Friday, May 9, 2008


Papers and tests are all finished
my friends are getting on buses too soon.
The food in the fridge is diminished
and tomorrow I'll pack up and be out by noon.

But no worries, a visitor comes
to visit and see many more things.
My mother! I can hear the drums
of the joy and company she brings.

We'll see Florence, Siena, and Lucca too,
drink a good amount of wine,
raise a hullabahloo
and sempre fashionably dine.

And then it will be time to see a familiar face
and be home for a few short days.
I will miss Italy and its slow pace
but I look forward to summer's ways.

Monday, April 28, 2008


I spent this past weekend in Austria and it was too wonderful. So wonderful that I didn't want to get on the train and come back to Siena where it has been pretty rainy. I didn't think about any school work, just wandered around Vienna and Salzburg for four days in the sunshine, got a little burned while eating outside, rode a bike through Salzburg's many parks, and failed entirely to understand the German language. I picked up a few useful words, though, like ausgang (exit) and kartoffel (potato). My friend Carolyn and I had some good hearty food and beer (things quite absent from my time in Italy), and were mistaken many a time for true Austrians (which also never happens in Italy, where in fact many people think I'm British).

The only downside (seriously, the ONLY one) was traveling somewhere without really knowing the history. In all my classes in Siena we're constantly learning about Italy's history, culture, language etc, so I have a broad foundation to understand anywhere I travel. But in Austria I had no one to explain to me the importance of very large buildings in Vienna (except that they were mostly built by the Hapsburgs) or how Salzburg became such an important cultural center.

In Salzburg we went on the Sound of Music tour, which may sound corny, but it was really pretty great. Especially because our bus took us to a small town in the lake district outside of Salzburg where they filmed a scene. Also, one night in Salzburg we went to a small classical concert where a violinist and pianist played Mozart and some others. It was so wonderful! Mountains and lakes and bikes and Mozart and schnitzel and goulash--what a wonderful country. I missed the wine, cheese and pasta of Italy, but a break was nice.

I'm putting some pictures up on Flickr, hopefully you won't get sick of looking at the Alps (they compose about 60 percent of my pictures).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

So much to say

That's what I get for not writing anything for a few weeks. Too too much has happened. Somebody somewhere decided it would be really fun to cram all the major papers and tests of the semester into the last 4 weeks, which is just cruel. It was nice to enjoy the rest of the time, but this is also a big travel time in the semester so it's just crazy all the time and everyone has reverted to normal school/stress out mode.

Some of the highlights of the past few weeks, though:

-Went to the wonderful little town of Pienza, home of pecorino cheese. Also where I spent too much money on cheese which I am still working on (but no regrets).

-Went to Orvieto for a day--a nice little town which sits up on a plateau of volcanic rock into which the Etruscans dug an intricate system of tunnels for their workshops. My friend Sarah and I took a somewhat lame tour of the underground. Our guide didn't really know any English except for the facts she told us, so whenever we asked a question she just said "Yes yes yes!". Not very helpful, but still an interesting tour. It was also a funky town with lots of interesting craft shops and very good white wine, so we had a blast.

-Went to Perugia, another college town like Siena, with some friends. Mostly we just wandered around, ate a nice long lunch outside, took some silly pictures, and went to an Italian pop-art exhibition.

This past weekend the whole group (all 19 of us) went to Venice and I couldn't have loved it more. We had great weather, which is apparently unusual for Venice, and plenty of free time to explore. With our teacher Peter we went to a Titian exhibit, a few churches, Peter's favorite sandwich and prosecco shop (sparkling white wine), and an art school. With the free time we wandered around and on Saturday afternoon I went to the island of San Michele, which is Venice's cemetery. Apparently this was a strange option and nobody wanted to come with me. They all wanted to shop for fake, cheap glass instead. I had a great time though. Overall, I really really loved Venice. There are no cars, little night life, and a diminishing population, so it's a pretty quiet place, especially at night. If you know me well, you know I love peace and quiet. So I loved Venice. The water, sunshine, bright colors, and British people I met on the vaporetto ("bus" system on the canals) probably helped. Here's the street where our hotel was (in a residential neighborhood):

After Venice I went to dinner in Bologna with the group and then back to Padua on Sunday morning to see some more art--the Arena Chapel with Giotto's wonderful frescoes. Padua was great, mainly because there was a lot of green space which I have really been craving lately. I got to one of the parks with my gelato and took my shoes off and squiggled my feet in the grass for the first time this semester. It was wonderful.

Well, so a lot has happened. And I've written some papers and what not as well. I'm exhausted. But there's still more to come! I can rest when I get home.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Studying abroad is toooo sweet

How am I ever going to leave? Maybe I just won't. The last two Saturdays I've gone on some wonderful bike rides. Last weekend my friend Adriana and I rode through back country roads from Sinalunga to Buonconvento, and today I took a ride for myself from Asciano to Buonconvento. Both were fairly long rides with a lot of uphill, but they were away from the madness of touristy cities and we got to enjoy the fresh air and Tuscan countryside. Riding out there is truly great: big hills, surrounded by bigger mountains, bright green fields, olive groves, villas made of stone from the surrounding countryside, vineyards of course, small towns, and just Italians living and working. They all look at us like we're crazy, I think mainly because we're girls and it's fairly unusual for Italian women to be active at all.

Here's some sheep I passed today. This dog proceeded to chase me away shortly after I took the picture.

My other favorite part of today was when I was a little confused in Asciano. I took the train there and had drawn myself a little map of how to get out of the town. Of course, I went the wrong way, realized it soon enough and asked for help from a woman who was carrying her groceries down the road. First of all, I was so proud that I asked in Italian and that I understood her response, and I also understood that she wasn't exactly sure. She motioned for me to wait then walked a little further and proceeded to call out all of her neighbors and ask them where Via Gramsci was. It was so wonderful and Italian of them all. They helped and I proceeded on my way. Days like today make me love Italians more than anything.

Besides that there has been class as usual, but most importantly it is finally spring! When the sun is out it's warm enough to go sit in the Piazza del Campo, take off your jacket, and enjoy the sun. I usually go with the intention of reading and then not doing that at all. It's much more fun to talk with my friends, eat gelato, and just watch people. Especially the young Italian boys who often approach groups of girls their age after loitering near them for twenty minutes. It's very cute to watch. And my cooking is improving, which is always good. Oh, I have a sweet life!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

James's Visit and other

SO! James came to visit over a long weekend and we had a great time. His trip was based entirely around food, so we made sure to eat out a lot and find the best places. We succeeded in Florence and Siena, not so much in the Cinque Terre (minus some very good cinnamon gelato).

We started in Florence by going to the Mercato Centrale, which is a market for locals consisting almost entirely of cheese and huge chunks of meat. As in, there were entire cows hanging from the meat racks. Suffice it to say James was in foodie heaven. After that we stopped by a few places for espresso and went to the Uffizi to enjoy some art. We also walked around Florence some the night before and I educated him on some places he must know about if he is going to get his masters in architecture, such as a few of Brunelleschi's beautiful churches.

In Siena we wandered and James showed me where he lived and hung out when he studied here seven years ago, we went to a soccer game (where Siena beat Parma 2-0), and we found the best not-too-too-expensive osteria in Siena. Really we were never eating at places where the food cost too much, it seemed to be the wine that got us in trouble. . .but it was fabulous and of course worth every Euro (sorry Dad).

For the last day and a half we went to the Cinque Terre! It was beautiful. Basically these are five towns slumping into the sea, surrounded by rocky coast and mountains. And there are hiking trails galore. And the weather was fantastic. There were snow clouds hanging over the tops of the mountains just behind us, but above the towns and out towards the sea was clear and beautiful!

And today. . .I went to the wonderful town of San Gimignano! We went with our Sienese Art class and then I stayed for a while to wander around. Once again, just another little medieval town, but San Gimignano is wonderful because it's perfectly in the middle of being touristy enough but not too much. Also, it has retained its tall towers built by the aristocratic families that give it the nickname "Medieval Manhattan" (both the Sienese and Florentine governments had these chopped off to decrease family rivalries, but of course it didn't work). Then I found a little park on top of the hill where there were few people, a man playing some sort of Renaissance instrument, and beautiful views of the surrounding hills. And then I proceeded to find a nice leather bag and a ceramics shop. Not too much damage was done though.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I'm still alive, don't worry

So much to catch up on, but don't worry, I'll be concise.

Last weekend I went on a bike ride with my friend Adriana to a nice little town called Monteriggioni. It is a truly medieval town, to the extent that it hasn't even extended outside of the medieval walls like Siena has. It was such a pleasant ride through the country, and we kept passing other bikers which made us so happy (and comfortable). As we got closer to Monteriggioni, though, we saw more and more bikers and parts of the road that were blocked off to traffic. Apparently we had been riding in the middle of a bike race! Whoops. No wonder they were giving us such funny looks. We got to the town, which normally would have been dead on a Sunday afternoon, and it was full of people watching the cyclers ride in. We climbed up on top of the city wall above one of the gates and watched.

And then an even greater adventure: Rome! We were there for 5 days and saw everything you should see and some more that I wouldn't have known about on my own. A few of my favorite highlights:

  • Wandering around peaceful Palatine Hill for a few hours. Right in the middle of all the madness of Rome is this hill of ruins where the great palaces of Rome were built (after Romulus and Remus lived there of course). It's a nice open green space filled with ruins and people just strolling around.
  • Hadrian's Villa, which is actually about an hour outside of Rome. Also a big site of ruins (noticing a pattern?) where the emperor Hadrian lived. It was even more peaceful since it wasn't surrounded by Rome. I just loved it.
  • The breakfast at our hotel - the first granola I've had in Italy. It made me very happy.
  • Enoteca (wine bar) Cul de Sac, where I went with two friends for wine and food one night. We sat for three hours at a table on the street, watched Rome walk by, had some of the best wine I've had yet (a shiraz from the region), and ate sundried tomatoes in oil, pecorino cheese cooked in cinders, and a potato cake. It was wonderful, relaxing, and of course delicious.
  • Walking at night to beautiful (albeit touristy) spots such as the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain.
  • Seeing the Pope. Actually that wasn't really that exciting for me, but I thought I should let you all know. He is a very cute little man.
  • Being able to fill up my little nalgene with public drinking water everywhere! Rome just has a million little water spigots everywhere of clean, cold, delicious water. It was so exciting for me.
  • Taking pictures of strangers - in smaller places like Siena and Lucca they don't seem to appreciate that so much.
In short, Rome was a beautiful city with so many exciting things to do. And our teacher Peter who went with us was crazy and fun as usual. I guess I haven't written about him yet. Don't worry, I'll just spend an entire post on him some other time. As always, it was nice to return to Siena where the air is so fresh and everything is quiet at night except the main street. It was such a wonderful trip.

And then my sweater flew away in the window while I was taking it off the line outside my window just now. It's currently snagged on a hook on my neighbor's shutter but they aren't home. Shoot.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

More adventures

Last weekend I went on a bike ride outside of Siena with some of my friends. We headed towards Monteaperti (an old battle site from the 13th century, back in the day when the Guelfs and Ghibellines were at war). I've heard the histories of Florence and Siena so many times that I figured I had to go see this place. Really there's nothing there so the actual point was to have a direction to go in. We ended up not going all the way because one of my companions couldn't hack all the hills. I'm not sure what she thought riding a bike through Tuscany would be like, but for some reason she was a little upset with so many hills. No worries though, it was a beautiful ride and a nice warm-up for more excursions to come.

Besides that I've been doing work, studying my Italian (finally learning a new tense!) and exploring. Yesterday I wrote a paper for my Sienese Art and Architecture course and it was amazingly wonderful to go sit in front of the work I was writing about for two hours. I sat, journaled, made notes for my paper, and attempted to sketch Duccio's Maesta. I'm really not very good at drawing but it was fun to try. Maybe more practice will make me better. . .

Best news of the week: there are signs of spring! And tomorrow I'm going on a hike with my friend Adriana and it is supposed to be beautiful! What a wonderful country; I can sit in front of masterpieces for as long as I want or go on a bike ride through the countryside whenever I so desire.