Letters from Siena

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November 2008

My Stories

Mother of all Road Trips-1

Mother of all Road Trips-2

Mother of all Road Trips-3

Mother of all Road Trips-4

Containing Jim in Paris

Ranging the Yellowstone

Lisbon Portugal- Part 1

Lisbon and Sintra- Part 2

Evora Portugal- Part 3

Coimbra Portugal- Part 4

Porto Portugal- Part 5

At the Mammogram Office

Carmel Art Gallery

Venice- Part I

Veneto- Part II

Ravenna- Part III

Cinque Terre- Part IV

Vernazza Bonus- Part V


Crunch Time

Putting on the Ritz

Granada and Sevilla


Tuscany and Umbria - 1

Tuscany and Umbria - 2

Driving in England

Dwelling in England

A Dozens Reasons

In the Hamam

Istanbul Greece Diary

Pearl Harbor Team

Old Girl



Grandpa's Cabin

Pay-It-Forward Latte

England and France

N. Italy - 1

N. Italy - 2

N. Italy - 3

N. Italy - 4

Lessons from 4 Corners


Going to the Dogs

Don't Embarrass Me!

Letter from Siena

Arrivederci Roma

Joining the Matriarchs

Living History

Newlywed Game

Chaos Theory

Zach on the Road

Huckleberry Season

Stanley & the Sunbeam

I Dare Say


Middle School Relay

Grad Party


Moving On

Radio Shack

Newlywed Couches


Old Faithful Inn


Sweet Potato

Mother Bear

Two Blondes in Iberia

Revisiting Spain

Four Seasons Camping

Curly's Truck.

Disaster Restorations

Bobbie the Wonder Dog

Ducks and Beavers

Wearing Red

Photo Boxes

Las Vegas Soufflé

40th Birthday Party

The Heart Tickler

Wonderful Little Things

Heritage Tour

Erickson Era

Old Buildings


Split Seams

All Nighter

Talent Show

A Look Back

Hey guys (plus a few friends for this entry),

So Zach gave me this smart idea to write out my e-mail messages ahead of time since we will have limited Internet coverage.  Probably we’ll fork over the per hour cost tomorrow long enough to check our messages and send this off. 

We made it safely to Siena this afternoon, no thanks to our surly bus driver out of Florence who seemed under the impression he drove a sports car and not a huge bus.  I swear the man speeded up when he spotted a curve. 


Anyway, in Siena we got off the bus and I got confused about the location of the taxi stands.  Our hotel was just far enough away to warrant a cab, especially when dragging suitcases across ancient cobblestones.  Jim grew frustrated and started hyperventilating.  “Let’s just walk,” he pleaded.  Yes, I thought, let’s get further lost while hauling suitcases.  For some odd reason, I have trouble knowing my precise location upon entering a town I’ve never been, in a foreign country, one where I don’t speak the language.   I’d gotten temporarily lost upon arrival in Florence, too.  Somehow this surprises Jim.  We asked for help (at my insistence) and did what we should have done from the start, which was to follow the crowds. 

A friendly, English-proficient cab driver (“I passed a few months in London,” he explained) took us to our hotel across town.  He didn’t accelerate at the sight of pedestrians, either, as we’d witnessed in Florence.  We were ready for this small town pace after the fast life of the big city.

Our Palazzo Ravizza hotel bumped us up to a larger room with enough miscellaneous wooden furniture and funny drawers to house all of Jim’s electronics and miscellaneous items.  (Jim’s “packing light” is relative, but I’m grateful he scaled down as much as he did.)  I decided I needed to regroup and study my Siena maps to prepare better for this leg of our Italian vacation.  My client holds high expectations for me as a tour guide, I realized, and I don’t want to disappoint.  While I studied, Jim and his Nikon circled Siena streets.  

Jim returned with a map from the front desk marked with four suggested restaurants.  I told him I needed a short break from being in charge of maps and tour-guiding.  He said great, let’s go. Since Jim knew I was starving, he’d already searched, unsuccessfully, for the closest restaurant around the corner.  We set out on a hunt for any of the remaining three, up and down Siena’s medieval streets, curves and hills.  The streets changed names nearly every block.  We found only one of the four restaurants, but it had closed for two weeks during this slow season. 

By this time, I was desperate for food, anything, and we stopped in the first decent looking place.  Jim and I both decided it resembled a Mexican restaurant inside, but no, it was Italian.  I thought our blue water jug held olive oil and poured some on my dinner plate.  The entire kitchen and wait staff seemed to enjoy that.  I laughed, too, and kept eating.  Jim had me order his meal for him again.  He doesn’t care to make those decisions or interactions in Italy—too stressful, he says.  So I just pick out stuff for him, like I used to do for our kids when they were little.  I draw the line at paying the bill, but I still help him out there, too. 

After we ate, we visited the home church of Siena’s 14th century patron saint, Catherine.  The church contains relics of Catherine, and just not the normal finger or thumb—they’ve got her entire head.  After her death, clergy cut Catherine up and doled out her parts throughout all parts of Italy.  (We wondered how they decided who got what piece.)  Catherine’s shriveled brown head sits atop the altar, gazing at her admirers.  Jim took a photo and an older Italian lady immediately scolded him.  She pointed to the no-photography sign we both missed--right there, plain as day.  (And you wonder how we get lost?)  Then Scolder shook her head, gave herself the sign of the cross and scurried out the door.  That shook Jim so much, he began deleting Catherine’s head from my camera, but I stopped him.  Instead, he recovered with some chocolate gelato across the street. 

I’m still fighting jet lag and my body screams that it’s time for bed already, but it’s only 5:30 in the afternoon.  Jim naps next to me and I’m glad he didn’t drown a few minutes ago as I heard him snoring…in the bathtub.  This man can sleep anywhere.  I am jealous, seriously.

Backing up to Florence when I last wrote—

We saw the rest of all the big Florence sites, so many that I can hardly remember.  Michelangelo’s David does stand out in my mind, as it should.  Usually something so familiar disappoints, but David didn’t.  As Johnny Weir would say, “Love it, love it.”  (You can ask Annie or Melanie about that reference if you want.)

We ate and walked and toured and climbed towers in Florence and woke up at 3 or 4 am every day, bright-eyed and ready for more gelato and Michelangelo.  Too bad museums don’t open before dawn for jet-laggers like us.  We ended up seeing even more sites than I’d hoped because Jim was so eager and interested.  It was fantastic, but exhausting. 

One funky museum did give us a little trouble.  Since Lufthansa cancelled our Frankfurt to Florence flight, we got behind in our itinerary.  I’d wanted to visit the Michelangelo House our first afternoon, but we’d arrived too late.  We went over the next day but it was closed (a rare Rick Steves time error.)  We tried the following day but I hadn’t noted that it was closed on Tuesdays (my fault this time.) 

On Wednesday, we walked right past it.  An apparently very large dog had done his business on the sidewalk and some poor soul had stepped in it, spreading it down the sidewalk before Michelangelo’s house.  We were so distracted by our foot placement that we passed the entrance completely.  We found and visited other Florence sites with little problem, but there was something about the Michelangelo House…

Tomorrow evening we have a car reserved for three days of exploring Tuscan hill towns.  We wonder what it will be like to get completely lost while driving and not just walking.  This could get interesting.  Thankfully Jim brought his GPS.  All his packed electronic stuff looks pretty good to me now.  I bet Jim even knows in which drawer he stored the thing.

Jim woke from his nap, read this and approved it for everyone’s consumption, including the menu ordering and decapitated head paragraphs.  In fact, he said he would add Catherine’s photo to this e-mail.

More later.  I gotta get ready for bed.  It’s almost 7:30 pm.