Over the days we spent exploring Siena we ran into small groups of young people dressed nicely and one among them with a laurel wreath on his/her head. The wreathed girls also carried a bouquet of flowers. We finally asked and found out that they were celebrating graduation. I'm guessing from their age and the nearness of the University of Siena, they were college graduates.
This day in Siena, we slept in a bit. There was no particular plan in place—at least not until later when we were due to eat dinner at a winery/farm/hotel. After breakfast we decided to walk again to the Basilica in the Piazza San Dominica where Saint Catherine’s sanctuary was. Somewhere there was supposed to be the house where she grew up and Bob’s brother hadn’t seen the relics (Catherine's head and thumb) yet and was curious.
After the visit to the Basilica and pointing out the relics, we walked past a soccer arena to the Fortezza Medicea (the fortress) that was now a beautiful park with great views and lovely paths to walk. Amazingly we discovered that the majority of the trees lining the walkways were buckeye trees. Huge buckeyes lay beneath the trees just begging to be made into Ohio State necklaces. It was, after all, a football Saturday, one that we would not be able to enjoy since the game was in the middle of the night in Italy.
A stop for coffee and then we decided to try to find the house of Saint Catherine. We ended up at the sanctuary again and Bob went into the gift shop to ask where the house was. It turned out we were in it. The sanctuary was where the kitchen had been and her bed chamber was below it where now there was a chapel.
All that walking and exploring can stir up an appetite and we had not had any real Italian pizza yet. In the Piazza Del Campo we found a nice outdoor restaurant where we could eat and enjoy some people watching. Italian pizza is so different than American pizza. There is less cheese and sauce and much different toppings. Ours had salami and was really quite good.
There were a lot of souvenir shops that featured University of Siena shirts and I didn’t realize how close we were to it until we decided to find the portal into the city we had seen the day before on our excursion to San Gimignano when we returned. It had an unusual old gate in it. As we walked to where we thought it was, we noticed lots of students, many with musical instruments in cases near some buildings that we identified as the music department of the university.
Bob’s brother and his wife took the minibus back to the hotel from the portal that we found. Actually, it turned out not to be the one we’d seen the day before. There are at least seven or eight portals into the walled city if I recall correctly. Bob and I opted to walk back. It was a nice day and we were enjoying the scenery. We found an interesting belfry and listened to some of those music students as we passed by the music department again.
I should know better than to try to recreate the memory of a previous trip. It was just that I loved the excursion we had taken a few years ago to Tuscany when we had a lovely lunch at a farm/bed & breakfast. The MyTours brochure from Siena had no lunches but featured a candlelight dinner in a vineyard. Okay, I said. Not the lunch I wanted but I could go with that. Then they said, well, it’s too cold for dinner outside so it will be in the restaurant at the winery. They assured our guys that it would be very nice and I gave in.
Our ride picked us up a little after six but early enough that the driver could drop us in a small town, Castellina, in the Chianti district for a little stroll before dinner. It was dark but the main street was lit quaintly and there was a nice church along the way. Bob found a leather belt he liked in one of the shops and bought it but most of the shops were closing.
We met our driver again and continued on to the place for dinner. During our ride we learned of the black rooster, the symbol of the Chianti district and the logo that can only go on bottles of wine made in the Chianti district. Legend has it that back in medieval times Florence and Siena were always fighting over territory. To end the dispute over who would own a large piece of land between the two cities it was decided that they would each send out a horseman at the break of dawn when the rooster crowed and wherever they would meet would determine the border and who owned what.
The people of Siena chose a white rooster as their alarm clock and fed it well hoping it would crow early. The people of Florence chose a black rooster, kept it hungry and hoped it would crow earlier. It did. The horseman from Florence covered much more territory before meeting up with the one from Siena. The area was known as Chianti and the black rooster became the symbol.
I’m sure the hotel and restaurant would have been very picturesque if we could have seen it during the day. The hotel is called Casafrassi and is in the middle of a vineyard. As we passed by part of the vineyard, our driver pointed out where we would have had dinner if the weather was not so cold. And dinner in the restaurant was good but nothing really special. The company was fun though. Two more couples (one who lives ten minutes down the road from us at home) and a delightful young woman from Kent in the UK made it an entertaining evening.
It was a late evening though. We ate too much and were pretty miserable that night. Note to self: keep the memories as memories and don’t try to recreate them.