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Exploring: Intro to Tuscany / Destination Siena

“Tuscany looks like what all of Italy should look like.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (attributed)

We stare out the train window as the green, rolling hills glide by, somewhere between Rome and our next destination north, the Tuscan city of Siena. Along the way, we occasionally spot old, crumbling castles perched atop hills in the distance, slowly being claimed by nature. Small villages hug mountain ridges, leaving me to wonder how they ended up there and why. Coming from the “concrete jungle” of Los Angeles, the green landscape here is mesmerizing and seems infinite. Puffs of white clouds in the blue sky cast shadows on a mix of vineyards, olive trees, low-lying crops, and prairie-type grass that blanket the land and sway in the gentle breeze.

It’s nice to sit because everything is sore. We have been walking miles and miles every day, and the fatigue started in my feet and worked its way up from there. I slept 9 hours last night and a solid day in bed to recuperate (and preferably with a view overlooking this landscape) is sounding really nice right now.

Despite all the walking, this cuisine isn’t doing my body any favors. “Hips don’t lie,” a wise lyricist once said. Surely, the same food we are seeing and ordering in so many places can’t be the same that Italians are eating at home. Pizzerias, dessert bars, and gelaterias are found on seemingly every other block, and the five-course meals leave me full after only the second course. In general, the locals look healthy and, I’m guessing, find a way to stay happy even without the bread and oil we enjoy twice daily. About that- most places charge for bread, so let the waitstaff know if you don’t want any, and they will take it away.

Approaching Siena, the train slows down, creaking and squeaking its way into the station. Stepping down onto the platform, it takes a moment to get our bearings. We step outside and see most people are walking across the street and into a shopping center. Weird. “So where’s the town from here?” we wonder.

Having only speculation to go on, we ask for help and find out the most direct way to the city is through that shopping mall across the street, then up a series of escalators. This isn’t just any standard set of moving stairs. These goes up and up and up, and we finally reach the top of the hill after a nearly 10 minute ride!

In Siena, Italy the long series of escalators from the train station to elevated city is shown in a vertical view.

In Siena, Italy the long series of escalators from the train station to hilltop city is shown in a vertical view.

Exiting the glass doors at the top, we roll our suitcases along and walk just a couple minutes before reaching the hotel. We check in, drop off our belongings in the room, then eagerly walk toward town. On the way, we pass the escalator and continue on for another 300 m./1,000 ft. to the city gate, Porta Camollia, built in 1604. Be sure to avoid the middle of the three arches, since that’s where cars suddenly zoom through, when the traffic light on the other side of the wall turns green.

The city wall almost acts like a time portal. Cross the boundary into the medieval city, and the narrow, cobblestone streets complement the old, three-story buildings with window shutters, the outdoor restaurant seating, and scooter traffic going by. These elements all come together like a portrait of classic Italy. It can be easy to get lost here, but if you’ve got the time, don’t worry since you’re enclosed within a roughly 1 square mile (or 1.6 km²) area.

With enough wandering through the veins and arteries of the city, you’ll inevitably find the heart of the place – Piazza del Campo (AKA il campo – “the field). This grand, open square is surrounded by cafes, city hall, and the 102 m./334 ft. clock tower (Torre del Mangia). Being the social center of town, people gather here all throughout the day to sit/sip/eat/chat/people watch.

Piazza del Campo, the main public square of Siena, Italy, is shown in an overhead view during the day.

Piazza del Campo, the main public square of Siena, Italy, is shown in an overhead view during the day.

Shifting your view from the foreground to the background, Sienese rooftops and rolling hills of Tuscany come into focus. Siena Cathedral, completed nearly 700 years ago, demands attention, with its zebra stripes breaking up the rest of the skyline’s aesthetic uniformity.

Siena, Italy – June 2, 2012: The black and white striped, medieval Siena Cathedral, completed in 1348 AD, is shown from Torre del Mangia.

We love this view and have it framed and hanging on our living room wall. To purchase a print, visit: Kilmer Media on Fine Art America

Twice a year and during summer, the plaza perimeter is used as a track for a fierce, bareback horserace called the Palio. It’s a quick, three lap contest, with riders striking each other with whips. The first horse to cross the finish line wins (even if the rider is no longer on it!) The races are a serious matter, with each horse and rider team representing the various “contrada” (districts/neighborhoods) of the city. The winning rider is hailed as a hero, bringing great pride and bragging rights to the community he represents.

Although the Palio isn’t taking place during our visit, the anticipatory celebrations are underway. We join a parade making its way into Piazzo del Campo and have fun appreciating the history and pageantry this tradition represents. Although no one seems to mind, we stand out because residents from this contrada are all clad in their official colors, red and white, while flag-bearers and marching drummers wear outfits reminiscent of a stereotypical jester suit (with a Tyrolean/Bavarian style hat).

A Corteo Storico parade procession is shown in Siena, Italy.

Leading up to the annual Palio horserace, a parade procession is shown in Siena, Italy.

The parade clears out and we continue exploring. Just before 6 PM and having worked up an appetite, we start looking for a place to eat. Only a couple restaurants we pass show any signs of life. We pick a place, and they aren’t quite open but invite us to take a seat and wait as they finish prepping the tables. Right at 6, a waiter comes back, and we place our order. The highlight definitely turns out to be pappardelle with wild boar ragu. It’s a Tuscan specialty, and wow! It’s so good.

Siena is a really charming place. You can get a rough gist of the small city in a day. More time is definitely advised, and this can be a great place to recuperate, if that’s what you need. For us, our three days here is punctuated by a day trip to a Tuscan winery and a magical-looking, medieval town on a hill called San Gimignano. We savor the moment while looking forward to what’s next.

In Siena, a classic Italian view is shown down an alley. To purchase a print of this image, visit: Kilmer Media on Fine Art America

Until we meet again…


“Intro to Tuscany / Destination Siena" – June 2012 Written by: Justin Kilmer, Edited by: Janine Kilmer

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Unless otherwise noted, all media and text on this page are copyrighted © by Justin Kilmer.


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