A Much Nicer Day Trip To Siena!

Trip Start Oct 21, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Saturday, November 28, 2009

11.28.09               A Much Nicer Day Trip To Siena

[First, a shout-out to our dear dad Perce, who is recovering from surgery today in Sydney.  We love you and are sending you and Jan our thoughts and prayers!]

Murray and I are feeling much better today, thank you very much, so we are headed out today to attempt another day trip from Florence that, hopefully, will be an improvement over yesterday's quicky sicky day trip to Pisa!

After breakfast at the hotel, we walked to the bus station, and boarded a bus to Siena, about 1 ½ hours from Florence.  Again during this bus ride, we saw incredible Tuscan countryside – rolling hills of patchwork-green farmlands; beautiful old palazzos and country estates; and interesting bushes, shade trees, and an as-yet-identified plant containing plump, orange-looking fruit (but we are pretty sure that they are not actually oranges)!

Siena, a town of 54,000 also in Italy’s Tuscany region, has been a historic adversary to Florence for centuries.  Some say that rivalry continues even today.  While Florence is a Renaissance city, Siena is largely Gothic, its medieval center full of majestic buildings and historical significance (the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site).  Indeed, as we found out when we arrived, Siena is an enchanting little town, with eight original city gates, high walls throughout, and tiny, weaving streets that are closed to traffic (the first European city to banish vehicles from its center, in 1966).

We started our tour of Siena by walking through town and coming across the Piazza Salimbeni, which contains the interesting Palazzo Spannocchi, a Gothic building from which 29 finely carved busts stare down at you from under the palazzo’s eaves!  Pretty cool.

We continued walking through interesting Siena until we got to Il Campo, Siena’s civic and social center ever since it was staked out by its "Council of Nine" (a bourgeois group responsible for much of Siena’s construction) in the mid-14th century.  The Piazza del Campo itself is colossal, and is divided into nine parts to represent the Council.  In the upper part of the square lies the Fonte Gaia (Happy Fountain!).  From there, the entire square slopes downward like the basin of a bathroom sink.  At the lowest point of the square, the spare but elegant Palazzo Comunale, also known as the Palazzo Pubblico, is the town hall (containing a civic museum on its lower level).  From the palazzo, the Torre del Mangia – a graceful bell tower built in 1297 – soars above the entirety of Il Campo.

Il Campo was huge, and spectacular, and full of energy – and by the time we got there around 12 noon, it contained throngs of people lying out on the piazza or eating at one of the numerous cafes that lined it.  [Also, Il Campo has been the site of Il Palio since the Middle Ages, a spectacular (or so we’re told) twice-yearly held wild horse race that is held around its perimeter!  Murray and I were trying to imagine such a race as we spent time in Il Campo – we agree it would be pretty awesome to see live!]

After seeing Il Campo, we walked to L’Osteria (a guidebook recommendation) for lunch – and It.  Was.  Awesome.  Set off a little street, through a small door framed in ivy, this little hole-in-the-wall served up phenomenal Tuscan food.  (A sign inside the restaurant stated: “Slow Food Zone.”  Hah.)  We started out with bruschetta, and from there, we each had a pasta as our first plate (“primi piatti”) – I had a spicy spaghetti with meat sauce, and Murray had the most gorgeous fettuccine with black truffles that I have ever tasted.  (The truffles were so delicate, and nutty, and melt-in-your-mouth…)  For our mains (“secondi piatti”), I had a mixed salad (I know, boring, but it’s hard to eat so much food in the middle of the day!) and Murray had sausage with cannelloni beans in a wonderful sauce.  (Yes, he enjoyed some beer, too!)  For a small dessert, we ordered a biscuit version of Siena’s famous panforte (hard cake with nuts and candied fruit) – and they were light and flavorful and delicious.

After such a beautiful meal, I think Murray and I both fought the urge to find a quiet spot in the sun and take a long nap (an urge we have fought several times in Italy, after these big meals!).  Yet – onward we walked to our next stop, Piazza del Duomo.  Once again, this Duomo (cathedral) was incredible to see.  It is considered one of Italy’s greatest Gothic churches, and we could see why.  Like the famous Duomo in Florence, Siena’s Duomo – completed by 1215 – was quite beautiful from the outside, containing a gorgeous red, white, and green marble façade.  Inside, however, the Duomo was even more spectacular; it has an exquisite patterned marble floor that contains 56 different panels depicting historical and Biblical subjects! 

If the floor alone weren’t enough of a draw, the cathedral’s high archways and spectacular dome are supported by really interesting, black-and-white-striped marbled columns that were knock-your-socks-off striking and very unique to any other cathedral we’ve seen.  (I likened the interior to “elegant Dr. Suess,” although I’m not yet sure that works!).  Also, through a door on the north side, we toured the church’s hidden side room – the Libreria Piccolomini, built to house the ancient books of Ena Silvio Piccolomini, better known as Pius II.  This room was magnificent – the walls contained brightly-painted frescoes, and the ceiling was outlined in vivid gold. 

After the Duomo, we continued walking around Siena, spending more time snooping through its streets and shops.  Late afternoon, after a quick stop-in to an Irish pub (hey, don’t judge us), we caught the bus back to Florence – and on the way, viewed more gorgeous countryside and witnessed an incredible sunset over those rolling Tuscan fields.  (After the sun went down and the “show” was over, I fell asleep for the rest of the ride.  Hah.)  Since we had such a big lunch, neither of us felt like going out for dinner, so we rested in our hotel room tonight, read, and booked our hotel room for Venice starting tomorrow.  Onward we go!
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Rebecca on

Everytime I read an entry I look at my photos from 2002 of the same towns. We just missed the horse race when we stayed 2 nights in Sienna - they were packing up the last of the seating. great blog - thanks

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