A view of Siena

siena-and-duomo-from-torre-wideI’m not sure if there is a best way to see Siena. Walking the narrow streets it looks great. Standing in the the middle of the Campo it looks great. But from the top of the Torre del Mangia it looks breathtaking – quite literally breathtaking – because of the 400 steps (exactly 400 steps) that need to be climbed to reach the top.

Here are some shots taken once I had caught my breath.

Haircut day in Siena

Jean and girls in the campoGroom day in Siena was a major family outing. We had found a groomer just a few metres from the Campo and they would take one girl at a time. So we spent the afternoon sitting in our favourite bar firstly with one girl and then with the other.

This was no hardship and gave us ample opportunity to check some emails, watch some people and do some shopping – as you do in Italy.

Under a Tuscan sun – surprisingly


This gallery contains 14 photos.

According to the locals this summer in Tuscany was not good – lots of rain and wind, and not the usual warm temperatures. But we didn’t notice – for our two day stay the weather was glorious. It was a short stay but we … Continue reading

A year ago today – triumph and tragedy

It began as a day like all others as the sun climbed over the Crete hills to the east – except that we were up early enough to enjoy the sunrise and completely confuse our girls when we gave them each a pat on the head and departed for Siena. We were cutting it fine and the mood in the car was sombre. There was none of the usual banter as we headed along the SR2 into Siena.

Thankfully we didn’t get stuck behind any of the local autobuses on the way and as we drove through the Porta Tufi and into the old city to park we had 10 minutes left for the walk to the Campo.

It was Rugby World Cup final day. Half a world away two teams were about to go head to head to determine who were world champions – our might All Blacks or the unpredictable and dynamic French.

We arrived at the bar in time to find a seat amongst the small but growing number of New Zealand fans and the far more numerous French fans. We ordered our usual RWC colazione (breakfast) – cappuccino and tea, followed by white wine and birra. The discipline required to start drinking at 8am was something we had mastered over the preceding 6 weeks as we had watched the pool games, the quarter finals and the semi finals. In fact we were well known in the bar and our order arrived at the table the same time we did.

The game was engrossing. What everyone expected to be an easy All Black victory became an arm wrestle with the French doing what they do best – being unpredictable and playing ten times better than they did in the early rounds of the tournament – and with 15 minutes to go the score was 8-7 to the All Blacks. The remained of the match was agonising with neither team able to get in the killing blow.

The tension in that little bar in Siena was palpable. The Kiwis had gone quiet while the French supporters were vocal as the underdogs refused to roll over.

Victory for the All Blacks, when it came, was more relief than triumph.

After congratulations all round we left the bar and stepped out into the sunlight of the Campo. We headed to our usual bar – Al Mangia – to celebrate with a glass or two of Prosecco.

At Al Mangia the talk was not of rugby but of motorcycling. Motorcycle ace and local hero Marco Simoncelli had died after falling off his bike in the Malaysian MotoGP earlier that morning and the bar patrons were noticeably affected. Simoncelli was just 24 years old.

It was, it turned out, a day of triumph overshadowed by tragedy.

Family advice


This gallery contains 27 photos.

My nephew’s girlfriend and her sister are planning a trip to Tuscany in September. We have been asked for some advice on where to stay and what to do in and around Tuscany. It sounds as if the girls are … Continue reading

Tuscany in three and a half days – day one and a half

Charlie and Isabel arrived on Saturday afternoon having travelled from north of Florence.  I had suggested they text us when they got close to our place which, in this case, meant texting from the carpark “I think we are here”.  The 3kms of dirt road make you wonder where the hell you are the first time you arrive.

We ambled out with the dogs and found them looking around wondering if this was our place or the home of some local family.  Either way they would have been made to feel welcome.

Dinner that night was at our local Pizza restaurant Le Campannia (other summer visitors will know this restaurant) which does excellent pizzas and provides endless free entertainment watching the antics of the locals.

Next morning was the All Black quarter final game so the entire team headed to the Campo at 9am to watch the game.  Clearly word about our World Cup venue is getting out as there were already two holidaying kiwi couples waiting for the game – and with us that meant the crowd swelled to a record eight people.  Nine counting an elderly Italian gentleman who joined us to support the French. He was a day late but still enjoyed the game.

Ninety minutes later it was “job well done” by the lads.  Well sort of well done as there is still some work to do before meeting Australia – and a chance for a wander around Siena before lunch in the sun at Osteria del Bigelli which, once again, did not disappoint with the food.

Jean made her famous kiwi roast pork with gravy for dinner and we washed it down with a very nice Chianti courtesy of our guests.

Rugby, beer, wine, sightseeing and roast pork with gravy.  A top day and a half.

Lunch at L’Osteria del Bigelli

The lovely people who own the property we are staying at have gone out of their way to make us welcome, everything from dropping off fresh fruit collected from some of the fruit trees around the grounds to clearing trees to improve our view of Siena when we were away in Positano.

Last week they recommened a restaurant in Siena that they said served very good, very authentic Tuscan food. The restaurant is called L’Osteria del Bigelli and is siutated in the Campo in Siena.

We were a little sceptical as the standard of food in the Campo, with a limited number of exceptions, is quite poor and aimed more at speedy delivery to tourists so the restaurants can turn tables quickly rather than any real culinery excellence for more discerning customers – or even for us.

Following the rugby on Saturday morning we decided to try it out. The fact that is located next to La Birreria where we watch the Rugby World Cup matches made the decision even easier.

The restaurant consists of about 12 outside tables squeezed under large umbrellas to protect from the sun and 4 tables inside which, given the weather currently, remained empty while we were there.

We were very pleasantly surprised from the start. Jean had ravioli with cherry tomatoes and I had herb encrusted lamb with spinach. The food looked great, smelt great and tasted great. The lamb was so good I was concerned a South Island farmer wearing stubbies and a floppy hat was going to appear beside the table at any moment and say “I’ll take that mate” and walk off into the distance with it.

Washed down with a glass or two of vino the meal was superb. All up lunch cost just over €50 or about $NZ85 which is quite reasonable.

The verdict – a great recommendation, we will visit L’Osteria del Bigelli again soon.

September must be wedding season in Siena

Supporting the All Blacks has meant we have spent quite some time in Siena over the last few weeks.  Fridays and Saturdays specifically, and every time there has been a steady stream of weddings being held at the Siena town hall in the Campo.  Clearly September is when couples both local and from all over Europe get married and Siena seems to be a popular choice.

In fact it is a bit of a production line with one group of wedding goers literally going into the Palazzo Pubblica as the preceding one comes out to be covered in confetti and rice.  On Saturday we took the time (along with a number of other casual observers) to watch this matrimonial ballet and to take a few photos along the way.

One large party – an Italian wedding – seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of time over the ceremony (italian’s taking their time, that’s unusual) and the following group who were from elsewhere in Europe – I say Germany, Jean says the UK – had to wait and wait and wait.

All ended up well though, they finally got their turn, I got some photos and to see some nice old cars, and Jean got to comment on all the frocks, shoes, hats, handbags, hair and makeup.

The day we got thrown out of the Palio

Saturday 2 July is the day of the Palio in Siena. The day horses representing the various contrada or districts of Siena race around the Campo for glory. We are heading south to Positano that day but were in Siena on Thursday evening and got wrapped up in the rehearsal for the Palio where they test the race track (and presumably the other things that go with the race).

Because the track runs through the various bars and restaurants that ring the Campo (yes, actually through their outdoor seating areas) they were all shutting early so the track could be cleared. The stands for spectators are behind the bars/restaurants and temporary grandstands had been in place for a week.

We had taken the dogs in with us so they could have their summer hair cuts and we were sitting in our favourite Campo bar when things started happening around us. Tables and chairs were being put away and last orders called – all at 6:30pm.

We knew the rehearsal was due to start at 7pm so we moved into the stands directly behind the bar and made ourselves comfortable. By this time, there were quite large crowds in the Campo, with groups supporting their contrada with songs, chants and general noisiness. It soon became apparent that the stands were all reserved, in fact quite large sums of money are spent to ensure a good spot.

A nice man explained that we were in the seats they had reserved but that we could move to the centre of Campo where viewing was free. We took the hint and moved – us, the dogs and associated paraphernalia out of the stands, across the track and into the central area.

The view wasn’t quite as good but the crowd was friendly and the dogs were settling. Within minutes, two things happened. Firstly we felt the first few raindrops that can signal a Tuscan downpour and secondly some polite officials told us that dogs were not allowed at the Palio as they might scare the horses so we had to leave.

Clearly the god of the Palio wasn’t on our side.

We, once again, collected everything together and headed off. By this stage the crowd was huge and the exits were not easy to find. The track was close to being closed off and the rain had started to fall heavily. Also, did I mention the temperature was around 28 degrees and we were carrying the dogs so they didn’t get trampled underfoot?

We eventually found an exit and pushed, prodded, and poked our way through. We found a place to shelter from the rain but this was a token gesture as we were completely soaked – rain from outside and perspiration from within.

A soggy, hot walk to the car followed. It seemed we were the only people in Siena heading away from the Campo as we were passed by groups of laughing, happy and dry locals.

There is a second Palio in mid August and we are keen to attend – but we just need to get some tickets first. Sadly the girls get to stay home that day.

A weekend with Gill

Our dear friend Gill popped in for the weekend. It’s easy to say, but “popping in” meant a ridiculously early flight for Gill from the UK on Friday morning to Pisa where the entire Mowday clan went to pick her up.

It was great to see her and the girls got straight down to business. Three bottles of Moet disappeared almost immediately followed by a couple of bottles of Chardonnay (one a kiwi chardonnay saved especially for the occasion) over a dinner of Jeans famous roast chicken and potatoes. Suffice it to say Saturday started slowly in the cottage.

There was a little “pool time” and then dinner in the Campo at Al Mangia. Because the Campo is being prepared for the Palio on Saturday 2 July, barriers and stands are in the process of being erected and we had dinner in what is soon to be the middle of the racecourse on 3 inches of hard packed clay with race barriers on each side. Imagine having dinner on the finish line at Trentham racecourse and you’ll get the idea.

Dinner at Al Mangia sitting in the middle of the Palio track

All around us Campo life continued as always with bars and restaurants doing their usual business – but all in slightly surreal surroundings. It wasn’t quite what we expected or had planned. Jean being the control freak she is spent the first 15 minutes saying “this isn’t right, no, this isn’t right” repeatedly and wanting them just to “put it back the way it was” but Gill pointed out it was a truly unique experience. A couple of bottles of wine and an excellent meal helped everyone mellow somewhat.

We will see Gill and family again in late July and can’t wait.

Our photo album

Jean and I have taken hundreds of photographs over the last few months.  We’ve put a selection of them into an album on our MobileMe site.

There are some shots we have used in the blog but a lot of new ones.  Follow the link and have a look.

Jean and the girls in the Campo

I thought I had posted this photograph before but looking back, I haven’t.  It’s the day the whole family went to Siena.  And in true form Jean is looking lovely, Poppie is looking cute and Daisy (partly obscured) is, well, see for yourself.

The Mowday family in the Campo, Siena.

Rainy afternoon in Siena

Yesterday we had our third language lesson in Siena. The day started out sunny but with thunderstorms rumbling around the hills in the distance. By 4pm our lesson had finished and we adjourned to a bar in the Campo for a well earned drink or two. The thunder was closer and the sun had been replaced by clouds although the temperature remained in the low 20s. Clearly the locals expected unsettled weather as the awnings and umbrellas that protect the bars and restaurants around the Campo from the sun had been kept in place.

Rain falling in the Campo.

At 5pm the heavens opened and the rain came down. Big, fat drops and unusually for someone from Wellington who expects rain to fall horizontally, they came straight down.

The crowded Campo emptied immediately as tourists rushed for shelter, some in shops but the majority straight to the nearest bar – all forced to buy drinks they didn’t really want at Campo prices. The Sinese locals produced umbrellas and continued going about their business as if nothing had happened. After 10 minutes the rain eased, the skies lightened and tourists flooded back into the Campo. All about €10 poorer for their drink.

More rain.

We took this opportunity to make our way back to the Peugeot congratulating ourselves on our timing. Not so fast, about halfway to the car the rain started again and, like everyone else we headed for the nearest shelter. In our case it was a bag shop in one of Siena’s small side streets. But for the period of the rain it sold umbrellas – as did every other shop in Siena. Bins of brightly colored umbrellas had appeared from nowhere and were prominently displayed just inside the shop doors. We took two – €16, Grazie.

Yet more rain.

However Siena is described it is, above all, a city of merchant traders.

Please note: photographs used have been digitally enhanced to highlight moody weather.

Everywhere we go – cars!

Some of the more observant of you may have noticed that in some of our photos of Siena used in another post, there was a considerable crowd assembled outside the Palazzo Publicco in the Campo.

Initially we had no idea why they were there (to celebrate our return to Siena – probably not) or why part of the Campo was being blocked off and officials were running around putting up barriers, blowing whistles and generally ordering people around in the Italian way.

The first clue we had was the sound of high powered engines approaching through the narrow Sienese streets. The second clue was the appearance of some very expensive high performance motor cars which paraded through the Campo. The final clue was the large sticker on each car with a number and the moniker “Miglia 1000”.

It was the day the 2011 Miglia rally came through Siena. The Miglia is an annual rally event for historic cars of note or significance. That means very expensive cars or very old cars, or both. This year it included a Ferrari tribute to the Miglia as well – so that would be more expensive, very new cars. It took around 4 hours for all the cars to go through the Campo on their way north but it was a chance to see some cars that you would normally only be able to see in museums – including a genuine Porsche 550 Spyder.

For those of you who might like to participate in this event next year the entry fee is a mere €6,360.