Friday, July 22, 2011


Sunday, June 26th

It was a very lazy day for me this Sunday. But I decided to take advantage of a day off, sleep in and play it by ear. As it happened, there was a train strike and bunches of people from our group ended up staying in Florence.
I decided to walk down to the bus station on a lark and see what happens. If I get on a bus to Siena I go. If I can't go to Sienna but can go to San Gimignano I go. If I can't get to either, I go sit by the Arno and relax the day away.
When I got to the station I got lucky. A bus was leaving for Siena within ten minutes. So, purchased ticket in hand despite popular opinion to the contrary, I ended up in Siena within the hour and gratefully so.

View of the the Duomo as I walked from the bus station towards the center of the city.

View of the Basilica Cateriniana Santo Domenico

 Sienese Buildings
The city was virtually empty, with the exception of the Duomo complex. Upon arriving there, which means after hiking up some hilly streets, I finally reached the side of the church. There was a beautiful pottery shop at the foot of the Duomo that I quickly peeked into:

Some of the prettiest pottery that I've seen in Italy
To see all the cultural sites related to the Duomo, I decided to buy a pass for 10 Euro like we did in Pisa and see as much as I can.
I started in the Opera del Duomo, which like the one in Florence has beautiful medieval sculpture and a very famous altarpiece by Duccio called Maesta, a beautifully painted and monumental piece that has its very own room in the museum. There are chairs set up where you can sit, look at the Madonna and Saints and sigh!....Sigh!
After the museum, I went to see the Duomo, which is the proper order of doing these things. The Duomo di Siena has a stunning interior with incredible inlaid marble floors, ornate chapels, the Piccolomini library (with ancient medieval choir books and frescoes honoring Pope Pious II). 

Pictures were allowed, so I took bunches.

The Facade

Detail of the unusual tympanum sculpture: a sun symbol that represents Christ.

The nave and ceiling

View of the altar
The inlaid marble floors. Detail of the Massacre of the Innocents

The detail and delicate and expressive qualities of the inlay design make it spectacular.
 The Piccolomini library with ancient medieval choir books and frescoes honoring Pope Pious II.

 One of the Medieval choir books that line the walls of the library in glass cases


Its ceiling

Detail of the ceiling

Frescoes of Pope Pious II


After the Duomo, I went to see the crypt, which was really amazing. You're not supposed to take pictures (wink, wink), but I've gotten good at doing so on the sly and managed to snap a few. What I found fascinating about this space is that the crypt contains remnants of the original church that today's Duomo was built on top of. Inside the crypt you can see some of the original frescoes and original masonry.

You access the crypt at the back of the Duomo, where you enter through wooden doors into a dark atrium. Compared to the heat outside the crypt is cool and because of the lack of sunlight and heat the frescoes are incredibly well-preserved.

I was able to look down and see the walls of the original church. Amazing!

You can see the column reliefs on the wall to the right. 

 One of a series of frescoes in the main room. This was the only image in the series that I captured.

A small piece of the beautiful Deposition

A corner of one of the walls (you can see a piece of the Deposition in the background)

I love the Italian fresco artists who mimicked fabric and tapestries in their work. You can see this in the detail here. Altogether the impressions are a dark room, with very still air. It feels a bit like a tomb, but doesn't have a bad energy about it. You walk into this cavernous, low-ceilinged room and suddenly you are surrounded by color. It is ancient, vivid and bright even though it is dimly lit. For a person who loves art it is breathtaking.
After visiting the crypt, I peeked into a couple more ceramic shops and then went to find something to eat. With the heat I decided on some gelato for lunch. Healthy choice, I know, but gelato is always a good default meal and I've come to rationalize it as a potential source of protein. Well the cream-based flavors maybe? Totally delusional I know. But cold, refreshing and yummy! I walked around until I found the one that looked the most authentic. This I judge based on the color of the pistachio flavor. If it's bright green, it's no good. If it's closer to brown, it's the real deal. Just down the street I found the one! Grom!!! My favorite gelato in Florence, after Vivoli.

The best part about this high-end chain is that the containers of gelato are kept closed with metal lids to keep the flavors fresh and when the servers make you a cone they dig down for colder gelato so that it doesn't melt as soon as you exit the shop. Today's serving included fragola (again!), pistacchio, and caffe.
Eating along the way I went to find the seashell Piazza del Campo, which was being prepared for next weekend's famous jockey race. Siena's version of a Calcio Storico. The city is decorated, tourists and Italians gather in droves and the seashell piazza becomes a beehive. 

You can see the sandy track on the right.

Another angle!

On all sides of the piazza stands have already been set up.

 The Palazzo Pubblico: the historic seat of Siena's republican government and the central focal point of the Piazza del Campo.
The guards were watering down the makeshift sandy track and shooing tourists out of the way (including me). 
Shooing aside, it was so relaxing and fun to walk and take pictures. Siena with its brick houses and blocked-off downtown, where only motorcycles and scooters occasionally drive, is a beautiful city for pedestrians. I don't know if the city was deserted because of the train strike or because it was a Sunday, but the quiet suited my mood. 

Heading in the general direction of the Basilica Cateriniana Santo Domenico, I heard the church bells ring, watched the light change among the buildings lining the medieval streets and breathed the colors of the city in

The color palette of this city is beautiful.

It also seems like I was leaving just in time. Tour group. 10 o'clock.

A cute tea pot! that I saw in a shop along the way.

Postcard and knick-knack shop!

Food Festival Advert. Di I thought you'd like this. It's called the "Frog Festival."

Nearing the basilica, I stopped at its convent.

A well at the convent of Santa Caterina da Siena

The basilica is an active church and I wasn't allowed to take pictures beyond this initial one. 

For those interested there is a reliquary with the head of Saint Caterina of Siena in it, beautifully frescoed chapels, and the pious people of the city of Siena. It's not as ornate as Siena's duomo, but it has the feeling of an actual church and not a museum, with priests hearing confession and mass being read over a speaker system. It reminds me very much of Santissima Annunziata in Florence.


Heading back to the station I happened upon another parade. All day I had seen people wearing these peculiar tourquois-blue patterned handkerchiefs around their necks and suddenly there was a giant critical mass of them, as well as marching boys- old and young- wearing blue and white uniforms and marching or beating drums to the steps of a church!


Women wearing Siena handkerchiefs. From what I later discovered these handkerchiefs (colors) represent the citizens from one of Siena's quarters.
I snapped more pictures, peeked into another church and then went to wait for the bus.

The bus ride home, was one of the only experiences of my time in Florence that was a bit scary. With the train strike there were more people waiting for the bus than usual and when the bus driver pulled up, a little short of the stop, there was suddenly a ton of people pushing and shoving their way on board. Thankfully, I made it on, got a seat and didn't get trampled!
I also had a really interesting conversation with a girl named Lara from Canada. She was studying Italian in Florence for a month and had just finished her program. She strongly recommended Venice and some other things to definitely do in the time I have left in Florence. Spaghetti with boar sauce is officially on the top of my list.

The bus back to Florence was an express, so before I knew it I was back at SMN (Santa Maria Novella). I decided to go and eat dinner at my favorite place- just me. I ordered the House Special Cannelloni, which was really interesting and nothing like our Cannelloni back home:
Here is a picture: 

The cannelloni tasted like thick blintzes baked with layers of creamy meat sauce. It was not what I expected and utterly delicious.

To be healthy I also had a salad. Mama if you're reading this, you have no idea how much I miss your salads!
On the way home I snapped some pictures of Santa Maria Novella (the church and the train station) and my street at night!

The facade of Santa Maria Novella

The Piazza Santa Maria Novella is one of the places that Florentines hang out, play guitar, etc. in at night.

Stazione Santa Maria Novella (the train station). Notice the pointing arrow sign in blue on the left (street art!)

Chinese Restaurant on Via Nazionale headed home


Via Nazionale

 Hotel Signs

The Machievelli Palace.... Carmel I thought that you might like this :P

 Car Park for a hotel. I just liked the sign!

Always something peculiar when you're taking pictures.... some Dame Edna-esque glasses anyone?

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