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So, in writing this post I realize that not once but twice before I have written about this town. Once in 2007, when I visited with my study abroad roomie, and once again in 2009 when I was working in Orvieto. Both of these entries seem like lifetimes away, yet I say practically the same thing about the town in both–and also here! (I read them after I had written this post.) It’s also interesting to note the difference between my 25-year-old self’s writing and my 20-year-old self’s, although the voice is much the same. Food for thought.

Anyway, I (accidentally) spent an entire week in Siena. Accidental only in that I was supposed to continue onward to Bologna on Sunday via Florence, but as the universe would have it, trains went on strike (something I hadn’t thought to check), the bus to Bologna had sold out and I was lucky enough to have a couch to crash on. So from Monday to Monday, I got to stroll the historic streets of beautiful Siena, in the heart of Tuscany. These are my five favorite things I did while there.

Siena’s Duomo

The whole duomo shebang:  For 12 euro, you can buy a ticket good for three days that allows entry into the cathedral, baptistery, crypt and museum. As you know, my favorite duomo in the world is the one in Orvieto, but I have to say that Siena’s takes the cake for coolest interior.
The mosaics covering the entire floor are uncovered for certain periods of the year, and they tell many stories. Bible stories, prophecies of the coming of Christ by various Sybillae throughout the ages, and Senese history, too.

Holy ceiling, Batman!
I took almost this exact same photo in 2009.


I like this prayer. It translates essentially to: I don’t know how to pray, I don’t know what to say, I don’t have much time…So? This light that I offer is a bit of my love, a bit of my time, a bit of my self. This light that shines is my prayer, that I may continue even as I leave this place.

collection of medieval hymnals are displayed in the Piccolomini Library in the cathedral, as well. The baptistery is still in use, and the “crypt” below is not a true crypt but rather an older part of the church discovered and excavated more recently.

Old school hymnal

The museum has a beautiful collection of statuary from the face of the cathedral, and a few neat reliquaries on the second or third floor. The best part of the museum, though, is the view of the duomo from a walkway (la panorama del facciatone). There is almost always a line, but it is worth the wait, especially at sunset.

Panorama from the museum. On the left is the Torre del Mangia.
2.       Piazza del Campo: Piazza del Campo is a neat piazza, with sloping sides and ample space for sitting and enjoying the view of the Torre del Mangia. One day was particularly rainy and dreary, so we thought it might be nice to warm ourselves with a hot drink. Although all the restaurants along the Piazza del Campo are overpriced and overrun by tourists, I still think it’s worth taking the time to sip a hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and pay the five euro; the hot chocolate was delicious, and I’m pretty picky about my hot cocoa, just ask Boris.

Super delizioso!

If the weather is good, there’s a place on the corner where you can get giant slices of pizza for 2.50. (If you’re looking at the tower, it’s to the left and there’s a sign that says something about giant slices of pizza.) Take a seat, people-watch, and enjoy.

Piazza del Campo’s Torre del Mangia
3.       San Domenico and the relics of St. Catherine:St. Catherine of Siena was famed for having brought the papacy back to Rome from France, and is one of Italy’s two patron saints. The other is St. Francis of Assisi. You can still visit many important places in her life, including her home. San Domenico, though, is where her relics are housed: her thumb, as well as her holy head. According to the story, the Senese wanted at least part of Catherine’s body returned to her birthplace, so they smuggled her head out of Rome. When the guards stopped them on the way out of the city, they prayed to her to let them pass, and when the bag holding her head was opened, rather than seeing a decapitated head, the guards saw rose petals and they were free to go.
San Domenico from across town
4.       Torture Museum: This one’s not for the faint of heart. Just off the Piazza del Campo in a little vicolo is Siena’s Museo della Tortura, a grim look into the sick practices of mankind. All sorts of accessories and weapons designed to maim, stretch, puncture, slice and humiliate are found within this museum, which is surprisingly well curated. Captions are written in 4 languages, the ticket is 10 euro and includes admission to the death penalty museum in San Gimigniano. My friend and I wanted to go but never got around to it, although I imagine it would have been much of the same.
5.       Eating: Nobody can hang out in Tuscany without eating. A lot. This is kind of true for all of Italy, really, but I discovered some dishes that I particularly enjoyed that are typical to the region. Check out Trattoria Dino for a hearty serving of some classic pici cacio e pepe, La Taverna del Capitano just by the duomo for my new favorite, ribollita, a traditional and hearty Tuscan soup featuring white beans and bits of bread, and stop by the Grom on Banchi di Sopra. Although it is indeed a chain, it’s some of the best gelato I’ve eaten and they pay particular attention to local and seasonal ingredients and their carbon footprint.