I’m so excited to finally spend some time in the Tuscan town of Siena. A mere two hour train ride takes us from grey and windy Rome to Siena’s bright, clear skies.
I was excited to see that our B&B was not only a short walk from the main square, but also our lovely room had a large balcony complete with a small umbrella, table and chairs. Later we plan to grab a bottle of wine with the cheese and salami bought in Rome and take advantage of this perfect spot for our own little aperitivo. After briefly settling in we head out to wander the crooked medieval streets. The entire city is a sight to be seen. There is really nothing modern at all; every view and every building and every street feels like a snapshot of what it must have looked like 800 years ago. Glancing down all the side streets I’m rewarded with a view of the green hillside and red rooftops or my overactive imagination pictures hooded figures and dark dealings in the shaded alleyways. I fall head over heels for Siena in mere minutes.
Without knowing, we turn down one tiny side street and are suddenly in the city’s sprawling main square, Piazza Il Campo. This large historic center is the scene of the twice annual Palio Horse Race, run in July and again in August. Dating back to the 16th century, this popular race attract visitors from all over the world. After a large festival and feast the night before, 10 of the 17 contrade (districts) of the city, each with their own flag and coat of arms, compete in this much-anticipated race. Walking around Siena, you’ll find the colorful flags for sale all over.
Encompassing nearly one entire side of the square is the grand clock tower and city hall building. Restaurants, gelato shops and small bars fill the half circle opposite enclosing the piazza in the center. Besides a small fountain… it’s completely filled with tourists and school groups. People stroll with gelato in hand, snap photos, and pose hitching posts meant for horses back in the day. Others lay sprawled on the mild incline of the ground and sunbathe. Student groups shout and chant… cheering at something I can’t see. We join the casual diners people watching and sipping wine. Knowing that Siena is a very popular day trip for people coming from Florence, we made a point of spending an overnight to experience this medieval city, not only at night, but after most of the day-trippers were gone.
After lunch we wandered to see the key sites: the Domenico Church, with its amazing views and the Duomo. Like Florence the Duomo (while smaller) is grand and styled with poly-chrome striped marble.
After spending the afternoon roaming around we bring back a bottle of Chianti picked up along the way and have our balcony aperitivo as planned. I break up our cheese and salami and pour a couple of glasses. I had to borrow a corkscrew from the B&B kitchen since mine was confiscated at the Palermo airport after I forgot to check it. The security guard made a show of dramatically dropping it in the trash with a wave and smart-ass “Bye, bye.”
Sitting on the balcony, I catch up on writing, sipping Chianti and munching on parmesan-reggiano cheese… I’m in pure bliss. The sun is warm and I think to myself that I will never return to work. I will marry an Italian man and make wine and cheese for a living. I can hear crowds strolling three flights below on the street. Pigeons flap on adjacent rooftops. Somewhere in the distance I hear Michael Jackson, “Thriller” playing! This makes me think of music, so I turn on the TV to a music channel. Soon I’m hearing church bells ring in the distance with Ke$ha immediately in the background. Old meets new?
After the sun sets, we’re back on the much quieter Piazza Il Campo. It has transformed! Now couples order wine at tables, men sit and smoke in groups and a the few tourists left take night snapshots. We choose a trattoria featuring homemade pasta for dinner. An older gentleman seats us and lists a few menu choices… giving us no actual menu to read. After asking what we’re in the mood for, he lists his recommendations. Mom chooses a homemade ricotta/spinach ravioli and I choose a fresh tagliatelle dish who’s description I didn’t understand. Our waiter assures me I will love it so I simply nod and wait to see what he brings! While we wait for our food, I glance around the small trattoria. It holds 10 tables under a medieval archway. The kitchen is in plain view… looks almost like a home kitchen. I think it’s a family place. The three workers all work well together, taking turns frying huge, inch-thick steaks, boiling noodles and chopping fresh meat with an ax. I watch amazing meal after amazing meal pass by. Fresh gnocchi, Florentine steak, seasoned chicken, bright vegetables, liters of wine and fresh strawberries or tiramasus for dessert.
Our pasta comes and I’m pleased. Handing me my dish, our waiter says “No parmesan… very good flavor.” He’s right. The thick ground ragu is delicious. The meat has been marinated and the heavy brown sauce has a hint of spicy curry-like flavor. Mom and I decide to finally attempt a second course and are soon being presented with a lightly fried swordfish. As we continue enjoying our meal, we watch the other diners consume a shocking amount of food… multiple courses. I’ve tried to do a proper Italian mean with different courses, but get WAY too full after just pasta. How do they do it?!
Rolling out onto the street we walk around and window-shop for a while. We had thought to stop at a popular bar overlooking the square, but I’m too full to even consider a drink. Between the lunch aperitivo on the balcony and dinner, I must have easily consumed an entire bottle of wine. Back in the room, I sleep well.
The next morning we sit at the breakfast table with a full spread. Yogurt, bread, Nutella, eggs, prosciutto, sausage, coffee, OJ, tea, biscuits cookies and cheese for the choosing. We’re joined by a couple Canadian girls, a Londoner, and a guy from Denmark. We all chat over breakfast, about our travels, airline adventures and home cities. It’s a pleasant breakfast before we’re back at the train station en route to Florence. A short, but wonderful stay in Siena. I can easily see why people love it so much… and have been added to the large group of admirers.