When we were planning our trip, Matt didn’t really have a preference for what we did or where we went. The only place he said he really wanted to see was the “striped church” in Siena. Since Siena was only about an hour drive from Montepulciano, we knew we’d be able to drive there just for the day. Of course, we got lost. Several times.
Type A Tidbit:
Italy has very strange rules about where cars can and cannot go in cities. In fact, drivers are fined for violating the “no driving zones.” The zones are marked by street signs, but it’s very easy to miss (especially if you’re lost!). The safest bet is to park in a parking garage or parking lot outside of the city walls and then walk in. When using your GPS, enter your end destination as “Siena parking garage” or “Siena parking lot” so you can drive straight there and avoid any fines.
Matt definitely knew what he was talking about when he said he wanted to see the Siena Cathedral! It was the most beautiful church we saw in Italy by far. The outside might not be as impressive as the Duomo in Florence, but the inside was extraordinary. The church gets its nickname, the “striped church,” from the different colored marble that decorates the columns. While we were there, we also visited the baptistry, museum, crypt, and climbed to the top of the tower for a panoramic view.
The night before we were going to Siena, Matt read online that Saint Catherine’s head and her thumb were on display there at Dominica Church. I mean, what?!? He got so excited about the possibility of seeing a human head in a box, that I redid our entire itinerary last minute and squeezed in enough time for us to visit the church. And, he was right. Saint Catherine’s head and thumb were each in their own glass case for everyone to see. Even though this seems so barbaric to me, it’s actually quite common across Italy. While most items are more discreetly displayed, it’s not unusual to see corpses covered in wax. We asked one of our tour guides about this, and he said most of the churches have either a body, a body part, or an ancient relic that puts them on the map. This serves as a type of tourism, if you will. People will travel to a city to pay their respects to Saint Matthew’s remains or to see a piece of Jesus’ manger. It worked for us… we had no plans of visiting Dominica Church until we found out part of Saint Catherine was there! Oh, and sorry, pictures were strictly forbidden.
Type A Tidbit:
Whenever we travel, I always try to be conscious of the photography rules. Most places won’t allow flash, and other places won’t allow photography at all. Try to be respectful of their rules. It’s part of being a good tourist!
After we recovered from the sight of the remains of Saint Catherine, we headed to lunch at Antica Osteria da Divo. I read that this restaurant was literally carved out of the soft volcanic rock that Siena is built on. There are even little cafe-like rooms that you can have lunch in! Not to mention, the food was much more refined than I was anticipating. I had a fantastic, creamy risotto, and Matt ordered fresh pappardelle pasta with a wild boar ragu.
Needing to walk off all of our food, we headed in the direction of the main square, Piazza del Campo. Siena is famous for their horse races, and the piazza is where the races are held. The piazza is shaped like a seashell to better accommodate the races. Many souvenir shops and cafes can be found around the piazza as well as locals enjoying the afternoon sun.
Type A Tidbit:
Siena is a very hilly town! If something looks close on the map, remember to account for all of the hills you’ll be climbing! Wear comfortable shoes, and taxis are available if you need one.
Since navigating through Tuscany had proven to be so difficult for us, we wanted to head back to Montepulciano before it got dark! Siena would be a great town to stay in if you don’t have a lot of time in Tuscany. It’s definitely worth a day trip for the church alone… and the thumb!