I saw DEAD People in Palermo! And so much more!

Dead people? YES we did see them, but first we eat and drink café!

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After a busy first day in Sicily, and even though we were exhausted by the time we returned to our room the night before, we still stayed up until almost 2am, so when I awoke after 8am, I felt refreshed, and HUNGRY! We were very happy when we entered the breakfast room to see a spread of Amazing food all set out for us at our own table! The day before, when we checked in,  I had told Rosario that I was “Celiaca” and ate “Senza Glutine”. I could see that he understood, and was MORE than accommodating, as the selection for me to eat was above and beyond my expectations! 20160917_020252In addition to the regular pastries, meat and cheeses, he had gluten free cookies, rice cakes, 2 kinds of GF crackers, and a soy drink that also was labeled as gluten free!

20160917_02124720160917_020602We felt like queens with the delicious and generous spread of breakfast items, and whatever kind of café we desired!

On our agenda for the day were 2 important things plus a couple bonuses: Visit the Catacombe dei Cappuccini, the Cattedrale, revisit Quattro Canti, and the fountains from the night before before we pick up our bags then pick up our rental car at 4pm.

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Our needs are quite simple, but I must say that we are very easily distracted by some shops we were looking forward to seeing in Italy! We did take at least 1 quick pit stop to shop, AND a stop for café and an Affogato, after which we continued to get our sight seeing done.

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From the small amount we had seen so far, we didn’t feel that Sicily was much different from other places we had been in Italy, but then we came across the Cattedrale. It was different from other churches we had seen, including the lofty palm trees. The Normans started to build it in 1185, and also has Gothic, and medieval influences. It is said to be a pantheon for the Normans, and has 6 royal tombs inside the church, a museum, and crypts in the basement.  We paid the full admission price to be able to also climb the stairs to the roof, so that we could experience the breathtaking 360° views.

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The inside of the church was was beautiful and different from any other church we had seen in Italy before- evidence that Sicily absolutely is more of a melting pot of ethnicity than the rest of Italy.

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Cattedrale: √  Now to go and see dead people!

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We used our app City Maps2Go to supplement the signs that we periodically found to direct us to the Catacombes.

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You may be shocked to hear that once again we were distracted! This time by Yummy food!

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One of the Sicilian ‘street foods’ that I was wanting to try were Aracini balls, and as we passed by this nice looking Café with some yummy looking deserts, we went in to see if they had anything gluten free. Just my luck their Arancini balls filled with ragu were senza glutine! YUM! I was hooked! For those of you that do not know what Arancini is, they are rice balls that are filled with a variety of fillings, including cheese, ragu, meat and peas, etc, then deep fried. Another ‘food’ that is from Sicily are granitas, a semi frozen desert made from ice, water, and a variety of flavours, somewhat similar to sorbet, but better because it is Italian….. We each bought one to go, and continued on our way to find the Catacombes.

dsc_0225The Cappucin Catacombs, is the place where the living meet the dead! Not kidding!

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The pictures shown were found on Google Images! I DID NOT take them, as they were very specific about NOT taking any pictures or video once inside. That said, I was very annoyed to see others sneaking pictures.  I am a bit of a rule breaker, but when it comes to showing respect for other cultures, I try my best to observe and follow the rules. Yes, Mom, I would make you proud in this instance!

We paid the admission fee and went down the flights of stairs, and instantly you were in a place very unique and eery. There were rows, and rows, and rooms, and corridors of corpses in wooden caskets, display boxes, but mostly they were hanging! Yes, hanging! Some were all bones, and others you could still see some features! I swear that one was watching me! They were all fully clothed.

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There are several corridors dedicated to specific people including for whom this all began for, the Friars. Also were corridors for priests,  women,  families, and professionals including lawyers, surgeons, etc and a chapel for children.  The last body was that of a 2 year old girl named Rosalia Lombardo, who died in 1920. Her body is remarkably still intact as her body lays in a small casket, which is roped off and displayed on her own.  So, yes we did see dead people in Palermo!

Before we left for Italy, I found very little from Rick Steves on Sicily, but the one thing I did find  was of him visiting Palermo and the Cappucin Catacombes. If you want to see more, please watch his YouTube video.

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On we went to see the other things on our list including Quattro Canti, officially known as Piazza Vigliena. The octagonal square is the crossing of 2 main streets in Palermo, Via Maqueda and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele.

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The four corners each have a baroque building, each with almost an identical facade, but each has a fountain and a statue to represent each of the 4 seasons, the 4 Spanish Kings, and of the patronesses of Palermo. As this is not a traditional Piazza, to which is pedestrian only, if you are not paying attention to where you are, or know of any history of Palermo, you can walk or drive past this square without realizing where you are.

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Our final stop before collecting our rental car was  Fontana Pretoria, the large fountain that we briefly saw the night before.  The magnificent Fontana Pretoria is a work of art done by the Florentine sculptor Francesco Camilliani in 1554. One of the things that I love about Italy are the fountains. It is astonishing to me how 100’s of years ago with none of the technology we have today that they were able to build such beautiful fountains, all with unique statues.

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This square was once known as the “square of shame” because of the naked statues around the fountain. It is located next to Palermo’s Municipal building, which is in the heart of the historic center.

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The Piazza Pretoria, which was not shameless at all, was a wonderful place to end our quick 24 hours in Palermo.  I look forward to visiting Palermo again, and exploring the many beautiful sights!

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Bellas in Sicilia- Palermo in 24 hours

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It has been 4 long years  and I am back in Italy!  We have 7 days to explore 1/2 of Sicily, and we are starting in Palermo, Sicily’s capital.  From the airport we take a bus to the downtown bus station, and walk to our B&B. Kathy used this Amazing app that I had never heard about and am fascinated by it! It is called CityMaps2Go by Ulmon In advance of going somewhere, for example Palermo, you download the city map and when you are there it uses GPS- NO Data to help you to get to where you want to go. It was most useful when walking as there are no voice directions, which is needed when driving.  It is crazy how it works, and I honestly don’t understand it, but it works great!

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Our first accomodations are at a B&B called Liberty Teatro Santa Cecilia. It is run by a lovely man named Rosario. He happily greeted us and showed us our room. It is lovely!  It has no view, and we had a private bathroom, but it was down the hall. That said, the breakfast in the morning was AMAZING! I will tell you more about it later….

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We hit the ground running as we knew we only had 24 hours to explore this large city and it is already late afternoon.  We discovered immediately that there was a sense of community here. Every Piazza we came across there were locals gathered, and children playing.

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Soon it was time for Aperol Spritz! We decided to stop at a spot where a lot of locals were gathered and fresh seafood was being grilled. OMG, it was AMAZING! I had some fresh octopus, that had been boiled, then grilled and seasoned with olive oil, salt, chilis and lime. So simple, yet SO GOOD!dsc_0045 dsc_0043

dsc_0048I honestly had not done a tonne of research on Palermo before we left, and what I had read was not terribly positive, so I was not expecting much.  That said, we soon discovered that 24 hours would not be enough to explore this intriguing city. I honestly had ndsc_0057othing bad to say about anything that we saw and experienced in Palermo! The food was All yummy, and CHEAP, which once we had finished our trip we realized. The first night we ate at an Osteria called Pane e Alivi, and it was a wonderful start to our Italian adventure. I had a seafood risotto, which had mussels, clams, octopus, and sword fish, Kathy had a swordfish dish, we shared a liter of the house red wine (which the waiter didn’t think I should be ordering this much; silly boy), a caprese salad to start, and we finished off with desert- Kathy a canoli, and I had a dish of the canoli filling. The bill was only €31 total!

dsc_0065As we only had 24 hours we decided to stay up as late as we could and walk as much as our feet would allow us.  As we walked through different neighborhoods, we discovered that there was a celebration happening. We were unsure of what it was, but there were many decorations, including beautiful lights everywhere.  After seeing a couple of posters, and researching once I got home I found out what Festeggiamenti in onore di Maria SS. die sette Delori was.  It was a liturgical feast for Maria Addolorata Lady of Sorrows and is a celebration of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the cult of the seven sorrows of Mary.

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Everywhere we turned we came across something of interest, and not by coincidence, and a lot of what we had read about, we stumbled upon. First was the Quattro Canti, which is the historical center of Palermo, and where 2 principal streets intersect, Via Maqueda and Corso VittorioEmanuele, which we actually did not realize at first as we were distracted by the rickshaw looking vehicles.  As we kept on walking, now starting to feel tired, we then stumbled upon a large fountain in another square. We didn’t know where we were, and after looking at our watches, we realized it was almost 11:30pm and we had been up for over 40 hours! Too tired to find out what we were looking at meant, we needed to get some sleep and start fresh in the morning! Buona Notte Bellas! dsc_0076

 

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My “New Skin” in the Heart of Firenze!

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It is amazing how Karma works, and you would not believe it until you are not only a witness to its wonders, but can actually touch it when it comes full circle.

On September 24, 2016 my Karma came full circle in the heart of Firenze in a store; Benheart! It has been just over 5 years since I had my bad experience in Florence when buying a leather jacket from a store at the San Lorenzo market and I am now the owner of my “new skin”, the most beautiful leather jacket courtesy of Benheart!

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Only 11 days prior to my Sicily, Florence trip, I received an email from Tommaso Barletta,  a manager for BENHEART, an Italian Brand which designs, produces and sells Leather clothing and accessories, all artisanally hand-made Made in Florence. He wanted to share the story of Benheart, including of the story of Ben, stylist, and owner of Benheart. They were intrigued by my story and wanted to be able to collaborate in some way as my blog has been well received not only in Florence but around the world.  After checking out their website and social media, we set a date to meet when I was going to be in Florence. This day literally changed my life!

It was our first morning in Firenze, and the skies were blue and the air was crisp. In anticipation of re-discovering Florence, and my meeting at Benheart, I was too excited to sleep in our beautiful apartment overlooking the Piazza Della Republica. The walk along the river was wonderful and exciting, as I kept recognizing places from shots from Benheart’s Instagram posts. A turn at Piazza Carlo Goldoni, then a slight right onto Via Della Vigna Nuova, and we immediately saw BENHEART.

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We were greeted by Tommaso, and the store manager, the beautiful Letizia. I was immediately blown away by the store- the fragrance of fresh, quality leather was intoxicating, and the variety of colors of jackets, shoes, bags and belts were beautifully and artistically displayed.  I immediately wanted to start touching everything, which can be taboo in many places in Italy, however I was encouraged to explore which I did with a Huge smile on my face!

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Trying on my new shoes!

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It is important to the ‘family’ of Benheart to educate those that walk in the doors about their leather, and the quality and uniqueness of their goods. You are not just buying a leather jacket; you are buying a second skin. Their shoes are also just as unique- hand sewn, and garment died, and OH SO Comfortable! Please watch this video as Tommaso explains more about their shoes.

 

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When I say family of Benheart, I use this word as a verb, as the actions of all that I met acted extremely proud to be a part of this special family. It was quite moving to witness. A great example was when Ben arrived at the store;  You could see the love and affection and respect that they have for each other.  Ben is a dynamic personality and one of passion and purpose and wears an aura of love that is inspiring.

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Meeting Ben

As I was already pawing at the many jackets, but urged to wait for Ben to introduce the jackets to me and size me, he quickly got me in one of his creations. I was immediately struck by the comfort and workmanship. There was NO way that this was going to wrip, tear or do anything that a San Lorenzo market jacket will do. It literally felt like a second skin!

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The unique placement of his Benheart zippers are fashionable and flattering. I also appreciated his use of different textures on each jacket- again keeping each piece unique in design.

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This is THE ONE!

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Once my craving was filled to try on and pick out a leather jacket, Ben and I had a conversation about his touching story, and why he and friend Matteo created Benheart.

Ben is the mind of our company, and his story is totally unique. Muslim and of Moroccan origin, Ben came to Italy when he was seven years old, and worked in the leather business, in Scandicci, the epicenter of leather in Italy for many famous brands including Gucci, Prada, and Ferragamo to name a few.  His developed a love of working with leather over the more than 12 years that he was then designing jackets and purses. One day, during a soccer match, he suffered a massive heart attack and went into coma. After 7 months in the hospital, his life was saved thanks to the donation of the Christian heart of a young man. When Ben recovered, he decided to start his own dream, together with the friend of a lifetime, Matteo, and founded Benheart – which literally means “Son of the Heart”.

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The selection of Made in Italy belt buckles

Everything is singularly, hand made in Scandicci, through the hands of experienced Italian artisans, according to traditional methods, handed down over generations.  All of Benheart’s creations (that is really what they are) and all raw materials, leather and accessories, are 100% Made In Italy. Their creations are sewn by hand and specially garment-dyed in traditional tanneries, so every product becomes one-of-a-kind. Everything we sell comes Certified and with a Lifetime Guarantee.

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Ben sharing his story

Our conversation flowed with ease, and even with the successes that Ben has created in the 4 years since starting Benheart he was humble. If anything he was excited to get a jacket on me and share with me his story, which he did.  As I listened I looked over at Letizia and I could see the emotion on her face as well. She had heard his story 100’s of times, but as she said you can not help but be moved no matter how many times you hear Ben share it. Another sign of the love and respect they have for each other.  You see, Letizia used to be a customer of Benheart, and her love of not just their creations, but their story she then became a part of the Benheart family; Brilliant!

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Then a bombshell was unexpectedly dropped on me. The Beautiful, Unique and one of a kind red jacket that I could not keep touching as I was wearing it, just as a pregnant woman can not keep from touching her baby filled belly,  was gifted to me. As Ben was telling me that he would like to give me this creation, I had tears in my eyes, as well as Kathy. We had come full circle together.  I was in total and complete shock to think that one moment I was going to be making an investment, then the next it was being stamped with my initials, and handed to me with love! As I write this article, I am still in disbelief that my beautiful red leather, 100% Made in Italy jacket is mine! But it is!!!dsc_0381Then what is a girl to do? Keep shopping! I was already eyeing the custom belts, and had picked out a pair of shoes, which I happily bought. My shoes were of course a compliment to my new skin, and my belt was fit to my waist for size, the buckle was classic and perfect for my, and then it was stamped with my initals.

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The work bench at Benheart where creations are made!

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Letizia fitting me for my custom belt

The saying, time flies when you are having is fun rang true, as we looked at our watches and we discovered we had been at Benheart for 3 hours!  During those 3 hours, the store was buzzing with old customers, and of course new ones also. It was wonderful to feel that I was now a part of this wonderful community! Everyone we spoke with was genuine and of course happy with their Benheart creations.

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My new friends- Ben, Letizia and Tommaso at Benheart

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Grazie Mille Letizia!

What I have take away from the hours spent at BENHEART is something that I knew in my heart when I started my blog almost 6 years ago, to share my story and experience with buying leather in Florence; there is so much good in the world and specifically in Florence.  I made sure to say to buy leather in Florence, but to be aware of what you are buying.  I am happy and honoured to have met Ben, Tommaso and Letizia with Benheart, and just as I spread the bad news, I will spread the good news, which is called BENHEART!

One day I hope to celebrate your store opening in Canada- a goal that Ben shared with me!

Should your travels take you to Firenze, Roma, Milano, Verona, or San Francisco (store opening soon), make sure you stop by Benheart! You will be happy you did!

Bellas’ Next Adventure- Sicilia and Firenze (Sicily and Florence)

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I am up way to early this morning as I can not sleep. The wheels in my head are turning and won’t stop, as I leave for Italy in only 4 days from the time I am writing this post.  I am travelling with my good friend Kathy, who is my fellow Italy lover and travel partner; this will be our 3rd trip to Italy together. We will be on the ground for 10 days, but away from home for 11 days. This was all that we could get away from our families as we both have children in school, working husbands, in addition to our own jobs. So we are exploring half of Sicily in what we are calling our Part 1 trip, and ending our trip in our Italy home- Florence.  Part 2 will be sometime in the next year, to which we will finish exploring the other half of Sicily.  You can only imagine the eye rolling our husbands did when we informed them of that tidbit of information??? I keep telling my husband I am more than just good looks! His response, “Yes, that is what I am afraid of!” wink, wink!

We will be experiencing many new things on this trip, including renting a car, staying in B&Bs and renting apartments rather than hotels, which Kathy has not done yet in Italy and me being Gluten Free. I won’t bore you with my diagnosis, but I have an auto immune disease to which I am extremely gluten sensitive. I have never been healthier in my life right now, so when people ask me if I am sad that I won’t be able to eat everything in Italy, the answer is easy- NO.  Also I have been doing more than the usual amount of research for this trip, and have been pleased to find many resources from Blogs but the best resource has been the AIC website. It is the Italian Society for Celiac disease. Canada and the U.S have A LONG way to go to catch up to Italy- home of Pizza and Pasta with their Celiac and Gluten Intolerance education, and awareness!!!  There are SO MANY options of food for me to eat that I will have NO problem gaining the inevitable weight from the Gastronomic adventures in Italy that I will be having!

That said, I will be Blogging and Vlogging (video blogging) while we are in Italy, including EVERYTHING gluten free and of course so much more!

WE will be your good looking, female version of Rick Steves, but with our own zest for life and ALL things Italian!

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Our goals for this trip are quite simple yet fitting for Italy- Drink Espresso, Eat with the locals and what the locals eat, daily Aperol Spritz at Happy Hour, eat Gelato when we aren’t hungry, explore, get lost, learn some Italian, relax and live La Dolce Vita, and of course shop in Florence. I will also be visiting an artisan leather shop in Florence, and sharing their story, enthusiasm and talent for leather and design, as my bad experience with a leather shop in Florence was the whole reason why I started this blog.

Here is our basic Itinerary:

Palermo- 1 night

Rent a car

Cefalu- 2 nights

Syracuse/ Ortigia- 2 nights

Taormina- 2 nights

Fly to Florence

Florence- 3 nights

We will be visiting more cities and towns than listed, some of which we don’t even know yet as we have no idea when and where we will get lost….

Stay tuned to hear about Trina and Kathy’s Italy Adventures!

CIao, Ciao!

Trina

P.S.  Remember that sharing is caring! If you have any advice for me, please share! Grazie Mille!

The World’s Best Pizza is in Naples!!!! And my bonus- some shopping!

I am a bit out of order for my posts, but I have had Naples on my brain this week, and I must first do some sharing about our trip to Naples, then I can go back to the order of our trip. I must also say how thankful I am that I blogged a good portion of our trip while we were still traveling. I have found that since we got home, that my “normal” life gets priority to my travel blogging…  But Today, I MUST write about Naples!

The first impression of Naples from the train station.

How and why we went to Naples for part of a day: We as a family decided when planning our trip, that we all wanted to visit Pompeii as a day trip from Rome. The high speed train took us from Roma to Napoli, then to Pompeii, and for the return I booked our train tickets so that we had 4+ hours in Naples for 1 reason- PIZZA!

Is pizza all the same in Italy? NO!!!!! Just like eating pizza at home from places like (YUK) Pizza Hut, Dominos, or even at a nice Italian restaurant, they will all be different in size, shape, and taste.  BUT, the one thing that I love about eating pizza in Italy is that you are in Italy, eating ‘real’ pizza. So when being so close to the birth place of pizza and not go to one of two restaurants that have been making pizza for decades, we had to make it work to stay for just long enough to experience the real thing. And as I write this, my mouth is watering thinking about THAT PIZZA! OH MY!!!

MY GOAL: To eat pizza at the following original Pizzerias!

From the book, Eat, Pray, Love. Serves only Marinara and Margherita pizza.

The other Pizzeria, Trianon- across the street from da Michele.

At the train station we found the TI to get precise directions for how to walk to both of the original Pizzerias- Pizzeria da Michele, and Pizzeria Trianon. What I did not realize was that da Michele had become widely popular to even more tourists since the book and movie, Eat, Pray, Love because this is where Elizabeth Gilbert went to eat pizza for the day. How I did not clue into this is beyond me, because I have read the book twice, and have also seen the movie. We were warned that it might be very busy, so on the way as I held my purse as close to my body as I could we discussed our plan of attack on these restaurants. Our plan was that we would eat first at the restaurant with the shortest line, then we would go to the next one after.  But one other deciding factor that ultimately helped us to decide where to eat first was that Trianon had air conditioning, which was welcomed by us all after a day in the sweltering heat at Pompeii.  Luckily Trianon had no line up, and da Michele did, and it was not even open yet.

Instead of explaining our choices of Pizza, here is a picture of the menu. Could there be a wrong choice? NO!

Oh my! Instead of each of us choosing our own pizza, the kids each chose one, and Kim and I decided to share so that we could save some room for more pizza across the street at da Michele.  After we ordered and were taking in the simple yet, thankfully cool atmosphere, I went over to the also simple pizza kitchen to take some pictures. What I was not expecting was being welcomed into the kitchen to not only take pictures but really be a part of our pizzas being made and cooked.  Follow the pictures to see the simple process from dough ball, to table process.

Dough balls being shaped.

Adding the toppings.

Posing for the camera

Time to go in the Pizza Oven

Each person has their own job. His is the kitchen greeter (at least to me) and to cook the pizzas.

Our pizzas cooking in the VERY HOT oven.

After only approximately 2 minutes, our pizzas were cooked!

Our Naples Pizza! YUM!

The pizza Kim and I shared. They were all HUGE! And they were better than we imagined they would be! The kids each had their own- our little piggies…

AHHHH…. Is how we all felt after finishing our cold beer, Fanta (Noah), and our Amazing Pizza. BUT, could we find any room in our stomachs for more pizza at da Michele?! Unfortunately no. We were stuffed! Plus, this is what it looked like outside of da Michele.

Da Michele was now open, and the crowds were getting bigger.

So off we went back on our journey back to the train station. Why I call it a journey is because,  Naples is hmmm, how do I describe it but a little crazy. On our way to find our pizzerias, we were stopped by someone on the street selling Ipads (most likely stolen), we saw many, many people selling knock off items like bags, watches, jewellery, etc on the street, and guys trying to make money washing windows for the cars stopped at red lights. The traffic was crazy, there was a tonne of graffiti and vandalism, and you could see the poverty everywhere. Naples was very different from any other Italian city I have been to, and not a place that was telling me to stay for more than just a pizza.

Unsolicited car window washers on the streets of Naples

Streets of Naples

I must tell you that we received many warnings from Italians about going to Naples. We were told to not wear any jewellery, including watches, there are pick pockets everywhere, and to be careful in general.  Filipo told us that many people, including motorists get their watches stolen when stopped at red lights. Whether the watch is on your left wrist, and your arm is resting on the side window, rolled down, it can be stolen. Or for those that have clued into this, and wear their watch on their right wrist, the thieves then burn the left arm resting on the window sill with a cigarette, and when you go to swap the hurt, they steal the watch from your right wrist while swapping what is hurting you. Crazy!   So, as Jordan bought a watch from a man on the street selling a variety of watches, we thought of Filipo’s stories of watches being stolen…  We were nervously cautious as we walked to and from the train station. We walked with intention when crossing the streets like we were told to, and we made it back to the train station, so that I could do some shopping. Yes, you heard me correct! They had some great stores that I had been waiting to find in Rome, and hadn’t yet, so with the extra time budgeted for the 2nd pizzeria, I did some greatly anticipated shopping. And once again I found myself saying AHHHHH!!!!!

Spending a day in Siena!

Tuscan Boar in Siena

On our first whole day in Tuscany, we decided to go check out Siena. I was very curious about Siena because Siena is compared a lot to Florence (my favourite), and it is a favourite city to many. We took the bus from the town of Monteroni D’Arbia, which took approx 30 minutes to get to our stop, which luckily in my broken Italian asked a woman on the bus,who spoke no English where to get off, and it was the very next stop (something Francisco). Between what she said and her charades, we got off at the right stop, and found our way to the center of Siena, Il Campo.

The many flags of the Siena neighborhoods

The City Tower- Torre del Mangia

Flags from the last Palio

Il Campo

Restaurants and shops surround Il Campo

The Fountain of Joy

Pigeons everywhere!

Fountain of Joy

Il Campo

Filling our water bottles with Potable water

Tower clock even has date.

City Tower, with Clock

Beautiful buildings

People sitting outside the City Tower

Siena is famous for Palio, which is a bareback horse race that happens twice a year- July and August. There are 17 neighborhoods, or Contrade in Siena, each with their own parish church, well or fountain, mascot, and unique colors as you can see in their flag. Out of the 17 neighborhoods, 10 compete in this medieval horse race, which gives the Contrade winner bragging rights for a year as well as a Palio banner made by a local artist for each race. This race is a HUGE deal in Siena, and it is apparent throughout the city. The square is packed with up to 60,000 people on race day, and explaining this to the kids was difficult until we showed them pictures of the square filled to the brim.

Palio pictures posted near the square.

One of my highlights from many places I have been is usually at the top of a tower and being able to take in the view of the city or town I am at, so we waited in the line (that did not move for 30 mins), to be able to climb up the City Tower.  It was definitely an amazing view. I must show you though, what you can not be in order to climb up the stairs…

No Giddiness Allowed! Lost in Translation?

Walking up to the top

All the windy stairs to the top of the Tower!

1/2 way up, and already great views!

Views of Siena and Tuscan countryside

Windy streets of Siena. Typically easy to get lost in.

View of the Duomo

Us at the top of the Tower

So, we made it up to the top of the Tower, and even though all the kids did not necessarily want to go up, they were glad they did. Now it was time to find the Torture Museum! Yes, you heard me right, the Torture Museum was on Jordan and Noah’s wish list. One thing that I really like in Italy is that in every town there is a TI- Tourist Information, and they always speak English, and they usually know where most things are, excluding the coveted coins Kalyna started collecting.

While at the Torture Museum, Kalyna, Kim and I decided to have a bite to eat while we waited. I was of course eager to check out the area and see how the shopping compared to Florence. While I was walking the streets looking for some shops, something caught my eye- a guy with a tripod, then another guy caught my eye. I did a double take, and can you believe it, but it was Rick Steves! Now if you do not know who he is, then either you don’t travel, you don’t do any research before you travel, or you live under a rock.  Rick Steves has literally helped me travel through Europe with his books, and now I was about to be face to face with him, or I hoped!

Me with Rick Steves!

So, here is how it played out: I saw him, started following him, pretending that I was taking pictures with my phone, because can you believe it, but the battery in my camera died! I was playing it cool, and getting candid shots of him talking to his crew for what they were going to be filming for one of his shows. COOL! Finally he stopped long enough for me to ‘cooly’ catch up and I asked one of his guys if he would mind it if I said hi. He told me that he was working, but to say hi anyways, and of course I did. I said to him, “Thank you so much for helping me to travel through Europe with your books!” He thanked me, sincerely, and was off.   UGH! I wanted a picture with him, but I could not keep following him, at the risk of Kim and the kids not knowing where I was, and losing them. Luckily Kalyna was there, so I told her to stay on the corner so that she could see me, and see if Kim came, and as luck would have it, Kim appeared out of nowhere with the boys. I quickly GRABBED my Rick Steves Italy book from Kim, and literally ran after Rick again. Yes, I had become a stalker! I went up to him again, and once he gave me permission to speak (he was working,  and it was kind of rude for me to keep interrupting him), I asked him if I could get a picture of him with me and his book. He was happy to see me with his book, and was nice enough to say yes to a photo session with sweaty, and sticky me. Now that was COOL!

This is the crowd and street that I spotted Rick Steves on.

Off to the Duomo! I discovered that the shopping is nothing like Florence. There are some shops here, but nothing like the variety you find in Florence for clothes, shoes and leather, and the markets with the variety of goods, especially the scarves I wanted to buy. So we went to discover Siena’s Duomo. Well, I must say that it was Beautiful! The dark green (which looks black), white, and pink marble, along with the statues, was a piece of magnificent art! We all sat and admired its beauty!

Siena’s Duomo

Door to the Duomo

The Duomo’s many magnificent statues and art!

Inside the Duomo (No flash was used in the making of these photos…) There are works of art by Michaelango and Bernini.

Inside the Duomo. Notice all the neighborhood flags.

Library of Centuries old books!

On the back side of the Duomo, we walked down some steep steps to the Baptistery. Kim, Kalyna and I went inside to look at the works of artists like Ghiberti and Donatello.

Steep steps down to the baptistery

At the bottom, looking up.

Baptistery on the back side of the Duomo

Baptismal font

Becoming bored with churches- boys waiting outside the Baptistery

So, what did we think of Siena? We liked it, but the crowds of a city we didn’t like, but that is the nature of the beast when you visit in the summer months. I did not find the shopping as good as Florence, but Jordan did pick up a sweet pair of Geox shoes, and Kim bought a watch, and I found my mom a beautiful necklace. Hmmm, something is wrong with this picture!  I will visit Siena again in the months when the streets will not be quite as crowded with tourists. Next time I will also have more time to just wander the streets getting lost, which can be half the fun of exploring.  Sometimes you just might find a GIANT pizza!

MMMM, Pizza!

Ciao Siena! Until next time!