Siena is such a popular tourist spot that we were concerned that we wouldn’t find a place to park our camper van but fortunately we came upon a large car park which was almost empty and only a short walk from the station.
Right in front of the station was a shopping mall and to enter the city’s historic centre from there we took the escalators in the mall which led us up to even more escalators which finally deposited us close to the ancient city gate.
The gate is actually relatively new – built in 1604 after the previous gate (first mentioned in written records in 1082) was destroyed in the siege of 1554/55. On top of the gate are written the following words (in Latin): “Siena opens her heart out to you, wider than the opening of this gate”.
Feeling duly welcomed we strolled through the gate towards the famous shell-shaped Piazza del Campo.
We were surprised to find that to enter the square we had to walk down a fairly narrow flight of stairs with a low-roofed gateway. Stepping through this narrow and quite gloomy entrance (one of seven) to the huge expanse of the light-filled and commanding square was such a surprising contrast it took my breath away.
Famous for being the site of the amazing Palio horse race (as featured in the James Bond movie Quantam of Solace) the Piazza del Campo is on a slope (albeit gentle) which was rather surprising.
The graceful Palazzo Pubblico has been the focal point of the square since the Thirteenth Century. On the opposite side of the Palazzo is the beautiful Fonte (fountain) Gaia and all around the edges are scattered many restaurants and wine bars.
Siena is a wonderful place to stroll round and wherever you go there are stunning renaissance buildings, including the Cathedral, and many eye-catching monuments, statues and of course, lots of people.
From Siena it was a short drive the following day to nearby Florence where again we were fortunate enough to find a 24 hour parking place suitable for camper vans.
The walk to the glorious, picturesque and photogenic historical centre of Florence was lovely and took us past some beautiful residential villas with fabulous gardens – a very wealthy suburb!
We were shocked at the heaving throngs of people in Florence. Of course, it’s always been a great favourite of tourists but this was absolutely on another level. Apparently in recent times thousands of cruise ship passengers have started to be bussed in every day from the port of Livorno. Unfortunately these extra visitors on top of all the other tourists felt just too much for us.
Having said that, we did enjoy a very interesting exhibition in the Palazzo Strozzi. The works displayed were by Andrea Del Verrocchio one of the leading artists of late 15th Century Florence. A painter, sculptor and goldsmith, Verrocchia was a master of an important workshop in Florence where a number of important artists, including a young Leonardo da Vinci were trained.
We were, of course, also totally entranced by the Cathedral, the Palazzo Pitti, the Ponte Vecchio and all the amazing sights of Florence but really, those crowds were just unbearable.
When the hoarded of people became just too much we headed to the marvellous peace and tranquility of the Boboli Gardens.