Il Campo, the town square of Siena is a big as three football fields. It is paved with red brick and is surrounded by cafes, vendors, and local businesses. Viewed from the air it reminds me of a half completed sunset, red bricks radiating from the central public fountain. Towering above is the bell tower of city hall. Il Campo is a gathering place for all people.
I’ve visited Il Campo at all hours. Early morning brings the local people, merchants and vendors, setting up for the day’s business. The street cleaners are out sweeping with their homemade brooms and gathering the nightly ration of empty bottles and left over food. I love watching a city wake up and morning is my favorite time for catching the spirit of a place. Around the square, shopkeepers too are sweeping and tidying up their places, deliveries are made, the ever present buzz of the APE (the small Italian version of a delivery truck on a motorcycle body) zoom in and out of the square. There are old women walking past on their way to morning Mass almost sneaking into the many community churches. And no Italian town would be complete without the ever present construction site and its busy workers getting down to serious business before the sun runs them inside for the afternoon. Mornings give a view of the real place!
By 10 a.m. the first groups of tourist arrive on Il Campo. Buses, parked outside of town, unload their tourist just a few blocks from Il Campo. The groups trudge from the unloading zone to Il Campo. All are frantically clicking photos and desperately trying to catch the essence of Il Campo. Then the magic takes over. Il Campo funnels the crowds out and into the town. I sit at one end of the plaza and watch group after group arrive, they take pictures, strain their neck looking up at the bell tower, checkout the fountain and local pigeons, their tour guide assembles the group, says a few words and then the group break up to wander around the small streets and allies of Siena. This same scene happen many times, day after day, week after week.
By 5 p.m. most of the tourist have returned to their buses and headed back to their big hotels in Florence. Left on Il Campo are the few lucky tourist, like me, who have a room here in town for the night. The vendors begin to pack up their wares, the umbrellas come down at the cafes around the square as the shade inches its way across the reddish-orange pavement. School children begin to play football and tag, their mothers visiting in the shade of nearby buildings. Older kids talk, flirt, flaunt their stuff for all to see. Tourist like me, grab a seat on the pavement and take it all in. Romantics, hold hands, nestle up to one another and sneak a kiss or two. The square is alive with life. The older men sit in the distance, drinking their wine, smoking, reading a paper, and discussing what ever old me discuss. Across the square, old women again head off to the evening services.
Il Campo at night is a delight. Tonight could have been a washout. The evening begun with rain. Most of the locals have been driven in doors. But I’ve got just tonight for Siena and I’ll make to most of it. My friends find a dry spot under the eves of a store that has closed for the night. Here we spread our ponchos using our packs as a backrests and settle in for the ambiance of Il Campo. Earlier in the afternoon we had shopped for our picnic supper…an assortment of olives, cheeses, prociutto, freshly baked bread, and a ruby red Sangiovese from the hills of Siena.
The stage is set, we’re comfortable and have wonderful views across Il Campo which is practically empty because of the drizzling rain. I’ve never seen Il Campo like this. The light from the surrounding businesses reflected off the rain covered pavement. The fountain can be heard spurting water in the distance muffled just slightly by the clink of silverware and conversation from the cafe guests. This is what makes life worth living, a true travel experience that’ll provide a lifetime of memories.
Later, the rain stopped, the local folks came out from their shelter and strolled across Il Campo. From a dark alley, a group of teenage girls emerged arm-in-arm singing and giggling. Soon, from another alley a group of boys arrived to play football on the square. Football was soon forgotten when they spied the girls. Suddenly, before our eyes, we witnessed a “rooster and hen” show steaming with unbridled energy only available to adolescences. The boys puff up, strut their stuff in front of the giggling girls. The girls sing and chant something, laughing at the boys, crushing their big egos. A few guys get up enough nerve to talk to the girls. As they met in the middle, the boy’s group and girl’s group shout encouragement and throw verbal jeers to their friends. Finally, the girls hurry arm-in-arm from Il Campo, singing their way back down the streets. The boys, leave just as loudly as they entered, each trying to out do the other with their version of their encounter with the opposite sex.
Suddenly, Il Campo is quiet again, broken only by the rustling water, the distant cafe chatter, and the sighs of bliss from me and my friends.
Exploring EUROPE is an adventure. Grasp the moment and make the most of it !