Today the plan was to go to Siena so after breakfast we walked again to the railway station to catch the train. It was absolutely pouring with rain so with umbrella aloft we stepped out briskly across the river and then past some interesting but not very memorable buildings on the way.
We purchased tickets and remembered to validate them this time and when the train arrived on time found a window seat so that we could enjoy the views of the countryside on the first leg of the journey to Empoli, where there was a scheduled change of trains. Actually it was raining so hard that the views were not that spectacular but this didn’t matter to Kim because she was in such a state of sleep deprivation that as soon as the train started to move the gentle motion sent her straight into a deep slumber and I was left to enjoy the journey without company. It served me right I suppose for choosing a room on the front of the hotel.
When we arrived at Empoli it was still raining very hard and when the train doors opened it looked as though we would have to step out onto the platform through a deluge of water resembling Niagara Falls after a major up stream thaw. After a moments hesitation there was nothing for it but to literally take the plunge and we got thoroughly drenched in the process. Once through the torrent of water we noticed that this had only happened to us and this was because directly over our door was a broken gutter that was discharging all of the rain off of the station roof directly into this one spot. And we got the lot!
There was nearly an hour to wait for the connection so once more taking refuge under an overworked umbrella we left the station and walked through the puddles into the town to find a café where we had a very early beer and enjoyed polenta rice cakes and watched the rain cascading down the windows.
On the next stage of the journey Kim slept a bit more (well, a lot more actually) and I watched the dreary countryside being thoroughly drenched by the persistent falling rain. When the train arrived at the station we took a taxi into the town and arrived quickly at the town square. We were glad that we did because the town was at the top of a steep hill that looked like a very hard-work-walk. Siena, like many other Tuscan hill towns, was first settled by the Etruscans who were an advanced people from Central Asia who had a very sensible custom of building their settlements in heavily armoured hill-forts to protect themselves from attackers. This was important in medieval times but is a bit inconvenient for twenty-first century visitors.
To my surprise and total amazement it had finally stopped raining so we were able to go into the Piazza del Campo to see the venue for the famous annual Palio horserace. This is probably the most famous festival in Tuscany and was first recorded in the year 1273 and is a colourful medieval pageant that takes place twice a year on 2nd July and 16th August. It is so called because riders race each other for a Palio or winners banner and it is a competition where seventeen seriously crazy jockeys hurtle bareback around a confined square with dangerously adjacent buildings and perilously close spectators; I have concluded that they are probably taxi drivers for the rest of the year.
I have always wanted to visit Siena ever since I saw the film star matinee idol Stewart Grainger swashbuckling to equine victory in the ‘Swordsman of Siena’ and I am pleased to report that I was not disappointed.
Although it was dreary the rain continued to hold off so we wandered through the streets and visited the Cathedral and its museum where a steep climb to the top of a high tower provided a panoramic view over the town and the countryside.
It was a real pity about the weather and after some further exploration of the town and its streets and being unable to sit outside because of the returning rain we retreated into a welcoming restaurant for lunch. It was a good restaurant, I had lasagna, Kim had pasta and, although we wouldn’t normally, after that a sweet to use up some time because the weather continued to deteriorate and it was getting both colder and more miserable as we watched out over the Campo.