Monteriggioni, and Adventures in Driving
Day nine, Monday, October 7th, started innocently enough. But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men…
Monteriggioni, one of the Tuscan hilltop towns on my “to-visit” list, was only 25 minutes or so to the northwest of Siena, and our plan was to spend the morning there, and if we had time, to maybe venture to one of the other towns.
We went down to our hotel’s breakfast buffet, and found a table. The buffet here was not quite as lavish as those in Rome and Florence, but it was still more than satisfactory. Not being huge breakfast eaters, we were quite happy with the selection of bread and cheese, and some fruit, along with, of course, copious amounts of coffee.
Armed with our various roadmaps and our GPS, we hit the road, looking for Monteriggioni. It was not hard to find at all; as a matter of fact we could see it perched high on the hilltop long before we arrived there. Monteriggioni was constructed around 1215, built by the people of Siena as a defensive fortification against the Florentines. (It’s actually quite a lot like the Princess Bride plot…)
It’s not a very large town, and we were able to cover it all within an hour or so. There are two main portals or gates, one facing Florence to the north, the Porta Fiorentina, and one facing Rome to the south, the Porta Romana.
Being a quiet Monday morning with slightly threatening weather, there weren’t many people out and about, either residents or tourists, and not a street vendor in sight. It felt like we were alone, dropped into an Assassin’s Creed game…
We walked through the town for an hour or so, and decided that we’d head back to Siena, and have some lunch. Foolishly, we assumed that getting back into Siena would be as easy as the trip out of it had been. I hate to use a cliche, but, boy were we ever wrong. “Hopelessly lost” doesn’t actually describe the situation; we weren’t exactly “lost” in the sense that we didn’t know where we were. We did – we could see the town of Siena right in front of us. But we just couldn’t get into it. The roads were looping and confusing, with many a roundabout, and our GPS was completely useless. All of the signs were of course in Italian, and were no help to us at all. At one point we knew we’d ventured far off to the east, and so we turned around to try for another approach. This time we ended up in the city center, in a spot which I’m pretty sure was pedestrian only. The very nice policeman made us slowly back up, and turn around.
Eventually – maybe an hour and a half later – we somehow by dumb luck made it back to our hotel, deflated, exhausted and somewhat shell-shocked.
After briefly collapsing in our room, we rallied ourselves and went out (on foot, this time) in search of La Taverna di San Giuseppe, which was highly recommended by both Trip Advisor, and our hotel manager. We walked to Giuseppe’s and ordered a couple of well-earned glasses of Chianti.
Ah, Giuseppe’s, we will never forget you, the stuff that legends are made of. Your roasted potatoes will live in our memories forever. I have tried, but I can’t duplicate them. Seriously, it was clear to us why Giuseppe’s was the most popular restuarant in Siena. The food was amazing and the service was impeccable. It’s a really small place, and was very crowded during peak hours, so before we left that night we made sure that we had reservations for the next evening.
We decided after dinner to take a walk around Siena. We were learning about the contrade, or districts, of the historic city. The most famous of these are the 17 contrade that participate in the famous Palio di Siena horserace that is held twice a year in the Piazza del Campo, or historic city center. Each district is represented by a different animal or symbol, and is decorated accordingly. We were figuring out how to navigate Siena by looking for the various decorations associated with the different symbols of the contrades. We seemed to spend a lot of time in the onda, or wave, district, and felt at home with the fish that we saw on each corner there. (You can just make them out at the bottom of the photo below.)
Day nine had worn us down, and we were ready for a final glass of wine, and some much needed rest.