’ve found a flat one yet! It’s a beautiful city, very medieval: narrow streets, tall brick buildings, and very Italian in style. We don’t have anything like that in the UK, I’m not sure why. Were our medieval towns made of wood rather than stone? it can’t all have been the Blitz or a great fire. 

It’s a rabbit-warren of streets, mostly paved in stone, with no ‘sidewalks’. Everyone just walks in the street, and passing cars beep to get folks to move. it makes me wonder whether all the people eating outside at the cafes are eating in the road or are the cars driving on the pavement? 

We’ve spent the week doing the tourist bit, of which there is a lot here! Santa Maria della Scala is an old hospital, built on several levels. it’s been a hospital for nearly 1000 years!: they only stopped in the 50s. It was both a foundling hospital (for orphans) and an important stopover on the pilgrim route to Rome. It’s a maze of a place, but has some stunning frescos from the 13/14th centuries. Siena’s heyday was medieval, which is why so much is from that period. 

Frescos in Santa Maria Della Scala

We also visited the Piazza del Campo. It’s the site of the Palio, the famous horse race between the various districts or ‘contrade’ of the old city. The film and images of the race we saw look lethal! And the city is heaving at that time. I’m glad we were a couple of months early for it, although the Contrade are already very much present – there was a lot of drumming and flag-waving practice going on, and flags were going up while we were there. 

The Duomo is the great cathedral of the city: it’s a beautiful building of contrasts. Like most big Catholic Churches, to UK eyes it is ornately decorated because of the statues and paintings, but at the same time it  is quite austere, made of lovely black and white stone set in stripes!  It’s quite dark, because there are very few windows and those are small, not the great expanses of stained glass we are used to in our great churches. But at the same time there are lots of lights and candles. It was very busy with tourists, but there were still corners of quiet, for prayer or contemplation. One of its best features is its amazing marble pavement. A lot of it was covered so it wasn’t damaged by all the folk walking on it, but the exposed areas gave a real feel for how the whole floor must look. There is also the stunning wall and ceiling decoration in the Piccolomini library. Well worth a visit!

Another place to visit if you are in Siena is the National Art Gallery. It has an amazing collection of Art: firstly, a stunning collection of medieval church art, quite Byzantine in style, looking almost like Russian icons. On the other floor is a collection of baroque & renaissance paintings. It was almost too much to take in, and quiet compared with the rest of the city, so well worth exploring. 

We have had a great week. We spent quite a lot of time putting the world to rights, and visiting various cafes and Trattoria.  Margaret has been a great support both in terms of my business and on a personal level. We are already planning next year’s trip – possibly Paris…..

It’s been different from my usual Inspiration: different period, and different style of decoration. Some beautiful wall-paintings, lovely buildings. A lot to take in, but it will fester in the back of my mind, and it might come out sometime! It’s certainly been an exciting trip. 

The only hiccup was the flight home: we missed our connection at Schiphol because the plane was delayed, so we ended up staying overnight in a hotel, and flying on to Norwich the next day. Reminder: don’t fly into Schiphol late at night! All the help desks shut down at 11.00. 

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