One of my favourite things about Italy is how easy and affordable rail travel is. It’s basically the polar opposite of Britain. With regular trains between all major cities (usually hourly, if not more regularly) you can turn up whenever you want and get a seat on one of their double decker trains for only a few euros. Having flown Edinburgh to Pisa (with Ryanair) we decided to make the most of the Italian public transport and visit three cities in one week. We contemplated spending the entire week in Florence (because there is simply so much to do there) but I’m really glad we made the time to visit Siena and Pisa.
Siena is quite a quiet place but I think that’s why I liked it (especially when compared with other Italian cities such as Rome or Florence, which are at points overwhelmingly crowded). The old town is stereotypical terracotta Tuscan roofs and is quite simply beautiful. I could easily spend a week wandering the windy streets and stopping for a coffee break (and the occasional Aperol Spritz).
Piazza del Campo
This beautiful open space in the centre of the old town is best enjoyed first thing in the morning. As is the way in most Italian cities and towns the place is swarming with tourists by early afternoon (my idea of a nightmare). To get the most out of il Campo my advice would be to get up really early and head down to enjoy breakfast and a coffee (do as the Italians would do and all that). This piazza is truly unique with it’s concave shell shape in contrast to the traditional square shape found throughout Italy. I also like sunburst design, separated into nine sections which is a nod to the Government of Nine (which ruled over the city in the 13th – 14th centuries).
Duomo of Siena
Admittedly I am a little obsessed with churches (and any religious structure for that matter) but you will have to forgive me, my MA Archaeology dissertation was on churches, light, and experience so I tend to have this on the brain constantly – even a year on from submitting it! My love for churches is no doubt part of the reason I love Italy so much. There’s something truly fascinating about the grandeur of the Roman Catholic church. We decided not to spend much time at the Duomo in Siena as we planned to spend a lot more time on churches in Florence. Plus it was a Sunday, which tends to be a tad busy…
St. Maria della Scala
So here I got my Archaeology fix. another thing I adore about Italy is the affordability of it’s museums and historical sites. Top tip: I know in Rome if you’re a History or Archaeology student and you take proof along with you (some places don’t even check in all honesty) you get in for free. It doesn’t matter what nationality you are, you just need to be studying a relevant subject. Anyway, this place was amazing. It offered a historical journey throughout Siena’s history dating back to it’s association with Romulus and Remus. The Archaeological Museum is in the long dark tunnels underground and has been done wonderfully. I was in awe of the entire place.
Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico
Another church well worth a visit (yes sorry another one) is Basilica Cateriniana pictured above on the left. I’m not religious myself but there is something very moving about buildings such as this. Although it does attract a certain amount of tourists it’s a little more off the beaten track and that’s quite possibly why I liked it so much.
I’m going to mention a pet hate of mine here. When in any religious place it’s so important to respect their rules i.e. no photographs. A picture of a camera with a red ring and line through is a universal symbol and there really is no reason to ignore it. Okay, rant over.
Simply soaking up the atmosphere on the streets here (with lots of coffee stops) is probably my favourite thing. These smaller Italian cities and towns are so different to the bustling streets of Rome (which I love in equal measure).
Throughout our time in Italy we opted to use Airbnb for the first time. We’ve never been a family for package holidays, we’ve always liked to do our own thing and holidays have very rarely been a ‘stay in one place all week’ kind of thing. I’ve got to say I was a little dubious about using Airbnb (not entirely sure why, I’ve slept in 18 bed hostel rooms before…) but it worked really well. Our apartment in Siena had several rooms. This meant we met other people which truly is one of my favourite things about travelling. I think I could be a new Airbnb addict.