Imagine, if we were in Siena now we could be witnessing the famous Palio horse races in Il Campo, the huge central plaza as it happens in July and August. However we’d probably also be on the verge of a heat stroke since it’s even too hot in New England. Notice how all of the jockeys in the photo below aren’t even using saddles for their race horses! How Medieval! Also it’s worth noting that the races have several animal rights related controversies. The last of our optional tours was also the furthest away at 2 hours each way from Montecatini with traffic. It’s a beautifully preserved medieval city strategically located in 3 hills, giving the city its infamous sloped streets. The fewest people signed up for this optional tour and Johnny even said he might not have enough people to run the tour. I’m glad we did, but really it left me wanting more at the end of the day! (We barely spent 6 hours in Siena.)
Our local tour guide this time was a woman named Luciana. She was one of the few local tour guides that actually lived directly within the city we were touring as the main urban areas can be quite expensive. She even showed us the general area of where she used to live and where her family moved. They even were fortunate enough to have the luxury of having a Chevrolet car and garage spot in the city’s tight quarters. To be honest she was also probably my least favorite local guide since her descriptions of the everything fell somewhat flat oddly enough in such a sloped city. As I mentioned earlier we walked around the city and sloped streets (glad I wore sneakers) noticing all of the banners and signs indicating the different Contrade of Siena. The Contrade (districts) would also be the ones represented in the horse race. Apparently there are far more districts than it would be safe to have racing so it’s determined by lottery. We saw a lot of the Goose district, but my favorite is probably that they had a Unicorn district!
The first location we stopped at was Basilica di San Domenico. Unfortunately they did not allow any photos so I cannot share with you any visual aids. This was an old site for the Dominican nuns. Luciana told us that the main level is open for tourists but they also have a basement where actual church members can go in to worship. Within the Basilica there are also many relics for Saint Catherine the most famous of the nuns. She is one of the 2 patron Saints of Italy, the other Francis of Assisi. We only spent about 30 minutes within the Basilica even though it was not crowded.
We then went on to visit Sainte Catherine de Sienne, which looks very similar to many of the other churches we’ve seen in Tuscany particularly the striped design. It’s more commonly known as the Duomo di Siena. Florence has arguably the most famous Duomo so it’s only natural to expect that Siena the arch rival would also have their own? They had beautiful works of art and even another Michelangelo sculpture within. (Well he did work for over 60 years!) One of the most notable areas was the Piccolomini Library. It’s a room dedicated to preserving the illuminated choir books and spectacular frescoes. The colorful paintings illustrated the life if Pope Pius II and Pius III.
From there we separated for lunch and free time. We definitely knew we wanted to get some souvenirs from Siena since most of our friends and family had never been to this city. Aside from the Contrade related souvenirs there wasn’t much other Siena unique items to choose from. Also we had no idea where to find these fabled Sienese souvenirs Johnny mentioned on our way in. To be fair I was half asleep most of the time on the bus. Unfortunately we fell victim again to yet another less than stellar restaurant Il Vicolo . Dana suggested we try the pizza there as a control to compare to before we reached Naples, our next destination. Our pizzas were really nothing spectacular but at least the coffee and cappuccino were better than most back in the states. Unimpressed with the lunch we got our daily Gelato from Gelateria Caribia. We concluded the day where Johnny presented us with a box of the famous Sienese pastry called Ricciarelli. The almond treat was so tasty! If only we had found a grocery store or bakery to purchase some for ourselves too.
We departed early from Siena at around 3:30 PM for the 2 hour journey back home for dinner. It was a farewell dinner for a few of our travel group members who continued the trip on their own. We met this very lovely couple who had relatives in a small town in Italy! I’m convinced that’s probably an even better way to travel with the locals. The dinner at our hotel was actually one of the best meals that Gate 1 provided.
Rating: 3/5 ★★★
Mostly for the Gate 1 Tour itself, not a reflection on the city. Not sure if it was worth the price for to add the optional tour for such a short day. This was also the start of Johnny’s “bad hair days” where he was significantly late showing up from the time he set for us to depart.