|As usual we arrived in town via train, then caught the city bus across the street at a shopping mall in the underground parking garage…weird but effective. We weren’t sure where to step off the bus since we did not have reservations once again. Best bet – when most of the people disembark it must be the central area, which in the end was the bus terminal and the main shopping and restaurant area in town. We asked at one hotel for a room. With no room available we were directed to the tourist information (TI) to get the list of hotels in town. As we walked down the dark, narrow, cobblestoned streets with our rolling luggage and backpacks the skies let loose and it began to pour down. We ducked into a florist’s passageway only to find out there was a hotel two flights upstairs. We took the lift there and got lucky enough to find a room in a small 400 year old, newly remodeled hotel. Yes, another great find at a great rate. The rate was good but the room was so small we could hardly walk in the room with our luggage, so the manager was kind enough to upgrade our room when guests left the next day. With the way things were going I knew we would like this town and we did.
Siena is an old medieval town of about 55,000 people which was believed to be founded by Etruscans and later Romans from 900 – 400 BC and was devastated by the Black Death of 1348 (the plague).The fortifications around town were interesting and so very different than we had seen anywhere else so far and we were staying in the fray of it all. Just 70 steps down from our room were wonderful gelato shops, cappuccino stops, restaurants, shopping and historical monuments. The gorgeous duomo (cathedral) and the huge restaurant lined gathering place, Piazza del Campo (which still holds horse races annually), were both built in the 13th century and were a 2 minute jaunt away. A delightful surprise was just how good and affordable it was to dine out. With some direction from locals we found a few standouts like Paeti where Mike enjoyed wild boar.
We toured the town hall located on the giant Piazza del Campo. It was so beautiful inside with antique furnishings and elaborately painted ceilings. Once we stepped onto the outdoor terrace on the upper level the distant hills of Tuscany came into focus. Wow! The distance was covered in fall colors with rolling green and brown hillsides. At that moment we vowed to rent a car and go see the hills of Tuscany. The duomo which was spectacular with the green stone stripes encompassing the church. It’s museums are the biggest attraction there. From the cathedral’s rooftop we took in the panoramic view of Tuscany in the distance while the wind blew misty rain at us. Another interesting stop was the large Church of San Domenico (I seem to remember about 5 catholic churches in close proximity to our hotel). The church’s relic is the head of saint Catherine of Siena on display. Interesting.
So we reluctantly rented a car for a couple of days to drive the hills of Tuscany. After finding the Hertz car rental office it became clear that they didn’t have any detailed maps. So we got out of town through a series of roundabouts and stopped soon thereafter to get a road map. The rules of the road are different and the drivers are impatient and drive fast which means driving like a tourist is not appreciated by these folks. We found our way to San Gimignano and the hills of the Chianti region. It loosely reminded me of the hillsides in central California with lots of fall foliage. As we approached the walled hill town we were really excited. It almost looked like the land of Oz on a hilltop. This is the town that was used for some of the scenes of the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun and what a beautiful backdrop it provided. Enjoyed the view and some lunch here with cappuccino and one of the best cookies I have ever eaten. It was an almond cookie covered in toasted pine nuts, called a pinole. Hmmm. We continued on driving through the hillsides and delighted in more scenery in the Chianti area before turning back for the evening.
The next day we wanted to drive to another hillside area but could not get onto the correct highway and ended up on the road to Rome twice. So we decided it was a bit frustrating to drive and navigate more here and returned the car a bit sooner than expected but more importantly without incident.
After 4 nights we boarded a bus for Florence where David was waiting to be seen….