Day 14: Seeing Siena

 

Rome – Siena – Venice

June 7, 2019

Today was a huge driving day for us, definitely the longest drive of the trip so far. From the time we left our hotel in Rome to the time we arrived in Venice was about 12 hours. We said Arrivederci to Rome this morning around 8:30, and kept on the road until our lunch top in Siena, where we arrived around 1:00 or so. The town is built on extreme inclines with narrow streets, which makes it so coach unfriendly that we had to park the coach at the base of the town, and be shuttled via van up to the entrance. Though the entrance wasn’t much though, since we had to ride up about 6 escalators (or, “electric stairs” as they call them over here) to actually arrive in downtown.  Siena is apparently a relatively small city, with a population of only 53,773, and it is a very medieval city in its appearance. The streets are extremely narrow and steep, yet we still saw a few cars driving around them (even a taxi!). Only room for tiny cars one lane wide! The city is also famous for the Palio, a horse race held twice a year in the town.

Italian countryside
Beautiful views of the Italian countryside as we made our way to Siena

We walked just a slight bit and came across the Duomo, the main cathedral. It was quite an impressive sight, but didn’t compare at all to the one in Florence! This one used white stone as well, but had black accents instead of the green in Florence, supposedly because the colors of the city are white and black.  After having been turned loose to find lunch, we wondered a short stroll down from the cathedral (it’s the highest point of the city) and found a great looking restaurant. I got Tortellini Bolognese, which was absolutely excellent! I couldn’t quite nail down the flavor profile of the sauce because it was bursting forth with so many flavors! I think it ranks even with the fantastic French Onion Soup au Gratin that we had in Paris (probably behind the crepes, though). I also got an espresso, as I had been wanting to try to Italian coffee. It was super strong, but it had a very thick layer of crema which made it almost a creamy consistency.  

The Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena)
The Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena)

 

Lunch in Siena
Lunch in Siena! Tortellini Bolognese and an Espresso

After lunch we wondered around the streets a bit more, and found an amazing chocolate shop with 2 giant chocolate fountains in the front, as well as a pizzeria with a pizza that was probably 2 feet in diameter! We got to stand in the middle of the main plaza, Piazza del Campo, with the clock tower on one end, and restaurants a bit above it around the perimeter of the “bowl” or “shell” of the plaza. It was a semi-circular plaza that sloped down toward the clock tower. I wondered if at one point they used the bowl to capture rainwater?  All in all, it was such a quaint little town, and we figured it would be a super fun getaway town for people who live in Florence or Rome.

Panorama of Piazza del Campo
Panorama of Piazza del Campo

 

Fonte Gaia
The Fonte Gaia (“Fountain of the World”), built in 1419 as an endpoint of the system of conduits bringing water to the city’s center.

 

In front of the Torre del Mangia
In front of the Torre del Mangia. The tower was built to be exactly the same height as the Siena Cathedral as a sign that the church and the state had equal amounts of power.

After meeting up with the group and walking quite a ways to the parking area, we hit the road yet again towards Venice. We got to watch Bohemian Rhapsody, the movie about Queen to help pass the time. As we got close to Venice, though, apparently there were 3 separate accidents on our main route, which set us back probably 2 hours total. On one hand there was traffic that slowed us down, but on the other hand, our driver Jean had to take a break by law, and it had to be a 30 minute break. So, we pulled into a shopping center with an upstairs mall an Ikea next door, with the hope of finding a little snack before a nice dinner in Venice. We thought about going in the Ikea, but we figured the mall would have better options. So we headed up the escalator to the mall. But it turned out not to be a mall at all–it was a furniture store! There were about 30 of us going up the escalator, only to awkwardly pass by the salesman and go right back down the escalator. The dreams of a record sales day for the salesmen dashed!  So then, Ikea it was! They had a lot of good stuff in the cafe where we were, but I just got a fruit smoothie (in a glass jar) which was really good! I didn’t want to get anything big because we were planning to get dinner near the hotel later. Turns out most of the food was downstairs, but we had gone upstairs. Down there they had hot dogs for only €1.50!

We finally arrived at our hotel! Fortunately for us, we could check in immediately. Other people with our group were going on a “Venice by night” water taxi tour, so they had to wait to check in until they got back from that. We figured we could just see those sites tomorrow at dusk on our own.  We walked to the restaurant I had researched while sitting in traffic, it was about a 7 minute walk. It was nice because there weren’t many people around at all. Though there was one exception–one restaurant along the way must have had an event or something…there were probably 50 or 60 people standing out on the sidewalk having drinks…crazy!  We got to the restaurant and had some good bread that they put on our table, as well as a nice, sweeter red wine. We both ended up getting a really good dish which featured Paccheri pasta in a tomato sauce and a ball of Burrata cheese, which is apparently Mozzarella on the outside with Stracciatella di bufala and cream on the inside. It was basically like a Margherita pizza but with pasta! It was so good and hit the spot. It was tricky to find this item on the menu, as most of the menu items featured some sort of seafood that didn’t look too appealing to me (just don’t like seafood that much). And apparently Venetians have a lot of seafood, which makes sense because of their location. We enjoyed our stroll back to our room in preparation for a busy day tomorrow!

Dinner in Venice
Dinner in Venice

Step Metrics: 9,758 steps;  4 miles; 440 cal; 1h 44m time

 

Self Q&A

Q: What was the use for the main square? 

A: The Piazza del Campo took shape at the end of the 1200s, on a space that was for a long time used for fairs and markets and was situated at a crossroad of important streets. When it was built (the flooring dates back to the 1300s), it managed to hold the entire population of Siena, who gathered here to attend events, tournaments, and buffalo and bull races. Piazza del Campo has hosted almost all the important events in the history of the city, from the time of the Republic up until the Medici period, during which Siena come under the control of Florence of Cosimo I de’Medici. 

The piazza has always been the theatre of the most important citizens’ events and the privileged meeting place of the Sienese. Today it also plays host to the most talked-about popular festival, famous throughout the world: The Palio of Siena. This event which takes place twice a year, on the 2nd July and on the 16th August, is not a folkloric custom, the nostalgic recalling of the glorious past of the city. Rather it is an essential reoccurring event in the life of the community, that animates the heart of Siena, all 17 districts, and fills the square, balconies and windows with crowds, in an explosion of authentic passion. (From Italy Guides

 

Q: Was the main square used to collect rainwater, since the semicircular area slopes downward to a single point?

A: According to a few sources, this does appear to be the case. However, other sources mentioned that aqueducts and tunnels were built to bring water from outside the city. One source noted that Siena is one of the few ancient settlements not to have been built adjacent a lake or river, thus the settlers created alternative methods of getting water: rainwater landing on the square runs down the slope and is collected in large cisterns placed in the city’s subterranean canal system.

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