Getting to Know Siena.
SIENA–My first meal at the Hotel Athena last night was good, but there was really only one pasta dish: spinach-filled ravioli with a wonderful cheese-cream sauce. Could it be that the more upscale the restaurant, the less likely it is that you will find a variety of pasta dishes? If that’s true, then I will start looking for a few mid-range restaurants.
I experienced another first at dinner last night. I ordered a glass of white wine, a local wine recommended by the waiter, Aldo. He returned with an unopened bottle and two glasses. After removing the cork, Aldo poured a small amount into one of the glass. He swirled it; he held it up to the light and examined it; he brought the glass to his nose and sniffed. And then he drank it.
He then poured a generous amount into the second glass, set it in front of me in the appropriate spot, nodded, and bustled off. So help me, I have never seen that before.
Around mid-morning today, I set off on foot for the Piazza del Campo, which is the center of the old city and the main destination for all the tourists here. Getting there from this hotel means threading your way through a labyrinth of narrow streets. There are shops all along the way, but they are all set back into these centuries-old buildings. Your only clue that you’re standing in front of a tiny grocery store is whatever view you get as you pass by the two open doorways. There are no display windows and very limited signage on exterior walls … no doubt the result of stringent zoning/preservation restrictions inside this very historical area. And good for them, too!
Very little of this medieval city is on flat ground, so your strolls are all up hill and down hill. The streets are narrow and all one-way to vehicular traffic that is limited to taxis, small jitney buses and small service vehicles. Just as well, too, because the narrow streets are filled with tourists.
I made it to the Piazza del Campo, sat a small table under the shade of an awning, and had a very nice pizza–Number 117 of 125 options: “Hawaiian Pizza w. ham, pineapple and onion”– and two cold beers. Following a little more strolling around the piazza, I back-tracked through the labyrinth toward my hotel. After ten or 15 minutes, I realized I had become hopelessly lost. Fortunately, however, I was at that moment directly in front of a shop selling mounds of gelato of every conceivable flavor–an obvious place to pause and eventually ask directions.
Update on the internet connection: It continues to vary from normal to very slow to complete paralysis. The information folder in my room makes a vague reference to an ongoing dispute between the city of Siena and the “internet web providers”. Said dispute is apparently the cause of these problems. The last sentence asks hotel guests to limit our use. This does not bode well for the posting of many (or even any) photos.