It was significantly past 11:00pm on Friday night when I decided to book a train to Siena the next morning and spend the day there. My daughter was already home and more than willing to meet me at the Santa Maria Novella Station for our day trip, of course with Champagne in tow.
The trains in Italy may not be the most punctual, and the system at the train stations is chaotic to say the least, but you can’t complain about the prices. The Trenitalia Regionale from Florence to Siena, which is a 1:40hr. ride away will only set you back EUR 9,80. So off we went, with no clue or plan, just the curiosity to explore and my desire to fulfil a dream. This is why I absolutely love traveling with my daughter, she is just as willing to be spontaneous and adventurous as me, and up to anything new.
Thanks to Wikipedia and Google Maps, I caught up with the background information during the ride and had a general idea of what I wanted to see, while daughter slept and Champagne excitedly watched the people on the train. By the time we reached Siena Central Station, both were refreshed and I was ready for a strong cappuccino. Unlike Florence, the train station in Siena is far from the city center (the historical old city) so you need to catch the S10 bus (EUR 1.30). A taxi will cost you EUR 10 to be dropped directly at Piazza del Campo, which is not a bad deal either. If you insist on walking, it will be a good 36-40min walk depending on your stride. Caution, unlike Florence, Siena is spread out on a hill, which means a lot of ups and downs.
Like I said, we were pretty clueless and had absolutely no plan or schedule whatsoever, which I think is great for a very relaxed exploration. You can afford to do that in Siena, because the historic city center is quite contained, and you really can’t go wrong – just tired. We began our adventure at the timeless classic, Piazza del Campo. Wow, talk about being mind boggling. It is like Venice, Rome and Perugia all rolled into one. Words failed me as I stood in awe in the shell-shaped piazza gazed out at the structures. There is absolutely no way a still camera can do it justice, only a drone or video.
Whatever you end up doing in Siena, and there is more than enough to do for a day trip, do no, I repeat, DO NOT eat at any of the restaurants around the Piazza del Campo unless you are willing to pay a small fortune – 7 EUR for a Coke?! There are 11 gorgeous little cobblestone alleys leading away from the piazza to choose from, and you will find one adorable little osteria after another with much more humane prices. My daughter judges the price categories by the pasta prices, I go by the Coke.
In terms of photography, Siena is best photographed at night, and legend has it, the best Tuscan sunset can be witnessed from Siena as well. Since neither were an option, at least not in Summer due to daylight savings time, I made do with what I could and turned my lenses towards street photography instead. Champagne was a real trooper through it all, complaining only when she was bounced around mercilessly as we ran to catch a bus or a train. At some point she started meowing incessantly and no amount of cooing would console her. Later on I realised that Madam doesn’t like being in the sun. She will sit quietly in her backpack for hours as long as she is in the shade, but the moment I walk in the sun for more than five minutes there will be hell to pay.
Siena features prominently in many books and movies, the more recent ones being Quantum of Solace and New Moon. Filmography aside, historic Siena is only outdone by all the arts the city has to offer, after all, the city did give the colour its name!
No blog entry on Siena would be complete without word about the cathedral and the various other churches around Siena. This is Italy, so there are churches here a dime a dozen, and there is never time to visit them all. Compared to the Duomo in Florence, the Siena Cathedral is slightly smaller since the baptistry is already integrated, but more spread out. Dating back to 1390 when the facade as complete, this architectural treasure is a sight to behold, though admittedly not as bombastic as the Duomo in Milan and for some reason, it reminded me very much of the Notre Dame in Paris.
No matter where we went in Siena, Champagne was spotted and cooed to. If I charged one Euro for every person who took a photograph of her in the backpack I could have financed my entire trip by now!