AC Italy 1: Siena

So, a bit of backstory on the next four posts. When I first booked the trip to Turkey with Alitalia, I messed around online, wanting to see if it was possible to extend the layover in Rome for a couple of days. Well, long story short, for 3 dollars more, I got the extra time.

Now, that’s a bit of a false distinction. Four days in Italy does not cost three dollars. In fact, I had my first bit of sticker shock today when I bought a slice of pizza, fries and a coke for 6 euro. As far as euros go, that isn’t too bad, but my brain was on Lira mode and I thought “Wow, what a great deal!” before catching myself. The sticker shock continued as I visited a few sights during the day. Most were reasonably priced, but there were a few that were priced on the Ephesus level without being nearly as awesome as Ephesus.

However, we’ll get there later. Once I had Italy booked, I had to decide what to see. I knew there’d be some more time in Rome, as I wanted to get inside the Castel Sant’Angelo and pay a visit to the Villa Borgese, which I missed last time. Plus, I don’t feel that Kim (my sister) and I spent enough time exploring the Piazzas Spania and Popolo when we were there in 2005, so I’d like to check those out again.

I’ll be honest, though – the most I had thought of Italy since the trip was while playing the Ezio Trilogy of the Assassin’s Creed games (II, Brotherhood and Revelations). Revelations was set in Istanbul, Brotherhood in Rome and II in several Italian locations, including Venice, Florence, Forli, Monteriggioni and San Gimignano.

I had seen Venice and Florence the last time I was here, so I was trying to mastermind a way to see the last three in one fell swoop before spending a day in Rome.

Well, Forli got swooped right out. As much as I’d like to see where Catarina Sforza reigned supreme (look her up), the city doesn’t seem to have much to offer and, if I was going to go all Sforza, I think I’d need more time on the ground to figure out what to see. So, Forza is out.

In order to get to Monteriggioni and San Gimignano, I had to base myself in Siena. Siena never really popped onto the radar the last time I was in Italy and, having been in Florence, the impression I got from people was that Siena was kind of “Florence Light.” So, I hadn’t expected to spend too much time in this city, especially with a flight from Istanbul arriving this morning and a limited amount of sleep holding me back.

Well, I’m glad I toughed it out. Siena is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

The big difference between Siena and Florence is the architecture. Florence rose to power during the Renaissance, while Siena’s rise came during the Baroque period. I couldn’t tell you the specifics on Baroque art, but I could tell you how visually arresting Siena is. More so than any Roman city I’ve been in, I could actually imagine people from hundred of years ago wandering through the streets, going about their daily business. In fact, there is a reason for this. Plague wiped out 2/3rds of the population, and then the Medici family came in and “bought” the city and killed its finance industry. As such, no new construction could be made. And as such, the atmosphere is amazing and, with a (slightly) smaller amount of tourists hanging around, it has more of a distinctly Italian vibe than the more touristed Florence.

You have a choice of going up the Torre de Mangia in the Piazzo de Campo or the top of the Opera de Metropolitana de Sienna for fantastic views of Siena in its red-roofed glory. The duomo has one of the most amazing interiors I’ve ever seen and, just when you think you’ve seen it all, you discovery a wonderful baptistery or crypts painted by Carvaggio. On the flip side, the much simpler but massive Cappela di Santa Caterina leaves you in awe and actually contains Caterina’s sacred head. So there’s that.

I don’t want this to sound too history-lessony because, I’ll admit, I’m unprepared for that. All I know is I wandered around a city that has its roots in the 1st century BC and looks like it could be used to film a major period piece right now. Siena is beautiful. I’m not going to rank it against Florence because the two are entirely different. It’s its own distinct entity and, if you’re in Italy, take the time to explore it for a day or two.

So, the “or two” happens for me tomorrow, when I take in Monteriggioni and San Gimignano. Video game nerd in me can’t wait!

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