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The Medici Balls

Seven Little Journeys in Tuscany

281 pages
Library of Alexandria
EVERY year Italy is thronged with thousands of travellers who are thoroughly familiar with the larger cities of Tuscany: Florence, Lucca, Siena, and Leghorn are crowded with visitors, while Florence has practically become the Italian home of English and American wanderers; they not only fill hotels, pensions, and apartments, but occupy many of the villas on neighbouring hillsides. Fiesole's terraces are converted into tea-gardens, and resound with Anglo-Saxon chaffer for straw fans and baskets. San Miniato, with its incomparable view of the city, also caters to the universal cry for "the cup that cheers," which outrivals in popularity the noble old Tuscan-Romanesque church hard by. Trim Americans are met at every turn; Settignano, Bello-Sguardo, Marignano, Badia a Settimo, and the rest, are frequent haunts; and the padrona of the vine-covered terrace at Majano, where stone-cutters are wont to sit about rude stone tables and drink their wine, has learned the "afternoon tea" secret for the gentili forestieri, who walk out from Florence to enjoy the charming view. Convenient tram lines run to the more distant and choicest places, and whoever demands more retired ways may board one of those nondescript vehicles, by courtesy called "diligence," which are seen on every country road leading from Florence, making their way through pretty valleys and hill towns. The Tuscan diligence is an institution in its way, though not always inviting in appearance; usually covered with dust, its brown canvas curtains strapped down, excluding all air and views, and "full up" to bursting with all sorts and conditions of humanity and luggage. However, one is always sure of the most respectful and obliging driver, smiling and kindly travelling companions, and no end of interesting chat and story at the cost of a few centesimi. Thus the country distant from the usual railway lines is every year becoming more and more familiar and appreciated, although there are still many delightful "untrodden ways" known but to the few, who are good pedestrians or devoted lovers of nature and "dear country places." Follow up any of the Tuscan rivers—through the Val d'Ema, Val di Pesa, Val d'Elsa, or the valleys of the Mugnone, Sieve, Bisenzio, and Ombrone, every one an affluent of the Arno—and you will find a pathway of delight, a real progress through a world of exquisite colour, form, and fragrance. Yet it is not easy to turn away from Florence and wander off in pastures new; like a siren, she holds us in willing thraldom by the infinite variety of charms so potent that all the world beyond her warm, grey walls becomes vague and unreal.