December 12, 2010

Italy – Siena (day 2)

Posted in travel at 2:51 pm by jimazing

lionsJeanie and I started our day with a couple of hours of extra sleep.  This was to be a slower day in Siena followed by a bit of excitement on our trip to Rome.  Siena is a medieval Tuscan city, rich with art and history in addition to the beautiful country we saw on our first day.  Like Venice, Siena is a good walking city.  We got around most of the day on foot. Like every city we visited, the structures are truly ancient.  We do not build today with the same sense of time that was used when these buildings were created.  They took hundreds of years to create structures that would last for thousands of years.  It is amazing to look at a wall and be told that it is well over a thousand years old and think of the designers and the workmen who poured their very lives into it.  And see it still standing for me to admire.  And there are hundreds of such buildings all over the place.

Romulus & Remus

I had heard of the legend that Rome was founded by Romulus, who was one of twins raised by wolves.romulus-remus I didn’t know that his twin, Remus, was supposed to have founded Siena.  There were many statues and bas reliefs of the twins like this one both in Siena and Rome. I have a personal connection to this story also.  My paternal great-grandfather (my father’s father’s father) was one of twins and his name was Romulus. Want to guess his brother’s name?  I can remember visiting my great-grandfather, Romulus.  They tell me that he used to set me on his knee and tell me bear stories (or as he said it, “bar” stories).  His twin brother’s name was of course, Remus (Clinton) Anderson.  Other than that, I do not know anything about him.  If anyone in my family can enlighten me, please do.

Shopping is of course shopping to be had and we did our part for the economy of Siena.  I found a terrific cutting board made of olive wood for myself.  Whilst the ladies were choosing scarves, I noticed my (favorite) niece, Erica had chosen a corner of the store next to some fancy hats to rest her weary legs.  As much as I love to shop for scarves, I felt that I needed a distraction.  The juxtaposition of the fancy hats and the beautiful young model inspired me. I think it surprised her at first, but she soon got into the spirit as I took the opportunity to create this photo series which I shall call, The Many Hats of Erica… If the slideshow doesn’t appear and you are reading in email or Facebook, click this link to see the original

Piazza del Campo

The heart of Siena is the Piazza del Campo, a large, open quadrangle in the middle of the city.  piazza-del-campoIt’s like a city park with no nature.  No trees, no bushes, no flowers, no grass, no dirt, just a stone “floor” surrounded by stone buildings.  I love a park with lots of nature.  This held a much different kind of beauty for me.  Like so much of historic Italy, the beauty was in an appreciation for the creative expression of people over many centuries.

They hold a horse race in the Piazza twice a year called The Palio.  I can only imagine the throngs of people in the middle of the square as 10 horses race around the perimeter on the stone street.  I’d like to attend once just for the experience.  It was nice  just walking around and enjoying being there.  The photo is Jeanie and me enjoying the Piazza.

The Underground Museum


Franco took us to see the Duomo di Siena (the Cathedral) and we spent most of the rest of our time in the Museo Ospedale di Santa Maria Nuova.  This museum goes through a cathedral area and then plunges underground into the catacombs where there are paintings, sculpture & artifacts from the region going back to hundreds of years BC.  Had it been solely up to me, I would have stayed in there for weeks.

Have you ever noticed that the really great stories are always born from tragedy.  They are the kind of story that no one wants to experience first hand.  One of the tragic histories of the middle ages that happened right here was the black plague. A hand written list hung on the wall of the people who died in Siena from the black plague and who were buried right here.  Because the people did not understand how the plague was transmitted, they simply dumped bodies into these catacombs like a mass grave.  Franco showed us this human bone that was there in the museum where excavation appeared to be going on. Sobering!

Adventures in Train Travel

Well, the decision to stay wasn’t mine to make and our time in Siena was over. Franco returned us to the train station and we began our journey to Rome.  Like our trip from Venice, the trip to Rome was in two segments.  The first leg to Chiusi was uneventful.  It was more like a commuter train with lots of stops along the way.  Our train to Rome was more like a “real train” with compartments for privacy (for those willing to pay extra).  At Chiusi, we were a little less confident about getting on the next train.  We weren’t absolutely sure where to wait.  It was a great stress relief for me to have extra margin of time built in to figure all this out.

Our train pulled into the station and there was a throng of people getting on.  We had assigned seats in car number two, but when the train stopped, we were standing in front of car six.  No problem, we are sure there will be time to get on, but the train lunged just a bit, which confused us all into thinking it was leaving.  All five of us realize (true or not) that we have to get on that train right away.  We’ve seen enough European spy movies to know you can walk between the cars, so we all got on the train with the intention of moving forward through the cars until we got to our seats.

The entranceway of the car where we got on was too small to hold us all at the same time.  Erica was first in line and confused about what was happening (she hasn’t seen enough European spy movies yet).  Cathryn told her to just leave the bag she was normally responsible for and move on to the next car.  This finally gave me room to get on the train.  Erica, Jeanie and Jared all moved forward through the doors into car 5 without any problem.  Then the train began to move and the doors closed between the cars.  No big thing.  The doors between the cars were automated with big buttons to open them like an elevator.  However, unlike an elevator, if you block the door, it doesn’t sense it and and reopen.  It just continues to press against you until you activate the button again; very difficult to do while struggling with bags.

As the train began to move, Cathryn was juggling the bags she was responsible for plus the one she told Erica to leave behind.  I had on a backpack and was handling one of our suitcases which prevented me from helping her.  The doors kept closing on us  as we forced our way into the vestibule between car six and car five.  Finally together through the first door, Cathryn reached for the button to open the door that would let us into car five and it did not respond.  She got a look on her face that said, “No freaking way!” and tried again.  Sure enough, it didn’t even respond.  I think I reached over and hit it too, but the doors did not move.  Fortunately, she and I both seemed to be thinking the same thing… this is going to make a great story.  She sat down on the floor with her bags around her and began to laugh.  Here we were stuck between the cars and our companions were completely out of our sight.  We didn’t know but that they had already found their seats in car two.

Stuck on the trainMeanwhile, the rest of them were just a little ahead of us and waiting for us to catch up.  They began to wonder what happened to us and also what they would tell the conductor when he asked for their tickets, since they were in Cathryn’s bag and none of us spoke Italian. It is easy enough to make yourself understood when you are trying to explain something expected, but this…  Jared came back to check on us and when he saw our predicament, he did what any good storyteller would do.  He got out his camera. This photo is a composite of the photo he took with the photo we took of him. We talked with hand signals and then he walked away.  By this point I was ready to finish this story and begin the next one.  The floor where the two cars met was moving back and forth, which did not feel safe. This potential story was quickly losing its charm.

I noticed a bumpy thing on the door that was large enough to grab, so I pulled on it and the door opened.  Of course it would not stay open without someone holding it.  So, I held it open for Cathryn and then struggled to get my suitcase through while holding it too.  We were finally all in car number five.  Cathryn and I still had not gotten our composure nor did we have good control of our bags.  One of us made a self deprecating reference to those “stupid Americans!” when this large Italian woman comes around the corner where we are laughing at ourselves and trying to regain control.  If looks could kill, the look she gave us would have instantly dropped us both.  Stupid Americans, indeed!

The rest of the trip to our seats was less eventful, but involved a lot of standing in line and speculating whether this train made any stops along the way, or whether we might have to stand for the whole 3 hours.  It stopped.  Some passengers disembarked, and we found our seats.  We retold the story and laughed about it together.  Then we passed another train going the other direction.  The wind from that encounter caused a loud bang on the window right beside me and I thought it was all over.  I wondered aloud whether I might have a change of underwear in my backpack, which of course brought a whole new round of laughter.

When we arrived in Rome, we found that our hotel, the Mecenade Palace  was just a quarter mile from the train station, so we walked to it and checked in.  We had a fine dinner in the hotel restaurant overlooking the Basilica of St Mary Major.  Our waiter, Vito, was soon to become our next Facebook friend from the trip.


1 Comment »

  1. Oh yeah, I can relate. I have a relative who got on an Italian train somewhere going the wrong way, and arrived in Parma instead of Florence.
    On another occasion, Pat and I had just exited a train station in Bologna and were looking for a bus for the airport. We learned after a while and much confusion that we should take bus @105. When bus #105-S showed up, we were unsure of what to do, but took a chance on it. It worked, thank God.
    Btw, in my Siena Part 1 comment yesterday, I mentioned that I wasn’t sure if we had gone there. Pat tells me it was San Giaminano that we went to with the towers in the wall.
    I’m waiting now to hear about Rome. Did you see the Vittorio Emanuel memorial? Its the one with all the statues on top, next to the ancient ruins.

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