Just as Siena is stuck in time, I wish I could have gotten stuck in time in Siena. Like in Groundhog Day, I want to be living that weekend over and over. But unfortunately it didn’t hit me how special my weekend in Siena was until I was actually gone, so I was not able to inquire as to how to stop time when I still had the chance.
So instead I rely on blogging, so at least we can relive it…together. 🙂
I had been wanting to go to Siena for years, and years, as I had heard so many bits and pieces of wonderful travel stories from friends who had been lucky enough to travel there. There’s a great blog called “Just Visit Siena” that I’ve been following for a long time, and I even shared a video about it here on the blog a few years ago. But Siena can be tricky to reach, due to mundane logistical challenges called mountains. Pesky details. An eight hour round trip train ride wasn’t worth it in relation to what I envisioned to be an overnight trip.
But after much anticipation, I finally got to go last April with my boyfriend at the time, who drove us. The approach into Tuscany was undeniable and fit perfectly into the stereotype – the road was smaller, the grass was greener, the sun was brighter, and the soft hills curved into infinity. We parked just outside the city, and walked in with our luggage.
I was a bit worried that I would be disappointed with all of my high expectations about Siena. I mean, at this point, I’ve been to a lot of Italian cities, and I’ve found that many of them are alike, or are not necessarily unforgettable. But I shouldn’t have worried. Siena is a place all its own. Siena is, for lack of the creativity to come up with a better word, gorgeous.
There are heart-stopping Tuscan views surprising you constantly, and each perspective is just as memorable (if not more) than the last. And as cliche as it sounds, it is totally true: walking the narrow, winding stone roads feels like it must have hundreds of years ago.
Wandering Siena is a constant visual delight, so walk slowly and indulge in reality, which we did as we toted our luggage and stumbled upon hidden courtyards,
mysterious wells, and other fascinating historical remnants.
We were walking around with our luggage for an extended period of time because we had a small snafu with the hotel we booked on Booking.com. Keep in mind – last minute bookings for Italian hotels via third party booking agents are never a sure thing due to communication challenges, a lack of a customer service initiative, and small hotels. But we found another average, affordable hotel, so the crisis was averted (I never expect much from Italian lodging, but I never have to pay much either). And Booking.com handled the “crisis” well.
Our first night in Siena was a bit quieter than either of us are used to, as we weren’t visiting Siena during the high season of their incredibly famous annual Palio Horse Race in July, and we are both used to the nonstop nightlife of Bologna. There is no nightlife in Siena, so it is a good place to practice “early to bed, early to rise.” There are a ton of interesting events, though, so do your research and plan accordingly.
We joined the crowds on our first morning just walking and looking, relaxing and people watching the never-ending characters in Piazza del Campo, where the Palio Horse Race takes place (in our case the most entertaining animal was pizza-loving dog),
checking out the Duomo,
the neighborhoods proudly displaying their flags supporting their horse,
the famous Museo Civico, and an occasional unexpected attraction like a tiny church we found full of wonderful art and architecture.
We didn’t do the Duomo tour because it was a bit pricey, but one of my English students highly recommends the tour and I definitely regret not doing it.
It is quite easy to eat well in this city without paying a lot, but it is also easy to eat an overpriced, mediocre meal. We used a phone app, maybe yelp, to help us wade through our lunch options after eating an overpriced meal the night before. We ended up at a modern family-run restaurant perched at the top of a hill at a beautiful outdoor table called Zest Ristorante and Wine Bar.
The tiny street it was on stretched ahead, sharply curving down and up another hill, nearly giving me vertigo until I was distracted by spotting the special flags for the neighborhood horse flying proudly and colorfully ahead, and my potential vertigo was replaced with a sigh of appreciation for finding myself in this one-of-a-kind place. As I write this, I am remembering for the first time in a long time that I stopped to think and look around me for a moment, giving thanks to the universe to be able to experience this moment. It sounds corny, but Siena really is that special.
After our amazing lunch, we relaxed again for a bit in Piazza del Campo trying to decide if we had it in us to do the big climb to the top of the Torre del Mangia, the major tower overlooking the piazza that is attached to Palazzo Pubblico, Siena’s City Hall. It cost a bit, and the day was already winding down. But, we decided to go for it.
It was unforgettable. The climb went round and round…the steps were ancient, and we all were forced to cooperate as a group to get to the top.
But it wasn’t overly strenuous, and there were more than enough stops where we could take a rest and breathe in the amazing Tuscan air.
It started raining on the way up, but somehow hiding from the rain and checking out the dramatic storm clouds just added to the drama and adrenaline of the experience.
We finally got to the top, and our reward was a nearly unobstructed 360 degree view of Siena and its surroundings.
By the time we got down, we were so elated, there was nothing else we needed to do to improve our weekend. We returned to a small bar, called the San Paolo Pub, with a balcony overlooking the Piazza del Campo smaller than my closet.
The beers were affordable, and how much space do you need to enjoy a view anyway? It was perfect. We sat there for hours. Couples came and went around us. One was “like us” as my boyfriend had said. “Whose English is better, his or mine?” he asked me earnestly, as he recognized the couple next to us was also an Italian guy dating a young American woman.
It was getting to be that time, but I wasn’t ready to go home. “Let’s go back to the restaurant where we had lunch, please??” I asked him. After all, we hadn’t yet had any of Siena’s famous Chanti. He graciously obliged, and back we went to the same restaurant where we had lunch. The young waitress and the manager, who appeared to be father and daughter, recognized us and greeted us warmly. This is something I love about Italy – people are nice and gracious to you authentically. They were genuinely happy to see us.
Coincidentally, we discovered that the young waitress comes fairly often to the small suburb outside of Bologna where I lived at the time. Apparently she likes a restaurant in my neighborhood (ironically). We talked about where I lived, and that I would be returning to the United States soon. Suddenly, she gave us a worried look. “But what about you guys? What are you going to do, so far away from each other?” she said it in Italian.
Good question, ha! I guess her question could have also been about our trip to Siena. What were we going to do so far away from it? It was just a moment in time, that now I have the vibrant memories from. Hopefully they won’t fade anytime soon. Anyway, most of life is memories, really, isn’t it? What more can I ask for.