Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Italy Trip Report: Siena

Okay, so where were we... ah, yes. We head for Siena from Naples after our Pompeii excursion. It turns out that this isn't that common a train route, and so we kind of get shafted with this fairly expensive train ride that takes us to Siena with a quick stop over at the Chiusi-Chianciano train station (some 50 miles southeast of Siena). As far as we could tell, there's really nothing much there, but it was late and quite dark.

It's been more than 5 hours since we left the Naples train station, and we're really beat at this point. We finally pull into the Siena train station, and it's just our bad luck that we arrive at the same a giant bus full of university students show up. There was going to be no respecting of the standard Taxi Line outside the station. After I realized this, I had to use what I learned in Shanghai (home of the rudest Chinese folks, especially when it comes to hailing a cab), and basically jumped out in front of one and stole the cab right from under the noses of some students.

The cab takes us quite a ways to our destination, the Montaperti Hotel, which turns out to be in Asciano, a suburb of Siena. We didn't know what to expect really, since it was actually one of the less expensive hotels in our itinerary. But, once we entered, we were greeted by a really friendly and helpful guy, and I remember the two of us being really impressed with the hotel's decor. We get to the room, and we are really happy with it. It's got a huge balcony, and the room is so nice, and the bed is so comfortable. I cannot recommend this hotel any more highly than this... it was really fabulous, and the well-priced room rate bolsters my opinion even more.

Bar / Lobby at Montaperti Hotel

Even though it was late, we went downstairs and got a few drinks, which we then brought back to our room. We didn't want to waste the awesome balcony, so we had a few drinks outside, then called it a night. We did manage to take a few pictures from the balcony in the morning, as it did provide us with a nice view.

View from our balcony

Getting to the city from the hotel wasn't too bad actually. The city was only a short 20-minute bus ride away. So, we spent the day checking out the city, and it was great. I felt that Siena provided a much more relaxing atmosphere. There were tons of tourists to be sure, but for some reason it felt more chill than many of the other cities we hit on our trip.

We went to see the city's Duomo, and that was pretty neat, since the architecture and overall look of it was unlike anything you'd really expect; there is this black-and-white zebra striped theme throughout. And, the reason for this has to do with the strong Moorish influence over the city during its creation. The cathedral has a rather unique Gothic look that I can't describe all that well, so I'll let these pictures speak for themselves. The floors also had many inlaid works of art, which depicted both biblical and mythological subjects.

Il Duomo in Siena
(too bad there's ongoing restoration work)

Interior of Il Duomo

High Altar of Il Duomo

Inlaid Floor Art in Il Duomo

While randomly walking around the city, we passed by a branch of the oldest bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, founded in 1472. I figured I had better take a picture of it, since I've got an interest in finance and all that is related. We never did step inside a branch, but I imagine that it's just a regular bank. Besides, I'm probably one of very few that even thinks of the bank as a tourist attraction. Ha ha.

Sign from a branch of the
Oldest Bank in the World

While we were in the city, we had a wonderful meal over at a small little place called the Osteria Castelvecchio. It wasn't that easy a place to find, but it was worth the trouble. I had a delicious vegetable soup, and a really well-prepared spinach risotto. The restaurant is known for its Tuscan-style vegetarian dishes., but QB was craving chicken, so that's what she got. I'm getting hungry just thinking of that meal.

Spinach Risotto

Tuscan Chicken Dish

Here is a shot of the Piazza del Campo, which is in the heart of the city. We kicked it here for a while, mostly just resting.

Piazza del Campo

We also checked out the Civic Museum, but I guess I'm not enough of an art scholar to appreciate it. I definitely didn't consider anything I saw to be that memorable there. They were pretty strict with the no photograph rule, so I've got no shots from inside.

That covers the highlights of our day in Siena. Afterwards, we went back to the hotel to get our stuff, and almost immediately, we made our way back to the train station. Our next stop was going to be a major one... 3 nights in Florence!

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