Tuesday Oct 16, 2012 Siena, Tuscano, Italia This bright sunny day got off to a slow start. Our only stop was Siena so there was no need to sprint out of the gates. Got up at 9 and got the girls going. Toured the grounds of the large complex where we have rented our apartment. It is a huge home with a few surrounding buildings that now makes up 10 rental apartments. It is very rustic with beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. Peaceful, tranquil, and serene all apply to the apartment for us, though some of the guests might not say the same about our stay. We would get back at around 10pm each night and not a whisper could be heard in the building except for our girls racing through the apartment, forgetting to whisper, showing us how well they can jump, etc. Needless to say, we weren’t very popular. There was some loud crying on our first night here- the infamous ‘night of no bottles’ but other than that, the girls went to bed and slept like champs. We seemed to be on a later schedule than some of the guests which probably explains the slashed tires and car graffiti… Ok, a bit of exaggeration there, but who could ever have guessed tourists in Italy would go to bed before 2 year old twins? Ok, hill town…walls… medieval… Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Siena is all this and much more. Yes, there are endless busloads of tourists on a daily basis even in October. It doesn’t matter. It is a spectacular city. The old city is beautiful and charming, but in this city of 60k there is much more going on. The zebra-like cathedral dating from the 1200s is spectacular and covered in marble. Black and white stripes of marble cover most of the outside of the building except for the facade which also has pink and green marble on the lavishly decorated entrance. It is the interior of the church, however, that is truly unique. The columns inside the church are also black and white alternating bands of marble. If that isn’t enough for you, the floor is made up nearly entirely of inlaid marble mosaics. They are often covered, but we were lucky enough to have them on display during our visit. I have been in many churches- MANY CHURCHES- and I have never seen anything like it. We were inside for nearly 30 minutes before I even noticed the beautiful frescoes adorning the walls. I’m usually a 5-10 minute look inside the cathedral, ‘ooh’ and ‘ah,’ take a few pictures and go type of guy. We probably spent 90 minutes in this cathedral and could easily have spent more. Definitely a must see. That said, 90 minutes in any cathedral can be a bumpy ride with young twins. After the duomo we grabbed some lunch then did the eyewitness guide walking tour. The piazza del campo is breathtaking. We’ll discuss that more in a minute. What is amazing is that if you get only 2 or 3 blocks away from the tourist highlights, you often find yourself in a very different place. The streets are nearly empty except for locals going about their days. There aren’t quite as many souvenirs on display, but food prices are often 30% less. This is true for much of touristy Italy as with many tourist sites the world over. You often find amazing photo opportunities and a much more culturally satisfying experience if you allow yourself to go a bit further afield than the average traveler. The rewards definitely make it worth your while if you have the time. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. The piazza del campo is one of the greatest medieval piazzas in Europe. It is lined by beautiful buildings with multiple outdoor restaurants among them beckoning you to have a cappuccino, tiramisu, and take in the serenity and beauty of the moment. The ‘square’ is actually shaped like a clamshell with the Torre del Mangia and palazzo publico at the hinge and the shops and restaurants lining the outside rim. This is also where the crazy horse race called the Palio di Siena is held twice a year. While you may never want to see it live, checking out a couple of videos online is quite entertaining. After our cappuccinos, a shared tiramisu, and people watching- all while we were blessed to have our girls nap in the stroller AT THE SAME TIME- we woke the little monkeys up. We ran, played, sang, danced, and in general made fools of ourselves in front of the tourists basking in the serenity of the evening. While we pale in comparison to “the palio,” I’m pretty certain we were casual entertainment for a number of onlookers. After that it was time to get back to the apartment, get the twins to bed, and get ready to change to a new base camp tomorrow.