Firenze - Siena Day Trip

Last night I went back out and had a Negroni at the same small local bar. It's made of Campari and Martini & Rossi, with a smaller quantity of gin, all over ice. I found it simultaneously too bitter and too sweet, as well as more alcoholic than I liked - so not a huge success. I'll stick to the Aperol Spritz.

This morning I went over to the bus station around 0915, only to discover that just because the bus to Siena leaves every 15 minutes in the afternoon doesn't mean it also does so in the morning: the next one was at 1010. I even had the schedule in hand, but I just ... assumed. <sigh> So I spent a bit of time wandering around the square.

Siena offered little to no resistance to the Allies during the Second World War, and is therefore a UNESCO World Heritage site because all the buildings in the town centre haven't changed since medieval times: it's quite lovely, although utterly packed full of tourists. The first place I found my way to was the very large Piazza del Campo, with its big and finely carved fountain, watched over by the Palazzo Comunale and its tower. The Palazzo has a ticket office for a couple of the museums ... and also the Torre del Mangia (tower) that's part of the Palazzo. Which of course I had to climb. Once again, narrow twisty stairs - to the most outstanding view yet. Siena is a low and relatively small town in hilly country, so what you see is a mix of medieval town and gorgeous countryside - and of course the immense Duomo nearby that's high on every tourist's agenda. It's a grand view.

photo: Siena Torra del Mangia bell

A large bell with huge metal supports

After I hung around there most of an hour, it was time for lunch - and I decided for once to sit down and take it easy, so I went to a place called "Morbidi" - sometime I'll have to look up what that means in Italian, but its English equivalency does kind of amuse me. (Google Translate thinks it means "soft.") The upstairs is a bit of a madhouse, with a large line of people ordering cafeteria-style and packing the tables. For €12 you can trot downstairs into the arched brick basement, where you have a smaller selection on a buffet, but it's much quieter. They had a chickpea and pickled herring salad that was absolutely delicious. I think this is in part due to the style of pickled herring, which is different over here than what we get in North America.

The Duomo is immense - or maybe stripes make it look fat, it wears a similar horizontal white-and-green marble striping to most of the churches in this part of Italy. Not only is it very large, but there's a very tall wall in the same style enclosing part of the square and carpark that indicates where the intended expansion would have gone - making the church rival a football stadium in size. It's already so big ...

I got the "Everything" ticket for €20 because it included the "Porta del Cielo" tour, which was a trot up inside and outside the church at roof level. That was on a timed entry at 1600, so I went into the church first. I was very disappointed to find that the Pisano pulpit was entirely surrounded by hoardings as it was being cleaned. They had pictures of it on the outside of the hoardings, and a few small windows, all of which showed it was very similar to the two I'd seen in Pisa, but they're so outrageous and wonderful I'd really been looking forward to seeing another one.

Every ten or fifteen minutes, a loud and harsh voice would come down from the heavens above: "Silenzio! Silence! No Flash!" Very 1984, although it didn't work terribly well, just grated on the nerves. Certainly not conducive to prayer.

The Rough Guide mentioned that the Capella (chapel) del Voto had two Bernini sculptures! (For those not aware, Bernini is my favourite sculptor - followed by Rodin and Michelangelo.) Oddly, a large hoarding has been erected, fencing off about one quarter of the church, and you have to exit the church and go back in a side door to get to that chapel. But ... there are four sculptures, all uninspired, and I had no idea which was Bernini.

Next up was the Porta del Cielo tour, which started at the main entrance to the church. About 15 of us were ushered in through a hidden door, and up tiny stairs to underneath the roof. Then along narrow passages both inside and outside the church, with grand views both in and out. I would have liked to take it at my own pace, but it's very cramped and it's quite clear why this is a limited and guided tour. Absolutely worth it, and a lot of fun.

Everything was closing at 1800, so I didn't have all that much time left - I still wanted to do the "Panorama del facciatone" tour - up the wall that would have been the exterior wall for the massively expanded church. This should perhaps have been a timed tour like the Porta del Cielo, but was instead a line-up with a 25 minute wait. Then a group of 20 or so people is let in, led through some narrow passages and stairs, and you find yourself standing on top of the wall a good 60 or 70 metres from the main church with wicked views. There's barely room to pass the other people with you, but so much fun and great views. Then back out the same way.

photo: Siena's cathedral shot from the expansion wall

A panorama from the expansion wall showing the Siena cathedral and the wall we were standing on.

Back out of the building, down around the back, and into the Baptistery: spectacular, but not quite my style. Back out, and in through another door to the crypt - which in this case is more a museum and show of the foundations - which are, as you'd expect, huge.

And my time was up, it was 1800 and everything shut down. <sigh> I had been contemplating taking another bus on to San Gimignano if I had extra time, but that didn't happen.

On an idle wander through the streets of the town, I came across the Chocoshop. I picked up a dark chocolate with candied orange bar for myself, and as soon as I was on the street and had a bite, I went back in to buy another for my co-workers, although I don't think they should get their hopes up about it actually making it back to Toronto without my eating it. If you've ever had Soma's "Old School" chocolate (a bar I've only had once because I never get down to Soma - but man, I remember it well, it was fantastic), it's like that: old style chocolate that's essentially compacted cocoa powder and sugar, not conched to smooth it out as chocolate always is now. The Chocoshop bar has candied orange added to that basic concept. It's slightly too sweet, but the taste is fantastic. I should have bought more.

The bus back was a double-decker, and I was near the head of the line so I managed to snag one of the top front seats. Awesome view all the way back to Firenze.

I took a long walk from the bus station to Gustapizza, highly recommended by one and possibly both of the guidebooks - only to find it lined up out the door, and not in possession of any significant amount of seating, which I wanted after a day of walking. I headed back to the B&B, found a place that seemed okay on the way. I ordered a Aperol Spritz, 500ml sparkling water, and a Calabrese pizza. (I'm pleased to say that Aperol is readily available through the LCBO. Cool.) After about 20 minutes, I asked about my pizza ... and he'd forgotten. But I needed to get up early the next day to go to the Uffizi so I tried to pay ... and he comped my drinks. Which was nice, but I'd rather have had the pizza! I hope to try them again shortly.