We Didn’t Drink All The Vino: 2005 Italia Uncensored!
Day Ten – That’s The Ticket, An Oasis In The Forest, The Fabulous Library, I Love A Parade, A Case Of Road Rage (Italian Style) And A Picturesque Setting For Vino
As the others packed and relaxed a little more while Mary downed one last coffee, I walked to where I had parked the rental car so I could drive back to the hotel and help load us up.
As I approached the car, I wondered, “What’s that on the window (even though I instinctively knew what it was)?” Yep, it was a parking ticket for parking in a “residential only” parking area. In their one minor lapse, the people at the hotel said it was fine for us to park in that area, but obviously the ticket stated otherwise. The ticket was 35 euros, but by the time I got back to the hotel I decided it wasn’t enough to make a stink about, especially since we loved our time here. It turned out the German guests (who also had a parking ticket) were making stink enough for two. The husband was getting flustered and talking in rather high decibels, and the girl at the desk called a couple of places to see what she could do to help. I just put my ticket next to theirs on the desk and waited for the eventual outcome.
I had made up my mind while listening to her on the phone that if we had to pay, then we’ll pay. Remember, “Attitude is everything!” Obviously our German friends had a different mindset, because when she got off the phone and softly said, “You both have to pay the ticket,” he picked up the ticket and threw it back on the desk. As his face reddened, he replied (well, kind of yelled) in no uncertain terms he wasn’t paying. He then stormed off (he had another night to stay, so I don’t know how it was resolved, but needless to say his day was pretty much spoiled … not by the ticket, but how it had affected him).
The girl at the desk said she would take it over to the police station and get it paid, and then she apologized again. “No problem,” we said, and packed the car, which was now even more cluttered thanks to the stuff that Tracy had bought in the lobby (olive oil, soaps and other beauty stuff) for people who were helping to take care of the house while we were gone.
We drove to Siena via the (rather foggy) Crete Road.
It was on this road where we would visit the Monte Oliveta Maggiore, or as I call it, “MOM.” Nestled in a forest of cypress trees, this abbey turned out to be one of our favorite detours of the trip.
It was then time for a quick stop in Asciano and the Basilica di Saint’Agata.
The Crete Road was interesting to a degree, but it didn’t quite grab me like some of our other previous drives, but I’m sure it was a more interesting drive than the main highway. As we approached Siena, we saw the signs for the Porta Romano, and a couple of blocks before it lay our next hotel, Piccolo Hotel Oliveta.
Even though this hotel has garnered some nice reviews, I am afraid I cannot give it much of a recommendation, if at all. I’ll give you the good points first. It is located just outside the walls, has free parking, and in the evening has spectacular views over the Tuscan countryside…Really spectacular.
On the negative side, the rooms were pretty worn, and the beds were the worst of the trip (not terrible, but not good either). I didn’t care so much that the shower was on one side of the room and the bathroom with toilet and sink on the other, but some might. Much of the time, the first bursts of water emitted from the faucets had an uncomfortable brown color coming out. That can never be good.
It was told to us this hotel would undergo a management change in the next 12 -18 months, so no upgrades could be expected during this time. I must admit it was a letdown, but at 125€, you make the call.
Kim, Mary, Tracy and I had based in Siena in 2001, and to be honest, were not that impressed with the town. On that trip, we took trips to San Gimignano and Volterra (which we loved) and spent much of our Siena time at the Palazzo Ravizza hotel, which we also loved. The town just seemed dark and Gothic to us. We had vowed to come back and give it a little more time. I’m glad we did.
After lunch on the Campo at the aptly named Ristorante Il Campo (we enjoyed a very good penne pasta with vodka for 9€ and the ever-present Prosecco), Tracy and I hooked up with Kim and Mary to tour the Duomo.
This was a special time of year, and the mosaics on the floor of the Duomo were uncovered in all their glory for everyone to see (plus you could go in the crypt underneath…which we would do the next day). The audio guide was invaluable, and the whole experience turned out to be a terrific surprise.
The most gorgeous part of the Duomo to me was the Librera Piccolomini, which features ten huge frescoes by Pinturicchio and his assistants that cover the ceiling and walls. The audio guide describes each fresco, and it is quite entertaining and enlightening.
After leaving the Duomo, we walked across the street to the Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana (all of us had the combo ticket), which not only have some cool art and statues, but stairs to the top of the “new” Duomo.
As always, it was onward and UPWARD. There were some spectacular views, so I knew I had to walk up to the top of the nearby Torre Mangia of the Palazzo Pubblico (and its 503 stairs) before we left Siena.
It was the consensus of the group that we were glad we had come back to Siena to give it a “second chance.”
When we arrived back at the Campo, there was a huge celebration taking place. the members of the 17 contrade (districts) that took part in ther Palio race about a month before were marching around the Campo with banners.
Then came a driving experience I was glad did not include me, except as the part of innocent bystander. Walking back to the hotel, we witnessed a man behind the wheel of what looked like a rental car receive the wrath of many of Siena’s local drivers. A befuddled driver (trust me, I know that look also), had strayed into a right hand turn lane, changed his mind, and like Robert Blake, was now attempting to go straight. He finally was able to maneuver his car into the correct lane so that the many honking cars behind him could get moving and make a right turn on the arrow. For those of you who saw the movie Airplane, you might recall the moment where people on the aircraft line up to attack a whining passenger. The next few moments in Siena reminded us all of that scene.
As cars pulled to the offending driver’s right, ostensibly to turn, they would all stop, give him a stare (even worse than “the look”), a hand signal of unknown origin, a flurry of honks of the horn and, finally, an impressive array and barrage of Italian expletives were yelled at the poor guy.
The light for the wrong-lane guy seemed to stay red for an hour as car after car, and driver after driver stopped alongside the hapless man to give him a strong piece of their collective minds. One “outraged” driver was particularly demonstrative in his actions. He yelled for ten seconds, but to his ultimate chagrin, as he tried to peel away around the corner, he stalled his car. The wrong-lane guy loved that, and when the light turned green, he had a smile from ear to ear knowing he had received the last laugh.
There had been a wedding at our hotel that afternoon, and a large New York contingent from that ceremony was also staying at the hotel. They shall enter into our story later.
We dined at Ristorante Nello La Taverna (Via del Porrione, 28), which had been recommended by the hotel. The owner (not coincidentally whose name is Nello) sat at our table, chatted with us for a few moments and took our order. The menu was an eclectic mix of Asian-Italian, and the food turned out to be quite good. I really enjoyed my cubed beef in a Chianti reduction sauce, served with basmati rice.
After dinner, we walked to Il Campo and bought some delicious cookies on the square. The man in the shop was handing out free glasses of Grappa.
For those who have not tried it, Grappa is alcohol to the third power. If you decide to try it, I do recommend that you not smoke at the same time, or you might become an instant combustible agent.
I had booked four nights at the Piccolo Oliveta, but as the director of Tuscan Tom’s Tours, I sensed the group might be happier if we could make this a shorter stay than our original plan (since we were not enamored with the hotel), but what could I do? The next day would provide the surprising (and wonderful) answer.