Italy and Switzerland

May 2008

Siena

The first stop on our day trip out of Florence was the city of San Gimignano, which was built on top of a hill.  It originally had around 60 family towers, built to protect each estate, but only 14 towers remain.  Wealth was measured by the height of the tower.  Today the medieval city is a tourist trap, but still a pretty place to visit.  We met a nice couple on the bus and we took each other’s pictures by the cistern.  Our main stop was Siena, which is also on a hill.  If you’ve wondered about the color name ‘Burnt Siena” in your box of Crayolas, it comes from the color of the soil in Siena.  We didn’t see any dirt, as the entire city is paved.  We had a sandwich on a balcony overlooking Il Campo, the main town square.  Two days a year they have a crazy horse race and more than 15,000 people watch from the square.  Our guide said it was bigger than the Kentucky Derby (a little exaggeration?) and the race lasts less than two minutes.  On our guided tour of Siena we saw a palace courtyard, the Duomo museum, the Duomo itself and a library attached to the Duomo.  The colors of the frescos in the library were very vibrant, and the guide told us they have never been retouched in the 550 years since they were painted.  The inside of the Duomo is unique with an Arab influence of horizontal strips on the pillars.  We saw from a distance the church where St.  Catherine of Siena’s head and thumb are kept.  She is considered the patron saint of Europe because she was very influential in uniting the church and convinced the Pope, who resided in France, to return to Rome.  Catherine died quite young in Rome.  She was the youngest of 25 children.  We think her parents were also saints (25 kids - maybe a little crazy, too).  We returned to Florence and had a nice dinner of salad, lasagna and wine at a restaurant right around the corner from our hotel.  Tomorrow we take the train to Vernazza and see our kids, their spouses and Henry!

© Jay 2020