If you are following our destinations you will notice we have headed south. The drive was pretty uneventful, the last 45 minutes were thru some pretty rugged hills that are the home of the famous Chianti grape. Tomorrow is a major holiday in Italy so the traffic on the autostrada seemed a little heavier than normal but still moving well.
We arrived at the campground in Sienna around 11:30 and after checking the weather decided to head right downtown. When we bought our bus tickets at the campground office the lady warned us to make sure we stamp our tickets as soon as we got on the bus as they have monitors and they are mean. In Europe you can buy tickets in bulk and it is your responsibility to stamp the ticket when you use it, this is also true on the trains. We have gotten used to this and have only forgotten once and of course we were checked. The conductor on the train let us off with a polite lecture about using the stamp, sometimes it is good to be perceived as a clueless foreigner. We were checked by monitors both going to town and coming back so they really are strict in Sienna.
Sienna has been on our must see list for the trip and while we had last minute thoughts of skipping it we decided this morning to double back and I am glad we did. It is a mountain city and has maintained a great deal of the old world feel to it that we like.
It is known for two things the gothic era town hall with a large tower, and of course it’s cathedral. We came across the town hall first and it is indeed impressive. But for us the Piazza in front of the hall is more impressive. In addition to the town hall the Piazza is surrounded by 6 and 7 story brick buildings. Unlike most Piazza’s it is not flat but kind of concave.
The Piazza is used to stage a twice annual horse race called the Palio of Sienna which is pretty wild. There are 17 neighborhoods in the city which in the past were organized as battalions for the defense of the city. 10 of them are selected at random to take part in the race. The first thing is that the Piazza is not an oval nor level so the turns are angles which makes them a lot more intense. The next thing is that the jockeys ride bare back which makes for a much more precarious perch on the horse. The jockeys are allowed to use their whips on their horse, but also on other horses (not the jockeys) to “disturb” them. Finally it is the horse that wins the race not the jockey which means if the jockey falls off sometime during the race and the horse carries on without him and crosses the finish line first it is the winner.
Our next stop was the cathedral. We have seen a lot of cathedrals over time here, but Ton and I both said wow when we saw the Cathedral in Sienna. It is not the largest cathedral, but the front is beautiful with intricate carvings and colored marble.
Having knocked out the two main attractions in town we just wandered up and down roads and alleys for a while taking in Sienna. We both agreed that it would be easy to spend a few days here, but we are running out of time.