“Honey, you look like Michelle Yeoh in this photo,” Sandeep remarked while reviewing the photos he took of me at San Gimignano. “I look like an inflated Michelle Yeoh,” I replied after glancing at the photo. “Michelin Yeoh,” I added.
Sandeep immediately understood that I was referring to the Michelin man. He laughed heartily as he is always amused at my self-deprecating jokes. Among the things I like about him is that he always gets the most obscure references I use in the jokes I make. It is a relief that I don’t have to explain anything to him, and the punchlines always hit home.
We were then on our way to Siena on a double-decker bus. I chose our seat on the top part of the bus earlier when we left Florence. I wanted a full view of the Tuscan countryside as we pass it by.
“Siena used to be a very wealthy city before the Black Death killed a large part of its population and before the Medici conquered the city.” Our German tour guide narrated in halting English over the microphone. She took over for Alice, the pretty olive-skinned Italian who initially led the tour.
It was a good thing we got the Tuscan day tour package from Florence itself. The walk-in booking was cheaper at 40.60 euros each. When we were booking it online, the website was charging us 90 USD each for the same tour. The package includes a visit to San Gimignano, Monteriggioni Castle, lunch at a winery in Chianti and then finally a walking tour in Siena. It’s a 12 hour day tour that starts at 8:30 am from the Santa Maria Novella train station.
I was not really excited about Siena when we book the tour, I have not heard of that city before. I thought it was just one of those minor cities they add to the pad the tours. We chose it over the leaning tower of Pisa because the meeting time starts at 8 am rather than 6:30 am.
It turned out Siena was a pleasant surprise for me, and the visit to the city quickly became my favourite part of the trip.
Part of what drew me to India was the intrigue shrouding its historical monuments. Siena has the same appeal to me. As we explored its historical centre, walking on the cobbled streets in between imposing gothic structures really take you back in time. You’ll begin to wonder how the place would have looked like during its Golden Age.
Our tour guide led us to Piazza Salimbeni, in front of the statue of a scowling Sallustio Bandini standing guard in between the first banking houses in Europe. He was a Sienese priest and one of the first Italian economists.
While standing in the middle of the square, I can’t help but be intimidated as I gazed upwards and saw the marble heads of famous Italian men, poking from under the roof of Palazzo Spannocchi, all glaring down on me. I felt so small and insignificant. It disturbed me to see Leonardo Da Vinci and Dante Alighieri looking so pissed at me. If I were a peasant there in those times, I would be terrified and trembling in my boots every time I am made to stand in that square.
Our tour guide asked us to follow a blue flag held by a tall guy from our group, so we don’t get separated and lose our way. There were several tour groups along with us. We even got mixed up with a group of Japanese tourists with a Japanese tour guide. Their flag was red. We also came across a group of university students who made fun of us. One of the students raised the bottle of beer in his hands, walked ahead of his friends and shouted, “Follow me if you wanna have a good time.” Everybody laughed and cheered. I told Sandeep jokingly that it would be more fun to follow that group.
What really captured my heart, though, was Piazza Del Campo. I was bewildered, then awestruck after immerging from a dark alley and seeing the medieval square with its lofty clock tower dominating the bright blue sky. It’s difficult to capture its immenseness in the photos. You have to be standing there to witness its splendour.
I had an intense desire to cross the enormous shell-shaped piazza to reach the coffee shop at the opposite side of where we were standing.
“Twice a year horse races are held here.” Our guide’s voice crackled in the headphones in my ears, interrupting my thoughts.
In the restaurant next to where we were gathered, there was a television where the video of the race was playing in a loop. It seemed like a grand affair. The shell shape area in the middle of the piazza was filled with people cheering as the horses race around them.
After 15 minutes, the guide moved on, and we followed, but I was getting impatient. I wanted the walking tour to end already so we can linger leisurely at Piazza Del Campo. We even skipped climbing up the tower of that beautiful gothic cathedral so we can return right away to Piazza Del Campo. I was glad Sandeep did not mind.
Sandeep indulged my wish and ordered us a cappuccino and a latte on that café that I was looking at earlier. I wanted to stay longer, so I ordered a cheesecake, which was quite delectable with a hint of citrus on the after taste. We paid 6 euros for the cappuccino and latte, 7 euros for the cheesecake.
I sighed while I sipped my cappuccino. Ahhh…it was like being in a delicious dream that you did not want to wake up from.
A cold wind blew a few minutes later, knocking down the wine glasses of the two young girls in front of us. The glasses shattered into pieces as it hit the ground, snapping me out of my reverie. As Sandeep paid for the bill, I felt a twinge in my heart at the thought of leaving Siena so soon. I wanted to stay for a day or two or for the rest of my life.
I left a piece of my heart there at Piazza Del Campo, and the longing to go back haunts me constantly.