[…Siena/Florence, Italy April 18, 2011…]
My decision not to shoot at dawn today was based on my fear of being out there in the dark in a city I did not feel comfortable in. I read a couple of warnings and bad experiences from female travelers on Virtual Tourist just before the trip and that planted the fear in my head. Still, with all good intentions to go, I set the iPhone to alarm at 5:50 this morning. I stood up, peeked out the window and saw the sky had already turned blue. Went back to bed.
That’s always the dilemma I face when traveling. There is of course the reluctance to wake up so early when the bed feels so much more comfortable. And then when you’ve managed to get out of bed, you second-guess your safety to be out there, still in unnerving darkness, before all of the city wakes up. If I detect the sound of street sweepers outside, I would feel more at ease, but they don’t usually show up until 7. Otherwise, the empty streets and what could possibly be lurking in the dark alleys bother me quite a bit.
So, I had planned for a day trip to Siena today. I left on a SITA bus at 9, a little later than I had wished, but still early enough. The 75-minute ride was enjoyable; it was nice to just sit down, listen to my iPod, look out the window, and re-assess my itinerary and the photos I’ve taken so far. The bus made a number of stops to pick up passengers but soon as it hit the motorway, we were smooth sailing.
When I arrived at the Piazza Antonio Gramsci in Siena, once again a previous engagement with Google Earth led me straight to the old town center without any problem. It was hard to miss the towering Torre di Mangia; soon as it came into view, I found myself in the fan-shaped Piazza del Campo – the place where everyone ends up in. There were a few small groups already there, half of them sprawled on the brick pavement, mid-morning shadows keeping them cool. I took advantage of their slack and proceeded to the Palazzo Publico to queue up for the tower. Cities always look great from a bird’s eye view but it’s hard to appreciate the arduous climb to the top, so I’m still not going to say that it was worth it, if for that reason alone.
The tourists came in droves around noon just as I had emerged out of the Torre di Mangia. By then, the sun was high but the cool Spring breeze was comforting. I could just imagine the olive groves being swept gently up in the hills, of which silhouettes I saw while I was in the tower. The light was harsh up there – so basically, I endured the climb for amusement purposes only, since I had benefited none photographically.
I haven’t had a good Italian meal yet at this point and although I doubt that the restaurants facing Piazza del Campo were any good, I wanted to be where the crowd was and enjoy the company. As I suspected, the spaghetti I had was nothing to write home about. Luckily, the panna cotta was there to save the day, plus the view of the crowded piazza and the chatter around the tables reminded me of where I was. Not everyone gets to enjoy a regular day in Italy, lest I forget how lucky I am.
Italians surely do love to eat! All these trattorias, pizzerias, pasticcerias, gelateria and all other -ias lined up like the ceramic houses you see on a Christmas mantle or under a tree. And need I mention, Italian coffee is second to none. Every sip of espresso in an Italian café is like having a date with George Clooney, and that’s not something you can even begin to imagine merely sitting at home.
With lunch out of the way, next on my agenda was the famous Siena Cathedral, which was just a short hike uphill passing through quaint medieval streets. Now I’ve seeen copious amounts of cathedrals, so much so that there was a time I refuse to go inside one anymore. But I must say, the Duomo in Siena is beautiful, inside and out – a true evidence of great Italian artistry, not lacking at all in fine materials nor exquisite details. It’s located in a small hill just a few steps higher than its baptistry, which is just as equally beautiful. As with most cathedrals, it was not easy to take photos inside because of lack of light. That’s where the high-ISO handling of your camera comes to play, and thank goodness for the D700.
My work in Siena was done at 3. I boarded the bus back to Florence with a big scoopful of Stracciatella gelato on a cone – the first gelato I’ve had on this trip. Meanwhile in Florence, I enjoyed coffee and cake at the Cafe Rivoire facing the always-busy Piazza Signoria. I had the best seat in the house – there in an outdoor cafe admiring the statues of the Loggia, fake David included, all within comfortable distance of the maddening crowd. With a refill of caffeine in my system, I was ready for the hike up my second tower of the day, the Giotto Campanile of Florence, and just in time for some golden light.
By 7 when the light was maturing to sunset, the Ponte Vecchio would be my destination. As expected, there was no thinning of crowd over there. Seems like people merely overflowed from the piazza, to the Ufizzi, and then to the riverbank. Rowdy teenagers were making a hubbub by the chain of locks, attempting to lift that heavy man-made creation. Photographers like me had to wait for a turn to take a clear shot. Soon, the young ones will get tired of it and migrate elsewhere, and then I can take pictures in peace. It’s all about patience.
Like last night, blue hour seemed like it just flew by. I almost can’t remember what I took photos of tonight – that’s how fast it was! By the time I half-ran Via dei Calzaiuoi towards the Duomo, my light was gone.
For dinner, I picked well and settled for a Rick-Steves’ recommended restaurant – Ciro and Sons – a family-managed place with great food and filled with good old Italian cheer. The place was packed but I did not have trouble getting a table for one. I don’t think there’s technically ever a ‘table for one’ in places like these anyway. The tables and seats are so close to each other that the whole place feels like one big dinner table attended by one big family. Like having dinner with the Sopranos, minus the violence.