Ok, let's see if I can get the travelogue wrapped up...
June 30th (Saturday): Siena
We had a couple options for our last day trip, but we settled on Siena. The train station is actually a little outside the main town. You can walk for around half an hour (all up hill though) or take a short bus ride to get into Siena proper. We took the bus, though finding the right one was a little tricky (there's three bus stops near the station).
Siena isn't especially large, but it is a neat old town. What really sets it apart is that it's on a hill (or rather several hills, I think). So expect to do a lot of climbing. There also seemed to be a strong Roman influence, so it appears that Siena and Rome had close ties, though I haven't had a chance to look into its history.
We walked through the town for a bit as we made our way to the Piazza del Campo. It was very different from other piazzas we've visited. As you can see in the picture, it's sloped and surrounded by a dirt road. There's also bleachers all around the the sides (old fashioned wooden ones hanging over the shops and restaurants). Apparently, there's a big horse race, or some such, that's held there. And I can't forget about the birds. There's a ton of them living in the nooks in the buildings flying all over above the piazza. It's a pretty unique area, and cool to see.
The big building with the clock tower on one end of the piazza is the Palazzo Pubbilico, which is where the ruler of the city lived. It's pretty fancy inside, though only a relatively small part of it was open to the public. But there was some nice art and the upper level had a good view. I wanted to climb the clock tower, but entry was on a time system and the time slots didn't really sync up with our schedule. A little disappointing, but it's not like I hadn't already climbed plenty of towers on this trip.
Our next stop was Santa Maria della Scala, an old hospital that had been converted into a museum containing some art and a collection of Catholic relics. There's also a chapel inside. I feel like we probably missed a lot of it though, since we paused for a while to rest while Zack napped.
Right across the street from Santa Maria is Siena's Duomo. I grabbed combo tickets for everything without paying too much attention to the details. Turns out one thing on the ticket had a timed entry but we had some time to kill before that, so we headed inside. While smaller than many of the Duomos we'd visited, Siena's was very unique in a number of ways. The zebra striping on the walls and pillars immediately jumped out. But another interesting element was that, aside from the impressive paintings and architecture, the floor was covered with a large number of designs. Some seemed purely artistic, but the majority were of different scenes from the Bible. The choice of subject matter was pretty unusual though. I suppose Moses with the ten commandments is pretty iconic, if slightly odd for a Catholic church. But Sampson using the donkey's jawbone? Or Absalom getting caught in a tree? Now that's a story that rarely gets any sort of artistic depiction... The library (in a side room) was also worth a visit due to the art and collection of illuminated books.
Once we finished exploring, we headed to the meeting place for our timed thing. Turns out, it was a tour of the Duomo's roof. While nowhere near impressive as the Milan Duomo's roof, it did give some nice views of the interior and Siena itself. I enjoyed it but, considering how much extra it cost compared to the regular combo ticket (which gets you in everything else), I'm not sure it was really worth the price.
The combo ticket also got us into a museum which contained a bunch of relics from the Duomo and another viewpoint (though I skipped that since only a few people were allowed up at once and we had limited time), a large crypt, and probably the nicest baptistry we'd seen anywhere in Italy.
Connie didn't want to get back to Florence too late so, after finishing up everything on the ticket, we made our way to a bus stop and then back to the train station. I walked around a little in Florence that evening, just for fun (and a last gelato), but that wrapped up our time touring in Italy. Connie and I both really enjoyed it. Neither of us were especially fond of Milan, other than the Duomo, but the other towns and cities we visited were really nice and many of them would be worth revisiting in the future. If you like history, old buildings, and/or art, Italy is certainly worth a visit. Heck, Connie said she'd go back just for the food. While a return visit to Italy isn't on top of my international travel list, it would be a lot of fun and I can already think of plenty of other things to see and do there.
Hmm... I was hoping to finish the entire travelogue today, but that entry ran a bit long so I think I'll stop here and do the last little bit on Friday.
See you then!
Ok, straight to the travelogue.
June 29th (Friday): Lucca
The next day trip on my list was Lucca. It's claim to fame is its old city, which is pretty much fully intact and surrounded by a wall. The wall encircles the entire old city, though it only really looks like a wall from the outside. From the inside, it's more of a hill that you can walk or bike on. There's a number of parks and the like up there as well, making it a pleasant place to kill some time. The entire loop is around 2 1/2 miles, but Connie and I only did half of it (going from the south end of the city to the north) before descending into the city. Compared to other old Italian cities, Lucca felt a bit more compact, probably because it all had to fit inside the wall. We headed towards the Anfiteatro Romano, the remains of a former Roman amphitheater. While it doesn't exactly look like the one in Rome anymore, seeing a big round piazza of sorts in the middle of the city was kind of cool.
From there, we swung by the nearby Torre Guinigi. Lucca has a surprisingly large number of towers, especially given its size, but Guinigi stands out due to the trees (olive, I think) on top. Naturally, I had to climb it. Annoyingly, Zack was napping again, so I had to carry him all the way up with me. The view was worth the effort though.
Back on the ground, I spotted a bubble tea place (they exist in Italy, but they're pretty uncommon) which had some alcoholic flavors. Didn't try one, but I guess that's Italy for you.
Our next stop was San Michele in Foro, though we stopped outside for a bit first to let Zack run around. Like many big Catholic churches in Italy, San Michele contained a number of graves and tombs, though they seemed to be almost the main focus here. This mummy of sorts was the centerpiece and, while the others we'd seen were kind of ambiguous, this one really looked like a mummy. Kinda creepy to see in a church.
Right behind San Michele was a bakery selling Buccelatto, a traditional Luccan sweet bread. It was essentially a raisin bread, but also had a strong taste of either licorice or fennel (they have a pretty similar flavor), which made it rather unique. We also grabbed some pizza and headed down towards the south end of town to visit the local Duomo. As far as Duomos go, it wasn't one of the more impressive ones that we'd seen, but it did have some very nice stained glass windows.
After that, we headed to a playground we'd spotted earlier to let Zack have some fun before making our way back to Florence to wrap up the day.
Random Italy Comment: Demographics
One thing I noticed when in Italy was that the average person couldn't seem to tell whether or not I was Italian, at least not without hearing me talk. That was a kind of interesting experience, since I'm used to be the obvious foreigner in Asia. Even in Switzerland, I think most natives could easily tell I was a tourist. Anyway, aside from the native Italians, Connie and I spotted a number of people who appeared to be of middle eastern descent. I actually remember reading an article a couple years back about how many young Italians didn't want to work in industries that require a lot of time and effort (like restaurants) so those areas were becoming increasingly dominated by immigrants. From my very casual observation, that seems plausible.
Hmm... The travelogue is nearing its end (one more big entry and a couple shorter ones), but I've got an early day coming up, so I think I'll stop here and try to finish it up on Wednesday.
It's Friday, so you can vote on TWC to see the latest bonus comic!
Hmm... I'd like to do another travelogue entry or two. I really hate that it's been so long since the end of the trip and it's still not done. On the other hand, I just got back from Miku Expo (expect a travelogue entry on that once I finish the Italy travelogue), it's late, and I've been pushing myself pretty hard since getting back with all the moving stuff (which isn't done yet, though we've made pretty major progress). So I think I should probably get some sleep instead. Sigh... Oh well, the travelogue is getting pretty close to the end. I should be able to finish it on Monday or Wednesday for sure.
So, have a good weekend and I'll see you (hopefully with a large travelogue entry) on Monday.