Woke up to rain in Vernazza. Ate breakfast on the same awesome terrace at Gianni Franzi. We had planned to walk around Vernazza in detail but, because of the rain, ended up packing our things, checking out of the Airbnb, grabbing some pesto at the local grocery, and catching the 10:44 train to start our trip to Siena.
Trains from Vernazza to Siena
The trip to Siena was a little indirect… Vernazza – La Spezia – Pisa – Empoli – Siena. There was a ~7 minute transfer at Pisa and it was incredibly stressful. There were no electronic boards with platform assignments anywhere so we were totally panicked. Thankfully Ry had vaguely heard what he thought was our train number and then the number 8 right as we were getting off the train, so with 2 minutes left we went for broke to platform 8 and sure enough our train was there and took off just after we boarded. Our connection in Empoli was only 5 minutes so we were basically sprinting and as we arrived to the platform, the train conductor gave us a “calma” hand signal through the window.
Ahhhh Siena, after a half day we already preferred it to the Cinque Terre, which says more about Siena (and our lack of hiking love) than it does Cinque Terre. We arrived at roughly 2:15 in the afternoon and took the escalators up from the train station through the mall. When you come out of the escalators it’s a bit confusing but you simply head left down the main road. Soon it will fork, with the main road continuing to the left and a path heading down some steps on the right side of the road. Stay left and you eventually end up at the Siena city gate (which is impressive). Upon entering Siena it’s a decently long walk to the Centro of town… it was much further away than we anticipated so we kept stopping and looking at our map to try to get our bearings. Turns out we weren’t even in range of the map we were looking at for quite some time – when we finally reached the first piazza recognizable on our map, it was a another 15 minutes of walking before we reached our bed and breakfast, which was on Villa Dei Termini very close to il Campo (the main square in town). Siena in general is so beautiful to look at… all of the buildings are so old (city hall was built in the 1300s) and the roads are so uniquely intertwined. It has the full Tuscan feel to it and there were quite a few young locals walking around on a Sunday afternoon.
I Terzi Bed & Breakfast
We didn’t really know what to expect here – the front door was locked and had a grid of buzzer buttons. We didn’t know the name of the establishment, only the hostess’s first name, so when we got to the buzzer we ended up guessing and it turned out to be correct. The hosts were a great older couple named Elisabetta and Fabio, they had the top 3 floors of the building. We checked in and they showed us to our room, as well as the community kitchen and the “surprise” second community kitchen with a terrace overlooking half of Siena, il Duomo, and the Tuscan countryside. Later in the first night, before sundown, we came back and sat on the terrace with a bottle of red wine (Brunello). The changing light and views that came with the slowly setting sun were absolutely incredible. Eventually, two of the other B&B guests, Rene and Bruno from Germany joined us on the balcony. They were super friendly and spoke more than suitable English. One of the first things they asked was “what do you think about Trump?” which was pretty humorous to hear right off the bat, and other than politics we had some very enjoyable conversation with them about their time in America and our honeymoon to date and plans.
il Campo, Osteria Alla Speranza and City Hall Tower (Torre del Mangia)
One of the largest piazzas in Italy, il Campo is the main square (really an oval) and hub of Siena. Apparently there is a massively popular horse race twice a year that takes place in this square called “il Palio.” We saw a recording of the most recent race on a restaurant TV – people are asses to elbows stuffed in the middle of this oval and around the outside fringes during the race. From what we gathered, people take il Palio very seriously in Siena… later this evening, we saw a festival taking place in il Campo that was related to the picking of the final three horses to qualify for the next Palio race; il Campo was completely packed with people for the festival.
Our first meal in Siena was on the main square, we grabbed some ravioli, margherita pizza, and local Chianti red wine at Alla Speranza. We lucked out and got a table on the front lines of the restaurant, essentially in the square, which made for great people watching! Of note, the interior of Alla Speranza is super neat, though completely vacant on this afternoon as the weather was perfect outside. City hall and its tower dominate il Campo architecturally, it is very impressive to stand in the middle of the square and look up at the tower, which was built in 1340. As for the food, the spinach and ricotta ravioli was great, pizza was good but not amazing, red wine was very good and we were glad to have made it to red wine country. We decided on a whim to climb to the top of the City Hall Tower (cost 10 Euro per person). We’re SO glad we did, it is extremely high up with even better views than our B&B terrace could offer, and in all directions. The countryside looks ridiculously green in contrast to the burnt red of Siena rooftops. Climbing up was an endeavor with the narrow and claustrophobic staircases, but it was well worth it for the vistas. We would call this climb a “do not miss,” there were never more than 4 other people with us at the top of the tower so it is not crowded and the feeling of being at the peak of a 7,000 year old monument combined with the breathtaking views is unmatchable!
After climbing the tower we decided to do Rick Steves’ city walk starting in il Campo square. Really it turned out to be a simple guide on getting to il Duomo, the other major tourist attraction in the city. There were a couple of interesting notes on the city walk, but il Duomo was the main incentive and turned out to be much more breathtaking than we anticipated. We got there around 7pm on a perfect afternoon and the marble and glass architecture was amazing in front of a blue sky. It was a good eye opener to us that art and architecture is actually pretty great when you can see it in person. We weren’t able to go into the structure as it had already closed so we picked up a bottle of local wine (Brunello di Montalcino) and strolled back to our room to catch the sunset on our terrace. After the sunset (~9:45pm, it seemed like the sun was almost always up in Italy as it also rose by 5:30am) we decided we were hungry again.
La Taverna di Cecco
We found this restaurant in Rick Steves’ book, and ended up picking it because it is open until 11 pm while most other restaurants close at 10. We had a bottle of Chianti with salmon insalate to start and, because the menu had zero English, ended up asking the waiter for his primi (first course, usually a pasta) recommendation. We’re glad we did, he suggested the Pici di Nonna which we would have glossed right over and it turned out to be our favorite pasta of the trip. The Pici di Nonna was a fat, Udon-like noodle (originated in Siena but can be found throughout Tuscany) that was heavily coated in a spicy red sauce… it was so good that we both sopped all the remaining sauce up with bread. For dessert we ordered tiramisu, which was a bit different in that it was more of an airy pudding in a bowl with the cookies that had moistened by resting in the pudding, much different than the cakey versions they serve at home and, as expected, it was significantly better than any tiramisu we’d had in America. After dinner we walked back to our room and immediately went to sleep in anticipation of an early morning pick up for the wine tour.