Our base of operations while in Tuscany was a villa/hotel just north of the city of Siena. Called by the infuriatingly bland name of La Loggia, it is set in the Chianti wine region. It consists of a hotel section, a longer-term apartment block, seasonal pool, a small restaurant and bar and fields of grapes and olive trees. It was close enough to Siena to be easy for us to travel in for dinner in the evening. This was the view from our window.
Siena is the center of southern Tuscany and a traditional rival to Florence. The English word 'sienna' as in, a shade of brown, comes from the prominence of that color in the buildings of Siena. This picture, dominated by the duomo is taken from the steps outside the rather cold and severe church of San Domenico which contains the head of Ste. Catherine should anyone be wanting to see it. The bus station and the stadium are also up on this hill which gives you a fighting chance of getting your bearings before descending into the maze of streets that makes up the town.
The center of Siena is the campo and it's impossible not to end up in it sooner or later (getting out is a different story). The half-circle shaped plaza always seems to be active. This is also the site of Siena's famous Palio horse race (see some future trip page for that).
Along the flat side (approximately) of the campo is the Palazzo Publico, or town hall if you prefer. The bell tower is often open to the public, although while we were in town it was closed for a celebration party by one of the city's contrade (see below). We were also in town for the feast day of San Giuseppe which most notably seems to involve a fried confection that is a cross between mini donuts and funnel cake.
Siena's most unique characteristic are the 17 districts (or contrade) that make up the city. Gone far beyond normal neighborhood competition, there is a full schedule of annual events in which the contrade compete. They compete in artisitic endeavours, races, contests, and even collect titles ('nobile' granted by the Holy Roman Emperor, and 'imperial' from the former Kings of Italy). Children born in a contrade are baptised in the special font for that contrade. Each contrade has a symbol which can be found throughout that district of the city. On the left here is the symbol of the Eagle.
Siena is a great place to shop and a great place to eat. We generally combined the two buying several salamis (later confiscated by US customs agents with a taste for salami), limoncello, vinegars and spices. Also one of the best meals we had in Italy was at Hosteria Il Carroccio just off the southeast side of the Campo. Our meal there included the local pasta type 'pici' and just about every component of a hare other than the fur. Just north of the campo is an unusual gelateria. Unusual in terms of the flavors they had there which included chili pepper. Slightly less intrepid, we tried rice pudding
, English soup
(I don't know, that's what it is called), caramel
and chocolate rum
Melanie hates the nickname 'mel' but she is willing to pose by it outside Siena's duomo. Of course, this is in reference to the Latin word for 'honey' (milk is over there somewhere). The floors of the Siennese cathedral are fantastic. This is just some extranneous outdoor tiling. Inside are several mosaics which are covered much of the year for protection. A few select ones should be visible at any given time though.
An interesting side note to the duomo is that there were plans to make it truly grandiose in the 14th century by making the current nave the transept of an enormous new cathedral. Construction was started on the new nave, quite a distance from the existing cathedral and stopped due to the plague. You can in fact go up onto the detached wall from that project for a small fee.