March 2018
More photos here


Wednesday 7th
Having spent the night before at the Heathrow Hilton Garden Inn, to avoid a rush-hour tube slog and, it transpired, a burst water main flooding Tooting Broadway, I met Sally and Eireann pretty promptly and was soon sitting in the usual seat in Pret with the traditional Americano coffee and almond croissant. The flight was BA604, the same one I'd had cancelled on me last November, but the curse seemed to have been lifted, although we were delayed about 45 minutes and waited ages at the carousel in Pisa Airport. Also, having failed to equip myself with a Pret sandwich for in-flight lunch, I put my hopes on an in-flight M&S falafel wrap, but my hopes were sorely misplaced.
Our coach ride to Siena took two hours and dropped our party (of ten) and Sally off at San Domenico for an introductory walk across town, while the coach, with our luggage and Eireann, went on to our hotel.
I got a room with a version of the same spectacular view as last time, so I was happy. My feet not reaching the floor on the loo was a bit disturbing but no biggie. The
Ristorante Guido
in the evening provided me, the only veggie, with a saffron risotto starter and melanzana parmigiana for main, which was fine.

Thursday 8th
The breakfast was fine too, with good blood-orange juice, muesli and fresh croissants. We headed first off to admire the
Piazza del Campo before going into the Palazzo Piccolomini to comprehensively admire the archive of painted wooden Biccherna book covers. The attendant then offered us a visit to the terrace, with grand views across the Piazza, which also took us past cases of manuscripts, documents and other covered-up temptations in glass cases. After a coffee break, during which I wandered off to (fail) to find some churches open and also failed to resist the temptation of the chocolate market in the Campo, we went into the Palazzo Publicco, where the true treats of the huge Maesta of Simone Martini and Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Good and Bad Government frescos was only minimally spoilt by some particularly annoyingly uninterested teenagers in a school party yacking and gazing into their phones.

After lunch, which will pass into the mythology as The Lunch of the
4.10 Small Can of Lemonsoda, we made for the Duomo, where the
Pisano Pulpit is still in restauro behind screens, and so Sally had to resort to her iPad. Then the Piccolomini Library with its Pinturicchio frescos and illuminated choir books, followed by a short coffee and panforte break. Then we visited the Duomo's wonderful Crypt, which probably wasn't a crypt, with its recently-found and rather special frescos (that's a graffiti'd-on patch of decoration right) and the Baptistery for its font by the likes of Ghiberti and Donatello.

On the way back to the hotel I went with Sally to collect some calligraphic initials that she'd ordered from Even Bertolozzi Caredio, an extravagantly-named but nonetheless charming chap, and I was irresistibly tempted by a
Biccherna-like card. At the restaurant in the evening, the Campagnia dei Vinattieri, the bread came with a tomato pate stuff which had a touch of chilli and was more than a little piquante.

Friday 9th
This morning was an early coach to
Orvieto, which took an hour and a half through some gently impressive scenery. A funicular took us up from the car park and, after coffee, we made for San Domenico to see the monument to Cardinal de Brate by Arnolfo di Cambio, recently restored and looking sparkling with much cosmati decoration. Then on to the Duomo for the Cappella di San Brizio with its frescos begun by Fra Angelico (although you wouldn't know it) and famously finished by Luca Signorelli (which you can't help flinching from). Admirable but not lovable work, for me anyway. Unlike the admirable and rare surviving bit of fresco by Gentile da Fabriano, a Virgin and Child (see right) painted in 1425 in the north aisle by the door.
After a good three course lunch, which featured pasta with artichoke and zuppa inglese (trifle), we returned to the Duomo, for the facade and its reliefs and then into the Museo to admire some superior Simone Martini panels, originally from an altarpiece in San Domenico (visited this morning) and the reliquary with enamelled panels, made in Siena to house a cloth soaked with miraculous blood from a consecrated wafer. The original of the Virgin and Child mixed media sculpted group from the façade was a surprise here and a treat to see up close.
It was officially an 'independent dinner' evening, but Sally and Eireann took a bunch of us to the Osteria Castelvecchio, booked by our coach driver and no doubt run by a relative of his. The food was fine, but the narrating of the merits of the ingredients and wines by our waiter was lengthy, often endless. And when we got the food the cook came out to tell us more than we needed to know also, while we politely waited to tuck in, exchanging looks.

Saturday 10th
axing and waning waves of fog out my window provided mucho photo opportunities before breakfast this morning. At first there where tree-tops visible, but in the time it took to get my camera there was complete white-out. In the time it took me to wash it had all got layered and pretty (see right).

To begin our full-on Ambrogio Lorenzetti day we walked over to
San Francesco, where some frescos recently restored are to be seen, as an exhibition satellite. We then made back to the centre and the exteriors of the Palazzi Tolomei and Salimbeni, both built by wealthy Sienese families and both now bank premises. After coffee (for me actually a visit to San Cristoforo nearby) we made for the Museo dell Opera to spend quality time with the Madonna with the big eyes by the Maestro di Tressa and Duccio’s massive Maesta. My disappointment with the latter and its dull display on my first in-the-flesh encounter was weakened by a longer ponder and Sally's enthusiastic explanations, I must admit. The stuffy little room full of the Maesta had also been full of a party who mostly seemed to have babies strapped on them. They left us in peace after a while, but I hope that the puddle the attendant then wiped up was merely a mineral water spillage. We then had a brief encounter with Giovanni Pisano's facade statues.
After lunch, which I spent taking my book and panforte purchases back to the hotel, failing to buy a slice of pizza, and visiting Sant’Agostino for some church-website investigations, we reconvened for the Ambrogio Lorenzetti exhibition at the Spedale di Santa Maria della Scala' which was not huge, but very special nonetheless. I did some skipping ahead while Sally lectured, so thereby managed to soak up the good stuff. After our hour in the exhibition we spent some time with the Sala dei Pellegrinaio's frescos of the founding and work of the hospital.

After a coffee break, spent by me with a late lunch slice of margherita con bufala on the stone bench outside the Pinacoteca with the locals and the pigeons, the last visit of the day was to the chapel in
Sant’Agostino with the magic Lorenzetti lunette fresco, which features the most startled-looking Child in art, but then again Saint Catherine is presenting him with her head on a plate. This church has been specially opened for the exhibition, but is due to close right down again when it ends.  Which is a flipping disgrace and/or tragedy. But it does add to the feeling that this was a feast for Ambrogio Lorenzetti fans which will never be repeated or equalled.
To the Osteria Le Logge for our last meal, with the whole group fitting on one table. I had the ricotta ravioli with veggies and tomato, same as everyone else, but my meat-free main was gnocchi with broccoli, which was just stodgy enough, for a man who'd lunched a bit minimally.

Sunday 11th
A short visit to the
Pinacoteca, before our coach to Pisa airport, enabled some final altarpiece action. The first real rain of the trip had stopped before we left the hotel, and Sunday morning Siena was pretty quiet, as was the Pinacoteca. Our coach driver had insisted on collecting us at 10.15 to get to the airport for our 15.10 flight. After plenty of waiting time we waited another hour on the plane whilst a problem with rain in the air conditioning was solved, but we ended up only twenty-five minutes late into Heathrow, which seemed like a miracle to us - where did that extra 35 minutes go?

Venice // Florence // London // Berlin // Trips