My Kind of Town, Siena is…
May 25 – 30
As we strolled down the streets of the picturesque Tuscan town of Siena on our first evening, we were reminded of Frank Sinatra’s serenade of the original city of our hearts – Chicago. But we found ourselves amending the lyrics as we took in this country-meets-city medieval treasure, and it takes our #2 spot of “places we could live” from our itinerary to date (Barcelona remains the first).
The city is likely most famous for the incredible 400-year tradition of Il Palio, a horse race through the city streets. Picture this: You find yourself being swept along as thousands of bodies make their way through the narrow streets to the vast Piazza del Campo, a huge plaza ringed with towers, restaurants and shops. You smell the dirt that has been laid tirelessly for weeks atop the brick and stone streets to create the lopsided oval track that will soon be filled with the thundering sounds of hooves. Flags representing the 17 “contrades,” or neighborhoods, wave proudly above your head, with bold colors and pictures of giraffes, unicorns, porcupines and owls filling the sky. Friendly (for the most part) barbs are traded between the men of rival contrades, and hidden away, the jockey soothes his horse, as much for himself as his mount, as they gear up for the biggest event of the year. As the horses storm the track, pedestrians jump back and then surge forward again as the adrenaline of the 90-second race builds. The cheers are deafening, and after half the horses go down on the infamously dangerous third turn, and the final stretch is run, one horse pulls ahead for victory. The winning contrade loses their minds, hoisting the jockey on their shoulders, and celebrating well into the morning hours, finding comfort in bragging rights they’ve earned for a year. And? I never even saw it run. This is all thanks to the story telling magic of ESPN’s Wider World of Sports. Thanks, Kenny Mains. (EDITOR’S NOTE: I’d just like to recognize this milestone – this is the first time – and possibly the last – Noelle has told anyone else a sports story that I shared with her. As you were…).
Lesser known for (like, by maybe just me) is a novel that sets its stage in Siena. Juliet: A Novel, paints a different picture of the tale of Romeo and Juliet, asserting that the story can actually be traced back to Siena, not Shakespeare’s beloved Verona. Passing by the piazzas and streets that my beloved heroine, Giulietta, fled through as she searched for the truth about her family made me feel all Janet Evanovich-y. Almost as cool as when we followed the steps of Shadows of the Wind’s main character through the back alleys of Barcelona, but that’s another story. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Annnnd, back to the books. But at least our kids will read good, right?)
After a month on the road, this was also our first “domestic” stop, selecting accommodations based on the following: a) washing machine b) kitchen, c) living room (you’d be surprised how much you miss a couch to lounge on) and d) internet. We needed to recoup, and Siena was just the place to do it. We rented an apartment, where we spent long evenings preparing tomato, basil, mozzarella salads, fresh from the local market, snacking on melon, prosciutto and parmesan as we worked on the blog and made preparations for our next stops. All while taking in the incredible views of the Tuscan hills out the huge picture windows. We likey. A short walk brought us to the tall walls that circle the historic city center (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in fact), where we wandered through local shops and got lost in the dozens of adorable, winding streets.
One of my favorite moments was stumbling upon a children’s choir concert in front of one of the many churches. Watching the proud parents filming their kids singing off-key and forgetting their lyrics gave us pause as we realized we were watching the everyday lives of people existing halfway around the world, doing the exact same thing as parents from where we call home.
Anyway, back to what you’re all likely more interested in…the WINE! What trip to Tuscany would be complete without a trip into wine country? (EDITOR’S NOTE: None. None trips would be complete without this.) We hopped on a bus for a day trip into the Chianti region, stopping in San Gimignano and Monteriggioni, taking in the incredible views and perhaps more importantly, some world-famous reds. Mix that with a tasting of local truffle oils and balsamics, and we were in heaven. If not for the promise of Dave catching the Hawks game that night, we’d still be in that vineyard, drinking 30-year-old balsamic from the casks.
It is at this point of our adventure that we also begin having serious conversations of how to make this a sustainable lifestyle. All we needed was one REALLY great idea and we could retire to the hills of Italy, disappearing forever. Conversations would go something like this:
Dave: You always see mannequins, right? But what about WOMANNEQUINS??
Noelle: Babe, that IS a mannequin… just with female accents.
Dave: Yeah, but no one MARKETS them as Womannequins.
Noelle: No, but they already EXIST, you’re just calling them something different.
Dave: Exactly. This is a great idea. We’re going to make millions. You’re welcome.
You can see how this went (EDITOR’S NOTE: I know… groundbreaking. There’s more where that came from.). We’ll see you back in Chicago right on schedule, resumes in hand.