Weekend in Tuscany, May 25-29

We spent the long weekend in May in Siena. We flew out of Aberdeen at 6am friday morning and by late afternoon we were on a bus from Rome to Siena. Laurie met us at the bus stop and, after dropping our bags off at the hotel, we had a lovely dinner in the big Piazza, which has a tower and lots of sparrows and is lined with restaurants.  The menu had really bad english translations of their options – I don’t remember what I had for a main, but the starter was something like “black cabbage thrown on the furnace” (and it was delicious). Afterwards we got some gelato and walked by the Duomo. Magnifico!

On Saturday, we did Siena. In the morning we visited the home of St Catherine. Her home has been decorated in gorgeous Frescoes depicting scenes from her completely fascinating life story. We also went into St Catherine’s basilica, which has a couple of rather gruesome relics — her finger and her head — mounted in cases, and is otherwise quite a plain but airy space. The basilica was an interesting contrast to the Duomo, which we visited next. The outside is amazing enough, but the inside is just crazy. The most amazing thing is probably the floor, which is an enormous marble mosaic, sectioned off with different artists contributing different scenes and images from history and the bible.  But everything else was mindblowing as well, with amazing frescoed chapels, statues by Michelangelo and Bernini, paintings by Donatello, amazing guilded walls and dazzling ceilings, and on and on. We also went into the Duomo museum and up to the tower to take in the view. In the evening we went to a piano concert (Mozart and Schubert – not very Italian, but nice anyway!) and then had dinner (again, I can’t remember what exactly, but pasta and/or pizza is a safe bet).

Sunday was an epic day. We walked a long way out of the center of Siena to get to the train station, where we caught a train to Asciano, a tiny village of which we walked from one end to the other in about 10 minutes. The plan was to visit a monastery which was about 11km away. Being Sunday, there were no buses running and no taxis in the village, and the bike shop was closed for the day. So we walked there. My 6-months-pregnant feet are about a full size bigger than they should be, so my shoes felt too small, and it was about 28C, which is about 10 degrees hotter than it ever gets in Scotland, so I had a few cranky moments, but we made it, and had a picnic lunch outside under the umbrella trees. The monastery was gorgeous – more lovely frescoes and lovely rooms, a big library and stunning chapel, and actual monks roaming around in white robes. Then we got back on the road and walked another 10.5 km to the next village, Buonconvento. Given that was a little sore and a bit whiny after the first 11km, you can imagine what pleasant company I was after the next 10km – sorry Laurie and Brad!! But they took good care of me. We caught a bus back from Buonconvento back to Siena, where I went straight to bed.

On monday we spent a bit more time in Siena, visiting a few more churches and neighborhoods, and then caught a bus to Montipulciano, a lovely hilltop town in a famous wine-producing region. The town is stunning, with amazing steep and narrow streets ending with views over the tuscan countryside. Brad tried some of the famous Montipulciano wine and declared it delicious, while I tried not to be a little jealous (it wasn’t that hard, because I was eating amazing spinach flan and other yummy things). Then we had to run to catch our respective buses – Laurie back to Siena, and us to another small town with a train station, and then a train to Rome.

We arrived in Rome and checked into our hotel, which was a few blocks from the main station, and found some dinner – I had some awesome eggplant parmesan followed by the best tiramisu ever. In the morning we did a major blitz of roman sites – we walked through the colosseum, the roman forum, and the pantheon, and we walked by the monument to Victor Emmanuel II and the Trevi fountain. Then we caught a train to the airport, and the flight home again; Sore feet, some minor sunburns, and a lot of gelato later!

Fontainebleau

Back in April… we took a week-long climbing trip to Fontainebleau, France. For those that don’t know, Fontainebleau is a small city south of Paris, popular as a weekend getaway and known for the large forest and the historical château de Fontainebleau. For climbers, Fontainebleau or “Font” is a world-class destination for bouldering. There are dozens of areas scattered throughout the forest, each with a high concentration of hard sandstone boulders of all sizes. The whole area was once at the bottom of a lake, and the resulting rocks left behind are smooth and rippled, and often surrounded by flat sandy ground. The exceptional quality of climbing for all abilities combined with the beauty of the forest and easy access makes Font a world-class destination. A week was nowhere near enough.

We met up with our friends Dan and Linda and their little girl Viva and we all stayed in a lovely little gite just outside the picturesque town of Barbizon. Traveling there was easy and the weather there was pretty much perfect the whole trip with sunny days and slightly cool temps — it even rained on our rest day so we didn’t feel like we were missing out on a great day of climbing.

We arrived in Paris on Saturday afternoon and were kindly picked up by Dan in a rental. Forty minutes later we were pulling into the drive of our “gite rural” just north west of the forest town of Fontainebleau and only five minutes away from one of the most popular bouldering areas on the planet. We were greeted by Linda and Viva who was just a sleepy baby when we saw her last and who is now a happy little two-year-old. The gite was a cozy two bedroom cottage located on the grounds of a very large chateau surrounded by forest. The area around Font is all forest and it is immense. There were two other gites on the grounds as well. At some point they were outbuildings of some kind for the chateau, one a barn, another a guest house…. hard to say really. I wish I took pictures. For some reason I took no pictures on this trip, and I’m fairly annoyed by that.

We took care of the grocery shopping right away so we could devote the rest of the week to climbing, and we had a nice evening meal while catching up. Dan and Linda’s friend Magnus stayed with us for the first two days as well. His family had just gone home after being in Font for a month and somehow Magnus had managed to squeeze out just a couple more days. Sunday and Monday we climbed all day, each day at different areas.

Here’s the breakdown:

Sunday: Franchard Cuisiniere
Monday: Bas Cuvier
Tuesday: Rest day – Paris
Wednesday: 95.2
Thursday: Rest day – Font
Friday: La Roche aux Sabots
Saturday: travel home

Days would start with breakfast and cleanup. We’d hit the crags usually by 10:30 and climb until 6:30 ish. Packed lunches would be consumed in some sunny spot next to the climbing. Evenings were spent cooking, eating and playing with Viva.

On the Tuesday sore muscles and thin skin demanded a rest day, so we all piled in the van and went to Paris. Our aim was to visit the Science Museum which looked pretty cool. The weather was cold and rainy, and the traffic going into Paris was very congested. The lines inside the museum were epic and we all decided it wasn’t going to be a pleasant day fighting the crowds so we went for a walk outside up and down the canal instead. After our walk we just got back in our car and headed back to the tranquility of the forest.

I managed to hurt my knee pretty badly on Wednesday which forced another rest day on Thursday. We spent the day in Fontainbleau city. Meme and I visited the palace there while Dan, Linda and Viva went to find an internet cafe and run some virtual errands.

Friday we hooked up with some of Dan and Linda’s friends and we all spent the day climbing, some of us more than others. I was still a bit sore so wasn’t able to climb quite so much, or walk so much for that matter. But it was still a great trip. Pictures below.