About Me

I am a 45 year husband and dad, currently adjusting to life back in the United States after living in Italy for a little over two years. I love spending time with my family, cycling, model railroading, mosaics and watching TV and movies.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

San Gimignano and Siena

What a wonderful day today was. I was happy to get out of Florence. Don't get me wrong, Florence was nice and is a definite stopping point for anyone visiting Italy. It just wasn't my favorite place we have visited. It was very crowded (and we visited in the off season) and its a city. I have come to love the charms of the small towns in Italy...getting off the tourist beaten path a little bit.

Today we headed into the Tuscan countryside and were rewarded with blue skies and fall colors. We were headed to Siena, stopping in San Gimignano along the way.

The Tuscan countryside is beautiful, especially with all the fall colors.

Rick Steve's calls San Gimignano the epitome of a Tuscan hill town. It has 14 medieval towers still standing out of 60+ that once guarded the city. It is a very touristy town, but not a city, which I liked a lot.

In the 13th century feuding noble families ran the towns. They would periodically battle it out from the protection of their respective towers. That is why there were so many. Most family dwellings had their own tower! Pointy skylines were the norm in medieval Tuscany.

3 of the 14 remaining towers in San Gimignano

Lots of back lanes to explore.

Views of Tuscany from town overlook.

Hill towns mean....hills!

Brandon seems to find cat friends on all of our travels.


We slowly made our way up to Piazza della Cisterna, which is named for the cistern that is served by the old well standing in the center of the piazza. A system of pipes drained water from the rooftops into the underground cistern. The piazza has been the center of town since the 9th century.

Piazza della Cisterna

It was lunchtime, so we had some pasta at the cafe on the piazza. Brandon did some running while we waited for our order to come. The cafe was in the shade and it was a bit chilly.

After a good lunch we walked up to Piazza del Duomo. The Duomo is a modest one, with little architectural interest.

The Duomo.

View of towers from Piazza del Duomo.

This one is for Andy.

From the church we headed uphill to Rocca e Parco di Montestaffoli, a hilltop park with an olive grove and the shell of a 14th century fortress. Inside the fortress is a small open tower that offers 360 degree views of San Gimignano and the surrounding countryside.

Sculpture in the park.

Climbing up to the top of a little tower.

Views from the tower.

Family picture on the tower.

After descending the tower, I spotted a WC (water closet) and headed that way. When I returned I noticed that Katrina and Brandon had turned into statues at the top of the steps leading back into town. They were sitting completely still and trying not to laugh or smile. Some tourists walked up the steps and gave them funny looks. Too funny!


Art on display near the park

Once back in town we strolled back up the main street, peeking in shops and making our way towards a gelateria we spotted earlier. This gelateria is apparently one of the best, so we had to give it a try.

Now, we had to give this place a try!

And it was good!

It was time to move on. Katrina wanted to take more pictures of the Tuscan countryside, so we found a GPS route to Siena that would take us through the hills.

Brandon took these pictures of the Tuscan countryside.

It took about an hour to reach Siena. We drove the winding and hilly roads of Tuscany, stopping periodically for Katrina and Brandon to get out and take pictures. I wished I was in a Ferrari and not a Fiat.

We arrived in Siena in the late afternoon. As with most Italian towns, you cannot drive in the old city center. The city center of Siena is built on a hilltop. We were able to find a parking garage near the base of the city. It was going to cost us almost 30 euro a day to park!

To get up to the city we had to walk uphill for a few hundred yards, through the old city walls, then up hill a bit more to the wonderful escalators. Siena has a wonderful escalator system that carries you up into the old city. We had to ride 6 or 7 long escalators to reach the first city street. Whew! If we had to carry our luggage, it would have been really tough.

We found our hotel, the Albergo La Perla. It is located in an old city building just a block from Il Campo, the main piazza. Our room was on the 3rd floor. It was small, but clean and comfortable.

Brandon was happy to be at our hotel.

View from our room.

Siena was medieval Florence's archrival. While Florence ulitmately won the battle of superiority, Siena still competes for tourists. Siena was once a major banking and trade center and had a military power equal to that of Florence, Venice and Genoa.

Siena's historic center offers Italy's best medieval city experience. Siena is a car free pedestrian zone with cafes, shops, bars, and narrow lanes.

After getting settled we decided to wander around a bit. We ended up in Il Campo.

Il Campo is the heart of Siena. The city hall and its 330 ft tower dominates the grand piazza. Il Campo is where the famous Palio horse races take place on July 2nd and August 16th of each year. As many as 60,000 spectators pack the piazza to watch 17 contade (racers chosen to represent the 17 neighborhoods in Siena) race 3 laps around the piazza. Spectators waving banners for their neighborhoods cram into the center of the piazza. Every possible vantage point is taken. The winner crosses the line and 1/17th of Siena goes crazy with pride for the next 365 days. A horse can win on its own. If a rider falls off, as long as the horse crosses the finish line it can win the race.

We decided that 30 euro was too expensive for day parking. Katrina would sit in the piazza and watch Brandon run around while I hiked back to the car and tried to find a new parking space. Back down the escalators and down the hill to the car. I had to pay 3.60 euro to get out of the garage, then drove around for almost an hour before deciding it was too difficult to find a new spot in the dark. As I returned to the parking garage, I spotted a space on the street marked for public parking.

Back up the hill and back up the escalators. When I reached the top Katrina texted me that I should make sure I wasn't in a street sweeping zone for the days we would be parked. Back down the escalators and down the hill. I was parked in a safe zone. Back up the hill and up the escalators.

I met Katrina and Brandon in Il Campo. I was tired and hungry, so we made our way to one of the cafes for apperitivo. A few drinks and some free food really hit the spot.

We were tired. It was an early night for all three of us.

No comments:

Post a Comment