More photos of our trip to Italy. At this point, we rented a car in Siena
and drove around the Tuscan countryside.


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Our first stop was a grocery store to pick up some grub for a fun picnic. Here, Natalia is thrilled
by the fact that they have plastic gloves for picking out your produce.

San Gimignano, Italy


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Our next stop was one of my favourite towns - San Gimignano. Here is the view up the cobblestone
streets looking towards the centre of town.


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We had a fun picnic on the steps of the Duomo church. Natalia loves picnic lunches and so do I.


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Here is Natalia looking down the wishing well in Piazza della Cisterna. Similar to in Bermuda, the
town of San Gimignano has a clever system of pipes and drains that filter rain water to an underground
cistern for drinking water. This square has been the centre of town since the 9th century.


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Some of the old towers in the town. Of the original 60 or so, there are only 14 left standing. At the
time, the towers were handy when the town was being sacked by ruffians or rival city-states. Then, they
became more of a symbol of a family's wealth and so, everyone had to keep up with the Jones'. The towers
behind me in this photo date from the 10th century.


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Natalia has an uncanny skill of finding gelato shops and she did it again in San Gimignano - this time
finding one of the world's best gelato shops. It's so popular, even my buddy Tony Blair has been here!
This is Tony' way of saying, "Hey, thanks for the stracciatella!"


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Again, look at that smile!


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Here is Natalia outside of the town walls as we're taking a walk around the town.


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We found a little spot towards the edge of town which made for a beautiful photo.


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And, I actually brought my camera tripod this time!


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Some ridiculous cats we saw in a ceramics shop.


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Continuing our tour, we walked up to the top of the town, at a little park called Rocco e Parco
di Montestaffoli. The park had a nice little olive grove as well as the shell of a 14th century
fortress that people take photos from. Here is Natalia and the Tuscan hillside.


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And, here is us, in San Gimignano, on April 6, 2010.


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You can see the towers a little better from here.


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Natalia thought this arch in the fortress would make a cute photo.


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The last stop we made before leaving town was the Sant' Agostino church, built by the
Augustinians in 1260.


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Next, we drove to another fun hill town - Volterra. The driving on Italian highways was
'interesting' to say the least. People have no problem tailgating you like crazy as well as
passing at the most inopportune time. However, when the scenery is this nice, I'll take Italian
drivers.

Volterra, Italy


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I thought this big boar's head was a great background for Natalia to stand next to. This is wandering
inside Volterra.


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Here is Natalia wandering the streets of Volterra. This town is more than 2000 years old and retains
some of its Etruscan charm.


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Naturally, Natalia found another ice cream shop. Here she is in front of a shop that actually
makes swords. I have no idea what their practical uses are, but clearly people buy swords.


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This is the old Etruscan arch at the entrance to Volterra. It's made of volcanic tuff (the same as
Smith Rock in Oregon) and was put together in the 4th century BC. The heads have clearly seen better
days, but I suppose that's what happens when you leave things outside in the rain for >2000 years.


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Natalia and I under the arch.


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Volterra's City Hall is said to be the oldest of any Tuscan city-state. It clearly influenced the
more popular one in Florence (Palazzo Vecchio).


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Built in about 10 BC, this well-preserved Roman theatre is considered to have some of the
finest acoustics around. Of course, due to where it sat relative to the town, it became the town
dump and Volterrans continued to throw their garbage on top of this architectural relic until
someone rediscovered it in the 1950s. Here you can see the three different levels of the stage,
where the humans are on the bottom, the heros #2, and the gods on the top.


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About 400 years after the theatre, the citizens decided they'd rather have a bath, so they took the
stones from the theatre and made a bath instead. You can see the remains of the baths (pillars to hold
up the heated florr) in this photo.


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Natalia and I along the Roman walls.

Video of the Roman ruins



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The town of Volterra is up on such a hill that to get to the actual town takes an inordinate number
of steps.


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I like these long steps with walls on either side.


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We were driving around scenic Tuscany, when all of a sudden, Blammo! There's a nuclear power reactor
right in front of us. Then, there were a few more. Then, there were huge pipes everywhere.
I guess that Italy just reversed their nuclear power ban in 2008, so they're back hitting the fissile
material all over again. I think this might be Montalto di Castro, but I don't know that for sure.


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A great photo of the tower in Siena, with the great black and white stripes.


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Here are Natalia and I in the parking lot of our hotel in Siena, before bringing back our rental car.


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Before dropping off the car, I braved the hair-raising experience of trying to park an Italian
car in the centre of town in the middle of a market day. Wow, is all I have to say.
Natalia found some unbelievably good smoked pork, but I thought the boar head was awesome.


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I took a photo of this old lady because she had a sausage in her hand.


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As we were walking to the train station, we saw this great little truck that I thought my
brother would probably want to institute in Swift Current.


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Nati and I had a stellar picnic lunch waiting for our train to Pisa.


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Here are some outstanding olives.


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And some ridiculously good smoked stuffed pork tenderloin.


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Natalia liked this pork A LOT!


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She also found Nutella and cracker sticks to go for dessert.

Touring Pisa, Italy


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The Arno River in Pisa. It's actually quite charming on a nice day.


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Since most tour guides were so negative on Pisa, I only spent about an hour here the last time I came.
However, this year's edition of Rick Steves had quite a few fun ideas, so we decided to take a layover and
do a walking tour. As you can see of Natalia in the Piazza Garibaldi, every walking date is better
with gelato! She has two cones from La Bottega del Gelato, one of Pisa's favourite stops.


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I found this sign for my brother Denis in Piazza dei Cavalieri.


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Here is Natalia at the Field of Miracles with the Baptistery and the Cathedral behind her.


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Here is Natalia showing off the lean of the leaning tower of Pisa.


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Natalia and I at the Leaning Tower.


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Here I am kicking over the Tower.


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And of course, you have to push it over too, just for good form.


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Natalia and the Tower.


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I FINALLY remembered to pack my tripod and actually bring it with me this time!

Baptistery


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Due to the strong rating that Rick Steves gave this tour, we decided to actually stick around and
have a look around. This is the inside of the Baptistery with killer acoustics, and a pretty fine
Pisano pulpit.

Video that shows off the unreal acoustics in this building



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You can see the tower and the church from the second floor.

Video of a walk through of the Baptistery


Duomo - Cathedral


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Here's Natalia in front of one of the Cathedral. It was started in 1063 and paid for by ransacking and booty.
Gotta love the Catholic Church. I just thought these doors were amazing.


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A really dark photo of the inside of the Cathedral looking down the nave.


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I thought the paneling in the ceiling was worthy of a photo. It's gilded and coffered, and you can see
the pill logo of the Medicis (the pharmacists).


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The mosaic at the apse of the church was done in 1300 by Cimabue. Even though I know it's the Pantocreator
image from the Byzantine part of the church, I can't help but call it Buddy Jesus.


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A very modern speaking podium seems quite out of place here. It was done in 2002, more than 700 years
after the church.


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This is the view looking up at the Dome. Yeah, it's pretty impressive for sure.


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This pulpit is considered the finest pulpit that the Pisano father and son team carved. It's extremely
intricate, and has more than 400 people carved into it.


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This is the tomb of St Ranieri. While most saints live relatively obscure lives in monasteries, this guy
was a rock-star, literally. The son of a rich sea-trader, he chose the life of a hard-partying, popular
touring musician. Backstage one night, he met a mysterious stranger who changed his life. Just like Jimi
he was inspired to light his musical instrument on fire (which in the 12th century was probably a recorder or
something silly). He returned to the shipping business with his old man, made a fortune, then gave it away,
and THEN went to live in a monastery. Also, this tomb is neat since the mask on the skeleton's head was
done in silver based on an FBI skull scan. Cool, eh?


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The classic photo in Pisa. How sweet is this? My wife sat on the grounds and positioned this one
absolutely perfectly.


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A great sticker at one of the tourist shops.

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