Even master planner Miss Kang cannot beat the weather forecast. When I learned that the weather at my 9th trip’s original destination, Hamburg, was not going to improve at all, I had to scramble up a new plan. This was tricky because one needs to look up at least the train route, city location, city weather, and other factors which will easily take up few days of planning and now I did not have that flexibility any more. Friday morning came and I still had NO CLUE where I wanted to go. I got a bit nervous.
I did notice, however, that basically most cities north of Austria was raining and most cities south of Austria was sunny, which meant Italy was going to be sunny! Still, having been to Italy Florence already, I didn’t want to go to another mass touristy destination. But there were too many small and nice cities that I didn’t know where to prioritize or how to plan out. I used a bulk of my lunch hours researching and figuring out the details. By the time I caught the train to Italy on Friday July 13 evening, I had printed out at least four different train plans just in case I wanted some change. And that is how I started off with my 9th trip to Italy, Tuscany!
I looked at the options I prepared in Tuscany, Italy. They were all good, but hard to get via train (its easier and probably more fun to drive along these beautiful fields). At least I prepared a wide variety of options. I wanted to go either to Genova, Lucca, Pisa, Rimi, San Gimignano or Venice. But before I started considering these options, I should explain the second panic I felt on my train ride to Italy. The moment I got to the Vienna Meidling train station, I was horrified to see a large crowd. Summer tourist season has started. That was not good news for me because I did not have a reserved seat! Will I have no seat?? Oh no.
The train came and I ran to find the empty seats, which is what I usually do and I usually find an empty seat (that is how I have been doing in the past few weeks). However, this time I realized that this train was all reserved. TOTALLY all reserved. As more people were entering the train with their heavy luggage and the train started to take off, I got a bit nervous. Not only did I not have a specific plan, but the thought of having no seat until my destination to Italy was a bad reality to face. I wasn’t ready to admit that.
While I frantically searched through the compartments, finally I came across two empty seats! Turns out someone had reserved but has not taken this train to claim the seats, so the seats were available! I quickly took a seat and dozed off until the ticket officer came to ask for my ticket. Since I didn’t have a reservation ticket, I paid for that extra fee on the spot. Though I was not happy to pay an extra fee, this turned out to be a very good thing because when I woke up the next morning in Italy, I noticed at least seven to ten people sleeping outside because they had no seats..! At least I got to sleep on a clean seat and warm place inside.
Italy has started its tourist season indeed, this was crazy even for me who have been taking trains every weekend!! I felt lucky to have found that seat…
We were close to Florence, where I had to change trains. By then I have decided my destinations for my 9th trip, so I hurried myself to the next train to my first destination in Tuscany – Siena, Italy!
For those who aren’t familiar with Siena, Tuscany allow me to pinpoint out few significance of this city.
Located in the north of Italy and about 70km (43 mile) south of Florence, Siena is a medieval city in the region of Tuscany. The city used to be a proud, wealthy and warlike independent city during the Middle Age until it was defeated by Florence. While the city remained poor for few hundred years after its defeat, that is the reason why the city did not tore down the lovely Medieval buildings. The city did not have the money to build new ones. Tourist started to come in the 19th century and is considered an important part of the city’s economy. In fact, today, new buildings have a requirement to be built and maintain the city’s character and beauty in order to be placed in the city center. So far, some new buildings have made place inside the city center, yet have fitted itself well with the overall old city part.
While its art and architecture is unique and has many historical importance, its Il Palio, a colorful horse race conducted around the entire city, is what the city is most famously known for. In fact, the Palio is such an important aspect of Siena city, and not a show for tourist, that tourists are actually less welcomed during that time because the locals get really excited and geared up for the event when it occurs.
The Siena city center is another area that has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site and its easy to see why once you enter the old Medieval streets of Siena.
It was 8:30am when I arrived at Siena. I didn’t know that you had to take a bus to get to the city center. So when I gave a puzzled look to the bus driver who was trying to explain this to me in Italian, when I did not know Italian, he kindly just let me hop on the bus to the city center. Oh and once we got to the city center these were the streets that I found myself looking at and realizing that I was indeed in Italy, Tuscany. The streets were so narrow and tall that I wondered how these bus drivers managed to drive these narrow streets! Nevertheless, I smiled, this was Italy indeed. And I couldn’t wait till what was ahead of me.
By the time I had to leave, I learned that I was in love for Siena for three things: it’s historical and well-preserved architecture, its warm people, and its full vibe of Italian Tuscany!
As I continued walking, I found myself already falling in love with Siena, Italy…and never stop saying..wow..
It was all very unique and very well planned out. I was more dazzled, perhaps, because I did not have any expectations. Soon enough I found myself reaching the city center in which they would do the horse races. Wala!
And if you continue walking from here to that little black corner you see in the middle of this picture, you will find yourself standing in front of the 2nd famous building in Siena: the Duomo!! If you were satisfied with what you saw at Florence, this one is another amazing master piece. It’s just so big and so grand that as you stand there you become speechless at its beauty. I heard the tour inside is really nice too, but since I was there still early in the morning (most sites were opening up its place after 10:00 am or 11:00 am) I just enjoyed the views outside.
After a full “blown away” moment at the beautiful medieval town Siena I decided to find a cafe and buy some postcards. I have been writing postcards to my family ever since I started traveling, so I wanted to do one for Siena before I leave. I just went into a small shop behind this church and searched for a cafe. Now the reason why I am telling you this detail is that this is how I learned how small and hospitable people were in Siena! Within the next 90 minutes, I bumped into this postcard owner three times!!: first at the store I bought the card, second at the bakery next door for he was buying his breakfast, and third at the local coffee shop in which I sat down because I liked the atmosphere! It was way too funny!! And he even laughed and chatted back in Italian.
The coffee shop that I happened to sit down was not only at a good location but had great coffee! It had a tiny window and had a pretty nice view of the Plazza center. I figured I should try this place because it was one of the places that was crowded and those who were at the store all seemed local people for they were all talking to one another in Italian! If locals are all enjoying their morning coffee and breakfast here, it must be good and it was!
After walking for few hours that morning I was hungry and wanted to relax for a bit. So this was perfect! I sat down next to the window and ordered my coffee and breakfast (a toasted bread full of tomato which apparently is a local dish.)
Ah this visit has been all too good.
Because I didn’t know much of the city before every step I was making was a new discovery. In fact, I fell in love with the city so much that I decided to stay longer than what I originally planned to. I continue to just wander and walk around the city streets for a bit after that morning coffee. And every corner I walked into I was dazzled. They all seem to mean something and reflect a time in history. I mean, how can you say no to such a scenic streets..I started day dreaming back to history as I let the Italians dialogue echo in the background.
I smiled, I was happy to have made this trip, despite all my nervous departure. This was a good start.
In addition, unlike Florence, where I heard more English all day, during my few hours at Siena I heard more Italian all day. Furthermore, not only did I hear more Italians but I got the chance to interact with them. I would start a dialogue either to ask a question or ask directions and while most (9 out of 10) responded back in Italian they were all eager to help. They were not only all helpful but also very jolly in spirit! As one asked another to help me, I appreciated their assistance very much! At one point, I even found myself getting help by four or five different people because one didn’t know the answer so they kept asking a friend and a friend till they knew the answer to my question (and in Italian)! Someone told me before that the real Italian people are friendly and nice, I now believe that full heatedly.
The streets were now starting to fill up, and it was now time for me to catch my bus to my 2nd city destination. Because I was enjoying my time here so much, to the point I purposely missed the first bus that I was thinking of taking, I was sad that I had to leave this city so soon.
I loved it because I felt like I saw the real Italy, and the real Tuscany. When I told other people of this, they said I must have seen it when it was less touristy. And that may be true, for I was there before the big crowd hit the city. Still, the tourist crowd was a lot smaller than it would be in Florence. And the fact that I meet that local three times just made me feel like this city is more down to earth and home. I loved Siena, and I think I will. As I felt the bus taking off the moment I sit, I closed my eyes at the excitement of discovering a new beautiful city that I love, Siena see you soon again.
And I continue my journey this day to my next destination..San Gimignano, Tuscany’s medieval town on the hill!