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Siena, Italy

Monday, October 25th, 2010

We headed south after Pisa, the geography getting hillier and greener as we approached Siena.

Siena is a hilly, pretty city with one of the most beautiful piazzas in Italy (Piazza del campo), the 2nd highest tower in Italy (Torre del Mangia), and the most impressive Duomo (cathedral) I’ve ever seen (the interior is absolutely jaw dropping). It is a city full of churches, museums, and great views over the surrounding countryside.

We spent two enjoyable days here, the only downer was the mostly crappy weather.

The Piazza del Campo (below) is famous for the Palio, which is a no-holds-barred horse race run here twice a year. These races pit the 17 different neighborhoods of Siena against each other. You can’t go anywhere in Siena without hearing about the Palio, it is what unites but at the same time divides the Sienese more than anything else.

The Duomo di Siena (below) is stupendous. The interior is like a museum with its black and white marble pillars, intricate marble floor panels, beautiful renaissances frescos, a huge bronze dome, a sculpture of St. Peter by Michelangelo. What awed me the most are the 170-odd busts of popes lining the cathedral, all looking down at you in an almost menacing manner. The whole cathedral was painting, sculpted, and decorated by the most celebrated Italian artists of that time. I’m about as anti-religious as they come, but was awed by this cathedral for its sheer beauty. It is just amazing and I’m afraid these words and photos just don’t give it justice.

Views on the Piazza del Campo from the Torre (tower)

Italian fashion

Italians are very fashion conscious – they like brights colours (you don’t see too many North Americans wearing yellow pants) and the liberal use of hair gel. The preppy look has also made a comeback here. Suprisingly though, Italian fashion is more conservative and classical than fashion in Montreal – women in Montreal wear things that you would never see an Italian wear (I always say, quite proudly, that Montreal has the most skankily-dressed women on the globe).

(above: The preppy look. Urgg, reminds me of my high school days)

(ok, that last one is a joke. I found it on the internet)


We stayed at the Villa Elda and both agreed it was overpriced (189 euros/night) and overrated (see Trip Advisor rating) for that price. It’s nice and clean but is not more than a 3 star hotel – the rooms in all the other places we stayed (including the 70 euro/night room in Vernazza) were superior to that in the Villa Elda. It’s the only place on our trip where I kicked myself for having grossly overpaid for a hotel.

Pisa, Italy

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Pisa – We passed through Pisa for a couple of hours on our way from Lucca to Sienna. Overall, there isn’t much to see it Pisa; it was heavily bombed during WW II and much of it was destroyed. Most of the remaining historical sights are concentrated north of the river Arno, the most famous of which is (duh!) the leaning tower of Pisa.

Probably everyone has seen photos of the tower; still, it took me by surprise by; 1) it is shorter than what I expected from seeing in pictures and 2) seen from the right angle, you can really see the lean. It didn’t seem so pronounced in pictures I’ve seen.

The whole area is very, very touristy and we didn’t spend much time. Still, as a little day trip (we had stored our baggage at the train station) it was worthwhile for a few hours to see the tower, but also the Cathedral. Everyone makes a big deal about the tower because it’s leaning (and I thought I’d gag if I saw one more tourist doing that thing where they’re pretending to be supporting the tower) but I was actually more impressed with the immensity of the Cathedral and the whiteness of it all.

(“Look at us, we are doing something original that nobody’s ever done before. We’re mavericks!”. Urgg…)

(The Arno river)

Lucca, Italy

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010
We both agreed that while Lucca was a nice town in many ways, neither of us were wowed. The ramparts ringing the town were the highlight for us; a wide ... [Continue reading this entry]

Vernazza, Italy

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010
October 6, 2010 - Vernazza was our first stop on our Italian holiday (we actually flew into Florence – but that will be covered later after we spend some more time ... [Continue reading this entry]