Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Day Eleven -- Siena

Tuesday, March 31

Of all the days I was looking forward to, I think I was anticipating the trip to Siena more than anything.  For whatever reason, and I can't necessarily put it into words, I love Siena and its cathedral (Duomo) is my favorite church anywhere I've been anywhere in my travels.

We both slept extremely well last night, although I did wake for a rather rambunctious round of DS snoring (she was out cold) but that quickly passed and we both woke around 8.  I managed to burn out the hair dryer unit on the wall.  Let's discuss the hair dryer situation here.  It seems that even the smaller family run hotels have done away with hair dryers that we would plug into a wall and use like we would at home.  Instead, they are hair dryer units, and not all are created equal.  Most of them involve a hose and some very, very weak air pressure.  This morning as I was drying my (thick but short) hair, I had to keep leaving the bathroom because it was so hot in there.  I was essentially drying my hair in phases, which wasn't helping the effort to get out of here as DS still had to shower and dry her hair as well.  Then the smell of burning plastic started and the weaker air pressure kicked in.  I decided not to create a four alarm fire and went to ask for a replacement hair dryer.  Andrea, the ace front desk guy (and owner, I believe) had a mobile replacement in about 5 minutes.   It was the BEST hair dryer of the trip so far.  Both of us actually had good hair days finally.  We returned tonight though to find that mobile unit gone and a replacement dryer unit back on the wall.  Fingers crossed for tomorrow.  Props to Andrea for his fast response time.

Anyway, we had our breakfast, which was pretty much the same as all trip, although not as extravagant as Carlo's mega feast, and off we went.  We walked back down through via Tournabuoni, through Piazza Santa Maria Novella and instead of over to the train station, hopped into the bus station and bought a round trip ticket to Siena.  The bus left at 10:10 and we were walking the streets of Siena by 11:30 after a quick cappuccino stop.

Back about a year ago, DS and I had seen an exhibition at Yale University by the Sienese Renaissance painter Francesco Vanni.  We both thought he was pretty good and now that we were going to be here, hoped to see some of his works in situ, as in researching him we found out that he had painted for a few churches in Siena.  So our first couple stops were to the Dominican Church and the Sanctuary of St. Catherine.  She is Siena's favorite daughter and also the patron saint of Italy.  The Dominican Church is known for having three relics of hers, her head, her thumb and the chains she flagellated herself with.  We saw them all and I have to say her head hasn't done well over time (a cool six or seven hundred years, but still...)  Relics continue to baffle me, but DS seems to enjoy seeing them.  It's interesting that the church feels the need to present a card along the altar in three languages stressing that extensive testing has proven that that head is really hers.  Ok then.

Anyway, as nothing in churches seems to be labeled with "who did it" we were sort of at a loss over what was Vanni's and what wasn't.  My research said one thing, the map with "you are here" and various letters indicating objects around the church said another.  A textual explanation positively identified still another painting of his. Finally we went into the bookshop, bought up all the postcards that said they were Vanni's works and went back in to find them.  Only to find the church had closed for lunch.  Ah well.  In St. Catherine's sanctuary, we had a little better luck as we went for the postcards first, and found two works of Vanni's right off the bat.  I think we have about a dozen postcards of his works, but only found 3.  Hey, we tried and it was fun.  In the sacristy of the church, we were both quite taken by a pastel on brown paper that seemed to us to be like the cartoons we've seen by Raphael, Michelangelo and da Vinci in our travels.  Of course there was no label, but the postcard in the bookshop said it was by Sodoma.  I've heard the name before, but never really paid much attention.  It's funny how piece work can turn you on to someone.

From here we walked downhill and then up (Siena is on three hills, the Dominican church on one, what we were going to see next on another) and because it was so gorgeous, we had already shed our coats.  It was about 70 degrees, with crystal blue skies and bright sun.  Had we sat in the sun for any period of time we definitely would have been too hot, but it was nice for the walking we did.  We snuck up on the Campo (main square) in Siena and took in the view of it from the ramp heading into it (one of my favorite views) before walking down.  By this point it was time for lunch so we had a pizza and glass of lemon soda at one of the tourist traps there.  So much for being speedy, as it took nearly an hour to get served.  Oh well, it was a great day for people watching and we were safely under a canopy out of the sun.  

From there we walked up to the Duomo and Duomo museum.  I bought the combo ticket that got us admitted into the two sites plus the Baptistry for a discounted rate.  We started in the Duomo museum, which has a wonderful Duccio on exhibit, what used to be the altarpiece in the Duomo.  DS was over the moon about that.  Then we waited in line about 20 minutes to climb the facade of the unfinished wing of the church to look out over Tuscany, Siena and the Duomo from on high.  With it being such a spectacular weather day, this was more than worth the wait.  We could see forever in all directions and got some great photos.  It was absolutely dreamy how perfect it was from that panoramic lookout.  I only wish we could have stayed up there longer. 

We still had the Duomo itself to explore, so we moved on to that next.  This is my favorite church not just for the ornate facade and black and white marble striped sides but also for the incredible black and white interior.  I just find it so attractive and mesmerizing, I can't help but smile when I walk in.   We followed the guidebook tour around it, hunting out the Michelangelo on a pope's tomb, a Bernini chapel and of course the Piccolomini Library, with it's incredible wall and ceiling murals.  All too quickly, our visit was over.  I think we both hit the wall mid-afternoon today and were having trouble putting one foot in front of the other.  As much as I wanted to stroll some more and see the baptistry, I sort of felt like I was running on an empty tank.  So we made a 5:00 bus back and were in Florence by 6:30.

Tonight we ate at another restaurant on our street at the corner of Tournabuoni called Le Antiche Carrozze.  A quick search on Google showed that it got fairly good reviews, so in we went.  We started with a caprese salad, with a big ball mozzarella that leaked milk everywhere when we cut into it.  Then we shared a tuscan white bean and sausage casserole and an eggplant and zucchini over pasta with red sauce and pesto. Both were pretty good, but I have to admit to being half asleep when I ate.  We had vin santo with almond cookies for dessert, and were back in the hotel a little after 8.

The good news of the day is that both of my newly purchased bags fit in my carryon.  Not much else does, but that's all that counts.  I think I can get everything else in my suitcase but I need to be really good about not buying anything else tomorrow.  Ha.

Last full day tomorrow...we have an itinerary which I think is reasonable, as long as we stay away from jewelry and leather shops.

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