Sunday, October 5, 2008


Today, we continued our series of day trips to surrounding areas with a visit to Siena, one hour south of Florence by bus. We were joined by Stefan, a German Ph.D. student working in my lab for a few months. Near the bus station in Siena, we visited the church of San Domenico, where the main attraction is the head of St. Catherine of Siena. Apparently, displaying body parts of saints in churches is pretty popular around here, and if a severed mummified head isn't enough for you, you can also see a mummified finger of hers. After this curiosity, we walked into the city center, where the centerpiece is the beautiful Piazza del Campo, one of the largest town squares in Italy, and site of the yearly Palio horse race. At this point we were quite hungry, so we went out in search of a restaurant. After all the tables in the first one we tried were reserved, we went to a pizzeria, in which we were told to come back 15 minutes later when they were open. In the end, the food was pretty good, but as so often in Italy, the service was horrible -- our order wasn't taken for at least 20 minutes, and when Stefan's lasagna came out after Kristen and I had already finished our meal, it was only lukewarm.
Nevertheless, we continued our sightseeing tour with a climb up to the Duomo, a giant cathedral, which was slated to be turned into an even larger church by using it as the transept for the new church (the outbreak of the Black Plague hindered that plan...). For about two months a year, the beautiful marble mosaics in the floor are uncovered, and we were lucky enough to visit during this time. Also fabulous were the frescoes in the Piccolomini Library, built for Pope Pius II. After this, we also went to the baptistry, crypt (only discovered in 1999!), and museum, after which we climbed up inside a wall of the uncompleted church for an impressive panoramic view of the city. Finally, we made our way back to the bus station for the trip back to Florence, and actually managed to get seats on the bus back (lots of daytrippers on a Sunday).

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