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March 6, 2002
San Galgano: the sword in the stone (Russell)

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Approaching the Abbey of San Galgano

On March 5th, the middle of our week in Il Caggio, the World Trippers enjoyed a long overdue "down" day.  We slept in (waving arrivederci to Dawn, David, and Keegan as they set out on their own excursion), relaxed, and caught up on the "business" end of things.  Cameron and Joss did some (reluctant) home schooling, but spent the bulk of their day playing with their Carcassonne-bought swords on the huge estate.  In between loads of laundry, Gail caught up on her reading under the Tuscan sun (until it clouded over) with Geneve il gatto as company.  Russell caught up on bills, letters, and photos (we have now passed 5,000 on our upgraded digital camera!) and played with the boys.  Our only excursion out was a trip to the grocery store (which had to be done twice because we forgot that everything closes between 1:00 and 4:00 PM).

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Enjoying la dolce far niente

The Miller/Schaefers did not have their best day.  They actually came back to the villa within an hour after they set out... to get Dawn's driver's license.  Apparently, the carabinieri were conducting random traffic stops, and Dawn and David were pulled over.  They did not get a ticket for David driving without a license, but they did get a ticket for having only a photocopy of the car registration (actually Hertz's fault).  On the other hand, it may be reported back to Hertz that an unlicensed driver -- David -- was behind the wheel.  So they had to set out all over again, this time with Dawn driving.  Unfortunately, they subsequently found themselves on a very windy and narrow mountain road, where Dawn was almost run off the edge three times by aggressive -- and oversized -- oncoming vehicles.

After a fairly short day in Lucca, they returned by late afternoon.  While Dawn was feeling much better, Keegan was not.  He would not eat, sleep, or sit in a car seat.  Keegan was still fussing and crying at 9:00 PM when Dawn and David were starving for food.  So nana and rupa took the baby, letting his parents to go out for dinner.  Using the magic that only grandparents possess, we soon had Keegan laughing and playing.  (The nice thing about being a grandparent is that you can keep playing with your grandchild and stuffing him full of food as long as you want -- you don't care if he goes down for a naap or not).  Keegan subsequently slept very well that night, helped no doubt by the rain and intense wind that sounded all night long.

On March 6th, under partly cloudy skies, our two families again set out on separate itineraries, although all of us took lazy mornings.  Gail cooked up a huge pot of pasta for lunch, and nobody left the villa until 1:00 PM.  While the Miller/Schaefers drove to Montalcino, the World Trippers set out for the tiny town of San Galgano.

Back in the 12th century, Galgano Guidotti of Chiusdino had become disillusioned with the life of a soldier.  One day, on the slopes of Montesiepi, he received a vision of St. Michael telling him to change his life.  In a symbolic gesture, Galgano thrust his sword deep into a stone on top of the hill, and spent the rest of his life as a monk.  The monastic order he founded -- associated with the Cistercians -- became very popular throughout Siena as well as France.  With a large number of miracles performed in his lifetime, Galgano was sainted in 1181 -- hence the town that bears his name.

San Galgano did not appear in any of our guidebooks, but was mentioned in one of David's.  It took us more than an hour to find the tiny town southwest of Siena, as there are no direction signs to indicate the route.  We spent a considerable amount of time navigating small unmarked country back roads (which required Cameron and Joss to take Dramamine for the first time in months) until we finally found a tiny yellow sign three kilometres outside of town.

The Abbey of San Galgano was built by the Cistercians, who introduced gothic architecture to Italy.  At one time it was the greatest French-gothic building in Tuscany, until the plague in 1348 wiped out most of the Cistercians.  The Abbey fell into disrepair -- the roof collapsed, and lightning struck the dome in 1789.  Today the abbey is in a state of "arrested decay," but it was still an absolutely fantastic sight to see.  We strolled through the roofless stone vaults and archways, admiring the immensity of the place -- every column was topped with a different capstone design.  Joss didn't want to leave.

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Inside the Abbey of San Galgano

On the nearby hilltop of Montesiepi, we found the Hermitage of San Galgano, where his followers built a rare circular chapel on the site where Galgano received his vision.  Sure enough, the sword in the stone is still there, although it is behind both an iron gate and a locked Plexiglas bubble.  Whether it is authentic or apocryphal, it was a very moving sight to see.  (Joss regretted that he had not brought his own plastic sword, so that he could try thrusting it into the stone as well.)  Joss also found a large number of cats and kittens wandering the area, so he gave the day a huge "thumbs up."

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The Hermitage of San Galgano
The sword in the stone

By peeking at a local map in the souvenir store, we were able to take a more direct route back to our villa.  We stopped in Castellina for groceries, but found that the Coop mercato is closed on Wednesdays.  We finally found a small market open, where we bought some supplies for soup.  We also bought some sheep cheese as an experiment, and it turned out to be very good.

Dawn, David, and Keegan also made it back by early evening (it had begun raining off and on in the afternoon), and they had their dinner in as well.  We spent the rest of the evening trying to get everyone's laundry dry (the washer here does not spin things as dry as we expected, it is raining outside, and our heat is turned way down due to the 1.50-per-hour cost of gas).

The World Trippers have now seen most of the sights that were priorities in this area, so any further excursions are just for fun.  This enables us to take things one day at a time, depending on our mood and the weather.  We may go out again tomorrow... or we may not.

 

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