Saturday, September 27, 2008

SIENA

September 28, 2008

I spent the past 4 days of my "long" weekend in Lucca, arriving Wednesday and leaving Sunday On Thursday I took a day trip to Siena, a beautiful, traditional Tuscan city and home the the famous Il Palio horse race. Siena is much closer to Lucca (both are in the Toscana region), so I figured it would be easier to get to from there rather than all the way from Padova. The city is full of history, but since most of the main sights are located in the historic city center (which is actually another UNESCO World Heritage Site) it's easy to see them in a few hours.
I actually spent more time on the trains there and back than I did in Siena! The train wasn't too bad; it was only 2 1/2 hours, but I had to switch trains twice and take three different ones! I spent about 4 hours in the city, which I think was just enough, but 5 on stupid trains! I was pretty tired heading out that morning, and got started on the wrong foot when I tried to use the automated ticket machine at the Lucca train station. I was in a hurry so I didn't read the sign on it saying that it couldn't give change for €20, and didn't realize I was missing money til I had gotten on the train. I was able to get off before it left, but when I went back to look at the machine, I realized you're supposed to get a receipt and a ticket, then you have to wait in line so a cashier can give you your change (so much for the machine being a faster alternative to waiting for a cashier!). So I waited in line for a good 20 minutes, and when I got to the window the man rudely asked me if I had the receipt, and when I told him the machine didn't give me one, he gave me a look like he didn't believe me and started filling out a form. Apparently when they open up the machine and find my receipt, they'll send me my €12....Ha!
On the way there I kept nodding off to sleep and then jerking awake again, afraid that I had slept through my stop, so there were no refreshing naps for me : ( When I finally got to Siena, I managed to find a bus going toward centro and got off at a random stop close to a a pretty church called Santo Domenico with a huge bronze horse statue in front. Right next to the church I was treated to a perfect view point of the Sienese rooftops where I took some of my first lovely photos of the day! The main sights I wanted to see were Piazza del Campo and the Duomo, and I could see the latter in the distance, but it took me a good half hour to find my way there. The city was crowded with tour groups, especially German ones, so I just followed one until I found signs to direct me toward the center : ) Siena is made of really steep hills, too, so even though you can definitely get from one place to another on foot, you have to endure some intense inclines.
My first stop was the town square Piazza del Campo, known simply as Il Campo to locals, and host to the famous Il Palio. Perhaps what Siena is most known for, Il Palio is a traditional medieval horse race run around the Piazza del Campo twice each year. Seventeen contrade (city neighborhoods) vie for the trophy: a painted flag, or Palio, bearing an image of the Virgin Mary. All around the city year-round, you'll see the various flags of the contrade hanging from windows or on souvenirs in tourist shops.
The shell-shaped piazza also houses the vast brick Palazzo Pubblico and the sky-high Torre del Mangia. The piazza was filled with people, just sitting on the ground enjoying lunch or a conversation. I'd been told that climbing the tower was an absolute must, that the views of Siena and the surrounding Tuscan countryside were well worth the neverending, claustraphobia-inducing stairs to the top, and it was all right on! I consider myself a relatively small person, and even I was touching both sides of the wall at several spots on the stairs and ducking to get under the ridiculously low ceiling.
But, oh, the views! If those were the only things I saw in Siena, I would not be disappointed. I won't try to explain them in words, I would only make them sound less spectacular than they really are, but I hope my pics give you some idea of what I was lucky enough to see that day. Even seeing the sunray design of the piazza from above was awesome. As I was climbing up, the sky got a little cloudy though and the wind had picked up, and at that height it was especially strong... And with surprisingly little saftey guards at the top, I have to admit I was a tiny bit scared : ) To give you an idea of how high up I was, if you can see the bell at the top of the tower in the pics, I was close enough to touch it!
Next I headed to Siena's romanesque cathedral, or Duomo. I first spotted the unique black-and-white striped cathedral tower and was pretty impressed, until I rounded the corner and saw the unbelievably ornate fa├žade, with subtle touches of pink and golden frescoes, leaving me speechless. Seriously, I probably could have just stood there and stared for a good hour. But alas, I was running out of time before I had to catch a train back, so I headed inside, where the black-and-white theme continued on the myriad columns lining the aisles of the cathedral. My favorite part, however, was the ceiling, colored sky-blue and studded with stars! Another impressive standout was the marble floor, with incrediblely detailed pictures and designs inlaid with various colored marble. And of course there was a beautiful stained glass and paintings by famous Italian artists, too. Inside the cathdral there is also a Baptistry and the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, but since there was an aditional fee for both and I didn't have that much time, I stuck to the cathedral which had plenty to see on it's own. Also, across from the Duomo is the Spedale Santa Maria della Scala, the huge former hospital that now houses a museum.
On a somewhat funny note, I documented with photos the various times saw the damn lupa, or she-wolf, around Siena. There was even a she-wolf water fountain! Thoroughly exhausted, I hopped on a bus back to the station and caught a train back to Lucca, having enjoyed a great day in beautiful Siena!
I won't say too much about my time in Lucca since there really isn't a lot to say anyway. Some highlights included: booking my flight to Dublin with Gabi for next month! (although not without more troubles from Ryanair, read: double booking), finding these great boots on sale, eating amazing food again, watching the Sex & the City movie which Lia got in London, and Tequila of course. Lucca was surprisingly cold though, so when Tequila slept with me, she actually crawled all the way under the blankets and stayed there the whole night! She also has a new ball that bounces, so it was pretty fun making it ricochet off things and watch her chase it. Then on Sunday, I even got to help give her a bath! She was so cute all wet and soapy : ) Carly also came Friday evening til Sunday and I think she enjoyed it. We didn't get a chance to go into Lucca, but I'm sure there will be a next time. As for now, I'm attempting to figure out a class schedule since classes start tomorrow (!!!), but am only becoming more and more frustrated. Hmph.
On a final note, rush was this past week back at UCSB, and Saturday was Bid Day, which means we have new baby Gamma Phis! I was surprised by how sad I was to be missing all of it, though. I guess I have a love/hate relationship with rush. I can't wait to meet the new pledge class, but in the meantime Facebook stalking will have to suffice! Congrats on rush G Phi!!

xxxx

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