Bye, Bologna. Salute, Siena

Breakfast at the hotel was mostly carbs. The coffee machine blew the power every time it was used. This happened often during the 45 minutes we sat there. We hung around in the room for a little while until 9:30 when the library at the Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio opened. Not that we wanted to see the library specifically but it was at the same place with a very old room where anatomy lessons were given. Since 1600 I think.

It wasn’t far from our hotel so we got there in no time then wandered the halls, looking at the frescoed walls that were painted before European colonisation in Australia (1788). The library didn’t permit tourists so we watched the walls and then went into the anatomy room when it opened at 10.

It’s a beautiful wood panelled room with carved statues on the walls and ceiling, and in the middle, a big white marble table where the bodies were laid. Two of the sculptures are of skinned men so you can see…well…under the skin at the muscles. An awesome room and a real find if you’re in Bologna.

We then went into the Stabat Mater Hall which, apart from being used still as a lecture theatre (albeit with modern chairs and a projector screen), is lined again with old painted walls and locked cabinets of centuries-old books. They cover different sciences including mathematics, biology, zoology, astronomy etc.

We were just about to leave when Glen noticed a gated room with more books. Looking through the bars, we could see a long corridor with aisles and aisles of books stretching all the way down the building. This must have been the library we couldn’t visit as tourists. There were so many aisles we wondered if we were in fact looking in a mirror and at some trick of the eye. Stunning.

Back to the hotel, we collected our luggage, checked out, walked up the station (along a much quieter street – via Galleria – which ran parallel to the noisy one we’d walked down when we arrived) and then bought our tickets to Siena. The first leg of the journey, to Firenze, had sold out except for the business seats, which brought the total to only 8 euros per ticket more. We bought the business and boarded the high speed train – Frecciarossa – to Firenze.

Arriving in Siena

The train from Firenze to Siena took about an hour, which seems long considering it’s only down the road, but it wound through the countryside going from village to village. It picked up a bunch of noisy teenagers too but they only remained on until the next step.

For some reason the hotel I booked was a half hour walk from the train station. I think I chose it because it’s in the main tourist sites, close to the duomo and the Piazza del Campo. I’d been a bit concerned about the walk, worried Glen would grumble, but we trundled along anyway. First stop, however, was lunch.

We had to walk through a shopping centre which contains travelators to get you up the side of the city and into the old part of town. This took us past an all-you-can-eat sushi-pan-asian-and-other-food place that was doing a roaring trade (even with the Italians). It was something like 10 euros each. We filled up. It was fine (though I did feel like I was committing a sin for not eating ‘proper’ Italian).

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We then walked and walked and walked, seeing many of the sights of old Siena, and (at least I did) enjoying the atmosphere. It’s bigger than Lucca and busier as well but still got charm and isn’t nearly as crazy and rough as Bologna.

We eventually made it to the accommodation, where I was happy to find that I’d booked an apartment with a washing machine and access to a private courtyard. The room is also comfortable and the internet is fast (after so many days of crap internet it was a relief). We chilled for a while before going out to see a bit more of the town.

Our courtyard

Il Duomo and Piazza del Campo

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The guy at the desk gave us a map and offered suggestions of things to see and places to eat. We left the apartment thinking we’d get through more than we really could in the last few hours of the day. As the duomo was close, we went there first.

Another giant church, done in the Gothic style, recently (?) refurbished so it shines in the sunlight. We bought our tickets, thinking we’d bought a pass for everything but later found out we didn’t pay enough to get access to climb the dome itself. Never mind.

Instead we saw some sculptures and a stained glass window, climbed the facade to get an excellent view over Siena in the dying sunlight, visited the inside of the cathedral (my favourite being the small library with its bright paintings on the walls and ceiling), then the crypt and baptistry. It was then we discovered our tickets didn’t give us access to climb the dome so we left.

From here we went to the Piazza del Campo where the tournaments took (or take) place and had an aperitif on the terrace. I had a kir royale while Glen had fresh lemonade which he mostly made himself. A few chips and a bit of bread and it was almost heavenly to sit there, finally getting the hang of how the Italians do their evenings. The downside was the smoking. Being Australian and non-smokers we notice it so much wherever it happens, and the two girls sitting near us seemed to just chain-smoke the whole time.

Afterwards we navigated back home (taking a slight detour because I thought the map showed a cut-through path which never eventuated), changed and then went to Nonna Gina’s, a restaurant recommended to us that was at the end of the street.

When we arrived, we were about the third group there. This at 7:30pm. Within about five or ten minutes, the place was full. We ordered a bruschetta, ravioli and gnocchi for primi piatti, battered cod and chicken cacciatore for secondi piatti, and tiramisu and ice-cream for dessert. I also had chianti and we rounded it off with a complimentary amaretto. Good food, pleasant place, totally stuff. The diet is going to be hardcore.

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