Beautiful medieval walled city in the heart of Tuscany, at one time a powerful City-state rivalling nearby Florence, and home to what is probably the oldest bank in Europe, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, founded in 1472.

At the heart of the old city is the shell-shaped terracotta bowl of the Piazza del Campo, where twice a year the city stages its famous horse race, the Palio, fiercely contested by the 17 contrade of the city.

Siena is a very peaceful city to walk around (although the Italians themselves are famously animated) and traffic is not permitted in the centre. The major monuments - the palaces, cathedral, museums - all merit a visit from anyone interested in the history of the region. Although popular with tourists, it benefits from being a little too far from Florence for most day-trippers. It is certainly worth the trip: while Florence may be full of beautiful things, Siena simply is beautiful.

My home for three months in the winter of 2003.

An absolutely wonderful city and a definite must see for anyone staying in the Tuscany Region.

A few things of note:

The train station is pretty much worthless. Not only is on the outskirts of the city, but it’s also on the outskirts of any major train line. To get to Florence, it will take two hours and a possible switch in Empoli. The bus will get you there in an hour to an hour and a half and the bus station in Florence is right across from Santa Maria Novella, the main train station in Florence. Another fun fact: A group of friends and I decided we wanted to go to the island of Elba for the weekend. To get to the ferry, it took four hours and four different trains. The bus could have gotten us there in two hours.

The Duomo may not be as fancy on the outside as the one in Milan, but the inside is absolutely gorgeous. I visited many a church (minus the Vatican) and the ornate work inside was worth the sacrilegious feeling I get when entering any religious building.

The main market is on Wednesday across from piazza Garibaldi, in the vicinity of the Medici fortress. If you are at the main bus stop, you can’t not see it.

Café Alfieri (also known as the Internet Train) caters to the international crowd. Paul is one of the proprietors, and a Boston native. He can help you in many regards, from phone cards, to coffee, even shipping all of your crap home. He’s been around the country and is very helpful with advice.

I’ve been told that Siena has the highest per capita communist population in the country. Not really a big deal, they have a very pretty compound in fact right off of via Panteneto, right across from the converted church/jail. Not really an issue, but they did have a communist protest against the war at the end of my stay. Maybe I’m just scared of hundreds of people waiving red banners with hammers and sickles on them.

The campo is by far the best place to take a nap in the spring. Everyone hangs out there and is a great place to people watch. Take advantage of the lack of open container laws and grab a beer or a bottle of wine from one of the nearby cafés and just hang out.

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