Monday, October 31, 2011

Gubbio has been discovered...

…by Italian tourists!?

Ever since I saw a photograph of Gubbio’s Palazzo dei Consoli and its adjacent Piazza Grande, I became obsessed. The palazzo and piazza really stood out to me, given that they are propped up onto the side of a rather steep hill, and both offer dramatic views onto the valley lying below. I’d gone on to read how - similar to Tuscany’s Volterra - Gubbio’s somewhat remote location makes it less of a tourist dumping ground, and its surrounding natural scenery of rocky, forested hills somehow lend it an appealingly somber atmosphere.

So, you can imagine my surprise when our bus arrived in Gubbio today only to get stuck in a mid-town traffic jam, and to then see a steady stream of day-trippers flooding into Gubbio’s main, central entrance. “Gubbio’s been discovered,” I lamented; spoiled - another San Gimigano. And that’s partly why I chose Gubbio over more popular Umbrian hill-towns (like Assisi, Spoleto, Todi, etc.) in the first place – to go somewhere more off the beaten path and avoid the exhausting hordes of day-trippers. And when we went to Volterra, which I thought was much better known than Gubbio, we practically had the town to ourselves! But the interesting thing is that pretty much all the day-trippers in Gubbio today were speaking Italian (more on this point later).

I have to credit Gubbio’s undeniable charms for allowing us to get past all that. Yeah, we were initially dismayed by all the commotion, but it wasn’t difficult to escape the few congested, central arteries, and find more tranquil areas.

The Palazzo dei Consoli was every bit as striking in person as it is in photos. It’s an awesome balance of medieval detail and tasteful restraint, and the setting - with a piazza with one entire edge offering awesome views of the town and valley below - is truly unique. My only complaint (aside from there being hordes of people) was that there weren’t many places on the piazza to sit take in the scenery.

We found in Gubbio some amazing gelato at little place just up the street from Piazza Grande, run by a friendly woman working solo. And wow, her chocolate fondente was so perfect in texture, so rich in flavor, that it was almost like eating a piece of gooey, moist, dense, chocolate cake. Yes, this could rival Siena’s Gelateria Kopa Kobana.

Gubbio’s centro storico is fairly small (smaller than Volterra), so it doesn’t take long to cover one end to the other. After strolling through one of the town’s awe-inspiring main, medieval thoroughfares, we made our way up to the duomo, which is further up the hill, requiring a nearly vertical climb up a narrow, winding lane. Once we got to the duomo and adjacent Palazzo Ducale, we saw this poor guy in a delivery pick-up truck trying to navigate the narrow road that winds around the front of the duomo. He literally had inches on either side of this truck, and passersby were helping him slowly inch his way through the curve. It was kind of miraculous that he managed not to scrape anything.

A not uncommon sight it Italy
View from the Duomo

After exploring gratuitously picturesque Gubbio from left to right and top to bottom, we checked out the market that’s located under the large buttressing arches that prop up the left side of the Palazzo dei Consoli from the street below. It was mainly truffle-focused, given that the surrounding region is known for its black truffles. Terezia bought some local truffle oil and black truffle pate (which we were able to sample), as well as a bottle of local red wine. It was kind of surreal for a truffle-obsessive like me to see all of these booths with piles of black (and white) truffles on display. It appears to have been a good season!

Overall, we both give Gubbio two thumbs up. It really is a beautiful town, and the setting, wedged along the base of some dramatically steep and rocky hills, makes it that much more attractive. We also realized why there might have been so many Italian tourists there today: it’s the day before All Saints Day, and since that is a national holiday, we think that a lot of people may have both today and tomorrow off (making it a 4-day weekend), and that maybe Gubbio is a popular day-trip destination for Italians in this region. So, perhaps Gubbio isn’t quite so crazy on a normal day? I’d love to revisit Gubbio during a time when it is a bit less cuckoo.

After a totally crazy bus ride back to Perugia (which, like the ride to Volterra, took us through some nauseatingly winding roads that left Terezia’s stomach a little unsettled), we tried a restaurant called La Lanterna, which was recommended by a few travel guides. The ambience was a huge improvement over the previous night’s blend of medieval dungeon décor and 80s dancehall music, and the food was pretty good (but still nothing mind-blowing – I’m beginning to wonder if Perugia is just a crappy place for food). For antipasti, we had liver pate crostini, a salad with radicchio, shavings of cheese, and black truffle pate, both of which were tasty. We decided to take a break from pasta and ordered two secondi: a veal with a black truffle sauce and shavings, and this thing called lombetto crosto con crema di porcini e tartufo, which was basically very tender pork that had been baked in dough, then sliced and slathered in a comforting, rich sauce. Surprisingly, the veal from the previous night’s place was a little better (creamier, juicier), and while the lombetto was definitely tasty, the porcini and truffle flavors really didn’t come through. On the whole it seemed like better-presented and better-prepared food than the previous two nights, but still no life-altering experience. I’m starting to give up hope of ever finding a truly fabulous meal here in Perugia. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I think I know where Perugia gets its chocolate...

Perugia, city of chocolate, and dog shit. In Perugia, it’s everywhere. The dog shit, I mean. Well, in a lot of European cities, it’s everywhere, but the streets of Perugia seem to be a veritable minefield of the stuff. You see all different shapes, shades, sizes, and textures. You also see a variety of shoe-tread patterns in those that have been stepped in. Why is it so hard for people here to scoop up their dog poo? Can someone explain this to me? I know carrying warm poo around in a little plastic bag is probably not the most fun thing in the world, but that is part of owning a dog, right?

And that leads me to another observation – in all the towns we’ve stayed in during this trip, I have seen countless people walking beautiful, purebred, show quality dogs that are completely untrained. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people struggling, pulling, and yanking at the leashes of their gorgeous yet obviously totally untrained show-dogs. Is there simply a lack of dog-schools in Italy, or is it that Italians just couldn’t be bothered? I’d love to know.

Anyhow, we’re in Italy, so these blog entries are supposed to be fun!

It was a gorgeous, sunny, autumn day in Perugia. Despite the dog poop, we’re already really digging this town. We started off the day by walking to the old acquadotto, or acquaduct, which is now a walkway/shortcut from one neighborhood to another. It begins about a quarter of the way down a gently curving stairway, and takes you over streets and peoples’ backyards, eventually connecting with another street on the next hill over. There are even some cute houses/apartment buildings that are accessed via the acquadotto. The views from the acquadotto are absolutely gorgeous.

The acquadotto links up with a street that takes you to one of the many medieval gates, which is adjacent to the oldest church in Perugia, Tempio di Sant’Angelo, which supposedly dates from the 5th century. I think it was originally a Roman pagan temple, converted into a catholic church, because it is circular. Apparently, when baroque was all the rage, the interior was redone in that manner (I know, the horror), but later restored to its original décor.

We took the acquadotto back to the center of town, and made our way to the Etruscan arch. This arch, embedded into a massive wall that is a mix of Etruscan, Roman, and medieval-era stones, is pretty impressive. Colossal, even. Every town needs one! What’s also cool is how lengthy stretches of Etruscan wall extend from both sides of the arch, and at some point people (in the middle ages, I’m assuming) just built their houses into the Etruscan wall, using it as a foundation.  Some segments of the walls even have modern windows cut into it.

We strolled through the Centro Storico, eventually heading over to the Rocca Paolina, and checked out the subterranean streets that the Rocca covered back when it was built by the Vatican to suppress the city’s inhabitants. Apparently, in the 1500s, the Vatican sacked Perugia and seized control of the city. The pope at the time then had several city blocks razed and/or buried, to create a huge military fortress. The fortress was literally plonked down over several streets, which were more or less left intact and made into passageways within the fortress. In 1860, during Italian independence, Perugians destroyed most of the Rocca, given that it was a much-loathed symbol of unwanted Papal domination. In its place today is a nice park with wonderful hilltop views, a government building, and a piazza. Beneath the park, however, are the remains of the Rocca, including the streets that were covered up, which are now well-lit and explorable tunnels. There is also yet another Etruscan arch, which, when the Rocca was built, was left intact as a gateway into the Eastern side of it.

Subterranean Perugia
Perugia, city of stairways (and dog feces)

Another thing we’ve noticed about Perugia, is that the garbage people/clean up crews, that were a common sight in Siena and Florence, have been nowhere to be seen so far. And what’s really sad is how much litter we saw tonight, scattered all over the steps of the duomo that overlook the main piazza. We also noticed that the public trashcans around the perimeter of the piazza were overflowing. Do Perugia’s garbage people not work the weekends? Or is there something else going on? And why do Perugia’s inhabitants seem bent on trashing the place with dog poop and litter in the first place? It’s really sad.

What’s also interesting is the eclectic mix of people you can see hanging out on the duomo/piazza steps during the daytime. You can see families taking a break during a stroll, 18-year old ruffians not very discreetly selling drugs, college-aged couples making out, some tourists snapping photos or taking a break from their sight-seeing, couples eating gelato, young and always male gypsies sitting around, a few sunken-cheeked junkies and/or meth addicts, college students drinking beer, panhandlers, and pensioners out on their daily walk.

At night, however, the young ruffian types seem to take over. Walking by tonight, we saw several groups of them noisily drinking beer, a few of them smashing bottles, and all of them strutting around, trying hard to look tough. Of course there were plenty of normal, adult locals passing through the noisy but ultimately benign mayhem, and none of them seemed to be phased by it. This is definitely a striking contrast from the main squares in Siena and Florence, which seemed more, I don’t know… peaceful or mellow at night.

For dinner, we went to a place called Settime Sigillo. We saw lots of Italian-speaking locals going in, the menu had potential (and was cheap), so we decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, they had a woefully tacky medieval dungeon theme going on with the décor, which you couldn’t really see until you were well inside the place. But the restaurant was hopping, so we thought we’d chance it. Sadly, my tagliolini with porcini was, yet again, crapolini. Terezia ordered gnocchi with cheese, arugula, and speck, which was pretty good, but well short of stellar. Luckily, what saved the evening was a piece of veal we shared, which came in a black truffle and balsamic glaze. Cooked medium-rare, the nice cut of veal was perfectly tasty, tender, and juicy (and you could really taste how this thing had been milk-fed), while the subtle truffle/balsamic glaze enhanced the flavor nicely. I wouldn’t come back to this place, but if I did, I’d stick to the meat-based secondi. Maybe Perugia is not a good town for pasta? Serena warned that Umbria consisted mainly of hunters; maybe that translates to the local cuisine?

After that, we capped the night off with gelato from Grom. Grom is a chain that makes organic gelato, and which seems to be popping up in all the major Italian cities. We tried one in Genova. They’re pretty good. While not as magical as Kopa Kobana in Siena, the textures are good, and the flavors seem to be fine. It’s more expensive though: most places are about 1.80 for a small cone with two flavors, but at Grom it’s 2.20.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

From a medieval college hill-town, to... a medieval college hill-town

So, I occasionally peruse the Slow Travel message board to get info on various travel-related things (usually logistical). When I searched the Italy board for the best way to get from Siena to Perugia, I found lots of posts proclaiming, “Take the bus! Take the bus! Take the bus!” People said it was a shorter ride than the train (1.5 hours vs. 3), there are no connections to worry about, it costs the same as the train, and the scenery is prettier. What people neglected to mention was that, at least currently, the only bus that runs from Siena to Perugia leaves at 5:15 in the evening. Given that we needed to leave our Siena hotel by 10:00 AM, and given that the Perugia apartment guy wanted to meet us earlier in the afternoon, that meant the bus option was out.

Nevertheless, the train wasn’t all that bad. There was a transfer in Chiusi, followed by a connection in Terontola-Cortona, and from there a straight shot to Perugia. The trains were all small, 2-3 car intercity deals, but they were comfortable enough. That is, until a class full of screaming 10 year olds got on at Terontola. 

This is my first time visiting the region of Umbria. I’ve been dying to come here for ages, and I’ve always been curious about Perugia, because, like Siena, it’s a vibrant college town with a well-preserved and sizable medieval section, perched dramatically atop a large hill. The city is packed with narrow, winding, steep streets, and loads of old stonework, and jaw-dropping panoramic views.

Luca, the apartment guy, was really nice, and younger than I’d imagined from our email correspondence (which was all in Italian). The studio apartment is very small, which I was aware of, but it’s fine for us. On the plus side, it’s incredibly cheap, it’s super clean, and located in the center, but a bit off the beaten path, on a quiet and extremely steep street in the Porta Pesa district. We won’t be making any fancy meals with this tiny kitchenette, but it’s enough to throw together simple breakfasts and lunches. The bed is nice and firm, too (and it’s one queen-sized mattress, not two singles! Yay!).

The apartment (2nd floor)

The street that the apt is on.
Inside the apartment
First impressions of Perugia are definitely positive. Visually, it's similar to Siena in a lot of ways, although its main piazza is certainly no match for Il Campo, and its duomo is clearly not of the caliber of Siena’s. Still, there is a grittiness and an energy to Perugia that was immediately apparent, and there are extremely few tourists as well, all of which makes the city feel more “real,” if that makes sense. There’s more of an edge too – greater presence of “alternative” sub-cultures, more gay couples walking together in the open, it's more ethnically diverse, etc., which makes things more interesting. But then there are also more people with sad and cracked-out faces, more homeless people begging for change, etc., all of which makes Perugia not unlike Berkeley. In that respect it seems similar to Genova, too, except with much more of a pulse, more soul, and much more aesthetically pleasing. It’s going to be fun getting to know this town!

We got here around 3:00, and after getting settled in the apartment, we strolled through the city, making our way to the main piazza via winding, steep streets. The way the setting sun shimmered against the pink and light grey stone of the duomo was truly beautiful. We walked down Corso Vannucci all the way to Piazza over the Rocca Paolina, to check out the view, then worked our way back, checking out the apartment guy’s couple of restaurant recommendations along the way.

Sadly, we ate at one of apartment guy’s recommendations (called Ristorante Piazzeta), and what started out promising turned quickly into a culinary train wreck. The menu looked interesting and even a little innovative. The antipasti were great: a crostini trio with ham of smoked duck over wild mushrooms, and another plate with these little ricotta-filled crepe-like things with black truffle shavings and porcinis. But things fell apart rapidly with the abysmal pasta dishes. My tagliolini with funghi porcini had zero porcini flavor, and even worse, the porcini were not fresh, not dried, but apparently once-fresh porcinis that were frozen, giving them an unappetizingly slimy texture. Terezia’s pasta with potato, leeks, and black truffle shavings was curiously bland as well, with nary a trace of that black truffle flavor. Hugely disappointing. Perugia might prove to be a tough town in the food department. It was difficult to find many recommendations on-line, so it’s going to be a crap-shoot.

Grouchy from the crappy meal (and that’s two nights of crappy meals in a row, now, in case anyone’s paying attention), we walked to a gelateria we’d seen earlier in the day, called Gelateria Veneta or something like that. Aviva mentioned in her blog that there were scant gelato offerings in Perugia, and I can confirm this as we’ve only spotted two so far. The gelato we had was pretty good: definitely not bad, but not mind-blowing.

So, I’m super excited to be here, but I really hope the food improves ASAP!

More photos of Perugia can be found by clicking here!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Last day in Siena

I really, really love Siena. It's possibly the most beautiful city I've ever been to. Yes, I've been to Paris, I've been to Rome, I've been to Prague, but none of them can quite match little Siena's stunning visual beauty and dramatic hilltop setting. Plus, nothing in those cities can quite match the harmonious and graceful beauty of Il Campo - the most perfect public space in Europe, if not the world. So, I'm sad that, once again, I'm leaving Siena, and who knows when we'll be able to return. I really, truly hope that it's sooner rather than later.

After breakfast in the communal dining area with a very non-friendly German couple (the wife of whom likes to show off her perfect Italian when talking to the bed & breakfast proprietors), we headed off to the Palazzo Pubblico to ascend the Torre del Mangia. First, I'm saddened to report that the jerk-off lady with blonde wavy hair who works there and who yelled at me four years ago for going to the public restroom at the base of the tower, is still working there. This time, she merely acted like she didn't understand at all what I was saying when I kindly said, "Buongiorno, due, per favore." But after that, we hastily ascended the tower's claustrophobic, winding staircase, and were met with gloriously stunning, panoramic views of Siena and the surrounding countryside. Around the city's perimeter, you could see blankets of dissipating fog, which added a nice kind of atmosphere to the landscape.

After that, we basically spent the day strolling through the city, checked out the church of Santa Maria dei Servi (which had a glass coffin displaying the entire skeleton of some local saint), walked through the massive Orta dei Pecci, which are communal gardens in the little valley south of the Palazzo Pubblico, then up through the outdoor mercato in the Piazza del Mercato. After lunch at a surprisingly really good (and cheap) pizza place (which I wish we'd tried sooner), we went down to the Fontebranda. We also did a lot of lounging in Il Campo, soaking up the scenery and atmosphere.

Amusingly, at one point a female Carabinieri began walking through Il Campo and at first, scolded a family of German tourists for feeding the pigeons. I was happy she did this because said family was sitting not far behind us, and the flock of pigeons was kind of annoying. (I mean, unless you're Bert from Sesame Street, why on earth would you want to attract hordes of pigeons who just poop and flap around and make a commotion?). But then she continued to make her way through the Campo, telling several people who were lying down that they had to sit up (!), and even went to one reclining hippie-ish looking couple, and told them to sit up and, apparently, to put their shoes back on! A few people at the other end of the piazza seemed to be napping, as it took a while for them to respond to the fascist boot-girl's commands and get up. Terezia and I immediately dubbed her the "killer of fun," because she seemed to relish harshing the mellow of these people who were innocently enjoying the sunny afternoon in Il Campo. I'm sure this ultimately has to do with some vagrancy law, probably designed to prevent people from camping out on the piazza. Still, I can't understand how reclining on the piazza during the daytime is going to hurt anyone. Interestingly, I'd never seen the Carabinieri do this before on either of my previous visits to Siena.

Later we saw some female mannequins in a store front, all with pastel colored stockings fitted over their heads. Bank-robber chic?

For dinner, we went to what wound up being a crappy place called Trattoria Taverna Bagoga, or something like that. The place has all these Slow Food and culinary awards on the walls, but honestly, the food was crap. I had pici with (yet again) funghi porcini, which was over salted, while Terezia had these insultingly bland and clearly unfresh raviolis with truffle sauce. The truffle flavor was so faint you kind of had to pretend it was there. We split a secondo of braised cinghiale (wild boar), which was just okay. The chef was clearly on autopilot and has been for years. We had several recommended places on a list that I had compiled, and we chose this over the others because the menu looked a bit more exciting. Oh well. Siena can be a tricky town for finding good food, and I suppose every town has to have at least one subpar food experience, and this was it. We trudged back to the hotel, feeling defeated, but also sad that this is to be our last night in Siena.

Tomorrow, Perugia!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A date with Volterra

Today was a long day, most of which was spent in the cool, remote Tuscan hill town Volterra. We left the hotel by 8:00 so that we could grab some pastries and cappuccino, and catch the 8:40 bus that started the trip.

I should mention that getting to Volterra from any major city in Tuscany is a bit tricky. There are no train stations within 15 km of Volterra, and there are no direct busses from any of the major Tuscan cities. Getting there from Siena looks a bit complicated on paper, but looking back on how it actually went, it was kind of a breeze. The crucial factor was timing, as there are a limited number of busses in each direction. We caught an 8:40 bus out of Siena to the quaint, medieval hill town Colle Val d'Elsa, which took about 35 mins. At Colle Val d'Elsa, we had to get off the bus, go to the newsstand across the street, and buy tickets for a 9:45 bus that goes from Colle Val d'Elsa to Volterra. Not terribly complicated, but that 9:45 bus was the last bus to Volterra for the morning, so again - timing was key!

The second bus ride of the trip was a bit longer, and involved some insanely winding roads with hairpin curves galore, all of which went through those stereotypically beautiful, rolling, hilly, vineyard covered Tuscan landscapes. But the winding roads made Terezia kind of car-sick, and it was all she could do to keep from losing her breakfast. By the time we got off the bus, Terezia stumbled and staggered for a few blocks, looking as if someone had put her into a can, shook it violently, then let her out and told her to go and walk.

At any rate, Volterra sits extremely high atop a hill, and when you're gazing at the sweeping vistas, you feel as if you must be on the highest peak in Tuscany. One thing Volterra definitely has going for it is that it's comparatively tourist-free (possibly because it's so difficult to get to?). Unlike San Gimignano, which has become Tuscany's version of Disney Land's Main St. USA (being the tourist dumping ground that it is), Volterra feels like a real town, with locals who are going about their business, and without the stampede of tourists and seemingly endless cavalcade of shops selling pricey tourist crap.

Over 2000 years ago, Volterra was one of the most important Etruscan cities in the region, and is therefore home to a slew of Etruscan artifacts, as well as sections of an Etruscan wall (which lie outside the medieval wall, demonstrating just how large the city once was). The Volterra you see today is extremely picturesque, and like many Tuscan hill towns, filled with gorgeous, medieval stone buildings, narrow, winding, steep cobble-stone streets, and majestic views of the surrounding countryside. It's also got the cool medieval Palazzo Priori (city hall) and adjacent piazza, a nice Pisan-Romanesque styled Duomo, and a relatively intact Roman-era amphitheater. And like I said above, the lack of tourist hordes made it a refreshingly peaceful place to visit.

One thing I'd wanted to do was to walk northwest, outside the wall, and see what's referred to as le Balze cliffs, a park which contains stretches of 2000+ year old Etruscan wall, parts of which are being swallowed by a colossal landslide. There is also an old 11th century monastery out there, which has apparently been abandoned because it'll probably be swallowed up by the massive erosion at some point. I was a bit disappointed, though, because the area was so well-fenced and blocked off, that it was difficult to get more than narrow, obscured glances of the crazy landforms sticking out amongst the dramatically eroding hillside, and it appeared that you couldn't get anywhere even remotely close to the monastery. Still, the road leading down to the park was a nice walk.

Volterra is definitely worth a day-trip, and is much more recommendable than nearby San Gimignano for its more reality-based vibe and non-touristy, off-the-beaten-path atmosphere. I'm not sure I'd want to stay there for more than a day (it is a small town), but I'm glad we went.

(Because I'm an idiot, I accidentally left the ISO on my camera bumped up to 800, so all the photos I took in Volterra have this kind of soft, slightly grainy quality, like pictures in a Frances Mayes book. Fortunately, it was kind of foggy and hazy most of the day, which allowed me to get away with that effect. But still, I was kicking myself at the end of the day when I realized what I'd done!)

We probably spent an hour or two there more than was necessary, because the only busses leaving Volterra for Colle Val d'Elsa were at 1:15 (too early, obviously) and 5:20. The bus ride from Colle Val d'Elsa back to Siena has to have been the most insane bus ride of my entire life. The bus was late, and as if to make up for lost time, the driver was seriously hauling ass. I never knew a bus could fly like that. The driver sped maniacally through the two lane freeway, honking at cars in the right lane to move over towards the shoulder so he could pass (because the freeway lanes are really narrow and curvy), then flying through incredibly narrow city streets, coming within inches of stone walls, parked cars, pedestrians, etc... without ever coming into contact with them. I was really impressed. (Also, amusingly, the driver of the bus from Volterra to Colle Val d'Elsa was smoking a cigar throughout the entire ride).

After the warp-speed bus ride, we headed straight to Gallo Nero (I had pappardelle ai funghi porcini again, Terezia had pumpkin ricotta gnocchi, and we shared crostini with chicken liver and goose), followed by Gelateria Kopa Kabana, and then, exhausted, we then called it a night.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Siena, the sun, lots of pigeons, and eating at a 45 degree angle.

Rain was promised today, and rain it did. I looked out the window this morning to see droves of students walking up the street with umbrellas, while a veritable river of rain water gushed down the steep road. So, it was immediately decided that we'd hang out in museums until the rain subsides.

We decided to go to Santa Maria della Scala, which is the former hospital across the piazza from the Duomo. It's a labyrinthine and eclectic museum, with several levels, that covers a lot of ground. The first level is a baroque church, and, more interestingly, the former hospital wards, one of which contains vibrantly restored frescoes that depict life in the hospital in medieval times. Given that one scene showed several people being treated for large, deep flesh wounds, while a dog and a cat are angrily facing off in the background of the same hospital room (!?), I'm glad I wasn't around back then. This room also featured a large, black and white photograph from when it was still being used as a hospital, showing rows of extremely narrow, closely spaced beds, with people in various states of anguish or pain. Lower levels feature an ornate, and strangely creepy, windowless basement chapel that is said to be where Saint Catherine hung out, and an archeological museum full of Etruscan artifacts, as wells as the original (very much disintegrated) pieces of Il Campo's Fonte Gaia.

Just as interesting as what was on display, were the dark, dank, maze-like passageways through the lower levels of this building. It really is massive, and some of these tunnels were strange and eerie. A cool and cheap museum, and we practically had the place to ourselves.

By noon, the sun came out, and Siena transformed into its lovely, glistening self. We did a lot of sitting and people-watching in Il Campo today, and strolled lazily all over town, through the winding, steep streets.

I recently discovered Siena still has all of its old fountains, where people centuries ago used to go to get their water. I've always known about Fontebranda, the most well-known one, but there are several others that are more off the beaten path, which slightly more ruinous and mysterious looking. The first one we visited was Fonte Nuova d’Ovile (built in the late 1200s), which is down the hill from where we're staying. The second was Fonte di Ovile (built in the 1200s, later replaced by the aforementioned one), just outside the Porta d'Ovile, tucked away in a little park. Both featured large, gothic arches, a couple of pools which collected the spring water, and lots and lots of pigeons. I don't know why these appeal to me, but I like that they're kind of dingy and in states of disrepair, and hidden away in random corners of the city. And they still have water pouring into them (hence all the pigeons).

Fonte Nuova d'Ovile
Fonte d'Ovile

Fonte d'Ovile
For dinner, we went to the cheap standby, Osteria la Chiacchera. It's a small place perched on a steep hill, with seating out front on the street. The legs of the benches and tables are fitted with special wooden, angled feet, so that they don't slide down the perilously steep street. The seating feels extremely precarious, but it works. The food is solidly good. This isn't the kind of place you go to for gourmet cuisine, but it's honest, simple, tasty, and well-prepared. I ordered the Pici ai Boscaiola, which is basically like very thick spaghetti (a Sienese speciality) in a sauce with porcini mushrooms and sausage. I thought it was really nice, and the porcini flavor, although on the subtler side, was more prevalent than the porcini dish I had the previous night at L'Osteria. Terezia had tagliatelle with chicken liver sauce (called simply, sugo antico), which could've had a bit more of that rich, liver-y flavor, but was still satisfying. For the secondo, we split a tasty lamb spezzatino with potatoes, and a salad. House red was cheap and drinkable. The poor waitress was working the busy place by herself, and was clearly frazzled. A good place to eat good food cheaply.

Terezia at Osteria la Chiacchera
I remembered to photograph the food after we'd already eaten half of it. 

Tomorrow - a day trip to Volterra.

Closing rant - I think I'm done with hotels/bed and breakfast places. Unless we're staying somewhere for only a day or two, we really prefer staying in apartment rentals. More specifically, I'm done with San Francesco, the place at which we're currently staying. The first two times I stayed here, everything was so nice and clean, the rooms were all cozy and inviting, and most importantly, the staff were extremely friendly and helpful. But I'm wondering if perhaps this place has changed ownership. The people here now are all new, and the three of them (an older couple and a younger guy in this 30s) smoke like chimneys. Sometimes they all sit in the tiny little office, which is the size of a closet, and smoke away like there's no tomorrow, without even cracking open a window. The smoke wafts upstairs and we can sometimes smell it in our room. And then there are issues like one of the toilet seat hinges is broken, so the seat slides three inches to the right whenever you sit on it; the grout in the shower is looking kind of nasty; etc... In summary, the place is going downhill. And of course, like I keep mentioning, we were given the room directly outside the communal breakfast dining area. Mind you, I feel like a complete jerk whining about such ridiculous and trivial stuff, when obviously this place would be an absolute luxury to people in countries where their daily concern is, do they take the shorter path to the market that's strewn with land mines, or the longer path that's dotted with rogue, gang-raping soldiers. Still, I gotta find an affordable and well-located vacation apartment rental in this town!