Tuesday, April 13:  Siena

We decided we would stay for sunset in Siena, so we planned a late morning departure. Robert’s closure on the front of pants failed (poorly designed), so I gathered up my broken pants that had not yet found a seamstress and set off for an errand run in town with Robert.

We inquired at the one serious-looking computer store about Internet access and they sent us to a repair store two blocks away with two machines in the corner. They grudgingly allowed I might be able to hook-up my laptop when we returned. Tried the bike shop again, this time asking about jerseys, but got no helpful information. Then on to the laundry. I managed to convey to the woman that the closure on Robert’s pants could be replaced by a button, while she managed to convey to me that the zipper would have to be replaced, not repaired, by continually saying “nuovo” (“new”). Then we agreed on a date using her calendar. Not a word of English on her side, and very little Italian on mine. Then we popped by the Coop for a couple of supplies. For some reason, I had to ask at the front information desk for razor blades, but fortunately I had a combo pack (razor + blades) from the aisles to bring along as a prop for my inquiry. Why razor blades are kept under the counter like Playboy magazines is a mystery to me that may never be solved. Robert enjoyed the whole octopi and squid for sale from the seafood case.

The drive to Siena went pretty well and we followed the soccer-ball signs to the municipal parking lot around the periphery of the stadium. First stop was the church dedicated to St. Catherine of Siena, in order to see her finger and head. By now it was lunchtime, so we grabbed pizza by the slice at the first shop we saw on the street into the center of the old town. Then we headed to the main plaza. Rather than fronting a Cathedral, its main inhabitant is City Hall, with its distinctive tower. This is the site of Siena’s twice-annual intracity horse race. It was not too difficult to imagine the mayhem on race-day with fans on every balcony and in every window.

Next stop was the cathedral with its ornate Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque facade. There were a variety of things to see inside, so Pat and the boys rented audio guides while I nursed my newly-formed case of cathedral fatigue. Not bad -- 2 weeks and 4 days before the onset. Siena had planned a much larger Cathedral with the major axis of the current church being the minor axis of the planned expansion. The Black Plague nixed that scheme, but columns and walls of the expanded version are extant outdoors to the one side. It was a bit like Michaelangelo’s Prisoners as you could see the construction in mid-phase.

Afterwards we split up so Pat and David could tour the Cathedral Museum. Robert and I poked into the University until a faculty type on the second floor explained politely (in Italian) that they were closed for the day and would reopen in the morning. I think was headed in the direction of the mathematics department, but never made it that far. Then we got horribly lost, despite having a city map from the tourist office. Once we got our bearings we tried to locate Rick’s suggestion for dinner -- we found the location, but no sign it was opening soon, or even that there was a restaurant behind the wooden doors. We attempted to locate a soccer jersey at the shop near the stadium, but were unsuccessful. A very good gelato shop and a panforte purchase saved the expedition.

We regrouped and reorganized in the main plaza and set out for another of Rick’s suggestions for dinner. Once located, they said they would be late opening, so the other half checked out the gelato shop to kill the time. Dinner was good, but the “coperto” (cover charge) and mandatory service charge ate up any attempt to economize by ordering frugally.

Siena was a nice town, though the residents, presumably frustrated by the continual crush of tourists, drive far too aggressively through the crowds. My Italian seems to have reached the point where now I get replies in Italian. Trouble is, I usually can’t decipher the responses. So I’m back to asking if folks speak English if the answer is critical.

The drive home was slowed by a couple of lane constrictions for construction zones, but they were cause for another driving lesson. When at the tail end of a backup on the autostrada, you run your emergency flashers. That way the 150 km/hr Audis and Mercedes Benzs might have a chance to slow to a near-stop rather than presuming you are doing 100 km/hr and only look like you are standing still, and consequently closing in on your rear bumper at a measly 120 km/hr. Once there is somebody else stopped behind you, then it is safe to douse your flashers while they run theirs.