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Trip Report Siena with my parents

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This year is my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. Knowing that their finances aren’t great, I offered to pay for any trip they wished to make. My dad immediately said “Siena”.

I think that Siena is probably my favourite city anywhere, and my enthusiasm had obviously been a contributing factor in my father’s thoughts, but it was never going to be straightforward.

Three years ago, my mother fell badly, necessitating a hip replacement operation. The operation did not go well and mum is unable to walk any distance without a support frame, neither is she able to cope very well with uneven ground or stairs. My father also has difficulty walking any great distance without real pain to his feet. On the face of it, a medieval hill town is a most unsuitable destination, but there was no dissuading my parents, so we needed to make the most of it.

We rented an apartment at Le Meridiane. I had Emailed asking them if there was somewheret suitable for a person with mobility issues, and they had been quick and informative in replying. The apartment we chose had two large bedrooms, and two bathrooms – one set up for disabled people. I really liked Le Meridiane – My beloved and I would normally rent a city apartment while travelling, but these were fine. Through use of a short cut, we could make the city centre in just over 25 minutes walk if we had time to ourselves. Other transport arrangements were not so easy.

We had a hire car, and this meant that trips into the centre of town entailed dropping off my parents as close as possible to the walls, while avoiding the dreaded ZTL (No go areas for non residents), finding parking and then walking back to find M&D. This sometimes proved difficult, particularly on the Wednesday (Market day).

As a result of spending almost two months studying in Siena, I know the city quite well. I tried to break up daytrips into short chunks – One day from the Fortezza down to the Piazza del Campo, the next a trip to see the Duomo, later a walk around the Aquila, Pantera Chiocciola and Tartuca Contrade (These being four of the 17 city regions that contest the famous Palio horse race.) In the contrade I tried to point out the various things unique to each region: The flags, the individual street markers , the Contrada Church, stables and fountain.

We made several day trips: Monteriggione - more large castle than small town. The very small armour museum is great, only 4 rooms or so, but you can try on the helmets, chain mail etc, and wave swords and shields around in childish ways!

San Gimignano. A tourist trap, but well worth seeing anyway, two superb gelaterias just off the main square – only fair to try both.

Montalcino and San Antimo. We stopped off, and spent several hours exploring Montalcino, then moved on to the abbey. My mum plays the organ in a church and loves anything with religious music, so really enjoyed the sung mass.

While waiting for the 2:45 service to begin, we went into a bar/restaurant. I do not know the name, but it is on the SP55 on the outskirts of Castlenuovo where the road turns off to the Abbey itself. No English was spoken, and I could not see a menu, but asked if it would be possible to have a plate of cold meats and cheese. We received two huge plates of assorted salamis, ham, cheese, bread and simple bread toasted in olive oil. It was stunningly good – the best we sampled on the whole trip.

We drove back via Pienza and Montepulciano, but as my parents were now very tired, drove past both without stopping.

Assisi: I’d never been here before, but it was stunningly beautiful – I really want to return at some time to explore more. We stood at the back of Santa Chiara listening to part of the mass. It was in Italian, but my mum seemed to follow most of it, and very much enjoyed the singing. We then took a long, slow walk down to the Basilica of St Francis.

Overall, it was a tricky trip. The expectations and desire to see more of the places we visited were offset by the physical impossibilities. I am as guilty as anyone of underestimating the difficulties that elderly, infirm people have in doing things that I take for granted. At the end of a couple of hours out and about I could see my dear father almost in tears from the pain, but trying to carry on regardless. Overall, I think both really enjoyed the holiday, possibly because they focused on what they had been able to see and do, rather than what they missed.

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