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  • Day20

    Siena Explored

    September 8, 2017 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    We finally got to Siena late last evening (in the midst of a thunderstorm) having been collected at Florence railway station by their pick-up service. Hotel Executive was not quite what we expected of a “Luxury Escape” it is ok and reasonable for what we paid but nothing exceptional or a "wow deal". The Superior Room with Balcony is pretty standard and actually has a weed infested patio (as it is on the ground floor) with a view of the car park. We were advised that it was “recommended” that we not come for dinner until 8pm as there was a “big group staying”. When we presented the staff were distracted, there was one thing on the menu I could eat (promises to be a tad monotonous by day 5!!!) and the bread was stale – at least there were 2 complimentary wines pp with dinner!
    Things didn’t seem much brighter this morning with reception staff being generally unhelpful and a chat over breakfast with a couple from NZ confirming our doubts as to the “Luxury” aspect of this “Escape” – Non che male (not that bad) might be closer to the truth.
    Armed with what turned out to be very dodgy directions from the not helpful reception staff we headed out towards the town. Siena is a very hill place and so we were going downhill to start with. At the bottom of the hill we found a CO-OP supermarket (I do like exploring supermarkets when overseas and this was, as always, an interesting experience) and purchased a few necessities. After that we decided to find the station as the hotel staff had said we needed to go that way to the town anyway. After some faffing about we did locate the station (actually several floors underground with no real signage). We ended and found that one passes the platform access then comes up in a shopping center on the other side. From then it is about a 20 floor climb via stairs or escalators up to the town, but it is inside this strange tunnel – it was odd but at the end of it we emerged on the street way up the hill above the station.
    We walked down through the old town towards the “Campo” (square). Siena is clearly a tourist town and the closer we came to the square the higher the prices became – we have worked out a “Gelato index” a single Gelato cone should not be more than 1,50 Euro – at the edge of Siena they were 1,80 near the campo they peaked at 6,50!!! In the square we tried to follow the directions of the hotel staff to find out where we activated our complimentary museum pass – not the square it turned out but rather the Cathedral (similar I guess and only about 1km apart… do you sense some sarcasm there?) It was almost 1pm by this time so we sat in the Campo to eat the lunch composed of items liberated from the breakfast buffet. The Campo is massive and is a sloping piazza that has been the heart and soul of the social and civic life of Siena since the middle of the 12 century. The site was earlier a Roman and is now considered one of the most important medieval squares in all of Europe. It is also the venue for the Palio, a famous horse race and festival that is conducted at the Piazza del Campo twice a year.
    After some food and some people watching we headed up to the Duomo to activate our museum pass. This was part of our accommodation package and we were not surprised to find that we had the “cheapest” one with more exclusions that inclusions – 5 museums only (not the good ones and no audio guides!!) Anyway – it is what it is! We Started off with a visit to the Cathedral which was designed and constructed between 1215 and 1263. It was designed by Nicola Pisano, a master in the Gothic style; with a striking black and white striped campanile in the Romanesque style. The cathedral is very elaborate with lots of different colour marbel and we were also able to visit the Libreria Piccolomini, with its Romanesque frescoes showing the life of Pope Pius II and 30 beautiful Renaissance choir books.
    Next stop was the crypt of the cathedral – although the name would suggest that it was used for burials this was never the case – it was kind of an entry area to the cathedral and lined with frescos, however in the 14th Century it was filled with debries during an expansion of the cathedral and abandoned – it was rediscovered in 1999 during restoration works – we viewed the frescos and an installation relating the items saved from the recent earthquakes. Next stop was the battistero or bastistry – it is lined with 15th-century frescoes and centres around a hexagonal marble font by Jacopo della Quercia, decorated with bronze panels depicting the life of St John the Baptist by artists including Lorenzo Ghiberti and Donatello however as there were no explanations and we didn’t have the audio guide it was all a bit vague (although pretty)
    Our final stop was the Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana which is part of the Cathedral complex and is one of the oldest private museums in Italy and was set up in 1869the best part of this visit was the bit when we got to climb so incredibly steep steps to the top for an amazing view of not just the Duomo but of Siena itself.
    Pretty much all “Churched out” we decided to head back to the hotel, we wandered via the Campo (much emptier) and some lovely back lanes away from the tourist crowd – we finally got back to the hotel at about 7pm – however mindful of the … don’t come to dinner until 8pm “suggestion” we pottered around in the room and then made some “homemade spritz” before venturing to the restaurant at the prescribed time!
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