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.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mi piacciono

A few things I like:

How wonderful my roommate Gloria is. I'm finally to a point where we can communicate beyond gesturing, so I can talk to her about my classes, ask her what's she's doing during the day, how she feels, and so on. Today I was in the room reading out loud to myself (to practice my pronunciation) and she came in to get something, but instead of just leaving she sat down and listened and helped me. It was just such a nice and simple gesture. I was reading Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", yes British poetry in Italian, and she said it was beautiful. Probably the poem, not my reading.

The fact that today at the mensa (university cafeteria) I sat and talked in Italian with a guy from Toga. Isn't that just crazy? My native language is English, his is French, and we got to know each other a little in Italian. I just love it.

Non mi piacciono:

The weather today--crummy and reminiscent of Edinburgh. But I got a lot of studying done, AND bought a bicycle! My friend Adriana and I went to a bike shop and bought some used road bikes so we can go on trips around Tuscany with the Siena cycling club and hopefully do some things on our own as well. I'm so excited! We're picking them up tomorrow and will of course be getting some little helmets and locks as well.

My intensive Italian class รจ finito. This is good because I will have more time to explore but sad because I have really enjoyed it and learned so much. So goes life though, time for a little change. I foresee March being a wonderful month!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Just kidding

No Assisi/Perugia trip for me this weekend. I woke up still very sick so my friends went and I stayed in bed :(

But it's ok, I'll make it up by blasting my Italian final next week and then spend the next weekend hopping through Florence again trying to see every work of art there.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Another week goes by

One of my favorite things that I have heard about Siena so far is that nobody has babies, they all have dogs instead. And it's very true. It's also why the population of the city is steadily around 50,000 (the same as it was before the Black Death). Really my favorite part is that all the dogs are very small, so I get to see all sorts of cute little puppies while I'm walking around. I assume nobody has big dogs because that would be too much like having a child for the Sienese.

On Tuesday night I went to a Tuscan cooking lesson which was very educational. For the first half hour we watched Elizabeta prepare some things, and she would occasionally have us stir something. But the real fun began when we made tortellini. I had no idea how easy it was to make pasta! All I need to do is buy myself a little pasta maker and I will go pasta crazy. We made pumpkin and cheese ravioli, with a spinach and potato casserole-type dish, and a custard topped with oranges for dessert. Yum! (See Flickr for a few fun photos:

The bad news of the week: I caught a virus somehow and I've been out for a few days. The good news is that it is a virus and not food poisoning from the cooking lesson, like we originally thought. Being sick in Italy is really unfortunate though, especially since today was the most beautiful day that I have seen in Tuscany. But it's ok, because I'm making up my losses by taking a trip to Assisi tomorrow with two of my friends. I'm so excited. My language partner Gian Paolo said, "You will like Assisi very much, there is much art." He knows me so well already.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sweet new kicks

I bought a pair of Italian shoes (actually made in Madagascar?) and they are wonderfully comfortable, stylish, and waterproof! Mom, aren't you so proud? I just wanted to show them off.

In other news, my espresso making skills are really improving and I haven't melted anything else. But I still owe my roommates a new pot.

Last night I met my language exchange partner, Gian Paolo, and he is wonderful! His English is much better than my Italian but he's very patient and nice. We talked for about two hours, mostly in English, but I found myself realizing how many Italian words I already do know. I apparently just need practice stringing them together, but Gian Paolo is there to help me. I kept saying weird things like, "Say what?" and "keep going up (the street)" and "freaking out". He had a little trouble understanding these, but I was there to help him.

Also, we had our first apartment dinner on Tuesday and four of us cooked for 15 people. It was really fun to sit around the table with our Italian roommates and some other friends for a few hours. After dinner we made Nutella and banana crepes! What a wonderful night.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A few exciting stories for you all this evening:

First of all, I am an idiot and I don't know how to make espressos on the stove even though it looks so easy. I tried to make one on my on for the first time and learned that you must put a certain amount of water in the bottom otherwise what little water there is will simply blow out as steam and the espresso pot will proceed to melt. I owe my Italian roommates a new pot. But there is really no hurry seeing as they own 4 or 5 of them.

On to better news: I took my first trip to Florence on Friday and it was wonderful! I went with my Medieval Lit class and our teacher Martino took us for a brief tour, told us a lot of interesting historical stories, pointed out some things Dante may have seen in his day, showed us his favorite linens shop, and then treated us all to triple scoops of his favorite gelato in Florence. I love Martino. He first took us up to the Piazza Michelangelo, so this was my first view of Firenze. I love being oriented to a city from above.

Saturday I woke up and decided to run away to Cortona for the day. I decided to run away at 9:05am and the next train was leaving at 9:40, so I really did have to run part of the way to the train station. I made it with ten minutes to spare, took a bus through the countryside then switched to a train. I went to Cortona with the sole intent of seeing Fra Angelico's Annunciation that is in the Museo Diocesano. It's a wonderful painting. There are probably four thousand annunciations in Renaissance art, but this one stands out to me as the most stunning portrayal of Mary's innocence and the angel's gentleness in telling her the news. I can't figure out what the gold words are coming out of the angel's mouth, but I like the way they unfurl toward Mary.

I'm putting some pictures up on Flickr, including a picture of the Annunciation that I illegally took. But it's ok because I also bought a little poster from the shop. It's been a good weekend, time to study for my Italian class now!

Ps. you can click on any of these pictures to make them bigger. I apparently have no control over the layout of this page, otherwise they would be bigger.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

We're off

After my first weekend adventure, coming back to Siena finally made it feel a little more like home. I went with some friends to Pisa and Lucca on Saturday, then met up with the rest of the group in Viareggio for the Carnivale celebration on Sunday. Apparently the Viareggio Carnevale is sometimes the biggest in Europe, so this was very exciting.

I have to say, Pisa is pretty nasty. Probably because it's overrun with tourists who just want to see the leaning tower, and besides that and the rest of the Duomo there isn't all too much. So, we were unfair to Pisa like every other tourist and just went and took some pictures then hopped a train to Lucca. Which was a good decision, because Lucca was wonderful! (I do have to say though, the Leaning Tower is just really funny. I couldn't look at it without laughing.)

It rained for most of the day in Lucca, but that didn't damper our trip. I think it really says a lot about a place if it's raining almost the entire time that you're there and you still love it. Like Siena, it's a medieval city with a wall and mostly pedestrian traffic inside the wall. But, Lucca is unique because the wall (or "mura") has a wide path for walking and biking and is lined with trees. The city is surrounded by mountains, so there are beautiful views no matter where you look. My favorite part was climbing an old tower that has trees growing on top of it. The vistas were amazing from up there.

I've put up all the pictures I've taken so far on my flickr site. You don't have to click through every picture, you can just look at the thumbnails and click on them if you want to see better detail, so it's pretty convenient.

I feel like I'm really studying abroad now. More adventures to come!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A few of my favorite things . . .

1. Hearing my Italian roommates sing songs in English, specifically Yellow Submarine
2. When the Italians talk to each other it always seems like they're arguing
3. When they're actually arguing I'm afraid someone is going to die
4. Buying fresh fruit from little stalls everywhere
5. Learning how to say where I'm from: Sono americana, di Arkansas (pronounced OUR-CAN-SEZZZZZ)
6. Taking a million and a half photos of the Campo and Palazzo Publico
7. Watching the little kids in costumes run around the Campo on the weekends throwing confetti everywhere and shooting silly string each other (and then on Monday morning all that confetti magically disappears)

8. Counting how many kids on the Campo are dressed as Spiderman
9. Wandering around and discovering that I have been taking unnecessarily long routes to get places
10. Going to the market -- I discovered why Italians are so fashionable, their markets are amazing! I don't think I even saw half of the stalls. I walked around for a while then realized I could see no end to the madness and went to go study.
11. Going for gelato every day, and sometimes twice a day
12. Weekend trip to Lucca and a Carnival festival in Viareggio on Sunday!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Il Dolce Far Niente

So, I'm here, and it's magical! For the first day I felt like I was walking around an amusement park--Renaissance Land if you will. I've looked at pictures of these buildings so many times that they somehow seemed unreal to me, yet here they are! Walking around feels like home now that I'm somewhat oriented to the winding streets, and since I mastered "Il dolce far niente" ("The sweetness of doing nothing") quite some time ago, I fit in just fine as I wander around in no hurry at all.

I'm living in an appartamento with 13 other girls (eeks), but fortunately I'm in the double and my roommate is a lovely Italian named Gloria. We have a wonderful time making gestures and somehow understanding each other despite the fact that neither of us speaks much of the other's language (in fact I find myself wanting to speak Spanish which does help a little). But she is very sweet and patient with me, and since Italians apparently like to clean a lot she keeps me accountable in tidying up my side of the room. And, we have a beautiful view looking out over part of town and into the countryside which makes our room all the more enjoyable.

Every day that I walk around I am amazed that I'm here. It's so easy to walk through town and just look in the shop windows and focus on dodging speeding cars and mopeds, but once I look up to the facades of the buildings and remember that most of them were built in the 13th century I just say, "wow". Literally. It's a wonderful feeling.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Bon voyage! Well, almost. . .

Two more days until I leave for this lovely little medieval town!

Well, first off to New York for a day to see my brother James, and then its time for my 8 or 9 or however many hours flight to Milan! After flying to Florence I will have my first test of Italian language as I attempt to navigate my way to the train station to get to Siena.

What an adventure this is going to be!