Saturday, June 18, 2011


To Siena

It was a bittersweet morning. We awoke early, packed and cleaned the apartment. As instructed, we left the keys behind and made our last exit onto via Governo Vecchio. We caught the 64 bus, squeezed in among the less-than-ambrosial passengers and made the final roundabout past Victor Emanuele monument and to the Termini station. Finding our train to Siena went quite smoothly. We headed immediately for a ticket kiosk, and had our tickets within a few minutes. Once we were at the tracks, we found ourselves a bit stumped by the system. After asking an employee, we were heading toward track 1. I verified the ticket and we boarded the train. This is how it works: On the Departures board, you will find the time closest to your ticket in bold. Also in bold is the ultimate destination of your train. For us, our train was headed for Florence, but we needed to make a connection in Chiusi, so we just needed to stop there. Listed below the bold lettering is a list of all the stops and the times the train will reach them. Pretty simple when you know what to look for.
It took a few tries to find a sufficiently empty car where we could stow our bags. We ended up sitting across from a guy from San Luis who was using the hostel-to-hostel technique. Though spontaneity sounds fun, I prefer knowing where I will be sleeping in the evening.
The train ride from Rome to Chiusi lasted close to two hours. The scenery was nice, but we spent most of our time in tunnels or behind trees. We said caio to the guy from San Luis, crossed under the tracks, and waited ten minutes in line to use the grimy bathroom. We then ate a lunch of surprisingly good cafeteria style pizza and waited for our next train to Siena. It arrived shortly after we finished our 'meal', we boarded after asking some English-speaking tourists if they were going to Siena as well. It was a modern, stylish train, unlike our last ride, with spacious seating (though markedly less comfortable than the last seats). Erik kept worrying we were on the wrong train. Eventually I convinced him otherwise, and I was right. This train ran for slightly under an hour and a half, and was considerably more scenic. The countryside rolled in green and gold, mottled with the shadows of the clouds above, dotted with cypress-lined drives leading to quintessential red-roofed villas. No better word to describe it than charming. The last stop was Siena. We exited the train and easily purchased our €1 bus tickets.
The challenge began when we boarded the next bus, which immediately from my recollection took us in the opposite direction of Siena.
I began to get concerned when I didn't see Siena. Even moreso when all the other passengers got off and Erik and I were the only ones riding the bus to nowhere. Eventually the bus stopped and I asked the driver if the bus went to Siena. Though he didn't speak much english, he confirmed that indeed it did. However, he didn't start up the bus again for another ten minutes, then returned to the other town and picked up passengers. Only when we passed the train station in the direction of Siena did I begin to relax. I confirmed with another passenger on the bus of our destination and she graciously gave us directions. The final stop did come, and we breathed a sigh of relief as we stepped off. But that was not the end of our difficulties.
We found Il Campo, the center of Siena, easily enough, within ten minutes or so. From google maps, I thought I knew where our apartment was in relation to our favorite gelato shop (of course). Unfortunately this was not the right street. We asked several locals where Piazzetta Bonali was, all of them unable to tell us. At this time we were quite exhausted and frustrated. After asking a couple separate souvenir vendors the location of the nearest tourist information, we headed across the campo in search of answers.
Hallelujah, they told us exactly where to go. It turned out that our apartment was one street down from the one we originally looked on, though midway down, a very small piazza intersected it. We thanked her wholeheartedly and struck out, glad to have a heading. Indeed, we had no trouble finding the place thereafter. It is in a very small intersection of streets which form a very very small square if it can be called such. We rang the bell at the gate labeled Gianni, as instructed, and the iron gate opened. We crossed a tiny courtyard and climbed five flights of steps to the top., while lugging our painfully heavy packs. But our was not quite done being interesting yet.
A woman named Julianna and her young husband and daughter greeted us. They are very friendly but do not speak much English. We entered the flat. It is a massive establishment. The setup and furnishings are rustic yet elegant, and we followed the family into a sitting room, where we were asked to have a seat. We spent the next fifteen minutes waiting for the two to decipher our passports and record the information for their records. Then we were showed our room. It turns out that our apartment is only a small part of the larger apartment. We have everything we need, though the aspect of living in the same house with people who speak little English is a bit hard to get used to. They showed us the separate kitchen and dining area, gave us the keys and left us to unpack.
What an experience.
Thankfully, the location of the apartment was worth all its hassle. A two minute walk to both Piazza del Duomo and Il Campo. Can't ask for much more.
Our evening was much less stressful. We settled in, I handwashed some if my clothes and left them to dry while we went to Il Campo for dinner. il Campo is the center of Siena, bordered by quaint yet impressive medieval buildings, and the imposing torre del Mangia. The piazza slopes downward toward the tower, lined with cross-cross red bricks. We ate right on the square, an excellent meal for both, I with four-cheese gnocchi and Erik with ossobuco. The weather in Siena is drastically cooler than that of Rome, by ten degrees easily. I found that my jacket was not enough. We headed back up to the main street, Via dei Citta, to see about some gelato from the favorite place of the last trip with my mom. Unfortunately, they did not have panna cotta ice cream as I had hoped. We settled for caffe and noce. Though we were shivering, we enjoyed every bit of it and were grateful we had a sure place to sleep that night, and thankful that the trials of the day were over.

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