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(Day 88) Buon Ringraziamento

Thursday, 9:00 pm

Happy Thanksgiving, American people : D

Finally made it back in, and what I would like to do now is provide some variation from the bullet-lists and make up for the posting delay with a giant picspam.

However, what my internet and available time will *allow* me to do is post a couple photos (with more to come as soon as the month rolls over on my internet key) and do a quick bullet list.  So.

  • ROME, from last Thursday to Sunday night.  Second wind, feels-like-vacation time.  A *LOT* of walking, and on very terrible cobble streets.  A *LOT* of museums, which were much more enjoyable.  An exclusive trip up to the very top level of the Coliseum, normally closed to the public.  A likewise exclusive trip to the Necropolis, the preserved ‘city of the dead’ under the Vatican.  An amazing, once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the Sistine Chapel almost emptied of people but all lit up — because we happened to be there around closing time when a famous soccer coach was getting a private tour.  (This also meant we could sneak photos, as the coach’s group was doing it and the guards were all lining up for photos with him anyway.)  Possibly the best gelato I have ever had (white chocolate and dark chocolate from a place called Giolitti’s) paid for by our professors after a walking tour.  And on Sunday, the Galleria Borghese found to be a new contender for favorite art museum: (A) I knew I had a good feeling about this place, and (B) Bernini’s sculptures are in actual fact better in person and I could not. stop. staring.  Oh, plus Raphael ❤

  

    Wait for it…

BAM. 

  • Got back into Florence late Sunday evening, and found that we now have a new house-mate.  The Brazilian girl who lived down the hall had departed Saturday (which we knew about), and in her place there is now a middle-aged Japanese woman who will be here for two weeks studying at Linguaviva.  She (Toshiko) already has a little Italian, but astonishingly mine is actually much better, so I’ve been helping her out at Gabriella’s request.  I like her, she’s friendly and enthusiastic and she gave me a Japanese keychain : )
  • Also, found out when we went into the city center Monday morning that Florence has officially switched over to Christmas.  Don’t know what the trigger was, but the grocery store is all decked out and so are most of the other retailers — and I know it’s all commercial, but Christmas lights!
  • Monday, Tuesday,  Wednesday — homework.  Now that we’re done with Italian class, all attention is turned to the paper I have to write for the Medici art history class (Raphael’s work as a reflection of Pope Leo X’s court), the final exam I have to take for the same class, the final project for Weaving the Tale (the creation of a visual narrative and a 2-page statement about it), and more sketches for the Studio class.  Two weeks, readysetgo.
  • Today, though, a little break in the form of a field trip.  It was still technically a class day, in that we visited a Medici villa (Poggio a Caiano) and talked about its signficance, but after that we got a tour of a little place that manufactures both wine and olive oil, and were then treated to a magnificent oil-based meal.  (And seriously, after all my time here I can say that Capazzano has hands-down the best olive oil I’ve ever tasted.)  It was a traditional harvest meal, and we were to think of it as our Italian Thanksgiving — there was wine, more wine, bread with spinach and beans, penne, slices of ham and mashed potatoes, and we ended on an apple tort (by special request of Jodie as a pseudo apple pie).*  Weather-wise it was a perfect day, and I think we all walked away pretty happy…and, in some cases, rather tipsy.  Made the bus ride interesting : )
  • Got back to Florence, did homework for a while, and geared up for dinner.  And I’m very glad I went a little light on lunch, because Gabriella had prepared bread, slices of turkey, peas, corn (which she is unfamiliar with, and apologized for making “with love but no experience”), and ultimately a very impressive apple crisp.  Yay non-English-speaking double Thanksgiving \o/
  • Tomorrow, of course, have to start walking off all the food, and then it’s back to work.  If there are any interesting developments I shall pass them along, and otherwise I’ll probably be back in Wednesday night or Thursday after we have gone to ~the opera~.
  • Buonanotte : )

*The names of all these foods sound so much better in Italian: crostini con cavolo nero e fagioli, penne ai tre cavoli, arista all’olio nuovo con puree di patate, torta di melee.  Italian changes the off-putting ‘eggplant’ into my favorite ‘melanzana’ (which I can and will keep talking about), turns the baffling ‘pineapple’ into the ever-fun ‘ananas,’ makes plain broth into ‘minestrina’, and even ‘broccoli’ can be softened into ‘broccolini’ (which, incidentally, is delicious and is weirdly *the* thing on which I am most likely to overeat).  It is the world’s unparalleled language at dinnertime.

…But then again, English does have snickerdoodles.  Tough call.

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(Day 51) BRB

Sorry nothing got in here last night, internet keeled over again.

Not too much to report anyway, though; yesterday was a really nice day, and I was still pretty attached to being lazy, so I just went for a walk through the center of town and then down by the river.

     

And, although I had money on me and would have been inclined to part with it had I met with something pretty, it stayed strictly a walk because yesterday was a Monday.  Monday, in Florence, is the day of the week for the half of the city that didn’t shut down on Sunday to finally do so — so you step out to try to go somewhere or do something, and niente.

But as I said, yesterday was a very pleasant day regardless, and today I think I’m going to attempt to make it into the Uffizi Gallery on my fancy museum pass.  After that…we’ll see what it feels like a day for : )

Also, just a heads up: if blog updates thin out a little over the next couple days, that will be because I am (finally) updating that student resources page.

….

P.S. — This ties in with absolutely nothing, but did you know that being in another country makes your internet automatically present itself in that country’s language?  So that if, for example, you go to look up the trailer for the “Avengers” movie, you will always get the Italian version first?

It is also important to note that Italians prefer dubbing to subtitles.  And that, for someone who is already familiar with the actors‘ Samuel L. Jackson’s voice, this is hilarious.

The Avengers (2012) guarda il primo teaser trailer ufficiale

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2011 in Culture, Language, The City

 

(Day 33) Backlogging

Relying on sprint-speak tonight, because I’ve got to get up in the morning to go on that bike tour:

Referring back to that Wednesday night concert: this was an opportunity ACM made available to us, and they paid for the ticket of anyone who wanted to go.  The evening’s entertainment was a selection of music by Gershwin and Bernstein, performed/orchestrated by this guy, Wayne Marshall.

To set the stage a little, the concert was set for 8:30 pm; this followed a work study session in the morning, Italian from 1:30 to 2:45, an on-site Medici class visit from 3:00 to 4:45, figure drawing class from 5:00 to 7:00, and a trek back to the station to meet Kari at 7:30.  So a very long day, especially since I was just starting to come down with that cold I now have.  Achoo.

So Kari and I set out once again, and we finally get to the Teatro Communale around 8:15.  And there’s a moment of perplexity, because the crowd standing around outside looks rather fancified, as in little black dresses every which way.  We ourselves looked respectable, of course, but we hadn’t been told to dress up — but eh, who cares.

We go inside —

— and find that we’re pretty much dead center in the orchestra seats.  Fantastic : D

Clock turns over to 8:30, and the concert-goers (relying on that very Italian idea of being “fashionably late”) wait until the official start time to start coming in — which is actually perfectly alright, because the ‘orchestra’ at the time is composed of one lone woman tuning a harp.

Twenty minutes later we finally get going…and bottom line is that it’s magnificent.  And fast.  Violinists flip their instruments onto their shoulders, horns are darting up and down behind the stands, all we can see of Marshall is the back of his tux knotting up and an occasional hand shooting off down the side of the piano, and the entire bottom section of the stage is just a throbbing sea of bows; aside from the way it sounds, it just looks incredible.  And the whole time I’m sitting there I’m just so very very glad I decided to come — yes, early bedtime would have been nice too, but this was pretty much perfect as a way to end a Wednesday.  Just sit there and listen and no worries at all.

So that’s that, and then we’re on to the intermission, which gets a late start on account of the encore procedure is kind of played out like a mind game.  First he’s gone!  –but now he’s back!  he’s shaking that dude’s hand!  again!  bow!  handshake!  gone!  back!  Too much clapping and I can’t feel my fingers anymore!

*sigh,* performers.  What can you do.

Second half of the concert nixes the piano but adds the choir, and now we’re on to Bernstein (and, as Kari told me several times with great enthusiasm, this means we get to hear “Chichester’s Psalms”).   And while the first half had been wonderful, this was the part that made me *really* wish that they sold CDs of this thing, because it was completely weird and fantastic and I would have been all over that.  iTunes, maybe?

…So yes, concert ends, there’s another round of exasperating encores, we’re out at 10:40, 20 minute walk back to bus stop, half hour wait for the bus, bed by midnight and up at 6:00.  And ultimately here we are.

 

Alrighty, then — my roommate’s on skype and I’m having a hard enough time forming coherent sentences even without distraction, so I think that’s about all we can do for tonight.  Back in tomorrow evening to keep on keeping on.

 

But first, a quick P.S. — While we were reading over the Teatro’s upcoming events [for one thing, it’s where we’ll be attending the opera], Kari and I found a concert on October 29th featuring music by Vivaldi, Mozart and Schubert.  \o/ ❤ etc., but the great thing is that we get guaranteed student rates and should be able to get tickets for about 10 Euro.  Nifty, no? : )

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2011 in Culture, Persons & Peoples, Practicalities, The City

 

(Day 23) And now a Tuesday

Milestone moment, people: this was the first day that I’ve been able to believe that it will eventually get cold here.

For weeks we’ve been asking around and trying to figure out what a Florentine winter is like, and I think the information we’ve received can be boiled down to this: in autumn (now), the mornings and evenings will get cool but any direct sun will set you straight back to August (i.e., shade = pleasant but sun = blistering heat).  Hot days will keep being a fact of life until one day everything decides to go frigid for kicks and giggles, and there will be lots of rain and bitter wind and that’s winter.

Bit bipolar.

But, like I said, it’s been hot for so long that I was seriously doubting whether ‘winter’ in Italy could be that big a deal.*  So you can imagine my surprise (and also delight, and I sincerely mean that) when I head out to wait at the bus stop this morning and it suddenly feels like mid-October.  Overcast, all the light dim and shifting, with a pretty hefty wind whipping everyone’s hair around — and a jacket very very much a necessity.  It was back into the 80’s by 10:00 AM, of course, but it was quite a nice shock to the system while it lasted.

 

…Only slightly related, but I’ve been daydreaming about Christmas for the last two weeks.  I already miss baking and I’m pre-missing snow (which Tuscany sees about as often as Texas), but the nice thing is that we will get to see the start of Florence’s Christmas preparations.  And, since Italy is dripping with Catholics and Christmas is, as I am told, a day of some importance to the Church, we’ve been promised we’ll get something of a spectacle.  Along with a whole slew of new seasonal foodstuffs, and you can perhaps imagine how I feel about that.**

So yes, very much looking forward to the Christmas season, but we’ll get there when we get there and I’m certainly still set to enjoy myself in the meantime.  Got some tentative October plans in the works with a few other students (which I will tell you about only if and when they become solid), and we’re now just three days out from Venice.  Speaking of which, orientation for that is tomorrow afternoon — so I’ll see you then, when I’ve got some actual new stuff going on?

A domani : )

(Oh, but a quick P.S. — We all took a quiz this morning, and afterwards the other two classes watched movies while our class played charades.  It was a fast-moving game, right up until Umberto tried to get everyone to guess “Paranormal Activity”; watching someone trying to act out ‘normal’ is one of the funniest things I have ever seen [especially since he just kept repeating a bunch of gestures that we weren’t making sense of], and while we did eventually guess the title, amen to the student who said “I don’t understand what just happened.”)

 

 

*Just because I find it funny: we once asked about the most extreme low temperature we could expect here, and they said ‘0.’  Not so bad, we thought — but they meant Celsius.  So there may have been some amused Midwest snorting.

**Just to say it explicitly, a large part of what makes Italian cooking so tremendously good is that they tend to use fresh ingredients and only in season.  We are just now, for example, ending the season for grapes; so, a couple nights ago, Gabriella brought out to the table a dessert called “schiacciata con l’uva”  (a sort of crisp pie/cake with grapes all over it and through it), and told us that this was the last time we’d be seeing it pretty much anywhere in town because everyone’s switching over to fall/winter produce.  Again, the only-in-season mentality makes anything you eat here amazing, but it’s also completely tragic in that it makes most of their dishes impossible to recreate at home.  Even were I armed with recipes (which I currently am not, as Gabriella is resistant to the idea of guests helping in the kitchen), we just don’t have access to the same fresh, flavorful, and very definitely non-GMO ingredients that the Italian style of cooking is meant to accentuate.

But oh well.  We still beat them at breakfast foods ; )

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2011 in Classes, Culture, Food, The City

 

(Day 21) Done dawdling!

Sunday, 10:35 pm

Going to write a bit about the homestay, because I kept saying I was going to do it and I either need to do it or stop promising.

I live with an elderly couple named Gabriella and Nino, who have three grown children (two daughters, one son) and one granddaughter (the adorable and almost-two Beatrice*).  They live in a large first-floor apartment on the northeastern fringe of the city, out in the thick of a residential area that only sees English speakers when they’re students like myself, and they are collectively some of the nicest people I have ever met.

Also living here are another ACM student (my roommate) and a student from an upper level in the Linguaviva language school, a Brazilian girl named Alessandra who has a single room down the hall.  Also, while Gabriella and Nino technically live alone, all three kids have been regular visitors both during the day and at dinners, so it often feels (comfortably) like a pretty full house.

When we were first informed about the homestays, we were told that it was common in Italy to give a gift when one visited — and, since we were not so much ‘visiting’ as ‘moving in’, it would be a nice gesture to get our host parents something.  My initial roommate, Anica, brought some Taiwanese tea, and I ended up just popping into a store in the neighborhood and picking up a bouquet of flowers.  (By the way, I say ‘a store in the neighborhood,’ but there is really only the one store here, waaay at the other end of the road.  This one, the big white building that says ‘supermarket’:

Like I said, it’s a residential area, and one that has pretty much decided to not be anything else : )

The first one we met was Gabriella, who thankfully speaks English (and French, though that doesn’t help me) fairly well.  Right off the bat, it was a relationship full of politeness and courtesy; I wouldn’t go so far as ‘formal,’ but even now there are still a lot of little formalities that get observed over the course of the day.  We are basically just to be to meals on time, to keep our bathroom neat, to not stray into the family’s own rooms, to say goodbye when we leave and hello when we come back, basic stuff; Gabriella herself, though, still seems to think it discourteous to enter our room unless we open the door for her ourselves, and at dinner especially she insists on maintaining the guest/hostess status quo.  It’s a somewhat strange mix of family-casual and houseguest civility that, after three weeks, maintains its strangeness because of the frequent little missteps we’re still making in communication; that is, we’ve made ourselves mostly at home here, but it’s still sometimes hard to tell whether someone is telling you to loosen up or (nicely) to straighten up, so it does keep you on your toes a bit.

And now, to condense a lot of information into those bullet lists I love, here’s a daily routine:

  • Wake up at six to take a shower.  The bathroom (which is more or less directly across from our room) is strictly for the three students, and has a button-flush toilet, a large basin sink, a shower stall with a drain you have to be really careful not to back up, and a window looking out onto Gabriella’s enclosed flower garden (small but very well maintained).  I’m the only one who showers in the morning, so it’s a nice slow start to the day with most of the house still asleep.
  • The bathroom is right next to the kitchen, and at 6:30 Gabriella comes out to start making coffee.  I mention it only because the aroma is fantastic.
  • Breakfast at 7:30.  Italians don’t really *do* breakfast, so Gabriella just spreads out some foods for us to pick from (fruit, yogurt, granola, biscuit/cookie things, less fun storebought pastry things) and brings her coffee to the table to keep us company while we eat.  Nino goes to work at about this time, so we really only seem him long enough to say bye.  Breakfast looks like this:

Aww, so nice : )

  • 8:00, head to the bus stop.  Enjoy the cool mornings and the warm light and the faraway sight of the hills, and also the more prosaic spectacle of Via Masaccio clogging with cars for morning rush hour.

But not in this pic.  This is just a zoomed-in shot of normal.

  • And at the other end of our street (the end we’re actually much closer to), a church.  Not one of the historically-significant old churches, but a recklessly contemporary new one, just in case you’d forgotten that most of this country is still Catholic.

  • So, go to classes and whatever else you’ve got going on, then come back to the house.  And just as an aside, it takes you four keys to get you all the way through the gate and into the building and then into the actual apartment.  Using them involves a lot of pulling and twisting and pushing at the right time (and also remembering to use the right key), and since the instructions were initially delivered in a heavy Italian accent I couldn’t understand yet, it took me at least four days to really figure it out.  Have I mentioned that I’m halfway through a college degree?
  • Dinner at 8:00, although you can usually smell it coming by 6:30.  We meet at the dining table (places are set with nice glasses and several pairs of silverware for everyone), and so begins the hour-long process of the evening meal.  As per a typical Italian meal, there are several courses:
  1. Pasta.  As with everything on the table, usually homemade with fresh ingredients bought within the week (or day) at one of the large Florentine markets.  As far as I’m aware, it’s been a new type of pasta dish every single night since we got here.
  2. Meat and vegetables.  Again, homemade/fresh and seemingly never repeated.  And while one or the other sometimes tastes a little ‘off’ when sampled alone (the meat a little too dry, the vegetables a little too mushy, etc.), any problems go away if you eat them as they’re meant to be eaten, together.  This course also comes with dry bread, good for sopping up the juices.
  3. Dessert.  Sometimes just sugared fruit (which I’ll admit is my favorite), but we’ve also had tarts and storebought cakes and little ice cream sandwiches.
  4. Drinks.  Not a course, but just thought I’d mention that Italians don’t really do tap water either (although it’s perfectly safe), and they think drinking milk is weird.  (We asked about drinking milk just out of curiosity, and everyone seemed really confused.  “In coffee?”  “No, just milk.”  “Well some people like a lot of milk in their coffee.”)  Wine and beer are both fairly typical dinner drinks, as are these huge bottled waters that everyone passes around (see breakfast pic).  Nino can’t drink wine anymore because of a health problem, so we stick to water, and there are usually two ‘normal’ bottles and one fizzy one.  We go through at least one full bottle a night, and they just keeping buying brand new huge bottles every day like this is a perfectly reasonable thing to be doing.

Dinner wraps up around 9:00, and then we say goodnight and go to bed and begin it all over again.

 

And almost done here, but I should mention the roommate thing quick:

As I said, my initial roommate was Anica, a Taiwanese girl from South Africa who was going to college in Illinois.  Yup.  And I didn’t know her at all when we moved in, but it turned out to be a pretty good fit.

About a week in, we each get contacted by the program director; another pair of roommates has been having difficulties, and would we be willing to switch?  So…to make a very long story short, new roommate is Ellie.

 

Want to go get in some grammar review before I go to bed — and also it’s kind of sounding like we’ve got the makings of our very first real thunderstorm outside, homg so excited 😀 — so have a good afternoon/evening and I’ll hopefully be back in tomorrow.  (I know I skipped an atypical number of days recently, but this weekend was a special case of do-nothing.)

Class tomorrow, and then we’re on the countdown for four days left of intensive Italian.  Partay : )

 

 

*Having Beatrice over to visit is, to be honest, a pretty big ego boost.  Gabriella and Nino both slow down their speech to talk to her, so we understand more of what they say, and while we actually haven’t picked up all the vocab Beatrice has, Bea also keeps her phrases nice and simple (often just falling back to the Italian equivalent of “Again! Again! *happy gurgle-laugh*).  Probably I shouldn’t be celebrating the fact that I am slightly better at Italian than an infant, but I’m going to anyway.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2011 in Culture, Family, Food, Persons & Peoples

 

(Day 16) Odds-and-Ends

Otherwise known as ‘cianfrusaglie,’ which is a great word.

Internet went a little wonky again yesterday, so here’s the ultra-fast recap of Monday:

Went to Orsanmichele, a building that is (and indeed has traditionally been) confused about whether it is a grainery or a sculpture gallery or a kinda-sorta church.  Spent about an hour and a half there listening to a lecture given by one of the professors — and since the lectures are actually interesting, we once again got random tourists stalking our group.

Not a great shot, but here’s the floor where we were spending most of our time looking at the sculptures:

Today, all we had scheduled was Italian class.  Tomorrow is our third quiz (for which I still need to study), and after that we have just seven days of class until the month of intensive Italian is over and we’re off to Venice.

Doesn’t feel *at all* like we’ve been here two weeks already.  Not to say that there haven’t been periods of stress (or hunger, hunger’s a big one) that have made everything drag, but apparently time is whipping forward in spite of that.  Also it still feels like Monday.

Change of subject, but I’ve been keeping a list of everything that being in Italy makes me miss about the American/Iowan/non-study-abroader way of life, and I think I’m just going to throw it right here:

  • FOOD:
  • Peanut butter
  • Sandwiches on soft bread (PB&J, turkey, etc.)
  • Cereal that isn’t a strange granola-ish corn flake lookalike — and people who have heard of Froot Loops and/or Captain Crunch.
  • Breakfast foods in general (toast, waffles, pancakes, eggs)
  • Decent chips
  • Tap water
  • Milk.  I don’t know what specifically is different about the milk here, but it’s…not right.
  • AMENITIES:
  • AIR CONDITIONING
  • Television/movies
  • Internet and cell plans that actually let you use your internet and cell phone
  • Water bottles
  • Ziploc bags
  • Cheap tape
  • Cheap post-its
  • Cheap paper towels
  • Cheap toiletries (shampoo, body wash, etc.)
  • Uniformly sized outlets
  • Doorknobs that turn
  • Public bathrooms you don’t have to pay for
  • Toilet paper holders that both hold onto the roll *and* let you change it
  • OTHER:
  • Sunsets (a flat horizon and a great view)
  • Clouds
  • Driving (i.e. not having to depend on an always-late bus)
  • Walks/jogs where you can safely wear headphones
  • Doing my own laundry
  • Baking — or, more generally, having access to an oven, stove, and microwave
  • Having a word for ‘pie,’ and for ‘cupcake’
  • Walking around in socks
  • Being able to criticize the Papacy without automatically offending someone
  • A closer sense of community
  • Non-polluted air and not being constantly surrounded by smokers
  • Not having to keep windows shut/covered against traffic noise and potential delinquents
  • Lack of tourist swarms
  • Cheap books (and being able to read them)
  • English

And, because fair’s fair, here’s everything I know I’m going to miss about Italy:

  • FOOD:
  • All of it.  But specifically:
  • Hard rolls
  • Uber-fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Thin pizzas
  • Pasta done right
  • Eggplant dishes
  • Apricot spread on fresh croissants
  • Tea with biscotti every morning
  • Bigne (those cream puff pastry things, and vanilla please <3)
  • Lots of other pastries I don’t know the names of
  • Gelato (obviously)
  • Excellent panini (as in big sandwiches with thick bread and meat and melty cheese)
  • Open markets daily
  • 3-course sit-down dinners with the whole ‘family’ (although I could approximate this at home)
  • AMENITIES:
  • Public fountains
  • Public trash cans
  • Public transportation
  • OTHER:
  • Hills
  • Having everything in walking distance
  • Beautiful buildings, artworks and museums absolutely everywhere
  • Being in a place with such a long (and documented) history
  • Having multiple options for places to go every day
  • Riding the bus (especially when it picks up speed in the tunnel)
  • Being surrounded by so many different kinds of people
  • Having one word for *all* of one’s aunts and uncles, and for *all* of one’s nieces and nephews
  • Every building warmly colored (red, gold, etc.)
  • Being in a country whose inhabitants seem generally conscious that different countries and peoples are interconnected
  • Being so close to to so many other countries
  • Multi-language bookstores
  • Italian music
  • Italian

So there we are, and I’ll probably add on to these lists as the semester progresses.  There won’t be a ‘winner,’ as it’s next to impossible to call one place objectively better or worse than the other…but I will admit that the lack of peanut butter has become a real sticking point ; )

Have to go start taking care of business, but should be back tomorrow.  A domani : )

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2011 in Art, Culture, Food, History, Practicalities, The City

 

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Day 13, cont’d, and All Caught Up : )

Sunday, 5:48 pm

What you are now looking at is the city of Siena.  Stop two of the three-town tour on Saturday, and the main purpose of the trip, it is a large town on the top of a hill (as most of these medieval places tend to be).  Back in its heyday it was one of Florence’s greatest rivals/most bitter enemies, and it was actually conquered by Florence at one point — an historical tidbit that neither city has really forgotten.

To start off, we went to this place:

The Basilica of Saint Catherine of Siena, who did not lead a happy life.  But main thing to know is that this church is actually pretty creepy — aside from the general themes of death and suffering (both Catherine’s and Christ’s) in all the paintings and decorations, they also have relics of Catherine in there.  Which, for anyone not raised Catholic, means that they’ve got a couple of her body parts on prominent display.  The idea behind a relic is that a saint’s body, being incorruptible, provides a link between the material world and the spiritual afterlife — and the same holds true for a relic, aka any piece of a saint’s body.  Especially in the medieval era, relics were a pretty big deal (at one time, the Catholic Church actually decreed that every church needed a relic under the high altar), which means that at the time Catherine lived these things were still much sought-after.  So, while she died in Rome and was meant to be buried in Rome, one devout man made sure to sever her head and one finger from the corpse and spirit these precious remains back to her hometown.  Where you can now see them.

I think it is meant to be heartwarming.

Anyway, after that we trekked up to the Siena Cathedral.  And the walk was interesting, because apparently Siena takes its being-on-a-hill-ness very seriously.

  

It is difficult to demonstrate just how vertically-inclined these streets are, but just keep in mind that in neither picture am I tilting the camera up.  And every single street was like this, and I didn’t actually take any pictures on the steepest streets because I had to suddenly start concentrating on not falling back down.

Fun fact: there are absolutely zero obese people in Siena.

So *wheeze wheeze*, but being on an incline actually makes approaching the cathedral a little like magic; green and white marble starts to loom at the end of an alleyway, and suddenly you get the urge to call it an ‘ascent’ instead of a climb.

  We approach from the back, heading up the stairs…

  …there is phantom violin music as we pass through the archway…

  …and there’s the cathedral!  Along with some random woman                                                                             leaning jauntily on a cane! \o/

Siena built its cathedral at the same time the Florentines were working on theirs, and there was intense competition to out-impressive each other.  Florence tried to do it with size.  Siena tried to do it by covering every single inch in something expensive.

  

Beautiful, of course, but standing in that room with a 360 view is like living in a kaleidoscope o.O

After the cathedral (more talk about pulpits and such), lunch break — and a trio of us managed to go out and find cheap slices of pizza very literally bigger than my head.  Which is actually not as bad as it sounds, because Italian pizza is so thin that one could — and this has been tested by other members of the group, mind — have an entire pizza to oneself and not get full.  Thin pizza ’tis BRILLIANT.

And after lunch, another big building:

This place is the civic center of Siena, and it is located in the middle of a *huge* piazza.  I couldn’t get a picture to show the size of it, but it’s shaped like a giant bowl / upside-down circus tent — so the overall effect is like an enormous sloped stadium with this building down at the front.  Also there is an extremely ancient tradition of running an annual horse race in there?  The Palio di Siena, for anyone who wants to watch videos of it on YouTube, but keep in mind that the piazza’s bowl shape makes it a really dangerous race, so those squeamish about possible accidents should maybe not pursue that.

(Also, I swear this blog post is almost done : )

After cruising around that building’s frescoes and interior chapel, we got back on the bus and turned north again for the return to Florence.  But, we still had a final stop to make in “Greve in Chianti.”  So:

Greve in Chianti

Greve is a small town that is apparently more-or-less the headquarters of the Chianti wine-making region, which is to say that most of the rules about which wines get to call themselves Chianti are decided there.  This is interesting in itself, but we made the hour-long detour because they’ve actually got the annual wine festival going on right now, and anyone who wanted to could pay 10 Euro and get 7 samples straight from the vendor.  I didn’t do it myself, but judging from the 15-or-so students who did, I’m going to say they were potent samples, so you certainly get your money’s worth : )

And then Jodie gave us each an amazing almond cookie from a Siena pasticceria as we got on the bus. Because the program leaders just do things like that ❤

And that’s everything!  A total of 12 hours, at least 8 of which we spent on our feet.  One feels rather accomplished.

Sunday (today) was a day off, which I spent both out in the city center and on Skype.  Tomorrow we have a class visit to Orsanmichele.

So on we go : )

 
 

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