Monday, September 16, 2013 (Day 6)
– 9:30am, depart apartment to return rental car
– 10a, San Francesco Basilica
– 11a, Museo Civico
– 12p, Torre del Mangia
– 1p, lunch at Il Palio
– 2:30p, Battistero
– 2:45p, Steve McCurry exhibition at the Siena Santa Maria della Scala
– 5p, pre-dinner gelato
– 8p, dinner at Ristorante Il Campo
Today, Avis is open in Siena and we can go return the rental car. It was really nice to have it for that first part of vacation for sure, but we don’t need it anymore. It was a pretty short drive to the Avis, but we had to leave the walled-in historical center and drive around the outside of the walls to find the place. When it was time to walk back, there was a gate to the city center right near the Avis and it was super fast to walk back through the city.
When we walked back into the city through a different porta and different streets than we have been walking, we first realized that we could visit the San Francesco Basilica which was on our 3-day ticket from the Siena Duomo. This church didn’t allow any photographs inside and appeared to be free entry as well. The first thing we noticed upon entry was that it was huge and empty inside, and also very dark. Their claim to fame as this church was 223 “hosts” that were blessed and stolen back in the 1700s. The hosts were found days later and were not degraded at all, so they became even more important and weren’t eaten at all. Now apparently, somewhere in the church those same hosts are still here, and haven’t degraded after all this time. Some have been eaten over the years for very special occasions. Also notable in the church, was a lot of the original artwork had been destroyed over time.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that we are back to beautiful, sunny, Tuscan days here. The rain yesterday was just a fluke. It is gorgeous today and the highest temp I saw noted on a building in the middle of the day was 23 degrees C. So, it was perfect in the sun, though a tab chilly in the shade.
Our next stop was to pick up some sort of snack before lunch since breakfast in the apartment was small, and we found apparently the one pasticceria in Siena that had cannolis. Now, these aren’t the fresh Sicilian cannolis where they have empty shells and filling and make you a fresh cannoli when you order, but they were pretty good and probably still better than the Houston cannolis. Later in the day when we wanted another, we wandered into more tha 5 pasticcerias and never found any more, so that’s why I say this one was the only one with them.
Now that our tummies were happy, we went back to the Piazza del Campo and finally into the central building with it’s Museo Civico and connected Torre del Mangia. The tower (torre) can only be climbed 25 people at a time, and on a specific time slot. So, we visited the museum part first. It reminded me a tiny bit of Versailles with the large rooms full of frescoes on the walls, ceilings, and every available space. Plus there were the hanging paintings and standing statues. They were sure to point out some of the Sienese pieces.
The Torre del Mangia was the tower that I’ve shown you in many pictures over the 2 days already and this time we got to climb it. Most towers in Italy can be climbed via a long spiral staircase in the middle of the tower to get to the top and find the wonderful views. We’ve climbed many Italian towers and duomos and such. But this one was different, a) because they were not allowing people to take any bags (they provided lockers at the bottom), b) because of the set times to go up and down to minimize the passing on the stairs, and c) because the staircase was square! This meant that there was a very picturesque square hole down the middle where you could see all the way to the top or all the way to the bottom and see everyone’s hands around the center handrail as they climbed.
The view from the top was superb as advertised, and I was most surprised to realize that we got to climb to the very tippy top. The only thing higher than us was the bell. We stayed up here for our allotted 15ish minutes and then headed back down where I continued to take photos of the stairs. =) Mark counted about 400 steps up to the top.
We decided to do a more touristy lunch and actually eat on one of the restaurants (Il Palio, named for the horse race that occurs annually on the square) located right on the Piazza del Campo. There is some great people-watching here and we chatted all through lunch while Mark enjoyed his meat and cheese plate and I enjoyed my Foccacia sandwich.
And finally, we headed back over to the Duomo square to complete the last item on our all-inclusive ticket purchased yesterday and visit the Battistero, located even further underneath the cathedral than the Cripta was.
I think the most interesting part of today, however was our visit to the Steve McCurry exhibition at the Siena Santa Maria della Scala, which coincidentally was in the same Duomo square. We opted not to visit the museum and just go to the photography exhibition. Steve McCurry is best known for his photograph in National Geographic of the “Afghan girl” with the piercing green eyes. A year or so ago, I even watched a National Geographic documentary on the search for the Afghan girl many years later when a film team spent weeks trying to find her again. The photography exhibition showed quite a bit of contrast to the old historical museum it was housed in and of course the contrast in age to the rooms of archeological dig artifacts was amusing. This exhibition was put together remarkably well with about 200 prints out for us to see. The lighting was perfect, and they organized the photos into several rooms per an emotional theme. Some rooms, instead of just hanging photos on walls, organized the photos into an odd shape to portray the emotion specified. Most enjoyable, especially to me, a photographer, was the audio guide which for a selection of photos on exhibit had McCurry speaking out the circumstances and the story of each photograph and what it meant to him to take the photograph. As I said, awesome exhibit.
The whole exhibition was much larger than we had anticipated, so it took up most of the afternoon and after we left it was time for our pre-dinner gelato. (you know, the afternoon snack at 5p in order to tide you over to an 8p dinner). Mark was able to get a gelato milkshake even. Without anything else specific planned, we decided to head back to the apartment and take a nap before dinner.
Once again, we were touristy for dinner and just ate at one of the restaurants on the Piazza del Campo ( Ristorante Il Campo). We didn’t need as much food, so I was happy with just a lasagne, and Mark had a pizza. It was a very pretty night and the moon hovered just beside the Torre del Mangia at almost three-quarters full.
Since we napped away the afternoon, we were up late at night being productive online. I’m trying to keep the daily blog updated while we have the time to type at night still. I have a feeling that during our bike journey other tasks will become more important than blogging like sleeping or laundry. =) Tomorrow we will meet up with our bike tour guide to pick up our rental bikes and get all the information we need to start our tour on Wednesday.