Saturday, 28 November 2015

Siena, day one: Sweet City Splendour and the Sandwich Vendor

Siena, Italy (Siena, Italia)
Apparently Siena has a famous rivalry with Florence. Lonely Planet states that visitors will feel drawn to stand by one or the other as their preferred city, and I was very intrigued by this. 
My first view of Siena was from the bus, as we had caught one from our campground right after checking in and setting up our tent. I immediately saw a sculpture of the she-wolf with Romulus and Remus receiving nourishment - typically a symbol for Rome, the she-wolf is widespread through Siena as well as allegedly the city was founded by Remus' son. 
Stumbling off the bus in what we hoped was the right direction, we came to the one of the best streets ever. The Via Banchi di Sopra turns into the Via di Città, and this long stretch of pedestrian street is flanked by brilliant eateries and grand palazzos on either side.
As we walked, we passed by a popular bakery Pasticceria Nannini, and a Grom. Then, in a surprising turn of events, our vision was captivated by a pyramid of gold bars. But these weren't any gold bars. They were Venchi chocolate bars wrapped in gold paper! In New Zealand we had sampled some mouth-watering rum chocolates and had vowed to visit this fabled Venchi when we were in Italy. We hadn't yet looked up where a store was located, but there by pure coincidence one was right at our very feet! Not only that, but it was also a gelateria! 
Stocking up on chocolates, we planned to return later to satisfy our rabid gelato addiction. 
We settled on Pizzicheria de Miccoli for lunch (a pizzicheria isn't related to pizza - rather, it is similar to a salumeria selling dry meats and cheeses). The atmosphere inside was a little overwhelming at times: the tiny space was crammed full of hanging legs and salamis, and like Spanish jamón, the place smelled quite a lot like must and sweat. 
Having seen the patrons before us order, we knew that one sandwich would be plenty for the both of us, so we asked for a panino. The jolly moustachioed man at the counter asked if we wanted cheese and salami, and we nodded assertively. Two giant slabs of cheese and several thick chunks of salami later, the soft baguette was full and we retreated into the alcove of a palace doorstep to eat. It was amazing, and of course also on Via di Città. 
The high quality of the products paired with wonderful bread made for the best sandwich either of us had ever eaten. And that's with only cheese and salami inside! We vowed to return the next day.
As the lines were too long for duomo tickets, we found ourselves back at Venchi to sample the gelato. Imma just tell you all the flavours we had (sorry not sorry): an extremely chocolatey sorbetto Azteca, crema Venchi, cappuccino, pistachio, caramel, and cremino. I had hoped that although Venchi was a chocolate shop (and a widespread one at that), their gelato would be decent. But it was so much more than that! The flavours were delicious, and what's more - the cremino was one of my all time favourite flavours! It was a mixture of super creamy hazelnutty goodness mixed through with a smooth chocolate ganache. 
We ate our ridiculous mounds of gelato seated on the immensely popular Campo, a piazza facing the town hall, aka Palazzo Comunale. It has a crazy tall tower! We enjoyed the view for around an hour, shifting anytime a shadow drew near from the lowering sun, and took a quick peek in the palazzo's inner courtyard before trying our luck with the duomo line again. Upon exiting il Campo, I found a scarf seller who offered me a bargain at €5! The autumn temperatures were dropping, and adding a scarf made me both warmer and more European-chic. 
Back at the duomo, we hardly had to wait in line and purchased one of the offered combo OPA passes available for the many Sienese sights. After much debating, we picked one with a roof tour inside the duomo, and the assistant informed us we had 35 minutes before we had to be inside for the tour to begin. 
Yet upon leaving the ticket office, we were ushered straight into the duomo museum (Museo dell'Opera) with our museum ticket clipped! A bit distraught, we quickly toured the museum with our mental clocks ticking down. There were some fascinating pieces originally from the cathedral, and it was nice to be able to see the real deal as they aren't kept inside the duomo any more. So many saints!
Just after we left the museum (great timing as always) I realised that the scarf I acquired less than half an hour ago was missing. I had dropped it somewhere in the museum! I hurried up to the desk and asked what to do - I didn't have time to go back in and look for it as the roof tour was starting soon. They told me to come back later and hope that someone nice had handed it in. 
I was still feeling annoyed with myself as we ascended the steps to the roof, but all discontentment fell away when I saw the array of beautiful sights that greeted us. 
From such an elevated viewpoint, we could see aspects that we wouldn't be able to from the ground, including details in the stained glass windows, saint statues, and paintings. We were also provided with excellent views of the surrounding city. 
Back at ground level, we took in the sheer size of the cathedral. Not only was it huge, it was very impressive and ornate. The tile work on the floor was of particular interest, depicting scenes from biblical stories. I also liked the dome with its starry sky motif. 
One room off the main duomo was a library, the likes of which I had never seen before! It was bright and airy, with intricate paintings and sculptures. It seems that it was created to be so beautiful to distract visitors from the fact that there weren't actually many books (just over a dozen large tomes), all of which contained medieval music for bald people to chant. 
Once finished with our duomo visit, we doubled back to the museum. Luckily, someone had handed in my scarf! Unluckily, the museum was closing so we weren't allowed in to scale the steps to another vantage point over the city (as can be seen above from our duomo roof tour). The ticket collector, earlier punching our museum ticket and hearing our woes, had promised to let us back in once our roof tour was complete, but we were too late!
For dinner, we gorged ourselves with more gelato! Could you have guessed it? At Kopa Kabana we supped upon: strudel, coconut, amaretto, fondente, berry sorbet, and crema caramel. The flavours were pleasant, but nothing compared to Venchi (or San Crispino). We stumbled to the bus stop where we hoped we could catch a ride back to our camping and waited until we saw a likely looking bus. Not knowing if it was trundling in the direction we wanted, we asked the driver in our flawless Italian "camping??!". He shrug-nodded and we spent the rest of the trip squinting out the window at the unlit surroundings, trying to spot our camping in the dark (and pushing away suspicious thougths that maybe the shrug-nod had simply meant "I don't care" instead of "Sure, idiot tourist, your camping is on my route"). Yet we made it back to our tent safe and sound and collapsed into a gelato-induced stupor. 

Today's post was almost called: Striking Gold on Via di Città