Day 32 of our Via Francigena pilgrimage took us from just shy of Monteriggioni to Siena. Distance: 16.1 miles. Weather: sunny, temperature mid-80s.
Due to lack of lodging, we had stopped last night three kilometers shy of Monteriggioni. That meant we had to walk 16+ miles today to get to Siena. Thus, we left the Abbey ospitale at 6:30 a.m. after a quick breakfast of toast and jam with the French couple. The other French gentlemen we had dinner with emerged briefly from his room to kiss us goodbye.
It was still dark outside, and morning mist covered the fields. Although Mom and I have left before sunrise in Switzerland, this was the earliest start time for our group.
I personally LOVE early starts. We got a deliciously cool morning, the sound of roosters, and a spectacular sunrise. I can’t get over how beautiful and rich the soil here in Tuscany is. It’s a deep red-brown.
I’m at my most optimistic in the morning. At breakfast, I’d seen a sign hanging in the Abbey kitchen that read:
Non pensare. Non fare. Cammina. Tutto accade.
Do not think. Do not. Walk. Everything happens.
How true that’s been of this Via Francigena journey!
Rabbit Hunters and the Nicest Rest Stop
Today, we came across MORE hunters. This time, they were out searching for rabbits. I’m confused and fascinated by their hunting technique, because they generate a ton of noise as they call out. I don’t know the first thing about rabbit hunting, but whatever they are doing must work.
Although the mornings are cool, the days in Tuscany heat up super fast. Thus, we were beyond thrilled when we came across signs for a quaint pilgrim rest stop. The place was set in a beautiful garden and had several morning refreshments: a variety of beverages, plum cake, apricot tart, and hard-boiled eggs. It was a “donativo”, which means pilgrims pay what they feel like.
A lot of thought had gone into making the space feel cozy and welcoming. I knew IMMEDIATELY that it was designed specifically for pilgrims. For starters, there was a large pot to hold walking sticks. And, just like at the Ostello Sigerico in Gambassi, decrepit pilgrim shoes had been creatively transformed into plant pots. But even more than the food, what almost moved me to the point of happy tears was…a clean toilet!
We had coffee with a lovely and incredibly energetic 70 year old German. She’s embarked on many pilgrimages since her husband passed, and we were in awe over her speed. We came out of that break feeling super refreshed. It was such a lovely and welcome treat. To the gentlemen that run the place – THANK YOU SO MUCH!
Onward to Siena
My energy levels fade in the afternoon. Thankfully, we ran into the Ukrainian and German from the night before, and talking with them made the time fly by. It was so great having someone new to talk with, particularly during the final uphill push into the city.
Everyone has a fascinating backstory. If there’s one key takeaway from the Via Francigena, it’s that you can learn something from every person you meet. Even those who you don’t initially appear to have anything in common with have so much to share.
Case in point: I don’t know anything about quantum physics. But I was super interested about hearing from my walking companion – a German quantum physics professor – about his love for the field, and what his work entails.
It’s always a bit of a shock when – after days of transiting past towns so small, you’ve walked past them in five minutes – to come across a real CITY. Siena is the 12th largest city in Italy.
The gorgeous medieval city is surrounded by a well-preserved 1,000-year-old wall. It’s famous for hosting the Palio horserace, which takes place twice a year on July 2 and August 16. The race takes place with a great deal of pageantry within the Piazza del Campo. Who needs a traditional horse track when you have an oval-shaped piazza?
It may be the only horse race where the horses receive a religious blessing, and where the jockey doesn’t actually have to STAY on the horse at the finish line for the horse to win.
Although it’s the off-season, there was a decidedly festive feel to the city. There were colorful flags everywhere, streets lined with unique light fixtures to reflect the unique spirit of each of the 17 contradas (wards).
Siena is hugely important from a religious perspective. It has an ENORMOUS Duomo, and houses (some of) the remains of Saint Catherine of Siena. Saint Catherine is the patron saint of fire, miscarriages, and nursing. During the 14th century, she was one of the most influential female figures in the Catholic Church. Her immense popularity was one of the main reasons why, several decades following her death, her head was stolen from Rome and brought back to Siena.
Unlike Lucca, it’s €10 to enter the Duomo. There are no special considerations for showing your pilgrim passport. Hence, we admired it from the outside.
An Homage to 007
I had booked an AirBnB apartment on the third floor that was situated close to the route. It just so happened that – from the balcony – the apartment had views of where scenes from James Bond’s Quantum of Solace had been filmed.
I adore their roofs. In the afternoon sunlight, everything was rich hues of orange and red. Siena is absolutely a city of mystery, culture, and romance.
I caught Mom on the balcony staring dreamily at the architecture. She pointed at a house.
“I know how I’d break into that place down there.”
I stared at her. Those were definitely NOT the words I’d been expecting.
“First I’d jump on that roof, then run to that roof, then I’d-“
Clearly she’s feeling those Bond girl vibes.
Mom has been surprising me a lot this trip!
Night Out in Siena With My Brother
Dan and I had a night out on our own. Given the city’s size, it’s astounding who you run into. We got an enthusiastic greeting from the German woman we’d had coffee with earlier in the day, now wearing a fresh dress and at a Piazza table sipping on what I suspect was a strong cocktail. Not 30 seconds later, we came across the smiling Dutch engineer we’d seen at Gambassi.
We all hugged and agreed the last two uphill miles into Siena had been a beast.
After 16+ miles with a pack, plus an additional two miles of sight-seeing, Dan and I were famished. It was therefore distressing to find that no Italian restaurants with “real food” were open! This being Europe, restaurants open at 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. Anything before that is considered tacky.
Since we couldn’t wait that long, we went to a Gelatteria and ate gelato on the ground in Piazza del Campo. It was an especially beautiful time of day – twilight.
The pre-dinner dessert didn’t ruin our appetite one bit. We still polished off our dinners when we found a restaurant that specialized in Tuscan food at 7:30 p.m. I had Pici with Cacio and Pepe (noodles with cheese and pepper), and we split an appetizer of warm Pecorino cheese with honey and walnuts.
As we left, we stumbled into a night parade of some sort. Music and full-out singing continued well into the night.
Tomorrow, we’re off for Ponte D’Arbia.
Breakfast donation (per person): €5
Dinner (per person): €21
Lodging (per person): €44