May 22, 2003 — We boarded a train from Venezia to Firenze, but something caused a delay, and we arrived too late to catch our connecting train to Siena. Luckily we had worked out a Plan B to take a bus to Siena. First we had to exit the train station and find the bus station around the corner. Then we had to get two tickets to Siena and wait awhile for it to leave. As we left Firenze, the bus route made it look like any other bustling city. We didn't see any of the amazing sites we would come back to visit the next day.
When we got off the bus in Siena, we weren't sure how to get to our next hotel. We had a little trouble getting a taxi, but we finally did, and the driver took us on the craziest ride through winding, tight, pedestrian-filled alleys you can possibly imagine. I absolutely could not believe we didn't hit or kill anyone, but the driver had lots of confidence. He brought us to Palazzo Ravizza, which had a dark and unassuming city facade. Paul and I didn't know what to make of this town yet.
We checked into the hotel, which felt quite palatial inside, and were greeted to a view that was a complete surprise. There was all of Tuscany, seemingly, at our doorstep. So the front of the hotel felt enclosed, but the back of the hotel was open to endless miles of rolling hills.
Below us was a courtyard where the hotel served meals. That evening we were brought a bottle of wine by an American waitress from Pennsylvania at one of the two round tables you see at the bottom of this photo.
To the right of that area they were serving dinner. The little building you see here, viewed from our hotel window above, was the breakfast room we used the next morning.
In the daylight we could see pigeons making their nests in an area to the left of our hotel room window.
We walked into the piazza of this town, known as the Campo, which is a fan-shaped gathering place for the entire town. See the postcard view below. It is flanked by restaurants and shops. At the bottom people appeared to be setting up or taking down a stage and sound system. As it turned out, the evening of the day we were leaving, the famed Andrea Bocelli was giving a free concert there! On a train a few days later we met an Australian family who was there at the same time and stayed to see the concert.
On the narrow side of the piazza was this impressive belltower, also featured in the post card above.
We knew from our tour book that there was a famous duomo in this town, but Siena is a walled city, and it's hard to see what's around you. The main streets (I'm not sure if cars were allowed there) felt very enclosed. So we walked up some steep alleyways and found the extremely ornate duomo you see above.
But we got there after 6:00 p.m. and it was closed for the evening. We sat there and took pictures as the sun set. We were able to go into the duomo the next day, and it was the most over-the-top elaborate structure I have ever seen. It was decorated from top to toe and striped in a way that reminded me of a Pharaoh's tomb. In the courtyard was an unfinished arch that was going to be the vestibule of a much, much larger church, but that was never built.
Then we headed for a restaurant that was recommended by our tour book. Osteria Nonna Gina, or Grandma Gina's Tavern, was on the same street as our hotel. Inside it was like being in someone's house — someone who just happened to be a fabulous cook. The menu was entirely in Italian and the staff/family spoke almost no English, so it was quite an experience. We were in a little room beside the kitchen which was open to another room that was probably once the home's living room. I had gnocchi, as I did in Venezia, but this was so unique that I still have no idea what the ingredients were. The gnocchi were very large and doughy but their sauce was the part I can't figure out. It was light greenish and slightly gritty. It didn't taste like basil or spinach. Whatever it was, it was the best meal I had in Italy.
Afterwards we walked up the street to Palazzo Ravizza. Our second night at that hotel we had that great bottle of San Cristina wine. We tried that same wine back in the States and it was just not the same. All the wine in Italy was smooth, deep and delicious. I suspect that even a non-red-wine-lover would be won over in Italy.
I picked out this post card in a little shop in Siena where I bought some souvenirs just because I loved the color and texture of it. I would always be happy surrounded by a look like this.
We'll look at more in Siena, but first, a day trip to Firenze.