Italy retro-diary: day 8

We had to be up fairly early today, because after chocolate-milk-fortified breakfast I needed to retrieve the car so we could get to Panzano by noon. Given our tribulations thus far with driving, we weren’t sure how much time to allow. But as it happened, I was able to find the underground parking garage without too much trouble (though it wasn’t much more visible in the daylight) and navigate my way back to the hotel to pick up Sara and our bags. Now that we had a feel for getting in to cities, getting out was accomplished without too much drama. Here’s the secret: find a large road on the map, get to it and try very hard to stay on it. It was tricky, but we navigated a main road to the river, and then we were able to count bridges. (Mostly: we were still off by one.)

Once out of the city, the roads make a bit more sense, and we got to Panzano easily enough. There are only 3 roads in Panzano, but we still couldn’t find our B&B, the the locals pointed us in various directions. It was actually in a field, about one mile down a mud road, but Fagiolari was definitely worth finding. We checked in with the housekeeper, dropped our bags off, took a couple of photos and then went through the winding countryside to Siena for the rest of the day.

Our bedroom with the ‘cat window’ at Fagiolari.

Siena is almost like a smaller, quieter Florence. It doesn’t have the big draws, and is very compact, but does have a dimished tourist presence, which was welcome. Using our ever-improving knowledge of driving, we picked one of the many diversely orientated “Centro” arrows to follow and crossed our fingers. We could tell we were getting close when we spotted lots of complicated car prohibition signs right where we wanted to go. Luckily, we found a strange parking garage in the side of a hill, and ambled into town. I say strange, because the attendants, after cheerily waving us in, handed us a number and told us to go to the second floor. All the parking spaces there had numbers, so we diddled around, could not quite get into number we were handed, so parked nearby. We figured we could use the excuse, “We’re foreign!” if questions arose. The English instructions on the ticket said to leave the keys in the ignition and the doors unlocked; which we ignored.

Imagine a gigantic, steep sided dessert bowl. Now build a stone city there. That’s what we found: very narrow, very inclined, very tall streets, but opening into a wonderful semi-circular piazza in the middle. So one minute you’re walking in this maze:

The narrow streets of Siena

and the next you find your breath taken away by this.

The Piazza del Campo in Siena

We also had to compare the Duomo with Florence’s. Verdict: not as big, but the huge music books make up for it. There were four areas to see though: the dungeon (interesting discovery, but not much to see), the lower chapel, the main area (the floor was interesting) and the museum next door.

Siena's Duomo

The museum would have been interesting, but lunch was [not] pressing and there were a lot of stairs. I climbed to the top of the ruined arch to see the full spectacular view. Sara, in deference to a few hundred years of staircase advances made since construction, opted stay where the handrails were.

We took lunch on the Piazza (where else?) and had mediocre sandwiches and excellent gelato. There was a neat pen store on the way back to the car, and at the parking lot we paid the attendant, and he gave us a funny squarish coin. We found out that it operated the exit barrier, so everything worked out.

Our next foray was to Cortona. The only reason for this was because we had seen the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, and thought it might be interesting. It was, but was also very small—enough to walk around in a half hour. It was getting late, and very little was open. Not even restaurants! Cortona is perched on a rather pointy hill, so it’s streets are even narrower than Siena’s.

The (back) streets of Cortona.

Now our quest was for dinner. Basically, we drove around, mostly randomly, first towards Arezzo, then back to Siena, with the hope of finding Panzano again. Arezzo was also closed for winter, but we did find a restaurant off the main track. We think it was probably in Lucignano, but we’re not quite sure. Anyway, we managed to find the freeway from Siena to Florence, and the tiny cut-off dirt track back to Panzano, and the mud lane back to Fagiolari where we flopped into bed, exhausted.

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