zondag 20 juli 2014

A holiday in Tuscany - part one (planning)

Hi there, happy sunday!

My fellow western-europeans will sympathize with me now, the past three days the temperature here reached record heights, so bad actually that I got ill of the heat last night. Boohoo. But here I am, sitting in front of the television reminiscing about a little over a week ago when I was still in beautiful Siena. While it was very warm there too, there were so many other factors that made it so much more enjoyable, and I remembered thinking while on holiday: "I must write a blog post about this, other people could relive my holiday through the internet in some way". And on top of that, by writing a blog post about my holiday maybe I can inspire you and offer some tips for when you want to visit Siena and the rest of Tuscany.

Wishing I was still there, with that ice-cream

This blogpost will all be about our planning process and things we arranged on beforehand, during the coming days you can expect blogposts about the holiday itself, what we visited, where and what we ate and all of those details split into three separate blogposts. I'm already looking forward to writing that because it will be like reliving my own holiday ;), so I'll try to do it as good as possible to properly deliver the wonderful holiday in text to you.

Why Siena?

Piazza il Campo

I went away for 6 days together with my boyfriend, and this region is really perfect for a romantic holiday for two. We decided to go there on a very 'interesting' decision making process. We went to the website skyscanner and looked for the cheapest flights we could find to a warm country (and preferably not Spain because we were there for the last two holidays). Flying from the Netherlands to Pisa Airport was the best option at that point so we started working from there.

I've been to Siena and other regions of Tuscany a couple of times with my parents when I was younger, so I knew Siena was a large enough city to spend a couple of days discovering, and I knew there were a lot of little villages in the neighborhood that would be lovely to visit. When going to Tuscany you do want to be able to rent a car (you also want to have some experience of driving in hilly areas, but more about that later). I looked up whether it was easy enough to travel from Pisa Airport to Siena, found out that it actually is really doable and then we set out to find a hotel (I will give you a description of how to travel from Pisa Airport to Siena later).

Where to stay?
In Tuscany you can opt for renting a house, or looking for a hotel. Since we chose to stay at a hotel in Siena, that is what I will focus on. For booking a hotel I recommend the website: booking.com. When staying in Siena there are a couple of things to consider because there is a wide array of options when looking for a hotel in Siena. You can either be really in the city center, or right outside of the city walls, being in or outside of these walls does determine some other options, for example parking space and the availability of a swimming pool. We went in the beginning of July, which raises the possibility of very hot weather so we chose to look for a hotel with a swimming pool. Joost and I are both still students so our budgets match that, so that was another criterium we had to incorporate in our search. Long story short, we chose to stay at Hotel Garden.

How to get there and get around

The first view-from-a-height you'll get

At Pisa airport there is a little desk where you can buy train tickets, you probably won't expect it there so when you arrive, keep your eyes open! We asked for train tickets to Siena and we got one ticket for two adults (due adulti) from the airport to Pisa train station by bus and from Pisa train station to Siena train station with a switch in 'Empoli'. The bus from Pisa Airport leaves about every 10 minutes and it is a short ride, you'll arrive at the back of the Pisa train station and you'll need to take a tunnel that connects all of the different tracks. While underground you have to look for an information board that lists every train that leaves every day, look for the first train that passes through Empoli and what is the final destination of that train (if I'm correct that is 'Firenze'), then you look at the digital notice boards above each of the tracks and find the train you need. The trip from Pisa to Empoli is a short trip, you'll pass two or three other stations. At Empoli you do the same thing, you find the information board that lists all of the trains and you find the train to Siena, go to the right track, get on the train and enjoy the scenery! You've arrived in Tuscany!

Once you arrive in Siena a whole new adventure starts. You look for the information boards that point towards the city center and you'll have to go up about 12 escalators, and it is really steep. Every time you'll think: "another escalator?", yes, another escalator. You'll end up at a large gate outside of the city walls and you'll get your first wonderful view of the Tuscan scenery from a height. Walk to your left and you'll end up in the inner city, walk to your right, and you'll end up at hotel Garden.

As I already explained, we were on a student budget, so we couldn't afford to rent a car for more than one day, but it was definitely worth it! We rented the car (a cute Fiat 500) from monday at noon until tuesday at noon, and we had the rental car company deliver the car at the hotel because their office was on the other side of town. I've had my license for over 5 years but I'm Dutch so I don't have any experience with hills or mountains which resulted in some scary situations. So either make sure you travel with someone who does have experience in driving in such situations or read up on it before you leave. I managed to wiggle myself out of some tricky situations, but I had the luck of traveling with Mr. Cool&Collected-Joost. He stayed so calm and relaxed while I was driving which was great whenever I panicked.

Our experience

View of the garden of Hotel Garden, it suits it's name

We had a wonderful stay, it is a very large hotel with friendly staf, a beautiful pool and a great location. It was about half an hour walk of the piazza il Campo (the heart of Siena), and in total I think we took the bus 4 times, so unless you have problems walking it is really not a problem. The rooms are decorated in a kind of old fashioned Italian way, but they are clean, comfortable and well equipped. The hotel had a nice bar and a great breakfast every morning with a gluten free option, the only comment I could make that would be less positive is that it is not necessarily a hotel for 'young couples'. If you're looking for something a bit more modern and cool you probably won't feel at home in this hotel, but we had a great stay.

I know I looked for this kind of information before we left and it was difficult to find up to date information, so I hope anyone will benefit from this blogpost (and that it was enjoyable to read for everyone else who is not planning to go to Tuscany). If you enjoyed this, do leave me a comment, that makes the writing of these posts even more enjoyable!

Lots of love,

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