From Lake Maggiore, we passed through Milan en route to Siena, where we due to stay for a couple of nights (yay!). We were in Milan for maybe 45mins and the photos I got aren’t that great, so I won’t bore you with posting them. All I will say is that this is probably another place to come back to as I saw very little of it. Certainly not enough to give a decent opinion on it. Anyway, we stopped at lunch at one of the amazing Autogrills along the highway. Think of a service station (or gas station), but on a huge scale – definitely large enough to cater for about 3 coach loaded full of tourists. If there are any Australians reading this who are familiar with the twin Caltex centres on the F3 in NSW, think roughly that size, but everything under one roof and no fast food. There was a food court similar to the one I experienced in Lugano – all the food was freshly prepared and there was not a smidge of grease in sight. For less than €10, I got a huge salad (with lettuce, tomato, olives bocconcini, olives and anchovies) and a small bottle of wine. I thought that was pretty decent! Along with the food court, there was also a shop, where you could get books, a myriad of pastas, sauces, pharmacy type products and lots of little snack things (Pringles were my go to product as they were always so expensive in our hotels). I think lots of countries – particularly Australia – could learn a lot the Italian form of service stations. If Autogrill was in Australia, I would be more than happy to go there every day for lunch!
After a completely satisfying lunch stop, we boarded the bus and headed for Siena which is situated a couple of hours north-west of Rome. It was great to be back in Tuscany – truth be told I had really missed the medieval buildings and the history that they emanated. I was far more comfortable there than I was in Lugano, which to me felt far newer and more modern. After checking in to our hotel (which had a great view over a football field, on which there was a game being played), we went on a short walking tour of the city before dinner. I sort of feel like once you’ve seen one Tuscan city, you’ve seen them all. But it is an absolute must that anyone goes to Siena – the main cathedral is completely awe inspiring and beautiful. From what I saw of it, the entire structure was made with marble, which was very interesting as lots of the churches and cathedrals I saw in Italy generally only used marble on the front facade as it’s so expensive, while the rest of it would be made of regular stone. A good example of this the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence – the main facade is marble, while the rear of the structure is constructed of brown stone. The Siena cathedral is constructed from the usual white marble, along with a dark marble which from afar was black but is more of a dark green and is accented here and there with red marble and bronze workings. Sadly I didn’t get time to go in, but the outside was impressive on it’s own. Again, another place for me to go back to.
We also saw the Piazza del Campo, which is home to the famous Palio horse race. I couldn’t even begin to explain this to you, but I’ll give the short version of what I remember – there’s ten horses and ten bareback riders, the piazza is packed with spectators. It’s run at high speed, last no more than a couple of minutes and it is not uncommon for a jockey to come off his mount – basically, you should go to this website to read more about it and check out this video to see it for real. It’s only slightly scary.
After our tour, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner which was in the Gallo Nero restaurant. If you go to Siena, you must eat here. It is medieval in every sense of the word. If I remember correctly, the building itself was over 800 years old for a start and the food that we ate was typical medieval fare for the region and despite what you might think, was very tasty. It was a great example of the importance of herbs and spices in Italian cooking. We had a selection of roasted meats, some pizza style entrees, a beautiful pea soup and (my favourite) pecorino cheese dipped in batter and fried. We ate in the lower level of the restaurant which was the perfect temperature. It was here that I learnt why we keep wine in cellars below the ground. At two metres down (which is roughly what we were at in the lower level of the restaurant), the temperature is the same all year round and is constantly at around 14ºC, which is optimal for the maturation and storage of wine as it is not susceptible to sudden changes in temperature.
After dinner, we strolled back through the city in the dark to our hotel for a good nights rest as we were off to San Gimignano the following day which would be lots of walking uphill and lunch at a winery (which I was VERY excited about).