Day Four: Siena.
I rose somewhat earlier today and after a quick shower headed in search of a "Conad" convenience store which according to lonely planet was just down Via della Terme. It wasn't. Instead I enjoyed a nice walk out to the stadium and a beautiful view of old town Siena from across the valley. This didn't get me fed though, so I wandered back in to town and eventually found what i can only describe as the Sienese equivalent of Selfridges food hall; delicious though the selection appeared,cheap it was not. €6.50 later I had enough to make two mushroom bruschetta and slightly sour cheese sandwiches. On my way back to the residence, I stopped off at a little cafe near Piazza del Campo and indulged myself in a breakfast of Brioche con doppia creme and a flavoursome expresso. After preparing my homestyle panini, it was time to head out again, before the main throngs of tourists filled the tiny streets. I walked to il Duomo, the magnificent black and white striped cathedral that dominates the skyline of Siena. On arrival at around 9.30am the signage stated that in wouldn't open until 10.30, however one of the staff explained that everything was open, and for €10 I could see all the areas. Whilst this made my budget conscious backpacking mind freak out a little, it is one of the main sights of Siena and it would have been foolish to miss out.
Many, many steps later I arrived at the top of the panorama, a top the striking archway to one side of the Duomo. Once there I was glad for the Italians' more common-sense approach to health and safety; signs explained (quite graphically) that if you leant over, you would probably fall to certain death, besides these small signs and a waist high guard rail, there was nothing to stop you from jumping (if the desire so took you), leaving the panoramic view unobscured. Had this been in Britain or the USA I would wager that, even if we were allowed up in the first place (doubtful), the viewing area would have been wholly encased in metal caging and chicken wire.
Coming down from the panorama through the museum was a chance to see artworks and artefacts from as far back as 1300AD and I'm sure a few even older. The wood and leather bound books were particularly impressive, given that these weren't simply ornamental but functional documents used by the priests. After this I took a walk in to the Crypt - cool and quite inviting given the heat, with stunning frescos lining the walls and glass panelled sections of the floor exposing a two story drop to the lower crypts. Finally the Duomo itself, and despite its grandeur, I was slightly underwhelmed, perhaps due to the large and noisy tour groups that had now arrived and entirely vanquished any peaceful atmosphere the vast space may have held.
Back in il Campo, I sat for a while before taking to the streets to get myself delightfully lost: in the course of doing so I happened across the Conad that I had been seeking in the morning and took the chance to buy supplies for tomorrow as it seems I will have slim chance of stopping off for food on another busy travel day.
Hopefully, after lunch sat in Piazza del Campo, I'll have a chance to explore Palazzo Pubblico - the Town Hall - which overlooks the square. It contains some of the only secular frescos in Italy.
- After Lunch!
After a long wait, with an incredibly irritating family behind me, I was finally able to climb the 400 stairs of the 88m tall Torre di Mangia (Tower of the Eater) so named after its first guardian's favourable attitude to food! The view from the top (and by that I mean the very top) was fantastic and entirely unobscured by chicken wire, metal caging or plexiglass as one would expect a similar London structure to be. It is a full 26m taller than Monument in London, a simple railing suffices for safety, and from what I can find online, there have been no accidental fatalities or suicides in modern history. Looking across the Tuscan countryside, I felt a sense of regret that I was packing so much in to such a short space of time. I'd love to have had Siena as a base for a few more days, using it to branch out to some of the smaller hill towns.
After the descent from the Torre I took a walk to the Basilica di San Francesco, a huge 13th century church on the edge of Siena. This, thankfully, possessed the sense of calm and tranquility that the more popular and grandiose Duome was lacking. I spent quite some time in the Basilica and its museum looking at the 13th to 16th century artwork within before walking back through various Contrada to return home to the residence, gelato di nocciola e biscotto in hand.