What could be more relaxing the lounging around on a deck high above a Tuscan town looking at all the red roofs and gazing at the basilica in the distance. Or maybe taking a stroll on the Campo, grabbing a coffee while you watch the gypsies go after unsuspecting tourists, and then wandering off for a gelato at the other side of the square. Welcome to Siena. Siena sits at he centre of a multitude of Tuscan hill towns that dot the surrounding countryside. Each has it's own charm, but Siena, with it's ornately decorated Romanesque basilica and the uniquely shaped and sloped Campo seems to draw everyone's attention. At this time of year, it is wonderfully vacant, with only a sprinkling of tourists here and there for the gypsies to go after, but that does not mean that the splendour of this hill town is any les enjoyable than in the summer. Maybe it's even better with a chill on it.
Like Venice, getting lost is probably the best activity. Once again we spent most of our time just wandering and getting lost and coming across afternoon recess at a local school. Our pick for accommodation was superb this time. We are in a tiny little B&B with four double rooms, a wonderful breakfast, and a kitchen we can use. The building is almost 600 years old and our ceiling is adorned with a real live fresco. Beat that! OK, it's no Michelangelo, but it sure beats the Teflon white we use at home. We have a set of French doors that open up on to our own stone deck high above the streets below with a peek-a-boo view of the Basilica and St. Catherine's church as well. It is divine. There is also no one around most of the time, so it feels like our own house when we are here.
Yesterday evening we made pork chops with mushroom sauce, fresh green beans, and baked potatoes, and tonight we whipped up our own bolognaise. All purchased from the local supermarket, only steps away. Kristine of course enjoys going into every food shop there is, and there are literally thousands. So many specialties. After a while I get a little tired of this, to the point where she started calling me "Anti Biscotti". I said "I am not, I am Uncle cookie!" So much for the food shopping. Sometimes I am told to wait outside :( Well, at least we always seem to eat well!
The Romanesque Duomo or basilica here contains a few good pieces by Donatello and Michelangelo, but the star attraction is probably the floor which is covered with "medieval cartoons" done by over 40 different artists. It took more than 200 years to complete, so some of them never saw it finished. It is truly amazing with the many stories from the Old Testament put into motion through the cartooning of the day. Now don't misunderstand, it doesn't look like bugs bunny or anything like that, but just imagine outline type drawings of old paintings not filled in - then you'll have it. The other spectacular part of the building is the library, which is painted floor to ceiling and contains huge books of all the hymns used in days gone by. The building itself looks like a giant zebra with alternating white and very dark green marble. All in all, it is unlike any other cathedral we've ever seen.
Back in the Campo, you have to imagine the Palio - an annual horse race around the square where the various neighbourhoods in the area compete for the right to say they are the strongest. This has been going on for centuries, and even today, the race is a bloody battle with many injuries for man and horse alike. It happens during the summer, so we were left just to imagine the chaos... while we sip our cappuccino.
Tomorrow we are off to Cinque Terre, Italy's lost Riviera for a few days by the sea. That promises to be even more relaxing than here as we move even further away from the crowds.