11-13th July 2017
Danny’s cold continued its progress but luckily when packing the kitchen sink ‘Day Nurse’ had been included so there was some respite. Daryl & Rachel came round to say goodbye and to the examine whether our claims about our garage being full to overflowing were true (they were). Then we were off again,
We had heard of a place with beautiful medieval towers built by rich families, each trying to outdo the other. So we drove to San Gimignano with vague ideas of staying overnight. When we arrived the parking problems, the heat, the crowds and Danny’s cold discouraged us from actually visiting it. Instead we took some photos from a distance and decided ‘out of season’ would be better. Good towers though.
We had been told that Sienna was a ‘must see’ and it was only 24km away, so we located a site not too far from the centre and headed there instead. On the way we saw an advertisement for a 3rd Museum of Torture and we’ve only been in Italy a few days – clearly we are missing something. And intend to continue to miss it.
When we got to the campsite we were truly horrified by the cost (more than double what we had been paying), and they wanted to charge €4 per day for wi-fi – not likely! Despite our initial negative impression of the site we found a quiet spot that suited us for the 3 nights we stayed, not far from the pool. The heat – around 36C during the day – made it tempting to move on and give Siena a miss but in the end we decided to rest up for a day – do laundry, get blog done, let Danny’s cold work its way through, use the pool – and then do Siena. Almost a plan.
Siena is a city of warm stone, terracotta tiles and narrow streets, compact and with its medieval heart really well preserved. Even the shops remain small and pretty. Although they also reminded us that you will never go short of handbags, shoes or sunglasses in Italy.
The ‘heart of the city’ is Il Campo, a beautiful square in which the famous Palio bare-back horse race is run. On one side is the Palazzo Publico & Museo Civico, with it’s tall bell tower chichis visible formless around the city. Opposite are plenty of cafe’s and restaurants with extortionate prices, quiet early morning but heaving later on.
Nearby is the Duomo, Siena’s cathedral. Our first impression of the facade was that it was spectacular but we had no time to look properly as a large queue was forming already for tickets and an even larger one was waiting for the doors to open at 10.30. We read through the many ticket options, assessed our ability to sustain interest in the heat, and bought the combined ticket for the Duomo, its dome, baptistry, crypt and Museo dell’ Opera (€13 each). Whilst queuing for entry Kate ended up wasting €8 on a scarf for her shoulders as she was in a sleeveless shirt. We never learn.
The cathedral is built in bands of black and white marble and the facade is amazing, very elaborate with some lovely rose coloured marble, mosaics, and lots of statues as well as a large rose window. Inside was just as impressive. A marble pavement with inlaid floor panels telling all kinds of stories, high arched ceilings painted in rich colours and sculptures of 171 popes looking down from the most impressive dado rail we’ve ever seen, plus a large dome, richly decorated and worth the neck strain to see.
There are side-chapels with statues by artists as famous as Donatello, a huge high altar and a library with vibrant frescoes on walls and ceilings with books the size of small tables on display.
It was definitely worth the entrance fee – it may be the most beautiful cathedral we have ever been in.
The Museo dell’ Opera next door has some of the originals of sculptures and other artworks in the cathedral (there are replicas in the cathedral), including the rose window. There are gorgeous wooden panels decorated with religious scenes enhanced with gold leaf, called the Maesta, dating back to 1308 – really exceptional even for non-arty types like us. (Of course the battery on the camera expired at this point). But best of all, by climbing a steep and claustrophobic spiral staircase you reach the Panorama del Facciatone, a narrow walkway at the top of the building (with constant supervision to ensure you don’t fall off) which gives spectacular views over this medieval masterpiece of a city. (iPhone camera worked here).
The Crypt (frescoes) and the Baptistry (more frescoes and a huge font with brass panels by Donatello and other famous artists) finished our tour and it was definitely time for lunch. The criteria for lunch was non-touristy with either a breeze or air-con. We finally stumbled upon a place next to a busy pizzeria advertising air conditioning and went in. Only one other table was occupied, by a VERY well spoken english couple and their 2 grand-children who they tried to keep entertained with quizzes such as ‘name 10 european capitals”. Restaurant Guido has arched brick walls covered in signed pictures of stars, mainly black & white from the 50’s and 60’s but some colour ones from the 70’s and more recently Daniel Craig.
The waiter was excellent, just like the meal. Okay, we’d been looking for a sandwich, but instead we shared a starter – an array of local cured pork, chopped pork-liver on bruschetta, and an artichoke heart – then had freshly made local pasta – one with rabbit ragu and one with courgette, pancetta and pecorino. All delicious. We enjoyed it so much we forced down some dessert – the local panforte with some vino santo. A very happy find – top marks all round. No need for dinner. Great way to finish our hot Siena sojourn.