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Trip Report 7 Days in Siena – A Convent, Body Bits, Feasting,Wine, Gelato, Art, & Geese

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PART ONE – Train Travel, Tiny Bathrooms, Holy Accommodations, and First Impressions - Wine, Gelato and Feasting

“Weather in Pisa this afternoon will be Sunny and partly cloudy” announced the British Airways pilot shortly after take-off from Heathrow. Kathy and I exchanged “Sounds Good To Us” looks. We had checked the weather report for Pisa and Siena in gloomy, rainy London that morning and they were calling for “Gloomy and Rainy” so things were apparently looking up for us as we were about to start day one of our holiday in Italy. As we later descended into the low clouds blanketing Pisa airport, the pilot sheepishly corrected himself and confirmed that the rainy weather that had descended on Tuscany over the past few weeks was continuing.

But it didn’t matter! We were starting Day Three of our long-awaited three week vacation and a bit of rain was not going to matter. (As we were to soon discover, it was a tad more than a “bit”.) After spending a couple of days in London on our way from Toronto we had arrived in Italy for seven days in Siena, followed by two days in Florence and then nine days based in Manarolo, hiking the trails of the Cinque Terre on the Levanto coast.

Instead of a whirlwind checklist tour of Tuscany we had again adopted our practice of parking our butts in a few places and soaking up the food, wine, art, and ambiance of a limited area. Newsweek ran a cover article a couple of years back entitled “Slow is Beautiful” describing the growing trend of travellers to avoid the “top-10 group tour” format of zipping through 20 countries in 20 days in favour of a different approach to vacationing. The term “Slow Travel”, we read, apparently means traveling and vacationing in a more leisurely way, with unstructured days enjoying in-depth experiences, hanging out in one remote corner of the world, interacting with locals, sampling local customs and food and enjoying such personal pursuits as hiking, sailing, or kayaking. It also means quieter, more intimate, accommodations such as homey boutique hotels or small rented villas instead of all-inclusive mega resorts and large hotels. As Newsweek puts it, for the new “Slow Traveller the quality and depth of experience matters far more than crossing hotspots off a checklist”. Kathy and I realized that our adopted style of vacationing apparently now had a label – apparently we were now officially: “Slow”!

So here we were in Italy and First Stop was Siena. We zipped through departure and emerged into the airport terminal ready to catch the train to Siena. I’d already checked the Trenitalia web site (well laid out and reliable I must say!) and was armed with the full list of trains, train times and schedules. My first pleasant surprise was walking up to the counter to secure two train tickets from Pisa Aeroporta to Siena. It was something like 16 Euro. I corrected the lady and told her this was for TWO people – and all the way to Siena. With a bemused look she politely told the apparently dense, bald-headed, Canadian man that she had heard me right and that was for two people to Siena. Back in Canada, and especially in Northern Ontario where we live, railway fares are atrociously high and that amount would likely have gotten Kathy and I as far as the local truck stop four miles out of town with our train service. I was already enamored with the Italian rail system, and despite a few quirks here and there, using the trains in Italy proved to be an easy, and very cheap way to get around.

After dutifully validating the tickets we were ready to take the first train to Pisa Centrale (where we were to catch the train to Empoli with one further train connection and the last leg to Siena). It went like this: (1) Run for train ready to depart the airport train station. (2) While sweating profusely, and grunting much, lift and sling two 75 pound suitcases up the stairs into the vestibule, while balancing much too heavy carry-on bags on shoulders and backs. (3) Scan the already packed cars for empty seats. (4) With even more sweating and grunting, wrestle and maneuver two bodies, two over-packed suitcases, and two carry-on bags into the middle of the train car. (5) While attempting to avoid cervical or head injuries to us or nearby passengers, hoist bags onto overhead bins, or seats and collapse into seats for the ride. (6) ….at which point the train promptly arrives at Pisa Station and everyone leaves the train! (7) Do all of the above in reverse and run for the next train!

Despite my anal retentive planning I’d failed to note that the trip from the Pisa Airport to the train station is a mere matter of minutes. We used our brains for the remainder of the next three weeks and learned to park the embarrassingly heavy suitcases in the vestibules for the short duration trips instead of hauling them into the train cars.

We were able to navigate the train stations and platforms at Pisa Centrale and Empoli for our trains without any trouble. Knowing the train numbers and the eventual end-destinations for the trains made moving from platform to platform relatively easy but hauling the two ballistic-clad anvils on wheels continued to cause the sweat to pour. After hauling the suitcases down and up the staircases the first time, thinking the elevators were broken, we learned another little tidbit – in some of the tiny platform elevators at the train stations, you have to press and HOLD the “Up”, or “Down”, button in the elevators to make them work! That made things a bit easier.

Nevertheless - we were barely into our vacation and already we were looking at each other and swearing yet again that NEXT TIME we would not o-v-e-r-p-a-c-k. As you have already discerned - we are obviously not the smartest bunnies in the forest when it comes to packing. We try hard to cut back and keep it light, but here, on our fourth trip to Europe we were yet again, staring in bewilderment at the people whizzing around us with one respectably sized suitcase. We know we’re weak – we like lots of nice clothes and I have a terrible weakness of packing things “just-in-case”. As we finally slumped into the last set of seats on the train from Empoli to Siena we were swearing again (both the expletive kind and the oath kind) that next time it would be two pairs of underwear each, a tooth brush, a pack of tissues, the credit cards and the clothes on our back.

I digress. By mid-afternoon we had arrived in Siena and grabbed a taxi to our base of operations in Siena for the week – Hotel Alma Domus. (Cue the Church Choir Soundtrack)

Alma Domus is a very comfortable, somewhat spartan, but very nice little hotel tucked away in the shadow of San Dominica church. It’s also part of the convent of Santa Catarina and attached to the Sanctuary of Santa Catarina. After much research on the web, and good reviews on Alma Domus, we thought that this would be a neat change of scenery for accommodation. As we stepped into the front reception there was no mistaking that we had the right place. This was very much part of a working religious complex – a nun in full habit, was standing near the front desk and the slight, but unmistakable, scent of church incense sent me reeling back in time to my catholic elementary school days at Saint Patrick’s and my brief stint as an altar boy. I suppressed the knee-jerk reaction to genuflect and look for the font with the holy water, and we checked in.

Alma Domus is a bit institutional in character and there is no mystery as to who did the interior decorating – crucifix’s abound (including the one over our bed), holy paintings (one of which was a bit weird and unsettling) are everywhere. I especially liked the photo of Pope John Paul’s visit to the place on the way to the breakfast room. Despite the touches of Catholicism and reverence here and there, we really liked the place and it was a great little hotel. The staff was pleasant (except for the greeting habits of the breakfast room lady who gave out seat assignments, which was a hoot) our bed was comfortable, the coffee was good in the morning, it was very quiet (for the most part – see the section below on Contrada sing-a-longs), the location was perfect, and best of all, we had a walk-out verandah with a terrific view across the roof-tops and hills of Siena and the Duomo and a direct line-of-sight into the convent Sanctuary next door. I made a mental note to make sure I did not walk out onto the balcony in my birthday suit or skivvies in the morning for fear of unsettling one of the sisters.

The bathroom was tiny with a toilet, bidet, sink and “bathing receptacle” crammed into a relatively small space. The bidet seemed to be a bit of an anomaly in a former convent but what the heck. As for the “bathing receptacle” once again as a North American tourist, there was that culture adjustment to the European-style shower/bath. The shower was a tiny corner of the room with a raised ridge to define its area, surrounded by a shower curtain hanging from a rod. It was very small, “cozy” and, as we’d seen before, sometimes required some acrobatic maneuvers practiced only by circus performers in order to get the water to your nether regions. As usual, after showering, most everything in the bathroom was drenched, including any clothing you may have been stupid enough not to leave in the other room.

I had written a travelogue when we first went to Greece, and described the three classes of Greek hotel Bathing Receptacles. I realized that Italian baths and showers in smaller hotels, pensiones and hostels could be similarly classified and so, if you’re interested, I reproduce the outline as follows. Please feel free to skip this part and go directly to the continuation of the report below.


My three classification of Italian (or Greek) small-hotel Bathing Receptacles (aside from the expansive showers found in the high-end hotels) are as follows:

First there is the “TUPPERWARE CLASS”. These are small square basins resembling the largest of the Tupperware containers we use to store leftovers in our fridge. There are no actual shower walls – just the corner of the bathroom. There is sometimes a shower curtain. Sometimes there is not. They sometimes have a little stool or formed seat while you bathe, which are just large enough to accommodate your backside such that it feels like a pressed ham. If you are lucky there is a shower nozzle fixed on the wall, but invariably it appears to be pointed in the wrong direction. Often there is a hand-held nozzle which you must maneuver, thus tying up one of your hands. After you enter, your knees are around your nose, or your nose and other frontal body parts seem to be pressed against the wall or walls to contain the spray of water (an exercise in futility). After you have adjusted the water temperature you often have a limited number of minutes of hot water left to wet yourself, lather, wash and rinse. Putting the hose down to use both hands to get the nether regions or your hair, results in water spraying every which way (sometimes in your face) and often all over most of the remaining four square feet of bathroom, including the clothes you mistakenly tossed on the floor before you started and most certainly the bath mat. By the time you coordinate the maneuvers, you have quite often exhausted the hot water. You thus finish with a bracing cold blast of water just as you are finishing up. If you are male, this shrinks things. You step out onto the soaked bath mat, shivering with teeth chattering, and reach for the towel-the-size-of-a-tissue that, you realize, was also on the floor.

The second classification of bathing receptacle is what I call the “REFRIGERATOR CLASS”. These stand-up receptacles contain about the same volume of space as the average stand-up North American Fridge. When you close the door (if you can), and adjust the water temperature, you are invariably going to next slam the faucet or some plumbing fixture into your elbow or take out a hip joint as you turn or bend to grab the soap or shampoo. Genitals are usually also an endangered zone for guys. Shuffling to aim the water to cover all parts of your body (which usually can’t be done) involves alternative but equally challenging, circus acrobatic maneuvers. You can perhaps remove the hand held hose from its hook and aim it accordingly, but in doing so you are likely to again slam your hip or elbow into the plumbing fixture, or worse…..important mid-section body parts. Since the shower doors rarely close completely you have likely sprayed water over the same four square feet of bathroom, including the bath mat and your clothes thrown where you thought they were outside the bathing zone. The hot water is again gone by this time and you usually finish with a bracing blast of cold water. If you are male you are, by this time, speaking in a high-pitched voice and glad you have fathered all the children you wanted. Honeymooners beware.

The third classification is the “STUCK-IN-THE-CORNER SPARTAN CLASS”. This is the classification which confuses North Americans because there is nothing that resembles a shower or a tub in the bathroom and you begin to open closet doors looking for the real bathroom. You soon realize that the bathing receptacle is basically a corner of the small tiled bathroom, with a hand-held hose or (again if you are lucky, a fixed shower nozzle that frees up the use of your hands), and a floor that theoretically is sloped to allow the water run to a drain but invariably does not. Lacking any confinement you actually might be able to shower in a time efficient manner and may thus finish your bathing before the water turns icy cold. Your body parts are also usually safer because you won’t bang into anything. However, if your Wife happens to be putting on her make-up at the sink adjacent to the Corner Class bathing area, you may discover that you have inadvertently drenched your better half who now has mascara streaking down her face, with hair matted to her face and looks that could kill. Since there is no separation between the bathing area and the toilet, sink or your wife, every square inch of the bathroom and its contents are now covered in water including the roll of toilet paper, your undies, your bath mat and the tissue-sized towel. It will matter very little, since your Wife, as pay-back, has removed anything from the bathroom that would allow you to dry yourself. Sitting on the toilet immediately after bathing, with the Stuck-In-The-Corner Class of Bathing Receptacle can be hazardous to your health (and embarrassing) as your wet backside may slide off of, or worse, into the middle of, the wet toilet seat.



To be fair, (despite my attempt at humour), there was almost always lots of hot water at Alma Domus, and the bath towels were nice and big for drying off (as long as you didn’t leave it in the bathroom when showering). Our shower was a tiny example of the Stuck-In-The-Corner Spartan class – but with a shower curtain.

After depositing the luggage and freshening up we were off to explore Siena.

Let me say from the outset – Kathy and I fell in love with Siena. We had thoroughly enjoyed the Renaissance art and history of Florence during our week-long visit in February, and weren’t sure what to expect from Siena by comparison. The Sienese and Florentines have been fighting, arguing and warring over which city is best for centuries so in would behoove little ole’ Kathy and David to throw their two cents into the debate. Our conclusion, nevertheless, was that there WAS no comparing them. They are two very different, beautiful, art-filled, culturally unique Tuscan cities, but Siena has a very different flavour and atmosphere.

First, it doesn’t take long before you notice the very medieval character of the city. Beautiful narrow streets, most closed to traffic, meander here and there, seemingly without any pattern, but radiating from the Campo towards the city walls and the city gates. The streets are cobblestoned, lined with beautifully preserved historical buildings with every manner of architectural elements – arches, balconies, buttresses, columns, decorative stone work, and detail imaginable. And all without graffiti. That horrible hooligan spray-painting blight defacing so many lovely historical buildings (so common in Florence, and many other Italian cities by comparison) is not to be seen in Siena! The Sienese strong sense of neighbourhood pride and the ingrained social/organizational contrada system, where each Contrada proudly preserves their traditions, evidently does not tolerate the ugly pastime of scrawling ugly spray-painted crap along the facades of 600 to 800 year old buildings. (More about the contradas later). Also noticeably absent are the annoying hawkers and peddlers of Florence persistently selling their cheap trinkets. The strong sense of civic pride and traditional mores really comes across if you stay a while. As a result, entering Siena is stepping back in history and enjoying a small sprawling city as it was originally built in the middle ages and through subsequent history.

One of the things that surprised us is that Siena is very much a hill-town – or a “Hill City”. Perhaps because of the size of the old city, I expected that like Florence, or Pisa or Lucca – Siena would be fairly flat. Not so. Siena is a cacophony of elevations, there is hardly a step taken that isn’t on some gradient – many of them quite steep. Even the Campo is on a serious slant. Despite looking at dozens of pictures before hand, I thought the Campo was more or less a flat Piazza, but not even close. Like an uneven bowl, you enter from any number of side-streets going down ramps and steps and slopes of every kind. I now have even greater respect for the riders of the Palio – careening around the Campo, not only at death-defying speeds, with 90 degree turns, but on crazy slanted elevations no less. We walked the Via Della Galluzaa, a narrow alleyway/street extending from above the campo towards Santa Dominica not less than eight times a day. We discovered one means of accessing the “upper” areas of the city from the west, below San Domenico, entering from the Porta Fortebranda is up an interesting series of steps, ramps and escalators. During the course of the week we covered most of the old city, circling around on back streets, sometimes leaving by one gate and entering through another. In the course of doing so, we must of covered hundreds of feet in elevation changes, and had calves and shins of steel by week’s end.

On our first day we decided to get our bearings by heading to the Campo and the Duomo and simply exploring. An important part of the initial exercise was staking out the Gelato shops – which was fairly easy considering the number of them. In Siena, you are never more than a few feet away from a supplier to satisfy your daily “fix” of Gelato. As we neared the Campo, it was later in the day, so the crowds were somewhat light in the Campo and in and around the small Piazza del Duomo. We realized through the week that the vast majority of tourists in Siena come for a day, descending on the Campo and the Duomo (a short distance from each other) in massive hordes by mid-morning and leaving by late afternoon. At this time the Campo, (and especially the “touristy” cafés and restaurants lining the Campo) the Duomo, and the various “corridors” linking the two can be a sea of wall-to-wall people. Stray just a little from this area – in some cases just one street away, and the city become quiet, atmospheric, and even peaceful. In the late evenings Siena is actually magical, as the locals, and the fewer number of tourists staying a while, reclaim the neighbourhoods as their own. Which is why taking it slow, and enjoying Siena for a week is (and was) a fabulous idea.

After a full day of traveling, we were a little bushed, and it was raining steady. We had dropped in to Taverna di San Giuseppe but all tables were taken. We made a reservation for the next evening. Through the week, we fell into the habit of dropping in to places during the day to make evening, or next-day, dinner reservations. At most restaurants, this was almost essential for a table. Lunch or afternoon meals seldom required reservations, as there was always a table, with minimal or no wait in May. We enjoyed a terrific first meal in the small basement restaurant a few steps from the entrance to Alma Domus, Osteria Carroccio. (Restaurants and the joys of eating in Siena are covered in a separate Post later on).

We arrived back in our room and stepped out on the balcony to enjoy the black and white striped beauty of the Duomo, bathed in light stretching across the hill across the valley. It was quiet as a light rain fell on Siena, and you could hear a pin drop in both inside and outside the convent/hotel complex.

We collapsed into bed that evening, planning on an early start the next morning.

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    wow. great start, Dave. isn't Siena lovely? such a beautiful place especially when all the buses have left. I'm really looking forward to reading more of your travels. or should that be travails?


    Also, I'm going to be negotiating Pisa airport and train station again in about a month, so your reminders on how the place works are really useful..one question - do you still buy your tickets for the train from the information kiosk to the right of the exit from customs? thank you

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    Love your descriptions of the European showers. Shrinkage! :)

    I missed Sienna the last time I was in Italy 6 years ago. From your description I think I just might book a several days stay in the city this year.

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    Love your descriptions of the European showers. Shrinkage! :)

    I missed Sienna the last time I was in Italy 6 years ago. From your description I think I just might book a several days stay in the city this year.

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    Love your descriptions of the European showers. Shrinkage! :)

    I missed Sienna the last time I was in Italy 6 years ago. From your description I think I just might book a several days stay in the city this year.

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    >>>The shower was a tiny corner of the room with a raised ridge to define its area, surrounded by a shower curtain hanging from a rod.<<<

    Some of the rooms at Alma Domus have real shower stalls. I imagine you can request one at booking or check-in.

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    Dave - Enjoying your post ... I'll be in Siena for four nights in October. First visit. I remember a "stuck-in-the-corner" shower in a pensione in Florence (years ago) in the bedroom!! It did have a shower curtain, and a small sink attached to the wall and close to the shower. Shared WC down the hall. Amusing memories ... looking forward to more episodes of your trip! Janet

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    annhig:

    Train tickets were sold in the hall immediately before leaving the departures Hall to the right, at the information Kiosk, near the Left Luggage place. You know about validating the tickets right? We saw a number of people in discussions with the conductor due to the fact that they have failed to validate the ticket in the yellow machines.

    Here's Part 2.....


    PART 2 – Market Day, Palazzo Pubblico, Wine, Gelato and Feasting

    It was market day in Siena on Wednesday morning, and we decided it would be a nice less-touristy way to see the local sights and sounds of Siena, instead of the historical landmarks.

    This was our first visit for breakfast where we met the Breakfast Boss-Lady (the BBL) at Hotel Alma Domus. The BBL kept her stern gaze fixed on the door, and as you entered you were promptly ordered to your seat. Warm morning greetings were not to be found. Despite the fact that there were often multiple seats available, based upon some unknown grand-plan, the BBL seated you. Heaven help the guest who decided to pick their own chair. Through the week we observed that if anyone tried to select a seat – the BBL rapidly intervened and directed you elsewhere. Again, it brought back memories of my Catholic Elementary School – where breaches of strong-armed directives from teachers were dealt with swiftly and firmly. I expected to see the Breakfast Boss-Lady wielding a wooden ruler, ready to rap knuckles for breaches of convent seating etiquette. The funny thing is that every morning when we LEFT the room, the BBL suddenly came to life, cheerily wishing us a good day and was actually a very pleasant lady.

    Breakfast at the Alma Domus was certainly not an exceptional continental breakfast by Italian Hotel standards. Some slightly watery juices were accompanied by some fairly basic pastries and pre-packaged cakes, yoghurt, toast, and packaged containers of jam and butter. It was included in the price and served in a stark vaulted room that reminded me of an old cloister – which it likely was. The redeeming element was excellent (strong) hot coffee with hot milk. After being directed firmly to your seats the BBL or her equally serious helper arrived armed with an ancient kettle of hot dark coffee in one hand, and another aluminum kettle of steaming hot milk in the other. The hard-core java-jolt was just was we needed. In all, our Alma Domus regimented cloistered breakfasts, were certainly not the food highlight of the trip, but they were memorable and quirky experiences.

    Every Wednesday is market day in Siena, and crammed into the alleyways, parking lots, streets and every nook and cranny surrounding the old Fortress, and the Stadium, are the local and regional vendors who set up shop to sell their wares. Although it rained off and on throughout the morning (and poured later in the day) we had a blast that morning poking around in the market.

    Walking northwest from San Domenico, along Viale Dei Mille, the stalls are lined up one after the other selling everything – and I mean everything. Every manner and style of clothing, bags, leathers, kitchen wares, hardware, perfumes, footwear, artwork, jewellery, produce, meats, groceries, toilet paper, spices, olive oils, wine, umbrellas, small meals, and most everything a Sienese family might require. We found a few bargains, an umbrella (which was well used for the remainder of the trip), some clothes for our daughters, some fashionable scarves, a big bag of bright tasty sun-dried tomatoes, and the best damned pork sandwich on a bun of my life. The lady sheared off thick slabs of warm rosemary-scented pork off the whole roast, piled it high on a fresh bun. A short while late, as a mid morning “second-breakfast” we shared this treat while quaffing a few glasses of good local wine.

    We had reservations at Taverna Di San Giuseppe later that evening. As with our entire vacation, we plan our day around our meals, gelato fixes, and sufficient visits to wine bars and enotecas (with requisite noshing on awesome nibbles). We decided that a visit to Palazzo Pubblico was in order after exploring the area around the Campo. On the way, we first found an excellent little wine bar and sipped some good local chianti and nibbled some warmed foccoccia with prosciutto and cheese. When paying the bill we found out that the little wine shop is owned by the Osteria Carroccio, one of the restaurants on our list, and made reservations for a later evening.

    The Palazzo Pubblico was enjoyable. The architecture of the building is one of the highlights, and one of the most impressive of the artworks are the frescos Allegories of Good and Bad Government – which is in no way subtle about the results if bad government prevails – with death, destruction and wastelands depicted. We enjoyed the large expansive loggia on the upper level with beautiful views of the hills of Tuscany spread out below. We decided not to climb the Tower.

    We returned to the Hotel to change, and had a leisurely stroll (as leisurely as one can, huffing and puffing up one hill and down another) in the early evening. The difference in the area around the Campo was striking. Gone were the dense crowds and volume of noise from the day-trippers and instead the locals were strolling, kids were playing and giggling in the Campo, and Siena was enjoying the apres-tourist evening glow. We arrived at Taverna di Giuseppe and feasted on amazing food and good wine. (More later on eating).

    After enjoying a wonderful meal at Taverna di San Giuseppe that evening, we strolled through the Campo again and around San Domenica to work off the incredible food, and I took advantage of the light and grabbed some great night time photos.

    On our way back to the hotel, we noticed an interesting construction that had been placed in the middle of the street on Via S. Caterina, just below the convent (and within spitting distance of our balcony). It was a “faux” church chapel with a painting and elevated altar. We also noticed that all of the contrada flags, with their bright green background and snow white goose, were hung along all of the streets in and around our hotel and San Domenico, and the streets in this area were brightly illuminated. As we were to soon learn, these were the early preparations for the upcoming week-end celebrations for the Goose Contrada, and we were soon to be surrounded by the festivities, and the neighbourly and close-knit gathering of families and alumi of the Goose Contrada.

    Somewhere or other, we had gelato. We always found time for gelato. Awesome, creamy, gobs of artery-hardening frozen calorie-packed goodness in every manner of flavour was a daily treat we could not pass up. There are some great gelato places in Siena, and although some of them boast the best, we never encountered a bad gelato. Could there be such a thing in Italy? In my next life, I will live somehere that Gelato is as readily available as it is in Tuscany, or perhaps, better yet, I’ll live IN Tuscany! My favourite gelato – “Limone”.

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    Dave

    I'm loving every minute of this. Siena is on my list of possible places to stay for a few days this October after leaving Florence. Your travel log is helping me to make up my mind! I'm hoping you did some day trips out of Siena that you will share.

    Your shower descriptions are marvelous. I was on a Russian River Cruise last fall and experienced what they call Yacht style showers, which sounds pretty close to the "Stuck in the Corner" shower.

    Thank you for sharing your travels.

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    Hmmmm..with all those worldly goods you traveled with I'm glad the station at Empoli is as small as it is! Anyway, I'm sure that the wonderful mosaics on the duomo floor more than made up for all those other hoards of visitors..glad you had a great trip and the next one will be even better

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    PART 3 – A Visit to a most Unique (and creepy) Medieval Hospital, Wine in a Fortress, and of course, Gelato and Feasting

    On the Itinerary for Thursday morning was a trip to Santa Maria Della Scala. I’d already read extensively about the complex, and was excited to learn that that the museum would be hosting a major exhibition on the art of Siena in the early Renaissance, highlighting the major artists of Siena including the sculptor Jacopo della Quercia and featuring primary works by Donatello, and his pupils and imitators of the time (art historians would probably crucify me for such a description). In addition to the regular collection, pieces were on loan from art collections around the Globe, which we thought was quite considerate of them – collecting together all this fine early Renaissance art in Jacopo’s home town for us to enjoy! I’m partial to sculpture over painting, and the museum had a wealth of beautiful works.

    If you have the time, and enjoy Renaissance and Gothic art, we’d say you have to allocate at least three hours for Santa Maria Della Scala to do it justice. For the most part, we seemed to have the museum to ourselves, and enjoyed the peace and tranquility of almost solitary viewings of most the major pieces. Sadly, I can’t say how much of the exhibition remains in the museum as the Exhibition closes, but there is so much more to enjoy in the complex, it really was very cool.

    There were so many amazing parts to the complex, and so much beautiful art, it’s difficult to point out the highlights. The Church of the Santissima Annunziata was quite beautiful, and had an incredible 14th century bronze sculpture on the altar of “Risen Christ, and some later 16th century angelic candelabras. The murals in Pilgrim’s Hall hold amazing detail and depict aspects of the hospital’s history in Siena, providing care and charity for the city’s orphans, pilgrims, sick and poor. My favourite part of the whole complex was the spooky, subterranean chapel of Santa Caterina della Notte. Santa Caterina, or Saint Catherine, the patron saint of Siena is everywhere in the city – and quite literally. Her mummified head and her right thumb are on display at San Domenica (the rest of her apparently got left behind in Rome – oops). There are stories of her devotion and miracles affecting art and history – and in the eerily beautiful night time chapel in the bowels of Santa Maria della Scala, Santa Caterina would reportedly pray in her nocturnal vigils. The room was eerily quiet, dark and completely deserted when we were there. Dark hues of blues and golden stars, and painted frescos are stunning. In a small side chapel, the reliquary bones and hair of some holy person or saint, encased in gold and metal were displayed. In another basement chamber was the meeting place of the Hospital Council. Still deeper yet, brought us to this very cool archaeological museum carved into the soft rock beneath the city. There are thousands of artefacts of ancient Etruscan and roman origin. For me, it was the architecture that was fascinating. And parked in a long tunnel leading up to street level, were some of the gorgeous wooden “floats” used in the Palio parades.

    We emerged from our Renaissance and Gothic art overdose happy and enlightened – and ready for some gelato, and of course, some wine. After a quick stop at the Hotel, we decided, since it was raining again, that this would be a good time to visit the “Enoteca Italiano” in the Fortress. This huge wine shop has hundreds and hundreds of wines from all over Italy displayed by regions in a well-lit subterranean wine cellar. Visitors get a nifty electronic scanner – you scan the code and full details of the wine and price are displayed. You can buy anything. Upstairs, is a wine tasting bar with dozens of wines available for tasting. We sampled a Brunello (buying one for a wine-lover friend) and a few others. However, there was no food available that day so we decided to exercise some moderation for fear of getting a little too happy mid-afternoon. The weather was a bit uncooperative, usually there is a lovely terrace to sip wine and nibble.

    The weather continued to be miserable, but we retreated to a nice cozy little restaurant just around the corner from Alma Domus, Osteria la Chiacchera, for some good basic Sienese and Tuscan food. Sharing tables with fellow diners was required, due to the size of the place, but it wasn’t busy. We were able to relax and take our time, and followed dinner up with…..but of course – some Gelato. Afterwards we strolled the Campo with our umbrellas and on our way home noticed that there seemed to be a fair bit of late night activity in and around Santa Catarina.

    We returned home and tucked ourselves into bed, well fed, well cultured, well watered, and well on our way to settling into the Tuscan frame of mind. I left the door to the balcony open a little, and we fell asleep, listening to the rain fall outside, and the occasional conversation on the street from the local neighbours, softly spoken in the late evening…….(cue the soft snoring sounds of weary Canadians)..

    ….FOLLOWED BY – very LOUD and quite ENTHUSIASTIC sound of Italian voices raised in spirited song spilling into our hotel room a few hours later.

    My first thought was that there was a soccer game at the nearby stadium and these were the sounds of victory songs floating the quiet night air to our area. My second thought as I emerged from sleep was that this was obviously not a drunken group of louts returning from a bar. This was a well-tuned, harmonious and melodic chorus with voices raised in song. And it was the SAME song….over…..and over…and over. The chorus, (repeated often), started with the words “Paperone, Paperone” (pappah-roh-nay, pappah-roh-nay) and continued on from there. Different groups would seem to carry the tune, and fade away, to be followed yet again by another group. First it seemed to be the guys. Next, it was an all-girls chorus. Followed by a quartet – and then the whole damn team. Strangely, despite waking me up, I went back to sleep with the tune echoing in my head.

    We soon learned that this was the start of the Goose contrada’s week-end celebration, and what we were listening to (and would again and again, over the next two evenings) was the contrada’s anthem. For the rest of our lives, this song will remain one of our strongest memories of our vacation to Siena.

    If you’re so inclined – you can really share our experience and sample the short mp3 clip from the Palio website section for the Goose Contrada. (For the record, if you are able to listen to the clip, the large and small choruses sung by the residents of the contrada in Siena that week-end were every bit as on-key and melodic as the choir singing the anthem’s chorus.)

    Click on the link at the bottom right hand of the web page: http://www.ilpalio.siena.it/InfoContrade/OC/Inno.ashx?ln=en.

    Now imagine hearing that again and again. We didn’t tire of it. It made our visit to Siena all the more authentic and enjoyable. We couldn’t be there for the Palio, but with the festival in full swing outside our hotel, falling into step with the parade of families, and with the pageantry we would see a few days later, we really appreciated the unique culture and traditions of Siena that week in May.

    All togther now ---- Paperone…Paperone….hmmmm mmmmmm, mmmmm mmmmmm mmmm la la la LA LA…..

    Next Installment - The Duomo and Dried Body Bits in Holy Crypts

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    This report has inspired a must see to Sienna when we visit there as a day trip out of Anghairi in Sept. Thanks Dave!! I am named after Catherine of Sienna, so I am also enjoying the Catholic content as well!! Hilarious!! Keep em coming!!

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    I'm wondering if this report is old since the breakfast room is no longer where he describes nor do they go around pouring coffee anymore (I remember that lady telling everyone where to sit and pouring coffee, but it was a few years ago). The breakfast is also more extensive than described.

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    I popped onto the Boards after being away for quite some time and saw the last two comments.

    To KrisMom and the others with their kind feedback, my apologies for not continuing. Although I had another two installments of my travelogue completed in draft form, I felt that the interest in my style of postings seemed to be rather limited and that’s why I stopped. I’ve invested a great deal of my time in writing posts on Fodors, trying to inject some humour and human interest into the travelogues so they are not just “I went here - I went there – I ate this” reports. Don’t get me wrong – trip reports are awesome sources of info and I’ve read hundreds and I’m not being negative in making that comment. There is a huge wealth of great information and some amazing contributions from wonderful people on these forums. However in my view there is, relatively speaking, an apparent lack of interest in my style of travel writing. As I posted the installments in March it quickly receded into the depths of the forum, overshadowed by high volume posts of a different kind.

    The reality is that I have rather substantial work commitments, and with the amount of time I invested in writing my travelogues during my spare time, I did not feel the apparent limited interest and feedback warranted the investment of my time.

    As an indicator for all this – I find it amusing that with all of the detail and info in my first three installments the only comment from kybourbon is to wonder if my report is “old” because the breakfast room is no longer where “he” describes it and the lady poured coffee at Alma Domus “years” ago. I mean really - THAT is what you take the time to comment on?! For the record, we were there within the past year and you can see the date that I posted this, so this is not “old”. In my view it is this type of negativity and lack of civility that wears people down and dampens creative spirit.

    Happy travels to everyone, and thanks again to those who appreciated the initial posts.

    Dave

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    Wow. I can't believe you viewed my post as negative at all. It was a mere statement since KrisMom was asking about places to stay in Siena on another thread (I think she booked Alma Domus). I don't see anything negative about my providing info or questioning if your report was older. Many people don't get around to writing reports right away.

    I've stayed at Alma Domus multiple times and the breakfast room, etc. was like you described a few years ago. I also stayed in September and it had totally changed. Much nicer, bigger breakfast room and much more extensive breakfast. No one assigning seats anymore, only asking your room number after you set down. Serve yourself coffee in urns, no longer poured by staff. I guess they could have gone back to their old breakfast room/set up if your visit is more recent than mine. I've also had rooms there with regular shower stalls and rooms with just a shower curtain and floor drain. I imagine you could request a room with stall.

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    I was in Sicily (which you should check out, by the way) when you were posting so I am just seeing this now. I haven't visited Siena in nearly a decade, but I have found much to enjoy in your report, aborted though it is. Very, very amusing. I've been there with the showers. Your description of the rosemary scented pork almost has me making plane reservations.

    I do understand about work commitments and the time-consuming nature of trip reports. This was a pleasure to read.

    Happy travels!

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    I missed the first part of the report and really hope that you will continue. I am laughing at parts of your informative and interesting report.

    I am sorry that you felt ignored.

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    I missed the first part of the report and really hope that you will continue. I am laughing at parts of your informative and interesting report.

    I am sorry that you felt ignored.

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    I am just now enjoying your report. I think I was on vacation when you originally posted it. Please continue the report!

    <<….FOLLOWED BY – very LOUD and quite ENTHUSIASTIC sound of Italian voices raised in spirited song spilling into our hotel room a few hours later.

    My first thought was that there was a soccer game at the nearby stadium and these were the sounds of victory songs floating the quiet night air to our area. My second thought as I emerged from sleep was that this was obviously not a drunken group of louts returning from a bar. This was a well-tuned, harmonious and melodic chorus with voices raised in song. And it was the SAME song….over…..and over…and over. The chorus, (repeated often), started with the words “Paperone, Paperone” (pappah-roh-nay, pappah-roh-nay) and continued on from there. Different groups would seem to carry the tune, and fade away, to be followed yet again by another group. First it seemed to be the guys. Next, it was an all-girls chorus. Followed by a quartet – and then the whole damn team. Strangely, despite waking me up, I went back to sleep with the tune echoing in my head.>>

    Believe it or not, I had a similar experience when staying for a week in Siena. The next morning, I couldn't figure out if I had dreamed it or if it was real.

    One morning, very early before the sun was up, I woke to a whooshing sound from outside. I couldn't figure out what the heck it was and then suddenly, as I laid in bed, there was the answer outside my window- several colorful hot air balloons floating over the city. They were beautiful against the dark blue/purple sky and rooftops below. I couldn't help but wish I was up there, floating quietly over this lovely city!

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    Please continue Dave - I just caught your trip report yesterday, and I honestly thought it was one of the best I'd ever read. Your style of writing is wonderfully engaging and so evocative that I feel like I'm right there with you. Please come back and finish!

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    OH NO, DON'T STOP!

    I've just found your report this morning. I'm totally wrapped up in it. It's one of the most enjoyable trip reports I've read. I only got to be in Siena a couple of nights and it's been fun reading about what all you did with more time.

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    I hope you'll find time to continue. Siena is one of my favorite places.... but due to circumstances beyond my control I doubt I'll see it again.... so your report is a great vicarious experience.

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    This is brilliant writing Dave - informative and very entertaining at the same time. It makes me want to follow exactly in your footsteps and experience all you experienced - the best type of trip report. I also think your style of travelling has much in common with ours, with days built around meal, ice creams & drinks :-)

    I have only been to Siena for a day, to see the Palio over 20 years ago, and this has very much reinforced my feeling I'd like to spend longer there. The convent hotel you chose sounds ideal and I see it is very reasonable.

    On reaching your comments about having stopped your report feeling it was not appreciated, I was very saddened. I also think it is one of the best I've ever read and very much hope you will complete it, if you can find the time. There are just so many posts here, it's impossible for everyone to spot all those they'd be interested in. Also since I'm in Europe and the majority of posters are in North America, topics have often dropped below the level I ever have time to check before I come along. Don't be disheartened - I actually thought you'd had lots of interest early on, anyway, compared to many reports including mine ! I am very glad I found it, albeit a little belatedly.

    Did you write a report on your trip to Florence ? We are spending a week there in September and I'm still slightly ambivalent about it - I spent 3 days there on my own, also about 20 years ago, and didn't much enjoy it - but DH really likes it and I expect I'll enjoy it more now. (Thinking back, that was my first experience of Italian city traffic and after 3 days I'd really had enough.) I'm sure reading a report from you would make me enthusiuastic !

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    Frozen Dave, I was really enjoying your initial posts and was a bit disappointed when you stopped, as we were heading to Siena in May. I regret not letting you know I was reading them, and I do understand how difficult it is to write a TR not knowing if it even matters to anyone. (We loved our time in Siena - wish we'd planned to stay longer than 3 days).

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    Okay, now I just feel sheepish. Thanks to everyone for the encouragement and comments. As usual, things are hectic (I wish I was on vacation) but I will blow the digital dust off the next installments and post as soon as I can.

    Caroline - search "Florence in the Off-Season" or hit my Tag and you will see it at the top of my Contributions. In lieu of a trip report I wrote a "best of" post on FLorence, but there should be info for you.

    Cheers. Dave

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    PART 4 – SUN SHINE - CATHEDRA ZEBRA STRIPES - DRIED BODY BITS IN HOLY CRYPTS - FORESKIN DETECTIVES ON VACATION!


    We awoke, with the sun streaming into our room on the day that we were to ponder the mystery of Jesus Christ’s missing foreskin.

    Yes, you read that right. Admittedly, the foreskin of the Big Guy is NOT the usual thing you expect to be thinking about while on vacation (or reading about on the Fodors Forum for that matter), but as events unfolded that day in Siena, that very particular body bit was exactly what David and Kathy discussed in hushed and reverent tones as the hordes of tourists scurried about the Siena Duomo. It was in the Crypt below Siena’s Duomo that I exclaimed “Holy Foreskin” and wondered if we had stumbled on the irreverent curiosity that had once been the discarded by-product of one very famous circumcision.

    But I’m getting ahead of myself.

    With the fading sounds of the Goose Anthem echoing in our brains we were up, dressed and down to breakfast early, since we wanted to enjoy the good weather, see Siena under a bright blue sky for the first time, and beat the crowds to the opening of the Duomo. With some good strong jolts of Convent Coffee from the BBL to fortify us after the sleep interruptions from the pre-game Goose warm-up, we emerged into something entirely new and unusual in Siena – sunshine!

    On the roster for today - we were heading to the Cathedral, the Baptistry and the Crypt, followed by a long leisurely lunch, and then the Museo dell‘Opera del Duomo, followed by a long leisurely dinner (with some Gelato and wine consumed SOMEWHERE along the way). It was to be a day crammed with Medieval and Renaissance art, architecture and strange body bits.

    We took advantage of the weather to shed the coats and show off some of the clothes we’d brought along to Italy. As we stepped up onto the street from Alma Domus, Siena seemed to have come to life. The streets in and around San Domenica were bustling and tour groups were already arriving at the Church across from the Hotel. Our usual route to the Campo and environs always took us through a tunnel and around the Santa Catarina convent. As we turned the corner, there were two young fellows in the courtyard of the convent practicing the traditional intricacies of the medieval ceremony of flag tossing which each of the Contradas display during the Palio (and, as we were to learn, at special events). It was very quiet, and there were only a few onlookers watching the young men intently following through with the patterned ebb and flow of the Goose flags on the long poles. Their movements were precise and graceful and in perfect synchronicity, obviously following a carefully orchestrated set of moves. Although we’d seen this on T.V. and in movies, up close and personal, it was amazing how big (and heavy) the poles were and how very large the flags were. With a sudden burst of energy, the flags went flying up and over and each deftly caught the other’s pole. With only a brief rest, they started again.

    We continued on to Piazza del Duomo. The Piazza and complex that make up Siena’s famous religious centre is unusual, due to the hilly topography on which it was constructed. The Bapistry is oddly tucked below the Cathedral, and so, as you approach the Piazza from the direction of the Campo, you pass the entrance to the Bapistry, above which towers the walls of the Cathedral, and climb a staircase to the small Piazza surrounding the Duomo. The Siena Duomo is well-known for its unfinished skeleton “add-on” which was begun when the city embarked on a very ambitious and expensive expansion of the cathedral to the east of the Church. It was to be a massive monument of Christiandom but unfortunately the Plague descended when only part of the walls had been completed. The city, and the coffers, never recovered and the walls of the future extension now remain forever incomplete. That morning we ascended the stairs passing through one of the arches that was to have been one of the spans along the aisle of the planned transept extension and which now forms one of the walls enclosing the Piazza.

    The line-up to the entrance of the zebra-striped Duomo had begun. Although we’d already spent some time examining the very beautiful sculptures and ornaments covering the façade of the church, we took advantage of the time to check out some of the interesting grotesque and magnificent figures that seemed to be leaping away from the wall of the Duomo. After a few pictures of each other taken against the unique black and cream patterned walls, bathed in sunlight, we emerged into the darkened Cathedral.

    We absolutely loved the Siena Duomo, and Kathy and I agreed that of all the Italian Churches and cathedrals we had schlepped through to date, this was by far our favourite. From an architectural perspective we didn’t think that anything could top the Duomo in Florence, but we were wrong. Although the Siena Cathedral lacks the magnitude and enormity of space of the Florence cathedral and Brunelleschi’s amazing dome construction, we found that the architectural detail of the interior and the beautiful wealth of art, sculpture decorative work and detail made the Siena building far more beautiful. Although many portions of the intricate floor mosaics are covered, to preserve them, there are enough sections open for viewing to appreciate how beautiful the floor is. The intricate marble floor designs in stunning black, cream and rusty ochre colors add warmth and texture to the flooring.

    The black and white stripes of marble are a stunning effect and the way the eye gets drawn up to the hexagonal gold dome interior and the beautiful blue roof dotted with gold starts gives a sense of airy height. It is when you strain your neck to look up to the lofty interior towards the roof, that you find the eerie and somewhat strange arraignment of Popes lined up, head to head, one Holy Head after another, in two rows along the entire length of the central nave - dozens of Peeking Popes looking down at the throngs of worshipers below. Maybe it was my imagination but the expressions on most of the old fellas staring down at me looked a lot less benevolent and warm and fuzzy than one might have expected from a Parade of Popes who led the holy church for centuries. Most of the busts seemed rather stern looking, and bug eyed as if to saying “We’ve got our eyes on you – yeah you there in the striped shirt, don’t think we’re not watching you!” (which I guess is exactly what the Pope’s job has always been). Maybe that was the effect they were going for at the time!

    Pisano’s Pulpit is what I would call “intense” with its detail and noble lions. Trying to absorb all of the fine details of each panel on the massive pulpit was almost impossible, and it was easier to pick one or two panels and stare at them closely. I let my imagination get the better of me and wondered, if I had went to Mass one day in the 1300’s (assuming I hadn’t joined the daily pile-up on the cart rounding up the dead in the City) whether I would have been able to actually concentrate on the sermon delivered from the Priest in the Pulpit perched atop such much amazing art work, and framed by an eagle. There are also some gorgeous bronze angelic candle holders on the altar, depicting these lithe, graceful and feminine angels. As a good Catholic Boy I had flashbacks to my days as a kid at St. Patrick’s parish church – which was an ugly stone box with a fake steeple and a few faded paintings and faux-statues reproduced in the 60’s. I was usually bored silly in those youthful days waiting for the final signal from Father to exit. I wondered whether my devotional attention to Church might have been different if I had been able to attend church in a place such as the Siena Cathedral where some of the best art in the world literally envelopes you. On the other hand, who knows - maybe Sienese 7 year old boys are just as bored during the sermon when they get hauled to mass on Sundays with their Nonnas.

    The Piccolomini Library is an explosion of coloured frescos covering the walls and ceilings. Donatello’s beautiful St. John the Baptist was absent from his Chapel – but we’d seen him up close, and personal, over at the Museum exhibition the day before, where he had been temporarily moved. A Michaelangelo sculpture is to be found (St. Peter) which we were not aware of. There is, of course, a statue of St. Catherine, the Patron saint of Siena, which is stunning. It always amazes me the way Renaissance sculptors create clothing drapery and folds so realistically out of a hunk of stone. There is also the famed Madonna del Voto painting surrounded in these beautiful azure blue panels in the Chigi Chapel, which is credited with miracles and the saving the City in more than one battle and from bombing by the Nazis in World War II.

    All in all, we loved the Duomo and spent just over a couple of hours there. You can’t help but be amazed at what “might have been” if Siena had been able to complete the massive extension to the Cathedral had the Black Plague had not wiped out the local population in the middle of the 1300’s.

    From the Cathedral, we headed back down the steps to the Baptistry “under” the Duomo. Our visit was sort of surreal. After just a few minutes had passed, we found ourselves all alone in this beautiful room, absorbing yet more beauty and especially the richly sculpted Baptismal Font by Donatello and Jacopo dell Quercia. Considering the crowds we had just left behind in the cathedral we considered it somewhat special that we were being treated to a private viewing. That is, until the strange lady entered the room and proceeded to conduct a full-voice, animated cell phone call while strolling around the room. It was bad enough that she felt the need to conduct her call in a rather large religious phone booth, (not exactly designed for the task), but because we were alone with her, it seemed all the more jarring and off-putting as her loud voice echoed around the cavernous room and bounced off the Renaissance masterpieces. It was even more absurd when she finished the call that she promptly left the room. We were baffled – this lady just HAD to come into the Siena Baptistry to place a call? I would expect Donatello would have been more than a bit miffed if he had considered that over five centuries later his beautiful ornate sculptures would have been playing second fiddle to the tiny modern day cell phone and were all but oblivious to the obtuse user of the phone.

    The final stop on the morning tour of the Duomo was the Crypt. My wife, quite rightly, can’t figure out how I can visit centuries-old works of beautiful elaborate art works and stunning architectural wonders and resort to my fall-back descriptive words of “neat” and “cool”. But those were the words I used (that and “just a little bit weird”) to describe the Crypt.

    The Crypt is not actually a crypt – it was a frescoed lower section of the cathedral that served as a pilgrim’s entrance. It was essentially abandoned, covered up, and partly filled in, when the Duomo’s choir was built in the upper section of the Cathedral and the Baptistry was erected. They discovered it only in 1999 and after a beautiful restoration, it opened less than 8 years ago. The architecture itself is nothing to see – except you can view, from the vantage point of the excavated space, how the massive foundations were constructed to support the huge weight of the Duomo, including the pulpit, you’ve just visited. To discover an uncovered part of architectural history was – well, it was neat. Original frescos from the period, hidden away for seven hundred years beneath the feet of the faithful have been uncovered and restored and there for us to see. That’s just cool.

    Within the crypt was a collection of various relics and reliquary pieces in display cases – and this was where we stopped and stared at all the little Body Bits ornately encapsulated and displayed in fine boxes, cages, armour, trophy-like cases, and every manner of weird container. Although this was not the only location of relics and reliquary in Siena, we seemed to have stumbled upon a small assembled trove of Saintly “parts” from hither and yon. Of interest was the nearby group of academic types with notepads and portfolios who were absorbed in quiet discussion and examination of the Body Bits. There was a part of an arm and hand skeleton which looked like something from Pirates of the Caribbean because it was encased in an armoured glove. There was a case where the entire deconstructed pile of bones of some saintly person was artfully and symmetrically arranged with metal and jeweled ornaments and colored ribbons. There was a shin bone, or maybe it was a femur. And there were also assorted other unidentifiable “little Body Bits”.

    Which is when Kathy and I suddenly looked at one of the displays before us, read the labels, and wondered if perhaps we had stumbled on the infamous mystery of Jesus’s missing foreskin.

    We recognize that it’s more than a little weird, (and some would say disturbing) for a married couple such as we, to devote such energies to planning and saving for the vacation of a lifetime for our 25th wedding anniversary - a time when we should be happy, joyous, carefree and in vacation-mode bliss – to find ourselves in the hushed depths of an underground crypt hunched over a case containing a box-like container with a little speck of human “something-or-other” Body Bit, wondering if we were looking at foreskin. I mean, who does that on their vacation?!

    We did obviously, and for those of you that aren’t immediately familiar with the story, and so that you don’t consider my lovely wife and I to be two slightly demented, off-kilter wackadoodles (the kind you sometimes encounter on city buses, travelling antique shows, or the Jerry Springer show), let me explain.

    I had stumbled on David Farley’s book, “An Irreverent Curiosity : In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town” in the month before leaving on our trip. If you’re interested, it’s a hoot of a story, regarding one of the Church’s most famous, and little known, relics – the Foreskin of Jesus. Farley’s book makes a great read if you are about to tour the churches of Europe, including Italy, because he provides a fascinating outline of the history of Relics in the Catholic Church and some great tidbits of fact and legend. It is also a bit of a travel book as he visits the odd characters who reside in the Town or Calcata, where the Relic was located.

    According to Farley (and admittedly he points out, some of the information about the relic is unconfirmed and a little fanciful) religious relic lore has it that the foreskin of Jesus was, as logic would seem, the one and only Body Bit that would have remained behind on the planet after He ascended to the heavens – it having been separated long before His ascension. It begs the question as to who on earth would have had the foresight that day to nab the little tidbit and say “Gee, this thing might be worth something some day”. Such is the quirky mystery of most relics I guess.

    Much of Farley’s book relates to his travels to track down the facts and solve the mystery, and it takes him to the hilltop village of Calcata Italy, which eventually had ownership and control of the holy relic for years. There was even a “Siena Connection” to the famous relic as St. Catherine of Siena purportedly once wore the foreskin around her finger as a ring for a while. (I’m sorry – but as my daughters would say: “Eeeyew, ever Gross!). In the early 1900’s the Vatican sent out an edict prohibiting the inclusion of the foreskin as an acknowledged holy Relic and threatening excommunication to those who would promote it.

    The discarded “covering” somehow found its way into the care of a rather interesting Priest in Calcata, where, for differing reasons, it was reportedly stored in a shoebox. It disappeared from the shoe box in 1983 and has been AWOL and unaccounted for since that time. So remains the mystery of the whereabouts of arguably the most important piece of skin on the planet.

    I’m not doing justice to the quirky, fun, and rather interesting story that Farley tells, and I would highly recommend the book as an enjoyable read before a trip to Italy, particularly if you are to include a visit to see some relics (which is hard to avoid anywhere in France, Italy, Spain and much of Europe once ruled by Catholicism.

    But here’s the thing that brings us to that sunny day in Siena where David and Kathy are peering intently at the little case containing the unidentifiable skin-like relic. I unfortunately had not finished Mr. Farley’s book before leaving, and so I had not pinpointed the suspected whereabouts of the missing piece of Relic-Lore, if indeed there was a trail to continue to follow. Explaining the story as best I could to Kathy, our imagination then got the best of us as we tried to figure out what we were looking at mounted on this display “thingy” in the Crypt.

    Our analysis involved a checklist of sorts:

    1. It was obviously a Relic of some type. – CHECK!

    2. It had been described by observers as “small, dense and fuzzy”. – CHECK! It was very small, dense, and if you looked closely enough – it seemed fuzzy to us!

    3. It was reputedly the size of a red chickpea. – CHECK! – it was flattened but even the least bit of imaginative sleuthing could lead one to conclude that it was definitely chickpea in size (not that we’re experts on sizing chickpeas)

    4. From what I had read, the foreskin had gone missing and most likely located in some obscure, non-high profile place. – CHECK! – this little exhibition of Body Bits and reliquary artifacts in the Crypt was tucked away in a quiet forgotten corner of Siena filled with odds and ends, and if this was what we thought it was – it was indeed truly an “odd little end”

    5. And, my dear Watson….most important - there were labels for the items, and we deduced that the wording seemed highly relevant to the suspected subject matter. It was unclear what items in the case the two labels were paired with, but one was: “Reliquiaro del perizoma di Cristo” and the other was “Reliquiaro a pisside”

    Hmmmm we said. The fact that our Italian was abysmal only served to fuel the controversy. “di Cristo” was obviously “of Christ”. So this had some connection to the one and only JC! Could the words “perizoma” or “pisside” be Italian or Latin for foreskin? We looked around. There didn’t seem to be a live guide or help desk around to ask, and the Crypt hadn’t yet caught up with technology so there was no “Audio Guide to Body Bits” available at the door. We weren’t going to ask the nearby group of academics for help either – for fear that they would have justifiably reported us to the nearest Carabinieri. At Kathy’s suggestion, I copied the Italian labels in my Travel Journal (in the section entitled “Misc. Odds and Ends” (appropriate) – in between the sections “Things to Buy In Siena”, and “Good Places to Eat”)

    And so the suspicious dried Body Bit from the crypt was to temporarily remain our Siena mystery for the time being and our curiosity remained unsatisfied.

    All this amateur Reliquary brainstorming had caused us to work up an appetite and so, with that…..

    …… we went off to lunch!


    **** With due recognition to David Farley, “An Irreverent Curiosity”, Published by Gotham, July 2009. Check it out!

    Next Installment….

    PART 5 – A Satisfying Lunch with Madame and “Her” Book – Good Wine and The Warm Stones of the Campo – A Date at the Opera and Dizzying Heights – (And of course, Gelato and More Feasting).

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    PART 4 – SUN SHINE - CATHEDRA ZEBRA STRIPES - DRIED BODY BITS IN HOLY CRYPTS - FORESKIN DETECTIVES ON VACATION!


    We awoke, with the sun streaming into our room on the day that we were to ponder the mystery of Jesus Christ’s missing foreskin.

    Yes, you read that right. Admittedly, the foreskin of the Big Guy is NOT the usual thing you expect to be thinking about while on vacation (or reading about on the Fodors Forum for that matter), but as events unfolded that day in Siena, that very particular body bit was exactly what David and Kathy discussed in hushed and reverent tones as the hordes of tourists scurried about the Siena Duomo. It was in the Crypt below Siena’s Duomo that I exclaimed “Holy Foreskin” and wondered if we had stumbled on the irreverent curiosity that had once been the discarded by-product of one very famous circumcision.

    But I’m getting ahead of myself.

    With the fading sounds of the Goose Anthem echoing in our brains we were up, dressed and down to breakfast early, since we wanted to enjoy the good weather, see Siena under a bright blue sky for the first time, and beat the crowds to the opening of the Duomo. With some good strong jolts of Convent Coffee from the BBL to fortify us after the sleep interruptions from the pre-game Goose warm-up, we emerged into something entirely new and unusual in Siena – sunshine!

    On the roster for today - we were heading to the Cathedral, the Baptistry and the Crypt, followed by a long leisurely lunch, and then the Museo dell‘Opera del Duomo, followed by a long leisurely dinner (with some Gelato and wine consumed SOMEWHERE along the way). It was to be a day crammed with Medieval and Renaissance art, architecture and strange body bits.

    We took advantage of the weather to shed the coats and show off some of the clothes we’d brought along to Italy. As we stepped up onto the street from Alma Domus, Siena seemed to have come to life. The streets in and around San Domenica were bustling and tour groups were already arriving at the Church across from the Hotel. Our usual route to the Campo and environs always took us through a tunnel and around the Santa Catarina convent. As we turned the corner, there were two young fellows in the courtyard of the convent practicing the traditional intricacies of the medieval ceremony of flag tossing which each of the Contradas display during the Palio (and, as we were to learn, at special events). It was very quiet, and there were only a few onlookers watching the young men intently following through with the patterned ebb and flow of the Goose flags on the long poles. Their movements were precise and graceful and in perfect synchronicity, obviously following a carefully orchestrated set of moves. Although we’d seen this on T.V. and in movies, up close and personal, it was amazing how big (and heavy) the poles were and how very large the flags were. With a sudden burst of energy, the flags went flying up and over and each deftly caught the other’s pole. With only a brief rest, they started again.

    We continued on to Piazza del Duomo. The Piazza and complex that make up Siena’s famous religious centre is unusual, due to the hilly topography on which it was constructed. The Bapistry is oddly tucked below the Cathedral, and so, as you approach the Piazza from the direction of the Campo, you pass the entrance to the Bapistry, above which towers the walls of the Cathedral, and climb a staircase to the small Piazza surrounding the Duomo. The Siena Duomo is well-known for its unfinished skeleton “add-on” which was begun when the city embarked on a very ambitious and expensive expansion of the cathedral to the east of the Church. It was to be a massive monument of Christiandom but unfortunately the Plague descended when only part of the walls had been completed. The city, and the coffers, never recovered and the walls of the future extension now remain forever incomplete. That morning we ascended the stairs passing through one of the arches that was to have been one of the spans along the aisle of the planned transept extension and which now forms one of the walls enclosing the Piazza.

    The line-up to the entrance of the zebra-striped Duomo had begun. Although we’d already spent some time examining the very beautiful sculptures and ornaments covering the façade of the church, we took advantage of the time to check out some of the interesting grotesque and magnificent figures that seemed to be leaping away from the wall of the Duomo. After a few pictures of each other taken against the unique black and cream patterned walls, bathed in sunlight, we emerged into the darkened Cathedral.

    We absolutely loved the Siena Duomo, and Kathy and I agreed that of all the Italian Churches and cathedrals we had schlepped through to date, this was by far our favourite. From an architectural perspective we didn’t think that anything could top the Duomo in Florence, but we were wrong. Although the Siena Cathedral lacks the magnitude and enormity of space of the Florence cathedral and Brunelleschi’s amazing dome construction, we found that the architectural detail of the interior and the beautiful wealth of art, sculpture decorative work and detail made the Siena building far more beautiful. Although many portions of the intricate floor mosaics are covered, to preserve them, there are enough sections open for viewing to appreciate how beautiful the floor is. The intricate marble floor designs in stunning black, cream and rusty ochre colors add warmth and texture to the flooring.

    The black and white stripes of marble are a stunning effect and the way the eye gets drawn up to the hexagonal gold dome interior and the beautiful blue roof dotted with gold starts gives a sense of airy height. It is when you strain your neck to look up to the lofty interior towards the roof, that you find the eerie and somewhat strange arraignment of Popes lined up, head to head, one Holy Head after another, in two rows along the entire length of the central nave - dozens of Peeking Popes looking down at the throngs of worshipers below. Maybe it was my imagination but the expressions on most of the old fellas staring down at me looked a lot less benevolent and warm and fuzzy than one might have expected from a Parade of Popes who led the holy church for centuries. Most of the busts seemed rather stern looking, and bug eyed as if to saying “We’ve got our eyes on you – yeah you there in the striped shirt, don’t think we’re not watching you!” (which I guess is exactly what the Pope’s job has always been). Maybe that was the effect they were going for at the time!

    Pisano’s Pulpit is what I would call “intense” with its detail and noble lions. Trying to absorb all of the fine details of each panel on the massive pulpit was almost impossible, and it was easier to pick one or two panels and stare at them closely. I let my imagination get the better of me and wondered, if I had went to Mass one day in the 1300’s (assuming I hadn’t joined the daily pile-up on the cart rounding up the dead in the City) whether I would have been able to actually concentrate on the sermon delivered from the Priest in the Pulpit perched atop such much amazing art work, and framed by an eagle. There are also some gorgeous bronze angelic candle holders on the altar, depicting these lithe, graceful and feminine angels. As a good Catholic Boy I had flashbacks to my days as a kid at St. Patrick’s parish church – which was an ugly stone box with a fake steeple and a few faded paintings and faux-statues reproduced in the 60’s. I was usually bored silly in those youthful days waiting for the final signal from Father to exit. I wondered whether my devotional attention to Church might have been different if I had been able to attend church in a place such as the Siena Cathedral where some of the best art in the world literally envelopes you. On the other hand, who knows - maybe Sienese 7 year old boys are just as bored during the sermon when they get hauled to mass on Sundays with their Nonnas.

    The Piccolomini Library is an explosion of coloured frescos covering the walls and ceilings. Donatello’s beautiful St. John the Baptist was absent from his Chapel – but we’d seen him up close, and personal, over at the Museum exhibition the day before, where he had been temporarily moved. A Michaelangelo sculpture is to be found (St. Peter) which we were not aware of. There is, of course, a statue of St. Catherine, the Patron saint of Siena, which is stunning. It always amazes me the way Renaissance sculptors create clothing drapery and folds so realistically out of a hunk of stone. There is also the famed Madonna del Voto painting surrounded in these beautiful azure blue panels in the Chigi Chapel, which is credited with miracles and the saving the City in more than one battle and from bombing by the Nazis in World War II.

    All in all, we loved the Duomo and spent just over a couple of hours there. You can’t help but be amazed at what “might have been” if Siena had been able to complete the massive extension to the Cathedral had the Black Plague had not wiped out the local population in the middle of the 1300’s.

    From the Cathedral, we headed back down the steps to the Baptistry “under” the Duomo. Our visit was sort of surreal. After just a few minutes had passed, we found ourselves all alone in this beautiful room, absorbing yet more beauty and especially the richly sculpted Baptismal Font by Donatello and Jacopo dell Quercia. Considering the crowds we had just left behind in the cathedral we considered it somewhat special that we were being treated to a private viewing. That is, until the strange lady entered the room and proceeded to conduct a full-voice, animated cell phone call while strolling around the room. It was bad enough that she felt the need to conduct her call in a rather large religious phone booth, (not exactly designed for the task), but because we were alone with her, it seemed all the more jarring and off-putting as her loud voice echoed around the cavernous room and bounced off the Renaissance masterpieces. It was even more absurd when she finished the call that she promptly left the room. We were baffled – this lady just HAD to come into the Siena Baptistry to place a call? I would expect Donatello would have been more than a bit miffed if he had considered that over five centuries later his beautiful ornate sculptures would have been playing second fiddle to the tiny modern day cell phone and were all but oblivious to the obtuse user of the phone.

    The final stop on the morning tour of the Duomo was the Crypt. My wife, quite rightly, can’t figure out how I can visit centuries-old works of beautiful elaborate art works and stunning architectural wonders and resort to my fall-back descriptive words of “neat” and “cool”. But those were the words I used (that and “just a little bit weird”) to describe the Crypt.

    The Crypt is not actually a crypt – it was a frescoed lower section of the cathedral that served as a pilgrim’s entrance. It was essentially abandoned, covered up, and partly filled in, when the Duomo’s choir was built in the upper section of the Cathedral and the Baptistry was erected. They discovered it only in 1999 and after a beautiful restoration, it opened less than 8 years ago. The architecture itself is nothing to see – except you can view, from the vantage point of the excavated space, how the massive foundations were constructed to support the huge weight of the Duomo, including the pulpit, you’ve just visited. To discover an uncovered part of architectural history was – well, it was neat. Original frescos from the period, hidden away for seven hundred years beneath the feet of the faithful have been uncovered and restored and there for us to see. That’s just cool.

    Within the crypt was a collection of various relics and reliquary pieces in display cases – and this was where we stopped and stared at all the little Body Bits ornately encapsulated and displayed in fine boxes, cages, armour, trophy-like cases, and every manner of weird container. Although this was not the only location of relics and reliquary in Siena, we seemed to have stumbled upon a small assembled trove of Saintly “parts” from hither and yon. Of interest was the nearby group of academic types with notepads and portfolios who were absorbed in quiet discussion and examination of the Body Bits. There was a part of an arm and hand skeleton which looked like something from Pirates of the Caribbean because it was encased in an armoured glove. There was a case where the entire deconstructed pile of bones of some saintly person was artfully and symmetrically arranged with metal and jeweled ornaments and colored ribbons. There was a shin bone, or maybe it was a femur. And there were also assorted other unidentifiable “little Body Bits”.

    Which is when Kathy and I suddenly looked at one of the displays before us, read the labels, and wondered if perhaps we had stumbled on the infamous mystery of Jesus’s missing foreskin.

    We recognize that it’s more than a little weird, (and some would say disturbing) for a married couple such as we, to devote such energies to planning and saving for the vacation of a lifetime for our 25th wedding anniversary - a time when we should be happy, joyous, carefree and in vacation-mode bliss – to find ourselves in the hushed depths of an underground crypt hunched over a case containing a box-like container with a little speck of human “something-or-other” Body Bit, wondering if we were looking at foreskin. I mean, who does that on their vacation?!

    We did obviously, and for those of you that aren’t immediately familiar with the story, and so that you don’t consider my lovely wife and I to be two slightly demented, off-kilter wackadoodles (the kind you sometimes encounter on city buses, travelling antique shows, or the Jerry Springer show), let me explain.

    I had stumbled on David Farley’s book, “An Irreverent Curiosity : In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town” in the month before leaving on our trip. If you’re interested, it’s a hoot of a story, regarding one of the Church’s most famous, and little known, relics – the Foreskin of Jesus. Farley’s book makes a great read if you are about to tour the churches of Europe, including Italy, because he provides a fascinating outline of the history of Relics in the Catholic Church and some great tidbits of fact and legend. It is also a bit of a travel book as he visits the odd characters who reside in the Town or Calcata, where the Relic was located.

    According to Farley (and admittedly he points out, some of the information about the relic is unconfirmed and a little fanciful) religious relic lore has it that the foreskin of Jesus was, as logic would seem, the one and only Body Bit that would have remained behind on the planet after He ascended to the heavens – it having been separated long before His ascension. It begs the question as to who on earth would have had the foresight that day to nab the little tidbit and say “Gee, this thing might be worth something some day”. Such is the quirky mystery of most relics I guess.

    Much of Farley’s book relates to his travels to track down the facts and solve the mystery, and it takes him to the hilltop village of Calcata Italy, which eventually had ownership and control of the holy relic for years. There was even a “Siena Connection” to the famous relic as St. Catherine of Siena purportedly once wore the foreskin around her finger as a ring for a while. (I’m sorry – but as my daughters would say: “Eeeyew, ever Gross!). In the early 1900’s the Vatican sent out an edict prohibiting the inclusion of the foreskin as an acknowledged holy Relic and threatening excommunication to those who would promote it.

    The discarded “covering” somehow found its way into the care of a rather interesting Priest in Calcata, where, for differing reasons, it was reportedly stored in a shoebox. It disappeared from the shoe box in 1983 and has been AWOL and unaccounted for since that time. So remains the mystery of the whereabouts of arguably the most important piece of skin on the planet.

    I’m not doing justice to the quirky, fun, and rather interesting story that Farley tells, and I would highly recommend the book as an enjoyable read before a trip to Italy, particularly if you are to include a visit to see some relics (which is hard to avoid anywhere in France, Italy, Spain and much of Europe once ruled by Catholicism.

    But here’s the thing that brings us to that sunny day in Siena where David and Kathy are peering intently at the little case containing the unidentifiable skin-like relic. I unfortunately had not finished Mr. Farley’s book before leaving, and so I had not pinpointed the suspected whereabouts of the missing piece of Relic-Lore, if indeed there was a trail to continue to follow. Explaining the story as best I could to Kathy, our imagination then got the best of us as we tried to figure out what we were looking at mounted on this display “thingy” in the Crypt.

    Our analysis involved a checklist of sorts:

    1. It was obviously a Relic of some type. – CHECK!

    2. It had been described by observers as “small, dense and fuzzy”. – CHECK! It was very small, dense, and if you looked closely enough – it seemed fuzzy to us!

    3. It was reputedly the size of a red chickpea. – CHECK! – it was flattened but even the least bit of imaginative sleuthing could lead one to conclude that it was definitely chickpea in size (not that we’re experts on sizing chickpeas)

    4. From what I had read, the foreskin had gone missing and most likely located in some obscure, non-high profile place. – CHECK! – this little exhibition of Body Bits and reliquary artifacts in the Crypt was tucked away in a quiet forgotten corner of Siena filled with odds and ends, and if this was what we thought it was – it was indeed truly an “odd little end”

    5. And, my dear Watson….most important - there were labels for the items, and we deduced that the wording seemed highly relevant to the suspected subject matter. It was unclear what items in the case the two labels were paired with, but one was: “Reliquiaro del perizoma di Cristo” and the other was “Reliquiaro a pisside”

    Hmmmm we said. The fact that our Italian was abysmal only served to fuel the controversy. “di Cristo” was obviously “of Christ”. So this had some connection to the one and only JC! Could the words “perizoma” or “pisside” be Italian or Latin for foreskin? We looked around. There didn’t seem to be a live guide or help desk around to ask, and the Crypt hadn’t yet caught up with technology so there was no “Audio Guide to Body Bits” available at the door. We weren’t going to ask the nearby group of academics for help either – for fear that they would have justifiably reported us to the nearest Carabinieri. At Kathy’s suggestion, I copied the Italian labels in my Travel Journal (in the section entitled “Misc. Odds and Ends” (appropriate) – in between the sections “Things to Buy In Siena”, and “Good Places to Eat”)

    And so the suspicious dried Body Bit from the crypt was to temporarily remain our Siena mystery for the time being and our curiosity remained unsatisfied.

    All this amateur Reliquary brainstorming had caused us to work up an appetite and so, with that…..

    …… we went off to lunch!


    **** With due recognition to David Farley, “An Irreverent Curiosity”, Published by Gotham, July 2009. Check it out!

    Next Installment….

    PART 5 – A Satisfying Lunch with Madame and “Her” Book – Good Wine and The Warm Stones of the Campo – A Date at the Opera and Dizzying Heights – (And of course, Gelato and More Feasting).

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    POSTCRIPT: When we arrived home we immediately did our homework and discovered that (not surprisingly folks) we had not stumbled upon THE most irreverent curiosity in Italy - but it was nevertheless interesting. The “Reliquiario a pisside”, as it turns out, was a container for the Eucharistic bread and likely not the label for the mystery item we were intently examining.

    However, according to the translation, the “Reliquiario del perizoma di Cristo” was the ornamental container or artifact to hold a piece of Christ’s loin cloth. If that was what we were looking at that day in Siena, it was a very tiny piece of loin cloth! I guess you could also say we were kind of “close” in our amateur reliquary detective work - the tiny, ancient, chick-pea sized piece of fuzzy fabric was indeed a “covering” of sorts belonging to the Big Guy and eventually discarded by Him – but apparently not the kind that was removed at the hands of a Rabbi shortly after birth!

    And for the record – if I had been a little bit more on the ball that day, I would have recalled that foreskin is translated in Italian to “Prepuzio”. So if you ever see that word labeling some dusty and fuzzy tidbit in a church, curio show or flea market in your future travels, take note – you may have stumbled across the most famous missing relic in Christendom. Just don’t put it on your finger!

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    Great report Dave.
    We spent a long time in the Siena Duomo too. After doing the initial audio-guide tour, my DH was determined to find the Michelangelo statue and we searched high and low for it before he gave up and asked at the information desk. And what about the floor mosaic of the "killing of the innocents"? Pretty gruesome.
    For someone who didn't want an ABC (another bloody cathedral) day, I couldn't drag him out of the Piccolomini Library either. It was pretty amazing wasn't it.

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    FN Dave - so glad you decided to continue. Love your accounts, and I'm with you on the Siena Duomo being the most spectacular. It was a total WOW for me.

    I read a long excerpt of Dave Farley's book recently, so I was quite amused with your "investigation".

    Awaiting the rest of the story...

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    Dave loving your trip report and writing style. Such fun reading and very interesting....loved the shower descriptions!!
    We will be in that area in October and we too love the "Slow Travel"

    I looking for a copy of Farleys book for my DH. He has been dutifully learning his Italian for the last 6 months and I am sure it will be a nice compliment to his trip preparations.

    Looking forward to the next instalment.

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    Dave - your search for what must be the most holy of relics, reminded me that when we were in siena a few years ago [pre my becoming a fodorite, so sadly no TR for me to check] we came across another relic in a church off the centre, that being the holy everlasting communion wafers. The story as i remember it, is that after an attack of plague, some communion wafers were blessed by someone or other, and it was found that they did not rot or corrupt in any way.

    they were put away from high days and holidays, and two hundred years later they are still in use, but only Popes etc. get to use them, so that the stock is not depleted too quickly.

    I have tried to find the name of the church but failed; I do remember that it was at the bottom of a hill on the outside of the centre, and that it had a most beautiful "presepio" [literally crib, but what we would call a nativity scene] as well.

    perhaps someone else will be able to fill in the details.

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    annhig,

    I just "met" those holy wafers on my recent trip. Here's the story as I read it from the church info on my visit: "The interior of the Basilica of San Francesco is quite plain since it received heavy damage from a fire in the 1800s and most architectural detail was removed. A mass is taking place in the chapel of the holy hosts. Believers gather here to venerate some 280-year-old communion hosts that were stolen, dumped in an offering box full of cobwebs across town, cleaned, dumped again, cleaned again, all without disintegrating or spoiling — supposedly proving the real presence of Christ. Considering I was raised using cubed sandwich bread for communion, I find this story surprising and intriguing.

"

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    ellenem - glad I wasn't hallucinating.

    I believe that in Italy, as in the UK, they use special wafers for communion; I imagine that it is these that have been miraculously preserved.

    allegedly.

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    Just back from 2 weeks in Venice (to 11.5 degrees in grey Edinburgh) and slightly cheered up by finding you have continued relating your adventures in Siena, Dave - thanks so much ! Now I need to plan a week in Siena to follow in your footsteps :-)

    I had not previously heard of the David Farley book so will look out for it - it sounds very entertaining, so thanks for the tip.

    We have wondered ourselves when looking at yet another stash of relics, how this all started or indeed continued - "this was a good man, a holy man - we will saw his arm off" ?

    Re the everlasting communion wafers, Venice is known for something like what we would call ships' biscuits, some of which were discovered not so long ago in one of their old colonies and found to be still edible after several hundred years - so maybe the same type of product ?

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    Dave: you are such a talented writer and so much fun to read this journel.... please please continue!!
    hysterical! SO glad you continued the journal... kept checking for it...
    we go to Italy in October and will also help w/ your search for the "body bit" :)

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    Dave:
    please do whole TR as I am laughing so loud and can't wait to read abt your sojourns in Firenze and Manarola
    we're headed there as well
    great writing and VERY much appreciated : tons of work!

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    P.S. I too am sorry that I wasn't able to post earlier when you were writing most of the report. I took an extended break from "Fodor-ing" due to the birth of my son and have only just resurfaced. I, who have littered this site with half-completed reports, admit to being a complete hypocrite by asking, but please continue with the rest of your report :-)). It truly is one of the funniest and most easy to read reports I've seen.

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    I just reread much of your report and loved it even more the second time around. How much you make me want to be back in Siena! I would love to read more but understand if the report writing became too time consuming -- I am not good at writing them myself but don't have your way with words.

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