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Day 6 – Val’d’Ocia to Siena

Val d'Orcia, Tuscany by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Simon has bravely swapped his bike seat for my Brooks saddle. I am so grateful. The pain is not as excruciating. We bumble over the cobblestones into Siena before lunch by way of the Porta Romana. A cold beer and warm lunch cures the agony. Siena is built of red bricks, unlike the Roman stone and marble. Clay soils are at the root of the beautiful landscapes and towns around here.

Simon knows a convent hostel from a previous cycle tour he made with his men-only group. We go directly to the convent for a much needed shower. A no-nonsense Nun with a great sense of humour shows us to our dormitory. We muck up the room with battery cables and stinky socks, padded tights and wet towels then collapse on our narrow beds for a short siesta.

A ‘passeggiata’ in this amazing city feels so much harder than riding a bike. Trudge-trudge-trudge, moving with legs seems tedious compared to the smooth spin of a wheel.

Sitting down to a meal with Simon is always a special occasion. Beginning with a full-bodied Chianti ‘ruby red’ we toast our safe arrival with a “cin-cin”.

When travelling with my husband, one is required to methodically peruse the entire menu from beginning to end. Including any historical text that may be attached. Then you must choose a dish you have never tasted before. Don’t rush the waiter. Ask for explanations, ask for recipes, ask for the wine list, and ask where the winery of that wine is located, and ask to see the restaurant wine collection…haha.

Simon doesn’t eat at touristy restaurants on the main square of any city, he is a backstreet boy when it comes to food, so you will find him in the labyrinths and beyond. Luckily we find an off-the-beaten-track place for an ‘aperitivo’ with a spectacular sunset view over the terracotta rooftops all bathed in pink light. Gobbling down a designer platter of Tuscan cheeses and delectable jams and mustards, pâtés and honey as I write this.

On our way out of the door we bump into our (friend-almost-daughter) Sian from South Africa, who had also arrived in Siena today. www.sianowenphotography.com. She was staying with us in Rome shortly before we left on the ride. Together we dash along the streets from view point to façade to square, photographing Siena’s Golden Hour. After sunset, night falls softly, soaking up the colours and we say our fond farewell to Sian.

The good Nuns have invited us to join the procession from St. Francis to the Duomo. It turns out to be a mysterious and spirited event. Hundreds of children wear long white shift dresses, and men are covered in black robes carrying a tapestry canopy which is held over the Blessed Sacrament. That is the blood stain from the same “Hostia” we saw in Bolsena a couple of days ago. As the Mother told us at the convent in Bolsena, the miracle happened in 1263 followed by the building of the church in Orvieto, which was constructed to house the original piece of stained cloth.

The Cardinal in Orvieto wanted to make a scientific analysis of the blood, but he was forbidden to do it.

The soul-stirring procession lasted late into the night, hundreds of us walk in single file, chanting behind the canopy carriers, through the dark streets and into the vast chandelier-lit interior of the Duomo (Cathedral)

Afterwards we tootle back to the convent to find our Nun waiting up to let us in. Oops.

Some unknown pilgrims are sleeping in our dormitory room. We try not to wake them, but the old brass door handle rasps loudly. Sleeping bags are necessary, but we have none. But there are communal blankets.

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