Mellowing in Italy - Rome to Siena, Saturday 2007 May 5

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May 5th 2007
Published: March 25th 2018
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After breakfast with Cecilia, and eventually several others, I went back to Santa Maria degli Angeli and enjoyed the vaulted silence. James and Elizabeth happened to be there.

We met up again an hour later to check out of the hotel. At the train station we waited about ten minutes for the track number to appear on one of those European mechanical boards, which are probably computerized behind the scenes. On the track we waited a few more minutes for the train.

Magically we had waited in exactly the spot where our car came to rest. Our seats were reserved, and no one else was in our compartment. This was a modern, moderate, comfortable train (not the super train). On the way to Grosseto, the junction for Siena, we passed by the Vatican (recognizable by St. Peter’s Dome) and Civitavecchia (the port for Rome and where there was a Princess Cruise ship) and rolled alongside the Mediterranean and closer to the hills/mountains. Unfortunately, at Grosseto I couldn’t buy any lunch because the train to Siena was right there. Called a “regional”, rather than an “inter-city”, this train was an old, single car. It made me think it might have
View of Siena's wallsView of Siena's wallsView of Siena's walls

Almost a medieval view
been luxurious when Mussolini ran the rail lines, although it probably wasn’t really that old. (The washroom was more functional and cleaner than the newer train we had arrived in.) I ate more peanuts to assuage my hunger.

Along this line we moved (clackety-clack) into the lush green hills and rolling countryside that evolved into ideal, gently sloping vineyards. Rain was around and water was standing in ruts in the fields. I suppose the fall harvest time would be better for the country walking tours I had originally hoped to take.

The Siena station was outside the walls, in the modern part of town. We had Rick Steves’ instructions for walking, taxi or bus - we shouldn’t have tried to follow them. We got on what seemed to be the right bus.

We didn’t recognize the required Il Duomo stop until too late. Plus I thought I wanted the Il Campo stop, because the hotel said it was just off Il Campo. I though Il Campo should be large and recognizable. (It is if you actually see it.) So we stayed on the bus with our suitcases blocking most of the aisle, earning dirty looks and imprecations from a old woman who seemed to think my seat was her preserve, as opposed to the one she eventually took.

Eventually James seemed to run out of patience and said we should get off, even though signs kept pointing out that we were still on the way to Il Campo. (Made me think of the number 10 bus in Calgary going to Market Mall). He chose an unfortunate stop, halfway up a hill. We crossed paths with a grandmotherly woman, and I asked in fractured Italian about Il Campo and sorted through her answer to understand we had to keep going up the hill and turn right. (The pavement is all stone tiles – bumpety bump for our wheeled suitcases). Near the top we started to go right, and she called out to take a more sharply right road.

A hip young man in a hurry, on a cell phone, also shouted in passing to go that way. This road (no cars in the medieval town) had no shops - just the closed walls of properties. Eventually I looked upwards along a cross street and saw another street that had shops and neon signs. So we walked halfway up a very steep hill. (My hill training in Calgary had worked because these ups and downs didn’t make me puff). Then I heard a couple speaking in English, and asked them. They directed us back down to the road with no shops, and they gave us another useless map. The road eventually became Via de la Citta, which was on the map, and eventually we saw the steep way down to Il Campo. James and Elizabeth continued on to their hotel.

I carefully walked down the steep incline to the broad expanse framed all around by restaurant patios. The Tourist Information was invisible so I decided to walk all around. Fortunately, I turned in the correct direction (left) and soon found it. The Japanese official there made one of those unwelcome gasping noises when I asked about the Athena Hotel. She drew with a blue highlighter on a map, thus almost obscuring the street names. She kindly started me off in the right direction.

I walked up the steep incline out of Il Campo and couldn’t understand which way to turn. But, before deciding, I had to eat something. I spotted a cubby-hole pizzeria, and bought a piece of pizza. It was hot enough to burn my tongue but tasted so delicious as I ate it standing in the street! (Thin crisp crust, tomato sauce, covered in red peppers, sprinkling of mozzarella €1.70) I had to go back into the pizza shop and ask the direction. She came out and pointed. Shortly thereafter, I was puzzled by multi-pronged crossroads. A young man was standing outside his men’s-wear shop. He pointed me in the right direction – back the way we had come earlier and farther along. At one point, I remembered reading that in Siena street names change as neighbourhoods change and then had better luck matching the map to the streets. But shortly after this burst of confidence, I had to ask directions of another grandmother in a bakery. Finally! I saw the Hotel Athena, right on the inside edge of the old wall.

Hotel Athena was a beautifully renovated, modern-style hotel, with a large room for me and a spectacular view of the city wall, green hills, lush valley, and an estate or town in the distance.

About 7:00 I leaned out my casement window and coincidentally saw Dave, Jim, Mary and Betty from the Rome tour – they drove here and had much the same tale of being lost and confused. I had dinner and then joined them for a glass of wine when they came in later. Dinner was a surprise. First course spaghetti in tomato sauce – good but basic. Then “saucissone fagioli” which I misread as funghi (mushrooms). It was essentially pork and beans. And when I saw it I recognized it from the picture on the Siena web site – a regional specialty. Plus a large salad and a half bottle of Sienna red. €27


25th March 2018

The joys of the Tuscan Life
Walking up those hills of quaint Italian towns is like training for a mountain climb. So much good food and wine and so little time.
30th March 2018

The joys
The wine makes up for all.
26th March 2018

Lost and found
I've often wondered whether these complex street-naming systems (if that's even the right word) promote more-flexible thought in residents than does our Western Canadian grid-and-number system. Whether they're more tolerant of ambiguity than I might be, as one example. I'm pretty sure there's a research project there. But at least it all came out right in the end, as it often does.
30th March 2018

Lost and found
I eventually learned that historically, each neighbourhood had the right to name its portion of the street. They hadn't anticipated Canadians wanting to find their way about.

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