April 28, 2003 - 21:43
|Even at six in the morning, it was already roasting out. We were dressed lightly, L in her sundress and I was wearing a light white cotton shirt and baggy cotton trousers. We were very Tuscan looking that day and had packed lightly, expecting to get everything we needed at our destination. |
It was a typically bright Florentine day in May. We crossed the Ponte Amerigo Vespucci, and fought our way through the pickpockets and Gypsy scam artists in Santa Maria Novella to the train station.
Figuring out the timetables was our next challenge. They’re huge. We ended up taking a number and waiting. When in doubt, I just act dumb. I asked the nice man for tickets to Sienna and ten minutes later, we were on our way.
The train was very basic. It’s considered a commuter run, only a little over an hour, so they don’t use their high-end vehicles. I suppose the milk run to Rome, which stops in Sienna, is a better train but this one only goes back and forth between Florence and Sienna. There were a few delays so we only got to Sienna station at around eleven.
The city of Sienna is built on a hill on the southern edge of the Chianti region. The train station is located at the bottom of the hill just on the outskirts of town. Looking up at the city and the steep climb, we decided to wait for a bus. We got off at the top of the hill in an open market. It was market day but we soon discovered that they were just schlepping T-shirts and funny hats to tourists. We got out of there and ducked into the shade of the old city.
It was like the Italy I’d remembered from 20 years earlier - Not the commerce and noise of Florence but the slow saunter of hundreds of years of civil life, of culture, of art. Sure, there were shops and services and restaurants all over but those things didn’t seem to be the primary concern, the way they are everywhere else.
As we waddled along the narrow streets, like giant hallways with huge doorways set into the walls, we came upon an opening to a narrow stairwell down into the light. I felt like some ancient traveler looking for a Medici banker. (They did run the place at one time.) We went through this opening and soon found ourselves on The Piazza del Campo – that huge cobblestone square at the center of the city where they hold The Palio every year.
L had fun there, sitting on the stones in the middle of the piazza feeding the pigeons. We spent most of the day there, sitting in a couple of the cafés sipping Chianti. Then we moved off to The Duomo before we got tired of being tourists. On our way out of the old town, we came across this lovely park area in a valley with a hotel perched at it’s edge. We decided to have dinner there.
There was only one other couple in the restaurant. It was almost uncomfortable it was so quiet. We could hear absolutely everything in the place. The service was very good as was the food but it was very slow. They do expect their customers to relax and take it easy but we had a train to catch.
When we finally got out of there, we decided to walk down to the train. It didn’t seem very far coming into town. Going downhill had to be a piece of cake.
Well it wasn’t. Time was ticking and we didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the station. We asked for directions and we zigged, then we zagged, we started to panic, began to run and got lost. We were at the bottom of the hill and it was dark when I realized we were lost. We were running along the road, L in her clogs. We came across several African women smartly dressed and huddled in groups. We kept on running. I saw one of these women emerge, bare breasted from the tall grass along the road. L was ahead of me bye now. Her feet were starting to bleed but she wasn’t prepared to hang around there.
We made our way to a spiral staircase that took us almost exactly where we’d started. Needless to say, we’d missed the train. L was exhausted and a tad weepy. She never gets weepy so I knew it was bad. There was a small Pensione across the street from where we were standing. We checked in for the night.
That was the best part of our trip to Sienna – that Pensione. Our room had a balcony that looked out over the alleyways and streets of the city, where real people lived. We had a bath, some nooky, and sat out on that balcony all night, dressed only in towels, listening to people talk in their houses – almost no vehicles anywhere.
At one point, I went in to get coffee while L mellowed out on the balcony. Our neighbour – there was a French couple staying there – peeked out and saw L almost in her altogether. I could hear him tell his partner that there was a sexy little number on the balcony next door. Bye then, I was back out on the balcony dressed only in my bath towel as L went in to get some cold cream or something. That’s when the neighbour lady came to check out the babe. She looked at me, then looked into her apartment with a puzzled look on her face, shrugged and went back in.
The next morning, we walked down the hill again. We had been about 150 feet from the station the night before. We just zigged when we should have zagged. But it didn’t matter.
I’ll never forget that night, its ups and its downs, but mostly that night on that balcony...and the air and the smell and the light and the shadows...