One night in Siena…twice…
Siena is a very beautiful, fortified, hilltop town in the middle of Tuscany.
Like other Tuscan hill towns, Siena was first settled in the time of the Etruscans (c. 900–400 BC) when it was inhabited by a tribe called the Saina. The Etruscans were a tribe of advanced people who changed the face of central Italy through their use of irrigation to reclaim previously unfarmable land, and their custom of building their settlements in well-defended hill forts. A Roman town called Saena Julia was founded at the site in the time of the Emperor Augustus.
Located in the heart of Siena is the Piazza del Campo – the famous fan-shaped or shell-shaped square, that is divided into nine marked sectors, symbolizing the Council of Nine: the Council responsible for governing the city.
This historic centre of Siena has been proclaimed by UNESCO to be a World Heritage Site, and is home to Il Palio – a horse race that is held twice each year, on 2 July and 16 August.
Ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in the appropriate colours, represent ten of the seventeen ‘contrade’, or city wards.
The race itself, in which the jockeys ride bareback, circles the Piazza del Campo, on which a thick layer of dirt has been laid. The race is run for three laps of the piazza and usually lasts no more than 90 seconds. It is common for a few of the jockeys to be thrown off their horses while making the treacherous turns in the piazza, and indeed, it is not unusual to see rider less horses finishing the race.
Statue of Capitoline Wolf at Siena Duomo
Capitoline Wolf at Siena Duomo
According to local legend, Siena was founded by Senius and Aschius, two sons of Remus and thus nephews of Romulus, after whom Rome was named. Supposedly after their father’s murder by Romulus, they fled Rome, taking with them the statue of the she-wolf suckling the infants (Capitoline Wolf), thus appropriating that symbol for the town.
Additionally they rode white and black horses, giving rise to the Balzana, or coat of arms of Siena with a white band atop a dark band.
Coat of Arms of Siena
Some claim the name Siena derives from Senius.
The cathedral itself was originally designed and completed between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure. It has the form of a Latin cross with a slightly projecting transept, a dome and a bell tower. The dome rises from a hexagonal base with supporting columns. The lantern atop the dome was added by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
The exterior and interior are constructed of white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes, with addition of red marble on the façade. Black and white are the symbolic colors of Siena, linked to black and white horses of the legendary city’s founders, Senius and Aschius.
….but, I digress….
Back to ‘One night in Siena…twice…’
We’ve been to Siena twice, and each time, in an effort to escape the crush of tourists in Il Campo, we sought out smaller, less crowded places to eat and chill.
The previous time we were in Siena, we found such a place. It was perfection. Situated on the corner of a small, cobblestone street and one of the main pedestrian streets, this little bar/eatery had placed bar stools on the outside of its large open air windows, so that the patrons could sit both inside and outside the establishment. After a long and hot day standing in various lines to see the main attractions of Siena, we were looking to duck out of the scorching Tuscan sun, and enjoy a Prosecco to wind up the day.
We were able to perch ourselves on the last two available stools on the outside of the establishment. As we have been living outside of Canada for well over a decade now, we are accustomed to not being able to understand the languages being spoken around us. And when we hear English, it really stands out. So, among the locals enjoying a libation and chatting away in Italian, the English being spoken at the bar stood out – not only because it was English, but because it was Canadian English.
(Yes people, there is a noticeable difference.)
From our perches, we spot 3 young people at the bar, organizing the barkeeps into a drink pouring frenzy – specifically a shot pouring frenzy.
The bar tenders were busily showing the kids a never-ending selection of shot glasses. They offered…
…these tall shot glasses with coloured bases….
…these tall glasses without coloured bases….
….these tall glasses with tall coloured bases…
…these tall shot glasses with short coloured bases…
…these multi-coloured shot glasses….
…these Mexican inspired clear shot glasses with a blue rim…
…these Neon coloured shot glasses…
…these Mason jar inspired shot glasses….
…these Retro inspired shot glasses ….
…and finally these plastic shot glasses.
In a stellar example of ominous foreshadowing, the kids based their shot glass decision on the quantity the bar was able to provide. The shot glass of choice…
These kids (they were high school students) had laid out the shot glasses spanning the entire length of the bar, some 9 rows deep. And they were reciting recipes of their favourite shots.
The bar was filling up with all manner and description of shots, including these…
Having warmed up with the first few shots, the kids were starting to get creative. Now the bar was filling up with …
….shots with the colours of the Irish flag….
… shots garnished with fruit….
…shots garnished with veggies….
…shots garnished with coffee beans….
….for dessert, shots garnished with whip cream…..
….and for the really brave or incredibly foolish, an all creamy shot….. As the bartenders filled the long bar top with rows and rows and rows of shots, the group of high school kids grew, all told some 35 or so.
The bar top completely now covered in drinks, the shots were rapidly being handed out to the group. And after bellowing some kind of toast or school motto or something, the kids started knocking them back – one after the other…… row by row…..emptying the bar.
My oh my…..The amount of shots consumed by each of those kids was astounding. Just thinking about the mixture of alcohol in their bellies, to this day, makes me feel nauseous. Well, to be fair to them, it made many of those high-schoolers nauseous too, as several lurched into the laneway to ….purge…shall we say.
…but I digress…
On this most recent trip, while we were wandering about Siena, we again stumbled upon this little joint, and our friends decided that instead of Happy Hour in Il Campo, we should meet here instead. Nice! We agree to meet at the end of the day, and continued our amble throughout Siena.
Here are some photographic impressions of Siena:
An uncharacteristically empty Sienese street…
…a solid wood, handcrafted set of doors…
…an intricate door knocker…
…ornate and unusual street lanterns….
..some made of metal…
…very stylish shop windows…
…and an array of intricate horse ties…
..such as this…
… and this, my favourite….!
…but I digress…
Back to ‘One night in Siena…twice…’
At the appointed hour, we return to the little bar, and find four stools inside the bar, next to the large open window. I wasn’t able to score two stools outside, as one was occupied by this man:
The friends that we were meeting are from Norway, with whom we travel annually to various beautiful locations, usually to enjoy some sportive activity or another. On this trip however, three of us were celebrating our upcoming 50th birthdays.
My Norwegian girlfriend arrives first, and she takes one look at the man sitting on the outside stool, and blushes deeply, right to the roots of her pale Nordic locks. ‘He’s very famous in Norway’, she whispers to me. So, I surreptitiously snap a photo of him. He’s not paying attention to anyone or anything, but his phone.
Anyway, Alvis and AG’s husband, JM join us, and I soon forget about the man outside the window. We are having our usual fun conversation, which happened to revolve around our friends describing their recent getaway, high into the Norwegian mountains, where they rented a cabin.
Alvis was questioning AG about any amenities that these cabins might offer, such as Wifi, heat or even electricity. AG laughed and laughed and reassured Alvi that the cabin was…..
and then she stopped, as she was searching for the right word in English. “Cozy” was the word that was eluding her. So, she started describing the things within the cabin that made it cozy. At this moment I piped up also searching for a word, albeit a Danish word that describes a movement that promotes coziness and comfort. All of a sudden, a friend of the man on the outside stool chimes in “Hygge”.
“hygge” – a Danish term defined as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” Pronounced “hoo-guh,” the word is said to have no direct translation in English, though “cozy” comes close.
To learn more about Hyyge: click this link:
Mandatory Hyggelig (Hyggelig means ‘things that make Hygge’) things are:
…a roaring fire…..
… a cup of a hot drink, and a book…..
…and maybe cozy slipper boots. Obviously, felines innately understand hygge, and so must also be included on the hyggelig list.
I am a devoted practitioner of Hygge. At my house, right after I wake, I light the fire…
…light some Hygge candles…
…brew a cuppa something hot….
…grab my super soft big blanket…..
…and wait for one or two of my felines to settle in on the blanket, and enjoy. Hygge is the best…..
…but I digress.
Back to ‘One Night in Siena…twice…’
‘Exactly – hygge’, I exclaim. ‘Thanks guy!’, I say to him. Both he and the original guy smile, and after exchanging handshakes we begin a conversation.
‘I am Erik and this is my butler’, says the guy.
Alrighty – ‘Hello to you, and hello to your butler’, I reply.
Nice dudes. I ask him if I can ask him a question.
‘No disrespect, but I understand that you are famous. What exactly are you famous for?
‘For letting in some goals, says the butler.
‘Letting in some goals?’ I ask. ‘What kind of goals? Hockey goals?
‘No, football goals…’, the butler again.
‘Oh – cool. You’re a goalie. Wow, that is a stressy position’, I say.
‘Well, he stopped one goal in 1994’, says the butler.
‘Wha?’ ‘One whole goal? In 1994? ‘Well, congratulations’, I say.
Both Erik and the butler laugh.
We had a lovely conversation. He asked if we had been to Norway, and I described our trip there to visit our friends. We chatted about Canada. He remembered visiting Montreal at a time when it was legal to bring your own bottle of wine to a restaurant and have it corked during dinner. We discussed hockey and the epic Canada win over the USSR in 1972, during the Summit Series.
We talked about living in the Caribbean, kitesurfing, and travel, and sports, and it was great fun!
Finally, Erik says “our women are calling us’. I didn’t turn my head to look, but I imagine their women to look like this…..
….which of course, is ridiculous. Why would their women be wearing leather and bronze armour in the heat of summer? In reality, they looked exactly like this….
‘Well, off you go then’, I say and he smiles. After asking where we are all headed the next day, he and his butler join their families a few tables over. Some moments later, both families, all tall, strapping, blonde and Nordic, wave good bye as they turn the corner and melt into the never ending stream of Sienese tourists.
Turns out he is: Erik Thorstvedt – possibly Norway’s most famous goaltender.
Norway qualified for the FIFA World Cup in 1994, for the first time since 1938, and Erik was that squad’s starting goaltender. Erik’s storied career includes seven years playing for the Tottenham Hotspurs. Since retiring from football, Erik now enjoys a career in front of the cameras, as a football commentator on Norwegian TV.
To learn more about Erik and his career, click on this link:
I wonder what will happen the next time we frequent that little bar in Siena.