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Villa Catignano: one of the many beautiful places an e-bike can get you to from Siena A few years ago, I interviewed an American writer , who during her month-long stay in Siena whizzed through the city on a bicycle. This was an unusual sight - vespas are the two-wheelers of choice in Siena's hilly town center, not bikes like in mostly flat Florence.  But the invention of e-bikes is about to change this. The city of Siena has installed an  electric bike sharing program which is functioning well. However, it's mostly aimed at locals and residents, as its set-up is a little complicated for visitors who only stay a couple of days in town. Hence, for tourists, the best bike rental options in Siena are with the privately owned shops which supply bycicles of every size and type for a day or two or an entire week.  Giulia from cycling through the hills of Siena Siena Bike Shop rents out racing bycicles, hybrid and e-bikes and is a great option if y
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Whatever the exact financial situation of the city of Siena and its famous nearly broke bank - the fact that free concerts are back on Piazza del Campo is a promising sign! In the summer of 2012 ,   Patti Smith  sang 'People have the Power' on Piazza del Campo. The song and her fabulous concert in Siena feature in the book soundtrack - and hopefully also in the future film adaptation - of my memoir  Across the Big Blue Sea .  But while a spectacular full moon rose behind Torre del Mangia the night of Patti's concert, the city itself had just started its descent into a longlasting financial nightmare. The Monte dei Paschi bank -  founded in  1472 it is the world's oldest continually operating bank -  turned from  prodigy into Italy's problem child (more about this here ), and with the bank's debacle, the free concerts on Piazza del Campo had lost their main sponsor.  Nina may not be a world-star, but she's definitely one of the most talented and s


Five years ago I interviewed American Newsweek journalist and NYT bestselling author  Nina Burleigh about her work after her talk at the Siena Art Institute. Little did I know then that I'd write a book myself one day (and that Nina Burleigh would endorse it with the kindest and most thoughtful words). I'm looking forward to discuss 'Across the Big Blue Sea' and migration (my own and the one of the people I worked with at our Tuscan refugee home) at the beautiful headquarters of the Siena Art Institute (which is based in the Tartuca neighbourhood, one of my favorite contrade in Siena). ACROSS THE BIG BLUE SEA book presentation  Siena Art Institue - May 8, 2018, 6 pm via T. Pendola 37


Buddha Spa's Asian inspired outdoor pool Southern Tuscany has a wide selection of natural hot springs ( find my favourites ones here ), but from time to time a  spa day is a nice change from the usual wilderness dip.   Near Siena, Buddha Spa by Clarins is the place to go. Named after an Asian sage, the thermal waters used to be visited by a local one too:  Catherine of Siena , Italy's patron saint, who took her baths here in the Middle Ages. Things have changed quite a bit since then and nowadays guests have the choice between a spacious outdoor pool set in front of a waterfall, an indoor pool with two jacuzzis, Turkish bath and sauna.  Set in a former farm building the spa isn't huge, but that's part of its charm. After all, a day of relaxation is much more enjoyable with less of a crowd.  Buddha Spa is part of the Bagnaia Hilton hotel and uses Clarins products exclusively. Most resort guests use the spa to cure their sore muscles after getting their

Ambrogio Lorenzetti's frescoes and paintings

From toddlers to octogenarians, when in Siena I schlepp everybody to see Ambrogio Lorenzetti's 'Buon Governo'. The long title of the painting is 'The Allegory of Good and Bad Government in the City and the Countryside' and it is exactly that - namely an accurate depiction of daily life in medieval Siena. The detailed and elegant fresco cycle is a rarity not just in regard to Lorenzetti's style and technique, but mainly due to its subject matter. In the 14th century, paintings and frescoes focus on stories and characters from the old and new testament and  not on the day-to-day tasks of builders and farmers.  Medieval Siena depicted on one of the walls of Ambrogio Lorenzetti's fresco cycle in the Palazzo Pubblico (©Wikipedia) And this is exactly why it's so much fun to spend some time in front of the fresco cycle in the  civic museum in Siena's Palazzo Pubblico. Whether its kids  - or meat lovers - looking for the famous Cinta Senese pig  


Siena is a fabulous place to visit in winter when culturally minded travelers will get the city's museums  all to themselves. But the same travelers may also note that Siena's cultural calendar isn't much to boast about during the darker months of the year. Hence, an international dance festival taking place in the middle of winter in the beautiful Teatro dei Rinnovati is more than a welcome surprise!  MOVE OFF 2018  - January 31 to February 2 January 31: "It's between us"- Just Us Dance Theater (UK) and  "di angeli, di dei, di uomini"- Freies Tanz Ensemble (Germany).  February 1: "Between"- MOMURO MOVEMENT LAB (Corea) and "Reflect"- Albanian Dancetheater Company (Albania).  February 2: "DIS-CRIMINE"- MOTUS (Italia).  Teatro Comunale dei Rinnovati, piazza del Campo, palazzo Pubblico:  9.15pm.   Tickets 8 € (reduced 5€). The theater's ti cket booth opens at 6pm.


Desperate for Palio tickets?  They are hard to find unless you reserve them months or even years ahead. The easiest option is to join the rest of the crowd, who's watching the Palio for free from the middle of piazza del Campo, which is just the way most Sienese see the race.  However, this year the municipality of Siena has 23 last minute tickets available  for the Palio dell'Assunta 2015 .  Prepare to stand in the queue for them, but with 150€ per ticket it's well worth the effort (seated tickets normally start from 250€ and go all the way up to 500€ per person).  PALIO TICKETS: AUGUST 16, 2015 The tickets are for the seats on the palchetti, the seated wooden stages built up especially for the race all the way round piazza del Campo. The seats are located between via di Dupré and Casato di Sotto, which is a great area to observe the wheeling and dealing between the jockeys before the race.  The Palio tickets are sold from 10 am on Saturday August 15 in


Jockey Brio during the fourth trial race on horse Morosita Prima running for Contrada della Torre (here passing in front of the blue and white wearing members of enemy contrada dell'Onda) A false start happened after nearly an hour of waiting for horses and jockeys to properly align in piazza del Campo. Then more waiting and even worrying that with night falling the Palio may have to be postponed to the next day.* But it was worth the long wait to see contrada della Torre win.   The only neighborhood in Siena with two enemy contrade had both of them - Onda and Oca - present in the race. In fact Onda was following sharp, but Torre's horse Morosita Prima and its experienced jockey Brio turned the Torre neighborhood into the celebrated winners of the Palio della Madonna di Provenzano 2015. Brio (born in Sovicille near Siena as Andrea Mari) has participated in 21 Palios and has won its fifth one tonight.  Contrada della Torre hadn't won since the Palio of the 16th


Palio dinner preparations in the Onda neighborhood As with every Palio, only 10 out of Siena's 17 contrade can participate in the horse race.  The ten contrade which will race piazza del Campo on July 2, 2015 in the world's oldest continually run sporting event are:  Torre (tower) Nicchio (shell) Civetta (owl) Valdimontone (ram) Leocorno (unicorn) Oca (goose) Pantera (pantheress) Selva (forest) Onda (wave) Tartuca (tortoise) PALIO HOSE RACE JULY 2, 2015 The weather forecast shows 30 degrees for the whole week in Siena. If you're not great with the heat and sticky crowds skip the long afternoon of waiting in piazza del Campo on July 2, and make do with a trial race instead. The first of them takes place on the evening of June 29 at 7.45 pm. Followed by morning trials at 9 pm and evening trials (again at 7.45 pm) on all the days leading up to the final race on July 2. The morning trials are less busy than the evening ones, but the light is beautifu


Understand a bit of Italian? This is the night to figure out how much regarding a topic that seems a bit removed but actually isn't at all.  Italy entered the first world war exactly a hundred years ago on the 24th of May 1915. 600'000 Italian soldiers died during the war. Many of them were 'Italians' born in Brasil or Argentina who traveled to Europe as young men to fight for a country they had never put foot on before. 150'000 of Italy's soldiers in the first world war had been born in Brazil, Argentina and other  countries their parents had had to migrate to for a better future abroad. An important fact to consider when we read the daily headlines regarding todays incessantly growing immigration to Italy and Europe via Lybia.  'La storia quasi vera del milite ignoto' is told by Emilio Franzina, the writer of the book with the same title, which tells the story of a young soldier born in Brasil to Italian parents of Venetian heritage.