Saturday, 7 June 2014

Days 438 to 439: Siena

Although the Sienese won't appreciate it (like all neighbouring Italian towns, there are centuries of rivalry), Siena is basically Florence-lite. About a quarter of the size, it has a lovely - but slightly less lovely than Florence's - cathedral, a glorious -but slightly less than Florence's - medieval and Renaissance history, and gorgeous medieval streets packed full of vaguely zombified tourists - but again, and thank God, slightly less packed and slightly less zombified than Florence's.

It was just an overnight trip to Siena, and probably I'd have made life easier for both of us if I'd chosen a marginally more expensive option than what I opted for - a cabin in a campsite on the outskirts of town. The campsite was great, but after half-an-hour of hauling mine and Danielle's bag up a hill in the scorching heat, I was cursing the entire world. If we'd been there several days, it might have been worth it, but it just meant awkward logistics getting a bus to and fro. At least the campsite bar did a Happy Hour - we took full advantage.

Siena has a few features that, in fairness, elevate it above a lighter version of Florence. It's plonked on a hill, like custard over a plum duff, and this gives it a fairytale dimension - and a lot of slopes. The main square is called the Piazza del Campo and like just about all squares in Italy, it's not remotely square. It's more like a squashed semi-circle which faces the Palazzo Pubblico, an immense brick palace with a skinny and very tall tower shooting out of it. Very unusually, it's on a distinct slope, with the Palazzo Pubblico lower than the curve of the semi-circle, along which a solid wall of buildings several centuries are lined, over-priced cafes resting at their base. It creates an amphitheatre effect. and you can imagine crowds gathering along the sloped piazza to watch a jester fight puppets, or heretics to be taunted and hanged, or whatever it was that the days-of-yore Sienese liked to get up to. These days, especially on a hot day like ours, people enjoy simply sitting, having a drink and a sandwich, and watching the world go by. A child on a push scooter entertained himself by guiding him and his scooter from the top to the bottom. The heart of Siena is a very appealing one.

The cathedral is likewise, even if it doesn't match the landmark heights of Florence's. The facade is pretty in pink, and the bell tower is a very distinct striped black-and-white, these being the Sienese colours. Some time ago, this was suggested as a potential Wonder candidate. I decided not to go with it and that decision was correct, but only because of the stupid numbers of amazing cathedrals around. Unquestionably, that Siena Cathedral is "just another cathedral" is testament to how lucky Europe is to be packed full of these masterpieces.

Otherwise, it was case of wandering through the streets of Siena, pointing at quirky buildings, admiring random details, and coming across jaw-dropping views.

That last one is where they tie horses, like a horse car-park.

And that was Siena. A smaller, less intense, more manageable version of Florence. Definitely a nicer place to hang about. 

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