It’s hard to believe what all we saw in one day with this bus tour. In one day we walked the Medieval streets of Siena, had an amazing lunch at a farmhouse in the Chianti region, admired the towers and walked the hills of San Gimignano, and stared with head tilted at the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Siena is a lovely Tuscan town that has retained its Medieval features.
Siena is famous for its main square, the Il Campo or Piazza del Campo. Originally this area was just a field outside the city walls. Now it is home to the 330-foot Torre del Magia or Tower of the Eater, named for the first watchman known for spending all his earnings on food. If you’re feeling energetic, you can climb the 300 steps for a view of the city. The only disadvantage of the bus tour is the short time we get to stay in each town. Not that I was going to climb 300 steps at this time, but I bet the view was amazing.
The tower is adjacent to the Palazzo Pubblico or Town Hall, home of the Civic Museum. Together, they dominate the piazza.
The square is also famous for the Palio, the horse race. The 17 neighborhoods or contrade are a competitive bunch and the horse race is the passionate outcome. Only 10 are chosen to race, then matched with a horse. A parade of banners is one of the festive events. Attracting some 15,000 people, the crowded square cheers on the thundering, no-holds-bar race of the horses around the square. The race is twice a year, July 2 and August 16, so if you want to experience the excitement, that would be the time to be there. But you better make your plans very early.
The other main attraction of Siena is the Duomo. Built between 1250 and 1350, it is the most unusual cathedral I’ve ever been in. It’s beautiful, but it is very different. Well, you’ll see what I mean.
The façade is ornate with carvings of gargoyles and filigree. It’s constructed by two different people, the lower part by Giovanni Pisano, the upper half by Giovanni di Cecco.
But it’s the inside that will stump you.
Al calls it the Beetlejuice church. Actually, the black and white are the colors of Siena, but still. Wow.
The amazing dome is a painted. I stared at it for a long time, trying to decide if it was painted or not. I had to read the guide book to know for sure.
There are many amazing things in this Duomo, and here are some of them:
Mosaics in floor
Chapel of St. John the Baptist
Piccolomini Library has never had candles lit in it, so the colors of the frescos are still amazing. There are also illuminated music scores.
Next stop was the Farmhouse for lunch, one of the highlights of our trip. The farmhouse was in the Chianti region. They had a table set up outside with many bottles of Chianti and Grappa. Don’t drink the clear Grappa—it’s fire water.
Al and me at the Farmhouse
The food was just as amazing as the setting. The cheese, cured meats and vegetables made the perfect lunch for what was turning into a hot afternoon.
And the company was great, too.
Then it was off to San Gimignano, another picturesque, Medieval-walled Tuscan village. San Gimignano is famous for it’s many towers. There are 14 of the original 60 standing. The noble families feuded by trying to build higher towers than each other. You might also notice this town from the movie Tea with Mussolini, which I highly recommend. The town is also the quintessential tourist trap, but it’s a very pretty one, so it was worth the stop.
Like Siena, it’s a great pedestrian town, after you make it up the steep hill. But there are some nice shops along the way.
You are rewarded for your trudge up the hill by the World’s Best Gelato. And it was really, really good. My chocolate and coconut was a wonderful treat while looking around the Piazza della Cisterna, named for the cistern in the center.
Walking up another hill, we went to the Rocca e parco de Montestaffoli, a 14th century fortress. It was worth the climb because the views was amazing.
I have to tell you about one more experience in San Gimignano. I had to go to the bathroom, but we needed to get back to the bus so I decided to go to the public toilet. Oh, you really do need to experience this, at least once. I walked into the closet-like stall and looked at the hole in the ground. This is the first time I had seen this, even though I had read this was a common structure. Well, it’s not like I had never cop-a-squat during many a camping trip, and at least there was some privacy and they were nice enough to have a bar on the side walls to help with balance.
The bus ride to Pisa is all a blur because we all slept. All the Chianti at the farmhouse, I guess.
But we woke up just in time to see this lovely little town that Rick Steves calls a “tourist quicky.” I agree with that assessment. It’s mostly souvenir stands and the Field of Miracles—the Baptistery, the Cathedral, and the Leaning Tower.
But it is beautiful and worth seeing. We were there for a very short time, but it was enough. We didn’t climb the tower, even though we can. There wasn’t enough time to even if we wanted.
Then it was time to head back to Florence. This was our last day in Florence, so we headed back to one of our favorite restaurants, Il Messer. The next day, our last day in Italy, we will head back to Rome for one last night before flying home.