Norway Family touring Medieval Siena in Tuscany

Medieval Siena in Tuscany Italy #1Siena is a classic walled city and one of Italy’s prettiest medieval hill towns located in the heart of Tuscany with ca. 55 thousand inhabitants. It’s also the best preserved medieval city in Italy and I’ve read that the people of Siena speak the purest Italian in Italy – actually Italian language students often go there to learn the correct pronunciation. Its peak was about 1260-1348 when it was one of Europe’s wealthiest cities and many of its buildings and art works originate from that time.
While on a family trip to Italy recently, it was on the top of our list to explore of course. So if you like to join us, I’ll gladly give you taste of this magical, beautiful and culturally rich Tuscan town. It is world famous for its renaissance architecture, a stunning view of the landscape, famously fantastic cuisine, wine and the big event: Palio di Siena – a horse race festival – taking place at the large fan-shaped Piazza Del Campo in the heart of the city:
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Twice a year, this famed Palio delle Contrade takes place on the jam-packed piazza. The city’s three districts, di Citta, di Camollia and di San Martino, were once divided into 59 sub-districts (or contrades) of which 17 still exist and make the competing teams. It’s a horse race like nowhere else (only ten can compete at any time for safety reasons) and runs on July 2 and August 16. All Sienese are affiliated with one of the contrade, to which a typical Sienese feels loyal with a strength perhaps surpassed only by their loyalty to their family.
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Since the 11th century, the Sienese have conducted festivals every year where the contrade compete for renown (and in times gone by, actual political power) through contests such as flag throwing, horse racing and even fist fights. The race itself is in late evening but the whole day of the race is taken up with processions through the streets of the various contrade competing in the particular race.

The Duomo in Siena:
A magnificent black and white Italian Romanesque cathedral including the Libreria Piccolomini, Baptistery, and an attached Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. The construction of the cathedral began in the 12th century, but it was not finished until the 14th.
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Its bands of dark and light marble make it an unusually beautiful cathedral, and its western façade is richly decorated with statues. Inside, the floor of the cathedral is covered with 56 marble panels with figures from mythology and the Old Testament.
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Walking in the Medieval Renaissance City:
The center of Siena is accessible only on foot. Cars (other than taxis, police, etc.) are strictly prohibited, but motorcycles and scooters are OK – and there were plenty of them : -). Of course it’s like a fairytale to walk in this best preserved medieval city and maybe it is the warm colour of its buildings that also made it very special. After all, it is clay from surrounding district – terra di Siena – that gives us the colour in our crayon boxes; “Burnt Sienna
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Talking about the horse race and that all Sienese feels loyal with strength: Each contrade has a public fountain bearing its emblem, such as a panther, a fish or an eagle. While strolling through the city, we saw them on the corners of the houses too (top left in this photo):
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This is the third post from our big family trip; my wife (DianeCA) and I, our children + SO and even my grandchild met up with Diane’s brothers and spouse from the USA. 14 people in all gathering in Pisa at the Park Hotel California, and having the time of our lives enjoying each other’s company, getting better acquainted and exploring this wonderful part of Italy. From my first post: Family from Norway touring Tuscany in Italy, you’ll get an introduction and then you will know that I’ll do more posts from this trip, so stay tuned – Pisa and the leaning tower is next!

Taste of Florence in Italy to a Family from Norway

A taste of Florence #1Nestled in the valley of the Arno River, Florence “The Cradle of Renaissance” is squeezed between the hills that made it famous. Its center is full of works of art and buildings of great historical and architectural value, covering a period of time ranging from the early Middle Ages to the late twentieth century and the surrounding area is no different. The beauty of the landscape is characterized by villas, churches, monasteries and picturesque small towns and of course the food! There’s something about the fact that you can picture many of their dishes being cooked in medieval-style terracotta pots; indeed, many still are.

Part of the Tuscany region, it’s cuisine is appreciated around the world for its fine natural and flavorful ingredients; a typical expression of the Mediterranean diet, considered among others, the most wholesome and tasty, olive oil, pasta, fish and first choice meats. With these few basic ingredients the Tuscan local chefs can create exceptional dishes. Among the most important produce is white truffles, a much appreciated variety. Other ingredients such as wild asparagus and herbs also contribute to the rediscovery of simple flavorful dishes (pappa al pancotto, ribollita, hearty vegetable soups), where olive oil is the star ingredient, strictly bought from the local olive press.

A taste of Florence #9While on a family trip to Italy last week we all fell in love with its history, landscapes, art and architecture, but as important part of the culture, we also wanted to explore its FOOD! I mean even those who have never been there know Italian food in some shape, taste and form – who has never eaten pizza or spaghetti? However we had an idea of that the easygoing Italian way of life most visitors find so alluring and desirable – La Dolce Vita – is indisputably linked to the Italians’ instinctive knowledge of how to eat and drink well.

A taste of Florence:
A challenge however, was that we had only one day to spend in Florence and how do you get it all in? The answer is “A taste of Florence“: a five hours tour that created a lifetime of memories, complete with hands on cooking, tasting, sipping, and sightseeing! With our host Cristina Cappulletti, we really learned that Tuscany and Florence drinks and food is by all means historical. Cristina, a local, experienced and knowledgeable guide enthusiastically gave life to all the stories there was to tell about how Tuscan cuisine reflects the age of the region and city’s traditions. It’s almost impossible express all we experienced and learned in a post, but since pictures tells more than a thousand word, I will try to cover the most – or give you A Taste – by presenting a few from my photo hunt during the trip:
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Starting with a delicacy, we had a taste of e.g. Bollito di Manzo (Boiled Beef Biscket) with salsa verde and salsa picante – delicious!

Bakeries and Café:
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An introduction to the art of Italian Coffee while tasting Sfogliatella, Budine di Riso and Sfoglia

At the Market:
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A journey in fresh Tuscan servings: Balsamics: Condiments & Traditional Certified – Tuscany Olive Oil – Crostini Toppings – Cheeses: Pecorino & Parm Reggiano – Salumi: Prosciutto & Finocchiona.
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At the Enoteca – wine cellar:
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The very best taste of Tuscan winery : -)
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At the Gelateria or Cioccolateria:
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We wanted to explore the food delights of Tuscany and Cristina from A Taste of Florence literary gave us it all! We had the cheeses, olive oils, and salamis right where they are made! She gave a wonderful lecture and taste of the origins of Tuscan and Italian wines and we really enjoyed a hands-on cooking class, and lunch with wine tasting in the best of wine cellars. I have never been as sure in my recommendation: Next time you visit Florence – whether the first time or a return visit – don’t miss this adventurous guided tour. Go visit their web site and start planning right now!

This is the second post from the big family trip we had last week; my wife (DianeCA) and I, our children + SO and even my grandchild met up with Diane’s brothers and spouse from the USA. 14 people in all gathering in Pisa at the Park Hotel California, and having the time of our lives enjoying each other’s company, getting better acquainted and exploring this wonderful part of Italy. From my first post: Family from Norway touring Tuscany in Italy, you’ll get an introduction and then you will know that I’ll do more posts from this trip, so stay tuned!

Family from Norway touring Tuscany in Italy

Family from Norway touring Tuscany in Italy #2Tuscany represents a journey of leisure, pleasure, cuisine and of course, discovery: Marvellous scenery in a landscape full of colorful rolling hills, massive mountains and numerous rivers – every valley is a waterway and rich in history, encompassing the ancient as well as modern, urban, and artistic. When travelling, you’ll find perfectly preserved hill towns, fabulous art, the most beautiful countryside imaginable, almost tropical coastal areas, great cities (e.g. Florence, Siena, Pisa, and Lucca), top quality restaurants and food stores, possibly the best cafes in the world as well as friendly and beautiful people.

Now I can tell by personal experience, since we had a big family trip there last week; my wife (DianeCA) and I, our children + SO and even my grandchild met up with Diane’s brothers and wife from the USA. 14 people in all gathering in Pisa at the Park Hotel California, and having the time of our lives enjoying each other’s company, getting better acquainted and exploring this wonderful part of Italy. To give you an idea, let’s start with a photo I took from the plane just before landing at Pisa airport:
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From Base Camp Pisa, which was a great adventure in itself, we travelled around to explore and tried to cover at least some of the sights we had read about and picked out in advance. I’ll gladly take you along and have decided to make a more detailed post of each of the highlights – for you to enjoy and for a recommendation to those who plan to visit Tuscany. To give you a clue in this introduction post, let’s start with a collage I have made – to put the scope of work on the map so to speak:
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Tuscany’s culture spans centuries of ideologies and rural and city life in a rich tapestry of art and history, as beautiful as it is fascinating. In addition to the fame of Florence, Lucca, Pisa and Siena, Fiesole, Arezzo, Carrara, Volterra and San Gimignano, and countless other corners of the region hold delightful gems to which one can only wish to return.
So in the following posts, I will take you with to these four places: Pisa, Florence, Siena and the famous Cinque Terre (“the five lands” – actually not in Tuscany, but close enough and a must see if you’re staying as close as in Pisa!).

Central Tuscany: Around Florence or Siena:
The most popular areas of Tuscany are around Florence (the capital of the region) or Siena. Florence is a larger town (population of ca. 300,000) and Siena is smaller (around 50,000). Anywhere within a 45 minute drive of Florence or Siena will be a good location for a first time countryside visit.
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Left: Florence by Santa Maria Del Fiore Dome – Right: The Medieval Town of Siena
Florence became prominent after the death of Matilde di Canossa, the last of the Marquises of Tuscany, in 1115 and the defeat of the Pisans by the Genoese at the battle of Meloria. Florence’s subsequent rise was inexorable, culminating in the Nineteenth Century, when the State of Lucca was annexed to its territories.

Pisa is more than the Leaning Towre:
Of course best known for the world famous Leaning Tower, if you come only to see that, you’ll miss the rest of the architectural and artistic marvels of this beautiful city. The half hour walk from the Campo dei Miracoli to the train station runs through a pedestrian street with many interesting sights, shops, and restaurants. The best way to explore Pisa is walking the streets – the city center is very small. I’ll give you a taste in these photos, but will give more details in my separate Pisa post later:
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Left: Piazza Garibaldi – Right: Arno River

Cinque Terre – The Five Lands:
All the towns slope down to sea-level except for Corniglia, which is perched on top of a tall cliff. Four of the towns possess an old-world charm (from North-to-South: Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore). The northern-most town, Monterosso, is completely different. It is very beachy or resorty, with a fine boardwalk and modern apartment blocks and hotels—nothing like the narrow, crooked streets of the other towns, lined with colorful old houses stacked haphazardly on top of each other:
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Cinque Terre is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The name means Five Lands and comprises the five small coastal villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso located in the Italian region of Liguria. On our one week family trip, this was to me the highlight of sightseeing. Again, I will give you more details in a separate post – so stay tuned! In the meantime, you might think about finding some connection between the name Cinque Terre and the name of my blog: RennyBA’s Terrella !?!

Updates – Later posts from this Family Trip:
1: A Taste of Florence to a family from Norway.
2: Family from Norway touring Medieval Siena in Tuscany.
3: Pisa more than Leaning Tower for Norway Family
4: Family from Norway exploring Cinque Terre in Italy

Akerselva the vein of Oslo and industrial history of Norway

Akerselva is a beautiful river with 23 waterfalls running through Oslo’s most populated areas, ending in the Oslo Fjord after 8 km with a rich history of Norway’s cultural heritage and industrialization which started around 1850. The river is the “vein of the city” offering fishing, swimming, biking or walking to explore a rich animal and plant life in the most recreational part of the capital of Norway. It’s running from the lake Maridalsvannet, which is Oslo’s main supply of drinking water, to the city center and without a break: a couple of hours walk.
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Almost every meter of the 8km from the mountains to the fjords offers exciting adventures. Along the river you can take small detours into side streets you’ve never seen before and experience the history of the utmost importance to the capital and country: it was on the banks of Akerselva that Norway became a modern country and where the industrial revolution took place- It was here that Norway got its first factories and industrial workers!
I had a nice walk there last week, arranged by the Norwegian Parkinson Association and you’re welcome to join us and see a small collection of the highlights where I also shot some photos with my mobile phone:

Emigration and the Industrial Revolution:
From 1850 to 1900 the population of Christiania increased from 30,000 to 130,000 – the same period as when about half of the populations out of totality 1,500,000 emigrated to the US. For the most part farmhands came from the countryside and moved into settlements along the Akerselva banks to live near the factories they were working in. These houses were often some distance from the river and of very poor quality. Living conditions were crowded and up to 13-14 people could live in a single cramped room with an even smaller kitchen.
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Today there is a new wave of migrants to the river, but it’s a totally different standard in the new houses. The picture to the left shows an example of a new residential complex on the left and an old factory on the right.

Myren’s machine maintenance and renovation factory:
Myhre’s factory became one of the leading and largest industrial companies in Norway with more than 1,000 employees in 1909 and also important for the rest of the industry along the river. Production started in this area in 1854 and their main production focused on industrial machinery – turbines and steam engines – and tools for rolling mills and sawmills, utilizing the river as source for power in the production.
The company was acquired by Kværner Brug (now a part of Aker Solution) in 1928 and the production naturally developed into supplying the pulp and paper industry. At one point, 85% of their production was exported.
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The premise of the old factory is preserved after the industrial production was terminated in 1988 and the area and its building were sold to what is now Myren’s Resorts and renovated into a small cluster for knowledge-based businesses in broadcasting, television production and advertising. The area also contains several apartment buildings

The Factory Girls at Beyer bridge:
Beyer bridge build in the 1700s and named after the owner, Anders Beyer, was a favorite gathering place after 10 to 12 work hours. In 1837, the old narrow wooden bridge was converted to ramps and restored as a pedestrian bridge in 1985, This bridge and the statue called “Factory Girls”, made by Ellen Jacobsen, show a merrier side of the flux at this industrial revolution period in Norway. It’s located in the old factory area and was described by the Norwegian writer Oskar Braaten as “factory girls’ bridge”. A group of sculpture in memory of the factory girls, conducted by Ellen Jacobsen, “shoulder to shoulder”, was set up on the bridge 1986:
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100 types of birds and 4 bats:
This continuous green corridor with water, grass, plants and trees that connect Oslomarka and the Oslo Fjord is also a paradise for animals. It is observed 100 different bird species at the river. Among them is our national bird: the Dipper, which people actually see quite often sitting on the pebbles in the middle of the falls. Even the Goldcrest, which is Norway’s smallest bird, is observed here.
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Akerselva can even offer four types of bats to be seen flying between trees when dark. As you can see in the photo however, the most common wildlife is seagulls and ducks.

“The Hen-Lovisa’s house”:
The rivers highest waterfall is next to an idyllic little house which is a great place to stop on your walk along the river Akerselva. The name “Hønse-Lovisas hus” comes from a literary character. It was built in 1800 as a saw miller’s house.
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Today it is a café and cultural meeting place, where the arts and crafts of today meet tradition and history of the past. They have handmade arts and crafts for sale and you can also get a cup of coffee and a delicious piece of cake or a little something for lunch.

A walk along the Akerselva, especially with such an excellent guide, is a good example of how you can combine an outdoor nature experience with learning about the local history. The area is easy to reach by public transportation, either Underground or Bus, and lies right in the heart of the compact city of Oslo. So don’t miss this trip the next time you visit the capital of Norway.

The Viking city Old Oslo Town in Norway

Old Oslo Town #11 by RennyBA, on FlickrThe old town of Oslo, the capital of Norway, where the Viking city was located contains the ruins of Oslo’s first cathedral: St. Hallvard’s as well as Clemen’s Church and St. Olav’s Monastery. In 1624, this medieval city was buried when the inhabitants had to move over to the new town Christiania, close to the Akershus Fortress. The medieval city was thus preserved for posterity and is therefore called the “Pompeii of the North“. My wife and I had a guided walk there a few weeks ago to get better acquainted with the city’s ruins and medieval heroes. It went from the church’s power region to the King’s domain: the Medieval Park (locally known as Ruins’ Park) and if you fancy a trip a thousand year back, you’re welcome to join us:

The St. Olav Monastery:
It was founded in 1239, when King Håkon gave the Dominicans a site just north of St. Halvard’s Church. It was already St. Olav’s Church, which had been built a few decades earlier. This would become the Abbey in the new facility, and it was rebuilt to fit the Dominicans specifications. The buildings were probably first constructed in wood and were eventually replaced by brick buildings.
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The Dominican Order had strict requirements for the design: ground floor and the interior were always the same in all the order’s monasteries as well as the abbey which was represented at the north wing of the facility. The problem was that there was room on the south side of St. Olav’s Church just a few feet over to St. Halvard’s Church, the city’s cathedral. The monastery had to be built north of the church and the Abby had to be in the south wing so in this way, the normal Dominicans concept was reversed here in Oslo.

St. Hallvard’s Cathedral:
Also know as Oslo Cathedral Church was the city’s earliest cathedral. It was built during the 1100s at the height of the Old Town market square and was used as a church until about 1655. Besides being the bishop’s seat and religious center of eastern Norway for about 500 years, the cathedral was the coronation church, royal wedding church, chapel royal, and one of Scandinavia’s most visited places for pilgrims.
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Hallvard cemetery is located mainly south of the cathedral. It was the honorary cemetery in Oslo and eastern Norway from around 1130 to 1639. Here the bishops, chiefs and other prominent men and women were buried. The most prominent were interred in the church along with the kings.

The Clemens Church:
This was one of the parish churches of old Oslo and lay south of the Bishop’s Palace and Halvard’s Church. It was a stone church with a tower and it was one of the very few churches we know with the double-nave floor plan. Along the middle axis of the choir there were three powerful roof supporting pillars.
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The church went out of use after the Reformation and was probably in ruins shortly after. It was uncovered in the excavation by Gerhard Fischer in 1921 and remained that way for years. In 1970-71 the archaeologist Ole Egil Eide was given the opportunity to dig further into the ground under the church, and found traces of burials older than the stone church, 81 in all. His interpretation is that there have been at least two churches, presumably stave churches, on the spot where the stone church was built around 1100. The oldest of the tombs are radiological dated to 980-1030, and are some of the oldest Christian burials found in Norway.

The Kings Residence:
The main ruins were the Kings Residence from about the year 1000 to the 1300s and then the Canon’s residence up until the reformation in the 1500s. The oldest finds on this site are part of a simple, circular fort consisting of a moat and one or more wooden buildings. There was a treasure found consisting of German and English coins which place the construction of this fort to somewhere between 1040 and 1060, during the rule of Harald Hardråde (Harald the hard ruler). Construction of the stone fort whose ruins you see in the photo at the bottom of this post, began in the 1200s during the rule of Haakon Haakonsson (Haakon the IV). The main entrance was in the north-west corner and featured a gate tower.
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The great hall in the south-east corner was almost as large as The Haakon’s Hall in Bergen. The Kings residence was a citadel, dwelling and meeting place for the king and his men when they were in Oslo. Akershus fortress took over this function already in the 1300s and gradually became the administrative center for this part of Norway. Large parts of the ruins from the Kings residence were removed in 1890 when the locomotive workshop was built on the site.

The Oslo Blog Gathering:
You may wonder what this has to do with our Blog Gathering (OsloBG) in 2010, but as the matter of fact, the grand finale was held in these Medieval surroundings. So for you who participated and all who followed us during these three days of exploring Oslo and Norway: our culture, traditions and habits – here is the photo of Kings Residence more than a thousand years back:
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