I hope you all enjoy this, because it is the first (and probably the last) time you’ll get to hear what actually happened during our vacation. So after a grueling day in Firenze, and a train ride that seemed impossibly long after being spoiled by the fast train from Napoli, we got to Siena just as the sun was getting ready to set. Not as romantic as it sounds, because we had no idea where to go, and I didn’t realize that Siena was built on a series of steep hills. So we got on a bus that took us from the station closer to where we wanted to be, and started wandering around. (Lonely Planet is great for info, but the maps look like a 3rd grader drew them.) After like 15 minutes of up and down, we ended up in front of the Duomo, which was totally unexpected, so I called the guy whose B&B we were staying at (did I mention we didn’t even have an address for this place?) and he said he would come find us. Ten seconds later, he popped out of an alley on a Vespa, and showed us the entrance to a series of 6 underground escalators (ya, that’s right) to take us down to his B&B. He met us at the bottom of the hill (Italian escalators aren’t big enough for scooters), and took us down a shady alley to the B&B. We never would have found it. Ever. Turns out, the place is his mom’s house, and he just handles the money and booking. We talked for awhile, got some pizza at a restaurant overlooking the Duomo, watched the sunset, and called it a night, because the last couple mornings had been pretty early, and Elise was sick from thinking about secondhand smoke.
|Campo in the morning|
|Campo from the tower. The outside is filled with dirt and
horses race 3 times around it twice a year for neighborhood pride
The next day, we got up and had the best Italian breakfast I’ve ever seen: the guy’s mom had a basket full of assorted baked goods, fresh berries in this berry syrup, hot chocolate, yogurt with granola, and some warm something-or-other, while I talked to her about what to do. She’s a saint – if you need a B&B to stay at in Siena, and don’t mind that she smokes like a chimney, this is the place. Apart from breakfast, she gave us this intense Siena guidebook to use for the day, and did our laundry for us.
|The Palazzo and tower we climbed|
|From the top of the tower|
After breakfast, I talked to a few people to figure out when we could see them. Dr. Noble, my Italian professor, is there with her study abroad group (which included one of my former students who we ended up seeing), and Simone Rotelli, who is from the area, and lived with me in Vercelli for a few transfers. Dr. Noble highly recommended going up the tower, so we decided we should probably do that first.
What happened next solidified my allegiance to Siena over Firenze. After taking the underground escalator back up to the city center, we walked into Piazza del Campo. It’s pretty awe-inspiring, especially knowing that they fill it up with a few feet of dirt twice a year and race horses in it. Standing in the middle of it, looking at all the buildings that look like they haven’t changed in 500 years, with no tourists to ruin the moment, it was something special.
After spending a few star-struck minutes standing around, we decided to do our fourth major climb of the trip, up to the top of Torre del Mangia in the piazza. It wasn’t as high as the others, but it’s still a bunch of steps, and since it’s on the top of a hill and probably three times taller than everything else, you can see miles and miles of the rolling Tuscan hills. The pictures probably say more than I can about it. I wonder if they let people watch the Palio from up there.
|Austin doesn’t fit in the staircases
going up the tower
|Inside of Duomo|
We were thinking about going to a museum or two, but we decided we were pretty much done with museums for this trip (plus, seeing Davide in the Academy wasn’t a bad way to cap off the museuming). So we just wandered around Siena for awhile, looking at shops and stuff and figuring out all the different streets. We ended up at the Duomo, and decided that it wasn’t enough like a museum that we could handle going inside. It was way worth it. On the outside, it had the same red, white and green marble as Firenze, but where Firenze kind of copped out of the inside decorations, Siena went all-out. There were all kinds of cool scenes sculpted into almost the entire floor of the cathedral, and the walls and ceiling were pretty decorated, too, and Elise, of course, wanted a picture of the organ.
After that, we were getting pretty hungry, so we went to this Osteria that our mother for the day recommended to us. They had all kinds of different meats and cheeses and potatoes and stuff to eat, and you could choose several items from all the options to eat, so I just asked the waiter to put together a good plate for both of us. In retrospect, I should have gone up and chosen myself, because Elise had to pass like half of her plate to me. Something about cured fish just doesn’t do it for her. Anyway, I thought it was really good.
|View of the Duomo from our B&B|
After lunch, we pretty much decided we were done with the touristy stuff, so we searched around for an internet point, and made our way to Piazza del Campo to do some people watching and wait to meet Carson (my ex-student) and Simone. So BYU does a mock-Palio every semester, where each class gets assigned to a Contrada, which basically represent the neighborhoods of Siena, that go up against each other in the horse race. Last semester, my contrada was the Tartuca (yeah, it’s a turtle, what of it?). Sitting there, I got caught up in the moment a little, and with a little cajoling from Elise, ran off to buy the flag for the Tartuca. It’s beautiful: blue and yellow, with a little turtle in the middle. And it was only 6 Euro for the small and 8 for the large flag, so of course, I got the large one (who wouldn’t?), and it even came on a flagpole. Elise wasn’t too happy about that part, because she didn’t particularly want to have to carry a three foot long stick around for the rest of our trip, but a flag isn’t really a flag, unless it’s on a flagpole, right?
|Austin and his HUGE flag that he carried on our Cinque Terre hikes… he looked like a tour guide|
Anyway, after buying the flag, and waiting for awhile longer, we didn’t see Carson or Simone, but we did see the missionaries (nobody else can do quite as good of a job as looking awkward and out of place as missionaries can). So we went over and said hi, and one of the immediately asked us who we were. It turns out that Simone, instead of coming to the piazza to meet us, had gone to the church, but couldn’t call us to tell us, so he sent the missionaries out to stand around and hope that we eventually saw and talked to them. Anyway, it worked, and after finding Carson, we got some gelato and headed to the church for institute, which also happened to be that night. What it ended up being was Simone and I sitting in one of the rooms talking, while Elise went to institute with all the BYU study abroad kids. Fun times. Anyway, I had a good time with Simone, and I think Elise liked institute alright, especially since it was in English. After some tiramisù, we said goodbye to everyone and went off in search of a grocery store to buy something for dinner. I knew there must be one nearby, because every third person walking down the street had a grocery bag, but we couldn’t find the store anywhere. We finally ducked in a store to buy some focaccia and asked someone where it was. That confirmed my suspicions that the Sienese like to make everything as hard to find as possible, because this huge grocery store was in an alley, down yet another underground escalator. Anyway, we bought some fruit and chocolate, and took it back to our room so Elise could rest her feet. I know, we’re probably the most exciting people you know. Anyway, that was our time in Siena, and I’ll pass it back to Elise with more on the trip to Pisa and the Cinque Terre.