But nothing could stop the allure of the city and its legends pulling us out into its lanes and piazzas. It called to us, beckoned with its mystery and atmosphere, and we followed.
We wound through the glistening cobblestone lanes and alleys, up and down stairs, in and out of Piazzas, in front and behind churches, avoiding puddles and dangerously held umbrellas. The obligatory first caffè at the bar of Caffee Nannini hit the spot and gave us the courage to slosh on.
And then we stood in the Piazza del Campo; right smack in the middle. Pivoting 360° to soak up the sounds and vastness of this historic square. I closed my eyes and saw visions of the Palio di Siena, heard the horses’ hooves and their nervous snorts, saw the colors of the contrade, the people leaning from balconies and filling the square, waving flags and cheering for their wards. I took a deep breath and then… I was just standing in the Piazza del Campo and I was soaked.
Deciding to take a quick look at the Cathedral before finding a place to eat dinner and warm up we passed into Piazza Postierla where a lighted subterranean store La Posteriela caught our eye through the endless raindrops. We hurried over to look inside and it was filled with wonders of the best Tuscan kind: vino, olivo, salumi, fromaggi my favorite pecorino from Pienza.
I let out a happy sigh of pleasure, turned to my companion and asked: hotel picnic?
The smile on his face gave me the answer I needed.The wonderful owner, herself from Pienza, pilled high our Panini with the best cheeses and meats Tuscany has to offer. A small bottle of local red wine, uncorked for our ease and a lovely package of biscotti, made our “meal on feet” complete. Packaged lovingly by the Signora against the rain, we set off, walked to the Piazza del Duomo, once around the Cathedral of Santa Maria and headed back to our hotel room, to our warm and dry double bed. Turning up our wet noses at the 3-star temples of glorious and pricey Siena food, our little mobile meal cost 12,50 €. The Panini was amazing, the tastes exploding on our tongue, so simple, so full of flavor and so comforting. The wine went perfectly with it earthy, heavy, heady. A few almond biscotti to end on a sweet note and we drifted off to sleep with dreams of Siena in our heads, excited to discover the city by light the next day.
We rose early and the sun was actually up, the rain clouds were sweeping away and the day looked promising. Wanting to beat the crowds to have an undisturbed little jaunt before breakfast, we put on clean dry clothes and headed out. School kids were at the bus stops, workers and salesgirls in the cafés having a cappuccino and a paste.
We stepped up to the counter with the locals for our own calazione and then out the door into early morning Siena.
The shops were still closed, people were washing the storefronts and the stoops, on the Piazza del Campo the tables were being cleaned and set with linen, cutlery and glasses, delivery trucks were unloading their wares at every corner. I felt a sense of well-being to be sharing part of their daily routine. Their unhurried chats and laughter, their pride in doing things just right, the comfort of still having a quiet thought before the rush or tourist groups and guides.
We took the same route as the night before, taking similar pictures for comparison, reveling in the details that could now be even better seen, but still sensing the excitement and mystery of the previous evening. Inspired and hungry we returned to the hotel for real breakfast and to pack our bags.
That accomplished, our third Siena outing took us into the Cathedral, a place of awe and wonder. The black and white marble stripes of the bell tower, representing the symbolic colors of Siena, linked to black and white horses of the legendary city’s founders, Senius and Aschius.
Its size, its intricacy, its mix of styles and ages, leave you with a sense of grandness that instills in you the awe that simple people must have felt centuries ago when faced with the glories of the Church. Heaven, hell, purgatory, damnation, idolization, sin and virtue, it was and is all there.
The Cathedral holds spectacular artwork, sculpture, mosaic marble floors and fabulously carved columns.
Our favorite part of the Cathedral is the Piccolomini Library with its magnificent frescoes by Pintoricchio, commissioned in 1492 (as Columbus sailed the ocean blue) by Francesco Cardinal Piccolomini Todeschini who later became Pope Pius III. Built to house the books of his uncle Pope Pius II, the frescoes depict the picturesque life of the pilgrim and scholar in colorful detail.
We sat for a long time on the marbles benches surrounding the room to marvel at its details and “drink in” the brightness of its unfading colors.
Not wanting to pay a further 6 € each to climb the tower we leave the Cathedral to inspect its outer architecture. We then continue our wanderings up and down the lanes, alleys and stairs of Siena, always looking up to catch a glimpse or a picture or a symbol of the contrade, displayed on little tiles or sculptured reliefs, Siena is a city where a lot of secrets can be found by looking up.
A search for a late lunch before we must leave the city to fly out of Florence, takes us past countless restaurants filled with tourists, all displaying very similar menus at very similar tourist prices. Having already been “ripped off” in the attractive tourist trap of the Antica Pizzicheria Chigiana in the Via di Citta, where 4 slices of Chingiale (wild boar) salami to take home cost us 13,40 € at 50 € a kilo (more than our entire picnic the night before) we should have noted that there are no price signs on most of the produce sold in this charmingly pretty “gold mine”, we are looking for something more authentic.
Somewhat discouraged we continued on and in the Via dei Rossi 76, the Osteria Le Sorelline catches our eye. There, Italian people were lined up to buy their lunch and eat it at the counter. Selecting one course at a time to keep it warm from the display of what the Chef has to offer that day. The food arrives freshly cooked directly from the kitchen behind the counter. No tourist in sight, local people in their business suits were standing next to manual laborers and housewives on their way back from shopping. Yes this was the place we wanted to eat in, and we did. The Osteria downstairs was full which was fine with us, the counters along the walls would do just fine. Whatever dish ran out was replaced with something else equally delicious, each person having the charming sisters behind the display counter place exactly what they felt like eating on their plates. Here or take away? With sauce or without, with rice or polenta, cacio e pepe pasta, meat or vegetables, the smells were heavenly and everything was delightfully fresh and homemade. The plates get popped into the microwave to make sure they are warm when you eat them. And at 17 € including beverages: Perfetto!
This delicious stand up meal dotted the i on our 24 hour visit to Siena. We hope to return with much more time to discover more wonders both inside the museums and churches and in the little food places we find per chance!
Siena – Ti voglio molto bene.