After a very successful visit to Tuscany in 2013, we decided to go back for a second time but to stay at a different base and visit other cities. We flew to Pisa and then travelled to a different spa town – to Chianciano Terme this year, where we stayed in the friendly Garden Hotel, well looked after by Irene Corsini and her son Paulo. From there we visited Siena, San Gimignano and the Chianti wine area.
In Siena we visited the Duomo with the famous Pulpit with Giovanni Pisano’s Gothic depictions of scenes from the life of Christ, the library containing manuscripts and masterly frescoes by Pinturicchio, the 50 floor panels from the 14-16th century and the Chigi Chapel with 13th century painting of the Madonna and Child.
From there we gradually made our way down hill and down dale until we reached the Piazza del Campo and Palazzo Pubblico. This is one of Europe’s loveliest squares, shell shaped and lines with cafes and shops where people stroll, gossip or picnic with the ornate Town Hall and its imposing bell tower. It is also where the famous Palio di Siena horse race is held twice a year.
This was where in the afternoon, by the fountain, we put on our secular concert . We chose selections of Cockney, Jazz and Italian songs and we changed our costumes to correspond according with the songs we were singing. Crowds in their hundreds, drew close to listen to us on a lovely sunny afternoon.
However, at one time I became aware that there was someone by my side, and looking up was somewhat startled to see a policeman, complete with uniform and truncheon! He spoke to me and wanted to know where my licence was. I did not have a licence so we just continued singing! He was not happy, but I had been loaned a keyboard for the afternoon and the gentleman responsible thankfully produced the requisite piece of paper. What a relief! Further into our concert a bride and groom also joined us and we serenaded them.
The following day we went to the small hilltop town of San Gimignano renowned for its towers. At one time there were 70 of them, but over the years many were reduced to ruins and only 14 still remain. This was a most attractive small town with plenty of opportunity for shopping!
Our concert venue here was at the church of Sant’ Agostino with its colourful apse frescoes on the life of St Augustine. The acoustics were superb and it took a while to get used to the echo after each note we sang. Our music was from ‘Jerusalem Joy’ and ‘Saints Alive’ by Roger Jones, which trace the life of Christ from Palm Sunday to Pentecost so we dressed accordingly in biblical robes.
Our final day took us to the storybook landscape straight out of Renaissance paintings, with steeply rolling hills, terraced with vineyards, olives and Lombardy pines, along with castles and bustling towns. We visited Greve in Chianti, the unofficial wine capital of Chianti wine and sampled the odd glass or two before moving on to Fattoria Poggia Alora - a wonderful, flourishing Tuscan farm. Here we tried two white and two red wines accompanied by homemade bread, with local cheeses and meats - a delicious spread. Many of us purchased wine to bring back home.
On our final evening we held our traditional ‘Sod’s Opera’ in the Garden Hotel when most of the group perform songs, jokes, sketches and these turns produced plenty of laughter and applause.
All too soon we were packing to come home but, since we had a late flight from Pisa, this gave us the opportunity to really explore the Piazza dei Miracoli or Square of Miracles (also known as the Field of Miracles since it is now covered in green grass) - which includes the Leaning Tower, the Duomo and the Baptistry. Everyone was free to go where they wanted, depending on how fit they were, so many of them climbed the Tower, waving when they reached the top, but looking a bit unsteady when they came down to the bottom after negotiating the spiral staircase.
It was after 3am before we returned to Gosport but what a wonderful five days we had experienced!!