Europe 2016

16 – Siena

It was a long day from Capri to Siena starting with the “worse going down than going up” bus ride from Anacapri to the ferry terminal…ferry to Naples, bus through Naples (traffic still crazy), tuna salad lunch at the train station, train from Naples to Rome, then to Florence and then to Siena and taxi to our inn. We arrived late so no time for much sightseeing except we did catch the last rays of sunlight on the Duomo… so beautiful with its green and white striped marble exterior.

The next day, we had a tour booked at 9:30 with “Tuscan Escapes” for a private guided hike through the hills and vineyards of Chianti Classico. Up early, we had time for some street exploring before meeting our tour guide. Siena is a small easily walked city with narrow medieval cobblestone streets. At 7am, we had the streets to ourselves. We passed by the Duomo (nice with no tourists in the shot), the Piazza del Campo… a very large uniquely scallop-shaped plaza famous for the horse races called “the Palio” held every July. We found a lovely small church with stained glass windows, saw children going to school, and the huge red brick San Domenico Bacilica with its contemporary stained glass windows.

Then it was time to meet our guide for our tour. Silvia picked us up at the Bacilica and away we went…just the three of us, toward Monteriggroni (just 15 minutes north of Siena). The first 2 hours of the tour was a hike through the vineyards up and down over the rolling hills with vistas of the classic Tuscan landscape. What a wonderful experience… we passed through several gates designed to keep the wild boars away from the grapes, we saw workers in the vineyards pruning the spring vines, we saw beautiful wild flowers (some used to make perfume and dyes), a huge snake (loved that), heard many different birds singing, the weather was perfect… warm but not scorching. We walked up an appetite.

Lunch was spread out for us on a table cloth on the ground of a hilltop overlooking the fields. Silvia had prepared barley salad, frittata, fresh tomatoes, Mozzarella cheese, foccacia bread, prosscuto and of course, Chianti wine. It was magical… a dream come true for both of us.

After lunch, we drove to the town of San Gimignano where Silvia dropped us off and left us for an hour of shopping and sight seeing. It had just started to rain as we arrived but luckily we had brought our rain jackets and really enjoyed walking the streets of this ancient “Manhattan of Tuscany” with its distinctive towers. The towers were built by private families in medieval times as a display of wealth and power… the taller the tower, the higher your status in the town. Originally there were 72 towers but today only 13 remain. All gray rock and cobblestone, the most colorful thing in the town that day was all the tourist umbrellas.

On the drive back to Siena we chatted easily with Silvia and learned much history about the town and the Tuscan region. Of particular interest is the fact that Siena is divided into several sectors or districts, each with its own animal crest and flag. We had seen some of these displayed on flags and street lamps; the goose, the dragon, the owl… so it was nice to know the history behind them.

We returned to our inn are 4:30 and had time to visit the Duomo before it closed at 5:30. What a beautiful cathedral. Only a couple of gorgeous stained windows  especially the Last Supper circular window in the east. The church is filled with many wonderful art works by Michaelangelo,  Donotello, Bernini among others. The most beautiful section is the library with its 360 degrees of painted frescoes. The room is kept silent by the librarian who quickly and sternly shush any noise louder than a whisper.

Dinner was at Trattoria Papei in the owl district.  Primis of beef and chicken liver pate for me and  papperadelle for Monica, followed by stewed wild boar, ossobucco and roasted potatoes… accompanied by a bottle of really good Chianti. (By the way, you can get excellent wine here at any corner store for less than 5 euros a bottle).

Monica was weary after the full day and wanted to retire. I, however, was still eager for some night shots of the city. So I promised not to be more than 20 minutes and off I went. I got fantastic shots of four churches, several statues and sculptures including Garibaldi (every Italian city has something named after him), the Piazza del Campo and the old and magnificent military fortress which today houses an amusement park. Very pretty at night but it seems like such a tawdry way to use that gorgeous old historic property.

I guess I was longer out than I thought. An hour and a half later at 10pm, I returned to our room to find a very worried and upset Monica. I’m sorry, Babe (I thought surely she would be asleep). After my scolding, she was just glad I was alive and safe.

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