Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Siena and San Gimignano

After escaping the motorcycles in Florence we put napping children in our cars and headed to Siena. Everyone thinks of the sunflower fields when imagining Siena, but unfortunately they were past season at this point. That said, Siena was still the biggest surprise to us and we all agreed the highlight of the day!
Quite a contrast from the hub bub of Florence, Siena was a totally pedestrianized city where we strolled in the streets and it was overall a relaxed, more "Tuscan" feel. This despite being ripped off while parking - some random "do-gooder" made it his unofficial job to direct parking in a FREE lot. When we got out of our car he insisted on 2 euros for pointing us to an empty space. What a racket! Oh well. You just have to expect a little of that in Italy!

We laughed out loud when we saw this enormous pizza and that made up for the parking fiasco.
We found the Il Campo, Siena's main square, and let the kids run to their hearts' content.
Il Campo was an unexpected treat. This piazza fans out from City Hall to create an ampitheater, where the citizens are the stars. The brick surface is divided into nine sections, representing the council of nine merchants. The square and its buildings are the color of the soil upon which they stand...a color known to artists and Crayola-users as "Burnt Sienna."
It is here that the Palio di Siena horse race takes place twice a year, every July 2 and August 16. Each of 10 neighborhoods sponsors a horse and the square is lined with dirt to create a 1/3 mile track. The race is three laps around and it lasts just over a minute. Over 60,000 tourists and citizens pack into the tiny square to experience the event. I found these internet photos just to give a sense of it. Pretty crazy!
If the Campo is the heart of Siena, the Duomo is its soul. We were absolutely transfixed on this immaculate cathedral. I couldn't believe the detail and color embedded inside and out. With as many churches as we see over here, it is really saying something that the Siena cathedral was unanimously our favorite part of the day.
The blue sky against the white, green and pink marble was unbelievable. And the striped columns awaiting us inside were distinctive; let's just say they really popped! The crazy part about this duomo is that it was never finished. The unfinished nave is open and exposed to the right of the church. The part we toured was only supposed to be the transept. It was meant to be the biggest church in all of Christendom. But the plague hit, killing the city's ability to finish the project.
For one month every year the covers over the floor mosaics are removed. And we just happened to hit it right! Not sure why they cover them the rest of the year, but they were very special.
This was the duomo's brilliantly frescoed Piccolomini Library (below). The never-restored frescoes look nearly as vivid now as the day they were finished 550 years ago!
The next stop was to San Gimignano, the epitome of a Tuscan hill town with 14 medieval towers still standing. We took advice to go in the evening to avoid the tourist swell and to see sunset. It proved a super tip. Will and Connor were adorable. They grabbed a hand hold from each other and skipped right into town. Photos don't really do the cuteness justice. Adair and I were melting walking behind the guys.
Eric thought these were hilarious "tush shots" of our husbands.
We were famished and ready to relax by this point. Peace in conjunction with a seated meal is an oxymoron with 2 busy toddlers, but we were determined to try. We found a gem in the Trattoria Chiribiri near the Porta San Giovanni. We stashed our strollers in the kitchen and poured ourselves into our chairs in the tiny one room restaurant. Will and Connor did play well for most of the meal, charming waiters and fellow diners alike.
We were able to try the Cinghiale (wild boar) pasta San Gimignano is famous for. I highly recommend this spot with their homemade pastas and desserts. They serve straight from 11 AM til 11 PM which is a blessing when many places in Italy don't open until 7:30 PM.
Touring San Gimignano by moonlight was enchanting. Adair and Eric grabbed one more serving of gelato at the Piazza Del Duomo. Adair chose blackberry lavender and we all had a lick. Definitely the best flavor I have had - ever!
Another perfect Tuscan day with wonderful friends! We really couldn't ask for anything more.

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