Saturday, October 25, 2008

Italy - Day 1 (Siena)

Sorry for taking so long to post about our trip to Italy. After 18 busy days of traveling, it is nice just to sit on the couch and get caught up on political news. For us, this means watching recorded episodes of The Daily Show & Colbert Report.

Even before our trip started, Brooke and I each had some money troubles.
Brooke discovered some fraudulent charges on her credit card the evening before our 6am flight. The bank call center didn't open until 7am, so we spent our layover in Salt Lake City on the phone canceling her credit card, with no way of getting a replacement during the trip. My money trouble was completely self-inflicted. From our previous traveling, I knew full well that the best way to get cash was from the foreign ATMs. ATMs usually offer a great exchange rate, while the currency exchange booths are a total ripoff. Despite this knowledge, for some mysterious reason, I went to my bank the evening before departure and withdrew a majority of our travel money, forcing us to exchange at ridiculously low rates.

We arrived in Pisa around 11am on Oct 4th. Immediately off the plane, we needed to take a 2.5-hour train ride to Siena. For having only 2 tracks, the Pisa Airport train terminal was very confusing. The track platforms had absolutely no signage, and the trains had no numbers or any indication as to their destination. 15 minutes off the plane, and already we're furiously flipping through our Italian language guidebook. Fortunately, we were able to corral the right combination of people together to help us: an Italian man who knew some English, but had no understanding of the crazy train system; and an old Italian lady who knew the train system, but spoke no English. The train station in Siena is located just outside of town. We decided to buy city bus tickets to take us to the center of town, and then use a map from there to find our way to the hotel. We bought the bus tickets and then began to try to locate the bus stop. We walked quite a ways and saw no sign of the bus stop Instead, we did started seeing signs that pointed us in the direction of our hotel, The Hotel Minerva. With all of our luggage, we ended up walking about one mile uphill to our hotel. This would start a trend that would continue for the rest of the trip, no city buses and no taxis.

When we got to our hotel room, it was very basic looking. It had a small bathroom, a tiny tv, and two twin-sized beds pushed together. It was fine because I wasn't expecting something amazing. Brooke noticed the large metal roll-down shutter at one corner of the room. She started messing around with it and was able to open it to reveal this view.Siena is gorgeous. It's a perfectly preserved medieval town, nearly free of car and Vespa traffic. Every building still has the siena-colored walls and tiled roofs. Our first destination was Il Campo, literally meaning "the field". It's the large brick-paved square at the center of town.For our first meal, we just picked up a pizza and sat at Il Campo. It wasn't long before we noticed a female police officer, "Little Mussolini" as I like to call her, patrolling the square. We were nervous to have our pizza there. Maybe food wasn't allowed in Il Campo, we thought. It turns out Little Mussolini was only targeting people who were laying down. I guess it is alright to sit and eat, but not lay down at Il Campo.
By the time we finished eating, it was around 4pm and our lack of sleep had finally caught up to us. So we headed back to the hotel to turn in very, very early for the night.

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