Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tuscanyland! (A Very Long Italian Story, Part Twelve)

Our second day in Siena proved that one learns from experience, as our time spent maneuvering within the city limits and securing a parking space was much reduced from the previous day. Like mice in a maze, we clearly remembered where to go to get the cheese. The cheese in this case being, of course, a parking spot.

We visited some more museums, and were thrilled at the sights of Donatello’s tondo of Madonna and Child (not our contemporary Madonna and her adopted baby, but the Biblical Madonna and her baby, Jesus), as well as Duccio’s Maestra and Passion. The real treat was that we stumbled upon a museum guide/art historian giving a lecture on Duccio’s works. It was enlightening to say the least. I know a little bit about art history, but this was a tour de force of a lecture! And, it was in English—score! Really illuminating.

We also spent a little while in Il Crypta, the remnants of the eighth century church on which the Duomo is built. It was okay. Lots of frescoes and brick arches. Our next stop in Siena was Il Facciatone, the remnants of what was to be the façade of the actual cathedral.

Remember yesterday, I told you about the rivalry between Firenze and Siena? Well, in the 1300s Siena had planned to expand their cathedral, which was completed in the middle 1200s. The gargantuan expanded cathedral would have been many times larger than the relatively large structure that they have now (and waaaay bigger than Firenze's). However, after building the façade, the plague hit Siena, and work was halted, never to be resumed. So, now, they have a giant wall (with a good view), and some white marble pavers to show visitors where the columns would have gone in the Olympic-sized transept of the planned Uber-cathedral.

After some pretty tasty pizza, we headed over to the Oratorio di San Francesco, to visit one last Senesi museum. This one, also a diocesan museum, was loaded with church art, from the 12th century to the 19th. Not bad, though I can’t recall anything that I found particularly breath-taking, here. Then, it was back to the cheese (I mean parking space), to head over to Volterra, via San Gimignano.

We had planned on heading directly to Volterra, having heard that San Gimignano was kind of a tourist trap. At our pizza fiesta the night before, however, we were turned on to a supposedly world-class gelato shop in the town. So, intrigued, we went. As a side note, this area of Tuscany, the sort of northwestern area of Siena province, is well-known (apparently—I didn’t know it) for its alabaster. Thus, if you are looking for some quality artisanal alabaster, head on up to this area. As it turned out, the gelato at the recommended purveyor was four-star. We sampled peanut butter, rosemary-raspberry, pistachio, chocolate, and banana (I think that covers it). We had seconds, it was so good.

I dubbed San Gimignano, “Tuscanyland” (like Disneyland). It really did have a feeling of a this-is-what-Tuscany-is-like-so-we-hope-you-enjoy-it-would-you-like-to-buy-some-alabaster-or-a-T-shirt-that-looks-like-a-Renaissance-style-doublet? I sort of felt like I had strolled into a Renaissance festival, Italian-style. I would not have been surprised if someone in full Medici garb came wandering down the via with his entire retinue, including a juggling dwarf and a prancing minstrel with a lute.

The drive out to Volterra was a bit longer than we bargained for, but, it was a good side trip. We got to see the first Roman ruins of our adventure, a theatre. Unfortunately, as we arrived at about 5pm, the site was closed, but, fortunately, it is readily visible from the street, and the woman at the ticket booth did let us stand on the overlook inside the grounds (for free). We had a gander at a few other sites of Volterra (Etruscan walls, churches, you know), then headed back to Pienza where we hoped to dine at Latte di Luna again.

But, no such luck. As we approached the restaurant, there, on the sign outside, was a note: “Completo.” No room at the inn. We spun around in a circle a few times, not wanting to admit that we had only one other choice: the restaurant just up the street, Trattoria di Baccus (or some such). It was good enough fare, but Monkey was pretty disappointed. The moral of this story, when you go out to eat in a town with two restaurants, make reservations!


La Fashionista said...

Sounds like you went to the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Siena? We loved it there. I learned a great deal about art history there in particular. It was incredible.

We didn't find San Gimignano to be super touristy like that - but maybe we were lulled into ecstasy by the gelato. We saw some beautiful views of the surrounding countryside as we walked ever upwards through the town.

The Etruscan ruins in Volterra were interesting, but we didn't do the tour either. We did see quite a bit of alabaster. Walled-city burnout was happening for us a bit by then.


La Fashionista said...

PS - Monkey, that pic looks a lot like one of me in San Gimi. Did I send it to you?