Today we woke up slowly. Probably a function of exhaustion from walking all day yesterday, coupled with the copious amounts of delicious Italian beer and pasta we ingested last night.
As I’ve said before, we’re not “art people” and we generally find Florence to be congested and foul-smelling, so we decided to head out to the hill towns today. We chose Siena based on the fact that several people have told us it is Florence-esque without all the big city bustle and crowds.
We made it out the door around 10:00 and started walking toward the SITA bus station. I use the term “station” lightly, as it’s really just a small ticket office and a parking lot full of buses. Anyway, the station is right around the corner from Santa Maria Novella train station. It took us roughly 20 minutes to walk from the apartment and find the station. We bought our tickets and loitered in the parking lot while we waited for the 10:50 bus.
I had an interesting public restroom experience in the bus station. There was a charge to use the restroom and a turnstile to get in. There was a woman collecting money and passing out packets of kleenex, as there was no toilet paper (or paper towels) in the restrooms at all. There were also no toilet seats on the toilets and only two stalls in the room, so it was a long wait. I was aware that I would have to pay for toilets in most places here, but I found it a little odd and somewhat annoying that I had to pay €0.50 for a toilet I couldn’t even sit on.
The bus ride was interesting as well; similar to our crazy taxi incident when we first got here, only we were in a ginormous bus towering over top of all the other bikes, mopeds, cars and pedestrians. I was amazed at how the bus navigated the narrow car-lined streets and bridges, in some spots missing a car or a crazy mopedder by mere inches. I had thought getting out of the city was going to be the most interesting part of our drive, but found out I was way wrong once we got outside of the city and took off at a ridiculously fast speed over hills, around corners and down narrow stretches of road. I don’t recall ever being car sick before, but this trip really got to me.
We arrived at Piazza Gramsci in Siena around noon. We didn’t have a map and decided to just pick and direction and start exploring. So we crossed the street and headed off, unbeknownst to us, in the complete opposite direction of where we wanted to go. We walked along a tree-and-car-lined street with a small ark area off to one side with two small carousels. As we walked, we could faintly hear the chipper carousel music floating across the park. Eventually, we dead ended into a public garden area; not exactly where we wanted to be, but pretty nonetheless. We spent a few minutes walking around, then headed back to the station to get our bearings and head toward Piazza del Campo.
We had lunch at a pizza place with a large outdoor patio area. We sat at a nice table in the corner, covered by an umbrella and enjoyed our first Italian pizzas and a couple of beers. I chose quattro formaggi (four cheese) and K had salsiccia e peperoni (sausage and pepperoni). The pizzas that came out were HUGE and so delicious! I could barely eat half of my pizza, so K polished off all of his and the rest of mine. Then looked like he might be sick, but powered through the rest of his beer like a champ.
We left the restaurant and lazily strolled along the steep, narrow streets, past dozens of small shops, following signs posted on the buildings to the Piazza del Campo. The piazza is a large, open square, surrounded by small shops and lots of restaurants with the Palazzo Pubblico (town hall) and the Torre del Mangia towering at its side as the focal point.
We explored the piazza a bit then grabbed a gelato from a small place around the perimeter and sat down to people watch. This time I tried caramello, and it was every bit as delicious as the vaniglia e caffe I had in Venice a few days ago. K denied wanting any, but was more than happy to eat a significant portion of mine.
As we sat eating our (I mean my) gelato, we watched people running, walking, sitting, sleeping, eating and shopping all across the open area.
There were pigeons dive-bombing everyone, begging for food, and we spent a really long time watching a toddler entertain herself chasing the pigeons around the ground. She’d get sooo close to the pigeons, then they’d flap their wings, lobbing themselves right over her head and back to the ground. It would take her a minute to realize what had happened; standing confused, spinning in circles giggling until she found her target and off she went again. It was so carefree and really precious to watch. I wish I still found it so easy to find so much joy in such small things.
We shopped around the piazza a little bit, and I bought a big cross-body boho bag so that I have something to carry all of my crap around in for the rest of the trip. So far, I’ve just been carrying around a small purse and loading K’s pockets down with everything else I need to carry.
We exited the piazza in the same direction we’d entered and walked around the city, following the signs to the duomo. When we got there, it was ridiculously crowded and the ticket lines were super long, so we wandered through the entryway area and out the other side. On the other side, we sat on the steps and checked out the stonework/people watched a bit more. K had the camera today, so we didn’t even come back with a photo of the church. Travel blogger fail.
From the cathedral, we wandered the streets a bit, window shopping and enjoying the atmosphere. The city really was very similar to Florence, except a bit more compact, far less busy and nowhere near as foul-smelling. There were large crowds like Florence, though, and not as many places to go to escape them.
We left Siena a little after 4:00, holding on for dear life as we started our bumpy, swervy, speedy trip back to Florence.
When we arrived back in Florence, we decided to take a stroll through Mercato Centrale before we headed back to the apartment. I browsed through purses and clothes, but didn’t find anything particularly interesting or worth filling what precious little space I still have left in my suitcase. I did pop into an electronics store to buy a grounded plug adapter for my laptop. It hadn’t been charged since Amsterdam and was running on fumes. With our shopping completed, we wandered slowly back to the apartment to unwind for a bit before dinner.
We decided to go back to Ristorante Perseus tonight for bisteca alla Fiorentina, as recommended by our landlord Gabriele. We got to the restaurant around 8:00 tonight, and luckily there was no line, though the place was pretty loud and busy. We were seated in the back room tonight, which was a little brighter and open than the front room where we sat the other night. There were several wooden tables, some dried spices and cooking paraphernalia hanging from the ceiling and a fresco of the city of Florence painted on the back wall, spread across three decorative archways. We sat at a small table against a sidewall and enjoyed a bottle of house wine and people watching while we waited for our food.
When the steak came out, I think my eyes about popped out of my head. It was an enormous, 3-4 inch thick slab of t-bone steak. The waiter brought it to our table on a cart with a carving board on top and cut it up in front of us. I really couldn’t believe the amount of steak, and didn’t think there was any way under the sun we would finish it all.
The steak was served cooked rare. Typically I’m not a fan of meat that is cooked anything less than medium, but when in Rome (er, Florence)… So I gave it a shot and it was GOOD. The cut was perfect and tender, not chewy at all. And with it only being cooked rare, it was really juicy and full of flavor. We also had some roasted potatoes that were really good; cooked to perfection, perfectly seasoned and complimented the steak very well. I was full by the time I’d eaten about 3/4 of what was on my plate, but it was so good, I could.not.stop.eating. I cleaned my plate and what was left on K’s plate. (Insert piggy noises here.)
After dinner, we took a short walk to combat some of the gluttonous discomfort. Now we’re watching…wait for it… BBC. Again. I can’t even stream Netflix here. It would be nice to have something mindless to drift off to sleep to, but I guess this will do for now.
Time for bed now. Who knows what tomorrow has in store.