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Category Archives: Travel and Touristing

(Day 29) Bouncing Brevity

Monday, 9:50 pm

*sigh*, Venice talk is now on the back-burner, because apparently classes starting today means that I am actually (despicably!) required to do work.  It’ll be a little bit of a sprint to keep on top of everything for the next couple days, so I would say that you could expect more Venice-vacation rambles Wednesday morning, or Friday at the latest.

In the meantime, here’s the ho-hum daily updates, of interest only to my immediate family.  Everyone else can feel free to avert their eyes.

  • Like I mentioned yesterday, first library shift this morning.  And it was nice and I enjoyed it, but…well.  The students who started the cataloging ACM’s library in the spring seem to have left for us incomers all the books that don’t have call numbers, and which are therefore impossible to catalog.  So, having discovered this little setback, the ever-so-brilliant idea I came up with was to *give* them call numbers — as in actual ones, in accordance with the Library of Congress cataloging system.  And Kari and I started on that this morning, but since there are actually two parts to the LC classification system that make it a really slick system for browsing (letters for the subject + numbers for the sub-category of the subject) and because I only just now found a way to accomplish *both*, we’re probably going to have to go back to refine the work we’ve already done.  AND I still have to spend tonight typing up ridiculously detailed fail-proof instructions for the other work study students, so that they too can do the impossible and catalog an un-catalogable library.
  • TLDR: We now have absolutely guaranteed work for everyone and this whole thing is going to look awesome on a resume.
  • Following that fiasco, a really fast lunch and then on to Italian, which we now have Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:30 to 2:45.  Like everyone else, I walked in perfectly awake and content but stumbled out sleepy and starving — mainly because there’s just no explaining Mondays.  Oh, and we also got more homework than usual, so that’s awesome.
  • Walked down with Willi and Katie to buy art supplies, and it was a beautiful afternoon so actually a quite pleasant time out and about.
  • Drawing class at 5:00.  The ACM group has been split into two, with half the group starting on cast drawings and the other half working on studies of a live model.  I’m in the figure drawing group, and I already know I’m going to love spending my evenings here.  They’ve got things to show me and I’m ready to learn, and the only homework *they* ever give is to draw more — which I think I can handle.
  • Finally got back to the house at 8:00, waited for Ellie, then dinner 8:20 to 9:15.  Start the homework, stare mournfully at the schedule for the days to come, and here we are.

But cool thing is, I do love all my classes so far (even though we have to give that oral presentation tomorrow in the Medici class), and we’ve actually got a couple events coming up that I’m really excited for.  Wednesday night, after figure drawing, most of the ACM group is heading out for a Wayne Marshall concert (performing Gershwin), and this upcoming Saturday I’ll be heading out with Kari, Willi, Katie and Leah for a 13-mile bike tour through the Chianti region.  And that will be a healthful and ever-so-fancy activity that I will just have to make up for on Sunday by bumming around the house all day in my pajamas.  I am a firm believer in balance, you know   : )

Oh, and please to be noting that at that point we’ve hit October, and one full month is officially down \o/

~~~

WELL.  That’s probably as long as I can allow for desperate procrastination rambles, so I guess it’s time to dust off that old Helmet O’ Invincibility and be off to do homework etc.  Back as soon as may be, and as always hope everyone’s hanging in there.

But just because I’d feel bad not to, one more Venice pic:

…See you tomorrow : )

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(Day 28) Back!

Sunday, 10:25 pm

So, safely ensconced back in ye olde Florentine domicile, and thinking that bed is probably a good idea at this point.  But first, let me fling some pictures at you:

                                                           

I’m holding onto many of my favorite photos for later, but this is a solid sampling, so click/enlarge and (hopefully) enjoy : )

Tomorrow, first official library shift in the morning, Italian class (now shortened down to an hour and fifteen minutes) in the afternoon, and my first drawing class in the evening.  It’s a big day and I’m looking forward to it, and with any luck I’ll be able to squeeze a blog post in there to start going over Venice — because yes, Venice was amazing and it needs to be talked about.

As always, hope everyone’s having a good day, and I’ll talk to you as soon as I can.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2011 in Classes, Travel and Touristing

 

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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Days 11, 12, and 13

Saturday, 7:49 pm

Allora: went to three towns, walked *a lot,* got an itty-bitty sunburn, witnessed much churchery, and have now returned home after 12 hours out and about.

Like pretty much everyone else, I am both tired and extremely ready for dinner.

But first:

Day 11, Thursday

  • Went to Florence’s Museo Archeologico (i.e. the archaeological museum), and the same archaeologist who showed us around Fiesole narrated a walk through the museum.  It was pretty cool, but only figuratively, because otherwise it was omg hot in there.  And stuffy, and we spent rather a lot of time going over a lot of details in a lot of display cases.  All of us, I think, had good intentions for paying attention and learning more about the pre-Renaissance history of Florence and Italy, but after 2 hours, pretty sure everyone was feeling…fatigued, I guess.  Idk, it was just physically draining, and speaking for myself I know that our tour guide didn’t get nearly as much of my undivided attention as I would have liked her to have.  So, if I can find the time, definitely going back.  (Added temptation: this heavily Etruscan/Roman artifact museum also has a weirdly high number of Egyptian antiquities, always welcome.  I guess I had known that there was a lot of interaction between the Italians and the Egyptians [because otherwise Caesar and Cleopatra wouldn’t have happened], but for some reason still considered them entirely separate worlds.  Surprise score : )
  • Thursday on the whole was a long day, but at the end of it I got the best dinner I’ve had here so far.  Simple spaghetti, then chicken + a side of greens, then a spectacular fruit tart, and every bite a torture to my very soul as I compare it to the cafeteria food I’ll be getting back to in 3 months.  Come January 5, the air shall be rent with lamentations.  But oh well.

Day 12, Friday

  • Big thing for this day was that I lost my old roommate and got a new one.  But I want to skim the details on that when I talk (finally) about the homestay, so all that’s important for right now is that it happened.

Day 13 (Today), Saturday

  • Oh boy.  Today was the day of the three-town trip, and it was a bit of a doozy and it felt like one.
  • First off, up early to catch the early bus to meet at the train station by 8:00, and then we stumbled on to a private bus and were driven out to the small town of Monteriggioni.  Monteriggioni is special because it’s still got its old medieval walls intact.  Thing is, most towns used to have big city walls (on account of it is a proud Italian tradition to have hardcore inter-city feuds), but most of these walls were unfortunately either destroyed or purposefully dismantled over the last 500 years in an attempt to modernize.
  • But Monteriggioni was just too little to care about looking gauche — and so, in the spirit of those people who still sport 80’s hair, it continues to rock its outer ramparts.  The town as it currently exists is a tiny sort of place (way smaller than Grand Mound, for those of you to whom that means anything), but it looks pretty much just like it did centuries ago.  So that’s fantastic, and then you add in that the weather was perfect and that it’s up on the tippy-top of a hill out in the middle of Tuscany with a beautiful outlook, and it was overall just a really great start to the day.

    

  • Also, I think most of us were really happy to leave Florence and get out into the Tuscan countryside for a while.  It’s still wonderful in the city, but we’ve been running non-stop for two weeks now, and the excursion out to fresh air and wide open spaces was precisely what was needed to erase any stress and make everything better.  (And oh!  They’ve got hills here!  My Iowan self wants to call them mountains, but they’re hills, and either way very beautiful to look at <3)
  • We got to stay in Monteriggioni and enjoy the view for only about 15 minutes or so, and then it was back on the bus to continue south to Siena.

…which I will tell you about tomorrow, because it is now dinnertime to be followed immediately by a much-needed early bedtime.

Best of weekends to you all : )

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2011 in Classes, Food, History, Travel and Touristing

 

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Day 10: The Reboot

Hey look, it’s Friday.

Fast-paced couple of days, and I want to hit the highlights of each of them, but it’s going to have to be a little brief — getting up at 5:30 so that we can get to the train station so we can get on a bus to Monteriggioni and then a bus to Sienna and then a bus to Greve in Chianti.  Dang.

So tonight, just that missed Wednesday: Fiesole and the Festa della Rificolona.

Fiesole

So if I ever needed to find my ideal retirement home / politically necessitated hideaway, this is probably it.  It’s an ancient Etruscan (as in pre-Roman) town that sits WAAAAY up on a hill overlooking Florence — and actually, if you remember the view from the San Miniato Cathedral, think of this place as being higher up and directly on the opposite side of the city.  Oh, and with a way better view.  I’ll try to show why by taking a couple pictures when I go back up, but I’m not sure pictures (or at least any pictures I take) can really capture it; it just seems far more sweeping, and includes a steeper look down onto a more pristine area dotted with villas.  The whole class was just staring out the side window as we wound our way up and up and up the hill — it’s gorgeous and serene and completely wonderful.

The town itself is still a town, and while it’s decidedly not part of Florence, a Florence city bus actually makes routine runs up the hill because it’s so incredibly close.  To a certain extent, Fiesole seems like Florence’s best-kept secret; it’s a beautiful little town with its own history, and with easy access to everything Florence has, but it’s got a cozier atmosphere and cleaner air and cooler temperatures and, again, that amazing view.  And, and! it’s so quiet, so not-overrun-by-tourists!  (Hypocrisy?  Where?)

When we went up, we were there for the Etruscan museum, which sits right next to the ruins of both an Etruscan settlement and the later Roman one that overtook it.  So what this means is that we were there for rocks.

 

An actual archaeologist showed us around and narrated in very brave English, and while the class stuff would take too long to make interesting, do you see the two sets of stairs in that right-hand pic?  There are two because when the Romans came into the area, they basically just built their temple right overtop of the Etruscan one; they thought the conquering of a culture just as important as any military victory, so whenever they came across a new people, they made everyone into ”Romans,’ and in this case that meant nomming right over the Etruscan place of worship without even bothering to clear out the old debris.

Again, it would take too long to make this as interesting as it could be, but when looking at these particular ruins, all I could think of was those fossils they find of gigantic prehistoric fish with other complete skeletons still in the stomach — and while this is not a funny comparison, I must have been pretty out of it because it made me giggle kind of a lot.

….

Not related to the educational stuff, but the Wednesday we went to Fiesole it was also the birthday of one of the girls in the group (Willi, whose blog is linked), so our professors gathered us together at the end of the trip and brought us little icy-cold cream-filled puff pastries to celebrate.  I just want it stated for the record that these were arguably the best things I have had on this trip so far; they’re called bigne, and these were from a Fiesolan pasticceria called Alcedo’s that Kate (one of the program coordinators who’s actually lived in both Fiesole and Florence) says is the best place in the entire region.

The number 7 bus that goes to Fiesole runs right by my street and only takes about 20 minutes to get there.  Yeah, I’m going back.

Festa della Rificolona (the festival of the lantern)

So this is essentially a children’s carnival.  You can read about the history online if you want, but basically it’s an excuse for kids to come out late at night with pretty little lanterns* and have TONS of candy.  Which, hey, I totally support : )

   

There was also music and dancing up on the stage, and prizes were handed out for the best home-made lantern.  But there were also plenty of store-bought ones, which I know because Disney would not otherwise allow Lightning McQueen’s face on tissue paper.**

The Festa della Rificolona is actually associated with a religious holiday (which Italy has many of and takes very seriously, being so Catholic), and there were other parts of the celebration that I would have really loved to see — there was a component down on the river, with lanterns on boats, and there was an organ concert in the Baptistery, and the Cathedral’s outer walkways were opened to the public for free.  But alas, attending any of these would have taken me away from dinner AND gotten me down to 3 hours of sleep.  I could maybe have handled one of those…but then again, dinner is sacred and sleep is divine, so maybe not.  Eh, I still got to see something pretty and ~extremely~ cute and this makes me happy.

Aaaand yep that’s it for tonight.  Hopefully back in tomorrow evening to keep up the new additions, and in the meantime hope everything’s going well for everybody.  Also, if you’ve emailed me and I haven’t written back, it’s coming very soon, so please don’t hate me yet.

 

*The lanterns used actual candles, so some of them would in fact suddenly go up in flames.  But that was kind of cool and the kids thought so too, so no harm done.

**Also spotted: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Spongebob, Hello Kitty, Spiderman, etc., because apparently even obscure city-specific harvest festivals have gone commercial.

 

(Day 6) A tower! That leans!

Saturday, 11:00 pm

I’ve got tomorrow off (for real this time, because we’ve gotten several afternoons ‘off’ that we couldn’t actually use for anything), and what I’d like to do is furiously backpedal and cover some details about the homestay situation and classes.  Because I appear to have just hopped over those, and they are possibly kind of important.

But for now, Pisa.

Actually, wait a second.  Before anything is said about the city itself, it is good to know that I have probably been biased by the following:

  • We were all a little/lot sleep deprived.  5:45 is only 15 minutes earlier than I usually get up, but I still spent the whole morning feeling like my brain was floating along 2 feet behind my skull, and I was not the only one.  As a group, definitely not in a seize-the-day mood.
  • The train we took from Florence to Pisa was soooo ssslllloooooowwww.  Stop-start-stop-start-draaaag.  And it was also only kinda-sorta air conditioned, which is a big deal because
  • It was painfully hot out today.  It’s been mid-to-upper 90s the whole time we’ve been in Florence, and humid to boot, but today was more torturous than usual; both Florence and Pisa straddle the Arno river (and thus extra humidity for both places), but Pisa is so much smaller that you can feel the mugginess absolutely everywhere.  And there was no shade, and we were on a walking tour, and…yeah, it just got nasty.  Also, we passed a group of people on the sidewalk who were all attending to a girl who’d actually fainted from the heat, so this is an Officially Hot Day, okay?

So Pisa.  Overall impression is that it’s kind of dirty and…well, the word coming to mind is ‘decrepit,’ or maybe ‘decaying,’ but perhaps we’ll be kind and say it’s just a little run-down?

What we know for a fact is that Pisa got hit hard by the bombing in WWII.  This does not explain to me why so many other towns recovered and Pisa…didn’t, but in any case there is some excuse for the general crumbly quality of all the buildings.  Hm.

Well, anyway, even if most of the city is kind of dead-ish, this is indeed made up for by the city’s central square, the Piazza del Duomo of which the Leaning Tower is a part.  The piazza actually contains four buildings that are all super-important: there’s the Pisa Cathedral, the Baptistery, the Campo Santo, and the bell tower (aka that crooked thing).  Back in the day, the idea was that one started life by getting baptised in the baptistery, spent their life with the cathedral, and then ended life by getting buried in the Campo Santo (“the holy field,” as in an indoor cemetery) — so as a class, those three were the things we were there to see.

Which means (*insert sad face*) that I did not get any touristy pictures of the leaning tower.  I got a couple as we passed —

 

— but like I said, we were there for other things.  Like doors.  And pulpits.  And floors with skellingtons* in them.

All of which makes me suspicious that they think I’m here to learn ; )

 

…But seriously, though, if anybody ever gets the opportunity, go listen to a demonstration of the acoustics in the Pisan Baptistery.  It’s a round building that was actually designed to give a perfect triple echo (which I stress only because I can’t get my head around it), and a guy comes out every so often to sing; just one voice, and it magnifies and harmonizes until the space overhead is ringing with it.  I know that as an American 20-something I’m not supposed to be easily impressed, but…yeah, that was kind of impressive.

Switching topics, guess what this is?

For starters, it’s actually not something we went to see as a group; since this Pisa trip was the last mandatory outing for the weekend, most students packed up and left immediately for overnight stays in beach towns, and only myself and one other student (Ellie) remained to take the train back to Florence with our two professors (Jodie and Katy).  While we were making the loop around to the station, Katy suggested that we all take a moment to stop by the white building straight ahead on the left, the building that is actually two medieval towers which were later joined together with that strip of concrete that drops into an arch.  It’s the left tower that’s important; somewhere in there, around the year 1289, a man named Ugolino was imprisoned with 2 sons and 2 grandsons for treason agains the city of Pisa.  It’s not entirely clear what happened after that, but either the lot of them were soon left to starve or Ugolino himself was decapitated (and don’t ask me how those two things are at all confusable, because I have no idea).

Anyway, my professor wanted to see it because Ugolino gets mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy, which she’s teaching an entire class on this semester.  I’m interested in it moreso because — well, just look at that place.  It looks like nothing.  It looks like any old half-heartedly prettied-up government office building where some poor clerk is stuck doing paperwork 10 hours a day.  (And actually, who knows, maybe some poor clerk is.)

Appearances/deceiving/etc., I guess; history is apparently messy and happens everywhere.

 

ALSO, although this has nothing to do with anything, the class stopped to get coffee in some Pisan cafe and got blessed with a random Blues Brothers sighting:

 

+10 to that cafe, definitely…but they got any white bread?

 

Alright, well, tomorrow I guess.  And I will also just nonchalantly remind you in passing that anyone is free to send me emails and facebook spammage and such.  Just sayin.’

 

 

*Skellingtons = I miss Hot Fuzz  T_T

 
 

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(Day 4) Andiamo

Thursday, 10:00 pm

Going with the ever-popular ‘dump pics and run’ today, as I’ve get a test tomorrow morning and I need to study.  However, for anyone whose life I have just devastated, I also happen to know that I have tomorrow afternoon off, so just a couple hours more and then I can start spouting off at the metaphorical mouth.  Which I want very badly to do, and actually I pre-apologize for the spoutiness as well.

What we’ve got right now is not one but TWO pictures, whoa boy.  In the first, we’re looking out from the steps of the medieval church of San Miniato, which stands on a hill just outside of Florence proper.  Today was actually my first time going over to the Oltrano (the far side of the Arno river, aka the kinda-outside-Florence part where San Miniato is), and the entire area is really hilly and gives you a great view from everywhere — so we climbed those steps, turned around, and there was the city laid out under us.  The second picture is a zoomed-in look at the heart of Florence, including the famous Duomo (that cathedral with the largest of the visible domes); the Linguaviva school where we have classes is actually just a couple blocks away from that monster.

  

*sigh* ❤

I think part of the reason I like Florence so much is that it’s the first place I’ve been where it’s actually easy to keep a map in my head — I can usually be relied upon to get very firmly/constantly/instantly lost, so this not getting lost is kind of a revelation.  But I guess it was almost inevitable; the city’s got so many unique things so crammed together that you’ve always got a landmark to use, plus every street and piazza is labeled…gah, it’s just so very logical that it makes me want to stand up and happy dance.

Like so: (*|o/ \o/ ~o/* tadaaaa.)

Now I’m going to slap myself on the wrist and go study, so…tomorrow.  ❤

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2011 in The City, Travel and Touristing

 

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