Friday, 8 May 2015

Italy - A Day in Siena

Eric snuck out of the hotel with his camera early Thursday morning while the rest of us slept.  An early morning fog blanketed the valleys, not quite ready to lift yet to let the day begin.  It's very likely the girls and I were still hidden under our blankets as well when he returned to our hotel room, reluctant to let our day begin too, until we remember we were in Siena that is.

We spent the entire day in Siena.  After breakfast at the hotel, we once again wound our way through the ancient streets towards the center of the city and it's beautiful Piazza.  Eric wanted to climb to the top of the Torre del Mangia, the bell tower, because what better place to get some breathtaking photos of Siena and what lays beyond it's walls.  

It's quite a climb as you can imagine - long, steep and narrow.  

But he made it and was rewarded for his effort with magnificent vistas in every direction.

Far below him lay the Piazza del Campo from where he had just come.  The girls and I may have been sitting down there - or maybe not.  You see, while daddy is away, the girls go shopping!  All those adorable little boutiques we had passed while we wandered the streets were calling our names.  I found a lovely Italian scarf for myself.  I had been admiring them since we had arrived in this wonderful city.  Now I own one.  Oh, and the purses - the beautiful Italian leather purses!  Should I spend that much on a purse that I don't really need?  Mine is perfectly fine and fairly new to boot.  But these soft brown Italian leather purses are so beautiful and perfect and beautiful.  Did I say that already?  Oh, what a hard decision to make!

But I digress.  Back to Eric on top of the bell tower (and I still don't own an Italian leather purse by the way).

Eric spotted the great black and white striped duomo we would visit later that day (duomo is the name for an Italian cathedral church) with the hills of Tuscany rising off in the distance.

He could see the streets and rooftops of Siena stretching out in every direction.

And then there was the bell at the top of the tower of course.   

By the time he was finished snapping photos and found his way back down the steep staircase it was time for lunch - and we had plans.  Good plans!  Great plans!  You see, the day before we had stumbled upon the perfect place to sit outside and enjoyed a long, slow lunch, Italian style.  Late in the afternoon, we had been walking around the outskirts of the walled city when I spotted a man high above us setting umbrellas up over tables on a terrace.  The streets are so steep and curvy in Siena that even though we could tell there was a restaurant up there with an amazing view of Siena and Tuscany, we had no idea how to get to the restaurant, or what restaurant it was.  Disappointed, we carried on with our walk.  

A few minutes later, we found ourselves heading back towards the heart of the city, walking slowly along the steep twisting and turning streets when I stopped to read a menu outside of a restaurant as we were looking for a place to have dinner that evening.  The menu looked great so I put my face up to the window to see what the restaurant looked like inside.  As I peered through the dark tinted windows, my eyes were drawn to a bright light at the back of the restaurant where much to my surprise and delight, I could see an open door that led out to a sunny terrace filled with umbrella covered tables.  This was in fact THE terrace we had seen just a few short minutes before.  If this wasn't destiny, than I don't know what is.  The restaurant was called VaVice Pizza & Griglia. 

As is the fashion in Italy, VaVice doesn't open for dinner until 7:30 in the evening.  It was too early for us to duck in and enjoy a meal on the terrace right then, so we decided we would come back for lunch the next day, which is why we made out way there for lunch after Eric's climb to the top of the bell tower.  And it was there, on the terrace of VaVice that we enjoyed one of the best meals we had in Italy.  We sipped wine while looking out over Siena and the countryside beyond.  We watched a cat duck back and forth under the fence right next to us and onto the neighboring terrace, only to duck back to our side a few minutes later.   The sun warmed our faces but it was by no means hot.  In fact, it was the perfect day to sit outside and enjoy lunch.  And enjoy we did because the food was simply amazing!

Ellie ordered some delicious lasagna.  That the noodles were freshly made was obvious, and it was just the right mix of cheesy tomato goodness.

Leah ordered tortellini and mushrooms in a creamy tomato sauce.  I love that she digs mushrooms as much as I do, especially when she doesn't eat all of her tortellini and I can help her out a bit. 

And Eric and I split a few dishes, starting with a melt in your mouth Ricotta and Vegetable Tart with Pesto.  

The main course was an equally delectable chicken with stuffed figs and pecorino cheese and roasted potatoes.  We didn't realize until we were almost done with the dish that we had neglected to take a photo.  Half a bite of chicken and one potato does not a pretty picture make.   

Ahh, but we did remember to take a photo of dessert after only a few bits were missing - Limoncello Tiramisu.  You should be jealous because while regular tiramisu is brilliant, Limoncello Tiramisu is out of this world good!

We had reserved the afternoon to visit the Duomo di Siena, the unique cathedral we had passed by a few times while meandering the streets, and this great cathedral would turn out to be one of my favorites here in Europe.  We've seen A LOT of cathedrals, but this was the first time we had seen a black and white striped cathedral, and set amongst the medieval streets of Siena, this cathedral was a most impressive sight.  The reason it's black and white is because of the legendary founders of Siena I mentioned in my first post on the city - Senius and Aschius (remember - they are the two sons of Remus who is the little guy you see suckling from the she-wolf statute).  It is said that the two brothers road through the streets of Siena, one on a white horse and the other on a black horse.  Black and white are the symbolic colors of Siena, and hence the reason for their use in the grand cathedral.

And inside the cathedral - well, that was equally if not more impressive than the black and white exterior, very much keeping with the Gothic theme you feel all over the old city of Siena.   The use of the two colors carried through to the interior but their effect seemed to be amplified inside the towering structure.  

The ceiling was absolutely spectacular and unlike any we have seen, painted a dark blue and decorated with golden stars, as if you were gazing up at a star filled sky on a clear night.  

It seemed as if every inch of the walls and ceilings inside the Duomo were covered in brilliant frescoes and statues.  In fact, the busts of 172 popes dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries gaze down at you from high above as you slowly walk through the aisles taking it all it.  

The marble pulpit was sculpted from 1265-1268 and given the detail, it's easy to understand why it took three years to complete.  Around the top level there are seven scenes depicting the life of Christ.

And the floors - as if there isn't enough to look at already, the mosaic scenes inlaid into the floor are said to be some of the most ornate in all of Italy.  

The cathedral is full of stunning artwork, including pieces by Donatello, Bernini, and the sculpture pictured below of Saint Paul which was done by a young Michelangelo.  

After our visit to the Duomo di Siena, there was one more thing we needed to do while in Siena - we needed to get some gelato!  

And stop at the park.  The girls had been such good travelers so far on our two week tour of Italy that they deserved a little time to just be kids.



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