Siena, Italy

Tuscany presents a much different sense of Italy than the north. Here, gently rolling hills are cultivated with vineyards, groves of fruit trees and swaths of grain. Ancient towns are perched on top of hills in defensive positions.

The houses and buildings are stone and rustic without the adornment or varied colors we witnessed along the Mediterranean. You can drive and enjoy sweeping views of the countryside. It’s just more relaxing.

Along the roads that wind through the region, we see medieval towers poking through the trees, sprawling villas abandoned to the elements and ancient stone bridges serving long-forgotten paths.

We made our way to Siena early Thursday morning. We’d scouted out a parking lot just outside the old town walls. A short walk brought us to a bank of escalators that whisked us up to the top of the hill.

We passed through narrow streets, turning here and there, until suddenly we descended into Siena’s history Piazza del Campo.

Mom decided she’d browse the shops while I scaled the prominent campanile. I’m not exactly sure how many steps it took to get to the top but I’m certain I earned my gelato today. It was quite a hike.

From the top, you could look down on the piazza and appreciate the layout.

Twice a year on July 2 and August 16, Siena hosts a horse race called the Palio di Siena. A thick layer of dirt is laid, circling the crowd to form a track on the perimeter. Ten horses and riders, decorated in colors representing the wards of the city, make a mad dash around the shell-shaped piazza.

Today, young people were celebrating some sort graduation ceremony with friends. Several wedding parties, decked out in their finest, strolled across the piazza.

We sat at a cafe under an umbrella and enjoyed watching people go by. As we walked Siena, we could hear languages spoken by tourists from around the world. Italy is probably the best place in the world to just relax over food.

After lunch, we hiked a few streets over to see the Duomo di Siena. Like thick icing on a cake, the cathedral is plastered with an elaborate parade of sculptures and gargoyles.

For me, some of the simpler scenes from the streets were just as compelling.

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