Siena – Arrival

Another taxi to the train station. This time not as crowded downtown and consequently it was about 10 euro less for the trip!

Train travel is a classic chicken and egg problem as is the building and adoption/improvement of any services. I’ve read recently that people complain that it doesn’t make sense to build bike lanes in cities because not enough people ride bicycles anyway. Studies have shown that when the bike lanes are built they increase bike ridership. Train travel in the US is abysmal unless of course you work in one of the major cities. I only really have any experience in Chicago and New York and even then it was nearly impossible to commute from Bridgeport to White Plains except to go all the way into the City and then out to White Plains but I can be unreasonable. When I went to seminary in NJ I was able to take a train from Pawling through Manhattan, to the Path Train and then on the Erie-Lackawana to Madison, NJ. It was a busy commute but available.

But I digress.

Chicken and Egg. Even at mid-day the Train station in Firenze was cacophonous. With this level of ridership it makes it worth it or close enough. Heaven forbid all these people should be driving their cars! The trains have many passengers and for the most part, this being Italy, are reliable.

I recently saw a map comparing rail service in the US and in Europe and there is no comparison. Given a reasonable choice I would ride the rails but the scales are so heavily tipped toward air travel it just isn’t affordable. We road an electric train from Florence to here for 10 Euros. It will be about 20 Euros each for our trip to Orvieto (but we are springing for first class)!

At least in the US many of the rights of way have been maintained by converting them to bike paths so there’s hope. OK. Enough of my rant.

Note to self: next time pack lighter and take the backpack. Hoisting these two suit cases up and down the stairs and then onto the overhead rack in the train is not for sissies.

We arrived in Siena and made our way to the cab and then through the city to the Relais Degli Angeli. A wonderful old property right on one of the main “drags” through town, Via del Montanini.

On this via we’ve found lunch and an incredible dinner and an easy walk to anywhere we want to go.

After lunch we headed out to the first site to see, Il Campo. It is the site of a medieval horse race that is run twice each summer in the Piazza.

Many of these town (which at one time where their own city-states) have deep historical games where neighborhoods would pit themselves against one another in games with no rules. In Florence they were playing soccer while we were there with no rules. Use you hands your feet, step on each other, ram each other, gladiatorial games at its finest. The piazza where the game is being played is lined with ambulances because arms and legs are broken and emergency room visits will be necessary. In Siena they have Il Palio. First held in 1482, they race around the outer edge of the piazza, with the spectators huddled in the center of the “track” and observe no rules, bumping, crashing, falling, running each other into the walls, this is no Kentucky Derby. We are a few weeks early. I’m not sure if I’m disappointed or relieved. Today the most hard fought competition is the handful of boys playing football.

Click here for A Photo sphere of the Piazza Il Campo

We had the time and it would be cool in the building so we toured the Museo Civico di Siena. This building was the equivalent of the town hall where the town leaders made their decisions, held court, collected taxes and did all manner of municipal administration.

It is now a museum. Siena was one of the powerful city-states in the years before it was visited by the black death in 1348. It is inconceivable how much the bubonic plague changed the social and economic landscape of Europe. Siena alone lost some 80,000 souls in a 7 month period and never recovered from the blow, eventually being conquered by Florence. The Cathedral, originally planned to be grander than that in Florence was never completed due to the devastation wrought by the plague (we will visit the cathedral tomorrow).

Inside the museo are many original artworks from the earlier period. It was a grand place. Much has been restored, some things only since the 1980s and there were still rooms that were not accessible because of the work being done.

FWIW there is an app you can download on your phone with descriptions of all the rooms and artifacts Look for Siena Museo Civico Audioguide.

Fun fact. The Torre del Mangia was named after its first bell ringer Giovanni di Baduccio whose nickname was “Mangiaguadagni” which in Italian is literally “he who eats his earnings” or more simply “Mangia.” Of course lining the square are an impressive array of restaurants at which I’m sure Giovanni was able to frequent even 800 years ago.

We stopped at one of those restaurants for some beverages including a spiced brew which, apparently, is specifically brewed for the race.

After returning to the room for a bit of a rest we went back out for dinner to a very popular restaurant with great food, again, just down the via from us, including spaghetti with a wild boar ragu and a plate of three inch tortellini (or whatever they should be called) stuffed with spinaches (sic) and ricotta and some wine. It must have been the right place to be since all their tables were occupied and all the places up and down the street had hardly anyone there.

Again, finito. See you tomorrow.