Upon entering our third week in Tuscany, I’m grateful to feel a little more settled and equipped to wander and explore with ease. However, we’re admittedly starting to miss our comfy beds and big showers. (Bathrooms are very different here!)
Our excursion to Siena may remain as a favorite to all of us. The atmosphere is so very different here than the other cities we’ve visited. The streets are very quiet and quite narrow with a perfectly romantic charm that makes you feel as if you’re walking through a painting. This medieval city is built atop three hills and considered Italy’s ultimate “hill town”. We parked below the city and took an escalator up, up and up into town. Only residents and cabbies can drive into the main part of the city which makes it a wonderful walking experience.
There are two main sights in Siena, the Duomo and Il Campo, or the Main Square. When we came upon the baptistery on the back side of the Duomo, we were in awe and assumed the Duomo is what we were looking at. Then quickly realized this was just a small part of the magic we’d see by walking to the front side of the building! What made this experience even more powerful is we turned the corner and just a handful of people were sitting on the steps and a few onlookers lining the streets. But access was easy and the area was calm. It felt like we had a learned a special secret and were expected to keep it to ourselves. The image above left was the baptistery that we saw first. Though incredibly beautiful, you can see why we were in such awe as we rounded the corner and saw the front of the Duomo. This cathedral sits atop Siena’s highest point so that it is visible from miles around. The current structure dates back to 1215.
The image on the left shows an unfinished church that had been started in the early 1300′s. Florence was a big rival of Siena and after they finished building their grand cathedral, Siena started to do the same. In Rick Steves’ book, he shares that construction got complicated because there was no ground left in Siena so they just started building on top of other buildings. But then the Black Plague struck Italy and killed almost a 3rd of the country’s population. The church was never finished.
The streets were so steep in parts of Siena that we had to carefully slow ourselves when walking down and felt like we were mountain climbing when headed up. Brasher decided to go for it and ran (or flew) down this particular street. Again, one of the lovely things about this city is how little traffic there is. Rick Steves jokingly calls is “fiat free”.
On our excursions, we gave the boys an iPad to watch a movie on the way. (Don’t judge!) The favorite movie for this trip has been “How to Train Your Dragon”. I seriously think they can both recite most scenes by heart. Sally got a video of them performing a couple scenes that we’ll have to share later. Here is Brasher being a dragon chasing Win up the steep streets. Win was pretending the umbrella was his shield.
This is the main square in Siena called Il Campo. Originally this area was a field outside the former city walls. Now it is the heart of Siena where people gather to play soccer, eat dinner and just relax. The main building is City Hall and City Tower. There was actually a wedding happening and I think right after we took this picture, the bride and groom came out the far doors on the right. Of course we watched the photographer for quite awhile!
Of course we’ve experienced awkward moments when we didn’t feel quite comfortable in certain restaurants or areas, but 95% of the time we’ve felt wonderfully accepted and genuinely welcome. The boys joined a soccer game with this dear family and made friends with other children in the square. Paul and I love that they’ve been given the experiences of being a minority and have had to communicate in another language. Win thinks it’s “cool” to try to speak to people in Italian.
A bride of ours, Taylor, told us we must try carbonara while we were in Italy. We have yet to find it as a pasta dish, but we found a carbonara pizza! And even better, we found it while Sally and Patrick, who have become great friends with Taylor and her husband Tyler, were with us. Win loved it… obviously!
I read that every year, Siena has a world famous, neighborhood horse race where 10 of the 17 neighborhoods compete by betting on a jockey and horse to win the medieval Palio di Siena. The square is roped off and becomes a track. Each neighborhood adorns colors and memorabilia significant to their area. They wave flags and spend days focused on the race. When the winner crosses the line, the winning neighborhood goes crazy and enjoys being the winner until next year’s race. While we were having dinner in the square, this parade of drums and flags comes around the corner. We learned this was a group representing one of the 17 neighborhoods, or contradas, and were having fun showing pride and marching in merriment. This was so exciting to see!
As I’m sure you can see from this long post, we loved Siena! Paul returned a few days later with just Sally and Patrick for a special Siena Tuscany Portrait Session… we’re so excited to share those images with you soon. We hoped you enjoyed this post!
Don’t forget… in July of 2015, Paul & Kristin are inviting FOUR couples or families to join them for an Italian Portrait Experience! You will walk through the vineyards and countryside and tour the streets of Florence. After you’ve seen the gorgeous city, enjoyed a glass of wine and an incredible meal, you’ll head to the hills of Tuscany and they’ll photograph your family under the setting sun. You will have the experience of a lifetime sharing these moments with your family. The best part is, you’ll have the memories captured as art and printed to last a lifetime. If you’re already sold on joining them in Italy next year, email or call the studio and we’ll arrange a time for you to meet with Kristin and Paul and start dreaming and planning for your ultimate Italian Portrait Experience! We will also put you in touch with our travel agent to start planning right away.
Our first summer in Italy was an amazing experience! Find out more about the trip on these blog posts (linked below). Contact us to start making your plans for the summer of 2015!!