Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Siena, as viewed from the Duomo
My first visit to Siena was in 2006, and I’m sad to say that I gave it short shrift. I only spent one day there, which you can read about here. It was raining that day, and there were several other factors that contributed to my unfavorable report. But all that has changed. Siena is another beautiful Tuscan city with a lot to offer. 

Siena's Duomo
When I left for Siena this time, it was raining again! I took a bus from the flat in Florence to the train station, walked across the street to the SITA bus station, bought my ticket, and immediately boarded the direct bus to Siena. I had reserved a room for two nights in Siena, as a friend from Rome said she might be able to join me, and I was hoping to take a day trip to another hill town nearby. Little more than an hour later, the bus driver dropped me off near my hotel in Siena: I couldn’t believe how easy it was this time! However, it was still raining, and much cooler than when I left Florence. I was nursing a cold, so I rested in the hotel before heading out in the rain.

A detailed section of the floor, The Sacrifice of Isaac
I’d come to see a special event at the Duomo in Siena, called La Divina Bellezza. The floor of the church is covered with mosaics that portray many stories from the Bible and other mythological and historical events. Wikipedia states that: "The inlaid marble mosaic floor is one of the most ornate of its kind in Italy, covering the whole floor of the cathedral. This undertaking went on from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, and about forty artists made their contribution. The floor consists of 56 panels in different sizes."

A maiden reading.
More mosaics: this reminds me of an image in a child's coloring book!
Most of the time, the floor is covered to protect it, but this year for two months it has been uncovered for the public to view. It was a great place to spend a few hours on a rainy day. In fact, I spent most of the day visiting the Duomo and several museums that were part of a package deal. Many people took advantage of a multimedia guide to help them view the treasures in the Duomo, which included statues by Michelangelo (Saint Peter), Donatello (St. John the Baptist) and Bernini (St. Jerome and Mary Magdalene).

Bernini's Saint Jerome
For 8 euros, you were given a touch screen gizmo, along with an Mp3 player to listen to. You could point to the image you want to learn about, then listen to the description. I usually don't take advantage of audio guides, as they often have too much information for me to absorb and they often cost more than than the admission fee to the museums where they are offered. Instead, I like to soak up as much as I can while I'm in a place, and then study it more in detail when I have time at home, via the internet or books that I have on hand. While visiting the Duomo's museum, I had the chance to climb to a tower for a panoramic view of Siena and the countryside, which was a real bonus, as shown in the first and last photos of this post.

For lunch, I found an osteria that served ribollita, a typical Tuscan stew made from beans, bread and vegetables. I’ve had several versions of this dish, and today’s was the absolute best. Later, I bought some ricciarelli, Sienese almond cookies that melt in your mouth, to go with my afternoon café macchiato (espresso with a "stain" of milk). 

Ricciarelli, Sienese almond cookies
Then I wondered around town, and hung out for several hours at the main piazza, Il Campo, where the famous horse race, the Palio, takes place every summer. 

Il Campo, the grande piazza in Siena
 Instead of a horse race, some East Indian men were filming a movie in front of the piazza’s Fountain of Joy, and they were busy recruiting young adults as extras to hang out in the background. Oddly, they seemed to choose American-looking youth, especially girls with long blond hair. An Indian video made in Italy, with many “American” extras and only two Indian “stars.” Go figure!

Making movies in Il Campo
In the evening, I ate a mediocre piece of pizza for dinner and hit the hay early. Unfortunately, my Roman friend was unable to make it to Siena, due to illness in her family, so I was on my own to explore Siena.
The next day, I got up early and feasted on the hotel’s free breakfast. I was hoping to catch a bus to Montepulciano, a nearby hill town, for a day trip. However, I had so much trouble trying to locate a bus or bus schedule to get there, that I gave up that notion and decided to hang out in Siena again. It was a lovely day, sunny and clear.
A view of Siena from San Domenico, near my hotel
First, I explored the weekly Wednesday mercato (market), which turned out to be one of the largest I have ever seen in Italy. It went on forever! There seemed to be more clothes vendors than anything else, but whatever you might need to find, I’m sure it was for sale at that market! I tend to buy very little when I travel, but I’m always interested to see what’s for sale at these types of markets.

Enjoying the Piazza Il Campo
Next, I headed to Il Campo again, took a seat at one of the outdoor cafes, and ordered a “marocchino,” which is espresso with a dab of milk and a dab of cocoa. 

My marocchino from Bar Il Palio
At this bar, they didn’t seem to mind what you order or how long you stay.  It was a comfortable way to enjoy the day: reading, writing and people watching. Later on, I ordered a bowl of ribollita for lunch, which was was not as good as the kind I had the day before. In all, I was there for several hours, enjoying the ambiance of the sunny day in the piazza.

Another panoramic view of Siena
I enjoyed my short stay in Siena and am glad I gave it a second chance!

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