Saturday, December 15, 2012

Siena & A Super Long Post For a Day and a Half

So I know I said Siena and Montalcinio would be up next in my Italy journal, and they are!  Just a couple weeks later.  If you are able to spend some time in central/northern Italy, I highly highly recommend going to one or more of the smaller hill towns.  You don't need much time, and it just gave us such a great feel for Italy. 

Initially, when we planned our itinerary, we just planned on going to Siena because so many people we know raved about this town.  We pre-booked rooms at a hotel in Siena for two nights, but we didn't pre-book any train/bus tickets TO Siena because we wanted to give ourselves some flexibility with the timeline.  We knew it wouldn't take long to get from Florence to Siena and that there are lots of trains/buses that go between the two.  We didn't know if we would want a bit longer in Florence to do anything or if perhaps we would take a short trip to Pisa to see the famous leaning tower.  I had seen the tower as a child so I was really leaving that decision up to Ben.  ANYWAY...our one truly spontaneous moment was then allowed to take place.

When we went on our day trip out into Tuscany, our tour guide, Marc, raved about the town Montalcino.  We like wine (hence our day trip to taste wine), and he said if we could fit it in, we absolutely had to go to Montalcino to taste the famous Brunello wine.  Well, it intrigued us.  We asked my cousin Jessica about it as well, and an idea was formed. 

We decided to take an earlier bus from Florence to Siena to have the full day in Siena and bypass Pisa.  Ben truly didn't care (again, his decision), even though he was passing up on one of the great wonders of the world.  Let's concentrate on Siena now though.  This town is truly amazing.  We stayed at the Albergo Bernini which I have to recommend.  You do have to share a bathroom, but there were several for the 11 rooms, and we never had to wait.  Plus there are sinks in your room.  It was clean, in a good location, and the terrace was truly unreal.  That's why I have to recommend it.  It is a large terrace with several tables and has an incredible view of the town.

Um, yeah, incredible.  We had lunch on that terrace both days and snacks the second night and just enjoyed being there.  We were lucky to have great weather that day in Siena.  It was really the only day on our trip warm enough to wear one of my dresses.  After we settled in, visited the local grocery, and ate lunch, we were ready to explore.  With our trusty Rick Steves guide in hand, we knew exactly where to head.  I felt like Rick was my best friend after that trip, just an FYI. 

We set out to the main part of town to the Duomo.  We payed the nominal amount to go inside, and it was there that I found my favorite church/museum in Italy.  It was so beautiful and full of fun facts.  If you go to Siena, you have to go inside.  Promise me!

Here's a fun fact for you courtesy of Rick.  In the church, the heads of 172 popes are lining the main nave.  If you look at them, it's really the same 4 heads, repeated over and over.  See the picture below.

After being awed by the Duomo, we went and hung out in Il Campo, the main square, to enjoy the sun.  In the summer, they hold a huge horse race on this square.  We bought some ricciarelli, one of the local sweet treats in Siena, to enjoy while relaxing.

 After some relaxation, we headed back to our part of town and visited the Church of San Domenico.  The church holds many of relics and paintings of St. Catherine including her head. Truly, her head. It's interesting. However, we actually couldn't figure out how to get into the church and since it was almost closing time, we gave up and decided to try again the next morning. We ate at restaurant called Osteria Il Campaccio for dinner which came recommended from some friends and was located just below our hotel. The wonderful daughter of the owner of our hotel, Carlotta, actually just yelled down to them that we wanted to eat there. When we arrived, they asked if we had reservations, and we said no. Turned out, we did. That was the reservation. So we ate in a lovely little courtyard and had some of Siena's trademark pasta, Pici. I also had it with some of the trademark cheese of the region, Pecorino. So I went all local. 

After dinner, we went back to Il Campo to enjoy the square at night. We got some traditional Italian drinks (Limoncello and Agrappa--don't care for either) from this bar, Key Largo, and went up their tiny little stairway to enjoy the evening out on their benches overlooking the square. Beautiful.
(I felt very Alice in Wonderlandesque)

The next day we went back to the square to eat breakfast. It was pricy, but we felt like we should do that at least once on our trip. I enjoyed a nice croissant and cappachino while Ben had some espresso. He came back from Italy an espresso fan.

When then tried our luck again with the Church San Domenico, and this time, we were successful. In a serious departure, St. Catherine is the patron saint of many things and one is the patron saint for miscarriages. Upon arriving in Italy, I had received an email that a close friend had suffered a second miscarriage. For some reason, my phone wouldn't let me send outgoing messages, and let's be honest, I'm not techy enough to figure out why, so I wasn't able to send her my support and sympathy. I am not Catholic and I don't pray to the saints, but I did send some prayers there for her. I was overwhelmed by thinking about her in that church.

And so ends the majority of our time in Siena. After the church and lunch on the terrace where we had some panforte, another local delicacy, we caught the bus to Montalcino. But that's for the next post after I just realized how ridiculously long this one is. Probably too long, but Ben's my only reader, and this really is going to be my journal of our time there so so be it. On to Montalcino and WINE.