by Melinda Gallo

Un bel giro a Siena

Today I went to Siena with a new friend I made through my blog, Samantha. She's in Italy for a few weeks and even though we hadn't met beforehand, we decided to go to Siena together. I had a good feeling about her through the emails we exchanged and our recent conversations on the phone after she arrived in Florence. We met in front of the San Lorenzo church and set out for the SITA bus station to take a bus to Siena.

Living in Florence :: Un bel giro a Siena

Samantha brought the pages relating to Siena from her Rick Steves' Italy book so that we could read a little bit about the different places. I have been to Siena many times, but the last time I went was probably two years ago for my birthday before I began writing my blog. And when I think that it's been that long since I've visited Siena, I find it a little crazy: it's one of my favorite towns in Tuscany. Any time friends tell me that they're coming to Florence, I always tell them that they must go to Siena.

I always seem to do the usual tour of Siena, but this time with Samantha, we did so much more.

We arrived in Siena at around 11:30AM and had a caffè on the terrace of a small bar next to the San Domenico church. We sat at a table, which was on an incline, and looked out at the Duomo in the distance. The San Domenico church bells rang while we were enjoying our morning snack. We had to stop talking because they were so loud.

We went inside the San Domenico church and saw a few relics of Santa Caterina, la patrona d'Italia e d'Europa (the patron saint of Italy and Europe). After our quick visit of the large and rather austere church, we walked to la Casa-Santuario di Santa Caterina (Saint Catherine's house and sanctuary), which is one of my favorite places to visit in Siena. I've been told by my friend Rossana that Santa Caterina is also the protector of foreigners and travelers in Italy although I haven't read that anywhere.

The Casa-Santuario di Santa Caterina is so peaceful and beautiful. Samantha showed me that they had medaglie d'oro (gold medals) of Santa Caterina that you can get for 3 Euros and we each got one. She said that they had these machines at most of the museums and monuments in Paris and people were collecting them. I purchased one because I always buy myself a souvenir from the Casa-Santuario di Santa Caterina each time I go.

We walked to il Campo where they were setting up the area for the second palio this year, which takes place this week. We walked down the wide steps from the narrow, pedestrian street and into il Campo. The spacious piazza seems even brighter after walking down the shady streets. With the Museo civico and Torre del Mangia at the other end of il Campo, it makes the piazza feel almost majestic.

We walked to the Duomo where there was a long line outside in Siennese terms. I've waited in longer lines to get a gelato in Florence. Because we wanted to eat lunch within a half an hour, we decided to go to the Battistero (Baptistery) first. It ended up being a good idea because we bought a biglietto cumulativo (combo ticket), which got us into the Battistero, Duomo without waiting in line, the Museo dell'Opera e Panorama, Cripta, and the Oratorio di S. Bernadino.

In the Battistero, we sat on a wooden pew and peered into a large mirror, which they provided and left for visitors to use, to look at the colorful and spectacular ceiling. With our hunger finally getting the best of us, we decided to eat at a small osteria that I found on my friend Steve's website.

We enjoyed our meal and then walked to the Duomo past all the people standing in line in the rain. I marched to the front of another empty line where one guy was sitting behind a small desk. I asked him if this was the right entrance for our biglietto cumulativo and it was. He stamped our tickets and we walked right in.

The Duomo in Siena is one of my favorite churches in Italy. To me, it is the most stunning and beautiful inside and out. Each time I go to visit it, I discover new features that make me appreciate it even more. This time, I found out that the painting on the ceiling is a trompe l'oeil. Samantha and I sat on wooden chairs and studied it.

Following our long visit in the Duomo, we decided to go to the Museo dell'Opera e Panorama. We climbed the narrow staircase (for going both up and down) to get to the top of the Facciatone for a unique view of Siena. I took the picture of the Torre del Mangia and il Campo shown here from this wonderful location.

We visited the Museo dell'Opera and appreciated the sculptures and artwork that they had on display here. Even though there were many tourists in the Duomo, there were very few people visiting the Museo dell'Opera.

We decided to go and visit the Cripta even though Samantha's guide book said that it wasn't worth it. I handed over my carta d'identità (identity card) to get two free headsets so we could hear about the Cripta as there weren't any guide books or brochures. We each listened to the recording and both found it very interesting.

As we admired the frescoes that they only discovered in 1999 underneath the Duomo, we listened to the history and story of the Cripta. It seems that what they call the Cripta is not really a crypt because it doesn't contain any tombs; it's just an area underneath the Duomo where they found medieval frescoes.

Afterwards, we did a little shopping and bought a few Siennese specialties, like ricciarelli, the diamond-shaped almond paste cookies.

Before taking our bus back to Florence, we sat in il Campo on the terrace of a bar and had drinks as we people-watched.

We visited everything on our biglietto cumulativo except the Oratorio di S. Bernadino. We would've liked to have visited the Museo Civico and the Torre del Mangia, but just didn't have time.

We took the bus back to Florence at 7PM, but didn't feel the stanchezza (fatigue) until we began walking past the stazione (train station). I enjoyed the bel giro di Siena (lovely tour of Siena) and it was a memorable and enjoyable experience to share with my new friend Samantha.

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