Siena and San Gimignano

It was a long travel day to make our journey back to Italy….a 5 hours drive from Menton, France to Siena, Italy. The ride wasn’t smooth at all as it was pouring so made traffic worst! There was a car accident near Genoa so we wasted half an hour sitting on traffic. We made a lunch break at Deng (美食家) at Prato, Italy just before Florence. Once we got off the highway and into this little town, we were surprised how many Chinese signs and businesses are there; it looked like there’s a big population of Chinese reside in that town. The restaurant is family-run, only a few tables, and cozy.

We ordered lotus roots stir-fried, it was refreshing and we definitely miss Asian food.

The shredded peppers with pork were really good.

The “water boil” beef wasn’t as spicy as I would like it to be. Plus, they used bean sprouts instead of napa cabbage so I was very wary of eating…the bean sprouts were fully cooked so it should be okay.

With three dishes and two white rice, our lunch only cost €26; they accept cash only.

After lunch, we continued our journey – only one hour away and we made it to Siena and the rain stopped! I did the research on where to park our car as the center of Siena is restricted access to cars and it’s located up on a hill – San Francesco Parcheggi where it’s just below the Basilica of San Francesco. What makes this parking lot convenient is that it has escalators all the way up to the Basilica of San Francesco. Luckily, when we arrived in the early afternoon, there were available parking spots in the parking lot!

We only take our carry-on luggage where I had already repacked with what we need for the next few days and our drinks up. From the parking lot, the entrance to the escalators is just a short walk across the street. I have never seen such a long escalator up like 3 levels at least. And then a few more escalators after that! It’s a very tall and steep hill! I was glad that I found out about this parking lot, totally worth the money although it was very expensive at €35 that we parked from the afternoon to the next morning!

From the basilica to our hotel – Grand Hotel Continental Siena, it was a 5 minutes walk with some uphill streets. Even that, we found it not easy lugging our drinks while rolling the carry-on (Jason did that hard work ;))

Grand Hotel Continental Siena is the only 5* hotel in Siena and the most expensive hotel we stayed at during our 2.5 weeks road trip – $423 for two nights after 20% off that I booked with The check-in process was quick and with great service. Once we stepped into our room, the first thing Jason said was: finally, a beautiful room that I can have a good night sleep LOL! It was Jason’s birthday so I decided to splurged 😉

After the past few nights in tiny rooms, I definitely miss the space! The bathroom was spacious and the toiletries were pretty big sized!

The hotel also provides a complimentary smartphone in each room so guests can use during their stay to make international calls as well as mobile data for GPS to explore Siena.

Jason really missed the comfortable bed so he decided to take a nap while I walked around the hotel to explore……the purpose is to find that very grand room with chandeliers. The stairway going down to the lobby where there’s a bar area:

Next to the bar, there’s a public room but definitely not the grand room that I saw from pictures.

The bar:

The stairway where they put out free fruits for guests.

I couldn’t find the grand room on the first floor so I went up to the second floor and did my search there. I found it! WOW, it’s as magnificent as in photos and no one was there, how could that be? This room looked like it belongs to a palace!

I went back to our room, also located on the 2nd floor, to show Jason the photos of the room. I told him I need to take photos in the room tomorrow 😉 It was time for dinner where I made a reservation at La Taverna di San Giuseppe at 7 PM prior to our trip to celebrate Jason’s birthday. This restaurant has over 7,000+ reviews rated 4.5 stars in TripAdvisor and known for its Fiorentina steak! I remembered the first time we had a Fiorentina steak was in Florence at a local restaurant where there’s no English menu and we were surprised by its fruity taste and tenderness. Ever since then, we really miss it as there’s only available in the Florence area; they don’t export it due to limited quantities.

The restaurant opens at 7 PM which we arrived prior to that and they were fully booked; I was glad that I made a reservation! The amuse bouche was a creamy soup:

Our table was right next to the entrance of their wine cellar.

For “appetizer”, we ordered a homemade lasagna and it was very good, not too heavy and the right amount of meat taste.

For the main, I ordered the smoked duck breast since I can’t eat any raw meat. Jason ordered the Fiorentina steak and we asked for the “smallest” (they charge by weight) they have since only Jason will be eating it. The waiter came with the steak to show us the size, looked great and their smallest size was still huge haha! The waiter also asked if we would like him to cut the steak for us, we said yes, please. He wheeled out the steak and the cutting gears and very professionally, cut the steak. Woah he did it so fast!

My smoked duck breast, it was good but just too small portion for me 😛

Jason’s Fiorentina steak, all for himself! The couples on the next table were shocked that he could finish that huge steak by himself LOL!!! I asked Jason, is there a cooked small piece that I can try? Poor me 🙁 He cut a corner for me and it was really good!

He was super full after finishing that whole steak! The dinner cost us €100.93, the steak was already more than half of that but definitely worth the price! After dinner, we went back to our hotel since it was quite cold that night. It was definitely a good sleep and a good shower 😉

I was looking forward to our breakfast, which included in our room rate, but it wasn’t as a good spread as other 5* hotels. They have fresh-squeezed fruit juices but not the fruits that I like.

The breakfast spread in this room….items like cold cuts, pastries, granola, and some hot items like sausages and eggs.

After breakfast, we went to the grand room to take photos and once again, no other guests there 🙂

Then, we headed out to Piazza del Campo. It wasn’t the ideal time to photograph since it was covered in shadow but that was the time without many people.

The main brick building is the Pubblico Palace, the town hall with a tower (Tower of Mangia) and a civic museum. Early morning, there was no one in there as the tower and museum are not open yet.

The iconic photo of the opening with the view of the tower, look at how everything is so symmetrical.

Next, we walked to the most beautiful cathedral in Siena – Duomo di Siena. The Piazza del Duomo was nearly empty when we got there but street vendors had started to set up their booths so it was a distraction to the photo.

The details were incredible; the main entrance is red (it looked pink to me) and white color marble while the church tower is black and white strips. Right on the top center is the huge façade mosaic of the Coronation of the Virgin.

We got a peek inside from the front door, the interior structure is also dominated by the marble white and black strips which are the colors of the civic coat of arms of Siena. The mosaic floor completely covered the floor with artworks that are roped, I couldn’t wait to check out its interior.

I could only take a portrait photo to cut off the vendors setting up their booths on the right side of the cathedral.

The cathedral is not open until 10:30 AM so we walked around for photos around Siena, here, the Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico as the backdrop.

The buildings in Siena are mostly made from bricks.

This is a very low clearance walkway…

One of the other entrances of the Duomo:

A closer look at one of its doors you can see the red and white marble and the details.

When the ticket office opens, we went in to purchase the ticket…there are a lot of combo ticket options! We bought the Opa Si which includes: the cathedral, Piccolomini Library (inside the cathedral), Baptistry of San Giovanni, the Crypt, Museo dell’Opera to the panoramic terrace known as “Facciatone”. All for €13!

The Facciatone of Siena:

Museo dell’Opera was opening early that day, not sure why, so we were the first ones lined up to go in. Once we got in, we quickly walked up to the terrace and took some quick pics along the way.

They limit the number of people on the terrace so there’s another queue thus, we were glad that we quickly made it up there first thing and be the first group to go up the terrace and then check out the museum afterward.

The views from the terrace, “Facciatone”:

The side view of the Duomo and you can clearly see its tower and dome from here.

Also, great views of Piazza del Campo and its surrounding:

Once we were done, we saw a long queue for the terrace. We went back down to check out the rest of the museum.

The book still has colors!

The beautiful stained glasses:

I think the most beautiful part is actually the exit where the gift shop/bookstore is located at; you can’t believe they use this beautiful space as the gift shop!

Once we exited the museum, we quickly made our way to the queue to enter the Duomo. We waited like 15 minutes so it wasn’t too bad as it was still early. The incredible structure inside… and white strips woahhh!

One of the artworks on the mosaic floor – The She-Wolf of Siena:

We walked an inch, paused, and be amazed by the details inside the cathedral from the floor to the ceiling!

We found our way to the Piccolomini Library; it is a small room but the ceiling is another WOW factor.

The incredible collection of books and manuscripts:

Piccolomini Library is definitely a do not miss! We walked back out to the cathedral to check out the rest of the masterpieces.

The hexagonal dome:

A lot of people in the cathedral already just to show you how popular this site is so be there early. I can’t imagine how pack it’ll be later in the day when day-trippers and bus tours arrive.

We spent the most time in the cathedral to make sure we didn’t miss part of it. Then, we walked out to the back entrance to enter the Crypt. This area located underneath the cathedral with fascinating wall paintings dated back to the 13th century.

After the Crypt, we visited the baptistry located on the backside entrance (where I had a picture of the big door). The baptistry is a huge room covered with colorful frescoes:

We finished visiting all the sites we planned by lunchtime (a late lunch). For lunch, we walked to Ravioli Wang, a Chinese restaurant that serves good homemade dumplings. It was a long 19 minutes walk and I snapped a few photos along the way.

The menu has a lot of different flavors of dumplings to choose from! Also, you can pick the cooking style: pan-fried or steamed.

We ordered the juicy soup dumplings (xiao long bao); they were okay okay.

Pan-fried pork filling dumplings, their dumplings are much better.

We both ordered the beef stew noodle soup, it was flavorful, yum! Our lunch cost €25.50 and it was filling!

After lunch, we walked all the way back to the Piazza del Campo and took some pictures when the buildings were out of the shadow. As you can see, much more busy with people.

Our original plan was to climb the Tower of Mangia (I told Jason to and I’ll wait for him downstairs because I am not sure if I can make it up the ~335 ft. tower by 500+ steps). We walked in Pubblico Palace to purchase the ticket and realized they have timed entrance urg! The next available slot is not until 2 hours later…what!! Bad planning on my part as I was too hungry and we went straight to lunch instead of purchasing the ticket first. However, I think Jason was glad that he doesn’t need to climb this tower haha!

A change of plan, we decided to head to San Gimignano so we walked to Basilica of San Francesco to take the escalators down to the parking lot. On the way, we passed this smaller church:

Basilica of San Francesco:

It was a 50 minutes drive to get to San Gimignano and there are a few parking lots outside the old town. Luckily, we got a spot near the entrance at €4.50 for around two hours. San Gimignano is another tourist hot spot, look at how many people entering!

This little plaza here was packed with people lined up for the world-famous gelato – Gelateria Dondoli.

The line but it moved very quickly.

So many flavors but they don’t have English translation so I had to quickly guess and make a decision. It was €5 for 4 scopes which I picked peach, melon, mango, and tiramisu flavors.

The gelato was really good, however, I still think Pan Vino’s (at Lake Orta) mango gelato tasted better.

After the quick gelato break, we moved onto San Gimignano’s Piazza del Duomo where the town hall is located.

Here, we climbed the Torre Grossa (admission was €9 and includes access to the museums in town). The tower which is half the height of Siena’s Tower of Mangia at 54 meters or 177 ft. Even with this tower, I found it challenging that I had to catch my breath every few flights of stairs and drink water to keep hydrated, extra important during pregnancy. The views from the top of the tower of San Gimignano and its surrounding towers:

The tower is a symbol of the family’s wealth and at its peak, there were 72 towers in this small town! Today, there are 15 remaining.

Inside the town hall building has an art gallery:

More towers as seen from the outside of the town hall:

The main shopping street in San Gimignano:

We browsed around the streets in the center and all of them are the same building style.

San Gimignano is not as big as I thought from photos so we were done before 2 hours.

Note that there’s a paid public bathroom in town and it’s clean 😉 We still have time after exploring San Gimignano so we stopped by Monteriggioni; it’s along the way back to Siena anyways.

Monteriggioni is a small town (I would say village) built with fortifications and watchtowers completely surrounding it. You can Google the drone pictures of it to see it’s quite incredible. However, inside the castle wall, there are only a few houses which you can walk around a whole loop in a few minutes.

There are a restaurant and a few souvenir shops that’s it. Parking was €2.50 for our brief visit which we parked outside the entrance.

The other end of the town where it was steep and very slippery!!!

You can see a part of the fortification:

Back in the town:

It looked more interesting from the outside than the inside but it was hard to find a good spot to take a photo as it’s located up the hill.

This was the best spot we found that you can see the towers of the fortification walls where the town is enclosed inside.

We got back to Siena, went back to our hotel for a short rest before heading out for dinner and night photos. The Gaia Fountain in Piazza del Campo:

Piazza del Campo again with fewer people in the late afternoon as the daytrippers had left.

For dinner, we headed back to Ravioli Wang again hahaha, I think after the Fiorentina steak, Jason needs a long break from steak 😉

There are a lot of old horse hooks on the walls of Siena, almost every building has them.

After a long day of exploration and climbed a tower, we were starving so we ordered so many dishes even the waiter warned us about how much food we ordered. We said no worries LOL! One thing I like Chinese restaurants in Italy is that they tried to make its menu like Italian menu with first course, second course, and main course, etc. so each plate is smaller in quantity and only €4-9 each that’s perfect for two of us to try different dishes.

Beef with peppers, it was not as spicy as I would like it to be.

The fried tofu and stir-fried vegetable dishes, after lots of meat, it was nice to have vegetables.

Dumplings with beef and chili peppers, the wrapping skin is red too! It wasn’t that spicy and tasted descent.

The best was the regular pork and shrimp dumplings pan-fried.

The fried pepper chicken was okay, not as spicy as the others I had.

Our little table filled with 6 dishes that I don’t even have room for my plate haha!

Our “6-course” meal cost €37, very inexpensive and filling 🙂

After dinner, it was almost the blue hour so perfect timing. First, we went to the Duomo and it’s already closed so no people there. Doesn’t it look much better without the vendor booths?

Next, we went to Piazza del Campo and it’s so beautiful at night! However, there are a lot of people there as there are many restaurants right on the plaza and people tend to like hanging out there!

Even with a long exposure, people refused to move so they are in the picture 🙁

It was definitely a long day for us and our comfortable and luxurious room was waiting for us to have a good night rest 🙂

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