May 10 2017
Where did two weeks go? Better question- where did eight months go?! Time speeds up when there isn’t a lot of it left, and I’m sorry to have been MIA. But before we get all sentimental and emotional, let’s jump back in time to a happy place. Italia.
The big semana santa in which we get ten days off and the possibility for adventure is endless. And best of all for me- my twin braved the journey back across the ocean (a week after having traveled home from England) to meet me! It was such an incredible blessing to not only see her, but to get to explore a new place together! So shout-out to the girl who hasn’t left my side emotionally, mentally, or theoretically since birth. And here’s to two months when I get to physically hang.
Elizabeth and I both flew into Bologna, meeting at the airport and having a dramatic reunion. (As all American’s are known to fall victim to with the jumping and raised voices.) The idea was a simple one- buy a bus ticket from Bologna to Siena. But nothing is ever simple, not really. We waited for a half-hour to talk with the person behind the bus ticket counter, being defended passionately by another attendant as multiple people tried to cut their way in with that adorable, ‘Excuse me, sorry, this will just take a moment,’ kind of stunt. That in itself was entertaining until we discovered that the next bus was about an hour off from leaving and wouldn’t arrive until around eight in the evening.
No pasa nada, though, right?
So we sit on the steps, eating some quickly purchased bread, sausage, and cheese (a trending staple in the week as we would come to find.) We rush off, arriving early, our bags heavier for the day of travel, but our spirits high. Bus time. Let’s do this. Fifteen minutes later. Twenty minutes later. We surrender the bags to the dirty floor. Forty minutes later. Our bus, our bus is going to be the one that never arrives. A few newly met Italian friends try to convey that it will come, that we aren’t waiting in vain. An hour later. The bus attendants assures us it will arrive any minute. And then, an hour and ten minutes later, it does! Wonderful!
We pile on. We sit. We grin around at our new friends who have suffered with us, all nodding at the wonder of sitting on a hot, stuffy bus. An announcement in Italian. A general moan through the crowd. Half the bus leaves, grumbling about the heat. What’s happened? we ask. Well, turns out the bus was late because of a terrible accident and just general traffic. And now, now we are waiting for the other bus carrying half of this buses occupants to arrive. Oh yes. Another hour we sit, on the hot bus, cursing our bad luck and awaiting this mysterious other bus.
Suffice it to say, the bus did leave, and we got there around 11:30 pm, and our wonderful AirBnB host was so understanding (this is where one can assume this sort of ridiculous thing occurs often) and picked us up from the station and, in short, we survived.
I was lucky enough to have stumbled through the Tuscan countryside four years ago. (Wow, has it really been that long?) And like all things that glisten under the sun in fields of budding green vines, I fell in love.
Siena is everything you hope it will be. Medieval towers tapping against the sky, cobblestone streets with old swinging signs, shops open and their goods tumbling out into the narrow pathways. Fruit stands, and the smell of coffee, and this distant feeling of old bones in a place bustling with new people.
The weather was amazing, warm and sunny. We wandered down towards the Piazza del Campo- the main circular square that has been the neutral meeting place of ‘Sienans’ for centuries. This is also the spot where the famous Palio di Siena (horse race between the different contradas) takes place, packing in crowds of six thousand people to witness a thirty-second horse race. I cannot imagine. Lined by the Fonte Gai, a fountain built in 1419 to offer free, fresh water to the public, and the bell tower, the square is the perfect place to sit and soak up the sun and watch the hundred of other tourists looking for a rest.
You can’t picnic here. What does that mean, pray-tell? It means that we didn’t know that and we sat down with cheese, bread, and wine, thinking nothing of it till a rather gruff Italian police patrol came up and informed us that we had to pack it up. Imagine our surprise, glancing around at others who held their food and were ignored. It seems putting things down on the stones vs. eating out of your hand is the offending difference. Also in good Italian fashion, (and Spanish fashion, I’ve come to find), there were no signs about to discourage said behavior.
Finishing our bottle and gathering our supplies, we headed out towards the countryside, following signs for the Via Francigena, a famous pilgrimage route that extends from Northern Europe to the holy seat of Rome (though we were not going any such distance.) It was a great way to get out of the chaos of the city-center and view some of those rolling hills that Tuscany is famous for.
For another amazing view, and a suggested sunset destination, seek out the Fortezza Medicea a bit outside the city-center. It was close to our AirBnB and was perfect for a panoramic view of Florence. We had timed our climb terribly and ended up going at a run to get to the top before the sun dipped below the treeline. Our efforts did not go unrewarded.
And of course, one must find time to visit the Siena Cathedral, a smaller version of the massive one in Florence. (And justly said as the two were in a competition to create the most beautiful and biggest one between the two cities.) We didn’t go inside, but that didn’t bother much as the outside is glorious, beautiful, and intricate.
If you are looking to visit on a budget, I suggest downloading Rick Steve’s audio guides. We did these for all cities and it was awesome! Simply download, plug-in, and it guides you through the different parts of that city. We did a walking tour of Siena in an hour. Perfect little free perk that makes the historian in me feel sated.
We popped into Caffe Fiorella for a cheap and delicious coffee as recommended by our host.
Nannini is another cafe we visited for some classic biscotti and a bathroom break. The winding staircase to said bathrooms and the general beauty of the place is enough in itself.
For dinner, we dined at La Taverna di Cecco for some classic Italian at a good price. The place is adorable and the food was filling and good. Make a reservation if you can, the place is off the beaten path but was still very crowded.
And wouldn’t you know it, we met some fellow American’s. Seated beside us was a mother and son from an island in Georgia currently living in Siena and taking Italian courses for the next three months. About fifteen minutes later, another couple joined the table farther down- two men from California. Between wine, dinner, and chatter, we all exchanged life-stories in that classic foreigner meets fellow-Americans kind of way. Love it.
Love Siena. Love Italy. More to come on the documenting of #twinstakeitaly. (And yes, we actually did use that hashtag.)