I think Siena may be one of my favourite places in Tuscany. I have been three times now, all for fairly short visits – I can’t say (for now) how staying there for a whole week would be. My first trip was as part of an art trip to Florence. Siena is a popular day trip destination for people staying in Florence (and I’m sure vice versa). The streets spiral out from the circular centre (where I have not seen the horses racing – I think that may ruin the peaceful image I have of the place, but who knows? I will have to ask someone who has been) and we did find the streets a tad confusing. Later visits, however, I found my way round quite easily. I even managed to hunt down the pizza place I had been dreaming of since my last visit. A giant slice of gorgeous pizza and a coke for only three euros. The tiny place has photos of smiling pizza-eaters covering the walls and one bar by the window for those wanting a seat. I walk and eat, back to the sun-lit centre. Enjoying my pizza in the sun as the expensive restaurants lie in the shadows behind me. I was not able to find this place the next, and latest, trip. It did not seem fair to drag others on a pizza hunt (well, apparently) so this is a luxury for my single trips. Perhaps I will remember to mark down the street next time.
On my lone visit to Siena I spent the day drawing, it was warm and there were people milling around. Enough to be entertaining for a people-watcher, but not enough to make the place too crowded. The odd shadow fell across my sketchbook as a passer by stopped to look. I smiled and carried on filling in building details. It may go in this post, as well as my usual cartoon. Yes, I’ve put it at the end. Of course this drawing made me late for my train. Desperate to still see my favourite Duomo (yes, I said it. Siena’s is my favourite, even over Florence) I grabbed a mandatory tourist ice cream and fast-walked uphill along the circular streets until I found the right turn. It’s a stunning place. Quite small – for a Duomo – with a huge tower on one side (not a terminologically accurate description here) and an intensely decorated front. I found staring too long made me a little dizzy. I then raced back to find the train station, and should have been in good time if I had not got a little confused. When you leave the station in Siena you are thrown out towards a large hill sloping upwards on a curve, along a busy road. This road is quite obviously towards town, and following this up leads you, without really having to think too much, to the centre. I assumed it would be this easy to follow the curve back down, unfortunately – and obviously – it was not. I got my turnings confused and could not work out if I was on the right busy street. It may have been far easier and quicker, if I had not been in a hurry for my train. A few very helpful people tried to give me directions, one who pointed the right way (thank goodness) and mentioned escalators (I thought). The repetition of escalators became suddenly very clear when I reached an inside area with escalator after escalator, drawing me down closer to the station. So it turned out I had found an alternative route. I raced inside, got my ticket from the self-service machine, ran to the platform, and watched my train draw away.
The person at the ticket office was lovely and wrote down a hostel (and address) close by which I could show to a taxi driver – also very lovely and I had to press to take payment for the small trip. I could have attempted walking there – but at that moment I did not trust my directional skills and the streets had grown dark. The hostel did have room. It was plain and comfy and I had a room to myself. I don’t know about you, but I called top bunk. There was an room with comfy chairs where I sat and relaxed. A simple place to stay if you need somewhere that’s not too pricey, but it is a bit far from the centre (though very close to the station) and I struggled to find a shop that would sell me a toothbrush (at least one that wasn’t inexplicably pricey). My latest visit we stayed right in the centre in a gorgeous hostel (B & B? We got breakfast, I’ll call it a B & B) in a very old building. I doubt they would have room at the last minute, however (though I have not checked this).
The coach trip between Siena and Florence is also a nice one. Due to difficulties with a train strike we ended up on a coach out of Florence, and after the stress of the day’s travel it was a calming trip. The coach was comfy (and this from someone who gets ill travelling) and the scenery lovely – especially as it was just starting to grow dark as we left Florence.
In Siena itself, as with most cities, I enjoyed wandering the most. Perhaps it’s the lack of sun ordinarily, but ambling through warm, beautiful streets (With the odd slice of pizza or scoop of ice cream) was incredibly enjoyable. The piazza is also a beautiful place to relax, as is the Duomo in the morning. Taking advantage of my mishap, I went the centre early in the morning to see it while it was still quiet. The artist drawing in chalk had finished their work by now, the colours were very bright against the dark street. Best of all, the area around the Duomo – so heaving with tourists the evening before – was very still. There was ample room on the concrete step before it (just perfect to sit on and stare) and the market stalls had not set up yet. The odd moped and tiny vehicle brushed quietly past – people getting on with their busy day outside this beautiful building. I have tried drawing it once, I gave up after a corner. Far too much detail, but maybe I will get to have another go soon.