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We caught the 9:10 train to Siena this morning, a 90-minute ride to one of the most beautifully preserved hill towns in Italy.

As is our tradition, we climb any tower we can find, so upon entering the city’s campo, we queued up to climb the Torre Mangia. Fortunately, it was a short wait and we soon found ourselves climbing the 400 steps required to emerge on the top with a spectacular view of the place often described as urban-planning-meets-bowl-of-spaghetti. The streets are all curvilinear, twisted and labyrinthine.

Once back on the ground, we stopped for a slice of pizza and a cold drink before visiting Siena’s incredible cathedral. One envisioned to be one of the largest in Tuscany (thus spurring Florence on to build her colossal dome), the dream was cut short by the plague in the mid-14th century when Siena ran out of funds and out of people. The building program was adjusted and the cross-arm of the basilica plan was re-purposed to be the nave.

The Duomo of Siena is a visual cacaphony of patterns, colors and textures — completely different from the serene and understated interiors of Florentine churches like Santo Spirito or Santa Maria Dei Fiori. The beautiful pavimenti (floors) are made up of marble mosiacs of multiple scenes from the Bible.

Some in the group went on to visit Santo Domenico where the head of Catherine of Siena is kept. Catherine, along with Frances of Assisi, are the two patron saints of Italy. Catherine’s body remains in Rome (where she died), but her head returned to her home town and is enshrined in a tabernacle in Santo Domenico, along with her right thumb and the chain she used to scourge herself.

We caught the 4:18 train home. Tomorrow — studio time and a vist to the Museo del’Opera del Duomo.