…is not enough. That’s what happens when you set up a trip in ignorance, which seems pretty much a given when you are in fact ignorant about your destination: things that look great on paper suddenly don’t make much sense. Oh, well. I’d been planning my second trip to Italy before I departed for this one, so no big deal: Siena is alive and well and in my future.
We took the high-speed train from Rome to Florence (I really believe I should be saying Roma and Firenze, but for some odd reason using the proper names seems precious) and then a plain old train to Siena. Taking pictures from a vehicle of public transportation always makes me cringe: I feel like my father with his Instamatic, excitedly shooting photos of clouds outside the airplane window.
But for heaven’s sake! This isn’t just clouds, this is really Italy. Cloudy plastic windows or no, I’m really in Italy! It’s nice to know as I embark on my seventh decade, I can still be completely awe-struck.
The train station in Siena could stand alone as an example of why you should pay close attention to the travel experts who suggest you pack lightly. Since you arrived by train, we’ll grant that you were able to hoist your luggage onto the train, down a narrow aisle, and perhaps even up onto the overhead shelf. It seems you were even able to get your luggage off the train. Yay, you!
But I don’t remember reading anything about the 934 escalators that lift you up up up and more up to street level in Siena. It was as if you took escalators to the top of a mountain to ski. Just when you started to think this must be it, you’d look up and there would be yup another escalator.
Eventually we ended up on a very quiet street in a very quiet part of town. There was no taxi queue here and nothing that looked like a phone booth. Where exactly were we, and how would we get to our hotel? For all my exhaustive pre-trip research, I hadn’t thought to figure out this little piece of our journey. Since Floyd and I have a running contest as to which of us is the shiest, neither one of us was inclined to enter a store and ask directions we doubted we would even comprehend. Time for the gps.
Like most things on a gps screen, it looked quite simple and straightforward: a kind of < shaped route to our hotel. Like many of the places we were to visit in Italy, Siena seems to exist on ridges leading down to chasms. Not the nearly bottomless chasms we would see later, but steep enough and deep enough that you can’t walk a straight route from here to there; you have to take routes that look like <.
We made it to the hotel by sweat and guesswork, pulling two suitcases and hoisting a backpack apiece. Nothing like arriving in a lobby that looks like this when you look and no doubt smell like you just dug your way out from under a rock.
Buongiorno, I panted to the man behind the desk. Abbiamo una prenotazione.
In true Italian fashion, the man behind the desk was extremely gracious about my attempts at his language, and led us to a very sweet room. Before we could even take advantage of a bathroom twice the size of the one we had in Rome, hunger and thirst drove us out the door, and we made for a ristorante I had already visited thanks to Google Street View.
Here’s a thing about Italy: we were sitting in this place that had the worst reviews of any restaurant in Siena. I’d done my homework; I knew these things. A suicide move?
The food was fabulous, the wine was wonderful, the tiramisu (in the form of a little pudding in a bowl, not the cube of ladyfingers & cream one encounters here in the states) delectable. Okay, then! Worst food in town!
Siena is a town of little narrow streets, of course, and a truly wonderful, famous piazza that somehow hosts a horse race in the summer. Glad to miss that.
Inevitably we reached a very long hill I could not conquer in a seated position. Up, up. up, push, push, push, keep in mind that the dozens of Vespa daredevils on the road this morning will make a startling noise with some frequency, push, push, keep in mind that walking is exercise too… May I take a moment here to say that, no matter how many times I begged him to leave me by the side of the road to die, my dear sweet spouse stayed with me the whole time? And while I was push-push-pushing up the sides of these hilly roads, he was riding right behind me? At about .25 miles per hour? He’s a wonder, that Floyd.
Enough of that brand of fun; let’s eat instead. But we are in the middle of (a lovely) nowhere. Wait, is that a sign for a restaurant? Let’s go look.
As we were eating our lunch, the extended family whose place this is were eating at a long table behind me. We were the only ones there: Floyd and me, and the grandparents, parents, and two little boys who were – like certain grandchildren I know (not that I’d name names, but Marty, Ray, and Marion) – doing more running around than eating.
Meanwhile we had this view from the patio:
I like to think that not everyone could rise from such a lunch table and get right back on the bike. It’s probably best that we had no choice.
Murlo really is just a little walled town out in the middle of the countryside. Although we encountered a number of tantalizing aromas wafting from the windows on this Sunday afternoon, we only saw three other human beings. Two were on a motorcycle, arriving as we arrived and leaving almost as soon as they’d parked. The other was a man moving his car into the parking lot alongside actual Etruscan ruins:
I take it that in this little dugout, bronze forms were made – pour in your clay and, after a suitable period, remove the mold to reveal your amphora, or statue, or whatever. This is the kind of tourist experience that causes books to multiply on shelves once you’re home: I found myself wanting to read about every place we encountered.
We now had only about ten kilometers to go. A number of them were vertical. And while one nice thing about wheeling yourself uphill is the inevitable downhill, two complications: one, these were pretty major hills for me, with some mildly intimidating downhills. I thought, as I have done many times in the past, it would be a terrible thing to struggle through such a long climb only to be killed on the descent.
And two, our hotel is located on top of a hill. I should say, on top of at least three hills outside Buonconvento. I may not know technically where the term “16% grade” comes from, or what it means; but I know I can’t do it on a bicycle. (Up, up, up, push, push, push…)
It is very handy to have a camera. You can stop and take photos, saving a little face while struggling to breathe and get your heart rate down from the red zone.