Suspended in time in Siena, Italy

Suspended in time in Siena, Italy

Beautiful small piazza in Siena, Italy
Siena, Italy, looking magical at night.

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.
Siena, Italy, cityscape
A chef statue seems to beckon us to enter Siena.

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.
Siena, Italy, church
There is never a dull view in Siena.

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.
Family, Siena, Italy, streets
A young family walking through the streets of Siena.

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,
Siena, Italy, courtyard, sky
A gorgeous Siena courtyard.

mysterious wells, and other fascinating historical remnants.
Siena, Italy, tourists, wishing well, courtyard
Some tourist boys enjoy a wishing well in a courtyard in Siena, Italy.

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  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 handled the “crisis” well.
Piazza del Campo, Siena, Italy
Piazza del Campo at dusk in Siena.

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.
Siena, Italy, Duomo
Tourists photographing the Siena duomo.

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),
Piazza del Campo, Siena, Italy, pizza, sun
A family trying to enjoy a pizza lunch in Piazza del Campo and rudely being interrupted by their dog.

checking out the Duomo,
Duomo, Siena, Italy
A different perspective on Siena’s Duomo.

the neighborhoods proudly displaying their flags supporting their horse,
Siena, Italy, Palio horse race
A neighborhood flag proudly displayed in Siena.

the famous Museo Civico, and an occasional unexpected attraction like a tiny church we found full of wonderful art and architecture.
Siena, Italy, street art
Art on the street in Siena

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.
Siena, Italy, pasta
Lunch in Siena, Italy

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.
Wine, Siena, Italy
More delicious food in Siena

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.
Torre del Mangia, Siena, Italy
Climbing Torre del Mangia in Siena

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.
Torre del Mangia, Siena, Italy, landscape
The beautiful view from Torre del Mangia in Siena

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.
Siena, Italy, city, church, landscape
The light was peeking through the clouds and gave us a gorgeous view of Siena.

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.
Piazza del Campo, Siena, Italy
Piazza del Campo in the late afternoon sun in Siena, Italy.

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.
Piazza del Campo, nighttime, Siena, Italy
Piazza del Campo from our favorite little bar overlooking the square.

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.


  1. Robin says:

    It looks like such a warm and beautiful place. The light is amazing, especially in the image of the view from the top of the Torre del Mangio. The food looks so good I’m practically drooling. I’d better go have lunch. It probably won’t be as good as that looks, but it will take care of the sudden hunger pangs. 🙂

    • mfryan says:

      Ha, yes! Well said Robin. 🙂 The light is amazing everywhere in Tuscany, unfortunately I don’t have a lens that does it justice. Hope you’re enjoying lunch! 🙂

  2. Lignum Draco says:

    This sounds and looks like a wonderful place. And another place you were blessed to discover; if only you had visited it earlier in your time there. These places are what travel is all about.

  3. Eliza Waters says:

    Siena is burnt into my memory as well. I’ll never forget coming into that circular campo and my jaw just dropping! The medieval architecture still intact, I could envision life centuries past. The paintings in city hall show the same buildings only the people are wearing different clothes! A beautiful place never to be forgotten. 🙂 I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting it through your experience.

    • mfryan says:

      Yes I remember you talking about it long before I made my trip. Totally agreed…It really is a remarkable place…I have definitely never seen anything like the piazza del campo either. Thanks for your thoughts. 🙂

  4. rommel says:

    Sienna, wow, you really gave Sienna a good name. You got us going. Very nice tour with awesomely captured very nice pictures. I never fully had Sienna in mind, you got me, and I know many more, sold!

    • mfryan says:

      Thanks as always for your supportive comments Rommel! Yes it really was awesome. I think maybe Siena isn’t more popular with American tourists because it is a bit tricky to get to. But well worth the trouble. 🙂

  5. Siena has the same effect on me. Those winding medieval streets and tucked-away trattorias just enthrall me. I have never climbed the tower in the piazza, but your photos of the view is gorgeous. Nice post…you obviously had a wonderful time!

    • mfryan says:

      Thank you. Yes it really was a wonderful time. I think my favorite trips are the ones where I plan very little, so the expectations are undefined. As you know, not all cities you can do this in – but Siena is a great one for relaxing and wandering. 🙂

  6. LaVagabonde says:

    Those rooftops. That food. Looks like a fabulous place for a short getaway. It’s been a long time (like 25 years) since I’ve been in Italy. This is tempting me to go back soon.

    • mfryan says:

      Italy really does seem to have it all. And you’re exactly right, Siena is perfect for a quick getaway. You gotta go back! 🙂 Thanks for the comment.

  7. What a fabulous post. I agree – some places in Italy can be very similar.. We have just arrived in Siena and can’t wait to explore. Will check out your lunch place too. Keen to try the chianti as well, I love reds. Also, great tip about booking on third party sites for Italian accom last minute – makes sense! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Is it really? Love that! 🙂 I agree, it really is a special place. I went there with my ex, unfortunately, so it is forever a bit tinged by that. But I just took a group of students there last summer, and we had a great day. So I’m moving past that hang-up, ha! By the way, my dad is getting into Sicily trip-planning mode. He wants to go in a few months. I’ll be sending him to your blog!

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