Thursday, October 23, 2008

Golden Siena*

Note: Joint post, Howard's color commentary in italics!

On Wednesday morning we had a pleasant drive to Siena, driving through the Tuscan hills on winding country roads. We found street parking and entered the walled city at one of several entry points (this is an important feature to note). We poked our heads into a couple of churches on our way to the main plaza, the Il Campo, what Rick calls the “most beautiful piazza in Italy.” As Howard says, “it is certainly one of the most dynamic.”

Rick recommended dining on one of the few second floor balconies where you can get food so that you can take in the Il Campo from above. We did just that. It was such fun to sit above the piazza and people watch from our perch. We met another couple from the states who also had Rick’s book and were doing the very same thing that we were.

The Il Campo is huge. Around this piazza are restaurants, shops, multi story buildings, the center of government, and a tall clock tower. The piazza’s sloping sides of brick invite the young college students, families, citizens, and tourists to sit and sun bath or people watch. Between the buildings and where the brick begins to slope down to a common point at the bottom, is a flat area of stone about 15 feet wide that goes completely around the piazza. Twice a year 10 of the 17 neighborhoods enter horses and jockeys in the Palio, to race three times around the piazza Il Campo to prove which neighborhood has bragging rights. The center portion of the piazza is literally filled with thousands of people, the buildings with second story and higher balconies are packed, and the race begins with jockeys riding bareback in this wild no holds barred type of race. There are posters that depict this event and as we sat eating our sandwiches and drinking our coffees, we could imagine and almost hear the clamor, shouting and noise of a wild horse race below us. This is not an event for tourists, it is a real race, with real emotion and spirit and has meaning for the neighborhoods and citizens of Siena. What passion, what delight.

I discovered a little art store tucked into a very small space:

After refueling, we made our way to the Duomo, a three starred attraction according to Rick. We bought the “My Name Is Duccio” ticket, which got us into the Duomo, the Duomo Museum, the Baptistery, and the recently opened Crypt (discovered in 1999 while doing restoration on another church, the Crypt is filled with underground wall paintings from the 1200s!).

It was an afternoon full of art, religion, and amazing views. A favorite part of our day, was climbing a narrow spiral staircase to the Panorama del Facciatone, or Façade, to a sweeping view of Siena and the Tuscan countryside. Here are photos of the façade and views from the first and second levels from above (note the photo of me – I am gripping the railing rather tightly and I am VERY excited on the stairwell because I am finally going back down. Yikes Almighty! I don’t like heights!).

Italy’s architecture, art and scenery bring out the best in us all. The traffic however, can bring out the most unusual. As we were driving to Siena and approaching a narrow bridge, a truck in the oncoming lane began to move slightly into ours. This is nothing unusual, as all Italian drivers weave in and out of their lanes with reckless abandon. Being the experienced Italian driver that I am, I hardly noticed the truck. But ever watchful Dayna at my side, began to move slightly in her seat and out of her emotion and excitement of seeing this truck head toward us, uttered the beautiful words slowly and distinctly over a 3 second span, “Whoa Nelly” and then realizing what she had just said and knowing that I was going to broadcast her words to the world, I began to laugh, and she said “Oh no.”. I’ll tell you I am learning so much about the deep emotional expressions of my wife on this trip and how to tap them!

Howard's thoughts and comments on driving in Italy:

Driving in Italy is actually very safe and sane if you accept a few rules:

Never pass anyone on the right;

If a vehicle approaches from the rear quickly and gets on your tail, move to the right;

If you are in the fast lane, go fast;

Turn signals are for weenies;

Traffic lights in the major cities are merely suggestions and if you stop for a red, you will be honked at;

Do not take honking personally;

Pre-emptive honks work fine, as in” I am stopping to back up into that space and I am honking to let you know what I am doing, so please honk in return, then I will know you know what I am doing”;

Pedestrians are for scaring; except in Siena where pedestrians rule and all traffic lights are to be obeyed completely, except the occasional motorcycles (but there are always exceptions - we almost got mowed down by two of those exceptions!);

Motorcycles can go wherever they want, whenever they want, including sidewalks; actually they are just pedestrians with built in motors that can go 80 mph in between cars in the city. They are the nuts.

Back to our day. We lost our car. Howard usually takes lots of pictures when entering a city, just for the purpose of not getting lost. But today, we took Marcie (our GPS) instead. B _ _ _ _. We left by a different gate and thought since we had Marcie, we would just follow her instructions. Well, we are not cars, we can walk against traffic and we can cut across open lots, which confuse the hell out of Marcie. Anyway, after wandering about for about an hour, we returned to the city, found the errors of our way, exited the city from our original point of entry and found our car without delay. Marcie is staying in the car from now on.

Then what should have been a quick, easy 45 minute drive home, was delayed by at least an hour, due to a standstill, get out of your car, traffic jam. I wish I spoke Italian, as some men were having a quite a conversation that would have been great to listen to. Side note: when a man is driving in Italy and needs to pee, he merely pulls over to the side of the road, turns his back to traffic, and takes care of business. Quite handy, actually, but startling the first couple of times we saw it occur.

We had a late leisurely dinner in Volterra at Don Beta’s. Dayna and I both ordered a fixed price dinner, which includes three courses. Unfortunately, finding creative vegetarian food for Dayna has become tedious and nearly impossible (yes, there is cheese pizza and pesto pasta and tomatoes and mozzarella – but COME ON!). I had wild boar. It was better than I thought it would be. It does not taste like chicken; instead the wild boar sauce on the ravioli was heavy and flavorful, not gamey as I expected. The wild boar steaks were closer to pork chops, which makes sense as boars are pigs, right?


This is proud parents bragging from Italy. Our son, Scott, has been in the process of becoming a Portland firefighter. He passed the written exam a couple of months ago, then last week he passed the physical test – yesterday he had his interview. We are waiting to hear how that went! We’re so proud at how he has done so far and believe he will soon be in a uniform.

*Siena not our favorite - too uptown and fancy smancy.


gl. said...

thanks for the vegetarian report. if sven & i travel together, that's always our issue. but then i feel bad for eating the wild boar. ;)

congratulations & good luck to scott!

Destree said...

Just wanted to say this and I forgot to earlier: Howard does look like Richard Gere...only nicer. Must be that foxy silver hair!